18 months, 18-21 months, 22-24 months, 24-28 months, Family life, Montessori philosophy

The toddler question

 

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Life with toddlers: it’s not for the faint of heart.

Toddlers are wonderful humans. They are curious and compassionate, full of energy and emotion. I live with one myself, a little sprite who brings joy to the whole family each day, and who embraces and insists upon independence, choice, and doing it herself!

One of the greatest gifts I received during my Montessori training a few years back was my teacher’s wonderful advice to, in the midst of those inevitable stormy moments with a toddler, step back from the intensity of the storm and ask: what is the child’s developmental need? 

I learned that, contrary to our culture’s comments on tantrums and the “terrible twos,” a toddler isn’t developmentally capable of being willful. Toddlers are naturally without motive — it’s not until around three years-old that a child’s own will actually even develops.

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What drives a toddler is this forward movement into their own development.

Occasionally, there are limits that interrupt that forward motion — whether it’s a parent, who absent-mindedly takes over zipping up a jacket, or needs a child to be buckled into a car seat — or even just the physical limits of the natural world, like when a child wants to fit a large block into a small hole. Encountering these edges can mean that joyful child is suddenly frustrated — more so than seems reasonable to the parent who has their own set of expectations front of mind.

It’s then, in the moment, that we can step back, take a deep breath, and ask: what is the child’s developmental need? It’s a crucial moment, one in which we take ourselves out of the heat of our own emotion about what’s happening, and try to see the world from our toddler’s perspective. Rather than, say, this one:

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Montessori identified that there are certain times in a child’s life when they are overwhelmingly interested in and able to take in certain developmental stages, called sensitive periods. Sometimes parents see their child acting “obsessed,” repeatedly doing the same thing: taking shoes on and off, climbing the stairs, turning lights off. Whenever that repeated activity is happening, you can bet that it’s because some big learning is happening.

As caregivers, understanding sensitive periods can shed light on what is happening for a frustrated toddler. Toddlers are sensitive to order, they have a need for movement, and for language.

A toddler who is sensitive to order — a natural desire that things should be “just so”— might be like the little guy I met at a party a few years ago. People were gathered around the door, some dressing, some going out, and a little toddler stood in the midst of it all, insisting that the open door should be closed. His mother was getting annoyed, it seemed inappropriate — some folks were about to go out. But from his perspective, he saw something that was out of order: an open door should be closed.

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I used to see this chart Maria Montessori created as a sort of report card, to see how my child measured up. Now I understand: it’s a list of needs. What if a child at 15 months NEEDS to walk without help? Game-changing. (Chart from The Absorbent Mind)

I know a sweet little girl who lives in a one-storey home. Get that girl into a house with stairs, and she’s got one focus, every time: up, then down. Up, then down. She’s gotta move! I remember reading somewhere that Maria Montessori suspected that the reason young kids love slides so much isn’t actually about the sliding: it’s all about the stairs.

I’ve faced all kinds of challenges with a child in need of movement: a long flight with a toddler on my lap, a music class for toddlers that expected my 13-month old to stay seated for 30 minutes, or simply a Tuesday afternoon preschool pick-up deadline, with a toddler who didn’t get enough playtime after her nap.

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So what’s to be done when developmental need bumps up against the edges of regular family life?

Sometimes just recognizing what the developmental need is takes the intensity out and gives me compassion for my child in the moment, and that in itself feels like enough.

Sometimes you spend most of a party over on the stairs, letting that eager girl climb.

Sometimes I have to say: “I know you’d like to keep walking, but we need to take the car to get there on time. Do you want to climb in or do you need my help?” And if she keeps on running, I take that as a choice that she needs my help getting into the car (and I make a note: this toddler needs some freedom to move).

This parenting thing is always imperfect, but looking for the developmental need can offer just the type of opportunity I’m always looking for as a mom: to bring a little more space into a stressful moment.

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18-21 months, 22-24 months, 6-12 months, Montessori philosophy, Motor development, Practical Life, Under 1 year

You’re doing it wrong, keep it up!

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If, in your travels on Pinterest and Instagram, you see a beautiful photo of a tiny toddler carefully/peacefully/confidently lifting a little jug of water to pour himself a glass, here’s what you may have missed:

  • a baby experimenting with different grips on a weaning glass
  • a baby pouring water down his shirt
  • an older baby throwing a full glass of water in the general direction of his face
  • an older yet baby taking a few sips before dropping a half-full glass into his lap
  • a one year old pushing a glass off the edge of the table — repeatedly
  • a one year old who reaches for a cloth after taking a drink
  • a one year old says “uh oh” when a glass breaks and his mother sweeps it up
  • a thirteen month old grabbing the pitcher to pour for himself
  • a fourteen month old pouring a puddle of water immediately beside his glass
  • a fourteen month and one day old getting a little more water into his glass
  • a fifteen month old who uses a cloth on the little puddle of water on his placemat
  • a sixteen month old who pours a glass a water
  • a sixteen month old who an hour later completely misses the glass again
  • a seventeen month old who pours all of the water from the pitcher into and over and around the glass, long after it’s full

Maybe all of this seems a bit much, but the point is this: each of these opportunities builds on the last, as the child learns through his own real life experience how to hold a glass of water.

Through repetition, that is, through repeatedly doing something “wrong”, he learned how to meet his own goal (to get water from one vessel into another).

In the early days of incorporating Montessori into our own home though, I’d be disappointed when I introduced a new activity or material and it seemed like my little guy just couldn’t get the hang of it. My expectations were based on things I’d seen other kids do online, or read about in a book, or seen in a film (and one really simple error I occasionally made as a first time mom was not understanding the very real difference between, say, a 17 month old and a 20 month old).

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At this point in the journey, I’ve come to realize this: if you offer a child an empty glass and an appropriately sized pitcher of water for the first time ever, and they have no problem pouring a glass without spilling a drop, you’ve waited too long.

Spills, messes, challenges, frustrationit’s all part of the process, of learning, of doing hard things. Fear of failure? It’s got no place here.

A parent doesn’t need to say a thing — that wee genius knows what he’s attempting and whether it’s been successful. “The teacher should never intervene in an action when the impulse prompting it is good, neither with her approval nor with her help nor with a lesson or correction,” Maria Montessori wrote in Some Words of Advice to Teachers.

Today’s challenge: let’s offer opportunities to our kids (and to ourselves), to try something and not quite get it. To pour the water on the floor, to climb up the wrong side of the slide, to put their shoes on the wrong feet. And then let’s smile and watch them try again.

Do we follow each other on Instagram? Let’s! Click here for an Instagram video of a very wee Jasper pouring himself a drink a long while back, and hit follow while you’re there.

 

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18-21 months, 22-24 months, 24-28 months, DIY

Geometric sorting board: a diy hack

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We’ve had this geometric sorting board for a while, and I see it around the web fairly often in Montessori circles. In the past six months (from about 20 months on) I’ve occasionally offered it to Jasper, who over time has enjoyed exploring the shapes, pointing out the colours, and hanging the shapes randomly from the pegs. The idea that certain shapes would fit together on particular pegs wasn’t really happening, even with modeling.

Then I remembered this post from the awesome German-language Montessori blog: Eltern vom Mars.

It’s the simplest solution in the world: tracing each geometric shape onto the board.

I used pencil so that down the road, we can raise the stakes by erasing the shapes. Immediately this has become one of Jasper’s most-often used activities, and paired with this four-section basket, it also provides opportunities for sorting by shape or colour. It’s such a simple hack, and I can’t believe it took me this long to remember it.

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I can’t remember where our geometric sorting board came from — I know it was second-hand, either from a store or a friend — but you can find something very similar here (that set actually looks a bit chunkier and would be easier for a young toddler to use).

If you’re worried that this might make it too easy, I’d say observation is your friend. If the child is focused and engaged with the work and is drawn to it over and over, then it’s just right. When the time comes that Jasper is losing interest, I’ll probably put it away for a while, and then reintroduce it on our shelves with the pencil lines erased.

Have you discovered any “Montessori hacks” for independence?

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18-21 months, Practical Life

Practical life: pitting cherries

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It’s June, and it’s cherry season. Cherries are within the category of produce which I buy only in season; and now is their time.

Last night in the midst of the usual heat, hunger and confusion of the hour-before-supper, I quickly set up an easy practical life activity for Jasper to work on at the kitchen counter while whirled around making pizza dough and chopping topping ingredients (we usually have pizza on Friday nights, but it was just that kind of a Monday). This wonderful cherry-pitter is from For Small Hands, an online/catalogue Montessori-supplies retailer for families.

The presentation was simple — and, in the insanity of the w̶i̶t̶c̶h̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶ pre-dinner hour, necessarily so. A bowl of cherries, a bowl for pitted cherries, and a little dish for stems (the pits are caught in the bottom of the cherry-pitter). One quick presentation, he was off to the races and dessert was taken care of.

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Jasper is a big time olive-lover, and this pitter works well for olives too. Save the preserved foods for colder weather, though. For now: it’s all cherries, all the time.

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18-21 months, Uncategorized

Blossoming independence

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Spring is a time of awakening — both outside and inside of our home.

With a long and especially harsh winter behind us, we’ve been happily casting off the trappings of winter and embracing the blooms of spring.

No longer stuffed into snowsuits with full-body zippers and snaps and Velcro at every potential source of wind, Jasper is free to experiment with putting his light jacket on and off, and zipping up and down. We’re into prime rubber boot weather here, and they make the perfect introduction to independent shoe-wearing. J can find his boots, put them on, take them off, and return them to their home all on his own. He’s taken to exploring all other forms of footwear we have around and is now an avid Velcro-ripper.

Towards the end of winter, Jasper had begun to make his first forays into the backyard alone. We have a medium-sized fenced yard in a small town, and a sliding glass door from the house which allows for some occasional surreptitious supervision. It’s a great opportunity for us both to develop some independence! With the ice and deep snow gone from the yard, he’s more confident than ever, journeying to the furthest corners of the fences and climbing the ladder to the slide. Following the child these days often means 7 AM visits to the bird feeder. When I go out to the yard to work in the garden, he comes with me, and we’ll each do our work-play separately, but together. And, occasionally we’ll join each other for a little while.

Jasper reached 18 months back in March, and I feel now that I have a first-hand understanding why so many Montessori toddler programs begin at 18 months. It’s like a switch has been flipped, and he’s entered a whole new realm of illumination. Or maybe I should say we have, because as he grows, so do I.

Have you noticed certain seasons or ages or phases when your child suddenly seemed to developmentally leap forward? I’m curious to know what I should look out for in the future.

P.S. While writing this post, the doorbell rang and a package from Montessori Services was delivered, so you may expect some fresh indoor practical life content coming soon!

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18-21 months, Family life, Montessori philosophy, Practical Life

Practical life in the garden

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In the Montessori method, activities that are carried on as part of daily life in the home are referred to as  “practical life.” Practical life work should be just that: practical. Useful, meaningful work that really makes a difference in the environment or for the family.

For parents of toddlers, it can sometimes be difficult. Zipping up one’s own jacket is useful and meaningful, but it sure can be inconvenient to do it on toddler time when you’re already late for an appointment. That one moment of haste can turn into a big ripple-effect power struggle for the rest of the morning. I fully admit it: it happens. But when there is time (and there’s often more than I think), say on a sunny Sunday morning, I try to use it to really engage with my little guy and give him the time and space he needs to develop confidence and independence in all the many activities we do through our days.

This weekend Jasper and I did some practical life work together in our garden, as we added compost to the straw bale cold frame in one of our raised beds, where we’ll soon have baby spinach and kale popping up like crazy. That is, as soon as the snow stops falling long enough to plant the seeds.

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Helping in the garden is a wonderful way to participate in the rhythm of the home. It allows Jasper to engage with the season, learn about the natural life cycles of plants and other garden-dwellers, and to contribute food to our table. A practical life activity such as preparing a snack can actually begin weeks and months ahead of time, with the planting of a few seeds.

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Our Sunday morning garden work included: scooping using different implements, pouring, transferring, and carrying a bucket. With lots of repetition! I loved watching Jasper watch the compost slide through the holes in the bottom of this little pot.

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It was work that needed to be done, and I truly appreciated the help.

How does your child participate in the practical life of the home?

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18-21 months, Family life

Montessori in the home with Ikea

I’m a big believer in the idea that Montessori is for everyone. It’s a philosophy which is ultimately meant to make the world a better place, originally inspired by Maria Montessori’s observations of children who were living in poverty. Unfortunately, Western public education systems are slow to adapt and Montessori has been mostly privately-funded system in North American — meaning that the schools are mainly available to those who can afford to pay out of pocket.

One way to access Montessori is to incorporate it in the home. Whether you work from home or away from home, there are ways to incorporate independence, freedom and grace into the family’s routine.

Montessori materials don’t have to be expensive (public educators, listen up). We’ve had great success with making our home work for Jasper in part with ubiquitous and affordable Ikea materials. All this, and meatballs, too!

Here are a few of our favourites:

latt-childrens-table-and--chairsLATT weaning table & chairs. For under $25 bucks, we bought a mostly-solid wood table & chairs, and cut about 3 1/2 inches off all of the legs to make it the height of this weaning table from Michael Olaf. Bonus: after making the cuts, David sanded down the leftover pieces to make some wooden blocks! We use this table to eating, creating art and work of all kinds. I keep a little adult-sized stool under the table as well to allow Jasper to welcome adults to his table.

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AGAM junior stool. We want Jasper to feel independent in being able to join us at the dining table, and free to leave. We also want him to be safe when he’s sitting at a height. We started out using a strap-on booster, and now that he’s a confident climber and has the strength and balance to sit with minimal support, we’re moving on to a junior stool that gets him to the height required.  forsiktig-childrens-stool trogen-footstool

FORSIKTIG and TROGEN step stools. If you have kids in your home, you probably have at least one step stool as well. The Montessori paradigm asks us to think about the world from the child’s point of view. If you can’t bring something (a sink, for instance) to the child, you must bring the child to it. Places to think about using a stool: to climb on to the toilet, in front of the bathroom sink, beside a bedroom door to reach a light switch, as a little bench boots & shoes on and off. And of course, with its handy side-handles, the Trogen makes excellent material for lugging around during the Period of Maximum Effort (you’ll know it when you see it). pokal-snaps-glass

POKAL snaps weaning glass. These glasses are the perfect shape and size for a weaning glass, they are durable and they cost $2.99 for 6. Can’t beat ’em. nackten-bathroom-mat

NACKTEN bath/Montessori work mat. It’s cheap, it’s lightweight, and it rolls easily. Just starting in the past few weeks, Jasper has really been enjoying getting out his mat to use with some materials.

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MULA stacking rings. The Mula series is a great collection of wooden toys for babies and toddlers, and the MULA stacker has been in heavy rotation at our place for almost a year now. It’s amazing to watch a child’s development through how they engage with the same material over time. duktig

DUKTIG utensil set. Jasper has a wonderful child-sized kitchen which my Dad built for him as a Christmas present, and which he loves to play with, but we use the durable, stainless-steel parts of this set in the “big kitchen,” where Jasper can use the perfectly-sized whisk to scramble an egg for breakfast. duktig-mini-kitchenDUKTIG mini-kitchen. We don’t actually have this kitchen in our home, but I know it’s a well-loved part of many folks’ child-space (see it in action on Our Montessori Life) . Our home-built kid’s kitchen includes one of the best features about this kitchen — the removable tub that makes the kitchen sink. It can be filled with water real work like for hand- or dish-washing.

For more tips on Montessori in the home, visit the excellent German blog Eltern Vom Mars (Parents From Mars) for a whole series on “Swedish Furniture featuring Montessori.”

Have you found Montessori-friendly materials at Ikea? What is your go-to for affordable Montessori products?

 

 

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18 months, 18-21 months, Family life, Montessori philosophy

Why we love the Learning Tower

Do you have a Learning Tower in your home? For the uninitiated, the Learning Tower is a safer version of a step stool that allows kids from the toddler stage on up to climb up a little ladder to stand at the height of the kitchen counter. Here’s what it looks like:

ImageI’d seen the learning tower around the web and even pinned a few DIY versions. I’d read the reviews, and I knew folks liked them, but I I’d never actually seen one in real life.

That is, until I got the email. It was 7PM, freezing cold and dark outside, and time for Jasper’s bath, when an email popped up from my friend Leisse.

I read the words: “I don’t know if you know what Learning Tower is, but there’s one out on the curb…” and immediately started running! Completely ignoring all the bedtime-ritual rules, I grabbed Jasper, hopped in the car, and prayed all the way across town that it would still be there. And it was, dirty, cobwebby and sticking out of a snow bank, but I swear a little beam of light came down from heaven and angels sang.

Funnily enough, now that we have our free (save for a bit of elbow-grease cleaning it up) Learning Tower, and use it all day, everyday, I see that paying full price would have been a great investment. I really can’t recommend it highly enough. Independence, freedom of movement; if Maria Montessori were here, she would love it too.

Here are four things we love to do with our Learning Tower:

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We bake. Together. I usually prepare and pre-measure ahead of time (often during his nap), and from there, Jasper is a full participant, pouring, spooning, stirring. I find it’s a great late afternoon activity, helping to keep our momentum up in those difficult hours between nap time and dinner time.

No more “witching hour” for us — Jasper and I make dinner together. On each side of the island, we work together to wash and peel vegetables. I cut the sweet potatoes into pieces on my cutting board, and then move them to his cutting board where he then drops them into the pot.

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We gather with friends. The kitchen is the centre of our home, and the island is at the centre of the centre. It’s where we chat before a meal together, it’s where we make tea, it’s where we put out snacks or drinks. Jasper can now be a part of the action, on level (literally) with the adults.

We make art together. Jasper had done some painting before, sitting at his little table, but it was a bit awkward. His apron was stiff, he didn’t have a lot range of movement, and I had to be fully engaged with the whole process. Now, he stands up at the counter to paint, where he has far more freedom of movement. While he paints, I stand at the counter and do my own artwork. The moments of quiet as we both work creatively and independently are golden. This set up may not be as comfortable as using an easel, but until we find one that will fit his height, the Learning Tower is making it happen.

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I promise I’m not getting anything at all in return for this post from the makers of the Learning Tower or anybody else. But if I was, I would request a free Learning Tower for everybody, like an Oprah-style giveaway, because it is just that good.

What parenting tool can you just not live without?

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