Friday, February 5, 2016

Montessori Toddler Classification Cards with Printable

Nora is getting to the age where she is starting to be ready for matching work. She is starting to make connections about the world around her. We've dabbled with matching work before, but she wasn't quite ready. Now, as she really enters the sensitive period for order, I've noticed a real interest. She's also picking up words left and right as she expands her vocabulary. 

In the Montessori approach, classification cards are used as the first step in the matching series for toddlers. These cards have only pictures on them of related groups of objects. This is pre-matching work so these cards have no matches and no words. They are simply used to introduce the objects to toddlers giving them the exact vocabulary for the items. It introduces the concept of categories and that things go together. 

These cards are really simple to make! Just print out the printable I created. There are three different sets -- clothes, kitchen, and bathroom. Each set contains five to seven images. You can cut out and paste each set on to different colored card stock so that they are self-correcting should the cards get mixed together. Then, laminate for durability. Then, place each set in it's own basket or tray. You can also make your own by using any set of related images. 

To use these cards, each set is presented on its own to the child. I used a mat to present to Nora, but you don't have to, any surface is fine! To present the cards, I do a 2-part lesson. First I take each card slowly out of the basket and then say its name. With toddlers, I'm careful not to talk and move at the same time. Then, just place on the mat

Once all of the cards are placed down. You can go on to the second part of the lesson. Which asks the toddler to recall the names of each card. So, you may ask "Nora, where is the fork?" If your child is verbal {Nora at 19 months is not,} then you can hold up a card and ask "what's this?" This can be repeated as often as your child chooses the work! 

These cards can be used to introduce toddlers to new concepts until they are 3-years-old. Adding more cards can increase the challenge for older toddlers. Stay tuned for the next step in the matching process!

Have you introduced language or matching materials to your toddler? 

This post contains affiliate links at not cost to you. 


Monday, February 1, 2016

Benefits of the Montessori Weaning Table

According to Montessori ideals, an environment is tailored to the children. This often means equipping your home with child-sized furniture. With comfortable furniture, children have the freedom to move independently. 

A weaning table is no different. It allows babies to transition from a liquid diet (nursing or formula) to eating solid foods. It gives babies a place of their own to sit and enjoy a meal like the child has seen the parents do since birth. 

I see many benefits to ditching the high chair and using a weaning table instead. These benefits include:

  1. Independence: It promotes independence, child can get in and out of chair to eat on their own. There's no waiting for you to lift them to a high chair or being stuck in the chair when they are done.

  2. Comfort: More comfortable for the child -- feet are flat on the ground and sitting up all the way. High back and arms help the child sit.

  3. Table Manners: More natural transition to sitting at a table, start to learn table manners from the start. Plenty of space for the child to use real dishes, place-mat, napkins and more.

  4. Work Table: Weaning tables provide a comfortable place for your child to work outside of meal times. It can be used even as your child ages for other purposeful work.

  5. Household Participation: Children can help to participate in setting, clearing and cleaning the table. These practical life skills are fun for you children and help children participate in the natural rhythm of the home.

  6. Sibling Interaction: Weaning tables provide a gathering space for young children, including siblings to fully interact during a meal. The baby isn't tucked away in a chair on their own, but right in the middle of the meal action.

There are many options when I comes to weaning tables. The important part is that the table is small and sturdy. A child needs to move in and out without fear of tipping the table. We personally have the IKEA side table cut down to size with a weaning chair. 

Our chairs (like number 3) are easy to use and a great size for work, now that Nora sits at the larger table (with Henry) for meals. She started using the weaning table as soon as she started eating solids at 6 months. At first, we sat and ate meals with her. As she's gotten older, she eats dinner with us at our large table. She continues to eat all other snacks and meals at the slightly larger table she and Henry share. If we didn't have an older child, she would still use the weaning table for meals, she just prefers to be next to Hen. 

So, those are the benefits we've enjoyed by getting rid of our highchair and using a weaning table. It's been an experience, that we wouldn't trade. 

Do you use a weaning table or a high chair? Do you see any benefits to your choice? 

If you liked this post, don't miss: Mornings at the Weaning Table; Introducing the Weaning Cup

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Friday, January 29, 2016

Color Themed Treasure Baskets for Toddlers

Toddlers are amazing! They explore and absorb everything around them. In a Montessori environment, we try to provide as many opportunities to explore as possible. For babies and young toddlers, treasure baskets are a great way to do that. A treasure basket is a collection of small items appropriate for open-ended exploration. 

A treasure basket can literally be made of any random group of objects. I personally really love to do color themed baskets for young toddlers. I think they provide an awesome introduction to colors. However, not every Montessorian agrees. Many think of them as unnecessary. Many question if they really are used in a "Montessori" way or if they are just used to drill colors for toddlers. Or, some think there are more natural sensory experiences available. 

Typically, in a Montessori environment, toddlers are not taught colors. Instead, they absorb them from being in a language rich environment. And, I 100 percent agree with that. Toddlers do NOT need to be drilled on colors. That's not the purpose of these baskets. These baskets are for open-ended exploration. Not for drilling colors, not for memorization. Just for fun. 

When we have these on our shelves, I just leave them for Nora to discover. When she does explore, them, I let her lead. She may play with things, taste them, stack them, put them together. Basically, whatever she wants. I may say "the red ball" or "the yellow pom-pom" or "you have the pink heart." I keep it descriptive and fun. 

Do toddlers make the color connection with these baskets? Doubtful. They will learn through experience at their own pace. Are they engaged? Yes! Do I think that makes them awesome? Clearly!

So, what's in my color themed treasure baskets? 

I try to make each basket interesting and unique. Each basket is a combination of textures, sizes, shapes and shades. I try to mix some smaller items, some practical tools and containers -- bowls, ice cube trays or cups -- and simply mix it all together. 

Toddlers are often in the middle of the sensitive period for small objects. By providing a lot of little details, I feel like toddlers are instantly intrigued. But, it's a fine line between creating something that will be used in a constructive way and something that will be overwhelming. 

Nora can spend long periods of time playing with these. She loves the tiny objects. She wil place them in and out of the containers. Or pour them out. Line them up. Or just ask what each object is. Really she figures out what she wants to do.

Each basket is completely unique, but there are some materials that I use over and over. Pom-poms, wooden shapes, pipe-cleaners, and small toys. Fabrics, cookie cutters, and feathers also help to fill many of the baskets. Sometimes a heavy block, and light feather make a perfect contrast. Or a rough ball and a smooth baby food cap! 

Your own baskets can be made with anything you have! These baskets don't really require that you buy something special -- another reason I love them. Anything you think your child will enjoy can go in, there's no pressure! 

If your child is still mouthy, you can use larger objects or try mini rainbow sensory bottles. And, there's no need to use as many objects as I have in these. Feel free to use as many or few as you want. 

Want a more natural basket? Try natural materials in the same color hue -- rocks, flowers, shells, bark, leaves and water can all be very engaging. Just remember to keep it low pressure and child led! 

And, those are my color themed treasure baskets! Have fun with them, explore with them, and create with them! Remember your toddler will learn colors at their own pace without being drilled! 

Have you used treasure baskets with your baby or toddler? Do you like using color themed treasure baskets with toddlers?

If you liked this post, don't miss -- Printable Baby Language Book and Treasure Basket; Montessori Treasure Basket Guest Post

This post contains affiliate links at no cost to you. 


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Meaningful Choices for Babies and Toddlers

I know I've said this a lot lately, but I'll say it again...Montessori is not just about the things but it's about how we view and treat children. This shift in how children are treated does not start at 3, 4, or 5 when children start school, but it starts from birth.

Children are individuals deserving respect from the moment they enter this world

What does this mean practically? I think that means a few things. One, it means talking to babies and toddlers, not talking around them. This means talking to even young babies about what we are doing with them and around them. It also often means stopping to wait for a response, even if the baby isn't verbal.

Two, I think respecting babies and young toddlers means offering meaningful choices. Despite popular belief, even babies have the ability to make choices. The older a child gets the more capable they are to make decisions. 

What kinds of decisions can babies and young toddlers make? 

Which Toys to Explore

At first, you can offer two choices and see which one your baby looks at or reaches for. "Would you like the ring or the bell rattle?" Use non-verbal hints from your baby to determine which they would like. 

As kids get older you can place a couple of choices near your baby, see which one he or she gravitates toward. For toddlers, they should have complete control to pick any toy or material in the environment. 

What to Wear and How to Get Dressed

It seems incredible but even young babies can pick a shirt. From the time, Nora has been 7-8 months old, I have held two choices and let her pick. The one she reached for was the one she wears. Now {at 19 months} she can use verbal clues to help me which choice she makes. "Let's get dressed now! Should we put on your pants or your shirt first?" Simple choices like this can avoid a tantrum! You're not only respecting your child, but giving them some freedom and control. By avoiding the power struggle you can avoid the tears. 

What to Eat 

I don't think I would love it if someone told me what and how much to eat. Why would a young child? For babies, you can offer a couple choices {if baby-led-weaning it's just the same choices you are making} and place on a plate. Then, your child can choose which to try and how much to eat. 

Toddlers can verbalized a bit better and may be ready to make more direct choices. "I see that you are hungry. Would you like an apple or banana for snack?" Or "It's dinner time. Do you want broccoli or a salad?"

How to Move 

Freedom of movement is a big deal for young kids. Again, a lot of tantrums and power struggles can be avoided by simply asking your child how they want to get from one place to another. This one isn't as simple with babies, but is great for walkers. 

Each day when we drop Henry off at school you can find me crouch down and say "Nora it's time to go. Would you like to walk or should I carry you?" Most days you'll see Nora happily say "walk!" and come with me. 

Other opportunities to give them freedom of movement include when changing their diaper, when climbing into their car seat, when asking them to get off a table ("Can you get down on your own, or do you need help?") and other similar times. 

I'm sure there are other meaningful choices that babies and toddlers can make! But, these are definitely the ones I practice on a daily basis.

There are a few things to keep in mind when offering meaningful choices to young children -- 

  • Never offer something that you are uncomfortable with the answer. Either choice has to be alright with you.
  • Limit the options and stick to that limit. 2 or {maybe} 3 options is all a young child needs, otherwise it's easy for them to become overwhelmed.
  • Stick to the initial choice that was made. Lots of back and forth can be hard on both of you.
  • Get down on your child's level and offer the choice. Be clear in setting the limit "It's time to go." "Let's change your diaper." and on the choices.
  • Avoid adding a "can we?" or "okay?" Or any other question that provides a different option -- this will just increase frustration.
  • If your child won't choose an option, don't get frustrated. Simply stay calm and say, "you're showing me that you need me to choose." and, then make the decision. Then, offer a choice the next time.

Do you offer meaningful choices to your toddler or baby? How does your child respond? What other choices have you given?

Don't miss my Montessori Parenting Pinterest Board for more great inspiration. 

This post contains affiliate links at no cost to you. 


Friday, January 22, 2016

The Intersection Between Montessori and Waldorf

Montessori is one of many different alternative and natural learning schools of thought. These alternatives to traditional parenting and education offer families a different way of raising their children. From attachment parenting, to RIE, to unschooling and Reggio, there are many options available that don't fit the traditional mold. 

Waldorf education is one of these options. Waldorf, like Montessori, focuses on the needs of the individual child. Children are to be respected as whole beings. They deserve respect, dignity and a carefully prepared environment. Materials are beautiful, natural and open ended. 

However, there are some important distinctions between Montessori and Waldorf. Waldorf engrosses a child into a world of nature, but also fantasy. Gnomes and fairies are used to illustrate and explain academic ideas. A heavy emphasis is placed on the arts, drawing and poetry. Formal academics -- like reading -- is often delayed into children are older.

Pictured: Pyramid of Blocks {we have the larger set} 

But, there is something captivating about Waldorf play. The simple beauty of a handful of blocks and some peg people. Of a colorful wooden rainbow, and a soft gnome. It's peaceful and natural -- everything Montessori friendly play often aspires to be with a touch of whimsy added in. It also embraces nature, the movement of the seasons and the relationship between man and Earth.

I simply love these aspects of Waldorf-inspired play. They are magical and logical at the same time. They are beautiful and inspiring. Yet, solid and grounding. Just amazing. It gives children this wonderful space to explore relationships, use their imagination and test their feelings. 

And, I truly believe these parts of Waldorf education are completely compatible with Montessori ideals. These toys are beautifully made from natural materials. They are open-ended and child led. They are as intriguing. They provide a challenge and inherent order.

I used to fight my urge to introduce Waldorf elements into our play. But, not any more. I welcome the peg dolls, the gnomes and the rainbows. These elements add a warmth and beauty to our Montessori spaces that is hard to find. I'm so glad I opened my mind and heart to some of these toys. While the gnomes might not join us in our work, I'm happy to see them in our play. 

Do you incorporate elements from many learning styles into your home? Do you think there's room for Montessori and Waldorf ideas in a home? 

If you liked this post, don't miss: HABA Ball Track; Montessori Baby Toys 6 to 10 Months

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