The Sex Talk

My eighteen little Kindergarteners, with eyes pulled wide, listened in silence as I tread lightly through the renowned book “Boys, Girls & Body Scientists,” by Meg Hickling. It was highly recommended by Saleema Noon, Vancouver’s top sexual health educator.

I must admit, I winced a few times, with sentences such as, “The interesting science is that the father can only do this (use his penis to put the sperm cells into the vagina) when his penis gets erect, meaning it grows longer and becomes stiff.” I smiled and moved along, discussing only the questions they had for me.

A few minutes later, my little Anna decided to interrupt my discomfort with clarity and focus. “How does the penis get INTO the vagina?”

“Well, the father puts his penis into the mother’s vagina. This is so the sperm cells made in the testicles can connect with the ovum from the mother’s ovary.” What else could I say? I continued on, when again, she interrupted with a louder, more concise question.

“HOW DOES THE PENIS GET INTO THE VAGINA?” I glanced at my teaching assistant, who was quietly snickering across the classroom. She decided to move a little closer to me now so she could get a good seat for what was to come.

I wasn’t sure I knew what Anna was struggling with. I sat quiet for a moment to give the question some thought before answering, but quickly got interrupted again. “I DON’T UNDERSTAND MISS LAUREN. HOW DOES THE PENIS GET INTO THE VAGINA?” Her colleagues weren’t helping either, giving her a similar scenario as I had with no success.

Then it dawned on me. Anna is such a strategic and philosophical thinker in her approach to absolutely everything she does on in the classroom. She’s the ‘mechanics’ type, someone who needs to know the process in a logical, step-by-step manner. Now in desperation, I jumped up, walked to the sensorial shelf and took a set of the knobbed cylinders. I brought it to the circle and the children watched as I pulled one of the cylinders out and put it back in…explaining that its like the father’s penis going into the mother’s vaginal opening.

I saw Anna’s face exhale with utter relief, as though she was finally taking that breath of air into her lungs once again. I breathed too. Thank goodness…not only for my sake, but especially for her dear father, as mom had just given birth to a new baby brother a few months ago. Anna finally got the answer her logical mind was craving.

As for my teaching assistant, sex and knobbed cylinders became the big laugh in the staff room that day. Thank you Maria Montessori for the ingenius and multifaceted material we have in our classrooms!

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The Clan

the beauty inherent in each of us

“This all happened over lunch time play today??”  I choked back the tears. They saw shock and sadness in my face. I was speechless.

“But…but why?” I stammered , trying to maintain my composure. My heart ached.

“We don’t know Ms. Lauren, maybe we all just went crazy today,” one of the boys suggested…trying to hide his smile.

The girls piped up in unison, “The boys were fighting too, pushing each other down and chasing us, not listening to our words when we yelled STOP!”

I choked again and got up to get a tissue.

“No one was listening,” Callie added calmly, “Even Mina was part of the boys group and tried to catch us, yelling that she wanted to kill us.”

I gasped, “Mina!”

Mina went to speak, but I quickly held my hand up. “I can’t hear anymore of this.” I sunk my head in my hands to stop the tears and heaved a sigh that pained my entire body. What was going on? My babies, my peaceful, caring, respectful group of children…Ghandi’s pride and joy…certainly before today’s mayhem.

“Are you okay Ms. Lauren?” Mina asked.

“I will be Mina. I just need to take some deep breaths and have silence for a moment. Maybe we can all do that.” And that we did…in a long period of silence, one that allowed us to think about our actions that day. Or maybe just for me to think of my ‘reaction.’

Humility

I emerged peacefully…humbled and quieted. As I blew out the peace candle that was lit in the middle of the circle, I reminded them that I love them regardless of the choices they might make – good or not so good. They didn’t mean to forget to listen to their hearts, or to use their peaceful words and actions. We all are capable of that. Each moment builds on the others in perfect alignment so we can learn.

After school, I had to ask myself and my colleague, “Why was I get so upset? Why was I shaken to the point of tears over this?” Maybe I could blame it on the full moon and my menstrual cycle, or maybe the lack of a  good night’s sleep that week. That didn’t seem to ring true though. Pointing the finger in blame meant that three were pointing back. Was it my need for attaining perfection, the expectation that once we have learned how to make good choices, there is no turning back? Is this even possible? Not at all.

And how dare me to think otherwise.

“Had we been hoodwinked?” (story from a parent)

Adorning herself in one of her new uniforms and shoes, our daughter Katie was starting her Montessori Kindergarten year. It was her third year. From the moment she was born, my husband and I started looking into various types of education. We knew we had found the perfect one when we saw an ad that asked us if we wanted our child to become an independent, self-confident, and a self-motivated brilliant learner. My God, who wouldn’t?

We researched the philosophy and knew it was the perfect place for her. She had always had an insatiable appetite for knowledge. My husband and I couldn’t keep up! For the past two years, she’s been jumping out of bed each morning excited to head to “work,” dressed and ready before I was. By the end of the day, she would always have an elated, yet sleepy, grin on her face.

“So, how was your day sweetie?” I’d ask.

“Good.” she’d reply.

“What did you do?”

“Nothing.”

Hmmm….nothing. Well, I just knew that couldn’t be right. She’s in the classroom for three hours in the morning, than heads off to daycare for the remainder of the day. There was really no paperwork coming home though, you know…concrete evidence that she was actually learning something. I started thinking…had we been hoodwinked? I had to give my head a shake. Surely, she wasn’t doing nothing all day…was she? We were paying good money to send her there. To add to this, my husband’s sister, who had her two boys enrolled in a private non-Montessori school, needed an extra bin to cart their paperwork home!  We only needed a small brown envelope.

To be honest, distrust began to gnaw on me like a rat on a piece of wood. Joan would plaster all the boys’ work across walls and appliances, while we continued to use that same damn fridge magnet next to the handle.

Her teachers, who I love and respect very much, asked me to simply ‘trust’ in her ability to unfold in the perfect way…like they do. They said she was busy learning and developing her unique path in the world and suggested a few books for my husband and I to help us understand the Montessori way. Our jobs were so demanding. Reading anything extra was literally impossible. Instead, I would simply have to anoint myself Queen of Trust. I could do it.

After a few weeks of full day Kindergarten, I still was getting the same old answer…”nothing.” Yet, she seemed on cloud nine each day. I finally broke down one afternoon in Costco, snapped my useless ‘crown’ in half and grabbed a Kindergarten curriculum book and a package of Brain Quest Q & A cards. I was going to find out the truth. We would see about this ‘brilliant learner’ stuff.

It just so happened that my nephews were over that evening. I thought I would have some fun and ask some questions at the dinner table. Well, I was pleasantly surprised. Katie not only knew the answers to the questions, but shared an abundance of  in-depth information around the answer that she seemed to have embodied and understood on an extraordinary level. The boys, on the other hand, seemed to only recite the answers they had memorized.

Trust

I was absolutely amazed. I made the time necessary to do some of the reading the teachers had asked and it was like a light had shone into my own heart and soul. I could finally grasp some of the holistic growth and development Katie was working from. Her education was nurturing her whole being…she was a brilliant and self-motivated learner!

The teachers were right. I just needed to trust Katie. Interestingly enough, that year for her was a culmination of everything she had been preparing herself for in the prior two years. Unlike the boys, where you could see their academic evolution on paper, my child’s evolution was within – transforming her–  as though she was a unique crystal unfolding in a saturated solution. Her learning was imprinted within each and every cell in her body.

She did develop her unique path and what she was preparing within herself was nothing short of brilliant. A flood of the most magnificent work began to find its way home, from exquisitely labeled paintings of the parts of a butterfly and the in-depth root system of a maple tree to cursive written stories and special books of her own equations…along with everything in-between. Her passionate stories behind everything she did was clearly evident that it was her choice and her self-motivation to learn it.

Thank you Maria Montessori for seeing the creative genius in every child.

Thank you Katie’s teachers for trusting her more than we were capable, but taking the time to help my husband and I to do the same.  I look forward to the next three years of her Montessori education.

Nourishing the Tiger

courtesy of telegraph.co.uk

What does a female Kindergarten teacher do when she ends up with an entire classroom of boys? How does she best serve them without trying to mold them into the norm? Well, it’s not really that difficult. Friends and colleagues cringed when I told them that one year, I had 15 five year old boys in my class and not one girl. “Oh my God Lauren, that must have been living hell!” Is this how the world sees our boys?

“On the contrary ladies, it was one of the most poignant years of my teaching career.”

In all honesty, I felt blessed to have been entrusted with such a gift. I was ready to put into practice what I had been learning the year before in my own self-development and awareness. Without this work, I doubt I would have been ready to graciously honour these boys, nourish their masculinity, and watch them graduate into grade one as strong, emotionally-secure young men.

chinese symbol for honour

To honour is to serve one’s highest good and the good of all concerned. In Taoism, honour is an inner quality ‘more precious than the finest jade.’ Being a Montessori teacher allows the graceful freedom to make adjustments where needed in order to be of utmost service to the children in our care. With a classroom brimming in testosterone, this would translate into the acknowledgement of the evolution of man:  more time outdoors, digging in the mud, barreling with sticks, blazing through trails, role-playing, swinging from tree branches, lifting rocks, and building shelters. It would also mean taking a different path with the curriculum, one that would bring in a deeper understanding of early civilizations, with various hands-on ways of safely exploring who they are in their essence: strong and focused.

To nourish my 15 tigers physically and intellectually didn’t seem like such a daunting task, but emotionally meant walking a fine line that I had only hoped I was prepared for. They needed clear boundaries, with no female wishy-washiness. They needed compassion for both their enemies and comrades, with a self-control that lingered on ‘genius.’ They needed a clear and concise non-violent language to understand themselves and be able to communicate this to others. Putting a sword in the untrained hand is dangerous, but providing the foundation through emotional intelligence while learning to use it safely is what would propel these boys forward.

courtesy of fmndesign.blogspot.comThe most defining moment was near the end of our year together. I watched the boys at their tribal best, with mud-splattered faces, calculating rivalries and snapping fallen branches into the harshest of swords. They ran in unison, barking orders and holding their weapons high. I always kept my eye on one boy in particular, a boy who often needed extra guidance and patience from all of us throughout the year. He caught up to his opponent and with stick raised, he was finally able to notice the fear and uncertainty in his friend’s eyes. Realizing this, he dropped the stick, they wrestled to the ground, rolled around in the soil, and laughed hysterically as they helped one another up. Tears came to my eyes in the realization that this boy had finally become ‘aware,’ that all my hope and trust in his process came to fruition with that simple gesture only a man could understand. He was now on his way to building the solid foundation of trust that the rest had incorporated earlier on that year.

courtesy of capeannwaldorf.orgThis day just happened to be Mother’s Day, a day that we transform our classroom into the Cherub’s Tea House and invite all the moms to come. The boys washed off their warrior markings and changed their clothes, anxiously awaiting their mother’s knock on the door. One by one, my little men greeted their mothers with a flower, hugged them with heart and soul, and strode hand-in-hand to a special table for two. Here, they served their mothers with elegance, then served themselves, and sat down to enjoy a conversation that only a mother’s heart could yearn for…

We all shared tears that afternoon, tears that allow our boys to be boys, our men to be men, and our hearts to be filled.

Love, breath and graceful movement

Love

The chinese character for Love is ai. I am taken by its essence more than any other. I didn’t know this, but each Chinese character has its own way of being formed. It’s known as the ‘stroke order’ and it’s deemed crucial that this sequence be followed in order to honour the harmonious movement visible in nature.

Every character ‘takes’ or moves from the first brush stroke. Therefore, love begins with the strokes for ‘breath’ (top), then moves to the ‘heart’ (center), and closes with ‘graceful movement’ (bottom). When I think about it, this is exactly the beauty that unfolds in the classroom each year.

Feeding With Love

Creating a loving space, a classroom where hugs and personal attention abound, where honour and humility serve, where ego has no place…it is like that first stroke:

Breathallowing the children to reach their highest potential each moment they are in our care. Can we trust that each child, with humble guidance, will find their way to their own uniqueness? We must. Let them breathe deeply and fully. There is no pushing, there is no expectation, only that of each child’s own perfect unfolding…like a crystal in a saturated solution: unique and awe-inspiring.

Heartwhen we, as teachers and parents, carry this deep level of trust, all hearts are nourished. This is all that our children want – for themselves and for us. They don’t want us to worry, or fear, or anger. They want us to love and trust in their path. They know.

When the heart is full, the next stroke can unfold.

Graceful movementchildren who are loved in a way that feeds them show this so eloquently as they move themselves in their environment over time. They have a deep knowing of our trust, our love, and our commitment to their individuality. The fullness of their hearts spills out into their community of peers, into the very essence of their work, and the compassion and care they hold for everything around them.

I see love as inspiring. It breathes life into the heart, and brings grace to the body. Let’s allow children to feel ‘full’ enough that they can gift their abundance to others around them. Let’s inspire them, and be inspired, with  love.

To Fool a Toothfairy

Thomas thinks he’s going to fool the tooth fairy,” she breathed with nostrils slightly flared. “I told him that it will not work, but he doesn’t believe me.” With a glazed look and a moment of hesitation, she whispered,”Do YOU think it will work Miss Lauren?”

“Hmmm….good question.” I glanced over to see our little jokester, with face and hands feverishly pressed to the table sweating over something invisible to the naked eye. “Don’t worry Callie, I’m pretty sure the tooth fairy is equally clever and, most likely, can’t be fooled that easily.”

At that moment, he sat up, abandoned his work table strewn with paper cuttings, scissors of different styles, and glossy tape, and appeared directly in front of me. “Teacher Lauren,” he frowned with great seriousness, “what does this look like to you?” With that, he held up a miniscule piece of tightly pressed white paper, squared and wrapped in tape.

“Oh, my goodness, that looks just like a tooth.”

“Uh huh,” he nodded with an approving smirk, “that’s what I thought too.” At that, he turned and headed off to the full-length mirror, where he held the tooth up to his mouth and examined its mind-boggling similarities. I watched him smile at his own 4 year old masterpiece, slip the carefully-crafted prosthesis  into his pocket along with plans of carrying out such a seemingly sound, yet devious plan.

This Chinese character, depicting a ‘person’ with arms spread wide, stands in a wide open space thick with grass, a wilderness if you will, to signify innate ‘courage’ and heroism, for he does not fear this place where the wild animals roam.

The hero courageously endures nature’s hardships by harmonizing with his environment…yes, even those toothfairies, Easter bunnies, Santa Claus, and more…maneuvering himself fearlessly through life…all in harmony with a masterful plan.  

Boundaries: Let’s Get Clear

courtesy of utdallas.edu

“STOP TOUCHING MY WORK!!” I heard one of my 4 year olds, Timothy, loud and clear. The shock waves silenced the classroom. I saw the look of devastation on the victim’s face: a three year old little ‘caterpillar’ as I like to refer to him. Timothy bounded to his feet, looked around to see where I was, made   eye contact and began to stomp his way over.

He threw his hand on my shoulder, holding his breath and trying his best to patiently wait his turn. I could feel his anger. I quickly ended my discussion with another child and turned to him. “I can see you’re very angry right now, so before you tell me what happened, did you remember to use your words with Ryan so he knows what you want?”

With rapid deflation, he slapped his hand to his forehead, “Oh yeh, I forgot.” He turned away, creating a clear path back to the perpetrator.

While children are still practicing their clarity around boundaries, I offer my eyes and ears and sit on the sidelines for mediation purposes only. Timothy held Ryan’s hand and looked him in the eyes. “I feel angry right now because you touched my work and knocked it over.  Now I have to make it all over again.” Our little Ryan, still flustered by the earth-shattering of emotion earlier, could only find refuge in the simplicity of “I’m sorry,” and lowered his eyes.

“Well, I guess its ok, because I can rebuild it.”

“What if Ryan helps you to rebuild it somehow?” I whispered.

Timothy thought for a moment. “Maybe.” “Ryan, how about you can just hand me the pieces to put on it.”

“OK!” and with smiles and laughter again, Timothy coveted his new little apprentice as they co-created the rebuilding of an empire.

 “Next time that happens Timothy, remember to remind your friends right away, even before you start, to watch quietly or find their own work. This way, they will be clear with what you want from them and they can choose whether they would like to do that or not. What do you think Ryan, would you have listened to Timothy?”

Ryan looked up at me with his big brown pools of innocence and blinked, “Yes. He didn’t say any words to me. I didn’t even know.”

Imagine a world where each one of us could learn to deal one-on-one, eye-to-eye, heart-to-heart with disagreements using compassionate communication right from age 3! The crazy amount of energy it takes out of just one individual to harbour anger and resentment and hold it in tight, clenched fists, teeth and all, allows it to fester into all sorts of health and well-being challenges. Being open, honest and straight forward could actually free us up to be so much more of who we want to be. Isn’t this one of the great lessons our children teach us?