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.

 

Advertisement
Standard
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).

Standard
Family life, Montessori in the Womb, Montessori philosophy

Montessori from the (very, very) Start

belly shot

I’m thrilled to finally reveal the details behind the “big project” I’ve been working on — one that’s kept me distracted from blogging, and instead, constantly napping: I’m pregnant!

We’re excited to have a new little one joining our family this spring.

I only began learning about Montessori ideas as my now two-year old, Jasper, grew beyond infancy. With this second pregnancy, I’m looking forward to bringing Montessori philosophy into the babe’s life even earlier.

I’ve been thinking about some of things I learned at my infant & toddler Montessori training this past summer — training that starts by focusing on the beginning: the womb as the first environment. (A similar sentiment is one of my favourite quotes from influential Haudenosaunee midwife, Katsi Cook: “Woman is the first environment.” I love discovering these little echoes and connections that join strands of peaceful thought from all over the globe.)

Both Montessori philosophy and modern science tell us child’s absorbent mind begins long before birth, as important growth including emotional attachment and language acquisition begins in the womb, so I’ve been trying to take time each day to acknowledge this little one’s presence and welcome him or her to our family. It’s a different thing, a second pregnancy, and I find I need to work to create a bit of ritual for this daily check-in.

As time passes, I find myself planning what this little one will need in the early days, and where we’ll make space for the few things a baby requires. Soon I’ll start thinking about how to make mental and physical space for that oh-so important symbiotic period.

What were your “must-haves” with a baby (and maybe particularly, for a non-firstborns)? How did you bring Montessori ideas into your home life during early infancy?

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
Family life, Montessori philosophy, Nature

Monarchs & Montessori

ImageThe name “Milkweed & Montessori” is meant to reflect the spirit of our family’s intention to bring both nature and Maria Montessori’s ideas into our daily life (but it just as often serves to remind us to live that way).

These days, I’ve got milkweed plants on my mind more than ever because tiny purple buds are starting to form between those great big leaves, and soon they’ll be in full, dusky bloom (as they were in the photo above, taken last July).

This year we’re particularly excited about our growing butterfly garden project, because it’s official: our yard is a Monarch Waystation! The Monarch Waystation is a designation granted by Monarch Watch, a US organization interested in supporting the habitat of monarch butterflies. We had to register our garden’s size and the variety of milkweed and other nectar plants we grow, as well as commit to using environmentally-friendly (hello, rain barrels!) and pesticide-free gardening practices.

ImageThe sign is a charming little educational tool, too, which we hope will help our neighbours understand why our front yard looks so… unmown.

Our focus on attracting pollinators has made us very aware when we do see them visiting our yard, and has given us opportunity to share the excitement with Jasper. He’ll often call “There it is!” in his sing-song way, pointing out a flitting cabbage white.

ImageThese days, he’s all about the book I Am a Bunny. Admittedly, it does feature a bunny as narrator, but the illustrations (by Richard Scarry in his pre-Little Town days) are wonderfully realistic, and the butterfly page is worth lingering over. David can name so many so them!

As our garden grows, I look forward to seeing more life spring from it, and more butterflies stopping in. And as Jasper grows, I look forward to exploring this corner of our yard with him, and engaging him with butterfly-related works.

Here’s a few examples of Montessori-inspired Monarch butterfly work:

This handmade felted Montessori life-cycle is very sweet.

Earlier this week, Deb at Living Montessori Now featured a whole page of life cycle activities.

Beth from Our Montessori Life showed a Monarch life-cycle matching set on her Instagram feed a few months back. Which, if you’re not already following, do that while you’re there. Her photos capture the simplicity and peacefulness that make me love the Montessori method.

Puzzleheads sells this Monarch butterfly nomenclature puzzle, which includes caterpillar phase.

Standard
Family life, Montessori philosophy

Montessori at Home: A Simple Guide for Working Moms

The Working Mom's Guide to Montessori in the Home

There are all sorts of reasons for bringing Montessori home. And there are all sorts of ways of doing it. There doesn’t have to be a divide between working moms and stay-at-home moms (who are, of course, also working). There really are just moms, and we’re all just doing our best.

Let’s have a bit of grace with each other (and ourselves), shall we?

With that said, there are some practical differences. Those of us who go out of the home to work have to focus our efforts into some shorter timeslots and more specific times of day. There may not be as much time for themed-trays and seasonal art work, but there can be simplicity, respect, and a prepared environment.

Here are a few ways we try to bring Montessori into our home:

nest

1. Focus on the environment. Maybe you can’t give your child all of the time you’d like to, but you can prepare a space in the home that is his own. It doesn’t have to be a lot of space. By focusing on creating a welcoming environment for the under three-feet set, you are giving your child the gift of independence — and giving yourself a mini-break in the midst of a working mom’s jam-filled day of attention and tasks. When it’s time to brush teeth, I know Jasper can open the cupboard and get out his own toothbrush and toothpaste.

2. Keep it simple. I once read online advice recommending doing Montessori-shelf/work preparation for 40 minutes per child every evening. That would be wonderful, I’m sure, except that I have two other loves in my life: my husband, and good fiction. Both of those loves would suffer without a bit of attention every evening. And realistically, a 40 minute per evening commitment is not something that would be sustainable for me — if it is for you, by all means, do it.  Instead, we incorporate the Montessori way into the little things. It’s waiting while he puts on his own boots or shoes. When bath time is done, he pulls the plug in the bath tub. Like I said, little things.

spoons

3. Get your child involved in your daily routine around the home. Life is full of little tasks and frequent joys. As a working mom, in addition to loving and bringing your best self to your partner and child after hours, you likely also play a big part in the domestic duties around the house, and you need to get supper made and the rec room vacuumed on evenings and weekends. Practical life is most practical when it actually contributes to life at home, and no one feels this more keenly than your child. Get her involved washing potatoes for dinner. Give him his own broom to sweep when you do. What better polishing work than wooden spoons needing to be oiled? Provide your child with the right tools (I know I’ve mentioned it before, but a Learning Tower is a dinnertime god-send), arm yourself with patience, and ignore the clock.

4. Find a caregiver whose values reflect your own. It doesn’t have to be a formal Montessori program — sometimes that’s unavailable, or out of reach. What is important is that your child is respected and given opportunities for exploration and independence. If you can’t be with your child full time, there’s no better feeling than knowing that they are in the care of the best substitute possible.

5. Intentionally set aside time for observation. With everything on my plate, I find it easy to get stuck in a do-do-do mindset. When I’m at work, I’m making a mental chorelist for when I’m at home, when I’m at home, I’m making a mental grocery list for when we go out and when I’m with Jasper I catch myself wondering about the next work I could add to the shelves or worrying that he hasn’t had enough time outside that day. I’ve written before about the importance of observation, but now that I’m back at work, I find I need to make a priority of it and even schedule time for it.

tribe

6. Stay connected. One thing stay-at-home moms have is each other; you can often find them at the park on a fine Monday morning or commenting with words of support on a Facebook comment. Find your own tribe of folks, either in real life or online, who understand what your days are like and what your hopes are and want to know more and share their own. (Psst — check out the bottom of this post for a new social network focused on Montessori parenting.) I’m still building my own tribe, but every confessed worry and every “I get it, I feel ___ too,” goes a long way to encouraging me to continue on this journey.

Maria Montessori shared a lot of wonderful wisdom about the child as teacher, and the child as the shaper of his own education.  One of my favourite MM quotes says: “This is the first duty of the educator: to stir up life but leave it free to develop.” I feel like one of the most important things I can do as a mama-guide to my child is to take a deep breath and remember it’s not about me.

The best we can do — whether working outside the home or in — is to prepare the environment to offer our child opportunities for independence and responsibility. How do you stir up life? How do you fit the Montessori way into your family’s everyday life?

Standard
Montessori philosophy

Helma Trass and happy children

ImageIt’s been an exciting week here in my little corner of the world.

Last week, Helma Trass — founder of Canada’s first Montessori school, who studied under Maria Montessori in the Netherlands — visited one of our local schools for a presentation to parents. She is now 87 years-old, and despite being one of Canada’s most influential Montessorians, she continues to be passionate about spreading the word about the Montessori method “before her time is finished.” Her excitement about the wonderful experiences children from all backgrounds can have in a Montessori environment was catching.

Helma shared quite a bit about her early experiences in her Canadian classroom. Many educators were fascinated by this first Montessori school, and she welcomed journalists, researchers and public school principals into her classroom. They were amazed at the results the children were showing — even those who had scored relatively low on IQ tests (an aside: IQ testing is out of vogue now, but it had me wondering what have we replaced these measures of expectation with? Early grading? Diagnosis of ADHD and autism?). Helma still feels today that if she could achieve this in her little classroom as a young woman, with a heavy Dutch accent, that it is the perfect example of the child as teacher.

I expect I’ll remember for a long time to come her deep, accented voice firmly saying “First, the child must be happy.”

Another experience I had this week, which perfectly book-ended Helma’s talk, was the opportunity to sit and observe a work period in a Casa class room. I was quite moved by what I took in there. The hush, the focus, the work, the care, the peace. That particular classroom is simple and filled with natural light, the guide is soft-spoken and smiling, and the children are happy.

Standard
18-21 months, Family life, Montessori philosophy, Practical Life

Practical life in the garden

photo(25)

In the Montessori method, activities that are carried on as part of daily life in the home are referred to as  “practical life.” Practical life work should be just that: practical. Useful, meaningful work that really makes a difference in the environment or for the family.

For parents of toddlers, it can sometimes be difficult. Zipping up one’s own jacket is useful and meaningful, but it sure can be inconvenient to do it on toddler time when you’re already late for an appointment. That one moment of haste can turn into a big ripple-effect power struggle for the rest of the morning. I fully admit it: it happens. But when there is time (and there’s often more than I think), say on a sunny Sunday morning, I try to use it to really engage with my little guy and give him the time and space he needs to develop confidence and independence in all the many activities we do through our days.

This weekend Jasper and I did some practical life work together in our garden, as we added compost to the straw bale cold frame in one of our raised beds, where we’ll soon have baby spinach and kale popping up like crazy. That is, as soon as the snow stops falling long enough to plant the seeds.

photo(26)

photo(28)

Helping in the garden is a wonderful way to participate in the rhythm of the home. It allows Jasper to engage with the season, learn about the natural life cycles of plants and other garden-dwellers, and to contribute food to our table. A practical life activity such as preparing a snack can actually begin weeks and months ahead of time, with the planting of a few seeds.

photo(30)

Our Sunday morning garden work included: scooping using different implements, pouring, transferring, and carrying a bucket. With lots of repetition! I loved watching Jasper watch the compost slide through the holes in the bottom of this little pot.

photo(29)

 

It was work that needed to be done, and I truly appreciated the help.

How does your child participate in the practical life of the home?

Standard
Family life, Montessori philosophy

Watch and learn

silhouette

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about observation. Observing the child was a large part of Maria Montessori’s work — it’s what lead to the development of her whole educational paradigm. It’s an important aspect of the Montessori classroom teacher’s role, so it must also be important for those of us who are using Montessori principles in the home.

But it’s not a big part of the online discussion and it even takes a back seat to action in otherwise brilliant books like Montessori From the Start . Unlike a sensory bin or a mathematical provocation, observing is tough to “pin”. It doesn’t require a lot of action, it doesn’t fill time, and it doesn’t keep our child entertained. But Montessori knew it was worth it.

And I think observation can be just as tough to understand, and even harder to implement.

I’m far from an expert, but here’s my simple, two-step program for better observing your child:

  • Quiet. Stop encouraging, stop instructing, stop directing. Everything you say can potentially distract a concentrating child and redirect their hard-won attention back to you.
  • Try to watch without judgement. Early childhood is all about experimentation, and it’s not about outcomes. It’s not about what you can “get” your child to do. It’s about letting them the freedom to try and to learn. My very, very favourite online example of what this looks like is little Elise pouring herself a drink in this video on Itty Bitty Love. (And kudos to Anne for posting such a perfectly-imperfect video!)

Something else that helps me to really understand observation is to observe myself. I try to be aware of when I feel like I need to direct what should be happening, or the need to “help”. I notice when I feel that familiar old fear creeping in that has to do with expectations and plans and shoulds and shouldn’ts. And then I just sit with those feelings and I observe where they come from and what happens if I don’t immediately act.

When I do manage to be still and observe, the rewards are huge. I feel amazed by my child, and grateful for his inner light. I feel relieved to see that he doesn’t need me to be some kind of super-mom-teacher, he just needs the space and the time to learn to do it himself.

What have you observed?

Standard