Family life, Montessori philosophy, Peace education

On a bad day

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Recently, I had a bad day.

A late-for-everything, take-out for supper, yelled at my kids, fat lip of the heart kind of day.

The kind of day where it feels like no matter what I got right, forget how many books I read or the art-making or cooking, it still doesn’t feel like I’m really connecting with my kids. The kind where it feels like every time I sat down to eat, or text a friend, or take a shower, it got interrupted.

The frustration and the guilt turned into a vicious cycle.

At some point on this terrible, no-good day, I realized: respectful parenting and Montessori ideas are a useful guide for our home not because I’ve got it all together as parent, but because I don’t. The philosophy offers tools and support when my own go-tos fail.

I’ve written before about creating space for children to experience error in order to learn, and it occurred to me that I rarely hold that kind of space for my self. It seems silly really — after all, it’s not as though I have nothing left to learn.

This week I’m trying to be more gracious with myself, as I aim to be with my children, in order to foster learning and growth.

That same frustrating, messy, human day, I read these words in the beloved book The Tao of Montessori by Catherine McTamaney, and felt both seen and buoyed:

“Abandon fault. Leave behind the blame placing. Even the best teaching is messy.”

May your messy days be days of learning too.

 

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18-21 months, 22-24 months, 6-12 months, Montessori philosophy, Motor development, Practical Life, Under 1 year

You’re doing it wrong, keep it up!

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If, in your travels on Pinterest and Instagram, you see a beautiful photo of a tiny toddler carefully/peacefully/confidently lifting a little jug of water to pour himself a glass, here’s what you may have missed:

  • a baby experimenting with different grips on a weaning glass
  • a baby pouring water down his shirt
  • an older baby throwing a full glass of water in the general direction of his face
  • an older yet baby taking a few sips before dropping a half-full glass into his lap
  • a one year old pushing a glass off the edge of the table — repeatedly
  • a one year old who reaches for a cloth after taking a drink
  • a one year old says “uh oh” when a glass breaks and his mother sweeps it up
  • a thirteen month old grabbing the pitcher to pour for himself
  • a fourteen month old pouring a puddle of water immediately beside his glass
  • a fourteen month and one day old getting a little more water into his glass
  • a fifteen month old who uses a cloth on the little puddle of water on his placemat
  • a sixteen month old who pours a glass a water
  • a sixteen month old who an hour later completely misses the glass again
  • a seventeen month old who pours all of the water from the pitcher into and over and around the glass, long after it’s full

Maybe all of this seems a bit much, but the point is this: each of these opportunities builds on the last, as the child learns through his own real life experience how to hold a glass of water.

Through repetition, that is, through repeatedly doing something “wrong”, he learned how to meet his own goal (to get water from one vessel into another).

In the early days of incorporating Montessori into our own home though, I’d be disappointed when I introduced a new activity or material and it seemed like my little guy just couldn’t get the hang of it. My expectations were based on things I’d seen other kids do online, or read about in a book, or seen in a film (and one really simple error I occasionally made as a first time mom was not understanding the very real difference between, say, a 17 month old and a 20 month old).

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At this point in the journey, I’ve come to realize this: if you offer a child an empty glass and an appropriately sized pitcher of water for the first time ever, and they have no problem pouring a glass without spilling a drop, you’ve waited too long.

Spills, messes, challenges, frustrationit’s all part of the process, of learning, of doing hard things. Fear of failure? It’s got no place here.

A parent doesn’t need to say a thing — that wee genius knows what he’s attempting and whether it’s been successful. “The teacher should never intervene in an action when the impulse prompting it is good, neither with her approval nor with her help nor with a lesson or correction,” Maria Montessori wrote in Some Words of Advice to Teachers.

Today’s challenge: let’s offer opportunities to our kids (and to ourselves), to try something and not quite get it. To pour the water on the floor, to climb up the wrong side of the slide, to put their shoes on the wrong feet. And then let’s smile and watch them try again.

Do we follow each other on Instagram? Let’s! Click here for an Instagram video of a very wee Jasper pouring himself a drink a long while back, and hit follow while you’re there.

 

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6-12 months, 6-8 months

Baby’s first bites

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Around these parts, we all love to eat. Well, Jasper is going through a deeply suspicious food, but the foods he likes — blueberry pancakes, roasted chicken, and sliced apples — he really likes. Our dining room table is a gathering place, a place to reconnect, a place to enjoy nourishing our bodies.

Sage has been joining us at the table almost since the very beginning, tucked into a lap. Though she was exclusively breastfeeding, she was still able to be a part of the family circle and take in all the sights and sounds that family dinner-time has to offer.

Now that she’s a little older, she joins us for dinner, sitting in a booster seat on a chair, pulled up to the table.

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For breakfast and snacks, she and Jasper usually sit together at a smaller weaning table, with a safe and supportive weaning chair just her size. Some Montessorians choose to let a baby eat at the weaning table for every meal, but time spent sharing a meal together is an important part of our family’s culture.

We all use ceramic dishes and real glassware, modelling safe and proper usage, while allowing the kids to learn that things can break (rather than introducing glass for the first time later, and watching a four year old have to learn that he can’t toss glass around the way he’s done for years with his plastic cups). At ten months, Sage drinks from an open glass with a bit of assistance holding it to her mouth.

We use a small bib, which attaches at the front shoulder, so that in the coming months, Sage can remove it herself, to signal that she’s finished eating. For now, we use baby sign language for “more” and “all done.”

With both Jasper and Sage, we’ve followed the self-feeding or baby-led weaning method, meaning that rather than pureeing food and spoon feeding it, food is offered in larger pieces that the baby then feeds to herself. It’s safe, simple and allows the baby to decide when she’s had enough to eat.

At around 8 months, as her dexterity grew, we began offering a spoon (often pre-loaded) for her to use, and currently using cutlery is a big focus of hers at meal times. `

Independence in eating comes with a bunch of benefits, from healthy habits to less time in the kitchen, but there is one big trade off: it’s a messy business. If you’ve got a dog who likes to clean up under the table, they’ll be in heaven. I haven’t got a dog, but a three year old with a Swiffer mop is a pretty good substitute, and I’m counting down the days till summer heralds the season of dining alfresco.

If you’re starting to think about feeding your baby, I recommend checking out this post from How We Montessori, which compares the traditional Montessori method with baby-led weaning. For a full run-down of essentials, check this great post on Midwest Montessori.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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0-2 months, Family life, Under 1 year

Learning to love cloth diapers

Learning to love cloth diapers

Get this: not only do I find myself loving cloth diapers, I am loving changing diapers. And no, I don’t think I’m any crazier than your average mom of an infant and a toddler (which, okay…).

Cloth diapers have a whole lot of good going for them: they’re a more environmentally-friendly waste-solution, they don’t mask wetness and they are associated with more effective toilet learning. But lots of people have cloth diaper fears that mainly boil down to this: it’s too much icky work. I figured out pretty quickly that it’s not actually that much extra effort — diaper changes are just as quick, and people with kids do lots of laundry anyway. No problem.

Flashback two years, however, and you’d find me avoiding the cloth diapers piling up in a corner of my baby’s room, lonely and unused. I wanted to use them, I’d make efforts to use them, and somehow I’d find myself buying, using and throwing out disposable diapers.

I felt overwhelmed. We’d moved shortly after Jasper was born and were still in the process of setting up a home. I tried keeping diaper supplies on both floors of the house, and eventually settled on a changing him on the floor of his bedroom, a location that didn’t work for either my husband or my mom (and therefore, didn’t work). It all just seemed like a lot to manage, one more thing to worry about. Where are the covers? Where are the clean diapers? Why are there so many clean diapers piling up? Do we have wipes? Where are the wipes? Does the diaper pail stink? And on, and on. The pack of Pampers seemed like an easy way out. 

This time around, I promised myself it would be different. And it has been.  Changing diapers has an element of fun to it — choosing a colour, fastening the snaps (weak, I know, but I promise, there is not even that much joy in disposables). It’s a time to spend making eye-contact with my babe, talk through what we’re doing and giving her my full attention. 

So what’s the difference? Ladies and gentlemen, prepare yourselves for the wonders of the prepared environment.

I got it together by getting a changing station together. Absurdly simple, but amazingly effective. It’s got it all: a soft place for baby girl, a stack of clean diapers & a basket of covers, and another basket holding diaper liners, wipes and cream. And we really use it. It’s the only place in the home that we change Sage’s diaper, and the environment there is becoming a signal to her, so that she knows what to expect. I have no questions, and neither does she. We’re loving it.

For more on the joy of diaper changes, check out this great post from Janet Lansbury. 

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22-24 months, 24-28 months

Autumn fun — a bumper crop of apple works

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It’s Halloween day, which I’m trying to convince myself does NOT signal the end of autumn, and the start of…that other season. With warnings of wet flurries tonight, it’s been a real challenge.

I thought I’d round up some of the apple and harvest-themed work we’ve been up to over the past month or so, before it’s too late. Apples are a wonderful cold-storage fruit too, so the fun with local apples can continue all winter long.

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Apple Picking

We are really blessed to live in a bit of an apple belt (there’s a local stretch of country roads labelled as “The Apple Route” if themed road trips are your thing), and there are a number of orchards around that are available for picking-your-own. This was our second year going, and it’s becoming a really sweet tradition. It really helps to set the scene early in the season, so that J can grasp where these apples are coming from. It’s also an affordable way of stocking up for all the apple fun to come. Plus, apples grow really low. Like, toddler height, for instance.

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Apple Peeling

We were given an apple peeler last Christmas by an old friend and it has turned out to be one of our most-loved gifts. Jasper is becoming more and more adept at turning the crank, but even as a younger toddler, we’d do it hand-over-hand and he loved to watch the apple turn. He loves to eat the ribbons of apple peel that twist off of the peeler. I can see this becoming an independent work within a year or so.

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Apple Cutting

Our apple peeler also slices the apple into a spiral, which is a great set up for the next work: cutting with a knife and cutting board. When he was younger, we usually used the wavy chopper from Montessori Services, and he’s since moved onto using a small, slightly serrated knife (which is meant to be a cheese knife. Have we talked about cheese knives? They’re toddler-hand-sized and depending on the knife, perfect for either cutting or spreading. Get thee to a thrift store!).

 

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Apple Stamping

Jasper has been loving painting these days — at almost any time of the day. Case in point: today he painted before breakfast. Having the paint and paper available on the art shelf at all times has been really allowing him to pursue this love.

A few days ago, we did some apple stamping. Slice an apple in half (in this case, an apple I found on the counter with two small, browning bites out of it), paint the inside, slam it down. Actually, J eventually found that slamming doesn’t actually transfer paint very well.

And bonus pumpkin action! Pumpkin Washing

This is a variation on the watermelon exploration we did in the summer — carrying, measuring and washing a pumpkin. And hey, sometimes those pumpkins can be a bit muddy straight out the patch, so this practical life work can be really practical.

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Here are a few more apple-themed works from around the web:

How about baking up some tasty apple crisp with your toddler? — from Sixtine et Victoire

Loved this apple pie exploration for a young toddler. — from Welcome to Mommyhood

This genius sensory exploration for even younger toddlers. — from Natural Beach Living

This life cycle of an apple tree project would be nice to combine with an orchard visit.  — from My Montessori Journey

Learning the parts of a fruit. — from The Natural Homeschool

A whole week of apple activities! — from Golden Reflections

Another week of apple fun and a week of pumpkins too! — from Study-at-Home Mama

This idea for an apple-tasting is great for pre-schoolers. — from Natural Beach Living

For older kids: apple tree art — from Hip Homeschool Moms

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Keep your fingers crossed for warm weather for wee trick-or-treaters tonight! Happy Halloween!

P.S. What are your plans for keeping November from getting too wintery?

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18-21 months, Family life, Montessori philosophy, Practical Life

Practical life in the garden

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In the Montessori method, activities that are carried on as part of daily life in the home are referred to as  “practical life.” Practical life work should be just that: practical. Useful, meaningful work that really makes a difference in the environment or for the family.

For parents of toddlers, it can sometimes be difficult. Zipping up one’s own jacket is useful and meaningful, but it sure can be inconvenient to do it on toddler time when you’re already late for an appointment. That one moment of haste can turn into a big ripple-effect power struggle for the rest of the morning. I fully admit it: it happens. But when there is time (and there’s often more than I think), say on a sunny Sunday morning, I try to use it to really engage with my little guy and give him the time and space he needs to develop confidence and independence in all the many activities we do through our days.

This weekend Jasper and I did some practical life work together in our garden, as we added compost to the straw bale cold frame in one of our raised beds, where we’ll soon have baby spinach and kale popping up like crazy. That is, as soon as the snow stops falling long enough to plant the seeds.

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Helping in the garden is a wonderful way to participate in the rhythm of the home. It allows Jasper to engage with the season, learn about the natural life cycles of plants and other garden-dwellers, and to contribute food to our table. A practical life activity such as preparing a snack can actually begin weeks and months ahead of time, with the planting of a few seeds.

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Our Sunday morning garden work included: scooping using different implements, pouring, transferring, and carrying a bucket. With lots of repetition! I loved watching Jasper watch the compost slide through the holes in the bottom of this little pot.

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It was work that needed to be done, and I truly appreciated the help.

How does your child participate in the practical life of the home?

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