My mum was diagnosed as having mild depression a year ago. She has no interest in a lot of her favourite activities and has to be reminded of the procedures needed to complete her daily routines such as taking a shower, having breakfast and going to the toilet. When we ask her anything, the answers are always “I don’t know.”, “Anything.” and “You tell me.”, which are also typical answers from patients with dementia. In my opinion as through my observation, she is showing slight signs of dementia, something that I’ve concluded after reading articles on the topic and attending a conference on dementia last month.
After the conference, I’ve tried to retrain and ‘reprogramme’ my brain, behaviour and attitude towards mum. My daily motto is now ‘Care, Love and Respect’ . With this in mind and equipped with a few tools, I attempt to imitate some of the changes that carers of old aged use when adapting their centre to a Montessori-based environment. As my mum is still able to read words and understand them, my first step is to help her to dress independently. So, I wrote a few basic steps on memo papers and stuck them on her dressing cupboard. Then, I placed her sarong, trousers and shirts on one section of the cupboard which she can see immediately at the level of her eyesight. As mum is able to recognise the different types of her clothes immediately, I don’t need to label them.
I introduced and reminded her to read the steps every time she enters the room, for what ever purpose. On the second night, she was able to dress independently from head to toe and ready to go out for dinner in a blink. This time she had to wait for my dad to get ready. On certain days, she comes out from the room without changing her shirt or trousers. And so, dad and I need to repetitively remind her.
I keep telling myself that this is a journey that our family must take together with mummy. We are not concern about the destination. Every episode of mistake, inaccuracy or forgetfulness has to be taken lightly and laughed out. We can’t afford to burn out for mum’s sake.
Once, mum read and followed the steps on the cupboard. As she arrived at the last step, mum jolted her head and exclaimed, “Hey not going anywhere yet, why take handbag?”. Yea mum, you were absolutely right! I gave out a hearty laugh at my silliness and mum’s rationality.
So remember, if your old folks are still able to read, make labels or instructions for them even when they are forgetful. This keeps them to focus and regain their independence and confidence. And you’ll never know what stories they might able to conjure from their, or your, silliness.
Annette Haines who is the current Director of Training for the Montessori Training Centre of St Louis, US, recently gave a talk on Montessori Principles For All Ages at Sydney’s first conference on Montessori Environments For Dementia.
She revealed and enlightened the audience with some interesting background facts about the similarity of using Montessori approach, which is usually an aid of life for young children in their formative years, adapted and applied to meet the physical, psychological and mental needs of the elderly and those at the end of their lives.
I was personally attracted and intrigued by her comments of the story written by Jonathan Swift in the 17th century, Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of several Ship, also fondly known as Gulliver’s Travels.
“In the story, Swift wrote about the ‘struldbrugs’, a race of people who are immortal, they do not die but aged. As soon as they have completed the term of 80 years, they are looked upon as dead in law. Their heirs immediately succeed to their states, only a small pittance is reserved for their support. The poor ones are maintained at the public charge. And after 80 years old, they are incapable of any employment or trust or profit. They cannot purchase lands or take leases. At 90 they lose their teeth and hair, have no distinction of taste but eat and drink whatever they can get. The disease they were subjected to still continue, without diminishing. In talking they forget the appellation of things and the name of persons. They can never amuse themselves with reading because their memory can never carry themselves from the beginning of the sentence until the end (they have very short concentration span). And in defect, they lost the one or any entertainment which they might be capable of.”
It’s amazingly terrifying to imagine and witness how Swift’s depiction of one of Gulliver’s voyages can turn into reality in the 21st century. How depressing must it had been for him to write that part of the voyage! Can we paint a better picture, and write a more beautiful story for the race of the ‘struldbrugs’? Yes, we can!
Annette mentioned the answer is in “using the basic Montessori principles to make a program for elderly people. There are materials and tools that can be adapted to sustain their memory or reasoning skills. There can be a prepared environment build on respect, full of beauty and light fresh flowers, which shall continue to offer the possibility of continuing independence, enabling them to work with their hands. There must exist a physical and psychosocial environment that must try to preserve the individuality and dignity of the ones under care.”
All human beings want to contribute and be independent. Montessori approach support this at all stages of development and put a beautiful end to the circle of this life.
As much as possible and as many times as possible, I encourage my students and always remind myself to use recyclable materials for art and craft activities. The picture below is a dog, made from ang pau (chinese new year’s red packet) and egg carton. A 6-year-old child can easily origami-fold the dog face which is then stuck onto a painted egg carton. The quality of paint used is very important. Use tempera paint, not water colour. And use thick double sided tape to stick the dog’s head, if use stapler to attach it make sure the sharp part is covered with sticky tape or masking tape.
Encouraging children to form words by listening to the sounds in a word can be a very taxing activity. It is tedious at the beginning but as soon as the child gains confidence in writing their own words independently without feeling guilty or shameful, he will straight away embark on a never-ending journey of writing . Another way to instill the spirit of ‘emergent writing’ or writing adventure is to create books with children. I had to persuade this child to draw a picture for every sentence by looking at pictures in another book. She was very reluctant in the beginning but enjoyed drawing her own picture after the second illustration. She described the difference between a tiger and a cat (although they are from the same family) after finished drawing the tiger. I am sure you will agree with her image of a TIGER.
My 6-year-old student loves numbers and counting, so these abstract skip counting exercises is something she can finish in two minutes. I only need to make sure she reads out the numbers she loudly as she is colouring the boxes. She doesn’t know that this is actually a preparation for her to memorize the multiplication table or chart.
Although kids will love to show off their skip counting skill, make sure that they have worked a lot with concrete materials or Montessori’s skip counting beads. And even after they have coloured the boxes with craftsmanship expertise ;), hands on skip counting with beads and labels is still necessary. They can also work with the multiplication board now.
I’m leaving to Sydney on the second Sunday of November to attend an international conference on empowering dementia patients using the Montessori approach. I’m very confident that this will be an enriching experience for me and will certainly expose me to a whole lot of knowledge, skills and wisdom from passionate, patient and compassionate people around the world.
If you have any questions, opinion or doubts regarding the conference’s theme, I will be very pleased to represent you all to consult the professionals at the event. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at enbarani(replace with @)gmail.com.
You can also read my previous post related to the conference here.
If you are looking for a brief version of Maria Montessori’s biography and is not too keen on reading a 500-page book, this video is just what you need to know Dr. Montessori closer. This almost 50 minutes video is also especially appropriate to show to students of Montessori’s courses. Her life and legacy is reflected poignantly in this video.
Last Friday, Malaysia’s Prime Minister announced the nation’s 2015 budget. He strategised a few improvements and revisions with the hope to elevate the quality of education amidst the rising cost of things and living conditions. Here are a few facts which I have gathered from the budget in regard to early childhood and young children’s education.
- Longer child care maternity leave up to one-year-old for mothers in the civil service, including stepchildren, adopted and foster children and children with disabilities. – What a huge relief for mothers working in governmental bodies, but no chance for mothers elsewhere.
- RM56 billion is allocated to Education Ministry for teaching and learning programmes. - I wonder what type of programmes are these?
- RM100 schooling assistance for primary and secondary students. - similar to BRIM and RM250 voucher.
- RM250 million for School Improvement Specialist Coaches and School Improvement Partners programmes – I again wonder what programmes are these?
- RM20 million for 20 new Trust Schools in certain states. - What are Trust Schools?
- RM800 million allocated for schools to have a safe and conducive learning environment – I wonder whether the amount is enough for all schools in Malaysia to repair and refurbish their buildings.
- RM711 million allocated for early childhood education to Education Ministry, Tabika Kemas, Permata and Tabika Perpaduan. – Once again, schools in the private and international sectors must forge out money from their brains and pockets.
Two wonderful projects that I have made and am going to present to my students. The first project was prepared for a very young child of 3 years old, whilst the second project will be demonstrated to twenty 6-year-olds and work with them in a couple of weeks time.
This is a very simple activity to enhance eye-hand coordination and one-to-one correspondent for mathematical understanding. We started to put one bead at a time inside each compartment of the egg tray, then two by two, three by three and so forth. The interesting thing was this child preferred to lay out the beads on the plastic lid in a circular arrangement when she saw the beads for the first time. A very good opportunity for her to observe and explore the shapes of the beads. I brought different types of beads for the following three days. After that I let her chose what beads and how many beads she would like to put in each compartment. At this point, she is learning how to rote count 1-10 in the correct order.
Point to note: I’m glad I reuse the egg tray and wooden beads (without proper holes that make threading impossible). For the next presentation, I must remember to paint and varnish the egg tray with paint and white glue so that it looks more attractive and shiny.
I made 20 booklets from paper the size of drawing block for children to collect information and write their opinion on the topic of ‘Celebration’. I’m also hoping that they would be interested in making their own booklets from used A4 papers which they can bring from home. This would be a really good practical life exercise for them. You can also learn to make the booklet from Susan Gaylord’s website.
Point to note: Experiment with different sizes and quality of papers.
This post is especially for Klang Valley (residing in Malaysia) readers who are looking for mattresses at a slightly cheaper price:
5 unused set of IKEA mattresses suitable for infants and children (still nicely wrapped up), going for RM 20 each.
Length: 120 cm
Width: 60 cm
Thickness: 5 cm
Collect from Old Klang Road or Mont Kiara area.
Email email@example.com or leave a comment if you or anyone else you know is interested.
Christine Harrison, the president of Montessori Australia Foundation, was the keynote speaker at this year’s Montessori Association of Malaysia’s forum, and in her speech, she mentioned briefly about a Montessori conference in Australia on discussing about the application of Montessori’s method or philosophy for old patients with dementia. That attracted my attention right away, and I decided to book a place to attend the conference in November.
This is the first time I’m hearing about Montessori’s knowledge being utilized to expand to other areas of human growth. I mean how amazing is this! Her philosophy started with research on children with special needs, progressively developed to benefiting very young children, infants and teenagers up to the university years, and now has leaped another generation to help the elderly with weak executive function. Simply fantastically amazing!
I am also equally interested and excited of this event due to my mum’s weakening state of mental health. My mum was diagnosed as having depression and that, doctors believed, has caused her to experience very slow mental-physical reaction time, weak eye-hand coordination and less motivation in all activities and work. Her long term memory is superb but her short term memory, or perhaps working memory, is deteriorating. She has lost a big degree of independence ever since. I hope that by attending this conference will inspire and motivate me to gain more knowledge and insight in this area, and see how Montessori’s knowledge is translated in another area of the final phase of human’s growth, as well as helping my mum to gain more confidence and independence.
In order to attend this event, I have spent a huge sum of money on the registration fee (and will be looking for a place to stay in Sydney, as well as booking a flight soon). So now I’m looking for sponsors or a part time job that will help me to pay at least half of the expenditure (registration, accommodation and flight tickets). If any readers of this blog can point me to any directions that will help me to lighten this financial burden, please email me or comment briefly here so that I can return your reply.