Why school? Why Monessori?

Why school?

Although it often surprises people to learn, Thaddeus isn’t three yet. He’s close, just a few weeks really, but even three is so young.

I never thought I would put my children in preschool.
In fact I think I was sort of against it. I’ve never been a big fan of our current education system and before I had kids when I thought about school I always sort of assumed I’d homeschool or maybe even unschooled them.

But, that was then and this is now.

Tomorrow Thaddeus will start preschool. He will only be going for a half day, but it will be every day of the week.

And you know what? I’m thrilled! Ecstatic! I can’t wait. I wake up dreaming about what I’ll do with my two and a half precious hours a day and fall asleep thinking about the same. My biggest fear (I’m actually terrified of this) is that they will kick him out for some reason and I’ll be robbed of my time without him.

I never thought I’d put my child in school so early, especially if I didn’t have to because of work, but I also never thought I’d have a child like Thaddeus. Or at least I hoped and prayed I wouldn’t. But, often God gives us what we need and not what we want, right? I need Thaddeus. He has taught me patience when I thought I had no more. He has pushed and challenged my convictions about parenting and about myself. He has forced me to give when I didn’t think I had anything else to give and then give some more. I love him, but I don’t always enjoy him. He’s been a real challenge for me from the beginning – a challenge I am grateful for, but a challenge none the less.

And after almost three years, I’m burned out. The level of excitement I feel about putting him in school is a testament to how burned out I’ve really become.

I don’t want to live that way. I don’t want to parent from that place. I need to create more space for myself, to come back into my center. Not just space to make sure the house gets clean, the laundry is done, and the basics are covered. Not just space to go to doctors appointments and therapy appointments (which we have plenty of at this season). I need space for things that fill me back up and I’m hopeful that school will be a great way for me to work that space back into our schedule.

The best reason that it’s a great way for me to get that space though, is that we know it’s gonna be good for Thad. Better than a babysitter now and then, and better than grandma and grandpa, too.

Thad is a really smart kid and he needs more stimulation, more structure, more responsibility, than I’ve been able to give him right now (especially in the state I’ve been in the past few months). He also really needs the interactions and friendships that school will provide. He has very few (read: almost no) friends his same age and as much as I love having him around adults I know he needs peer interactions too. He gets so excited whenever he gets to play with other kids and I want him to have that more often.

So, for all of these reasons and for the kindness of family members willing to pay for school for Thad (thank you!) we are making the leap and starting school now.

Why this school? Why Montessori?

I have always been intrigued by Montessori education. My cousins went to a Montessori school and have only wonderful things to say about it. I love the emphasis on intrinsic motivation and the freedom within boundaries that they give the children. I love that the classes are mixed age groups with 3-5 year olds all together – the younger learning from the older. I love that he gets to stay with the same teacher for three years and that they get to really know him and us. And I love the idea of the adult as a facilitator and guide instead of a top down teacher.

And I really think that the structure as well as the freedom of self determination given in a true Montessori classroom will be a great fit for Thaddeus and the kid that he is at this season.

So, when I saw the sign for a Montessori school only a few blocks from our apartment I knew we had to check it out.

What we found was even better than I could have hoped. Whole Earth Montessori School is a prekindergarten through six grade Montessori school with a wonderfully clear emphasis on caring for the earth. They have a beautiful garden that the children maintain and care for. Solar panels that the older children also help monitor. A beautiful campus with tall trees and a stream that runs through the front. The classrooms are well organized and clean and wonderfully well lit with natural light streaming through large windows.

The founder of the school gave us the tour and I have to say I really love her too. She just seems so sweet and caring and even a bit earthy. And it seems like she really loves what she does and truly cares about children’s education.

It was pretty clear right away that this was where we wanted to put Thad for school.

Now I’m just praying that nothing goes wrong to prevent it from working out (can you sense my anxiety – I really am stressed that something’s going to happen and it won’t work out after all). And praying that Thad ends up loving it even more than I think I will.

What about you – what are your kids doing for school this year?

Rejoicing in the journey,

Bethany Stedman

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Psychological Warfare: Parenting a Toddler

Today I’m sharing with you a guest post from my dear friend, Jane. My husband jokes that I get more excited to see Jane than anyone else – and it’s kind of true. Jane just has this grace about her that is compelling. She’s inspiring and yet down to earth, creative and fun and playful. She puts people at ease and is a joy to be around. I’m happy to share just a little tiny piece of Jane with you today.

Photo 153Nobody told me as I was becoming a mother that I was about to enter the battle of a lifetime.  So maybe  phrases such as ‘psychological warfare’ and ‘battle’ are a bit dramatic, but honestly sometimes they feel like an understatement when I am in the middle of it. Toddlers have a way of getting into our hearts and under our skin so easily. I don’t know how they do it so well. Sometimes it feels like they compare notes on the playground or stay up late reading blogs on how to torture and woo their mommies.

Let me just start by saying that I LOVE being the mother to my two beautiful daughters; the oldest, Sofia, is 2 years and the youngest, Mia, is 6 months. I feel a deep sense of purpose and I DO enjoy the adventure of the intense highs and lows of parenting. Nurturing came so naturally and was such a rich time for both my husband and I. I have so many strong memories with both of our girls during the time when they were little that could last me a lifetime.

But then it all changed.Photo 168

My oldest, Sofia, changed. Her needs and the way she needed me changed. My role as her mom changed. The way we interact changed. I am learning how to be her mother to teach and correct her, as well as provide love and care. And to appreciate it all.

Toddlers are smart. They are cunning. They run our emotions around and around and around.

Psychological warfare, according to Webster: Actions intended to reduce an opponent’s morale. Here are some everyday examples:

  1. The tantrum hug. This is an incredibly effective tactic of Sofia’s. After I’ve said ‘No’ or have done any kind of discipline, she leaps into my arms and gives me a bear hug while crying/screaming. This swings my emotions around in circles from feeling anger/fear/concern to compassion/warmth/love. It is the most confusing. It does help us both calm down…
  2. ‘Sama’. This means ‘i’ll do it all by myself in Czech’. It’s Sofia’s life motto at the moment. Which means not only that she thinks she can do everything by herself, but that I have to choose 100 times a day:  to either let her = peace+mess+time or not let her = war+faster+cleaner.
  3. Mealtimes. Oh mealtimes. Sofia has always been an all-star eater. She has happily eaten everything I’ve offered her. Well, recently she has experimented with saying ‘No’, pushing away her food, throwing it on the floor, using it as lotion, spitting it out. This has become very stressful for me. I never know when we sit down how she will choose to react. This DEFINITELY affects my mealtime morale.
  4. Learning new things and being ridiculously cute. Toddlers have this tactic perfected. They are learning so much so fast and they know very well the reaction that they will elicit from their parents. Sofia knows that I can hardly say ‘No’ to her as she is singing the ABC’s (only to ‘G’) in her sweet little voice. Or since she has learned ‘Peese’, how can I not give her a cookie? She has also learned that it is much more beneficial to learn people’s names….because then THEY are more likely to give her anything she wants, even after mommy has said ‘No’.
  5. Running to daddy. My husband has beautiful relationships with our daughters. At the highest moment of tension between my toddler and I, inevitably, daddy walks in the door and she leaps into his arms. Any other moment of the day and this would absolutely warm my heart, but in this instance, it hurts.
  6. The hug/wipe your nose on my leg move. I noticed that I was getting an above average amount of bear hugs from my little one and felt like the happiest mama in the world. Then later in the day I notice my pants have been used as a hanky over and over and over!

Photo 166I could go on and on….we all have our own stories. If your toddler is getting the best of you and your morale is down, take heart. Let me encourage with you a few tips…

(Have I already mentioned that I am NOT an expert? Just consumed by this topic at the moment and was invited to share)

Weapons? Arm yourself.

  1. Hold your baby/toddler when they are asleep. There is something deeply calming and disarming. I feel like my toddler and I have had extensive reconciliation times as she is sleeping in my arms.
  2. Remember the nurturing times. Remember that things will change. Remember that you are not alone.  Remember.
  3. Laugh ALOT. Play. Giggle alongside of your toddler. Get on all fours and listen to her giggle. Discover what she thinks is funny and see the humor in it. Laughter dissolves tension wonderfully.
  4. Patience. I’m not sure exactly when to get this quickly when it is most needed, except from God. This weapon alone is a reason for faith in God, because patience as a human resource is SO limited….and is exhausted SO quickly by a toddler. The patient kind of love really only comes from God. Believe me. I’ve tried to find it everywhere else. Ask Him for it.
  5. Don’t take things so seriously. I love having a clean, vacuumed, mopped floor. But I am slowly letting it become less important. It is very hard. With a toddler + food and toddler + toys and toddler + play doh, it is just impossible. I could really go crazy if I got upset every time I found a crayon bit somewhere. Take safety, health and love seriously. Maybe pick one or two things to really capitalize on and hold loosely to the rest. Let everything else be negotiable.
  6. Talk with your toddler. I have found that so many of Sofia’s meltdowns come when she simply can’t communicate what she wants or needs. The more I let her feel heard, the more questions I ask, the more I repeat what I think she is saying (it’s such a mixture of Czech and English, it’s hard to pull something recognizable out!), the more open she is to my instructions, discipline, and the worst word of all, ‘NO’.
  7. Soak in ALL the love your toddler gives. The hugs, the kisses, the cuddles and the tackles.
  8. TRY to have perspective that everything will continue to change, including us. We are learning and growing as parents and as people, and this is an incubator for growth. Hard, but good growth. Our toddlers will change and the battles will look different….enjoy the journey!
IMG_6166Jane Hasik is an American expat living in Prague with her Czech husband, Martin and two lovely little girls, Sofia, 2 years, and Mia, 6 months. She loves having her red table full of good friends, food and conversation and enjoys being in the middle of a project of any kind. She loves being a beginner at many things and is an expert at nothing!

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Weaning Part V: When to Stop Breastfeeding

This will be the last post in the weaning series. I hope that you’ve enjoyed this series and would love to hear your thoughts on it. You can find the other posts in the series here:

Weaning Part I: When to Start Solids
Weaning Part II: Baby’s First Food
Weaning Part III: Baby Led Weaning
Weaning Part IV: Allergies and Foods to Avoid

Today I want to share with you my thoughts and plans about when to stop nursing. I’ve been hesitant to write this post because, well, honestly, I fear that some of you might judge me for it. I know that I fear what people will think of me and often make decisions based on that motivation, but I don’t want to make decisions based on fear and cultural stigmas when it comes to my child, instead I want to make informed, intentional decisions based on what’s best for my own family. So, if you disagree with this post or you choose a different way for you and your family please know that I respect that and hope that you will be equally as gracious with me.

Let’s start with my own experiences with weaning. First of all, as far as I am aware, I have never personally known anyone who has nursed much longer than a year. So, I think there is a part of me that just always assumed I would wean my child around their first birthday, like most people I know. Sure, I had heard of people nursing more long term (in fact I knew that my husband’s grandfather, who is from Europe, had been nursed till he was 3), but most of the time when I heard about people nursing long term it was fairly negative. In fact even when I was pregnant I was part of a conversation with a group of ladies who all agreed that once the child could ask for it they were too old to be breastfed.

But, as my son get’s closer and closer to turning one I just can’t imagine stopping breastfeeding. Sure there are moments when I long for my freedom (especially since we haven’t introduced bottles at all) and there are moments when my nipples get soar and I’m tired of waking up in the night. But, for the most part, I love breastfeeding. I love the closeness it creates. I love how easy it is and that I don’t have stress about balancing meals or packing food when we’re out. I love knowing that it’s the best possible form of nutrition for him and that it has all sorts of health benefits for him and for me.

So, over the past few months I started wondering what was really best for me and my son. I know what others around me had done. And I know some of the reasons why, but what should I do? How long do I want to breastfeed and what is going to be best for both my health and my sons?

As I asked these questions I did some research. Here’s what I found out:

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that women breastfeed for a minimum of one year. The World Health Organization, on the other hand, recommends that women continue to breastfeed their babies until the baby is at LEAST 2 years old. I was actually really surprised by this. I had no idea before looking into it that the WHO’s minimum recommendation for nursing was 2 years. Then I started to wonder why the difference between the AAP and the WHO?? Basically the WHO doesn’t take cultural norms or societal stigmas into consideration; their recommendation is based solely on health. The AAP does take cultural norms into account with their recommendation. Both the AAP and the WHO state that breastfeeding beyond their minimums will benefit both the mother and the child and that breastfeeding should be continued for as long as “mutually desired.”

Something else I found really interesting was that the American Academy of Family Physicians states that children weaned before two years of age are at an increased risk of illness. Did you know that breast milk actually changes in composition the longer you nurse for? It has significantly higher fat and energy contents and some of the immune factors that are always present in breast milk also increase in concentration after a year. Breast milk meets the developing toddlers health needs just as efficiently as it meets the developing newborns needs.

Here are a few of the benefits of nursing until or past two years of age:

  • Nursing toddlers have been found to be sick less often and to recover more quickly from illness then their non-nursing peers.
  • Breastfeeding protects women against breast cancer and the longer a women nurses the more her risk of breast cancer decreases.
  • Extended breastfeeding has been shown to increase IQ. In fact “Extensive research on the relationship between cognitive achievement (IQ scores, grades in school) and breastfeeding has shown the greatest gains for those children breastfed the longest.” This is particularly pronounced in children who are nursed past the age of two.
  • It has been shown to protect against various diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and multiple sclerosis.
  • A nursing toddler who is sick and refuses to eat is still getting adequate nutrition from breast milk and will be less likely to get dehydrated and more likely to stay nourished (even if they are vomiting because breast milk is so easily and rabidly absorbed by the body).
  • Long-term nursing can reduce the risk of allergies and asthma.
  • One study even connected long-term nursing (babies nursed longer than one year) with social adjustment. Children who had nursed longer were more likely to be rated by mothers and teachers as well adjusted socially and less likely to have conduct problems.
  • In short, all of the advantages of breastfeeding a baby just continue to get stronger the longer you do it. Well, that seems pretty good to me.

For a truly wonderful list of the benefits of breastfeeding (at any age, baby or toddler) click here.

So, what about concerns? What are some reasons why you might not want to breastfeed past a year or into toddlerhood?

  • Many people are concerned that it will create an “unhealthy attachment” in the toddler and that they won’t develop the independence so valued in our society. Studies have actually shown the reverse to be true. Research has shown that children who are allowed to nurse until they are ready to wean themselves are actually less dependent in the long run. It is said that this is because their needs for security have been fully met as infants and they can then move on to independence in their own timing and abilities when they are ready. In some ways this makes sense to me. I think often we try to rush our children to grow up and because we as American’s value independence so much we try and push it on our children even before they are capable of it. Personally I think it is completely appropriate for a toddler to be dependent and attached to his/her mom and to receive both nourishment and comfort from her.
  • Another concern is that if you wait past a year to wean it will be harder when you do wish to wean the child. Instead of weaning a sweet baby you will be weaning an animated toddler. We hear such horror stories of the terrible twos that we think there is no way we would be able to wean in the middle of that so we wean before our children are really ready. It is true that extended nursing means that weaning will take more time and when it does happen it will most likely be a slow process, possibly with two steps forward and one step back all along the way. But, if you wait till the child is truly ready weaning doesn’t need to be a power struggle and you can in fact most likely talk the child through the transition so that they can understand it. To me that seems like a very humane and peaceful option.
  • Another question and concern that I personally had with long-term nursing is what happens if you get pregnant again? We plan on having another child eventually and if I allow Thaddeus to self-wean and nurse long term it is possible that I will become pregnant again before he stops nursing – what happens then? Well, the truth, which I had never known before doing this research, is that it is entirely possible to keep nursing while you are pregnant. If the woman is healthy and the pregnancy is normal there is no reason to stop nursing an older child. It does not pose health risks for you, your toddler or your unborn child. Some women say that their milk dried up when they got pregnant and it may be that they did produce less, but that does not mean that there toddler is not getting anything or that the closeness and comfort nursing provides is not still valuable. There is even some research that suggests that tandem nursing (nursing a new baby and an older sibling at the same time) can result in a better adjustment for the older sibling and a closer relationship for both siblings. Another interesting fact is that your body will still produce colostrum and your newborn will still have all of their nutritional needs met.
  • I would imagine, though, that most often American women don’t breastfeed past one year because of the social stigma’s against it. They may not feel ready to wean, they may desire to nurse longer, but they have bought into the cultural advice that they “should not” wean a toddler. They have heard too many people ask them with raised eyebrows, “you’re still nursing?” They have had too many looks and comments and not enough support and encouragement. So, they stop. This makes me really sad. If a mom feels ready to wean, or weaning is the best option for her situation then I can support that, but it makes me sad to think of women who don’t want to stop but feel pressured into it.

There are many reasons to stop nursing and many reasons for extended nursing  – I truly believe that the decision to completely wean a child is intricate and complex.  It is up to each individual family to decide what is best for them and their personal situation. I for one, though, don’t want to stop nursing my child at a year just because it’s “the norm.”

Honestly, I have no idea when I will stop nursing. I just know that right now I don’t want to stop and I don’t think I need to. I know that I would like to nurse until Thaddeus is at least two, as the World Health Organization recommends, but I don’t know where we will be at by then or before then, so who knows. Really I just want to continue nursing for truly as long as it is mutually desirable for both me and my child.

What about you? If you breastfed your child/children when did you wean them and what were your thoughts and reasons for doing so?

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany Stedman

Resources for Further Reading and References:

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