Thursday, February 25, 2016

Easter Baskets for Montessori Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers

I have spring on my mind! This week we are finally getting above freezing temperatures here in Minnesota and it feels like spring is right around the corner {and I hope that's true!} But, its reminding me that Easter really is right around the corner. And, with that, it's time to start thinking about Easter baskets. 

We celebrate both the religious and the secular portions of the holiday. But, honestly we don't make a big deal about the "Easter bunny" or anything like that. For us, the baskets are just a small gift to celebrate the miracle that is Easter and the end of our Lenten preparations. 

I, personally, just always keep our Easter baskets pretty spring and nature themed. I think that's just a beautiful way to tie them back to the religious new-birth that comes with the Easter holiday. So, my suggestions heavily lean toward spring and outdoor essentials and toys. 

And, there are so many great Montessori friendly options! I have included a bunch of options here for you, but personally, our baskets will include three, maybe four, from a list -- usually one from each category. So, don't think I'm saying a basket needs to include everything! 


For babies, I like to keep it simple. Last year, Nora -- at about 10 months -- just got the wooden drum I listed. It was a huge hit. 


Toddlers have a lot more options for the "spring" theme! Especially with books, there are just so many great choices! Remember to follow your child, some of these suggestions might be perfect for one child at 2-years-old but not for another until 4-years-old.




By preschool, there are so many wonderful and real tools that children can be using outside and in! It's hard to narrow them down! But, it also means there are a lot of choices for whatever interests your child has. 


For the Basket

I think its also fun to be creative with how you put the Easter basket together! We typically stick with baskets, but this year I'm thinking about switching it up and making the container useful. Seriously, how fun would it be to have a Green Play Silk instead of Easter grass? Or to use a Small Wooden Tray instead of a basket! Other options could include a Rope Basket or a Metal Bucket!

What are you getting your children for Easter? Do you stick with the spring theme? Or is there something you would have included on this list?

If you liked this post, check out: The Ultimate Montessori Toy List: Birth to Age 5

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Monday, February 22, 2016

Montessori Toddler Trays -- How Do You Set Up Toddler Toys in a Montessori Way?

An important part of a Montessori environment is having an orderly and prepared space. The phrase "a place for everything and everything in its place" is often used. This means that toys and materials should be neatly placed on shelves instead of thrown into a toy box or bin. But, it also means that each tray should be neatly organized and accessible. 

This doesn't just make your environment look neat and organized, but it actually entices a child to the materials themselves. By having everything neat and organized, a toddler can see the material, and easily remove it from the shelf. It can also give clues to the toddler about what should be done with the toy or material. 

When I first started Montessori, I believed that throwing everything onto a tray was good enough. However, over time I've come to realize it's more nuanced than that. Here are some considerations that I make when presenting materials: 

  • How heavy is the tray? Heavy work will spill all over as a toddler takes it out

  • How large is the tray? If its too large, things will again spill and dump all over

  • Is the tray itself organized? Dumping stuff onto the tray is not going to entice a child

  • Is the tray a hindrance? This is that fine line where you have to recognize that somethings do better in a basket, or alone on the shelf.
  • Is the work ready for a toddler to complete? What's the fun in having an activity that is already been done? The work on the tray must be {deconstructed} ready for a toddler to use.
Every one of these things has taken me time and observation to get right with Nora. I can present a material one way and she won't even look at it! Change up how I place it on my shelf and I set her up for success!

So, concrete example time! Here are some examples of how I place materials on Nora's {20-months} shelves. 

Puzzles: This is one area that I think is uniquely Montessori. Puzzles are not placed completed on a shelf! If you do that, then the child's work is done, and there's no reason for the child to use the puzzle. Instead, a basket near the puzzle frame with the pieces does the trick! If its a small puzzle I might put the frame and pieces on one tray. Otherwise I have them sit next to each other on the shelf. 

It works so well that I couldn't even keep Nora away while I was taking pictures of her work!

Multiple Pieces: Things that are multiple but related pieces, I just use a basket of some sort. Schleich animals, cars or blocks, for example, all go into manageable baskets. Same for things like bead stringing or classification cards

Sorting and Other Purposeful Work: These are things where there is a specific goal in mind. Maybe shape sorting, maybe placing rings on dowels, maybe stacking in an order. For these things, I don't necessarily set the tray or material up as the manufacturer intended -- at least not right away. In some cases, I may limit the pieces so its age appropriate, in some cases I may just take it apart. 

Let's use this shape sorter as an example. Here's how the toy is intended to be set up: 

While there is nothing wrong with the way the toy is intended to use, its just a bit too complicated for Nora. By separating it and placing the pieces on a smaller tray and placing the pieces in the basket, the whole thing becomes more manageable. She's less likely to dump it out and it can be easily restored. Eventually, I will get a bigger tray and use it as intended (and organizing it deconstructed like a puzzle).  

Other examples: 

For me, its been trial and error learning how to best present materials in my home. Observe your child and do what draws them in! 

How to you present materials to toddlers? Have you noticed that one way works better than another? 

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Friday, February 19, 2016

Montessori Friendly Toys 16 to 19 Months

As of yesterday, Nora is officially 20 months old. I can't believe she is getting so close to 2. As she gets older, I wanted to share some of her favorite toys over the past few months. 

{Left to Right; Top to Bottom}
  1. Stacking Cone
  2. Ikea Shape Sorter
  3. Schliech Mama and Baby Cows -- for free play and for object-to-object matching
  4. Grimm's Nesting Boxes
  5. Animal finger puppets
  6. Ring Stacker
  7. Circle Size Puzzle {similar}
  8. Ring Counting -- used for color sorting not for counting, only one of each color used
  9. Animal Puzzle {similar} -- this is vintage Melissa and Doug
  10. Beads on Pegs puzzle
  11. Simple Shape Sorter
  12. Bean Bags
  13. Vehicles around town {UPS, USPS, Taxi}
  14. Xylophone
  15. Anatomically Correct Dolls {Boy, Girl}
  16. Stacking Cups -- we have several versions of these so just depends which we have out 
You'll notice that many of the toys have been featured before at some point or another. Much like I don't push Nora to academics, I also don't rush her to move on to the next stage of toy. Just because she can do a puzzle doesn't mean I move her on to something new. Concentration and repetition is important so I allow her ample time with every material -- more on that later! 

Also, during this time, Nora just hasn't been that focused on working with anything. She's much more likely doing practical work -- I'll share some of the work or materials I've made soon -- or reading or working on gross motor skills. And, that's all fine! I know she'll have plenty of time to work on trays and with toys as she ages. 

During this time, Nora had anywhere from six to eight of the things on this list available to her. Plus somethings that I've created for her, some gross motor toys and staples (like blocks and books). There are also some other less popular toys that for some reason didn't make this list. They may not have been well received, or she wasn't ready for them or got bored of them -- in other words, this list isn't all inclusive of everything she's touched in the last three months. In total, she had between 14-18 things out around the house for her to use at any given time between 16 and 19 months. 

Does your child have a favorite material at this age? Is it on this list? 

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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Let's Stop Rushing Toddlers

We live in a fast world. I can order food online and have it delivered to me an a matter of minutes all without ever interacting with anyone. It's that fast. In a matter of seconds I can look up any information I've ever wanted or needed to know. 

This speed creates a certain pressure. Have you felt it? There's a pressure to keep up, to move at lightening speed, to skip steps and make leaps. The same is becoming true for other aspects of life -- for child rearing and education. Kindergarten is the new first grade; preschoolers are the new kindergartners; toddlers are the new...

Well, what are toddlers? Still toddlers! But, yet still they face all the pressure to push academics. To teach toddlers ABCs, to teach them to count. Theres a rush to teach them all these abstract concepts. I know I feel it. There's an expectation that they be working toward a goal. That they become little people capable of regurgitating facts and sayings. "What color is this!? How many are there?! What letter is this!? What sound does that animal make!?" 

Can we all agree to just stop!? 

I will stand up and admit that with Henry I pushed these things. Through tot school, I was introducing academic concepts with him from an early age. I think it was done in a Montessori-inspired way and respectfully followed his lead, but it was early. And it was because I felt the pressure to have him start academic learning. And, I think there are some children that are more interested in this type of learning from an earlier age. 

Things are different this time. I'm not going to bow to this mainstream pressure. I'm going to resist it -- tooth and nail. I'm not going to skip steps. I'm going to save the mystery of preschool for preschool. 

In the words of Maria Montessori (from The Absorbent Mind): "By the age of three, the child has already laid down the foundations of his personality as a human being, and only then does he need the help of special scholastic influences." So, before three, have other more important work than scholarly work. 

So, what should toddlers be doing if not academics? 

Toddlers are creatures of our world. They are explorers and scientists. They need to focus on the concrete, on the world actually around them. Building their vocabulary about things that are real. This happens naturally in a language rich environment. Talk to your child, read to your child, provide opportunities for classifying, creating order and matching. These skills are the foundation for understanding abstract concepts later. 

Toddlers need to develop their hands and bodies. They need to be given opportunities for exploration of concrete materials. Things that challenge their little muscles and their big ones! They are wiggly and uninterested in sitting still for a reason. They have to figure out how they work. Materials, little trays and even toys can come later. They are driven to move. We can give them the respect and space to allow them to explore. "Play is the work of the child." Maria Montessori 

{In these pictures, Nora uses wooden fruit magnets. Exploring the shapes and asking me the names.} 

They are also driven to the practical. They learn from watching. And you are their constant teacher. Are you sitting around scooping beans? No, not likely. Are you scooping in the garden, the kitchen? Yep! And that's where they ultimately want to be. We can give them the tools to make it happen.

So, next time your toddler won't sit for hours working on little trays or work, or won't count to 10 for you, or shows no interest in art projects, remember they aren't built for that. Stop rushing your toddler. Next time you want to quiz your toddler on the letters of the alphabet, just wait. Know that they have more important work to do! Follow your child, let their interests lead you and enjoy them while they are little! 

Have you found yourself rushing your toddler toward academics? Do you disagree with me?

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

30+ Awesome Montessori Friendly Magnet Toys

I'm always looking for fun and engaging Montessori friendly toys for my children. Finding the right materials for an environment can be a challenge and there's something fun about that! 

With Henry's 5th birthday right around the corner, I was surprised to find so many excellent ways to explore magnets! While some of these would be perfect for older kids, many even a younger toddler like Nora could enjoy! 

Building Toys 

Magna-Tiles -- a hands down favorite in our house! 
Guidecraft Better Builders -- another popular choice with my kids, even toddlers can build with these. 

Tegu Blocks -- we have these, but I have to be honest, they are not well loved. They are not easy to build with and a bit limiting. But, many Montessori parents like that the magnets are safely tucked inside and that they are natural.

Patterns and Puzzles

Magnetic USA Map -- we have this one! Lovely and includes 50 pieces 
Vehicle Magnetic Pattern Puzzles -- high on my list for a toddler

Learning Tools

Janod Body Puzzle (complex) -- this one is good 4(+) but  Henry didn't really start to love it until much closer to 5. It's a lot of little pieces.
Body Puzzle -- more general puzzle for younger children.
Magnetic Solar System -- How fun do these look?
Transparent Magnetic Chips -- These would be so much fun on a light table 


Farm Animals -- I love the realistic images!
Color Coded Alphabet Magnets -- could be used as a movable alphabet! 
Fruits -- A favorite at our house, these are well made and wonderful images

The Other Stuff

Chalkboard Easel -- High on my wish list! So cute! 

I hope these ideas inspire some really fun magnetic play! These can be great language tools, science materials and just plain fun! 

Do your kids like magnets? Do you have any Montessori friendly magnetic toys that you would add to this list? 

If you liked this post, don't miss: The Ultimate Montessori Toy List: Birth to Five

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Day in the Life: The Other Stuff

Yesterday, I shared some pictures and our daily rhythm and routine. And, while it really does look like an average day, I still feel like it's just a little too perfect. I don't want to be the blogger that only shows the perfection, because that's not real. 

Because even in a Montessori home, toddlers crawl on tables. And kids run around wild and throw things. All while being at different stages of being undressed. 

And, the carpet sweeper gets opened up and 1,000,000 quinoa scatter on your newly vacuumed floor. And, your kids play with lightsabers and Batman dolls. It all happens to me. 

Just like there are times I lose my cool, and there are times when I just want to sit around. Or I look around my house and every material and toy is scattered around. Nothing is perfect here, no one is perfect. But, still, life is great. 

If you liked this post, don't miss: Imperfect Montessori Morning


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Daily Rhythm in Our Montessori Home

I get asked a lot for a schedule of our day. How we structure our homeschool time, our playtime and regular life. This isn't an easy question for me to answer, because the answer is always the same but different -- I follow the child. I don't force any specific list of activities on my children or force them to pick certain materials. I prepare the environment and let their interests lead. 

However, we do have a rhythm or routine that we generally stick to. Maria Montessori identified that the ideal work periods for children should be three hours long. So, I try to structure my day in three hour chunks. While my kids aren't "working" in a classroom per se the whole time, this does provide enough structure for us all.

So, I thought I would share our typical routine with examples from a random day. Just a note about the pictures -- I don't think they accurately reflect how much I am working, playing and reading with the kids. I chose not to get out the tripod, so I would get more accurate pictures of the kids. Also, this is not every single thing we did. Nora bounces around a lot, and that would just be too many pictures to feature here. Finally, I think these pictures show Henry working on homeschool materials a little less than is typical -- Nora and Henry were coming off a wicked stomach bug and no one was back to 100 percent yet. 

6:00 a.m. -- 9:00 a.m. 

My days typically start somewhere between 5:30 and 6:00. I work from home, so a few days a week I work from around 5:45 to 8:00 while Morgan is with the kids. He will get them up and fed. Then, we trade off so he can get ready to leave for work. On days I don't work, I try to get a little more sleep -- but Nora often has other plans.

Reading "Little Beauty" 

On those days, I may work on blog and social media stuff, make homeschool materials or simply read mindless stuff on the internet in the morning. I am NOT a morning person, and the kids know this. Generally, they will sit quietly with me, eat or play. Morgan takes on a lot of the parenting at this time, just because I have no patience this time of day. 

Henry plays with the Grimm's Rainbow

As it gets later, Morgan heads to work, and Nora and I get dressed. On school days, Henry gets dressed too, but otherwise I let him follow his own desires to get dressed. 

9:00 a.m. -- 12:00 p.m. 

This is our first work period of the day. This is what I consider our "independent" time. Not that I'm not around or involved, I'm just not as actively participating in all their play. Henry goes to school several days a week during this time. This also tends to be when we would do outings or run errands. 

Henry builds with Magnatiles; Nora on the {discontinued} Ikea seesaw 

So, we are not necessarily just playing at home at this time. When we are, the kids follow their own interests. I may play with them for a few minutes and let them play alone. Or, we may read for 30 minutes or not. I follow their lead. But, its also when I get things done around the house. It may be 15 minutes of focused playing, then 15 minutes of unloading the dishwasher. Or throwing in laundry or vacuuming. The kids are always invited to help me in my cleaning or chores. Sometimes they do join in, Nora, in particular, is much more likely to be helping me than working alone. 

Nora starts to color matching {completely her idea} between loose gems and DIY colored boxes from our light-panel area. Henry gets water from a Brita water filter

Around 10:00, the kids get an independent snack from their kitchen area. And, then go back to whatever they are doing. Usually Nora needs more focused play with me by this point, but not always. They will also play together. If its not the dead of winter, we may go outside. There are also times when I might have a sensory bin or other sensory experience planned, that just depends on the day and my energy level. If the kids aren't doing a great job working on their own, sensory play can sometimes turn the mood around. 

Henry sweeps with the Bissell Carpet Sweeper Vacuum with a center bar removed as I use our regular vacuum.  

Henry works with "Maps" and works on comparing populations between countries trying to find the largest. 

This part of our day really looks so different each day. Henry might spend the entire morning in our homeschool classroom, or no time at all. Nora might cling to me or she might play quietly. But, by noon, everyone is ready to move on. 

12:00 p.m. -- 3:00 p.m. 

The third part of our day starts with cleaning up and making lunch. Henry has recently started taking over much more responsibility at lunch time. He is starting to make his own lunch from start to finish.

Henry makes vegan mac and cheese for himself and Nora with supervision. 

By 1:00, our "morning" is officially over. Henry goes to quiet time and Nora goes down for her nap. At quiet time, Henry can choose to be in one of our playrooms or his classroom. During this time, everyone completely does their own thing. Henry does not have the option to join me, but needs this time to rest. He's often found curled up with his blankie reading or laying. 

During this time, I work, either on my work-work, blog work or prepare for the class I teach. I might craft and watch a show, or clean.

3:00 p.m. -- 6:00 p.m. 

By 3:00 p.m. Henry is ready for interaction again, and Nora is usually getting up. This "work period" is where I am much more involved in what they are doing. I actively make it a point not to do anything but hang out with the kids. 

Henry works on pink series. Nora and Henry paint using watercolors and watercolor paper.

I still follow the children's lead during this time and play along with what they are interested in doing. Typically, I would say we spend on average an hour in our homeschool classroom, an hour reading books and an hour doing other activities. Its too cold here most days to go outside, but on warmer days we may spend an hour outside {and all of it outside in the summer}. 

Henry and Nora play with Legos on the light-table panel. Reading "Lola at the Library."

I'm very fortunate to have a husband that does most of the cooking, so I don't usually have to do much when it comes to dinner. But towards the end of this time, we do start to pick up and make sure we're ready to eat. 

6:00 p.m. -- 10:00 p.m. 

By 6:00 p.m., everyone is ready to eat, have a little play time with Dad and get ready for bed. Most nights the kids are in bed by between 7:15 and 7:30. 

Nora plays the xylophone while Henry sings in the bilibo. Nora does simple shape puzzle. {similar} Henry plays with pin art game. 

A couple nights a week I actually get back to work as soon as Morgan gets home from work, and skip dinner and bedtime (other than nursing). Those few nights, I work until between 9:00 and 10:00 p.m. and then head to bed. The nights I don't work, I craft/blog/hang out with Morgan.  

And, that's it! A day in our life and our general rhythm. What does your Montessori day look like? 

12 Months of Montessori 
This post was brought to you as part of the 12 Months of Montessori series! This month's them is "A Day in the Life." Check out these other amazing blogger's Montessori days in the posts below!

Our Daily Homeschool Schedule | Natural Beach Living

What to do today… Our Typical Homeschool Day Schedule | The Natural Homeschool

A Day in the Life of Montessori Busy Hands | Christian Montessori Network
Our Daily Routine | Grace and Green Pastures

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