December Nature Study: Winter Solstice 

The celebration of the return of the light. 
This is the time of year we focus on simplicity. When commercialism seems to be pushed just a little bit more, we instead look to tread lightly. It’s a time when Montessori Grace and Couresty have an intent focus and when Peace Education is at the forefront. 

Here are some of the things we do to continue our Nature Study in the month of December: 



Making Nature garlands as a treat for our local birds is an excellent way to practice sewing skills for little fingers. We use a tapestry needle for easy grip and sharpness. These can be modified so that even a toddler can help and they make great gifts to bird and nature lovers. 


Cinnamon Stars are easy and perfect homemade gifts. Quentin has been using the hot glue gun for years now but if this is your child’s first time using one, we recommend giving a lesson first and hand over hand helps keep little fingers safe. 

The stars look beautiful attached to the outside of a package too. 

A homemade Yule Log is a classic favourite. Quentin loves making the meringue mushrooms. 


Nature walks on cold, crisp mornings offer a chance to follow animal tracks and see the changes the cold brings to the natural world. On this walk we examined frost patterns on leaves and watch some ducks test the ice before going in. 


We love books in this house and Solstice wouldn’t be complete without curling up together for read aloud times. This book is our favourite non fiction Winter Solstice book for the 3-6 age group. I use it in my classroom and we have used it at home since it was published in 2014. 

This book is also lovely. We enjoy different fables from around the world and Quentin loves making the connection of where the fable originated to the region on his world map. 

This one has been a favourite of our house for years. We began reading it with Anthony on Solstice night years ago and Quentin now enjoys it although it is very much intended for a child in at least the Second Plane of Development. 

Lastly we all sit as a family and light homemade beeswax candles and listen to this amazing Canadian taken all too soon singing about the above fable. It is a beautiful song of a mother’s love for her child and has been Quentin’s favourite since before he could walk (if you follow us on Instagram you may have seen him sing it).

As the afternoon sun fills our house on this the shortest day, we hope that whatever your family is doing in December, it is restful, peaceful and joyful. 

Practical Life:The kitchen

  
Practical Life, the heartbeat of the home. If I had to start all over these 6 are the ones I would rush out and buy. And, as an added bonus, each of them is under $10. 

For anyone just starting out, these 6 favourites will completely transform your child’s role in the kitchen. Your child will now (after a little guidance) be able to make their own snack and help prep family meals. Such an amazing feeling of independence for the child. 

  1. Multi use kitchen tool (our absolute favourite on this list)
  2. Glass Pitcher with lid (we use this for water at Quentin’s drinking station)
  3. Crinkle Cutter knife (Quentin has used this since he was 17 months)
  4. Vegetable peeler (ours is from Kylie’s gorgeous shop
  5.  Egg/Mushroom/Strawberry Slicer (Quentin has used this since he was 17 months)
  6. Strawberry Colander (our newest addition and already a favourite) 

Do you have favourite child sized kitchen tools? Have you found something you can’t live without at your house or classroom? Leave a comment. We are always looking for products to review. 

    Our Favourite Montessori friendly gifts

    Our answers might surprise you….


    Or maybe not if you have been following here for a while.

    Between the ages of 0-6 years, as the child crosses through the first plane of development, it is the experience they seek. Not the stuff. 

    Our favourite and most important gift to give to a child is experience. Because, experience equals time. 

    A day at the beach with family is so much more to a child than a story book about the beach. Playing kitchen with plastic pots and pans isn’t even comparable to the love a child feels when baking with a family member. 

    Each positive experience goes far beyond simple fun. It builds lasting connections in the child’s development that build on each other over time. This in turn leads to a child building stronger Executive Functioning skills such as critical thinking, creativity, and self control. 

    Here is a list of some of our absolute favourite experiences to give a child:

    • Go on a holiday, big or small that is just for them. Spoil them with late bedtimes, pillow fights, sightseeing and lots of together time
    • Annual pass to the Zoo, Aquarium or other live animal focused centre
    • Annual pass to local museums, art galleries, or music conservatories that offer child friendly programmes. 
    • Rec centre membership for endless swimming, skating & kids athletic programmes
    • DIY Coupon book for kids that can include things like “baking cookies”, “movie and popcorn night” “outdoor adventure” etc. 

    If you are looking for a physical gift to give a Montessori child, here are some crucial things to keep in mind:

    • Quality over quantity. One carefully selected thoughtful gift is worth more than an armful of absentmindedly thrown things into a shopping cart. Quality materials although more costly upfront will last for years in a Montessori home 
    • Nature materials over plastic whenever possible. Cotton, wood, steel, stone all feel, smell, taste and sound very different, but all plastic is the same. Children are refining their senses. They must have sensorial input. Giving natural materials also keeps little hands chemical free. 
    • Reality based over fantasy for under 6. Children crave real experience and under 6 are still laying the foundation of the neurological connections about their world. Real tools, lifelike animals and realistic people figures & dolls help them make sense of this world. 
    • Practical Life is always a great idea. The best gifts allow a child to be independent, self confident and take pride in contributing to their family life. They are also incredibly fun for a child. Small working vacuums, brooms, kitchen utensils and yard tools are always favourites. 

    Gift giving can sometimes get a little crazy. We all want to give them everything. But, before we go out and add to the stuff that’s piling up in the corners and across the floors of our homes, maybe we need to remember that adding to the stuff is not really what they want. 
    What they really want is our time. 

    Our Montessori Day at 4yrs old. 

    Quentin and I are off together on Wednesdays. I thought it might be nice to capture our day in pictures. 

    We don’t keep to a schedule. Like school he is free to choose his own activities. We also have limited academic focused materials in the home. True learning is holistic, and like and authentic Montessori environment, there is so much more to experience than just the academics. 

    Instead it is more of a gentle rhythm that guides our day. 

    And so here it is:


    8:00am 

    We are finished breakfast, gotten everyone else out the door, and have tidied up. I set up an art invitation. Quentin rarely chooses Art independently. Providing a prepared invitation while keeping Art free form can give the reluctant artist a chance to explore new things. 

    In Montessori, Art at this age should never focus on the product. Only the process.


    9:00am

    Quentin chooses a Nature Study walk next. We head upstairs to get dressed and pack. At 4 he chooses his own clothes and dresses himself completely independently. Sometimes his socks or underwear get stuck, but for the most part it’s all him. Then it’s teeth brushed, hair combed and face washed. Having a Care of Self space in the bathroom mean these tasks (with the exception of toothbrushing) are also independently completed.

    9:20am

    Quentin escaped “preemie-hood” almost scot free. His lungs still need extra help everyday. 

    9:30am

    We arrive at our selected spot for the day. We live in an extremely eco-diverse region of Canada. We are lucky enough to have so many different nature choices around us. 

    Today, Quentin chose the rainforest. Our Nature Study is child led. We stay as long as he wants to, stopping to observe something when interested. 


    11:00am

    We have come out of the forest and into the grocery store for lunch necessities. Small carts and lots of patience from adults help a child contribute to the family food prep. 


    12:00pm

    Back at home, and groceries put away, he decides on a hot sandwich to have with his fruit and veggies. A real child sized kitchen is essential in the Montessori Home environment. This is were Practical Life began all those years ago. Now, he stands quietly concentrating. He knows the skillet is hot and requires his attention. 


    12:30pm

    His reading is really picking up. He can read most CVC words and is beginning to work on phonograms. He chooses to come to his work space after lunch and get out his current reader. 


    1:00pm

    Self directed rest. He rarely makes it past 1pm. 

    I find him in bed holding our current chapter book. “I’m ready for my rest Mama.” He is asleep before I finish reading 2 chapters. He usually naps 2-2.5 hours. 

    1:00-3:00

    This is my time to do what I need to. Dishes some days, cleaning or laundry others. This Wednesday afternoon was unexpectedly sunny and warm, and it couldn’t have felt more like Autumn. 

    So I took advantage of the rare moment and took my book and a cup of tea out to the front deck to bask in all the golden warmth of the afternoon sun. 

    Parenthood can feel like a whirlwind. Self care is what we teach our children but we often forget how important it is for us. 


    3:30pm

    Up from his nap and a tummy full of snack, he goes to his work space and freely chooses work. The light has changed. This room gets the afternoon sun and it’s interesting to observe Quentin in this space. In the quiet blue light of the morning, his work is slow, and simple. In the afternoon light, it changes completely into quick paced and purposeful. He works quickly laying out materials, finishing, and getting out the next thing. 


    Next he chooses the DIY Stamp Game we made together over the Spring Break. This is a long work requiring lots of steps. Montessori allows a child to choose work when they feel called by it. To ask him to complete the Stamp game at 9am would have led to disaster. Him choosing to do it at 3:30pm when he is alert and in the right mind space leads to complete success and the positive experience to come back to it again another day. 

    4:00pm

    Anthony returns from school and my husband returns home shortly after. Quentin will often continue in his work space, choosing different activities or come up to the kitchen and help prepare dinner. 

    After dinner there are walks in the neighbourhood if it’s nice out or playing together as a family if it’s not. Then the bedtime routine of bath and story and he’s asleep by 9pm.

    Our days rush by all too quickly it seems. Stopping to capture them is something I need to do much more often. 

    International Peace Day 


    International Peace Day

    The work of Montessori Peace Education is not reserved to one day. Instead, we labour against the norm. 

    Against a culture that often promotes hatred, fear and anger. 

    Against a world that highlights our differences as unacceptable. 

    Instead we share the kindness. 

    The Grace. 

    The Courtesy. 

    And we do it with the most important, influential member of our society. 

    The Child. 

    #sharethejoy #desmundtutu

    Sunday Book Club: The Forest Feast for Kids

     

    “You are what you’re eating ate” – Chef Dan Barber

    We love to give our our boys new experiences. We love to see them try new things and make something come together from nothing. 

    There is no easier way to do that, than in the kitchen. 

    We also believe the above quote to be completely true, and so whenever we can, we seek out delicious, real, whole foods, that fuel both their heads and their hearts. 

    That is why, when I stumbled onto this cookbook for kids I fell in love with it before I ever actually held it. Before I ever turned the pages. 


    The pages are beautiful and clearly laid out. 


    I love that there are some preliminary things to cover first. 


    We don’t have a hand blender but found it wasn’t essential, although it would have been helpful. 


    The recipes ranged from Quentin being able to do them completely independently, to us enjoying working together. All of them were simple, healthy foods that were delicious and easy to make. 

    I can’t say enough good things. This is simply a must have book. 

    Our Child Sized Kitchen: A history


    Of all the questions I recieve about Montessori, our little kitchen gets more questions than anything else. So, I decided I’d better put all the details in one place.

    We bought this IKEA kitchen for Quentin for his first Christmas. An odd gift to give a premature 8 month old yes, but he had just started to wean, and we knew it would be perfect in the upcoming years. 

    There is nothing more important in Montessori than respect for the child, and with that, there is no greater respect than the Prepared Environment. 

    Somewhere that is their own. Somewhere they can keep their things independently, neatly and in a reachable space. 


    This picture was first featured here. It is our first set up of the kitchen. It houses Quentin’s tiny porcelain weaning glasses, first dishes and some fun yet practical kitchen tools that waited for the day he could use them. 

    Just like when we set up his Care of Self area in the bathroom featured here, we set up the kitchen far earlier than he could use it. The Absorbent Mind of a child is always watching. A parent or teacher needs only to model the behaviour consistently for the child to start mimicking it on their own. He watched us remove his dishes, return them, clear his dirty ones to the tiny sink. And so it wasn’t long before he was doing it independently. 


    Here he is just after turning one. At this point it was mostly exploration. But it quickly became more. 


    I wrote a post here about our essential kitchen tools. Although we have added many more now, these 6 are still our important ones. These are the ones that get used everyday.  Providing your child with real working tools is critical in Montessori. This has never been a play kitchen. He slices, chops, pours, strains and peels real food. Some may become alarmed at the thought of small children using sharp knives and tools. However, it is extremely important children be given the trust from an early age. There must be many lessons on safety, concentration, and use. These don’t simply come because you tell your child to be careful and then hand over a knife. Modelling, many experiences and dialogue with a parent are needed. 


    Here he is just before two years old washing his dishes. A small liquid soap dispenser and dish to hold a sponge (half the size) allowed him complete independence at an early age. We installed hooks beside the kitchen to keep his aprons within easy reach. Many of our kitchen accessories came from Montessori Services

    We don’t have plumbing on this wall. The cost of installing plumbing was completely unreasonable when he will only use the kitchen for less than 7 or 8 years. We drilled a hole in the bottom of the plastic sink and he uses a flat plug. He fills the sink with warm water from a pitcher and when done, pulls the plug and it emptied into a bowl inside on the shelf at that time. It now drains out a little hose and into a bucket that he empties. 

    These were all the first skills he required. His kitchen has evolved over time so that now, at four it includes cooking with heat. 


    A small electric skillet allows him to cook a variety of things. Above a veggie burger for his lunch. Below he’s making scrambled eggs for our dinner. 


    I’ll get the disclaimer out of the way now: He is capable, but he is still young. Whenever Quentin is using heat or a sharp blade, I always have both eyes and my full attention on him. His independence and his safety are my responsibility.

    So, how does one replicate this? It’s like anything else you would put on your child’s Montessori shelves. This is a process of many steps. Start small, with one task at at time. If they don’t put away their own dishes now, they are not ready to cook independently. 

    Modelling is key. Show them how to wash dishes, cut fruit, peel vegetables. This is joyful work to children. Not chores. 

    Keep the environment based in reality. If you truly want them to do Practical Life kitchen work, the kitchen must be real. There must be a useable surface space. There must be a useable sink. 

    There are so many play kitchens on the market. Brightly coloured ones with flashing lights or sounds, and media characters. These along with play food, toy utensils and the lack of water and heat will confuse the child ultimately setting them up for failure. 

    If you truly want them to succeed, look for a kitchen that you would love to use. 

    Please feel free to leave questions or comments and I will do my best to answer them.