Shopping Cart
Your Cart is Empty
There was an error with PayPalClick here to try again
CelebrateThank you for your business!You should be receiving an order confirmation from Paypal shortly.Exit Shopping Cart

The Earth Tortoise School

A Montessori Community for Infants, Toddlers, Preschoolers, and their Families

Exploring and Learning and Loving at The Earth Tortoise School


view:  full / summary

Monster and Goblins and Ghouls .. Oh My! - Fantasy and the Concrete Thinker

Posted on 25 October, 2022 at 11:45 Comments comments (6)

Next week is Halloween. This is such an exciting time of year - with the decorations, and trips to the pumpkin patch, carving jack o’lanterns, and dressing up. And, of course, the candy!!

In our consumer culture, it seems everywhere you turn, you are inundated with ghosts and monsters and skeletons. And yes, children can enjoy the festivities. But sometimes I feel all of this is very overwhelming and probably pretty confusing to young children.

Young children are concrete thinkers. They live in the here and now. Children do not fully develop the ability to abstract until the age of 7. What we perceive as children using their imagination, is actually children trying to act out what they have been exposed to in real life in an effort to understand it better. When a child is putting a baby to sleep, it is because they have seen someone putting a real baby to sleep. When children play “kitchen”, they are both trying to understand better what it is they are seeing the adults in their lives doing, and experimenting with how it feels to do that themselves. But this is different from true imagination.

True imagination is the ability to create ideas, and experiment with those ideas as mental representations, that one has never actually experienced. We are using our imagination when we can picture a cube in our minds and then rotate that mental representation of the cube to “see” all its sides. We are using our imagination when we can picture our solar system rotating around our sun. We have never experienced actually seeing the solar system in space but our understanding of the physical world has developed enough to create an image of what this might look like. We are using our imagination when we can “see” worlds that do not actually exist, picture creatures that may live in these fantasy worlds.

This is why, the world over, academic learning is not introduced (or should not be introduced) to young children before the age of 7 when they would begin the 1st grade. In the preschool Montessori classroom, we do introduce some concepts that are often thought of as academic but this is done with hands on materials so that the children actually do have real life experience in concrete ways. Even though the oldest children in the primary classrooms may be learning to add and subtract numbers in the thousands, they are doing so by actually moving cubes made of a thousand beads. This experience with concrete objects makes their ability to understand those concepts on a more abstract level later that much easier. I remember my own son learning later math in elementary school and I could almost see him moving the beads he worked with in his preschool classroom in his head.

So back to Halloween …

How confusing it must be for a child to hear about monsters and ghosts and skeletons, walking around in the world. They have never seen such things in real life. And how frightful! ARE there monsters and ghosts and skeletons that might come and get me?? Even the seemingly benevolent imaginary creatures we have in our cultural reference can take on a strange and possibly uncanny bent – talking dogs and flying horses would certainly be very alarming if I saw them in real life!! To children just exposed to these concepts, this is a possibility they cannot help but assume to be true, just by the nature of their very concrete and literal minds.

I am in no way saying that your child should never be exposed to the suggestions of fanciful ideas. But I would caution parents to tread lightly and slowly. We forget how much technology we have at our finger tips that we did not have when we were children. I see parents rushing to introduce their toddler to Star Wars because they loved Star Wars as a child, forgetting that they were probably in elementary school, if not even older, when they saw these movies themselves. And we did not have the amazing CGI effects we have now. The dragons and super heroes and talking animals our children can see now LOOK REAL!! At least with the old cartoons, when children did see such things, they were drawings and created some mental distance from reality.

Last school year, as some of our preschool children were playing outside, a strange man walked in our parking lot. Feeling uneasy, the teachers brought the children inside. When the children asked why they had to go inside early, the teachers explained that there was a person outside that them feel uncomfortable and when we are in that situation, we listen to our intuition and remove ourselves. Though it was not a great situation by any means, the children got a lesson in trusting one’s self and how to stay safe. But there were a couple children who, very quickly, connected this situation with the “bad guys” they had seen on TV. We don’t love the idea of “good guys” and “bad guys” in general but what was actually concerning about this situation was that then these children began talking about how they are the “good guys” and could defeat this “bad guy”. “I’ll smash him! Like this!” And they showed us how they punch and kick. “I’ll throw him out of this universe!” While this can be molded into a story of good triumphing over evil, - a very abstract lesson that we adults want to apply to doing good in the world in social justice/morality/ethics sense - in real life situations, three and four year old cannot “win” against an adult who is high on drugs, having a mental health crisis, or for some other reason is making dangerous choices. They need lessons on how to ACTUALLY stay safe!! And how they can ACTUALLY keep others safe – going to a trusted adult and finding help

Stories and fanciful ideas can be a great way to introduce pretend, imagination, and magic to the lives of young children. When done in connection with an adult where conversation and laughter can happen, this can be a beautiful experience for children. When done in a media driven, consumer culture – however – fantasy can make our children exposed to a confusing, frightening, and false idea of reality and how to navigate it. Let us not forget the beauty and magic of our real world. The idea that a bee dances to communicate with their family, that a frog can jump 5 to 10 times the distance of its own size, and that a caterpillar metamorphosizes into a butterfly is AMAZING and magical. Children need to fall in love with our world so that they can grow to be active, engaged and happy humans on this beautiful planet.

“There is no description, no image in a book, capable to replacing the sight of real trees and all the life to be found around them in the forest.” – Maria Montessori




Feeding is Truly a Developmental Process

Posted on 4 October, 2022 at 19:35 Comments comments (2)



As the first weeks of the school year go by, we come to a place where we can do some fine tuning of routines. One thing we have noticed is the number of children who bring food pouches to school. 


These food pouches can be so convenient. They are a relatively good snack choice on the go - definitely better than sweets, cleaner, and easier to manage. However, they should be very limited for a number of reasons - nutrition (without the fiber, the sugars in fruits and vegetables are unmitigated), development of eating skills, oral development and language development, and the development of a sense of independence and competence. The building of these skills go way beyond infancy and toddlerhood. Preschool aged children also benefit greatly from having nutritious whole, unprocessed food as much as possible.

Rethinking Baby Food Pouches

They are so convenient — but experts say they can be a gateway to bad eating habits


Credit...Tony Cenicola/The New York Times By Rachel Cernansky June 19, 2018


Pouches of puréed baby food can seem like a godsend to busy parents, but some experts say that babies and toddlers who use them too much can miss out on the developmental skills that will contribute to healthy eating habits.


The popular pouches, introduced about a decade ago, now account for 25 percent of baby food sales in the United States, according to Nielsen's Total Food View.


They seem to offer the perfect combination of healthfulness — containing mostly puréed fruits and vegetables, often organic ones with no added sugar — and convenience, with a seemingly endless variety of flavor combinations ready at the twist of a cap. You can hand one to your cranky toddler in the supermarket and she can suck down the food herself, without the need to pause and dirty a bowl and spoon.


The features that make pouches so convenient, though — the smooth texture and squeeze packaging — have some experts concerned. They caution against relying on them too much, saying that they can be a gateway to bad long-term snacking habits and routine overeating (not to mention the environmental impacts of the single-use packages).


With particularly excessive use, pouches may also fail to challenge children at a crucial stage of feeding and oral development — when they are learning to chew and swallow soft foods, which helps with speech, and when they need varied and multi-sensory experiences, which helps develop a palate for a wide range of foods later on.


“Parents are feeling reassured that their kids are getting the fruits and vegetables because they’re having the pouches that have all these vegetables mixed in,” said Dr. Natalie Muth, a pediatrician and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics. But “when it’s all mixed up in a pouch — or when it’s mixed up in a green smoothie, because that comes up all the time too — it’s good, the kids are getting the nutrients, but it’s less good in the long run,” she said. “Kids need the taste of what the actual food is to come to like it later.”


The primary ingredient in most pouches is a sweet food like apples or pears. That masks the taste of the other ingredients, so while children may ingest spinach or kale through pouches, they do not necessarily learn to like those foods. If given these pouches when irritable, children also run the risk of learning to associate sweet snacks with calming down, and to think of snacking in general as an activity to satisfy emotional rather than physiological needs.


“Kids are probably getting these things a lot when they’re not actually hungry,” Dr. Muth said. Using pouches to stop whining, she said, “sets up snacking as being a habit that happens frequently throughout the day or for reasons other than hunger. Kids thrive and respond well to routines, whether they’re good routines or not.”


That can snowball when mealtime comes around and parents are anxious about children not eating their dinner. “Then the child’s actually overriding their body’s own cues for hunger and fullness,” Dr. Muth said.


In the first few years of life, eating is supposed to be an educational experience as much as a nutritional one. What and how children eat early on plays a role in their food preferences later in life, and whether they are picky or open-minded about food in general; they’re also learning how to eat in a very basic, mechanical sense. Early exposure to different textures encourages that learning.


“The mechanics of sucking something and swallowing it is completely different to having a spoon, placing food on the tongue from a spoon, moving it around the mouth, moving it to the back and swallowing it,” said Lucy Cooke, a member of Britain’s national steering group for childhood feeding disorders. “It’s really important that children learn to do that. And the pouches have sort of encouraged moms, I think, to just hand them to the child.”


Babies are born with the ability to drink, relying on a front-to-back movement of the tongue to suck milk or formula down. Around six months, they begin to be ready for more complex foods and to learn to move the tongue from side to side — the foundation of learning how to chew. Eating from pouches is more like drinking and does not develop the shift to chewing.


But there’s no cause for alarm when kids occasionally eat from a pouch. Kara Larson, a speech-language pathologist and feeding specialist at Boston Children’s Hospital, said that children would need to be sucking on pouches for prolonged periods of time for it to interfere with their speech development. She advises parents simply to use them judiciously. “If you’re just given four to five pouches a day to just suck out of there, you may not be developing the other feeding skills that you need to,” Ms. Larson said.


Create a Routine

Ms. Muth recommends that families have established times for meals and snacks — pouches and otherwise — rather than “drinking or pouching the calories throughout the day.” She also recommends having the whole fruit or vegetable whenever possible.


Have Family Meals

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that by about 12 months, kids should be eating meals with the rest of the family and following the same diet. That may mean breaking up the green beans and cauliflower on the parent’s plate into smaller pieces the child can handle — and there will often be an adjustment period with new foods.


“If it’s within the first few weeks of introducing a new texture of food, kids need time. It’s like learning any motor skill that they need to practice,” said Amy Delaney, a feeding and swallowing researcher and speech-language pathologist at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. New tastes can take time, too; it can take 10 or more tries before a child likes a food.


Limit the Use of Pouches

Pouches are unquestionably a better choice than cookies or chips or other low-nutrient foods that are high in calories and salt or sugar, and they can be left in a backpack or car for much longer than fresh foods like carrots or apples. But many experts say you should limit their use.


When you’re at home, give children real, whole foods that you serve from a bowl. Save pouches for travel, and when using them, Ms. Larson suggests squeezing the food into a bowl if possible, or at least feeding from it with a spoon — and ideally, with older babies, giving the spoon to the baby to practice self-feeding.


“Over time, I think there’s going to be a whole generation of parents who think, ‘Oh, now it’s time to introduce pouches,’” said Melanie Potock, a pediatric feeding specialist in Longmont, Colo., and the author of “Adventures in Veggieland.” She added: “Just like sippy cups, pouches were made for parents’ convenience, not for a child’s mouth or oral development.” She said she would like to see parents minimize the use of pouches because it’s hard to pinpoint the line at which detrimental effects could start to show.


“Feeding is truly a developmental process, just like learning to crawl, walk, run. We would never do anything to keep a child from crawling,” Ms. Potock said. “Let’s not do anything that would stall them in the development of eating.”


Love is the Instinct that Guides our Actions

Posted on 26 September, 2022 at 18:05 Comments comments (0)

Here at The Earth Tortoise School, we are wrapping up our first couple of weeks of a new school year. Just like every year, these first weeks are full of tears and triumphs:

Children new to school are working through leaving their parents, perhaps for the first time ever. They are facing a larger world, having to put their trust in people they do not yet know. These relationships are probably their first outside of the safe bubble of their families. They must forge these on their own. As the days pass, their sense of trust in the world - which they have begun building with their parents - becomes further solidified through these new relationships. They are learning that, not only do they have family that loves them and will take care of them, there are others in the world who are kind and caring and make the world a safe place! They learn that they are able to meet new challenges with the support of others and gain the confidence this understanding brings!

This is a hard transition for parents also. You are entrusting the care of your most treasured loved one to someone else. Will they be able to meet all your child’s needs? How will your child cope with such a big change? With time, however, seeing your child make new relationships, grow into new experiences, and gain a new sense of empowerment will fill you with pride, will move you through your growth as a parent, and hopefully give you a sense of support as you settle into this community yourself.

In another way, however, this year feels very different from last couple of years. The COVID pandemic brought lots of stressors – both anticipated and unforeseen. We were all hanging on and getting through each day. This year feels like we have all taken a deep breath and a sigh of relief. There is a lightness. And we hope to be able to shift out of “survival” mode and back into community building.

The development of this blog is one step in that direction – information, inspiration, and insights to help you along on your parenting journey.

We’ll start with a little inspiration:

Maria Montessori wholeheartedly believed, that through our work with children, we can bring about true world peace. When she spoke of world peace, she did not simply mean the cessation of war. Instead, her vision was for a world in which each individual feels at peace with themselves and experiences the joy of being in love with life; a world where each person has an innate sense of dignity; a world where this inner peace manifests as deep respect for everyone and everything on our planet; a world in which “love is the instinct that guides our actions.” Children are born with this love. They are in awe of life and the world around. They are excited to explore and discover. “Love spurs (hu)man to use his mind.” She saw work as our greatest expression of this love for life. Of course, she did not mean the drudgery that so many humans experiences as work. By “work”, Montessori is referring to that basic human drive to explore and discover, to create, to be productive, to learn and contribute – whether it be art, the designing of bridge, cooking, tilling the soil, or working on cars. When we allow children to learn and work in this way, they settle into their inner peace. Creating an environment where children can settle in to this inner peace through their work in that environment should be the aim of education. “Intelligence, a balanced personality, and the unity of all (hu)mankind as a single organism are (hu)man’s wealth. What is therefore needed today is an education that will lead the human personality to recognize (its) grandeur.”

Each day in the classrooms at The Earth Tortoise School, the children go about the very important work of not discovering themselves, per se, but creating themselves - exploring and learning and working to build up that well of peace, love, and purpose.