A Montessori Field Trip: Westside Montessori

Although I currently teach in a Montessori Upper Elementary 9-12 year old classroom and love it, as most people know, my heart will always belong to 3-6. However, what most people don’t know is that right in the middle of my Montessori heart there is a small yet brightly glowing centre and that centre is a well executed Montessori infant toddler programme.

I have been so fortunate to know Bettina from Westside Montessori School for almost as long as Quentin has been earth side but due to COVID last year and us being in Nigeria the year before, this was the first time I’d ever been able to observe in her infant toddler summer programme.

It was worth the wait.

The attention to even the smallest detail is something Westside is known for. From simple puzzles for the youngest child to a beautifully laid out movement area for toddlers on the go, the environment welcomes everyone.

Mischa, the lead Montessori Guide whom I’ve met previously was so welcoming of me being in the space and we chatted about life as we both now have university aged kids, but what I loved most were her interactions with the children. She was kind and patient but also light hearted. Even when a young child stood precariously on top of the slide, which by the way holds the most fondest of memories for me (if you’ve been round for awhile you may remember scenes like this).

Perhaps what is the most amazing aspect of this infant toddler space is that during the school year it is an equally stunning and detailed elementary classroom (did you notice the empty bed cabinet) and so every single elementary material must be carefully packed away into on site storage and the artwork lowered to bring it down to a toddler’s sight line. So much hard work and dedication from the staff and I’m grateful to have been able to see it before I return to my own classroom in the coming weeks.

If you are new to Montessori and wondering what to look for in a school space for your child, the list is simple:

  • A clean, bright, well thought out space
  • Montessori classroom materials specific to the age group and the ability for each child to proceed through those materials at their own pace (unsure just ask)
  • A focus on independence for the child regardless of age
  • A Montessori trained Guide that cares deeply for the children in the environment, not only speaking in a manner learned in their Montessori training but also experiences joy right along with the children

Montessori Sunday Bookclub: Our new book

This has been in the works for quite awhile and I’m excited to finally be able to say it’s almost here! If you follow us on Instagram you will likely have already seen some sneak peeks of the inside but I really wanted to give you a bit more of an in-depth tour here.

I often get asked to write Montessori related content in books and other media but I’ve never before loved the intention behind it. Maria Montessori designed a way of fostering a child’s natural development that was meant to focus on the child’s own unique interests and abilities. I really wanted to showcase how as a multi level trained Montessori teacher I use the Montessori pedagogy in my classrooms. I also wanted to showcase how I’ve used my Montessori training to create a Montessori home with our two boys. A simple and easy to use recipe book that one could grab, flip through and easily set up ideas without the need to buy expensive or excessive materials.

It was also extremely important to me that some of my most cherished facts about child development and a deeper dive into the pedagogy as a whole could be included but that it would be easy to understand and implement. I’m so happy with how it turned out.

The book begins with some Montessori information specific to toddlers. As I mention in the pages, toddlerhood can be a tricky time. Not quite the independence of a preschooler but definitely not a baby anymore!

Once some key ideas about Montessori and toddlerhood are down, the next section is for the activities! I’ve broken the activities into 5 categories: Motor Skills, Art, Practical Life, Sensorial and Language.

I’ve arranged them in sequential order just like you’d find in a classroom environment from youngest to oldest. The index at the back of the book helps break down activities in age groups from 1 to 3 year olds and so it’s my hope that anyone using the book can quickly and easily find inspiration that’s age appropriate for their child.

Each of the activities in all of the 5 categories are set up in an easy to implement way. The list of materials is short and each step is laid out including what skill the activity strengthens in the child and ways you can alter the activity to better fit the needs of the child doing it.

Pre-orders are already open around the world (and can be found here). I’m so thankful for everyone’s love and support through this amazing process. I’ve loved sharing the little snippets that have made up Our Montessori Life over all these years.

Giving Tuesday: Fruitful Orchard Montessori

“A child is both a hope and a promise for humankind” – Dr. Maria Montessori

We spent just over five weeks living and working at Fruitful Orchard Montessori in Nigeria this past summer. The kindness and love shown to Quentin and I by that school community could no be repaid in a life time.

However, we would like to try.

And so on this Giving Tuesday, we hi,boy ask all of you in our amazing community to join us in supporting Fruitful Orchard as thy endeavour to build an Elementary programme.

A programme that will allow the oldest of those beautiful children I fell in love with this summer to stay.

Follow this link to read more info and give to this incredibly important journey.

A Montessori Field Trip: A visit to Brooklyn Children’s House

I love observing in toddler/preprimary environments and so when I had the chance to observe at Brooklyn Children’s House I eagerly took it.

Lisa is the owner and her space is beautiful and so thoughtfully laid out. One of the biggest misconceptions about the Montessori pedagogy is that you need a lot of space and a lot of stuff. It simply isn’t true.

Throughout the two main rooms, children were happily working with Practical Life materials, art materials and having snack. If you have ever doubted an independent group toddler snack is possible go and visit Lisa. Three children happily sat around a toddler sized table serving themselves fruit and crackers and then putting their personalize placemats away and washing their dishes.

Toddlers are often not a quiet and calm bunch. They are also still working on their empathy, and emotional regulation. When teachers are trained to understand the underlying neurological and social development going on, appropriate and above all caring responses to that behaviour can happen. It was lovely to witness that in this space. It was also lovely to watch other very young children show empathy when asking if a child was ok, which is a testament to the hard foundational Peace and Courtesy work Lisa has put in.

I loved my visit and seeing the beautiful detail oriented space Lisa has curated for her students. If you are curious about quality authentic Montessori programmes please leave a comment and we will try to answer your questions.

Montessori Multi-age Art Activities: Colour Mixing

Colour mixing is such an easy and inexpensive art activity for children of all ages and can easily be done by the youngest child.

As with all Montessori compatible activities, art should always be child led and about the process not the product especial in the years between 0-6.

For a toddler colour mixing can simply be a transferring work. Above, Quentin at 18 months carefully transferring blue food colour tinted water from one small jar to another with a long pipette. This strengthens fine motor control and concentration. He loved sucking up the water in the pipette and carefully squeezing it out into the other container. Sometimes we would adjust the amount of blue or yellow dye to affect the shade of green that would inevitably be made from his mixing but this was for the most part involuntary by him. He was simply absorbing what was happening.

For the 3-6 age group, an easy to carry tray with the primary colours and a slotted dish, a bowl to dump used water and a sponge for clean up make colour mixing exciting. Children at this age love to experiment with each of the primary colours and it’s still very much about the process here. In the classroom we talk about their favourite colour, what happens when you mix blue with red, red and yellow, yellow and blue, but for the most part they are experimenting and absorbing the experience of those experiments.

By the time the child reaches Elementary, multiple mediums such as paper to spray invite a child to continue their experiments. Small spray bottles and containers (the exact same ones from when he was 18 months), help a child keep their work contained and orderly.

A colour wheel is clearly understood by this point and the child can follow it to achieve the desired colour or make their own.

It is always fascinating to see the social and neurological development at each stage. At 7.5 years old, he commented on the imaginary tastes of his colours such as “root beer” above, and mint tea in a previous combination. It’s still amazing to see him quiet himself as he did in his toddler days and focus on the task at hand.

There are endless colour mixing ideas on Pinterest and around social media. If you haven’t tried it with your little one here’s some things to keep in mind:

  • Keep it simple and age appropriate. Trying to explain the why and how of everything to a toddler won’t make it enjoyable
  • Be prepared for spills. Sponges, bowls, towels and play clothes help make this successful for the youngest child
  • Follow the child. Let them truly experiment with colour. If all they make is green over and over that’s ok.

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!

Our Shelves 15 Months

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A Prepared Environment: A natural, beautiful space that is prepared with cognitive and social developmentally sequenced materials.

At 15 months he’s walking (sort of) and going through an intense Sensitive Period for vocabulary.
With this in mind, I have put some new activities on Quentin’s shelves.

From top left: A basket of animals featured here. Next, a Practical Life dry pouring work. This is his second dry pouring activity and he is really refining his coordination of the wrist. His pouring has gotten much better. Next, his Fruit &Veg nomenclature cards featured here. I’ve put 3 pairs in the tray: apple, banana, carrot. He recognizes each picture, but doesn’t always match the carrot correctly. Last on the top is a DIY imbucare box with a rectangle block. I’ve just switched out the round cylinder box he had there before. Sometimes he forgets that you have to turn the rectangle to fit the sides properly, but mostly he gets it. This won’t engage him much longer.

From bottom left: A tray of wooden painted acorns for colour matching. Quentin actually prefers to use this as a touch sensorial material. Over and over he picks up as many acorns as he can in one little fist and then carefully puts them back in the tray (not matched to the proper colour). Next a shape puzzle. He can now take out all the shapes and put them back correctly. Next, a DIY clothes pin pincer grasp activity. He mostly still pulls the pins straight off without the ability to “pinch” them open. However, I continue to demonstrate the correct way and leave it at that. Lastly a lock box. Thanks to Rachel for her insight on this amazing material. He can now work most of the bigger locks. Although it is too heavy for him to carry, he still drags it out and uses it everyday.

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I finally decided on this work mat from Montessori Services. It works well for Quentin as it is not too heavy.

It’s amazing to see that after months of me modelling it, Quentin now stands up, picks up whatever he has been working on and tries to put it back on the shelves. A “Keeping it Real” moment: he usually drops it halfway there. But he’s trying to do it. I have never given him a “Lesson” (demonstration). I just slowly, silently, pick up the material with both hands and slowly carry it back to the spot where it was on the shelf.

Although I have seen it many times before with many different children, the Absorbent Mind is truly a humbling and awe inspiring thing to witness.

Magnet Work at 15 Months

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I set up 4 magnets on the side of the fridge today. This was Quentin’s first real opportunity to use magnets uninterrupted.

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They are small round glass stones with a nature print on the back and then a magnet. He enjoyed the sensorial experience. Rolling them in his hand and placing them one by one on the fridge. He spent over 30 minutes doing this. He even surprised everyone by saying “magnet”. He experimented by sticking them to the wall (with obvious results) and the heat register (which is not in use currently).

These would be easy to make with craft supplies. I’m thinking of family faces or his other interests such as vehicles and animals, but really you could make anything. I could cut out pictures and glue them to the clear stones before glueing a magnet on the back. Quite simple and fairly inexpensive I think.

This quiet game reminded me that literally everything in his world is still new and exciting. I allowed him the time to try it all out.

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Perhaps a disclaimer is needed: These are magnets and could potentially be dangerous if swallowed. When using any material that may cause harm, (marbles, kitchen tools etc.) I have both eyes and my full attention on Quentin at all times.

Toddler matching activities: Farm animal Mother and Baby

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Since Quentin seems to be right at the beginning of a Sensitive Period for matching, I thought we would try some animals.

A few months ago I had borrowed a “Farm Animal” tub from our local toy library. We kept 6 in a basket on his shelves. At 15 months (13 corrected) he’s making the connection that every object everywhere has a name. “Dat?!” He would demand, pulling a pig from the basket. “Pig” I would assure him, trying to convince him (and myself) that the thing he was seeing was a pig despite its complete lack of any realistic features.

The Montessori pedagogy advocates for the use of real images (and real anything else) for children under the age of Cycle 2 (ages 6-9).

By showing care in the toys you choose for your child, you are showing him that he is important to you. You are sharing what is beautiful and meaningful to you in life. You thereby help your child in turn look for beauty and logic in the world around him.

-Polk Lillard and Lillard Jessen, Montessori from the Start

We decided to return the tub and purchase some Scheilch animals instead. Although plastic and not a natural material, I feel their realism outweighs that aspect.

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Quentin fell in love with them immediately. When he chooses them from his shelves, he takes out each one from the basket and places them standing up. He is aware that there is a “big” one and a “little one”, but doesn’t match them together every time.

This time when he asks “Dat?!” he smiles when I say “Pig”, satisfied with my answer.

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