Sunday, 24 May 2015

Leave-Behind An Easy Geography Lesson

Geography is one of the things in my daughter's Montessori curriculum that surprised traditional old me.  How is geography basic preschool fare?  
It's a little genius though.  Montessori philosophy believes that children must first learn about the physical world around them - to use their senses to explore and to know that everything has a name so that children tend to want to learn everything.  

Of course my usual dilemma is finding the time to recreate all those wonderful homeschooling lessons, like this one from the truly amazing Pinay Homeschooler.  So yet again, here's one of my working mama solutions.  

I created a permanent spot on her playroom shelf for things to spark interest in geography while I'm at the office.  Books and a play model, that's all.  That's enough to stand out as something curious she wants to explore.  "What's that?" she asked, the first time I changed the shelf.

I leave it alone for her to explore if she wants to.  But at bedtime, I pick up the book and paper model and it becomes our bedtime story.  Now I wish I could take credit for building the model but I ask my driver to do it during his downtime waiting time.  Haha!

These are available at National Bookstore or Fully Booked - pretty reasonable prices too at ~300 pesos.
I glue the seams with clear glue to reinforce them for our shelf.
Sometimes I just switch up the matching book so that there's something new to read:

Same paper models, different book.  This was an old book when my sisters and I were kids!
When inspiration struck, I left this tray activity behind on her shelf to do:

Bridges get the best play out of them, even on the weekend:
Her ponies and the bridge.  She's making the pedestrian walkway swing open for ships to pass underneath.
Recreating the Rialto Bridge in Venice with Duplos and a new back story.
Sometimes, just a book is enough:
A Stonehenge Pop-up Book!  A gift from her favourite Ninang.
Nowadays Ladybug Girl is a sponge for information.  I guess it's all part of turning six.  My nerd mom books say she's building 'cognitive' skills on top of the sensory development she began to master in preschool.  

All I know is that she'll surprise me with some random fact like "Mona means Miss that's why Leonardo da Vinci's painting means Miss Lisa".  I always shake my head in wonder and ask "how did you know that?". 

She smiles widely.  "Easy!" 

So I try to adapt her ethos in our easy geography lessons at home.  
We make it work, folks.  We make it work.

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Saturday, 23 May 2015

Philippine Montessori Center Preschool : A Review

The most-asked question I get is where my daughter goes to school and why I chose it.  I answer those questions privately on email but now that she has graduated let me now answer that safely on the Internet.  Objectively, that is.

I can relate to the thirst for information when hunting for a preschool - so I hope this helps put some out there for fellow corporate moms who narrow the choices through an Internet search rather than actual school visits.

I found the school through my boss' two children who were incredibly bright and somehow already possessed a quiet self-confidence in themselves at such a young age.  I was going through a new awareness of my little girl through our time spent playing together and I started to know her well enough to start wondering about the right school for her.  These all led me to the Montessori method.

I didn't know what that was or how distinct it was until I started researching (very me!).  This video from Trevor Eissler convinced me to visit a classroom.  I became a huge fan of their philosophy about a child's development.  I still am!

My research told me that there are lot of Montessori schools in Manila, but only a handful are led by those certified by the AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) and AMS (American Montessori Society).  This one is.  The famous Montessori materials are complete.  

  • The school is inside White Plains, so is really just a lot of converted houses.  This makes it a  small, very intimate community.  All the people there soon know you.  The classrooms are sunny and peaceful.  There's a nice, green outdoor space with a playground that the children love. 

PMC's playground area.
  • The teacher-student ratio is around 1 to a dozen 
  • The materials are well-kept and are amazing to watch in action.  There's so much science behind each one.  Maria Montessori really studied how a child's brain develops and how they learn best.  Each material is age-appropriate and every single one is genius - trust me, I read about all of that!
  • Since all the materials are hands-on, they go through deep cleaning regularly during flu season.
Learning water forms by pouring real water into landform trays.  This one is a bay.
  • They have a toddler program which starts at 1.5 years in their own toddler-friendly classroom which is so nice!  I wish I had discovered them sooner because I love reading about Montessori for babies.
  • After the toddler program they move to a 'vertical classroom' : mixed age preschool which makes children learn to be leaders and team players.  They'll get a chance to teach younger ones, and younger ones see first-hand what older students learn and exemplify.
  • PMC has a fantastic music program, the best of its kind.  Their music teachers are world-class!  I once thought music didn't matter, until Ladybug Girl joined the percussion ensemble and I saw her concentrate, master and take pride in her skills.  
Ladybug Girl in her PMC instrumental ensemble.  These kids and their teachers are amazing in action.
  • As in every school, it really depends on the quality of teachers.  I've been very lucky with hers.  Teacher Ia is respectful of each child, young and fun, knows her stuff and is so understanding, she calls me even on weekends.  
Teacher Ia is a gem.  We will miss her so much.
  • I loved how the school was so low-maintenance in terms of parent-involvement.  Okay that sounds bad but hear me out.  In her first (traditional) school, there were so many rules, meetings, parent projects, expectations... as a working mama I found it so hard to keep up!  I know for a fact that enrolment and first-day-of-school requirements in those big schools reach two legal sheets of paper.   In PMC it is stress-free; it's the teachers who do most of the work and are always available for parents.

  • The whole low-maintenance vibe has its downsides though.  Some classrooms are ageing.  The bathrooms need updating.  This is where big school facilities can trump the little schools. 
The humming busyness of a Montessori classroom.  But you can see the walls need a paint job and these little things say a lot to parents about quality.  Maybe it's because I work in marketing.
  • Communication is stuck in the dark-ages.  Letters are scarce or late.  And in this day and age, it is a telling sign that the school has an outdated website, poor Facebook page, and a Twitter account they do not use.  This is partly the reason I decided to write this review, because if you judge them by their online presence you would be judging them unfairly.
  • Their approach to Montessori is very traditional and by-the-book.  It's a bit too Western for me.  While Montessori designed her methods to adapt to local cultures, you won't find any Filipino taught even in nomenclature cards!  It feels like they found what works and stuck to it without any updates throughout the years.  For example, I wish they would convert their big gardens into farming activities that the children do in other Montessori schools.
A token Filipino cultural tidbit on top of the traditional Montessori puzzle maps.  Montessori schools in the US have a whole puzzle map to learn the 50 states.  Wouldn't it be great if we had a Philippine wooden puzzle map to learn our geography too?
  • No religion in the curriculum but they pray to Jesus and celebrate Christmas.  This matters a lot to me so it's on my cons list.  I needed to supplement Christian foundation strongly at home.  Hopefully, a little modernisation and a lot of local culture will catch up to PMC soon.  
  • No parking around the school since it's inside White Plains.  So if you're a working mom with no driver, be warned!  You have to be early to get the 5 slots hidden around the school.
  • You guessed it - the cost.  It's nearly 2x more expensive than traditional school.  Obviously I thought it was worth it, but only a classroom visit will help you make the decision yourself.

A classroom visit will show you why the environment and materials are so different from the kind of classroom we grew up in.  This is what a typical day of learning looks like at a Montessori school, a fascinating video by Lindsay Palmer:

So objectively, I did choose PMC because I fell in love with the Montessori method.  But also objectively, the pros definitely outweigh the cons.  

But completely subjectively, I think it's one of the best preschools where this amazing little world of children comes to life like magic everyday.

I'm going to miss visiting this peaceful place.

Do share your own experiences and thoughts on PMC in the comments below so I can keep updating the information here.

Know other good Montessori schools in the Philippines?

Contact Philippine Montessori Center through their website, and look for Precious (who is also a gem herself!)

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Saturday, 2 May 2015

Coping With Corporate Meetings

By the time you hit motherhood in your corporate life, you've been around long enough to go through a lot of big corporate meetings.  Why is it that you put 15 brilliant people in the same room, and everyone always thinks they could have done so much more with their time? How many times have we snuck in some work in the middle of these things?

I'm afraid motherhood jacks up the stakes a lot more : time isn't just money, time is family.

So this is what I do:

I've become very good at spotting a point that sounds like it could have high impact but inevitably falls short of anything truly actionable.  The motherhood statement.  Usually preceding a very long justification without ever really saying anything.  When you get really good, you can quickly spot the generic speakers early and tune them out five seconds into their speech.

 I switch to blessed autopilot for a few minutes of working.

Usually it works.  Sometimes it doesn't.

Take last week.

I was at a multi-country meeting representing the local business.  By the afternoon of day one, I knew when it was safe enough to switch to auto-pilot.  Until: "so what does the Philippines think?" snapped me out of it.  Crap.  I had to ask to repeat the question.

My auto-pilot mode needs work.  Truth is, I'm horrible at multi-tasking.

Give me some advice, folks!

Friday, 1 May 2015

Make A Map Real

Sometimes a weekend play idea just comes naturally if you have some ready-play materials hanging around.  Here's how some of the play ideas I wrote about before came together like fate: our sensory tub of rice, tree trimmings, a map from a zoo trip and some random toys.

I would like to say that this is great spatial intelligence practice, but heck it's just something I wanted to play with myself.  When I was a kid, the setup was sometimes more fun than the actual play.

I was so distracted, I didn't get a chance to snap a shot of the play invitation.  The idea was to make a small-world zoo using the map we have as a guide.

I had put out those clear acrylic boxes to use as an aquarium, but it was entirely her idea to cut up some blue origami paper to use as water.  She and I went back and forth inside her room to grab supplies she thought of in the middle of the setup. 

The feel of the rice in the bin is so addicting:

Here's part of the River Safari Zoo in Singapore.  With her favourites red panda and panda amid the forest enclosure - old tree trimmings from the Christmas tree scraps I saved:

Left: panda enclosure.  Right: aquariums with river life

She used her wooden blocks to make the African animals area:

Finally, she wanted to make the polar bear enclosure with water beads:

Yes we have this box of water beads (Orbeez in toy stores) ready in her toy closet.

And ice:

Until she said it was ready for the polar bears to move in:

The zoo is ready for play!

I put the zoo bin back in the roll-out drawer for ready access for a few weeks, but this is one time the process of play trumps the result.

Unless the result is this, that is!

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Friday, 3 April 2015

A Cure for Black Thumbs

I finally found it, nearly two years after I embarked on project greenify inside the house.  The cure for my black thumb is just finding a plant that never dies.  And when you find it, you just run with it.

All over the house.  

Utility areas
Outside the windows of each bedroom
The pattern is clear

Unashamedly repetitive of me
Outdoors, indoors - they're all the same
Christmas and beyond
Big or small

High or low or in-between.

Don't the pops of green look so fresh?  The air literally feels healthier.

That plant is called a Pothos - and it's super easy to propagate all 35 of these pots around my home from just a couple of healthy ones.  Yup, I have 35 of these same white pots with the same plant.  I kind of think this makes the greenery look neat.  

Maybe it's because my house is always messy.  

I was going to share a few other successes from other plant species I braved my way to, but just a few weeks ago, our helper went back to her hometown and ... they've died.  So I guess they weren't as black-thumb friendly as I thought:

They say you can't screw up succulents but pfffft 
That tall one is gone now
And this one is getting thinner and thinner
 I knew it was too good to be true!

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