how unschooling, or "flow" learning, brings joy to our life with kids


Certain things change when you have a child with a serious heart defect. I immediately saw through the veneer of certain societal norms : time spent staring at a screen to escape reality, time spent doing something that doesn't bring joy for the sake of getting ahead, time spent away from my kids in order to make more money. It suddenly all became just that: Time Spent. Spent and gone. That precious, precious Time. If there was any doubt in my mind that I would homeschool my kids before Lachlan's diagnosis, it was completely erased post-diagnosis. There would be no wasting of any time in school.  For kids with HLHS, childhood is often a Golden Time - their heart function often declines as they enter their later teen years and early adulthood. Why waste my son's precious life with time spent waiting in line and taking tests? I didn't know then that I would come to believe that schooling at home isn't worth our time as a family, either.

My little boy with half a heart is old enough to be in kindergarten, away from me five days a week. Instead, he is home with all of us. He wakes up in the morning and starts working on the ramps he builds for things with wheels, or he asks someone to read him a story. He helps with breakfast, and buils a boat out of cardboard. He fixes himself a snack of apples and almond butter when he's hungry. He might choose to go outside to swing, woo a neighbor cat from under the shed, or ride his bike down the neighbor's driveway. He plays with the neighbor kids in the afternoons, or enjoys a board game with me if the weather is crummy. He has become “quite the hiker,” to use his own words, and is amazingly helpful with outside chores and gardening tasks. In the moments in between, he is either playing the piano (figuring out melodies in different keys is his jam) or on the couch with a book in his lap.

Last year at this time, I was struggling with homeschooling. I didn't feel like family life was joyful. I felt pressure to help my eldest learn to read. I felt pressure to come up with a family rhythm that worked for all of us. I felt pressure to find time to get in all the “educational stuff” every day, to make sure our days were nourishing, calm, and enriching. In my head, it went like this: first, math play with Daddy. Then, violin practice, followed by family music time. Next, we would move on to read-aloud and a planned art project, followed by reading and writing practice, outside play, and quiet time. Oh my. I met with resistance from one or another of my kids at every step of the way. Even though I was trying my best to maximize our moments of enrichment, it just started to feel like Time Spent. Precious Time - wasted because I was still holding onto the belief that, if I didn't expose my children to most subjects most days, I was an unsuccessful homeschooling parent. I was doing a disservice to my kids.

Thank goodness I got over that. Because my goal is not to have children who can recite math facts at incredible speed, or whose handwriting is beyond lovely and whose spelling is pristine at age seven. My goal, quite simply, is to live joyfully with my kids. I do not homeschool in order that they may get into an Ivy League university. I homeschool so that their minds can flourish in an environment of respect, so that they can practice listening themselves and empathizing with fellow humans, so that they can explore and have time to hone their own gifts and passions. I homeschool so we can enjoy living and learning together as a family. Which is why we shifted to radical unschooling.


I'm not writing this to convince you that unschooling is the “right” way to homeschool. There are so many different kinds of personalities, and a school-at-home method might be perfect for certain kids and families. I'm writing this for anyone who feels like I did at this time last year – that homeschooling is a slog. This is for the homeschooling parent who feels stressed out by the pressure of fitting in all of those different subjects, who might be meeting with resistance from highly self-motivated kids. That was me. Turns out, my kids can smell a “teachy mom” with an agenda from miles away. They don't want a teachy mom. They want me: a mom who listens, who empathizes, who marvels with them, who supports them, who demonstrates passion, kindness and work ethic through her way of living rather than her words and rules, and who gets out of the way when they are concentrating.

The day I accepted that my own passions and interests wax and wane, and that I learn best when given the time to focus on one thing at a time, really getting into the flow of concentration, the sky opened up and a chorus of angels started singing. Of course my kids were constantly annoyed that they didn't have enough time to work on what was important to them. (I get annoyed when told that I need to stop doing what I'm focusing on in order to work on something else, too!) Obviously, just because I don't write every day, that doesn't mean that I am not a writer. Just because I put aside my sewing design work for months at a time, that doesn't mean I won't come back to it later when the moment is right. Just because I lose interest in cooking fancy meals in order to make time for a burst of interest in painting doesn't mean I'll never cook again. The idea that learning must happen at a constant, plodding pace is just plain wrong. When I liberated myself from the idea that I had to be all things all the time, I passed along that grace to my children as well. (Notice that I don't commit to write a weekly blog post, or come out with a new sewing pattern every season. I'll do those things when I'm inspired to do them – that way, they fill me with energy rather than depleting me.) Just because my kids don't practice math daily doesn't mean they won't obsess over rubik's cube theory for two days straight. Just because they write a story one day doesn't mean that I need to worry if they put aside that work for a while after a burst of concentration and interest.

We cleared our morning schedule and allowed to allow the kids to get into interests and projects. And man, it feels SO right. We are all so happy. And learning, even the kind that can be measured by a test, has blossomed. No wonder – neurobiology has finally caught up with educational luminaries such as Jean Piaget and John Holt. It turns out that simply living joyfully, respectfully, and responsively with children provides the necessary environment for all sorts of learning to happen:


It is literally neurobiologically impossible to build memories, engage complex thoughts, or make meaningful decisions without emotion. And after all, this makes sense: the brain is highly metabolically expensive tissue, and evolution would not support wasting energy and oxygen thinking about things that don’t matter to us. Put succinctly, we only think about things we care about. - Mary-Helen Immordino-Yang


It was only when I stopped trying to teach Finn to read that he started to read on his own. When I stopped asking him to read aloud and stopped trying to institute a predetermined silent reading time, he took a mini reading vacation. He loved listening to read-alouds or audio books, but didn't pick up anything on his own. A few months into his vacation, I started displaying books that I thought might capture his interest. I put them, cover out, on the couch, which is where he first plops himself when he comes downstairs upon waking. He picked one up and read it cover-to-cover in one sitting. From that point forward, he has been reading for several hours a day, nearly every day, of his own accord. All I do is “strew” books he will love in his path, and he gets lost in them.

The same has been true of Lachlan, who learned his letters in the hospital while recovering from his third surgery. Other than that, he was spared my well-meaning attempts at formal reading instruction other than following along with my finger during read-alouds, answering his direct questions, and playing some sound games. I put out books that I think might tickle his funny bone, and he happily plops himself down with them and reads book after book after book. I'm sure he isn't able to read every word in the Amulet series, but he gets most of them, and, like his older brother, he views reading as a diversion rather than a chore. Sadie is following suit, and she spends a good hour a day “reading” out loud all of the picture books she can get her hands on. Our living room floor is always covered with books.

Would I feel the same ease with unschooling if my kids hadn't embraced reading so readily? Sometimes I wonder, but the fact remains that they only started doing this once we had been curriculum- and rhythm-free for a good while. I attribute much of their rampant reading, natural interest in mathematical theory, and focused problem-solving capabilities to my graduate degree in Montessori education. Because of all of my immersion in Montessori, I understood the importance of preparing the environment to assist the child in entering into depth of flow, or concentrated effort. (For more on this theory, check out this talk TED talk by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on Flow: The Secret of Happiness.)


I've written before about our toys (and where we keep them) in a previous post. The gist is this: our few, open-ended toys are kept upstairs in a small play room. We spend most of our time downstairs, where they have access to myriad books, all of our musical instruments, the kitchen, and our art/tinkering space. During our “lazy” mornings, we all enjoy these activities (with some homemaking tasks thrown in for me and the occasional child.) All of these activities are set up to be welcoming and accessible for each child. We have cozy bean bags for reading, age-appropriate art materials available within reach (tempera paints aren't accessible for the 3 year-old, but markers, scissors, paper, etc. are.) We have headphones available to a child who wants to play the (electronic) piano while another is reading, so as not to disturb the reader. All of the baking supplies, as well as their cookbooks, are available to the five and seven year-olds in case they feel thus inspired. The snack drawer is nearly always stocked with a panoply of healthy options; even the toddler can serve herself whenever she is hungry.  Any Montessori teacher would feel at home in our house - the only thing missing is the expensive and space-consuming Montessori materials. Our home is designed so the kids can act safely and independently at a place where their interests are perfectly matched with just the right amount of challenge. They almost always enter this state of creative "Flow" given enough unstructured time.


The one thing that we do differently from many radically unschooling families is screen time. Like most unschoolers, we don't restrict their time on screens and we don't waste our time or energy on arguing the value of video game vs. a good book. We just naturally don't have screen time. We don't own a television. (Since moving out of our respective homes at 18, Patrick and I have never owned a TV. It has never been our preferred way to relax.) We don't own a video game consul. Our kids don't have their own tablets or computers. Patrick is a computer programmer, and I have an online business and write on my computer, but it's clear to the kids that we don't look at screens if we aren't working. We'd rather be playing an instrument, drawing, hiking, or playing a board game. Screens just seem to suck away our precious time with each other, so we treat them as an occasional tool rather than an inevitable fixture. We are not Luddites; we use YouTube to learn a skill and watch documentaries together. We watch Spanish language kids' music videos. The boys really enjoy programming music in Sonic Pi with their dad. Finn spent a few weeks last spring putting together elaborate stop-motion videos, which required learning to use my camera and lighting equipment and gaining proficiency with the stop motion software. They watch the occasional cartoon at their grandparents' house. But they don't have their own screens and they don't do school work online.

Rather than making it a self-regulating screenapalooza or a stress-filled, parent-regulated, much-sought-after commodity, we just naturally don't have screens readily available in our house. It's a perfect fit for our family. I'm not arguing the merits or disadvantages to unrestricted screen time, but I wanted to add this screen-light option to the radically unschooled dialog. Perhaps knowing that a naturally screen-light home environment is an option will help some screen-wary families open to the possibility of unschooling. It's certainly been a positive shift for our family. Goodbye curricula, hello Flow, hello healthy connection between parents and children.

Finding Mental Space in the Morning When You Are a Co-Sleeping, Breastfeeding Mama

    Perusing the Internet, particularly in the wellness community, you will bump into oodles of declarations about the importance of getting enough sleep. You'll also find a wealth of articles shouting out the amazing benefits of getting up early, particularly for mothers: Set your alarm, they say, for well before your children wake. Enjoy the gentle music of the birds as you sip on your cup of tea. Center your thoughts and fortify your emotional response with 20 minutes of seated meditation. Then take time for your intellectual and creative pursuits – write, draw, sew, or get some much-needed work done. Once the children wake, you will be ready to greet them with the renewed energy and satisfaction of a mother whose own cup has been lovingly and luxuriously filled!

    Then, suddenly, the chorus of soaring violins gives way to the scratching of the record, punctuated by a yearning call, “Mamaaaaa!” from down the hall. It's 5:30 AM, and the hot water you put on for your tea hasn't even started boiling yet. The resentment builds as your internal record player cues U2's “Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For.” Self-care thwarted. Again.

     I remember happening upon a month-long program to encourage mothers commit to getting up early, helping them design a nourishing morning routine. I'm soooo in, I thought. This is what I need! Surely there will be tips in this program to find that much-coveted mental renewal! As I got to the bottom of the page describing the benefits of the program, and just as I was ready to type in my email address to sign up, I saw a disclaimer. **This program is not for mothers who are still breastfeeding. ** Oh. Duh. But please do tell, how am I supposed to survive and thrive as a mother if I have to put off self-care for the next, say, eight years?


    I have always had early-to-rise children; children who either start nursing in their sleep at 5:30 a.m., or who, after weaning, leap out of bed at 6 a.m. and sprint to wherever I may be (if I had managed to wiggle out of my nursing toddler's super-glued morning latch.) Despite my nearly eight-year reality of co-sleeping with nursing babies and early risers, I have managed to come up with a few ways to fulfill my morning requirement for mental space. And yes, this is a morning requirement. I just can't put off my self-care until after my kids go to bed. (Most nights I fall asleep when they do, if I'm being honest.) As a highly sensitive introvert, I am left with few emotional resources for the day if I don't fill my cup properly in the morning. If you're like me, and need some alone time to be your most refreshed, present mama-self, here are a few tips:

    If you're nursing a little one or co-sleeping with a child who has a built-in body heat detector that sets off an alarm as soon as you (oh so gingerly) disentangle yourself from child limbs and creep out of bed, embrace your spot in that bed. Who says you have to get out of bed to have some quality time with yourself? I sleep within arm's reach of my charged phone, already attached to a pair of ear buds, and as soon as I begin to stir, I reach for it. Here's the catch – if end up checking my email or looking at social media, I don't feel refreshed. I feel like I've wasted my time. I might even end up feeling like my life is a dull gray facsimile of the vibrant, trouble-free images I see there.

    So here's what I do – the night before, I make sure I've downloaded a guided meditation or inspirational podcast (I love Squam's Morning on the Dock. I also really enjoy The Homeschool Sisters or listening to anything from Julie, my homeschooling guru.

    My morning go-to is a lovingkindness meditation that I recorded for mothers, which I've made available in my side bar. I think of it like breakfast in bed. Sure, breakfast at a table is swell, but it feels downright luxurious in bed. Same goes with meditation or alone time. Who says you have to sit with your spine perfectly aligned to experience the calming benefits of a meditation  practice? Don't let the perfect get in the way of the good. I'm going to meditate while lying down as long as I can!


Make a small play space near where you would like to have your self-care time. I work out in my bedroom (which is minimally decorated and tends to stay cleaner than the rest of the house.) We have a small house, but our bedroom had an uncharacteristically large walk-in closet (um, I've owned the same two pairs of boots for the past 15 years …). I didn't need a walk-in closet. But I did need an area where my little ones could play while I worked out in my bedroom upstairs! So I took out the IKEA shelving, attached it to a free wall in my bedroom, and set up a small play area near the dormer window. 31626922206_c3d03d3d54_z
This is where we keep all of the kids' toys. Downstairs, where we spend most of our time during the day, they have access to books, musical instruments, and all the art/tinkering supplies their little hearts could desire. So this time spent upstairs keeps their toys “fresh.” 31547900041_ff3eca7478_z


 They don't have many toys, and our house doesn't have any storage space for toy rotation, but here's what keeps my 2, 5, and 7 year-olds happily engaged in play: Magnatiles (Best. Purchase. Ever.), a handy swoop bag filled with Lego, dolls and dollhouse, little figures, trains, cars, blocks and a marble run. **


  • Use the morning activity trick, if you don't have the space for a small play area. If I feel on top of my game the night before (never a guarantee!) I will set up a parent-free activity on the art table. This is what they call a “provocation” in the Reggio Emilia educational philosophy. Think loose parts, open-ended art invitations, and natural materials. I compiled a bunch of ideas on my Pinterest board. Some of these kinds of activities have kept my kids busy for a loooong time. Others fall short. But it's worth a try, knowing that you might be gifted a few un-needed morning moments in which to gather your thoughts. Alternatively, you could keep most of the toys in a closet and just bring out one or two at a time, again, to keep it interesting and fresh.

  • Lean on your partner. I'm pretty lucky in this respect. Patrick starts work at 9 AM and has a zero minute commute. I know. Decadent. I cringe when I hear about significant others who have to leave for work before the kids even get up. I just … gosh. Let me give you a hug. (( )) OK. For those of you who are lucky like me, PLEASE, don't assume you need to be available whenever the kids are awake. Even though things may be a smidge chaotic with Mama out of commission, don't let the quest for the perfect morning experience for your kids get in the way of a better morning routine for Mama. At least in my house, if I'm not on top of my game, things fall apart pretty much instantly. So let them falter. Your partner needs alone time with the kids, too. I tell myself that I can't meddle in their relationship. It's theirs to grow.

     For a good long time now, I have been saying good morning to my little loves, chatting with them while doing the laundry for about ten minutes or until Daddy wakes, then changing into my workout clothes and doing a workout video (I love Barre3). It only takes me 30-40 minutes, and sometimes I end up breastfeeding a toddler while doing core work or having three short-lived workout buddies, but most of the time they either play quietly in their upstairs play space or forget I'm upstairs and go about their morning with Daddy. When I fit in a workout first thing, I'm doing three things:

•    I'm modeling healthy living and self-love to my children.

•    I'm getting some healthy momentum going first thing – not surprisingly, when I work out, I'm much more likely to drink a big glass of water and fix myself a nutritious smoothie for breakfast than eat something heavy like pancakes or french toast. I feel better about my choices and choices I make give me more energy. Win-win.

•    I'm releasing stress and increasing oxygenation which will leave my body energized and my mind clear. I'm much more emotionally and physically equipped to handles the everyday rigors of parenting.

Do you have any other tips for carving out mental space for yourself in the morning? Please leave a comment so others can find strategies that work best for their families!

**This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for supporting my writing and our family! Also, the photos are from a lovely family photo session with my friend Jessi!


they hammer in the morning...

... in the evening ... all over our land. Oh, it's darn cute around here, friends, let me tell you! Both Finn and Lachlan are ever-so-enthusiastic with our chicken coop building project. 



building the chicken coop

building the chicken coop

building the chicken coop

building the chicken coop

building the chicken coop

Our pint-sized tools, work gloves, safety glasses and tool belt are from For Small Hands. Everything is the right size for Finn, (who hit the three-and-a-half marker on Saturday) and Lachlan enjoys using the safety glasses and hammer, too.

The bones of the coop are set - now for the roof (and everything else.) So far, so good - we're using the Garden Coop plans, and they're easy to follow for us woodworking novices. 

I'm not sure if you read the comments on Friday's post announcing the arrival of the chicks, but I have to share a conversation my mom had with Finn while they were driving home:

Mima: How are the new chicks, Finn?

Finn: Good! We can hold them if we sit on the floor and put our hands like this (two little hands cupped together).

(Pregnant pause.)

But we cannot throw them...(another pause)...Laquinn (Lachlan) doesn't know this.

Goodness! Must teach Lachlan not to throw the chicks, I suppose! The chicks are still alive and thriving, despite Finn's lack of high esteem for his brother's behavior. :)

kids in the kitchen



There's a new parenting/cookbook (my favorite combo!) on the block, and this is a must-have. Sara of Feeding the Soil and Kylie from How We Montessori have joined together to offer a primer on inviting young children into the kitchen. Kids in the Kitchen will provide you with all of the ideas and tools you'll need to make endless food prep into a memory-making, skill-building, family experience. 

Tell us a little about yourselves and why it is you're passionate about Montessori education. 
From Sara:

Whenever I read the news about another mass shooting or more death in Syria or corporate greed or climate change, I feel an overwhelming need to turn my attention and focus toward hope. For me, that hope is our children. Maria Montessori said, "If help and salvation are to come, they can only come from the children, for the children are the makers of men [and women]."

The Montessori approach to education and parenting helps children become confident, loving, compassionate, and responsible for the well-being of themselves, others, and the world around them. It is a truly transformational approach that has the potential to change the world. 

I first experienced Montessori as a child and later as a teacher and parent. I am currently working to create more public Montessori schools in diverse communities nationwide as the founder and executive director of Montessori For All

Kylie found Montessori when she was searching for a parenting philosophy that resonated with her and her family's needs. She was immediately attracted to Montessori's emphasis on "fostering independence, following the child, order and consistency." She currently spends much of her time writing and communicating with parents around the world via her blog, How We Montessori.

We came together to create the cookbook we couldn't find in bookstores. It explains all the benefits of cooking with children (as young as 18 months), details step-by-step directions for setting up the kitchen in a kid-friendly way, includes a sequence of skills to prepare children for cooking, and features ten simple recipes that are illustrated with photographs so even pre-readers can follow along with confidence and independence. 

The simple act of allowing children to cook helps them develop a core of confidence that is so instrumental to their formation of self. 


The cookbook is a very accessible, visually appealing primer on getting your young child into the kitchen. Could you share with us your own family kitchen routines? What does a typical day in your kitchen look like - busy? Peaceful? Chaotic? Fun? How does involving your children change the way you cook and the way you think about cooking? 

From Kylie: 
A typical day in our kitchen is all of those things--busy, peaceful, chaotic, and fun. Having children definitely changed the way I cook. More importantly, being a parent changed my entire life. I've learned to focus on the process not the outcome, to accept that things will not go as planned and to really live in the moment. I've learned that the key to living an active and engaged life with children is to look past the barriers and find ways to say yes. When things get a little crazy or out of control, I think about the wonderful memories we are making. Usually the the bigger the mess the louder the giggles.

My fifteen-month old has begun to pour his own milk at breakfast, he will help with snack and dehusk corn or shell peas at dinner. Most of all he likes to be by my side so he spends a lot of time in the kitchen exploring or sampling the food. My four year old loves baking and he loves experimenting. His favourite thing at the moment is making up his own flavor combinations and writing his own recipes.

No matter your child's age or personality, it is important to empower them. Give them the equipment and skills so they can work independently. Involve them in decision making as much as possible. Often they amaze us with what they are capable of.


Because we all have different children, how do you bring out the best of their own personalities while working in the kitchen? One of us might have a vibrant firecracker of a child who joyfully generates the most fabulous messes, while another may have a detail-oriented, innately ordered child who is passionate about carrying out the ideas that she has in her head. 

From Kylie:
Not only are all children different but I've also found that children have different energy through the day. My best advice is to focus on the child and get to know your child in the kitchen. A little preparation can help. For a child who likes to work fast, have everything ready to go, ingredients out and measured. Other children might enjoy the process of collecting all the ingredients and measuring. It helps to have basic ingredients in the pantry and the basic tools for cleaning up ready. Flexibility is also important. Cakes can be turned into muffins, water can make up for too much flour, dinner can be late. It all works out!

Tell us about your non-profit organization, Montessori for All. All profits from cookbook sales go directly to benefit this great organization.

In the United States, there are more than 4,000 private Montessori schools and only about 400 public ones. Montessori For All seeks to change that. We believe that all children deserve access to an educational experience that develops their minds, hearts, and bodies. We believe that children's educational options should not be limited by their families' incomes. We seek to open and lead high-performing, authentic, dual-language, public Montessori schools in diverse communities across the nation. We are currently working to open our flagship school in Austin, TX, in the fall of 2014. 


Thank you, Sara and Kylie, for putting so much of yourselves into Kids in the Kitchen: Simple Recipes That Build Independence and Confidence the Montessori Way . I know it will be a fabulous, go-to book for families with young children!

starting on the homeschooling journey

homeschooling and games

homeschooling and games

That, my friends, is Finn's first legible letter. With all the hoopla and busyness that occurs every day at our writing center, his interest in all things letters and words has blossomed into a passion. It's time.

Time for me to start doing a little bit of planning, time for me to organize all of the learning materials that I collected while teaching 3-6 year old in that one-room Montessori schoolhouse in Mexico, time for a little daily activity - playful-yet-planned - to guide him down the path to literacy.

A year or so ago, I wasn't so sure that I would take proactive steps to help him to read. I very much believe that learning must come from a place of joy, curiosity, and intrinsic motivation. At two-and-a-half, Finn showed no interest in letter games and such. I was fine with following his lead, even exploring a more Waldorf-ian, later reading pace with him. I still think that is a wonderful approach for many children.

But my boy is intense and passionate about most everything. He's into it, and I will follow his lead. The more I think about it, the more I know that using games and fun activities to teach phonics and sight words is the right approach for him. The more "unconscious" he can be about learning to read, in the same way that a young child absorbs his mother tongue without effort, the less frustration he'll have down the road.

Although I have my graduate degree in Montessori education, a whole slew of handwritten curricula "albums," as well as experience teaching in a classroom, teaching my own child is a different ballgame. I've found that most of the Montessori materials are far out of my budget range, plus I'm running a business so I don't have time to make all of the traditional Montessori materials by hand (although I do have a good number that I made back when I was teaching (and before I had my own babies!) Plus, learning at home (at least in my home) is much less formal than it would be in a classroom setting. 

I felt a little lost with where and how to begin. And I'm trained in this stuff! It was all just a bit overwhelming. Until, one fortuitous day, John of Montessori At Home contacted me about using one of my photos in the next edition of his e-book. Why yes, of course, and oh my - what is this book?! He sent me a copy and I breathed a sigh of relief. Here it is. For all of you wondering how the heck to implement Montessori in the home, either in a homeschool or as a supplement to classroom learning, this is a real jewel. It's packed with sequential learning activities, it's organized, and it's not overwhelming. John, a former teacher and administrator himself, tells it to you straight. The activities are home-centered, the materials are easy to find, and he lets you know what you don't need to buy, as well as what materias are truly useful in a home setting.

Unlike How To Raise An Amazing Child the Montessori Way, which is a great introduction to Montessori for parents of young children, Montessori At Home is an organized curriculum for the 2-6 year-old.

Speaking of other Montessori parenting books, did you notice that two of my boys are on the cover of Learning Together: What Montessori Can Offer Your Family? As far as I can tell, it's only available in the UK, and I don't yet have my hands on a copy. A few more of my photos are used inside the book as well. How fun! Check out this review at How We Montessori.


Photo by How We Montessori




a few of our favorite toys (& a giveaway!)


We're outside a lot. Outside or in the kitchen. There are quiet, inside moments spattered throughout our days, though. I've been collecting a handful of fun games and activities to have on hand during such moments - educational toys, mostly, and a few fun board games (more on our favorite board games for three year olds in another post!)

Finn will spend a lot of time hammering shapes, making cars, trains, trees, etc. out of said shapes with this Haba Hammering set that I had in a closet for a while, just waiting for him to get old enough to try it out. It's certainly his favorite quite time activity (other than writing letters!) The recommended age is 4+ years, but, as you can see, this barely three year-old loves it, and it provides a fine motor challenge that's perfect for him.


It comes with examples of designs you can make with the shapes, but he prefers to go his own way. I think that spacial challenge would be a little much for him at this point in his development. 


I was pretty thrilled when For Small Hands (the Montessori-in-the-home division of classroom-focused Montessori Services) contacted me about reviewing a few of their products from time to time. They are one of my go-to educational kid stuff sources. They sent me Pattern Play, seen below, and Finn gave it a whirl.

pattern play

I was totally into this. It really is my kind of game - I always loved the visual/spacial stuff as a kid (no wonder I ended up designing sewing patterns!) and Finn enjoyed it, too. 

pattern play

Pattern Play (item #Y202) comes with a bunch of wooden blocks in various cuts, as well as a square tray. The most compelling part about it is the 20-something design cards that accompany the material. They are numbered by difficulty, so you can put out one or two cards during a play session for inspiration.

pattern play

Finn tried to work with the first image for a while, but was pulled away by the possibilities of making three dimensional structures with the blocks. He had a lot of fun.

pattern play

He's asked to play with this several times since, and it's been a great open-ended material for him. Sometimes he works with a card, sometimes not. The cards are still a little difficult for him right now (the box states that it's for ages 3-6) but I'm curious how that will evolve this year as his ability in this area is rapidly changing. All of a sudden, he's painting shapes, writing scribbles that look more and more like actual writing, etc. It's fun to watch! Also, I think the possibilities for this material extend far beyond age 6. As I said before, this 31 year-old loved playing with it! I've been meaning to do this activity with him to give him some extra "play" with spacial critical thinking. 

For Small Hands is giving away Pattern Play to one of YOU! Leave a comment to enter - I'll draw a winner on Monday, May 21st. Good luck!

Comments are closed. Congratulations to Catherine who said: Looks very fun. My five year olds would love this challenge. Thanks!

writing letters

writing letters

Like the art closet, I've had this writing workshop in the planning stages for many, many months. Originally inspired by my Playful Learning E-course and Mariah's wonderful book by the same name, it was the call of the child that propelled me into action. When Finn started "writing letters" to everyone and everything, I knew I couldn't put off the writing workshop any longer.

writing letters

Finn is almost three (the big birthday is less than two weeks away!) and he is a fellow who (mostly) takes good care of his art supplies and writing tools. But his brother? Notsomuch. So first thing's first - Finn needed a space that wasn't accessible to little hands. A child-sized table would have been ideal, but this works best for shared spaces.

writing letters

You can see here that we have five envelopes, one for each family member plus one for "outgoing mail," where we can deliver inner-family notes and deposit letters that need to go outside to the mailbox.  

writing letters

writing letters

writing letters

This is a small binder that I found in the Martha Stewart collection at Staples. It's a perfect size for holding pre-printed address lables and stamps.

writing letters

The sheet protectors have four compartments with flaps over the tops, and they fit an accordion-folded set of address lables rather well. 

writing letters

And here's the space in action!

writing letters

Practicing the proper pencil grasp ...

writing letters

picking out Auntie Liz's address label ...

writing letters

putting the stamp on the envelope ...

writing letters

licking the envelope ...

writing letters

using his return address stamp ...

writing letters

and putting it in the outgoing mail envelope!

If you add some scissors to the writing table, he'll stay there all day, filling envelopes with tiny pieces of cut paper. 

All in all, one of the most-loved spaces I've created for my boy. I hope he continues to use it often, bringing his own ideas to the table while thinking about and creating for those he loves.

Montessori bloopers

Is this as funny to you as it is to me? From my dopey response to his question to the fact that he isn't washing any dishes and doesn't remember what he's doing to Lachlan banging who-knows-what on the coffee table in the background, this is a far-cry from my playdough putting-away prodigy. ;) Ah, it's still fun to wash dishes, though. You have to embrace the imperfection if it all! 

We're happy to be home and doing simple things like cooking and trying to clean up after ourselves. It sure beats eating out all the time like we had to do on our trip, which felt like this, meal after meal. Hooray for home! 


baby doll's bath

baby doll's bath

Baby Doll got a bath yesterday, a warm bath with plenty of bubbles

I think Finn would bathe baby doll every day if given the option. Alas, his bathing fervor does not necessarily extend to his OWN body. Unless, of course, you count mud baths. :)

Given both boys' proclivity for dirt play, baby doll is often handled by little, messy hands. (What does this say for my house? Thank goodness I have an old, brown couch.) Baby Doll, although Finn's Mini Me, gets plenty of love from Lachlan, too. Lots of wide-open-mouthed kisses. Oh, Baby Doll. You're a forgiving little fellow.

The birthday preparations have begun for our little almost-one-year-old love. Finn's on board, Mama has Lachlan's very own Baby Doll doppelganger in the works, and we're perusing healthy "cake" recipes to make for this important milestone. Finn had a very mellow first birthday celebration - we had no party, just a few days at the seashore. But when you give birth to a baby not knowing whether he will live to see his first birthday, you celebrate when he does. There's plenty to celebrate this February 27th. Plenty indeed.


waxing the play kitchen

Sometimes, in my bag of parenting tricks that I've gathered from here and there, I tend to forget things. It's a big bag of a lot of randomness, with some Montessori thrown in, a dose of Waldorf for good measure, and a good amount of attachment parenting. And yes, some may find the bits of granola dispersed through this parenting bag a bit messy ... even funny. But it works, and that's how we learn to be parents - by throwing past experiences and good ideas into that bag, hoping that we can a.) find the bag when we need to pull something out, and b.) rifle through it to find that particular idea among a sea of others.

waxing the play kitchen

Lately I've been thinking to myself that I need to clean out this disorganized mess. I'll be the first to admit that I'm addicted to parenting books. I need to break that. There's just too much information coming in. 

waxing the play kitchen

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that I'm rediscovering the value of Montessori's Practical Life exercises in my home, after nearly forgetting about them. I gave up the idea of being a Saint-in-Residence a while back, ;) a character trait that some believe Montessori and Waldorf parenting necessitates. Yet, even though I got rid of those unrealistic ideas from my parenting bag, that didn't mean that I threw out some simple tools - dare I say the backbone (at least a supporting leg?) - of the philosophies themselves. 

waxing the play kitchen

I've written about Montessori Practical Life before while I was teaching, and here's something I happened upon recently from a Waldorf perspective.

And you know what? Even if neither of these two philosophies truly resonate with you, the idea of giving young children meaningful work to do in the home is an amazing parenting tool. It calms nerves. It centers children. It gives them confidence. It develops their capacity to concentrate. Out of it will come content for creative play. It allows you, the parent, to get a few things done while they work. Setting up activities for your child makes you feel like a capable parent (when I often feel like I'm floundering in the murky waters of sibling messes.) I love me some Practical Life.

waxing the play kitchen

I thought I'd share with you some of what we're doing around here in terms of meaninful "work" for Finn.

Today, I had some pictures of this recent beeswax-fest on my camera. You will need some polishing cloths (I made mine from Little Folks flannel), a very small spoon for applying the wax to the cloth, and some yummy beeswax/jojoba oil blend from my go-to practical life resource, Montessori Services.

waxing the play kitchen

Wax anything that's unfinished wood - from the play kitchen to toys to tables. It helps to have a smaller container of beeswax so there's a limited amount and it is used more judiciously. You see the whole jar here because I forgot my own advice. Next time, next time. Now our kitchen is super-waxed! 

Best of all? Thirty minutes of contented work. For all of us.

Oh! P.S. The apron pattern (including the template for all of the embroidery work) can be found here!