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

DIY: wax-dipped autumn leaves

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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.

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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!
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22-24 months, 24-28 months, 3 years old, 3-6 Years, Family life, Nature, Practical Life, Preschool, toddler

Autumn activities for little people

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Autumn is one of my favourite times of year — a time for circling back, for settling in, and for reaping the harvest. It’s also the time when I celebrate my birthday, our wedding anniversary, and two amazing holidays — Canadian Thanksgiving and Halloween. Looking for ideas on how to make the best of the season? Take a few tips from a pro. 😉

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Plant bulbs now for flowers next spring. During last week’s Milkweed Montessori morning, my toddler friends and I read Planting a Rainbow, and then spent some time digging holes and popping in bulbs for crocus, tulip and daffodils. It’s great way to connect this moment within the flow of moments that make up the days, weeks, months, and seasons, that lead us to a moment next spring when, green shoot pokes through the earth and offers up a bloom.

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Get in touch with the fruits of the season. Part of what makes autumn so magical is that it is the culmination of the warm sunshiny days that came before it, and no where is that better illustrated than in ripe apples and big, round pumpkins. Apple picking, the pumpkin patch or a wander through a corn maze offer opportunities to connect with tradition in a hands-on way, from toddlers on up. These are the icons of the season for a reason, so throw out the cliches, and get out there and see how and where they grow. If your tastes run a little wilder, keep an eye out for high bush cranberry or autumn olive on outdoor adventures.

Ready to take it to the next level? Save your pumpkin seeds for growing in the garden next year. This year our backyard pumpkin patch has provided two perfectly round specimens for two perfectly spooky jack o’lanterns.

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Make a pie! A few years ago, a morning-long Pie 101 presentation from my friend Katie (an award-winning pie baker!) helped to conquer my fear of pastry. Now I always make a few pies when the fruit is at its peak, and I nearly always have help from my helpers, who love to peel the apples, bust up the butter, and roll out the pastry. If you do brave pie-baking with preschoolers, snap a pic and use the #montessoripie hashtag!

Follow along with Fall Outside 2017, an annual online reminder to go outside, and a welcoming online community to share those experiences with. For me, November is one of the hardest times of year — a wistful goodbye to the joys of October, and a grey introduction to the months to come. I’ve enjoyed following along with the prompts since November 2015, and we’ll do so again this year.

What are you up to this season? Share your ideas and tips with me, because there’s still some autumn left! 

Related posts: 

Autumn fun – a bumper crop of apple works 

A whole post dedicated to Planting a Rainbow

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22-24 months, 24-28 months, 3 years old, 3-6 Years, Books, Casa, Family life, Nature, Preschool

Montessori books to celebrate changing seasons

After Mother Nature hit our area with some late-breaking hot hot heat last week, it seems that finally crisp mornings and falling leaves are signalling the seasonal shift from summer to autumn. Feeling these changes as each season rolls on is something that I’m more and more attuned to, both as I get older, and my kids do. Growth, change, forward momentum, life in all it’s many forms — it’s a daily celebration on this traveling orb we call Earth.

I love to read books that are tuned in to these seasonal rhythms, and that reflect the times we’re having as a family. Sometimes a book that cycles through all the seasons, reminding of us of where we are in the big picture can be just the thing to remind us to celebrate the present.

Friendly for both toddlers and preschool-age reading times, and full of good curiosity-building possibility, here are a few books that our family has enjoyed reading, no matter the season:

Out and About: A First Book of Poems

Lovely to page through from cover to cover, or to read through the poems that fit today’s season or weather, this book is a treasure. Written and illustrated by Shirley Hughes, the creator of the beloved Alfie series, you’ll find these poems are a true reflection of family life lived in season.

To Be Like the Sun

A girl, her sunflower seed, and the glory of the flower it produces… and then, midwinter, a girl, and her sunflower seed once more. This book is beautifully illustrated, with a story told with enough energy to keep even the tinies captivated.

Arctic Lights, Arctic Nights

In our family, we have a particular connection with the arctic, but I think the subtle changes that this book follows through one of the planet’s most unique environments will delight any curious child as each page follows the light.

The Year at Maple Hill Farm

A sweetly-detailed book that follows the calendar year through each month on a busy farm, this is an evergreen book that seems to expand to meet the growing child’s awareness.

When the Wind Stops

A favourite of mine to read, and of Jasper’s to hear, this book is the kind that settles the whole family into the peace of evening after a busy day. It answers those simple and yet big questions every child has in a way that is plain and true and also deeply metaphorical. Where does the sun go when it sets? To bring morning to another place.

Do you have a family favourite for all seasons? Let me know in the comments below! 

 

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3 years old, Family life, Nature

Tracks in the snow

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Our best discovery yet: bobcat tracks!

This winter, one of the outdoor projects our family has added in to our lives is animal tracking — that is paying attention to, asking questions about, and learning from the signs animals leave behind.

My husband David has years of practice and some pretty respectable training in this area, but Jasper and I were starting out from ground zero. Luckily, this wintery season has given us the opportunity to engage with the tracks left in the snow a whole lot of different animals.

Tracking animals with kids is enriching in a number of ways — from language acquisition as we name animals and use descriptive language, to animal classification and developing the inquiry process — all while getting our bodies moving outside and engaging all of our senses in the natural world.

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  • Pay attention. This is the wonderful gift of developing knowledge about the natural world: developing awareness is inherently calming to the mind. It’s like meditation with a mission. The only way to notice signs of the other creatures we share the world with is to be mindful in the moment.
  •  You don’t have to go far. In fact, it’s okay to stay home.  We’ve had great conversations about the tracks we see in our own backyard, and I’ve been able to identify several high traffic, multi-species areas in our little patch of the world. Even learning to recognize what makes my tracks different from yours is useful.
  • Take pictures and follow up with more information. When you notice a set of tracks, talk about what you see — how big are they, how many toes do we see, etc. Was it a bird or a mammal?Ask questions before immediately identifying what animal you assume it is. Take a photo (sometimes placing something beside a print is useful for scale) or make a sketch (a great nature journal exercise).   When you get home, look up the print. iTrack Wildlife is a great app for this.
  • Make tracks, animals and the outdoor world part of your indoor life, too. Some time last year, in the tornado that is the dinner-making hour, I stumbled on a brilliant toddler activity: making animal tracks in playdough with toy animals. The key here is good quality (we have both Schleich and Safari Ltd animals) models, which are made from safe materials and have accurately shaped feet! We also have this wonderful print-out hanging on our fridge, where these local animals and their tracks become part of our everyday life. If your little one is into nomenclature cards, this free, printable set from Montessori For Everyone is a great addition to your selves.

What are you discovering this winter?

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Montessori philosophy, Nature, Peace education

Peace & nature

 seedling - Montessori nature quote

Today is the International Day of Peace, a United Nations initiate that invites nations and individuals to “honour a cessation of hostilities during the Day.” A one day reprieve from from conflict and strife around the world. A day to imagine: “If we can do it for one day…” It’s a wonderfully noble idea, and one that’s worth recognizing and talking about in our own lives.

Maria Montessori believed that early childhood was a key to rest of a child’s life. All kinds of pedagogical research has proven her right, and over the last century there has been a global shift to focus educational and health programming on very young children.

Dr. Montessori also believed that the significance of these early days was so great that it could hold the key to world peace. If the experience of young children was holistic, respectful, intentional and connected, they might just grow up to have a different way of thinking and seeing the world.

Montessori peace and nature

Here at home, I’ve been thinking about the connection between peace — in all senses of the word, from armed conflict to inner stillness — and our earthly environment. It turns out that a lot of the world’s conflicts are rooted in environmental issues: as ecologically abundant, healthy, resource and water-rich parts of the earth become more rare, the declarations of “mine” grow louder.

And as our sensitivity to “nature deficit disorder” grows, we’re learning that how much time a child spends in nature has correlations with outcomes not just today, but throughout their lives. And the lives of everyone around them. As Richard Louv writes, experiences in nature can build empathy, reduce bullying, build social and family bonding, improve mental health and our ability to face challenges.

Here’s our small-scale environmental experiment with peace: connecting with others through nature.

Last month we participated in a Nature Pal Exchange (or since, it’s kind of an Instagram thing, #naturepalexchange) — which pairs up families interested in sending each other natural treasures. For us it was a crossborder, cross-cultural nature exchange. Finding treasures of the outdoors here, and sending them there. We partnered up with a lovely family of four kids in Minnesota, who sent us a lovely package of pine cones and needles, bark, walnuts and piece de resistance: a creepy cool cicada exoskeleton. What a boon for our nature shelf! We sent things found along the way on our summer vacation, and Jasper painted in pictures I’d sketched of the critters we’d seen. There was a sense of something radical, something that questioned borders and customs and postal systems and opened up possibility for something a little bit organic happening in those unfriendly environments, as we marked the customs sheet with the words “pebbles and paintings” and received one from the other side of the border marked “acorns and leaves”.

Montessori peace and nature

The other experiment we’ve been trying out is more local. It’s simply a group of kids and moms, meeting once a week, outdoors.

A few weeks ago, for the first time, we made a concerted to avoid a playground. The morning was magical: toddlers in the waves, kids digging deep and discovering beautiful stones on a pebbly beach, babies nursing in golden sunshine. There was quiet, there was interaction, there was peace. There were, I kid you not, eight Saint Bernard puppies, a massive moving herd of fluffballs, coming our way down the beach, blessing our decision to forgo the sand box and the plastic slides.

Montessori peace and nature

Last week, we visited a conservation area near my childhood home, where the kids explored forest paths and foraged wild apples and grapes and poked at a babbling stream with sticks. After a stressful early morning spent on the phone with the bank and the airline, trying to book a flight, it was just the sort of forest bath I needed.

So far our little outdoor play experiment has yielded greater interaction between the two generations, while requiring fewer interventions related to sharing and pushing and the like. Our mornings are a bit more peaceful, you could say.

We’re a privileged bunch, and we live in a safe and beautiful place, and we are blessed and we aim to be grateful. We aren’t solving any of the world’s current big problems. But I’d like to think that as we add more nature to our lives, bit by bit, that we might just be changing the future.

If you’re interested in thinking more about education, Montessori and peace, join the International Day of Peace festivities on the excellent Montessori 101 Facebook group

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22-24 months, Books, Family life, Nature, Practical Life

Planting a Rainbow — then arranging it

Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert & Flower Arranging Toddler Montessori Work

A few months ago, I posted about one of Jasper’s favourite books, and I’d like to try to do that more often, both as memory device for myself and as a resource for others. I often take lists from other bloggers to the library – it’s a great way to sift through the mountain of material and find the really good stuff.

These days as the sun sets and the tub drains, Jasper’s been choosing Lois Ehlert’s “Planting A Rainbow” over and over again.

It’s an over-sized board book (the publishers call it “lap size”), with big, beautiful pictures, a fun series of flaps in the centre and a great story about a flower garden. The story travels through each season, making it appropriate year-round, but I think part of its magic on these humid, July days is the way it reflects the rainbow-filled jungle growing just outside our door.

One of my favourite things about it is the language — it’s rich, realistic and detailed. For that child hungry to know the name of everything, there is a fun list of flower’s names on every page, from aster to zinnia.

This gorgeous book also inspires some wonderful practical life work: flower arranging — a quiet and beautiful toddler activity.

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Above is the work as it is presented in a toddler classroom (age 14 months to 3 years) at Bannockburn School, progressing from right to left from putting on the apron to choosing a doily from the basket to place under the finished arrangement. (I should note, because you’ll likely notice: there aren’t any flowers — when class is in session, a bud or two would be in water in the blueish vessel in the white bucket).

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And here is the tray presented in a home setting. At 7:30AM, moments after Jasper brought a spray of fleabane inside, with a quick photo taken midway through on an iPhone.

 
P.S. I also love this more involved work inspired by the same book: planting a rainbow of spring bulbs!

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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.

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