Montessori home (Clutter or not clutter)

Hello everybody !

I am back with some Montessori Home tips for the next little while. This one is about CLUTTER !!! One of the main aspect people notice in a Montessori space (classroom or home) is the lack of clutter (in the children areas at least).

It is the trend to talk about decluttering weather we follow a KonMari method or another Minimalist approach. If it has become such an important topic, it’s because WE HAVE TOO MUCH STUFF, TOO MANY THINGS ! People feel like they are possessed by their belongings and consumerism is not helping. Everywhere there are advertisements of one kind or another telling us we need this or that and pushing us to buy.

Well, to make a Montessori home, you do not need to be under clutter or to buy all the toys and make it expensive if you don’t want to or cannot. Montessori is way more than that (see previous posts!!).

To start, let’s just talk about our children and how we can make it easier for them and us to feel more peaceful in a de-cluttered environment.

When it comes to choices, and Montessori education offers choices to the child, LESS IS MORE. We do not give the child too many choices because it becomes overwhelming (we feel the same when there is too big of a choice in the grocery store for example).

baby shelves
Here is an example of what was set up for our daughter at 10-11 months. Shelves are clean, clear and attractive to the child. Certain activities need to be displayed in baskets or tray to make it easier for the child to access or take off the shelf. 

In our home, for our daughter we have one clear box of activities and toys for her stage that we keep in the back (closet, storage room…) and we keep only 6 out on her shelves in the main room. This is enough. These activities are chosen carefully based on her level of interest in certain things and where she is in her development. These work on language, hand-eye coordination and art right now.

She does not feel overwhelmed, we don’t either. Her space is calm and she knows how to place back her activities on the shelf when she is done using it.

For example at almost 21 months, she has vocabulary cards, nesting dolls, a puzzle, a basket of building blocks, a tray with paper and crayons (she can also ask for another medium if she feels like it), a basket of bean bags. Some of them are closed ended activities with a direct purpose (but we encourage imagination as well) and others are open ended activities to let her express her creativity.

The rest of our house is also prepared for her so she has lots of Practical Life activities easily accessible and freedom of movement through the house.

That’s it for now, just think about how you could purge extra toys/activities that are too loud, too bright, too overwhelming, broken, unattractive. Then, reorganize what you keep in clear bins and then choose 6 for your child to put out in her play/work space.

By de-cluttering toys, we bring order and peace to our children: LESS IS MORE.

How do you keep your child’s space out of clutter ?

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?

Praise vs Acknowledgement: a Montessori perspective

I have been thinking about this article for months and I was waiting for my head to finally feel ready for it. Praise versus acknowledgement is an important subject when it comes to self-esteem and confidence.

We went from one extreme to another, in the past, people were expected to work hard, and no praise was given or expected and on the contrary, negative criticism would be given to fix mistakes. A few decades later, we reached the other side of the spectrum, people are scared of hurting children’s self-esteem so they started to praise and “GOOD JOB!” and “GOOD GIRL/BOY!” were heard all over schools, homes, stores, everywhere.

But the irony is that none of these did any good to children’s self-esteem or confidence. They were both focusing on giving an opinion of the result of what a child or an adult would do. The old times created people with low self-esteem and the latter created a generation expecting constant external validation without which they cannot feel confident.

Psychology studies seem to find that an in-between is best. Montessori falls into this category.

pink tower process
It is the process that counts.

 

What we want is to have children happy and proud of the work they did and the process they used, we don’t want to focus as much on the result. Why? Because the result can be depreciative when a lot of work has been put into it but what we want is not to discourage people (child or adult). Being discouraged will make the child stop trying. However, an acknowledgement of the process keeps the child making effort until she can realize she succeeded. Montessori activities provide a control of error that helps the child see if she reached the result that is expected. Be patient, the child will get there by herself.

 

 

What can we say instead of “Good job!… Amazing!… Good girl/boy”

In Montessori we :

  • Acknowledge the result (« You did build the tower”, “You helped me put the dishes away, thank you!”, “You read that word all by yourself…)
  • Encourage the effort or the process (« You put a lot of effort into this work”, “I see you used a lot of blue, do you like blue?”)

 

It is more about showing the child we have noticed what she is showing us. If it is the first time they do something, you could comment on the result but you don’t have to, especially if the child still seems very focused and is not asking for external validation. We also acknowledge (but not praise) when the child seems to want us to notice what she did.

happy smile
The smile of inner self-esteem and confidence growing after a lot of work has been put into this button frame.

This is why we think our activities through, what is offered to the child has a meaning to us, the child needs to work at it and she might feel frustrated at first because it is not easy but with acknowledgement of the effort, she can keep on going until she is satisfied and happy of the result herself. What we want is to avoid the NEED for external validation that is very present nowadays. A friend told me recently that her partner has been praised constantly as a child and later on. He is now constantly frustrated because his boss does not seem to care about his work. How is he going to overcome this ingrained feeling that he does not need someone else to feel validated.

My final word would be : “Let yourself be proud as a caregiver/parent but let the child be proud without you, in all independence.”

As a parent/teacher, I do feel proud of my child/students and when I do, I pat myself on the back because it took some work to prepare the right environment for them and I reward myself at time (your choice of glass of favourite drink, little sweet indulgence such as a croissant for example) but I let the child build her confidence. I also watch for these satisfied, inner happiness smiles children have when they feel proud of themselves: they did it by themselves and for themselves.

The Absorbent Mind and the importance of modelling

Hello dear adults of the Montessori world !

As I observe the children around me (including my own 19 months old daughter), I notice every single day how much they look at us, the adults, as role models. We do not always realize how much influence we have on them.

As you might know, the child has an Absorbent Mind and can see, hear, feel everything around her. You might feel like she does not when you are asking them to do something of course – though give them time, it is sometimes just a matter of processing time, I usually wait 5-10 seconds for my daughter to react to what I have asked and it works, otherwise, she will shake her head and say ‘no’.

From birth your child is acute to absorb everything around and process it, this is how she learns language(s) for example. One thing I notice more and more is how much children observe everything we do or say, EVERYTHING, good and bad.

When I hear them using words or phrases that adults use, I realize the influence we have on them – hopefully for the best, but at times… for worse.

So I will just give you food for thoughts, as a reminder.

Does your child yell?  You might not notice that you do raise your voice more than you think and your child is just doing the same.

Does your child throws things around when she gets undressed? You might not notice that you are going fast and sometimes throw your gloves, hat, coat or theirs. Something to watch as your child has a strong sense of order.

Don’t worry, even a Montessori teacher/mom does it once in a while. Then, I step back and I slow down. I might feel like I don’t have time for slowing down but I do anyway.

Because my child is watching me. Because time with my child matters. Because I am setting up the tone for their life. Because I am their role model and they have an absorbent mind.

tea and book

So remember to take time for yourself so you can be the model for the ones you love. 

 

Our journey into toilet awareness – from 3 months to 18 months (1)

Hello everybody,

I am excited to talk about what everybody calls potty training. Why ? Because it seems like a lot of parents are struggling and many books are being written to help parents do it the right way and fast.

Well… in the Montessori world, we follow the child and make sure the child is respected so instead of stressing about it and rush it to have a child independent on the toilet in a few days, we take our time.

A little background first… I am from France and I have many children in my family and around me and potty training is not discussed as much as it seems to be in North America (where I live now). I asked my mother and other moms coming from France like me and indeed, no stress, no fuss, they just do it over time. HOW ? Well everybody seem to follow more or less the same process where children are in underwear and have a potty and well that’s it! In certain household, parents remind their child to go to the potty  on a regular basis until they get it and go by themselves; in other families, they just tell the child that this is where we will try to pee and poo and accept the ‘accidents’ until the child is ready for the potty by herself. When you hear them, I swear it does not seem like a big deal! I will add that in France, School (preschool) starts at 3 and often 2.5 years old so children are definitely going independently to the toilet on their own beforehand. In average, I would say, it’s being taken care of right before they turn 2 or before when the child shows signs of readiness. In my family, it looks like I was toilet independent by 21 months and my brothers around 22-23 months. So why not ?!!

Now, back to where we are in our home. I have been reading and reading and talking to people and sometimes feel stuck in between what works or not and the stress it seems to be for some parents. My husband and I have decided to follow advice from Montessori people (infant/toddler teachers or training centre) from the start:

  • Our child is in cloth diapers from birth (except at night because we could not find a good fit to avoid leaks or when we go on long trips). Cloth diapers help the child realize she is wet so this natural sensation gives a potential discomfort that makes the child tell you when it’s time to be changed. Our daughter would scream as a young baby whenever she was wet and felt happy the minute we would tell her that we were going to change her. She is still in cloth diapers and is now, at 18 months, able to tell us when she peed or when she needs to pee (before it happens) hence we can now make it to the potty on time.
ALexis potty 3 m
Only picture of our daughter at 3.5 months being held by my husband on the potty, she always loved it and would usually smile.
  • Our daughter has been put on the potty as soon as she could sit and hold herself enough to be comfortable on it but we would still hold her to be safe. We had a great Babybjorn potty and my husband was devoted to put her on the potty anytime she would tell us she was wet. After a few weeks, she would pee in the potty almost every time and would still wet her diaper (which is normal). This way, the potty is a very familiar thing, there is no big fuss around it or fear of it. It was part of the changing area in her bedroom.
  • When there are signs of readiness (peeing or pooping in corners), saying they did it, holding their diaper when they wet it…), cloth diapers can go away and training pants are introduced (they are thicker in the middle than regular underwear and hold a little pee but the child still feels it go down).

After that, it depends on the child and how she has been doing around the potty. Like I said earlier, you can just go with the flow and if there is a pee in the underwear, then, we go remove it, go on the potty (to potentially finish), clean and put new underwear. After a while, the child will end up just going to the potty with no ‘accidents’ in the underwear. Others would remind the child, regularly to go to the potty (to avoid the ‘accidents as much as possible) and eventually the child will also be able to go to the potty when she feels she needs to go instead of during or after it happens.

It’s part of the child and the family’s journey. Take it slow, follow the child and choose cute diapers and panties, it makes it even more fun for everybody !

bathroom set up
18 months old – our bathroom set up : a basket (with diapers, toilet paper, cloth wipes (in the box) and a book. A. loves to choose the diaper she will wear next ), the potty (this one is from IKEA and works well as she is older and can get on it on her own easily), a little step stool where she sits to remove slippers, pants etc or sit to put pants back on; it also doubles as a step stool for reaching the sink to wash hands. Soon, the diapers will be replaced by training pants.

In our home, our daughter is 18 months and is still using her cloth diapers and also show signs of being able to tell us before she needs to go or when she just did it in her diaper, like she has been for a while. However, I can feel a difference in the way she manifests it is happening, she tells us more often than before and yesterday, told me : “caca” (which is her word for pee, poo, potty and toilet) and went straight up the staircase to go to the bathroom. I thought, she was telling me she had done something and needed to go on potty and get a change. Surprise!!! The diaper was dry and she peed in the potty only. So I know she is getting there by herself.

As soon as the weather and temperature becomes nicer, hoping for when she is around 19-20-21 months, diapers will go away and will be replaced by training pants to began our last part of the toilet awareness journey.

No stress, just pee in the potty!

I hope you can also be stress free when it comes to your child’s independence on the toilet. Let me know your experience.

Our Montessori household and screen time

Hello everybody,

I wanted to write a quick post this week about screen time. I seem to encounter a lot of parents telling me they cannot be parents if their child has no screen time, that it gives them time for themselves to do things during or at the end of the day. I understand the struggle, I am a parent and yes it is hard to be able to work, cook, shop, pay bills, etc when your child(ren) need nurturing and attention.

My Montessori take on this is that I trust my child to be able to do certain things by herself and that by preparing an environment for her developmental needs, then she can get time by herself – and she needs it – so I can get things done, SCREEN FREE.

As a teacher I have always advocated for no screen at all under 3 years old and very limited and supervised screen time or not at all under 6 years old. When I was a classroom teacher, it was quite often that I could pinpoint the children who would have screen time and those who would not as I would observe reactions, focus and concentration on activities and so on. So YES it shows. I am not a fan of : “I watched TV as a child ans turned out fine!” because what you don’t know is how better it might have been for you in life without it.

Now, the point is not to feel guilty and think we are bad parents if we feel like we cannot do it any other way. NOT AT ALL. You are just trying to make it work. We all are. Sometimes, we feel ill-equipped.

Our choice, in our house, for our daughter’s brain sake and development is to make sure she does not get much access or not at all to screen technology – the only one we have is skype with the family abroad, we keep it real, there is no artificial people, lazy watching or games to play. Just talking to people we cannot see otherwise.

I might get less time for me but this is something I work out with my husband to get time for myself as he spends time with her and vice versa. As per cooking, well, I use nap time or I have my child involved in the process, we cook together often, she loves watching, pouring, mixing and see the final result in our plates afterwards.

baking
NO SCREEN, just an apron and some real life responsibilities she loves. 

If you feel like you need to read more about this, please go to https://www.screenfreeparenting.com/tech-wise-parenting-articles/

This website has researches and tips to help parents. It can help making an informed decision and give you tips on what to do to be screen free if you are seeking this path for your family.

I hope this helps, I find my life quite simpler and less stressful without screens all around us. We keep our screens out of reach or hidden until our child is ready to handle this responsibility, because what is to understand is that using screens smartly is a (part of our parental) responsibility.

Would you be ready for a screen free month with your child(ren) ? 

 

Nutrition – the new Canadian guidelines

Hello everybody,

this is a different and less Montessori related post than usually. However, I thought it was important to mention that our Canadian food guidelines have changed and they DID CHANGE.

We used to see 4 food groups (vegetables and fruits, grain products, milk and alternatives, meat and alternatives) and with that a very detailed plan of what you should eat everyday and how many portions of each. Early childhood establishments (daycares, preschools and schools) had to follow these guidelines per law request. This ended up, in my opinion, in a lot of personal interpretations and since children were to eat several portions of each group every day, the cheap and easy solution was to offer children crackers and a lot of cheese and milk and it was fine since it was always accompanied by a fruit or a vegetable.

Personally, I think crackers are tasty but have you looked at the ingredients and the amount of fat and everything it has in it… this is not healthy for a child (or us I guess as well).

The new guidelines are out and we now have 3 food groups (vegetables and fruits, protein food and whole grain food) and no portion only this:

food gudie 2019

As guidelines it says:

  • Have plenty of vegetables and fruits (left part of the plate)
  • Eat protein foods (top right part of the plate)
  • Choose while grain food (bottom right part of the plate)
  • Make water your drink of choice

 

It seems easier and healthier to me. It also has some tips and recipes to help, like before with the older guidelines. I cannot wait to look into it a little more. So far, I like the ” cook more often” to avoid ‘prepared food’ full of preservatives and other things we don’t always understand.

I can hear parents say they do not have time to cook… When you are a working parent or even at home with your child(ren) all day, it is difficult!!!

My trick is to MEAL PLAN, every weekend and it guides my grocery list, then I order online for pick up so I don’t have to spend a long time in the store and get tempted by food we don’t need or that would be unhealthy temptations. Then I block some time (usually nap times) to cook my heart out, I love my slow cooker, instant pot and other useful appliances that makes it easier for my busy mommy/teacher life.

I would love to know what you think about these changes.

Is it going to help you make good choices for your child(ren) ? 

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.