Welcome to 'A Montessori Home'.
With so many of our friends and family living in far-off lands, I hope that this blog might help our loved-ones get to know our gorgeous Finlay as he grows up. I also hope that these posts may provide inspiration, provoke thought and conversation about creating beautiful Montessori environments for infants and toddlers at home. I'm always happy to hear your comments, thoughts and suggestions. Feel free to pop in now and then to see what we're up to!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A cutting frenzy

So many 'blog-able' moments have come and gone over the past few months, with no time to sit down and document them, but this series of photographs were too sweet not to share.

A few weeks before Finlay's 2nd birthday, I commented to my new co-teacher Carol that perhaps we would need some 'toddler' scissors for the few younger ones who were starting in our class (you know, the handle-free scissors that spring open by themselves?).  I had been observing Finlay with a little pair of plastic scissors which we had been using along with playdough, and so far it seemed beyond him to hold them in one hand....  there was a lot of two-handed opening and closing going on.  

Carol's look of horror made me think twice.  We had already committed ourselves to putting only the most beautiful, functional, real objects in our environment - toddler scissors were not an option.  So I prepared myself for some tantrums, imagining Finlay wanting desperately to use the real scissors that were not yet suitable for him.

Simultaneously, I started doing a lot of cutting at home while preparing materials for the classroom... fabric, cardboard, paper... hours and hours of it.  And of course, Finlay insisted that he wanted to try them too.  He was so insistent that we took a special trip out to the shops to get him his own pair of scissors.  The moment we got home I gave him a brief presentation.... and he was off on a cutting frenzy!

Cutting tiny snippets from strips of coloured card
Picking up the snippets and placing them in the dish
This work was left on the shelf for him to take and work with any time of the day, which led to lots and lots of repetition.  
Once he had spent hours and days cutting strips of paper into tiny snippets, he moved on to cutting fringes along the edges of larger pieces of paper, and then on to cutting fabric (just like Mummy)....

Another huge lesson was learned from this series of events.  I was sure that he was not ready for real scissors, and yet Finlay showed me not only that he was ready, but that it was precisely the activity to meet his inner developmental needs at that moment in time.  When repetition and concentration occur around a particular activity, you can be sure that it has just the right balance of challenge along with satisfaction.  Plus, a new skill has been learned.  This has really opened up a new opportunity for us both to work side-by-side, each concentrating on our own task.

Such a lovely way to spend our time together :)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Big changes to our little world

Has it really been three months?  

Big changes have been underway in our little world.  Going back to work full-time has been a huge transition for all of us, but finally things are starting to settle and the new routine is feeling easier.  As I mentioned at the end of last year, we intended for Finlay to come along with me to preschool in the mornings, but we soon discovered that this was just not the right place for him at the moment.  Luckily we had the option of leaving him with a lovely nanny for the next few months until he's ready - a hard decision to begin with, but Finlay is showing very clearly that he is happy with the new arrangement so that has eased my guilt a lot.  I look forward to re-introducing him to our Montessori casa when he is truly ready and can fully appreciate and benefit from it. 

That darling boy of mine turned two a few weeks ago.  What joy it is to listen as his language becomes more and more complex.  What fun it is to watch as his co-ordination allows him to be more and more independent.  And how exhausting it is to be with a two-year-old who can descend from that angel face (above) to this (below) in the blink of an eye!

I know I have purposefully raised him in an environment which supports self-sufficiency, but my goodness it's difficult to keep up with his thirst for autonomy.   This determination may be challenging for the adults in his life right now, but I'm confident that this unstoppable desire for challenge will serve him well in the years to come.  Part of me wishes I were still home full time so I could allow him more time to do everything for himself... another part of me is thankful that we get to spend some time apart each day so I can recharge my patience-batteries and be at my best for him.  This is a constant challenge but such a great learning opportunity for me.

Here are a few pics from the past month as Fin entered his third year of life... what a big boy he is all of a sudden!
Blowing out the candle on his 2nd birthday cake (quickly, before the wind gets it!).  Yes, that is a store bought cake... quite a change from last year's raw, organic, home made one.... perhaps I'll be more organised next year!

After raiding my make-up bag and applying mascara! ("Mummy, Fin make self pretty")
Exploring the beautiful garden at a friend's wedding in Christchurch

Fin's new passion - taking photos of his feet, the grass or the floor....

Meanwhile, I have been busy setting up our beautiful new Montessori environment and introducing our first children into the class.  Most of my spare time has been spent thrifting and sewing...

And there's still so much left to make!  Stay tuned for a little tour of our new space... I can't wait to share it with you.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Baking up a storm

Baking has been on my mind a lot recently.  How best to present it, which recipe to use, where to find the perfect bakers hat pattern, how to make it work in a classroom setting...

Big changes are afoot for us next year - I'm returning to the classroom!  After a year of happily opening our home to some wonderful toddlers, the time has come for me to get back to my roots and share my days with the 'older' children in a 3-6 class.  It will be a brand new, one-classroom school and I'm so excited to set it up and pour all of my passion for Montessori into making it as authentic, beautiful and peaceful as possible.

Finlay will be attending with me during the mornings, which I think will be the biggest challenge I'll be facing.  He will only just be two and I will have to be very aware of preparing the environment to try and meet his needs (and one other 2-year-old) as well as the older children in the class.

And so I keep thinking back to baking.  And scrubbing tables.  And chopping bananas, polishing wood, and all the many beautiful Practical Life activities that will engage our littlest ones (as well as the bigger children) in purposeful activity and help prepare them for all the other work they will encounter during their years here.

Part of my strategy is to perfect this baking routine so that not only will I feel confident to include it as daily practice in our class, but also that Finlay will be so familiar with the process that there will be less novelty involved and *hopefully* will allow me to present it to other children without him having to have his hands in the dough!

Here's a little snippet to share:

I love standing back and observing the focus that comes when he feels a deep purpose behind an activity.  This is important work.  He can have a positive impact on the world around him.  He can decide exactly how much dough to place in each muffin cup. He can learn from his own mishaps (you have no idea how hard it was to stand back when I thought that dough dangling down was going to fall on the floor...).  He can enjoy the fruits of his labour - literally.  Rich experiences lead to rich vocabulary (this is the first time he ever said "oven"!).  So many benefits from a seemingly simple activity.

If only we could include our children in all of our daily activities in such an unhurried, open-hearted way.  I certainly fall short of this many times every day.  There's my new year's resolution, right there!

Christmas is just around the corner and I'll be signing off for at least a few weeks as the season gets crazier.  I do wish you and your families such a wonderful holiday season and a new year that is full of even more love and happiness than the last.

I'll be back next year to share the mad beginnings of my newest adventure!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The art of collaboration

Blogging seems to have fallen by the wayside in recent times.  Unfinished projects seem to be piling up around me, and so many topics are on my mind as Finlay reaches 21 months.  Life in this household certainly is changing!  

I think it's time I finally posted some pictures of moments I have been intending to share for many months now.  

One of the many exciting developments that accompanies toddlerhood is the deep need to participate in daily activities a child sees taking place around the home.  Allowing this to happen, and facilitating a child's participation wherever possible can be a huge challenge for parents who are busy and sleep-deprived.  But if we can master the art of collaboration... amazing things happen!  Concentration, pride in their work, joy, satisfaction, fine-motor development and impulse control, to name just a few of the benefits.

These tasks needn't be 'materials' or 'work' set up on shelves as you would see in a Montessori classroom.  Any regular home can allow for this magic to take place.  In fact, the most important thing in a home is that we adults have an open mind and can let go of the preconceptions we hold about what young children are capable of, how long a task should take and how perfectly it should be completed.  In short, removing our own egos will let our children truly shine.  

There isn't much mystery as to when to offer these activities - toddlers have an amazing ability to make it known when they want to try something new!

Here are a few of our magic moments from the past year:

'Painting' the deck with Daddy, 11mths

Watering plants, 15mths

Helping to clean the fish tank, 16mths

Spooning yoghurt and blueberries for a snack, 16mths

Scrubbing potatoes, 16mths

Collecting eggs in the garden, 19mths

Shelling broad beans, 20mths

Buttering toast, 20mths

Fin loves the food processor! 20mths

We are by no means perfect in our household!  There are many days when I struggle to be an ideal collaborative partner to Finlay.  A wonderful image that I use to remind myself of the magic of collaboration is the following video.  I had the good fortune to hear AMI trainer, Ginni Sackett speak at a conference earlier this year and she showed us this clip as a reminder of what true collaboration can look like.  With the utmost humility, Christopher Dean offers his grace, strength and support to Jayne Torville in order for her to truly shine.  Enjoy :)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The funny side of repetition

Of course, repetition isn't all seriousness and contemplation.  Toddlers find such joy in repetition and delight in things happening just as they expect them to....  And I must say it's pretty funny for the adults in their lives too!

Fun with a suction cup:

Repetition in the 18 month-old

I know I go on about repetition all the time, but seriously, it's so exciting to watch this little boy at work!  The past few days, Finlay has become obsessed with his press-button frame and has been choosing this work over and over again.  I'm amazed at how easily he opens and closes the buttons now after so much repetition.  The dressing frames have been in our home for many months and he has occasionally used them but mostly they have been sitting untouched.  Lately Fin has been interested in the press-buttons ("buh-bom") on his clothing so a couple of days ago I did a little presentation of the press-button frame to him... what a hit!  It is amazing to see the Sensitive Periods so clearly at work.

This video shows about 4 minutes of what went on to be a 40 minute work cycle:

Yet again, Finlay himself is reminding me of what my role is at this stage of his development:  prepare the environment, encourage independence and then.... back off!  He sometimes asks me to sit next to him and occasionally requests that I do a couple of buttons.  It is as if he wants a little 're-presentation'  to check that he has all the details.  Then he very clearly pushes my hands away, says "no" and gets back to work.  When he completes his cycle of activity he either says, "done" or "di-dish" (finished) and puts the dressing frame back on it's stand.  I really didn't expect cycles of activity like this from an 18 month-old, but it is very exciting to discover what is possible just by observing him.

Last night, right at bed-time (7pm), Fin picked up the frame and wanted to work.  I was really torn between allowing him to choose to work, or insisting that he go to bed.  Brent jokingly said, "What would Maria do?", and of course I knew that Madame Maria would allow the child to choose when they needed to work, and when they needed to sleep.  Well, he sat and sat and sat with this frame...  Meanwhile I paced the floor, Brent dimmed the lights and we waited.  And can I tell you that even after years of being a Montessori teacher and disciplining myself NEVER to interrupt a concentrating child, it was SO hard not to interrupt him and put him to bed.  Isn't bed-time sacred?  What if his routine is disturbed and he can't get to sleep later?

8pm came round, Fin looked up, said "done", put the frame away, took my hand, led me to his bedroom and went straight to sleep.  There's a lesson for you, Mummy.  Lesson learned, thank you Fin.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Living the life you love

What an amazing creature an 18-month-old is!  The world certainly seems to be Finlay's oyster right now and we are constantly astonished by new words, new facial expressions, new opinions and new abilities.  He has started recalling past events and stringing words together to tell a 'story'.  

Earlier in the week, Brent took Finlay to the swimming pool.  When he returned, Fin excitedly told me, "Beh-buin (penguin), ga-gool (cuddle), ah-tah (water), spash (splash), daddy, ba-dee (buggy/stroller)".  Brent explained that there had been a penguin mascot at the pool giving cuddles to all the children, and that they had been splashing in the water before returning home in the buggy.  How wonderful that he can now describe some of the many things that must be going on in his head!

Now that we are seeing and hearing more of that secret inner-life-of-Fin, I am reminded of how important his environment is in shaping the person he is becoming.  He really does spend his days replicating the actions he sees us doing around him.  On the days when I get my yoga mat out (not as often as I would like!) he unrolls his mat again and again striking various poses.  He constantly hums into his 'trumpet' (a trumpet mouth-piece connected to a funnel), just like Daddy.  He is starting to sing throughout the day, just like Mummy.  Yesterday I saw him trying to close a drawer with the side of his hip...  I don't even notice myself doing this but he has absorbed it none-the-less!

Back in June my dad (Fin's Pa) came to visit for two weeks.  During this time, dad brought into our house the things he is passionate about - drawing and playing drums.  By the end of those two weeks, Fin was playing his drum non-stop and constantly getting out his crayons and pencils.  Even the style of his drawings changed as he replicated the sketching style that he had watched his Pa using.

These photos show just how much his drawings changed over the course of those two weeks:
- May 26th, 2011-

 - June 16th, 2011-
What a timely reminder this was to make sure that I am living the life I love.  Every day.  Each moment.    Reading, singing, cooking, writing, gardening, playing, dancing, loving, sewing...  not only do these things make my life happier, but they enrich Finlay's personality in ways I will never fully comprehend.  

What joy!

Reading with Daddy at 13months