Back to School with Montessori: 2021 Book List

It’s that time of year again, the summer is coming to an end and even though this coming school year will once again look different for so many of us, the underlying themes for kids are still there. New routines, new people, and leaving loved ones.

Over the years I’ve written a few different posts about how to incorporate some helpful tips on making the transition to school easier for children. You can read some of them here and another one here. Below are some new and old favourites on our bookshelves at this time of year to help children know what to expect at school.

Jack Goes to Montessori School will always be my most recommended and favourite book to give to new Montessori students. A gentle telling of the routine in a 3-6 classroom, children will easily recognize the materials and flow of the child led day.

If you haven’t seen the Lola series it’s a must for preschool kids! This entire series has been a favourite in my 3-6 classrooms for years because it is so relatable. This book is perfect for any child starting school not just in a Montessori setting but my Montessori students love it too because it focuses on the rhythmic flow of the day which is so important for young children who can’t tell time. Establishing the rhythm and then going over it with your child will help them know what’s coming next at school and after which activity you will come to get them. This helps them feel much more confident at school and safe in the knowledge that you will be there at the same time every day.

This is another old favourite for us. It has everything I love in a book; engaging illustrations, diverse characters and repetitive text. Perfect for the preschool crowd. I wrote a review of it four years ago and we still love it to this day! You can read that post here.

This one is brand new for us and we already love it! A sequel of sorts to the previous book and just as perfect. Focused on a group of children outdoors playing it touches on topics of disagreements and different feelings. Empathy is one of the most important things we can help bring out in children. This book is perfect for bringing up discussions on feelings, how to work through problems and acknowledging others emotions.

It’s been a lifetime since this first day of school picture was taken of Quentin. He begins Upper Elementary this year and although he’s had many years of returning to school, the principles listed in these back to school posts are still very much used to help him gently and smoothly find his way back into the classroom.

A Montessori Field Trip: Westside Montessori

Although I currently teach in a Montessori Upper Elementary 9-12 year old classroom and love it, as most people know, my heart will always belong to 3-6. However, what most people don’t know is that right in the middle of my Montessori heart there is a small yet brightly glowing centre and that centre is a well executed Montessori infant toddler programme.

I have been so fortunate to know Bettina from Westside Montessori School for almost as long as Quentin has been earth side but due to COVID last year and us being in Nigeria the year before, this was the first time I’d ever been able to observe in her infant toddler summer programme.

It was worth the wait.

The attention to even the smallest detail is something Westside is known for. From simple puzzles for the youngest child to a beautifully laid out movement area for toddlers on the go, the environment welcomes everyone.

Mischa, the lead Montessori Guide whom I’ve met previously was so welcoming of me being in the space and we chatted about life as we both now have university aged kids, but what I loved most were her interactions with the children. She was kind and patient but also light hearted. Even when a young child stood precariously on top of the slide, which by the way holds the most fondest of memories for me (if you’ve been round for awhile you may remember scenes like this).

Perhaps what is the most amazing aspect of this infant toddler space is that during the school year it is an equally stunning and detailed elementary classroom (did you notice the empty bed cabinet) and so every single elementary material must be carefully packed away into on site storage and the artwork lowered to bring it down to a toddler’s sight line. So much hard work and dedication from the staff and I’m grateful to have been able to see it before I return to my own classroom in the coming weeks.

If you are new to Montessori and wondering what to look for in a school space for your child, the list is simple:

  • A clean, bright, well thought out space
  • Montessori classroom materials specific to the age group and the ability for each child to proceed through those materials at their own pace (unsure just ask)
  • A focus on independence for the child regardless of age
  • A Montessori trained Guide that cares deeply for the children in the environment, not only speaking in a manner learned in their Montessori training but also experiences joy right along with the children

Montessori Sunday Bookclub: Our new book

This has been in the works for quite awhile and I’m excited to finally be able to say it’s almost here! If you follow us on Instagram you will likely have already seen some sneak peeks of the inside but I really wanted to give you a bit more of an in-depth tour here.

I often get asked to write Montessori related content in books and other media but I’ve never before loved the intention behind it. Maria Montessori designed a way of fostering a child’s natural development that was meant to focus on the child’s own unique interests and abilities. I really wanted to showcase how as a multi level trained Montessori teacher I use the Montessori pedagogy in my classrooms. I also wanted to showcase how I’ve used my Montessori training to create a Montessori home with our two boys. A simple and easy to use recipe book that one could grab, flip through and easily set up ideas without the need to buy expensive or excessive materials.

It was also extremely important to me that some of my most cherished facts about child development and a deeper dive into the pedagogy as a whole could be included but that it would be easy to understand and implement. I’m so happy with how it turned out.

The book begins with some Montessori information specific to toddlers. As I mention in the pages, toddlerhood can be a tricky time. Not quite the independence of a preschooler but definitely not a baby anymore!

Once some key ideas about Montessori and toddlerhood are down, the next section is for the activities! I’ve broken the activities into 5 categories: Motor Skills, Art, Practical Life, Sensorial and Language.

I’ve arranged them in sequential order just like you’d find in a classroom environment from youngest to oldest. The index at the back of the book helps break down activities in age groups from 1 to 3 year olds and so it’s my hope that anyone using the book can quickly and easily find inspiration that’s age appropriate for their child.

Each of the activities in all of the 5 categories are set up in an easy to implement way. The list of materials is short and each step is laid out including what skill the activity strengthens in the child and ways you can alter the activity to better fit the needs of the child doing it.

Pre-orders are already open around the world (and can be found here). I’m so thankful for everyone’s love and support through this amazing process. I’ve loved sharing the little snippets that have made up Our Montessori Life over all these years.

Spring Animal Study Materials

The warmer weather has finally found us here in the Pacific Northwest and we have been loving some new Montessori compatible wooden materials that have been added to our nature shelves!

This new 5 part tray and Life Cycle of a Frog inserts have been on constant rotation! We love the large clear illustrations and how easily the inserts fit into the tray. You can see more of our use of it here on Instagram and we plan to add some figurines next week to it as well!

It’s a great addition to our 3-6 zoology shelves and we are lucky enough to be able to go out and see this life cycle happening right in our own community! So many of the local wet areas have tadpoles right now.

For the older child we love this sorting game as part of our nature study! The inserts fit into the same tray as the frog cycle which is fantastic for me as a teacher because I can just swap out the inserts and keep using the tray. So much easier for storage.

Quentin loves not only sorting but identifying the animal on each of the tiles. He ended up wanting to play a memory game by turning each of the tiles over and then having us say the kingdom we were looking for and try to remember where a tile of that kingdom was located.

When we were done everything packs away nicely into the bag it comes with and can be placed back on the shelves for another day. We are outside more and more this month and are going to see what other life cycles we notice.

Montessori Book Club: I am a Peaceful Goldfish

It’s seems like it’s been a year of taking deep breaths! We’ve been working to carve out even more mindfulness moments in each day both in self are for ourselves and also ensuring that both in the classroom and at home, our kids have the tools to find their calm.

Right from the end pages I love this book. The children’s faces made me smile simply because they are so relatable.

The illustrations are perfect for the intended age range of 2-6 and there’s an interesting little cat in each scene that invites lots of projecting and open ended conversations such as “What do you think that cat is planning?!”

The easy to follow message on each page invites children to try each of the actions of the different breathing exercises and that all of those actions are perfect for circle times or places where you are sitting with a child. No getting up and having to move around, just focusing on the different breathing techniques.

In the end everyone is ready to try again and that’s a great message too: That waiting and taking your time doesn’t mean that you give up, just that you need a break.

I am a Peaceful Goldfish releases on April 13th and will be one to have on hand to help children build emotional regulation especially in these uncertain times.

Our Montessori Life 2020: Our Essential 9

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye. ” Antoine de Saint-Exupery

As 2020 wraps up I was gathering our “9 Best”. The yearly Instagram tradition of posting the 9 most successful posts of the year. Except that this year didn’t have a lot of bests. Or at least not at first glance or from a social media filter view.

It had a lot of heartache beginning with a tragedy that rocked both our small town and our own little family deeply in February. And it seems that it’s chosen to end as it begun with another tragedy that hit our extended chosen family this past week, on Solstice.

And so, that’s what could be the focus. Bookend deaths to round out an awful year. Or, we could look for those little, impossible to see things, the things not seen by the eye.

When schools didn’t reopen after Spring Break, Quentin and I found ourselves at home together. As the days warmed we spent the time “Following the Child” and they were some of the best moments we’ve ever spent together. We gathered for the daily Zoom check in and then had the rest of the time to become completely submersed in interests.

We finally got a chance to renovate his Montessori home learning space. We used the excuse of me being laid off not as a massive source of anxiety but instead as the perfect jumping off point. Finally his space resembled and fit all the Second Plane of Development needs he had. He choose the yellow walls (Frozen Banana) and helped pick out all the new furniture.

Anthony turned 20 and moved out. Pictured is their last day as brothers under one roof. We spent it reading in our own backyard with endless cups of tea. Although it was a big adjustment for everyone, it opened up a new chapter in our lives, one that has little brother sleepover movie nights.

And, we spent some of our absolute best moments everyday, in our garden

With nowhere to go and nothing to do, we woke up each morning, at breakfast, and went outside. We let the sun warm our bodies, and our hands sink into the cool earth. We often didn’t say much as we picked and chopped each new fruit or vegetable coming in that day. We observed how even a few days makes a big difference for small seeds and ripening strawberries.

And, when “flattening the COVID cure” was working, living on a small island definitely has its advantages, which we fully took. I took Quentin on his first ever long distance bike ride to a favourite and deserted freshwater swimming hole. Our bike ride was my highlight of the entire year. We went along at his pace that included a bike portage when the trail we were riding on was blocked unexpectedly.

It’s amazing what we as adults don’t give kids enough credit for. Quentin carried his new bike down a dry river bed navigating boulders and slippery logs to reach the lower trail and our destination. It was a lot of work, or it must have been. Looking back all we can remember is laughing at some ridiculous jokes and talking about what we would do when we reached the pool. He used his camera to take some amazing shots of the minnows swimming.

Then, all of a sudden it was September, and school came calling for both of us. We were ready (yes I purposely edit out his school crest on his sweater). Back to his Lower Elementary classroom he loves so much and back to his Mastery Year in that classroom. It was important to him and so we went.

And then Solstice arrived and we’re back to the beginning of this story. We hugged each other a little tighter and sat on the edge of Quentin’s bed watching him sleep a little longer. Beyond grateful for what we have, what could so easily be taken away in an instant.

This year has been a good one. Not because of the work contracts and collaborations. We’ve been lucky with those this year and we have a big surprise to share in the new year, but that’s not it. It’s not because of all the likes and follows, but we were very grateful for those too. Its something our Essential 9 may fail to capture. The good simply because we have each other. It’s been good because each morning, bedroom doors open, and footsteps and voices are heard, and we know that that very easily, could not be the case.

Montessori Summer Printables Bundle Sale

School ended yesterday for us and I’ve been searching for some simple nature based materials and activities to use this summer as so many of the places we love are still closed here.

It’s often hard to find good quality inexpensive Montessori compatible materials. So I was thrilled when I discovered this huge Montessori printables bundle on sale!!

It has exactly what I was looking for and so much more and it will last us long after summer goes.

Over 2000 pages of top quality digital resources including guides, an e-book, e-courses and so many printables!! There’s tons of Practical Life, Language, Math and Nature Studies resources for children aged 3-6 and 6-9 although many of these printables could also be used for interested toddlers or older children.

The best part is that the bundle is on sale until tomorrow June 14th for 95% off it’s retail price!!

Click on the video below to see so much of what this bundle has to offer and click here to see more details or purchase.

Montessori Book Club: A Boy like You

Quentin carried this into the bedroom in the early hours this morning and asked if I would read it to him.

It’s a book I took out of the school library to celebrate his birthday with back in April but I thought it was pretty timely he chose it today.

It has all the messages we want him and all other children but especially masculine of center presenting children to be told over and over again.

“There’s so much more than sports.” This one in particular has to be driven home time and time again in our house with a ballet loving boy.

Having books on your bookshelves whether at home or in the classroom featuring Black folks and other People of Colour is an incredibly important first step. However there is still a long way to go towards being anti-racist. Having regular age appropriate conversations with children about race is an ongoing work that involves many steps.

If you find it hard to know where to start, simply search “diverse children’s books” or “conversations about race with children”. Seek out leaders in Anti Biased Anti Racist education and listen without asking for resources or time from them. They are already doing the work. It’s your turn to get involved.

Listening and learning go a long way to furthering the Prepared Adult and thus the Prepared Environment.

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.