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 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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18 months, DIY

DIY Animal Matching Card Set

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This week I worked on a fun project to add another dimension to one of Jasper’s favourite materials — the Schleich forest animals.

Around the web I’d seen photos of toddlers matching each lovely, realistic model animal to a lovely, realistic image on a card. I’ve even seen something similar for sale in the lovely How We Montessori shop, which features three sets of cards: one with a photo of the plastic animal, one with the animal in its natural setting, and one with only a silhouette. If you’re closer to Australia than I am, go for it!

Since I am sadly still in the throes of the Northern Hemisphere’s winter, I made my own. I used images of the animal in a setting, but tried to replicate the position of the Schleich animal (i.e. the adult wolf is howling).

This material provides some wonderful opportunities for learning.

Here’s how I did it:

First I downloaded some good-looking wildlife photos found online, and made a little collage out of them using a photo editor. Collaging isn’t neccessary, but it sure cuts down on wasted paper. I printed the pages in landscape mode.

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Then I cut simply cut along the lines, and pasted the images onto some stiffer card stock (in the interest of saving even more paper, I used old file folders we had around).

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Next, I cut out the images, leaving a small border of cardstock around the edge.

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Then I had the cards laminated. You can do this at home, either using laminate sheets or a machine, but I had mine done at Staples and it cost $8 and was zero stress. It’s not totally necessary to have your cards laminated, but it will infinitely extend their lifespan. Don’t forget: toddlers!

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There you have it! Your very own homemade-but-still-totally-awesome animal cards. In the photo below, you can see them in action, complete with authentic incorrect raccoon kit placement!

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Edited to add: Beth, from Our Montessori Life, has left a wonderfully detailed explanation of how to present the animals and cards. I highly recommend checking out the comments below, and adding your own voice to the conversation!

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18 months, Family life, Uncategorized

Sunday morning

ImageSunday is a day when our pace slows, and I find myself taking stock of both the week ahead and the week that’s passed. Here’s what the view is like for our family this Sunday:

  • I rearranged and rotated Jasper’s shelves this week. A basket of farm animals, a tractor, a basic ring stacker and a wooden farm animal puzzle: out. A basket of forest animals, an owl ring stacker & wooden woodland animal puzzle: in. I love all the fresh energy and interest Jasper shows after his shelves have been changed out.
  • I’m also working on an easy DIY project: matching cards for the Schleich forest animals, which I hope to post about later this week.
  • We are very much looking forward to a trip to the local sugar bush with friends tomorrow morning. One of the wonderful things about living life at a child’s pace is having a deeper engagement with the seasons, and maple syrup season is a wonderful promise of spring.
  • Finally, the scene above: my journal/agenda/sketchbook/grocery list keeper. This week’s pages included a recipe for crepes, some light sketching by Jasper, and a wonderful, worth-remembering list of everything that makes the Montessori method so magical, quoted from Deb at Sixtine et Victoire in this great interview at How We Montessori.
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18 months, Family life, Montessori philosophy

Henry helps.

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This afternoon Jasper and I made a trip to our local library and picked up a few books for each of us.

Back home, we read Henry Helps with Dinner for the first time. It’s a sweet and simple story about a little guy helping to make dinner on taco night. He shreds the lettuce into little pieces, smooshes avocado for guacamole and puts a serviette at each place at the table. There’s no fanfare, just a kid participating in the family, and Henry’s only reward is getting to sit down to share a meal with his family.

Later I noticed this printed on the back of the book: “Research conducted at the University of Minnesota found that the best predictor of future academic, career, personal and relationship success was children’s involvement in household tasks by three or four.”

Amazing, right? Forget Zumba baby classes, religiously reading 15 minutes a day, and Baby Einstein and all the rest of the stuff that society tries to convince us are necessary (to purchase) for parenting. Washing, sweeping, setting the table. That’s the secret to raising a smart, happy, engaged human.

Or, as Maria Montessori put it nearly a hundred years ago: “If I were to establish a primary principle, it would be to constantly allow the child’s participation in our lives … To extend to the child this hospitality, to allow him to participate in our work can be difficult, but it costs nothing. Our time is a far more precious gift than material objects.”

As it happens, Jasper helped me to empty the dishwasher for the first time today, picking out the cutlery and handing each piece to me to put away in the drawer, one by one.

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18 months, Family life, Montessori philosophy

My bright and honest truth

Recently I read this honest and heart-breaking post from Beth at Our Montessori Life, who “came clean” about her life working outside the home and sending her son to (non-Montessori) daycare.

The woman who has it “all,” the perfect “work-life balance” — we’ve heard it all and it’s a topic that is often used for click-bait and even to stir up judgement and dissension between women, but the truth is, not one of us has it all.

Some of us have worked out a balance, some of us are on the path to finding it, and some of us are in the middle of a big mess hoping to find a way out. We’re all doing our best.

What I want from the Montessori method is a peaceful and respectful way for my family to share space and for my son to learn to engage with the world around him. What I don’t want is another mommy war.

The clamor of voices heard in the comments on Beth’s post make it clear to me that there are many women in the same boat, and many women who don’t want whatever it is they choose for themselves and their family to be a dark and terrible secret.

So, inspired by Beth, here’s our bright and honest truth: Jasper goes to (non-Montessori) daycare and he loves it and we love it.

There isn’t currently a Montessori toddler program in our area. This home daycare set up is affordable, flexible and healthy for all involved. It broadens our community and it supports another woman (and mother) in doing what works for her family.

It’s win-win-win — for Jasper, us, and the daycare provider.

Where does your family find the balance?

The photo of Jasper finding his balance was taken by his wonderful and warm daycare provider.

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18 months, Under 1 year

Looking back at Jasper’s room

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Now that Jasper is 18 months old, I’ve been doing some thinking about some changes that need to happen to make spaces around our house useful and welcoming for him. We recently made another trip to Ikea, something that seems to be required every six months or so to update for the next phase (using Ikea for Montessori in the home is its own post). When you focus on following your child, it’s not only the kid that changes, it’s everything else too.

It seems like there are simple modifications to be made all around the house: a step stool placed in front of the “big potty” (we currently use a Baby Bjorn potty & lift Jasper up to the toilet when he asks); swapping out the books from the top of Jasper’s book case — he can now reach the top shelf — with other materials, and instead keeping just few books in the open vintage suitcase next to his bed; placing a step stool below the light switch (or investing in a Kidswitch).

And one of the very best additions to our daily life has been a Learning Tower. After living with one for a week, I don’t know how we’d live without it. (It’s so amazing, in so many ways, that we have to give the Learning Tower it’s own special blog post too.)

As I think about what’s to come, I find myself looking back. Last summer, while our friend Selena was here for a visit with her family, she asked us about Jasper’s bedroom, and shared about it on the Disney Baby blog. The thing I love about Selena is that I didn’t even bother to go upstairs with her — I knew she’d make us look good. A true friend is one who’ll move the diaper pail before she takes a photo.

It was a fun process, and we discovered a few things along the way: one, that we had included more Disney than we’d  ever imagined or intended, and two, just how much love and history was involved int he making of our babe’s space.

He’s grown so much since then, I’ve learned so much since then, and his space is changing too. His room is already very, very different than it was when Selena captured it. Have a look to see Jasper’s bedroom as it was when he was just 9 months old.

How has your home grown with your child? What are your must-haves for doing Montessori at home?

 

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18 months, Montessori philosophy

Keeping it real

There are times when I have doubts or questions — about just about everything in life, including the Montessori method. But I’m learning as I go, and often I find I’ll stumble upon the answers to my questions just as soon as I’ve asked them.

Most recent example: the idea of realism and imagery in the Montessori philosophy.

I’d read that cartoon images are generally avoided because it’s important for young children to form their understanding of how the world really is. Fantasy can be introduced later, when their minds are ready to play with ideas. For now (under 6 years), it’s just the facts ma’am.

It makes sense. Really. But our culture is fairly steeped in the idea of fantasy for very young children. And any suggestion otherwise has hints of being too strict, or of limiting imagination and creativity.

Recently Jasper and I stayed at a hotel. When we woke in the morning, I turned the TV to a kid’s channel and let him watch a children’s channel while I packed up. A show about Jasper’s favourite thing in the world — dogs — came on. A cartoon show. As the dog-characters leaped onto the screen one after another, there was silence. Their goofy, creatively-interpreted, oddly-shaped cartoon bodies were completely unrecognizable to Jasper. It wasn’t till the last one, an obvious Husky, bounded into the picture that Jasper made his usual “oof-oof” sound signalling that he’d seen a dog.

I got it. Loud and clear. Those other things weren’t dogs, in his mind. But what if he’d never seen a dog before? Would he, with his absorbent little mind, think a dog was something boxy and brown with tiny little legs? Or that a pink assortment of clouds is what a poodle really looks like?

Come to think of it, there was nothing remotely beautiful or creatively-rich about this goofy, low-budget Saturday morning cartoon.

And the more I think of it, our real, natural world is the most beautiful creation I know of.

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