Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the first day of school like for a new child?

You and your child will have visited together before his or her first day. After your goodbye routine is done, teachers help your child get comfortable in the classroom for a bit, showing him or her works are that can be done independently, or giving a lesson to a small group, which can help your child meet classmates. We play games in circle that help everyone learn everyone’s names, and we show one or two of the ground rules (such as, choose one work at a time). During work time we watch body language to see where your child is comfortable, and where he or she might like some support. We approach your child gently at all times, and are working to create a sense of safety and friendship between adult and child.If a child is comfortable exploring the room on her own, we’ll step back and observe, helping if necessary (“I see you want a snack. Here’s where to wash your hands..”). Some children prefer an adult to show them around the room a bit, or to join a group lesson.Parents sometimes like to have a gradual ease-in schedule, picking up their child before lunch the first day, after lunch the second day, or coming to school three days the first week of school (please make it three days in a row). This is fine with us, but we can’t charge less for this choice.

What do you recommend for a goodbye routine?

From the very first day of school,you want to follow the same routine you will follow later (on a day you need to get to the airport!). For example, your child can put away the lunchbox, sign in on the children’s sign in while you sign in on the adults’, say hello to the fish and to the teacher or a friend, then kiss you goodbye at the door. Just as bedtime routines are crucial (and adding more steps to them doesn’t serve your child or you), goodbye routines need to be very predictable. On a day when you have plenty of time, do each step slowly.If your child cries, the parents’ instinct is usually to try to find the magic phrase that will make everything all right – “I’m coming back after work” or “you’ll have fun today”, and to delay leaving. One way to think of a hard goodbye is that it’s like getting a shot at the doctor’s office: when the needle starts to go into your child’s arm, you don’t stop there and explain why it’s important to get the immunization, how the pain won’t last long, and so forth – you want the needle to go in and come out, and the hard part to be over. Our recommendation is, even on a hard day, stick to the plan (“three hugs and three kisses at the door, and then off I go”), let yourself cry in the car, then call us when you get to work, and we’ll tell you what happened after you left (“he cried for five minutes, then got out the blocks and marble work, had fun at circle, and is drawing with his friend now”).Also, just know the goodbyes will get easier! It usually is only hard for a week or so, and then your child feels secure enough with the school community to feel safe and content. It can also help to encourage your child to plan something he or she will do when it’s morning work time, such as practice with an object box, or ask for a challenging lesson.

How can parents support math understanding?

The big picture on math is, reason together about ideas that matter. Math is about putting things in relationship with each other. There are two tracks: the language of math, which is counting by rote while touching an unrelated number of fingers, as two year olds do, and actual math, which is what we need instruction on how to support for our children.

But first, I’m going to back up a little and talk about the brain. The most important thing adults can do for children is to avoid correcting their academic errors. There are plenty of items adults need to correct children about, but when they touch various fingers while saying “one, two, four, five, three” the adult’s job is to say,

“I love hearing you count!”

The neo-cortex is the part of the brain that can learn. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that can feel emotions, such as ‘I did it wrong! and Mommy is laughing about that’. When adults make remarks that shut down the neo-cortex, the child stays down in the hippocampus for about 20 minutes, which is a long time to be away from your learning brain.

The child’s error is a gift to the adult. Now you know what he’s working on – counting by rote and counting one number for each finger (one-to-one correspondence) from our example above. When you know what he’s working on, you can re-introduce it tactfully and kindly, which also means you are introducing it in a way that allows him to learn. “Now I’m going to count your toes and make sure they are all there – one, two, three, four, five on this foot. One, two, three, four, five on that foot. I’m so glad you’ve kept track of all your toes! How responsible you are!”

The above example is supporting language knowledge for the child who made errors while counting to five, because the adult didn’t introduce six and up, and supports one-to-one correspondence because of touching the toes and counting slowly.

But what else can you do?

Your new best friend is this phrase:

“Just as many”.

Ask your child to get out just as many spoons as there are plates on the table, just as many plates as there are chairs at the table, etc. Use your magnetic numerals and have your child get out just as many as “this” and show them the numeral without naming it aloud – then you can assess if they accurately know the numeral 2 without hearing it. Don’t correct any mistakes, just enjoy setting the table together. Reason together about ideas that matter: “We need one chair for everybody in our family. You’ve got one chair for Daddy. Who else needs a chair?”

Learning is social. Be happy and have fun, appreciate what your child is doing and admire their achievements. I’ll have more to come later!

My child resists getting dressed. What can I do?

First, at an unstressed time (like the night before), review the morning routine. You can match the child’s to-do list to his fingers, or print it out with pictures, or just write it down. Show him your routine too, and how you do all your steps in order. Part of your routine includes waking him up, and another step is giving him a ‘note-the-time’ call (“we’re heading for the door in 10 minutes”). You might plan together to pick clothes out the night before.Then, in the morning, follow the routine. Don’t say anything more than your routine told them you would (ie. time to wake up, and 10 more minutes) – but do give yourself 5 or 10 extra minutes as cushion. If he isn’t ready, say cheerfully “Off we go! Since you aren’t dressed yet, I’ll bring your clothes in this bag”, scoop him up, and leave. You’ve been noticing that he’s not following the routine, so you’ve also put breakfast and toothbrush in a bag.Your child may now choose to cry, or try to bargain. Be completely sympathetic, and completely firm. “You wish so much you were dressed now. You don’t like being in the carseat undressed. It’s too bad we’re out of time..” etc. Include a blanket if it’s cold, or if the seatbelt seems like it’d be scratchy. Allow him to put on what he can with the carseat fastened (“Sure, I bet you can get your socks and shoes on, that’s a great idea”). Bring him into school in whatever state of undress he’s in, give him to a teacher, and say goodbye. Don’t do all the struggling you avoided at home! “I miss our usual goodbye routine too”, said with complete compassion and love.

Now, the other route your child may take is to laugh and enjoy himself. “I’m going to school naked, ha ha!” Don’t worry that he isn’t getting the point. And, don’t join him in celebrating. Stay quiet and calm, and do the same thing as above.

This protocol will work, and it will work quickly, IF:
* you don’t get upset or angry, and start scolding or begging (keep softening your heart, and telling yourself useful and compassionate things about your child)
*when it does work, you don’t rub it in ( don’t say, “see how much better the morning is when you cooperate?” instead say, “I’m so happy this morning I’m going to sing the chorus from Oklahoma while I cook your oatmeal!”)

Best wishes for peaceful mornings.


The Disco Ball

This is a wonderful quote from Marlene Barron, one of the dynamic elders of the AMS community.

“Every child is like a mirrored disco ball, and as it rotates it casts light off in all directions at once. The complex ball is the child, but all we ever see is the square facing us at one particular moment. What we have to remember is that the ball is always turning and that the child consists of lots of rectangles at once. It’s so hard to see into the ball because what we see is not really the child, but a reflection of ourselves in the child. So how then does one discover who the total child is?”

She goes on to talk about how our initial conclusions about a child are as if we focus on one rectangle, which grows and grows and becomes the whole ball and the whole child. We have gotten stuck, when we do that.