Books, Family life, Nature, parenting, Peace education, Preschool, Social justice, toddler

Being here now: an Earth Day reflection

As I write about deepening my practice of Montessori philosophy, this blog often winds up focusing on presence, attention, and mindfulness — and that’s where I land on Earth Day, too.

How do we parent in these times? How do we show up for our children? How do we show up for the earth?

We are, of course, of this Earth and in relationship with the community of natural things, whether we know it, acknowledge it, feel it — or not.

The reality of the current and ongoing ecological crisis is dire. As adults, that’s something we need to be present with, and take immediate action on. It’s our role to make choices about how we’re going to participate in capitalism, how we’re going to live, how we’re going to vote, how we’re going to show up in governmental process and how we’re going to invest in localized community.

As adults, it’s our role to be present with how all of this affects us, to notice how winters and summers are different than they used to be, to name our grief, to imagine abundant futures and ways of getting there.

For young children, who don’t yet have the connecting experience of a childhood’s worth of winters and summers and who don’t have the power to control outcomes, the facts of climate change can be overwhelming, frightening, and ultimately, lead to disconnection in order to numb the pain of loss. As one of the great teachers of our time, Joanna Macy, says “The refusal to feel takes a heavy toll…The energy expended in pushing down despair is diverted from more creative uses, depleting the resilience and imagination needed for fresh visions and strategies.”

Young childhood is the time to be present with knowledge of oneself as part of the family of wild things, connecting to the tiny, enormous beauty of this earth. It’s also a time when adults can mindfully model ways of being present in right and healthy relationship (with other people, species, money) — or not.

Grief is an inevitable part of presence in this time. As children mature into capacity to carry the knowledge of what’s happening on the planet right now, it won’t be easy or light or without pain. But ideally, it will come at a time of life when the young adult feels deeply connected to the earth, at a time when they are feeling powerful in their ability to contribute and capable of collaborating with others to develop solutions (in Montessori philosophy, this is likely to be the third plane of development, age 12 to 18 – maybe you’ve heard of Greta Thunberg?).

With younger children, we don’t pretend to live in a perfect world. We talk about aloud about consumption and weigh purchasing choices aloud. We talk about having enough. We talk about upholding Indigenous sovereignty and land-based practices. We talk in terms of “caring for the earth.”  

But mostly, it’s not about what we say. Children, with their brilliantly absorbent minds, are picking up our habits, our purchasing choices, our core beliefs and motivations all the time. They see how we care for ourselves, and for others, how we navigate conflict. They are learning what it means to be an adult, to be a human, to be present, through watching us.

Dr. Montessori observed of young children: “The things she sees are not just remembered, they form part of her soul.”

My husband David has a practice of picking up cans anytime he goes for a walk, something he always saw his Dad do. Once he even did it as a Father’s Day gift; picking up cans along an old road in Toronto, where his dad had picked mushrooms during his own childhood. It’s a way of saying “I noticed this was out of place, did not belong, was not in right relationship. I can help to move this to a better place.”  It’s a small thing, but not too small to be worth doing.

When I bring my presence to the natural world  — when I go outside, when I walk to do errands, when I track the birds at the feeder or visit my sit spot or sing around a campfire with friends — my body, mind, and spirit are reminded of my place in the family of wild things. And I model for my children that falling in love with this world is a gift, come what may.

“The biggest gift you can give is to be absolutely present, and when you’re worrying about whether you’re hopeful or hopeless or pessimistic or optimistic, who cares? The main thing is that you’re showing up, that you’re here and that you’re finding ever more capacity to love this world because it will not be healed without that. That is what is going to unleash our intelligence and our ingenuity and our solidarity for the healing of our world.” – Joanna Macy

How do we parent in these times? With curiousity. With hope. With presence.

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Image of an old stump growing vibrant green moss

Resources for navigating climate grief with presence: 

Books

Coming Back to Life: The Work that Reconnects – Joanna Macy

Emergent Strategy – adrienne maree brown

The Right to be Cold by Sheila Watt-Cloutier

These Wilds Beyond our Fences: Letters to My Daughter on Humanity’s Search for Home – Bayo Akomolafe

Dancing on our Turtle’s Back – Leanne Simpson

Podcasts

How to Survive the End of the World

For the Wild

Joanna Macy on On Being

Instagram accounts:

@rachaelrice

@life_as_ceremony

@mollyccostello

@adriennemareebrown

This is by no means comprehensive, so send me your recommendations, and I’ll add them to this list!

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3-6 Years, Casa, Montessori philosophy, Preschool

At the end of the day

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Do you ever take a peek at what’s been happening when you pick your child up from school or childcare?

I sure do. Every time. Of course, it’s partly about my own interest in seeing how the Montessori method plays out in real life, with real kids.

And I like to see a lovely prepared environment that has become imperfect in that perfectly child-led way — useful to keep in mind when our home space feels askew, too.

But it’s also about seeing the environment where my son spends some of his days, and soaking that in. Getting a sense of what the buzz has been about and how we’ll transition from school to supper.

What do you see at the end of the day?

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DIY, Family life

The prepared environment: DIY Citrus Cleanser

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As we turn the calendar, pack up the decorations and sweep up the pine needles, this time of year has signaled a period of productive downsizing in our home. It’s the meeting of many needs — to make space, figuratively and literally, for the new baby; to get a handle on the constant flow of stuff; and to start the new year with a fresh sense of purpose and place.

It’s also a great way to prepare the environment, not just for Jasper, but for the whole family. I’m guilty of presenting perfectly tidied shelves for Jasper, while “behind the scenes,” my materials cupboard can get to be such a jumble that I’m afraid to open it too quickly. One of the major differences between a Montessori classroom and a Montessori home is that in the home, many people of many ages and interests may live there. We’ve all got stuff, and we all need to feel at home. How do we balance that with Jasper’s developmental needs? It’s an ongoing process.

One of the things that I really appreciated from my Montessori training this summer was one of the teachers’ emphasis on the use of non-toxic and environmentally-friendly cleaning products made from essential oils. She saw this as a natural part of the prepared environment: one which is safe and welcoming to children — chemically, as well as physically.

It’s in that spirit that I’m sharing this recipe for a great, people- and pet-friendly DIY all-purpose cleaner. It’s based on vinegar, which is an effective disinfectant against salmonella, E.coli and “gram negative” bacteria — a great tool in the kitchen or bathroom. My favourite use is while wiping out a potty, where a sensitive bum might  If you’re hesitant about the smell of vinegar, rest assured the odors evaporate quickly and this cleanser adds a sweeter citrus note into the mix. It also makes use of all those clementine peels this time of year!

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DIY citrus cleanser in three easy steps:

1. Peel clementines, lemons, or whatever other citrus you’re using at this, the peak of citrus season (in the Northern Hemisphere). Keep peels in a mason jar.

2. When the mason jar is full of peels, pour white vinegar over, to cover them. Put on a lid on the mason jar. Leave it alone or shake it occassionally. Whichever suits you best. You really can’t mess this up.

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3. 2 or more weeks later, strain out the peels, funnel the citrus-powered vinegar into a spray bottle and fill to the top with water. Shake it up. Spritz it on.

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PS. This cleanser is also great because it’s safe for child-led cleaning — just this morning, a ride-on toy was getting “detailed” with this kid-friendly spray.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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?

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