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?

18 months, Montessori philosophy

Keeping it real

There are times when I have doubts or questions — about just about everything in life, including the Montessori method. But I’m learning as I go, and often I find I’ll stumble upon the answers to my questions just as soon as I’ve asked them.

Most recent example: the idea of realism and imagery in the Montessori philosophy.

I’d read that cartoon images are generally avoided because it’s important for young children to form their understanding of how the world really is. Fantasy can be introduced later, when their minds are ready to play with ideas. For now (under 6 years), it’s just the facts ma’am.

It makes sense. Really. But our culture is fairly steeped in the idea of fantasy for very young children. And any suggestion otherwise has hints of being too strict, or of limiting imagination and creativity.

Recently Jasper and I stayed at a hotel. When we woke in the morning, I turned the TV to a kid’s channel and let him watch a children’s channel while I packed up. A show about Jasper’s favourite thing in the world — dogs — came on. A cartoon show. As the dog-characters leaped onto the screen one after another, there was silence. Their goofy, creatively-interpreted, oddly-shaped cartoon bodies were completely unrecognizable to Jasper. It wasn’t till the last one, an obvious Husky, bounded into the picture that Jasper made his usual “oof-oof” sound signalling that he’d seen a dog.

I got it. Loud and clear. Those other things weren’t dogs, in his mind. But what if he’d never seen a dog before? Would he, with his absorbent little mind, think a dog was something boxy and brown with tiny little legs? Or that a pink assortment of clouds is what a poodle really looks like?

Come to think of it, there was nothing remotely beautiful or creatively-rich about this goofy, low-budget Saturday morning cartoon.

And the more I think of it, our real, natural world is the most beautiful creation I know of.