Monday, July 27, 2015

Parenting by the Seat of My Pants: Civilizing the Barbarians, Montessori Style

"Veronica, you have the table manners of a wild boar," Isabella informed her sister at dinner one night. It's true. Veronica approaches each meal as though she were trying for the Guiness world record for the most food smeared on one body. She isn't alone in this pursuit. All toddlers do it. Isabella herself, when she was VeVe's age, once managed to destroy an entire outfit with one chocolate chip, a feat that has gone down in the annals of Griffith history. 

Still, it called my attention to the fact that my standards had clearly slipped too far. You know how, when you have a baby, people are always telling you, "Loosen up. Enjoy the ride. They're only little once." That kind of advice, while true, is best aimed at a different sort of mom. I have always been more likely to stop and smell the roses than stop and clean the bathroom. There's only so loose things can get before they come apart. 

I decided to return to my roots. My mother was a legendary preschool teacher, and I, myself worked for a while at a Montessori preschool. I know that kids can be civilized. My older kids are downright useful. 

My first goal was to find nice, kid sized tableware. Something nice enough to elicit careful attention from preschool aged children, but inexpensive enough that I wouldn't cry if they broke it. I hit up the thrift store 40% off sale and bought dessert plates, punch cups, creamer pitchers, tea cups and saucers, pretty table linens and vases, most of them for under $.50 a piece. 

The effect was almost instantaneous. The kids started sitting more quietly. They said please and thank you. They cleared their place when they were done. 

The boys learned how to hand wash and dry dishes, taking care to do a thorough job. 

I bought this Raskog cart at IKEA to store our new treasures and make moving dishes back and forth a less harrowing experience. The entire cart can be pushed from the sink to the dining room, or from its spot by the wall to the table for easy place setting. 

We also bought kid size tools for cleaning. We found a stick vacuum with a telescoping handle at a thrift store tgat, when the handle is down, is the perfect size for a young child. We set up a mop, broom and crumb station in the corner of the dining room, and we have been getting the children to help tidy after meals. 

Isabella quickly discovered that preschoolers need guidance for sweeping or they speak the mess around. She made a sweeping guide out of painters tape to help them focus their efforts. 

Even our resident wild boar is beginning to mend her ways.