The Art of doing Nothing

The boys and I have been off for Spring Break together. How glorious it was not to have to live life by the clock. And also, surprisingly how difficult. 

To stop. To put down all the media and just turn off. To let the laundry list of “have to’s” become “not importants”. To be in the moment with my children. 

  

Early morning in the teepee reading. The light is most beautiful in his room in the morning. He matched his Schleich farm animals to the ones in the new book.

  

I came downstairs after tidying up breakfast to find him. Work mat rolled out, tower built, quietly working in whispers. We spent over an hour building and moving. Contrary to what many think, Montessori makes room for reality based imaginative play. “Mama, I’m going to take a break and get some lunch before I build the bank. Does your worker want to meet me at the cafe for some soup?” It turned out my worker thought that was a lovely idea. 

  

 

Practical Life: the pulse of the Montessori home. He washed and re-washed for awhile. Even after I was finished the lunch dishes. Then he pulled the plug, dried his hands, and took off his apron. “I think I’m gonna go rest now.” 

  

Today is the last day of our holidays. It’s also the first day of Spring, and our wedding anniversary. Quentin and I finished observing the sparrows this morning. We will wait until long after the babies are born to resume our watch. The male was very excited. Perhaps the nest is ready. 

We are ready. To start next week back into the swing of things.  It will be good to get back. But this time off has been good too. We have reconnected, refreshed. With ourselves and each other. The “have to’s” will be back first thing Monday morning. For now, it’s just us. 

Liebster Award

IMG_1022

It is with great surprise and gratitude that I accept this award. Thank you to Katherine from I Believe in Montessori for the nomination.

It has come during a time of great change for our little family and it reminds me not to lose sight of the things I have already achieved, as I move forward in a new direction.

The award has come with some questions and also the task of sharing random facts about myself. So you will have to bare with me as I answer as best I can.

My blogging routine is not organized. I try to capture meaningful snippets of our days and also answer questions people may have. I write when I can.

Do I want to open my own Montessori school? Well, that is a tough one that I was actually speaking with a new friend about just today. I think instead, at the end of the day, I want Montessori for all children. Not the ones that can afford it or the ones who have a parent teaching at home. I want school reform here and around the world. I know, I know, but you asked.

My opinions of vegetarians. I think they are lovely. And, I think they are missing out on some delicious food.

The last movie I watched was “The Grand Budapest Hotel”. Wes Anderson, you are a genius.

My 2015 New Year’s Resolution. To go after what I have worked so hard and sacrificed so much for.

My favourite Montessori Material. The Knobbed Cylinders. I don’t know why. Because they’re beautiful. There’s just something about them. This question was hard because I have a favourite in all the Montessori classroom settings. For the purpose of saving time I just went with my overall favourite.

If I had a million dollars. Well, that’s a personal one, but I’d buy a bit of land that was once in real life and will forever in my heart, be my home.

I would like to travel to Austrailia. We have a lot of family there, and now I seem to be blessed with a lot of friends there. I would like to spend some real time and meet people. Let the boys build strong friendships.

Three of my friends in blogging are Meghan Irene and Kylie.

My dream profession in childhood was to work in the financial sector. And I did.

Some of my favourite materials that I have made:

IMG_0982
World Landmark card & figure matching set

IMG_1023
Pull up bar over Quentin’s mirror installed at 9 months

IMG_0697
One of the many mobiles I made him here at 4 months

As a finale, I have been asked to share 11 random facts about myself.
Ok. You’ve been warned.

My favourite colour is blue
I love good food and good food photography
I am almost always cold. I’m fairly certain I should have been born in the tropics
I like to be outdoors. Garden or beach or forest. That is where I’m happy
I love books but lately haven’t found the time. It has altered my mood
I love animals but am terrified of spiders. I suppose because they are insects. It goes back to my childhood
When I drink tea, I never finish the cup. I always leave a bit, much to the annoyance of those around me. Actually there’s half a cold cup sitting here now
I eat peanut butter almost every day. Some say it’s an addiction, I am not convinced
I sometimes lay awake and watch Quentin sleep. He will never ever be as small again as in that moment. From then on he will always be bigger.
I have never had to bury a pet until this week. As a child my cat lived till 23. It has profoundly changed me
I have a burn scar on my right arm. I always forget it’s there, but I can remember it happening. It is my earliest memory. I was one and a half.

IMG_1021

I am thankful to have been considered for this. It makes me feel that maybe what I’m doing might mean something and I am very proud of that.
I am tasked with nominating others who inspire me, and so I nominate
Montessori Life as We Know It because you keep me pushing forward and Milkweed Montessori for keeping me grounded in my roots. They are both amazing fellow Montessorians and I am honoured to call them friends.
I also nominate Deb at Sixtine et Victoire. I will always regret that I didn’t meet Deb sooner. She is an incredible, and beautiful mother, Montessorian and friend who lets me talk her ear off from the other side of the country. One day our children will play together I am sure of it.
I only wish that I could also include How We Montessori but alas this award is for us small ones just starting out. It is a shame though because Kylie has been there from the dark days of the beginning and I feel truly blessed to call her a friend.

And so I pass the torch. My 11 questions are as follows. I’ll leave each of you to come up with your own 11 odd facts.

How did you discover Montessori?
What has been your greatest challenge with using Montessori?
Materials. Make or Buy?
What’s your favourite Montessori book?
Do you see any similarity in your children and yourself?
What’s your favourite thing about blogging?
What made you first decide to blog?
How do you take time for yourself?
What are you currently reading?
What is your favourite book your child owns?
And sure. Why not. What would you do with a million dollars?

IMG_0940.JPG

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Or so the song goes.

What ever your family’s traditions, there seems to be a heightened sense of stress. Travelling, spending, and extended stays from family seem to contribute in their own way.

In our own home, even with a simple, pared down holiday, things tend to still get a bit much every once and awhile. My husband just completed his Masters Degree, and I am delighted to say that he is my guest writer today, since his final paper focused on exactly what I am focusing on: reducing stress and anxiety.

His media that accompanied his final paper focused on 30 activities to reduce stress. I chose some that really spoke to me to share with you.

IMG_0941.PNG

IMG_0942.PNG

Day 1. Try a meditation exercise to focus your thoughts and attention away from anxious thoughts. Visualization and self-affirmations are positive things you can do and say to yourself to bring calm and focus to your present.

Day 2. Understanding emotions and allowing yourself to feel them (positive and negative) can lead to you being more prepared and able to deal with your anxiety and the emotions that surround it.

Day 3. Journaling. Writing has a therapeutic value. You can go back to it later for reflection, or scrunch it up and throw it away.

Day 4. Excercise. Walk, yoga, or even jumping jacks will do wonders for mood. Nothing crazy. Even 15 minutes will do it.

Day 5. Friends and family. Yes although some may be the cause of all this, it’s important to stay connected. Call a good friend. Chances are they need it just as much as you.

IMG_0944.PNG

Rob also cautions that should you feel that it is more than just “holiday blues” and that your feelings are seriously impacting your day, seek professional help immediately.

I want to sincerely thank Rob for allowing me to reference this resource that he devoted so many hours to researching and designing.

I hope everyone finds peace this holiday season.

What is the Montessori tie-in you ask? Well, I think it’s the most important one of all:

“The things he sees, are not just remembered, they form a part of his soul” – Dr. Maria Montessori

Holiday Craft: Solstice Lantern

IMG_2531-0.JPG

I admit it, I’m slightly crafty, so when Quentin’s teacher asked if I would like to give the class a small presentation on the Winter Solstice, I immediately began thinking of a “do-able” craft that was simple, inexpensive, and relevant but secular.
A paper lantern seemed to fit.

IMG_2515.JPG

Supplies needed:
small paper bags
stickers
pencil
scissors
something circular to trace
contact paper
tape

Instructions:
Trace circle onto front
Cut out circle, leaving the back of the bag uncut
Cut contact paper to twice the size of the hole
Fold contact paper in half horizontally, peel off the backing & lay it down on work surface sticky side up
Place sticker on one half of contact paper and fold other half over creating a sealed space where the sticker is
Tape contact paper to inside of the bag

IMG_2513.JPG

I finished them by placing a battery operated tealight inside each one.

A simple craft that can be altered to fit any holiday celebration.

I hope the children like them.

Taking Montessori Back to School

My ever kind and talented Montessori cohort Meghan at Milkweed Montessori asked me the other day how Quentin’s concentration had changed since he started school. And that got me thinking.

Everything has changed since Quentin started school.

IMG_0923.PNG

He started in September in an all day 3-6 class. He is the youngest, but he holds his own. There was some separation anxiety after the first few days, but he quickly adjusted.
Quentin had been going to a daycare for quite some time, so we knew he was capable of the days. However, we had no idea what we were in store for.
Everyday he comes home with new songs. He’ll just be sitting at the dinner table and out will pop something. Last week he was sitting on the couch with us during our pre-bedtime routine and he started naming off the months of the year. Correctly.
We realized early on in the school year that his little body (and huge brain) were working hard during the day, and that we wanted to be mindful of this.

As Montessorians we have had activities that hold Quentin’s interest on his shelves since he was 9 months old and before that on his movement mat. However we have never had any of the classic Montessori classroom materials here because we knew he would one day go to a Montessori school. It’s important to us that his home not exactly match his classroom, but instead compliment each other. With Quentin going to school however it made us even more aware that when he got home he should be given the opportunity to rest if he chose. And for the first month he did.

IMG_0924-0.PNG
For the first month he didn’t touch his shelves. He was only interested in his “opened ended” toys such as his basket of blocks and machines.

IMG_0926-0.PNG
The train set also allowed him to sit quietly and concentrate. He also would get out his farm. These toys allowed him to peacefully transition from school to home and just “come down” from the day. We “Followed the Child”. I would put new activities out on his shelves and he would sometimes stop and look but it was usually only for a moment.
We also took advantage of the last of the summer light and got outside in the evening.

IMG_0925.PNG
That was September and early October. Now in November he has returned to working with his materials on his shelves. He will come and get me and say “Will you please work with me Mamma?” His concentration has slightly increased perhaps, but what has changed is his self confidence. He is definitely no longer a baby. He is a boy who knows what he wants and how to get it. Usually while singing. There has been a surge of “No Mamma, that’s my job.” His eyes piercing, his small voice never faltering.

We dreamed of this. The day when our journey to bring Montessori from the classroom into our home with the birth of our second child, would turn full circle, and see that child take Montessori back to school. And so he does, singing the days of the week in French as he goes.

Our Montessori Life: Materials at Two

20140327-085659.jpg

Quentin’s second birthday is fast approaching. It was time to sit back and evaluate our spaces in the home. Here’s what I found.

Our “Space” (above) is where the boys spend the majority of their time. It is big enough for Quentin to hop/roll/tumble but also to work quietly. His small table and mirror are our greatest assets in this space. He uses them every day. His blue work mat is rolled up and sits to the right of his table. He is able to get it out, unroll it and roll it up independently. Not all Montessori homes have work mats but for us it has worked well to help define his work area. He knows when he takes something off the shelves that it goes to his table or mat. It also helps him recognize that he already has a material out and needs to clean it up before getting another one. The ellipse on the floor is also not a “must have” in Montessori homes, but it was easy to do, and we play lots of movement games such as “Walking on the Line”. It is just green painters tape, and I like that it gives us opportunities to do some controlled gross motor movement. We also sit on the line to do finger plays and nursery rhymes.
On top of his shelves is the light box Anthony and I made. Quentin loves it and when he uses it on his table next to the mirror it opens up a whole new world of perspective for him. There are many good light panels/boxes out there but I suppose I should add the disclaimer that whether homemade or store bought, make sure all components are safe for indoor use (don’t get hot), aren’t too bright and aren’t used for an extended period of time especially in a dark room.
His shelves (which I will do a separate, specific post on tomorrow) house all this materials used in this space. At almost 2 we have a really good mix of all 5 areas of the Montessori classroom without looking to match it exactly. There are spaces for lots of language activities like matching cards and model animals, and spaces for sensorial activities like nesting dolls, puzzles and building blocks. There are a few early Maths spaces and some Practical Life such as pouring and transferring activities. There is also a space for art materials. A brand new addition to the top of the shelves (not pictured) is our Montessori Continents globe. Quentin knows where the water is and names it as “the Ocean” and sometimes even “the Pacific Ocean” but that is very abstract and we never really focus on it.
Our cosy reading corner and basket of books gets used frequently. We keep “research books” (as Anthony calls them) here. Non fiction books with real image pictures. Usually with animals for Quentin.
Our gross motor area with the slide and rocker are a favourite and get used every day. The rocker is light enough for Quentin to move independently. He usually moves it so that he can see himself in his work mirror when he rocks. We also keep homemade bean bags and a little container of bubble solution ready to use here.

At two years old what are our must haves for this space?
– Baskets with handles
– Wooden trays with handles
– Real image books
– Vocabulary cards
– Puzzles
– Art
– A range of activities that vary from gross motor to fine motor

20140327-205703.jpg

If he wishes to work, we must provide him with things on which he can exercise an intelligent activity. – Maria Montessori

Our Practical Life Areas. I didn’t include a picture of our weaning table which still sits beside Quentin’s Kitchen. The kitchen and pantry have evolved over time, but have never been more important in Quentin’s day than they are now. Having a place to store his things that he can access independently is of the utmost importance in any Montessori space. I love that we can keep them all together. He clears his dishes and tools from his table after every meal without us having to prompt him now. We keep a little glass pitcher of water on his weaning table for when he wants a drink.
The laundry line was a homemade Christmas gift from my father. It is kept in our laundry area and Quentin uses it frequently there and on the rugs in our “Space”. All of these items allow Quentin to actually contribute to our family’s day to day life. He bakes, sweeps, dusts, cleans, and does the laundry along side us. He is not in the way, he is actually helping.

20140327-212426.jpg
Our Care of Self area in the bathroom remains the same. Our little sink and Toileting Area has not changed much since I set them up when we first started really getting into Toilet Learning with Quentin. The only thing not shown above is the little container of soaps and creams that Quentin can access in our bathroom vanity cupboard. Our bathroom is tiny but this little area has worked really well for us. Like everywhere else we keep it tidy and well stocked and Quentin does the rest.

So that’s it really. Could we do with less? Absolutely. Do I want to add more? Of course I do. We have enough to have a good rotation of different materials that offer him a range of experiences. Many of which are homemade, second hand or come from our small community’s fantastic toy lending library. When I’m looking for something specific and well made I shop here.
Nothing really needs changing and nothing monumental is happening. Except for the fact that unbelievably, and against all odds we will very soon have a two year old.

My Dark and Terrible Secret

20140222-115943.jpg
Before I get too far, I want to thank Deb. She has kept my secret and has given me the courage to do this.

What I dislike most about parenting is that instead of the tremendous opportunity to bond, share ideas and comfort each other, we, more often than not use this great common ground, to compete. Throw in a way of thinking that is not mainstream (in our case Montessori) and you are almost assuredly going to find yourself in front of the preverbal firing squad at some point in time. I am sad to say that it has happened to me many many times since the beginnings of Quentin.

It is because of this that I have only once revealed my secret to the cyber world.

Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 3:30pm (and 2x a week till 5:30, and 1 Saturday a month) I work outside the home. Oh, and Quentin goes to daycare. And….here is the hardest part…. I love it.

It’s also the most emotionally taxing, stressful thing I’ve done in a long time.

Ok, since the tears are already starting I might as well start from the beginning. I had to take the majority of my pregnancy off and so I returned to work 8 weeks after Quentin was born. Actually it was right around the time he was supposed to be born. My husband stayed home with him for the first year and then he returned to his job after his paternity leave was finished. Quentin started daycare in the July after his first birthday in April. Now when I say worked I mean worked, because in those days it also included breast feeding early, pumping before I left, during work (not awesome) and breast feeding soon after I hit the door.

It was and continues to be an extremely emotional subject for us, made ever worse by that firing squad I referred to. “That’s ok, not everyone has maternal instincts.” Was one I distinctly remember. It is also made ever more stressful for us because even though we have many Montessori schools around us none of them have an Infant Toddler Community. Many days we spend time “reintroducing” one or more Montessori concepts (independence, grace and courtesy) to Quentin that have been so easily stripped from him while he is away from us.

So, I suppose I could try to explain why I enjoy working outside the home, but I don’t think it really matters. Instead, what is important for me is to affirm that I love my children deeply and that the love of a child has no bearing on whether a parent works outside the home. Many fathers work outside the home. Do they love their children less? I also feel so incredibly blessed to know so many amazing women (many of whom are fellow Montessorians) who I gather ideas and advice from. Those ideas help me shape and organize our days so they (despite the potential for chaos) remain for the most part peaceful.

Working days and school (I’m doing my Montessori 3-6 teaching degree) nights is hard. It also makes me remember not to take for granted the times we are all together, and ensures we all work together to make the house run smoothly.

Families come in all different shapes and sizes and they all have their secrets. My hope is that we focus on empathy, understanding and support with each other and that this will eventually lead to more “skeletons” being released from closets.

20140204-195751.jpg
For us, we pretty much can keep it together the majority of the year. But come each January it all goes off the rails. I have no idea why. Maybe it’s the post holiday deflate. The holidays are over and winter is most definitely here and maybe we just get stuck in a rut. Whatever the reason I feel completely run ragged.
So… Instead of dwelling on that fact or describing the deplorable state of the house, I’ll let you in on all the changes. Or some of them anyway.

The amount of change happening with Quentin is not able to be properly described in words. His language, movement and independence are exploding. It was over our Winter school holidays that Anthony very graciously decided that he didn’t need his Montessori shelves anymore and that Quentin could use them. The eight extra spots for materials means that Quentin has a really good variety of materials on his shelves but that there are not too many to overwhelm him. The Montessorian in me wanted to set them up as you would find in a traditional Montessori classroom: Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Math and Culture. That didn’t happen. I just couldn’t get them grouped right so I’ve had to let that go, and be happy with the fact that all 5 subjects are present throughout the entire work space. If you want to get an idea of the materials Quentin is using at 1 1/2, you can click on the Instagram photos on this site.

20140204-202707.jpg
My big change is that, after years of wanting to, I finally just did it and went back to school. I applied and got accepted into the North American Montessori Centre’s 3-6 Montessori Teaching degree. Yes, some nights there’s even a little wine and good chocolate to go with the studying. It is in a completely different direction than what my formal education is, but I have been longing to do it for so long that finally I just broke down and did.
It has been exhausting, but it has also been amazing. It has affirmed what I hold dear in my heart as the right way to raise our children and has given me a real chance to think about education on every level. But that is for another post. There is another piece of the school puzzle. My husbands piece.

My husband took parental leave when Quentin was born. It was an amazing thing for them both, and something that changed them forever. My husband also decided that his year of leave would also be the perfect time to begin his Masters of Psychology in Clinical Counselling. Yes, that is why there are two wine glasses and computers on the table. Most nights we are hunkered down together pouring over course material (hmm I think I may see a pattern forming here). He is nearing the end of his program and about to start his practicum, something that will mean giving his notice to leave his position at work. It will mean so many things, and they will all play out in time I hope.

20140204-214500.jpg

We have been reading this book with Quentin. We are focusing on Peace Education quite a bit with him right now. He is a beautiful, gentle, kind little boy, but like any child with an Absorbent Mind he mirrors what he sees. It’s extremely important to us that his day be filled with positive peaceful (ideally Montessori) modelling whether he’s with us or not. There are many things that I am hoping to change about his day, but until I know more I won’t give them away quite yet. I will only say that there are many fantastic resources out there to help aid Peace Education at home and I would encourage anyone interested to seek them out.

Through all of the craziness, it has been the teenager that has kept it all together. Anthony plays a large and important roll in his brother’s life. Despite Anthony’s extracurriculars and course load at school, he still plays with Quentin on a daily basis and I can’t help thinking that it is his Montessori life that has laid the firm foundation for his excellent relationship with his brother. He also follows his passions deeply, and he is a loyal friend. I really couldn’t ask for more.

20140204-222008.jpg

This year will see many, many changes for us. Some that I have mentioned and some still yet to come. When it gets a bit much I try to remember what’s really important, and what I try never ever to take for granted: we’re happy, we’re healthy, and we have each one of us together.

The Building of Peace

20131219-204357.jpg
It’s right around this time of year that this message makes me really think.

What does peace mean to our little family?

Well, it is not something that I can easily define, that part is certain. Martin Luther King Jr. was certainly right when he said “Hate begets hate, and violence begets violence”, but I don’t think that’s quite all of it.

I think Peace begets Peace

Like any other area of Montessori, peaceful behaviour is something that must be modelled if we hope children to do it. In our house we use the Silence Game when things become chaotic for Quentin. A single candle lit in a dim and quiet room while we sit together and quietly watch it calms him more often than not. We try (and try is the word because we are never perfect) to use calm tones when speaking to each other. Each of us finds peace in our home in their own way, and so I would (and anyone who has been here) call our house for the most part peaceful.

We have worked hard to have a peaceful home. For Small Hands has a great selection of Peace, Spirit and Conflict Resolution materials. The North American Montessori Centre has a post with some great ideas on making a Peace Basket and encouraging peace in your environment. But that’s only the beginning I think.

What about building peace in the world? Montessori implores us to build peace in humanity. An impossible task? I don’t know. Today’s world sometimes seems impossible. But Montessori lived through and advocated for Peace Education in one of the worlds darkest times. Surely there must be a chance.

Perhaps Empathy is a good place to start. Or Understanding. The worlds borders are shrinking smaller and smaller every day. Perhaps our instinct to think of ourselves and our families first gets in the way sometimes of sharing peace with our neighbours or the so often “forgottens” of our communities.

What would happen if I shared a small kindness with a stranger? Maybe nothing. But maybe something.

I guess I’m not able to answer my own question of what does peace mean to us. I can only start with the basics which for us are love and respect. How can we ensure those things for our children’s children’s lifetime? That’s a much harder one.

Our Day in pictures

20130925-202314.jpg

It was a day that found us unexpectedly at home.

From the top left: Painting after breakfast in the work space. Magazine reading. Foose ball match between Anthony and I. Quentin watches but doesn’t try to interfere. Quentin helps with his laundry.

Middle Row: Quentin and I walk to get the mail. We spot a puddle and come back with boots on. We need eggs for baking. A trip to the market is too far for Quentin to walk. Anthony pushes him.
With eggs ready Anthony bakes banana loaves while Quentin watches, too tired to help.

Bottom Row: Up from his nap, enjoying the loaf his Brother made. Anthony working in the yard. The late afternoon has brought the sun. The leaves are starting already. A “thank you” for helping with the leaves. Quentin’s first time in the tree house. “No Anthony, I will not let him ride up in the bucket!!” After dinner, back where the day began. This time Anthony is finishing something for school and Quentin is quietly putting his wooden acorns through the hole in his rocker.

This was 7am-7pm.

There was more. Meals, trips to the potty, book reading with Quentin before nap. Sewing with Anthony while Quentin napped. Anthony vacuumed before we even went downstairs to the workspace this morning. Rob came home from work, Quentin had a bath and went to bed and Anthony packed his lunch for school tomorrow.

Tonight (like most nights) we relax either together or everyone doing their own thing. Sometimes we tidy up a bit, sometimes not.

Usually our days apart fly by, almost at light speed. I’m so grateful for this day that the boys and I got to spend together. Looking back through the pictures, I’m even more grateful that it took its time.