September Nature Study: Forest Floor

September is settling in nicely around here. We find ourselves wearing long sleeves and pants all of a sudden. 

Our September Nature Study is perfect for the cooler days and slower family rhythms. 

We have been using these gorgeous materials from Tanglewood Hollow to compliment our study. They are perfect with just enough information as well as being portable so we can actually take them out on hikes with us. 


Our time is the rainforest has proven to be exactly what we need. Giving us some time to energize ourselves after the first busy weeks back at school. Looking for different types of ferns, lichen and mushrooms has been a fascinating treasure hunt. 

A note of caution: We have poisonous mushrooms here and therefore we never touch them unless with a trained guide. We would recommend you do the same. 


We have also been talking about the importance of rotting logs. There are some beautiful examples of this where we live. New life growing from old and the continuation of the biome. 


There is so much see in the forest in Autumn. If you have yet to start a Nature Study, why not try a walk in the woods. 

Montessori and plastic animals: A lifetime of learning

It’s no secret we love Schleich animals. Our Montessori Grammar Farm has grown from its humble beginnings and remains one of our most used open ended toys we have. 


We first wrote about our use of Schleich figurines here. At 13 months (corrected age because he is a preemie) Quentin used a small selection of animals familiar to him for vocabulary work, and exploration. People often ask us to clarify the use of plastic over wood, especially when the Montessori pedagogy is known for its use of natural materials. 

The answer is a simple one. Reality based material trumps natural material every time. It is far more important for a child to see that a cow has four hooved feet that are distinctly different from a pigs cloven feet than for every material to be made of a natural material. 

It is also extremely important to note that the Montessori pedagogy advocates for real world experiences for children. So although having all the African animals is very sweet looking on your shelves, your young child will have no concept of how tall a giraffe really is, or the size difference between a gorilla and a chimpanzee unless they have had a chance to see these animals in real life. It’s for this reason that we chose North American farm animals as the animals we first introduced to Quentin. And as it turns out (five years later) these and his Forest animals are the only ones he’s ever needed models of. 


We wrote this post two years ago as his farm had expanded and the animals he originally had were still holding up. 


This is his farm today. 


He has used it in many Montessori language works such as “Nouns in the Environment” “Logical Adverbs” and simply just word building with the Moveable Alphabet. 


And of course, most importantly he uses it to play. The animals pictured are the same ones he used when he was 13 months. This is the reason we choose Schleich. Because they look as new as they did 5 years ago. 

Opened ended play is an overlooked piece of Montessori because many confuse it with fantasy play which is not condoned in Montessori. Imaginative, child led reality based play is very much encouraged. So his horses definitely don’t fly, or talk (because those are untrue concepts perpetuated by adults to children) they most definitely, nibble hay, gallop quickly, prance slowly and fall into the category of Mammal. 

This kind of play helps a child understand their world and gives an adult endless opportunities to open up age appropriate conversations with kids. Everything from vocabulary building in toddlers to life cycles for preschoolers to “A day in the life of a farmer” sequencing for elementary kids. 


So while I go back to driving the tractor up to the orchard to harvest the ripe apples, consider adding animal figurines in a purposeful way to your child’s environment. Think about the ways you can open your child’s eyes to the beauty of the animal world and it may surprise you what you learn together. 

Sunday Book Club: International Grandparents Day

Grandparents whether real or honorary are so often a gift to children. 

I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my Grandparents and their constant, loving place in my life. I’m also grateful that our boys have their Grandparents and that same loving, nurturing relationship. So in honour of this celebration we are sharing one of our favourite Grandparent books. 


When Grandad was a Penguin is sweet, and funny and just a favourite. We read it over and over here as both penguins and Grandads are a loved treasure in this house. 
We also mentioned another of our favourite Grandparent books here. The love of spending time together and seeing the seasons change always brings up excellent conversations here at home and in my 3-6 Montessori classroom. 

For more excellent and diverse stories about all kinds of different Grandparents, head over to Diamond Montessori. They have some great books featured that centre around different ways Grandparents fill the lives of children. 

Back to school the Montessori way – Part 2: Routines 

The Summer days are counting down. At home we are well on our way to settling back into our school routines. As we spoke about earlier here, clear, consistent gentle rhythms will easy your child into the morning and nightly school routines. 

More importantly though, it will help prepare your child for the routines of their classroom. 


One of the easiest things to do is use routine cards. We love these free printable ones. They are not too childish, easily understood and large enough to be gripped by small hands. Laminated with a small dot magnet on the back and stuck on Quentin’s fridge, they have held up for years of daily use. He can easily see the order of his tasks and he has the ability to change the order should he choose. 


Books can help prepare kids for what to expect in the classroom as well. These are some of our absolute favourites and you can find out more about them here

The more routine you implement before your child goes off to school the better they will be prepared for their days. 

Don’t wait to until the first day of school to start getting up early. Start today. 

Here’s our tips: 

  • Figure out what time you need to get up to get everyone fed, clothed and out the door. Then set the alarm 15 minutes earlier than that! 
  • Get up even on the days you don’t need to. Even if it’s just a little bit earlier. It will help your young child keep that routine going. 
  • Get dressed every morning, even on holidays or weekends. Don’t wait till noon. This is a common mistake. 
  • Practice, practice practice your child’s self care tasks. Your child will need to know how to change their outdoor footwear, recognize their name, open their lunch containers, put on their jacket and use the bathroom completely independently. As a 3-6 Montessori teacher, I implore you to give them the confidence they need to get through their day without you by making sure they can do these task independently.
  • Set a bedtime routine that is gentle, allows for lots of family closeness and above all calm. We like to make sure that Quentin has a bath with some lavender essential oils and a warm towel to dry off with Then afterwards we sit with a candle and an essential oils diffuser going before getting him into his bed and reading together. This entire process can sometimes take two hours. It means that we need to make the conscious decision that his needs must come before our own. It ensures that he is truly calm and feeling reconnected after his busy day away from us. 

Lastly here’s some gentle words of caution:

  • Swimming lessons, sports and outings are very important but in the first weeks of school can create extra stress. Consider putting them on hold for the first month at least.
  • Your excitement may not be shared by your child. Be prepared for anxiousness and crying. Keeping the same routine every day and reassuring your child you will come back and get them will help. 

Back to school is a big transformation for any family regardless of if it’s your first time or not. Instilling routines that help prepare your child for separation, independence and the rhythm of your day will go along way to decreasing anxiety for all those involved. 

Sunday Book Club: Leaf 

Every once in a while a book comes a long that is so absolutely stunning that it kind of knocks us off our feet. And then of course despite us rarely buying books because of our fantastic small town library network, we fine ourselves on the hunt for this new treasure. 

Leaf by Sandra Diekmann is a gorgeous tale (perfect for a Montessori child in the Second Plane) of a strange and seemingly menacing stranger that finds itself in a wild wood. The other animals are fearful and avoid and distrust him. Until the crows offer a suggestion: maybe he just needs some help. 



Although this book gently but poignantly highlights the plight of polar bears and their rapidly declining habitat it also touches on an all too important topic these days. 

That although there may be “different ones” that have come to our neck of the woods, the right thing to do is to: 

“Share your smile, lend a hand and spread a little peace.” 

Back to school the Montessori way – Part 1: An overview

Autumn has crept up on us. Many children have already returned to school and with our own first day less than two weeks away I thought I’d share our Montessori essentials for back to school. 

The benefit of being both a mother and a trained Montessori Guide is that I live in both the home and school environment. So I’ve compiled a list of Montessori back to school essentials both from a veteran parent and teacher perspective that I’ll come back to and do separate posts on in the upcoming days. 
Let’s start from the beginning:

Routine

This is the absolute most important part of a smooth transition to school. Children especially those from 0-6 years thrive on predictable family rhythms. If your day (especially the morning) is lacking the routine required for a successful start to the school day here’s our suggestions on how to get everyone on track:

  • Pick a time in the morning that everyone should be up by in order to get out the door on time. Then add 15 minutes and set the alarm for the adjusted time. 
  • Make sure your child is going to sleep at a time that will allow for them to wake up rested. 10pm Summer bedtimes DO NOT WORK for the school year. 
  • Don’t wait until the first day of school to start this. Start it ASAP, even if you aren’t going out the door today. It will take awhile for your child to adjust. 
  • Make setting out clothes the night before part of your child’s bedtime routine. Make sure they are clothes your child can use the bathroom independently in! Speaking as a teacher, overalls, skinny jeans and long dresses just don’t work for a young school child. 

I’ll get into more detail about routine in an upcoming post but those are the basics. 

Lunch essentials 


Just like at home, independence in the Montessori classroom is essential for your child’s success. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Shop to ensure you have variety for the week. Variety will help your child’s lunchbox come home empty
  • Too tight thermoses filled with tomato soup are a disaster waiting to happen. If your child has trouble eating a particular food at home don’t send it to school
  • Your child will need to open their own containers. Choose ones your child can open independently and help them practice in advance. 
  • Make sure you know your school’s food/nutrition policy. Many schools have zero junk/zero waste policies or allergy policies. If you are unsure about what to send contact you school or pack a variety of nutrition rich foods in reusable containers. 

I’ll get into what we pack and how we pack it later this week. 

Above all respect the child


This is an emotion filled time for any child. Some children are looking forward to it, some are more anxious. Some will have changing feelings in the upcoming weeks as they transition into their classrooms. Just like we spoke about here, give your child lots of space, love and encouragement. 

If being grilled by a loved one on all the activities you did at work today is annoying, don’t do it to your child. Instead ask them relatable questions such as “What does your playground have?”, or “What did you do that was fun today?”. Be prepared for your child not to be able to answer “Who did you play with?” “What did you do?” kinds of questions. Also be prepared for them to be exhausted. Show them how much you love and respect them by gently offering help if needed, and allow them time to just “be” when they get home. After school IS NOT THE TIME  for getting out more Montessori trays off your home shelves. It’s time for reconnecting with a loved one, reestablishing trust and closeness and just relaxing. 

Instead of more work simply “Follow the Child” 

Plane Travel: Montessori Minimalist essentials 

We have some long flights coming up next week. We’ve been gathering Montessori compatible items to help Quentin enjoy the trip. When we travel, we keep the shared values of minimalism and Montessori with us. 

These are the items in Quentin’s carry on bag this trip. 


First an foremost we pack homemade, highly nutritious snacks. Lots of them. Reusable containers, cloth snack backs and leakproof BPA free waterbottles help keep us minimal and zero-waste. Filling water bottles after security mean that all of us stay well hydrated which helps blood circulate, keeps us alert and above all, calm. Not having to think about purchasing food not only helps us stay minimalistic, it honours the child. He can eat or drink when he needs it, just as at home and at school. 


A new pencil case and good quality note book coupled with our forever loved Lyra Ferby coloured pencils offer everything from quiet colouring to games and mazes. For minimalists these are the bare bones essentials. They offer multiple options for open ended play. 


These Usbourne First Nature Bug cards coupled with Safari Ltd. Insect Toob are going to be something that Quentin will really enjoy. Quentin loves small figurines and even though he is crossing into the Second Plane he is still very much in the Sensitive Period for small objects. Toobs are perfect because they are fairly realistic for the size of the figurine, they are inexpensive and long wearing.

 Small animals and matching cards can help a young child sit still and can lead to lots conversations about everything from parts of an animal to biomes. The options are limitless which makes them perfect for packing. 

 
I scoured local bookshops and online stores searching for a sticker/activity book that was Montessori compatible. Regrettably the majority were cartoonish, heavily gender stereotyped and just plain awful. It quickly became clear that the sticker book world has not truly embraced the Montessori world. Even the animal themed ones were much too simple for Quentin. The other hurdle to factor into our unique situation is that Quentin at just turned 5 years old is able to read. At a 9-12 year old level. Searching desperately I stumbled upon this. 

It’s absolutely brilliant. It encompasses all of Quentin’s passions. Geography,  landmarks, culture. And it’s not childish. Sticker books are fantastic for children who no longer put things in their mouth or for younger children that enjoy the repetition of the fine motor movement with close adult supervision. 


We get lots of questions about options for families that want low to zero media for their children. Our favourite answer to this is an IPod shuffle with volume limiting child headphones. We load it up with Quentin’s favourite music currently The Avalanches and also the entire Barber of Seville opera. We also absolutely love audiobooks. There are so many amazing, Montessori compatible children’s audio books. Having the ability to choose his own media and quietly sit listening, helps him stay calm, and keeps him engaged in the journey. 

The wallet pictured above is no longer available but it is the best children’s wallet we’ve seen with excellent play cards and money. Setting up the seatback tray, we can easily set up many open ended games with it that take up little space. 

All of these items easily fit into Quentin’s backpack found here

Part of being a minimalist family is that we keep very purposeful and edited wardrobes. Quentin doesn’t have many clothes as we choose to instead spend our money on a few good quality certified organic items rather than filling a closet with cheap alternatives. This makes it incredible easy to pack. He can easily pack his clothes and his Care of Self items into his suitcase which also qualifies as his second carry on bag, eliminating the need for checked luggage. 


All of these things are only a small fraction of the bigger picture. Montessori is not about the stuff. It’s about the child. So even with all of these items in his carry ons, without the Prepared Adult, things can easily slip away from Montessori values. Our actions are so much more important than the stuff we buy our children, so here’s our tips for making a plane trip as Montessori friendly as possible:

  • Prepare well in advance, and have your child participate in the prep, allowing them to feel like part of the process instead of just being dragged along.
  • Get to the airport with plenty of time. A small child needs extra time to walk, observe and process this extremely sensorial environment. They will need to use the bathroom and eat more often. Rushing will not help any situation. 
  • Most airlines offer early boarding for passengers with young children but we actually prefer not to take it. The less time cramped on the plane the better. We board with general boarding. 
  • Get up and move. Allow your child to move how they feel comfortable to if it’s safe to do so. Stretches, walks, massages, legs bends in the aisle. People get it. You are travelling with a young child. A walking child is better than a screaming child for everyone. But most especially the child. 
  • We take the red eye. We fly when our child sleeps. Because if there was ever any hope of them sleeping on a plane it would be at night. 
  • Take only essentials and you will most likely be able to fly with just carry on, skipping baggage carousel chaos with an overtired child in tow. 

Above all else, slowing your pace and following the child will help everyone enjoy the trip. The airport and travel are some of the most stressful times for families. Acknowledging your child’s emotions, physical limitations and interests will go along way to keeping those Montessori values close at hand.