Books, Christmas, Christmas, Solstice & Hannukah, Family life, gift guide

Milkweed Montessori’s 2018 Gift Guide

Tomorrow is December. December is tomorrow!

Currently, my notes to self sound something like this:

Finding gifts for the children in your life doesn’t need to feel like one more obligation. Tune in to the child, and where they are right now, at this moment in their life. Pay attention to what they need, or don’t need. Have you already won the global lottery? Acknowledge it. Apply the buyerarchy of needs (see below). Give from a place of peace, generosity, and unattachment. Receive in the same way.

Buyerarchy of Needs by Sarah Lazarovic

We usually give one main gift, one book, and one stocking for each of our children. It winds up being more than enough (especially with generous extended family members), but helps to avoid gift-unwrapping overwhelm. You’ll find this¬†list is longer than that, in part because I wanted to recommend books and products that our family has experienced and enjoyed. I’m also planning to offer myself the gift of a social media break during the holidays, something that I think the whole family might enjoy.

May your December be one of peace, joy, and gratitude.

Gifts for birth to age 3: 

Reflecting mobile, for the newborn in the family

the family bed by Katie Flindall

Cozy, family-focused art by Katie Flindall, for the nursery or playroom (pictured)

A smart, seasonal subscription to Babybug magazine

Lola at the Library book

In the Town, All Year Round book ‚ÄĒ If you have a child in your life who likes to point at pictures in books, you owe it to them to give them this book. Jasper is 6, and he loves to pour over each page, but a beloved friend of ours (who was 18 months old when we gave it to him last Christmas) has literally worn the binding off the book with frequent page-turning.

my heart fills with happinessMy Heart Fills with Happiness ‚ÄĒ a book that’s a pleasure to read aloud

Ikea’s classic indoor play tunnel¬†never gets old with the wee ones

A jar of homemade playdough 

 

Gifts for 3-6 year olds:

The Little Book of Woodland Bird Songs

Juli√°n Is a Mermaid book

The best quality crayons¬† ‚ÄĒ pricier than other crayons, but the last ones you’ll ever need to buy.

Big movement toys like an indoor swing, triangle ladder or a tumbling mat

Amaryllis bulbs make a lovely gift for a preschool age child

Amaryllis or paperwhite bulbs ‚ÄĒ hear me out: those boxed bulbs you find in any box store are fast-growing, with dramatic results. Kids of all ages will love to plant, tend, and observe their very own indoor bulbs, and they add such beauty to a January day. These also make great gifts for children to give to someone who will send regular updates on how the bulbs are growing, a connection Jasper and his great-grandmother have shared in winters past.

A straw broom

Micro Mini Scooter ‚ÄĒ my kids each have one of these sturdy scooters, and Sage has been riding hers since before she was 2! With their three-wheel design, they are safe, speedy, and stand upright on their own. A must-have for getting to the beach and the library.

 

Gifts for 6+:

Morakniv Rookie ‚ÄĒ a great first knife for use outdoors, with extra safety features. Perfect for sharpening sticks.IMG_7785

Rock tumbler ‚ÄĒ¬† Jasper has been very interested on rocks, gems and minerals for some time now, and a rock tumbler is a tool that could help continue his hands-on explorations

binGO WILD animal riddle game

mountain meets the moon

The beautiful and riveting adventure novel Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

Hand vacuum ‚ÄĒ¬† something Jasper specifically asked for!

The Illustrated Harry Potter books

The Water Walker book ‚ÄĒ inspiration and encouragement for the keen and passionate second plane of development, from a modern day hero

Gifts for the adult who loved looking at this list (feel free to forward this to your Secret Santa): 

montessori liberation tee“Montessori as an act of liberation” t-shirt¬†raises funds to get Amelia to the Montessori for Social Justice conference

A donation to the Montessori school at South Bend’s Centre for the Homeless¬†

All of the beeswax candles from Wild Luminescence

wild luminescence candle

Toddler Discipline for Every Age and Stage book ‚ÄĒ a deep dive into practical and developmentally appropriate ways to connect with your toddler, even when times get tough, by Aubrey Hargis of Child of the Redwoods¬†(and founder of the vibrant Montessori 101 Facebook community)

An unlined Moleskin notebook for notes & sketches

A supportive subscription to the in-depth anti-bias, anti-racist work Tiffany Jewell and Britt Hawthorne are doing

“Raise Them Curious” t-shirt¬†for Mamas and Papas trying to do just that

Gift guides from years past: 

A gift guide for the Montessori home (2017)

How to avoid rapidly changing holiday priorities: a gift guide (2015)

A Merry Montessori Toddler Gift List (2014)

Read more about our advent of adventure — an experience-focused holiday tradition.¬†¬†And a bit of evergreen holiday wisdom, from December of 2015.

Disclaimer: this list includes affiliate links in which I earn a tiny percentage of any purchases made via these links. If you do decide to gift any of these items, consider doing so through the links on this page. 

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Books, Family life, Montessori philosophy, parenting, Peace education

Perfectionism and parenting

Perfectionism (1)

I heard this quote on a podcast recently, and it really grabbed me. There are times I can think of, as a parent, as a teacher, as a blogger, when I know, looking back, that perfectionism has been driving. And none of these have been my best, most effective, or most loving moments.

As I thought about it, I realized perfectionism isn’t actually an end point — it’s not about whether things are “perfect.” It’s always been a motivating or “driving” force, as Bren√© Brown puts it. It’s about proving myself worthy. And as a parent today, there are all kinds of new ways to push myself into perfectionism.

We meet perfectionism on the way to potentially stressful situations: when we feel we have an audience to impress, like visiting grandparents, meeting a new teacher, or¬† that first¬† playdate with new friends. When we have created an expectation for ourselves, like embarking on a family vacation, or preparing and presenting something new to a child (and we’re already thinking ahead to the Instagram post!). We meet perfectionism when we want to others to see us and validate us and¬†our efforts.

It’s not about doing your best, it’s about aiming to arrive at a place when you will have your efforts, have your self, validated by external circumstances.

It’s fundamentally removed from the present moment ad is always pushing on to another, more perfect moment in the future.

I think we all probably know what perfectionism looks like, and even more what it feels like (I get that tension in my gut just thinking about it!). The unholy trinity of perfectionism, fear and shame are powerful forces that can ultimately drive us in the opposite direction of our goals.

You know what perfectionism doesn’t look like? Curiosity. Openness. Vulnerability. Acceptance. Gratitude. Joy. Presence. In fact, maybe these things are the anti-dote.

Let’s hop in that car. Let’s offer curiosity to our children. Let’s offer acceptance to ourselves.

You are a good mother. You are a good teacher. You are worthy. I am worthy.

P.S. All credit to Bren√© Brown, whose work is really changing the world. I highly recommend any one of her amazing books, but especially Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.¬†If you’re reading this blog, this is the book for you.

If you’re wondering about what embracing imperfection looks like in real, family life, check out this post.

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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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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 ‚ÄĒ 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¬†‚ÄĒ 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 ‚ÄĒ 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 ‚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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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 ‚ÄĒ 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 ‚ÄĒ feeling the baby move in mama’s belly ‚ÄĒ¬† 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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