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.

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.

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.

Toddler toys and activities at 29 months – and a surprise giveaway!

We have been so busy lately. It is almost difficult to find the time to sit down and catch a breath. We try to make time to spend some time at home just being together and doing everyday things like, baking, cooking, gardening – practical life. Time just for us. But I have noticed that in everything that we do that Joshua has this overwhelming need and urge to move, to do things himself. Put his hands into things, to feel, taste, see, smell everything.

Since it is through movement that the will realises itself, we should assist a child in his attempts to put his will into act.
– Maria Montessori

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Lately we have been doing so much gardening – “Digging and raking Mummy”. Joshua adores his wheelbarrow and garden tools. Spade, trowel, fork, watering can and rake are essentials. There are so many places you can get these from, I got these locally from our local Aldi but you can get some from your local hardware store or (if you are inclined to and would love to have the best tools for your child!) I actually love the suppliers of Montessori practical life tools. Kylie from How We Montessori Shop stocks the most gorgeous garden tools.

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Joshua simply loves his wagon. I noticed some time ago that he was trying to dump all of his unit blocks into a washing basket and drag them around. As you can imagine, the weight of these in a washing basket without wheels was impossible to drag about. This wagon is absolutely perfect for just this task. He uses it to cart around blocks, pine cones, Lego, whatever takes his fancy on any given day. He now uses them to drag his tools about in the backyard too, and shovels all the dirt he can get his hands on into the wheelbarrow. Thoroughly recommend both for your toddler.

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I set up this tray to experiment with magnetism. What is magnetic and what is not? Joshua loves this. Often he sticks all the items to the magnetic stick and then picks them all off to resort them into the separate glasses. I put the necklace in the tray to demonstrate that magnetism does not apply to all objects.

Other items we are loving at the moment:

  1. Water pump: Joshua is loving this water pump. Water play was a bit stale recently but this pump is fabulous. He can see the water moving through it so he has an appreciation for what the hand pump does. Plus it is just so fun! Bathtub or for outdoor play – awesome tool. There is a lot of splashing about in the tub these days.
  2. Bucket Balance: For water, rocks, you name it. Introduces early concept of weight, gravity and numeracy in such a simple exercise. Joshua loves playing with his scales, it is teaching him the difference between heavy and light.
  3. Aprons: We love aprons. Every activity, cooking, cleaning, painting has different aprons. It is a great item to have and makes the activity important when the apron is put on. They are also super easy to get on and off independently.
  4. Kitchen utensils and bowls: Joshua LOVES baking – you can see him doing a lot of baking in my posts here and here. He particularly loves mixing things in his mixing bowl which you can get here. And of course any kitchen utensils that are child sized are ideal.

So you may notice that most of the things that Joshua is interested in at the moment are practical life and art. Children are naturally interested in activities they have witnessed. Montessori “Practical Life Exercises” to allow the child to do activities of daily life and therefore adapt and orientate himself in his society. I have really found that having special items accessible to Joshua has resulted in him being eager to clean up the muesli that he drops on the floor in the morning, eager to wipe a window to help clean it or mop the floor. Investing in these items has been well worth it for us. I have been reliably informed by Joshua’s teacher that he loves washing dishes – something I admit we rarely do at home (but we do provide opportunities for water play). I did a post on what I believe to be a list of essential practical life items for any Montessori child here. Most of these items are available from Kylie’s lovely shop.

So the special news I have is that I am pleased to be able to feature a giveaway for one lucky reader (This is available to local AND international readers). In conjunction with Kylie from How We Montessori Shop we are pleased to be able to give away one voucher to the value of $100 (AUD)!

To enter simply do the following:

  1. Leave an answer on this post telling me why you Montessori and;
  2. Head on over to my Facebook page, share my Facebook page and blog with others, leaving a note on my page saying that you have shared from my post on the page about giveaway and;
  3. Head on over to How We Montessori Shop Facebook page, like and say hi – and tell Kylie that I sent you!

I will choose an entry that I like and will publish the winner on my Facebook page.

Entries close 31 July 2014 at 11.59pm (AEST). Good luck!

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.

What We Are Reading – June 2014 – Feelings

What We Are Reading June 2014 Learning About Feelings

We talk about feelings a lot. Joshua is at the age where talking about people’s feelings as well as naming and understanding your own feelings is becoming increasingly important so we practice naming feelings and cement understanding through reading and modelling the correct behaviour. Joshua is spending time increasing amounts of time with other people outside of immediate friends and family so it is important that he learns to stand up for himself as well as understand that making people feel sad – or being hurt yourself – is a part of life and that there is an appropriate way to express and handle these emotions.

Here are a few books we have been reading lately that Joshua has been enjoying:

  1. Baby Happy, Baby Sad – Leslie Patricelli
    This one is a picture book showing things that make baby happy and sad. Very funny as the lack of words in this book gives us a chance to really improvise and talk about what baby is doing and why this makes baby happy or sad.
  2. When Sophie Gets Angry – Really, Really Angry… – Molly Bang
    This one talks about being angry (self explanatory from the title!). Anger can be dealt with in many ways and this one shows Sophie getting really angry but dealing with it by stepping outside, getting some fresh air and thinking about things to calm her down before she returns home happy again.
  3. When I’m feeling happy – Trace Moroney
    A longer book, quite wordy but a really good book that talks about how being happy makes you feel inside. This is part of a series of books which I love that goes through all the different emotions – happy, angry, sad, lonely, jealous, scared and kind.
  4. Today I feel silly: And other moods that make my day – Jamie Lee Curtis
    The illustrations are a bit out there but the message in the book is wonderful. This book goes through all the emotions a child might feel during the day and uses rhymes to make it fun. There is a bit at the end to talk about what happy, sad, angry etc faces look like and you can turn the little wheel to decide how you feel today.
  5. No No Yes Yes – Leslie Patricelli
    This one is interesting. On the surface it seems to be a book that might encourage what a lot of people would term as defiant toddler behaviour however it is actually a book about self control – while this isn’t technically a “feeling” it is something we need to learn and this book shows that while it might be fun to do something it doesn’t mean you always should because this might make other people feel sad. Lots of pictures of things we do – yes – and things we don’t do – no.
  6. No Matter What – Debi Gliori
    No matter what Small does or says, Large will always love him. This is a great message to send to your child, you might feel a lot of things during the day but at the end of it all your parents will still love you and love is a feeling that definitely needs to be identified and encouraged. Another great one about unconditional love is The I Love You Book by Todd Parr as well as Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney.

In explaining how to deal with feelings I have noticed Joshua treating his toys with more care and love. He tells me frequently now that he loves and misses each toy by name, as well as people. He is encouraged (but not forced to say sorry) and if he will not say it he will now more often than not just hug or kiss whomever he has upset or hurt before moving on. It has become so clear to me how important it is to explain actions and feelings and the consequences in preparation for the commencement of his journey toward completion of what Maria Montessori referred to as “Normalisation“. (For more information on the stages of Normalisation please see here.)

Do you have books that you can suggest for feelings? I would love to hear them. There are so many books out there and I have only touched on a few that we have read.