3 years old, Family life

Have your best Montessori parent-teacher meeting

 

Earlier today I found myself reminding my husband about our hot date for tomorrow afternoon: a parent-teacher meeting with Jasper’s Montessori casa (age 3-6) teacher. Okay, so not exactly the date of my dreams, but it does give me a thrill.

I found myself saying: “It’s like we’re levelling up. We’re having parent-teacher interviews together!”

As a first-time mom of a first year, three year-old casa student, I wanted to get some advice on what to expect tomorrow when the three of us sit down together on miniature wooden chairs to talk about our little guy, so I called in a couple of experts, who I’m also glad to call friends.

Leisse Wilcox (Eat Play Love) is mom to three (including twins!) and a former Montessori teacher. She’s also the firecracker down the street, a fantastically fun friend, and a creative entrepreneur. 

“Parent conferences are the time to really touch base about the overall development of your child. You’re going to hear about how they’ve settled in socially and emotionally to the classroom, as well as how their fine and gross motor skills are developing, and of course the activities that really capture and stimulate their attention. Most likely this will be the extent of your visit; children who are having a harder time with any of these areas will have had the teacher’s concerns addressed with you earlier than the conference, i.e. with respect to how they listen, interact, play independently, engage with others, move through the space.

So much — most, actually — of the 3-6 year old’s work takes place as a process in their brain. It’s all stuff you can’t see. If you aren’t seeing a lot of “product,” or tangible “things” that your child has done, don’t sweat it! That’s completely normal. The early years are all about introducing concepts of wonder to these little people, planting incredible seeds that grow over time. So sit back and enjoy your child’s teacher telling you that she knows, loves, and has a plan for your beloved.”

What to expect at a Montessori parent-teach

 

Beth Wood, of Our Montessori Life, is a casa teacher and mother on Vancouver Island, and I highly recommend that everybody follow Beth’s Instagram account, @ourmontessorilife for lovely and peaceful images from a real life Montessori home.

“I have had the incredible privilege to sit on both sides of the table for this. First as an over eager slightly paranoid Mother and then as a patient and slightly paranoid Casa teacher. First, before going to the meeting, think about and then write down your 3 most burning questions. Just 3. Each school sets the times for their meetings differently but one thing is certain. They have not reserved your time spot and the following 3 spots for you to empty out your questions list. Usually meetings last under 20 mins. Be prepared to leave when your time is up and make your time count.

That being said, a good Montessori school will have also properly prepared some very key points that are important to your child’s day. If your child is 3-4 you may hear lots about Practical Life. If your child is 4-5 you may hear lots about the Language or Culture areas and if your child is 5-6 you may hear lots about Math. Or not. The Montessori classroom is a vast one with many options.

What you are listening for is: “Your child loves (this)”. Or “Your child has recently really been interested in (this).” This shows that your teachers are really observing your child. If you don’t hear these statements, make sure they are one of your 3 important questions to ask. You are looking for signs that your child is loving the environment. That they are connecting with the materials. This should be evident regardless of age.

This is a first meeting and you may not get a lot of progression statements unless your child is a returning child. If they are a returning child one of your teachers points should be a progression statement. A statement about how your child has made progress with a particular area of the classroom. This may be as general as “Your child has gained independence in our transition times” (gets ready for home by themselves). It may be specific such as “Your child has made huge strides with the Language area.” Each of these statements are equally important in the eyes of a teacher.

The Parent Teacher meetings can be nerve racking, but they are incredibly insightful. You enter the world of the child. Listen with truly open ears and an open minded heart. Ask your 3 questions that are important to you gaining a better understanding of how your child’s day looks or what is in the future for your child.

More often than not, you will find yourself feeling just like the teacher. Absolutely amazed.

I think this book is a must have for all parents of children in the Casa program.”

Thanks Leisse & Beth! I’m so grateful for this wonderfully supportive online (and local!) Montessori community. I’m more excited than ever to open my heart to hear what’s happening in the casa classroom these days — and I think a lot of this advice would be really useful in other educational models too.

 

 

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3 years old, Family life, Montessori philosophy

Life begins again

jasper handsThus it happens that at the age of three, life seems to begin again; for now consciousness shines forth in all its fullness and glory…  It is as if the child, having absorbed the world by an unconscious kind of intelligence, now “lays his hand” to it.

— Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

Tomorrow, my little guy will turn three. All of a sudden, it seems, everything that we’ve come through so far together is behind us, and we are moving on, he is levelling up. Everyday is new. He is three.

The quote above is from the chapter “From Unconscious Creator to Conscious Worker,” a whole essay dedicated to this wonderful transition. And the photo is by my wonderful friend Jodi, captured during the tie-dye workshop at a folk festival earlier this summer.

 

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4-6 months, Family life, Travel

Wee road warriors

Summer road trip tips

This morning I received an email alert about a spammy comment left on this site that began by saying “I see you need some fresh posts.” Touché, spam. If you’re ever left feeling a similar need for some fresh Milkweed, please join me on Instagram, where I update far more frequently (and where there is a whole community of Montessori-minded parents).

Speaking of fresh, about 24 hours ago we rolled in from our old-fashioned family road trip, during which we camped our way to the East Coast of Canada and back. The trip was full of natural beauty, family giggles, noisy singalongs and highway-side potty stops. Some sweet memories were made, and some great lessons were learned along the way. If you’re heading out on a summer road trip before the season ends, here’s a bit of what we gleaned on the open road.

Going off road. At four months and nearly three years old, our kids were amazing passengers (so perhaps tip #1 is “get lucky”?). We tried to drive as comfortably as possible — with snacks on hand, with full bellies, with frequent washroom stops, and for some of us, with a stuffed baby otter in hand. Whatever works. We had a policy of stopping any time the kids needed to, and it turned out they didn’t actually need to stop as often as we’d expected. We only stopped at a fast food restaurant once over 3000 kms and nearly two weeks. The rest of the time, we kept an eye out for farm markets, playgrounds, beaches and riverside parks (or, pictured above, a riverside farm market with playground and tractor to climb on. Thank you, rural New Brunswick). Getting a bit of space, and giving Jasper opportunities to really move his body kept everyone happy.

Staying on the road. The only way to cover a lot of miles is to just keep going. Although we stopped without a second thought when we needed to, we also tried to keep on moving when we could. We tried to keep an eye on the gas tank and the gas prices (the GasBuddy app was handy) during stops, so that we wouldn’t have to stop again unneccesarily. Keeping snacks on hand, within reach, could help to hold off lunch a little longer if we were making good time or wanted to make it to a particular destination.

Be here now. I’d packed an assortment of activities for Jasper — some were left overs from flights we’ve taken, like an etch-a-sketch book, a button snake, and some felt work; a homemade colouring binder; his sticker collection and book. Unfortunately, it seemed obvious pretty early on that Jasper gets some motion sickness, feeling nauseous when he spent time looking at his work instead of out the window. So, most of the trip, he looked out the window. Rather than the sort of educational entertainment I’d planned on, he was engaging with the real world — which was also the real reason we were on the trip. It meant he often needed more of my attention, but playing “I Spy” is as good a way to get through the hill and highways of New Brunswick as any. Looking out the window lead to conversations about naming construction and farm machinery, coming to recognize provincial flags, and speculating about the weather.

Listen up. The car stereo is everybody’s friend. It distracts from the squeak of the windshield wipers, it closes out conversation for a few minutes, it passes the time. We stocked up on audio books from the library and David grabbed a few favourite cds on the way out the door, and we were ready to roll. We took turns choosing what to listen to, and Jasper was usually willing to wait out a grown-up choice before getting back to “Macaroni and Cheese!” (aka Andrew Queen‘s great food-themed children’s album, Grow). Quick audio book review: Olivia and Frog and Toad were both pleasant listens, The Moffats is a family favourite, while Paddington Bear didn’t make it past the first few minutes.

As we settle in, do the laundry and return to life at home, I’m thrilled to know that our time on the road was successful not only in getting us to our destination, but in bringing our family together to meet a challenge, and creating truly lasting memories all along the way.

What are you up to this summer? What will your memories of summer ’15 be? If you have any road trip tips in your back pocket, let me know! 

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0-2 months, Family life, Under 1 year

Learning to love cloth diapers

Learning to love cloth diapers

Get this: not only do I find myself loving cloth diapers, I am loving changing diapers. And no, I don’t think I’m any crazier than your average mom of an infant and a toddler (which, okay…).

Cloth diapers have a whole lot of good going for them: they’re a more environmentally-friendly waste-solution, they don’t mask wetness and they are associated with more effective toilet learning. But lots of people have cloth diaper fears that mainly boil down to this: it’s too much icky work. I figured out pretty quickly that it’s not actually that much extra effort — diaper changes are just as quick, and people with kids do lots of laundry anyway. No problem.

Flashback two years, however, and you’d find me avoiding the cloth diapers piling up in a corner of my baby’s room, lonely and unused. I wanted to use them, I’d make efforts to use them, and somehow I’d find myself buying, using and throwing out disposable diapers.

I felt overwhelmed. We’d moved shortly after Jasper was born and were still in the process of setting up a home. I tried keeping diaper supplies on both floors of the house, and eventually settled on a changing him on the floor of his bedroom, a location that didn’t work for either my husband or my mom (and therefore, didn’t work). It all just seemed like a lot to manage, one more thing to worry about. Where are the covers? Where are the clean diapers? Why are there so many clean diapers piling up? Do we have wipes? Where are the wipes? Does the diaper pail stink? And on, and on. The pack of Pampers seemed like an easy way out. 

This time around, I promised myself it would be different. And it has been.  Changing diapers has an element of fun to it — choosing a colour, fastening the snaps (weak, I know, but I promise, there is not even that much joy in disposables). It’s a time to spend making eye-contact with my babe, talk through what we’re doing and giving her my full attention. 

So what’s the difference? Ladies and gentlemen, prepare yourselves for the wonders of the prepared environment.

I got it together by getting a changing station together. Absurdly simple, but amazingly effective. It’s got it all: a soft place for baby girl, a stack of clean diapers & a basket of covers, and another basket holding diaper liners, wipes and cream. And we really use it. It’s the only place in the home that we change Sage’s diaper, and the environment there is becoming a signal to her, so that she knows what to expect. I have no questions, and neither does she. We’re loving it.

For more on the joy of diaper changes, check out this great post from Janet Lansbury. 

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0-2 months, Family life

A life together

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“Our commitment must start
where life begins.”
— Silvana Quattrocchi Montanaro

After what’s felt like a long break — a whole lifetime in our new daughter’s case — I’m so very happy to return to this space, and to introduce our new baby, Sage.

Sage and I, along with big brother and her dad, have been both enjoying these first few weeks of her life, and also working through the inherent challenges together.

Montessori philosophy refers to this time as “symbiotic life,” or “life together.” The mother and the newborn are partners in a way of living that is mutually beneficial as they move together beyond the intense change that takes place at birth. We are able to do this through gentleness, respect and intention while holding and physically being with the baby, handling — dressing, bathing and caring for the baby with our hands, and feeding (in our case, breastfeeding).

For a modern mom with a busy schedule, a social life, and other commitments, the symbiotic life means a serious step back from the life before baby was born, and a certain degree of acceptance that life in the home, with the baby, is the centre — at least for now. For me, that acceptance is often easily surpassed by a blissful embracing of this life’s pace, and also sometimes comes begrudgingly (cut to the scene where my husband meets our friends at the well-appointed tequila bar down the street for a well-deserved break).

The pay off is huge, though: what’s happening during this relatively short time is that Sage is learning deep truths about the world, truths that she’ll carry with her for the rest of her life. As we observe her and respond to her needs, she learns that she is loved, that she can trust her environment, that when needed, help will come. Important stuff.

We did so much reading and talking together to prepare Jasper for life as a big brother, and he’s done wonderfully. At two and a half, he very loving toward his sister, he’s able to patiently wait (most of the time) for her needs to be met before the next game of hide and seek can begin, he’s become even more connected with his dad, and he’s made huge leaps in independence in lots of areas (and at times of high need, taken a few steps back, too).

He’s also been very patient with a mom who’s sometimes short on it. The adjustment to being mama to two children has been harder than I expected, and coupled with the usual hormonal highs and lows of the post-partum period, it’s been a roller coaster. We’re starting to find our new rhythms and ways together though, and as we begin to venture out into the world, I’m so grateful to find myself among this party of four.

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Family life, Montessori philosophy

Designing Spaces for Montessori Children

designing-spacesAs the time of our baby’s birth rapidly approaches —I’m at 39 weeks now — I’ve got our home on my mind. Whether it’s nesting or necessity (how to find space for a new babe without making two-and-a-half year old big brother feel out of place?), clearing out the corners and figuring out new configurations is taking up a lot of our family’s time and energy right now.

With all the bustle around here, I’m thrilled to be taking part in a new e-course that starts up this week. Simone Davies, who runs parent-child classes and playgroups at Jacaranda Tree Montessori in Amsterdam, has brought her knowledge and experience to the global scene with The Montessori Notebook, with the aim of helping parents bring Montessori ideas into their family’s daily lives.

Designing Space for Montessori Children is the first e-course from The Montessori Notebook, and I’m thrilled to get on board. I’m looking forward to being refreshed and inspired, and to re-prioritizing our home to meet the needs of everyone — especially as three become four.

If you can’t join this e-course, I highly recommend signing up to receive Simone’s excellent monthly e-newsletter. It’s a gem, and it’ll be a great way to keep tabs on upcoming courses (like the free Intro to Montessori course promised for later this year).

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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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DIY, Family life

The prepared environment: DIY Citrus Cleanser

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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.

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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.

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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.

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24-28 months, Family life

Have toddler, will travel

beach

This morning it was reported that there would be 121,000 travelers through the local international airport today. That kind of news makes me even more grateful for the early Christmas trip we took closer to the beginning of this month: a fun and relaxing trip to visit my husband’s family on the West Coast of Canada.

It was a treat for us to sleep in (once we’d all adjusted to the new time zone!), explore the beach, nap, and catch up with family. It was also a great time for Jasper to have lots of time with both parents, to connect with his extended family, and to spread his wings a bit.

By the end of the trip, he was feeding Grandma’s cat completely independently, he was confidently carrying a step-ladder around the kitchen, he’d help make a lovely batch of blueberry pancakes, and he had happily adapted to a new washroom routine — carrying a little step-stool from the toilet to the sink for hand-washing, and back again. But it wasn’t just Grandma and Grandpa’s home environment that gave these opportunities for independence — actually getting to our West Coast destination and back, were huge learning and growing experiences for Jasper. Despite early mornings, strange rules (have you ever had to go through airport security with a toddler?) and somewhat stressed parents, Jasper loved traveling.

After our trip in August, I was once again pretty well prepared, with our backpack stocked with hands-on activities, many of which I wrote about earlier or can be found with a quick Pinterest search: stickers, books, etch-a-sketch, etc. Though we made use of many of things I’d packed, Jasper also enjoyed watching the screen on the back of the seat, opening and closing the window shade, and making friends with folks around us. This time around Jasper had his own seat, which made a lot of things simpler (including mama’s feeling of personal space and the addition of another baggage allowance). It also meant getting to operate his own seatbelt — similar to the ones the grown ups use in our car. No activity or treat or surprise I packed came close to comparing to the amount of time spent enjoying his seat belt.
The other awesome, can’t-leave-home-without-it tool in the arsenal was the suitcase. From the moment we arrived at the airport for departure, Jasper was in charge of his own kid-sized, rolling suitcase. We were including it in our carry-on baggage, and so he wheeled that little Franklin “oot-tase” all the way to the plane completely independently (something that probably couldn’t happen with a cute, ride-on Trunki suitcase). He was over the moon, and we didn’t have another bag to carry. Win-win. We saw a few other kids pulling their own suitcases, and they all had the same look of pride and determination.

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22-24 months, 24-28 months, Family life

A Montessori Christmas list

merry montessori

Nicole from The Kavanaugh Report came up with a great idea: while there are lots of Montessori recommendation blog posts and roundups of great products, it’s fascinating to see what other folks actually considering for holiday gifts. Like, in real life.

We usually have a fairly low-key Christmas celebration, and the whole season is filled with lots of experiences: this year we’ll be travelling across the country to visit family in early December, we’ll host our second annual winter solstice party, and we’ll spend lots of time with family and friends locally. We’ll work to emphasize these events — and the people we spend them with — as truly valuable at this time of year.

We don’t really do much about Santa — we’ll go to the parade, but other than that, we think it’s pretty magical to give and receive gifts with the folks you actually know and love. Gifts are a little extra token of our love for each other.

All that said: I do have a Google Drive document going. Not all of these will be under the tree next month, but the list helps me to focus on and keep an idea of what Jasper (who turned two in September) might actually enjoy and use when I hit the craft fairs, stores, and um, websites. And it helps to have a collection of ideas to share with family.

montessori gift list

1. Pajamas — It’s a Christmas (eve) tradition! These blue whales are adorable, but David liked some in an owl print at the Vancouver airport that we might pick up on our next swing through.

2. New Baby Lotto — I’ve been looking at lotto games for a few months, and was thrilled to find this one at Spark, our wonderful local toy store. This game will obviously useful to have on hand this winter as we all transition to welcoming a new babe to our house.

3. Lifecycle of a Monarch set — Love this, a great hands-on application for discussions after reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and there are lots of opportunities for extensions like these cards. If you’re local, these are also available and super-affordable at Spark!

4. Wallet Cards — I’ve been eyeing these Montessori-inspired, wallet-sized cards online (and following the mom/company founder’s Instagram) for a while. Now might be the time.

5. Liquid Watercolours — We are big into art around here, and I’m definitely interested in picking up some vibrant watercolours. Christmas is a great time to re-stock the everyday art supplies stash, so these are high on the list.

6. Size and Shape Sorting Board — Sorting, shapes, colours, sizes (okay, so far we’re at “big” and “baby”); these are all big interests of Jasper’s right now. This was one featured in my Montessori toddler training, and I’ve since noticed similar materials around the web (like on Quentin’s shelves!).

7. MagnaTiles — We were recently handed down an old overhead projector, which we’ve re-purposed as a light table, and these MagnaTiles are both magnetic and translucent. What a combination. This Instagram post from @ookukioo convinced me. Available at Spark!

8. ViewThru Geometric Solids — Something else for the light table: see-through, colourful and lightweight geometric solids. A great language & math opportunity. For purists: this set doesn’t exactly mirror the traditional Montessori geometric solids, which is perhaps merciful because you won’t have to work so hard to remember to differentiate between the ovoid and the ellipsoid (or is that just me?).

9. Junior Drum Set — My husband is a musician and Jasper (and his pals) are lucky to have lots of hands on access to real instruments. He likes to drum on the bodrhan and hand-drums we have available now, so David suggested getting him a kid-sized set similar to this one that he’d seen locally. Are we insane? Possibly.

What’s on your list this year? And specifically: any book ideas to share or recommend?

For more holiday ideas, check out these Pinterest boards:
Follow Winter, Advent, Solstice on Pinterest.
Follow Montessori home on Pinterest.

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