Montessori on a Budget Series – Part 1

When we began our Montessori journey, I made a common mistake.  I confused the Montessori method with materials.  I saw children joyfully working with lovely toys and tools that developed their focus and refined their movements.  Wanting desperately to have the beautiful items I saw in Instagram feeds and on blogs for my daughter, I went on a shopping spree.  I purchased items from Amazon and Ebay, from Home Goods and Target, from thrift stores and yard sales.  Thankfully, my aspiring minimalist side urged me to take a closer look at why I was purchasing “stuff”.  I’ve been working toward minimalism long enough to realize that when I buy a whole bunch of material items, there’s usually a deeper issue I’m attempting to control.  Yes, these materials were beautiful.  No, there’s nothing wrong with purchasing items for your children.  The prepared environment is, in fact, an important piece of the Montessori method.  Maria Montessori designed many materials to be beautiful and attractive.  Families fall all over the spectrum with what materials they choose to buy for their children.  For us, we are on a tight budget and try to keep our material items to a minimum.  And what I really wanted for my daughter was the joy, focus, and satisfaction I saw in the children featured on Montessori-related social media.  Thankfully, the Montessori method is so much more than materials.  In fact, some of the most important aspects of the method aren’t about materials at all!

Here are 5 ways you can implement Montessori in the home that don’t require acquiring materials:

Foster a sense of order in your home.  Children, particularly children under the age of five, crave order.  This includes both order in routines to anchor the day and order regarding placement of materials in your home.  It can be difficult to keep to a routine for so many reasons.  For us, medical appointments, unforeseen errands, and a side business cause more shifts in routine than we would like.  We have decided to anchor N’s routine around mealtimes and sleeping.  Her morning routine is always the same (snuggles, toilet, making her bed, lotion, dressing, preparing breakfast… in that order) and never rushed, which means we take care to make appointments accordingly.  Sometimes she flies through the routine, sometimes it moves quite slowly.  Lunchtime is another anchor point in our routine.  She and I wash our hands, prepare our lunch together, pray, and then eat together.  Lunchtime is followed by a period of reading.  Supper and bedtime anchor the last portion of our day.  Again, the routine is always the same, though the parent helping with the routine may change.  We do our utmost to honor these routines, ensuring that N is not rushed and nothing is skipped for the sake of “time”.  Find ways to incorporate routine and rhythm into your child’s day.

It’s been far easier for us to maintain order of the material items in our home.  Well, it’s only been easier after we purged and simplified our belongings.  If reducing the amount of material items you own isn’t an option, do your best to maintain order in the areas that belong to your child.  If your child has a lot of toys and materials, consider rotating those materials.  Less materials out at once will make it easier for both you and your child to know where to return those materials to.  Have a designated place for each material, and help your child to return items until they can do so independently.  It doesn’t have to be a big deal.  Modeling can work wonders.  In the photo below, N had observed that we always placed the bin of flower arranging debris outside after the activity was over.  Today, she simply picked it up, opened the door and put it outside, all the while repeating “This need to go outside” to herself.  External order fosters a sense of internal order, not only for the child but for the caregiver as well.

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Involve your child in the daily household activities.  In our home, we clean, cook, do laundry, grocery shop, care for pets, and complete outside chores together.  Yes, it’s ideal to have child-sized tools for your child to use, but the real merit lies in meeting the child’s inner desire to do real work and be a valued member of the household.  For me, it can be a challenge to involve N in the household chores because it means letting go of control over time and messes.  I’ve often had to repeat to myself the Dr. John Trainer quote “Children are not a distraction from more important work.  They are the most important work” as a reminder of my role as a parent.  When I’m tempted to leave N out of an activity because I don’t want a mess, I’ve found it helpful as well to step back and ask myself if the cleanliness of my house is more important than the learning experience of my daughter.  Will it matter in a month if she pulled the wrong plant in the garden?  Will I even care in a day if she drug my freshly washed shirt through the yard to hang it on the clothesline?  Will it hurt anything at all if the water gets spilled on the floor instead of poured in the potted plant?  Or will all of these experiences enhance her opportunities to learn if handled as just that… opportunities to learn?  Learning to complete household tasks with joy will serve your child well for the entirety of their life.

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Learn to observe your child.  I had always thought of myself as a pretty observant person.  But after completing an observation assignment for the Montessori Toddler E-Course I was taking, I realized I wasn’t fully observing.  I was seeing expression of emotions and shutting that expression down because I was uncomfortable.  I was seeing expression of developmental needs and redirecting because I didn’t see materials being used the way I expected.  “There is only one basis for observation: the children must be free to express themselves and thus reveal those needs and attitudes which would otherwise remain hidden or repressed in an environment that did not permit them to act spontaneously.”  (Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child) Stepping back and observing has been one of the most difficult aspects of implementing Montessori in my home that I’ve had to learn.  But it’s also been the most rewarding, allowing me to truly “follow the child”.  Because of careful observation, I’ve been able to introduce sound games at the right time, prepare activities that pique her interest, offer opportunities to kitchen independence as she’s become ready, and resisted pressuring her to move forward developmentally before her own time.  It’s cyclical.  Observing her has allowed me to meet her interests and developmental needs, which frees her to express and reveal further developing needs for me to observe and meet.  And, with a bit of creativity, most of those needs don’t require me to purchase any materials.

Offer opportunities for independence.  Whether it’s offering your baby the opportunity to drink from a cup, providing time for your toddler to attempt to get dressed, or stepping back to allow your child to pack their school lunch, opportunities for independence abound in the home environment.  You will likely have to slow down and be okay with messes, but the rewards are worth it.  (And messes just provide new practical life opportunities on how to clean up!)  Some good starting areas for independence opportunities include dressing, eating, meal preparation, and bathroom-related tasks.  If N wants to give a task a try, I step back and let her, even if I don’t think she’s quite able to complete it yet.  I clearly remember the words “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed” running through my head on repeat as N attempted to zip her jacket for a full five minutes (which felt like forever) before she finally asked for help.

Sometimes, when it comes to independence, you have to make adjustments.  This is, again, where having child-sized materials or accessible furniture can come in handy, but often you can utilize what you already have in the home.  For example, we don’t have the best clothing set-up for N.  I’d rather have an open wardrobe than a dresser, but because we already had the dresser, we’ve simply moved all of her in-season clothing choices to the bottom three drawers where she can reach them in order to choose her outfit each day.  I’d also love for her to have her own kitchen cabinet/counter combo, but we’ve made do with an emptied out lower drawer and an IKEA table we already owned.  The keys for offering independence are simply to provide time, worry less about mess, and get creative with what you have.

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Protect your child’s concentration.  Like the ideas above, this just takes some awareness and self-control to implement.  Many children struggle with short attention spans and attention deficit disorder for a variety of reasons.  As parents, however, there are countless opportunities throughout the day to protect our children’s concentration and allow them to develop their ability to focus as best as they can.  For starters, cut out or carefully limit the amount of screen time and electronic toys your child has access to, especially if they are babies or toddlers.  The duration of video clips or light/sound effects on children’s programs and toys tends to be amazingly short before a button needs to be pushed again or a new video clip begins.  This conditions children to need a new stimulus quite often.  Some other ideas I’ve heard mentioned for protecting concentration include waiting until an activity is finished to announce mealtime, not interrupting when a child is working even if that work is being done incorrectly (as long as it’s being done safely), and not stepping in to “help” unless the child asks for help.

I, personally, have had to work at protecting N’s concentration in two areas: photos and outings.  Sometimes N will be working diligently on an activity, and I’ll think “Oh, that’s so wonderful!  I need a picture!”  But getting a good photo of some activities would mean getting down into her space and essentially interrupting her work.  So, often I have to be content with just enjoying the moment from where I am and snapping a mental photo.  On outings, there are so many things I want N to see.  And it’s incredibly tempting to force her attention in a certain direction if I think she might miss the sight… like a bear standing on its hind legs on the farm, or a sea turtle swimming by at the aquarium.  But, generally, she’s absolutely enthralled with something else.  Lord willing, there will be many more opportunities for her to see those things in her lifetime.  She is, after all, only three.  Who knows?  If I protect her concentration at this age, perhaps later in life she will be patient and focused enough to sit and wait for those sights.

Next time, I’ll share a few ideas for implementing Montessori on a budget when it comes to outings and experiences.  If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them!

Montessori Inspired Bird Discovery

I admit it.  I love birds.  I’m fascinated by them, really.  It’s probably half of the reason I took up falconry as a hobby lifestyle.  So, while I’m not surprised N has shown an intense interest in birds, in this case I can’t really be sure if I was following the child or if the child was following me.

Whatever the case, I’ve decided to run with it and have been pleased with N’s response.  It’s not unusual to hear her yelling about the robin in the yard while she’s eating breakfast, or stopping to listen intently to a blue jay.  And she routinely checks to be sure the birds have seed in the feeders.  There’s language development, sensory experience, and practical life rolled into this discovery.  Perhaps that’s why she’s been so exuberant about it.  It’s meeting her needs in more than one sensitive period.

I started with practical life.  It seemed logical to not only satisfy her desire to scoop and pour, but also to bring the birds closer to her so she could observe them.  We put out a small feeder for bird seed and a suet cage where she could watch from the kitchen table.  We made it a habit to talk about the birds we noticed and what they were doing.  I was surprised at how quickly she picked up on the names of several different kinds. After the birds were coming routinely, and N understood the cycle of putting out bird seed, we got the idea to place the seed container in a place she could access it independently.  While she can’t quite reach the feeder to take it down and fill it, by next summer she will be able to.  Shortly after setting up the bird feeders, we added a field guide to birds for us to look through and identify the various birds we saw.  While N isn’t overly interested in this book right now, we do use it to model searching for birds when we don’t know what a particular visiting bird is.  She is, however, very intrigued by the binoculars we’ve set out for her to use.

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Next, I added a small tray with the Safari Ltd Backyard Bird TOOB.  N had received this as a Christmas gift, and I had yet to set them out.  I painted several of the birds to make them more accurate replicas.  A little craft paint I already had on hand and a half hour of painting did the trick.  I paired the bird figures with a set of picture cards for N to match if she desires.  She has no difficulty with picture-to-picture matching, but remains more interested in object-to-picture matching at this point.  We use them often in three-period lessons for language development, but N also brings them to me routinely to play our “I Spy” sound game.

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Around the same time, I introduced our bird song book.  We use Bird Songs: 250 North American Birds in Song, though there is also a version specifically for Eastern and Central North America as well as an Around the World version.  To be honest, I hesitated with this one.  I’ve been reluctant to introduce anything electronic because N tends to just “zone out” and push buttons without purpose.  We began by pairing it with her TOOB figures when one day she asked “What does a Blue Jay say?”  I got out the book and asked her to retrieve the Blue Jay figure.  When she returned, we matched it to the illustration in the book and then played the sound.  In turn, she brought all of the figures, matched them and, together, we listened to the songs.  This has now become a favorite activity, repeated several times in a day.  Though I’m a firm believer in allowing her access to everything in her work room, this is the one item she must use with us.

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The one item I actually purchased (everything else was either gifted to N, items we already owned, or borrowed from the library) was the Match a Pair of Birds game.  N had been distinguishing between the male and female cardinals that would visit our feeders, so I felt like this was a good extension of that interest.  We haven’t actually played it as a memory game yet.  Instead we currently use it for language development and matching.  I’m sure memory won’t be far off!

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Of course, I couldn’t complete a bird theme without some actual bird items.  The nest and eggshell is from an abandoned robin nest we had been watching.  It was in a prime location for easy viewing, and I had been hoping that N would get to witness the entire nesting cycle.  But, alas.  The robins built it too low to the ground and something was disturbing the nest and snatching eggs, so it was abandoned.  The good news is that I think they began nesting in a nearby bush which will still give N glimpses of nest life.  I also added a red-tailed hawk feather molted from one of my past hawks.  We’ve examined the shaft and vane together, and she delights in rubbing it along her cheek.

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We’ve also been enjoying About Birds by Cathryn Sill (if you haven’t checked out her series, definitely do).  The detailed and realistic illustrations are absolutely stunning!  It’s a book that has simple enough text that N enjoys it now, but also contains additional information about each page in the back so that I know it will grow with her.

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I love how Have You Heard the Nesting Bird? pairs with our Bird Songs book.  Not only did it spare me the embarrassment of attempting to mimic the bird songs in the book if I didn’t know how they actually sounded, but it also added a new auditory aspect to our reading and reinforced the visual aspect of bird identification.

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Here are a few other bird books in N’s basket.

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                             1. Mama Built a Little Nest       2.  Egg to Robin

3. A Nest is Noisy                        4.  Birds, Nests, and Eggs

What bird activities do your children enjoy?  I think a hummingbird feeder might be next on the agenda for us, but I’d love to hear other ideas as well!

Montessori: How We Got Here

A little over three years ago, I began a major purge of my home.  I had recently read Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste by Bea Johnson (check it out from your library or visit her website) and was completely inspired to overhaul our life.  I desperately wanted the results she described in her book: a smaller environmental footprint, a tranquil home, and time to do what I really wanted.  I was a worn out second grade teacher and wife.  I was constantly organizing my classroom, coming home to plan lessons to make learning exciting for my students, rushing through supper, cleaning up, squeezing in some “me” time and maybe a little time for my husband, and falling into bed exhausted.  And the weekend didn’t bring respite. I planned more lessons, picked up the clutter that accumulated around our house over the week, tracked down misplaced school papers or materials, and went out to purchase more with my own money.  Ultimately, after stepping back to examine this rather pointless cycle, I decided that I wanted to say “no” to good or okay things (like more material items) to make room for saying “yes” to the most important things… family, friends, and relationships.  Little did I know that this would be one of the first steps that sent me on the path towards the Montessori method.

A year and a half ago, our daughter entered the picture.  (Take note that we had made significant progress towards producing less waste, living a simpler life, and owning fewer material items.)  As the first grandchild in both my and my husband’s families, there was much rejoicing.  And with rejoicing tends to come gift giving.  Suddenly, there seemed to be a continuous trickle of plastic toys, electronic noise-makers, and fashionable toddler clothing entering our home.  And it was all oh-so-tempting.   The smiling plastic rotary phone didn’t break if she threw it in a fit of anger.  She could keep herself occupied for long stretches of time with that sunny yellow plastic chair with the built-in child’s remote and TV guide.  And let’s not mention how absolutely adorable N looked in the tiny second-hand Sperry’s.

But a few things just didn’t sit well with us.  We had come to value natural materials due to their ability to either be repaired, recycled, or composted as part of our move toward a zero waste lifestyle.  So, the plastic didn’t really fit well (though I’ve since decided that plastic was invented for a reason, and there are some circumstances where it’s the best material for the job).  The electronics… well, we noticed a distinct shift in N’s ability to connect with us when an electronic toy was near.  She was borderline obsessive.  And the clothing, while cute, was restricting for N who was already struggling with gross motor delays.  Around this same time, we began a few therapies for N, recommended by her medical team to assist us with N’s global developmental delays.  To our dismay, the therapists tended to interact in very “baby-ish” ways with N, didn’t allow her to explore the materials they brought for her to work with unless it was in the way they had designated, and brought lots of “motivational” prizes to entice N to reach the goals set for her.

So, I began to research.  I began with what was easiest: searching for toys made of wood or other natural materials.  Somewhere in my mess of tabs with Etsy shops, Google searches, and Pinterest boards, I stumbled upon the Kavanaugh Report.  Hmmm… this looked promising.  She had posts with wooden puzzles (occupational therapy related… check!), gross motor toys (physical therapy related… check!), and a lot regarding independence and self-care (adaptive skills… check!).  So much was lining up with our work toward zero waste while at the same time providing “therapy-type”, non-electronic options for us to implement with N.  But, what was this “Montessori” she kept on mentioning?  I had heard of it briefly in my graduate and undergraduate studies, but it didn’t warrant more than a quick chapter in a textbook apparently.

Now, I’m the type of person that has to know a subject pretty thoroughly if it impacts my life in any way.  So, more research.  The more I learned, the more I became convinced that this was the educational method for our family.  I read blogs and websites, checked out books from the library, downloaded several for evening reading, and even visited a local Montessori school.  With our limited knowledge, we started implementing a little here and a little there.  Offering a water pouring station in the kitchen and open, orderly shelving in the living room.

But I needed to know more.  When the opportunity to take Junnifa Uzodike’s Montessori e-course on supporting the development of the toddler came up, I was thrilled!  I told my husband that it was all I wanted for Christmas and my birthday combined.  He could grant me the gift of knowledge.  And he tried to surprise me.  He really did.  But a confirmation email came to my inbox the night he signed me up.  It didn’t matter.  It’s been, hands down, the best Christmas gift I’ve received to date.  (I highly recommend this course for anyone with a toddler.  My daughter was at the tail end of the toddler age range, but I still benefited and continue to benefit from the knowledge I gained.  The next course begins on April 17!)

Montessori had started out as an avenue to wooden toys.  Then it became a supplement to therapy.  But this course transformed our parenting.  We got a true understanding of what it means to support our daughter’s development in a way that’s respectful of her as a whole person.  And here’s the kicker.  Very little of it had to do with materials.  The vast majority of what I learned changed how I thought of and interacted with N.  Intangibles.

I didn’t have to alter how I wanted to run my household to implement Montessori.  I didn’t have to buy all kinds of new materials.  I didn’t have to fill my schedule with extra-curricular classes for N.  In fact, I didn’t have to change anything at all, except my mindset.  My trashcan remains generally empty so that we all can take pride and care in each item that enters our home.  My house remains simple and orderly so that N can move through her environment without overstimulation or distraction.  My schedule remains open and slow so that N can participate in daily living as fully as she wishes.  And here we are.  We’re a Montessori family, living simply, and giving each other time, respect, and understanding, the gifts that aren’t bought and don’t clutter.

Early Sound Games

I admit it, I’m a little late to the game with sound games for N.  Typically, sound games with the Montessori method start around age two and a half.  I didn’t begin until a few months before N turned three.  To start with, I didn’t know a lot about how Montessori children were taught the alphabet, so I was a bit intimidated.  And the little that I did know had me waiting for some magical revelation that she was ready for and interested in sounds and/or letters.  I imagined her drawing out or repeating sounds in words (“m-m-m-ommy” or “d-d-dog”) or pointing to letters and asking what they were.  She has yet to present with either of these imagined, perfect signals of readiness.  It was a case of “a little information” can be a dangerous thing.  Okay, well not dangerous.  I wouldn’t have ruined my daughter’s opportunity to learn to read and write, but waiting for what I was hoping to see would have placed unnecessary, additional pressure on both of us.  I was already feeling pressure surrounding N learning the alphabet.  Two of her 18 month old friends were already gleefully singing the “ABC Song” and enthusiastically naming letters on shirts, signs and fridge magnets.  While I know that every parent makes an individual choice regarding how and what their child learns, I also know the traditional methods at an early age aren’t for our family.  But still, it was starting to wear on me to see younger children seemingly able to know more and do more than N in so many areas.  (I could say a lot here about the American idea of knowing more, doing more, doing it earlier and better to define success for children, but that warrants its own post.)

After Nicole from The Kavanaugh Report and Amy from Midwest Montessori provided more information to help me understand sound games and the basis behind them (you can read the helpful posts on how to implement sound games here and here), they encouraged me to go ahead and begin.  I was assured that if I presented them correctly, I couldn’t go wrong.  And thus far, they’ve been absolutely correct!

For a few weeks, I began by playing “I Spy” with N using a single object.  I used random household objects (a few pictured below), but I always made sure to use objects that I was certain she knew the names of.  It was important that she know the name well and could expressly say the object name routinely.   It wasn’t enough that she knew a name receptively.  She had to be familiar enough with the object that she could name it out loud without much thought.  With a single object, she couldn’t really be wrong once she understood the concept of the game.  We made it very informal, playing in the kitchen while we were putting away dishes or while N was taking a bath, using whatever objects were within easy reach.  At first, she wasn’t very interested.  She’d play the game and name the object, but I could tell there wasn’t desire or enthusiasm present.  Following her lead, I’d simply try a few times throughout the week, never pushing and always keeping it light and pressure-free.

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One day, as we ran errands in the car, N said “Mommy, play ‘I spy with my little eye’.  Please!”  I couldn’t comply while I was driving, so I asked her if she’d like to play as soon as we got home.  Despite the ten-minute drive, she didn’t forget.  No sooner had we walked through the front door then N was “reminding” me to play the game.  Things just took off from there.  We moved to using two objects (which she gets correct about 80-90% of the time), and have recently attempted using three objects.  Today, she actually began bringing me objects to play “I Spy” with as soon as breakfast was complete and cleaned up.

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While I’ve seen beautiful posts on acquiring a beautiful collection of mini objects for use with sound games and later language work, I have yet to decide if that’s a good fit for us. For now, we have been using smaller household objects, as well as a few other language or open-ended materials we already have.  Schleich animals have worked perfectly for sound games, as have these lovely First Fruits Collectible Wooden Magnet Set” target=”_blank”>First Fruits magnets (pictured above and below) which were gifted to us and used for a long time as vocabulary building tools.  There are also First Vegetables and First Grains and Legumes magnets, which I routinely drool over (because N can’t eat fruit, so vegetables and legumes are more relevant to her) and would work just as well for these sound games.

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I am so looking forward to where the next few months bring us with sound games.  It’s been such a joy to watch her progress in this area.  Not once has she been frustrated, and never has it been so easy to observe her readiness for the next step.  If you have a toddler approaching the age of 2.5, I encourage you to look into sound games.  They are easy, fun, and require no special materials to get started.

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13 Books Featuring Children of Color

Several years ago, when I used to teach a diverse second grade class each year, I became aware of the importance of representation in books.  As I browsed through my class library, I realized that 98% of the books I had available for my students to read (or would read aloud to them) featured white protagonists.  The handful of books I had that featured people of color were mostly books on slavery, the Obamas, Michael Jordan, or Jackie Robinson.  I began searching for books where my students of color could see themselves reflected, not as a sidekick, slave, supporting figure or special circumstance, but as the main character, the norm, the hero.  But it wasn’t until I realized that we would be adopting transracially that my search got really serious.  And I was shocked at how difficult it was to find these books.  Granted, I do have pretty rigorous requirements for the books we choose to read to her: realistic, beautiful illustrations, and preferably written by a person of color.  Yet, over the past two years, I’ve managed to compile a list of books in which N can see herself and people like her depicted in a positive light.

If I thought finding children’s books for N was hard, finding books that feature American Indians/First Nations and Asian children as protagonists was even harder.  The infographic below shows why.  Since I am committed to a home library where N can not only see herself reflected, but a diverse range of children and experiences as well, I will continue my search and share as my list grows.

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Huyck, David, Sarah Park Dahlen, Molly Beth Griffin. (2016 September 14). Diversity in Children’s Books 2015 infographic. sarahpark.com blog. Retrieved from https://readingspark.wordpress.com/2016/09/14/picture-this-reflecting-diversity-in-childrens-book-publishing/

The following books are ones that we’ve enjoyed recently or have in our collection for use when N is developmentally ready for them.  I also recommend checking out other books by some of these authors.  We particularly enjoy Angela Johnson, Spike Lee, and Rachel Isadora!

IMG_5309  1. Firebird     2. Flower Garden     3. The Blacker the Berry

4. Full, Full, Full of Love     5. Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters     6. When I Am Old with You

7. Brothers & Sisters: Family Poems     8. Come On, Rain!     9. Bippity Bop Barbershop

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The four pictured above are N’s favorites at this time.  A South African Night is especially dear, holding a treasured place in our hearts.

1. Honey, I Love     2. Please, Puppy, Please

3. A South African Night     4. Max and the Tag-Along Moon

If you are interested in reading why ALL children should read diverse literature, this blog post at Barbershop Books makes several good points.  “The stereotypical ways in which people of color are represented in modern-day children’s literature, or are all together missing, bear some responsibility for the prominence of racism in American culture. Reflecting on the importance of who gets seen, when, where, and doing what has led me to conclude that children’s books represent one of the most valuable pieces of real-estate in the fight against racism.”  Maria Montessori placed a great deal of emphasis on peace education.  I believe that seeing diverse children reflected in books is an important way to communicate that everyone has value and is worthy of respect.

Do you have any favorites?  I’m always up for checking out recommendations!

Montessori Spaces at 35 Months

There are three things I thoroughly enjoy reading about in Montessori homes: activities children are engaged in, book recommendations, and Montessori spaces.  I gain so much from seeing real life glimpses into how families incorporate this method into their daily living.  It’s refreshing to see what works for other children, the adjustments made over time as abilities change, what’s left out, and the general journey of living in a way that’s not necessarily mainstream (at least not in the United States).

I hesitated to share about our home environment because, in the scheme of things, it’s still early on in our Montessori journey.  What could I possibly have to offer that will be of value to others when I’m still so new in both the parenting and Montessori worlds?  However, I have grown the most in both understanding and willingness to continue pushing forward after reading about the authentic and less-than-perfect environments and experiences of other Montessorians.  Hopefully, sharing where we are at now will serve as an inspiration to others and a way to look back and see how far we’ve come as time moves on.

My other hangup in sharing was that I don’t really want to have Montessori spaces in my home.  I want my entire house and life to be Montessori.  Yet, realistically, we aren’t there.  There are items in our house that aren’t safe for N, budgets to work around, and minimalist decisions to balance (we are on the move towards minimalistic living).  Just because something works for others, doesn’t mean it will work for us.  And just because it’s right for us, doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for your family.  That’s why community it important.  You gather ideas and then determine what fits for you.

Now, onto what I really sat down to share.  Our home.  When inside, N spends the majority of her time in these areas.  The choices we have made are carefully thought out with her abilities, our budget, and our journey toward minimalism in mind.

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Our home opens into our main living area.  My hope is that, right away, N feels that this home is for her.  While I wish the couch, chair, gun cabinet, and wood stove didn’t dominate the room, this is our reality.

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We’ve tried to ensure it’s easy to see that a child lives here and that our child is a welcome and important part of the family.  There is a handmade cube chair near the door to aid in independent removal of shoes, socks, and orthotics.  N has her own space in the shoe bin for her shoes and orthotics (empty at this time because she is wearing them), and two containers to keep sidewalk chalk and window paints handy.  We also installed a low coat hook for her to retrieve and replace her jacket independently.

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We have a small kitchen-dining area combo so space is in short supply.  However, by purging rarely used items and carefully organizing what remained, we have been able to ensure N has the space she needs to work each day in the kitchen.

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This is easily one of my favorite areas to look at.  Not only is it pleasing to the eye, but it represents N’s burgeoning independence in an area that’s of great interest to her.  Here you can see her sink for dishwashing.  We use the IKEA Flisat table and Trofast bins.  I don’t love it for this purpose, but it works.  She has a pitcher and glass available to pour herself a drink whenever she wants.  It has helped us to have a designated area for them to sit in, both to contain spills and to prevent her from walking around the house with them.  N’s great-grandmother lovingly made the apron you see hung on the low hook.  The Keekaroo chair is the most recent addition to this area (purchased from Ebay).  It’s been a game changer in allowing N to independently get up and down from the table.

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We have one drawer designated for N’s kitchen supplies, cutlery, and dishes.  We find that we don’t need a lot at this time to help her be involved in the kitchen, though undoubtedly it will be necessary to add more as her abilities grow.  The brown bottle you see contains dish soap and an eye dropper to ensure she doesn’t use too much during dishwashing.  N does use real dishes.  Yes, she has broken a few, though not out of carelessness, but rather out of physical limitations that involve balance and control.  She does also use the bottle that you see there.  It’s a whole other realm, but has to do with her history and our continuing journey towards attachment.  Suffice it to say that we are following the child and her needs.

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Our bathroom area needs a few adjustments to help N use the toilet with total independence, but we’ve begun.  Here you can see her stool which she moves when she uses the sink.  You can also see the Petit Potette stashed near the toilet.  We use it as a toilet insert at home, but it also serves as her go-to toilet when on long trips or camping.

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One of the cabinets is designated as N’s.  On the upper shelf is a jar of cloth tissues, a small glass with her toothbrush, toothpaste (travel-sized), and fingernail clippers, as well as a jar of homemade lotion for after baths.  The lower shelf has a basket for dirty tissues, and her pajamas to change into at bedtime.

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This closet houses N’s tools (as well as my vacuum) to care for the home environment.  She has access to a basket of cleaning rags, her own electric vacuum, as well as the spray bottle, watering can, and broom hanging on the pegs.  She can open the closet door independently and has access to these tools at all times.  One of her favorite activities happens to be cleaning the playroom mirror, so the rags and spray bottle see a lot of use.

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This is N’s bedroom.  Though this room is quite beautiful, to me it’s the area that shows how little we knew about Montessori when we set it up.  Here she has a dresser, box fan (for white noise and air circulation at night), crate bookshelf for bedtime books, toddler bed, and dressing chair.  My husband made the toddler bed before we even knew N was our daughter, but it happens to be perfect for her to independently get in and out of.  I also love the dressing chair for her to use in the morning.  If I were to do things over again, though, I would swap the dresser for more open and accessible clothing storage.  N can access the bottom three drawers, which is really all she needs, but it’s not conducive to helping younger children slowly gain independence in this area.  Also, the artwork is placed too high in her room, and why oh why did I put a bookcase on wheels in a toddler’s room?!  These are things that we are okay with right now, but will likely be changing in the coming months.

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This is N’s playroom.  It houses the vast majority of her work and play items.  While this room started off as an “entertainment room” for watching movies, my husband and I decided that we didn’t really need the furniture in it since we didn’t watch much television to begin with.  We purged, sold, and donated everything in it and revamped it as an inviting space for N to explore in any (safe) way she desires.  That means that I’ve had to learn to be okay with paint on the carpet, spilled dirt from potted plants, glue on the wall, and random water spots.  Of course, we work with her to clean up and care for her area, but she’s learning and accidents will happen.  Gross motor toys tend to be on the end of the room closest to the camera, while fine motor activities are on the shelving on the opposite end of the room.  My husband recently added a chalkboard to the wall on the right, though in the photo it’s serving as a drying area for a painting that N has been working on.

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Here’s a closer look at the shelving.  We generally only have 8-9 activities on these shelves.  N is really able to handle more, so we will likely be adding shelving for additional activities in the near future.

So, there you have it!  Our Montessori spaces at 35 months.  No matter where you are on your journey, be encouraged that with careful thought and observation of your child’s abilities, you can implement changes in your home to make it accessible to your child regardless of budget, ability, and available space.  It doesn’t have to all be perfect right away.  Choose one or two things and start there.  For us, it was a small pitcher of water and a glass.  What will it be for you?

 

Discipline: A {Novice} Montessori Perspective

The terrible twos, threenager, ferocious fours… heard of them?  People have all sorts of little phrases to describe the period in which children are developing their will and learning how to use it.  Personally, I think these phrases show a lack of respect and understanding for the natural development of children and the struggle they must face to overcome the many obstacles of being a small person in an adult-centered world.  Yes, this is a difficult time of parenting, but I have a sneaking suspicion that each stage comes with its own brand of challenges.

Truly, I’m not sure this post will be helpful to anyone.  After all, I lack experience.  I’m parenting my first child, and I’m relatively new to Montessori.  I have so much to learn.  But a few things have happened in the recent past that have caused me to spend a great deal of time thinking about discipline.  So I’m summing it up here, if only for my own reflection.

Development #1: Around the time she turned two and a half, N’s will began to show up more strongly.  I didn’t recognize it as a development of the will at first.  I just noticed that she resisted almost anything I asked of her unless it had to do with eating or care of the environment type activities.  I also noticed that as her resistance increased, my frustration level increased.  I found it easier and easier to slip into the authoritarian style of parenting I was raised with when she disagreed with me.

Development #2:  I’m wrapping up a Montessori toddler class by the fantastic Junnifa Nduoma Uzodike.  I mentioned it in my last post, so as you can see, it’s made quite an impact on my parenting.  You can learn more about the course here.  The lesson I wrapped up last week was on, you guessed it, discipline.  In the readings for the week, this quote made the biggest impression on me:

“The basic error is to suppose that a person’s will must be broken before it can obey; meaning before it can accept and follow another person’s direction. When people have fully developed their own powers of volition and then freely choose to follow another person’s orders, we have something very different. Will and obedience then go hand in hand in as much as the will is a prior foundation in the order of development; and obedience is a later stage resting on this foundation. It shows itself spontaneously and unexpectedly at the end of a long process of maturation.” – Maria Montessori  

Did you catch that?  The will is the foundation!  Obedience cannot truly develop until the foundation is solidly formed.  This was pretty much revolutionary for my ideas on discipline.  I didn’t need to be working against N as she exercised her will.  She wasn’t resisting me to spite me, but rather she was completing the hard work of laying the foundation so that, when she is able, she can truly obey.  I could work with her!  The thought was freeing.

I also learned that children under the age of three can’t truly obey anyway unless the request corresponds with their human tendencies and urges anyway.  It is quite literally, impossible for N to obey me unless her natural development is urging her to complete that particular task anyway.  These revelations make it much easier for me to gently, firmly, and compassionately parent her.  I find it much easier to provide choices, to feel compassion when a set a limit that she disagrees with, and to stay calm.  Because it’s nothing personal.  It’s just her development.  I didn’t take it personally when she couldn’t walk from one place to another because she wasn’t at that stage in her development yet.  Obedience is no different.

If you’d like to read more about Montessori and developing obedience, I recommend this post by At Home with Montessori.  Her post breaks things down in an easily understandable way and includes quotes by several others who have corroborated Montessori’s observations.  My favorite of which is this:

“The idea of painless, non-threatening coercion is an illusion. Fear is the inseparable companion of coercion, and its inescapable consequence. If you think it is your duty to make children do what you want, whether they will or not, then it follows inexorably that you must make them afraid of what will happen to them if they don’t do what you want.” – How Children Fail, John Holt

Which brings me to…

Development #3:  Well, it’s not as much a development as an experience.  Last week, I traveled with N to an evaluation to determine if she qualifies to receive continuing services for some of her developmental needs.  After the evaluators finished their tests and had asked all of their questions, they sat me down.  “We want to give you some parenting advice.”  Bear in mind, this advice they were about to impart was unsolicited.  “We see that N is an intelligent and strong-willed child.  It’s easy to fall into negotiations with these types of children, and that just makes discipline more difficult.  It’s okay for you to tell her ‘because I said so’ and then make her do whatever you asked of her.”

I was floored.  Not only did I not ask for parenting advice, but the advice they gave me flew directly in the face of everything I had been working toward.  It grated against the parenting style we were choosing in order to develop trust with N since her adoption.  It disregarded the development of the child I had been learning about.  And these were professionals in child development!  I quite appreciate the care they were conveying for me through their advice, but I know that it’s not the right fit for my family.

As N continues to develop and exercise her will, I know it will be challenging for me.  I will continue to remind myself that she’s laying the foundation for obedience later.  But it won’t be easy.  I’ll make mistakes.  And I sincerely wish that one could perfect parenting before becoming a parent instead of practicing the art on one’s children.  Yet, I trust I’ll grow and improve in this area.  And when I’m tempted to chalk it up to “the terrible twos”, my mantra will be “It’s not willful.  It’s developmental.  She’s doing her work.  You do yours.”

Florida Discovery

Last week, some good friends of ours travelled with us to Florida to escape the cold and soak up some Vitamin D.  As N has not done a lot of traveling since she joined our family at 19 months of age, we wanted to prepare her for the experiences she might have on our trip.  While I think it’s important to prepare children for transitions and changes in their normal routine, we find it to be essential for N.

We began with one of N’s favorite things… books, of course!  It amazes me how much she absorbs from books.  After a bit of research, we headed to the library to pick up books about the beach, manatees, alligators, flamingos, airports, and Florida.  While we read many more, the books pictured below were the clear favorites.

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Beach Feet — To be honest, I didn’t care for the illustrations in this book.  Just not my style, I guess.  However, it was far and away the one N requested we read most often.  I did like that it focused a lot on the sensory details of being at the beach.  To top it off, I caught snippets of N reciting it each and every time we visited the beach.

The Moon Over Florida — When I began searching for children’s books about Florida, I stumbled across this one and had to have it.  I love that it includes real photos of the main things that come to mind when one thinks of Florida (manatees, dolphins, vacationers, etc.).  This made it a perfect complementary aide to some of the new vocabulary N was learning.

Flamingo Sunset — Beautiful illustrations and a brief overview of the flamingo life cycle.

The Airport Book — Each page in this book is full of small details to look at.  I often found N sitting by herself just looking intently at each page.  Thanks to this book, N seemed to grasp the sequence of how our travels to and from Florida would go.

A Beach Tail — This was probably N’s second most requested book.  I love that it provides racial representation for her.

Though books made up the bulk of our preparations, I also introduced language cards (hastily made, I admit) since N is still soaking up new words each day.  While she has never shown much interest in matching, I did add a matching element just in case.  We also purchased a select few Schleich and Safari LTD animals (alligator, dolphin, sea turtle, cougar) for her as well.

Our preparations paid off, and we had a wonderful time in Florida.  Thanks to the Toddler Course I’m taking from Junnifa (which I highly recommend), I felt my husband and I were able to meet N’s needs and allow her to participate in and complete activities that before we may have rushed her through or felt were unimportant.

N spent long stretches of time scooping and dumping both sand and water.  While before, I would’ve felt this was less important and tried to rush her off to wade or swim in the water, or look for treasures on the beach, I know now that she was using this as an opportunity to refine her coordination, strengthen her hands and increase wrist flexibility.

I know travel can be stressful with a toddler.  However, I found it to be a wonderful time of observing N in a different environment.  I could gauge some of her interests, her connection to my husband and I, and even see abilities surface that I may not have had we not been confined to a plane for a few hours.

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How do you approach travel with your children?  Is there anything you recommend to make the experience less stressful for you and also respectful to the child?

January Reading Favorites

I’ve seen several posts lately showcasing what families are reading and displaying on their bookshelves.  As I really enjoy these types of posts, I thought I’d dip my toes in the blogging world and try one of my own.

While these are certainly not all of the books we’ve been reading, they are certainly the favorites.  N will bring us one after the other to read, and it’s not unusual to hear her quoting sections of one of these books as she rides in the car or eats a meal.

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Animals in Winter —The photo shows an older version from our library.  I’d be curious to see the illustrations from the updated copy.

Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold — This book of winter poetry is quite lovely.  It is definitely a bit beyond N’s comprehension level, but she has still picked up new vocabulary.  Today she began quoting “I’m a big, brown moose” rather enthusiastically in the car.

Sleep Tight Farm — I highly recommend this book.  I thought it would be above N’s understanding, but she loves it and requests to read it at least five times a day.  The very first time we read it, she closed the book and then reopened it to the first page and requested that we “read it again”.  That was a first for us.

Snow — This simple book is perfect for toddlers and has the potential to draw on their sensitive period for small details.

The Snowy Day — We love that this book’s main character is a child of color.  Representation is so important for N.

Winter — While this is a wordless book, many details await discovery on each page.  N’s face was priceless when she noticed the yellow snow in the trail left by the puppy.

Does your child have winter favorites?  I’d love to hear what they are!