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.

IMG_4960

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.

 

 

Advertisements
Standard
Casa, DIY, Family life, Nature, Practical Life, Preschool

DIY: wax-dipped autumn leaves

23131283_10102016917189391_1122586128_o.jpg

Have I mentioned how much I love autumn? Even with the high spirits of Halloween behind us and the disturbingly eager holiday retail machine kicking into gear, I’m determined to stay present with the season as long as possible. Particularly since otherwise, November can seem like one long grey wait for better days.

23158082_10102016913446891_704227450_oAs the night time wild winds blow, the kids and I seem to collect beautiful and colourful leaves spotted on our travels each morning, adding to our collection daily. Some get put on the nature tray by the back door, some founder on the floor of the back seat, some crumble out of pockets in the laundry.

But a chosen few are dipped into sweet-smelling wax, saved, and hung up to bring the glory of the outdoors into our home. Because it involves using some caution around warm beeswax, this is a great activity for ages three and up, depending on the child. (If your kids are anything like mine, that added element of manageable risk makes leaf-dipping extra appealing!)

It’s simple really.

23131467_10102016917239291_1412101503_o2.jpg

What you need: 

A bunch of beautiful leaves

Beeswax, grated

A double-boiler or some other method for heating the wax

A length of string or yarn

A hole punch (optional)

How to do it: 

  1. Gather up your leaves and grate up your beeswax into the top of your double-boiler. Start water boiling on the stove. Note: I have a metal bowl and grater that are used exclusively for beeswax, because it can be tricky to clean up once it hardens, and you don’t want any melted wax going down the kitchen drain.
  2. Lay out some paper to catch any wax drips and some parchment for your wax-wet leaves to dry on.
  3. Heat the beeswax on top of boiling water until just melted. Once it’s melted, you can either bring the bowl of wax over to your leaves, or bring your leaves right to the stove — whichever is safer.
  4. Hold each leaf by the stem, and dip it into the melted wax, being sure to cover the whole surface of the leaf, front and back, with a thin layer of wax. Set it onto the parchment to cool.
  5. When your leaf is cool and dry to the touch, and flexes without cracking the wax, it’s ready to prep for hanging up. Have your little one punch a hole in each leaf, and thread through with a string.
  6. Hang up your sweet nature bunting, and take in the autumn splendour!
Standard
0-2 months, DIY

Toppon-what? My essential piece of baby gear

FullSizeRender

Becoming parents for the second time meant both that we had acquired a lot of baby “stuff,” and we were acquainted with the way that stuff accumulates when a new baby shows up — with much gratitude to our friends’ baby-feverish parents — so we didn’t need much this time around.

And we’ve gained some wisdom along the way: very soon after a baby is born, it turns out the stuff really doesn’t matter.

That said, there are of course useful pieces of gear and thoughtful ways of setting up the environment. We upgraded to a double stroller that rolls better than one we bought while was in labour the last time around (live and learn!) and I spent some late-pregnancy evenings cutting and gluing Montessori mobiles. We rearranged Jasper’s bedroom to include space for a change table and baby clothing.

All of that has helped to make life easier along the way. But the number one, must have, absolute baby essential in our house is the topponcino.

I know. “Cappuccino?”

A topponcino is a small, thin mattress which is just the perfect size and shape for a baby to rest on in the first few months. It’s a great tool for gently moving an easily-startled newborn and helps to keep them warm while snuggled into someone’s arms.  It’s a perfect vehicle for being carried around the house on; it allows for big siblings to have a good, safe hold while “holding” baby on their lap; and it’s a godsend during those big family gatherings when your pure little babe is being passed between heavily-scented bosoms (love you, family!).  No worries about poking watches or nervous brothers-in-law. Beyond preventing your newborn returning to you smelling of No. 5, the topponcino also holds the familiar smell of mama, providing the comfort of a familiar point of reference. I actually slept with the topponcino in our bed for the last few weeks of pregnancy.

The topponicino is also a magical solution to the age-old problem of putting down a sleeping baby. If you’ve ever been trapped into holding a sleeping baby who’s suddenly wide-eyed when she’s set down, you know the struggle is real.

After a health scare soon after she was born, we spent a few days in the hospital with Sage, and the topponcino was something that we used constantly, providing a safe, comforting relatively germ-free place for her to be, which smelled of Mom and Dad.

IMG_1331

Ultimately, the topponcino helps to ease the transition from the womb to the world, by keeping baby warm and comfortable.

A few practical notes: we have two topponcinos, one which is entirely washable (that snazzy popcorn number you see above), and one with a removable muslin sham. They need to be washed about once a week in our case, so it hasn’t really added any extra work. My mom made them both, because my sewing skills are abysmal and potentially hazardous to sewing machines, but it was a fairly straightforward job. We mainly used this pattern from Voila Montessori, and if you’re in Canada, we have really been happy with Simplifi’s bamboo muslin.

 

 

 

 

Standard
DIY, Family life

The prepared environment: DIY Citrus Cleanser

IMG_0518

As we turn the calendar, pack up the decorations and sweep up the pine needles, this time of year has signaled a period of productive downsizing in our home. It’s the meeting of many needs — to make space, figuratively and literally, for the new baby; to get a handle on the constant flow of stuff; and to start the new year with a fresh sense of purpose and place.

It’s also a great way to prepare the environment, not just for Jasper, but for the whole family. I’m guilty of presenting perfectly tidied shelves for Jasper, while “behind the scenes,” my materials cupboard can get to be such a jumble that I’m afraid to open it too quickly. One of the major differences between a Montessori classroom and a Montessori home is that in the home, many people of many ages and interests may live there. We’ve all got stuff, and we all need to feel at home. How do we balance that with Jasper’s developmental needs? It’s an ongoing process.

One of the things that I really appreciated from my Montessori training this summer was one of the teachers’ emphasis on the use of non-toxic and environmentally-friendly cleaning products made from essential oils. She saw this as a natural part of the prepared environment: one which is safe and welcoming to children — chemically, as well as physically.

It’s in that spirit that I’m sharing this recipe for a great, people- and pet-friendly DIY all-purpose cleaner. It’s based on vinegar, which is an effective disinfectant against salmonella, E.coli and “gram negative” bacteria — a great tool in the kitchen or bathroom. My favourite use is while wiping out a potty, where a sensitive bum might  If you’re hesitant about the smell of vinegar, rest assured the odors evaporate quickly and this cleanser adds a sweeter citrus note into the mix. It also makes use of all those clementine peels this time of year!

citrus cleanser

DIY citrus cleanser in three easy steps:

1. Peel clementines, lemons, or whatever other citrus you’re using at this, the peak of citrus season (in the Northern Hemisphere). Keep peels in a mason jar.

2. When the mason jar is full of peels, pour white vinegar over, to cover them. Put on a lid on the mason jar. Leave it alone or shake it occassionally. Whichever suits you best. You really can’t mess this up.

IMG_0506

3. 2 or more weeks later, strain out the peels, funnel the citrus-powered vinegar into a spray bottle and fill to the top with water. Shake it up. Spritz it on.

IMG_0548

PS. This cleanser is also great because it’s safe for child-led cleaning — just this morning, a ride-on toy was getting “detailed” with this kid-friendly spray.

Standard
18-21 months, 22-24 months, 24-28 months, DIY

Geometric sorting board: a diy hack

geometric sorting

We’ve had this geometric sorting board for a while, and I see it around the web fairly often in Montessori circles. In the past six months (from about 20 months on) I’ve occasionally offered it to Jasper, who over time has enjoyed exploring the shapes, pointing out the colours, and hanging the shapes randomly from the pegs. The idea that certain shapes would fit together on particular pegs wasn’t really happening, even with modeling.

Then I remembered this post from the awesome German-language Montessori blog: Eltern vom Mars.

It’s the simplest solution in the world: tracing each geometric shape onto the board.

I used pencil so that down the road, we can raise the stakes by erasing the shapes. Immediately this has become one of Jasper’s most-often used activities, and paired with this four-section basket, it also provides opportunities for sorting by shape or colour. It’s such a simple hack, and I can’t believe it took me this long to remember it.

geometric sorting2

I can’t remember where our geometric sorting board came from — I know it was second-hand, either from a store or a friend — but you can find something very similar here (that set actually looks a bit chunkier and would be easier for a young toddler to use).

If you’re worried that this might make it too easy, I’d say observation is your friend. If the child is focused and engaged with the work and is drawn to it over and over, then it’s just right. When the time comes that Jasper is losing interest, I’ll probably put it away for a while, and then reintroduce it on our shelves with the pencil lines erased.

Have you discovered any “Montessori hacks” for independence?

Standard
22-24 months, DIY, Family life, Montessori philosophy

Flying with a toddler — Montessori style!

Montessori travel with toddlers

Later this week, Jasper and I are flying across the better part of the continent. It won’t be his first flight — that was back in December — but his awareness has changed so much over the past eight months that this will be a completely new experience for him.

In June, we took his dad to the airport for a business trip, and for the following week, Jasper noticed every plane that flew overhead and eagerly asked “Dad? Dad?” He loves the airport page in his “A Big City ABC” book. He loves to play with his Green Toys airplane.

But I’d be kidding myself if I thought any of this could guarantee a peaceful four-hour flight on mama’s lap.Montessori plane travel with toddlers

I appreciate the Montessori idea that instead of just asking a child to “keep still,” we should offer activities to busy their hands — which then keeps the rest of their bodies still and focused! With that in mind, I’ve been stocking up on beautiful, realistic stickers, have packed up our nesting boxes and lacing beads and am thrilled to have found a Melissa and Doug “paint with water” activity that has kept Jasper thoroughly engrossed on a few recent long car rides. I’ve even (gasp) downloaded a Bob the Builder episode onto my iPad.

But I’m not interested in just keeping J distracted during our trip. I want him to feel like he’s a part of what’s going on, to be able to really benefit from the experience of new environments and not to feel out of control or afraid. To that end, I’ve been using lots of language about airplanes, airports, and luggage. He knows that soon he and I will be flying on a plane, and now when he sees a plane, he says “Me? Mama?”

Recently, in celebration of my new laminator purchase, I made a “Jasper Travels on an Airplane” book. I got this idea from Elizabeth Pantley‘s book “The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers.” She recommends making a book about your child in order to help them through simple transitions like bedtime, or larger ones like weaning.

Montessori travel with toddlers

Using a mixture of photos from Google Image searches and my own family photos, cardstock and binder rings, it was a fairly low budget way to bring structure to my efforts to prepare Jasper for our upcoming trip.  I took pictures of our own luggage, and he’s thrilled to recognize his own suitcase. I made certain to get photos of the actual airports we’ll be traveling through, and photos of both inside and outside the plane. I also used a few photos of toddlers happily sitting on their mothers’ lap aboard a plane, and thankfully those are some of his favourite images.  I ended with a few photos of Jasper around our home and town, to reassure him that after our travels, we’ll come back home.

Montessori air travel with toddlers transition book

There are no words in the book, in an effort to make it fluid and useful in the longer term. Right now I tell the story saying things like “Jasper is going to go on a plane with his mama.” After we return from the trip, we can look back on it in the past tense.

Our plane book has become the most requested story around here, and I’m hoping the pay-off will be a calm and informed toddler as we wing over four provinces and back. Wish me luck!

This is part one of a two-part post on air travel with toddlers. Read part two here: Have Toddler, Will Travel.

Melissa over at Vibrant Wanderings also has a great post on Montessori travel tips for toddlers. What’s your best advice for plane-travel with toddlers?

 

Standard
22-24 months, DIY, Family life, Montessori philosophy, Practical Life, Uncategorized

Backyard Montessori: Watermelon!

watermelonFor the minimalists, the budget-savvy, the purists: this is the Montessori work for you.

This isn’t meant to be a “how-to” recipe to follow — just an example of how an afternoon can be filled with slow and simple experiments and exploration. Simple exploration of the world is an important part of Montessori practice for very young children, and you can do it any time, with any thing, with no cash outlay at all.

Nothing says summer like watermelon, and nobody loves watermelon more than a toddler, which lead us to an afternoon spent with a watermelon.

watermelon_sinkWashing! First, we carried the watermelon up the stairs, into the house, onto the Learning Tower and up into the sink. Actually, first we carried it to his toddler-sized kitchen sink, but the watermelon was too big, so we washed it in the adult-sized kitchen sink — exploration and experimentation! We took turns walking slowly and holding the watermelon with both hands. Next time, I might get a slightly smaller and lighter watermelon that Jasper could more easily carry.

watermelon_dryDrying! Then we carried the wet watermelon over to his table (because toddlers are in the sensitive period for movement, it’s important to give them lots of opportunities to move — something that occasionally runs counter to our adult tendency to set everything up for convenience and fewer steps). Then Jasper dried the watermelon with a towel. We looked at the water droplets and he tried to get each water drop onto the towel, one by one.

Slicing! Then I brought the knife and the cutting board over, and cut most of the way through the watermelon, so that it was still whole, just with a slice through. Jasper pulled the water melon halves apart and we spent some time putting them back together and taking them apart again. One part. Two parts.

watermelon_ballSpooning! We then each had a half a watermelon and a tool — I had a measuring spoon and Jasper had a melon-baller, and we sat for some time, each quietly spooning melon into a bowl. The quiet was largely due to the fact that Jasper was chewing. One ball for the bowl, one for him.

Jasper using a Melon-Baller  – excuse the iPhone video quality!

And beyond! From there we tossed some of our watermelon into the blender along with some mint and lime basil from the garden for some simple and juicy popsicles. The next day, we attempted this work, created by my friend Talin for a presentation during our training a few weeks back:

watermelon_talin Mashing, spooning, drinking. A delicious agua fresca.

backyard Montessori

What are you exploring this summer?

P.S. We spent our watermelon time indoors on a rainy day, but it would be way more fun with a backyard hose and picnic table, so I’m throwing it into my Backyard Montessori series.

Standard