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!

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

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Questions and answers

As always, the topic of 'sleep' really gets people talking!!

A few lovely bloggers left questions in their comments on my floor-bed update but when I started writing my replies I realised the answers were worth a whole post on their own... so here you go:

Melissa from The New Mommy Files asked:
When did Finlay start getting up and going into your room after waking at night? Did you do anything to encourage this? I would love to see Annabelle coming in to join us on her own, as she currently cries until I come in to get her, despite having the freedom of the floor bed and an open door in the room right next to mine. I'm not sure if this is just her personality, or something I'm doing (or not doing).
When Finlay first started crawling we were living in our old house, where his floor-bed was in our room. As soon as he was able, he would crawl up into our bed when he woke at night (our bed is a low futon).
Then we moved to our new house, where he has his own room next to ours. Here, I leave our doors open and a dim light in the hallway. I remember the first few nights he woke up, I could hear him grizzling and I just called out his name until he crawled down the hall and found us. Now that he's walking he just stumbles, half-asleep, into our room when he wakes.
It's so hard to know whether it's just his personality driving him to get out of bed independently, or whether something we have done has encouraged him to do so.
Perhaps you could practice during Annabelle's daytime nap... waiting for her to wake up and calling her from your room until she gets up and finds you?
I definitely found that I felt more rested when I didn't physically have to get up out of bed during the night. I hope this helps!

Neptune from Montessori Ici asked:
Tell me, what is your plan at this point to help Finn wean at night? We are right at the same spot.
Ahhhh we have just started the night-time weaning and it is going pretty well so far! For the record, I'm really just making this up as I go along, so don't take my word as gospel... I hope our experience might help give you some ideas for your own journey :)
For the first few nights I repeatedly told Finlay in the evening, " Tonight after you fall asleep, we won't have any more milk until morning when the sun is shining through the window." I said this many times, in different ways, before taking him to bed and feeding him to sleep as usual. Then when he woke and came into our bed I repeated that we weren't having milk until morning ("when the sun is shining through the window"...). Of course he was upset and cried a bit but actually settled down much more quickly than I had expected. Finlay's comfort object is my ear (I know, cute, huh?!) so as long as he can hold on to my ear he has been happy to settle back to sleep. I suppose other children might use a teddy/blanket etc? Or if they don't need anything, even better!
Our challenge has been to mark a time when he can have milk again... I used the "sun shining through the window" cue so that he would have something visual to give him an indication of whether he could have milk yet. However, we're in the middle of winter here and the sun isn't rising until around 7:30am, long after Fin is ready to wake up and have his morning milk feed. Clearly I didn't think that through very well.
So, I have just been looking at the time and deciding that any time after 5am he could have some milk (and if he falls back to sleep for a bit longer, even better!). Hopefully as time goes on he'll be able to last a bit longer before the feed.
I hope that this experience of getting to sleep without suckling will eventually help him reach a point where he is able to fall asleep independently, every time. A long process, I'm sure.

I have also received questions regarding the Montessori mobiles we hung up when Finlay was an infant. I made all of our mobiles while I was pregnant... perhaps I should make a tutorial on these? Some of them are time-consuming but others are quite easy. A lovely project for new parents or as a gift for anyone expecting a baby.

This past weekend, my partner Brent attended the three-day Montessori orientation workshop I mentioned in this post. What a brilliant opportunity this was for him to fully immerse himself in Montessori philosophy (rather than the dribs and drabs he receives from me!) - I can already see the difference in his interactions with Finlay. This just reminded me how important it is for us all to continue educating ourselves so that we remain fresh, inspired, and able to respond intelligently to our children.

The workshop took us north to Matakana for the long weekend. This truly has to be one of the most beautiful parts of the world. Fin and I spent our days exploring beaches, filling our pockets with shells and the car with sand. And can you believe.... I left my camera at home! Ahhh well, just another reason to live in the moment, I suppose.

It rained on and off all weekend but were rewarded with some of the most beautiful (and frequent) rainbows I've ever seen. Call me a sucker, but I do love rainbows! Fin even started saying "wa-bow" over and over... I'm not sure if he was even looking at the rainbows or just responding to my excitement. Made me giggle and think of the double-rainbow guy...

Wishing you a happy weekend!

No longer content with cleaning our glass door, Fin insists on climbing the furniture to reach every window in the house...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

An interview with How We Montessori

As you can see, things have been quiet here at A Montessori Home over the past few months... 101 projects on the go... settling new children in our daycare... rearranging our toddler environment... so many things getting in the way.

Just when I needed a good reason to get my fingers typing once again, Kylie over at How We Montessori kindly invited me to be part of her Australian Montessori Family Series! Head over to her blog to see our interview.

Check out the rest of Kylie's blog while you're there - it is packed with wonderful ideas for bringing Montessori into your home. Enjoy!

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Montessori Workshop in NZ

I must take a moment to write about a fantastic opportunity for anyone in Auckland or Wellington who is interested in learning more about Montessori philosophy:

‘Montessori Orientation – Follow the Child’


Auckland – Saturday 16th July – Monday 18th July

Wellington – Wednesday 20th July – Friday 22nd July

For more information and the registration form, please click here.

The Maria Montessori Education Foundation (MMEF) recently brought AMI 3-6 training to New Zealand for the very first time. In January next year they will begin their second 3-6 course here in Auckland. If you are interested in finding out more about the course, please visit http://www.mmef.org.nz/.

... And please don't hesitate to contact me if you would like to hear more about the amazing, transformative experience that AMI training offers! It truly is life-changing.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A floor-bed update

Sleeping like an angel... Finlay at 6 weeks old

I have been promising a floor-bed update for a long time! I was amazed at the response from my post back in december when Finlay finally started falling asleep in his room without feeding to sleep. It seems that most parents experience some level of anxiety over their children's sleep (or lack of!) and I have received many emails and questions regarding this topic. Recently, Neptune from the lovely blog Montessori Ici, asked:

'Do you keep the door shut after leaving your baby for nap or sleep time?'

The short answer:
Yes, I close the door until he falls asleep. After a while I quietly open the door so that he can come out independently when he wakes up.

The long answer:
We have been through so many phases since December that sometimes this works, other times it doesn't. If parenting has taught me anything, it is that nothing stays the same...

A few months ago Finlay suddenly went through a phase where he didn't want to be left in his room at bed-time. He would scream and cry when I left and I would be in, out, in, out, for what seemed like hours every night. In desperation, I started bringing him into our bed to go to sleep, which he LOVED, and since this worked so well, we kept doing it until it became his routine. Even his daytime naps were in our bed. He also started feeding to sleep once again. (I think this started again while he was sick and we never quite dropped the habit!)

I had known for a long time that Fin's cot-sized floor bed was not big enough but it wasn't until about six weeks ago that we finally got him a single (US twin) sized mattress. This has made all the difference and now, finally (again!), Finlay is sleeping in his own bed during day-time naps and for the first part of each night. We leave his door open so that when he wakes at night he can come down the hall into our bedroom independently.

Another factor that has complicated our sleeping scenario has been the presence of other children napping in Finlay's bedroom during the day. When we first started our home-daycare business Finlay was so excited to see another child in his room, that he would call out and try to crawl over to them (he was 10 months old at the time). That's when I started putting him into my bed to sleep during the day - it just made it all so much easier! Only recently has Fin been able to fall asleep in his room when other children are here, and only when I distract him by feeding him to sleep. He has also learned to come out of his room upon waking, without waking up the other children... a huge breakthrough!

So, would I say that my bed-time parenting choices have been led entirely by the Montessori philosophy?.... Well, no. Most of my parenting in this area has been led by instinct, necessity, and Finlay's strong personal choice. For a long time I wondered if I was doing the 'right' thing. I worried that I wasn't supporting Fin's independence by bringing him into bed with us and feeding him to sleep. Was I lazy? Was I trying hard enough?

One wonderful conversation set my mind at ease. I was fortunate enough to meet a visiting US AMI trainer who listened to my concerns and reminded me that if Finlay was showing signs of independence during the day (and my goodness, is this boy independent!) then by allowing him to choose where he sleeps at night I was, in fact, 'following the child'.

Meg over at 'At Home With Montessori' also speaks eloquently on this subject in her blog post, Montessori and Attachment Parenting. I love her quote: 'My opinion is that if the child is given the freedom of movement provided by a floor bed, and then chooses to leave that bed to sleep in a shared bed, that this is in fact reinforcing the autonomy and freedom of choice that we wish to cultivate in him through the provision of the floor bed.'
Thank you, Meg. You articulated this message so well and eased my conscience after many months of uncertainty.

Our next challenge will be to wean Finlay off night-time feeding. I'm really hoping that this will encourage him to sleep through the night because he still wakes at least 2-3 times each night wanting to feed back to sleep..... and I'm afraid I'm getting deliriously sleep deprived!

Ahhhhhh the joys!

The cheeky monkey keeping us awake at night...!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Words, words, words

My my, it has been a very long time between drinks (well, posts!) here at A Montessori Home. It seems life got in the way this past month. Between Fin getting Measles (loooong story), Brent going away for three weeks (to play principal trumpet with the West Australian Symphony - how exciting!) and my mum coming to visit from Australia, there hasn't been much time to breathe, let alone blog. Happily, it feels like the storm is settling and life is getting back to normal.

That cheeky grin is back after a nasty case of Measles

Amidst all the craziness, Finlay seems to have taken a huge leap in development. As he approaches 15 months, he is becoming a more and more active part of our daily house-work and over the past three weeks he has absolutely exploded into language! I'm so pleased that my mum (Fin's Oma) was here to witness all this - is anything sweeter than a child's first words??

Quality time with Oma (showing off a jacket my brother wore over 35 years ago...!)

Fin has had a repertoire of words that he has been using for a long time ("Mum", "Daddy", "did it", "oh no", "oh dear", "uh oh", "OK"), but suddenly he has started wanting to name things and is repeating the words we say.
Now we have been hearing, "bye bye", "shoes", "boot", "chi" (cheers -which must, of course, be accompanied by a clinking of glasses and drinking water!), "chk, chk, chk" ("chook, chook, chook" - we have chickens in the backyard) "bir" (bird), "pane" (plane), "water", "b-b-rsh" (blueberries), "fsh" (fish), "more" and "ma" (Oma), with more added each day. He has been repeating "Bye, bye, ba-dee" all week and I have been trying to figure out what "ba-dee" means... then suddenly this evening he said "Bye bye, ev-ee-ba-dee" and I realised he was trying to say 'everybody'!

There are many ways we can support language development at home:

1. Naming items slowly and clearly.
2. Using beautiful, rich vocabulary rather than baby-talk.
3. Describing what you are doing, as you do it (e.g: "I'm wiping the table", "I'm washing your hair", "I'm pouring some water")
4. Describing what your child is doing (e.g: "You're touching the chair", "You're holding the cup", "You're rolling the ball")
5. Creating order in the home and through routines. Since the young brain is constantly being wired-up, we can help them create inner order by making the outer environment as orderly as possible. This will assist them to make sense of the many things they find in the world, and feel confident that they recognise objects along with the sounds that represent them.

It seems obvious to assist a child as they begin saying their first words, but we really need to be modeling beautiful, clear language right from the start (even before birth!). Young children are literally absorbing what they find in their environment, so let's give them the very best from the very beginning!

Now that he has the words, Fin can order us around... His favorite word right now is "more"!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

And he's off!

Ever since Finlay was born I've been looking forward to him finding his feet so we could finally take off on our daily walks. Maria Montessori recommended that young children (as soon as they can walk) should be taken on long rambling walks where they can go at their own pace and explore unimpeded for as long as they wish. Most days we simply walk up and down our street (sometimes only making it as far as the driveway!) but whenever possible we try to make the trip to one of Auckland's many beautiful parks for a real ramble.

Fin finds a ramp to walk up and down, up and down, up and down....

The challenge is to truly follow the child. This is no easy feat and sometimes it feels as though you are treading water... getting nowhere! But the payoff is truly delightful - a child who is utterly content and amazed by the extraordinary things he finds along the way.

What a find! Fin finds a stash of sticks collected by children playing in the trees...

We are very lucky to live close to two parks which have farm animals grazing on site. On Sunday we visited them both! These are some images of our lovely weekend adventure...

“The child under two is well able to walk for a mile or so, and also to climb. Our impression that a long walk is beyond her comes from making her walk at our pace. But the child is not trying to “get there”–all she wants is to walk. And because her legs are shorter than ours, it is we who must go at her pace.”

-Dr. Maria Montessori-

Friday, March 18, 2011

Repeat... and repeat again

Fin at 9 months, helping to unpack our new materials when they arrived last December

Finlay is lucky to have a daddy who is a professional musician. Not only is he constantly surrounded by beautiful live music, but for a role model he has a man who is dedicated to his practice. If he is absorbing Brent's self-discipline, Fin will be a very lucky boy. (Try to ignore mummy's tendency toward procrastination, Fin....)

"It takes 10,000 hours of practice to become really good at anything", Brent tells me. I thought he was exaggerating, but then I found an article which also claims truth to the statement!

I can't imagine dedicating that much of my time to any one thing. And then I look at Finlay, doing just that, right before my eyes. In the past year I have observed Fin working tirelessly, repeating over and over the movements and sounds which are his work of self-creation. Maria Montessori claimed that the entire foundation of a child's personality will be formed by the time they are 3 years old. I was amazed to discover that 10,000 hours equals roughly 3 years of waking hours for an infant. Co-incidence?!

'By repeating simple routine acts... children could acquire a sense of self as agent, able to independently carry out useful, meaningful actions in the world.'
Angeline Stoll Lillard, 'Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius'

Repetition is one of those things we look for in the Montessori classroom which indicate interest, concentration, and a connection between the child and the material, all of which are integral to true learning. It is absolutely magical to watch a child repeat an activity again and again, not for the sake of a particular outcome, but simply for the inner satisfaction gained in the 'doing'.

Ever since he was born, I have marveled at Fin's ability to repeat tirelessly, whether it be batting, reaching, grasping, pushing, rolling, creeping, crawling, pulling up, standing, walking, babbling (and countless other milestones). Whatever was the flavour of the day would be repeated and repeated from waking through to sleeping. It was as if he was simply unable to resist the inner drive to master himself. And of course, every human being begins their life in this way - what an amazing plan Mother Nature has installed in us!

I bring up this topic now because Finlay seems to have moved into a new phase of repetition; one that is more conscious and deliberate. He is also involving me more in his repetitive activities, whereas before he would most often disappear into a private place of contemplation (though he still spends much of his time in this state).

As an example, here are a few videos:
(Each of these is quite long - as repetition tends to be - so bear with me!)

The first is a video of Finlay at 3 months. Though subtle, there are many repetitive movements occurring - focusing visually on the hanging bells, pushing up with the arms, kicking the legs and trying to move forward. In this moment, his entire world is made up of those bells and the effort it takes to get to them. (Please excuse the less-than-perfect 'Prepared Environment' in the background... I don't know how my baby-brain ignored those ugly power cords for as long as I did! Maybe this explains Finlay's current passion for all things electrical and dangerous...?)

The second video is Finlay at 9 months, working with the Object Permanence Box (or Ball Game). The material itself calls for repetition through it's design - placing the ball in the hole and having it reappear down the ramp seems to be irresistible to children at this age (and adults too!). I love how the video reminds me that in this moment, Fin's exploration of the box itself is just as important as placing the ball in the hole. Only once he is finished maneuvering the box does he return to the 'intended' activity. Just another reminder to sit on my hands when I think Finlay isn't working with a material 'properly'!

The third video was taken just last week and shows Finlay's shift of focus from motor skills toward communication. Suddenly I'm part of the fun! He is so thrilled to have made himself understood, to be able to understand and follow directions, and to repeat the whole cycle over and over. Very soon, the aim is not to hold and touch the Buddha, it is simply the 'doing' that satisfies his inner need.

So if we know and accept that repetition is important to a young child's development, then how can we best assist them?

1. Providing rich motives of activity. Creating a beautiful, orderly environment filled with interesting objects intended for exploration is one of the most precious gifts you can give your child. You certainly don't need specially designed Montessori materials to encourage repetition (though they are designed to do so and are wonderful!). Simple everyday objects are fascinating to young children. For example: Fitting lids onto pots and pans, jars and containers; Opening and closing cupboards and drawers; Switching lights on and off; Turning pages in a book; Sweeping, mopping, scrubbing and wiping... to name just a few.
2. Allowing it to happen! It is so easy to overlook these precious moments, to storm in and interrupt. Though I'm sure I have unknowingly interrupted Finlay's moments of repetition from time to time, I try to make it a rule that before approaching him I always stand back for a moment to watch and see if he is busy with something. This can be really hard! We are so used to living our lives on our own timetables that it is difficult to slow down and allow these moments to reach their own conclusions (especially when we're running late for something and need to get out the door!).
Even applauding or congratulating a child will break them out of the spell. I try to behave as if I'm in some sacred place (museum, war memorial, church etc) where I would act with respect, dignity and reverence... not always easy to do in your own home :)
3. Having patience. This is especially important when the child includes you in the activity. Picking up the spoon when the child has dropped it for the hundredth time can be boring, even infuriating, but remembering how important it is from a developmental point of view helps give you the stamina to soldier on. I really had to force myself to continue being a part of Finlay's 'Buddha game' in the third video. I was fighting the part of my brain which wanted to plan dinner, another part that was wishing I could go make a cup of tea... but as far as Finlay was concerned, he had to feel like my entire focus was on him. Seeing his joy unfolding gave me all the incentive I needed.

All this repetition leads me to another of my favorite topics... concentration! But that's a post for another day :)

' "This repetition," says Montessori, "is a spontaneous phenomenon due to the child's interior energy - powerful and irresistible... we must respect this energy; help it; and give it the necessary direction to unfold itself." '
E. M. Standing, quoting Maria Montessori in 'Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work'

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

One incredible year

Where did this year go? Of course, it feels like Finlay has been lighting up our lives forever, but it also seems like yesterday that I was hauling my huge belly around and wondering when we would get to meet our new baby.

To celebrate turning one, Finlay chose this week to really take off with his walking. He had been taking steps for the past few weeks, but now he has decided that walking is almost as efficient as crawling, and is a pretty good way of getting from a to b. I can already see the huge change that this is having on his perception of the world, and his place in it. He walks around beaming and with an expression on his face that says, "Look at me, I can do what you're doing!", babbling to everybody he meets on his travels. He also seems remarkably solid on his feet, and I wonder if this is the result of many months of standing, testing and balancing which he has done without any assistance from us.

I have been thrilled to observe that dancing seems to have come as naturally as walking. Fin always bopped along to music when he was sitting, but I love the way he is really responding to the music with his whole body now. Gives daddy a good incentive to practice his trumpet at home! (I think Brent might be a little embarrassed that I'm posting a video of him practicing, but this video was too good not to share! Sorry, my love :) ) :

My new-(Fin)-year resolution is to find more time to write this blog and to really follow Fin's development in a more detailed way. There has already been so much to write about that has passed me by, and I hope to catch more of those moments in the coming year. Perhaps I'll even find time to look back and fill in some gaps?! Here's hoping.

Here are some lovely moments from Fin's 1st birthday party...
(Thank you to my gorgeous friend, Sam, for taking these photos while I was busy trying to keep the paint brush out of Fin's mouth...)

Remember that art smock I made a few weeks ago?... Here it is now!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Let there be light

Didn't I promise a tour of our new house when we first moved in....? Well, that was back in November - three months ago! I've been putting it off, waiting to 'finish' arranging the furniture and Montessori materials into their 'perfect' places, but that's never really going to happen, is it? The entire house will always be a work in progress and I will have to continue adjusting the layout and content as the children's needs change. It never ends!

So here it is, our (not so new) light-filled house we were dreaming of way back when...

This is our lounge area. The daybed serves as our sofa (guests just have to get comfy and put their feet up!) and I find that the children love climbing up here to read books or throw themselves on the cushions. Finlay has a passion for opening and closing the windows and a few days ago he nearly climbed out (I literally had to catch him and pull him back in... heart-attack material!), so it's time for some safety latches that only allow them to open a safe distance.

We have materials on low shelves which I have been rotating from a full set in storage. Our speakers sit on top of the shelf and I usually play music through my iPod, though i would love to have a full stereo in here so the children would see actual CDs and LPs (remember those?!) going into the machine to be played. Whenever the music goes on, Finlay usually heads straight for the tray of instruments (on the bottom shelf, next to the chair) to play along :)

The mirror which used to be attached to the wall by Fin's bed is now in the lounge. I figured that he spends much less time in his bed now, and it is being used by all the children out in this space. The step-up is actually a toilet step, and is a new addition to this room since Finlay became obsessed with it last week. I would find him in the bathroom stepping up and down on it, and decided to move it out here where I could keep an eye on him without having to spend my entire day in the bathroom. Unwittingly, I placed it next to the mirror which has proved to be the best fun ever, since he gets to see his face appearing and disappearing each time he steps up or down. He has even started saying "Uppah" whenever he steps up!

Next to the mirror is the book shelf, where we keep just three or four books at a time. This makes it really easy for the children to return the books carefully to their place when they're finished. I have a big collection of books on a higher shelf close-by and we rotate them regularly.

The picture hanging above the books has proven to be troublesome because Finlay delights in pulling it off the wall at every opportunity. I'm sure that he will grow out of this phase eventually, but in the meantime I am finding it exhausting to constantly model 'looking' without touching, and rescuing the frame from the floor. Perhaps I should replace it with a laminated picture in the meantime? I would be very happy to hear advice on safely attaching pictures to the wall without making lots of holes (we're renting).

Opposite the mirror is our fireplace, ball tracker, balls and soft toys. These will all have to be relocated come winter time and replaced with a fire-guard. A few days ago I took away the soft toys because they were never being used. Perhaps they will be of more use when Finlay gets a bit older? The ball tracker, on the other hand, is a constant hit with all the children and I still find Fin repeating the activity over and over. He calls it "I did it". He'll point at it from across the room and say, "I did it", crawl over, put the ball in the hole and again cry out "I did it!". I find that amazing - I don't remember ever saying "You did it" or even "I did it" with this material, but somehow he has made the connection between those words and what he is doing. Incredible.

Looking from the lounge across to the kitchen, you can see why we chose this house. The space allows such great visibility from the kitchen, through the dining area and into the lounge. This allows me to cook, clean and supervise all at once. From the kitchen, a door leads out to the enclosed deck and a wonderful view of the garden. I'm still working on our outdoor environment, but for now the children are enjoying watering the plants and drawing on our black-board table.

Moving on to the dining area (I'm calling it this because I suppose we would have a dining table here if it weren't set up as a Montessori environment)... Off to the side I have put Fin's change table and potty station. I did this so that I would be able to remain in the room when changing nappies, and so that the potty would be visually connected to the change table. All his nappies, wet cloths and training pants are easily accessible and in the little cupboard we keep old thick pre-folds for mopping up accidents. I should also put a bucket here for Fin's wet pants so that when he is walking he will be able to participate in cleaning up his accidents. Ideally, we'll have this set up for each child (though space might be an issue...).

This is where the majority of our traditional Montessori toddler materials are kept. I should point out that I am not 0-3 trained (though I would love to be!) so I'm not sure if the layout would be considered 'correct'. I have tried to place the materials in groups according to their purpose, and also according to the space we have. Some things, like the cylinder blocks, just fit perfectly on that little shelf, so I placed them there. Other things, like the puzzles on the top shelf, have been arranged in order of difficulty. I then rotate materials as needed to maintain interest and according to their stages of development. The children eat at the little table and I am intending to set up the longer table (under the painting) as a food-preparation area. Our plates, glasses and cutlery are set up in the kitchen (a post for another day), and Miss. I is loving setting the table each time she is hungry. I must make some place-mats for her...

This painting was by my dad, by the way! At the moment, we have been using the long table for art but I'm hoping to dedicate a different table to art... where, I don't know. And the hand-washing table is waiting patiently for me to set it up beautifully. Maybe I'll wait until Finlay is walking properly...

Here is where we also have our fish tank (Fin's Christmas present) and some lovely shelves which were built into the old fireplace. Unfortunately the middle shelf is not adjustable and is
a bit high for toddlers but they're coping just fine with it.

Finally, this lovely space also has a shelf for my precious Montessori albums and our children's book collection.

So there you have it, our home as it stands today. It will probably be a bit different tomorrow. And different again next week. There are so many materials to make and activities to set up. I haven't even started on language materials and practical life is looking a bit sad and sorry in the kitchen, but these are all on my mental to-do list. I'll be sure to document my creations as they happen :)

A happy weekend to all! This ought to put a smile on any face...