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.

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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.

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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.

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

Montessori in the Home: ideas for infants

“The first essential for the child’s development is concentration. It lays the whole basis for his character and social behaviour. He must find out how to concentrate, and for this he needs things to concentrate upon. This shows the importance of his surroundings, for no one acting on the child from outside can cause him to concentrate. Only he can organize his psychic life.”
The Absorbent Mind p 202, Chap 22

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I have always advocated for the belief that it is not the “stuff” but the experiences that are important to a child. A song sung by a loved one is just as stimulating as any gadget to a baby. However, I’m asked on occasion for ideas of Montessori inspired infant materials, so I thought I’d share a few.
At a basic level you are looking for something that will delight the child, but many would be surprised where that delight can come from.
From a Montessori perspective, the items would ideally be made of natural materials. This gives the child an accurate sensorial experience. Wood feels very different from wicker and cotton very different from steel, but all plastic feels the same. Loud sounds and bright lights offer little in the way of concentration and often overwhelm or overstimulate.
In the very early months, mobiles and mirrors that an infant can concentrate on are often all that is required for “toys”.

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I love mobiles. There are a series of Montessori Infant Mobiles that can easily be made/bought, but it takes very little time to attach some items to a base and hang it from the ceiling. I made the above mobile by cutting out circles from some pretty paper I had and then stringing them into chains and hung it from a ring. This is not one of the Montessori mobiles, but is simple, beautiful and allows him to concentrate.

Black and white images printed onto cards are a favourite as well with younger infants. There are many out there. I love
Wee Gallery Art Cards. There are also many beautiful Montessori inspired options on Etsy.

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In the background on Quentin’s first low shelves are some “Treasure Baskets”. When the child is more mobile, they love looking at, grabbing, mouthing, listening to items in a treasure basket. Both Deb and Kylie have great ideas for treasure baskets for young infants. Even at this age a child has a strong sense of order. Baskets are usually kept to a single idea. You can put anything in them. A kitchen basket may have a spatula, flipper and whisk. Or maybe sounds. Or colours. The possibilities are truly endless.

The brown box on Quentin’s shelves is a homemade Object Permanence Box. I made it out of a square post office mailing box and covered it with kraft paper. I made three: a large round hole and ball, a small round hole and cylinder shaped block and a small square hole and square block. These are a great challenge for older infants. He used them right up until just after his first birthday.

These were his first materials. We supplemented these with lots of books and music and outdoor time. Looking back a year later, it went so quickly. It’s often a huge stress for parents to provide the “right toys for optimal development”. I think what’s important to focus on instead is providing quiet uninterrupted time for the child to concentrate and explore their world.

Pumpkin carving

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The humble pumpkin.

We North Americans (and now many others around the world) have this crazy tradition. Every Autumn, we trudge out into muddy fields and supermarkets in search of that perfect orange squash.

This is Quentin’s first real Halloween. He had no idea what to think!

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He tried sitting beside it.

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And then on it.

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Finally Anthony came along and showed him (and Oscar apparently) what to do.

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There was some initial hesitation when he saw what came out of it.

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Anthony was patient.

“Eeeww pumpkin!”

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He liked it more as he went along.

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“Wow!”
“Candle light”
“Pumpkin Light”

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.

Quentin’s Shelves 18 Months

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It seems like I close my eyes for a second and when I open them, time has left me behind in the dust. Who is this crazy haired boy standing in front of me dancing and singing, and what has he done with my little baby Quentin?

October has been unpleasant for us. In the midst of it all, (with the most welcomed help of my Mother) I have been making/purchasing new “Works” for Quentin, desperately trying to keep up with his changing self.

He has completely entered his Sensitive Period of Maximum Effort. Montessori defined this as the time (usually beginning around 15 months) when the child will test his limits. Lifting, carrying, climbing, pushing. In short his maximum strength used to bring his physical body to new levels of independence. This, coupled with an explosion of Language has completely redesigned the baby we knew into a toddler.

It’s fascinating that the adult world has named this phase “The Terrible Two’s

Examined under a Montessori microscope it is something very different.

  • The child becomes defiant/the child has the mental capacity to make choice
  • The child becomes physically aggressive with objects/the child tests & strengthens their body so that they may have a better understanding of the world: physics, sequences, social reaction
  • The child seeks mischief & trouble/the child is more independent & able to leave their parents to explore the world confident that their parents will be there upon return
  • The child has temper tantrums/despite everything, the child’s mind is still young, self centred and incapable of forethought, hindsight, or consequence, but extremely capable of wonder, love, and self worth
  • All that being said, I have been rushing to try and keep up with him. I can’t show you everything (I just haven’t had the time to photograph it) but I can show you what is on his shelves.

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    Top Left to Right:

  • basket of animals (rotated between farm and ocean)
  • dry pouring 2 vessels of equal size
  • fruit and veg cards for matching (4 each set)
  • Middle:

  • art medium and notepad (rotated between crayons and paint)
  • pumpkin spice scented play dough
  • Bottom Left to Right:

  • wooden stringing beads
  • wooden lock box
  • fine motor open and close activity (rotated with snake game)
  • These are the things that engage him. I am in the middle of making him a pasting/gluing tray, and I have my Parents hard at work on some bean bags to help direct his need to throw.

    It is such a fascinating age. I see new things in him everyday. I wonder what I will see tomorrow?

    Baking

    Do you bake at home? It’s one of my favourite things and yet it was (shamefully) the thing I had not yet given Quentin a real opportunity to do. He would do a small part. Turn on the mixer, get out the bowl, but really he would just work in his kitchen while I did it. Maybe once in a while mix in the flour.

    What was stopping me? I don’t know. How complicated it would be. Or the mess factor I guess.

    How very UN Montessori.

    I took the push I was getting from Deb and Kylie and plunged in…with something very simple.

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    At his weaning table, ingredients divided into bowls ahead of time, some of the dry ingredients premixed.

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    He started with stirring the oats already in his mixing bowl. I asked him if he wanted to pour. He said yes.

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    Then he wanted to stir for a bit. There was a small “sampling”. He didn’t like it.

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    He eventually said “Done”, got up and took off his apron. I cleaned up his table, got out his lunch and he ate while I rolled the Cranberry & White Chocolate Cookies into balls and placed them in the oven.

    So what did I take away from it all? It wasn’t hard to do. The pre measuring could have happened during a nap or after he went to bed for the next morning, but I did it while he was just in the other room and it didn’t take long. It was good that I had lunch ready to go so he could move onto something and I could finish and clean up. It was also good that it was a simple recipe. No exact measuring, no complicated ingredients.

    I also saw the concentration, and delight in Quentin’s eyes throughout the process. He named (repeated the name) of each ingredient as it was added, and he knows that he made something for the family. He contributed to family life which is a big deal in the Montessori world.

    The best part was just being able to share something that I love with him.