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

A gift guide for the Montessori home

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

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

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

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

Stocking stuffers and small surprises: 

Wooden egg shaker

DIY tiny flag bunting

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

A candle snuffer 

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

A classic top

For the sweet and curious baby:

Balloon mobile 

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

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

A hopping rabbit to pull along

Zoe’s Snowy Day book

For the toddler who always wants to do it themselves:

Grimm’s Rainbow

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

The Snowy Day book

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

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

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

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

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

Cutter boat with loading tree

Sleep Tight Farm book

Modeling wax 

Knitting needles or knitting tower

Alfie’s Christmas book

Beeswax candle making kit

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

For the grown ups who loved looking over this list:

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

The Creative Family Manifesto book

Indigo-dyed tea towels

Winter nature activities for Children book 

Handmade pure beeswax candles

Experiences for the whole family to enjoy together:

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

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

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

Note:

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

See gift guides from recent years here: 

A Merry Montessori Gift Guide

How to avoid rapidly changing priorities: A Montessori Gift Guide

 

 

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4-6 months, 6-8 months, Books, Under 1 year

A Montessori shelf for baby

Montessori baby shelf collageDo a Pinterest search for “Montessori at home” and one thing you’re likely to see repeated in nearly all of the images are shelves. Open access shelving is beloved by Montessorians everywhere because it facilitates some key in the young child’s life like freedom of choice (the options are on view), independence (everything can be easily reached, even by the youngest child), and a sense of order (everything has its place on the shelf). It’s also a way to limit options and avoid overwhelming a child with too much stimulus — fewer items can be displayed brightly on a shelf than can be jammed into a toybox.

Up till this point, Sage has been pretty happy to look at mobiles, look out the big glass doors, or to engage with simple materials handed to her where she was.

When Sage started to really move earlier this month, she made it clear that she was ready to access shelves. Jasper graciously gave up a lower shelf in the main hangout room in our home, and she’s given up reaching for his beloved farm animals. Win-win.

When choosing materials, at any age, I always try to understand what the child’s body and mind are working on right now. (Editorial aside: these things really are a need! Children come with an amazing inner drive to work at their current developmental stage. Have you ever tried to fly on an airplane with a baby who’s just learned to walk or crawl?) From about six months on, the baby is really beginning to notice the world beyond mama; she needs to move and to explore.

This week, at very nearly 7 months, I have a few simple things on view, on a floor level shelf below the one where we keep our nature treasures (pictured above). Currently these are the bottom level of a larger set of shelves that also holds materials for grown ups — records and books and our stereo system.

Sage’s shelf is a beacon that draws her in and encourages her to move towards it.

The wooden spoons are safe, fun and interesting to explore. My husband is a musician, and music-making is a daily part of our family life. Across the same room are two shelves of kid-friendly, accessible instruments, mostly percussion. The spoons are Sage’s intro to playing with sound.

The knit ball rolls slowly when she drops it, and it becomes a slow-motion chase around the room.

“Little You,” by Richard Van Camp, and illustrated by Julie Flett (Canadians!), is a beautiful book with great images. Sage can manipulate the board book pages or we can look through it and read it together. The text is peaceful and loving, and a balm for a weary mama.

The little basket is one of my favourites. Six inches long, with two tiny handles at the edges, it’s the perfect first “tray” for a baby. It’s being used as an exploration or treasure basket, filled with interesting things to look at, grasp, and move. A mirrored ring, a long reflective ribbon, a wooden teething heart.

For more on baby shelves, check out this post from Montessori Mischief, and this one from Nduoma which celebrates one of the best gross motor development materials. What’s on your shelves these days (no matter your childs age)?

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0-2 months, 2-4 months, 4-6 months, 6-8 months, Motor development

She leads the way

baby led

Just about every source of parenting advice out there, from the doctor’s office to your friend’s yoga teacher to the public health unit, will recommend something called “tummy time.” If you’re a parent, you know what it is. If you’re not, go

But here’s a big ol’ secret: Sage has never been put into “tummy time.” She’s spent lots of time on her belly, but I didn’t put her into that position.

Instead, from just a few weeks old, she’s been put onto her back, with plenty of space to move freely, occasionally with a few toys to invite exploration. Her body and brain are developing, and all she needs is time and space. Natural human development will take care of the rest.

We avoided or minimized time in what I call “contraptions” — swings, car seats, Jolly Jumpers, bouncy chairs, etc. They are all used to contain and restrain a baby’s natural freedom of movement. By holding back a baby’s natural way of being, they are holding back development. Even if it is high contrast, or brightly coloured, or play sweet music. Of course, we used a car seat in a car, and I put her in a (non-automated) bouncy chair while I showered. But I worked to be mindful of the time spent using these devices.

At 11 weeks old, she rolled over onto her belly for the first time. A few weeks later, she rolled back from belly to back. Since then she’s been on the move, rolling, stretching, creeping, pulling herself along. A few weeks ago, she started to get up on all fours and rock.

On her six-month birthday, in the middle of Thanksgiving celebrations, she moved from the crawling position to sitting right up. She sat there for about thirty seconds, with family gathered around cheering her on and my jaw on the floor.

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At nearly seven months, this sweet girl is (nearly) all grown up and sitting up with confidence. She gets herself into that position, and she holds herself up as long as she’s interested in sitting. No pillows, no props, no Bumbos. When she’s done sitting, she leans back, she rolls onto her side, she flips onto her belly.

It’s her body, and it’s her choice.

Those words might seem a little intense, conjuring up ideas of consent and women’s rights. But I think it’s okay for my daughter to have the idea that she is in charge of her own body, even from an early age. She leads the way.

I was introduce to ideas about baby’s natural motor development through the idea of RIE and in particular Janet Lansbury’s blog, which is excellent. I’m currently listening to her audiobook No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame and wow, you guys. If you have a toddler or preschooler, that book can really do wonders for the communication around your household. If you will soon have a child that age, get started now!

Here are a few of Janet Lansbury’s posts about sitting and tummy time.

Edited to add: A reader posted a comment noting that focusing on timelines might give the incorrect impression that this method leads to early development. That’s not the case. Letting your baby lead the way allows them to develop at their own pace. There is no rush, and there’s no need to slow down. If your baby seems “late,” don’t despair. I think what this is all about it is giving your baby the respect, the space and also the time he or she needs to use their body and naturally develop. Thanks for your note, Gina! 

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0-2 months, 2-4 months, 4-6 months, 6-12 months, Montessori philosophy

Put your baby on the floor. Like, a lot.


Montessori movement area
If I were to travel back in time to when Jasper was a wee baby, I might just give myself a seemingly crazy piece of advice. “Put your baby on the floor.”

He’s a September baby, and I have these memories of that first winter spent sitting there holding my baby. If he was awake, I was sitting there holding him, wondering what to do next. If I needed to do something that required the use of my arms, there was a stressful moment of tension as I tried to figure out “what to do” with him. I knew I didn’t want to rely on devices like the swing. But it never really occurred to me to put him on the floor unless he was having what I thought of as “floor-” or “tummy-” time. Ahh the little compartments we make of life…

With Sage, I still make sure to spend plenty of time holding, cuddling and carrying her while she’s so sweet and small. But I also give her plenty of time and space to explore and get to know her body and how it moves.

This work is best done on the floor. Here’s why:

  • her view is unobstructed. No crib bars, no pack and play mesh. Just a wide open view of the room and everyone in it.
  • she is free to move. With a lots of space to move, she does.
  • it doesn’t require putting baby into any position that she can’t get herself into or out of. It doesn’t give her an unnatural sense of her own capabilities. It doesn’t prop her up to sit before she can get there herself, it doesn’t dangle her into a false standing position. She is simply on her back until she rolls on to her tummy. She is reaching and stretching and eventually moving.

In the Montessori world, the environment for this kind of “floor-time” is called a movement area. A movement area might look something like this:

The key ingredient is lots of comfortable space. There will be a mat, a blanket, or something soft but supportive for baby to be on.  A few yoga mats side-by-side can work. I’ve found quilts are better for movement than other types of blankets (they lie flat while being crawled and squirmed on!).

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There may be a mobile suspended above a young baby to look at, or a bell, ring, rattle or grasping toy for babies who are ready to use their hands. At five months, Sage is rolling and creeping to move around, and I sometimes place an object (a skwish, or a open book with beautiful images) just out of reach for her to stretch towards.

Traditionally in the Montessori method, there is a wall mirror from the very beginning, which draws baby’s attention and allows her to watch her own body move. Our family chooses to incorporate the mirror later.

Montessori floor time and movement area

As baby begins to be able to move, there is a low shelf or basket offering a few objects to explore.

Also: if you start to worry about your babe, or feel he is not getting enough people time, or that she’s all alone on a big empty floor — hang out with your baby! Sit on the floor. Talk to your baby. Pick her up for a cuddle. Do some made-up yoga poses to stretch out that breastfeeding back. Sit with him lying between your legs. Read a novel while she rolls around. Talk some more.

It’s all about living life together, while giving your baby space and time to move freely. That’s it.

For more inspiring movement area images, check out this comprehensive post from Nduoma and this great round up post from How We Montessori.

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4-6 months, Family life, Travel

Wee road warriors

Summer road trip tips

This morning I received an email alert about a spammy comment left on this site that began by saying “I see you need some fresh posts.” Touché, spam. If you’re ever left feeling a similar need for some fresh Milkweed, please join me on Instagram, where I update far more frequently (and where there is a whole community of Montessori-minded parents).

Speaking of fresh, about 24 hours ago we rolled in from our old-fashioned family road trip, during which we camped our way to the East Coast of Canada and back. The trip was full of natural beauty, family giggles, noisy singalongs and highway-side potty stops. Some sweet memories were made, and some great lessons were learned along the way. If you’re heading out on a summer road trip before the season ends, here’s a bit of what we gleaned on the open road.

Going off road. At four months and nearly three years old, our kids were amazing passengers (so perhaps tip #1 is “get lucky”?). We tried to drive as comfortably as possible — with snacks on hand, with full bellies, with frequent washroom stops, and for some of us, with a stuffed baby otter in hand. Whatever works. We had a policy of stopping any time the kids needed to, and it turned out they didn’t actually need to stop as often as we’d expected. We only stopped at a fast food restaurant once over 3000 kms and nearly two weeks. The rest of the time, we kept an eye out for farm markets, playgrounds, beaches and riverside parks (or, pictured above, a riverside farm market with playground and tractor to climb on. Thank you, rural New Brunswick). Getting a bit of space, and giving Jasper opportunities to really move his body kept everyone happy.

Staying on the road. The only way to cover a lot of miles is to just keep going. Although we stopped without a second thought when we needed to, we also tried to keep on moving when we could. We tried to keep an eye on the gas tank and the gas prices (the GasBuddy app was handy) during stops, so that we wouldn’t have to stop again unneccesarily. Keeping snacks on hand, within reach, could help to hold off lunch a little longer if we were making good time or wanted to make it to a particular destination.

Be here now. I’d packed an assortment of activities for Jasper — some were left overs from flights we’ve taken, like an etch-a-sketch book, a button snake, and some felt work; a homemade colouring binder; his sticker collection and book. Unfortunately, it seemed obvious pretty early on that Jasper gets some motion sickness, feeling nauseous when he spent time looking at his work instead of out the window. So, most of the trip, he looked out the window. Rather than the sort of educational entertainment I’d planned on, he was engaging with the real world — which was also the real reason we were on the trip. It meant he often needed more of my attention, but playing “I Spy” is as good a way to get through the hill and highways of New Brunswick as any. Looking out the window lead to conversations about naming construction and farm machinery, coming to recognize provincial flags, and speculating about the weather.

Listen up. The car stereo is everybody’s friend. It distracts from the squeak of the windshield wipers, it closes out conversation for a few minutes, it passes the time. We stocked up on audio books from the library and David grabbed a few favourite cds on the way out the door, and we were ready to roll. We took turns choosing what to listen to, and Jasper was usually willing to wait out a grown-up choice before getting back to “Macaroni and Cheese!” (aka Andrew Queen‘s great food-themed children’s album, Grow). Quick audio book review: Olivia and Frog and Toad were both pleasant listens, The Moffats is a family favourite, while Paddington Bear didn’t make it past the first few minutes.

As we settle in, do the laundry and return to life at home, I’m thrilled to know that our time on the road was successful not only in getting us to our destination, but in bringing our family together to meet a challenge, and creating truly lasting memories all along the way.

What are you up to this summer? What will your memories of summer ’15 be? If you have any road trip tips in your back pocket, let me know! 

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