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. 

    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. 

    Reading the Montessori way…was exactly what we did

    I have been asked by several people to write this and yet I put it off. It actually brought back many of the same emotions as this post did.

    The same worry and self doubt crept back in. “What will people think?” “They are going to think we pushed him.” “Two year olds DON’T read. Not without flash cards. Not without drilling.”

    Except. Except that mine did.

    I will start at the beginning. And by beginning, just like I wrote about here, I mean at 18 weeks after conception, when an unborn child begins to hear. Long before we (and our medical team) were sure he would stay, we sang to him. And read to him. And talked to him. Words were a part of his world before he was a part of this one, and so, maybe it wasn’t surprising that early on we could see that he loved language.

    Our reading, and singing and talking didn’t stop. We filled his world with language and so it wasn’t long before he realized that the symbols he was seeing with the pictures meant something.

    I’ll get the disclaimer over now: yes Quentin has nomenclature cards in both the home and school environment, for matching games and for verbal vocabulary interests but never, in either environment, has Quentin ever been subjected to flash cards and drilling. I feel both fall far outside of the values found in the Montessori pedagody.

    As Quentin’s interest for language grew, we “Followed the Child” and began offering materials that would compliment the materials he would one day find at school.

    I purchased Montessori Letter Work for Quentin just before his second Birthday. You can see him using it a month later here on Instagram. He loved the pictures and loved pointing to his “q”. I put it on his shelves and it has been invaluable to him.

    Anthony gave him the Melissa and Doug magnetic letters for his second birthday. It is a good set although we would like it better if it had multiples of the letters. As you can see in the following picture, we are using the “u, n, & c” just to get “Quentin”. 

    This was taken December 1, 2014. He had just turned 31 months. By then, the intensity with which he was seeking language was at a peak. He had started school in September and now his home Montessori materials could be supported by the traditional Montessori classroom materials. He quickly mastered all the phonetic letter sounds. Then he slowly began to realize he could manipulate the letters to make different sound groupings. In other words, he could make words. “A, t, at” he would sound. Then he would place another beginning sound in and start again.

    The salt tray gave him another sensorial aspect. He could try and trace what he saw. He could get “x, c, o” and of course a capital “Q”, but mostly it was just to add another demension to what he was doing with the book and magnets and us reading to him.

    And then, as the month of December progressed, I could start to see the frustration build in him. Not anything serious. I don’t even know if he could put it into words, but well, the light in his eyes surrounding language just started to dim. He would occasionally chose his letter book. Sometimes he would pass by the fridge and pick out a letter to show me. But that was it. The excitement and passion he had felt before was gone. I talked to the school. I talked to other Mom’s. I thought about it laying awake at night. “He is way too young for reading.” “This was all just a phase.” Kept rolling around in my head from the Mothers I’d talked to. “He’s only 2.5” I kept trying to tell myself. And then, I put all of that nonsense in my head aside, and  I made him a Moveable Alphabet.

    “I made you something.” I told him when he got home from school one day.

    He came running back “Mama! You made me my letters from school!”

    It still brings a tear, because he hugged me and kissed me and ran off to try it. And because I knew I should have never doubted him. Never held him back.

    And that was it. The light was back. I printed the alphabet from Montessori Print Shop as well as some picture CVC cards with the first sound missing. I placed three cards and three letters in our sorting tray and gave him a lesson on how to use it. We identified the picture “mug”, and then he would pick the correct sound he needed. He got it right away. But he couldn’t stop at just the three in the tray. As he continued to recognize more and more of the letters and their phonetic sounds he was able to start doing more of the cards.

    When it got to be a bit easy, I started just using one picture card at a time and putting all the required letters in the tray. He would take out the “mug” card, place it on the work mat. I would add the “m” on the card,  then he would match the letters in his tray in correct order, laying them under the card.

    That was the middle of January. One month after I’d made him the alphabet. 

     We are off on Spring Break together. He asked me to make him something for the holidays.  And then, once again he humbled me. 

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    He is using the words from the Bob Books Set One. He matched all the Moveable Alphabet letters himself. 

    Now it’s a matter of building his sight words from those he can sound which are still phonetically accurate CVC words. I came around the corner this morning to hear him reading in his teepee. He had all his stuffed friends gathered around. I couldn’t tell if he was reading the reader from memory or sight but he was so proud of himself that I didn’t interrupt. 

    Slowly introducing sequenced activities allowed him to keep his interest and build on his skills. “Follow the child”. Using materials that interested him and that he could physically manipulate (as in any Montessori setting) increased his interest and helped him retain key concepts like sound blending. 

    His age had nothing to do with it. Neither did flash cards. This was all him. Right from the beginning.  

    Exploring the World: Activities, books and ideas surrounding Landmarks & Architecture

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    Lately we have had an explosion of interest in architecture in our house. Quentin has (like many children his age) an extraordinary memory for facts.
    Then we noticed that he had the entire route to school memorized with all the “landmarks” in order along the way. All 30 minutes of it. It was time to help him explore this new love of his world.

    It started (as it so often does in our house) with books.

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    1. Walk this World 2. Young Frank Architect 3. If You Find a Rock

    These are gorgeous books.

    Young Frank Architect is one of Quentin’s favourites, and has a moral that thinking outside the box is a good thing and that kids creations are as relevant as the great architects of the 20th Century. It features at trip to the MoMA and showcases some of the “great Franks” of the architectural world.

    If You Find a Rock is absolutely beautiful, and I will be sneaking it out of the house to use in my new classroom before our nature walks. A lovely poem about stopping to observe your surroundings and finding “special” and beauty in the natural world.

    Walk This World is Quentin’s absolute favourite book at the moment. We’ve read it twice today. It features a day walking the world through some of the major cities. The art is amazing and simple. And it’s a door flap book kind of like a paper advent calendar. Behind the doors there are lots of hidden treasures including a tiger in the Taj Mahal, and a chicken riding the bus in…well, I’ll let you find out for yourself.

    I also purchased some Safari Ltd. Toobs for Quentin. The Around the World Toob and the World Landmarks Toob coupled with some matching cards I made have been a hit, and he loves naming and matching them. Sometimes he will tell me a fact he has remembered.

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    The Taj Mahal is made outta white marble. The Statute of Liberty is made outta copper. I don’t know what dis Parfannon place is. I gotta look dat up.

    Part of this experience we are offering Quentin is the very basis of the Montessori “My place in this World” activity. It begins with a child identifying their house, their community, their region (state/province) and so on circling outward. Our nature walks have begun to incorporate not only being mindful of nature but also identifying “landmarks” such as bridges, trees and even rocks.

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    We “Follow the Child” allowing time for him to stop and explore something more closely. We will walk to a point and then turn around and ask him if he remembers what’s coming up next. “The bridge!” He exclaimed rushing by on his bike, face full of concentration.

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    Having him point out familiar things like the firehall or the park strengthens his sense of order and placement of the world around him. Allowing him time to explore and take pleasure in the things he sees is hopefully instilling a life long love of adventure and a knowledge that there is a big world out there to discover.

    Holiday Craft: Solstice Lantern

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    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.

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    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

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.