Today

Today I will be busy.

I want to sleep more because I know I have to work today. You come to me at 5am but I had only gone to bed at 12am so I am very tired. You come to me while I lay in my bed, I am wishing that you would go back to sleep. You creep in with us and mutter and poke me in the nose and put your face up close to mine in an effort to wake me up to play with you, to pay attention to you. You cuddle in and I smell the fresh scent of the shampoo that you wash your hair with and feel your warm breath on my cheek.

Today I am busy.

I hurry you along, up and out of bed, so that we can get ready for the day. We brush your teeth and your hair and I press you to fetch your clothes. I hurry you to put on your clothes and try to stop you from pouring too much muesli in your bowl. I hurry you to the car to take you out to your Nonno so I can start my work. I start working, both grateful for work and feeling guilty at enjoying time and space to myself. I wonder what you are doing today. Are you missing me? Are you thinking of me?

Today I was busy.

When we pick you up, you throw your small body from Nonno to mine, pressing yourself onto me and into me and poke my eyes and face. You laugh as I admonished you for wanting to rush straight out the door and into the car so you could squeal in delight as we drive down the freeway and to home. Why rush away? You want to go and you want to go now.

Today I was so busy.

I bustle you inside, quickly make our dinner and press you upstairs after a quick play time in the garden. I want you to have your bath so that you would go to bed early and I can have a work meeting. I hear you crying upstairs for me and am irrationally annoyed (fleetingly) before I hear you being comforted by Daddy. I hear you protesting when you realise I am not coming upstairs to see you to bed because I am busy. But you don’t complain too much, you snuggle into Daddy, happy to have your stories.

Today I was far too busy.

I come to see you after lights are out and you are lying there with your eyes wide open and waiting for me. After I say good night you kiss me and lay in bed quietly. I retreat downstairs, only to hear you call out for me again. I wearily climb the stairs and take you in my arms. You climbed into my lap and insist on me lying down with you. I wonder why you are not sleeping, aren’t you tired my little boy? You cuddle into me with a few toys. As I lie with you I realise how stuffy the room is. Are you hot? “Hot, Mama” is the answer. Do you want the air con on? “No, Mama, no”. After watching you twitch around for a while and looking at me I roll over and wind open the window and watch the soft breeze move over your hair. I watch as your eyes slowly drift shut and I realise as I look at your little face that I am the first thing you saw this morning and the last thing that you saw tonight.

And I realise that today was a day that I missed. I missed seeing you having fun at the dairy park. I missed seeing you as you were lulled into a brief nap after a long walk in the sunshine today. I didn’t see you slide down the slide so fast that you flew off the end. I missed seeing you cut up strawberries on your own, ask your Nonno for juice and cuddle into him for a story after eating one too many chocolate biscuits.

Tomorrow is a day that I will be with you, my darling little boy. Thank you for waiting for me today even though I was not very good at waiting for you. For you I will make all my tomorrows our todays. Tomorrow I will do better.

Implementing Montessori At Home

“From small beginnings come great things”

~ Proverb

As a new parent I remember feeling confused and overwhelmed. What did I know about raising a child and guiding one? It all seemed like a mystery to me.

I discovered Montessori when Joshua was quite small. As you may know, my husband is a Montessori graduate, he went through Cycle 1 before transferring to mainstream school. Still, that early experience has stayed with him, he remembers the materials, remembers feeling the sandpaper letters beneath his fingers. When I learned of these experiences I was intrigued and started looking into Montessori Method.

Sadly when I started researching it was hard to find reliable information. Google Montessori for beginners or like phrases and you come across just about everything you can think of. But where was the “how to” guide to implementing Montessori at Home? Does it involve a lot of changes and a lot of money? I don’t believe it has to. In preparing to change our spaces we did a lot of reflecting and evaluating our (then) current situation before moving forward. As tempting as it is to make changes immediately in order for success I am a real believer in planning ahead. Here are the things we did in order to implement Montessori successfully into our household:

1. Read up on the Montessori Method
I highly recommend doing a bit of reading prior to commencing changes. These resources will give some great advice on the Montessori philosophy for beginners. It gives information on what the method is about and you can assess whether it is suitable for your family.Recommended reading:
How to Raise An Amazing Child The Montessori Way – Tim Seldin
The Joyful Child – Susan Mayclin Stephenson
Child of the World – Susan Mayclin Stephenson
Teach Me To Do It Myself – Maja Pitamic
Internet resources:
Aid to Life

2. Observe your child.
One of the first things that we did before making any changes was to observe Joshua. Impatient as I was to implement changes to our home and to our lives I made myself sit back. This is probably one of the hardest exercises – but also the most cost effective – that I have done to date. I am not a teacher. But something that stuck with me on my reading was about the importance of observation. What should I be looking for? At 6 months old I was looking for developmental milestones, gross motor skills achievements and requirements. Observation is hard. Initially all I could see was Joshua moving around and it seemed randomly doing stuff. Sometimes taking notes helped. As time went on I realised that by simply observing and not interfering I was able to learn a lot about him. He was very intent and interested in colours and stacking and shapes. He was pushing things around a room which indicated to me that he wanted to walk but was not yet able to do so. Observation is a deeper process than just watching. It is also much harder than you would think. After much practice I am able to now observe much more easily and respond to changes in Joshua’s needs and adjust appropriately.

3. Invest in shelves.
Shelves are so important. If possible I would advise to invest in the best quality shelves that you can afford however space and budget are also an important consideration. We use Ikea shelving – affordable and aesthetically pleasing – but if I had to redo this I would choose much more beautiful wooden shelving. At the time we were looking there was very little in the way of affordable Montessori shelving but we have many more options available now. I quite like the shelving from M.A.N. Made creations hereBasic shelves are a must. Anything that gets things into an orderly manner and allows exploration and contributes to the child’s sense of order is a positive change.

4. Invest in the best quality toys and materials you can afford.
There are some things you can get quite cheaply but I would question whether you should. I would rather have one good toy than have 20 cheap quality toys that won’t last or are not visually appealing. This may involve going through your existing stash of toys and evaluating if it should be there. We did this and I ended up selling off things that were not of use and I haven’t missed them at all. The same goes for art supplies – I invested in good quality crayons and paper and Joshua adores his art space. A few good crayons and good quality pencils make the introduction to the world of art a magical one. The first 3 years of a child’s life are his/her introduction to the world. Try and make it the best introduction that it can be.

5. If possible set aside a place in the home that is for the child.
We had a small space for Joshua when he was young but nowhere near to the size that it is now. During our assessment of our space and what we could realistically afford to put aside for Joshua we realised that we wanted him to do his work in an area that was nearby and close to us. Now that Joshua is older and we have had him working nearby to us since he was young it makes so much sense to me. When I read Tim Seldin’s “How to Raise an Amazing Child The Montessori Way” he says:

As your child becomes more independent and busy, try to accommodate his/her activities wherever the family gathers…. left to their own devices, young children may tend to create chaos, but they also have a tremendous need and love for an orderly environment. Try to arrange the rooms where your child spends most of his/her time to make it easy for him/her to maintain a neat, well organised atmosphere. It’s surprising what an impact this can have on his/her developing personality.

Joshua is certainly a reflection of his environment. I have seen this need to know where things belong. He is very good at putting things away as a result. I see how he adores coming to his work area and he knows that everything in it is for him to work with. He is happy to go and work while I am nearby working too.

6. Be prepared to be flexible and to change up the environment if it doesn’t work.
The same goes for all parenting. As Joshua gets older we have adjusted his work spaces significantly. With changes in the child the environment too needs to adjust to support their needs. Sometimes you might set something up and practically it still doesn’t work. We set up Joshua’s arts and crafts area and it has changed since we started. Firstly we had a small shelf to put supplies on but this was very untidy and we had too much stuff. So we moved a small cupboard down to store things in. We then realised that this was not positioned ideally so we moved it again and moved our shoe rack so that it is closer to his little chair so he can sit and put his shoes on and the art supplies cupboard is positioned closer within the art area. With so many changes within such a short space of time it can sometimes feel hard to keep up but if you are observing it should be easier as it does not take as much time to change an already orderly environment (once implemented).

7. Make small changes initially so that you are not overwhelmed.
Small changes here and there are better than none at all. A basket, a few trays, clearing away clutter all contributes to improving the prepared environment.

8. Above all – Follow the child.
If you follow your child’s interests and observe their abilities and needs, I truly believe you can’t go wrong. Truly follow  – just because an adult think it would be great for a child to do a pouring activity or tonging, he/she might not be ready for it and need preparation before attempting this. If the child is truly disinterested then put the activity away for a later date. I have put out activities and then put them away for a few weeks and once rotated there has been a lot more interest simply because Joshua was not quite ready. Pay attention to sensitive periods. I have loved this chart from Voila Montessori, it is a beautiful visual representation of the development from birth to 3 years old. There is one here for ages 2.5-6 as well. I pay attention to the charts as a guide, not as rule, and they have been really great to refer to so that I have some idea of what to expect.

Here is our work space today for a little inspiration.

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What changes can you make today? I would love to hear from you if you can make even just one change from this post.

Montessori Life As We Model It – Modelling behaviour

Today I have been thinking about the behaviour we model for Joshua. We work to a “do as I do” rather than “do as I say, not as I do” approach. We teach him how to do things and how to help himself. What are we teaching him by demonstrating all these practical life skills? Why do I spend so much time preparing the environment that he enjoys at home?

“The child does not just observe his surroundings; he becomes them by age three…. If you want your child to say “thank you” and pleast” you must be using this language constantly in his presence from birth on. Children who are spanked learn to use physical punishment to express themselves, and those who are handled with understanding and patience will become understanding and patient.”
Susan Mayclin Stephenson – The Joyful Child

At 2.5 years old we spend a lot of time on practical life. Cooking is a major part of our practical life lessons. There is something about cooking that I enjoy, even if it is a bit of a chore sometimes. I cook with effort and I enjoy seeing the results of my efforts come together (or not!). For us the journey is not about the destination – it is about the effort and the process. We show Joshua how to cook because I want him to know how to do things for himself. To gain this skill I model this behaviour for him. Sometimes I wish I could short cut meals. Sometimes I wish I could have a meal appear effortlessly but I am not a natural cook. I do what I can with what I have and I don’t have a machine that does it all for me, just my 2 hands and my stove. That’s enough for me. Joshua watches me make dinner, eyes wide. Sometimes he is close to me, standing on his step stool, reaching over and wanting to chop, pour or stir. Sometimes he watches standing next to me on the floor. He watches as I stir the hot pots, or take things out of the hot oven. “Hot, Mama, dangerous, be careful” he says to me. This is what I tell him. Don’t touch the hot stove.

We use a dishwasher. We show Joshua how to stack the dishwasher. Joshua stacks the dishwasher everyday to at the moment. He takes our dirty (and sometimes clean) cutlery and plates and puts them into the dishwasher.

We hand wash our pots and pans. Joshua stands on his stool and helps put the soap into the sink. He uses his brush and washes his little pot or plate or bowl. He does the same.

We put sort our clothes and put them into the washing machine and we hand wash our clothes when needed. Joshua puts his clothes in his laundry basket for washing and puts clothes into the washing machine too, he does the same.

We hang our clothes out to dry and tend not to use the dryer. He helps hang out wet washing on the clothes horse, Joshua does the same.

We sweep up things on the floor and put it in the bin. We vacuum the floor when we need to. We mop the floor because it is dirty. Joshua does the same.

We don’t use store bought chemicals to clean our table top and bench top, we use home made cleaning products so that Joshua is not exposed to harsh chemicals unnecessarily. We use as little conveniences as we can get away with. We recycle. We compost. We use power saver light bulbs to reduce power usage. We have a water tank which we use to collect water to water the garden and flush the toilets with. We try to shop regularly so that we waste as little as possible. We try to know our place in the world.

We talk. We tell Joshua why we are doing what we do. We handle his tantrums as best as we can. We let him feel what he needs to feel. We say sorry when we need to. Sorry for not listening. Sorry that he is angry or frustrated. Sorry for being cross with him or in front of him with other people. We model courtesy, please and thank you. Asking for things, not demanding. We treat each other as we would want to be treated. Joshua is still learning this. He is learning how to say sorry, to be sorry even if he is only sorry for hurting someone else. To know that no matter what happens that we are still here and he is still loved.

What we want Joshua to learn from the behaviour that we model how to do things for himself, whether it be preparing a meal, wiping the table or cleaning up the house. We should perform our tasks to the best of our ability. The best of Joshua’s ability and his personality will be what we have modelled for him, for the experiences we have provided in the environment that he lives in.

We hope that Joshua will do the same.

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Today on the 1st anniversary of starting this blog I have taken this opportunity to reflect on the year that has passed and how different Joshua is. What a long way we have come in just a year! I hope to share a little of what we have achieved in a year with you shortly.

Weaning – The end of another stage

I am not sure that Maria Montessori would have approved of our extended breastfeeding relationship. Montessori advocates weaning to a cup around the 9-10 month mark as a part of helping cultivate independence. I remember Joshua at that age and he was growing so quickly but was in my opinion no where near ready or willing to wean completely from breastfeeding. Montessori also advocates for introducing tastes and solids around the 4 month mark. We did not do this, following Joshua I did not feel that he was ready to start so we stuck to WHO guidelines and introduced food and weaning process at 6 months old. We did not force or push for complete weaning. Joshua eventually dropped down to one feed a day and recently we have stopped breastfeeding altogether, so we went to almost 22 months.

I fought hard for our breastfeeding relationship to start and got in contact with an IBCLC qualified lactation consultant who was wonderful. She helped us establish our breastfeeding, getting the feeding position and latch done correctly, helped me manage my supply and make sure that Joshua had a nice full feed every feed time. I remember it all through a haze, that time of being a new parent, learning how to care for Joshua and I remember wondering to myself if breastfeeding was just all too hard. But persist we did. And what a sweet journey we have had together. We have fed together through illnesses, through hot weather and cold (stuck to me with sweat or huddled into me for warmth), through the night in the early days and for comfort when Joshua needed reassurance.

I will always be proud of how well we did and how far we went together. I am so grateful that we were able to feed for as long as we did and for being blessed with the support to do so and will always be in awe of my body’s ability to nourish my son the way that I have. As I write this I am still mourning the final weaning and have been searching the internet for solace and found this poem which I thought I would share.

WEAN ME GENTLY
I know I look so big to you,
Maybe I seem too big for the needs I have.
But no matter how big we get,
We still have needs that are important to us.
I know that our relationship is growing and changing,
But I still need you. I need your warmth and closeness,
Especially at the end of the day
When we snuggle up in bed.
Please don’t get too busy for us to nurse.
I know you think I can be patient,
Or find something to take the place of a nursing –
A book, a glass of something,
But nothing can take your place when I need you.
Sometimes just cuddling with you,
Having you near me is enough.
I guess I am growing and becoming independent,
But please be there.
This bond we have is so strong and so important to me,
Please don’t break it abruptly.
Wean me gently,
Because I am your mother,
And my heart is tender.
~ Cathy Cardall ~

Joshua. Thank you for being such a wonderful partner in our breastfeeding relationship.  I will remember all those times that I not only fed you but nourished our togetherness.

Perhaps I am wrong about Maria Montessori’s take on this. I am sure she would have wanted me to follow the child, and follow him I have. Our weaning has been gentle and Joshua is ready now to let go of this stage. It may be a little while longer for me to adjust to no longer having this as a part of our daily routine but I will gladly let you go Joshua to make your way in the world, wherever it will lead you. It may take Mama just a little longer to stop aching the loss of this part of us but I will catch up with you when I am ready.

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The Cooperative Child

I recently read an article that got me thinking about eliciting cooperation from a child. The article referred to everyday things that we wish our children would do without complaint (such as wiping noses, cutting finger nails). I have heard and been recommended many ways to get your children to cooperate, from bribes (“if you do this then you get an ice cream”) through to yelling (“do it or else”). I started thinking about our own experiences dealing with this issue and thought I would share successful instances we have had with facilitating a helpful and cooperative attitude from Joshua.

At the park – time to leave

Our little family went down to the park and had a grand old afternoon, Joshua spent lots of time running around the park, climbing, swinging, bouncing and sliding. We wished that the afternoon would never end; it was the perfect day! It was the first time that Joshua had been to an adventure playground and the first time in a very long time that my husband or I had been.

As the time to leave approached, I made sure to remind Joshua at regular intervals that we would be leaving soon so that it would not be a shock when it was time to go. Time came up and we had to go as dinner time was approaching. When it came time to put Joshua in the car he resisted and cried out, clearly wanting to run back to the playground for more fun time. He struggled to get out of his seat and started crying. He did not want to leave. This was looking like it was going to escalate into a tantrum (hooray!), and a wonderful time of the day it was too for a meltdown! We could have demanded Joshua to sit in his seat and endured the storm of tears and tantrums.  Instead I chose to look him in the eye and I said quietly “Joshua I did tell you that we need to go. The reason we need to go is because I need to go home and start making dinner otherwise we will be hungry. Could you please sit back in your seat so that I can buckle you in?” He stopped crying, stopped struggling. Looked at me and sat back in his seat and threaded his arms into the straps. I buckled Joshua up and again looked him in the eyes and said “Thank you for helping Mummy, you are so helpful when you are listening and cooperating. I promise we will go to the park again tomorrow.

There is sense of inner pride for Joshua at being able to make the decision to sit back in his seat rather than being forced to. There is also inner pride from me to see how far he has come in just 21 months.

Nappy changes – a sense of dignity

I often see posts on nappy changes on forums as well as been asked myself several times about this issue. How do we get Joshua to cooperate with us at change time? It became obvious very quickly that Joshua would not let me change his nappy lying down, especially when he started pulling to stand. This quickly became very unpleasant when he decided to start kicking. Hard. Was he being defiant? I don’t believe so. I believe he was telling me “I don’t like it when you do that Mama, I am not a baby”. So we quickly made the decision to start doing nappy changes standing up. Yes, it was harder work for us at that point as he was still in nappies, but ultimately far more engaging for Joshua as he became an active participant. He would help to get wipes and place them and soiled trainers in the bucket for disposal, grabbing fresh trainers to wear, and getting to decide which ones he would prefer to wear (he usually picks the colourful ones rather than the plain white ones!).

This does not mean or imply that we never have any issues with cooperation in our home. As with any approach a parent pursues, it takes time to implement, time to reinforce and time for the appropriate learning to occur. We have had our fair share of situations where sometimes Joshua won’t cooperate and has had a tantrum, just as every parent does. But our experience so far has seen a decrease in the frequency of tantrums, as well as the intensity of Joshua’s reaction to things once I acknowledge his feelings and explain things to him. As with everything this is a slow process of teaching Joshua to understand that he can’t have everything his own way and learning to control his emotions.

What resonates most with me is that this approach allows Joshua to choose to do things himself and not to interrupt a child if they are immersed in an activity (unless absolutely necessary), both core Montessori principles. As with most issues requiring child cooperation such as toilet learning, nappy changes, getting into the car, changes in activities (an exhaustive list), it has remained important to us to remain emotionally detached from the process so that we are able to model the correct behaviour. Our desire to allow Joshua freedom within limits is driven by our love and respect for him. Even though he might not always like it he needs to learn self control, be offered acceptable choices (circumstances permitting) and learn patience. We provide opportunities to practice these things through instances as they arise and by modelling acceptable behaviour.

Another link that I found extremely useful and helpful is an article written by The Full Montessori. It is full of helpful Montessori strategies and tools to use at home that are also in the same vein.

http://thefullmontessori.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/try-this-at-home/

I refer to this article a few times a month since I read it. The steps are simple, do-able and logical and a good reminder for when things get frustrating. We pick our battles and decide what is important. For every family this is different but we draw a line and try to remain consistent.

If you have any other links and resources that you find helpful I would love to read it, please feel free to share them.

The Perfect Day

Today was what I would class as a perfect or near perfect day.  We had made plans but these fell through. So what to do instead? We decided to brave the park this morning on a whim as the weather was fine and the wind was low. We recently discovered a beautiful large park nearby which we have not visited often as it has a lot of things in it that were too much for a small toddler. It is called an adventure playground and for a good reason: It is an adventure playground paradise for kids!

By nature and personality Joshua has always been a shy child. It often takes a few times for him to get used to something before he warms to it. I remember the first time his Daddy flew him up into the air at a couple of months of age, being lifted gently just above Daddy’s head. Joshua was momentarily quiet, but soon his bottom lip poked out and tears followed. It took a few goes before he started enjoying it and this quickly progressed to his laughing at being launched into the air. I should have known then that the child that we were given is a gentle soul that needs time to adjust to new situations before enjoying them.

Months ago, trips to a park would have involved Joshua being reticent to play and explore independently; rather leading us by his hand to play together.  He was not confident to go down a slide or climb equipment on his own. To be fair to Joshua it has been partly that I have accompanied him as I was concerned for his safety, feeling that he was not steady enough to venture off on his own. Often there are older children and I fear he will be pushed over by them or bullied. In the last few months I have come to the realisation that he needs to learn on his own how to handle himself in situations (within reason) and to come to me if he needs help. He needs opportunities to problem solve, to socialise, to work out if he gets stuck how to get out of it, and to not always rely on me to help him. All of this might seem easy and obvious but it is difficult to brush off an upset and clingy child.

So I decided just to let him go. Today Joshua pulled at me to play with him and I said “I’m following”. And so I followed. Slower and slower. Then finally I was not following at all and this is what happened.

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What have I learned?

  • Trust – Joshua is capable of climbing up and down and sliding without my help. He is very able and probably one of the safest climbers I have ever seen. I say this without exaggeration, he has had so much practice partly because we have stairs at home. I need to trust that I have put in the time and he now has the skills to handle climbing alone (within reason of course). The trust also extends to the other children in the park. They have generally been well behaved and have actually stopped when they see Joshua and waited for him even though he is smaller and slower than they are.
  • Patience – Joshua might not be the most adventurous (he isn’t going to be the kid up the front throwing himself headfirst into an activity) but he will be the child that plans and executes activities with his friends when he is older. He will be the person they look to logistically to get things done.
  • Let go – part of my job is to give Joshua the skills he needs and then step back and let him go.

There will be other days when he doesn’t throw himself into activities and clings to me for comfort. All too soon these days will pass and he will no longer need me so much so I am cherishing this time when he still does.

Thank you for making today the perfect day Joshua. Mama loves you.