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

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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. 

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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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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

2 Minute Montessori Activity -- Toddler Ball Drop

Need to keep a toddler entertained? Have 2 minutes? You need to make this! This easy ball drop has kept Nora, Henry and every other child that has come into our house in the last 2 weeks busy! There is just something about this simple material that has them all engaged. 

All you need for this ball drop is: 3 Gallon Water Jug, some ping-pong balls and another basket/bucket. Just set the jug somewhere next to the bucket/basket of balls, the temptation to place the balls will be too great for a toddler to ignore! Then, the toddler can tip the jug over to dump out the balls, and start again. 

There's an added challenged dumping the balls back into the smaller bucket. The container is large (but light) and the handle makes it easy to pick up! This motion is perfect for reaching maximum effort -- something toddlers crave! Also, it helps toddlers fulfill that desire to dump. The ping-pong balls add an extra layer of excitement, and bounce wildly inside the jug and when they are dumped. Their unpredictability has led to many giggles! 

So, if you need to entertain a toddler, grab a jug and some balls and set them free! Its an easy, Montessori inspired way to have fun this winter! How do you keep a toddler busy in the winter? Do you have a favorite easy Montessori idea? 

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Monday, January 18, 2016

Toddlers & Dumping -- Why do Toddlers Dump Everything?

Have you ever walked into a beautiful organized space with a toddler?! The whole situation is ripe with possibility. You are excited for all the amazing work that lies ahead. Then, your toddler walks up to a newly organized shelf and dumps the work to the floor.

Why do toddlers dump everything? Some Montessori inspired answers for parents who find that all their children do is dump toys and materials and walk away.

You scramble to pick up the pieces while your toddler hurries to the next basket or tray and dump, dump, dump... Pretty soon the environment seems trashed and you're ready to throw something {or someone} out the window. 

Sound familiar? 

I know it does to me! I've seen both my children on occasion walk up to something in our home, dump it out and walk away. 

So, why do toddlers like to dump? 

Toddlers explore every aspect of their environment. Dumping is no exception. It's a form of exploration that is often inconvenient to us as caretakers more than anything. Why do toddlers do it? Simple answer, it's fun!

The more complicated answer is that it is fulfilling a need that they are seeking in their environment. I think, constant dumping can signal: 

  1. Boredom -- Maybe the materials have been out for too long and your child is simply bored. Maybe there are too few materials to keep your child interested. Changing a few things, or even rearranging what's available might spark a more constructive interest.

  2. A need to reach maximum effort -- Toddlers need heavy work, if they don't have it, they will seek it. Dumping might be a sign that they need something larger to work with.

  3. Inappropriate materials -- The materials that are available might be too hard. There is some pressure to rush toddlers to do more than they are ready for. This can lead to frustration and ultimately no interest in doing anything constructive with the toys. 

  4. Too many materials -- If there are too many materials out in a space, toddlers can become overwhelmed. Just think about if you told to wash dishes and the sink was piled high with 100 items, it becomes overwhelming. And, its hard to know where to start. The same is true for toddlers; less is often more.

  5. Inadequate Guidance -- A child may need another lesson on how to work with the material.

  6. Improper Storage -- Is the tray/basket to heavy? Do the materials slide right off? If the work isn't stored in a way that promotes success, dumping is almost inevitable. Things have to be small enough and account for the wobbliness of toddlers.

  7. No outlet for dumping --  Toddlers are going to dump. End of story. They need an appropriate outlet for that need. Do they have something they can dump? Buckets in the bath? Bean Bags and a bucket? Playtime in the sink? Access to sand/gravel/beans/anything? They need it! 

  8. Your Reaction -- Really think about how you react to the dumping! I know if I do it sounds something like this: "OH! Nora! Oh! Nnnnn, umm, lets keep the beans! Stop dumping them! ack!" I know it! I'm not perfect and I overreact too. And, to a toddler, that's funny. They like that they control your reaction and they will seek that reaction again and again. 
Why do toddlers dump everything? Some Montessori inspired answers for parents who find that all their children do is dump toys and materials and walk away.

Once you have made changes to help limit dumping, don't be surprised if it takes awhile to see changes. It can be hard to learn a new habit. Just keep redirecting to appropriate dumping opportunities. And just keep remembering that dumping is developmentally appropriate and isn't going to completely stop. 

When it happens, cheerfully model how to treat the materials. "I see you dumped the basket of blocks. When we aren't building the blocks stay in the basket. Let's put them away!" This really does wonders! 

Do you have a problem with your toddler dumping? How do you handle it? 

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Saturday, January 16, 2016

Easy Wall Art for Kids

One important part of a Montessori environment is making an environment beautiful for the child. This means using child sized furniture, and natural materials. But, it also means hanging art for a child to enjoy at a child's level. While we as adults hang things on our walls, its often too high for a child to actually ponder and enjoy. By hanging art at a level where they can enjoy, it often changes the whole feel of the child's area. 

Easy and budget friendly idea for wall art in Montessori child spaces using wall calendars

Regularly changing these images can keep children's interest and expose your child to a variety of artists/experiences. But, in reality, purchasing a ton of artwork for your children's spaces is expensive! And time consuming. 

But, it doesn't have to be! Wall Calendars! Friends, calendars are often made with high quality, clear images on thick paper. These realistic images are perfect for young children. And, you get 12 images to rotate immediately! The images can be laminated or hung in a cheap frame at child's level. 

Easy, cheap wall art for kids. Perfect for Montessori homes.

I suggest looking for images that are clear and free of text. Realistic images with realistic subjects are best! Fine art images can also add interest and intrigue. 

This really is the perfect time to look for a wall calendar or two! Most are being clearanced out right now. So, you really can't beat it! 

Have you found a budget friendly way to create a Montessori inspired space in your home? Share your tips in the comments! 

If you like this post, don't miss: Montessori at Home -- How to Start 

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Friday, January 15, 2016

A Toddler at Work

The other day I sat down to take some pictures of some of the work that has been on Nora's shelves over the last couple of months. (Stay tune for that!) And something magical happened -- Nora appeared from her play to join me. 

Toddlers have this reputation for being utterly chaotic and uncontrollable. They whir into the room with this contagious energy that seems to never end. But if you look closer, toddlers are amazing little beings.

Stringing Large Beads on Pipe Cleaners

A Montessori Toddler at Work

They are constantly thinking and exploring. I mean, how exhausting to constantly be "on" like that all the time, yet for them, its natural. They have an insatiable desire to touch every object, to test every limit and perfect their every move. For their little absorbent minds soak in everything around them, examining it over and over again, until they know it. 

Color Exploration Sensory Bin

Matching Lids to Small Boxes 

I think it's almost impossible for us to recognize how amazing this is. Because, its also loud, organized differently than our own world view and, oh, so quick. It's often inconvenient. It's passionate. It's messy. 

Circle size puzzle

But, frozen in time -- in a literal snapshot -- you realize a toddler at work is one of the world's most beautiful sights.

Object-to-Object Matching with Small Animals 

Have you ever really noticed a toddler at work? Did you see this beauty?

If you liked this post, check out: A Montessori Moment; Montessori Work from 12 to 14 Months

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