Tuesday, January 31, 2017

6 Montessori Inspired Trays for Toddlers that Love to Pinch

The closer Nora gets to 3-years-old, the more I have noticed that she becomes more and more interested in refining and strengthening her hand movements. I have noticed this by watching what she actually does while she is playing. I watch as she gravitates towards work where her hands are busy. I also noticed that she was starting to walk up to different things {including some of the pets and people in the house} and pinch them. It wasn't out of malice, but out of genuine curiosity. 

Seeing these signs, and knowing that reading and writing were around the corner, I started introducing more work incorporating a pinching motion. Similar to the squeezing motion, this work allows her to work those all important hand muscles as she moves toward the refined pincer grip she will need for writing.  


So, here are six tray ideas that encourage that pinching motion: 

Tiny Pom-Pom Drop

This is a simple little transfer tray! Here I used a glass bottle with a stopper {that also requires a pinch to open} and some tiny pom-poms. The pom-poms are so tiny that Nora must pinch to pick them up. Then, she can put in the bottle. Pouring them all out at the end in just about as much fun!  

Strawberry Hulling 

Here is a real practical tray! Instead of cutting off the top of a strawberry {one of Nora's favorite fruits} I gave her a small tong to pull it out instead. Not only is this a great pinching motion, it also helps to waste less food. Nora has done this a few times, and its actually proven to be quite the challenge that keeps her very engaged. 


Mini Clothesline

Here, I strung a pipe cleaner across a small basket type tray. Then, I included some mini-clips that Nora could pinch and string along the pipe cleaner. I used mini-frog clips because they are cute and I have them, but you can easily use any type of mini-clothespin

Pom-Pom Transfer

This is an easy, Montessori classic! Just two cups, some pom-poms and a mini-tong! Always a favorite. Although, don't be surprised, if after a few minutes of pinching, this becomes a pouring work! 


Water Dropper

This is another classic -- water transfer using a dropper. Here, I fill one cup with a small amount of water. {Remember with toddlers, never give more water than you are personally willing to clean up!} Then, it takes pinching motions to pick up water and to transfer it to the other cup. I love that it takes two pinches to complete the motion. Nora loves it because WATER! 

Toothpick Drop

Nora was introduced to this work way back when she was just a baby! {Video here} But, now, when she does this work, it is much more refined. She is actually pinching the sticks and dropping them through the holes of the spice jar. To make this work more difficult, you can use smaller sticks and smaller holes! 


You may notice that these trays are much less "practical" than I typically suggest for toddlers. This is one area where I've noticed these little trays are helpful. But, while I've highlighted six here, I would have -- at most -- two of these trays available at any one time for Nora.

Is your toddler attracted to pinching? How have you satisfied that need? 

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Monday, January 30, 2017

Talking to Baby -- Montessori Baby Week 9

Augustus is now officially 2-months-old! With each passing day, this little bundle of life is unfolding before me. Each discovery he makes and milestone he reaches, is completely fascinating. Even being my third baby, getting to know this unique and whole person is an undeniable privilege.

This past week, we had what I would consider one of our first moments of deep personal reciprocal communication. So, I thought I would talk a bit about the Montessori approach to language with a newborn.


According to Maria Montessori, the sensitive period for language begins at birth. This means that from birth (and really we know that it begins even before then), babies are acquiring and learning language. They are also able to communicate from the start. 

As Montessori scholar, Silvana Quattrocchi Montanaro said {in Understanding the Human Being}, "Communication, which is a basic quality of living things, will appear immediately, and it will be repeated and enrich in dialogue with the environment." In other words, newborns immediately begin to communicate and it's through interaction with the people and things in their environment that their communication will become richer, fuller and produce spoken language.


Therefore, it becomes important to create a language rich environment from the start.

"In the first days, month, and year of life the infant is especially interested in the sound of the human voice…We can feed the child's intense interest in language...by speaking clearly, by not raising our voice to the unnatural pitch...and not oversimplifying language in the presence of our child." Susan Mayclin Stephenson, The Joyful Child

I, personally, see baby talk as very disrespectful to an infant. It is as if we are saying that the baby is somehow not worthy of a full, rich, and true interaction. So, we avoid baby talk with Augustus (and have with all our children.) Instead we work to provide just real and purposeful interactions with him. 


And, to take this respect just one step further. We involve Augustus in our conversation, as much as possible. We pause after asking a question, we ask him questions that we do not know the answer to, and we explain what we are doing to him as we do it.

One new way I communicate with him that I didn't with Nora is by asking Augustus if he is ready to be moved. I got this tip from RIE and respectful parenting advocate Janet Lansbury. So for example, I will say "Gus, I'm going to pick you up now. Are you ready?" Then I pause to wait for a response. I think this is just a beautiful way to show him respect as a person, but also plant those seeds of consent.


Anyway, this finally brings me to our moment of "conversation." A few days ago, Gus slept in. Nora and I were playing when we heard him finally cry out. We walked up to his bassinet (where he sleeps at night) and said our good mornings. I said, "Good morning! How are you Augustus? :pause: You look rested." Nora also greeted and parroted my questions. Gus stared contently. Then, I said to him, "I'm going to pick you up now. Are you ready?" As I paused, he flashed the biggest smile I have seen and let out a coo.


It was amazing. He was ready. He let me know. It was a moment of connection and communication that so easily could have been missed. So, long story short, it has made me so glad to have started to implement this new technique and to use respectful, rich, real language from the start.

Looking for some further reading on infant communication, check out this article and this one

How do you communicate with your newborn? Have you avoided baby talk?

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Friday, January 27, 2017

5 Ideas for Toddlers that Love to Squeeze

I have mentioned before that Nora (2.5-years-old) is seeking activities that help to build her hand strength. She must unconsciously know that she will need all those muscles to be ready as she embarks on the sandpaper letters and eventually writing in the coming months.


So, I have been making sure we have plenty of work available to her to help with this drive. I've identified two ways that she currently enjoys building hand strength -- squeezing and pinching.

These two are closely related (opening and closing of fingers) but slightly different. Squeezing is more of a whole hand motion where pinching is a much more refined (pincer) grip.

I'll highlight, pinching activities soon, but here are five ways that we have offered squeezing work to Nora.


Orange Juice

Not too long ago, I posted a video on Facebook of Nora making orange juice. It's one of those activities that she will return to over and over again because it has a built in reward. But, it does take a surprising amount of hand strength and persistence to get a drinkable amount of juice from the juicer.

Large Clips

Here, Nora squeezes open these larger chip clips and places them around the side of the tray. This has been a popular work for her. If you wanted to make this more difficult, you could add a color matching element. I have chosen just to isolate the squeezing motion for now.



Tongs

Another classic practical life work for toddlers is serving themselves a snack. Instead of scooping, try a small tong. Toddlers are very motivated to do practical, practical life so this speaks to them. Whenever, I get the chance to have her serve with tongs, I let her. Some of her favorites are salad, large chunks of fruit and green beans!

Spray Bottles

Here is another super practical work that really focuses on hand strength! Any sort of spraying -- we use ours for window washing -- really gets those hands moving. Spray bottles are also perfect for watering plants, or just playing with in the bath.

Water

There are so many great ways to transfer water by squeezing! I tend to stick with practical applications for toddlers -- we squeeze a rag for table or face washing. But, if you add an empty bowl, a toddler can transfer water using a sponge, rag or turkey baster.


As you can see, many of these ideas are truly practical ways that a toddler can get involved in their environment while still working on building that essential hand strength! When given the opportunity, I will always choose really real practical work for Nora. The little artificial transfer trays are cute and all, but they just don't speak to a toddler the way real work does.

Does your toddler love work involving squeezing? What have you done to fill this need? 

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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

On Our Library Shelves

We are huge readers in our house. It's just one of those things that we spend significant amounts of time doing together. As a result, I spend a lot of time searching for quality books to fill our shelves. Since it's impossible for us to purchase every great book out there, we are frequent visitors of our local library. 


And, since I love looking at other people's Montessori-friendly book shelves, I thought I would share what library books we are reading this month! 



These have all been great choices! As you can see, I try to pick a combination of {non-fantasy} fiction and non-fiction choices. I look for books that are content rich and have interesting stories. But, I'm also looking for books that are beautiful. If I can find that winning combination, I know my kids won't be able to put the books down! 


This time, Henry's favorite was Can You Say Peace? He loved the illustrations, and hearing all the different languages. Nora's favorite was {surprisingly enough because I got it specifically for Hen} Bones. She loved all the flaps in the book especially the large skeleton. My personal favorite was You Belong Here. It's a sweet poem that honestly brought tears to my eyes. 


Have you enjoyed any of these books? Do you have any Montessori friendly book suggestions? I would love to hear them! 

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Montessori Baby Week 8 - The Octahedron Mobile

Oh, my baby Gus is now 8-weeks-old! This past week has marked some new and interesting changes in Augustus and in our Montessori environment.


First, Gus was getting over a bad cold and all of a sudden all but stopped napping. His typical (to this point) hours long naps suddenly fell to just 20 or 40 minutes long. While awake, Augustus was a lot more alert. He is now following voices with his head and  spotting me from across the room. He is also moving like crazy. He's starting to scoot around a bit on his back, and get his hips and shoulder off the ground in an attempt to roll.


With these obvious changes, I figured it was probably time to accept that Gus is getting bigger and introduce a new mobile in his movement area -- the Octahedron.

The Octahedron mobile is the second mobile in the Montessori visual mobile series. The mobile, itself, appears simple. It is three Octahedron shapes in primary colors. It's made from one dowel and shiny crafting paper.


It's light weight helps it to move effortlessly through the air. And it immediately caught Augustus' attention. He seemed very happy with the change. Some days, he has spent up to 30 minutes at a time watching the mobile contently. Gus is not one to give up smiles and coos easily. But this mobile, got him both talking and smiling.

We still brought out his Munari-inspired mobile a couple of times this week. But, his interest quickly waned. He was ready for the new challenge of the contrasting colors and sharp edges that this mobile provides!


And, personally, I can't complain! I find this mobile stunning in both its simplicity and complexity.

Looking to buy an Octahedron? Check here or here!
Looking to make one? Little Red Farm has an excellent tutorial.

How did your child respond to the Octahedron? When did you make the switch to mobile 2?

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Friday, January 20, 2017

Our Children's Montessori Kitchen

If you have been following me on Instagram, then you know that my kids have their own small kitchen work space in our kitchen. I've frequently shown Henry and Nora working in their kitchen, and have long promised a post featuring it's details. Well, here it is!


Our Montessori kitchen is used for nearly  everything the kids do in the kitchen. The unit itself is part of the toddler play kitchen series created by Community Playthings. It's three separate pieces that are designed to fit together in a variety of configurations. We chose to have the unit wrap around our main kitchen counter so the kids were right in the action.


The kitchen itself is divided into a few areas. First, there is the counter space. This is where Nora and Henry do all their food prep, and other kitchen work. I love that they have enough space to spread out, while keeping their feet firm and flat on the ground.


Under the counter space are two areas. One is the children's tools. These are all the things they use to cook/bake/whatever in the kitchen. These are all child sized and meant exclusively for them.


Next is our self-serve snack area. This area keeps a variety of snacks that are available to the kids when they need them. The exact snacks available vary week-to-week. But, the idea is for them to have independent access to some food. This week they have some nuts, some fruit/veggie pouches, fresh oranges, and applesauce.


Then, there is the children's dishes area. This area holds all of the cups, plates and bowls that the kids regularly use to eat their meals and snacks. The small basket holds their forks, spoons, and knives. This way they can get whatever they need to make a meal or snack all in one place. 



Finally, there is the sink! Since this is a play kitchen, there is no running water in the sink. Instead, we use a separate water source with a bowl and pitcher. The water source is just off the kitchen in our art area just next to the kitchen. The kids can fill the pitcher then pour into the bowl in the kitchen. Then, when they are done with the water, we can dump it into the regular sink. We don't use this water for drinking; they have another dispenser in our fridge for that. The mirror allows them to watch their work and gives them a place to check on themselves. 

And, that's it! It's a solution that has worked really well for us. They do have access to our refrigerator for some foods that need to be kept cool and to our toaster/oven when necessary as well. If you are interested in your own Montessori kitchen here are some tips to keep in mind: 

1. Make it child sized! Stock it with appropriately sized materials. 
2. Allow for independence, keep things low. 
3. Safety first! Make sure your kids are ready for the tools that are available. 

If you are thinking about a Montessori kitchen, go for it! Do you have a Montessori inspired kitchen space? Do your kids love to work in the kitchen? 

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Practical Life for the Winter -- Toddler Nose Blowing

Winter is in full swing here in Minnesota. And, sadly, it will be for the next couple of months. With winter comes an endless stream of coughing, snotty noses and other bugs. It's especially bad this year with Henry in school full time. I don't think we have made it a week without one of the children having a runny nose.


So, I thought I would share one of those practical life activities necessary for any parent of toddlers -- nose blowing! Even Maria Montessori discovered the importance of this seemingly simple task. In the Secret of Childhood, she described how intensely grateful the children in her first class were to learn how to blow their own noses. She said:

"But no one really teaches them how they should blow their noses. When I tried to do so, they...indicated that I had not only treated them with justice but had enabled them to get a new standing in society…I have come to appreciate the fact that children have a deep sense of personal dignity."  

Like with most practical life work, before we can show a child, we must prepare the environment. In our home, this means having tissues available to my children at their level. I want to make it as easy as possible for Nora to get a tissue and use it on her own. I find that keeping a box in her centrally located kitchen area has worked great. She also has a mirror near by and access to the garbage can.


Practically, I'm sure there is a bunch of different ways to teach a child to blow their own nose. We use the "pinch and pull" method, which I learned about in a Montessori group. Basically, instead of trying to get a toddler to actually blow, which is a hard thing to do, you teach them to pinch their nostrils and pull away from their face. To present I --

1. Slowly pick one tissue from the box and bring to my face. 
2. Slowly and deliberately pinch my nostrils.
3. With my fingers still pinched together, pull slowly down and away from my face. 

Once I demonstrate on myself, then I ask Nora if I can wipe her nose. Then, I go through the motions with her. These first few times, I do not talk or give language, but just focus on the motions. Then, I end by inviting her to try on her own. Once the child has a good grasp, then you could add the language of pinch and pull into the equation.


Overtime, Nora has gotten very good at the pinch/pull method and can keep herself reasonably clean. Its a big help, and I know she loves being able to independently take care of her needs! It's the perfect practical, practical life that a toddler craves.



Have you taught your toddler to wipe their nose? Did you use this method or something else? 


12 {More} Months of Montessori

This post was brought to you as part of the 12 Months of Montessori series! I'm happy to continue this series this year! Our theme this month is winter. Don't miss these great blogs for Montessori and Montessori-inspired winter posts. 


Montessori Inspired Antarctica Shelf  | The Pinay Homeschooler
Indoor Snowball Fight | Grace and Green Pastures
Winter Books for Preschoolers | Christian Montessori Network
Winter Yoga for Kids | Sugar, Spice & Glitter
Hands on arctic themed activities| Welcome to Mommyhood

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Monday, January 16, 2017

Montessori Newborn Nursery -- Montessori Baby Week 7

I cannot believe Augustus is 7-weeks-old this week! Everyday he is becoming more alert and responsive and curious. He's turning his head toward noises and, despite dealing with a bad cold, he is starting to smile socially. It's wonderful! With all this alertness, we've noticed that Gus is starting to be more easily awoken by the noises in our home. So, this week has marked the first week of him transitioning to naps in his bedroom on his floor bed. Therefore, a tour of his Montessori newborn nursery is in order! 


Augustus' nursery is hands down my favorite place in our house right now. It is just that wonderful combination of peaceful and calm. I wish we could spend more time enjoying this space. I've tried to make the space work for him now, but also set it up in a way that not too many changes will need to be made as he gets older. Although, I do anticipate we will need to update again once he becomes mobile. 


The room is basically divided into three areas. One is the sleeping area. Obviously, this is the main purpose of the room. For the first time, we decided to go with a floor bed from birth. The bed is just a toddler mattress from IKEA. We have intentionally kept this area free of things that could be distractions from sleep. So, no mirror or art. The mobile hanger (leftover from when Nora used this room) is still in place and we have occasionally used a mobile above the bed. 

At the foot of the bed is a small basket of books. Once mobile, these will be perfect for Augustus to discover when he wakes. 


The second area in Gus' room is the shelf area. This shelf {an old Expedit from IKEA} will become central to the room as Augustus grows. Right now, it's basically for show and a bit of function. The lamp is important for nighttime changes and calm down times. The plant {from IKEA} provides a bit of natural beauty that any Montessori space really needs. The little bear...well, that's just cute!

The shelf will eventually hold some materials that Gus can manipulate while in his room. I also plan to keep some of the things Augustus needs (like diapers) once he is big enough so that he can help retrieve them as necessary. For now, I've just included a couple of Montessori infant toys to make the space inviting.



The natural prints also help to add some visual interest to the space. The frames are from IKEA, but the prints are from a postcard book. Our rocking chair for nursing and cuddles is also in this area. {The cord coming down is from our Nest Cam which lets me check on Gus as he is sleeping.}

Related to these materials is the toy bar. Since we can't always be in Augustus' movement area, I wanted a toy bar where we could hang a toy/mobile/image anywhere in the house. We haven't really used it too much yet, but I anticipate that it will become a favorite item in the coming weeks.


The final little area in Augustus' bedroom is the small self-care shelf. Obviously, he is too young to use it now, but it contains his brushes, a small mirror and a cloth. Nora used the same set up as a baby and absolutely loved it. Having these materials out now, has actually allowed Nora to be an active participant in caring for Gus. 


And, that's it! It's a simple space that has worked well for us in these early weeks! Hopefully that will continue as Gus continues to spend more time both sleeping and playing in this room.

Did you have a Montessori nursery? Or use a floor bed? How was your experience? 

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