3-6 Years, 4-6 months, 6-12 months, 6-8 months, Books, Christmas, Christmas, Solstice & Hannukah, Family life, Preschool, toddler

A gift guide for the Montessori home

Surely I can’t be the only one who approaches the idea of gift guides, shopping and stacks of presents under the tree with something of a sense of dread? Some days, it can all seem like just too much.

In spite of these feelings, I know that a well-made gift can bring a spark of joy and creativity, and I treasure those memories from my own childhood. My husband David and I try to keep holiday gift-giving focused on experience, and quality over quantity, because we know how easily young kids can be overwhelmed, how generous our relatives are, and how finite our living space is.

In that spirit, here are a few of our favourite Montessori-inspired ideas for celebrating the tradition of giving and receiving gifts this time of year. Some are big ticket, some are small surprises, and all are sorted according to age.

May the coming season serve to remind you of life’s simple joys:

Stocking stuffers and small surprises: 

Wooden egg shaker

DIY tiny flag bunting

Wooden snail with glass marble rollie – how sweet is this?

A candle snuffer 

Egg slicer – In constant use at our Milkweed Montessori toddler group, it’s like a grand finale to peeling a hardboiled egg

A classic top

For the sweet and curious baby:

Balloon mobile 

Manhattan Toys skwish – my #1 go-to baby toy

Pikler triangle for fun and motor development for years to come!

A hopping rabbit to pull along

Zoe’s Snowy Day book

For the toddler who always wants to do it themselves:

Grimm’s Rainbow

Apple Slicer/Peeler – I know this seems crazy, but the one we received for Jasper’s first Christmas has been working hard ever since and will for years to come.

The Snowy Day book

Walker push wagon (and a more affordable option from Ikea)

Cuddle baby doll  – Toddlers love babies, and this one is soft, lightweight and durable.

Wooden drying rack – Because where there are toddlers, there are opportunities to wipe up spills, and a toddler-sized drying rack is the natural next step.

For the child (a three to six year old) who is always discovering something new:

A subscription to Ladybug magazine  – Jasper has been a subscriber for a few years thanks to some loving grandparents who live far away. A sweet monthly reminder of their affection, and a new collection of songs and stories to match the season.

Cutter boat with loading tree

Sleep Tight Farm book

Modeling wax 

Knitting needles or knitting tower

Alfie’s Christmas book

Beeswax candle making kit

Morakniv’s rookie knife* for small but capable hands. Our five year-old and a whole lot of his nature school pals got these this fall, and there have been rave reviews (and no serious injuries). An outdoors knife is a natural step for the child who started with the crinkle cutter as a young toddler.

For the grown ups who loved looking over this list:

A donation to the Montessori School at the Center for the Homeless 

The Creative Family Manifesto book

Indigo-dyed tea towels

Winter nature activities for Children book 

Handmade pure beeswax candles

Experiences for the whole family to enjoy together:

Family membership at the Art Gallery of Ontario The AGO has great programming and welcoming spaces for children. We have a long distance membership which pays for itself in 1.5 visits, and makes trips to the gallery really easy to justify. All of that means that our family is coming to recognize some really amazing pieces of art that have become familiar and beloved over the years, like Norval Morrisseau’s Man Changing into Thunderbird. If you’re not local, I encourage you to seek out art galleries in your area.

Ice-fishing This is five year-old Jasper’s idea – he’s interested in learning how to ice-fish, something we’ve never done before. An intriguing gift idea.

A family weekend away This is something that we’ve done for the past few years with my family, rather than exchanging Christmas gifts. The road trip, shared meal prep and hot tubbing (a non-negotiable in our Airbnb searches!) has been so much more memorable than anything we could have wrapped under the tree.

Note:

Many of these items can be found around the world, but I’ve linked to the Canadian supplier because I know how tough it can be to source things in Canada.  Items noted with an asterisk ship to Canada from an international shop, and so may involve duty charges.

See gift guides from recent years here: 

A Merry Montessori Gift Guide

How to avoid rapidly changing priorities: A Montessori Gift Guide

 

 

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3 years old, 3-6 Years, Books, Family life

Do you read chapter books?

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Do you read chapter books with your preschool-aged children?

Around the time that Jasper turned three, we started reading longer “chapter” books at bedtime. The usual routine includes one or two picture books, and then a chapter from the longer book we’ve got on the go. As a (tired) parent, I appreciate the way a chapter or two really mellows out a keyed up kid, and it also moves the concept of books, stories, and reading, beyond the picture book.

We started this routine last fall with Thorton W. Burgess’ “Adventures of” animal series. I (and many other Montessorians) don’t usually delight in the glut of kids’ books featuring talking animals, but hear me out on this one: the animals in Burgess’s books talk to each other, but never become anthropomorphized. They retain all the characteristics of their natural counterparts, and because of that, the books become a really accurate illustration of life in the woods — the predators act like predators, and the beavers and birds are concerned about things that beavers and birds would really be concerned about.

And best of all, the stories are well written and entertaining to read. And there are a lot of them — 170 according to Wikipedia!

We’ve also discovered a love for Bink and Gollie, a series of shorter, semi-illustrated books by the great Kate Dicamillo about two pals with wonderful vocabularies and a silly sense of humour. Next week we are going on a big trip along Canada’s East Coast, so we’ve been reading an abridged version of Anne of Green Gables.

Do you read chapter books? What are your favourites? We’d love some more recommendations!

 

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Uncategorized

Liebster Award!

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I was pleasantly surprised last weekend to find that I’d been nominated for the Liebester Award by my blogging pal Beth at Our Montessori Life. The Liebster is basically a chain letter that lets bloggers celebrate other bloggers, and it comes with a list of questions and the best part is, Kanye isn’t mad about it at all.

How did you discover Montessori?

I can’t actually remember the exact moment. At some point, I stumbled up and became immediately fascinated with the possibilities offered on How We Montessori, a lovely family and home-oriented blog by Kylie, the queen mother of all Montessori bloggers.

What has been your greatest challenge with using Montessori?

My greatest challenge has always been struggling with my own bad habits and shortcomings — I’m pretty disorganized and I tend to start projects and not finish them. For me, establishing a welcoming and orderly Montessori environment has been eye-opening in terms  of realizing what my needs really are for a healthy, happy environment — as well as what’s best for my kid. It’s also been an on-going effort!

Materials. Make or Buy?

It depends. I think some of our best-loved materials are things that we’ve created ourselves, and I’ve enjoyed making things for the coming babe, like a topponcino and this Gobbi mobile I’m working on this week. Especially during the younger years, there are many things that can be made or modified to work as Montessori materials. On the other hand, there are some materials that are just better purchased and that can’t really be made at home, especially as a child moves beyond the toddler years (I’m thinking here of something like the pink tower, which needs to be mathematically accurate).

That said, I’m a big believer that Montessori is for everyone, and a peaceful environment, respectful speech and opportunities for independence are priceless and free.

What’s your favourite Montessori book?

My favourite Montessori book is The Tao of Montessori, which is a really beautiful compilation of Montessori quotes and thoughts connected with Lao-tzu’s verses from the Tao Te Ching. Because the chapters are so short and not meant to be read linearly, it’s a great resource to pick up any time, read for a few minutes, and return to the rest of life restored and inspired.

Do you see any similarity in your children and yourself?

Jasper and I both: love mornings, enjoy being social, like to play with paint, and tend to be somewhat easily distracted.

What’s your favourite thing about blogging?

My favourite thing about blogging is actually two-fold: one is having an outlet for the bits of inspiration that get me excited about the Montessori method and what’s happening for us and the other is being a part of a community of caring, intelligent, peaceful parents and teachers.

What made you first decide to blog?

I’m a writer in my non-mom life and so blogging isn’t new for me, but I wanted to work on a Montessori-specific blog in order to participate more fully in the online conversation that was taking place.

How do you take time for yourself?

I generally don’t find it too difficult to take time for myself, and here is my secret: I live two blocks away from my parents.

What are you currently reading?

I just finished a book and am about to start The Sculptor. The last book I read was The Royal Game by Stefan Zwieg, inspired by watching The Grand Budapest Hotel. And the very best book I’ve read this year has been Michael Crummey’s Sweetland.

What is your favourite book your child owns?

My favourite books are Blueberries for Sal and Over and Under the Snow. Jasper has shown occasional interest in both of these books, but neither has been a favourite.

And sure. Why not. What would you do with a million dollars?

I would pay my doula and buy new tires for the car and get a lot of massages and be thrilled to have both kids’ educations paid for (and my own!). It’s the little things.

I’m so grateful to Beth for the shout-out and I’m also glad to have been made to slow down and think about these questions. I’d love to nominate my pal Leisse next, but she’s on a sweet vacation in Mexico and I don’t want anything adding to her to-do list, so please, go visit her blog anyway. Leisse is a trained Montessori educator and a great writer and so, so funny and had three kids under two for a while, so believe me when I say this lady knows what’s up.

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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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18 months, Family life, Montessori philosophy

Henry helps.

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This afternoon Jasper and I made a trip to our local library and picked up a few books for each of us.

Back home, we read Henry Helps with Dinner for the first time. It’s a sweet and simple story about a little guy helping to make dinner on taco night. He shreds the lettuce into little pieces, smooshes avocado for guacamole and puts a serviette at each place at the table. There’s no fanfare, just a kid participating in the family, and Henry’s only reward is getting to sit down to share a meal with his family.

Later I noticed this printed on the back of the book: “Research conducted at the University of Minnesota found that the best predictor of future academic, career, personal and relationship success was children’s involvement in household tasks by three or four.”

Amazing, right? Forget Zumba baby classes, religiously reading 15 minutes a day, and Baby Einstein and all the rest of the stuff that society tries to convince us are necessary (to purchase) for parenting. Washing, sweeping, setting the table. That’s the secret to raising a smart, happy, engaged human.

Or, as Maria Montessori put it nearly a hundred years ago: “If I were to establish a primary principle, it would be to constantly allow the child’s participation in our lives … To extend to the child this hospitality, to allow him to participate in our work can be difficult, but it costs nothing. Our time is a far more precious gift than material objects.”

As it happens, Jasper helped me to empty the dishwasher for the first time today, picking out the cutlery and handing each piece to me to put away in the drawer, one by one.

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