Family life

Now we are six

A child-made board game

A DIY board game, inspired by a performance of Shakespeare’s As You Like It we saw last summer. He played the Duke, I was Rosalind.

It might not be obvious from the sidewalk out front, but a big shift has been happening in our home this fall: our big kid Jasper turned six. He’s interested in Thor, creates his own board games, and on an ordinary Tuesday morning, suddenly wants to know how tornadoes and hurricanes form. Things are different than they were a year ago.

It’s a frequent misconception that Montessori pedagogy ends when the pre-school years do, but one of the most amazing gifts Maria Montessori had to offer the world was her observations on child development into adulthood. She was one of the first to identify developmental stages and to see the way that meeting the needs of the developing child, at the right time, could lead to the kind of magic of spark of learning and growth that many of us have learned to recognize in our children.

Montessori identified four 6-year stages, or planes, beginning at birth, and ending at age 24!

First plane: birth to 6 years old (this stage is often divided into sub-planes of birth to 3 and ages 3-6).

Second plane: age 6 to 12 years.

Third plane: 12 to 18 years.

Fourth plane: age 18 to 24 years.

While Montessori identified the first plane as the most significant in later development of the child (an idea that has since been widely applied in public policy and proven by neuroscience), the planes that follow are, of course, important steps in a child’s growth, and equally useful for parents like me to understand.

I’ve got six years under my belt as a parent, done a whole lot of reading, and some training in the birth to three sub-plane, but even as I began to observe shifts in my growing kid over the past six months or so, I realized that I wasn’t sure what to expect from this next stage. The answer? More reading, of course!

As Dr. Montessori put it in her book The Absorbent Mind,¬†“the next period goes from six to twelve. It is a period of growth unaccompanied by other change. The child is calm and happy. Mentally, he is in a state of health, strength and assured stability.”

The second plane is less dynamic than the first plane. It is a time of major physical growth (bye-bye baby teeth!), but less intense neurological development. Because of that, it can be a time of relative stability as a child settles into themselves and begins to understand their place in their world: in their family, community, and even the wider universe. Social life, and group dynamics with peers become more important than they were for the younger child. The child is less absorbed with physical order and is beginning to cultivate moral order — a sense of justice.

Though it’s lesser known, Dr. Montessori wrote a book called To Educate The Human Potential, all about meeting the developmental needs of the 6-12 stage. I haven’t finished reading it yet (busy co-researching tornadoes and hurricanes!), but this book has held some useful gems, including this:

“Knowledge can be best given where there is eagerness to learn, so this is the period when the seed of everything can be sown, the child’s mind being like a fertile field, ready to receive what will germinate into culture.”
Exploring the Fibonacci sequence
Big, abstract, child-led work: tracking the Fibonacci sequence from 1 up to 7 digits.

Read more about the second plane:

On How We Montessori

On The Kavanaugh Report.

To Educate the Human Potential by Dr. Montessori

And of course, A.A. Milne’s book of verse, “Now We Are Six

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Books, Family life, Montessori philosophy, parenting, Peace education

Perfectionism and parenting

Perfectionism (1)

I heard this quote on a podcast recently, and it really grabbed me. There are times I can think of, as a parent, as a teacher, as a blogger, when I know, looking back, that perfectionism has been driving. And none of these have been my best, most effective, or most loving moments.

As I thought about it, I realized perfectionism isn’t actually an end point — it’s not about whether things are “perfect.” It’s always been a motivating or “driving” force, as Bren√© Brown puts it. It’s about proving myself worthy. And as a parent today, there are all kinds of new ways to push myself into perfectionism.

We meet perfectionism on the way to potentially stressful situations: when we feel we have an audience to impress, like visiting grandparents, meeting a new teacher, or¬† that first¬† playdate with new friends. When we have created an expectation for ourselves, like embarking on a family vacation, or preparing and presenting something new to a child (and we’re already thinking ahead to the Instagram post!). We meet perfectionism when we want to others to see us and validate us and¬†our efforts.

It’s not about doing your best, it’s about aiming to arrive at a place when you will have your efforts, have your self, validated by external circumstances.

It’s fundamentally removed from the present moment ad is always pushing on to another, more perfect moment in the future.

I think we all probably know what perfectionism looks like, and even more what it feels like (I get that tension in my gut just thinking about it!). The unholy trinity of perfectionism, fear and shame are powerful forces that can ultimately drive us in the opposite direction of our goals.

You know what perfectionism doesn’t look like? Curiosity. Openness. Vulnerability. Acceptance. Gratitude. Joy. Presence. In fact, maybe these things are the anti-dote.

Let’s hop in that car. Let’s offer curiosity to our children. Let’s offer acceptance to ourselves.

You are a good mother. You are a good teacher. You are worthy. I am worthy.

P.S. All credit to Bren√© Brown, whose work is really changing the world. I highly recommend any one of her amazing books, but especially Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.¬†If you’re reading this blog, this is the book for you.

If you’re wondering about what embracing imperfection looks like in real, family life, check out this post.

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Christmas, Christmas, Solstice & Hannukah, DIY, Family life

An advent calendar of adventure

adventurous advent header

Last year, we began a new tradition with an “advent calendar of adventure.” Each morning began with anticipation and surprise, as Jasper opened that day’s envelope to find what new adventure was on the calendar for that day.

Because I matched the “adventures” with plans we already had for overnight hotel stays or friends’ Christmas parties, and balanced busier week days with simpler activities, it wasn’t overwhelming to execute, and it made for a lot of sweet wintery memories. It meant offering real world experiences, slower times at home, and opportunities to connect with story and song. It’s that time of year again, and I’m making plans for our second December of adventure.

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Here are some adventure activity ideas that you can use, or tailor to your own family’s culture:¬†

  • pick out a Christmas tree
  • get out the decorations
  • go for a walk in the woods
  • bring out the Christmas books, and choose one to read at bedtime
  • celebrate the last day of any regular activities before the holidays
  • be sure to include a festive announcement of any holiday parties you’ll be attending, and let your hosts provide the magic for that day
  • make a gingerbread house or gingerbread men
  • make beeswax candles for the season ahead
  • have a board game night
  • feed the birds (simply fill the feeders or do a project like this one)
  • make soup for lunch, and surprise a friend or neighbour with a jar of soup
  • go to a holiday concert or ballet
  • gather around a backyard campfire
  • have a friend over for dinner
  • bake bread to give to a neighbour (here’s our favourite)
  • go to the grocery store and choose $20 worth of food for the food bank
  • go on a trip to the city
  • celebrate the solstice
  • make hot chocolate and sing carols
  • bake cookies
  • family movie night
  • make or choose a teacher gift
  • make a craft at Grandma’s house
  • go for a night-time walk to look at lights
  • make a thank you or holiday card for your local children’s librarian
  • buy or make a gift for your sibling
  • host a hot cocoa party
  • make and deliver Christmas cards
  • make salt-dough or cinnamon-apple sauce ornaments

 

diy advent calendar

How to build it: 

  • Figure out a way to display your calendar.
  • Sit down with your calendar and make a list from 1-24.
  • Assign each day an activity, being sure to balance busier days and simpler adventures.
  • Cut small slips announcing each days activities, and number them.
  • Put each slip into its corresponding numbered envelope.
  • Keep your master list handy so that you’ll know what’s coming up, or in case you need to switch activities around as things change over time.
  • Have your calendar displayed and ready to go on December 1st.

Notes from my experience:

This advent calendar is all about the message, and not about the stuff. All you really need is a way to¬†hold and hide away each slip of paper containing that day’s activity.

I used a jewelry rack that my dad created years ago out of an old wooden picture frame and wooden dowels, because that’s what I had on hand. That would be simple enough to replicate if DIY is your thing, or a simple clothesline-style string, or even a paper chain garland would do the trick.

I created my tiny envelopes out of our family’s watercolour paintings, paper bags and foil paper scraps, and labelled each one with number 1-24.

Then I slipped the corresponding message in each envelope, and hung them from the doweling with ribbon.

If it all feels like too much, another option is to celebrate 12 days of Christmas, or to have a shorter countdown leading to Christmas.

 

 

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3-6 Years, 4-6 months, 6-12 months, 6-8 months, Books, Christmas, Christmas, Solstice & Hannukah, Family life, Preschool, toddler

A gift guide for the Montessori home

Surely I can’t be the only one who approaches the idea of gift guides, shopping and stacks of presents under the tree with something of a sense of dread? Some days, it can all seem like just too much.

In spite of these feelings, I know that a well-made gift can bring a spark of joy and creativity, and I treasure those memories from my own childhood. My husband David and I try to keep holiday gift-giving focused on experience, and quality over quantity, because we know how easily young kids can be overwhelmed, how generous our relatives are, and how finite our living space is.

In that spirit, here are a few of our favourite Montessori-inspired ideas for celebrating the tradition of giving and receiving gifts this time of year. Some are big ticket, some are small surprises, and all are sorted according to age.

May the coming season serve to remind you of life’s simple joys:

Stocking stuffers and small surprises: 

Wooden egg shaker

DIY tiny flag bunting

Wooden snail with glass marble rollie – how sweet is this?

A candle snuffer 

Egg slicer – In constant use at our Milkweed Montessori toddler group, it’s like a grand finale to peeling a hardboiled egg

A classic top

For the sweet and curious baby:

Balloon mobile 

Manhattan Toys skwish – my #1 go-to baby toy

Pikler triangle for fun and motor development for years to come!

A hopping rabbit to pull along

Zoe’s Snowy Day book

For the toddler who always wants to do it themselves:

Grimm’s Rainbow

Apple Slicer/Peeler – I know this seems crazy, but the one we received for Jasper’s first Christmas has been working hard ever since and will for years to come.

The Snowy Day book

Walker push wagon (and a more affordable option from Ikea)

Cuddle baby doll  РToddlers love babies, and this one is soft, lightweight and durable.

Wooden drying rack – Because where there are toddlers, there are opportunities to wipe up spills, and a toddler-sized drying rack is the natural next step.

For the child (a three to six year old) who is always discovering something new:

A subscription to Ladybug magazine  РJasper has been a subscriber for a few years thanks to some loving grandparents who live far away. A sweet monthly reminder of their affection, and a new collection of songs and stories to match the season.

Cutter boat with loading tree

Sleep Tight Farm book

Modeling wax 

Knitting needles or knitting tower

Alfie’s Christmas book

Beeswax candle making kit

Morakniv’s rookie knife* for small but capable hands. Our five year-old and a whole lot of his nature school pals got these this fall, and there have been rave reviews (and no serious injuries). An outdoors knife is a natural step for the child who started with the crinkle cutter as a young toddler.

For the grown ups who loved looking over this list:

A donation to the Montessori School at the Center for the Homeless 

The Creative Family Manifesto book

Indigo-dyed tea towels

Winter nature activities for Children book 

Handmade pure beeswax candles

Experiences for the whole family to enjoy together:

Family membership at the Art Gallery of Ontario¬†The AGO has great programming and welcoming spaces for children. We have a long distance membership which pays for itself in 1.5 visits, and makes trips to the gallery really easy to justify. All of that means that our family is coming to recognize some really amazing pieces of art that have become familiar and beloved over the years, like Norval Morrisseau’s Man Changing into Thunderbird. If you’re not local, I encourage you to seek out art galleries in your area.

Ice-fishing¬†This is five year-old Jasper’s idea – he’s interested in learning how to ice-fish, something we’ve never done before. An intriguing gift idea.

A family weekend away¬†This is something that we’ve done for the past few years with my family, rather than exchanging Christmas gifts. The road trip, shared meal prep and hot tubbing (a non-negotiable in our Airbnb searches!) has been so much more memorable than anything we could have wrapped under the tree.

Note:

Many of these items can be found around the world, but I’ve linked to the Canadian supplier because I know how tough it can be to source things in Canada.¬† Items noted with an asterisk ship to Canada from an international shop, and so may involve duty charges.

See gift guides from recent years here: 

A Merry Montessori Gift Guide

How to avoid rapidly changing priorities: A Montessori Gift Guide

 

 

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Uncategorized

Remembering Porzia

 

 

I’m so deeply saddened by the death of my friend,¬†Porzia Micou-Franklin.

Porzia was a loving parent, an inspiring teacher — who guided the Montessori casa classroom at the Center for the Homeless in South Bend —¬† and a valiant fighter, who knew that to truly help someone in need is to work to make the whole world better for them.

I’m so grateful to have known her, even in the form of messages and emails, blog posts and Facebook comments, and I’m just so sad for her daughters and her family, for her students and for all of us who must now imagine a world without her.

I just found these words at the end of an e-mail from Porzia last year:

“What we do as Montessorians is preach peace. That was also a key component to my journey, peace in the midst of a storm. This helped me to better understand and endure everything that came my way.”

Rest in peace, rest in power, Porzia.

P.S. Porzia took the above photos of the children this past July, celebrating a beautiful summer’s day spent with sweet young spirits at the Center for the Homeless.¬†

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Casa, DIY, Family life, Nature, Practical Life, Preschool

DIY: wax-dipped autumn leaves

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Have I mentioned how much I love autumn? Even with the high spirits of Halloween behind us and the disturbingly eager holiday retail machine kicking into gear, I’m determined to stay present with the season as long as possible. Particularly since otherwise, November can seem like one long grey wait for better days.

23158082_10102016913446891_704227450_oAs the night time wild winds blow, the kids and I seem to collect beautiful and colourful leaves spotted on our travels each morning, adding to our collection daily. Some get put on the nature tray by the back door, some founder on the floor of the back seat, some crumble out of pockets in the laundry.

But a chosen few are dipped into sweet-smelling wax, saved, and hung up to bring the glory of the outdoors into our home. Because it involves using some caution around warm beeswax, this is a great activity for ages three and up, depending on the child. (If your kids are anything like mine, that added element of manageable risk makes leaf-dipping extra appealing!)

It’s simple really.

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What you need: 

A bunch of beautiful leaves

Beeswax, grated

A double-boiler or some other method for heating the wax

A length of string or yarn

A hole punch (optional)

How to do it: 

  1. Gather up your leaves and grate up your beeswax into the top of your double-boiler. Start water boiling on the stove. Note: I have a metal bowl and grater that are used exclusively for beeswax, because it can be tricky to clean up once it hardens, and you don’t want any melted wax going down the kitchen drain.
  2. Lay out some paper to catch any wax drips and some parchment for your wax-wet leaves to dry on.
  3. Heat the beeswax on top of boiling water until just melted. Once it’s melted, you can either bring the bowl of wax over to your leaves, or bring your leaves right to the stove — whichever is safer.
  4. Hold each leaf by the stem, and dip it into the melted wax, being sure to cover the whole surface of the leaf, front and back, with a thin layer of wax. Set it onto the parchment to cool.
  5. When your leaf is cool and dry to the touch, and flexes without cracking the wax, it’s ready to prep for hanging up. Have your little one punch a hole in each leaf, and thread through with a string.
  6. Hang up your sweet nature bunting, and take in the autumn splendour!
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Family life, Montessori philosophy, Peace education

On a bad day

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Recently, I had a bad day.

A late-for-everything, take-out for supper, yelled at my kids, fat lip of the heart kind of day.

The kind of day where it feels like no matter what I got right, forget how many books I read or the art-making or cooking, it still doesn’t feel like I’m really connecting with my kids. The kind where it feels like every time I sat down to eat, or text a friend, or take a shower, it got interrupted.

The frustration and the guilt turned into a vicious cycle.

At some point on this terrible, no-good day, I realized: respectful parenting and Montessori ideas are a useful guide for our home not because I’ve got it all together as parent, but because I don’t. The philosophy offers tools and support when my own go-tos fail.

I’ve written before about creating space for children to experience error in order to learn, and it occurred to me that I rarely hold that kind of space for my self. It seems silly really — after all, it’s not as though I have nothing left to learn.

This week I’m trying to be more gracious with myself, as I aim to be with my children, in order to foster learning and growth.

That same frustrating, messy, human day, I read these words in the beloved book The Tao of Montessori by Catherine McTamaney, and felt both seen and buoyed:

“Abandon fault. Leave behind the blame placing. Even the best teaching is messy.”

May your messy days be days of learning too.

 

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