montessori

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. 

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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

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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. 

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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.

Caspar

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.

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Photo by How We Montessori

 

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

hammering

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.

hammering

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. 

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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! 


sudsy

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.


simple

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!


brothers

the corn pit

the corn pit

the corn pit

the corn pit

the corn pit

the corn pit

Photos in the Corn Pit at Ganyard Hill Farm

In case you thought it was all hunky dory in siblinghood in our house, let me assure you that we have the full range of human emotion going on here. 

"So many wonderful teaching moments and so much opportunity to practice my patience and compassion!" I say to myself on days that I've had my full quota of sleep and on days that everything else is going smoothly.  There are many days that are so wonderful, with only the occasional trip-up, that I forget about the other days.

Then there are those other days. The "I think none of us are going to survive this and I'm clearly ruining my children for life" days. I'm sure you've had them, too. Yesterday was one of those days.

Thankfully, a new day has dawned, as has my resolution to make forging loving relationships a priority in our home. Yes, I have a willful two year-old. This too shall pass? But it's more my attitude that needs to change. I think I need to apply some of my hard-learned lessons about feeding to sibling interactions as well. I need to see it as an opportunity to model and guide loving behavior rather than a problem to be fixed. Because, truly, are interpersonal interactions ever perfect? No- it's a life-long dance that we must learn, changing moves, rhythms, and partners. An evolving, moving art form. Some people are gifted, sure - but most of us learn through lessons, mistakes, and lots of practice. 

A few books are on my side table now as re-commit myself to loving discipline:

Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline is an old favorite of mine from my time as a Montessori teacher. It's time to bring it out again now that Finn is older and Lachlan is becoming much more of a participant in his life, wanting to touch everything, put everyting in his mouth ... which is disconcerting to Finn.

Healing Stories for Challenging Behaviour is a new-to-me book about intuitive storytelling - a parenting practice that is both effective and creatively engaging. It's full of stories that address a full spectrum of common behaviors (difficulty sharing, hitting, whining, dishonesty, etc.). The wonderful thing about this book is that it also guides the parent in the art of weaving a unique story to address a specific child and his/her needs. Finn has always responded very positively to our made-up stories (for bedtime and car-rides) so I'm really looking forward to reading it in more depth. 


sponsor giveaway :: bella's casa

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Bella's Casa is a learning community for parents, as well as an Etsy store selling hand made Montessori materials for infants and young children. Jae Jun, the creative force behind Bella's Casa, is a Montessori teacher and a monther. She created Bella's Casa as a resource for all parents who want to create (or enhance) learning spaces and activities that will grow a child's mind and instill confidence. She offers mobile-making classes in the Atlanta area, as well as offering an e-course for parents on creating a Montessori environment in the home for babies and very young children.

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Meg: What is your background as an educator, and how did you come to love the Montessori philosophy?

I have my Montessori training for ages 3-6 (AMI certificate), and I have taught this age group for over a decade in Atlanta, Georgia, and New York City.  In my classroom experience, I experienced first hand the privilege of supporting the children’s education as an “aid to life” as I partnered with hundreds of families to best support the unique needs of their child.
 
I am passionate about all aspects of Montessori.  I am especially inspired by how Montessori encourages responsibility, nurtures self-discovery, promotes independence, inspires a love of learning – all with a foundation of respect.  Above all, I honor Montessori’s vision of creating “a peaceful world through the children.”
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Meg: Bella's Casa is such an inviting space - how did you start it and what plans do you have for the future?

As a teacher, I worked closely with parents.  The longer I taught, the more I saw the importance of the parents’ role in their child’s education.  I came to see that the parents had a dynamic effect on their child’s experience in the classroom – and that connecting and partnering with the parents was equally important as educating the children in the classroom!
 
In my work as a teacher, part of my role included consulting with and educating parents. Just over a year ago, I decided to leave the classroom to focus on raising my daughter, Chelyn.  As a parent myself, I fully realized – now more than ever – the role the parent plays as their child’s teacher.  I have observed (and experienced firsthand) the struggles and concerns that parents encounter.  My training and experience gives me a unique and helpful perspective as I support and partner with parents to best support their child. 
  
My ultimate goal in the future is to provide phenomenal support to parents  with information, resources, inspiration, and material-making gatherings.
 
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Meg: What is your favorite learning material to make?

It has to be the visual mobile series. I remember seeing my daugher's facial expressions, having an absolute blast watching them. It's a must for all babies! 
 
Meg: If you could recommend three books on early childhood education to parents, what would they be?
 
3. Joyful Child/Child of the World- These are beautiful catalogs/books available from Michael Olaf. I used these catalogs as a valuable resource when consulting parents. My parents love them!!!
Leave a comment to be entered to win! Winners will be drawn on Monday, September 19th. Also, Bella's Casa is offering free shipping on all orders! Coupon code: AUG 2011. Thank you, and good luck!
Comments closed! Congratulations to Jessica.