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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22-24 months, 24-28 months, Family life

A Montessori Christmas list

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Nicole from The Kavanaugh Report came up with a great idea: while there are lots of Montessori recommendation blog posts and roundups of great products, it’s fascinating to see what other folks actually considering for holiday gifts. Like, in real life.

We usually have a fairly low-key Christmas celebration, and the whole season is filled with lots of experiences: this year we’ll be travelling across the country to visit family in early December, we’ll host our second annual winter solstice party, and we’ll spend lots of time with family and friends locally. We’ll work to emphasize these events — and the people we spend them with — as truly valuable at this time of year.

We don’t really do much about Santa — we’ll go to the parade, but other than that, we think it’s pretty magical to give and receive gifts with the folks you actually know and love. Gifts are a little extra token of our love for each other.

All that said: I do have a Google Drive document going. Not all of these will be under the tree next month, but the list helps me to focus on and keep an idea of what Jasper (who turned two in September) might actually enjoy and use when I hit the craft fairs, stores, and um, websites. And it helps to have a collection of ideas to share with family.

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1. Pajamas — It’s a Christmas (eve) tradition! These blue whales are adorable, but David liked some in an owl print at the Vancouver airport that we might pick up on our next swing through.

2. New Baby Lotto — I’ve been looking at lotto games for a few months, and was thrilled to find this one at Spark, our wonderful local toy store. This game will obviously useful to have on hand this winter as we all transition to welcoming a new babe to our house.

3. Lifecycle of a Monarch set — Love this, a great hands-on application for discussions after reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and there are lots of opportunities for extensions like these cards. If you’re local, these are also available and super-affordable at Spark!

4. Wallet Cards — I’ve been eyeing these Montessori-inspired, wallet-sized cards online (and following the mom/company founder’s Instagram) for a while. Now might be the time.

5. Liquid Watercolours — We are big into art around here, and I’m definitely interested in picking up some vibrant watercolours. Christmas is a great time to re-stock the everyday art supplies stash, so these are high on the list.

6. Size and Shape Sorting Board — Sorting, shapes, colours, sizes (okay, so far we’re at “big” and “baby”); these are all big interests of Jasper’s right now. This was one featured in my Montessori toddler training, and I’ve since noticed similar materials around the web (like on Quentin’s shelves!).

7. MagnaTiles — We were recently handed down an old overhead projector, which we’ve re-purposed as a light table, and these MagnaTiles are both magnetic and translucent. What a combination. This Instagram post from @ookukioo convinced me. Available at Spark!

8. ViewThru Geometric Solids — Something else for the light table: see-through, colourful and lightweight geometric solids. A great language & math opportunity. For purists: this set doesn’t exactly mirror the traditional Montessori geometric solids, which is perhaps merciful because you won’t have to work so hard to remember to differentiate between the ovoid and the ellipsoid (or is that just me?).

9. Junior Drum Set — My husband is a musician and Jasper (and his pals) are lucky to have lots of hands on access to real instruments. He likes to drum on the bodrhan and hand-drums we have available now, so David suggested getting him a kid-sized set similar to this one that he’d seen locally. Are we insane? Possibly.

What’s on your list this year? And specifically: any book ideas to share or recommend?

For more holiday ideas, check out these Pinterest boards:
Follow Winter, Advent, Solstice on Pinterest.
Follow Montessori home on Pinterest.

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22-24 months, 24-28 months

Autumn fun — a bumper crop of apple works

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It’s Halloween day, which I’m trying to convince myself does NOT signal the end of autumn, and the start of…that other season. With warnings of wet flurries tonight, it’s been a real challenge.

I thought I’d round up some of the apple and harvest-themed work we’ve been up to over the past month or so, before it’s too late. Apples are a wonderful cold-storage fruit too, so the fun with local apples can continue all winter long.

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Apple Picking

We are really blessed to live in a bit of an apple belt (there’s a local stretch of country roads labelled as “The Apple Route” if themed road trips are your thing), and there are a number of orchards around that are available for picking-your-own. This was our second year going, and it’s becoming a really sweet tradition. It really helps to set the scene early in the season, so that J can grasp where these apples are coming from. It’s also an affordable way of stocking up for all the apple fun to come. Plus, apples grow really low. Like, toddler height, for instance.

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Apple Peeling

We were given an apple peeler last Christmas by an old friend and it has turned out to be one of our most-loved gifts. Jasper is becoming more and more adept at turning the crank, but even as a younger toddler, we’d do it hand-over-hand and he loved to watch the apple turn. He loves to eat the ribbons of apple peel that twist off of the peeler. I can see this becoming an independent work within a year or so.

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Apple Cutting

Our apple peeler also slices the apple into a spiral, which is a great set up for the next work: cutting with a knife and cutting board. When he was younger, we usually used the wavy chopper from Montessori Services, and he’s since moved onto using a small, slightly serrated knife (which is meant to be a cheese knife. Have we talked about cheese knives? They’re toddler-hand-sized and depending on the knife, perfect for either cutting or spreading. Get thee to a thrift store!).

 

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Apple Stamping

Jasper has been loving painting these days — at almost any time of the day. Case in point: today he painted before breakfast. Having the paint and paper available on the art shelf at all times has been really allowing him to pursue this love.

A few days ago, we did some apple stamping. Slice an apple in half (in this case, an apple I found on the counter with two small, browning bites out of it), paint the inside, slam it down. Actually, J eventually found that slamming doesn’t actually transfer paint very well.

And bonus pumpkin action! Pumpkin Washing

This is a variation on the watermelon exploration we did in the summer — carrying, measuring and washing a pumpkin. And hey, sometimes those pumpkins can be a bit muddy straight out the patch, so this practical life work can be really practical.

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Here are a few more apple-themed works from around the web:

How about baking up some tasty apple crisp with your toddler? — from Sixtine et Victoire

Loved this apple pie exploration for a young toddler. — from Welcome to Mommyhood

This genius sensory exploration for even younger toddlers. — from Natural Beach Living

This life cycle of an apple tree project would be nice to combine with an orchard visit.  — from My Montessori Journey

Learning the parts of a fruit. — from The Natural Homeschool

A whole week of apple activities! — from Golden Reflections

Another week of apple fun and a week of pumpkins too! — from Study-at-Home Mama

This idea for an apple-tasting is great for pre-schoolers. — from Natural Beach Living

For older kids: apple tree art — from Hip Homeschool Moms

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Keep your fingers crossed for warm weather for wee trick-or-treaters tonight! Happy Halloween!

P.S. What are your plans for keeping November from getting too wintery?

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22-24 months, DIY, Family life, Montessori philosophy

Flying with a toddler — Montessori style!

Montessori travel with toddlers

Later this week, Jasper and I are flying across the better part of the continent. It won’t be his first flight — that was back in December — but his awareness has changed so much over the past eight months that this will be a completely new experience for him.

In June, we took his dad to the airport for a business trip, and for the following week, Jasper noticed every plane that flew overhead and eagerly asked “Dad? Dad?” He loves the airport page in his “A Big City ABC” book. He loves to play with his Green Toys airplane.

But I’d be kidding myself if I thought any of this could guarantee a peaceful four-hour flight on mama’s lap.Montessori plane travel with toddlers

I appreciate the Montessori idea that instead of just asking a child to “keep still,” we should offer activities to busy their hands — which then keeps the rest of their bodies still and focused! With that in mind, I’ve been stocking up on beautiful, realistic stickers, have packed up our nesting boxes and lacing beads and am thrilled to have found a Melissa and Doug “paint with water” activity that has kept Jasper thoroughly engrossed on a few recent long car rides. I’ve even (gasp) downloaded a Bob the Builder episode onto my iPad.

But I’m not interested in just keeping J distracted during our trip. I want him to feel like he’s a part of what’s going on, to be able to really benefit from the experience of new environments and not to feel out of control or afraid. To that end, I’ve been using lots of language about airplanes, airports, and luggage. He knows that soon he and I will be flying on a plane, and now when he sees a plane, he says “Me? Mama?”

Recently, in celebration of my new laminator purchase, I made a “Jasper Travels on an Airplane” book. I got this idea from Elizabeth Pantley‘s book “The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers.” She recommends making a book about your child in order to help them through simple transitions like bedtime, or larger ones like weaning.

Montessori travel with toddlers

Using a mixture of photos from Google Image searches and my own family photos, cardstock and binder rings, it was a fairly low budget way to bring structure to my efforts to prepare Jasper for our upcoming trip.  I took pictures of our own luggage, and he’s thrilled to recognize his own suitcase. I made certain to get photos of the actual airports we’ll be traveling through, and photos of both inside and outside the plane. I also used a few photos of toddlers happily sitting on their mothers’ lap aboard a plane, and thankfully those are some of his favourite images.  I ended with a few photos of Jasper around our home and town, to reassure him that after our travels, we’ll come back home.

Montessori air travel with toddlers transition book

There are no words in the book, in an effort to make it fluid and useful in the longer term. Right now I tell the story saying things like “Jasper is going to go on a plane with his mama.” After we return from the trip, we can look back on it in the past tense.

Our plane book has become the most requested story around here, and I’m hoping the pay-off will be a calm and informed toddler as we wing over four provinces and back. Wish me luck!

This is part one of a two-part post on air travel with toddlers. Read part two here: Have Toddler, Will Travel.

Melissa over at Vibrant Wanderings also has a great post on Montessori travel tips for toddlers. What’s your best advice for plane-travel with toddlers?

 

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22-24 months, Books, Family life, Nature, Practical Life

Planting a Rainbow — then arranging it

Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert & Flower Arranging Toddler Montessori Work

A few months ago, I posted about one of Jasper’s favourite books, and I’d like to try to do that more often, both as memory device for myself and as a resource for others. I often take lists from other bloggers to the library – it’s a great way to sift through the mountain of material and find the really good stuff.

These days as the sun sets and the tub drains, Jasper’s been choosing Lois Ehlert’s “Planting A Rainbow” over and over again.

It’s an over-sized board book (the publishers call it “lap size”), with big, beautiful pictures, a fun series of flaps in the centre and a great story about a flower garden. The story travels through each season, making it appropriate year-round, but I think part of its magic on these humid, July days is the way it reflects the rainbow-filled jungle growing just outside our door.

One of my favourite things about it is the language — it’s rich, realistic and detailed. For that child hungry to know the name of everything, there is a fun list of flower’s names on every page, from aster to zinnia.

This gorgeous book also inspires some wonderful practical life work: flower arranging — a quiet and beautiful toddler activity.

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Above is the work as it is presented in a toddler classroom (age 14 months to 3 years) at Bannockburn School, progressing from right to left from putting on the apron to choosing a doily from the basket to place under the finished arrangement. (I should note, because you’ll likely notice: there aren’t any flowers — when class is in session, a bud or two would be in water in the blueish vessel in the white bucket).

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And here is the tray presented in a home setting. At 7:30AM, moments after Jasper brought a spray of fleabane inside, with a quick photo taken midway through on an iPhone.

 
P.S. I also love this more involved work inspired by the same book: planting a rainbow of spring bulbs!

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22-24 months, DIY, Family life, Montessori philosophy, Practical Life, Uncategorized

Backyard Montessori: Watermelon!

watermelonFor the minimalists, the budget-savvy, the purists: this is the Montessori work for you.

This isn’t meant to be a “how-to” recipe to follow — just an example of how an afternoon can be filled with slow and simple experiments and exploration. Simple exploration of the world is an important part of Montessori practice for very young children, and you can do it any time, with any thing, with no cash outlay at all.

Nothing says summer like watermelon, and nobody loves watermelon more than a toddler, which lead us to an afternoon spent with a watermelon.

watermelon_sinkWashing! First, we carried the watermelon up the stairs, into the house, onto the Learning Tower and up into the sink. Actually, first we carried it to his toddler-sized kitchen sink, but the watermelon was too big, so we washed it in the adult-sized kitchen sink — exploration and experimentation! We took turns walking slowly and holding the watermelon with both hands. Next time, I might get a slightly smaller and lighter watermelon that Jasper could more easily carry.

watermelon_dryDrying! Then we carried the wet watermelon over to his table (because toddlers are in the sensitive period for movement, it’s important to give them lots of opportunities to move — something that occasionally runs counter to our adult tendency to set everything up for convenience and fewer steps). Then Jasper dried the watermelon with a towel. We looked at the water droplets and he tried to get each water drop onto the towel, one by one.

Slicing! Then I brought the knife and the cutting board over, and cut most of the way through the watermelon, so that it was still whole, just with a slice through. Jasper pulled the water melon halves apart and we spent some time putting them back together and taking them apart again. One part. Two parts.

watermelon_ballSpooning! We then each had a half a watermelon and a tool — I had a measuring spoon and Jasper had a melon-baller, and we sat for some time, each quietly spooning melon into a bowl. The quiet was largely due to the fact that Jasper was chewing. One ball for the bowl, one for him.

Jasper using a Melon-Baller  – excuse the iPhone video quality!

And beyond! From there we tossed some of our watermelon into the blender along with some mint and lime basil from the garden for some simple and juicy popsicles. The next day, we attempted this work, created by my friend Talin for a presentation during our training a few weeks back:

watermelon_talin Mashing, spooning, drinking. A delicious agua fresca.

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What are you exploring this summer?

P.S. We spent our watermelon time indoors on a rainy day, but it would be way more fun with a backyard hose and picnic table, so I’m throwing it into my Backyard Montessori series.

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22-24 months, DIY, Family life, Practical Life

Backyard Montessori: five simple summer activities

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I’ve just finished two intense and inspiring weeks of learning at Montessori Teacher’s College, and after all the commuting and the classwork, I find myself celebrating the end of school like a little kid. Sing it with me now: “School’s out for summer…”

Our little family took a mini-vacation this weekend to a secluded island paradise (of the Canadian Great Lakes variety) and now that we’re home, we’re kicking back and relaxing with mornings at the coffee shop and afternoons in the backyard. It’s a good life.

Our summer days are filled with relaxed sunny day activities, with lots of spilled water along the way. I’m kind of inspired by this hilarious post on how to give your kids a 1970s-esque summer experience, but I want to create an environment that helps to foster Jasper’s independence, creativity and concentration. The Montessori twist on a lot of these backyard classics is to include the child in the process — every step of the way. Get things organized during nap time, but don’t finish the job.

backyard Montessori

1. Homemade bubbles. As my friend Selena puts it: “Toddler crack: stickers & bubbles.” Jasper is really into blowing bubbles these days, but the bottles are just as often accidentally knocked over and poured out. Not wanting to break the bank on our bubble stash, I used this simple recipe:

1 cup Dawn dishsoap
12 cups water
3/4 tbsp glycerine

Gently stir all three ingredients, and leave them to rest in an open container overnight.

These bubbles work so much better when given the time to sit after mixing the ingredients, so this may be the perfect opportunity to introduce some delayed gratification. If that’s not going to work, go ahead and make the bubble solution ahead of time.

2. Backyard car wash. There’s no reason to keep practical life activities indoors — get outside, pump some jams, and get the suds happening. We washed the Cozy Coupe (photo at the top of this post), but haul out the balance bike or the baby dolls, or whatever your child’s interested in.

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3. Homemade popsicles. Jasper tasted his first popsicle earlier this summer and he didn’t mind a bit that it was only pure fruit, herbs and water, with no added sugar at all. We’ve since made blueberry smoothie pops and I’m looking forward to tackling Selena’s toddler-made paleo pudding pops next. Toddlers can peel fruit, pour ingredients into a blender, and push the “blend” button. If you pour the blended ingredients into a smaller pitcher, your child can pour it into the mould too (well, they can aim in the general direction of the mould. Have some clean cloths on hand!).

4. Painting with water. Summer is all about simplicity, and it doesn’t get simpler than this: a bucket, a paintbrush and water. I found this idea in Child’s Play by Maja Pitamic, a book full of fun ideas for toddlers.  Paint the rocks, paint the tree trunk, paint the picnic table, and watch the colours change, watch the water evaporate. You really wouldn’t believe how much time Jasper can spend “painting” around the yard. This is a great work to have accessible and available on outdoor shelves.

5. Picnic. A classic. Get your toddler spreading that peanut butter, pouring that lemonade and packing up the dishes. It’s summer time, the sun is shining and it’s a Tuesday at lunch time. Isn’t that worth celebrating?

 

 

 

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