3 years old, Family life, Nature

Tracks in the snow

bob cat

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.

flower arranging

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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Family life, Nature

Getting back to nature

Image“Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health (and also, by the way, in our own).”
— Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods

It’s the eve of the first day of May (Uno de Mayo?) and here in our neck of the woods, it feels like the weather’s about a month behind schedule: wind, torrential rain and chilly temperatures.

Despite all that, our family is taking on a challenge. The 30×30 Nature Challenge to be specific!

30 minutes in nature for 30 days in a row, throughout the month of May. We’re joining thousands of other Canadians in committing to getting outside. Research (and our own experience) tells us that doing so will make us happier, healthier and less stressed.

For some time now, I’ve set an intention to get outside with Jasper everyday, no matter the weather. And usually, we do. But it’s amazing how often that precious little time gets squeezed out of our day — over-scheduling, weather-shy parents (Jasper is an all-weather backyard enthusiast). It’s truly amazing to me how often we spend more time in the car than we do with grass beneath our feet. For us, the 30×30 challenge is a chance to reset and realign ourselves with the natural world.

I highly recommend jumping over to the Suzuki Foundation website to learn more about the challenge and the benefits of spending time in nature. Consider joining us (and many others) on this journey to connect with the world outside these four walls.

And pray for sun.

The photo above is from May 1, 2013, when the little guy was but a wee mite and the sun shone and the flowers bloomed.

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