Archive | May, 2012

Looking for “Montessori” toys?

26 May

 

First, let me be clear: Montessori materials (the materials that Dr. Montessori so carefully developed) are never considered toys. Actually, they are considered children’s work.

However, there are some toys out there that seem to align with Montessori philosophy and could be thought of as Montessori-inspired or Montessori-like toys.

I went to a warehouse sale the other day and was on the hunt for some deals on toys that I could use for future Montessori activities. I found this gorgeous Plan Toy that will be perfect for a colour sorting activity and a great example of a Montessori-inspired toy that can be used as a Montessori activity!

A friend gave Freestyle a Plan Toy when she was just born and recommended the line (come to think of it, she’s also a Montessori teacher!). They are eco-friendly and seem to be an ethical company, but the price tag reflects this (fair enough!). So I was so excited to see a table full of the toys at the warehouse sale!

 

This particular toy has a lot of the characteristics of a Montessori activity:

  • Made of a natural material— wood (from an eco-friendly and sustainable resource)
  • Bright and beautiful colours and appearance— attractive to children (and their parents!)
  • High-quality production— Montessori materials should be made for longevity so that the children have experience cleaning and taking care of them so that they do last for the next child.
  • Built-in Control of Error— The bees should match the hive colour when the activity is complete.
  • Made ethically, in an environmentally-friendly manner— bonus!
  • There is only one isolated quality— Montessori materials isolate a single quality to introduce new concepts. This way, the child is able to recognize the difference between the objects. Here, the bees and beehives are the same shape and size and they have the same appearance save for the colour. The child is then able to focus on the colours since everything else is the same!

So those are a few things to keep in mind when you are looking for Montessori-inspired toys and activities for your child. Don’t forget to only introduce the activity when you believe that your child is prepared (mentally and physically) for it. This is to ensure that they are Set Up for Success* an important aspect of Montessori philosophy.

 

Colour sorting activities such as this one are easy to DIY!

  • Save/buy your own small containers (yogurt cups, baby food jars, paper cups, etc.)
  • Paint/cover the containers with coloured construction paper.
  • Collect/buy small objects that will fit into the containers in matching colours (marbles, buttons, beads, etc.)
  • Tongs are optional. You can also use a spoon to spoon the items from a clear glass container to the coloured containers. Younger children can even use their fingers and practice their pincer grip!

*Montessori teachers (and parents!) make sure to Set Up Their Children For Success. This means that before any lesson is introduced, the teacher has considered the child’s abilities and experience and believes that he or she is ready for the new lesson. Using the above activity as an example, I wouldn’t introduce it to Freestyle until she develops the fine motor skills to use the tongs.

The lesson is thoroughly thought-out and planned, which means that all materials and resources are prepared and ready to be used and that the teacher herself is familiar with the step-by-step instructions and the desired outcome. If I introduced this activity and didn’t have the tongs on hand, it would take away from the momentum as I leave to go look for them, wouldn’t it? Also, it would not help in teaching Freestyle to be prepared!

Any setbacks are anticipated and the teacher is ready to assist or even stop the lesson and re-introduce it when the child is better ready.

I always had to consciously keep this in mind while in the classroom, and I have to admit that sometimes during especially busy times of the year I forgot to consider it and it did not lead to a great lesson! This way of thinking can also apply to many aspects of parenting, huh?

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And now for a very timely lesson…

25 May

Ahem.

Today we hit a record-breaking temperature of 30 degrees celsius! So of course I thought it would be a perfect day to post about how to teach your toddler to put on her own jacket. Ha ha…

In my own defense, I actually taught this to Freestyle a few weeks ago when the weather was still up and down and some days she did need a jacket. 🙂

 

How to Put On A Jacket! 

Age: 18 months + (an estimate only, use your own judgement because all children develop differently!)

Purpose: This is a Practical Life exercise– Care of Self. This helps build their independence and take pride in their appearance (and their ability to dress themselves!).

Materials: A jacket.

 

What to do:

I started by using my own jacket and showing Freestyle how to do it. Then I placed her jacket beside mine and we did it together!

1. Lay your child’s jacket flat on the floor in front of her, upside-down.

2. Show her how to put her hands into the sleeves and then lift the jacket up and over her head.

3. Help her finish stretch out her arms through the sleeves.

 

Go further:

 

  • I taught this separately to Freestyle when she was younger, when I still helped her with her jacket. I would insert the zipper for her and then hold the edge of the coat down (like in the photo) and tell her to pull the zipper up.
25 May

“It takes so little to make a child happy, that it is a pity in a world full of sunshine and pleasant things, that there should be any wistful faces, empty hands, or lonely little hearts.”

– Louisa May Alcott, Little Men 

More affordable Montessori materials

16 May

A basket to store materials on a shelf, two small pitchers for pouring exercises (originally creamers– they had a LOT of them), and two dishes with round indents which I’ll use for transferring activities and even colour mixing. I’m not even sure what they’re used for…holding boiled eggs?!

 

I’ve been trying to accumulate things to use for Montessori activities on the cheap, but without buying from the dollar store. I made a list of places that I will try, but left out an important one:

Thrift stores!

I love me some thrift store! Sometimes The Salvation Army stores will send a flyer advertising a 50% off sale. I’ve gotten some great stuff there. In the photo above, all the items were $0.99, except for the basket which was $2.

 

Freestyle saw me taking a photo and picked up one of the pitchers, held it up to the camera and said, “Cheese!” So cute.

 

Another great place to look is garage sales for potential materials and toys. I’ve found these two wooden toys at a garage sale for $0.25 each! They were both in pretty good condition as well.

 

I think the truck may have been made in a D&T class, haha!

Something from nothing…

15 May

…well, just a bit of flour and oil!

All you need is olive oil, flour, and water! That’s it!

Playdough is such a fun activity for toddlers! It’s a great sensory activity (you can even add glitter or sand to add a different texture to experience). It really is something that will just take a few minutes to make and will provide hours of fun!

I kept forgetting to make some for Freestyle but finally got around to it last week. I wasn’t worried about her eating it because she’s passed that stage (though she did try some mud the other day!), but ended up using a no-salt “edible” recipe because well, I didn’t have any salt left in the house.

I found this no salt playdough recipe from Naturalparentingtips.com.

Freestyle enjoyed helping to make the playdough!

The website said that the olive oil would be nice on your hands as you played, which was true!

Didn’t have any food colouring either, but you can add that too. Just use gloves!

Et voila!

We’re keeping it in an airtight container in the fridge and so far it’s lasted for a week. Today I noticed that the oil was separating a bit at the bottom, but I just kneaded for a minute before giving it to Freestyle and it was fine. It was actually more moist than the day I made it!

A Montessori House…sort of!

8 May

Freestyle-sized table and chair! We always have art supplies on her table so she can use them whenever she likes. The basket usually contains paper, stickers, and crayons. Sometimes she eats her snack at this table.

 

(Fair warning: This is a pretty long post!)

Montessori education focuses on preparing the child for life. One area that I always found very interesting is the one Dr. Montessori termed “Practical Life.” It’s exactly as it sounds: learning how to adapt to everyday life. This includes Care of Self (personal grooming, dress, and care) and Care of the Environment (cleaning and looking after their surroundings). Basic stuff that all children need to learn!

A beautiful, typical Montessori Casa (3-6 years) classroom at Peaceful Pathways Montessori Academy.

Photo Credit

 

To foster their independence, it is important that a Montessori classroom (or, in this case, the home) accomodates the child’s size and development. In a Montessori classroom, you will notice that everything is child-sized: low shelves, small tables and chairs, low sinks, child-sized toilets, etc. There will not even be a teacher’s desk as in traditional classrooms. The Montessori classroom is truly the “Children’s House.” It is their place of work and learning and they help to take care of the environment by cleaning up, learning how to appropriately handle materials, taking care of the plants, etc.

Another lovely classroom at Primary Montessori Day School.

Photo Credit

 

In the house, it doesn’t always seem as easy to make all these accomodations. I don’t think I’ve gone out of my way to make major changes to our house, but we have made adjustments so that Freestyle can get around and be more independent of us.

 

My attempts to make my house a Montessori environment:

1. Bathroom

Stool (sink): Freestyle can get up and down to wash her hands and brush her teeth.

Freestyle’s toiletries stored in that little wooden box on the sink…along with a few of Biker’s things. Most of the time, I like having her things with ours (as opposed to a special spot just for her) because she is one of us! She also has a small brush to brush her hair.

Stool (toilet): Freestyle uses it to help her get up onto the toilet, and recently she has begun to climb up and onto the toilet herself! I found her one day just sitting there doing her business! Good thing we practiced pulling up and down underwear and pants!

Child’s potty seat: Obvious reason- so she doesn’t fall in! This was a big fear when I had to hold her over a disgustingly full porta-potty in a park one day! Shudder.

Towel hung low: So she can wipe her hands with ease after washing them.

Also in the bathroom: her small tub (we are switching to the shower soon!), cloth wipes folded and stored in that green container on the toilet & a bucket behind the toilet for soiled cloth diapers (she is still wearing diapers overnight and during nap time).

 

2. Kitchen

Booster seat: Freestyle’s never had a high chair. She has always sat at the table in her booster seat (seen in the background) so that she is part of the action!When she first started eating, we would use the tray that came with it so she could spread her food on it. Later, when she was a little neater, we would just leave the tray off and she would eat from the table with us.  Right from the get-go Freestyle attempted to use her spoon so we just let her. It was pretty messy but I do think it helped her learn to feed herself using utensils quicker. We also gave her a glass for her to drink from and she will use glass/ceramic plates and bowls. Yes, there have been a few broken glasses, but soon enough Free was able to control her movement and today drinks very well out of a glass!

Cleaning supplies: These are kept where she can reach them. There is a cloth that she uses to wipe up spills and other messes. This is not ideal, but I end up wetting the cloth for her because we don’t have a stool tall enough for the kitchen sink. I’ll probably look for one soon. In the meantime, I’m going to add a spray bottle and teach her to use it (meaning to spray sparingly!). There is also a little broom and dustpan which she is still learning to use (before she liked to use the bigger one that I use- of course!- and is still welcome to because it’s also reachable). Freestyle will see me sweeping and then grab her little broom and follow me around saying, “Dirty, dirty.” Ahh, like father, like daughter! 🙂

Freestyle’s own cupboard: Free used to go through all the cupboards and take everything out, which was fine because I moved the sharp or potentially harmful objects higher than her reach. Now she’s pretty good at not going through everything (or if she takes out the marinade brush from a drawer to play with, I’m okay with that).

Okay, I’ll admit– it’s usually not this neat! 🙂

This is her own cupboard. On the top shelf is usually her tupperware, cups, and cutting board. We don’t really use those plastic cups anymore (we used to use them for going out but now she has a stainless steel water bottle), but sometimes she will use them when she wants to have a drink while playing. I will eventually teach her to pour water from a pitcher and then keep the pitcher and a glass in a spot where she can pour herself a drink whenever she wants.  I don’t think she is ready just yet but maybe when she is closer to 2. I’ll also eventually place one table setting in the cupboard so Freestyle can set her own place setting with a real glass, ceramic bowl/plate, and her stainless steel utensils.

I will usually keep some of her snacks on the 2nd shelf and she just helps herself. For example, today she was having a squeezable pouch of fruit/veg puree (it’s for babies, but I love them because they’re a portable, instant smoothie! Plus it’s organic and you can put the cap back on for later.) and wanted “more!” I told her to go to her cupboard and get another one (we were upstairs), and she did!

If it’s something loose like crackers, I’ll portion it out into a container (it’s on the 2nd shelf to the left) because if I left the entire box there, she’d probably just eat them all!

The bottom shelf is really just random stuff. The black bag is her lunch bag for when we go out or when she goes to the babysitter. You can also see the red stainless steel water bottle she uses when we go out.

 

3. Living Area

Child-sized table and chair (pictured above): Freestyle can easily sit herself down there to play, have a snack, or make a picture.

Art supplies and toys readily available and in reach: As mentioned, we keep some art supplies on the little table. I haven’t made art supplies like paint readily available to her right now, so I will bring it out when we want to make a painting, like this one she did for her grandpa.

Her toys are also kept in the living room, tucked into a corner (well, it starts off there anyway!). I’m always trying to cull her toy collection. I remember how embarassed I felt when a friend came over and said, “Wow, it’s like a daycare in here!” We don’t buy her a lot of toys (I can maybe count on one hand the toys we bought her ourselves), but we were lucky to have a lot of hand-me-downs and gifts, and also my neighbour and I will trade and borrow.

Anyway, after that comment I did realize that it was getting a little out of control– Free does not need so many toys and also I didn’t want to overstimulate her with such a large amount. My plastic purge earlier this year helped to cut down the amount of toys. I think she only has 2 or 3 plastic toys left (which we made sure were BPA- and phthalate-free). The rest are cloth, stuffed animals, or wood. A lot of the time Freestyle makes herself busy with other things around the house too, so I know she doesn’t miss them.

 

4. Front Hall 

Basket for Freestyle’s coats and hats: Kept on the ground so she can choose and reach them on her own. She likes to choose her own hat but I’ll usually choose which jacket based on the weather. She can put on and take off her own hat. With a little help with the sleeves, Free can put on and zip up her coat and unzip and take off the coat again. I’m going to teach her a new way to put on her coat on her own (and post about it) very soon.  Eventually, it’d be nice if we put up some low hooks on one of the walls there for her to hang up her coats and hats, but we’ll see how Biker feels about that!

You can see her little shoes on the shoe tray next to ours. She likes to bring us our shoes when we go out.

 

That’s all I’ll do for now. If anyone has any tips on making a home “more Montessori,” please share!