What’s on our shelves

I promised I would post this and so here it is. These are the main ideas or experiences we have on Quentin’s shelves at almost 24 Months. We rotate them as needed but I’ve tried to keep it really simple. A puzzle out for a puzzle in, a wet pouring out for a wet pouring in, a colour activity…well, I’m sure you get the idea.

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Row 1: Basket of Animals used for vocabulary/matching
Art activity: crayons, paints, pasting tray, play dough
Scissor/cutting practise with strips of paper and box for scraps
Fine motor/sequencing activity: nesting dolls

Row 2: Bowling pins and ball. Thank you Essential Montessori
Vocabulary/matching cards: currently Alphabet Cards. Thanks So Awesome
Books: Letter and Number Work
Colour sorting activity: currently Primary Lacing Beads

Row 3: Practical Life Dry Transferring: currently pompoms with tongs Thanks How We Montessori
Practical Life Wet Transferring: currently water with pipette. Thanks again How We Montessori
Knobbed puzzle: a wide selection. Everything from trucks to sequencing
First jigsaw puzzle: matching adult animal to baby

Row 4: Geometric Shapes
Lock Box

I haven’t included the “outdoor” materials but I will do a separate post on them shortly as the weather is getting warmer and we are spending more time outside.

We also have a beautiful hand made zipper dressing frame made by my Mother, and of course the light box that Anthony and I made, but this for the most part is it. This is what keeps his little hands moving, and the fire in his eyes burning all day long.

Our Montessori Life: Materials at Two

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Quentin’s second birthday is fast approaching. It was time to sit back and evaluate our spaces in the home. Here’s what I found.

Our “Space” (above) is where the boys spend the majority of their time. It is big enough for Quentin to hop/roll/tumble but also to work quietly. His small table and mirror are our greatest assets in this space. He uses them every day. His blue work mat is rolled up and sits to the right of his table. He is able to get it out, unroll it and roll it up independently. Not all Montessori homes have work mats but for us it has worked well to help define his work area. He knows when he takes something off the shelves that it goes to his table or mat. It also helps him recognize that he already has a material out and needs to clean it up before getting another one. The ellipse on the floor is also not a “must have” in Montessori homes, but it was easy to do, and we play lots of movement games such as “Walking on the Line”. It is just green painters tape, and I like that it gives us opportunities to do some controlled gross motor movement. We also sit on the line to do finger plays and nursery rhymes.
On top of his shelves is the light box Anthony and I made. Quentin loves it and when he uses it on his table next to the mirror it opens up a whole new world of perspective for him. There are many good light panels/boxes out there but I suppose I should add the disclaimer that whether homemade or store bought, make sure all components are safe for indoor use (don’t get hot), aren’t too bright and aren’t used for an extended period of time especially in a dark room.
His shelves (which I will do a separate, specific post on tomorrow) house all this materials used in this space. At almost 2 we have a really good mix of all 5 areas of the Montessori classroom without looking to match it exactly. There are spaces for lots of language activities like matching cards and model animals, and spaces for sensorial activities like nesting dolls, puzzles and building blocks. There are a few early Maths spaces and some Practical Life such as pouring and transferring activities. There is also a space for art materials. A brand new addition to the top of the shelves (not pictured) is our Montessori Continents globe. Quentin knows where the water is and names it as “the Ocean” and sometimes even “the Pacific Ocean” but that is very abstract and we never really focus on it.
Our cosy reading corner and basket of books gets used frequently. We keep “research books” (as Anthony calls them) here. Non fiction books with real image pictures. Usually with animals for Quentin.
Our gross motor area with the slide and rocker are a favourite and get used every day. The rocker is light enough for Quentin to move independently. He usually moves it so that he can see himself in his work mirror when he rocks. We also keep homemade bean bags and a little container of bubble solution ready to use here.

At two years old what are our must haves for this space?
– Baskets with handles
– Wooden trays with handles
– Real image books
– Vocabulary cards
– Puzzles
– Art
– A range of activities that vary from gross motor to fine motor

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If he wishes to work, we must provide him with things on which he can exercise an intelligent activity. – Maria Montessori

Our Practical Life Areas. I didn’t include a picture of our weaning table which still sits beside Quentin’s Kitchen. The kitchen and pantry have evolved over time, but have never been more important in Quentin’s day than they are now. Having a place to store his things that he can access independently is of the utmost importance in any Montessori space. I love that we can keep them all together. He clears his dishes and tools from his table after every meal without us having to prompt him now. We keep a little glass pitcher of water on his weaning table for when he wants a drink.
The laundry line was a homemade Christmas gift from my father. It is kept in our laundry area and Quentin uses it frequently there and on the rugs in our “Space”. All of these items allow Quentin to actually contribute to our family’s day to day life. He bakes, sweeps, dusts, cleans, and does the laundry along side us. He is not in the way, he is actually helping.

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Our Care of Self area in the bathroom remains the same. Our little sink and Toileting Area has not changed much since I set them up when we first started really getting into Toilet Learning with Quentin. The only thing not shown above is the little container of soaps and creams that Quentin can access in our bathroom vanity cupboard. Our bathroom is tiny but this little area has worked really well for us. Like everywhere else we keep it tidy and well stocked and Quentin does the rest.

So that’s it really. Could we do with less? Absolutely. Do I want to add more? Of course I do. We have enough to have a good rotation of different materials that offer him a range of experiences. Many of which are homemade, second hand or come from our small community’s fantastic toy lending library. When I’m looking for something specific and well made I shop here.
Nothing really needs changing and nothing monumental is happening. Except for the fact that unbelievably, and against all odds we will very soon have a two year old.

My Dark and Terrible Secret

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Before I get too far, I want to thank Deb. She has kept my secret and has given me the courage to do this.

What I dislike most about parenting is that instead of the tremendous opportunity to bond, share ideas and comfort each other, we, more often than not use this great common ground, to compete. Throw in a way of thinking that is not mainstream (in our case Montessori) and you are almost assuredly going to find yourself in front of the preverbal firing squad at some point in time. I am sad to say that it has happened to me many many times since the beginnings of Quentin.

It is because of this that I have only once revealed my secret to the cyber world.

Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 3:30pm (and 2x a week till 5:30, and 1 Saturday a month) I work outside the home. Oh, and Quentin goes to daycare. And….here is the hardest part…. I love it.

It’s also the most emotionally taxing, stressful thing I’ve done in a long time.

Ok, since the tears are already starting I might as well start from the beginning. I had to take the majority of my pregnancy off and so I returned to work 8 weeks after Quentin was born. Actually it was right around the time he was supposed to be born. My husband stayed home with him for the first year and then he returned to his job after his paternity leave was finished. Quentin started daycare in the July after his first birthday in April. Now when I say worked I mean worked, because in those days it also included breast feeding early, pumping before I left, during work (not awesome) and breast feeding soon after I hit the door.

It was and continues to be an extremely emotional subject for us, made ever worse by that firing squad I referred to. “That’s ok, not everyone has maternal instincts.” Was one I distinctly remember. It is also made ever more stressful for us because even though we have many Montessori schools around us none of them have an Infant Toddler Community. Many days we spend time “reintroducing” one or more Montessori concepts (independence, grace and courtesy) to Quentin that have been so easily stripped from him while he is away from us.

So, I suppose I could try to explain why I enjoy working outside the home, but I don’t think it really matters. Instead, what is important for me is to affirm that I love my children deeply and that the love of a child has no bearing on whether a parent works outside the home. Many fathers work outside the home. Do they love their children less? I also feel so incredibly blessed to know so many amazing women (many of whom are fellow Montessorians) who I gather ideas and advice from. Those ideas help me shape and organize our days so they (despite the potential for chaos) remain for the most part peaceful.

Working days and school (I’m doing my Montessori 3-6 teaching degree) nights is hard. It also makes me remember not to take for granted the times we are all together, and ensures we all work together to make the house run smoothly.

Families come in all different shapes and sizes and they all have their secrets. My hope is that we focus on empathy, understanding and support with each other and that this will eventually lead to more “skeletons” being released from closets.

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For us, we pretty much can keep it together the majority of the year. But come each January it all goes off the rails. I have no idea why. Maybe it’s the post holiday deflate. The holidays are over and winter is most definitely here and maybe we just get stuck in a rut. Whatever the reason I feel completely run ragged.
So… Instead of dwelling on that fact or describing the deplorable state of the house, I’ll let you in on all the changes. Or some of them anyway.

The amount of change happening with Quentin is not able to be properly described in words. His language, movement and independence are exploding. It was over our Winter school holidays that Anthony very graciously decided that he didn’t need his Montessori shelves anymore and that Quentin could use them. The eight extra spots for materials means that Quentin has a really good variety of materials on his shelves but that there are not too many to overwhelm him. The Montessorian in me wanted to set them up as you would find in a traditional Montessori classroom: Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Math and Culture. That didn’t happen. I just couldn’t get them grouped right so I’ve had to let that go, and be happy with the fact that all 5 subjects are present throughout the entire work space. If you want to get an idea of the materials Quentin is using at 1 1/2, you can click on the Instagram photos on this site.

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My big change is that, after years of wanting to, I finally just did it and went back to school. I applied and got accepted into the North American Montessori Centre’s 3-6 Montessori Teaching degree. Yes, some nights there’s even a little wine and good chocolate to go with the studying. It is in a completely different direction than what my formal education is, but I have been longing to do it for so long that finally I just broke down and did.
It has been exhausting, but it has also been amazing. It has affirmed what I hold dear in my heart as the right way to raise our children and has given me a real chance to think about education on every level. But that is for another post. There is another piece of the school puzzle. My husbands piece.

My husband took parental leave when Quentin was born. It was an amazing thing for them both, and something that changed them forever. My husband also decided that his year of leave would also be the perfect time to begin his Masters of Psychology in Clinical Counselling. Yes, that is why there are two wine glasses and computers on the table. Most nights we are hunkered down together pouring over course material (hmm I think I may see a pattern forming here). He is nearing the end of his program and about to start his practicum, something that will mean giving his notice to leave his position at work. It will mean so many things, and they will all play out in time I hope.

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We have been reading this book with Quentin. We are focusing on Peace Education quite a bit with him right now. He is a beautiful, gentle, kind little boy, but like any child with an Absorbent Mind he mirrors what he sees. It’s extremely important to us that his day be filled with positive peaceful (ideally Montessori) modelling whether he’s with us or not. There are many things that I am hoping to change about his day, but until I know more I won’t give them away quite yet. I will only say that there are many fantastic resources out there to help aid Peace Education at home and I would encourage anyone interested to seek them out.

Through all of the craziness, it has been the teenager that has kept it all together. Anthony plays a large and important roll in his brother’s life. Despite Anthony’s extracurriculars and course load at school, he still plays with Quentin on a daily basis and I can’t help thinking that it is his Montessori life that has laid the firm foundation for his excellent relationship with his brother. He also follows his passions deeply, and he is a loyal friend. I really couldn’t ask for more.

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This year will see many, many changes for us. Some that I have mentioned and some still yet to come. When it gets a bit much I try to remember what’s really important, and what I try never ever to take for granted: we’re happy, we’re healthy, and we have each one of us together.

The Building of Peace

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It’s right around this time of year that this message makes me really think.

What does peace mean to our little family?

Well, it is not something that I can easily define, that part is certain. Martin Luther King Jr. was certainly right when he said “Hate begets hate, and violence begets violence”, but I don’t think that’s quite all of it.

I think Peace begets Peace

Like any other area of Montessori, peaceful behaviour is something that must be modelled if we hope children to do it. In our house we use the Silence Game when things become chaotic for Quentin. A single candle lit in a dim and quiet room while we sit together and quietly watch it calms him more often than not. We try (and try is the word because we are never perfect) to use calm tones when speaking to each other. Each of us finds peace in our home in their own way, and so I would (and anyone who has been here) call our house for the most part peaceful.

We have worked hard to have a peaceful home. For Small Hands has a great selection of Peace, Spirit and Conflict Resolution materials. The North American Montessori Centre has a post with some great ideas on making a Peace Basket and encouraging peace in your environment. But that’s only the beginning I think.

What about building peace in the world? Montessori implores us to build peace in humanity. An impossible task? I don’t know. Today’s world sometimes seems impossible. But Montessori lived through and advocated for Peace Education in one of the worlds darkest times. Surely there must be a chance.

Perhaps Empathy is a good place to start. Or Understanding. The worlds borders are shrinking smaller and smaller every day. Perhaps our instinct to think of ourselves and our families first gets in the way sometimes of sharing peace with our neighbours or the so often “forgottens” of our communities.

What would happen if I shared a small kindness with a stranger? Maybe nothing. But maybe something.

I guess I’m not able to answer my own question of what does peace mean to us. I can only start with the basics which for us are love and respect. How can we ensure those things for our children’s children’s lifetime? That’s a much harder one.

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Toilet Learning. It’s a hot topic. I have written of our lead up to toileting here. I feel this post will be my last on the matter as it looks as though we have come to the final stages of Quentin’s journey.
Although Montessori children generally master toileting earlier rather than later, it’s important to remember that every child is different. I think the most important thing to keep in mind is that this is one of the most difficult things a child will ever do. They are mastering conscious control over their body’s impulses. They demand the utmost respect and support.

I was witness to something this week that has made me really think about this whole process and how we portray it to our children.
I arrived at a house to pick up Quentin. One child there who was much older than Quentin had just had a large accident in their diaper. I stood there dumbly and watched as the whole room was told how big and disgusting the mess was: in front of the child who stood naked in the bathroom doorway waiting for their change of clothes. Their eyes lowered. Completely humiliated. I gathered Quentin as fast as I could and left, fighting back tears.
Now, I know that the person changing the child loves and cares for children. I know that they said what they said jovially, and would never consciously hurt a child. But what about unconsciously.

What language do we use when speaking about toileting? What’s important? The words used or that they are said in a playful tone. Even if a parent is diaper changing an infant/child not ready for using the potty what do they comment on? I’m not sure about anyone else, but I have heard lots of comments on how “stinky” a diaper is, or what a “big mess” has been made.

Would it matter to you if a person you loved and trusted humiliated you while smiling or singing?

It would matter to me.

Our Montessori Semi-Holiday: Cosmic Education

What does Cosmic Education mean in a Montessori Home?

It means exploring the big wide world.

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Although Infant, and Cycle One (3-6) hold special places in my heart, my absolute favourite is Cosmic Education. It’s quite literally infinite in its possibilities.

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For Anthony, it’s about testing his limits (safely) and feeding that passion and hunger for seeking out the new.

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It’s also about having a little fun. We walk and talk.

“This is where the world came.” He says, more to himself than to me. In 15 minutes, we hear a handful of languages. We meander, stopping when he wants to look more closely at something.

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“Follow the Child” I can’t forget that just because the child is taller than me.