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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24-28 months, Books, Family life

Becoming a big brother

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Now that we’re down to the last few weeks before our new babe is due, my husband and I are constantly trying to find an answer to the well-meaning question: “Is Jasper excited?”

I have three siblings myself, and I count them among my best friends. Siblings are a wonderful gift.

We’ve been doing our best to make this transition a peaceful one, and I’ll share some of the things we’ve included in our routines and rhythms around the home in preparation, but let’s be honest: a two (and a half) year old has no idea what is about to happen to his lovely little only-child universe in the coming months.

Here are our best efforts thus far:

  • We started talking about the baby early on, and continue to consciously mention the baby in a positive way everyday. Conversations range in topic from being a big brother, to what the baby and Jasper like to eat in common (the baby’s tastes at this point being judged through my cravings!), what it was like when Jasper was a baby, and even simple, routine things, like where the baby will go when we’re in the car, and where the baby will sit in the stroller. We’ve played the New Baby Lotto game he received as a Christmas gift, and we’ve played walkie-talkie with the baby monitor, and we’ve generally tried to make “baby’s coming” a normal theme in our home without putting too much emphasis on the future or on an as-yet unborn sibling.
  • Again from early on, we’ve invited Jasper to talk to the baby through the belly. He’s watched his dad do the same, and it really makes it a reality for all of us that we’re becoming a family of four. Talking (or occasionally, blowing raspberries and collapsing into giggling fits) to baby is now a regular part of Jasper’s morning routine.
  • Reading books aimed at new older siblings has helped to both shape and fuel our conversations. We’ve found these books to be enjoyable for Jasper and rich with age-appropriate information:
    • Welcome with Love – a really beautifully illustrated story about a big brother present at the peaceful homebirth of a new baby. I cry every time I read this one, and I would absolutely nominate it for “Best Depiction of a Placenta in a Children’s Book”.
    • Henry Helps with the Baby – I’ve written about this series before, but the fact remains even a year later: Jasper just loves the Henry books. In this case, Henry acknowledges that his baby sister is small and cries a lot, and so she needs a lot of help — and he’s just the man for the job.
    • Hello Baby –  a calming book that talks about the process of becoming a big sibling from pregnancy — feeling the baby move in mama’s belly —  until the baby joins the home, when big brother is the one to get the baby to sleep.
  • Making our own personalized book. This was inspired by my friend Christy, who made a beautiful “When Our Baby Comes” book for her three year-old son, illustrated with photos of their family and describing what would happen when she felt the baby was ready to come, who would look after him, and what it would be like when he visited the new baby and his parents in the hospital. I have no doubt that this book helped assuage any anxiety over those unusual days when baby was being born last month.
  • As the time of the birth draws closer, we aim to be even more empathetic and respectful in our interactions with Jasper (not always easy, as I type this the day after we’ve changed the clocks for Daylight Savings Time!). Of course this is always the goal, but this is an especially crucial time to allow him to experience big emotions, help him to feel heard, and to provide an environment of security and love.

Have you been down this road? Do you have any tips on smoothing the transition to big sibling?

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24-28 months, Family life

Have toddler, will travel

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This morning it was reported that there would be 121,000 travelers through the local international airport today. That kind of news makes me even more grateful for the early Christmas trip we took closer to the beginning of this month: a fun and relaxing trip to visit my husband’s family on the West Coast of Canada.

It was a treat for us to sleep in (once we’d all adjusted to the new time zone!), explore the beach, nap, and catch up with family. It was also a great time for Jasper to have lots of time with both parents, to connect with his extended family, and to spread his wings a bit.

By the end of the trip, he was feeding Grandma’s cat completely independently, he was confidently carrying a step-ladder around the kitchen, he’d help make a lovely batch of blueberry pancakes, and he had happily adapted to a new washroom routine — carrying a little step-stool from the toilet to the sink for hand-washing, and back again. But it wasn’t just Grandma and Grandpa’s home environment that gave these opportunities for independence — actually getting to our West Coast destination and back, were huge learning and growing experiences for Jasper. Despite early mornings, strange rules (have you ever had to go through airport security with a toddler?) and somewhat stressed parents, Jasper loved traveling.

After our trip in August, I was once again pretty well prepared, with our backpack stocked with hands-on activities, many of which I wrote about earlier or can be found with a quick Pinterest search: stickers, books, etch-a-sketch, etc. Though we made use of many of things I’d packed, Jasper also enjoyed watching the screen on the back of the seat, opening and closing the window shade, and making friends with folks around us. This time around Jasper had his own seat, which made a lot of things simpler (including mama’s feeling of personal space and the addition of another baggage allowance). It also meant getting to operate his own seatbelt — similar to the ones the grown ups use in our car. No activity or treat or surprise I packed came close to comparing to the amount of time spent enjoying his seat belt.
The other awesome, can’t-leave-home-without-it tool in the arsenal was the suitcase. From the moment we arrived at the airport for departure, Jasper was in charge of his own kid-sized, rolling suitcase. We were including it in our carry-on baggage, and so he wheeled that little Franklin “oot-tase” all the way to the plane completely independently (something that probably couldn’t happen with a cute, ride-on Trunki suitcase). He was over the moon, and we didn’t have another bag to carry. Win-win. We saw a few other kids pulling their own suitcases, and they all had the same look of pride and determination.

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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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