Puzzles at 33 months and our secondary shelf

We have a secondary shelf upstairs which Joshua works at before bath, in the mornings after getting up and waiting for me to shower or before going for a nap.  We found it necessary as we have upstairs and downstairs at our house and I found that Joshua enjoyed working nearby while I am busy.

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I have tended to put materials on this secondary shelf that I do not have available downstairs. Puzzles are a good way to fill in some time and engage Joshua for a reasonable period of time in a small area that I have upstairs. I have reserved the bigger items such as art and blocks for downstairs. One of the puzzles is reasonably basic for Joshua but he loves shapes and geometry so this is there for him to work on. He has mastered the leaf and fire engine but the life cycle of a butterfly puzzle is proving to be challenging for him, the multiple layers are enough to keep him working hard.

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I have also made available some items for counting – Joshua’s number book and the 1-5 discs stacking puzzle – as Joshua has shown interest in counting and letters (letter book) as well as some cars and tools and some Duplo.

Realistic Animal puzzles collage

1. Life Cycle of a Bee
2, Life Cycle of a Turtle

We have recently added two new puzzles to our collection of the life cycle of turtles and life cycle of bees. Joshua is particularly enjoying the turtle puzzle, he is very drawn to sea life and our recent visit to the aquarium and the zoo have been great experiences for him. These puzzles are beautiful and realistic layered photo puzzles, it makes me wonder why toy makers and manufacturers don’t make more of these for children instead of abstract or cartoonish type puzzles and toys. If you are overseas they are quite hard to find, this is a UK based company but I did find the website here, there are links to where these retail from overseas.

Do you have a secondary work area for your child? If you have any puzzle recommendations I would love to hear them.

French Madeleines

French Madeleines - Montessori Life As We Know It

We are right in the middle of a practical life explosion. Joshua wants to do so many things himself and at the top of his list is baking. He has been going to his supplies area, digging out his bowl, getting out his wooden spoon, going to the cupboard and getting out flour and sugar and declaring “want to bake, Mama”.

I have been following a lovely blog run by Helene called French Foodie Baby. I LOVE this blog, Helene writes about all the lovely food she cooks for her little boy Pablo – and her family, everybody eats together. I have been following now for some months and the recipes on there are delicious! I highly recommend you go and check her out, I really enjoy her posts and she has such a wealth of information on introducing (tasty!) food to your baby. I picked out French Madeleines to bake with Joshua today as it is fresh, simple and toddler friendly.

Ingredients

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup butter
Pinch of salt
Seeds from one vanilla bean
Zest of one lemon
8-10 strawberries (cut up), or a handful of chocolate chips

Method:

1. Have your toddler get out all the utensils required for this exercise. We will need a madeleine tray (we have the Soffritto madeleine tray which we got from House homewares in Australia, overseas this one looks good), a medium sized bowl, wooden spoon, whisk, measuring cups, measuring spoons, wavy chopper and chopping  board. I always have Joshua put on his apron prior to starting baking.

2. Place the empty madeleine tray into the freezer. Do not skip this step, I researched a few recipes on madeleines and they all say to do this.

3. Melt butter in a small pan or in the microwave.

4. While you are preparing other parts you can have your toddler help prepare by cutting up the strawberries. Joshua has his chopping board and his wavy chopper and cut off the green stalks and chopped up the strawberries with his wavy chopper. (Australian supplier you can try is the General Trader or other shops that sell kitchen gadgets).

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Joshua cut the tops off the strawberries quite efficiently and then systematically chopped up all the strawberries into little pieces before transferring these to the little bowl.

5. In a bowl have your toddler whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.

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6. Have your toddler crack the eggs into the flour mixture and mix together with a wooden spoon.

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7. Add the melted butter, the zest and scrape the vanilla bean seeds. Mix, cover with plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

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We took this opportunity to inspect the vanilla bean pod and to smell it before I cut it open and scraped out the seeds.  I highly recommend using the vanilla bean pod and not vanilla bean paste or extract. The flavour that it adds to the madeleines is amazing, I promise you the flavour is worth it.

8. Preheat the oven to 220°c (450°F).

9. Grease the madeleine pan. Have your toddler stir the strawberry pieces or chocolate chips into the dough. (Since this is two batches, place the remaining dough back in the fridge). We used strawberries today as we had quite an abundant supply on hand.

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10. Fill each shell about 3/of the way, and place in the oven for 6-8 minutes. This part needs an adult but I did have Joshua spoon a few of the madeleines into the tray. Watch them carefully, as they’re quick to burn, we did 6 minutes only and this was more than enough to cook the madeleines.  As soon as they’re golden and puffed up, take them out of the oven and remove from the pan. Let them rest on a kitchen towel and cool down prior to eating. You could dust these with a little icing sugar prior to serving.

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These quantities will make about two batches, so if you have one pan, don’t forget to stick it back in the freezer before making the second batch.

I would love to try this in orange, they can also be made in vanilla, chocolate and lavender flavour. I enjoyed one of these with a cup of tea, these are such a lovely goûter (afternoon snack).

An interesting literary reference to madeleines was brought to my attention by Helene. She referred to this delightfully as “Madeleines de Proust”, an expression which refers to a vivid memory from childhood that is triggered by a taste or smell and refers to a passage written by Marcel Proust in his book Remembrance of Things Past. He uses the memories brought back by madeleines as a way to contrast involuntary memory with voluntary memory and says that voluntary memories can never be as complete as they do not bear the essence of the past. Isn’t it amazing the memories that are evoked through our senses? Our senses are so powerful, that’s why I believe that Montessori education and concrete learning experiences offered are so effective.

Art trays

20141116_Art Trays Collage High quality1. Crayons on paper (US supplier here)
2. Pencils on paper (US supplier here)
3. Dot markers on paper
4. Rainbow pencil
5. Pasting cupcake patties and natural materials on paper
6. Hole punching natural shapes
7. White marker on poster card
8. Metallic marker on poster card
9. Cutting poster card with scissors
10. Animal stamps
11. Charcoal on paper
12. Water colours on water colour paper
13. Oil pastels on paper
14. Spring play dough with cutters and rollers
15. Markers on paper
16. Transferring coloured water with a pipette (and using pipette to drop onto water colour paper)
17. Air dry clay with tools
18. Stencil shapes with pencil
19. Small spray bottle with water colour paints (or water with dye) on water colour paper
20. Bug rubbing plates and crayons

I was recently asked to do a post on what art trays we put out for Joshua. There are so many activities available to him now that we have a full supply of art materials on hand. We have made sure that all the materials available are good quality and beautiful to use.

We are experimenting with a few activities at the moment, the different mediums is always interesting. I put watercolours away for a little bit as Joshua seemed more interested in drawing but an increased interest painting has meant that I have put this back into rotation. I do leave pencils and crayons out generally so that Joshua can practice drawing and “writing” when he feels like it and has the opportunity to work on his own things during our quiet afternoons. A few of these trays are more recent as Joshua is now colouring in things so I felt that things like the bug rubbing plates would encourage and develop this skill further.

The transferring of coloured water from one glass to another is not strictly an art activity however I have listed it as we are mixing colours which I think it is important to introduce given we have been working with quite a few mediums. We have also done an activity where we have taken different colours and used the pipette to drop these onto paper in droplets, we liked the effect so much I hung it up above Joshua’s snack table to look at.

Cherry Clafoutis

I have been unwell the last few days so we have been home and Joshua is back into baking again. We made a cherry clafoutis that Joshua loved and was a great way to use up our stock of cherries, the first of the season here in Australia.

We are loving French recipes at the moment, French recipes are so delicious and so easy to make. Cherry clafoutis (pronounced kla-foo-tee) is a very traditional version of the French flan that is made traditionally with cherries. This recipe required a bit of preparation of the cherries but also was a great chance for Joshua to exercise his practical life skills – pitting the cherries, helping me wash them, pouring, scooping, stirring. I sourced this from French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon. Check out the blog recipe here.

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Ingredients:
2 cups (150g) pitted cherries or plums (or other moist fruit – we used just a little more as we like lots of cherries in our clafoutis!)
1/3 cup (75g) granulated sugar (white sugar)
1/cup (70g) plain flour
Pinch of salt
3 eggs
11/cups (360ml) milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon icing sugar for dusting

Method:

1. Pit the cherries.

2. Place the fruit in a bowl with half the sugar, stir well and set aside.

2014_11_14_IMG_76123. Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease a 9 inch (23cm) baking dish. We used a flan pan and this worked quite nicely.

4. In a large bowl, sift the flour with the salt and the remaining sugar. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs and milk to combine. Add the vanilla extract.

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5. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and combine well. Pour the batter into the dish and drop in the cherries as evenly as possible. If after pouring the batter you find that the cherries float around I would push them back into a more even spread.

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6. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the top is firm and golden brown. Cool, then sprinkle with icing sugar. Serve immediately.

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I tried another method which is to bake this dish twice – bake a thin layer to the bottom of the dish, then add the fruit topped with remaining batter and baking until done. I found that this baked the clafoutis a little more thoroughly and evenly. I also recommend serving the clafoutis in the baking dish as it does not transfer well to other dishes. It puffs up in the oven and then sags a little – this is meant to happen so don’t panic when it does.

Just to note – the pan was completely cool when Joshua put his mouth toward it as he did in the picture above, I would never allow him near a baking pan that was hot, unsupervised.

What I love so much about this recipe is how easy it is to make and how toddler friendly it is. Joshua did most of the work for this, I helped by preparing the measured ingredients, putting the flan into/taking out the flan from the oven and slicing up to serve only.

Activity of the Day – Nature Tray and Cutting

There are so many opportunities that we have to show something beautiful to a child – and just in your very own back yard. Today we used the lovely warm weather to discover herbs and plants and start to practice how to use scissors. Joshua has been interested in watching me cutting things up and today he was the day he decided to give cutting a go on his own.

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This is the first pair of scissors we tried out. It is a small light weight pair of first scissors that I found for him and it is just the right size.

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Joshua still finds it hard to use scissors. He used them in a rather large chopping motion at first, as if they are a pair of large gardening cutters. We are cutting some thyme which he is very drawn to.

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Joshua switches to using a different pair of scissors. These are Crayola scissors for small hands.

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We collect our herbs and place them in our tray for inspection inside.

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I encourage Joshua to touch each one, to hold it, observe its shape and smell it. He can name a few different herbs, today he correctly identifies rosemary, mint, parsley and thyme independently.

20141021_161532 20141021_161619Is there a sensitive period for identifying objects by smell? I know there are Montessori sensorial smelling jar activities that are presented to children as part of exercising olfactory senses to distinguish smells from one another and applying these to other smells or taste in the environment. In any case Joshua loves our herbs and is constantly picking over them at the moment. I might cook something and send him out to get some of our herbs for it – independently – and see if he gets it right. Spring time this year has been wonderful, I am going to take Joshua on a nature walk to see if we can identify some other plants this week.

 

Our Shelves – 32 months

20141014_Montessori Life As We Know It_Our Shelves at 32 Months

Here is a quick overview of our shelves at 32 months (clockwise from top left):

  1. Basket of vehicles
    Joshua uses these for his block play. They are from various sources, including Lego.
  2. Nature basket
    We add to this regularly as Joshua loves collecting rocks, sticks and leaves. He is using this basket for some of his art activities too.
  3. Threading small beads with a thin string
    Joshua has not done threading for a while so I put out a small challenge for him. These are actually probably for older children as they are so small but they are making him work hard. I cannot find the ones that we have online but I like these and these as alternatives.
  4. Photos of architecture around the world
    I put together this on a whim. It is near his block play area and is giving him ideas for things to build.
  5. Rock display
    Joshua loves rocks. This is a collection of rocks that all have names which I am teaching Joshua what they are all are. We have a little magnifying glass so that Joshua can look at these up close if he chooses to, especially the small ones. Joshua has these and these. The magnifying glass is a hand me down but there are many you can purchase quite easily, ranging from your local toy shop or Australian Geographic. I particularly like the look of this and this.
  6. Art tray – textas on paper
    These are fabulous. I am an advocate for water based textas as well as really good quality art materials. We use these. These can be used with water too, we have not yet experimented with this.
  7. Tap tap hammer activity
    Joshua has been hammering away for a while now. You can buy kits of these but we already had a few parts at home so I got out some cork heat mats we have and a hammer from another set and paired these with the pins and shapes. You can get these from many toys shops.
  8. Play dough and tools
    Joshua is loving play dough at the moment. I make our play dough as it is fun, easy and so easy for me to make this plain or make it more sensory. Lately we have had lavender play dough and this week we have spring time play dough. The tools are fantastic, he uses these to poke, prod, cut and roll away at the dough. You can get lots of different tools but I loved these because they are so natural looking. I also included in there some proper cookie dough cutters which I picked up for a few dollars on sale at our local Aldi. These are preferable to the ones that are sometimes provided for children that are plastic, these do not cut shapes well and break easily. Joshua loves cutting out shapes using the proper cookie cutters. You will see he also has a metal spoon and knife in there to use on the play dough as well.

I have made more of a conscious effort to have more art trays available for Joshua as I like for these to be available for him to get for himself rather than having to ask or digging through our art cupboard. The side effect of this is that he is able to find something for himself to do easily and also is doing a lot more art which I love seeing. We have a lot of Christmas presents and artwork to give to friends and family as presents this year. He is really showing a flair and interest in art and it reinforces my efforts to freshen up his shelves.

An Eye that Sees
A Hand that Obeys
A Soul that Feels

The truth is that when a free spirit exists, it has to materialise itself in some form of work, and for this the hands are needed. Everywhere we find traces of men’s handiwork, and through these we can catch a glimpse o his spirit and the thoughts of his time.

– Maria Montessori

 

Unit Blocks Round Up

Since I started blogging the question I am asked the most is “where did you get those unit blocks?” So here is my round up of unit blocks that I think that would be a wonderful addition to any unit block area in a home.

20141010_Joshua and Unit Blocks

  1. Carolina Pratt Home Starter Set
    These are absolutely gorgeous and my first choice. If you are willing to invest in Unit Blocks for your home I would thoroughly recommend these. They are strong, hand crafted and guaranteed to last a lifetime. This is a good place to start and Carolina Pratt offers upgrade unit block sets should you wish to boost the collection each year or specifically sells individual pieces so it is absolutely versatile and should nothing on their site suit you I am sure if you contacted Pepi he would be very happy to help make something to suit your needs. I wish I had seen these when I was looking to purchase. They are having a sale at the moment so if you hurry you can get in and request a great deal – they have asked what customers want, be sure to tell Pepi that I sent you.
  2. Unit Block Set – 56 Pieces
    Don’t be fooled by the 56 pieces. Two people can easily build and run out of usable blocks quite quickly in a 56 piece set. These are affordable and a worthy investment for the child that is interested in block building.
  3. Jumbo Blocks
  4. Plan Unit Blocks
    These are a booster to the first unit block set. Different shapes encourage road play.
  5. Community Play Things
    These are beautiful. Comes with a storage chest if you are able to splurge on this. I think it is very worth it.
  6. Preschool Equipment
    Australian made unit blocks. You can buy 195 or 390 pieces.
  7. Lakeshore Learning Best Buy Unit Blocks
  8. Barclay Blocks

Another question I am frequently asked is what is a good age to introduce unit blocks? We introduced unit blocks to Joshua when he was around 18 months old and as you can see he is a very enthusiastic builder at 2.5 years old. You can see my previous posts on Joshua’s block building here and here and here.

Do you have any recommendations for Unit Block suppliers? I found it really hard to find any when I was looking for Joshua’s. I think they are available in good quality toy shops but I hesitate to recommend those as I feel that quite a few local shops may not have the complete range and are quite overpriced given they don’t offer a good selection of unit blocks or are not as nice as I would like as I am reasonably picky about what materials I offer to Joshua.