Montessori at Home: Practical Life at 3

  

What Montessori meant by this is that, in the eyes of a child, (especially one that has been given the freedom to develop without outside negative influences) there is no difference between work and play. Tasks thought to be mundane and laborious by adults bring a little child joy. 

Because Quentin has always had the freedom to choose practical life tasks from around the home, he now can independently complete many of his own wanting without help from us. 

Although he still has access to Practical Life shelves all week at school, I have made sure there aren’t any of these tray type activities here. Instead we have supplied him with real, good quality tools that are in the home along side our own tools. 

This had been a process and not something that happened overnight. 

If there is an opportunity to learn a new skill (such as using the sewing machine) I will still go back and give him a proper lesson and then observe him as he masters it. 

Last week I followed him around with my camera and took some pictures as examples of the Practical Life tasks he chooses in one day . 

  
He first chooses to hang his own freshly washed laundry. A child sized basket and clothes horse make it easier to work with. He uses old fashion pegs because his hands aren’t strong enough to pinch the spring loaded ones. 

  
Preparing his snack of apple. He has been using this crinkle cutter knife since he was 18 months. Although he now has access to other types of small handled knives, he regularly chooses this one. 

  
After lunch sweeping up is still a favourite for him. He has become very good at getting most if not all the dirt into his dustpan. 

  
Of all the activities he chooses, he loves gardening most of all. The wheelbarrow and tools were our Christmas gift to him last year. My Mother bought him the perfect sized “working gloves” as he calls them. 

These are only some of the Practical Life things he chooses for himself each day. He also washes his dishes, mops the floors and pretty much anything else he’s decided would be a good project. 

Of course these things don’t make up his whole day but I love seeing him carrying a tool on the way to something he’s got planned. 

How did all this come to be? Well these types of activities first started as prepared shelf activities. The scooping of beans from bowl to bowl with a spoon is exactly the same wrist movement he now uses to transfer earth in the garden. His dustpan and brush started out as a shelf activity too. When he got better at it we removed the activity and placed the items in his pantry shown here. 

  
The key to all of it is that his tools are stored neatly in an accessible place for him and that we have never discouraged him from helping us complete chores. 

New to this? Give it a try on a small scale. You might not be blown away by how much your 2 year old loves to mop the kitchen floor, but I’ll bet you will be surprised by the fact that they will do a pretty good job. 

Our family’s Montessori rhythm during crisis

The exercises of practical life are formative activities, a work of adaptation to the environment. Such adaptation to the environment and efficient functioning therein is the very essence of a useful education.” – Maria Montessori

Like most around the Earth, we are in a holding pattern: No school, no work, no in person social interactions and with all of that no typical day. And so although this can be a scary time, allowing for our natural family rhythm to find its footing and then letting it guide our days has meant some peaceful moments and also some relfection.

Breakfast is over an hour after it normally would be (we get up REALLY early for school), but we still all make a healthy meal, and sit together. We have found that some Practical Life/Cultural activities that are child led but with adult participation help get the morning started. Focusing on his interests instead of prescribed or adult centred learning outcomes sets us up for a much better day. Sometimes he decides to open an ice cream shop, sometimes he decides to help with the household laundry and sometimes he chooses to study the animals of Australia. Most lately he has been helping to renovate his workspace, laying new flooring and painting his chosen colour of a soft lemony yellow (called Frozen Banana).

Whatever it is, we let it flow at his pace, offer help to set up materials (much more effective for us in the morning than leaving it solely to him) and above all, follow his lead.

We usually bake when it’s closer to lunch. Baking simple recipes usually breads like these cheese and herb biscuits that I’ve been baking since I was a child, brings us together in the kitchen.

It’s usually at this point that he will decide to take some time for independent play. This has been the biggest difference. He is a child that has played for hours on end by himself since he was a little toddler exploring his toddler shelves. He has chosen to stay closer to us lately and we have folded that in as much as we can without drawing specific attention to it.

We make a point of setting the table for lunch and putting some music on. Something instrumental and in the background. It is a slowing down part of the day for us. Sometimes we talk or sometimes we just eat silently listening to the music. Sometimes not saying anything is important too.

After lunch (or often before if the day calls for it) we get into our gardens. Working in the earth is such a sensorial necessity for so many children. Caring for small seeds and tender baby shoots gives us a chance to look forward to something. A little long lasting project that isn’t expensive and is easily doable even if it’s just a few lettuce seeds in an old soup can on the window sill.

We plan to have some “rest time” time in the afternoon. Some space where we are available but where time alone can allow for big feelings to come out. Most often that looks like us all curling up with a good book, but sometimes it looks like Quentin actually falling asleep. He is almost 8 years old but forever a preemie. He curls up with a book and a blanket and listens to his body. Sometimes that’s on the couch with his kittens and sometimes that’s outside on a blanket in the backyard with his big brother.

In the late afternoon he will usually return to playing by himself, often with LEGO or open ended material. This is when we try to schedule our business meetings, calls and emails. It doesn’t always work like this though and we do our best to be mindful of everyone in the house as we try to balance our professional commitments.

Then its dinner making and bedtime routines and our “not so normal” days catch up to our “normal” days at this point. Sometimes Quentin helps make dinner, sometimes he continues to play with his toys, sometimes he decides to make a craft or watch some media, or go play outside in the yard. Although there is a basic Grace and Courtesy foundation of “clean up what you got out” and “help others when you can” he has no set “chores”. After dinner, he has a bath or shower, gets ready for bed and we offer to read to him which he still loves and usually chooses or occasionally will opt for reading his novel independently.

This isn’t all of it and it doesn’t always go smoothly. He misses going out to the beaches and forests and even just to the library. He knows that his birthday is in just a few days and that there won’t be any friends or extended family to celebrate with. That’s hard when you are about to be 8.

Also mixed into the days are the video check ins and assignments required by his Montessori school although we are thankful that his school has seen the enlightened benefit in “Less is More”.

Find this quote here

This came across our screens a few days ago and hit home quite hard.

We are doing what Maria Montessori implored us to do a hundred years ago:

We see the figure of the child who stands before us with his arms held open, beckoning humanity to follow.

Montessori Book Club: Books for Spring

It’s been a quiet few weeks for us here. We, like the vast majority of the world are together, safe at home, watching and waiting to see what will come. But it is also Spring.

Spring for our family has so much to celebrate. The end of the rainy season, our wedding anniversary, and Quentin’s birthday. It’s a time we look forward and make plans and that’s all changed a little bit with this new “normal” around the world.

So, to capture some of the feelings we and our children may be experiencing, I wanted to showcase this beautiful new book sent over from Grey Stone Kids.

It’s a beautiful, simple and easily relatable story of a parent tree, covered in seeds who are small and silent but will one day be big trees of their own.

It touches on the feelings of worry we as parents and caregivers have about the children we love. Will they be okay? Am I protecting them enough, and above all, maybe I could keep them little for just a little bit longer.

It shows us that we can care for them and love them and even fuss needlessly over them, but one day they will grow up and that our confidence in them and their abilities will be one of the defining factors in their own self confidence.

“Stay Little Seed” releases on April 7 just as gardens are warming and trees are waking up here.

Montessori Cultural Activities: This is How We Do It – Workbook

I’ve shared before how much we have loved This is How We Do it. You can read all about our review of it here. So when the author Matt La Mothe contacted us and asked to send us the new workbook we were thrilled.

We love that just like the picture book, the workbook gives information about families around the world, and that families can look many different ways.

Quentin loves that new regions are featured in the workbook and the illustrations are gorgeously detailed.

One of the most important features of this book is its showcasing of how much similarity we have with people in different cultures and regions even on the other side of the world. We love picking out commonalities in games we play, food we eat, and how we live.

This addition of favourite books fascinated both Quentin and I and we have been looking for copies to read here.

Montessori education has at its heart Peace Education. The easiest way to foster that is to showcase the similarities found amongst perfect strangers, and spark interest in wanting to know more about different cultures. This workbook is perfect for that.

Montessori Book Club: Solstice Books 2019

This new book has quickly become a favourite. We have paired it with our nature based crafts, baking and slow living days curled up next to the fire under a cosy blanket.

Of course we love Carson Ellis artwork and this new book is no exception. The muted tones are perfect for Winter Solstice.

It tells a simple story of the history of the Winter Solstice, one that is easy for the youngest for readers to understand. It also connects the traditions of the past, with the traditions found in other celebrations like Christmas.

There are so few good Yule books out there for kids and we couldn’t be more please with this one. I’ll post our December bookshelf in its entirety on our Instagram page, later this week.

Giving Tuesday: Fruitful Orchard Montessori

“A child is both a hope and a promise for humankind” – Dr. Maria Montessori

We spent just over five weeks living and working at Fruitful Orchard Montessori in Nigeria this past summer. The kindness and love shown to Quentin and I by that school community could no be repaid in a life time.

However, we would like to try.

And so on this Giving Tuesday, we hi,boy ask all of you in our amazing community to join us in supporting Fruitful Orchard as thy endeavour to build an Elementary programme.

A programme that will allow the oldest of those beautiful children I fell in love with this summer to stay.

Follow this link to read more info and give to this incredibly important journey.

Montessori Book Club: Birdsong

The seasons are changing here. Autumn is definitely fleeting and Winter has crept in. It is the perfect time for family and friends and reflection.

This new book Birdsong from Greystone Books is a beautiful story of a child that moves to their new home with their mother and meets their new neighbour, an elderly woman who loves nature and art as much as they do.

It highlights each season beginning with their arrival at the new house and how things are different.

We loved how the complexity of the intergenerational friendship is highlighted but in a gentle way focusing on how the child must navigate this and ultimately finds a connection with their elderly neighbour in art.

We absolutely love this book and were thrilled that it made the Globe and Mail’s “100 Books of 2019”! If you are looking for a beautiful “own voices” story this will definitely be a favourite for years to come.

Montessori Book Club: All The Ways to be Smart

“If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein

This book has been on our wish list for a while as its such an important topic to explore with children. The idea that everyone has something important to contribute and that unfortunately, the world does not often recognize all the different gifts and abilities of people.

We love the retro colours and overall look of it. But mostly we love the message it brings to the small people being read to.

“Smart is kindness when there’s crying.” Was one that we as a Montessori family hovered over for a while because this is something that is so often overlooked.

I also appreciate that the pages reflect a variety of children without drawing attention to it. It’s so very important at all children see themselves represented in the books that they are reading, without the book specifically touching on their differences (although books that do that are incredibly important too).

We are so grateful for Scribble Kids Books for sending us this that we are giving TWO copies away!! Follow this link to our Instagram Page to enter.

A Montessori Field Trip: A visit to Brooklyn Children’s House

I love observing in toddler/preprimary environments and so when I had the chance to observe at Brooklyn Children’s House I eagerly took it.

Lisa is the owner and her space is beautiful and so thoughtfully laid out. One of the biggest misconceptions about the Montessori pedagogy is that you need a lot of space and a lot of stuff. It simply isn’t true.

Throughout the two main rooms, children were happily working with Practical Life materials, art materials and having snack. If you have ever doubted an independent group toddler snack is possible go and visit Lisa. Three children happily sat around a toddler sized table serving themselves fruit and crackers and then putting their personalize placemats away and washing their dishes.

Toddlers are often not a quiet and calm bunch. They are also still working on their empathy, and emotional regulation. When teachers are trained to understand the underlying neurological and social development going on, appropriate and above all caring responses to that behaviour can happen. It was lovely to witness that in this space. It was also lovely to watch other very young children show empathy when asking if a child was ok, which is a testament to the hard foundational Peace and Courtesy work Lisa has put in.

I loved my visit and seeing the beautiful detail oriented space Lisa has curated for her students. If you are curious about quality authentic Montessori programmes please leave a comment and we will try to answer your questions.

Montessori Book Club: Maybe – The story about the endless potential in all of us

Have you ever had a children’s book speak to you deeply? One where the illustrations and message grab you and immediately you want to put that book into the hands of everyone you know?

That’s this book for us.

The first time I saw the cover I immediately knew it was that type of book and so when Compendium offered to send one I over I was thrilled.

“Your life is yours” it begins. If that was all of the message, mixed with the illustrations that would be enough for me to love it forever, but there was more.

“Wherever you go, take your hopes, pack your dreams and never forget – it is on journeys that discoveries are made”.

“Do everything with love. Follow your heart and see where it leads you.”

“Maybe you will speak up for those who can’t speak up for themselves.”

And of course because this book melds so seamlessly with the Montessori pedagogy it saves its most sage wisdom for last:

“You already have everything it takes to do big things.”

This book belongs in the hands of every child and most likely a great many adults.

This the perfect gift for new babies, children facing life changes and should be on every Montessori school’s bookshelf’s under the category of Peace Education.

Montessori Multi-age Art Activities: Colour Mixing

Colour mixing is such an easy and inexpensive art activity for children of all ages and can easily be done by the youngest child.

As with all Montessori compatible activities, art should always be child led and about the process not the product especial in the years between 0-6.

For a toddler colour mixing can simply be a transferring work. Above, Quentin at 18 months carefully transferring blue food colour tinted water from one small jar to another with a long pipette. This strengthens fine motor control and concentration. He loved sucking up the water in the pipette and carefully squeezing it out into the other container. Sometimes we would adjust the amount of blue or yellow dye to affect the shade of green that would inevitably be made from his mixing but this was for the most part involuntary by him. He was simply absorbing what was happening.

For the 3-6 age group, an easy to carry tray with the primary colours and a slotted dish, a bowl to dump used water and a sponge for clean up make colour mixing exciting. Children at this age love to experiment with each of the primary colours and it’s still very much about the process here. In the classroom we talk about their favourite colour, what happens when you mix blue with red, red and yellow, yellow and blue, but for the most part they are experimenting and absorbing the experience of those experiments.

By the time the child reaches Elementary, multiple mediums such as paper to spray invite a child to continue their experiments. Small spray bottles and containers (the exact same ones from when he was 18 months), help a child keep their work contained and orderly.

A colour wheel is clearly understood by this point and the child can follow it to achieve the desired colour or make their own.

It is always fascinating to see the social and neurological development at each stage. At 7.5 years old, he commented on the imaginary tastes of his colours such as “root beer” above, and mint tea in a previous combination. It’s still amazing to see him quiet himself as he did in his toddler days and focus on the task at hand.

There are endless colour mixing ideas on Pinterest and around social media. If you haven’t tried it with your little one here’s some things to keep in mind:

  • Keep it simple and age appropriate. Trying to explain the why and how of everything to a toddler won’t make it enjoyable
  • Be prepared for spills. Sponges, bowls, towels and play clothes help make this successful for the youngest child
  • Follow the child. Let them truly experiment with colour. If all they make is green over and over that’s ok.