Family life, parenting

While you’re busy making other plans

john and sean lennon

“Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

I was recently reminded of this old John Lennon quote, but it had never struck me as so true as it does here and now in my life as a parent.

There are so many schedules, plans, activities, theories, ideas, dreams, and narratives that my adult mind so easily gets tangled up in that I can miss what’s happening right here, right now: life.

I might over-schedule a series of “festive activities” and feel disappointed that my family doesn’t appreciate how hard I’m working or resentful that my kids are too strung. I can fall into visions of perfection, diving deep into homeschooling resources, sure that the doldrums or challenges we’re encountering could be solved if I bought just the right curriculum. In the past I could tell myself a story of frustration about why the baby is waking in the night, or why the toddler is melting down. I’ve become envious or suddenly bitten by perfectionism after seeing someone else’s child achieving something on Instagram.

Meanwhile, in this season the evenings are dark and the mornings are long, and my children come into the kitchen each morning with sleepy smiles. We have spent many hours this week cozied on the couch, reading aloud to each other. I’ve had spontaneous cups of tea with loved ones and watched my kids fling fistfuls of freshly fallen snow into the air. I’ve received gifts so precious, so commonplace, that I stop seeing them as gifts at all.

Meanwhile, life is happening.

It can be useful and energizing to find inspiration and education, and it’s important to keep visioning and wondering, but I’m going to set an intention to try to catch myself at the moment where my mind tips into expectation, anxiety, or daydreams of perfection.

I’m aiming to keep my feet on the ground, noticing not the plans I have, but the life I’m living. Right here, right now.

It turns out that great John Lennon quote is from his song, “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy),” a song of love, devotion, and presence recorded for Lennon’s son Sean in the summer just before he turned five years old. The song was released in November 1980, and today is the anniversary of John Lennon’s death in that same year. 

 

 

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Christmas, Solstice & Hannukah, Family life

Beloved books for December

 

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Detail from “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

Tis the season for slow mornings and cozy evenings, for rich stories and deep dreaming. Here are a few of our family’s favourite books for this sweet season:

For babies, toddlers and kids up to five years old (and, of course, beyond):

Winter by Gerda Muller. Wordless, wintery wonder!

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. The beauty and curiosity of an ordinary day.

Red is Best by Kathy Stinson. Always a hit for those who like to dress themselves!

Alfie’s Christmas by Shirley Hughes. Alfie’s experiences as a three or four year-old person are told always with respect, care and attention — and this holiday story is no different.

Almost a Full Moon by Hawksley Workman. A sweet song turned into a gorgeous picture book, rich with themes of generosity, community, and sharing the harvest.

The Tale of Baboushka by Elena Pasquali. This has been Sage’s favourite for a few years running.

Night Tree by Eve Bunting. A family heads out after dark, to prepare a happy surprise in the forest. A classic.

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper and Carson Ellis. One of today’s most amazing illustrators teamed up with a classic poem by an award-winning children’s author.

Sleep Tight Farm by Eugenie Doyle. The harvest season is over and the farmers are preparing the land for its long winter’s nap. The illustrations in this one are really worth seeing.

For six years and up:

A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas. A classic story of Christmas past written with the voice of a poet, here beautifully illustrated by one of the best: Trina Schart Hyman (who also illustrated the next book).

Hershel and the Hannukah Goblins by Eric Kimmel. Jasper’s forest school leader has made a tradition of reading this story in December, and every time the kids have raved about it on the carpool home. A trickster hero versus the King of Goblins on the eighth night of Hannukah? The kids are here for it.

Fireside Stories: Tales for a Winter’s Eve – a collection of stories, matched to the season from Samhain through to the start of spring, this book is full of depth and wonder.

A Small Miracle by Peter Collington. No words, just beautiful illustrations telling a story of generosity and care. This is one my kids return to over and over for some quiet moments of simply looking.

Nine Days to Christmas by Marie Hall Ets. This 1960 Caldecott Prize winner tells of a Mexican girl’s beautiful, ordinary days of excitement and anticipation leading up to her first posada. A longish book, requested over and over.

A Coyote Solstice Tale by Thomas King. A very funny story with great illustrations that pokes fun at mall-centric celebrations, from an Indigenous perspective.

Once Upon a Northern Night by Jean Penziwol.  Dreamy, contemplative quiet. Perfect for winter nights well beyond the holiday season.

 

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3-6 Years, Family life, Travel

Simple surprises: a tiny packing list for fun family travel

This July, our family spent a few weeks on-board an expedition ship called the Ocean Endeavour, on an Adventure Canada trip that travelled from Iceland to the western shore of Greenland. In the company of 140 other travellers, we had meals and slept aboard the ship, and spent most days ashore for hiking or wild hot springs or checking out archeological sites, which we reached via rubber inflatable zodiac boats. It was literally epic.

On a trip like this, there weren’t many stores along the way, and limited wifi or mobile data. Travellers of all ages really had to depend on what we’d packed to get us through, and in very real moment of solo travel with kids I’d accidentally left Jasper’s suitcase at home! Despite that mishap, I realized with relief that a few items we had brought along for the trip just kept coming through for us. Whether your summer travel plans include an arctic expedition or even a road trip a little closer to home, consider packing along some of these simple surprises for your next family adventure.  

A slingshot

Good old-fashioned fun in the form of a simple wooden tool that doesn’t cause a fuss when you’re checking in at the airport? Yes please. Makes a kid into an active participant on any landscape, and offers something to do even when there’s “nothing to do.” Jasper received this one for his 5th birthday and it’s been in heavy use ever since. 

A rocks, gems & minerals guide

One of the greatest gifts of travel is seeing the world through new eyes, and after visiting Iceland and Greenland, that means a new affection for the ancient rocks that inhabit this planet. We were lucky to be travelling with real life geologists, who enthusiastically answered questions, pointed out interesting sights and got real excited about cool rocks all along the way, but at least once even the geologists needed to flip through the guidebook

A flower press

On our trip, there were very strict rules about “taking only pictures,” and in the fragile landscape of south Greenland, a few visits from a few hundred folks picking flowers could really do some damage. But we were all really excited about the botany we were seeing, smelling and touching at peak wildflower season — poppies, harebell, Greenland’s national flower niviarsiaq, and wild arctic thyme. If you’re traveling in a less fragile landscape, I think a flower press would be a small and simple project to work at along the way, without adding too much bulk to the backpack. 

Local stories

I read a kid-friendly version of Eric the Red’s saga (okay, so as kid-friendly as bloodthirsty Viking stories can get) to Jasper while we rested on some rocks at Eric the Red’s farm at Brattahlíð. We also visited a puffin sanctuary in the Westmann Isles, the setting for one of our kids’ most beloved picture books, A Puffin Called Fido. Drawing connections like this between literature and real life people, places and creatures, is a really wonderful way to engage with travel as a family. Even if you can’t find exact locations, broad landscapes that set the background for a beloved book can really add dimensionality both to the story and the new vistas. Thanks to our friend and fellow traveller Rachel Barreca for sharing her photo of Brattahlíð. 

A travel journal/sketchbook

Each of the kids had a fresh book to sketch, color, or journal in during our trip. One morning as we traveled through the majestic fjords of Prince Christiansund, Jasper spent a long time working on an illustration of a sailboat. As he was finishing, I looked up to see a real-life sailboat in the distance, after days without seeing any sign of other humans. It seemed impossible, tiny among the mountains and glaciers, like he’d conjured it right off the page. Sage was quite diligent about spending the last portion of our time ashore each day making art before getting back into a zodiac for the boat ride back to the ship. It was a great practice for me too, and I started bringing my journal along too, and came to really appreciate the creative limitations that our one shared pencil case brought. I bought each of the kids a small main-lesson book with onion skin to protect each page, which worked great for the art we were doing and light enough to carry in the daypack. 

 

Pin this post to your “family vacay” Pinterest board! 

Read more details about our “In the Wake of the Vikings” trip here.

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Books, Family life, Nature, parenting, Peace education, Preschool, Social justice, toddler

Being here now: an Earth Day reflection

As I write about deepening my practice of Montessori philosophy, this blog often winds up focusing on presence, attention, and mindfulness — and that’s where I land on Earth Day, too.

How do we parent in these times? How do we show up for our children? How do we show up for the earth?

We are, of course, of this Earth and in relationship with the community of natural things, whether we know it, acknowledge it, feel it — or not.

The reality of the current and ongoing ecological crisis is dire. As adults, that’s something we need to be present with, and take immediate action on. It’s our role to make choices about how we’re going to participate in capitalism, how we’re going to live, how we’re going to vote, how we’re going to show up in governmental process and how we’re going to invest in localized community.

As adults, it’s our role to be present with how all of this affects us, to notice how winters and summers are different than they used to be, to name our grief, to imagine abundant futures and ways of getting there.

For young children, who don’t yet have the connecting experience of a childhood’s worth of winters and summers and who don’t have the power to control outcomes, the facts of climate change can be overwhelming, frightening, and ultimately, lead to disconnection in order to numb the pain of loss. As one of the great teachers of our time, Joanna Macy, says “The refusal to feel takes a heavy toll…The energy expended in pushing down despair is diverted from more creative uses, depleting the resilience and imagination needed for fresh visions and strategies.”

Young childhood is the time to be present with knowledge of oneself as part of the family of wild things, connecting to the tiny, enormous beauty of this earth. It’s also a time when adults can mindfully model ways of being present in right and healthy relationship (with other people, species, money) — or not.

Grief is an inevitable part of presence in this time. As children mature into capacity to carry the knowledge of what’s happening on the planet right now, it won’t be easy or light or without pain. But ideally, it will come at a time of life when the young adult feels deeply connected to the earth, at a time when they are feeling powerful in their ability to contribute and capable of collaborating with others to develop solutions (in Montessori philosophy, this is likely to be the third plane of development, age 12 to 18 – maybe you’ve heard of Greta Thunberg?).

With younger children, we don’t pretend to live in a perfect world. We talk about aloud about consumption and weigh purchasing choices aloud. We talk about having enough. We talk about upholding Indigenous sovereignty and land-based practices. We talk in terms of “caring for the earth.”  

But mostly, it’s not about what we say. Children, with their brilliantly absorbent minds, are picking up our habits, our purchasing choices, our core beliefs and motivations all the time. They see how we care for ourselves, and for others, how we navigate conflict. They are learning what it means to be an adult, to be a human, to be present, through watching us.

Dr. Montessori observed of young children: “The things she sees are not just remembered, they form part of her soul.”

My husband David has a practice of picking up cans anytime he goes for a walk, something he always saw his Dad do. Once he even did it as a Father’s Day gift; picking up cans along an old road in Toronto, where his dad had picked mushrooms during his own childhood. It’s a way of saying “I noticed this was out of place, did not belong, was not in right relationship. I can help to move this to a better place.”  It’s a small thing, but not too small to be worth doing.

When I bring my presence to the natural world  — when I go outside, when I walk to do errands, when I track the birds at the feeder or visit my sit spot or sing around a campfire with friends — my body, mind, and spirit are reminded of my place in the family of wild things. And I model for my children that falling in love with this world is a gift, come what may.

“The biggest gift you can give is to be absolutely present, and when you’re worrying about whether you’re hopeful or hopeless or pessimistic or optimistic, who cares? The main thing is that you’re showing up, that you’re here and that you’re finding ever more capacity to love this world because it will not be healed without that. That is what is going to unleash our intelligence and our ingenuity and our solidarity for the healing of our world.” – Joanna Macy

How do we parent in these times? With curiousity. With hope. With presence.

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Image of an old stump growing vibrant green moss

Resources for navigating climate grief with presence: 

Books

Coming Back to Life: The Work that Reconnects – Joanna Macy

Emergent Strategy – adrienne maree brown

The Right to be Cold by Sheila Watt-Cloutier

These Wilds Beyond our Fences: Letters to My Daughter on Humanity’s Search for Home – Bayo Akomolafe

Dancing on our Turtle’s Back – Leanne Simpson

Podcasts

How to Survive the End of the World

For the Wild

Joanna Macy on On Being

Instagram accounts:

@rachaelrice

@life_as_ceremony

@mollyccostello

@adriennemareebrown

This is by no means comprehensive, so send me your recommendations, and I’ll add them to this list!

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18-21 months, 22-24 months, 24-28 months, 3 years old, Casa, Family life, Montessori philosophy, Preschool, toddler

In praise of scribbling

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“And these are our scribbling materials.”

I remember my Montessori trainer, Carolina Mix, saying these words as she toured us around her classroom, gesturing to a small tray holding smaller slips of paper and a few crayons.

I had all kinds of negative associations with the word scribbling.

img_0294-e1549644477268.jpg“Just scribbling.” Mess. Chaos. Disorder. Failure.

You see, colouring was a serious business when I was a child. When I was six, my best friend Abby was the classroom’s best colourer (a true calling and indeed a real word at that age). One day I finished my work — a photocopied colouring page — and when I handed it in, my teacher exclaimed “This is wonderful! Are you sure Abby didn’t colour it?” Ouch.

25 years later, meeting the scribbling work in the toddler classroom felt like a revelation. What if one was meant to scribble? What if all those black outlines were useless anyway?

Finding myself once again in a pint-sized classroom, my teacher-trainer demonstrated modelling use of the materials. An adult, sitting down at a toddler-sized table, picking up a crayon, and scribbling. Nothing representational — no trees, suns, houses, or dogs. No comparison.

Just colour and movement and experience. The feeling of crayon in hand, wax against paper.

What freedom. What beauty.

Note: These are our family’s favourite high quality crayons (it really does make an experiential difference for the artist!) and this is our preferred art paper, which I cut into smaller, more manageable sizes. [Affiliate links.]

Art above by Sage, age 3.75.

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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 — 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 — 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

Julián Is a Mermaid book

The best quality crayons  — 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 — 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 — 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 — a great first knife for use outdoors, with extra safety features. Perfect for sharpening sticks.IMG_7785

Rock tumbler —  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 —  something Jasper specifically asked for!

The Illustrated Harry Potter books

The Water Walker book — 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 — 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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Family life

Now we are six

A child-made board game

A DIY board game, inspired by a performance of Shakespeare’s As You Like It we saw last summer. He played the Duke, I was Rosalind.

It might not be obvious from the sidewalk out front, but a big shift has been happening in our home this fall: our big kid Jasper turned six. He’s interested in Thor, creates his own board games, and on an ordinary Tuesday morning, suddenly wants to know how tornadoes and hurricanes form. Things are different than they were a year ago.

It’s a frequent misconception that Montessori pedagogy ends when the pre-school years do, but one of the most amazing gifts Maria Montessori had to offer the world was her observations on child development into adulthood. She was one of the first to identify developmental stages and to see the way that meeting the needs of the developing child, at the right time, could lead to the kind of magic of spark of learning and growth that many of us have learned to recognize in our children.

Montessori identified four 6-year stages, or planes, beginning at birth, and ending at age 24!

First plane: birth to 6 years old (this stage is often divided into sub-planes of birth to 3 and ages 3-6).

Second plane: age 6 to 12 years.

Third plane: 12 to 18 years.

Fourth plane: age 18 to 24 years.

While Montessori identified the first plane as the most significant in later development of the child (an idea that has since been widely applied in public policy and proven by neuroscience), the planes that follow are, of course, important steps in a child’s growth, and equally useful for parents like me to understand.

I’ve got six years under my belt as a parent, done a whole lot of reading, and some training in the birth to three sub-plane, but even as I began to observe shifts in my growing kid over the past six months or so, I realized that I wasn’t sure what to expect from this next stage. The answer? More reading, of course!

As Dr. Montessori put it in her book The Absorbent Mind, “the next period goes from six to twelve. It is a period of growth unaccompanied by other change. The child is calm and happy. Mentally, he is in a state of health, strength and assured stability.”

The second plane is less dynamic than the first plane. It is a time of major physical growth (bye-bye baby teeth!), but less intense neurological development. Because of that, it can be a time of relative stability as a child settles into themselves and begins to understand their place in their world: in their family, community, and even the wider universe. Social life, and group dynamics with peers become more important than they were for the younger child. The child is less absorbed with physical order and is beginning to cultivate moral order — a sense of justice.

Though it’s lesser known, Dr. Montessori wrote a book called To Educate The Human Potential, all about meeting the developmental needs of the 6-12 stage. I haven’t finished reading it yet (busy co-researching tornadoes and hurricanes!), but this book has held some useful gems, including this:

“Knowledge can be best given where there is eagerness to learn, so this is the period when the seed of everything can be sown, the child’s mind being like a fertile field, ready to receive what will germinate into culture.”
Exploring the Fibonacci sequence
Big, abstract, child-led work: tracking the Fibonacci sequence from 1 up to 7 digits.

Read more about the second plane:

On How We Montessori

On The Kavanaugh Report.

To Educate the Human Potential by Dr. Montessori

And of course, A.A. Milne’s book of verse, “Now We Are Six

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