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  РToddlers 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  РJasper 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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6-12 months, 6-8 months

Baby’s first bites

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Around these parts, we all love to eat. Well, Jasper is going through a deeply suspicious food, but the foods he likes ‚ÄĒ blueberry pancakes, roasted chicken, and sliced apples ‚ÄĒ he really likes. Our dining room table is a gathering place, a place to reconnect, a place to enjoy nourishing our bodies.

Sage has been joining us at the table almost since the very beginning, tucked into a lap. Though she was exclusively breastfeeding, she was still able to be a part of the family circle and take in all the sights and sounds that family dinner-time has to offer.

Now that she’s a little older, she joins us for dinner, sitting in a booster seat on a chair, pulled up to the table.

toddler and baby weaning table

For breakfast and snacks, she and Jasper usually sit together at a smaller weaning table, with a safe and supportive weaning chair just her size. Some Montessorians choose to let a baby eat at the weaning table for every meal, but time spent sharing a meal together is an important part of our family’s culture.

We all use ceramic dishes and real glassware, modelling safe and proper usage, while allowing the kids to learn that things can break (rather than introducing glass for the first time later, and watching a four year old have to learn that he can’t toss glass around the way he’s done for years with his plastic cups). At ten months, Sage drinks from an open glass with a bit of assistance holding it to her mouth.

We use a small bib, which attaches at the front shoulder, so that in the coming months, Sage can remove it herself, to signal that she’s finished eating. For now, we use baby sign language for “more” and “all done.”

With both Jasper and Sage, we’ve followed the self-feeding or baby-led weaning method, meaning that rather than pureeing food and spoon feeding it, food is offered in larger pieces that the baby then feeds to herself. It’s safe, simple and allows the baby to decide when she’s had enough to eat.

At around 8 months, as her dexterity grew, we began offering a spoon (often pre-loaded) for her to use, and currently using cutlery is a big focus of hers at meal times. `

Independence in eating comes with a bunch of benefits, from healthy habits to less time in the kitchen, but there is one big trade off: it’s a messy business. If you’ve got a dog who likes to clean up under the table, they’ll be in heaven. I haven’t got a dog, but a three year old with a Swiffer mop is a pretty good substitute, and I’m counting down the days till summer heralds the season of dining alfresco.

If you’re starting to think about feeding your baby, I recommend checking out this post from How We Montessori, which compares the traditional Montessori method with baby-led weaning. For a full run-down of essentials, check this great post on Midwest Montessori.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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 ‚ÄĒ 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 ‚ÄĒ 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” ‚ÄĒ 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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