Our Montessori Life: Materials at 3

How has this year passed so quickly? No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to slow time. To bring it to a standstill. Even just for a short while. And so, because if this, we find ourselves once again reevaluating Quentin’s space. 

Not much has changed in the physical space you see here. We have moved his garden to sit beside the slide. I’ve also added a dedicated art space, but that’s it. So, really it’s more of looking at the house as a whole. His shelves have had an update too.

Quentin attends a beautiful, peaceful 3-6 class in a traditional Montessori school Mon-Fri. There is no need for us to have traditional Montessori classroom materials in the home. Instead the materials here are similar to and compliment his school experience.

 When I get asked if Quentin has toys I always manage to fumble my answer. “Yes. Well, no. Well sort of.” Instead what I really mean is that we have things that envoke joy in him. His day is spent doing things he finds enjoyable. Things that he is passionate about. 

Here are some of the materials on his shelves:



Top Row: Rhythm Hand bells & felt notes, Nature observation kit from my beautiful friend Deb, DIY cinnamon scented playdough & basket of loose parts including cookie presses from my good friend  Kylie

Middle Row: Safari Toob Landmarks & cards, Safari Toob Instruments & cards, DIY Moveable alphabet & CVC word cards with storage box

Bottom Row: DIY Salt tray & tracing cards, Montessori Letterwork/Numberwork books, Number/Quantity Recognition (up to 10 in the box)

These materials are chosen freely by Quentin. We don’t teach or instruct him, and there isn’t “school time” here. We simply answer any questions he may have such as “What is the Statue of Liberty made out of?” and “Why is the clarinet black?” Mostly he loves teaching us. “Ok Mama, you will watch & I will show you how to make a “fuh” for fan.”



Quentin also has “open-ended” things such as his garden and his barn, both made by my parents. 



What has changed on his shelves is that there is very little Practical Life on them anymore. 







This is what Practical Life now looks like. All the baking, cleaning, laundry etc. of our family, he is invited to assist with. Most of it he can do himself. He continues to love his kitchen (sold here). I get a lot of questions about his kitchen set up. “Real or play kitchen? What about play food?” My answer is always the same. The things in this space are all real. Real food prep, real consuming, real mess, real clean up. His kitchen continues to store his dishes, and silverware on the left (real porcelain seen here & real glasses) and his food prep tools (mixing bowl, egg slicer, cutting board & knife etc.) on the right. He stores his cleaning supplies and tools as well as his overflow baking supplies in the closet we have renovated for him beside his sink (inside seen here).



He sets up his dish washing independently, completes the job, then goes and gets his mop to clean up the drips. He usually does this all while singing. 



The only thing we will change for him in his room is a new bed. It’s time for a twin size bed even though he has lots of space left in his cot. A “Big Boy Bed” at his own request. Above all his room will remain peaceful, uncluttered and made for resting. The only toy he keeps in here is his farm my Father made for him. The reading corner teepee I made him still houses a cosy sheepskin and custom pillow. In the morning the sun fills it’s white canvas with soft light, and it’s the perfect spot to curl up with a book. 



I will do a separate post surrounding the unveiling of his dedicated art space. It was something that was really lacking for him. He had art trays on his shelves but this is much different and has resulted in a huge difference in his willingness and want for the artistic world. 



I will also do a separate post on his outdoor activities, because those are the ones that have changed the most, and I promised myself that this post was only going to be so long. 

So, after all that what are our must haves going into 3?

  • Figurine and matching cards (everything from Life Cycles to Landmarks)
  • Trays and baskets that he can easily organize work into (small trays are no longer helpful) 
  • Lots of language activities, tailored exactly to his level (he loses interest if it’s too easy)
  • Lots of different, accessible Art mediums from paint to chalk to pasting
  • Lots of activities that offer movement (he’s 3 he must move)
  • Lots of access to the day to day chores of the house
  • Information about how everything in the world works and PATIENCE from us while he has to try it all out himself.                                    

That little tiny baby we once spent weeks watching through an incubator is unbelievably almost 3. 

“A child is both a hope and a promise for mankind” -Dr. Maria Montessori



Yes he most certainly is.  

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A mind once stretched with a new idea is forever enriched

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Language development from the Montessori perspective begins at 18 weeks. That is, 18 weeks after conception. That is when an unborn child begins to hear.

How do we foster a love of language in a child? The Montessori approach side steps the flash cards and “baby genius” type videos and instead turns to a more holistic approach.

Language is the most beautiful cultural tradition we pass down to our children. From the earliest days a small baby can be soothed with the recognizable voice of a loved one. From those early beginnings, the whole family plays a critical role in a young child’s language development.

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Reading to a child is essential for good language development, but did you know that holding a child gently but firmly (such as hugged while reading) will cause the child’s brain to release serotonin? This is the body’s sleep/happiness drug. Exposing your child to a wide range of printed text such as simple story books, non fiction books such as National Geographic and poetry will start your child on the path to a life long love of language. Don’t give up if your child does not sit still, or seem interested in the book. Try a good variety to find your child’s interest.

The same goes for singing. Your child does not know that you are a terrible singer. They have loved your voice since before they met you. Sing short songs such as nursery rhymes or make them up. Have your child do some actions.

I’m writing this post one, because language development is a passion of mine, but also because Quentin has advanced language skills for his age and we often get questions about what we did to get him to speak like that.

My answer is the same every time. We did nothing. No flash cards. No crazy DVD’s. We just speak to him. All day long. Every day. I try to get the skeptics to see it a different way. What if you dropped out of the sky and landed in a foreign country. A country so foreign that you couldn’t even begin to recognize or understand the language. How would you learn to communicate? You would have people speak slowly to you. You would have them repeat words. You would get them to use lots of hand gestures. You would immerse yourself in all forms of the language.

This is what we did with our boys.

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Everywhere in the house there is language. Music, books, singing, talking. We are also the primary voices that Quentin listens to. He does not watch any media.
When we talk to him, we talk slowly if the concept we are talking about is new. We use REAL words. There are no “doggy’s” or “fishy’s” or “bubbas” here. But there are dogs, (and even Dalmatians) and goldfish and bottles. Even when baking, we use the opportunity to expand and enrich Quentin’s vocabulary.

“What is that?” Those three little words are the key to a hole world of language.

I recently had the extreme pleasure of connecting online with Nahal, a mother of a 1 1/2 year old boy, and a Paediatric Speech and Language Pathologist. Nahal is also the founder of Coos Babble Talk. Like me she is passionate about introducing language to children, but unlike me she is a professional. If you are in the California area, Nahal hosts group classes for children and their loved ones that focus on introducing language comprehension and expression through play. Regrettably I am not in the California area and so I seek out her website and her Instagram feed for inspiration regarding language activities to try with Quentin.
Since most parents know the importance of books and such, I asked Nahal for some other ideas to keep in mind when communicating with your child.

Some unexpected things parents can do to encourage early language development:
1) imitate your child – Children learn imitation through you. Imitating actions turn into imitating language
2) Look at your child, make eye contact when cooing, babbling, or talking.
3) Keep it Simple – Focus on common verbs and nouns that will help express a want or need. “I Want Ball!”

Thank you so much Nahal for your input with this and for your beautiful blog.

There is literally a whole world of language out there. The Montessori message in all of this is don’t underestimate your child. If you want them to say Dalmatian to you, you have to say Dalmatian to them.

The only language men ever speak perfectly is the one they learn in babyhood, when no one can teach them anything

-Maria Montessori

The addition of art

Quentin turned 18 Months old this week. I realized that I hadn’t really given him some art trays. So although we have done art together for awhile, I felt it was time to make it accessible to him on his shelves.

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My Mother sent some beautiful hand made orange pumpkin spice play dough. He squished it and poked it and pulled it off his fingers. We have been demonstrating how to role it into a ball. I love home made play dough. Easy to make, chemical free, and you can make any colour or scent you want. I’ve added a shape cutter to the tray, but really it’s all about the sensorial experience.

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A new pasting tray. The little round box hold bits of paper, but really it could be anything. I have plans to add “things” to paste like fabric, buttons and feathers.

We have also had our Stockmar Block Crayons on the shelves forever.

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We’ve also done painting with a brush, but I have to prepare the colours on a plate. I’m hoping that these new activities will be more self directed. I love seeing the joy on his face when he realizes he’s made something.

I’ve been asked for the play dough recipe. A big thanks to my Mother for sending it so quickly.

Ingredients
3 cups flour
1.5 cups salt
6 tsp .cream of tartar
3 tbsp. of oil
3 cups of water

TO MAKE:
Place all of the above ingredients in a pot, and place on stove.
Cook on medium heat until dough begins to form a ball, by coming away from the sides of the pot. Remove from pot and knead until desired consistency.

You can add food colouring and spices while kneading if you wish. Let cool slightly and place in a container with lid. Should last between 2-3 months.

17 Months Today

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He said “egg”, went into his kitchen, got out his slicer and set to work. I love him, and I love Montessori.

A Saturday at the Market/Toilet Learning next step

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There’s nothing better than taking in a farmers market on a beautiful Saturday morning.
Beautiful wholesome foods, locally farmed. Friendly faces and lots of sensorial experience.

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Quentin is surveying the playground. He is a quiet and reserved child. He will usually observe instead of rushing in.

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In the end he never made it passed the bar.

On a side note, this was the first time Quentin stayed in underwear for an extended journey. I haven’t worked up the courage to keep him in underwear if we’re going more than 15 or so minutes from home. Today we were out for 6 hours. We (I) have to reform my thinking. I have to shake off my embarrassment. So what if he has an accident? This is Quentin’s journey, not mine. I’m just the guide. I have to show I believe in him, not show that I doubt him.

We took him to the bathroom when we got to and left each location today. He went every time. We brought a spare change of clothes including clean underwear (just in case), & left the training diapers at home.

We never needed the change.

Everything I (and maybe you) need to know….Part 2: The first half of The First Plane

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“The greatness of the human personality begins at the hour of birth.” Maria Montessori “The Secret of Childhood”

So what exactly does that mean? Maria Montessori confirmed that children don’t learn the same way, at the same pace their whole life. The First Plane of Development (birth-6) is an amazing surge of growth. Not just physically but mentally as well. This is where children simply seem to “soak up” information about the world around them. Children begin to acquire language, develop cognitive and motor skills, begin to imitate the adults around them, and develop expectations of the world around them. Montessori described this period of learning as the Absorbent Mind.

From a Montessori perspective there are many experiences that a parent can offer, beginning in infancy that will help their child develop a life long love of learning (and I’m definitely not referring to flash cards here). It is also misunderstood that a parent needs to “buy all the expensive gear”.

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The Munari Moblie is the first in a series that can be offered to infants. We didn’t start with this one. We started with the Gobbi. I made it myself easily and cheaply. It was the first time I had made a material and I got hooked. Something beautiful to look at, a wall mirror and a soft blanket to lay on, is all that is needed to begin to build concentration: the foundation of learning.

I could go on forever about all the materials you could make/buy or all the activities you can do with your “under 3”, but that is not what this is about.

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These are what this is about.

These charts taken from “The Absorbent Mind” outline what’s going on at every month between birth and 2 1/2. Knowing that every child’s body and brain go through these same milestones at roughly the same time can help a parent understand the often “strange” behaviour of “under 3’s”. A child has a fundamental need to exert maximum effort (throwing things). A child needs to imitate activities (gets in the way while making dinner).

So. What’s to be done with all this knowledge? Well, if you’re a Montessori family, you provide that prepared environment that allows the child to safely and constructively fulfill that need. This perhaps means looking at your space. Are the materials/toys beautiful, natural and realistic? Are they presented neatly (or spread all over the floor to trip over & curse). Is there time in the day for the child to move their body freely no matter what age they are? Do you slow your pace so the child has a chance to work along side you around the home experiencing all the sensorial world has to offer? Most importantly, do you respect your child as a human being. Capable of understanding real speech (not baby talk). Able to actually do real and meaningful work given the right size tools.

I guess the take away message is that a child starts learning at birth. You don’t need to worry about all “the materials”. If you’re going to worry about anything, worry about the experiences. Provide lots right from birth. Language, Sensorial, Mathematical, Cultural and Practical Life (Montessori language for life skills). These are the 5 that will build a lifetime love and curiosity for all the world has to offer.

Isn’t it funny that these 5 just happen to be the 5 areas of a Montessori classroom.

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Everything I (and maybe you) need to know about Montessori: Part 1

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When you hear the word Montessori what comes to mind? Most would say schools. Those that have little or no idea might say “That’s where the kids get to do whatever they want.” How many would correctly identify it as a pedagogy. A science or way of teaching. This pedagogy just happens to be directed at children, but not just “preschoolers”, and most certainly not just in a classroom.

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Maria Montessori used her medical background to study children of all ages, and walks of life. Over the years of studying how children learn, she set up “Children’s Houses”. A school unlike any other where children would be surrounded with natural, realistic beautiful materials. Montessori discovered that all people, right from birth are naturally curious about their environment.

Once the years of studying children and then designing the materials were complete, the rest flowed naturally. Invite a child (of any age) into a beautiful space (in Montessori language we call that a prepared environment). Give him/her an opportunity to freely move about that environment and choose freely from any prepared material they are intrigued by. Design the materials so that everything is accessible, easily manipulated, and has a built in control of error, so the child learns naturally from their own mistakes. Allow that child to work uninterrupted with that material for as long as they choose. Most importantly provide a Guide (in Montessori language we call her a Directress not a teacher), that will always speak quietly, respectfully and lovingly to the children. A guide that will assist the child in gaining new information, not telling the child what he should learn. A guide that will foster independence, without burdening the child with ego building praise. A guide that will demonstrate Grace and Courtesy (important words in the Montessori world) and Peace so that even the smallest child is able to show compassion. Over 100 years later, in over 100 countries, and 22,000 schools Montessori is changing the face of educating our children.

All this pedagogy or “way of teaching” is not limited to a school setting. That’s why many families all over the globe classify themselves (we are one of them) as Montessorians. We use the same fundamental principles described above in our own lives beginning at the birth of our children. Many would not agree with our practices that may include children self feeding, toilet learning and contributing to household chores at an earlier age than is readily accepted in most cultures. However I think all parents would agree that they love their children. Montessorians look at that love as a gift and a powerful one. Maria Montessori said “Within the child, lies the fate of the future.” I believe that was never more true than it is in todays world.

I will include this link for anyone wanting some ideas of materials. I would also encourage anyone to read Maria Montessori’s books. Especially the “Absorbent Mind”. You can find a link in a previous post. I will continue this series by going into greater detail on the different stages of a child’s development beginning from birth. I hope it will bring better clarity. Both to myself and others.

About Us

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This is Quentin (11 months) and Anthony (12). A big gap, I know. Image

This is where we live: Sooke, B.C Canada.

And what will follow (with any luck) will be the story of us, as we bring Montessori from the school environment into our home.