Christmas, Solstice & Hannukah, Family life

Beloved books for December

 

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Detail from “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

Tis the season for slow mornings and cozy evenings, for rich stories and deep dreaming. Here are a few of our family’s favourite books for this sweet season:

For babies, toddlers and kids up to five years old (and, of course, beyond):

Winter by Gerda Muller. Wordless, wintery wonder!

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. The beauty and curiosity of an ordinary day.

Red is Best by Kathy Stinson. Always a hit for those who like to dress themselves!

Alfie’s Christmas by Shirley Hughes. Alfie’s experiences as a three or four year-old person are told always with respect, care and attention — and this holiday story is no different.

Almost a Full Moon by Hawksley Workman. A sweet song turned into a gorgeous picture book, rich with themes of generosity, community, and sharing the harvest.

The Tale of Baboushka by Elena Pasquali. This has been Sage’s favourite for a few years running.

Night Tree by Eve Bunting. A family heads out after dark, to prepare a happy surprise in the forest. A classic.

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper and Carson Ellis. One of today’s most amazing illustrators teamed up with a classic poem by an award-winning children’s author.

Sleep Tight Farm by Eugenie Doyle. The harvest season is over and the farmers are preparing the land for its long winter’s nap. The illustrations in this one are really worth seeing.

For six years and up:

A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas. A classic story of Christmas past written with the voice of a poet, here beautifully illustrated by one of the best: Trina Schart Hyman (who also illustrated the next book).

Hershel and the Hannukah Goblins by Eric Kimmel. Jasper’s forest school leader has made a tradition of reading this story in December, and every time the kids have raved about it on the carpool home. A trickster hero versus the King of Goblins on the eighth night of Hannukah? The kids are here for it.

Fireside Stories: Tales for a Winter’s Eve – a collection of stories, matched to the season from Samhain through to the start of spring, this book is full of depth and wonder.

A Small Miracle by Peter Collington. No words, just beautiful illustrations telling a story of generosity and care. This is one my kids return to over and over for some quiet moments of simply looking.

Nine Days to Christmas by Marie Hall Ets. This 1960 Caldecott Prize winner tells of a Mexican girl’s beautiful, ordinary days of excitement and anticipation leading up to her first posada. A longish book, requested over and over.

A Coyote Solstice Tale by Thomas King. A very funny story with great illustrations that pokes fun at mall-centric celebrations, from an Indigenous perspective.

Once Upon a Northern Night by Jean Penziwol.  Dreamy, contemplative quiet. Perfect for winter nights well beyond the holiday season.

 

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Christmas, Solstice & Hannukah, parenting

Five links to slow you down this season

the snow lady shirley hughes

“The Snow Lady” by Shirley Hughes

Montessori wrote a lot about inner preparation of the adult, meant to culture the sensitivity, peace, and curiosity that is best suited to meeting each child. Whether you are motivated to prepare for the children in your life, or to cultivate a bit of space in your own heart this season, you deserve to move at your own pace, even in December.

Pour a cup of tea and read an article; fill the sink with warm soapy water and hit play. Here are a few bits of space and wonder I’ve gleaned on the web lately:

Shirley Hughes’ BBC Woman’s Hour Takeover  I have such a fondness for the author of Alfie and Doggo (our favourite is her seasonal collection of poems called “Out and About“), and really enjoyed this hour of British radio where Shirley Hughes herself set the agenda. Pour that tea!

Mr Rogers wasn’t just nice — he wanted to take down consumerism

An introduction to storying – that is, telling a story as you craft it, or crafting a story outloud. Winter is the time for stories!

Take Peace! A Corgi Cottage Christmas with Tasha Tudor film on Prime Video. The beloved children’s illustrator shares memories of Christmases past, surrounded by her paints and her corgis. Quite dreamy.

Gaelynn Lea’s Tiny Desk concert (just a quick break from Mariah)

P.S. I’ve been asked whether I’ll have a 2019 gift guide, and the answer is yes! It’s on its way (in its own time).

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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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Books, Family life, Montessori philosophy, parenting, Peace education

Perfectionism and parenting

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I heard this quote on a podcast recently, and it really grabbed me. There are times I can think of, as a parent, as a teacher, as a blogger, when I know, looking back, that perfectionism has been driving. And none of these have been my best, most effective, or most loving moments.

As I thought about it, I realized perfectionism isn’t actually an end point — it’s not about whether things are “perfect.” It’s always been a motivating or “driving” force, as Brené Brown puts it. It’s about proving myself worthy. And as a parent today, there are all kinds of new ways to push myself into perfectionism.

We meet perfectionism on the way to potentially stressful situations: when we feel we have an audience to impress, like visiting grandparents, meeting a new teacher, or  that first  playdate with new friends. When we have created an expectation for ourselves, like embarking on a family vacation, or preparing and presenting something new to a child (and we’re already thinking ahead to the Instagram post!). We meet perfectionism when we want to others to see us and validate us and our efforts.

It’s not about doing your best, it’s about aiming to arrive at a place when you will have your efforts, have your self, validated by external circumstances.

It’s fundamentally removed from the present moment ad is always pushing on to another, more perfect moment in the future.

I think we all probably know what perfectionism looks like, and even more what it feels like (I get that tension in my gut just thinking about it!). The unholy trinity of perfectionism, fear and shame are powerful forces that can ultimately drive us in the opposite direction of our goals.

You know what perfectionism doesn’t look like? Curiosity. Openness. Vulnerability. Acceptance. Gratitude. Joy. Presence. In fact, maybe these things are the anti-dote.

Let’s hop in that car. Let’s offer curiosity to our children. Let’s offer acceptance to ourselves.

You are a good mother. You are a good teacher. You are worthy. I am worthy.

P.S. All credit to Brené Brown, whose work is really changing the world. I highly recommend any one of her amazing books, but especially Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. If you’re reading this blog, this is the book for you.

If you’re wondering about what embracing imperfection looks like in real, family life, check out this post.

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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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22-24 months, 24-28 months, 3 years old, 3-6 Years, Family life, Nature, Practical Life, Preschool, toddler

Autumn activities for little people

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Autumn is one of my favourite times of year — a time for circling back, for settling in, and for reaping the harvest. It’s also the time when I celebrate my birthday, our wedding anniversary, and two amazing holidays — Canadian Thanksgiving and Halloween. Looking for ideas on how to make the best of the season? Take a few tips from a pro. 😉

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Plant bulbs now for flowers next spring. During last week’s Milkweed Montessori morning, my toddler friends and I read Planting a Rainbow, and then spent some time digging holes and popping in bulbs for crocus, tulip and daffodils. It’s great way to connect this moment within the flow of moments that make up the days, weeks, months, and seasons, that lead us to a moment next spring when, green shoot pokes through the earth and offers up a bloom.

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Get in touch with the fruits of the season. Part of what makes autumn so magical is that it is the culmination of the warm sunshiny days that came before it, and no where is that better illustrated than in ripe apples and big, round pumpkins. Apple picking, the pumpkin patch or a wander through a corn maze offer opportunities to connect with tradition in a hands-on way, from toddlers on up. These are the icons of the season for a reason, so throw out the cliches, and get out there and see how and where they grow. If your tastes run a little wilder, keep an eye out for high bush cranberry or autumn olive on outdoor adventures.

Ready to take it to the next level? Save your pumpkin seeds for growing in the garden next year. This year our backyard pumpkin patch has provided two perfectly round specimens for two perfectly spooky jack o’lanterns.

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Make a pie! A few years ago, a morning-long Pie 101 presentation from my friend Katie (an award-winning pie baker!) helped to conquer my fear of pastry. Now I always make a few pies when the fruit is at its peak, and I nearly always have help from my helpers, who love to peel the apples, bust up the butter, and roll out the pastry. If you do brave pie-baking with preschoolers, snap a pic and use the #montessoripie hashtag!

Follow along with Fall Outside 2017, an annual online reminder to go outside, and a welcoming online community to share those experiences with. For me, November is one of the hardest times of year — a wistful goodbye to the joys of October, and a grey introduction to the months to come. I’ve enjoyed following along with the prompts since November 2015, and we’ll do so again this year.

What are you up to this season? Share your ideas and tips with me, because there’s still some autumn left! 

Related posts: 

Autumn fun – a bumper crop of apple works 

A whole post dedicated to Planting a Rainbow

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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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