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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22-24 months, 24-28 months, 3 years old, 3-6 Years, Books, Casa, Family life, Nature, Preschool

Montessori books to celebrate changing seasons

After Mother Nature hit our area with some late-breaking hot hot heat last week, it seems that finally crisp mornings and falling leaves are signalling the seasonal shift from summer to autumn. Feeling these changes as each season rolls on is something that I’m more and more attuned to, both as I get older, and my kids do. Growth, change, forward momentum, life in all it’s many forms — it’s a daily celebration on this traveling orb we call Earth.

I love to read books that are tuned in to these seasonal rhythms, and that reflect the times we’re having as a family. Sometimes a book that cycles through all the seasons, reminding of us of where we are in the big picture can be just the thing to remind us to celebrate the present.

Friendly for both toddlers and preschool-age reading times, and full of good curiosity-building possibility, here are a few books that our family has enjoyed reading, no matter the season:

Out and About: A First Book of Poems

Lovely to page through from cover to cover, or to read through the poems that fit today’s season or weather, this book is a treasure. Written and illustrated by Shirley Hughes, the creator of the beloved Alfie series, you’ll find these poems are a true reflection of family life lived in season.

To Be Like the Sun

A girl, her sunflower seed, and the glory of the flower it produces… and then, midwinter, a girl, and her sunflower seed once more. This book is beautifully illustrated, with a story told with enough energy to keep even the tinies captivated.

Arctic Lights, Arctic Nights

In our family, we have a particular connection with the arctic, but I think the subtle changes that this book follows through one of the planet’s most unique environments will delight any curious child as each page follows the light.

The Year at Maple Hill Farm

A sweetly-detailed book that follows the calendar year through each month on a busy farm, this is an evergreen book that seems to expand to meet the growing child’s awareness.

When the Wind Stops

A favourite of mine to read, and of Jasper’s to hear, this book is the kind that settles the whole family into the peace of evening after a busy day. It answers those simple and yet big questions every child has in a way that is plain and true and also deeply metaphorical. Where does the sun go when it sets? To bring morning to another place.

Do you have a family favourite for all seasons? Let me know in the comments below! 

 

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3 years old, 3-6 Years, Books, Family life

Do you read chapter books?

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Do you read chapter books with your preschool-aged children?

Around the time that Jasper turned three, we started reading longer “chapter” books at bedtime. The usual routine includes one or two picture books, and then a chapter from the longer book we’ve got on the go. As a (tired) parent, I appreciate the way a chapter or two really mellows out a keyed up kid, and it also moves the concept of books, stories, and reading, beyond the picture book.

We started this routine last fall with Thorton W. Burgess’ “Adventures of” animal series. I (and many other Montessorians) don’t usually delight in the glut of kids’ books featuring talking animals, but hear me out on this one: the animals in Burgess’s books talk to each other, but never become anthropomorphized. They retain all the characteristics of their natural counterparts, and because of that, the books become a really accurate illustration of life in the woods — the predators act like predators, and the beavers and birds are concerned about things that beavers and birds would really be concerned about.

And best of all, the stories are well written and entertaining to read. And there are a lot of them — 170 according to Wikipedia!

We’ve also discovered a love for Bink and Gollie, a series of shorter, semi-illustrated books by the great Kate Dicamillo about two pals with wonderful vocabularies and a silly sense of humour. Next week we are going on a big trip along Canada’s East Coast, so we’ve been reading an abridged version of Anne of Green Gables.

Do you read chapter books? What are your favourites? We’d love some more recommendations!

 

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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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24-28 months, Books, Family life

Becoming a big brother

new baby post

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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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.

flower arranging

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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