Montessori at home (3): What are Montessori friendly toys ?

I am back with more tips about Montessori at Home. Today we will talk about toys.

There is no such thing as a Montessori toy – Maria Montessori created materials for the classroom not toys (per se) even if we can always argue that these material are toys as they learn through playing with these. Material have specific purposes into the classroom and are meant to be used by Montessori trained Teachers (Guides) for a classroom use – or specific homeschooling use (which also needs training).

What I mean, when I use Montessori friendly toys, is that there are toys that have certain functions that are absolutely aligned and agree with Montessori principles.

There are characteristics for these toys, they can be rotated based on the child’s needs and interests – after you carefully observed your child at play.

First I am going to starts by asking you a question ? Look at these pictures.

 

 

How would you describe the toys in the first picture ?  The ones on the 2nd picture?

Now here is a list of characteristics for Montessori Friendly toys and see for yourself which picture would be the one we want in our house.

CHARACTERISTICS of Montessori Friendly Toys

We want appropriate toys that fosters concentration, learning and independence.

– Natural material – because they give some sensorial feedback through their texture and warmth – which does not happen with mainstream plastic toys. This does not mean that plastic is to be banned altogether. We need to be smart about our use of plastic.

– Purposeful – We want some toys to isolate a concept so the child works on something specific – something you observed they are into and need. You don’t want all toys to be this way but a few are nice (ex: puzzles)

– Self-correcting – No adult required, the toy gives feedback to the child.

– Open ended material – They foster concentration and focus as well as imagination and creativity and are welcome in Montessori homes. A mix of these with purposeful toys make for hours of independent learning. (ex: building blocks)

– Realistic  – No fantasy – No need for a weird cartoon mermaid to make music when your child just needs an instrument to make his own magic happen. Children from 0 to 6 love realistic toys and learn so much from them. It is also less scary and fosters imagination.

– Engaging – the child does the action not the toy – the child should be active not passive (“Active toys make passive learners” like a dear fellow Montessori mom I know would say).

– Fosters independence – Children will always need to connect with us through some of their toys and books, however, lots of toys are just so engaging that the child works by herself and builds self-esteem through it as well.

– Developmentally appropriate – offer toys based on your child’s interests and abilities. You want it to be interesting for the stage they are in and also be challenging so they learn from it through a deep concentration.

– Beautiful – attractive – which does not mean bright colours necessarily or visually busy

shape puzzle* All toys will not fit in all categories of course but this is meant to be a guideline. I usually go for a minimum of 2-3 characteristics in one toy and I think about this as I am making a list for my daughter for Christmas before handing it to grandparents and godparents. I want quality over quantity. 

This shape puzzle fits in many categories, it is made of natural material and is purposeful as well as self-correcting, realistic and engaging, it is also attractive and pretty but no need for extra. This puzzle has seen hours of work by our daughter from the age of 16 months until 24 months and she still uses it at times and so do some of her older friends during play time. We also have another one similar where shapes are split in 2 or 3 so the challenge is higher – I am telling you, hours of engaging play.

 

If you have any question or need more support, you can always email me at maritimemontessoriconsultation@gmail.com and I can help you set up your home with Montessori principles in mind. 

A new school year : we start with apples !

Hello dear parents, grandparents, teachers and all caregivers,

after a summer full of visits from family, here we are, back into the school year.

The temperatures have lowered, we lived with the consequences of Hurricane Dorian for a few days and I remember to be grateful that we are all safe and ready for a new school year.

Children are back to a regular schedule and with the 3-hour work cycle comes also the careful picking of the books displayed for the children. I think September has its own perks because we can talk about apples and the soon-to-arrive Autumn equinox. It is pretty exciting. So here is what is happening in our school:

Language:

books about apples september

 

  • we are talking about apples through books read at group time, we discuss what can be done with apples. It opens many possibilities from talking about seasons and fall approaching to words we can use to describe the taste of different types of apples. It can all be fascinating if you let the children lead the conversation.

 

Practical Life:

  • apples if not eaten by direct biting, require some practical life skills such as peeling, coring, cutting and such. We made apple sauce yesterday and it was wonderful. Go see our instagram pictures, you will see more about it. In the next few days/weeks, we will make more apple goodies. I am inspired by apple turnovers or apple pies. Children were all involved in the process and got to try different tasks. They loved it! They also loved the apple sauce for snack.

 

This is all possible at home with your child(ren) as well. Why not picking apples in an orchard as well over the weekend?!

How to choose books in a Montessori environment?

How to choose books in a Montessori environment?

This question is asked a lot in Montessori groups around the world: What type of books should I get (buy or from library) for my child?

I can answer this question with another question: At what stage/plane is your child?

Because it does depend on how young your child is.

I will focus here on the first plane (from birth until 6 years old) as it is the trickiest for people to understand sometimes and I will try to make it simple and to the point.

  • During the first 6 years of her life, your child has an absorbent mind and takes everything in. Any piece of information is being processed in her brain and her idea of life bases itself on what they get from the outside world. This is why the environment we live in/create for/around them is so important.
  • During these first 6 years, your child understands and seeks reality. She cannot process/understand what is not concrete or real. She processes information but not the same way we do later on, she sticks to what she sees, hears, tastes, smells, touches so to sum up, she takes in and believe what she feels sensorially.

 

Now I have a question: Based on what you just read, do you think children can understand fantasy, make believe or fake?

reality book1
Real life pictures are highly appreciated by young children.

Naturally, the answer is no. Your child cannot make the difference between reality and fantasy. Fantasy would be taken in as reality. This is why children of the first plane are often scared of fake characters like Santa or monsters. They think it’s real and well, I am not one to lie to my child in general so I don’t read her books that are based on stories that would be totally unrealistic.

Therefore, we choose books based on reality and children love it. As a teacher and a mother, I can vouch for this need for reality and connection to what is close to their own life. We read books about children who do real life things like cooking, gardening, and any activity they can relate to. We don’t use books where bears, fish and rabbits talk. Children would be very disappointed and waiting a long time for their pet to answer them back if they thought it would be possible. We read books about what real animals do.

And YES we do have lots of fun reading realistic books, our daughter is 20 months and loves to build her vocabulary so she likes vocabulary books and preferably with realistic pictures (when it’s possible). Our students, who are a little older (around 3 ), love and connect to books like Henry helps, as they can often relate.

reality book2
This series of books is great and children can relate to it. We have some great conversations afterwards.

 

I will leave it at that and hope it gives the minimum you need on how to choose books for your child.

Around 6 years old, the child starts abstracting and can then understand that fantasy is not real and they can start appreciating these fairy and monster stories with a little more maturity. Never forget that they need you to help them guide their young minds towards understanding the world. The real world.

What are your favourite realistic books for young children?

Language with young toddler: the Montessori 2-period lesson

You might have heard about the 3-period lesson used in Language lessons in Montessori classroom for age 3-6 years old. This is how we present and enrich vocabulary in Casa level classroom.

With young toddlers who are not verbal yet or not fully verbal, Montessori toddler teachers in Nido use the 2-period lesson. This way we can present the vocabulary and also verify their comprehension and knowledge.

Period 1: We present the objects (for young toddlers) or picture cards (for older toddlers) by naming what it is as we show them the object or card: “This is a …” and do so for about 3 objects or cards at a time (never more than that or it would be too much for the child at once).

Period 2: Now the child is active. you will ask him to ‘perform’ actions towards the objects or cards. “Point to …, show me …, give me …, place … next to …”. Some use the ‘I spy’ game for period 2 “I spy with my little eye a …” and the child point at it or give it to you etc This phase needs to be a little longer if the child seems up for it. Move the objects or cards around for adding challenge and making sure the child is not remembering names of the objects based on their position on the table.

FOR NON VERBAL TODDLERS the lesson stops there. If there a big success with the 2 first objects and she recognizes them all and seems into it, please continue with 3 more. If not, encourage the child to put the objects back to the shelf and move on. You can always go back to it at another time another day. This is not a quiz, just a way tot each your child some vocabulary.

2 period lesson
Our daughter at 17 months learning about arctic animals (a polar bear, a emperor penguin and a seal). We used objects first and then she found the cards in the basket to match objects and cards. FUN!!

Period 3: Now is the time for a verbal child to name the objects/objects on cards. You place the objects/cards back in their original order and ask: “What’s this?” If she can name it in order, you can always do it again with the objects in a different position.

 

This is used in all Montessori classrooms I have observed or worked at, it is a lesson taught to Montessori teachers in the Language area and this part is easily applicable at home with your child.

Remember, you are doing it to bring vocabulary in a structured but interesting manner, this is not to drill the child. If the child is not interested and seems tired, put the cards back on the shelf and move on to something else. Keep it casual for more interest from your little one.

Aside of a formal lesson like this, we also have image books that our daughter loves to look at and loves that we just name each object on each page. At first, she just looked and is now repeating a lot of these words. We keep it casual and follow her lead. It is naturally bringing a lot of vocabulary as well.

What do you do to bring in more vocabulary to your child at home? 

If you have any question, feel free to contact me.

Activities on our shelves – Christmas

A quick post before Christmas as I read a lot of posts and comments on social media about how stressful it is to have your little ones at home 24/7 for the Holidays.

Here are suggestions that can work for young and older toddlers:

  • Christmas vocabulary cards
  • Christmas themed home made puzzle
  • Poking activity with simple Christmas shapes
  • Red and green playdough and have fun with Christmas cookie cutters
  • Bake: cookies, muffins
  • Washing vegetables (and chop for older toddlers) to help with the Holiday cooking – you can use this type of brush
  • and I also encourage to make special beverages that taste Christmassy – peppermint EVERYTHING !
  • Felt tree to decorate and redecorate with felt ornaments.

 

 

 

Merry Christmas to all and to all happy holidays from my family to yours.

Taking care of the adults as well

Hello everybody!

This is by a nice day that I write to you from our new home and province of Canada. We are still unpacking and figuring out where things will go but we are starting to see how our new home will turn out.

daddy daughter
New life in a (not so new) city where our toddler can safely walk with Daddy.

There are rooms that are quite ready: our daughter’s room (floor bed, child-size wardrobe, as well as table and chair), the soon-to-be Primary classroom, bathroom and the kitchen. THE ESSENTIALS to our family. The rest has what we need with no extras. We are aspiring to more minimalism without necessarily be what I would call minimalist (yet… something to aspire to).

 

In the past week, our daughter has been going through a lot of milestones (not the one you see in parenting books) and is hitting a growing spurt so it has been a lot about the child of the house and her constant need for food and sleep. 🙂 It is quite fun even if it is challenging to keep your own life under control.

So I am trying to keep the cool Montessori mom attitude on but let’s be realistic, I am exhausted!!! We went through a biiiig move and it is a big transition for everybody including the adults. We are more than happy to be back in a place where we have friends and we feel the love, however, we are also trying to re-establish a business and a family life.

You are going to ask where I am going with this post… well.. I am calling for parents to be gentle with themselves. I am often quite harsh on things that should not be done to, with or in front of children, I despise the use of technology as a distraction for young children etc etc BUT I do think that to be the best parent we can be, we need to take care of ourselves. So this is my call for Montessori parents (and all parents really) to take the time to breathe, shower, read, meditate, exercise – all of them or even just one can make a big difference.
Why ? Because to be able to take care of children all day everyday, we need to be ourselves and be our best version. My Montessori trainer was saying that even if you are sick and you need to be with children, then you will be the best version of what you have to give that day even if it is not as good as it was the day before. You try !

To me, it means, planning things in my passion planner and take the time to fill my 5 minute journal with good thoughts, go for a walk with my family and meditate. It feels good, it helps recharge and keeps me sane and patient when things don’t go according to plan.

I have an anecdote for you: I have set up a tray with 2 jugs for my 15 months old daughter to start pouring water as she loooves water. Well, as she sees me pouring from jugs to glass regularly, she has changed my plan and decided that this tray deserves her cup on it (see picture).

pouringtray
It started with 2 jugs and our daughter added her cup to it.

I let go of it because this is what makes sense to her so I step back, observe and realize that she wants to use the jug to pour water when she wants to drink (“boi, boi” – which means boire/drink in French). So now the tray has changed to one jug and her cup and she also has another jug and another cup ready in her kitchen drawer in case things get dirty during the day. IT IS OK !!! The plan changed but for the best so I am a happy parent with a happy toddler who is learning how to pour water.

SO please parent, be happy, enjoy some YOU TIME to be able to enjoy some family time.

Let me know how this goes!

 

“Help me do by myself”

The title of this article is a pretty famous quote used in the Montessori world. It says it all.

Independence is not about making the child go faster than he can or because we think it’s easier, it’s about the child.

Many people going through their child’s meltdowns and tantrums do not hear in the cry of the child the famous: “Help me do by myself!”

I am not saying it’s easy and we will not avoid meltdowns and tantrums altogether, they are part of the child’s development and discovery of his place in the world. However, we can have a prepared environment that helps the child feeling he has power over this world she belongs to.

My first advice for any caregiver and myself (I repeat it in my head often) is to TAKE the TIME for the child to be, discover, observe, smell, taste… experience what is around – without the adults nagging, running and pressing them to finish what they are doing. Easier said than done for sure, but it deserves some thought and it is also a matter of respect for the child.

And remember, do not intervene to “help” unless it is being asked by the child (for toddlers or babies it might just be a cry or a complaint) or for a matter of safety, the child needs to struggle to learn, it’s part of his learning path to independence.

Around the house, we have some activities to enhance the child’s independence, here are the ones we have around for our toddlers right now:

  • washing hands station
  • Wiping a table after snack and lunch (they take turn as it is very popular)
wipe a table.jpg
1 year old wiping a table
  • bringing plate to the table – setting up the table for lunch or snack
  • brushing their hair – and they love looking at themselves in the mirror
wardrobe.jpg
Our daughter’s wardrobe: drawers for underwear, onesies… and then we leave out and for choice the main part of the outfit for her to choose in the morning.
  • child-size wardrobe/cubbies/hooks – to allow the child to choose his clothes in the morning This means, you choose a couple of outfits that are weather appropriate and from these, the child can choose which one she wants. Or it can simply being able to take their coat, hats from a hook in the entrance.
  • Learning tower – to observe or help in the kitchen
learning tower
Learning tower
  • and any other activities where the child is helping you or doing by herself, she is learning.

A lot of these activities are what we call Practical Life activities. Since our toddlers are growing up fast, we offer Practical Life work on our shelves as well, such as:

  • open and close boxes
  • open and close bags
  • nuts and bolts
  • locks and keys
  • dressing frame – right now we are working on velcro

Our toddlers can put on their hats on their own and are also working on taking off and putting on shoes and there is definitely a lot of independence in everyday tasks like this one.

puttinginshoes
16 months old girl putting on shoes.

Observation and Patience are key for the adult but this is worth it, the child is being herself and building herself by becoming independent.

 

Tell me what you do for helping your child being independent ?

 

Kitchen fun continues

Hello everybody !

August is almost over but we still have a week of kitchen fun before September.

I will be talking, in the next few weeks about a subject I cherish because it is SO important for our children: Independence.

In most of what we set up for children, we look for independence of use which will be building self-confidence and self-esteem for their life!

One thing we use for independence in the kitchen are:

-a low shelf with some dishes (bowls, plates…) and other activities that rotate and are related to the kitchen.

kitchen shelf.jpg

-a learning tower so the child can be at counter top level to help with the cooking or cleaning and /or observe what you are doing.

learning tower
Our daughter on her learning tower, always enjoying watching or helping around !

 

-a table for washing hands or dishes at their level.

These are great options for you to consider – and you can do a lot by yourself without breaking the bank!

 

To enhance the kitchen experience, we also have smelling boxes, a total sensorial experience with boxes they can match (eventually) or just explore as they go through the kitchen.

 

 

 

For language, we have a favourite this month and it was a gem to find: Pots and Pans book!

pots and pans book.jpg

 

 

Let’s keep having fun in the kitchen and talk about Independence even more in the next little while!

 

How do you involve your child in the kitchen ?

 

 

August at Chez Mahé: kitchen and cooking!

Hello everybody!

We have been back from vacation for about 2 weeks and our young toddlers are really getting back into their work and as we have walkers now, we go for bigger walks.

In our classroom, certain material have changed as the children grow older and others have not so we can meet everybody’s needs – we have different ages after all!

shelfaugust
Some hand-eye coordination material on our shelf this month!

At the top:

Nesting dolls – this is a bit hit, our toddlers love them (I put only 3 out)

Stacking nesting bowls – children have been nesting for a while and as we reintroduce it later, they start stacking the bowls. Ours are colourful but if I was buying them again I would take the monochrome version, I like it better for children to focus on the size instead od the colours.

Stacking rings – it is still popular with our toddlers – I started with 3 rings, then 4 and we will get up to the whole set. Later one, they will use it to grade but at first we use for hand-eye coordination only.

Palette of pegs – this is very new to our toddlers and it is now used to place the pegs in the wholes – patience before they are all in. Later on, we will use to match colours with the beads.

On the bottom shelf:

Stacking boxes – a large version for gross motor work as well… for nesting or stacking later on!

Beads on serpentine – this one is from IKEA and it works well to help practice crossing the midline.

Hammer and pegs – they love it, it started before one year old with matching the pegs in the holes and then hammering goes way beyond the age of one!

This month is also the month for cooking !!

cooking vocabshelf
Language shelf with pots and pans, utensils and their matching cards and books about food!

We got our utensils back on the language shelf and I made some matching cards – the first matching cards are the pictures of the actual utensils on the shelf and about the same size… why will you say ? Because young children learn from reality, the real things so to recognize a utensil on a card starts with the picture of the one they know. In a few weeks or months, depending on how the matching goes, I will bring out the same utensils but with a slightly different colour, shape… so the matching becomes more abstract.

 

On these shelves we also have some pots and pans made out of stainless steel so they are safe and can be used for cooking – we will keep it to mixing for now.

We are making snack together and it’s a lot of fun !

What do you do for introducing cooking to your toddlers ?

 

The Prepared Environment

Hello everybody, I am glad to take some of my vacation time to write this post on a very important subject for me : the prepared environment.

As I see my baby (now technically a toddler) evolve in my parents’ house in France, it reminds me that the environment the children grow in, is of utmost importance. Why ? Well… many reasons but I would start by saying that having an environment adapted to your child is to me a matter of respect.

I am, myself, a short woman and I am extremely annoyed and frustrated when I need something that has been placed out of my reach when I need it. So eventually, I got a stool to help me reach these items I need that are on a higher shelf and my husband and I reorganize based on how often we use these items as well (he is the tall one).

If our children live in an environment that is in no way adapted to their physical (and psychological) needs, we might be asking for trouble. Children needs to feel they are respected, acknowledged as they are.

I am not talking about making a full classroom like we do (in a daycare or classroom setting) but in our houses we can make things accessible for our children so they feel empowered to do things by themselves – ” Teach me to do it myself” is a Montessori motto coming from Education for Human Development written by Mario M. Montessori.

You are going to tell me YES BUT HOW ??

My vision of it is to not fall into the trap of making a classroom in your own house unless you are fully homeschooling your child full time and/or you are a Montessori teacher, there is no need. If your child goes to a Montessori daycare, preschool, school, they should take care of the specific, scientific material the way Maria Montessori intended it.

What you can do for your child is observing what they seem inclined to do at home. There are Montessori friendly toys you can do yourself or buy for a reasonable price as well.

shelf in france
Our one year old shelves at my parents’ during our vacation in France. She could find her brush for after bath time, her finger puppets she likes, 2 of her books from home she likes and her egg shakers as well as my childhood xylophone my mom had put out.

For a start I will give you some characteristics the prepared environment should have to make it nice for your child to live at home and feel like he is a part of this house like adults are, this list is non exhaustive and as you prepare your child’s environment don’t hesitate to ask questions, I have resources and advice and get a lot of inspiration from Montessori teachers such as Jeanne-Marie Paynel (Voila Montessori) and Simone Davies ( The Montessori Notebook) or Montessori mom like Nicole Kavanaugh (Kavanaugh report).

The environment should be:

-beautiful (nicely painted or wood colour furniture, with child level Art in frames, I like to use beautiful pots, jugs, baskets that are also safe for them…)

-adapted to the child’s size and hence grow with her (make sure your child has a table and chair adapted to her size so she can feel independent to play, draw…) – Your child’s material/toys/activities should be on shelves she has access to independently.

-Each item of your house should also respect your child’s sense of order and have a specific place they can see/find it, it is reassuring for her. I heard my baby (when she was about 10 months old) scream when a sweater had been left on her wagon when it is not its place, she stopped when we removed it.

-Place items your child will use and like in an independent manner, as long as she uses it, she is learning something. Then, you can rotate with something else and reintroduce it later, she might find a new interest as she grows older.

-Use items that are real, not made for pretend play, your child likes to be involved in what you do but need tools that are appropriate for her size.

This list should give you a good start. Try to think practical, go down to your child’s level and see the environment the way they see it… then you will realize it might need a couple of changes for safety, for practicality, for independence and happiness.

On vacation it’s hard to not change the routine so be patient with them as they adapt to a new schedule and/or environment as well, we try to not push and follow our child.

I asked my parents to move their CDs (to a safer place for them) and make space on low shelves for our daughter to find her toys.

ruginfrance.jpg
During our vacation, we left a rug my mom had kept for our daughter and placed the toys she received for her birthday there – a owl version of the russian dolls and some stacking blocks.

After a couple of days, she was automatically going to those to find her peace and quiet time to play by herself. If this is what it takes, avoid too many changes over vacation and when you are back home, let them rediscover their environment. They will be happy to be back !

As your child grows older we change and adapt the environment, if your child is ready for toileting then make a little shelf for her to have her tooth brush and a hand towel available or a way to hand wash independently, I promise, they will love it !

How do you prepare your child’s environment ? Share your tips.