Me Do It – Updated Art Space

Art Area We put a lot of thought into Joshua’s art space. We wanted the space to be have the following characteristics:

  • Independent.
  • Easily accessible.
  • Uncluttered – rather than burrowing through a mountain of materials there should be activities on hand available.
  • Provide new experiences and make available favourite ones.
  • All materials for one activity to be available in one tray.
  • Able to be supervised easily.

Realistically in our living space there is only one area where we were able to set this up. We have not set up an outdoor play/art area as we do not have a verandah or an undercover area but it would be lovely to consider if we moved. Having art outside is a nice idea but against this is that I would not be able to supervise this easily. 2014_11_01_IMG_7589 2014_11_01_IMG_7590 I have made changes to this area since we first set it up. Firstly Joshua’s independence has blossomed in the last year so I find that having this area set up for him to use independently is a must have, otherwise he will come to me continuously to find something to do. With this set up he is able to pick and choose what he wants to work on. I observe his likes and interests and rotate the materials in this area accordingly, I tend to rotate the materials when I notice he has not touched them in a week or more. I have also allocated, on a permanent basis, a minimum of 2 spaces on his work shelf to art trays. He can select one of these and work with it at his table. I usually have clay or play dough available and one other thing which is a medium he has been enjoying or a new one. At the moment we have black card stock and some metallic markers out. I am tending to leave pencils or crayons on his table in a small wooden pencil tray with some paper so that Joshua can draw whenever he feels like it. Please feel free to share your spaces for art, I would love to see them.

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Me Do It – Updated Clothes Cupboard Work Space

Since the start of the year we have been working hard to get some things done around the house. This includes updating many of the work spaces so that Joshua can access things much more easily. The leap from baby to toddler has required ongoing adjustments as needs arise so it has been somewhat of a challenge to keep an eye on the work area as well as sleep and self care areas to ensure that they still meet Joshua’s needs. We had been coping with his bedroom cupboard which has not been very satisfactory as Joshua could not reach many things so a great deal of reorganisation has been required since late last year.

After searching and getting inspiration from other sources online, the main change we decided to install a lower hanging rail so that Joshua can access things like jumpers, jackets and coats. We installed this rail – all you need is a hand drill and some screws.

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You can see how high the rail is for adult clothing. It is no wonder children must feel like they live in a world full of giants.

As time has gone on I have adjusted the space to include some space for underwear, socks, tops, pants and singlets so it now looks like this.

20140707_101608As you can see it is all at a height that is accessible for Joshua. These are simple little plastic shelves from the $2 shop. The hangers to hang his jackets are easy to reach. On the left we have his pajamas. On the right from top to bottom:

  1. Underwear, singlets, accessories (hats, gloves, socks)
  2. Shirts – t-shirts, long sleeve shirts
  3. Pants – trousers on the left, tracksuit pants on the right.

Items such as shoes are still kept on the shoe rack next to the back door which is where we exit to go to the car. It still makes sense to keep those near the door as that is when they are going to be used. Joshua has a little cube chair nearby that he uses when he is ready to dress himself in the morning. We are currently working on putting on socks, these are still tricky for him to put on independently.

The other side of the wardrobe was a bit more challenging. We decided to make this into the side that stores all his bedding.

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We currently have these drawers in our house fitted into the cupboard. I dislike having drawers out taking up space outside the inbuilt closet and this arrangement seems to work well for us – not to mention being accessible to Joshua as he has able to open and close these drawers easily. We also have built in robes so it makes sense to try and make use of the space that is available. This has his waterproof sheets, pillow covers, doona covers and fitted sheets. Joshua is also able to reach these – except for the waterproof sheets.

All in all I feel that this arrangement is far more satisfactory than the old one. Do you have pictures of your clothing storage spaces? I would love to see them.

Work Spaces – Unit Block storage

Joshua has a shelf which holds his unit blocks which we previously talked about here and here. I have considered many options to try and store these and this has been the best option by far. The shelves are open, inviting and allow Joshua to access these when he pleases and when the blocks are put away they are orderly. The only problem with this set up is that Joshua needs to know how to put all the blocks back at the end of the day. I have been demonstrating where he should put them back but mostly so far the pack up stage has been long and laboured as he does not remember where everything needs to go. Inspired by this post I decided to try the building block environment tips. This also made me look at the way I had the blocks organised and I realised that the way I had them organised needed some changes.

As I had invested in the shelving already – and this is a home set up so I am not prepared to change this again – I had to review my current storage and be a little inventive how I would store these.

I was unable to find red opaque contact so I purchased some Red Poster Board from our local Officeworks (for those in Australia, for those overseas it is the local office supplies shop). I traced the shapes of each block with a pencil and cut these out and stuck it down with double sided tape onto the shelf.

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The bottom shelf needed the most thought. This stores the largest blocks in the set which include:
Back wall from left to right:

  • Gothic arch and door
  • Cross road

Shelf from left to right:

  • Side road (bottom left on shelf)
  • Switch
  • Circle curve
  • 1/2 circle curve
  • Ramp
  • Double triangle

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Ideally my shelving would be a little deeper than what I have however given this is our home set up I feel pretty happy with the results. Deeper shelving would be nicer but would be more costly and would require more space which we don’t have where we are so I felt that the shelves we have are a good compromise to getting a lovely work space. Joshua is good at matching shapes and shadows so this is a fun exercise to clean up the work area while practicing this.

If I had to rethink my shelves or were looking at new shelves I would love to get deeper shelves like this (if overseas) or this (in Australia, look at storage unit F24 on page 90-91 on the page counter).

Me Do It – Updated Kitchen Work Space

We have been carefully reviewing and adjusting our living spaces to accommodate the changing needs of our ever growing toddler. I have to admit I have enjoyed reviewing, assessing and researching online to find items that make things just a bit easier for Joshua to access. As a part of this review we have adjusted Joshua’s storage space where he stores his plates, glasses and other supplies.

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20140104_144121I love these shelves, they are so open and inviting. The bottom shelf is all baking tools and implements, middle shelf has glasses, bowls and a container with Joshua’s gadgets and the top shelf has jugs and glasses for storage.

We have some containers for Joshua’s baking tools – some have been put into baskets, other implements have gone into the utensil tray pictured on the right – and I love how this makes it far more accessible than when we had them stored in just one basket.

Me Do It – Independence and beds

Recently I was doing some cleaning upstairs and while I was cleaning Joshua was moving about and entertaining himself by playing with a few things in his upstairs work space and also just following me around and watching what I was doing. Vacuuming the floor, cleaning the sinks, until he moved off into his own bedroom. I thought nothing of it until I noticed it was all quiet and when I went in to check on him he had gotten into bed himself and had put himself to sleep. This is the first time that he has done this and I started thinking back over how much our home has changed since we implemented Montessori into our lives, specifically the spaces we have tailored for Joshua’s accessibility.

Montessori advocates strongly for the child’s freedom of movement. This was something that I did not understand before becoming a parent and before following Montessori. Opportunities for the child to move need to be provided and in all areas of life.

Joshua’s bedroom was a major focus of our changes. Prior to this we had what would be considered a traditional set up. A book shelf, a cot, a chair for reading, nursing and sitting on. We became serious about making changes after we realised that Joshua was unhappy with his bed setup. He could not get in or out of his cot without assistance. Bedtime which had previously been quite easy and was now a struggle, all coinciding with his ability to walk. 

After consideration of our set up we decided we could go a few options:

  1. Cot – we did not do Montessori from the start so putting Joshua into a floor bed would have been disruptive as he was already used to sleeping in a cot. Go through the usual adjustments at some point to change him over to a big bed.
  2. Floor bed – we could put a large mattress down onto the floor or put the current mattress in Joshua’s cot onto the floor to serve as a floor bed. Alternatively there are several suppliers of special beautiful floor beds that I am aware of so this would have also been an option and Joshua would sleep in the bed for many years.
  3. Toddler bed – either adjustment to current cot or buy a toddler bed.

So why do this?

There are many reasons that floor beds are preferable to cots. A wonderful summary is in this post by The Full Montessori. The three essential pillars of Montessori Philosophy are independence, freedom of movement and the development of the will. The floor bed allows all of these things.

For us the changeover was an adaptive process to bridge the gap between floor bed and use of the cot as we had already purchased a cot and did not want to feel that this had been wasted. A few other considerations came to mind as well:

  • If we went from a cot to a floor bed we would still face needing to transition to a bed in a short while. We intend on keeping the same arrangement for the first three years of Joshua’s life as per Montessori advice but were keen to, if possible, keep the idea of having his own little bed as a transition to a bigger bed (he loves climbing on our bed so is aware that bigger people sleep on bigger beds).
  • Joshua was already used to sleeping in the cot. We were reluctant to move him from the bed he has always known and loved.
  • Joshua was already on the move so suddenly providing such freedom for sleeps could pose sleep disturbances, especially at night.

We decided on a compromise and took the side rail of the cot off. This allowed Joshua to get in and out of the cot with ease. It also allowed him the freedom to choose to get into bed when he wanted to nap and when he was finished with nap time he could get out of bed and head to the door to come out of his room.

Getting off bed

The difference in Joshua has been interesting to watch. We have noticed he wants to do things himself more. He wants to get in and out of bed on his own. Go to the potty and get on by himself (and dictate when he goes rather than being offered every 40 minutes or an hour). Put himself to bed when he is ready. (Yes. Put himself to bed when he is tired and identify that he is tired, to feel that he needs to go to sleep, not have his sleep time determined by me, me do it Mama). Get his drinks and snacks on his own. Not sleep in a sleeping bag or be wrapped or have anything limiting his ability to move while asleep. To this day he still moves about his bed but has learned where the boundaries are – with a little help from some rolled up towels – and sleeps with a blanket and some cherished toys.

So practically how did it work when we changed over?

  1. Transitioned initially using the side off for a day sleep so that Joshua would become familiar with the changed bed and be able to adjust to it.
  2. Continued with use of usual bedding for some time and introduced changes slowly to change over to just blankets during the day then at night.
  3. After a week we then put in some rolled up towels when it became obvious that Joshua was struggling to know where the edge of the bed was. As it is a bit higher we did not want him falling out of bed and hurting himself.

Issues we encountered:

  1. Freedom of the child
    Yes he got out of bed. Frequently. For about a month we found him sleeping wherever he fell asleep, the floor near the chair, leafing through books, near the door, near his stuffed toys. We persisted in putting him back into bed if we found him on the floor.  He now understands that the bed is to sleep. Now if he is having trouble falling asleep he will play with his toys a little, read a book in bed and will go to sleep there. This took some persistence, patience and time but no matter what stage you are at with your child – whether it be putting them on a floor bed from day one or what we are doing, at some stage your child will need to transition to a bigger bed so these issues will come up. The will of the child is expected and desirable! Making the choice to sleep in his bed is so satisfying for us to see.
  2. Falling out of bed
    Joshua fell out of bed a few times. A few times a massive thud and then silence, other times he would wake and cry and try to get back into bed himself. He grew out of it with some help from placing rolled up towels under the fitted sheet to mark the edge of the bed. We could have put a child rail on the bed but we decided against this as it inhibits a child’s freedom to move in and out of bed at will. The idea is to mark the edge of the bed, not inhibit the child from getting in and out easily. I have seen other people put a pool noodle under there which does the same job, that would be suitable for a proper floor bed as it is larger, we might consider doing this for when Joshua moves into a proper bed.
  3. Coming out of his bedroom
    Joshua has had a growth spurt recently and can now pull the handle on his bedroom door and open it to come out (our door handles are higher than average so to get out of his room requires some skill). After several early morning wake ups from our little visitor we encouraged him to either go to the toilet first before seeing us or to stay in his room and call for us if he needs/wants us rather than come to our room. He has his favourite toys and books available so he seems happy to entertain himself in the mornings if he wakes early. He can open the door and come out but he chooses not to now that he knows we prefer him to wait and call for us if he needs us.

We chose to do this to support Joshua’s independence and growth. At some point all children need to sleep in a bed and we feel that we will continue as we mean to go on. Seeing Joshua so happily getting in and out of his bed was a light bulb moment for me – when I first heard about floor beds I was skeptical, I have heard so many people talk about keeping their child in their cot as long as possible as a physical barrier to freedom when in fact everyone is so much happier now that we have demonstrated our support of  Joshua’s independence, freedom of movement and development of will.

Was it a difficult process? Moderately. There were disturbances and tweaking of the environment was required as well as patience and love to help Joshua through the transition. But we got there. Freedom within limits is achievable, it may require adjustments to support this but we feel it was totally worth it.

There are some beautiful floor beds available on the market (I would prefer handmade) however if we were going to go the floor bed option we would probably just go the larger mattress option with sheets as I feel that the simpler option is desirable.

If you are interested in reading a bit more about floor beds some great resources that I think are worth a read if you are interested in further reading about floor beds are here and here.

Me Do It – snack table

This was recently shared on How We Montessori blog.  However, I have decided to share this on my blog as I would like to talk about the reasons why we do what we do.

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Joshua’s snack table is a small table that was made by Joshua’s great grandfather and will eventually become Joshua’s bedside table when he is ready for a big bed. I love that the table has such sentimental value. It served as a bedside table for Joshua’s Daddy and has been a side table in our house until we needed it for Joshua. I’m sure that when Joshua’s great Pa crafted this he could not have imagined that this would be passed down to his great grandson! Sometimes it pays to have woodworkers in the family and we are very lucky to have had one in ours.

Every day Joshua takes a snack, usually in the afternoon. I make glasses available to him in a small wooden shelf made by my cousin Paul and leave water in a small jug so that Joshua can pour himself a glass of water if he is thirsty.

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To enhance the aesthetic of the snack area I rotate reproductions of beautiful artworks above the snack table. I am particularly interested in impressionist artists so I have been putting a few of my favourites there for Joshua to appreciate. I will soon be displaying some life prints of butterflies and bugs as he has expressed a strong interest in these lately.

Tips for the area (from our personal experience):

  1. Give the area some visual interest.
    For the younger non-mobile child they would be more engaged with the area if there is interesting art work in the area, especially if they are using the table for meal times too.
  2. If you make water available in a jug make sure you don’t overfill the jug.
    If the jug contains more water than the glass or cup will hold, this can result in overflow spillage.  Full jugs are also heavier and therefore more difficult to control, especially for a younger child. Something we are considering doing is having a water dispenser so that Joshua can get as much water as he wants to drink without anyone else having to refill the jug to the appropriate level, though for the moment we are content with the current setup. Another tip is that if you are concerned with spillage of water is to present this on a small tray so that if there is any overflow this will be collected in the tray.
  3. Don’t put out too much food.
    While we wanted Joshua to access snacks himself we know that if we left a mountain of strawberries out he would eat them all as he loves them so much! We tend to leave out sufficient food for an acceptable snack so that he won’t spoil his dinner. As he gets older he will be able to access snacks from the fridge and prepare them more independently, so he will have to make food choices for himself, but for now we do not put out too much and provide more on if the need arises.
  4. Don’t be afraid to use glass and porcelain.
    We use glass and porcelain glasses and plates. We all use glasses and porcelain plates. These are items we use and we afford Joshua the opportunity to eat off these too. We purchased smaller glasses and bowls from Ikea that are appropriate for the size of Joshua’s hands, and Joshua takes his meals on side plates from our dinner set. These teach him to be careful with fragile dinnerware and glass/cups. Joshua has been using glass and porcelain since he was quite young and we have only ever had 1 breakage in that time. We have done a lot of practical life activities with him to reinforce the proper usage of these items, including drinking from a glass and using two hands, carrying plates horizontally from the shelf to a table and setting these down with care and not lifting crockery off the table during mealtime. The opportunities provided ensure further practice is made at meal times which satisfies the need to use these skills in “real” situations.
  5. Make kitchen tools available for snack preparation.
    We have a container in an accessible shelf which has all of his tools in it ready for use next to his snack area.

So why have we gone to so much trouble to set up this area for him? Couldn’t we just give Joshua a snack every day when he asks for it? Yes we could. But I love how this is a little area just for him to use; that it fosters his independence by facilitating opportunities to practice life skills – pouring water, cutting, slicing, self feeding, putting used dishes away; that even though the goal is to eat and satiate hunger, the process of doing it himself satisfies him beyond what the food does. Most of all I enjoy the look of pride and satisfaction on his face when he has succeeded at a task without my help. Again Aid to Life has some succinct points and suggestions on independence for eating which are easy to implement.

Our items for Joshua’s snack table were sourced locally. The table was made by Joshua’s Great Pa, glass and chopping board are from Ikea and the jug and wavy chopper are sourced from small local shops. When Joshua was learning to use a glass these glass were too big for his little hands so I have some much smaller glasses which were just some espresso glasses until he was able to use the bigger glasses that he uses now. These were again sourced locally from a small shop. There are some places you can specifically source weaning items which are beautiful to use. Some ones that I particularly admire are listed on Michael Olaf, Fishpond and How We Montessori Shop however postage is a consideration so I would encourage you to purchase items locally if possible. There are plenty of local options that can meet the needs of the growing child and are affordable, reusable and beautiful.

Joshua enjoys his snack table and it is a key part of his work area. I hope you get a little inspiration from our setup!