Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Rainbow Sensory Jars -- An Introduction to Colors

Now that Nora is officially 1-year-old, I'm going to introduce the names of colors. Soon, I'll begin more structured trays with her, but I wanted to start with something familiar for her -- a treasure basket. 

The basket contains 6 tiny hard plastic jars -- each a rainbow color. Instead of using water to fill the jars, I used dish soap and food coloring. The jars are originally meant to mix small amounts of paint. After mixing each color, I glued on the top. This ensures they are safe and that there are no accidental messes. 

The soap holds the dye very nicely, but coats the sides so the jar has some color of it is turned upside down. It also makes less noise this way, so the jars don't become about exploring the sound. Also, when shaken, little bubbles are formed which add visual interest without changing the color. 

So far, I've placed them in a basket altogether for Nora to use. She has enjoyed looking at them, shaking, mouthing and playing. The grooves in the top of the bottles also allow them to be stacked and I've seen her exploring that. I've also seen them lined up in rainbow order, so I know Henry must be enjoying them as well!

Eventually, I will use these jars individually to introduce the names of the colors. But for now, she can just explore!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Zoology Sensory Bottles for Montessori Babies

As Nora gets older, I am constantly looking for new ways to help her explore the world around her and enjoy new sensory experiences. Nora loves animals, so I especially love finding ways to incorporate her interests into something concrete for her to explore. To combine sensory and zoology, I created these mini-sensory bottles! 

These small bottles contain natural elements -- grasses, sand, rocks, and dirt -- that might otherwise end up in Nora's mouth. While I'm fine with a little dirt-eating, these bottles allow for a different type of exploration. The bottles are designed to represent the ecosystem/home of the animal -- hippo, lion, elephant and pig -- contained inside the bottle. 

When used, the bottles make unique sounds and patterns. The animals {found here} and their habitats all move and feel different. 

For babies, this exploration of the environments is probably enough to engage them for a long time. I know that Nora was very interested in exploring, mouthing, shaking and staring at each little bottle. However, one thing I love about this idea is how easily it can be transitioned from baby work, to engaging toddler and preschool work. 

To do this, I added larger Schleich animals to match the animals in the bottles. For toddlers this becomes an object-to-object matching work. They can explore the bottle, find the small animal and match it to the larger animal. 

I did give Nora the larger animals for these pictures, but she is not ready for this type of complex matching work. She just enjoys exploring both the bottles and the animals without any pressure to match. In fact, the animals are some of her favorite Montessori-friendly toys. I almost died from the cute when she snuggled that elephant. 

Preschoolers, like Henry, are ready for more. They are ready to learn about the actual environments and habitats of the animals. So, I made cards identifying the names of each habitat the animals live in -- farm, grassland, savannah, and river. 

Henry and I talked about the habitats and I named them. Then, we matched the larger animals to their smaller counterparts. Finally, we matched the words to their proper environment.

Henry has loved this work as much as Nora. He has studied the smaller jars, the larger animals and matched the words. While Henry isn't reading yet, he is able to remember the names of each environment and match them based on their beginning letter sound. I hope these open up a larger conversation for us about animals and their habitats. And, I hope they inspire you to do the same! 

This post is part of the 12 Months of Montessori Learning series. This month's Montessori and Montessori-inspired posts are all about zoology! Visit these amazing blogs for more great zoology ideas!

12 Months of Montessori Learning! 


Friday, June 5, 2015

DIY Farm Play Mat

I'm excited to finally share this project! If you follow me on Instagram, then you know that I've been working on a farm play mat for the last couple months. 

My intention is to have the mat for Henry to use as a Montessori grammar farm as he gets older. But, right now he is not quite ready to use it for grammar work. Hopefully, he will start by labeling things as he gets a grasp on reading. For now, it's for play and exploration. Even Nora enjoys it. 

The mat is made entirely from felt and embroidery floss. Both were purchased from a craft store. To make, you need a large piece of felt for the base. Mine is approximately 3 feet by 3 feet. You'll also want some brown felt and multiple colors for the flowers. The exact colors are up to you. 

The farm mat includes a pond, mud pit, and several gardens. I sprinkled some random dandelions around the farm for good measure. Henry is obsessed with them. Each piece is hand cut and hand sewed with the embroidery floss. 

In the gardens I included carrots and lettuce, pumpkins, generic red vegetables {which Henry says are strawberries}, zucchini, and some seedlings.  There are also a couple of flower gardens.

To complete the farm, I added our barn. It's Terra brand from Target. I roughly sewed flower gardens on them at to mark where the barn can sit. That's not really necessary but I felt it would make it easier for Henry to use the mat on his own.

The animals are Schleich brand. I love these sturdy animals. They stand on their own even on carpet and are very realistic. 

The farmer is from Bruder. I've searched long and hard for a plain farm worker that wasn't stuck in one position. This man fits the bill and has been an instant favorite with Henry.

I hope this post inspires you to make your own play mat or grammar farm. I enjoyed making it about as much as my kids enjoy playing with it! 


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Montessori Baby -- Baby Toys 6 to 10 months

The older Nora gets, the more interested in her environment she becomes. As a result, we've introduced more toys for her to explore as she has gotten older. Like the Montessori friendly toys I featured at 4-months, these are not traditional "work." But, these are toys that I believe are work well in a Montessori household. 

I've broken the toys up roughly by the month that I introduced the toy to Nora. Many of these toys she still uses today. At any one time, the toys are limited to a few at a time in addition to some more traditional Montessori items. I rotate the toys every few weeks or when she loses interest.  

Montessori Toys at 6 Months 

The toys we introduced at 6 months are some of the most popular we have. Even Henry will choose these off the shelf frequently. 
  • Sensory Balls -- these are by far the most popular toy we have. Henry loves these, Nora loves these. They are on our shelves quite a lot! These are worth every cent.
  • Sophie The Giraffe -- This may not be 100 percent Montessori because it is a bit cartoonish. But, this is such a great teether that I love it anyway. 

  • Bell Cylinder -- The bell cylinder is pretty traditionally Montessori, and could probably be introduced even a little earlier than 6 months. It makes a great sound and encouraged Nora to crawl as it rolled away. 
  • Schleich Animals -- These animals are amazing. We use these every day. I actually never intended this to be Nora's toy, but she wouldn't leave this polar bear on Henry's shelf. Henry and Nora both use these animals daily for months on end. In my opinion, you can't have enough of these! 

Montessori toys at 8 months 

The toys we introduced at 8 months started to have some objective -- stack or move. While they can all be used for open play, they also can be used for purposeful action. 
  • Flapping Flower Toy -- This toy is kind of interesting, because the petals of the flower change colors as you move them back and forth. Nora loved to flip them from one color to the other. And I love anything rainbow for my rainbow baby! 
  • Bead Mover -- This is a great fine motor toy as the babies move the beads. Nora loved this and it took a fair amount of concentration. She will be able to use this for a long time. 
  • Stacking Cups -- We have a few different sets of cups like this in different shapes. I do wish we had a nice wooden set, though. The plastic ones are nice, too, because they can be used in the bath or on a shelf. 
  • Basic Blocks -- We have several different sets of blocks in our house, and Nora loves them all. Right now she is mostly interested in taking them out and putting them in a basket or bucket. For this purpose, I like smaller blocks instead of unit blocks {which are great for more purposeful building later on.} 

Montessori toys at 10 months

By 10 months old, Nora was ready for more complicated and interactive toys.  
  • Drum -- I love this solid wood drum, it's easy to use and makes a pleasing sound {that's not too loud!} Henry loves this drum too. Although, we have had some problems with Nora gagging herself with the stick, so she is closely supervised with it. 

  • Simple puzzle -- The puzzled pictured is an older Melissa and Doug puzzle that I bought at a thrift store. However, many Montessori suppliers sell similar sets. And, ideally, we would have single shape puzzles since this is still a bit complicated, but this is what we have.  

  • Ring Stacker -- I love the beautiful colors of this stacker. At this point, if this stacker is out on our shelves we only give Nora one or two of the rings. As she gets older we will add more and more. 
  • Books -- We have been reading books to Nora since she was born. However, I put books under 10 months old, because this was when she really started bringing me specific books to read and showing favorites. To keep books Montessori friendly, we try to use books that have real pictures and simple text. We avoid fantasy for this age. 
And, that's it! Our top Montessori friendly toys for babies 6 months to 10 months! What are your favorite Montessori friendly baby toys?


Monday, May 25, 2015

When Montessori Isn't Independent

The other day, Henry asked me for an orange. I took one from our fruit bowl, cut it in half and gave it to him. Then, Nora started fussing to eat. So, I nursed her. 

As I nursed, Henry proceeded to go to his kitchen area, and get his juicer and cup. He juiced the orange slices and poured himself a glass of juice. After drinking the juice, he threw away the orange slices, put the cup and juicer in the dishwasher, and was on his way. 

I wasn't involved in any of it. None.

It was the perfect example of independence, combining practical life skills, responsibility, and caring for his environment. 

But this isn't always our normal. We struggle a lot with independence.

Henry likes when we do things for him. He likes when I put on his shoes. When I pour his cup. When I put on his jacket or zip it up -- when I get something for him, when I read, count, the list goes on. Despite the fact that he can do many of these things by himself his default is still to ask me.

To be perfectly honest, it's often very frustrating. I can find myself getting upset which leads to both of us getting ingrained in our positions -- me on the "you can do it side" and Henry on the "do it for me" side.

So, what do we do, when Montessori isn't independent?

The answer to this depends on the situation. If we are in a hurry, if I'm frustrated or Henry is frustrated -- I help. I don't do it for him, but help as much as he feels he needs to at least attempt to do it on his own.

If we have time, I step away. Not in an obvious "I'm not doing this for you!" way, but in a subtle way. 

Some techniques I use include: 


Sometimes Henry just needs a tiny reminder that he knows how to do the task. Sometimes, it's as simple as saying "I believe I saw you zip your coat this morning! Could you try zipping it again?" 

A verbal cue sometimes gives him just the right encouragement to attempt the task. 


"Can you show Nora, how to..." Is by far the easiest way to get Henry engaged in an activity. He loves to guide Nora and show off his skills. And Nora is a willing participant. This simple trick helps remind him of how much he knows and practice at the same time. 


This isn't always a technique as much as it is a necessity. I'm not always available to Henry, there are times when I am nursing or changing a diaper, or getting dressed myself. Whatever the case is, I simply ask Henry to try while I finish my task. 

By not rushing to him, I give the space to complete a task for a few minutes. He will often attempt and succeed just because he doesn't want to wait. Even when I'm not super busy, then, I might pull out a "be right there," or "in a minute" just to give him time to practice without getting frustrated over a flat-out no. 


I've found that when Henry is struggling with independence it's often a matter of needing some one-on-one attention. By giving hugs and cuddles, reading a book or playing together, I give Henry the attention he is really craving. When this need is satisfied, he is much more willing to complete tasks on his own.


Another thing to really examine is the environment when you are having independence issues. While I might think that something is accessible for Henry, it's not. Get on their level and really make sure you've given your child, every opportunity to succeed. I've noticed that if one part of a task isn't accessible, it can increase his frustration to the point that he can't complete any of it.

I try my best to avoid yelling or getting frustrated, but I struggle in these areas. I'm constantly pushing myself to work on these issues. But, I do avoid scolding him for wanting help, shaming him, or otherwise assigning a punishment. I do my best to remember he won't always be little, and to enjoy these days as much as I can.

How do you encourage independence in your home? Does your child struggle with being independence? 

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