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 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. 

    Our Montessori Shelves 14 Months

    A bit of a flashback, but for those of you who are curious:

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    Our Montessori Shelves 14 Months
    Top shelf: basket of plastic Schleich animals for matching mother to baby, a pouring activity, shape puzzle and homemade imbucare box

    Bottom shelf: wooden acorn colour matching, homemade ring stacker, clothes pin pincer grasp activity and Pom Pom fine moter push activity

    Pumpkin carving

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    The humble pumpkin.

    We North Americans (and now many others around the world) have this crazy tradition. Every Autumn, we trudge out into muddy fields and supermarkets in search of that perfect orange squash.

    This is Quentin’s first real Halloween. He had no idea what to think!

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    He tried sitting beside it.

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    And then on it.

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    Finally Anthony came along and showed him (and Oscar apparently) what to do.

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    There was some initial hesitation when he saw what came out of it.

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    Anthony was patient.

    “Eeeww pumpkin!”

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    He liked it more as he went along.

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    “Wow!”
    “Candle light”
    “Pumpkin Light”

    Quentin’s Shelves 18 Months

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    It seems like I close my eyes for a second and when I open them, time has left me behind in the dust. Who is this crazy haired boy standing in front of me dancing and singing, and what has he done with my little baby Quentin?

    October has been unpleasant for us. In the midst of it all, (with the most welcomed help of my Mother) I have been making/purchasing new “Works” for Quentin, desperately trying to keep up with his changing self.

    He has completely entered his Sensitive Period of Maximum Effort. Montessori defined this as the time (usually beginning around 15 months) when the child will test his limits. Lifting, carrying, climbing, pushing. In short his maximum strength used to bring his physical body to new levels of independence. This, coupled with an explosion of Language has completely redesigned the baby we knew into a toddler.

    It’s fascinating that the adult world has named this phase “The Terrible Two’s

    Examined under a Montessori microscope it is something very different.

  1. The child becomes defiant/the child has the mental capacity to make choice
  2. The child becomes physically aggressive with objects/the child tests & strengthens their body so that they may have a better understanding of the world: physics, sequences, social reaction
  3. The child seeks mischief & trouble/the child is more independent & able to leave their parents to explore the world confident that their parents will be there upon return
  4. The child has temper tantrums/despite everything, the child’s mind is still young, self centred and incapable of forethought, hindsight, or consequence, but extremely capable of wonder, love, and self worth
  5. All that being said, I have been rushing to try and keep up with him. I can’t show you everything (I just haven’t had the time to photograph it) but I can show you what is on his shelves.

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    Top Left to Right:

  6. basket of animals (rotated between farm and ocean)
  7. dry pouring 2 vessels of equal size
  8. fruit and veg cards for matching (4 each set)
  9. Middle:

  10. art medium and notepad (rotated between crayons and paint)
  11. pumpkin spice scented play dough
  12. Bottom Left to Right:

  13. wooden stringing beads
  14. wooden lock box
  15. fine motor open and close activity (rotated with snake game)
  16. These are the things that engage him. I am in the middle of making him a pasting/gluing tray, and I have my Parents hard at work on some bean bags to help direct his need to throw.

    It is such a fascinating age. I see new things in him everyday. I wonder what I will see tomorrow?

    The Magic of Montessori

    I haven’t really written about Quentin’s journey into the world, and I’m not sure I’m ready now.

    The night before his early morning (5:36am) birth, as we waited in the hospital, the medical team now sure that the contractions were not going to stop, the Paediatric Doctor came into our room. The message he brought was one we had been working so hard from the first ultrasound to avoid.

    “A baby born this early……blindness, hearing loss…..mental retardation.”

    I don’t really remember much else of that sentence, but I remember the next two clearly.

    “We’ll have to take him right away. You (my husband and I) and he (my still unborn child) are going to have a long road ahead”.

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    He was beautiful to us. Right from the beginning.

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    This is him weeks later in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit technically not even born yet. Holding his face, like he did on so many of the ultrasounds.
    While we waited for his homecoming, we went over all of the options in care available to us. His hearing and vision were fine and he did not require any immediate physical therapy. Preemies born this early (and earlier) are delayed in their development. An Infant Development Nurse was assigned to Quentin. She would come to our house once a month and help us form a plan to help him “catch up”. She would watch for areas that perhaps we could pay extra attention to.

    We didn’t need to talk for long. There was already a complete developmental package available to us and it began at the hour of birth. It covered every area: the ways to soothe him, the essential materials needed, even the way to organize the infants room. It was all broken down and categorized for us. All we had to do was follow it. The Absorbent Mind would do the rest.

    This is the Magic of Montessori

    This is Quentin today:

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    His nurse, a wonderful, caring women embraced Our Montessori Life from day one, having no prior knowledge of the pedagogy.

    On her 12 month visit she reduced his visit schedule to once every 3 months. “It’s amazing that he can do that.” She kept saying throughout the visit.

    Last Wednesday (16 months) she came again.

    “I see no reason to continue to follow him.”

    “Children his age, even his birth age, aren’t usually able to do those things (puzzles, pouring, matching, chores).”

    I didn’t say anything at first. Maybe the huge grin on my face prevented it. But I wanted to say that actually, children his exact same age all around the world are able to do these exact same things. They do them in homes and schools and church basements and mud huts. I wanted to say that we are part of a community, that its all laid out. I wanted to say that we just did what others have done for over 100 hundred years before us and that all we did was to start down the path. I wanted to say that all children could do it, if just given the chance. But I didn’t. I just stood there.

    As she was leaving she shook her head and said again that she just couldn’t believe it.

    This time I didn’t hesitate. I managed to say: “That’s the magic of Montessori.”

    Our Shelves 15 Months

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    A Prepared Environment: A natural, beautiful space that is prepared with cognitive and social developmentally sequenced materials.

    At 15 months he’s walking (sort of) and going through an intense Sensitive Period for vocabulary.
    With this in mind, I have put some new activities on Quentin’s shelves.

    From top left: A basket of animals featured here. Next, a Practical Life dry pouring work. This is his second dry pouring activity and he is really refining his coordination of the wrist. His pouring has gotten much better. Next, his Fruit &Veg nomenclature cards featured here. I’ve put 3 pairs in the tray: apple, banana, carrot. He recognizes each picture, but doesn’t always match the carrot correctly. Last on the top is a DIY imbucare box with a rectangle block. I’ve just switched out the round cylinder box he had there before. Sometimes he forgets that you have to turn the rectangle to fit the sides properly, but mostly he gets it. This won’t engage him much longer.

    From bottom left: A tray of wooden painted acorns for colour matching. Quentin actually prefers to use this as a touch sensorial material. Over and over he picks up as many acorns as he can in one little fist and then carefully puts them back in the tray (not matched to the proper colour). Next a shape puzzle. He can now take out all the shapes and put them back correctly. Next, a DIY clothes pin pincer grasp activity. He mostly still pulls the pins straight off without the ability to “pinch” them open. However, I continue to demonstrate the correct way and leave it at that. Lastly a lock box. Thanks to Rachel for her insight on this amazing material. He can now work most of the bigger locks. Although it is too heavy for him to carry, he still drags it out and uses it everyday.

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    I finally decided on this work mat from Montessori Services. It works well for Quentin as it is not too heavy.

    It’s amazing to see that after months of me modelling it, Quentin now stands up, picks up whatever he has been working on and tries to put it back on the shelves. A “Keeping it Real” moment: he usually drops it halfway there. But he’s trying to do it. I have never given him a “Lesson” (demonstration). I just slowly, silently, pick up the material with both hands and slowly carry it back to the spot where it was on the shelf.

    Although I have seen it many times before with many different children, the Absorbent Mind is truly a humbling and awe inspiring thing to witness.

    Magnet Work at 15 Months

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    I set up 4 magnets on the side of the fridge today. This was Quentin’s first real opportunity to use magnets uninterrupted.

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    They are small round glass stones with a nature print on the back and then a magnet. He enjoyed the sensorial experience. Rolling them in his hand and placing them one by one on the fridge. He spent over 30 minutes doing this. He even surprised everyone by saying “magnet”. He experimented by sticking them to the wall (with obvious results) and the heat register (which is not in use currently).

    These would be easy to make with craft supplies. I’m thinking of family faces or his other interests such as vehicles and animals, but really you could make anything. I could cut out pictures and glue them to the clear stones before glueing a magnet on the back. Quite simple and fairly inexpensive I think.

    This quiet game reminded me that literally everything in his world is still new and exciting. I allowed him the time to try it all out.

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    Perhaps a disclaimer is needed: These are magnets and could potentially be dangerous if swallowed. When using any material that may cause harm, (marbles, kitchen tools etc.) I have both eyes and my full attention on Quentin at all times.

    Our Montessori Toddler bedroom transition

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    It was time. I hated the crib. In Montessori Infant Communities/Nido’s babies sleep on firm mattresses on the floor. We live where it’s damp most of the year. With the dampness comes mold. Everywhere. Our beds have to be elevated to allow for airflow. So we had a crib, and I waited for the day he could independently climb into his bed.

    The day is finally here. His low shelf continues to hold some creative materials. A wooden drum, small basket of wooden blocks and a basket of trains. Everything else with the exception of the Practical Llife kitchen items and his Care of Self area in the bathroom is downstairs in the boys work area.

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    The table and chair in Quentin’s dressing/Care of Self area were made by my Great Grandfather. I’m so pleased that they are a part of Quentin’s room. This is where we help him dress in the morning, and comb his hair. He loves looking in the mirror when he’s combing/I’m combing his hair. His little book bag was a custom made 1st Birthday gift.

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    Quentin’s closet: from my perspective and his. The blue striped storage bins on the top shelf are where we keep the materials that are out of rotation, and some of his preemie clothes which I can’t bare to part with even though they make me sad sometimes. The clothes rail holds his special occasion clothes. The rest of his clothes (and there aren’t many) are stored in the easy to pull bins or on the shelves of the shelving unit. The bins are for the larger items (pants, shirts & pj’s), the shelves hold his underwear and his sock basket. Everything is at Quentin’s level so he can independently access his clothes, but the bins also provide me the opportunity to quickly clean up his closet without having to stop and hang everything on hangers. The large blue striped bin on the floor holds his dirty laundry.

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    Lastly, there is the nursing/snuggling chair in the corner. The quilt on the back of the chair was presented to us in the hospital. The local quilting group presents every premature baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit with a handmade quilt. I chose it before I even got to see him (other than the brief seconds after delivery before they rushed him away). It came home before him and has seemed to always be here. The books on the table are antiques of favourite stories, and some of my Montessori books.

    Breast feeding a preemie is difficult to say the least. It was a ridiculous ordeal, but I stuck it out and he naturally weaned himself around his 1st Birthday. This spot remains one of our most favourite in the house. We still read stories before bed here, but it holds much more than that. For me it’s the hard work and effort and love of my child all wrapped into a cosy corner.

    That’s his bedroom or most of it. I will have to photograph the artwork in another post.
    I’m happy with it for the most part. It’s simple, beautiful and filled with natural light. It will work well, and is easily changeable to suit Quentin’s changing needs.