Montessori compatible Christmas Books – A rare and beautiful thing Part 2

Last year we waited patiently, while everyone was posting their “must haves” and “what to buys” and “favourite Christmas books evers” for this book to humbly be mentioned.

It wasn’t.

And so, this year, we are posting a newly published beautiful, Montessori compatible Christmas book, that also hasn’t been anywhere on the usual Montessori social media Christmas posts.

It is the simple hymn so many know.

The story of a birth in a middle eastern town to a modest young Jewish family.

When we are looking for Montessori compatible books, our first and most important goal is that they are reality based. Too often we see this story on book shelves with blond haired, blue eyed, and white skinned characters.

This is why we love Silent Night by Lara Hawthorne.

It’s pictures are stunning with bright beautiful colours, and lots for young children to look at. But most importantly, it does not whitewash this thousands of years old story.

Maria Montessori implored us to build Peace, not only in ourselves, but in the world. The very best gift we can give our children is the knowledge that our stories are other people’s stories.

That our differences are our similarities.

All good things are wild and free: The end of our Nature Days

This is a hard post to write and it’s hard to know where to start and so perhaps I’ll start at the beginning. Not my beginning or Quentin’s but perhaps at school’s beginning.

Early on in Quentin’s Montessori 3-6 classroom time, we decided that he should remain home one day a week. There were many reasons. He was a preemie and still tired easily napping long periods (even now at 6!). He was bright and needed some focused one on one time to give him the attention he craved to fuel his insatiable appetite for knowledge especially in language and culture. But, truth be told the real reason is I loved it and I’m grateful and ever mindful that we are privileged enough to choose not only how much we work outside the home but we also choose his schooling.

Early on Quentin identified it as our Nature Day. One day a week (Mondays) that we followed the child completely. Not having to be anywhere. A whole day of “yes”.

There soon followed what was to be for us a natural rhythm that we have kept until today:

  • Breakfast
  • Get dressed
  • Choose a home material off the shelves in his work space in a sort of loose Montessori work period
  • Choose an outing, pack up and head out
  • Home for lunch
  • Sleep/rest/read in the early afternoon
  • Baking in the late afternoon
  • Back downstairs to choose an independent activity (often a board game, art, Lego) until dinner

You can read about our Montessori day at age four here. Not much has changed routine wise except that in the last part of this year at 6.5 years old, Quentin has finally given up his afternoon nap. We now read on the couch with cups of tea and a blanket instead of him going to his room to nap.

There have been enough memories in these few short years to last a lifetime.

Trips to the ocean.

Trips into the rainforest.

And trips to all the local museums and art galleries. Every Monday we would pack a bag and go. And along the way there was work mat after work mat of child chosen activities, fantastic games and pages being poured over.

For two years we followed an absolutely fabulous Nature Study based on the book “Nature Anatomy”. You can find our first monthly post here and the rest of the monthly studies in our website category Montessori Nature Study and Outdoor Activities. It really helped us find our way and gave us ideas that were easily doable where we live.

As Quentin transitioned to the 6-9 classroom however our Nature Days have become more customized. He is able to really formulate research ideas now (check out our Instagram feed for his latest child led project) and gathers the materials himself. He finds a multitude of ideas on our nature hikes instead of preferring to stick to a solid theme.

So why the formal end to it all?

We are on the verge of a very big change.

The Montessori 6-9 classroom in a small local Montessori school Quentin currently attends has been lacking and has regrettably not lived up to our standards. And so last month when his waitlist papers were pulled at one of the Montessori schools in our area that goes from the 3-6 classroom right through high school we jumped at the chance and took the spot. It will be a world of positive difference for him. And it means he will be able to stay in an authentic school Montessori environment until he graduates high school.

And, it will mean, he attends five full days a week.

The decision was an easy one. The school has (among many other positive features) a strong nature component. It is the right choice for him.

Because of this as we prepare for him to start at the new school next Monday, today was our last official Nature Day. Of course it poured rain. And so we didn’t let that stop us, instead using our seasons passes to visit one of our favourite indoor paradises.

The warm air filled with hundreds of butterflies was the perfect thing to take our minds off the rain and the upcoming transition.

There was also a morning filled with the busy hum of a child who loves learning.

So what does all this mean for us? Well for most of our days it will be very much the same. The school morning routine that sees us through the rest of the week will now start for Quentin on Monday. I will continue to consult with families and school and teach in my 3-6 classroom.

It’s the little things that will change.

We will need to be mindful of how even just one day can add to the overall load on a child and shift our expectations and observations to be sure to catch that.

We will need to find time on the weekends to steal ourselves away into the woods and the shoreline and all of his favourite little hideaways.

And above all, we will need to ensure that he has the time to keep that fire lit outside of school. To give him the opportunity to share his joy of learning whether it’s baking a new recipe or sitting down to trudge through the differences between Newton’s Law of Gravitation and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity when talking about things that are really big and very fast (because yes, he’s that six year old kid).

I will also need to be prepared for him to miss it, this closeness we share on Mondays, but I also need to be prepared for him to not. And that perhaps is the most wonderful and most stinging part of it all. That wonderfully painful part of seeing your children grow up.

“The things he sees are not just remembered. They form a part of his soul.”

– Dr. Maria Montessori

Montessori Book Club: This year’s favourite Winter books

We have been rotating our book shelves with week to fill them with our favourite winter themed books. We have previously posted some of our favourites here which include our favourite winter wordless book Fox’s Garden.

In November is a gorgeous testimonial to the gathering of family at this time of year and nature’s slow curling up for winter. The illustrations done in oil on paper, exude warmth and also the chill in the air.

We wrote about Sleep Tight Farm here. Two years later it’s still one that we all eagerly wait to pull out of storage and put on the shelves.

Frozen Wild: How Animals Survive in the Coldest Places on Earth has been sitting in my cart for a year and I finally purchased it for my 3-6 classroom. Jim Arnosky is an amazing artist and this book reads almost like a field journal. It’s fold out pages give some fantastic detail on the adaptive nature of the creatures with share this world with.

Earlier this week we wrote about Winter is Coming here. It’s has been read multiple times a day in both my classroom and at home. I have no idea why I waited so long to purchase it but I’m so glad it will have a place on our shelves from now on.

Lastly this is a newly released book with the text written by Margaret Wise Brown.

Sandwiched between the book ends of her beautiful poetry is her story of a new calf being born into the cold and the young boy Jonathan who cares for the animals of the barn. It’s absolutely stunning. Although we picked up our copy from our local library this would be a perfect gift for any small farm loving child and it can be found at major book retailers world wide.

What winter themed books are gracing your book shelves currently?

We will be splicing in some of our favourite holiday and tradition themed books in the coming weeks.

Montessori Book Club: Winter is Coming

November for us is a time to settle in to the coming months of grey drizzly days. There’s no better way to do that for us than to curl up under a cosy blanket with a warm mug and a stack of books.

This one has been on our wish list for a while and I’m so glad we finally picked it up.

Winter is Coming is perfect for us and any family or school that loves nature journaling. We love that it begins in the early Autumn and follows the passage of time at a treehouse.

The illustrations are beautiful and invite children to take a closer look.

The text is so wonderfully geared to Montessori as it’s richly descriptive and realistic which also makes it the perfect read aloud book.

The end pages give the reader a peek at the child’s drawings and observations.

This is definitely a gift worthy book for people who are looking for something special to give this holiday season.

We are rotating our home Montessori bookshelves this week. Look for more Winter related Montessori compatible book reviews and gift ideas to come.

October: The goings on inside the classroom and out

The Autumn months seem to fly by so quickly with everyone in school mode. This is usually around the time when everyone is feeling a bit burnt out by the return to school and it is also the time when classrooms are finally settling in.

We often use this time to slow down and reconnect at home. This includes snuggling up with a good stack of books together on the couch.

Our October/November bookshelf consists of seasonal favourites and some new additions. The Dog That Ate the World is a gorgeous new fable from Sandra Dieckman that talks about the darkness spreading across the earth and how despite it, one small village banded together to keep the fire burning and the music playing. It’s absolutely excellent for starting big conversations with children 6+.

We also make extra time for being in some of our most favourite natural spots. There isn’t a set learning agenda here. Just a chance to get away from it all. Long school days become balanced by our time spent watching the waves roll in or staring up at the rainforest canopy or simply the Milky Way from our own back yard.

Inside the classroom, small themes are slowly making their way in. It’s pumpkin season where we live and so our 3-6 Montessori classroom shelves reflect that with some gorgeous wooden anatomy puzzles and 3 Part Nomenclature Cards from Puzzle Heads Educational Products.

The frenzied pace of the new year is also starting to settle. Children are beginning to choose age appropriate work that piques their interest independently and there is less of a need for a teacher to constantly be hovering.

In many schools this is also the time of year when the first parent/teacher meetings are happening. These can be an exciting time for families as they may not have had a chance to be in their child’s classroom yet this year and parents are often eager to check in with the teacher and ask their questions.

I wrote a piece for Milkweed Montessori a few years ago and I’ve included my words here as I feel they are incredibly important for parents going into meeting season.

“I have had the incredible privilege to sit on both sides of the table for this. First as an over eager slightly paranoid Mother and then as a patient and slightly paranoid Casa teacher. First, before going to the meeting, think about and then write down your 3 most burning questions. Just 3. Each school sets the times for their meetings differently but one thing is certain. They have not reserved your time spot and the following 3 spots for you to empty out your questions list. Usually meetings last under 20 mins. Be prepared to leave when your time is up and make your time count.

That being said, a good Montessori school will have also properly prepared some very key points that are important to your child’s day. If your child is 3-4 you may hear lots about Practical Life. If your child is 4-5 you may hear lots about the Language or Culture areas and if your child is 5-6 you may hear lots about Math. Or not. The Montessori classroom is a vast one with many options.

What you are listening for is: “Your child loves (this)”. Or “Your child has recently really been interested in (this).” This shows that your teachers are really observing your child. If you don’t hear these statements, make sure they are one of your 3 important questions to ask. You are looking for signs that your child is loving the environment. That they are connecting with the materials. This should be evident regardless of age.

This is a first meeting and you may not get a lot of progression statements unless your child is a returning child. If they are a returning child one of your teachers points should be a progression statement. A statement about how your child has made progress with a particular area of the classroom. This may be as general as “Your child has gained independence in our transition times” (gets ready for home by themselves). It may be specific such as “Your child has made huge strides with the Language area.” Each of these statements are equally important in the eyes of a teacher.

The Parent Teacher meetings can be nerve racking, but they are incredibly insightful. You enter the world of the child. Listen with truly open ears and an open minded heart. Ask your 3 questions that are important to you gaining a better understanding of how your child’s day looks or what is in the future for your child.

More often than not, you will find yourself feeling just like the teacher. Absolutely amazed.”

We hope your Autumn has been a safe and happy one. We’d love to hear how you mark the changing of the seasons and how you are coping with back to school.

Back to school shoes: Softstar review and giveaway!

September has seen us settling back into the school year routine.

We are often asked to recommend a quality indoor shoe that is appropriate for the Montessori environment. Ever since Quentin started Montessori school, our recommendation has always been Softstar Shoes. You can see him wearing his first pair here and here.

So when Softstar contacted us with a gifted pair for both Quentin and I we jumped at the chance.

We love these shoes for so many reasons but the most important reason is that they support the natural development and strength of feet. Feet, especially those of little children were not meant to be in a hard and un-flexing soled shoe all day. They need to move, to breath and the toes need to be able to grip the floor.

Quentin loves that they are completely customizable from the design colours to the materials. Quentin choose all black (perfect for schools requiring a black uniform shoe) with the rocket button in whiskey orange and gold in Sublime leather. Mine are a gorgeously soft Pebble Grey in Nubuck leather and I let the Elves choose the button motif which ended up being a star in Indigo. A perfect choice for an understated classroom look that goes with everything.

They are absolutely perfect for someone who is on their feet all day in a bustling Montessori classroom. Roo Moccasins are lined with cosy sheepskin and so they are a pleasure to pull on in the morning and keep our feet odour free and breathing all day.

They are also perfect for cosy play at home as the Autumn weather sets in.

We love them so much that Softstar has graciously offered to give away pairs to one of our followers!

Head to our Instagram feed here for your chance to win!

Book Club Summer Edition Part 4: Books about Food and where it comes from

Summer is my favourite time of year to be outside, and one of my absolute favourite places to be is surrounded by green an growing things. This includes stocking our bookshelves with our favourite books about gardens, food and where it comes from.

A beautiful story of compassion set in a cold and wintry world where adults chase a lost fox away, and a young child brings it food and offers it shelter in a beautiful greenhouse full of flowers. “Fox’s Garden” found here is perfect for even the youngest child and older children love imagining the story in read-aloud sessions.

We absolutely adore the Anatomy series by Julia Rothman. “Farm Anatomy” found here is a complete guide to all aspects of a farm from the machinery to planting to different kinds of barn doors. We love the ideas and recipes in it and the detail is second to none. It’s absolutely perfect for children beginning at 2 years as a vocabulary book and it remains a favourite well into the elementary years.

“Eating the Alphabet” found here was one of Quentin’s favourites as a toddler. The vocabulary building opportunities are endless and the rich colours draw both the adult and child in. The children in my 3-6 Montessori classroom love it because it’s a great conversation starter for that age group around food, what you’ve tried and what you definitely don’t love to eat. For Quentin it’s tomatoes.

We wrote about “Green Green: A community garden story” here when we showcased some of our community/allotment garden plot. We love community gardens. So many opportunities to connect with your neighbours, grow fresh food without the need for growing space at home and teach children about the food cycle.

We love Elisha Cooper books. Of all of them this is our favourite “Farm” found here is a beautiful story that touches my heart and makes me homesick for my childhood days of hiding in corn rows and the smell of the hayloft. It follows the life of a farming family for one year and Quentin loves the rich detail. It’s best suited to children 5+.

“Grandpa’s Garden” has been a favourite for years. We love Barefoot Books and this one follows a boy and his grandfather as they slowly wait for their garden to come to life. Barefoot has an excellent selection of garden and food related books for every age and their rich use of language and inclusive and diverse books keep us coming back.

Do you have a favourite thing to grow in your field, garden or planter box? We’d love you to share it. If you’ve never tried growing vegetables, lettuce is an easy one and perfect for kids to grow.

The Unprepared Environment: When a child loses their Peacefulness

It was a hard week. A combination of things that in hind sight could have been spaced more evenly to allow for Quentin to better process them.

It began on the Saturday with his big brother leaving. Anthony took a position doing what he loves that will keep him away at least all summer. It’s happened before but Quentin was much younger. Perhaps the difficulty stemmed from the fact that he’s older now. Or perhaps it stemmed from the realization that this is a sort of practice run. That his big brother is now an adult and with high school finished will soon be moving on and moving out.

The very next day was Sunday and while Quentin left for his grandparents house to spend a week of too much media too many snack foods and late bedtimes, his parents left on a week long trip of their own.

It was perhaps all too much to take on for one small boy but then the unimaginable happened. His beloved cat whom had gone missing 6 weeks before and we’d long since written off as dead returned.

Emaciated and traumatized he was miraculously unharmed. We covered him with tears and kisses as we learned from his vet that the likely reason for his remarkable resurrection is that although he pried the back door open independently, after that someone stole him.

The questions from Quentin immediately came.

“But you can’t steal a living thing, can you?”

“Why would someone take my kitten? Don’t they know I love him?”

Needless to say it was a very long week.

So. What do we do when our child’s rhythm and Sense of Order has been thrown so completely off course? What happens when a normally happy, peaceful, engaged child becomes rude, hyperactive and defiant?

We take a breath, or two or three or more, and we go right back to Montessori basics.

We start by acknowledging and empathizing with their feelings and offer our own perspective. Yes Huxley was taken which was horrible and I can see you are very sad and angry. I’m so thankful he was clever enough to escape and find his way back to us.

And then most importantly we repair the Prepared Environment.

For us this means predictable early bedtimes even though it’s summer holidays to ensure lost sleep is caught up. It means healthy food options at predictable times that the child can easily prepare, and access to lots of water to stay hydrated.

For us it also means rotating in some special activities that we can do together as well as activities that the child can do quietly to regain their independent play moments. A container of water beads and a few sea creatures seen here is the perfect option to help extend independent quiet moments. A new water colour pallet to ring in our yearly summer tradition of sitting under the maple tree in our front yard painting and reading goes a long way to help us reconnect with each other. Outings to the library or other regularly visited favourite places of the child can actually help a child get back into their home daily rhythm.

And finally the most important aspect of repairing the environment is love. Extra words, extra gestures, extra closeness, extra time and extra patience. It’s knowing who your child is, knowing when something is off, and patiently and lovingly helping them through it.

The Montessori Toddler: A Giveaway’

There are so few books about implementing the Montessori pedagogy at home. Maria Montessori’s own writings are textbooks intended for those in training and although they are a must read for anyone wishing to know more about this pedagogy as a whole, they are heavy reading and aren’t specifically tailored for a caregiver at home looking to change their way of living with their child.

In February of this year all that changed with the launch of my dear friend Simone Davies’s book “The Montessori Toddler”. Who better to share their immense knowledge of the Montessori world than a AMI trained 0-3 Guide who has years of experience not only with her own children but with the toddlers of her beautiful school in Amsterdam.

Each chapter of this book is thoughtfully laid out. The attention to detail is vast and every topic is covered in an easy to read and easy to implement format.

At the back of the book there is comprehensive list of age appropriate authentic Montessori activities for toddlers. These activities are true to Montessori’s scientific knowledge of the Plane of Development for a child and give caregivers so many tools to aid their child’s natural development.

Along with a chart of activities there are also gorgeous pictures of authentic Montessori homes from around the world. We were extremely honoured to be asked to be apart of this section of the book and our own pictures are featured next to some beautiful examples of what Montessori truly looks like in homes both big and small.

Above all, this is the most important message of Montessori and it is displayed so beautifully here.

That each child is unique with their own interests and talents and curiosity.

We love this book so much that we are giving away a copy on our Instagram account found here! The contest is open internationally in hopes that everyone everywhere will have a chance to add this amazing resource to their collection!

Sunday Book Club: One last one for 2017

It’s hard to believe I started this little book club two years ago. There have been so many amazing books over the years and 2017 was no different.

One of our very favourites was Here We Are. We are madly in love with Oliver Jeffers children’s books.

The artwork asks the audience to stop and take a closer look, something that’s important to me. So many books miss this critical aspect of a good children’s book.

Then there’s the written message. Does it speak to you and the child who is absorbing the story? This book speaks to us very very much.

If you haven’t had a chance to read this one, go and see it out. You won’t be disappointed.

Thanks for joining us on this journey of seeking out well written, gorgeously illustrated, diverse books.

We will be back early in the new year with our latest finds.