Book review: Free at Last

Title: Free at Last: The Sudbury Valley School
Author: Daniel Greenberg
Edition: Banyan Tree India, 2012

For some miraculous reason, an Indian-published edition in English is circulated online. I couldn’t wait for a book to come in the post — it wasn’t even in the Hong Kong Library system (what a pity!). Do not be fooled by the edition; this book was first published in 1987. This year, 2018, marks the school’s 50th anniversary!

Pages and pages of paper I flipped, within 12 hours on a usual day, I managed to finish it word-by-word.

This is by far my favourite book since 2015 — that was when I first read Maria Montessori’s works (The Absorbent Mind). These two impressive books take a contrasting approach to pedagogy. Montessori’s writings are full of passion, critique, biology and reasoning. Daniel Greenburg, on the other hand, tell an enchanting story of his 20 years at Sudbury Valley. The pedagogical approach is weaved into the cute, lively ‘students’ he portray. He describes the running of the school and its events, traces their developments, cyclical success and failure. Time is the best proof of any theory.

For example, on chapter 20, he recalls an episode with a six-year-old:

“Each time he threw, and each time he tried to catch, I ‘encouraged’ him: ‘Good job’; ‘Nice throw’; ‘Great try.’ Suddenly, he threw the ball at me angrily and shouted, ‘I don’t want to play with you any more. You’re lying. I threw terribly, it wasn’t at all good, and you’re a big faker.’

Of course he was right. And I was wrong.” (p.83)

Such story is a stronger argument than all the researches that tell parents and teachers to stop praising and rewarding because its manipulative nature kills intrinsic motivation.

This is what makes Free at Last such a pleasant read. The pedagogy is alive; learning is based on time, participants, the real and present world, cultural trends, talents and needs. It is enquiry-based learning, play-based learning, learning-by-doing, as well as a forest school.

But this school is not where children are set free to run wild. The institution is run on democratic responsibility. For instance, it’s the children’s responsibility to pursue their interests, then stick to the arrangements they have set up for classes (lectures), meetings and work. If they don’t stick, the ‘contract’ is annulled. The school’s judicial and budgeting systems are well designed and vital to smooth running, as well as staff whose manners are consistent, responsive, yet transparent when not sought for.

I love how the best of human nature is being glorified in this institution. Genuine interest leads to genuine learning, and the children compare their work against the toughest standards of the best; credible systems lead to optimal operations, and when they don’t they get worked upon.

I don’t wish to write notes about this book; reading it is an astounding experience. No facts or opinions to ‘hunt-and-gather’. If I am to summarise the plot, I shall say:

This is a personal account of an alternative school that opened in 1968, at Sudbury Valley in Massachusetts. Its graduates are strong-willed individuals who know indulgence and devotion to all that they are curious about. Rather than an academic curriculum, this school is run on systems, procedures and traditions, such as student-initiated classes, clubs/workshops, fundraising sales, and apprenticeships in the real world. Children 4-19yo are mixed together. Democratically enacted laws, budgeting processes, clerks, committees and corporations, and a judicial system to handle complaints allow for the school’s smooth running. Staff don’t teach or govern; they are resourceful individuals who await to be sought for. The school runs on very little money and refuses funding, counts heavily on responsibility and motivation, but cost per head is a fraction of the public school’s.

I have long believed that enquiry-based learning or on-demand learning is most suitable for the child above 6 years of age. I have been looking for likeminded families to share curiosity, questions and resources with. A part of me feels that Montessori lessons are fascinatingly designed; the other part of me feels bored — perhaps the latter is the child in me. I know children would rather play til hearts content and search their souls in deep. I know they have better missions in life than to follow a school routine each day. I just know it.

Maria Montessori is more of a naturalist than her successors. I am sure she will love the work these Sudbury children do.

– – –

“A friend once said, “I know the exact difference between you and progressive ‘free’ schools.”

“What is it?” I asked, skeptical that it could be said in a phrase.

“In your school, you’re supposed to do what you like; in the others, you’re supposed to like what you do.”

That said it pretty well.” (p.89)


Book review/notes: Parenting for a Peaceful World by Robin Grille

Title: Parenting for a Peaceful World
Author: Robin Grille
Edition: The Children’s Project, 2008


This ‘parenting’ book is one of its kind, given its title. It does not teach ‘parenting’, but rather highlights the role of parenting in society and in the long course of history. I am of the view that psychohistory and social psychology from the perspective of parenting ought to be a topic discussed academically, as early as in high school, for it is a topic of universal and future relevance! Mindful and optimal parenting does not come from thin air; parenting practices and prejudices are often generational and societal. Violence is proven transgenerational, and often is poverty too. Such change has to begin with mindset.

This book begins with a few weary chapters on the brutal Western history of parenting. Though not closely examined, the way which people treat children is quite intuitively highly correlated with economic resources, production mode, and societal norms.

The 5 parenting modes:

  1. Infanticidal – killed at birth
  2. Abandonment – given to someone remote and irresponsible (wet nurses)
  3. Intrusive – schedule-based and punitive rearing (industrial revolution)
  4. Socialising – more protection against abuse, taming, discipline, authoritarian (rise of psychology)
  5. Helping – naturalistic approach and trust in inner drives

Although we can say the developed world is moving onto a ‘helping mode’ of parenting, the author does not mention that all of these five modes are still relevant today, present in each society. There are still plenty of erroneous practices reminiscent of intrusive and socialising/authoritarian modes. The dark stories of infanticide and abandonment are often concealed, and happen among the marginalised poor, but with societal safety nets and improving support for mothers, children are given a better chance.


1. The scripture says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Yet parenting is mostly — doing unto others what have been done unto you! Parents need to learn the ‘shoulds’, and also closely examine what has been done on them. A deep reflection of circumstances, feelings, expectations and history is necessary.

2. Secure attachment is top priority. When the child feels his needs has been responded to in his early years, he is emotionally secure, which shall allow higher emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the prerequisite to understanding another person, particularly the speechless infant. (emotional attunement p.251)

– – –

The second half of the book is on development psychology. It includes brief arguments on some very common malpractices, and illustrates the emotional needs of children (Section VI: the five stages of early childhood emotional development). However, the text ends without revealing the flip side of the coin — the encouraging options that parents can pursue.

For example, when children are in a period where they fight for their “right to freedom” (think ‘troublesome-twos’ and ‘threenagers’), the encouraging option is, in my experience, to empower the child. How do I empower? I ask for their help with chores, as simple as preparing their own snack. I give them responsibilities, such as to walk the dog, to mix and match their outfits, to decide what’s for dinner. I have never had a difficult toddler.

Maybe the author deliberately refrains from pointing ahead, for structural reasons. But amidst lengthy theory and criticisms, it is calming to be reminded of the blissful ways of naturalistic parenting.

– – –

I have heard from other parents that they feel psychologically burdened while reading this book, not only by the scary history of child-rearing, but also because it reminds us of our childhood scars and refute many of the practices that most people have done unto children.

One example is reward – essentially manipulating – and its polarity – shaming. Manipulators are bred this way, and their targets are insecure dependents. Although narcissistic manipulators fare well in the corporate world, close relationships often fall awry due to manipulative, exploitative behaviour. In my opinion, if today’s game of power (political game) does not change in its ways, manipulators will continue to multiply and people will aspire to join their ranks, much like how brutality was once the dominant culture.

Parents are often thrown off when we Montessori teachers avoid rewarding and punishing. The grandparents too. Many adults do not know how else to channel children to good, accepted behaviour.

Throughout the book, the author emphasises on ‘empathy’, ‘contact instead of control’, ‘emotional security’. I would summarise them as ‘responsiveness’.

For example, instead of holding a newborn for the whole day, please hold him at his own terms, according to his expressions (p.283). But it was not until I read this book that I realise few people actually have emotional attunement to decipher a baby’s cries (p.251)! Now it all makes sense! I always thought deciphering cries was a maternal instinct, but my own mother tells me she could never attend to mine (luckily I had a very responsive caregiver). The author argues that only one with high emotional intelligence can speak the emotion-dialect. I agree from experience.

Another example is cue feeding (p.309), which all hospitals in Hong Kong do not support. (As a result I ‘escaped’ asap, within 24 hours; my babies all slept 6-8 hours continuously the first evening they’re home! They do not need to be waken up for breastfeeding. Please don’t wake a sleeping baby.)

“What most helps a baby to flourish is her parents’ ‘relaxed responsiveness’. Whereas parents needn’t jump anxiously at every sound the baby makes, it is equally undesirable to systematically delay responding to her vocalised needs.” (p.304)

‘Empathy’ is a big word that I myself tend to avoid. I would classify it as jargon; too many people confused empathy and sympathy anyway. My own interpretation of empathy is to respond to another’s needs – sometimes these needs are hidden deep. It is easy to get distracted by a hot situation or the extravagant expression of feelings. Instead of getting angry over sibling conflicts, what is it that the children need? Do they need a safe space each for them to work? Do they need guidance on how to wait? Do they need inspirations to find other constructive activities? I always try to respond to the need in a matter-of-fact manner; they are also entitled to voicing dissent guilt-free. (p.339) Relationships encompass conflict; love encompasses opposition (p.341). The needs of all parties involved need to be balanced (p.215).

Many of these needs can be understood from section VI on the 5 stages of early childhood emotional development. I’ve added a short description to each:

  1. The right to exist (at birth)
    Accepted and welcomed
  2. The right to need (<18mo)
    Responded to and understood, even without language
  3. The right to have support (toddling)
    Movement, participation
  4. The right to freedom (2+ yo)
    Autonomy, independent work
  5. The right to love (~6 yo)
    Explore physical sensations, curiosity towards love

All in all, there is a lot to take away from this book. The answers are few, but they will be sought by ones who take this wonderful opportunity to reflect, understand societal dynamics, and celebrate the inner tendencies of man. Those of us who come from a different culture (I’m Chinese) will have to research our own psychohistory, but the similarities are adequate for meaningful discovery.

Book review/notes: Teach Your Own by John Holt and Patrick Farenga

Title: Teach your own: The John Holt Book of Home-schooling
Authors: John Holt, Patrick Farenga
Edition: Perseus, 2003


At 286 pages long, this is John Holt’s last book, published posthumously. He passed away in 1985. Patrick Farenga, who chairs Holt Associates, have since edited and supplemented the text with updates to publish this work in 2003.

John Holt is noted for his work on homeschooling, but I learnt about him when specifically looking up on ‘unschooling’. I had been trained in the Montessori method (AMI diploma for 3-6 years), sent my daughter to a reputable and accredited AMS school, yet felt something was subtly wrong. It seems that everywhere in my city, the Montessori curriculum is utilised solely for cognitive training and motor skills development; the naturalist intracacies forgone, forgotten, ignored. For example, Maria Montessori wants children to enjoy doing their work outdoors, to be immersed in fresh air and natural light while they go about their busy lives. 99% schools won’t allow this — they come from a ‘classroom management’ viewpoint. I used to write and edit my work at the poolside in the summer. I know how good it feels to work outdoors, irrespective of Montessori or not.

There is something inherent in institutions that immediately strip away individualised, spontaneous learning/development. I cannot prefer sending my toddler to even the best daycares, because all day long, all that my toddler wants to do is to roam, sometimes in the garden, sometimes out in the village, to find rocks to chew, to meet people in the neighbourhood. He climbs tables, gets himself wet by banging on a dog’s water bowl, etc. He explores with the plenty of things that daycares and toddler environments can’t accommodate.

Maria Montessori dedicated a whole chapter in The Absorbent Mind to the importance of walking. But if children are in school from 8 to 5, how can the child head off for his own walk?

My Montessori mindset — observation of the child — tells me that 0-2.5yo aren’t suitable to be schooled; yet 2.5-6 love to be at a ‘home away from home’ (the children’s house), enjoying a largely autonomous life in his own social circle. But a home away from home is virtually nonexistent in my part of the world, due to the fact that it is either considered redundant, or inferior to a school that is loaded with instruction.

2.5-6 is the age which I think going to school has more benefits than not going. Children use the opportunity to pretend how dad or mom leaves home for work, and they feel particularly confident when they bring home things or stories to share. Social skills develop as part of their character. Beyond 6, social interactions are by far healthier in mixed-age activities such as boy scouts, training squads, team sports and orchestras, rather than at schools that classify solely by age.

John Holt spent the first half of his book lamenting over how bad a traditional school experience is, both academically and socially. The second half is filled with principles that, if one holds tight, will create freer, deeper, responsive and responsible learning:

1. Life-school. Learning is not to be segregated from life. Learn about life. Learn by doing. Learn by living. Learn because you want to. It’s an inherent curiosity. Learn because you need to. When it’s relevant it sticks forever.

2. Children have different learning styles. Some require structure and love following workbooks and schedules. Some will explore, indulge, learn on-demand and set their own pace. Be responsive and enjoy who they are. With admiration comes natural discipline. (p.241,268)

3. Make good use of the community. Expert help, interest groups, opportunities for volunteering and paid work, libraries and librarians, family gatherings… these are what children in school don’t have time for! (It’s an edge)

4. There is no one best way of education. This is what homeschooling tells the world. (p.264)

5. School trains students —- strategies, avoiding failure, etc. A good student is careful to not forget things until after the test! Schools and community colleges can be utilised for any expertise or required training, but should not be a default, life-bounding option.

6. If a child knows a particular work in life that he wants to do for himself, take the most direct path towards it. (p.193)

7. If an adult knows a particular work in life that he enjoys, do it for yourself and find a way to involve children. (p.203) Work WITH children. Don’t work ON children.

8. There are 3 approaches to homeschooling. First is text-based, structured kind of curriculum. Second is a subset of the first, but utilises hands-on projects and themes. Third is an ‘unschooling’ approach — on-demand learning. (p.241)

9. Legality of homeschooling: the burden is on the administrators to prove that you are incapable of teaching your children to an employable standard, hence become a burden to the state; and to prove that certified teachers are evidently better than non-certified teachers. Their case is weak.

10. Parents have the right to choose an education aligned with their principles. The state demands them to be educated, but does not have a monopoly over the method.

11. You are always the parent. Don’t take on the role of a teacher. Enjoy the child, be a companion in lifelong learning, and let the world (and the people he meets) teach him. Homeschooling is fundamentally love for life.

Extended thoughts:

Unschooling can only come after schooling, by definition. It calls to those like us who have experienced school as a waste of life and talent. I had no scars, but was thoroughly bored and detached from life. There is absolutely no use, from first-hand experience, to be a top student with no passion.

Whenever I feel something’s not quite right in today’s Montessori classrooms, I look for clues in Maria Montessori’s society — early 20th century, Italy. Her work began with children labelled as mentally challenged, who obviously were deprived of stimulation. Her work with normal children began with children of factory workers who were goofing around in the day. These were also underprivileged children.

Children of affluent families today aren’t underprivileged, but overprivileged and over-stimulated, their lives cluttered with objects and events. Simplicity Parenting, a book that I previously read, uses ‘simplicity’ as a tool against behavioural problems. It is essentially ‘undoing’.

Unschooling to me also includes countering cultural tendencies of trying to actively school our children before school even begins. One time I had to walk away from a family who bombards words at their 2yo in an otherwise serene country park. It goes something like this —- “Ladybug! Ladybug! This is a ladybug! Look, little one, ladybug! Why are you scared? Oh you don’t need to be scared. I played with them always as a kid. Look! Ladybug flew here. Here! Ladybug is here! Here! Do you see??? Come over! Why are you scared? Don’t be scared!”

It is annoying and disrespectful to the child; worse still — it is NOT a ladybug. Ladybugs don’t exist in Hong Kong. We have some of the Asian lady beetle variety instead.

To unschool is to humble oneself. Graduating from school bears no significance on learning. We are not invincible keepers of the truth, but rather voyagers seeking it. Wouldn’t it be great to share part of our journey with our young ones, admiring the view along the way!

Unschooling begins with natural birth. The child has his own schedule; our role is an ‘aid to life’ — the mother only pushes hard when the foetus gives those big, intense labour cramps! Giving birth is a mother-child partnership, a wonderful time of connection; I am the only one who can help my child come unto this world in a way he wants. If only people would think of it this way!

Book review/notes: Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne & Lisa M Ross

Title: Simplicity Parenting: using the extraordinary power of less to raise calmer, happier and more secure kids
Author: Kim John Payne, Lisa M. Ross
Edition: Ballantine, 2009


This is a book that everyone in the developed world, who is living an abundant life characterised by wants rather than needs, should read. It is a short read, a delightfully light and handy book that is tightly composed of consistent parenting principles. The stance is clear, the logic is smooth; it is designed to inspire and guide.

The author identifies the bulk of behavioural problems that are increasingly common today as a condition similar to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) — he coins his own term as “cumulative stress reaction” (p.9). We are all born with some quirk; it is cute and individualistic, until we are put under stress, then it manifests as a disorder.

quirk + stress = disorder (p.24)

Another well-known psychological effect is the stress-regress cycle. (p.178) Stress makes too much cortisol in the brain which limits higher mental processes and regulation.

The goal of the beginning chapters is to establish a common understanding among parents — that we are chiefly concerned about our children’s character-building.

“Building character and emotional resiliency is a lot like developing a healthy immune system. We know that our children need to be exposed to a variety of bugs and viruses in life.” (p.26) We don’t shield or overprotect; we don’t allow them to be permanently dirty either. We keep hygienic practices and take care of our bodies. We need safe and stable contexts to center ourselves.

Coincidentally, as a medical doctor, Maria Montessori brought physical hygiene to children in her care. She taught them how to wash their hands thoroughly. Then, children showed her something new — they were indulging in the activity, washing their hands over and over again, as if they were taking care of ‘psychical hygiene’!

The author is a Waldorf educator, so he may not exactly know of this Montessori antedote; yet, he also acknowledges that deep, uninterrupted play has the same effect as meditation — exactly what the handwashing children needed and did.

This book offers plenty of guidelines on how to achieve psychical hygiene, which in turn builds character and emotional resiliency. Let me summarise them:

Why simplification?

“I sometimes think of simplification as a powerful anti-inflammatory for families. Inflammation is our body’s ‘red alert’, its way of responding to harmful stimuli and irritants… [S]implification can break the cycle of inflammation — the itch for ‘more’, and craving for greater and greater stimulation — that threatens to overwhelm a family’s ‘system’.” (p.214)

Reduce speed, reduce stuff, increase connection. Parent-child and spousal relationships cannot thrive without connection. “With fewer choices, there is freedom to appreciate things — and one another — more deeply.” (p.214)

What is simplification?

Simplify = move away from excess towards balance.

The 4 levels of simplification (p.19)
i. environment (visual)
ii. rhythm (predictability, order)
iii. schedules (becoming unbusy)
iv. filtering out the adult world

How to simplify?

1. Provide deep, uninterrupted and spontaneous play. Self-directed, unstructured play is more important than organised sports (p.157)

– few toys (slash the quantity; quality is irrelevant, p.28)
– open-ended toys (vs over-designed, ‘fixed’ toys, p.65)
– discard toys that don’t fit the 10-point checklist on p.69/below
– do not disturb deep play (p.140)
– reference: the 4 play stages on p.64

10-point checklist of toys without ‘staying power’
i. broken toys
ii. developmental inappropriate toys
iii. conceptually ‘fixed’ toys
iv. toys that ‘do too much’ and break too easily
v. very high stimulation toys
vi. annoying or offensive toys
vii. toys that claim to give your child a developmental edge
viii. toys you are pressured to buy
ix. toys that inspire corrosive play
x. toy multiples

2. A cozy and calming environment, using: damp acoustic and quietness, no smell, beautiful candles, small rituals.

3. Simple tastes, natural foods. Food for nourishment, not for excitement. (p.118)

4. Reject the television. (p.167-175) TV sucks energy, brain development doesn’t happen passively; content contributes to neural hyperstimulation, desensitisation, and affects self-concept.

5. Reject fast-paced novelty. Neural hyperstimulation resulting from the brain focusing on the unfamiliar until it determines safe. (orienting reflex p.171)

6. Reject choice overload. Revisit real needs rather than wants and rising expectations.

7. Reject hyperparenting (p.183).

4 types of overinvolved parents:
i. sportscaster (nonstop illustration)
ii. corporate type (result-driven)
iii. little buddy parent / best friend parent (no boundaries, reflects own loneliness, pushes children to maturity)
iv. clown parent (constant carnival leads to exhaustion and disappointment)

8. Talk less. “The more you say, the less you are listening.” (p.186) “Just notice… quietly bear witness.” (p.187) Children ask for connection, not critique or compliment.

9. Talk right — avoid adult topics and negative talk.

– Do not involve children in every single thing. Do not let adulthood spill over to them. “[R]espect requires some distance and separation.” (p.188) “Too much information does not ‘prepare’ a child for a complicated world; it paralyzes them.” (p.190)
– Do not discuss about feelings until age 10 because children do not have the emotional consciousness and vocabulary to describe and dissect them just yet. End emotional monitoring and hovering. (p.199)


1. “Before you say something, ask yourself these questions: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” Necessary means it really is more important than silence. Child’s inner voice can only develop with silence.

2. Protect childhood from “too much, too soon, too fast” (p.160). “[O]nce we cross our kids’ names off the “Race of Childhood” sign-up form, time opens right up. Time for rest and creativity to balance activity; time for contemplation and stimulation, moments of calm in busy days, energies conserved and expended; time for free, unscheduled play, for ordinary days, for interests that deepen over time; time for boredom; and time for the joy and infinite passion of anticipation.” (p.161)

Other parenting suggestions

1. Give strength and hope through stories and tales

2. Read books. Internal imaging gives rise to creative imagination. This is an active, higher form of learning.

3. Choose engagement over stimulation, and activity over passivity. (p.174)

4. Cherish things, anticipate events. You can only do so with Iess. (p.149)

5. Pay attention to the emotions behind your words. Project a general sense of optimism, sometimes by talking less. (p.191)

6. Balance parenting responsibilities by involving the less-involved partner in the kitchen or the bathtub. (p.196)

7. Meals are of prime importance for relationship building. Share meals, rituals, conversations, duties and time at the table.

8. Schedule 2-3 pressure valves at different times each day. Examples of pressure valves: nap, rest time, projects, play, hobbies, sports

9. Create a balanced schedule (p.139)
– Rest –> creativity –> activity –> rest
– If the child had 1 active/crazy day, balance it with 2 calm days (p.145)

10. Embrace boredom. This is where children will find deep inner wells of creativity and resourcefulness. (p.174) This helps them for life.

11. There is a fine line between helpful parenting and hyperconscious parenting. Anxiety is a result of over-watching our children’s development and achievement. (p.201) A lot of it is fuelled by society. Reject them.

12. Trust is the theme of childhood. (p.190)

13. Remind yourself each evening of who your child is, rather than what’s next to achieve. (p.202)

Book review: 不教養的勇氣 by Kishimi Ichiro

Title: 不教養的勇氣 (Meaning: The courage to not teach)
Author: 岸見一郎著、李依蒔譯
Edition: 天下文化(2016)
Period: 23-28 Aug 2018


The Japanese author Kishimi Ichiro is an Adlerian psychologist and philosopher. This is his first book on parenting, and is yet to be translated in English. His delivery is clear and crisp, repeating themes throughout the book with different examples. The abundance of real life stories easily allows the reader to feel relatable, consequently empowering one to adapt the author’s (or Adler’s) strategies.

Alfred Adler is known to purport a democratic family for the child, one where he is viewed as an equal. The goal of parenting, which is shared with Maria Montessori, is to foster independence. The path to independence is to be achieved by:

1. Understanding the objective of a child’s behaviour

The author argues that a child’s misbehaviour is utilised as a tool to attract attention, even if it is negative attention — a child doesn’t really care. It is also important to know whose attention the child is after. If the adult is agitated, it is where power struggle begins.

2. “Grace and Courtesy”

This Montessori term means teaching the child how to appropriately express or respond in a social setting, either ahead of time or at a neutral moment.

3. To be responsible for one’s mistakes, decisions and behaviour (discipline)

When the child makes a mistake (such as a mess), focus on the solution — how to fix the situation. The caregiver does not scold nor does he/she pick up after the child. The same goes for decision-making in an older child. The adult should not assist or advise the child unless his/her help is sought for. Any imposition impedes the child to acquiring and learning responsibility.

4. No praises, no scolding, no rewards, no punishments

The child shall not be motivated by external factors. The child needs to act according to his intrinsic motivation and internal thinking. We want to raise children who will do the things they see right, not to be swayed by opinions, peer pressure, or the hedonistic.

5. Give courage

Empower the child by focusing on how he contributes. This includes how he is at the present moment. The child shall not be laboured by expectations of achieving more or less, but rather embracing himself as being his best at this very moment.

6. Social belonging

Another facet of courage — the courage to belong, to relate with society. Adler sees relationship with society as a key factor of mental health. This includes an equal, fair relationship with caregivers and adults.

7. Have faith

Caregivers should have faith in the child, that he is able to make decisions for himself, to set his own objectives, and to act accordingly.

– –

Short chapters and abundant subtitles make this book an easy and focused read. It is highly recommended for all parents who want to see and treat their child differently — with more peace, more confidence and more individuality. Adler’s approach would be what is considered ‘respectful’ by many, although this’ a big word I hesitate to use, as well as Mr Ichiro. I also see this way of parenting as a prerequisite for implementing Montessori.

Ever since completing the book, I have seen my children in new light. I understand my 2-yo’s tantrums as deliberate actions to attract scolding (negative attention), and so I deliberately not scold, not speak, and just ignore (wait). The effect is magical — she stops crying, picks up herself, wipes her own tears and proceeds onto fixing the situation (such as spilt food and drinks), without any external help. It is as if her mind has moved on to thinking “what is the right thing to do?” I thank her for her contribution; how appreciative I am of her at present. Life is easier without passing judgments on people. Let us all be ourselves.




Book review: The Art of Discarding, by Nagisa Tatsumi

Title: The Art of Discarding
Author: Nagisa Tatsumi, translated by Angus Turvill
Edition: Hachette, 2017


This book is a monologue. It is the voice that I need to hear while decluttering my residence. Part one of the book provides 10 attitudes/mindsets that helps with throwing away things. Although she describes our ‘clinginess’ to stuff, her words carry no blame whatsoever; it is a matter of life, not a fallacy, not weakness either. This makes the reader comfortable and open to her suggestions. “It’s a mindset that I can take upon without having to change myself,” the reader may feel.

This is the tone of the book — take it for your own use. Part two goes a further step to offering 10 strategies/plans that puts you into action. The table of contents is quite representative, for your reference:

the art of discarding p1
Table of contents, The Art of Discarding (1 of 2)
the art of discarding p2
Table of contents, The Art of Discarding (2 of 2)

Marie Kondo’s The life-changing magic of tidying up and her subsequent manual Spark joy covers both discarding and organising, including her signature folding method and storing clothes vertically. Nagisa Tatsumi’s The art of discarding, however, is a focused textbook on discarding. I suggest reading Marie Kondo’s as an overview, then Tatsumi’s guide to power you through the discarding stage. Kondo’s criteria of ‘only keep what sparks joy’ is an overarching theme, while Tatsumi’s 10 attitudes and 10 strategies will keep sentiments and procrastination away from logical, objective business.

(In my Montessori training, there is a principle called “whole to parts”, which is why Montessori children uniquely start their geography work with the globe and its continents. Marie Kondo’s work is a ‘whole’, and Nagisa Tatsumis work is a ‘part’.)

I feel empowered after reading this book, for now I know there is this voice to assist my journey in decluttering.

Book review: Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, by John Gray

Title: Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus: A practical guide for improving communication and getting what you want in your relationships
Author: John Gray
Edition: HarperCollins, 1992


10 years from first hearing about this book from my ex-boyfriend, I finally encountered it at a thrift store and grabbed the deal.

The book’s subtitle promises “a practical guide”, and there are no disappointments. This is indeed a ‘how-to’ book, offering a whole package of strategies for verbal communication in intimate, heterosexual relationships. The step-by-step approach is a lifesaver for anyone who is confused, frustrated or helpless.

In my opinion, the book offers very valid suggestions. The ‘translations’ between men and women language is fun, but also has its truth. There are, of course, simplifications and stereotyping, but they are for clarity. It is a reflection of the yinyang of communication, rooted in two polarities and constantly interacting. It is the way of interaction that matters.

All of the author’s advice comes down to three themes:

1. Neither men nor women want any advice from their other half. The Martian (man) wants to be trusted, and the Venusian (woman) wants to be understood. 

2. It is the delivery that matters. The stance is minor.

3. Love equals needs. When our needs are met, we feel loved. Therefore, good communication addresses needs.

On p.133, the author writes about the six primary love needs of women and men:

Women: care, understanding, respect, devotion, validation, reassurance
Men: trust, acceptance, appreciation, admiration, approval, encouragement

Some of these needs are very similar but have different nuances. This is a list to memorise. Bear in mind the needs of the target audience (your other half), and design your interaction accordingly. For example, I know my husband hates when I suggest that he brings an extra jacket, as all men do. To women it’s a sign of care, while to men it’s a vote of no-confidence. With this understanding, I make up with better delivery.

The book is yet again another reminder that love is not anything glamorous or virtuous. The feeling of love coincides with the lighting up of the brain’s reward circuit. To feel loved is to feel rewarded, to feel that our needs have been met.

Therefore, companionship is to be set up for both parties to meet their needs. The many facets, such as schedules, environment, expectations, finances and principles, have to be expressed, received and adapted to create a harmonious life for both. With young children, this process is a one-way observation (learning); with adults, the cycle becomes two-way, for which is termed as ‘communication’.

Book review: Education and Peace by Maria Montessori

Title: Education and Peace
Author: Maria Montessori, translated by Helen R. Lane
Edition: 2015, Montessori-Pierson
Period: 28-31 May 2017

At 113 pages ‘long’, Education and Peace is one of the shortest books of the Montessori series, so succinct that its passionate rhetoric must be read word by word. A compilation of lectures given in the thirties (1932-39), the tone of her speeches is heavy-hearted and full of urgency. As she speaks of peace in a turbulent time, this text is all about vision, indeed a very grand one, rather than pedagogy. This makes the book a very spiritual read. She drew parallels with the Bible on numerous occasions, which with her Italian heritage, comes eloquently and naturally, with no pretense or evangelism.

I experienced this book as a crystallisation of my full-year Montessori teacher training at the primary level. In this book, Dr Montessori repeatedly stressed the importance of following, understanding and supporting the child, and the reasons why the adult world needs this new attitude to achieve world peace.

“We were deeply moved at the discovery of a real and awesome conflict, a ceaseless war that confronts the child from the very day he is born and is part of his life all during his formative years. This conflict is between the adult and the child, between the strong and the weak, and, we might add, between the blind and the clear-sighted.” (p.12)

If we destroy the seeds and potentialities of goodness in the young, how will the quality of man ever improve? How will war ever stop? We’ve only evolved in our ways of fighting, haven’t we — at all levels!

Faith, hope, love; with love came the child — our hope. Hope can only be sustained by faith, for hope is unknown. We can only study what has manifested, but for all the potential that is hidden within the child, we have to hold faith, to the secret of childhood. This is our role as “a scientist and a saint” (Note 1). We do not study the individual child, which is full of unknown. We study the environment we provide — whether it is satisfying the needs of the child-spirit, or obstructing it. While we objectively and critically evaluate our work, the saint in us holds fast, certainly and confidently, to the belief that the child will reveal himself as he is ready.

I feel ever more strongly about preparing every adult to be observant and wise. Even if school is ideal, the family environment could still be chaotic. It is more important for the child to have a “guardian angel” that supports his best interests (refer to p.104) rather than be acquainted with Montessori materials.

In this book Dr Montessori speaks of man’s major misery as an issue of adaptation:

“His personality has remained exactly the same as in past centuries, but the many changes that have occurred in his social conditions force him to live in an unnatural environment today. Man is thus weak and helpless in the face of the suggestions exercised both by his physical environment and by other men. … [Those who have made scientific studies of him] tell us that man’s desperate struggle to adapt to his environment without being prepared to do so brings about changes in his personality that might be described as pathological.” (p.40)

In today’s terms, it’s just as we’ve been made to like food that we can’t create, buy houses that we can’t afford, indulge in social media when we are missing social skills, and manufacture weapons that land in the hands of immature politicians, terrorists and gangs.

It then becomes even more obvious as to why primary education (3-6) takes the theme of ‘concrete’, ‘practical life’ (includes adaptation) and ‘exploration’ — the theme of independence also extends to the ability to discover, create/innovate/invent and progress. It is commonly said that the Millenials are weak in computing science because they didn’t witness the building blocks. Unless they deliberately learn the primitive ways, the young successors will have a shaky foundation in their understanding of computers — holes, emptiness, confusion.

The same goes for the Sensorial area in the primary classroom. This area is a very scientific representation of our physical world, but often neglected because it doesn’t feature fancy ‘hands-on’ science experiments and funky-termed theorems. The objective of the Sensorial materials is to encourage repetition and free exploration, which will allow the child to come to his own conclusions and expand on his inquisitiveness, according to his own desire. It is obviously more meaningful that a child abstracts the concept of gravity and weight than to have a physics teacher preach about Newton. If the child makes his own knowledge, he can make full sense of his world at every step he takes. There is no unintelligible gap between him and his environment; he is fully adapted.

When a person establishes his own understanding and meaning every day, he is his own scientist and philosopher. He is independent of anyone’s explanations, persuasions and advertisements. He is grounded in his strong character.

Note 1: The teacher as a scientist and saint

“The vision of the teacher should be at once precise like that of the scientist, and spiritual like that of the Saint. The preparation for science and the preparation for sanctity should form a new soul, for the attitude of the teacher should be at once positive, scientific and spiritual.” (Advanced Montessori Method, p.107)

【書評】「The Whole-Brain Child」(三)幼兒 Troubleshoot

(2016 年 6 月刊於本人另一華語部落格,英文版本要候補~)








突然,她堅定的說:「Fix. Bear.(修理小熊)」



「Fix – DA-det – Gungung.(修理磁石,公公,即外祖父)」


「BA-beng – Play!!! – Bow!!!(小提琴,拉,弓)」


「@£$£$%^&@£$@$%$%^,boice broke。(聽不清楚的字,因為壞掉)」


「YA-ya – BA-beng.」

她問那她的小提琴呢,又再問磁貼,又再問鬆弛熊,問來問去,我安撫她說:「有時候,東西會壞掉、破掉,感覺很不好受,對不對?我們盡己所能的照顧他們,但他們仍然有壞掉的機會,就如今天早上,你的 Strawberry Clinic 鑷子折斷了。對不起,我們要把鑷子扔掉,因為不能修理了。




到昨天,原來她又想我們與她聊聊一個經歷——是她第一次打破玻璃。晚餐的時候,她不小心把盛載麥皮的 Pyrex 玻璃碗丟到地上去,玻璃碎滿一地,她不屑一看。


「@£$£$%@$% Yung break/broke daass… @£$ Yung broke daass… @£$£$%@£4 din crib.」她指著牆上那裱起的掛畫說。


「Lyn – clear up – Yung – daass.」她盡力的用自己稚嫩的口齒,生疏但決斷的組成了句子。

是的,那次 Lyn 姐姐來幫忙清理容打破的玻璃碎。而今天,寧海打破了玻璃碗。

「Dada – clear up – Kaia – daass.」她告訴我今天是爸爸為他清掃玻璃。

「Lyn – clear up – Yung – daass. Dada – clear up – Kaia – daass.」一直重複重複了好幾次。

「Lyn – clear up – Yung – daass – din – bed. Kaia – din – crib. Lyn – clear up – Yung – daass.」

她盡力的憶述上月的經歷:容在追跑的時候弄跌了掛畫,玻璃碎掉,掉在地上的床墊;我把她放進嬰兒床裏頭,召喚 Lyn 姐姐來幫忙清掃玻璃。無形的心結,解開了!同時,她也明白昨天打破了玻璃碗,與爸爸掃玻璃碎,原來是因果關係啊。

在上回介紹過的 The Whole-Brain Child 一書裏頭,作者一再強調與小孩結伴重遊過往經歷的重要。這是「Name it to tame it」方法(p.27-33),主旨是運用左腦,讓小孩用語言表達經歷的詳情,聯繫至右腦的感受。當小孩明白自己的情緒以後,就能處之泰然。




有時候,若對方(小孩、成人都是喔)情緒反應突然極端、無理,如平心靜氣的寧海突然大哭不肯睡,可能是由「內隱記憶」(implicit memory)所致(p.73;章節:p.70-79)。家長可多加注意,並跟小孩聊聊他們不為意的經歷,將內隱的變外顯(explicit memory)。當小孩理解到往事陰影的時候,此等潛意識的害怕的就不再影響自己。


【書評】「The Whole-Brain Child」(二)老少咸宜的溝通要訣

(2016 年 6 月刊於本人另一華語部落格,英文版本要候補~)

書評《(一)走樓梯的故事》介紹過 The Whole-Brain Child 一書的中心思想,及「左-右」、「上層(高層)-下層(低層)」腦部的運作特性。家長的角色乃協助孩子平衡、融合(integrate)各部位的反應,透過不斷的練習「腦部肌肉」,達至情緒穩定與健康自信。


upstairs, downstairs painting-01

書中 129 頁描述了一個頗為有趣的輔導練習:決絕的說七次「NO(否)」,每次中間隔兩秒,再清晰地說七次「YES(是)」,並留意身體的感覺。





作者表示,處於 reactive 狀態的人什麼話都會聽成人身攻擊,只懂以「fight-flight-flee」應對,完全不能溝通。因此,我應該靜候他冷靜,待他漸漸離開 reactive 狀態(例如吃飽豐富晚餐、洗澡過後)才對話。「下層腦」主事的時候,無法正常理解言辭,我們只應用非語言的表達來表示支持,例如擁抱、微笑。先 connect(聯繫、結伴),後 redirect(引導),是作者建議的策略之一。

老公現在學懂了,只跟我說:「要抱抱。」以前,他說話,我當然用說話回應,結果鬧得不快。現在,他要求擁抱,我回他擁抱,他得以離開 reactive 狀態,自然好相處了。

兩三年前,學習沙維雅(Virginia Satir)思想時候,曾經發現老公常把「感受(feelings)」與「感受的感受(feelings/decisions about feelings)」混為一談。他的原始感受可能是傷心,但他為他的傷心而憤怒,因為當中包含太多觀點與不設實際的期望。再者,他會把這導生的感受包裝為觀點,本人就當然以理據回駁啊!原來,我忽略了他的言辭根本是在表達感受,所以完全不合情理,也不可以用談道理去處理。當然啊!情感不聽道理,道理也染不上情感的色彩。所以,當我發現了這個「感受-觀點」的混淆以後,我轉而忽略他的字句,留意他的真.感受(第一層和第二層),首先處理之,就如使用上頭的「connect and redirect」方法。



由於幼孩還未學會處理自己的「下層腦」狀態,所以須要我們安撫、擁抱後,再協助提升。當孩子鬧性子的時候,給予深深的、緊緊的擁抱,特別是當他們在做不對的事情的時候,用擁抱箍緊他們,一方面能停止他們的作亂,另一方面能安撫他們的心情,一箭雙雕。到他們不再 reactive 了,我們才作理性教導。