Christmas, Christmas, Solstice & Hannukah, DIY, Family life

An advent calendar of adventure

adventurous advent header

Last year, we began a new tradition with an “advent calendar of adventure.” Each morning began with anticipation and surprise, as Jasper opened that day’s envelope to find what new adventure was on the calendar for that day.

Because I matched the “adventures” with plans we already had for overnight hotel stays or friends’ Christmas parties, and balanced busier week days with simpler activities, it wasn’t overwhelming to execute, and it made for a lot of sweet wintery memories. It meant offering real world experiences, slower times at home, and opportunities to connect with story and song. It’s that time of year again, and I’m making plans for our second December of adventure.

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Here are some adventure activity ideas that you can use, or tailor to your own family’s culture: 

  • pick out a Christmas tree
  • get out the decorations
  • go for a walk in the woods
  • bring out the Christmas books, and choose one to read at bedtime
  • celebrate the last day of any regular activities before the holidays
  • be sure to include a festive announcement of any holiday parties you’ll be attending, and let your hosts provide the magic for that day
  • make a gingerbread house or gingerbread men
  • make beeswax candles for the season ahead
  • have a board game night
  • feed the birds (simply fill the feeders or do a project like this one)
  • make soup for lunch, and surprise a friend or neighbour with a jar of soup
  • go to a holiday concert or ballet
  • gather around a backyard campfire
  • have a friend over for dinner
  • bake bread to give to a neighbour (here’s our favourite)
  • go to the grocery store and choose $20 worth of food for the food bank
  • go on a trip to the city
  • celebrate the solstice
  • make hot chocolate and sing carols
  • bake cookies
  • family movie night
  • make or choose a teacher gift
  • make a craft at Grandma’s house
  • go for a night-time walk to look at lights
  • make a thank you or holiday card for your local children’s librarian
  • buy or make a gift for your sibling
  • host a hot cocoa party
  • make and deliver Christmas cards
  • make salt-dough or cinnamon-apple sauce ornaments

 

diy advent calendar

How to build it: 

  • Figure out a way to display your calendar.
  • Sit down with your calendar and make a list from 1-24.
  • Assign each day an activity, being sure to balance busier days and simpler adventures.
  • Cut small slips announcing each days activities, and number them.
  • Put each slip into its corresponding numbered envelope.
  • Keep your master list handy so that you’ll know what’s coming up, or in case you need to switch activities around as things change over time.
  • Have your calendar displayed and ready to go on December 1st.

Notes from my experience:

This advent calendar is all about the message, and not about the stuff. All you really need is a way to hold and hide away each slip of paper containing that day’s activity.

I used a jewelry rack that my dad created years ago out of an old wooden picture frame and wooden dowels, because that’s what I had on hand. That would be simple enough to replicate if DIY is your thing, or a simple clothesline-style string, or even a paper chain garland would do the trick.

I created my tiny envelopes out of our family’s watercolour paintings, paper bags and foil paper scraps, and labelled each one with number 1-24.

Then I slipped the corresponding message in each envelope, and hung them from the doweling with ribbon.

If it all feels like too much, another option is to celebrate 12 days of Christmas, or to have a shorter countdown leading to Christmas.

 

 

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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  – 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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Christmas, Family life

It’s the holidays: be here now

IMG_4583Last night our neighbours and family gathered here to celebrate the solstice, with a warm fire blazing in the drizzling rain, a sweet solstice mead for the adults and far too many mini-cupcakes for the kids (okay, and the adults too). A four year-old friend did an amazing job sweeping up every possible crumb, and a grown up friend arrived with two cheese dishes, a plate of monster cookies and the afore-mentioned cupcakes. #soblessed

We woke this morning to find that the sun has returned, after all, and from here on out, the days will be longer and brighter. So worth celebrating!

I hope to keep the peaceful feeling I get from a candle-lit evening with beloveds all week long, even through mornings at the grocery store and later-than-usual bedtime stories.  Here are a few thoughts from around the web that are inspiring me through this holiday season:

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Last week we went to visit family on the West Coast of Canada, and while we were there, we also met our friends Beth and Quentin of Our Montessori Life for the first time. It was a really special moment — both to meet friends we already feel we know, and to spend time together in Beth’s beautiful casa classroom. Quentin gathered gifts for us from the peace table, and he and Jasper prepared a snack side by side. Beth wrote a sweet post about the experience

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Because of that trip, Jasper’s going to have a total of four weeks away from his own casa classroom, so though we usually don’t try to replicate school works at home, I wanted to bring some more focused work into our home through this season, but I didn’t want to add more to my own plate during this busy time.  The Merry Montessori Christmas e-book from Montessori Mischief was just the ticket. Filled with holiday-oriented activities for 2.5-6 year olds, it’s laid out in a super-simple style, and it doesn’t require much effort. I was able to flip through, choose a few activities I thought Jasper might like, and put together a few trays from things we had on hand. He ended up coming up with an idea for an extension on one of the activities we found in A Merry Montessori Christmas — pin-punching!

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I’m happy to have interesting materials on hand for my kids to explore and work with, but I know the secret to peaceful living isn’t about the stuff. The Montesssori Notebook has been hosting an online advent calendar, with peaceful parenting quotes each day. It’s helping me to keep my priorities straight.  You can “Like” The Montessori Notebook on Facebook to follow along.

I’m wishing you all a peaceful, warm, and restful holiday. Really take a break. Look after you. Get enough sleep. Eat well. Speak gently. Ignore anything that comes with the words “last minute” attached. Light a fire (or a candle) and watch the flames dance. Be outside.  Write a blog post with words of advice to yourself. 

See you in the New Year, friends! 

 

 

 

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Christmas, Family life

How to avoid rapidly changing holiday priorities: a gift guide

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Last week a budgeting email arrived in my inbox, alongside a whole lot of Black Friday advertisements. It warned to “beware rapidly changing priorities on Black Friday.” Retailers can entice with deals so good that the purchases seem like a great idea. Once you’ve seen the ad, that TV, or that cute sweater, or whatever you had not been thinking of before, suddenly rises to the top of your purchasing priorities.

The advice was to set out priorities ahead of time, and to set them in stone — not to make them on the fly, when you’re sensitive to the pressures of retailers and sales stickers.

As the weekend passed, with December just a few boxes away on the calendar, I found myself thinking of life’s other priorities. The wellbeing of my children, my relationships, myself.

Is it a busy time of year for you? It sure is for us. My freelance work has been turned up this fall, and now I’m trying to cram it in before our vacation starts, with a trip across the country next week. Along with a cookie swap, a baby shower, and a funeral. I’m grateful for this life, but some days it all flows a little faster than I’d like.

In spite of all of that, I’m being mindful of planning my priorities and I’m setting them in stone. I want to get the cooking done ahead of our big solstice party, so that I can relax and be present with our friends and family out at the bonfire. I’d like my children to be nourished deeply and to get enough sleep, so that they can really enjoy the season. I’d like to laugh and play games with my family on Christmas Eve, rather than anxiously waiting for bedtime so that I can get the wrapping done.

During this season, there are some really high pressure salespeople, both in the malls and at the relatives’ homes. There is so much to say “yes” to — gatherings, errands and outings, late nights, platters full of Christmas treats.  We can’t afford to make priorities on the fly. 

Here’s a simple way that we’re keeping the “gifts under the tree for our children” priority simple. Our children are each receiving a darling pair of pajamas, and one fun and thoughtful gift. That’s it.

No struggles to keep track of spending, no loading the cart with “just one more” spur of the moment purchase, no finding un-given gifts stuffed in a sock drawer a month later, no flurry of wrapping.

Twinkling lights on a Fraser fir, songs to sing, brunch in the oven, a couple of really wonderful toys — and time.

I encourage you to think of your priorities ahead of time this December. What would really benefit you or your children through the holidays? What would make it the ideal Christmas? Create a list before hitting the shops (even, or especially, the online shops!), and make your own wishlist of priorities before you head out to that family gathering.

Here’s the short and sweet (and simple!) 2015 Milkweed Montessori gift guide:

baby truck

For our baby on the move, a Moover Baby Truck, like this one.
Fun to push, ride on, play open and close and in and out, take apart and build back up.

wooden train set

And for our creative builder and engineer, what could be better than his own railroad? We haven’t settled on a set yet (any opinions?), but we’re considering this one.

Stockings have always been my favourite part of Christmas, like a mystery bag for all ages! We’ll include a few practical things and a few fun surprises. I’m thinking a great toothbrush, a natural bubble bath, a locally made, hand-carved spoon for Jasper, and for Sage, a little wooden robin, a match for fox I bought for Jasper’s first Christmas.

And, of course, two identical pairs of pajamas with feet. Pictures to follow.

Last year’s “Merry Montessori Christmas” gift guide.

What’s on your wishlist? 

P.S. This post contains some Amazon Associate links, which don’t cost you a penny, but do send me a percentage of any purchases made from the links from my site. Thank you!
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