10 Books Featuring Children of Color

One thing I love about the Montessori community is the commitment to peace education.  So often on social media, I am seeing parents and teachers striving towards representing, accepting, and valuing people of many cultures, races, and walks of life.  I find this inspiring and encouraging as we commit to peace with ourselves and with others in our home.

Last year I shared 13 Books Featuring Children of Color and the importance of representation.  All of these books feature black children and/or adults.  This is wonderful, as my children are both black.  But representation doesn’t stop there!  Throughout the last year, we have looked for books that depict people of other races, children who have been adopted, children with special needs, and various family compositions.  We search for books that are reality-based and have lovely illustrations (both for aesthetics and because I believe beautiful illustrations are a form of respect to the people being represented).  It’s not always easy.  The pickings are pretty slim for some people groups.  We’ve had the most difficulty locating books representing older child adoption, children with same-sex parents, special needs children, and Native American families.  But we will continue to search!  The respect and empathy these books can foster in our children is too important to simply give up.

Today, I’m sharing our 10 favorite books representing children of color that we’ve read over the past year.

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Charlie’s HouseCrowing GloryGoyangi Means Cat

Mama’s SarisBrown Like MeMy Mei Mei

My Rows and Piles of CoinsAt the CrossroadsThe Boy on the Beach

For the 10th book, I’m highlighting When the Shadbush Blooms because I’m so excited to find a book that links history to the present day and also dispels common stereotypes of Native Americans.  I absolutely love how the reader can see typical, daily activities, both historical and modern, set side by side.

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Do you have any book recommendations to foster peace education?  I’d love to hear them!

 

This post contains affiliate links at no cost to you.

In the Kitchen — Almond Bread

N loves to do anything that involves being in the kitchen.  Eating, washing dishes, putting away groceries, cooking… it doesn’t matter to her.  She loves it all!  Which is really not a surprise since the kitchen is the perfect practical life marriage of food and water, two pretty appealing things to children in the first plane of development.  We’ve worked very hard to provide as much opportunity as possible for N to work independently (or co-dependently) in the kitchen.

One of the recipes we discovered early on in our Montessori journey was almond bread.  (If you’re looking for a baking recipe that doesn’t involve sugar, this might be a good fit for your family!)

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At first, we started slowly.  I did all of the scooping, pouring, measuring, and dumping while naming ingredients and letting her smell them.  N did some stirring.  Baking was mostly an opportunity for language development.  In retrospect, I could have let her do a lot more at this point.  She easily could have dumped pre-measured ingredients.  I could have let her experience the textures.  But I had difficulty letting go and being okay with messes.  Eventually we got there, though.  And today she did all of the measuring, pouring, stirring and transferring on her own for the first time, with a few verbal reminders from me regarding leveling off her measurements.

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This is a pretty big recipe for N at this point.  There are a lot of steps to work through.  But each time we make almond bread, she has picked up a little bit more and her work is more fluid as she gathers ingredients, cleans up messes, counts the eggs she has added, and determines how much batter should be added to each bread pan.

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Below is our almond bread recipe.

  • 6 eggs
  • 1/4 C oil (we use olive oil)
  • 1 C almond meal
  • 1/2 t apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 C ground flaxseed
  • 3 T bean flour
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1/2 t salt

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl.  Divide batter into 3 greased mini loaf pans (alternatively, 1 standard loaf pan will work).  Bake at 350º for 35-40 minutes.  Cool for 15 minutes before slicing.  We use this knife.  N especially enjoys this treat with peanut butter, but I’m sure jam would also be delicious!

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Children are very capable in the kitchen if given the opportunity, provided tasks at their level of development, and allowed the space to make mistakes without fuss or shame.  (Coincidentally, Nicole from the Kavanaugh Report and Aubrey from Child of the Redwoods are offering an online course designed to help you guide your child’s budding kitchen skills.  I hope they offer it again because I would LOVE to take it!)

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Peace Education — Hold the Line

 

“Education is the best weapon for peace.” — Maria Montessori

I grew up in a rather closed community.  Everyone pretty much knew everyone else, looked like everyone else, and generally held the same beliefs as everyone else.  People who joined the community weren’t truly considered part of that community until many, many years later.  It wasn’t until I left the community, that I realized that I was raised to distrust, fear, and even look down upon people who were different than I was.  I realize that this wasn’t the intention of the parents, caregivers, and teachers of this community, but it certainly was the outcome.  My education had been a narrow one, driven by a white, patriarchal, Christian worldview.  I had learned very little about other cultures, belief systems, races, and walks of life.  The little I did know came from sources that gave me just enough to generate misunderstanding.  Consequently, I feared and misunderstood people who were different than I was.  And it wasn’t until later that I realized that where there is fear and misunderstanding, conditions are prime for injustice.

My time in two different colleges, two cross-cultural experiences, and a move to a different area of the United States didn’t change my views much.  In fact, I’m incredibly ashamed to admit that peace education didn’t matter to me until our daughter entered our family.  And then it did.  Because even at the tender age of 2, I saw how her lived experience was different than mine.  I spent as much time as I could reading book about racial injustice, soaking in what people of color had to say in Facebook groups, and reading blog posts about representation.  Somewhere in that time, I stumbled upon Montessori, and my understanding of peace education grew.  (I could go on at length about all that Montessori peace education can encompass, but that would need a post or two of it’s own.)  I knew that while, as Maria Montessori said, “[peace] can be brought about by humanity through the child”, I couldn’t be a guide for my daughter unless I first educated myself.

So, when I found Hold the Line, I was thrilled!  I immediately purchased their first issue to read and then decide if I wanted to subscribe for the rest of the year.  (Spoiler: I’m subscribing to this quarterly periodical for the rest of the year and for the foreseeable future.)  There’s so much that I could write about this magazine, but I’ve listed below some of the basics for you.

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Where you can find Hold the Line:  you can subscribe at htlmagazine.com.  You can also follow their Facebook page.  This is currently an electronic subscription only, though they do have plans to eventually create hard copies (which I’m very much looking forward to so that my children will have more opportunity to see people who are both like and different from them).

Who Hold the Line is for:  This magazine is written for parents.  (After all, their tagline is “where parenthood + social justice collide”.)  However, I’d venture to say that anyone who cares for, teaches, interacts with or otherwise cares about children would benefit from reading it.  In fact, on their FAQs page, they say “Hold the Line has a mission of reading out and learning from a diverse group of people.  We make no assumptions as to who has a story to tell that will resonate with our readers or who will best benefit from reading our magazine.”

Content of Hold the Line:  The content of the first issue was mostly centered on race and raising children of color through both personal accounts, poetry, and direct action steps.  There were no ads, and I appreciated clickable links embedded throughout so that I could view author pages or view suggested reading lists.  Future issues promise articles on feminism, LGBT family life, gender norms, food equity and educational equality.

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Cost of Hold the Line:  A single issue is $10.  A yearly subscription for 4 issues (published quarterly) is $35.  10% of their profits is donated to supporting the organizations featured in their magazine.

I haven’t found any other single resource like Hold the Line for continuing my education on how to navigate social justice situations, challenge my prejudices, and become a better guide for peace for my children.

A Look at Resiliency in Children

“The studies which have been made of early infancy leave no room for doubt: the first two years are important for ever, because in that period, one passes from being nothing into being something.” (San Remo Lectures, 1949)

I can still remember the anxiety I felt growing in my chest as I realized how vital the first few years of life are in the development of a child.  I mean, I knew that infancy and early childhood were important.  But suddenly I really felt just what that meant.  Out of the first three years of my daughter’s life, I had missed half of them.  Half.  That was half of her life that I had no influence over.

“Kids are resilient.” “She’ll bounce back.”  “At least she was too young to remember.”  I’ve been told those things about my daughter many, many times.  And I know that people are trying to be encouraging and just want me to feel positive, happy feelings when they say these things.  But the truth is, children are not naturally resilient.

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There’s a reason that many Montessori parents are so diligent in preparing themselves and the environment for their babies.  There’s a reason that one of the main principles of RIE parenting is respect.  Both of those reasons link to the fact that children are deeply affected by their early experiences and relationships.  So deeply, in fact, that the experiences etch themselves into the child’s very being.

“The child has a different relation to his environment from ours… the child absorbs it.  The things he sees are not just remembered; they form part of his soul.  He incarnates in himself all in the world about him that his eyes see and his ears hear.” (The Absorbent Mind, p.56)

Maria Montessori was a woman well ahead of her time.  (Pretty sure that’s been said countless times.)  She knew and researched elements about child development that science is only now validating and confirming.  And she knew how vitally important early childhood is.  I strongly suspect that Maria would not have told me that “babies are too young to remember” childhood trauma.

I recently took an online webinar about early childhood trauma and resiliency.  Here’s some information if brain development is of interest to you:

  • A baby’s brain logs memories every second, even prenatally.
  • The brain will wire itself to expect those early experiences (memories) as being part of the long-term environment.  (Therefore, if your baby had healthy, secure experiences, your child will see the world as a secure place ready for exploration.)
  • Six or more adverse childhood experiences (i.e. medical trauma, neglect, abuse) in the first three years of life predict a 90-100% chance of developmental delays.
  • If a child is not resilient, the stressors of daily life are debilitating.  The brain will wire itself to survive rather than thrive, and a child will have much difficulty learning about and exploring their world.

Babies and toddlers DO remember.  Their brains wire around these early experiences, focusing on either surviving or thriving.  Babies are not born resilient.  Resiliency is built by experiences.  And do you know the single most important experience in a young child’s life?  A relationship with an attentive and prepared caregiver.  For the parents out there who attended to your child’s needs as best as you could since birth:  you’re doing it!  You are building resiliency in your child!  Because tough times will come.  That’s part of life.  But you can have confidence that you laid the foundations for your child to get through those challenges.

But what about the parents whose children came to them later in life?  Or the parents whose children endured many early life medical procedures?  I’ve learned to keep in mind two things:

1)  Believe in brain plasticity.  With enough time, work, and repetition, the brain can rewire itself to thrive rather than simply survive.  Our consistency, love, and respectful interaction with our children can create neural pathways that are stronger than the ones formed in early childhood.

2)  Montessori is for every child.  It’s not just for the “best and brightest”.  It’s not just for those who were born into Montessori households.  Maria Montessori, herself, began her work with children who had special needs and likely had faced adverse early experiences.  The beauty of Montessori is that each child is valued as a whole person, given the opportunity to develop in their own way and at their own rate.  No child’s development will look exactly like another’s, regardless of history.  Nor is it expected to.

I love that second point so much, I’ll say it again:  Montessori is for every child.  It’s what drew me to Montessori-style parenting.  It was a style that could meet my daughter where she was at while we worked at building her resiliency.

What are your thoughts on children’s resiliency?  Have you thought about the impact your relationship with your child has on them long-term?

365 Days of Outdoor Play – Winter Clothing

One of the toughest logistical aspects for me in tackling this 365 Days of Outdoor Play challenge is finding N the right clothes for winter.  (It’s been an even bigger challenge for me to find affordable, properly fitting, but quality clothing for me, but that’s another story.)  We’ve made it through one of the coldest parts of winter here in Pennsylvania, as well as the chilly autumn, so I think at this point I can say that these winter clothing staples work well for us, overall.  I’m sure things will change over the years and there are already a few switches I’d like to try, but if you’re looking for a place to start, perhaps this post can give you a few ideas.

Many thanks to @t.e.surette from Instagram for her wonderful winter and wet-weather clothing tips!  Several of these items I would never have looked for had it not been for her direction.

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The underlying principle behind nearly all of our winter clothing choices is layering.  This ensures two things: warmth and the ability to utilize all of this clothing for multiple seasons.  When I grew up the rural northwest of Wisconsin, layering was the single most effective way to stay warm (provided your layers weren’t too tight together).  Ideally, I would be able to afford a wool base layer for N to wear, but with how quickly she is growing and our limited budget, it’s not an option right now.  I am, however, very pleased that N has been able to wear all of this clothing in a variety of temperatures and weather conditions.  Though it looks like a lot of gear, it does actually keep her wardrobe smaller and more in line with our minimalist tendencies.

Large Layering Items:

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  • Rainsuit –  This item acts as both a rainsuit during the warmer months and a waterproof snowsuit in the winter months.  We simply add the necessary layers to adjust to the temperature.  I chose Oakiwear’s rainsuit because of it’s adjustable waist, ankles and cuffs, we purchased N’s two sizes too large and to give her plenty of room to grow and make it more cost effective for us.
  • Winter coat – The coat pictured is a durable coat we purchased secondhand.  I can’t say that I have a particular brand to recommend, but I do tend to steer clear from the “puffy feather” looking fashion coats.
  • Columbia fleece jacket – Since the time N joined our family, I have always purchased her a secondhand Columbia fleece jacket.  There’s generally no reason to purchase new (unless you are looking for a particular color and size).  I’ve always found eBay has several listed with plenty of life left in them.
  • Fleece-lined jeans – Again, I’ve always purchased these secondhand, but they can be difficult to find.  I prefer the BabyGap brand, as they seem to be thicker and more durable.  These work beautifully by themselves for chilly autumn or spring days, but also are wonderful as the insulation part of her snow gear on winter days when paired with the rainsuit.

On the coldest days, I layer all of these items together to keep N toasty warm.

Smaller Winter Accessories:

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  • Smartwool socks – When it comes to socks, I really feel that Smartwool can’t be beat.  (I will say I haven’t heard wonderful things about the fit of their baby socks, though.)  The wool wicks away sweat and keeps my daughter’s toes toasty warm.  We can actually wear ours two to four days in a row before washing.  (I know, it sounds gross, but wool doesn’t need to be washed as often as other fibers and often just needs a good airing between wearings.)
  • Balaclava – To prevent N’s hat from always falling off and her scarf from getting in the way, we got rid of both and simply purchased a balaclava.  It keeps her neck warm and the hat portion always stays over her ears.  I chose one that is lighter so that it will still work well in the spring and autumn, and in the winter we simply put the hoods of her winter coat and rainsuit up for added warmth.
  • Mittens – a good pair of waterproof mittens will help to keep little fingers warm in the winter and dry when out in the autumn and spring rain.  While I like the pair we have, this pair is on my wish list because of it’s added warmth (at the glowing recommendation of a Wisconsin family member).
  • Gloves – I had the hardest time finding tiny gloves for my N’s three-year-old hands.  These are a bit big, but they work for those cool days that aren’t absolutely freezing.  Any recommendations for itty-bitty gloves?
  • Boots – The boots pictured were purchased secondhand.  They do the job as long as they are paired with Smartwool socks.  The only downside to them (specific to our situation) is that they don’t accommodate N’s AFO’s (orthotics) as the opening is not wide enough.  If you have recommendations of warm boots with wide openings to accomodate AFO’s I’d love to hear them!

And that’s how we keep N warm and dry on winter days!  What about you?  How do you keep your children warm on the coldest days?  What are your winter must haves?

This post contains affiliate links at no cost to you.

The Death of a Pet

This past week, we found ourselves having to make the sudden decision to euthanize our eldest dog, Kira.  At just shy of 12 years old, she had been showing some signs of her age, but we expected to have a few more years with her.  However, on Christmas Eve, shortly before N’s bedtime, Kira suffered a seizure which paralyzed her back legs and placed immense pressure on her brain.  Within an hour, it was clear to us that it would be time to say goodbye.

N has a history which makes pain and loss particularly difficult for her to process and cope with.  We knew that this situation, and the suddenness of it, had the potential to cause her a great deal of anxiety and fear.  However, we discovered that our Montessori-based parenting philosophy served us well, as it so often does in the midst of difficult circumstances.

Here are a few things we decided in order to respect N as a person as well as her unique, emotional needs:

  • We would use real, accurate language about what happened.  While is was tempting to tell her that Kira got “sick”, would “go to sleep”, or that a “doctor” would take care of Kira, we felt that these generalizations could cause more anxiety in the future about sickness, sleeping, and doctors.  Instead, we explained that Kira had a seizure which damaged her brain and that the muscles in her back legs, neck, and eyes no longer worked.  She would not be able to eat, walk, or go into the back yard to pee and poop.  We explained that when an animal’s brain does not work correctly, they cannot live.
  • We would offer her choices about how she would like to say goodbye.  We told her that she could gently hug Kira, pet her, give her a pillow, or simply wave.  She chose to hug her and then wave.
  • We let N help to make choices about what to do with Kira’s bed, bowl, leash, and collar the next day.  N is not yet ready to put away Kira’s bed, as it’s always been in view in the same spot and her sense of order is still very strong.  And that’s ok.
  • We would let her talk about Kira, what happened, and any feelings when and for as long as she wished.  So far, though, she has not talked about how she feels, which isn’t particularly unusual for N.  We have, however, noticed her incorporate Kira’s name and death story into her pretend play.  This could be disturbing to some, but we feel that it is her way of working through what happened.
  • We chose not to let N see the body, nor be a part of the burial.  We felt that, developmentally, this was not the right choice for her.  We did explain what we would do with Kira’s body, however.

For more ideas and a list of books to help children cope with the loss of a pet, visit The Kavanaugh Report.

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As uncomfortable as death and loss can be, our children are looking to us to model how to cope in both genuine and healthy ways with these situations.  And, like any other learning experience, they need time and opportunity to build their coping skills.

12 Days of Christmas – Our Advent

This year, we are consciously participating in advent preparations.  We didn’t do a lot with Christmas the first two years after N joined our family.  All of the hustle and bustle of the season was simply too much for her as she made all of the adjustments to a new family, new environment, and new country.  Those years we chose to set up a simple Christmas tree, stockings, and gift her with only three presents.  Otherwise, we listened to a little Christmas music and let the season drift by peacefully.

This year, we are choosing to do 12 days of Christmas as the holiday approaches.  When preparing for these days, we tried to keep a few things in mind.  We wanted to respect bedtime, our minimalist ideals, and our low-schedule lifestyle.  (Hence, 12 days rather than 24.)  We wanted to ensure that time together and making simple sensory memories were the highlights.  And we wanted to focus on benefiting others.

In an attempt to be transparent, I had every intention of putting up little envelopes or bags with the activities written on a card inside so that N could open one each day as we “counted down” to Christmas. But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that doing so would be fulfilling my desire to pack everything wonderful into this Christmas season rather than her need to have special but low key experiences.  So, while we are hoping to do one activity each day, we aren’t pushing it at all and instead watching her cues to see if she is ready to do something on any given day or just needs a day of normalcy and relaxation.

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Here are the activities we have as choices.  You’ll see more than 12 in case one doesn’t work out and to give us flexibility in what might work for N on any given day.

  1. String cranberries and popcorn, and dry oranges for the tree. (This has been one of N’s favorites, as she’s asked to string cranberries several days in a row now.)
  2. Go see a live nativity.
  3. Make the birds a treat.
  4. Go see Christmas lights.
  5. Make cards to send to friends and family. (And post them with Snowy Day stamps!)
  6. Go for a Christmas Eve nature walk.
  7. Make clay Christmas ornaments to give to others.
  8. Make almond meal pancake people for breakfast.  (Nutritious and N can have them!)
  9. Make soup and take some to others.
  10. Family game night. (First Orchard and Match a Pair of Birds are the favorites around here, though I’m eyeing up Shopping List as well.)
  11. Fill a shoebox to send to a child. (Operation Christmas Child accepts boxes year round.)
  12. Make cookies.  (This recipe is awesome and doesn’t include any sugar, molasses, or syrup.  We replace the dates with pumpkin so N can eat them, but if you make them with the dates, they are the yummiest “healthy” cookie I’ve ever tasted!)
  13. Make beeswax candles.
  14. Go out to breakfast.
  15. Go on a coffee date.  (Coffee for Daddy and me, and a frothy, warm almond milk for N.)

Throughout the year, we also collected Christmas (and a few winter) books.  We wrapped them up and N opens one each day to read in preparation for Christmas.  Most of them will be used again next year, though a few will have to be switched out for books that more closely match N’s developmental stage.  I managed to set them all out on N’s bookshelves and snap a photo before wrapping them up without N seeing.

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Top row:

Room for a Little One | A Child is Born (no longer in print; consider searching eBay)| Winter is the Warmest Season | The NativityChristmas in the Big Woods | Under the Christmas Tree (also no longer in print; search eBay)| Christmas in the Manger

Bottom Row:

An African Christmas Cloth | Winter Walk | The Birds of Bethlehem | Walk this World at Christmastime

We love that several of these books are representative of N, though we are particularly fond of Walk this World at Christmastime for exposing N to various people and traditions around the world and An African Christmas Cloth (set in South Africa) because of our family’s ties there.

Between these books and the activities above, we hope to keep Christmas simple for N, yet give her fond memories to look back on and traditions to look forward to.

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What activities do you do with your children?  Any delightful ones that we should consider adding next year?

This post contains affiliate links at no cost to you.

Children and the Outdoors

“When children come into contact with nature, they reveal their strength.” — Maria Montessori

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Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the benefits of getting children outdoors each and every day for extended periods of time, rain (or snow) or shine.  My daughter has some sensory integration challenges that make for some difficult parenting situations.  However, over the summer, I had been taking note that these difficult situations were few and far between when we spent time outside.  I also noticed a great deal more imaginative play than I ever saw when we were indoors.  And it dawned on me… nature must be good for children’s growth, self-regulation, and overall development!

I admit, it feels a bit like a silly epiphany.  After all, I’m a nature person at heart, and growing up on a rural dairy farm offered me all of the sensory, outdoor experiences a child could ever want or need.  I grew up on nature.  So, I felt rather sheepish to be consciously realizing something so basic.  But, nevertheless, there it was.  Now I just needed to act on it.  We don’t live on a farm like I did as a child.  Just a house on a dead-end lane in town.  I can’t offer my daughter the daily interactions with wet-nosed, warm, huffing cattle or the fort-building, exploring adventures in the backyard creek as the seasons change.  But I’ve told myself that the vast majority of children don’t grow up on farms, and plenty of them still spend long hours outside playing.

Thus, the challenge of 365 Days of Outdoor Play began.

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On the first day of November, I began taking N outside every day for at least 2 hours.  We do this rain, shine, snow, or cold.  I admit that it has yet to get terribly cold here (we just had our first snow today), and getting outside for that amount of time hasn’t generally been a challenge.  I do expect that we won’t get outside for that amount of time every day, either due to illness or back to back therapy/medical appointments, but it’s something to reach for.

Over the past month, I reached out to the Instagram community to ask about recommendations for clothing to aid us in our challenge and began reading any article and book I could get my hands on about the benefits of outdoor play for children.  I received some wonderful tips on clothing for children (which I plan to share in a later post) and a lot of encouragement.  I’ve also been reading Balanced and Barefoot (I highly recommend this book and find it Montessori compatible) and am about to start How to Raise a Wild Child before moving on to There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather.

Below is some of the information I’ve found striking from Balanced and Barefoot:

  • Ideally, kids of all ages should get at least three hours of free play outdoors a day.  The book further breaks it down to say that children ages 1-5 would benefit from 5-8 hours a day, ages 5-13 would benefit from 4-5 hours, and adolescents would benefit from 3-4 hours a day.  (Clearly my goal of two hours doesn’t reach what’s recommended, but I’ll start where I can!)
  • The outdoors offers a balanced sensory experience, aiding children in developing proper sensory integration including the vestibular and proprioceptive senses.
  • In child-driven play, children will naturally take risks.  Allowing your children to take risks (within reason) will foster healthy development and confidence, and enable them to accurately assess risks as adults.
  • According to the author, it takes children an average of forty-five minutes to make their play choices and settle into deep play.  (This was contrasted with the twenty-minute recesses common at many schools today.)
  • Don’t wait until your baby is an older toddler to get them outside to play.  Let them explore and take risks as they are able.  This will help their “sensory and motor systems to thrive, laying a strong foundation for later life challenges and academic learning.”

I know that this book has given me a few ideas for encouraging more independent outdoor play.  And I certainly don’t need any more research to encourage me to make the effort to get outside every day!  In fact, my biggest obstacle right now is to make sure that I’m properly dressed for extended time outside in all types of weather.  (Recommendations, anyone?)

What are your favorite ways to get outside and enjoy nature?  I’d love to hear what you do, especially if you live in a more populated area!

This post contains affiliate links at no cost to you.

Grocery Shopping with Young Children

A few months ago, we stopped at a grocery store where they offered child-sized carts.  Of course, this was quite an exciting experience for N.  Now, every time we stop at a grocery store, as opposed to market where we do the majority of our weekly shopping, N asks if there are “little shopping carts”.  Unfortunately, the grocery store that we generally use doesn’t offer them and my answer has not been what she hopes to hear.  Until last week.

We made a quick pitstop at the grocery store for a forgotten item and saw a young boy pushing around a red, child-sized cart.  I wasted no time in asking where they were located and then promptly retrieved one to use… even though we were only purchasing one item.  It didn’t matter.  N was absolutely delighted with this new way to participate in the grocery shopping experience.

A few days ago, we returned for some planned items to finish up the grocery shopping for the week.  N carried the list, chose her two snacks from the bulk aisle, and helped check out and bag the items.  She returned to the car with a contented air about her.  As we left the parking lot, she melted my heart, saying “Thanks for going to the grocery store with you, Mommy.”  (Thanking someone for something is the one place she still mixes up her pronouns.)

I love grocery shopping with my child.  Whether it’s at market or at a supermarket, we generally have a wonderful learning experience.  Here are some tips for making grocery shopping with your young child a successful learning experience.

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  • Prepare ahead of time.  As often as possible, have a pre-set day and time that you head out to the store.  This helps to develop routine as your children know what to expect.  Choose a time when your child is not hungry nor tired.  Budget enough time that you don’t feel rushed and can allow your child to take in this rich sensory experience.
  • Make a list.  Try to write your list in front of your child.  If you want your child to write, modeling the skill you find important is the best way to get them interested.  (I also try to offer list paper for N to write on from time to time.)  A list will also create a sense of order as you read off what needs to be retrieved next while shopping (and limit impulse buys!).

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  • Provide child-sized materials.  There aren’t really many materials you need to go grocery shopping, but, depending on how involved you’d like your child to be, there are a few you could consider.  We offer N a wallet (purchased secondhand) with a member rewards card in it to scan at the checkout counter as well as her own cloth grocery bag to carry a few items in.  Of course, we also have access to child-sized carts now.  If your store doesn’t have them, you could always ask management if that’s something they would consider.  Before, we always just let N help to push the small adult-sized ones.
  • Let them retrieve items.  Retrieving items that they can reach is a fantastic opportunity for children to refine their movements.  It’s generally also a wonderful gross motor exercise.  Yes, they may drop items (N dropped a few potatoes on this outing), but that’s part of the learning experience.  Messes and clean-up happens in grocery stores.  In addition, it instills in children the idea that you trust them with something so vital to your life and that they are a valued, working member of your family.

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  • Provide them with choice.  To limit the number of times I am asked to purchase off-list items, I provide N with a choice of two items from the bulk bins when we do our routine shopping.  We’ve discussed ahead of time which items are appropriate choices for her.  If your child is younger, you may wish to show them two, preselected items and let them choose one to eat as a snack in the car or upon arriving back at home.

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  • Talk about your experience.  We do a lot of stopping and talking during our grocery shopping.  We talk about what produce we see and what we smell.  We discuss the shapes and letters on signs and labels.  This is a banquet of a language experience.  Take advantage of it!
  • Extend the learning.  Look for books on grocery shopping or visiting market.  This one by Anne Rockwell is a current favorite of one of N’s friends.  While I haven’t played it myself, I’ve heard that many families really enjoy the game, Shopping List. It seems like a fun game to extend the grocery shopping experience.

Those are a few suggestions for making the most of your shopping experience with children.  But don’t let it stop there!  Invite your children to help you put your groceries away.  Invite them to cook, taste and eat what you’ve purchased.  The cycle of purchasing (or producing), preparing, and partaking in the food experience is practical life at it’s finest.

 

 

Montessori on a Budget – Part 2

Last time, in Part 1 of this series, I shared some ideas for implementing Montessori in your home that cost nothing more than your time and commitment.  If you missed that post, you can read it here.  While writing that post, I sometimes felt like I was misleading readers by titling the post “Montessori on a Budget” because, really, most people want to know how to afford the materials that they see being utilized in Montessori homes.  I get it.  I’ve been there.  But if there is one thing I wish I would’ve learned earlier, it’s that Montessori is less about materials and more about a way of living.  I think Brittany Peters summed it up best with an Instagram post, saying “Please do not consider Montessori in the home as a list of to-buys but instead a list of to-be’s.”  And if you’re still really wanting to know how to find affordable materials, then I regret to inform you that you’ll have to wait until Part 3 of this series. 😉

Here, in Part 2, I’d like to focus on experiences for your child.  As a minimalist, I realize I may be a bit biased towards prioritizing experiences over materials because experiences don’t clutter my home.  However, I recognize that experiences also provide my daughter with unique sensory input, language and vocabulary opportunities, and cultural education, which is valued in Montessori homes and schools alike.

Experiences encompass a wide range of time commitments, planning, and cost.  However, for the purposes of this post, I will focus on experiences that I’ve found affordable for my household.

Here are the top five experiences I’ve shared with my daughter this year so far:

  1.  Market – This is a sensory treat for sure!  N gets to see so many different types of food, she observes the exchange of money for goods, and often chooses a healthy treat for us to prepare together once we return home.  Our only expense is the food itself, which we would need to budget for anyway.

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  1. Library – This is an excellent resource to take advantage of if you have one close by.  Of course, the books are the reason we go, but the experience itself is worthwhile.  N experiences the whole process of checking out books, keeping track of them at home and returning them (though she can’t quite reach that book drop yet!).  She even has her own library card, of which is is quite proud.  This experience is absolutely free, assuming you don’t wrack up any overdue fees.

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  1. Touch-A-Truck – N LOVES vehicles of all kinds, so this was a wonderful experience for her.  From my understanding, it’s generally organized by the community or a local school and costs only a few dollars to get in.  I had never heard of them before, until Amy at Midwest Montessori mentioned taking her children to one.  N was able to explore farm machinery, construction equipment, a school bus, and community rescue vehicles.  A simple Google search for my area turned up a few dates and places for us to choose from.
  2. Parks/Playgrounds – these are wonderful gross motor outlets since we don’t have a lot of gross motor equipment in our home.  But N also has the opportunity to get outside, observe other people, get dirty, and explore.  And they are free.  🙂

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  1. Community garden – we spent $35 for a community garden seasonal plot this year, started all of our plants from seed and easily recouped our costs in the food we harvested.  Our plot provided N with real work to involve herself in as a way to contribute to our household.  She genuinely enjoyed cutting flowers for flower arranging, shelling peas, pulling weeds and adding mulch.  It was one of the outings she requested most, even on days we didn’t plan to visit our plot.

Other ideas that we have experienced or are planning in the near future:

  • Local Fairs – this could include county/farm type fairs as well as cultural and art fairs.
  • Camping – we do tent camping, making things quite inexpensive.  Often tents can be borrowed from friends or family if you don’t have one.
  • Zoo – check around your area for smaller, local zoos in addition to the larger, more well-known ones.  The Baltimore Zoo, Philadelphia Zoo, and National Zoo in Washington DC are all accessible to us, but we also find just as much enjoyment in the smaller area zoos such as ZooAmerica and Lake Tobias Wildlife Park.

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  • Theatre – depending on your child, they may enjoy high school and university programs, plays and concerts.
  • Nature Center – many state or national parks have nature centers geared toward children.  Often these nature centers also have themed days with hands-on experiences for children.
  • Local Attractions – some of these might be open to the general public and some might not be.  Our local veterinary clinic holds kid-oriented Saturday programs once a month where kids can experience something animal related.  We have gotten to know a bird rehabilitator who specializes in birds of prey.  We visit her facility routinely to get a look at and help care for birds that many people don’t get to see up close and personal.  In the photo below, since N loves vehicles and machinery, we took her to an event to watch a large apple be placed on top of a building.  Start asking around about child-friendly experiences.  You might be surprised at what you discover.

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  • Aquarium – this is a fantastic experience for children and adults alike.  Depending on your child’s tolerance level for stimulation, I would suggest going on a weekday shortly after school starts.  You’ll miss both the summer rush and the school field trips.
  • Pet Store – what’s not to love!  It’s a mini zoo that’s completely free!  (As long as you don’t walk out with a new pet!)

I realize that not all of these experiences are exactly inexpensive.  For us, visiting the zoo was the most expensive outing.  There are, however, options for lessening the cost of some of the above ideas if you are willing to be flexible or have the time to do your research.  Often, tickets to zoos, local attractions, theaters, and fairs can be purchased for a discounted price using memberships or subscriptions you already hold.  We’ve used AAA membership and our grocery store bonus card to get discounted tickets to our local fairs and attractions, as well as to a zoo and nearby aquarium.  Some experiences offer specials if you subscribe to their Facebook page.  My favorite way to make many of these affordable, however, is to find out when a particular venue is offering a family day.  We have visited a zoo, local attraction, and an aquarium, all for no cost, using this option.  The downside to this money-saving method, though, is that these days are often offered only in the off-season (i.e. winter), sometimes making the weather challenging, and can be very crowded as many other families take advantage of the cost savings as well.

One more option to consider for making experiences affordable is to simply ask for them to be given as gifts.  We have family members that genuinely enjoy giving gifts but, given our minimalist lifestyle, are somewhat limited in this.  Providing a list of experiences they can purchase tickets for or memberships to, and even join us as they are experienced, is a nice compromise for all.

What other money-saving tips do you have for experiences?  Are there other experiences your children enjoy that you find easy on the budget?  I’d love to hear about them!