About mommyinmexico

I'm a Canadian teacher who has been living in Mexico since 2000... I fell in love with the country in general and one of its citizens in particular. We have two kids, two dogs and a full life!

Teacher Appreciation

Today, May 15, is Teacher’s Day, which is of special interest to me as a teacher. It is compelling for reasons such as:

  • I never experienced so much teacher appreciation as I have since I moved to Mexico.
  • I have the day off, and what can be more interesting than that, really?

I am glad that Mexico finds it necessary to appreciate the work we do with her youngest citizens, because, I will tell you honestly, teachers sometimes don’t feel we are as valued as maybe we ought to be. It can be truly challenging to consider yourself appreciated when people are putting their feet on top of your new Kirkland Signature pants because they want their shoes tied and they don’t feel like asking just now.

It’s hard to know if people really see what you do as important when they are throwing up on you, or using your shirt as a tissue, or asking you what they should do when you just said it at least three times. It’s difficult to feel appreciated when the people with whom you spend your time tell you they want to go home, or lie down in the middle of the most exciting part of the story, or leave their half eaten grapes on the floor so you can take an exciting ride across the tile when you least expect it.

But, oddly enough, I don’t really spend a lot of time considering it, I truly don’t. Being a teacher means that you do not have the time or the energy to spend on a lot of deep philosophical questions such as “does anyone even care” because you are too busy eating your lunch with one hand while the other is making photocopies, or handing out real Kleenex, or wiping up grape juice.

More importantly, you are occupied with re-planning tomorrow’s lesson because your students aren’t interested in wild animals, they want to know why their pets die. They spent an hour today telling their various tragic stories about dogs being run over, or dying of cancer, or being taken to the vet and not coming home. So that unit on animal classification is just going to have to wait, because those tender hearts are the priority in your classroom.

You are busy wondering why your little student has changed from that happy-go-lucky kid who was always excited to play Alphabet Memory to the withdrawn, sad little person who wants to be alone all the time. You can’t quite fall asleep as easily as you usually do because you are mentally listing all the ways you can draw her out of her shell.

Your time is far too taken up by every child in your classroom to wonder if anyone notices the hours you put in on their learning, on their behavior, on their happiness. And it’s ok, because if you can’t get job satisfaction as a teacher just by doing the actual job, then you probably should change careers. Because if you really do need a lot of continuous back-patting, this job will stop being fun after your first circle time when the first five children ask to go to the bathroom.

And you will discover in random, sudden moments that your students really do notice. It’s in the tight hugs around your legs and you have to grab a chair so you don’t fall on them. It’s in the anonymous “i LoF U MiS” written in a crooked heart on your white board. It’s in the excited, shining eyes that catch yours when they sound out their very first word.

 

I’m not going to lie. Having a day where my career choice is celebrated is pretty nice. It kind of makes up for being a human Kleenex on the other days of the year. But having a job where I get to make a difference, that’s even better.

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Becoming a Mother in Mexico

I always knew that I would be a mother. From the time I could hold a baby doll, I practiced feeding and changing, burping and chastising. I remember writing down lists of names, depending on my current mood and on what was popular at the time. I wondered what their father would be like, and if we would live in a big house in my own hometown, grandparents on call just down the street. I thought about how many I might have, and if I’d have an equal ratio of boys to girls. I decided that I’d need to take a break from my job in order to devote enough time to their childhoods, just as my mom did for my brother and me.

I never dreamed in a million lifetimes that I would raise my children in another country. I didn’t consider for a second that their father wouldn’t be Canadian and might have his own opinions about names (that might not even be English). I wouldn’t have guessed that their grandparents wouldn’t live within driving distance. And I never once thought that my baby daddy would be a guitar player by night and Super Dad by day, so I wouldn’t need to leave my career behind.

The reality of motherhood doesn’t even share the same eye color as my vision of it when I was a little girl force-feeding her Baby Alive circa 1978. I didn’t know that I’d struggle while trying to pushing a stroller over cobblestones. I didn’t know that I would cry for my own mother when it was 2am, the baby wouldn’t sleep and my husband was at work. I didn’t know that I’d be a second language learner in the pediatrician’s office. I didn’t know that I would search my babies’ faces and realize they didn’t look like me at all.

I didn’t know that sometimes I would feel very lost, very sad and very alone.

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But I also didn’t know how rich and sweet my life as a mother would be, because how could I have predicted any of those things as a young girl playing pretend? Because when you become a mother, you are always biting off more than you can chew, and you never can be fully prepared for the new identity you are taking on.

When you become a mother in a country where you were not born, you are taking on a new identity while trying to understand a new culture and language. When I changed my son to a new formula, I had to learn the ingredients in Spanish. When I couldn’t deal with the stroller on cobblestones, I had to learn how to wrap my little babies in a scarf, or reboso, literally wearing them on my body. I dealt with typhoid and dengue as threats to our family’s health, along with the regular, suddenly mundane, colds and flu.

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or seasickness… oh yes…

Strangely enough, I wouldn’t trade any of it for all the maple syrup in Canada. Our family is small, but it’s tight, thanks to all those days when we had only each other to lean on. Carrying my little ones wrapped up next to my heart is one of my favorite memories of their babyhood. Our children speak two languages with ease and can read now labels for me. I came to acknowledge that regular sleep wasn’t everything (although it’s pretty dang important). I learned that sadness and loneliness are not the apocalypse.  They are simply emotions that show me I’m human. And I learned that joy and love are felt just as deeply, and often at the very same time.

Motherhood isn’t what I expected it would be when I dreamed of it so long ago. It’s a thousand times better. My identity as a mother to these two human beings is the most precious part of who I am. I am grateful every day for the gift of love and for my life as a mother in Mexico.

Children’s Day!

Last Monday Mexico celebrated Children’s Day, or Dia Del Niño. It’s a fantastic, fun, exhausting day where all children enjoy outrageously fun activities planned for them by adults. The adults genuinely desire that the children have the best day ever, and they also hope to tire them out by midday.

Generally, the children are so excited and amped up early on that they are often tired out by about 10am instead, and have several crying meltdowns until the fun activities are concluded at 12pm and everyone can go home. I work with young children, so I know this. And it’s ok, because they’re adorable about 97% of the time, so they get a pass on the other 3%, especially on Children’s Day.

My own children are eleven and thirteen years old. Last year they spent most of the morning forgetting they no longer consider themselves children and just having a fabulous day. This year they are even more convinced of their extreme sophistication and aged wisdom, and yet I have anecdotal evidence of them doing things like flinging themselves down a slip and slide, mouths about as wide open as is humanly possible. They, like all of mankind, are powerless to resist the sheer juvenile delight of sliding down a greased up sheet of plastic.

And really, what’s better than celebrating what it means to be young and innocent and unencumbered by credit card debt? I love that Mexico believes so deeply in this fleeting, yet critical stage of human development. Just as one example, the childhood years are a vital time for brain development. Relationships and experiences of a child affect permanent wiring of the brain that, in turn, will impact their chances for success and happiness later on in life. So yeah, it could be a good idea to emphasize that childhood is a significant part of our lives as human beings, even if those human beings feel that they are “too mature” for a clown show at the local mall.

Mexico does it best with their Dia Del Niño on April 30, with celebrations taking place across the country in schools, town squares, and local shopping plazas. Many restaurants will offer special activities and menus for children, and don’t mind a little extra exuberance from their littlest customers on this special day.

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even Starbucks doesn’t seem to mind some rowdiness once a year

I love to participate in the day because I love children, and I believe in the significance of childhood as a stage in life. Children bring out the best in me.

As a teacher, children draw out my creativity. They don’t put up with a boring lesson, and they let me know that I missed the mark when the nearest ones start untying my shoelaces and the ones farthest away start singing Skinnamarink and pulling each other’s pigtails.

Children bring out my sense of humor. They make me laugh harder than I’ve ever laughed, even when I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t be laughing. Like the time one little girl asked me to “keep my hair on” after I told her it was time to clean up the baby dolls. I had to hide my face behind a book for a moment so I could remind her of the rules with a straight face.

Children also draw out my deepest compassion. I’ve advocated for many of my students when they don’t have the words to speak up for themselves. I’ve given out so many in hugs so they know that they aren’t alone and that I understand how hard it is sometimes.

Children are the best of us, the shiniest element of the human race. They have the sparkle that we often leave behind as we grow and start trying to find medical insurance with the best dental plan. Whether you have children or not, I hope you celebrated with Mexico last Monday and enjoyed, even just for one day, the sparkle of childhood that you thought you left behind.

Our House

I grew up in a tiny little Manitoba town, on a quiet enclosed street where kids could trick or treat without an adult holding their mittened hands. My dad was a school principal and my mom was a teacher turned homemaker, until she returned to college and became a school librarian (she knew about email and the internet before I did).

When I was eight, my parents began planning the house they would eventually have built by a friend of theirs who was one of the only contractors in town. We moved into the brand new four bedroom bilevel when I turned nine. I remember very clearly the excitement of having a beautiful, bright new house with a huge backyard filled with trees that were perfect for hide and seek.

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It made odd, creaky sounds in winter (as most Canadian houses do), and it was pretty hot in the dog days of summer, but it had this great old-fashioned wood stove and a beautiful patio overlooking a huge backyard. I had a friend or two who came over all the time (the laughter driving my older, cooler brother into his bedroom with his Walkman cassette player) because it always felt like a welcoming place to spend some time.

My brother and I moved out of our home when we graduated from high school, since the closest university was six hours away in Winnipeg, Manitoba. But our parents continued living there, carefully maintaining the house and property, until just this year. They are now preparing to move out of our family home and into a condo closer to my brother, who continues to live in Winnipeg.

My mom and dad are busy, packing up the house and moving boxes to the new place, as well as wrapping up the legalities of selling one property and buying another. However, as they continue to share pieces of this brand new journey, I always sense that hint of nostalgia coming through the messages about packing my bedroom. They send me photos of my old high school windbreaker that they found in the attic. They mention a bit of “silly” melancholy when they sold my dad’s favorite armchair (time to downsize).

If you’ve chosen a life far from your family, you’ll maybe understand a bit of what I’m feeling now. I feel like I’m so far from this life-changing event I may as well be on the moon. I feel like I can’t help work them through this major transition. And I feel like I won’t get to say goodbye to the home that held my family for all those years.

Because everyone needs to say goodbye when they leave a dear old friend. Every time we would go to Canada, our house was like an anchor where my Mexican children could set down their Canadian roots. I’d love to watch them climb in the tree house, or help their grandmother pick raspberries, or have a water fight with their cousins. It gave them a little glimpse into my childhood. More importantly, it helped them create memories of a family that lived so far away.

Last summer we already knew that my mom and dad were trying to sell the house, so before we left for the last time, my daughter went around the house and garden taking photos of things that she thought I would find meaningful. I looked through them later, and was touched and amused (mixed emotions quite common for parents) by her close ups of my teddy bears, my dresser and bed, my closet and all their contents. But what brought tears to my eyes was the zoom-in on the sidewalk in the front. There’s an inscription there in the cement that says “1982” and a symbol of the combined initials of my parents and my brother and me.

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Very soon my childhood home will be occupied by strangers. But I’d like to tell them that their new house contains a lifetime of special memories, and I would wish them a lifetime of the same. I’d want them to know that it’s part of who I am. And I would tell them that there’s a little house in Mexico being filled with the same warmth and care, thanks to all the happiness shared within those walls.

Beautiful Life

Life is beautiful. It is, although I hesitate to type the words, because some might say I am bragging, or trying to present myself and my family as an impossibly picture-perfect Instagram post. Some might equate “beautiful” with “perfect” and declare that nobody’s life could possibly be that.

And I would say that beauty is never perfect. In fact, I think beauty is almost always improved by some small flaw, some little blemish or fault that makes it seem a bit more attainable. And with that line of thinking, my life is downright gorgeous.

It is imperfect is some pretty major ways, quite frankly. My husband and I live far from any close family. He has two wonderful, talented kids who have made their home in Canada. His brother, sister and dad live in Mexico City. My parents, brother and his family, along with most of my huge extended family and my dearest childhood friends live out their days digging themselves out of snow banks in Manitoba.

My husband has had significant health struggles over the years, and our financial portfolio would realistically be better labeled “At Least Our Own Children Can’t Turn Us Away When We Are Old”.

Life is not perfect in some of the day to day issues as well. When you live in a tourist town in Mexico, June to October can get a little bleak. We have an air conditioner, but every time we turn it on, there goes another college course for our children. We are parenting a pre-teen and a teen whose moods can be problematic every time we make nosy, invasive comments such as “Hi”.

Life is even imperfect in many small ways. Like, why do our cup holders in the car have a sticky substance in them approximately seventeen minutes after they are cleaned out? Why can’t ramen noodles be good for you? Why is my purse always filled with receipts except for the ones I actually need?

But that’s just it. You have this life filled with huge problems, daily annoyances, and small irritations. And wrapped up all around it is this beauty that stops you mid-rant and forces you to inhale deeply and sigh.

It’s the palm trees across the street from my house, or the bazillions of roses my husband insists on planting and fussing over. It’s the crashing of waves on the rocky shore of the Malecon, and the sun that insists on shining even when the traffic is terrible.

It’s in my son, who comes and wraps his arm around my shoulders once in awhile and tries to act casual. It’s in my daughter, who lets me sing along with her to her favorite songs in the car. It’s all over my husband, who smiles at me after work like I’m the best thing he’s seen all day.

And we surround ourselves with people who bring beauty to our lives, who lift us up when things seem overwhelming, who take us for dinner or invite us to their pools or listen to us whine over Messenger once the kids are in bed.

Sometimes, after a long day of work, driving to swimming class, and helping with math homework, I’ll sit outside in my little yard. There I am surrounded by the roses my husband plants for me, which I don’t touch because then they would immediately die. There are dogs barking, including mine, and my neighbors are still working outside in their gardens with a variety of loud tools. My husband hasn’t arrived home yet, and any minute one of my children will need something that cannot be accomplished unless I stand up and go inside.

 

But, in that minute, I take a deep breath, look around at my roses, and recognize grace for what it is; often furtive, sudden, or achingly flawed. That’s life, that’s what we have. And it’s beautiful.

El Eden and the Predator

Somehow I managed to raise a manchild to the ripe old age of thirteen before he became aware of the existence of Arnold Schwarzenegger. I know that this is hard to imagine, and even more difficult in light of the fact that we live in Vallarta, the home of the infamous Predator set. Arnold spent some time in Vallarta in 1986, filming this action movie in the jungle near Mismaloya.

My son was not allowed to see action movies that involved people having their spines forcibly removed, so we didn’t bring up the subject until he began yelling “Get to the choppa!” around the house. We asked him where he heard this Predator line, made famous by Arnold shouting it in his distinctive accent. Of course, he heard the line on the internet (so grateful for all this amazing information available to our children at any hour of the day or night).

After he learned more about Arnold and his action-packed resume, we decided it might be ok to take him and his sister up to the set. He was absolutely on board. So, during Semana Santa, we made our way to El Eden, home of the Predator Set, along with a canopy tour, a restaurant, some natural swimming pools and a few short hiking trails.

After getting off the main highway to Mismaloya, the drive up isn’t what you would call comfortable. If you struggle with carsickness, just understand that you will spend about anywhere from fifteen minutes to half an hour (depending on how much your car’s suspension means to you) feeling like your breakfast might make an abrupt reappearance out the window. However, the surrounding vegetation and the mountain views are worth the rough driving conditions.

We paid 50 pesos per person to enter the set and to gain access to the rest of the grounds. This included one drink of our choice (soda, beer or water).

If we want to dwell on details, The Predator Set could more accurately be called The Battered Helicopter the Studio Didn’t Want to Take Home. There’s not much left from Arnold’s time in the Mexican jungle. But there IS a guy dressed up in a pretty decent Predator costume, which, combined with the helicopter, makes for a decent photo op. If you’re with a teenage boy or if you were a teenage boy in 1986, you really shouldn’t miss it. For 150 pesos for a photo with its own Predator frame, it’s not a bad deal. There are also some posters that describe where some of the scenes took play, and my kid was all over that.

We took the hike instead of the canopy, so I can’t tell you very much about the ziplines, but I can say that the trails were beautiful. I imagine the views from the canopy tour were jaw-dropping. We were able to hike over a long swinging bridge which was terrifying for those of us (me) who are afraid of heights, and caused a tense argument about whether walking in the middle of the boards was safer than on the edges (which we have now decided to stop bringing up over the dinner table).

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So this is a bit inconsistent with my comfort level and heights

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the restaurant and natural pool. The menu items were mostly sea food, but we stuck to snack items like guacamole and quesadillas and a big pitcher of lemonade. The kids and Gil swam in the fresh water, and I waded in to my calves because the water felt like a Canadian lake in May (ie the coldest water I’ve ever experienced in Vallarta). The water was beautifully clear, and we were surrounded by the most beautiful green jungle and a few large posters of a very unattractive, dangerous-looking alien. Overall, it was a very relaxing environment for a family outing.

We had a great time at El Eden. I would recommend going even if your son hasn’t developed a fixation for The Terminator. Our family has always enjoyed a day at the river, but it’s always nice to spice things up, especially once you have teenagers who think most activities that involve parents are excruciating.

If you have your very own teenager, head out to El Eden and give it a try. He’ll get a photo with an ugly-looking alien, you’ll get a lovely day in the jungle by a river. He’ll think you’re cool for being alive when the Predator movie was made, and you’ll get him to talk. Everyone can win.

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Easy to Please on Easter Break

I have recently realized that I am so easy to please. I just went on spring break and already I’m having the best and the least expensive time of my whole life, right in the comfort of my own home.

Yesterday I found my happy place in my daughter’s room, in the patch of sunlight that hits her bed every morning around 9am. My dog curled up beside me, taking in the lovely warm light, and wrapped in a nice, cozy blanket. The Girly was cleaning out her closet and asking me for advice on what to do with her old Barbies (because no Very Mature eleven-year-old needs Barbies any more). I answered her with a series of grunts given out with the appropriate inflections for “yes”, “no” or “put it in the garbage, child, Malibu Barbie’s gone moldy”.

After rising from this little slice of heaven, I spent the morning moving piles around the house (I call it Spring Cleaning Lite). I got tired, so I wrapped myself up in another blanket on my own bed and curled up beside The Girly, who had also worn herself out making final decisions about her childhood toys.

I went outside and read a book for awhile, but both my neighbors have just now returned from their respective lives in the city. Normally this means that they will pull up in at least two vehicles that have been stuffed full of many of the contents from their homes, and spend the rest of the day unpacking and setting up the barbeque. Since there are a lot of people and a few pets involved, it’s usually not very quiet. So I went back inside and lay around some more, which was pretty great too.

The children started mentioning hunger, and I realized that they still needed feeding several times a day, even when I am unmotivated to do so. But now The Boy is thirteen, and needs to use his legs for more than propping up the TV stand. So I sent him for tortillas and I heated up some beans. A bit of broccoli and voila! A full-on food pyramid salute!

This. Is. The. Life. No one is pressuring me to do anything else, because once I start really cleaning things, I end up throwing entire shelves away, and everyone in the house develops nervous tics. I don’t like clutter at all, but if I close my eyes or cover them with a pillow, I can ignore it long enough to enjoy a bit of my vacation.

I know what you’re thinking: You live in Puerto Vallarta and you are spending the ENTIRE DAY inside your house?

Yes. Yes, I am. And if you live here, so will you, until your cupboards are bare and you have to venture out to a grocery store where all of Mexico is shopping for all the same things as you are. Traffic is busy and congested, and it’s ok, because that’s the way it is every year. Vallarta is always hopping during Semana Santa, Holy Week, when the nationals go on vacation and celebrate Easter on the beach.

I will probably leave the house a few times during Semana Santa. If you think you might want to do the same, let me offer you a few tips:

  • Go out in the morning if you can, the earlier the better. People generally spend late morning to late night out on the beaches and the streets.
  • If you ever want to enjoy a fine dining experience, now may be a good time to do so. There are many upscale restaurants that do not have huge crowds during holy week. A lot of people who travel during Easter are here to eat on the beach or at street side vendors.
  • Check out the Botanical Gardens. It’s always been an oasis of calm during Easter week, at least when I’ve gone, and there’s so much to see and enjoy!

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    Gorgeous avocado salad at the Gardens

  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. There are going to be crowds. They are going to be noisy and mostly very happy. My neighbors bring their families to stay all week, and I think it’s amazing to see entire extended families together, truly enjoying each other’s company.

If it all gets to be too much, find a patch of sunlight, curl up with a puppy, your kid, or a good book. Trust me, it doesn’t get much better than that.

 

Proud of You

I’m not going to lie, because somehow you can laser through all the layers of fluffy, motherly platitudes (Of course I like you all the time! Every minute!!), right to the ugly bone truth of it: since our family hit puberty, I don’t know what I’m doing about 64 percent of the time. That’s a high percentage. It probably scares you a little. I know it terrifies me.

You have changed in just a few short months, from the chatty, happy children who flopped all over me like puppies, to these broody, internet-savvy mini-adults who roll their eyes. At me. A lot.

But still, underneath the eye-rolling, I see you there, trying out your brand new wings. Even deeper underneath are two kids who are scared to fall. And you wonder if you do fall, how you’ll ever be able to get back up and try again.

So what I’m coming to realize is that it is my job to help you fly. And it’s also my job to make sure you stand up again when you fall. It’s my tremendous, absolutely staggering task to help two human beings Figure It All Out.

I  wish you could read my heart because in there you would see all that crazy, eye-popping love for you. And there you would find all the incredible things you do that you think nobody sees. It’s all in there, lovingly tucked away.

You see, I know that someday I’ll need to share them with you. There will come that moment where you’ve crashed in a plume of smoke and you forget, for a moment, what you’re capable of. But I’ll be there to remind you.

Because you make me proud, in so many odd, mismatched ways that you would never guess in one million light years. It’s a pride tinged with a bit of sadness sometimes, with a heap of frustration a lot of other times, but always, always saturated in a mother’s unconditional love.

I’m proud when you get honor roll and stand up there onstage with your certificate and a big camera-cheesy smile.

I’m proud when you don’t make the honor roll but your math grade goes up five points, because you (and I) have earned every last one of those points with hours of stubborn, often tear-filled determination over the kitchen table.

I’m proud of you when you sign up for the talent show to sing a song you wrote, despite the fact that you have never, ever sung a solo. But you get up there anyway and you give it all you’ve got, in front of all the people whose opinion is beginning to matter more than mine.

I’m proud of you when you are too shy to sing a solo, despite the fact that we have spent many pesos and many hours driving you to your lessons. That’s where I hear you sing Castle on a Cloud in a voice so pure and so sweet I have to pretend I’m focused on my cell phone so you won’t be embarrassed by your old sniffling mom.

I’m proud when you stand up for what’s right, when you call people out who are “just joking” about disrespecting women, or other races, or any marginalized group of people.

I’m proud when you get it wrong, act out in class or make a wrong choice, and you go on your own to find the friend or the teacher so you can apologize.

I’m proud when you go against the grain and do your own thing, like choose your own music, make your own friends, even if it’s Not The Popular Thing To Do.

I’m proud when you see an unfairness and tell me I’m wrong, even though it’s almost impossible to swallow in the moment, even though your delivery might need a bit of polish.

I’m proud of you, even when you crash and burn, even when you fail, even when you lay there for a moment to catch your break before getting back up. I’m honored to be by your side, putting back the broken pieces and nudging you to your feet again.

I may not know what I’m doing 64% of the time, but when I watch you taking your test flights I am impressed by the power of the other 36%.

And, goodness gracious, I am so very proud of you.

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Project-Based Fun in PV

When I tell people that I am a Kindergarten teacher, I have a feeling they immediately picture a room covered in glittery paste and a lot of sitting around in a circle singing about sharing. I also imagine that they think I might have a partiality to flower prints and that I’m really, really nice. But in a weird way.

So, all of those things are actually true except the flower print preference. There is so much glitter and so much glue. There’s a lot of singing, because if you give children directions in your speaking voice, many of them will hear you, but if you do it in your singing voice, they will truly listen.  Not only that, I’m definitely nice and even more definitely weird.

But what they might not know is that I have a master’s degree with a post baccalaureate certificate in early childhood education. They also might not realize, until they ask me one single question about my job, that I am absolutely and totally passionate about being an early childhood educator. I have spent more than half my life in education, with most of that dedicated to the investigation and practice of teaching children aged three to six years old.

I wanted to be a teacher since I was a child myself. Nearly every day I look around my classroom and pinch myself, because this is exactly what I dreamed of when I was in my student teaching practice: to work in a school that trusted me enough to develop a program where students learn the way they should – through play, through real experiences, through projects.

I have been at my school, the American School of Puerto Vallarta, for nearly eighteen years. I was hired to teach Kindergarten. When I had been at the school for three years, I asked my principal if I could be promoted to Early Childhood Coordinator, while continuing to teach full time. She, having not only faith in me but a great sense of humor, said sure, I could do an extra job while continuing to keep my full time job.

My colleague (a Spanish teacher with a similar educational philosophy) and I developed a project- and standards-based program that emphasized play as a medium to advance learning. We received training in the Reggio Emilia approach to learning, and also continued to research and practice ways to use projects to develop knowledge and skills in our students.

By the time they are six, our children have learned to build structures, make plans and blueprints, and contribute ideas in a group. They learn to write because they need a menu in the restaurant they are making, and they learn to paint and create sculptures when they visit Vallarta’s galleries and Malecon. They learn to use numbers by exchanging play money in a class-made jewelry store (the same principal tried to short change one of the three-year-olds, who chased her down with the receipt and asked her politely to pay up).

Our students invite experts into the classroom and ask them questions (one of my students asked a bat expert if bats really do turn into vampires. You can imagine the collective sigh of relief with his answer). Our children run to their classrooms the minute the gate opens at 7:45am.

The program regularly opens its doors to families to view the students’ art galleries and stores of their own invention. Our parents are invited to museums and sing-a-longs and activity days.

And, now, you are invited too. If you are curious about project-based learning, and you wonder if it would be right for your child, you may want to drop by. My kindergarten students have been investigating a variety of topics related to construction, and they would like to share what they’ve learned with our Vallarta community. We completed our project with a study about museums, and they feel that this will be a great way to showcase everything they’ve built.

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They all built permanent sand castle sculptures based on  blueprints that they each drew up

They would love for you and your young children to come to the Shiny Bright Castle Museum (the name agreed upon after a lively debate over how shiny and bright the museum would be) on Wednesday, March 21st, from 6 to 8pm at the ASPV Early Childhood Playground. Come ready to be dazzled and come ready to play.

castle kinder 2

Room For Us All

You often hear about problems that girls experience in their peer groups and friendships in the pre-teen and teen years. It’s a phenomenon that inspired the movie “Mean Girls”. We tend to accept it as a normal, even humorous, part of childhood. But I don’t think we should.

Girls AND boys look for ways to belong, especially in the pre-teen and teen years. They are developing an identity apart from their parents, and they are searching for a family outside of their immediate one where they feel accepted for who they are – their tribe, as I like to call it. When they lose their place in their tribe, it can be devastating; like being kicked out of a family, like losing a piece of themselves.

My daughter recently went through something like this. She has a group of friends online because they live far from each other and they communicate through a web messaging site. She owns an Ipod Touch and uses the site when she has WiFi. She and one of the other girls had had a disagreement recently, and the other girl had begun to ask their friends to block my daughter. Some of they did, and it was very painful for her to watch them drop away, one by one.

She came to me in tears and we talked it all through. It was one of those moments as a mother where my inner Mama Bear began to lumber up on her haunches and growl softly, attempting to stifle the Reasoning and Teaching portions of my brain. I listened to my girl (muting the growling just a moment), and then I waited a minute to respond. I measured my words, because Mama Bear was still struggling weakly against the restraints of my prefrontal cortex.

First, I asked her what she said that might have contributed to the other child’s anger. I asked if there was any responsibility she might need to take for that.

Then, I asked her what we could do (I said “we” so she understood that she wasn’t alone and that I wasn’t going anywhere). We devised a plan of apologizing for the part she may have played in the misunderstanding, telling the friends she wished them well, and then letting go.

We talked about the value of friendship, but that hanging on to a cycle of conflict wasn’t the right thing to do for her OR for the other girl. She chose to let go, but with an openness to reconciliation down the road.

And then we talked about the friends in her life  who lifted her up, and helped her be a better person, and who wanted good things for her (there are several). With good friends, we can achieve so much. And we want to achieve. We don’t want to curl up in the mire of hurt feelings and gossip. We want to stand up, climb higher, and begin the work of making our dreams come true.

That same week my daughter’s class put on a wax museum where they had to depict characters from the American and Mexican revolution. My daughter took on the role of Juana Belem Gutierrez de Mendoza on the Mexican Revolution day. She had to research her character and then write a speech that would inform the visitors to the wax museum who she was.

What I learned from my daughter was that Juana was a revolutionary, a feminist, a poet and a journalist in the early 1900’s. She didn’t have time to worry about hurt feelings or what people may have thought of her. I am pretty sure she heard people call her names that would have caused her pain. She even spent time in prison for her activism.  But she stood up and fought for the rights of all human beings in her country, and didn’t stop no matter what it cost.

column, room for us all

We don’t have to accept that gossip and social exclusion is a natural part of childhood. We can show them that we are on this planet to do so much more, that our relationships and our actions can mean so much more. We can show them what strong women can do. And we can help them rise to a level where there’s room for us all.