A Montessori field trip: A trip to The Nest

“A child in his earliest years, when he is approaching two or a little more, is capable of tremendous achievements” – Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child

I love being able to travel and experience other places of the world. I also love being able to experience new Montessori environments, although often times I find them missing something. I suppose it comes from seeing so many over the years and being so passionate about the pedagogy. I just have a very high bar. 

However when a new Montessori Nido (Infant/Toddler Environment) is in your hometown, you simply can’t pass up the opportunity to go view it. 

It didn’t disappoint. 


The Nest which opened in January is absolutely stunning. It’s well lit with natural light, thoughtfully laid out and full of gorgeous custom made infant/toddler furniture. 


Sometimes in Nido’s, that prepared, clean aesthetic that is found in the older classrooms is missed. It’s not intentional. It’s simply that it’s extremely difficult to take the miniature of the 3-6 classroom and shrink it again for the 0-3. This wasn’t the case here. It’s as if the staples of the 3-6 classroom were perfectly shrunk to scale.


Everything from the tiny cubbies to the Care of Environment area was well thought out, carefully prepared and beautifully executed. 


Even the micro sized hand washing station made me smile as it is the exact shelf I use in my 3-6 classroom for my calendar work. 


Of course when the custom shelves look this inviting, a Montessori child can’t help themselves. They simply have to roll out a micro sized work mat and set to work. 


Quentin gravitated toward the things he himself enjoyed not all that long ago, such as the coin sorting box (shown on our home shelves here). He moved around the classroom with the excitement he shows in his own 3-6 class. He asked why the fish tank had a bridge, a reasonable question from a boy who has spent his entire life in the literal, logical world of Montessori. 

He was met with a kind, and logical answer from the Directress and owner Alison: 

There used to be a snail. 


Alison is a Mom of 3 Montessori kids aged 7, 4 and 2.5. She trained in Toronto and saw a need in this rural/urban community for a Nido. She currently guides six children that range in age from 14 months to 3 years. She welcomed us in with little notice and graciously let us explore her environment. She chose to have everything from the shelves to the tiny chairs custom made to ensure they were at the correct height and the attention to detail does not go unnoticed. 


Did you notice the culturally diverse books in the reading corner and the bird viewing area prepared in the middle window above? I did. 

It’s these kind of details that set this space apart in my mind. That meet and surpass that high bar. And it’s these kinds of intangible details families ought to be looking for when they are touring Montessori classrooms. 

  • Is the space filled with natural light? 
  • Is there thought and design aesthetic in the furniture, the seating areas? 
  • Are the large materials truly the right size for the children that are using them or are they just cut down versions?

Most importantly, does the environment call to the child. If it does, a child regardless of age should run to the shelves and become sucked in by the beauty of the Prepared Environment.

It was an absolute pleasure observing this space. If you want to know more about Alison’s work you can find it here on her website or follow along with her Instagram account here.

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. 

Summer Road Trip Part 2: Our travel activities 


Summer road trips are such amazing opportunities for adventure and learning. But they can also be stressful. Hot and long, both parents and children soon find themselves tired and irritable. To avoid this we plan our trips carefully and think about how we can minimize the stress. We also think about safety. 

Our road speeds in Canada vary, but they are usually set around 100 kilometres an hour. That means everything in the car is travelling at 100kms an hour. Loose objects in the car can become dangerous weapons even at much slower speeds. Plastics shatter as easily as glass and books hit as hard as boulders. So when packing things for Quentin to do in the car, we always put safety first. 

Our number one pick is the small iPod Suffle with volume limiting, child sized headphones. We put lots of his favourite music and some audio books on there. It is small, compact and easy to use. Quentin will often only do this on long trips. He is content to sit and listen. 


“Busy Books” are another favourite. Sewing, matching games and felt dress up figures. This one was made for us as a gift. 

A small soft covered Moleskine note book and our Lyra Ferby pencils are another favourite. He can draw, or just make notes. 

He keeps everything including some water in a water bottle in the little backpack shown here. The pack keeps his things contained, in a soft shell and he takes each out one at a time to work. 

We also talk. About what we see, the things we are going to do etc. 

Even with activities, small children still need to stretch their legs. So we make sure to plan stops. Things that will enrich our trip, give Quentin an opportunity to run around and just have some fun. We Follow the Child. Quentin can usually go 1.5-2 hours in the car without stopping. If your child needs more frequent stops, respect that by giving their little bodies what they need. 


For Quentin it’s penguins. If we are near our closest aquarium (which we almost never are) we always stop. 


Then there’s the hotels. They must have a pool, for night time cooling off before bed. When we get there, we make sure it’s a big comfy bed for him to lay out on. A bed he gets all to himself. We let him bounce, make forts and just, well, just be a kid. 

Summer Road Trip Part 1: Food Planning to ensure Peace in the car 

What images come to mind when someone mentions road trip to you? Majestic countryside? Vast, salty seaside? Beautiful sunsets? 

Yes, and also bored, fighting, overstimulated children. 

To minimize this last image, we plan ahead. Pick some interesting stops to break up the drive and most importantly back a cooler. 


I’m always surprised when I get asked why a normally calm and happy child is suddenly hyper, angry, or destructive. My first response is always (like in any Montessori situation) to observe child (or adult!).

Did you confine a small child to a tight space for extended periods of time? Did you feed them packaged, processed, fatty or sweet foods? 

Taking the time to prepare wholesome, delicious food will keep everyone happy during the long hours while ensuring no one is reading nutrition labels, worrying about fat content or trying to decipher the chemical list. 

Back row: Coconut Chia yogurt, fresh cut veg, fruit and nut couscous, green salads
Front row: Raw energy bites, fresh fruit, organic cheese, banana choc. chip muffins. 

Sunday Book Club: Summer on the West Coast

It feels very good to be back in this space. I have missed being here. 


As the days warm here we are seeking even more time outside. We picked up two excellent books this week that have really complimented our need to be out in Nature. 


The Specific Ocean by Kyo Maclear 

A girl is unhappy about leaving her friends behind to travel with her family to the ocean. However once she gets there, her prospective slowly changes and she allows herself to be drawn in by the sensorial  beauty of the Pacific. This book is full of rich, flowing vocabulary and it will challenge you to explore this type of vocabulary with your own child the next time you are at the beach, the park, or anywhere for that matter. 


West Coast Wild: A Nature Alphabet by Deborah Hodge 

This is the perfect alphabet book for anyone living in the Pacific Northwest, or wanting to learn about it. We just so happen to fall into both categories. An entire alphabet book dedicated to the wildlife and vegetation we see every day but would like to know more about. 

If you have any suggestions for excellent, Montessori friendly books let us know. Have a great week. 

A Child in Nature

 We are going to take a break from our Sunday Book Club this week to instead tell you about this.  
I love spending time out in nature with both boys. We are lucky to live where there is such a vast and diverse wilderness. I also love reading about the different Montessori friendly activities out there for children and their families so when this came along for us I was interested right away. 

We have been reviewing Wild Explorers Club for the past 6 weeks. Their website is well put together and explains the entire two year programme really nicely. It is a monthly subscription service and at a cost of $12US a month I thought we got what we paid for. 

Each week there is a new activity for the child and their family to try. The programme starts when you sign up so you don’t have to jump in part way through anything. The first assignment was make an adventure pack. Others included hike a new trail, find a walking stick and make a nature journal. It includes a monthly paper magazine shipped to your door and all the weekly assignments and final certificate for a level are accessible on your account page and are easily downloadable. 

  
Quentin was so happy when his badge arrived in the mail. I’m not sure we will do the full two years but it has been fun for us so far and it helps motivate me to get us out and seeing the world. 
* All right, I’ll put up a disclaimer: We are not affiliated with Wild Explorers Club and I was not compensated for my review. All opinions expressed are purely my own. 

Our Montessori Semi-Holiday

We live in a small fishing village on the edge of the Pacific. Snow is a rarity for us, so we have to seek it out.

20131108-210651.jpg

Whistler Mountain (home of the 2010 Winter Olympics) is a few hours away (plus of course the ferry ride). Both boys are used to long car trips. We stop when we need to and keep everyone’s “limits” in mind. Anthony has things to pass the time in the car, but he enjoys looking at the passing scenery. Quentin still rides rear-facing in his car seat, and activities aren’t really an option, but he enjoys pointing out the things he sees and knows the name of. “Truck!” “Water!”

He as never seen snow before, he has no idea what it is.

20131108-211753.jpg

He walks the sidewalks saying “Bubbles, bubbles.” He thinks it’s soap. This still fascinates me. He has never experienced this before, yet he has the ability to search his knowledge of the world and come up with a conclusion of what the new thing might be. It takes him a while to confirm what we are telling him.

This is definitely not soap.

20131109-133029.jpg

We filled our day “Following the Child”. It was magical watching him expand his world.