October: The goings on inside the classroom and out

The Autumn months seem to fly by so quickly with everyone in school mode. This is usually around the time when everyone is feeling a bit burnt out by the return to school and it is also the time when classrooms are finally settling in.

We often use this time to slow down and reconnect at home. This includes snuggling up with a good stack of books together on the couch.

Our October/November bookshelf consists of seasonal favourites and some new additions. The Dog That Ate the World is a gorgeous new fable from Sandra Dieckman that talks about the darkness spreading across the earth and how despite it, one small village banded together to keep the fire burning and the music playing. It’s absolutely excellent for starting big conversations with children 6+.

We also make extra time for being in some of our most favourite natural spots. There isn’t a set learning agenda here. Just a chance to get away from it all. Long school days become balanced by our time spent watching the waves roll in or staring up at the rainforest canopy or simply the Milky Way from our own back yard.

Inside the classroom, small themes are slowly making their way in. It’s pumpkin season where we live and so our 3-6 Montessori classroom shelves reflect that with some gorgeous wooden anatomy puzzles and 3 Part Nomenclature Cards from Puzzle Heads Educational Products.

The frenzied pace of the new year is also starting to settle. Children are beginning to choose age appropriate work that piques their interest independently and there is less of a need for a teacher to constantly be hovering.

In many schools this is also the time of year when the first parent/teacher meetings are happening. These can be an exciting time for families as they may not have had a chance to be in their child’s classroom yet this year and parents are often eager to check in with the teacher and ask their questions.

I wrote a piece for Milkweed Montessori a few years ago and I’ve included my words here as I feel they are incredibly important for parents going into meeting season.

“I have had the incredible privilege to sit on both sides of the table for this. First as an over eager slightly paranoid Mother and then as a patient and slightly paranoid Casa teacher. First, before going to the meeting, think about and then write down your 3 most burning questions. Just 3. Each school sets the times for their meetings differently but one thing is certain. They have not reserved your time spot and the following 3 spots for you to empty out your questions list. Usually meetings last under 20 mins. Be prepared to leave when your time is up and make your time count.

That being said, a good Montessori school will have also properly prepared some very key points that are important to your child’s day. If your child is 3-4 you may hear lots about Practical Life. If your child is 4-5 you may hear lots about the Language or Culture areas and if your child is 5-6 you may hear lots about Math. Or not. The Montessori classroom is a vast one with many options.

What you are listening for is: “Your child loves (this)”. Or “Your child has recently really been interested in (this).” This shows that your teachers are really observing your child. If you don’t hear these statements, make sure they are one of your 3 important questions to ask. You are looking for signs that your child is loving the environment. That they are connecting with the materials. This should be evident regardless of age.

This is a first meeting and you may not get a lot of progression statements unless your child is a returning child. If they are a returning child one of your teachers points should be a progression statement. A statement about how your child has made progress with a particular area of the classroom. This may be as general as “Your child has gained independence in our transition times” (gets ready for home by themselves). It may be specific such as “Your child has made huge strides with the Language area.” Each of these statements are equally important in the eyes of a teacher.

The Parent Teacher meetings can be nerve racking, but they are incredibly insightful. You enter the world of the child. Listen with truly open ears and an open minded heart. Ask your 3 questions that are important to you gaining a better understanding of how your child’s day looks or what is in the future for your child.

More often than not, you will find yourself feeling just like the teacher. Absolutely amazed.”

We hope your Autumn has been a safe and happy one. We’d love to hear how you mark the changing of the seasons and how you are coping with back to school.

Back to school shoes: Softstar review and giveaway!

September has seen us settling back into the school year routine.

We are often asked to recommend a quality indoor shoe that is appropriate for the Montessori environment. Ever since Quentin started Montessori school, our recommendation has always been Softstar Shoes. You can see him wearing his first pair here and here.

So when Softstar contacted us with a gifted pair for both Quentin and I we jumped at the chance.

We love these shoes for so many reasons but the most important reason is that they support the natural development and strength of feet. Feet, especially those of little children were not meant to be in a hard and un-flexing soled shoe all day. They need to move, to breath and the toes need to be able to grip the floor.

Quentin loves that they are completely customizable from the design colours to the materials. Quentin choose all black (perfect for schools requiring a black uniform shoe) with the rocket button in whiskey orange and gold in Sublime leather. Mine are a gorgeously soft Pebble Grey in Nubuck leather and I let the Elves choose the button motif which ended up being a star in Indigo. A perfect choice for an understated classroom look that goes with everything.

They are absolutely perfect for someone who is on their feet all day in a bustling Montessori classroom. Roo Moccasins are lined with cosy sheepskin and so they are a pleasure to pull on in the morning and keep our feet odour free and breathing all day.

They are also perfect for cosy play at home as the Autumn weather sets in.

We love them so much that Softstar has graciously offered to give away pairs to one of our followers!

Head to our Instagram feed here for your chance to win!

Montessori Summer Book Club: Back to School with a new favourite

Our summer time is about to come to an end and we are slowly gathering matching socks and finding pants that aren’t too short.

We are also rotating our bookshelves to include our favourite school related Montessori compatible books. We’ve written about some of our favourites before and you can find them here.

This year we are adding a new favourite.

A beautiful simple story of a day at school. Some look a little worried, others look excited, but no one looks exactly like anyone else and all are welcome.

The illustrations are bright and colourful and leave so much opportunity for child led further discussion.

We love that this book showcases so much diversity and yet doesn’t specifically touch on it because that’s not the point. Children reading this book can see themselves in the pages and point out the things they have in common and that’s the point.

That though we are all slightly different, we are very much the same and that classrooms and schools have the opportunity to bring people closer together and welcome everyone in.

Book Club Summer Edition Part 3: Water books we love

Summer most definitely means being by the water for us. Everything from beach combing to long afternoons pool side to even the occasional puddle jump. We love it when the books on our bookshelves inspire a child to seek more, either trying what they read in the book, or just inspiring them to go out and adventure.

These are our absolute favourites:

The Beachcomber’s companion found here is a new one for us and is filled with beautiful illustrations and lots of detail about the many treasures one could find on beaches all over the world. Suited best for ages 6+ a younger child would enjoy looking at the pictures and we love well illustrated books like this for vocabulary building in toddlers.

We wrote about our love affair with Red Sky at Night Here. Its pages are stunning as are all books by this amazing Canadian author. The “sailing sayings” listed on each page have gotten us testing out each of these theories over the course of the Summer. Quentin will often check for dew in the back garden in the morning in hopes of predicting the weather that day. So far its been right every time.

Red Rubber Boot Day has been in our house for sixteen years. It was a favourite of our oldest and it quickly became a favourite of Quentin as well. The images are stunning, and the story drips with language. We wrote about it as part of our favourite books for Birth-2 here.

Jambari Jumps has been a book that we’ve been waiting until this summer to read with Quentin. A story of a young boy wanting to take his first dive on the diving board, it gave Quentin the extra bit of bravery he needed to try it himself. Bubbling up after his jump he exclaimed that he had jumped like Jambari did and that he hadn’t been scared after all. An excellent book to read with children 3-6 and it can be found here.

We’ve written about Pool and Beyond the Pond before here. Both excellent for inspiring adventure and seeking the extraordinary in the ordinary. Both books were enjoyed by Quentin at a young age and we feel that although these books clearly dabble in the fantastical, that they were a good fit for us from around 4 years of age.

If you have summer favourites that you’d like to see featured here please leave a comment! We’d love to feature some excellent new finds.

Book Club Summer Edition Part 4: Books about Food and where it comes from

Summer is my favourite time of year to be outside, and one of my absolute favourite places to be is surrounded by green an growing things. This includes stocking our bookshelves with our favourite books about gardens, food and where it comes from.

A beautiful story of compassion set in a cold and wintry world where adults chase a lost fox away, and a young child brings it food and offers it shelter in a beautiful greenhouse full of flowers. “Fox’s Garden” found here is perfect for even the youngest child and older children love imagining the story in read-aloud sessions.

We absolutely adore the Anatomy series by Julia Rothman. “Farm Anatomy” found here is a complete guide to all aspects of a farm from the machinery to planting to different kinds of barn doors. We love the ideas and recipes in it and the detail is second to none. It’s absolutely perfect for children beginning at 2 years as a vocabulary book and it remains a favourite well into the elementary years.

“Eating the Alphabet” found here was one of Quentin’s favourites as a toddler. The vocabulary building opportunities are endless and the rich colours draw both the adult and child in. The children in my 3-6 Montessori classroom love it because it’s a great conversation starter for that age group around food, what you’ve tried and what you definitely don’t love to eat. For Quentin it’s tomatoes.

We wrote about “Green Green: A community garden story” here when we showcased some of our community/allotment garden plot. We love community gardens. So many opportunities to connect with your neighbours, grow fresh food without the need for growing space at home and teach children about the food cycle.

We love Elisha Cooper books. Of all of them this is our favourite “Farm” found here is a beautiful story that touches my heart and makes me homesick for my childhood days of hiding in corn rows and the smell of the hayloft. It follows the life of a farming family for one year and Quentin loves the rich detail. It’s best suited to children 5+.

“Grandpa’s Garden” has been a favourite for years. We love Barefoot Books and this one follows a boy and his grandfather as they slowly wait for their garden to come to life. Barefoot has an excellent selection of garden and food related books for every age and their rich use of language and inclusive and diverse books keep us coming back.

Do you have a favourite thing to grow in your field, garden or planter box? We’d love you to share it. If you’ve never tried growing vegetables, lettuce is an easy one and perfect for kids to grow.

The Unprepared Environment: When a child loses their Peacefulness

It was a hard week. A combination of things that in hind sight could have been spaced more evenly to allow for Quentin to better process them.

It began on the Saturday with his big brother leaving. Anthony took a position doing what he loves that will keep him away at least all summer. It’s happened before but Quentin was much younger. Perhaps the difficulty stemmed from the fact that he’s older now. Or perhaps it stemmed from the realization that this is a sort of practice run. That his big brother is now an adult and with high school finished will soon be moving on and moving out.

The very next day was Sunday and while Quentin left for his grandparents house to spend a week of too much media too many snack foods and late bedtimes, his parents left on a week long trip of their own.

It was perhaps all too much to take on for one small boy but then the unimaginable happened. His beloved cat whom had gone missing 6 weeks before and we’d long since written off as dead returned.

Emaciated and traumatized he was miraculously unharmed. We covered him with tears and kisses as we learned from his vet that the likely reason for his remarkable resurrection is that although he pried the back door open independently, after that someone stole him.

The questions from Quentin immediately came.

“But you can’t steal a living thing, can you?”

“Why would someone take my kitten? Don’t they know I love him?”

Needless to say it was a very long week.

So. What do we do when our child’s rhythm and Sense of Order has been thrown so completely off course? What happens when a normally happy, peaceful, engaged child becomes rude, hyperactive and defiant?

We take a breath, or two or three or more, and we go right back to Montessori basics.

We start by acknowledging and empathizing with their feelings and offer our own perspective. Yes Huxley was taken which was horrible and I can see you are very sad and angry. I’m so thankful he was clever enough to escape and find his way back to us.

And then most importantly we repair the Prepared Environment.

For us this means predictable early bedtimes even though it’s summer holidays to ensure lost sleep is caught up. It means healthy food options at predictable times that the child can easily prepare, and access to lots of water to stay hydrated.

For us it also means rotating in some special activities that we can do together as well as activities that the child can do quietly to regain their independent play moments. A container of water beads and a few sea creatures seen here is the perfect option to help extend independent quiet moments. A new water colour pallet to ring in our yearly summer tradition of sitting under the maple tree in our front yard painting and reading goes a long way to help us reconnect with each other. Outings to the library or other regularly visited favourite places of the child can actually help a child get back into their home daily rhythm.

And finally the most important aspect of repairing the environment is love. Extra words, extra gestures, extra closeness, extra time and extra patience. It’s knowing who your child is, knowing when something is off, and patiently and lovingly helping them through it.

Book Club Summer Edition Part 2: More Books and activities a year later

One year later after we wrote part one of this post here we are settling into our summer rhythm once again. And once again we are following the Montessori approach to home learning, which means we “follow the child”. So although there is always an opportunity to foster curiosity we don’t advocate for structured, academic summer home learning.

Books and extension invitations are such a fun way for us to spend quality time together. These are some of our favourites this year.

The Darkest Dark is a favourite Canadian read here. Astronaut Chris Hadfield recounts a story of his childhood of big imaginations, big dreams and being afraid of the dark. We love the illustrations and comical and relatable moments. It’s perfect for kids 3-6.

Max and the Tag Along Moon is by the multi award winning Floyd Cooper. His soft paintings tell a gorgeous story of a small boy’s love for his Grandfather who reminds him that the same moon that shines over them together will shine over them when they are apart. Max watches the moon as it “tags along” all the way back to his own house. Perfect for kids 2+.

We have written about some of our own favourite moon and space nature activities here.

Straw painting is so easily accessible to children beginning around two years old. It requires nothing more than a straw and some coloured water. We have loved making constellations over the years.

We also watch the Perseid Meteor shower every year in August. I have fond memories of curling up with Quentin in the back yard hammock, wrapped in a blanket, watching the streaks of light cross the sky. You can find all the details of that meteor shower here. If you aren’t in a great viewing location for this space event, research what you can see. Summer is the perfect time for star gazing.

Up in the Leaves: The True Story of the Central Park Treehouses was recommended by our friend Fred Ted and Company. I’m so glad they did. It’s our favourite new book on our shelves. A true story of a young boy who lives in New York and dislikes the noise and crowds. He instead decides to seek refuge in Central Park and build tree houses. A book about following your passion despite what people may say, it is an excellent read for children 5 and up.

Westlandia has been on our shelves for over a decade. It was our oldest’s absolute favourite as a young boy. Another story of a boy who doesn’t quite fit in and decides to follow his own path. There’s a reason it has stood the test of times in this house. Well written with extremely rich language and beautifully coloured pages, this story sparks imagination, follows the Montessori Great Lessons and ultimately showcases that it’s not only ok to be different from the masses; it’s essential. It is essential reading material for all children but especially those that feel like outcasts. Ideal for children 7+.

Our own front yard tree house was there long before Quentin came along and gave both the boys so much fun. Anthony especially. He would spend summer nights up there, lantern light glowing through the window, curled up in his sleeping bag reading with a snack. Regrettably it had to come down earlier this year. Quentin was devastated as he was not yet big enough to climb the rope ladder independently. We will have to consider a rebuild when he is older.

We keep all our Montessori compatible outdoor space ideas on our Montessori Outdoor Space Pinterest Board here. There is something for everyone from the beginner looking to bring in a little outdoor play to the advanced builder looking for their next project.

We hope that you are having a relaxing, exciting and memory making Summer.

Montessori friendly infant materials: Giveway

Ethically sourced, chemical free, Montessori compatible infant materials are often hard find. We love discovering local shops that have both quality and Montessori at the forefront of their design so when Anson the owner of CUBOS approached us to test their new shape sorter the CUBOS-lite, we were thrilled.

Made from hardwood, finished in a natural beeswax polish, the pieces are stunning, easy to grasp and fit easily through their correct holes. The easy open lid will delight children as they can store more than just the accompanying blocks inside.

The CUBOS-lite Kickstarter campaign opened yesterday and can be found here for anyone looking to purchase this beautiful Canadian made heirloom toy.

We are so thrilled with it that we are giving one CUBOS-lite away starting today on our Instagram feed found here. Follow the link for your chance to win!

Montessori friendly STEM activities: Rainbow crafts

Sewing is one of our favourite Practical Life activities to do in the 3-6 Prepared Environment.

We love that this kit by KiwiCo is focused on the science behind rainbows and that it comes with everything your child needs to create some fantastic fibre arts projects!

Like their “Tinker” subscription box for 9 years and up that we reviewed here, this Koala level is well laid out with easy instructions to follow.

Kiwico is offering Our Montessori Life followers a free one month trial of any subscription box in their lineup!

Follow this link to see their entire selection of subscription boxes and choose your free one!

Summer Screen-Free Activity ideas: Montessori compatible subscription boxes

With Summer right around the corner in this part of the world, we’ve been planning lots of exciting outdoor time and some fun indoor activities to help keep us off screens as much as possible.

I absolutely love subscription boxes and we have used many over the years but I have struggled to find Montessori compatible ones that were good quality, mixed age specific and above all tailored to a child’s general interests while being a “one stop shop”.

So when KiwiCo approached us to review some of their subscription box options we jumped at the chance.

KiwiCo is focused on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) with hands-on projects delivered each month, and there are 5 different lines for kids up to 16 years.

Although this particular box is ages 9+ Quentin can read at a 12 year old level. The words “walking robot” sucked him in right away and he immediately wanted to try this one first. I was sceptical I have to admit.

Each box comes with everything you need including all parts, instructing and an accompanying zine. As you can see the instructions are extremely clear and easy to follow. At just turned 6 years old, Quentin could easily follow along. He liked that the parts lists were clearly laid out so that he could easily see what he needed to gather before reading the instructions and making the next step. I liked that many of the parts are actually wood, not something we often see in boxes like this.

We were so thrilled with this set and we can’t wait to show you the others.

KiwiCo is offering all Our Montessori Life followers a free one month trial of any subscription box in their line up!

Follow this link to see the entire line of boxes and get your own!

This will be perfect for those long summer days when we are in need of a little downtime together inside or under the big tree in the front yard with a glass of lemonade.