Posts tagged Motivating Your Child

Help Your Child Learn Better (#2) – A Lifetime of Inspiration


In my last blog post we talked about how to help your child learn better by keeping learning styles in mind. In this blog post we’ll talk about an even more important step – how to inspire your child to design their own learning situation, to ask for what they need, and to set themselves up to learn what, and how they want to.

Here’s what I mean.

A little while ago, my daughter, age 9, was complaining about learning division at school. She’d been shown a new way to do long division, and as she continued in her complaint, she said, “But I didn’t get it, because he didn’t make us do it ourselves!” Then she asked me to help her with it, and told me how to help her. She had identified that she would have learned the division better if she’d been walked through actively doing it herself, but more importantly, she took charge of the situation, and showed me how to teach her.

A few days later, she was trying to show me how to crochet something, and I grinned at her and said, “I don’t get it – you need to make me do it myself!” She laughed, provided me with my own crochet hook, and walked me through it, while I did it myself. (I crocheted a beautiful flower, by the way, all by myself, under her tutelage!) See the picture – Flower I crocheted!but please note that it looks better in real life.

So, backing up a bit – my daughter decided, from her exposure at school, that long division was worth learning, she knew how she would learn it best, she assigned me the task of teaching her, then told me how. How would this have been different if I had heard her complaint, then decided that she should learn long division, on my terms, in my way?

To do this key step of inspiring your child to design their own learning situation, to ask for what they need, and to set themselves up to learn what, and how they want to, it’s important to earn your child’s trust, so that he or she feels safe learning from you along the way. Here’s how I’ve earned my daughter’s trust over the years – and why she has often said to me (though she loves her teachers!), “Mommy, I wish YOU were my teacher.”

1) I notice what fascinates her, and offer her more of that. When I respect her interest, I encourage her to trust and follow her own inner direction, not to stifle all of her questions and curiousities.

2) I ask, before showing or telling her something. I ask, “Would you like a lesson on this?” or “I have some interesting information about that. Would you like me to tell you?” If she says “no” (maybe 25% of the time) I SHUT UP! If it’s really important, I will likely ask again later, or sometimes, I’ll say, “This is really important. Can I please share it with you?” Because she trusts me, usually she says yes. And, when she wants to learn something new, she often comes to me and says, “Mom, can you help me with this?”

3) I do not pretend to know everything. When she asks about something I don’t know, I connect her with other resources, and, for as long as she’s been old enough, I’ve shown her how to find those resources herself.

4) I respect her different way of learning, and don’t expect her to move to the next step or into a different style until she asks or accepts my offer. When she has many experiences learning at her pace, in her style, she comes to know how she learns, and learns how to set up situations that work for her. I love to learn by jumping in right away. She likes to learn by watching for a long time first, then tentatively stepping in. I give her the space to do it her way.

5) Over and over again, I let go of my agenda for her learning, and instead, I do my best to discover and support her agenda.

I hope this blog post helps you to observe and support your child to discover their own passions and pursue them with gusto! Check out my other blog post on this topic HERE.

If you’re also looking for the schooling environment that will best meet your child’s learning needs, I’d also love to invite you to my next Alternative and Traditional Schooling Options in Calgary class, or to purchase the audio and workbook version of the class.

I’d love to see you there!





Help Your Child Learn Better (Part 1)


It’s fairly common knowledge these days that people have different learning styles, but the conversation about different teaching styles isn’t as common. I’m going to share about why teaching style matters – whether in a school or a home setting – and how you can adjust your “teaching” interactions with your child to be more effective and connecting. 

Here’s the bottom line: How we teach may matter more than what we teach. 

And here’s why – when we teach effectively, we engage the person who is learning in such a way that they can learn effectively. Since everyone learns differently, this isn’t always easy.

There are lots of ways to categorize broad learning styles. Some of the more commonly described learning styles are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic, but it goes much further. People are more likely to learn concretely, or abstractly. They are more likely to learn socially, or in a solitary way. Some people learn by flatlining for a long time, then leaping into a high-level skill, while others learn by taking many small steps towards the new skill. An individual’s learning style is much like a personality style – it is complex, and can be defined, understood, or categorized in many different ways. Much more important than the categorization is the recognition of the individual who is learning, and the support of that person’s preferred process.

So, how do you support your child’s learning style?

First, observe, observe, observe. Your child has been learning since birth. How did he or she learn to walk? To talk? Did she start speaking by naming everything within sight, or was she silent until she spoke in complete sentences? Did he hold your hand, balancing carefully with each step, or did he propel himself up and off and into everything within reach?

Next, offer different options and see how your child responds. Think about how you learn best, how your spouse learns best, and what you’ve observed about your child’s process, and start with these. If your spouse listens to books on tape and then effortlessly spouts off information that has seemed to magically seep into her brain, try playing auditory games rather than using flash cards with your child who is learning math facts.  If your child learned to talk all at once, after listening for a year, consider that he or she may learn to read this way, too, and read aloud while giving your child the opportunity to see the words. If you learn best in a conversation, asking questions, in order to really understand something difficult, then take your child to Heritage Park and give her the opportunity to grill the young man in suspenders who knows more about Canadian history than anyone you’ve ever met.

Now, here’s the most important step, one that I’ll go into more detail about in my next blog post – inspire your child to design their own learning situation, to ask for what they need, and to set themselves up to learn what, and how they want to. This is key! More important than teaching your child something of your choosing, in a way that is roughly suited to their learning style, is giving them the tools to manage their own learning.

If you successfully manage the first two steps, you will help your child feel comfortable in his or her own learning style. When you get this third step figured out, you set your child up for a lifetime of adventure and inspiration. Keep your eye open for my next blog post!

In the meanwhile, to learn more about the schooling options in Calgary, and the teaching styles of different schools, including Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia, public, private, charter, and more, check out my class: Traditional & Alternative Schooling Options in Calgary.

And please share below what you’ve learned about your child’s learning style! It may help someone else who’s trying to understand their own child better.

School and Learning and Life – Read This To Be Inspired


In this moment, I am profoundly inspired by my awareness of the perfect individuality of every child.

On the eve of a new school year, I want to call out to all the parents who worry that their child will lose her “spark”, be stifled at school, or worse yet, not learn his math facts.

I invite you to fan the flame, encourage the learning of full self-expression drenched in kindness and consideration for others, and nurture the love of math for its own sake.

Here is the bottom line.

Your child has a profound spark, a fire within, that drives him or her to learn, to grow, and to live in positive, nurturing, connected relationship with others. He or she is always driving towards, leaning in, even when he or she seems to be pulling back, afraid, or shutting down. The fire is always there.

You have a profound ability to see your child’s spark – and a profound ability to see his or her failings, too.

Your unfaltering affection for your child, your deep, deep trust in his or her worthiness and glorious human strengths, your constant redirecting of everyone’s attention (including and especially your own) to the shining of those strengths, to the places where growth has occurred, and to the wise and vulnerable soul of your precious child, is key.

In some ways, this is a message for your child’s teachers, BUT, when your child comes home to YOUR unwavering awareness of the miracle of his or her being, and to your dedication to his or her potential for joy and kindness and learning and skill and meaning and the GIVING BACK of those human strengths for the good of others, THAT is where the spark is fanned, the fire is fed and the reaching for powerful human potential becomes firmly entrenched in your child’s way of being.

If I were in school right now, that would be a run-on sentence. But, read it again. It will empower you to be the support your child needs.

From the beginning, respect your child’s learning process. Every child is a perfect individual – there is no other alike. Revel in the glorious humanity of your child, harness strengths, make peace with their process, and help them see their own way of learning. 

When you can do this, successfully and consistently, yourself, you will empower your child to thrive in environments away from you, AND you will hone your own awareness of whether the school or schooling situation that you’ve chosen for your child is truly nurturing to him or her. If it is, you will celebrate in your heart. If it is not, you will know how to look for another – you will feel the alignment of the teacher or school with your own habit of glorying in your child’s being.

Last night I stayed up late reading one of the most inspiring books I know – it is called “Children Who Are Not Yet Peaceful” by Donna Bryant Goertz, and it will give you the inspiration, and tools and keys to see the profound beauty of your child’s individuality. If you’re faltering now, worrying about math facts or handwriting or bullying or whether your child will live up to someone else’s (or your own) standards of right learning this year, and if you’re losing your own focus on the miracle of humanity that your child is, I invite you to pick up this book, and stay up late, tearful and joyful, as you are re-awakened to your own appreciation for your child’s potential. If you’re in Calgary, you can call and order the book through Self-Connection Books (403-284-1486), or click here for the link to order on Amazon. I’d love to see this book in the hands of every human. Adults need this kind of care, too.

May your child’s school year start off with joy and fullness, and the knowledge of his or her own brilliance.

For practical ideas on how to support your child’s school experience, click here.


So…Should I Give My Kids Allowance? (Part 4 of 4/Kids & Money)


If you’ve been following the money conversation so far, you’re probably wondering, “How does allowance fit in to all this?”

Personally, I choose not to use an allowance, but I don’t believe that allowance is necessarily a bad thing, depending on HOW YOU FRAME IT.

What I do is prioritize helping my daughter earn money in lots of different ways, and let her know that I’m available to support her to earn money for whatever purchases are important to her. I remind her in good time before something is coming up that she might need spending money for, and make sure I put aside time to spend helping her figure out how she’d like to earn that money. I also offer her opportunities to earn money. For example, I was hired by a school to interview potential new families to the school, and she came along to greet the families at the door, show them where to hang their coats, and introduce each family to me and to the teacher who would be working with the child. I then paid her a percentage of my earnings for that day.

Here are some things to consider when deciding whether and how to use an allowance:

To teach a child that every family member is responsible for caring for the home and family, I generally recommend avoiding connecting household chores with allowance, especially if you are going to dock money for chores not done. It becomes too easy for the child to make a negative connection…”Oh! Well, I don’t need the $5, so I’ll just take the week off of my chores.” Instead, help the child to understand that household chores are what we ALL do to make family life work.

HOW you talk about the way you share money with your children is extremely important, and leads them to establish beliefs around money and the relative value of other things, products, services, generosity, etc. For example, if you give your child an allowance of $20 every week, with no explanation, they will absorb something different than if you give your child $20 each week and say, “In this family, we all share the fruits of our labours. This week, I earned money at work, and I am sharing it with you. You and I worked together to clear ice off of our sidewalk, you cared for our dog, and dad cooked dinner tonight. We all benefit from all of our work for our family.”

On the other hand, if you give your child an allowance of $20, after asking, “Were you good this week? Did you do your homework? Did you listen to your teacher?” your child will absorb the idea that money is a reward for somebody else’s definition of “good” behaviour. Remember that when a person sees something as a reward, the intrinsic interest in the activity needed to earn the reward DEcreases, and the desire for the reward INcreases. So, if you are using money as a reward for “good” behaviour, your child will become LESS motivated to produce the “good” behaviour independently, and more interested in the money.

This, of course, brings up the question of whether money is a “reward” for work when we are adults. Remember that our beliefs make a big difference here – the meaning we give to the exchange matters a lot. If we see money as a reward for drudgery, bestowed upon us by a judging external “boss” or “The Man”, our relationship with both work and money will be affected. If we see the results of our work as valuable to the world, and the money we earn as equally valuable, we are comfortable with the exchange, and we maintain our intrinsic motivation.

So, as I mentioned in the first part of this series, YOUR beliefs about money matter a lot, and will be passed on to your children, unless you are intentional about sharing something different, AND changing the beliefs you don’t feel serve you. Hint: To figure out if you have any unhelpful underlying beliefs about money or work hidden in your psyche, start journalling with sentence starters, “Work is….” and “Money is…” Repeat the sentence starters over and over, and write stream of consciousness until you’re empty of associations.

The bottom line about allowance is, AFTER you’ve clarified the beliefs you want to share with your children around money, IF you choose to give an allowance, decide HOW you’re going to frame the allowance so that your child is receiving the healthy messages you intended to share. One example of framing the allowance in an intentional way is above, in the quotation beginning with, “In this family we all share the fruits of our labours.”

There are lots of healthy, creative ways to support your children to become responsible with money, but the underlying beliefs are always key. Make sure that the messages you are sending your children are clear, and NOT wrapped up in the muddy waters of rewards, punishments, praise, shame, or fear. This way, your child can start off his or her lifelong relationship with work and money feeling confident and positive.

Please share how you support your children to understand money! We’d also love to hear any questions that you have.


Become the Parent You Want to Be in 2014


It seems like a big and scary goal – The Parent I Want to Be.

At the same time, I can’t really settle for anything less – it matters way too much, and so much love lies in the balance.

So, every year, and multiple times during the year, I re-evaluate. I tweak. I adjust. I take stock of what I’ve learned. I take a deep breath. And I start again, doing my best, with all the information, ability, and heart, that I can draw on, right now, today.

What I love about the New Year is that I am inspired to reset goals, to re-imagine my vision. This year we’re doing something extra special.

I was inspired by the gorgeous family mission statement in the photo.

Each year, my daughter and I have made individual vision posters for the New Year. It has been inspiring and amazing to share that with her, but this year – she’s 8 – I felt it was time to take our joint values and create something really special.

We started with a question, “What do you want our family to be like?” We got out our big whiteboard, and our little whiteboard. We started by brainstorming on our big whiteboard, until neither of us had any more ideas. Then we went through and chose the phrases and ideas that we both felt strongly about, and that included some of the less powerful ideas. We kept these, and erased the others, then began to transfer the ideas to the little whiteboard, to order them by size, to position them, to group them. Lastly, we cleaned off the big whiteboard, and transferred them all back, carefully arranging them as we went.

Then we went out to buy that green painting tape and special acrylic paint markers for writing on walls, and next we’ll paint the most central wall in our home with our Family Vision. I’ll be sure to sub in the photo when it’s complete! In the meanwhile, here’s our whiteboard.


I can’t wait to paint this on the wall!

Creating the vision of the family you want to have, and more importantly, CO-creating that with the rest of your family members, is a key step towards manifesting the reality of your vision. I was amazed at how aligned my daughter and I are in our vision for our family. She designed the final poster, telling me where each idea should fit, and how big to write each word, and most of the time, it was perfect.

As we move into 2014, we will have this solid, beautiful, physical reminder of how we want to be with each other, what our shared values are, and what matters most.

I know that I am a better parent when I am accountable to my children for my behaviour and my choices. I know that I am a better parent when I have reminders of the positive language I want to use when things get tough and I just want to Say Mean Stuff. I know that I am a better parent when I have reminders that we are on track, and a compass to keep me going in the right direction.

There are lots of ways to do this – a framed poster on a single page, a book you write together, a poem, a set of stairs, a painted wall, or something else you choose.

Do you have a vision or mission statement for your family, or for yourself, as a parent? If so, please do share some of the key concepts below! The Big Picture Parenting Class starts by helping you define your vision, clarify the values that matter most to you in your parenting, and express those ideas in ways that inspire you. Come join us! Details for Big Picture Parenting Class of 2014 HERE.

Sometimes You’re in Your Child’s Way


The fastest way to get out of your child’s way and increase your child’s ability to learn new things is to pay close attention to another Montessori principle: “Never substitute your own activity for the child’s.”

Montessori described “sensitive periods” for the acquisition of new skills or understanding. These specific time periods are the ideal time for a child to learn a skill – the child is fascinated by the skill, and learns it most quickly and easily.

To understand the power of sensitive periods, think about how easily most small children learn language, and compare their skills to the language skills of many adults who have spoken a second language for many, many years, but still have not perfected grammar or pronunciation.

Some examples of general sensitive periods are: the 0-6 year-old is in sensitive periods for order, movement and language, and the 6-12 year-old moves through sensitive periods for imagination, working with other people, and morality.

As the child passes through each sensitive period, the adult must observe, give basic lessons in advance when possible, and then – and this is the most important part – stay out of the way and allow the child to explore, make mistakes, and deeply concentrate on each new skill.

Each time we substitute our activity for the child’s, we are intervening into the work of the child. Each time we take the child’s shoelaces into our own hands as she attempts to tie them herself, we take away the child’s opportunity to explore and pursue that skill in that specific moment. If we keep in mind that the sensitive period for a skill exists for only a limited time, we will naturally tend to avoid the interruption as much as possible.

Each time we punish a child for lying, rather than asking “How did it feel in your heart when you told your friend that?” we take away the child’s opportunity to explore their internal moral barometer by distracting with frustration and anger towards us.

So – to help your child learn more, get out of the way!  Give your child time and space to explore, make mistakes, make a mess, figure it out, and concentrate on whatever he or she is trying to do. Do your best NOT to interrupt, and NOT to do it for them.

Please share your thoughts below!  I love to hear your feedback:).

How Praise Hurts

One of the toughest conversations for most parents to get their heads around is the idea that praise might actually be a negative thing.

Yup, you heard that right.  Praise can hurt.

Now, I know it seems a bit crazy to say, but suspend disbelief for a moment and see if this makes sense to you.

A child who is given external praise is more likely to end up externally motivated, and less able to tap in to his or her own ideas about what is good and bad, right and wrong, excellently or poorly done.  

Here’s why.

Praise, especially from a person that a child is deeply attached to, is a reward for behaviour – like offering candy for playing nicely with another child.  What we know is that research consistently shows that when people are rewarded for behaviours, the reward becomes MORE interesting and important to the person, and the behaviour rewarded for becomes less interesting and important to the child.  Oops!!!  

Read that again!

What this means is that when we reward a child for reading, they start to find the pizza party MORE attractive than they otherwise would have, and they start to find the reading LESS attractive than they otherwise would have.  

Praise, like rewards, muddles our thinking and moves us away from our intrinsic motivations and desires.  We start to focus on getting more praise, rather than on exploring our own possibilities.  

One huge issue with praise is the opportunity cost – when you choose praise, conversations are shorter (for a number of reasons I won’t go into here), and you lose the opportunity to find out what’s really going on for your child.  

Most parents tell me that the most important thing for them is to build a relationship with their child that is open and honest.  They want their child to come to them when they need to talk, or need help.  

Research shows that praise sets up expectations from the child’s perspective, and a desire to keep in the praiser’s good graces. “Mom thinks I’m great. What if she finds out I messed up? She might not love me anymore.” or “Dad always says I’m so smart. What’s he going to think when he finds out I failed my math test?”  Children who are given lots of praise tend to lie more, hide their mistakes more, and be more afraid to try new things.  

Think of two conversations:

Mom: Wow!  Nice picture, honey!  Good job!  You are a great artist!
Child: (Drops picture on table, goes to produce another one to get more of that yummy praise.)


Mom: You look really pleased with this picture.  You’ve used red and blue and green.
Child: Yeah!  Look!  I made swirls!  That’s wind.
Mom: Cool.  Why did you choose red?
Child: It’s fall time.  That’s leaves flying around.  But it didn’t really turn out like I wanted.  You can’t tell they’re leaves!  

The conversation grows deeper when the praise is removed.  

So, parents say, now I’m not praising.  I just stand there like a doorknob when my child does something great?  How’s that work?

The goal is to reflect your child’s experience, rather than superimposing your own experience, judgment, and opinion on your child.  There are several ways to do this.  In the example above, the mom noticed her child’s expression and reflected that back.  Then she described what she saw (the colours in the picture), then she asked about the child’s process.  This non-evaluative conversation opens the door to the child’s own experience of the work she’s done.  

Along the same vein, celebrate WITH your child (again, reflecting your child’s experience, NOT celebrating with or without them).  “You look happy!  You tied your own shoe!!!  How exciting!” 

Most of all, talk about the child’s experience, rather than skill level. “You LOVE bike riding!” or “You are having fun!” Research also shows that when we’re always focused on whether or not we’re GOOD at something, we don’t ENJOY things as much. When parents constantly focus on how good their child is at things, the child begins to feel burdened with the need to achieve in order to earn love and approval. 

Really happy people achieve because it feels good, because they care about those around them and because they want to contribute in the world, and explore their own potential.  
I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences around praise!  Please share below.

Montessori Tip #3: Trust the Child!


When I first read about the Montessori method, I was a young teenager, still in high school, and still very close to my own experience of grade school. Through my reading, I at once became very disillusioned with the schooling that I was experiencing, and very motivated.

Montessori’s work had described for me WHY I wasn’t motivated by my school experience, and had also brought my own inner desire to learn to my consciousness. I was indignant, angry even, at the schooling I had experienced so far. I felt as if I had lost a part of myself. It was as if I was being coerced to do something that I might have done on my own. I remember feeling strongly that I COULD be trusted with my own learning, but that I was not trusted by the schooling system I was engaged in. I became very driven to pursue my own interests, follow my heart, and intentionally explore life in a way that felt new to me. It was, simply, a reconnection with my heart, a reminder of something it seemed I’d been encouraged to forget.
Our cultural bias is towards the idea that children (people?) will only learn if they are made to do so. But, our babies learn to roll over, sit up, crawl, walk, feed themselves, talk, and run, with very little adult intervention. At some point, we make the assumption that THIS new skill, THIS kind of learning, is different, and that the child won’t do it without coercion, rewards, punishments, direct instruction, and assigned work. As a result, we get adults who don’t know how to follow their interests, who are disillusioned, focused on money, security, or promotion, in careers they don’t even like. A Gallup survey from 2011 showed that 71% of workers are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” from their work.

Our misunderstanding of the child’s natural motivation skews our perspective, and our mistrust in the child’s inner desire to learn, grow, explore, and expand, clouds our adult vision. This is especially the case if we, ourselves, have become disillusioned by our own work, or by our culture, or by human nature.

What if, instead, with our attitude and with a sparkle in our eye, we set the child free to explore, to follow his or her heart? What if we told the stories of human discovery, built on the child’s interests, and searched for ways to support the child’s natural pursuit of knowledge, skill, and understanding? What if we truly, deeply, thoughtfully, answered our children’s questions, and shared our own questions, with them?  

What if we, with our stories, by sharing our own curiousities, and with great gentleness and respect for the child’s own direction, brought each child to the edge of human knowledge – that place where human beings still have questions, still propose theories, still debate, research, explore, and wonder?

What if we got out of the child’s way and LET them learn, rather than trying to MAKE them learn?  

What if we believed in the human desire to contribute, to build, to solve problems, and to make oneself useful to others? What if we confidently believed that if we shared our human story and what is yet to be done, if we coloured the story with hopefulness, and if we empowered our children to question and to act, that each child would rise up to the potential of our species?   
What if we trusted the child?
Your child may be attending a Montessori school, homeschooling, or attending some other kind of school. We know that PARENTS’ attitudes toward learning and education have the most powerful effect on a child’s experience of school and learning. Regardless of the schooling that you have chosen for your child YOUR perspective, matters – profoundly – to your child. Your ability to create a framework IN WHICH the child’s “formal” (or not-so-formal:) ) education occurs is absolutely key.
In today’s world, children are prone to disillusionment, distraction, and lack of motivation. What you do, HOW you share your perspective with them, is powerful stuff. I hope this newsletter has given you some key areas to consider, and some key messages for you to share!
Montessori’s work with newborns through teenagers will show you HOW to demonstrate your trust in your child’s innate desire to learn, and how to support your child’s (physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual) needs as they change. My upcoming course, The Happiness of the Child: Montessori Information Series will walk you through some specific aspects of Montessori’s philosophy and methodology that will encourage, empower, and inspire you.  You can register or find out more here.
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