On Monday morning, Al and I went to the Beaner's school for our first classroom observation of the year. As parents of a returning student, this year we would be allowed into the classroom after 10 minutes. (Last year we spent all 20 minutes looking in through the window.) We lucked out for the outside-the-classroom part: The Beaner was in the front of the classroom, looking for a map.
The Beaner's friend G asks whether the Beaner recognizes the photo on the card he's holding. (The exercise involves identifying the initial vowel sound of the item pictured. Al and I did this exercise during an open house last year, and we found a few of the pictures hard to guess. I missed 'escalator', for example, because I was focused on the woman *on* the escalator.)
After helping his friend G with the initial vowel sounds exercise, the Beaner chose a map puzzle and its corresponding laminated map. (He originally chose the South America puzzle and the Europe map by accident, probably because the puzzle and map are matched with colored dots, and he mistook orange for red. We'll have to work on matching up maps at home, where we've actually been talking a lot about the United States and the World—specifically about Magellan's circumnavigation of the globe. :-)
Two other parents with whom we've become friendly were observing their child in the adjacent classroom, and we all started murmuring about our concern that as soon as we entered our respective classrooms, the spell would be broken, and we wouldn't see our kids working as they normally would. I was particularly concerned that the Beaner would just run up and cling to us, forsaking South America.
When Ms. Pysher waved us in, however, the other kids seemed more interested in us than the Beaner did. "Hey [Beaner]," said one little boy who was working at a table by the door, "is that your mom and dad?" The Beaner turned, saw us, said, "yeah," gave us a little wave, and went back to his puzzle. I was AMAZED.
I'd heard a lot about (and seen for myself) the quiet focus with which the children in a Montessori classroom work, but the last time we observed the Beaner, he was a mess. He couldn't stay on task for more than a minute or two; he rolled on the floor; he dumped beans on his head. In short, he was disruptive and out of control.
My first thought was, THANK YOU, FEINGOLD DIET. (And we're not even doing full-on Feingold! All we've done is eliminate artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives.) I know that's at least part of the difference because we've worked very hard to eliminate the crap from his diet, and thus we're in a position to notice what happens when it accidentally creeps in. For example, when we went to visit my grandmother last weekend, the Beaner was a gem on Saturday: patient, focused, fun to be around. On Sunday morning, we ate at the breakfast buffet in the hotel restaurant, where everything turned out to be cooked with artificially-flavored margarine. His behavior took a sharp turn for the worse within an hour: He couldn't focus on anything, he flailed, he didn't listen or respond when we called his name. I had to give him my "you got artificial flavors this morning, so you're going to have to work harder to listen and control your body today" speech to get 5 minutes of sitting still, and even then he spent the entire 5 minutes plucking at his neck (his calming gesture).
I think the other factor in his calm and focus in the classroom is that this is his second year. This I inferred from watching the new 3 year-olds (the Beaner's still considered a 3 year-old this year because his birthday's not until the end of this month, though he's a "returning" 3 year-old). They had some of the same focus problems that the Beaner struggled with last year. They weren't necessarily disruptive; they just lost interest in whatever they were doing before the task was complete, and started fooling around.
The Beaner did a bit of his own fooling around, I suspect for Al's benefit, when he moved on to the initial vowel sounds exercise that G.L. had just completed. He still managed to stay with his mat and his task, though, which just plain knocked my socks off. I was SO PROUD.
When we turned to leave, the Beaner finally came over and gave us each a hug and a kiss, and we told him we'd see him later. "OK," he said, and went back to his work.