I am so excited to be going to the Great Big Family Play Day on Sunday. Some of the top southern California Mom Bloggers and my favorite brands join up together at this event to create a fun day for parents and kids! 

Here's a link to more information: GreatBigFamilyPlayDay.com

Are you going? If so, drop a line! I'd love to meet members of the Swell Mommy community in person! 

Let's say you have the option of putting your child into one of 4 preschools: Traditional, Montessori, Reggio Emilia or Waldorf-Steiner. Which do you choose and why?

For a lot of us, we are skeptical of the traditional education system which involves a teacher up at the front of the class, more often than not talking at the students rather than with the students, trying to teach a lesson out of an plan that will likely not keep the interest of all the students in the class, resulting in a largely ineffective amount of time in the class many of the kids. And when all the data points to the first five years of life being the most critical for educational development, parents are looking for an alternative to the traditional preschool. We are a generation of parents who know that the status quo is not something to be blindly accepted. 

Personally, I looked at a core 3 alternatives because they have distinct education philosophies that encourage child led curriculum. There are a number of other very valuable alternatives, like co-op preschools and homeschooling, which vary so greatly that it would be hard to review in a simple blog like this one so I had to leave them out.

These three methodologies share a few core ideas which, I feel, are invaluable to the early learning experience, such as child interest led learning, free play/work time, naturally based materials at an accessible level to the children in a soothing home-like classroom. The following is an overview on how these schools tend to differ. In later parts of this series, I will go into detail about the different aspects of these schools and how to implement some of my favorite aspects of each philosophy at home. 

Montessori: Laying the foundation for independent responsible kids with a love of learning.

Developed by Maria Montessori, this is the most commonly found alternative to traditional preschools as it is widely established in the educational community. Montessori is focused on building a foundation of skills, encouraged by a child's natural curiosity and drive to learn and accomplish tasks, which develops into a love of learning and personal responsibility. 
  • Montessori materials. The materials are a key part of the classrooms as they were developed to teach the fundamentals of academics in a way that can be understood using multiple senses. They are also self correcting allowing a student to learn independently whether or not they have completed a work and mastered the skill.
  • Children in age ranges. Classrooms are set up in age ranges which allows children to see what is ahead of them and behind them in terms of skills. This also encourages them to learn and help their peers which builds a sense of leadership. 
  • No adult led make believe. Until children reach the age of 6, when they can have a firm grasp on reality, adults are discouraged from leading the children with make believe, including fictional cartoon characters and stories. Children are encouraged to flex their own imaginations being inspired by the real world around them.
  • Self directed, independent works. Provided with ample free play/work time, each child is picks what work (the name for education toy) in the classroom and is encouraged to complete the work all the way to putting the items away. Many of the materials are individual in nature allowing a student to work at their own pace rather than be sped up or slowed down by others in the classroom. The often results in children challenging themselves to the next level of competency precisely when they are ready.
  • Practical skills. In addition to academics, life skills such as cutting, cleaning, sorting, fastening, are taught in the classroom fostering a sense of independence from mastery of daily skills but also develops motor skills used later in more complex development.
  • Can transition to traditional elementary school. Once a child has developed fundamentals in a Montessori preschool classroom, they are often ahead of their peers when entering traditional elementary schools rather than behind, despite the alternative teaching methods. 

Reggio Emilia: Children have 100 different languages in which they learn and express themselves.

Developed by Loris Malaguzzi, this is a growing segment of non-conventional preschool which many call a blend of Montessori and Waldorf. With the use of art, song and other forms of expression or languages, children are an integral part of their learning as is their environment. By developing a multitude of learning activities for groups of children based on their expressed interest, Reggio Emilia schools teach a sense of collaboration, community and creative solutions.
  • Nature based. The outdoors, as well as, natural and everyday materials is at the core of the learning materials. In addition, the classrooms are ideally beautiful in nature, beckoning to the child to be inspired to participate and create. 
  • Immersive activities based on group interest. Activities for the groups in the classroom are driven by the interest of the child as long as that subject interests them. For instance, much like the ladybug learning guide I previously posted, a Reggio classroom would integrate all activities into the topic du jour from art projects to songs focused on that topic until a new topic captures the students' interests. 
  • 100 different languages. Based on the idea that children have 100 different methods of expression and learning, each classroom is outfitted with an atelier (or studio) for art and creation, theater area for drama, and a planning and observation reflection area. This allows the students to use whatever language is ideal for their personal learning experience.
  • Sensory development. It's worth mentioning that there is a great deal of sensory work done in a Reggio Emilia classroom, in part due to the 100 different languages. Many classrooms will have an atelier of taste where children are able to smell and taste materials as part of the learning experience. Use of water tables and sand boxes are also commonly used in the sensory play. This is a key differentiating part of the Reggio philosophy for me.
  • Collaborative scientific method. In many of the group based projects, the classes use something of a collaborative scientific method. The group discusses an idea, plans how to execute or experiment with that idea, puts the plans into motion and then reflects on the findings. Many times, the group will try experiments over the course of weeks until concluding the project. 

Waldorf-Steiner: Preserve childhood as a magical time while exploring what it means to be human. 

Developed by Rudolph Steiner, this education philosophy has gained traction as being anti-technology embraced by technology moguls in Silicon Valley. Waldorf education, in addition to emphasising the importance of art, creation and individuality, highlights spirituality and the need to protect childhood and the sense of whimsy and wonder inherent in a child's imagination. Focused heavily on humanity and in turn, morality.
  • Spiritually based. A cornerstone of the Waldorf method is integrating the spirituality of the student, as an aspect of their humanity, into the curriculum. Though not religious, the experience on a Waldorf campus can be compared to a spiritual retreat for children many classrooms incorporating crystals and an emotionally centered focus. 
  • Artistic expression focused. Art, music and drama are at the forefront of the Waldorf education. Language is often taught through story and song while subjects are taught through the creation of their own books. Everything begins with artistic exploration.
  • Latent readiness. Children in Waldorf schools are not pushed to master letters and many other traditionally academic topics before the age of 7. Until that point, language is taught in terms of comprehension through speaking and ideas and math is learned in the context of projects. The idea is to introduce topics at the best, usually the latest, point of readiness when learning will be the least difficult and frustrating.
  • Non-competitive and free-thinking. The culture fostered in a Waldorf classroom is of blazing one's own path. Championed by parents of technology pioneers due to this aspect of the philosophy, students are free of paradigms created by structured and defined plans to be highly individualized in their accomplishments. 
  • Technology banned. TV and other media are discouraged because it hampers the imagination of the student. Further, technology is in general is discouraged until the teenage years, presumably when the foundations for individualism have already taken root in each child, as technology use requires the understanding and adherence to a predefined interactive experience. 
  • Ideally attended from Preschool to at least 9th grade. Students are encouraged to stay with a Waldorf education from Preschool to the end of middle school at least, but ideally until the 12th grade. Waldorf educated students should generally remain in Waldorf schools until at least 5th grade, before transitioning to more traditional school as until that point Waldorf students are not as familiar with reading and writing as traditionally educated students. However, it is also recommended that students stay with the same teacher between the ages of 7 to 14 because developmentally at those ages it's more effective to be taught by a teacher that is as familiar and consistent as a parent. That puts the average child in a Waldorf education until 9th grade at least.
What kind of school is your child enrolled in? If none of these alternatives are available in the area where you live or if you'd like to implement some of these educational philosophies at home, stay tuned for Parts 2-4 where I look at how to implements my favorite aspects of these schools outside of the classroom. 

At BB's Montessori preschool, there is a theme for every week. Parents receive an email with homework that details what the kids are learning about so it can be reinforced at home. Recently, we had a blast doing ladybug based activities at home!

1. Video Research: We started by looking up a time lapse of the life cycle of a lady bug. You know, for those of us who may not remember how an egg turns into a larva into a pupa and then into a beetle. This video is the best one I found on Youtube. There is something really mesmerizing about these little guys/gals.

2. Layout the Lifecycle. Using Insect Lore Ladybug Life Cycle Stages, I asked BB to show me what order the phases went. The school had sent a cutout worksheet that allowed the kids to do the same without needing to buy the toys. Surprisingly, BB got the order and the names right very quickly! I think it's his love of what he calls "beetle bugs."

These were a hit with preschool aged BB and 1 year old ET.

3. Draw the Stages. There's nothing like art to solidify a lesson. The art supplies came out and BB and I spent some time drawing the ladybug lifestyle toys. Right now it's more about identifying colors and fostering a love of art and creating. BB likes to draw his then draw on mine.

Can you tell who drew what?
 4. Ladybug Snacks. There's a field down the street from us and we invited a family whose kids go to school with BB to come over for a playdate and hunt ladybugs. No playdate is complete without snacks so I made the following treats (some were even gluten free). Yes, I am aware they are not accurate representations of the insect with 3 body segments, 2 antenna and 6 legs. 

Cherry Tomatoes and Chived Cheese on Melba Toast Ladybugs
Melba Toast
Chive Whipped Cream Cheese
Extra Large Black Olives

- Spread whipped cream cheese on melba toast.
- Slice cherry tomatoes in half.
- Slice a small sliver off opposing sides of each tomato to make wings.
- Arrange sliced tomatoes on cream cheese in the shape of a ladybug.
- Slice olives in half.
- Spread a small amount of cream cheese on the cut side of the olives.
- Place the cut side with cream cheese down on the tomatoes.
- Serve the little lady bugs.

Salami, Provolone and Olive Ladybugs
Boar's Head Pre-sliced Salami
Belgioioso Pre-sliced Provolone
Extra Large Black Olives

- Place individual slices of provolone on the plate.
- Slice a tiny triangle out of each salami round. Multiple rounds can be stacked and cut at the same time.
- Slice olives in half and place on top of the salami to make a head for the ladybug.
- Serve these gluten free little ladybugs!

Fruit and Almond Butter Ladybugs
Fuji Apples
Almond Butter

- Slice rounds off apples. I was able to get about 3 per apple.
- Cut a triangle out of each round to form wings.
- Slice grapes in half.
- Spread apple butter on the cut side of the grape and place at the top of the triangle cutout.
- Dip raisins in almond butter and attach to the apples on the wings.

5. Ladybug Hunting. The aforementioned field was lousy with ladybugs when we went ladybug hunting the day before playdate but I forgot to bring a container to bring the ladybugs home in. When we went for the playdate, we remembered a container for the ladybugs but there wasn't a ladybug to be found at first! Turns out it might have been the time of day.

The best time to look for ladybugs is between May and October, depending on where you live. They can be found where there are lots of soft grass, fields or flowers. The secret for us was they were easier to find around the time the sun was setting because they only fly during the day and start to land and settle in for the night if they are migrating. Here is more information that is useful in the capture and care of ladybugs.

I also recommend the nifty ladybug habitat below because it's awesome:

The coolest ladybug habitat!

If hunting doesn't work, many home improvement stores sell ladybugs for the garden as they eat garden pets like aphids. Try to pick ones that are already alive and not being stored in a cooler in "hibernation." That's just home improvement talk for "not alive" as we learned the hard way.

6. Counting Printable. We're working on counting and coloring at the preschool age so I made up this nifty printable that BB and I worked on. He colored and drew dots corresponding to the number on the ladybug and I helped him write numbers. Check out the first printable I made! You can have it for free!
The first Swellmommy.com Printable!

How did you like this ladybug activity guide? Is it something you'd like to see more of?

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I’ll receive a commission on the sale. I promise I will never recommend or link to a product that I don't believe will bring you value as a member of the Swell Mommy community. 

I went to pick up BB a couple of months ago with a scratch on his face and he told me some kid hit him! A few days before that, he started being reluctant about going to school, which is unusual since he attends a wonderland filled with tree houses and play structures and a menagerie of animals. We didn't pick this school for it NOT to be awesome to attend every weekday. Turns out, he, along with a number of the other kids, were having issues with the same kid.

I know this kid. I've seen him needle BB from time to time, purposely doing things that he knows will set BB off. Like when I say goodbye at the window, BB gets territorial and doesn't want anyone else to talk to me. This is fine for every other kid in the class because they don't care about saying goodbye to me. This kid will come up to the window and in an annoying voice I can only compare to Nelson Muntz (do people still watch the Simpsons?), will say repeatedly until BB breaks, "Bye BB's mom. BB, I'm saying 'bye' to your mommy!" BB, taught to say "No, thank you" and "Please walk away" when someone is doing something he doesn't like, is left screaming, "NO THANK YOU PLEASE WALK AWAY" in a most impolite fashion. If the kid is doing this purposeful needling in front of me, imagine what he's doing when no one is looking. 

This annoying kid has scratched my kid hard enough to draw enough blood to leave a scabby scratch and I know he's been aggressive with other kids too and the mama bear in me wants to have the kid removed from the school because he's crossed a line. But then I see BB, right there, hanging out with the kid like they're best friends and I get it. They're like frenemies and I want to reach out and tell him to not be friends who someone who has proven he will hurt him because a lifetime of experience has taught me to protect myself from friendships that are more harmful than helpful. And I see the harm because BB doesn't want to go to school anymore, he's more quick to anger (which at this age is a real feat) and started showing signs of aggression and manifesting frustrations physically, even in play with his little brother.

Then I remember that they're preschoolers, barely out of toddlerhood, and the worst thing I can do is have a kid who needs the gentle discipline of a Montessori education kicked out so he ends up at a school with a more aggressive less tolerant disciplinary approach. That might not be exactly how criminals are created but I'm not going to have all of that on my conscience. Plus, I firmly believe and try to teach my kids that we cannot control other people, we can only control how we react to others and what we do with our feelings. 

I end up having a conversation with the teachers and director of the school to keep BB and this bully kid apart along with daily check-ins on how BB is behaving because I have a plan on how to deal with his anger and bullying so he doesn't become a bully himself. 

1. Read Bedtime Books About Anger. Whenever we deal with any emotional challenge, in our house, we turn to bedtime books. The process of telling the story and sprinkling details from their own reality to get BB talking and thinking about how he can relate and apply the lessons in his own life is so effective. We really enjoyed the following titles: 

  • Hands Are Not for Hitting: Perfect for addressing behaviors that stem from anger and offers ways to talk about anger and alternatives to work out frustration.
  • Cool Down and Work Through Anger: Everything from this publishing house is quite good and this book is no exception. The back of the book includes really extension coaching for parents and teachers on dealing with anger. 
  • When I'm Feeling Angry: Addresses the fact that anger is not wrong but certain responses to anger are. A board book that is ideal for the younger reader.
  • Angry Octopus: Great for older kids, can actually be used as a distraction and guide for kids to go through muscle relaxation and breathing to calm down.

2. Give Words to Emotions. For a while, every time BB had an angry outburst or aggressive reaction, we would stop everything and calmly help BB find words to express himself and get to the root of the anger. Sometimes he was simply being triggered into being territorial because his little brother had done something  that reminded him of something the kid did at school that upset him, other times he was upset about small things that spiraled into big things as his emotions got away from him. Naming the causes of his anger helped him to calm down. Now, when he starts getting upset, we ask him, "Why are you angry?" and he stops to think and explain instead of turning into a little preschool explosive.

3. Find an Anger Management Action. We all have coping mechanisms when we're angry. Me, when I am particularly angry, I need to step away and take some deep breathes. Big triggers cause me to need to talk or write them out. People without a tried and true anger management outlet are more prone to outbursts and and destructive behavior. Kids are no different

  • Relaxation Focus: Any action that helps a child relax, from deep breaths to counting one through ten, can help take the tension out of anger. 
  • Physical Activity: From dancing, to stretching or simply some jumping jacks, shaking out anger may be as easy and getting a child's body moving and energy burned off. 
  • Move to Safe Space: A change of location, like to a garden or classroom, especially to one that evokes positive and safe feelings, can provide the perfect place for a preschoolers to reflect on their feelings in a calm manner. 
  • Talk to a Trusted Friend: Verbose littles often just need someone to be an ear and a comforting shoulder to cry on while they process their big emotions.
  • Draw or Create: A great emotion management tool used in therapy for children, often using art to get out negative feelings works best for creative kids.

4. Suggest Alternative Play. Since anger and bullying was a problem that effected multiple students, the teachers integrated some lessons into the week's lesson plan to encourage the children to play together while avoiding situations with potential conflicts. They had the kids suggest games they could play together and discussed what it means to be a friend. A few of the games they came up with were "Hot Potato," "Family," and "Duck, Duck, Goose."

Specifically for Parents: It's also important to note that children not only learn from each other but they learn from us as parents from our behavior. I have seen the parents of the kid everyone was having a problem with and the father has a very unpleasant demeanor with a short temper. Other parents noted that at the Conscious Parenting for Emotional Intelligence class offered at the school, his parents explained they are overwhelmed and short on time that sometimes bullying occurs by the older siblings to their youngest and they don't always have time to address it so he's learned to be tough as an explanation for his behavior. I can't tell them how to parent but I do believe we should to address anger and bullying by nurturing an environment of respect for everyone, from parents to children and siblings, while also having a no tolerance policy in regards to violent behavior. It's the only way we raise kids who share those values in the greater community and world.

It's takes a village, ya'll. That's the truth.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I’ll receive a commission on the sale. I promise I will never recommend or link to a product that I don't believe will bring you value as a member of the Swell Mommy community. 

I just threw my final red egg and ginger party. A Chinese and Vietnamese tradition, usually held at the one month or 100 day mark, I pushed it out to the 1 year mark for ET's first birthday and combined it with the 1 year traditions because of the following reasons:
  • I didn't want to entertain a few dozen of my closest friends and family while trying to nurse a newborn around the clock. That sounds like a special kind of torture. 
  • Newborns have undeveloped immune systems which means exposure to a few dozen people who may or may not take kindly to an RSVP request that requires immunization records that date back at least 2 weeks before the party but no more than a few years before. Even typing that made me cringe. 
  • Modern medicine makes it less and less likely for babies to pass before the 30 day or 100 day mark so the real milestone is keeping this kid alive until he could turn 1. He happens to be a danger seeking missile so I am pretty proud we hit the 365 day mark without major incident. The kid will climb anything taller than a step if he can manage it with his little baby legs. 
  • I wanted to.
Traditionally, a red egg ginger party was to celebrate the survival of the baby at the 30 day mark with offerings on the altar to the gods/boddhisatvas, welcome the mother coming back to society after the "sitting month" zuoyuezi, guests give the baby red envelopes filled with money, tiger themed apparel, jewelry for girls, red eggs (symbols of happiness, luck and unity) and ginger (warming for the mother) along with roast pork are given to the guests, the baby's hair is either snipped or shaved and the parents announce the name of the child. Before the 30 day mark, it was considered bad luck to name the child because evil spirits want to steal things that are cherished. Instead the babies were given insulting nicknames so the spirits would ignore them like trash. Legitimately a thing, google it for real. 

There's also a 100 party which seems really redundant but probably a good excuse for families to get together again to celebrate the baby one more time. I personally wouldn't do this because that's like having two baby showers, people might start to feel like it's a gift grab. Or a laiseebao grab. 

At the 1 year party, some of the same things happen as the 30 day party. Offering on the altar, family and friends, roast pork, etc. But then a few things are different, like the picking of the profession. Yeah, you think it's hard for a senior in college to pick a major in college, try being a 1 year old picking a life's purpose. That's real pressure. Here are the tradition I held onto when merging the Red Egg and Ginger Party with the 1 year party:

Red (chocolate) egg and candied ginger. Still full of luck, unity and warmth.

1. Giving out red eggs and ginger. With a twist. I mean, the party is literally named after these things. Instead of hardboiled red eggs and picked ginger, I opted for red Lindor eggs (thank goodness for Easter candy) and candied ginger. I thought it would be happier. I also only put one egg in each goody bag instead of two even though ET is a boy and historically it is two for a boy and one for a girl because historically the Chinese were sexist. #oneeggforallgenders

2. Offerings on the altar. This is a custom that I do so my kids will remember it and hopefully do it also. As a child, my mother always put offerings on the altar for the holidays and events that required it. My grandmother did as well. I think about how I am connected to them through these acts of following our customs and sharing them with my kids. 

3. Announcing the name. Armed with a cricut and a supplier of mylar balloon letters, I incorporated ET's Chinese and Vietnamese names into the party decor and used a monkey theme because he was born the Year of the Monkey. These names will be what our family calls him at home, particularly his grandparents, as a regular reminder that he is indeed Chinese Vietnamese.

Chinese name official. Thanks Cricut.

Announcing Vietnamese name up in here. 

4. Selecting a calling. This is probably the most fun part of a first birthday. A variety of items are placed in front of the baby and the baby picks one and that is supposed to indicate what the child will pursue for their career. A ball may mean an athlete, a book could be a scholar, a stethoscope would mean a doctor, scissors indicate a tailor and a parent who is a little too lax about baby safety.  

Many parents put a variety of items, even ones for professions they wouldn't agree with. They are better parents than me. I used what I had available, focused on careers I feel are ideal and avoided any indication of sports. ET went for the calculator, which normally means banker, but it was a graphing calculator which could also indicate computer programming/engineering. He picked the stethoscope after that so the world really is his oyster. 

Calculator, Stethoscope then Book. 
5. A whole roast pig. This ties back to culture and how at major milestone events like engagements, weddings and baby related parties, a whole pig is offered on the altar to ward off evil spirits, bring luck and success and all those other things that we Chinese/Vietnamese revere. Also, it is delicious and a rare treat because most families don't go buying a whole roast pig on the regular. After the offering, the roast pig is cut and served to eat and leftovers are sent home with guests. This might be the last whole roast pig I buy in my life, or at least until I have grandchildren. If I have them. No pressure kids.

Other typical foods include noodles, desserts, chicken, fish, often in a traditional chinese banquet style. Modern mamas do things like red cupcakes too. 

Red Velvet Cupcake with Monkeys.

A few other things I did for the party was use Minted for the invitations to the Red Egg and Ginger party, bought a brand new red outfit for ET to wear, picked up a tower for the red cupcakes, customized with iced monkey decorations, and cut out a happy birthday banner with a Cricut Simply Sweet and Animal Kingdom cartridges for the monkey banner pieces. Little man's hair has not been shaved.

And with that, my last baby is one. All the tears. 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I’ll receive a commission on the sale. I promise I will never recommend or link to a product that I don't believe will bring you value as a member of the Swell Mommy community.