Archive | June, 2012

Good Food Box

30 Jun

Fresh from the farm!


Finally, finally I got around to ordering a Good Food Box.

“The Good Food Box is a project of FoodShare Toronto, a Toronto non-profit organization whose mission is to work with communities to improve access to affordable and healthy food. Working “from field to table,” FoodShare runs many programs that focus on the entire system that puts food on our tables: from the growing, processing and distribution of food to its purchasing, cooking and consumption.”

~ from the FoodShare brochure


Biker was making fun of how excited I was, but it’s such a great program. In our area, we only get the Box every two weeks. I go pick it up every other Thursday at the closest drop-off to me (about 15 mins. away). We decided to go for the Small Organic Box ($24) instead of the Small Good Food Box ($13) since it’s not every week. We’d just do what we regularly do on the off weeks and buy a mix of organic (especially for Freestyle) and regular produce at the store.



Here’s what we got in our box this week:

  • 1 Bunch Organic Bananas (Fair Trade)
  • 1 Bunch Organic Broccoli *
  • 1 Organic Cabbage *
  • 1 Bunch Organic Garlic Green *
  • 1 Bunch Organic Kale Green *
  • 1 Head Organic Lettuce *
  • 1 Bunch Organic Onion Fresh *
  • 4 Organic Oranges
  • 3 Organic Pears Packham
  • 1 lb Organic Zucchini *

The starred items are local produce, picked up directly from the farms (within 50KM from our location). All of that organic food for $24! It would have been so much more if I had bought it at the grocery store!


Eventually I would like to start a small garden in our little backyard. Growing our own fruits and vegetables would be a great learning experience for Freestyle. She would get to see the entire life cycle of plants and start gaining an understanding of the process of how we get our food. This is also an important step towards understanding nutrition and healthy eating.

In Montessori Elementary classes, there is a lesson called “What Does the Farmer Need?”  The purpose is to show the children how we get our food and also begin an appreciation about how many people work together to do this work.


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We have cards that depict the various people involved and lay them out as we discuss their involvement and the process of making bread. The people include: the Farmer, Transporter, Miller, Packager, Transporter, Baker, Oven Tender, Transporter, and Green Grocer. By the end, all the cards will be laid out in a long line and we look back and see how many people worked so hard to get our food to us.


Other ways to get children to involved and engaged:

  • Grow fruits and veggies in your home. If you have a small yard or no yard, consider container gardening. Talk to experienced gardeners about which are the easiest to grow!
  • Join a food box program. In the GTA we have Good Food Box, Front Door Organics, Fresh City Farms, and many more!
  • Visit a local farm.
  • Pick-your-own fruit.
  • Take them grocery shopping and take the time to talk to them about the food that you are purchasing. This will probably mean that you’ll have to give yourself a lot of extra time at the store! Then Involve them in meal preparation so that they see how whole foods become full meals.
  • If that is too much, teach your child to prepare his/her own snacks. Something simple like cutting up vegetables and fruit.
  • Farmer’s Markets.
  • (For older children) Teach them to read the Nutrition Facts on labels. Depending on their age, you can talk about how our bodies need a balance of different nutrients, minerals, healthy fats, etc. to keep healthy and look at the facts on the labels and ingredient list.
  • Also take a look at the PLU codes on produce:

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Any other ideas? 🙂


Best. Graduation. Gift. Ever!

27 Jun

Turn this common grad gift into something…amazing.

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Girl receives a graduation gift that took 13 years to make.


I am so doing this for Freestyle and our second one (have to think of a code name!)!

I got a bit teary just reading about it. It’s so thoughtful and I LOVE that her dad spent 13 years preparing it for her so he could surprise her at graduation! Love people who put so much planning into a gift or surprise for others.

Father-of-the-Year right there, I think! (No offense, Biker!) 🙂



Smock Cafe

21 Jun

That’s Freestyle on the right, playing in the kitchen area.


My friend took me and Freestyle to a new kid-friendly cafe. It’s called Smock and it’s located in Toronto, around Roncesvalles & Dundas West.

It’s such a fantastic concept because it allows adults to sit and chat while eating and drinking delicious things while the kids wander and play in the cafe. There was a little kitchen set with a bunch of wooden toys right in the front, little reading nooks hidden by the bench seating, and a marble maze on the wall.

Down in the basement was a small lounge area with more toys and a separate room where a group of moms with young infants had spread out.

There are toys and things to do in every corner, but the best part is the Wonder Workshop.


The Wonder Workshop– my view from the table where I was enjoying a smoothie and chatting with my friend!


At the back of the store they have tons of art and craft supplies and even a facilitator who will help the kids get set up with an art project. It’s great because the kids are busy and you can go sit and relax on the other side of the room.


Freestyle painted two pictures. There were also wooden toys that the kids could choose to paint as well.



It costs $8 for the workshop.

The food and drinks were very yummy. I had a quinoa wrap and a beet salad along with my smoothie. My friend said that her coffee and soup were good too. Budget-wise, think high-end cafe prices. I think I spent about $30 altogether for my drink, Freestyle’s drink, lunch, and the workshop.


I would definitely go again though probably not often due to the distance (not bad if you take the subway– just a short walk from Dundas West station) and the cost. The area is very cute, with tons of little shops along the street. I saw a couple of used book shops (yay!) and a few baby stores.

It would be a nice way to spend a summer afternoon– a little walk and then relax and play at the Smock Cafe!


Thanks, E, for taking us there! We had a great time with you! 🙂

Grades…who needs ’em?

18 Jun

[EDIT (Sept. 15): Lynden Dorval, the Edmonton teacher who gave the zero grades, got fired.]


Last week I listened to a debate on CBC’s The Current. Educators were discussing the value of grading children (the clip is about 24 mins. long).

What sparked this talk was the situation with Edmonton teacher Lynden Dorval, the high school teacher who was suspended for giving students a zero grade on work that they did not hand in.


Should our kids just be working for a reward?

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Here’s an…unsettling excerpt from the interview with two high school students. They first talk about their concerns about grading by biased teachers. Then the conversation turns to competition. One student does say that it’s about competing against herself, but then this exchange about “rating” students occurs:


Student 1: “The world is competition. That’s what the world is.”

Student 2: “If there’s no competition, then, like, what are we doing?  If everything is fair? That’s how you distinguish, like, people’s, like, hierarchy, right?”

Reporter: “Is that important?”

Student 2: “Yes, that’s very important. That’s, like, how there’s rich people and poor people.”


I found that comment so sad. This is the impression of the world that  this young person (wow, “young person!?” I’m really getting old.) has, and once that way of thinking is set, it’ll take a lot to change it.


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You will not find grades on a Montessori progress report because it goes against Dr. Montessori’s beliefs about children’s education. A child’s development is highly unique and rating her against a scale in comparison to others just serves to slot her into a hierarchical acheivement ladder.

However, if we are truly concerned about the individual child’s needs, abilities, passions, and challenges, then our focus should be on her personal goals and progress instead.


  • Every child is unique in her way of thinking, learning, and expressing knowledge.
  • A focus on getting good grades can take away from the learning process. If the student is focused on the grade itself, she will likely just work on what “counts” in order to get those grades. However, if the work is learning-based, then the focus is on gaining knowledge and enjoying the work itself.
  • Grading is based on a set scale and checklist. You get an “A” if you are in the top 10% of the class. You’re put into competition with the rest of your grade (and those who came before), no matter what your learning style, previous knowledge, and personal abilities may be (unless you are in a specialized class). This does not allow for individual achievement and true “competition with yourself.”
  • In Montessori, learning “spirals” in that a child will often come back to the same concept already introduced to learn more and go further. With grades, it can be common to find students who just learn for the exam, then not worry about retaining the knowledge after it’s over (that’s how I always thought about exams, at least!).
  •  It’s a matter of intrinsic vs. extrinsic rewards. Montessori students gain satisfaction from learning. Graded students do too, but there’s a higher probability that satisfaction will come mainly from good grades.

Nope, no gold stars either!

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I totally get why parents want to see grades. Even Montessori parents, who at least are familiar with the philosophy when they enroll their children, can become anxious, especially when the children are close to changing schools are about to enter the public system. They want to know where their child is “at.” I get it, and it’s normal.

A Montessori teacher will make sure that the child’s progress is clearly outlined in the comments. Families can get further clarification during Parent-Teacher Interviews regarding their child’s development. For those families where English is the second language, the interviews are helpful for understanding the wordy reports!

What does a Montessori progress report look like, then? As you’ve guessed, it’s a LOT of writing (I looked at an old report that I wrote and there were about 2,000 words!). I mentioned that Montessori teachers make detailed daily observation notes on students. These, combined with the teacher’s assessment and notes about academic progress makes up the long, long comments under each subject heading. The teacher will describe what the child has been learning and working on in that particular subject and her progress (specifics about the concepts mastered or are being practiced). If there are areas for improvement then those should also be specified.

At the end of the report, there may be a “Personal/Social Development” section about teamwork, if they follow class routines, listening skills, leadership skills, etc. where the students may receive a letter/number based on a legend (Highly Developed, Developed as Expected, Beginning to Develop, Not Yet Apparent). These “marks” should be based on the teacher’s understanding of the child and not in comparison to the rest of the class.

Needless to say that progress report writing was very long and arduous work!


The Hundred Dresses

16 Jun

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I just read The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes. I can’t take credit for the find because I found it on the “recommended” shelf at the bookstore (darn!). I’m glad I did see it there though because I’d never heard of it before and after reading it, I love it!

It was written more than 60 years ago and yet the themes are still so, so relevant. Especially now with all the focus on anti-bullying in schools. This is a great book to start off discussion about bullying and in fact is used in many schools for this very purpose. However, you could absolutely use it to talk about bullying with your kids at home, in homeschool, in a children’s book club, etc.

There are many lesson plans available about the book. It’d be easy to tweak what’s available and then build something that works in a Montessori classroom (it’d be perfect for a Lower Elementary class) or to get some ideas on discussion starters for the home.

The book centres around a poor, Polish girl named Wanda Petronski who comes to school wearing the same blue dress everyday. The other girls, led by Peggy and her friend Maddie, tease her each morning when Wanda declares that she has a hundred beautiful dresses hanging in her closest. After that, she is asked every day about those dresses.


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Peggy is the one who starts and continues this daily “hundred dresses game” but does not feel that she is doing anything harmful. Her friend Maddie, however, does not feel comfortable with the teasing and can sense that it is wrong, but does not say anything because she fears becoming the next target if she stands up for Wanda.


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Eventually, the truth about Wanda’s hundred dresses is revealed just when Wanda moves away. Her teacher reads a letter written by Wanda’s father about their reason for moving (“No more holler Polack. No more ask why funny name. Plenty of funny names in the big city.”).

The story is so relatable and well-written. You can talk to your kids about bullying, but also about forgiveness and compassion as well. The illustrations are beautiful.

Besides starting discussions about bullying, compassion, caring for others, respecting differences, etc., you and your class/child(ren) can take it a step further and put the compassion into action:

  • Run a “Hundred Dresses Clothing Drive”
  • Fundraise for those who are less fortunate
  • Make an effort to include everyone
  • Art projects
  • Create a drama production based on the book
  • Practice how and when to speak up for yourself and others
…so many possible follow-up actions!

I can’t wait to share this with Freestyle when she is older!

Super Easy (& Super Messy!) Father’s Day Art Cards

12 Jun

Father’s Day cards made by Freestyle!


I’m not a huge fan of greeting cards. I mean, I like reading the nice messages that people write inside but I just don’t get the fancy $9 cards! They’re some really gorgeous ones but I’d rather put that extra money towards the gift itself!

Usually, I just buy boxes of blank cards on sale and use them for every occasion. Now that I have Freestyle though, I have a personal card maker in the house! It’s a fun art project for her and I think people like getting the handmade cards. They do, right? 🙂


Freestyle really seems to be leaning towards Abstract art…


For Father’s Day I decided to get her some water colour paints and cut up a couple of pages from a water colour art book that I have. She really enjoyed painting (I know this because she pretended to kiss the paint and the paintbrush when she was finished!).

Whenever Freestyle does an art project like painting on a canvas to give as a gift or making these cards, I don’t interfere or try to guide her to choose certain colours or do specific things on it. It always turns out perfectly because it is just her work.*


I think they’re beautiful!


For the cards, I set up the paper and paint on the kitchen floor, added a bit of water to the paint and showed her how to dip the paintbrush to get enough paint to brush onto the paper. Then I let her do her thing while I made dinner next to her. It was messy but fun!

Oh, one thing I didn’t think of was the mess that a toddler will make on a water colour palette. She wasn’t washing her brush after every colour, so they all got mixed up. So just keep that in mind if you try it with a toddler! Of course with an older child, you can teach them to clean their brush whenever they want to use a different colour.


Bring on the mess, I say! As long as Biker’s not at home, at least! 😉


I also bought some alphabet stickers (scrapbooking section) so that Freestyle could “spell” out the names. I would peel them off in order and say the letter name aloud. She would repeat the letter then stick it on the paper (with help to put them in the correct order).


Here we spelled out “Yeh Yeh.” That’s just our way of spelling out the Chinese word for “(Paternal) Grandpa” in English.


This is suppose to read “I love you,” not “I lov youe!”


* Speaking of children’s artwork…

I think kids’ artwork should be just that: the kids’ artwork. Bring on the mess and the chaos! When I was teaching, I always tried to let the students do their own art and holiday crafts. After showing them how to handle the art materials properly and demonstrating the techniques, it was off to the races! I think lopsided, “imperfect” pieces are way better than a perfectly polished craft that you just know an adult had a hand in, right?

During my first year of teaching, I got my Upper Elementary students to do most of their science fair projects during class time. I really wanted to ensure that they did the work themselves because apparantly there was a history of heavy-handed parental involvement in the past. They had a great time (obviously!) and even though on science fair day their display boards were a bit messy compared to the pristine boards of many the Lower Elementary students (who brought their boards home to be finished), I thought it was great because you could tell they really did the work on their own. Okay, I’ll admit I was a bit anxious when I saw all the boards side by side, but I got over it quickly and would just say to the parents, “Isn’t it wonderful how so-and-so did this entire project him/herself?” 🙂

The Three Period Lesson

11 Jun



In the Montessori Casa (3-6 year olds) and Elementary (Gr. 1 +) classrooms, new vocabulary and concepts are introduced via the Three Period Lesson.

Here’s a brief explanation of the three periods, introducing geometric solids as an example (this lesson is generally introduced in Casa and I have also reviewed it in the beginning of the year for Grade 1 students).


Montessori Geometric Solid material. Made of wood and all painted blue so that the only difference between each object is the shape.

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First Period: Name it! 

“This is a…”

Introduce an object by isolating it for the child then pointing to it and giving its name. Objects may be introduced using concrete materials or nomenclature cards (pictures below), but of course it’s best to use the materials or real life objects for the initial presentation (a real live flower instead of a picture of one).

Example: You bring a tray of geometric solid materials to a mat and set it in front of the child. Take out the sphere solid and set it on the mat. Say to the child, “This is a SPHERE. Sphere. Can you say sphere?” Have child repeat the word and allow him or her to handle it, explaining the features at an appropriate level.


Second Period: Recognize it! 

“Show me the…”

Once the object/concept is introduced, the second step is recognition. This step is usually a separate lesson and will most likely last longer. The child may need review or more time working with the material and this is when the teacher would assess their progress and provide more time and support.

Montessori students also use Nomenclature Cards to learn new concepts. The cards consist of a picture card (a photo or a very simple drawing), a label/name card, and a story/description card (not pictured and usually used for older children who can read).


Montessori Nomenclature Cards: pictures & labels.

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Introducing the Nomenclature Cards after this initial presentation is useful because they can match the pictures to the correct labels. The Control of Error could either be the matching booklet that had all the cards in order or on the back of each card there were matching stickers (by number or colour, for example). The Control of Error allows the children to independently check their own work and correct themselves.


Nomenclature Cards (“Parts of the Fish”): The book is at the top and is used to check work. Below is the picture card, name label, and description. The pictures are purposely kept simple and are repeated on each card. The only difference between the pictures is the part of the fish that is being described is red, isolating the concept.

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In elementary, we used the story cards. The children read the information to learn more and then transcribed it into their notebooks.

The child is beginning to associate the name and the object, and noticing the different characteristics of the object.

Example: Point to the sphere and say, “Show me the sphere.” or “Put the sphere in front of you.” The child points to the sphere or follows your instruction correctly.


Third Period: Know it!

“What is this?”

By the third period lesson (a separate lesson once the second period is mastered), the child can name the object on her own. Formal testing does not align with Montessori philosophy. This Third Period is one way teachers will “test” for comprehension.

Example: Point to the sphere and ask, “What is this?” The child gives you the name, demonstrating her knowledge.


Three Period Lessons in Toddler Language Development: An Observation

As I talk to Freestyle and point out the names to different things around her, I noticed that I would naturally incorporate the Three Period Lesson when I taught her new words.

For example, when she first noticed dogs (she loves dogs!), I would say, “Look at the dog. That is a dog. Can you say ‘dog‘?” (First Period).

Then, if we ever saw dogs in other places, such as in picture books, I would point it out and say, “This is a dog, just like the one we saw outside! Dog. Can you say ‘dog‘?”

Later, if we were out for a walk and someone was walking their dog OR we were reading a book and there was a dog in the picture, I can ask Freestyle, “Where is the dog?” and she would be able to point to it and repeat the word “dog.” (Second Period)

Now when she sees a dog anywhere (in real life or in pictures), Freestyle will point to it and say, “Dog!” (Third Period). Or, if we asked her, “What is that?” she can answer correctly. The word dog is now set in her vocabulary and she can recognize dogs (even though there are various types, though she does not know the different breeds yet, of course!) in different contexts.


Dr. Maria Montessori

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When I realized that I was doing this, I laughed because I feel that the Montessori philosophy of education is so natural and makes so much sense!


If you have younger children, do you notice that you naturally use a version of the Three Period Lesson when teaching them language?