Montessori at Home: Practical Life at 3


What Montessori meant by this is that, in the eyes of a child, (especially one that has been given the freedom to develop without outside negative influences) there is no difference between work and play. Tasks thought to be mundane and laborious by adults bring a little child joy. 

Because Quentin has always had the freedom to choose practical life tasks from around the home, he now can independently complete many of his own wanting without help from us. 

Although he still has access to Practical Life shelves all week at school, I have made sure there aren’t any of these tray type activities here. Instead we have supplied him with real, good quality tools that are in the home along side our own tools. 

This had been a process and not something that happened overnight. 

If there is an opportunity to learn a new skill (such as using the sewing machine) I will still go back and give him a proper lesson and then observe him as he masters it. 

Last week I followed him around with my camera and took some pictures as examples of the Practical Life tasks he chooses in one day . 

He first chooses to hang his own freshly washed laundry. A child sized basket and clothes horse make it easier to work with. He uses old fashion pegs because his hands aren’t strong enough to pinch the spring loaded ones. 

Preparing his snack of apple. He has been using this crinkle cutter knife since he was 18 months. Although he now has access to other types of small handled knives, he regularly chooses this one. 

After lunch sweeping up is still a favourite for him. He has become very good at getting most if not all the dirt into his dustpan. 

Of all the activities he chooses, he loves gardening most of all. The wheelbarrow and tools were our Christmas gift to him last year. My Mother bought him the perfect sized “working gloves” as he calls them. 

These are only some of the Practical Life things he chooses for himself each day. He also washes his dishes, mops the floors and pretty much anything else he’s decided would be a good project. 

Of course these things don’t make up his whole day but I love seeing him carrying a tool on the way to something he’s got planned. 

How did all this come to be? Well these types of activities first started as prepared shelf activities. The scooping of beans from bowl to bowl with a spoon is exactly the same wrist movement he now uses to transfer earth in the garden. His dustpan and brush started out as a shelf activity too. When he got better at it we removed the activity and placed the items in his pantry shown here. 

The key to all of it is that his tools are stored neatly in an accessible place for him and that we have never discouraged him from helping us complete chores. 

New to this? Give it a try on a small scale. You might not be blown away by how much your 2 year old loves to mop the kitchen floor, but I’ll bet you will be surprised by the fact that they will do a pretty good job. 

Reading the Montessori way…was exactly what we did

I have been asked by several people to write this and yet I put it off. It actually brought back many of the same emotions as this post did.

The same worry and self doubt crept back in. “What will people think?” “They are going to think we pushed him.” “Two year olds DON’T read. Not without flash cards. Not without drilling.”

Except. Except that mine did.

I will start at the beginning. And by beginning, just like I wrote about here, I mean at 18 weeks after conception, when an unborn child begins to hear. Long before we (and our medical team) were sure he would stay, we sang to him. And read to him. And talked to him. Words were a part of his world before he was a part of this one, and so, maybe it wasn’t surprising that early on we could see that he loved language.

Our reading, and singing and talking didn’t stop. We filled his world with language and so it wasn’t long before he realized that the symbols he was seeing with the pictures meant something.

I’ll get the disclaimer over now: yes Quentin has nomenclature cards in both the home and school environment, for matching games and for verbal vocabulary interests but never, in either environment, has Quentin ever been subjected to flash cards and drilling. I feel both fall far outside of the values found in the Montessori pedagody.

As Quentin’s interest for language grew, we “Followed the Child” and began offering materials that would compliment the materials he would one day find at school.

I purchased Montessori Letter Work for Quentin just before his second Birthday. You can see him using it a month later here on Instagram. He loved the pictures and loved pointing to his “q”. I put it on his shelves and it has been invaluable to him.

Anthony gave him the Melissa and Doug magnetic letters for his second birthday. It is a good set although we would like it better if it had multiples of the letters. As you can see in the following picture, we are using the “u, n, & c” just to get “Quentin”. 

This was taken December 1, 2014. He had just turned 31 months. By then, the intensity with which he was seeking language was at a peak. He had started school in September and now his home Montessori materials could be supported by the traditional Montessori classroom materials. He quickly mastered all the phonetic letter sounds. Then he slowly began to realize he could manipulate the letters to make different sound groupings. In other words, he could make words. “A, t, at” he would sound. Then he would place another beginning sound in and start again.

The salt tray gave him another sensorial aspect. He could try and trace what he saw. He could get “x, c, o” and of course a capital “Q”, but mostly it was just to add another demension to what he was doing with the book and magnets and us reading to him.

And then, as the month of December progressed, I could start to see the frustration build in him. Not anything serious. I don’t even know if he could put it into words, but well, the light in his eyes surrounding language just started to dim. He would occasionally chose his letter book. Sometimes he would pass by the fridge and pick out a letter to show me. But that was it. The excitement and passion he had felt before was gone. I talked to the school. I talked to other Mom’s. I thought about it laying awake at night. “He is way too young for reading.” “This was all just a phase.” Kept rolling around in my head from the Mothers I’d talked to. “He’s only 2.5” I kept trying to tell myself. And then, I put all of that nonsense in my head aside, and  I made him a Moveable Alphabet.

“I made you something.” I told him when he got home from school one day.

He came running back “Mama! You made me my letters from school!”

It still brings a tear, because he hugged me and kissed me and ran off to try it. And because I knew I should have never doubted him. Never held him back.

And that was it. The light was back. I printed the alphabet from Montessori Print Shop as well as some picture CVC cards with the first sound missing. I placed three cards and three letters in our sorting tray and gave him a lesson on how to use it. We identified the picture “mug”, and then he would pick the correct sound he needed. He got it right away. But he couldn’t stop at just the three in the tray. As he continued to recognize more and more of the letters and their phonetic sounds he was able to start doing more of the cards.

When it got to be a bit easy, I started just using one picture card at a time and putting all the required letters in the tray. He would take out the “mug” card, place it on the work mat. I would add the “m” on the card,  then he would match the letters in his tray in correct order, laying them under the card.

That was the middle of January. One month after I’d made him the alphabet. 

 We are off on Spring Break together. He asked me to make him something for the holidays.  And then, once again he humbled me.

He is using the words from the Bob Books Set One. He matched all the Moveable Alphabet letters himself. 

Now it’s a matter of building his sight words from those he can sound which are still phonetically accurate CVC words. I came around the corner this morning to hear him reading in his teepee. He had all his stuffed friends gathered around. I couldn’t tell if he was reading the reader from memory or sight but he was so proud of himself that I didn’t interrupt. 

Slowly introducing sequenced activities allowed him to keep his interest and build on his skills. “Follow the child”. Using materials that interested him and that he could physically manipulate (as in any Montessori setting) increased his interest and helped him retain key concepts like sound blending. 

His age had nothing to do with it. Neither did flash cards. This was all him. Right from the beginning.  

Our Montessori Life: Materials at 3

How has this year passed so quickly? No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to slow time. To bring it to a standstill. Even just for a short while. And so, because if this, we find ourselves once again reevaluating Quentin’s space. 

Not much has changed in the physical space you see here. We have moved his garden to sit beside the slide. I’ve also added a dedicated art space, but that’s it. So, really it’s more of looking at the house as a whole. His shelves have had an update too.

Quentin attends a beautiful, peaceful 3-6 class in a traditional Montessori school Mon-Fri. There is no need for us to have traditional Montessori classroom materials in the home. Instead the materials here are similar to and compliment his school experience.

 When I get asked if Quentin has toys I always manage to fumble my answer. “Yes. Well, no. Well sort of.” Instead what I really mean is that we have things that envoke joy in him. His day is spent doing things he finds enjoyable. Things that he is passionate about. 

Here are some of the materials on his shelves:

Top Row: Rhythm Hand bells & felt notes, Nature observation kit from my beautiful friend Deb, DIY cinnamon scented playdough & basket of loose parts including cookie presses from my good friend  Kylie

Middle Row: Safari Toob Landmarks & cards, Safari Toob Instruments & cards, DIY Moveable alphabet & CVC word cards with storage box

Bottom Row: DIY Salt tray & tracing cards, Montessori Letterwork/Numberwork books, Number/Quantity Recognition (up to 10 in the box)

These materials are chosen freely by Quentin. We don’t teach or instruct him, and there isn’t “school time” here. We simply answer any questions he may have such as “What is the Statue of Liberty made out of?” and “Why is the clarinet black?” Mostly he loves teaching us. “Ok Mama, you will watch & I will show you how to make a “fuh” for fan.”

Quentin also has “open-ended” things such as his garden and his barn, both made by my parents. 

What has changed on his shelves is that there is very little Practical Life on them anymore. 

This is what Practical Life now looks like. All the baking, cleaning, laundry etc. of our family, he is invited to assist with. Most of it he can do himself. He continues to love his kitchen (sold here). I get a lot of questions about his kitchen set up. “Real or play kitchen? What about play food?” My answer is always the same. The things in this space are all real. Real food prep, real consuming, real mess, real clean up. His kitchen continues to store his dishes, and silverware on the left (real porcelain seen here & real glasses) and his food prep tools (mixing bowl, egg slicer, cutting board & knife etc.) on the right. He stores his cleaning supplies and tools as well as his overflow baking supplies in the closet we have renovated for him beside his sink (inside seen here).

He sets up his dish washing independently, completes the job, then goes and gets his mop to clean up the drips. He usually does this all while singing. 

The only thing we will change for him in his room is a new bed. It’s time for a twin size bed even though he has lots of space left in his cot. A “Big Boy Bed” at his own request. Above all his room will remain peaceful, uncluttered and made for resting. The only toy he keeps in here is his farm my Father made for him. The reading corner teepee I made him still houses a cosy sheepskin and custom pillow. In the morning the sun fills it’s white canvas with soft light, and it’s the perfect spot to curl up with a book. 

I will do a separate post surrounding the unveiling of his dedicated art space. It was something that was really lacking for him. He had art trays on his shelves but this is much different and has resulted in a huge difference in his willingness and want for the artistic world. 

I will also do a separate post on his outdoor activities, because those are the ones that have changed the most, and I promised myself that this post was only going to be so long. 

So, after all that what are our must haves going into 3?

  • Figurine and matching cards (everything from Life Cycles to Landmarks)
  • Trays and baskets that he can easily organize work into (small trays are no longer helpful) 
  • Lots of language activities, tailored exactly to his level (he loses interest if it’s too easy)
  • Lots of different, accessible Art mediums from paint to chalk to pasting
  • Lots of activities that offer movement (he’s 3 he must move)
  • Lots of access to the day to day chores of the house
  • Information about how everything in the world works and PATIENCE from us while he has to try it all out himself.                                    

That little tiny baby we once spent weeks watching through an incubator is unbelievably almost 3. 

“A child is both a hope and a promise for mankind” -Dr. Maria Montessori

Yes he most certainly is.  

Exploring the World: Activities, books and ideas surrounding Geography, Landmarks & Architecture


Lately we have had an explosion of interest in architecture in our house. Quentin has (like many children his age) an extraordinary memory for facts.
Then we noticed that he had the entire route to school memorized with all the “landmarks” in order along the way. All 30 minutes of it. It was time to help him explore this new love of his world.

It started (as it so often does in our house) with books.

1. Walk this World 2. Young Frank Architect 3. If You Find a Rock

These are gorgeous books.

Young Frank Architect is one of Quentin’s favourites, and has a moral that thinking outside the box is a good thing and that kids creations are as relevant as the great architects of the 20th Century. It features at trip to the MoMA and showcases some of the “great Franks” of the architectural world.

If You Find a Rock is absolutely beautiful, and I will be sneaking it out of the house to use in my new classroom before our nature walks. A lovely poem about stopping to observe your surroundings and finding “special” and beauty in the natural world.

Walk This World is Quentin’s absolute favourite book at the moment. We’ve read it twice today. It features a day walking the world through some of the major cities. The art is amazing and simple. And it’s a door flap book kind of like a paper advent calendar. Behind the doors there are lots of hidden treasures including a tiger in the Taj Mahal, and a chicken riding the bus in…well, I’ll let you find out for yourself.

I also purchased some Safari Ltd. Toobs for Quentin. The Around the World Toob and the World Landmarks Toob coupled with some matching cards I made have been a hit, and he loves naming and matching them. Sometimes he will tell me a fact he has remembered.


The Taj Mahal is made outta white marble. The Statute of Liberty is made outta copper. I don’t know what dis Parfannon place is. I gotta look dat up.

Part of this experience we are offering Quentin is the very basis of the Montessori “My place in this World” activity. It begins with a child identifying their house, their community, their region (state/province) and so on circling outward. Our nature walks have begun to incorporate not only being mindful of nature but also identifying “landmarks” such as bridges, trees and even rocks.

We “Follow the Child” allowing time for him to stop and explore something more closely. We will walk to a point and then turn around and ask him if he remembers what’s coming up next. “The bridge!” He exclaimed rushing by on his bike, face full of concentration.


Having him point out familiar things like the firehall or the park strengthens his sense of order and placement of the world around him. Allowing him time to explore and take pleasure in the things he sees is hopefully instilling a life long love of adventure and a knowledge that there is a big world out there to discover.