Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Holidays

Wishing you peace, joy, and love.  -Brandi and Ryann

Saturday, December 18, 2010

On Autonomy and Coats

It's definitely winter in our neck of the woods. Cold, snowy, icy winter. Even so, this is Ryann on the way to her winter concert the other day.

I guess she doesn't mind the cold because that girl does not wear a coat.

She will wear a coat when she's playing outside. But between the house and the car? Not going to happen. She gets hot in the car. And safely navigating a coat and her car seat is complicated business. I don't blame her for choosing to be cold for a short amount of time to avoid the mess entirely.

Sometimes I feel invisible (or visible) pressure from others to make her wear a coat. And it makes me doubt her ability to make this decision. If it is cold, is it my responsibility to make sure she is warm? What do people think when they see her running around in a sweatshirt and me wearing a warm coat (carrying hers)? Is this bad parenting?

I realize there is a certain point where it could be dangerous, you don't want to freeze your child over some silly coat issue. I always suggest she wear her coat, I remind her that I have it when we get in and out of the car. But is it my responsibility to make her wear it?

I was struggling with this the other day when I realized I was greatly overthinking it and so was anyone who looks at me sideways when she jumps out of the car.

Why would I be in control of her coat? Only she knows if she's cold. I can think she's cold. I can assume she's cold based on temperature or how cold I am, but I don't really know. And being cold is not some abstract concept with far-reaching consequences that children don't understand, like eating your vegetables. It's immediate. It's right now. Even babies know if they are cold.

And what's worse is if you don't trust children to regulate their own body temperature, you've just turned something as simple as how warm they are into a battle of wills. Suddenly your child actually is cold, but doesn't want to admit it because they only way he was able to practice any autonomy was after arguing about it for 10 minutes. Wearing a coat should never be about pride, it should be able being warm.

So Ryann doesn't wear a coat when she doesn't want to. Even if it's really cold. Even if I feel weird seeing her without a coat on. I make sure she doesn't freeze by dressing her warmly and prewarming the car on very cold days. But for the most part, she knows when she needs a coat. And I don't spend half my morning arguing about something as silly as someone else's body temperature.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Getting Started with Montessori Education

A reader recently left a comment on one of my posts asking for book recommendations for people just dipping their toes into the Montessori method. As I went to respond I realized quickly my post would turn into a book of its own and decided it would make a fantastic post!

I also realized that I've never explained how I got involved in Montessori. Partially it's because I don't really remember how it happened. I've always been a single mom and when I found myself pregnant and unsure of what was coming next in my life I did what I always do, I Googled. I am a researcher by nature and a perfectionist about things that are important, like my child, so I quickly became an expert in all things baby. I think it was in this mad search for understanding that I ran across Montessori somewhere in the ether. As a former unschooler, education philosophies are very important to me and this one was interesting. But school seemed a long way off and I kind of set the idea on the back burner.

When Ryann was about six months old my mom, knowing my interest in Montessori, got me Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work at the library. It's a biography of her life, but also goes into some of the specifics of the method, its effectiveness and outcomes. It's a very interesting book and really got me interested in her work. Which then led to reading Montessori from the Start: The Child at Home, from Birth to Age Three. To be honest, I never finished this book. It is good. Fascinating even. But it definitely has a black and white, right and wrong view of how your house should be and it doesn't seem very realistic to a laissez-faire person like me. I would like to go back and read this again though, as I might have a different take on it now.

After that introduction, I found Montessori blogs to be a great source of information. I tend to gravitate towards blogs that explain the methodology rather than worksheets and printables. Some of my favorites are, Montessori Matters, A Montessori Musing Place, Confessions of a Montessori Mom and The Montessori Child at Home.

Teach Me to Do It Myself: Montessori Activities for You and Your Child is a book of activities anyone can do with their toddlers and preschoolers. It's a well-written book with lots of pictures but it is low on real Montessori info and most of the activities are easily found on blogs and elsewhere on the internet. A quick read that can help you brainstorm ways to incorporate practical life activities into your daily routine. Again, I feel this book is more for Type A people who want to check off lists. I prefer to just clean the house and let the learning happen as it may.

I have since also read Dr. Montessori's Own Handbook  which is  great to get a better understanding of the lessons and how they work together. But my most favorite source for how to give lessons are the Margaret Homfray lectures. Margaret Homfray learned from Montessori herself and it is so fortunate that her lectures were video taped before her death because the information she imparts is really amazing. The videos are long, and sometimes rambling. But also interesting and probably the most direct, hands-on look at the method that you will get outside of a classroom.

I think these are all fantastic resources to get anyone started. I am far from an expert and could stand to do more reading myself, but I think the secret to understanding the world of a Montessori parent is to not get bogged down with the details of what lessons to do when or how many index cards to laminate, but instead immerse yourself in the ideals and core values of Montessori education. Then you will better be able to understand why the lessons work the way they do, and more importantly, why you would want your child to do them.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sexism Through Toys

Gender stereotypes drive me crazy. Of all the things I am neurotic about as a mom, gender stereotypes are at the top of my list. I think it's because it's so limiting for kids. They are taught at alarmingly young ages that they are only capable of a select few traits, professions and interests. And I actually think boys are put in smaller boxes than girls, but girls don't have it much better.

It's easy to think we must be past this by now. It's 2010 and we are post-feminism, right? We can all be doctors and scientists and mathematicians.

And it's easy to think that these gender preferences in young kids have to do with innate differences in their DNA. That boys will be boys and girls will be girls.

Except despite my insistence that girls are equal to boys, my daughter doesn't believe women can be bosses. She told me I was silly when I said my boss was a girl. She objected to the mere idea that a woman could be in a position of power, not that she had different tendencies than a man.

These messages are EVERYWHERE. And it pains me.

Pigtail Pals recently wrote a blog post, Have Yourself a Very Sexist Holiday, about the messages kids get from toy advertising. It is insane to me that this would be just as pervasive as when I was a child, but boys and girls are told they play with different things, through advertising.

Of course to a certain extent this is likely true. Boys like to be active, girls like to nurture things. I won't argue against the concept (here. I might elsewhere...). But what about a child that goes against the mold? What about a girl who wants to play with trains? Where are the girl trains? Or a boy who wants to love on a doll? Where are the boy dolls?

Definitely food for thought as we start our holiday shopping.

Ryann's toys when she was a toddler
I strive for equality in Ryann's toy selection. She has babies, barbies and dollhouses. But she also has action figures, sports equipment and spaceships. When given a choice between Disney Princess roller skates or Toy Story (boy) roller skates she picked Toy Story without any qualms that they weren't pink. Or purple, as that is her favorite color.

Unfortunately this still takes courage, as a parent, to foster. You have to believe that gender stereotypes are only healthy when they don't limit your child's growth. And you have to not bat an eye when your child choses interests outside of his or her gender. You don't redirect to more "gender appropriate" things. You have to have the courage to let them be who they are.

My little War Machine this Halloween

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Lazy Sunday

We've been so busy lately. It seems like we've both been all over the place. Ryann at her dad's every other weekend, me picking up a second part-time job in the last couple weeks and a "quick" trip to D.C. for the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear before Halloween. We've barely had time to catch our breath! So it was nice to hang out at home in our jammies today.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


The atmosphere in our house isn't what I wish it to be. It was one of those things that creeps up on you slowly and doesn't complain much so you don't notice. Our house is calm. And respectful. And nice. But something still isn't right.

Ryann has been more and more clingy lately. That was the first sign I needed to pay more attention. I feel our life has been such a constant state of flux lately that I almost didn't notice. She doesn't want to do anything. She doesn't help me cook or clean like she used to. She doesn't play by herself. She doesn't want to read books. She just is much of the time.

As I've been brainstorming ways to make our lives more dynamic, I ran across this old post from The Magic Onions that put all the pieces together for me. Ryann and I were struggling in the "let's have fun today!" department because I had forgotten that kids don't always know how to play or set up a game on their own. More importantly, I forgot that my first job as a mother is to help her with her work and not always focus on my own.

Of course Ryann and I play, this is not the issue in and of itself. We've gone on many safari's looking for animals in trouble. We've played the make-all-the-Yo-Gabba-Gabba-toys-sing-at-the-same-time game more times than I can count. We are often airplanes, flying through the living room. Or even, rarely, loving mothers to a collection of dolls. I understand the important part I play in these games, especially in a one child household, but I had somewhere along the way forgotten to give it reverence.

There is one part that stuck out to me the most though... it was:
Involve your children in your work – your real work where they can contribute and feel as if they played a vital role. Use singing, warmth, stories to draw your child in rather than commands to “help” which usually causes the child to run the other way!
I obviously try to involve Ryann in my work, but she often resists it lately when I ask her to help. I don't tell her to help me. Just saying something as innocent as, "do you want to help me make cookies today?" can send the kid into hysterics and it made no sense to me! Who doesn't want to make cookies??? says my rational mind. I am a live and let live type of person, so I quickly stopped asking Ryann if she wanted to help and she definitely renewed some interest in things like laundry or randomly dumping ingredients into a batch of muffins. She still wasn't as focused on the work as she's been in the past though. I guess at some point I forgot to make it fun. How pleasantly simple.

In the admittedly short time I've been a mother, I've discovered any time you are at an impasse with your child it's your perspective that needs to change, not him or her. I'll forever be amazed at how much Ryann's behavior changes when I change my expectations. Of her or myself.

Monday, October 25, 2010


I finally got around to making this blog a little more my own. I'll be adding and subtracting from this design in the coming weeks so don't mind the dust!

Hope you like the new look! And if you don't (or do), please let me know in the comments :) I know I always hate when blogs change their theme too much as it takes me a bit to settle back in.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Attachment Parenting and Montessori

I am a Montessori inspired attachment parent. At first it probably seems these two ideas oppose each other. How are you "attached" yet promoting independence in your child? But in my interpretation, Montessori education is an extension of my attachment parenting for at least one reason.

Both follow the child.

In fact, I would argue that following the cues and needs of your child is the ONLY tenant of attachment parenting. Dr. Sears, the leading authority on attachment parenting has the 7 Baby Bs, but they all have the baby's needs at heart. You trust your child to tell you what he or she needs; you respect a crying baby as a person who needs something. And you attend to those needs appropriately. You could follow none of the "Baby Bs" and if it was truly based on a deep connection with what your child was telling you through their cries and behavior, you are an attached parent.

By the time your child is two or three, most of the things you "do" as an attachment parent are done. Your baby is weaned, is able to walk and doesn't want to be worn, may have even moved into their own bedroom (not my child, lol) and is ready to assert his or her independence. A true attachment parent would read these cues and respond to their child's changing needs. Attachment parenting isn't about "babying" a toddler, it's about babying a baby who is unable to be independent.

It's about being child focused instead of parent focused. Which is really the magic of Montessori. The method not about independence, independence is the end result of giving a child exactly what they need to grow. Montessori doesn't throw children into an adult world and expect them to take care of themselves. It observes the needs and abilities of individuals, waits for their readiness and leads them with just the right amount of help along the way.

Montessori and attachment parenting are based on the same basic principle. That children know their needs, have an instinct to progress into functional individuals and if you give them what they need when they need it they will grow into the best version of themselves.

Would Maria Montessori advocate attachment parenting? Probably not. But I don't see conflict in these approaches. They both feel right to me and have influenced Ryann's growth in positive ways. Which is what being an attachment parent is all about.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Transitions, part II

Whew! What a whirlwind Montessori school has been! This past month just flew by.

The transition was in fact tough. Ryann rebelled. And the first two weeks had me doubting that she could handle five days a week in school. She came back energized each day, but crying into her pillow every morning that "I just want to stay home" had me worried.

And then things magically fell into place. She woke up excited to get to school after about three weeks. She loves her teachers, especially her "boy teacher" as she calls the male assistant in her room. She comes home with lots of collage work. And you can see her apply what she learns at school at home, like walking softly, using careful movements and taking care of her own dressing and care. All things I had encouraged at home but she had resisted.

I feel we are over the hump and getting comfortable in our routine, which is a relief. I have a number of posts rattling around in my head so be on the lookout for more from me. I had worried that once school started I would be less motivated to keep this blog, but I actually think the reverse is true. Especially as I interact with the parents at Ryann's school who really want and need resources for extending their childrens' education into their everyday life.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Ryann doesn't transition well. Never has. Even when she was a tiny, tiny newborn she would become inconsolable if something in her environment changed too quickly. She's been having regular visits with her dad for over six months now and the transitions between houses still throw her for a loop. I try to be understanding of her needs and keep a routine and it helps keep her temper from flaring and those tears of frustration from shedding.  But I have a secret...

I don't transition well either.

I'm amazingly excited and proud that Ryann will be starting Montessori school soon. Excited because she will have so many new experiences and proud because even though the transition will likely take a bit of getting used to, I know she can do it. It's going to be an amazing journey and I'm so glad we get to be on it!

But I'm also dreading the change in routine for both of us. Instead of waking up and getting ready by myself in the mornings, I'll have to wake up my little gremlin early so she has time for breakfast and hair brushings and the like before school. And she truly is a little gremlin when you wake her up too early. "MOM! I need to sleep!" *grumble, grumble under the covers* I can't imagine what it will be like waking her up when she is 16.

One of the magical things about having a Gigi (also known as my mom) is that you can wisk a sleeping babe into the car at 7 a.m. still in her PJs and groggy and know that she will be taken care of, dressed and fed at Gigi's house for the day. This doesn't happen every day I work, but it does happen and it has been so very nice to not have to wake an overtired, perfectionist toddler early on those days you just know aren't going to go right. And there are those days. When the only thing she wants to wear doesn't match, she can't stand the sight of a comb and the only food she wants to eat isn't in the house. I dread having to drag her kicking and screaming to school on those days.

A couple weeks ago Ryann declared, "purple is my favorite color!" in that way that lets you know that THIS time she really means it. And she did. "Purple is my favorite color" has become a mantra. Everything must be purple. She wants purple eggs for breakfast. Purple towels after her bath. Purple walls in our room. Purple everything. Unfortunately, within Ryann's overflowing closet lies only one purple shirt. One.

It's tie-dye and it's two sizes too big.

I'm already planning on hiding it before school starts.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My favorite cartoon

Cartoons are not very Montessori. In fact, they aren't Montessori at all. But this blog is called Real Life Montessori and, well, in real life I watch cartoons and so does Ryann.

My very favorite kids' show is the UK cartoon, Charlie and Lola. I love it so much, I will voluntarily watch it without children present. It's just that cute. Charlie is the older brother of 4-5 year old Lola and the series features all their everyday interactions in the most endearing ways. Lola is every young child you've ever known, to a tee! And Charlie is both patient and annoyed with his little sister. The show doesn't talk down to its audience and it doesn't sugar-coat or promote inappropriate behavior. It doesn't portray gender stereotypes or try to take on too much substance. It's just... perfect.

Like almost all good kid shows, Charlie and Lola is based on a series of books. According to Wikipedia, there are three original books and the rest are based off the show. I had never even seen any of these books until we went to the library yesterday and I have to say I'm just as in love!

We picked up I Am Too Absolutely Small for School yesterday. Ryann starts Montessori school in a little over a month and she has expressed that she is, in fact, not big enough for school so it was perfect! The book follows Lola's insistence that she is not ready for school, Charlie's insistence that she will want to learn all the new things things there and finally the culmination of the first day where none of Lola's fears come true. A perfect, honest story. Ryann loves it in the way only someone trying to piece together the same puzzle can and has already had me read it about five times in the short time we've had it (the other books we picked out are getting no love).

I've been thinking a lot about how Montessori didn't believe in reading fantasy books to young children since they have no way to sort fantasy from reality. I look at Ryann's books and so few of them are completely real. I wonder what a Montessori bookshelf looks like. I'm not sure Charlie and Lola would be on it. But while they are cartoons, but they are at least human cartoons with real human problems. And I think that's what I like the series so much, it is so relatable even to the youngest of kids where other cartoons are just flashy and nonsensical. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I couldn't have said it better..

So I won't even try!

Pilar from Montessori Matters on why you should never use a Montessori iPhone app.

(Oh yes, they do exist)

I'd like to thank the academy...

This blog has won two more awards!

Versatile Bloggers Award from The Work Plan
and the Outstanding Bloggers Award from Raising Ian

Thank you both for acknowledging this little blog of mine, it makes me blush :)

The rules for both awards call for me to pass it on to 15 other blogs... and... honestly, I don't think I read 15 blogs, let alone 30! So check out my list of blogs on the right hand side of the page and if you aren't there drop me a comment so I know to check you out!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

We hang a lot of laundry

Ryann can't reach the clothesline, so she busies herself in other ways. Like practicing her pinning skills or playing in the lines of clothes. Ryann so rarely fully concentrates on an activity without my input, even her own games, but under the clothes line she gets lost in whatever she is doing. I like to think that these are the kinds of things she'll remember as she gets older. Hot summer days spent playing in the shade of towels and sheets.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Montessori Vacuum Review

I'm not one of those people that can just go to the store, see something and buy it. Oh, no, no. I have to research. And contemplate. And comparison shop. Until the whole thing loses all meaning and I give up, or my need finally pushes me to pick something, anything!

I recently did this with a car seat (I finally settled on a pink Britax Frontier 85), new beds (gave up, it's impossible to find a bed that meets the challenge of my chemical phobia and budget) and finally this vacuum.

Eureka 431F Optima Bagless Upright Vacuum Cleaner Eureka Optima

I visited it at Target multiple times, read reviews, got recommendations from other Montessori peeps that this was the vacuum to get. It fit all my criteria: Cheap, lightweight, telescoping handle for shorties, but still powerful enough to use as my sole vacuum. To top this off, I had a gift card to Target so the purchase was actually free. Did I jump at it?

No, I waited a couple more weeks. And then I jumped at it. You can never be too careful when purchasing a vacuum.

My personal review of this vac is that it's a great little vacuum for a small space like mine. It works great on both carpet and hard floors and it can suck like nobody's business.

My Montessori mom review is... meh. The size is perfect for my almost-three-year-old to handle, but it's not as light as I hoped. Having lifted every vacuum at Target, the Eureka Optima was definitely on par with any other lightweight upright, but once you turn it on it suctions itself to the floor in such a way that it's not easy to move. I have no problem, but my shortie does. I know with time she will grow into it, but I was hoping to make vacuuming easier for her now.

And true to young child form, she's shown little interest in vacuuming since I bought it.

I would recommend the Optima to others, especially those with kindergarten age kids, but maybe wait a little longer to buy a vacuum for the under four or five crowd.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A world of difference

I think it's hard to admit, at least for us mothers, that a two year old and a three year old are capable of such vastly different things. After all, your child is smart and capable and likely even ahead of their peers! You pay close attention to what they are doing with their play and their vocabulary and you think you know what they can do and not do.

But then you sit down with your two-year-old to do a Montessori lesson for three-year-olds and they just. won't. do it. There is obviously a big difference between individual children. Some of them will jump to the challenge. Some will understand what they are supposed to do but just not care. Some won't get it at all. And if your child isn't doing the lesson, you are probably wondering where you went wrong.

I was reading the Wikipedia entry for Montessori earlier and was trying to figure out which tenet of Montessori education I believe. I think it most holds true to me that they order and kinds of lessons Montessori practiced were independent of individuality and culture. That it is true that two-year-olds do one thing and three-year-olds do another and reading shouldn't start until four even if the child seems ready, etc.

One thing I've learned over the last several months that I have been trying to do Montessori-ish things at home is that besides practical life activities, the closer Ryann gets to age three, the better her ability to follow my directions. Or to want to follow my directions. It's almost like magic.

When I started this blog in December, Ryann was two years and three months old. I know at some point I expressed frustration that she didn't follow any lessons and an experienced Montessori teacher wisely pointed out that she was only two. Now she is less than three months from turning three and she is much more careful, considerate and excited about doing activities. She's also more likely to spontaneously pick something off the shelf. And do it by herself.

I've read a few posts around the Internet lately where people are equally as frustrated that their otherwise leaps ahead two-year-old won't sit down for a lesson. I think they are discouraged by the small percentage of two-year-olds that are at a developmental level to do more complicated Montessori activities. In my experience, you can see all sorts of evidence of your kids ability to do a certain lesson,  but they still might not be old enough. And that's okay! Enjoy each stage in a child's life, the next stage will come soon enough.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Real Life vs. Structured Lessons

I think many, if not all, of us struggle with the balance of spontaneity and structure. Of following the day or planning it. Some of us are lean more one way or another, but I think the balance is the important part and the most hard to achieve.

Sometimes, I think we try to hard to plan and do things just right. As illustrated by the clothes pin activity, as it happened in my house.

I've tried numerous times to make pinning clothes pins to a basket a super fun activity. At first Ryann was too young. And then she didn't care. And then she did care, but got frustrated/bored easily. In the end, she still didn't know how to pin a clothes pin, which I found disappointing because it meant she wouldn't have the skills to help me hang clothes outside this summer.

Last weekend I was hanging clothes on the line and she was so interested in what I was doing she insisted on helping. So I gave her a clothes pin and held her up to the line. And she pinned. She pinned a few items of clothing before running off to tackle something else.

It suddenly wasn't hard or boring. It was just... natural. Because clothes need to be dried and the edge of the basket is, at the end of the day, just the edge of a basket.

Montessori Fail

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Montessori Vacuum Cleaners for Preschoolers and Toddlers

What a post, huh? Vacuums? I'm kind of obsessed with the idea of a child-sized vacuum that actually cleans the floors.

Ryann LOVES to vacuum. LOVES IT. She would vacuum all day if you let her, and I would let her, except my vacuum just isn't made for shorties. It does that horribly annoying thing where as she's using it the front lifts off the ground but then after you set it to its "under the bed" setting she moves it just so and it clicks back up again. If you have kids, you totally know what I'm talking about!

I have yet to find a vacuum that is made for kids and actually works like a vacuum that people would clean their houses with. There are a wide variety of stick and battery operated vacuums that are smaller than average. But those suck. They're flimsy and don't actually work and are often hard to use. Fortunately, there are a few vacuums that are small, lightweight and/or feature a telescoping handle.

Like this one:

There is a yellow version of this at my local Target and I'm so very close to just picking it up. I need a new vacuum. It's a Montessori activity. Ryann will love it. It's cheap. Presumably my house will be cleaner. But it gets some horrible reviews on Amazon.

Is there a better option? I haven't found one, but then again I haven't been looking for very long. Any other Montessori mamas or directors have any experience? I would love to hear about it in the comments!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Time moves so fast!

Has it really been over a month since my last post? Amazing how it doesn't seem like any time at all. I won't fill this post with excuses of why I've been gone. Of course we've been busy, life is crazy, etc. I'm just posting to say that I will be posting more again as soon as I can think of something to post about ;)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

One third of students thrive in a traditional education system

ONE THIRD? According to Dr. Steve Hughes, a professor of Pediatrics and Neurology, the remaining two thirds are either buying time until they graduate or are actually damaged by it. My goodness.

Ryann's future Montessori school (she got in!) linked to this series of videos on their Facebook page and they are really great. I suggest you watch all three.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The internet annoys me sometimes

It never fails. Any time I find myself combing the internet for some Montessori info, I run across a thread like this one.

To make that long, poorly written thread short, some people think the Montessori method only works for developmentally delayed, antisocial kids who like to work by themselves. These people, and lots of others around the net, see the Montessori method as ridged, lacking imaginative play, group work and, well, fun. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence for these claims, and I do not doubt the experiences of these parents. But there are bad schools everywhere, it has nothing to do with a specific method of teaching.

Many of these schools are not Montessori schools people have experience with. A lot of them are Montessori "style" or Montessori "inspired" and do not actually follow the whole method. Or at least the whole method as I understand it. And these schools comprise some people's only experience with the method, which is really sad.

In other cases, I think the schools may not be the problem. I think sometimes the Montessori method is too focused on real world applications for parents to see "results." There aren't enough grades or check marks or stickers or lists or rewards or punishments. One criticism in the link above was that Montessori doesn't teach vocabulary. Really?? Life teaches vocabulary. Talking about things teaches vocabulary. I really doubt the school in question never talked to the children about what was going on around them and I doubt the child's vocabulary was stagnant. More likely, there wasn't a list of words for the parent to look at or quiz about.

Montessori schools, as I understand them, don't discourage dramatic, creative play and thinking. Although, maybe because of the materials it comes across differently than in other schools. Even so, I went to a public school until 5th grade. I don't remember pretend play, drama and creativity in the curriculum. I remember in kindergarten there was a kitchen set and store "station" that I didn't play with a lot because it was in high demand and I wasn't aggressive enough to push ahead of the pack. After kindergarten I remember specifically being discouraged to pretend or, in fact, do anything the rest of the class wasn't doing. We didn't put on plays or act out stories or draw outside of art class. Maybe things have changed in the 20ish years since I was a youngster (20? Really?) but I'm just not sure most traditional schools have an emphasis on pretend play and creativity.

Lastly, the social aspect. As a former homeschooler I've heard more than enough "what about socialization??" cries from concerned parents. In my opinion, traditional schools don't offer much time for socialization between peers, the peers are often of exactly the same age and meaningful interactions between different ages rarely happens, and finally any group work usually only serves to separate the leaders from the followers and rarely shows any true cooperation. But even so, socialization is not something that you have to facilitate, people naturally bond and connect. This post from The Moveable Alphabet describes the importance of peer leadership and small groups in a Montessori classroom.

It is possible that these criticisms annoy me so much because I finally took the plunge and sent in Ryann's application to a Montessori school and am anxiously waiting to see if there is an open spot for her. After much back and forth in my mind I decided this was the perfect place for her to be -- and after much planning and number crunching, I can definitely afford tuition ;) It's hard to make a decision about a school and to know that you will be handing over a portion of raising your child. It's hard to think that I, like these other parents, might be putting my trust in a place that isn't what I expected. I'm confident, though, that I have made the right choice. If I haven't, well... she'll be out of there before she can say, "I hate school."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Washing dishes and other water activities

My girl loves water. LOVES it. She often gets into mischief because of it. Playing in cups of water, letting water drip from the water dispenser, washing her hands until the bathroom is flooded, dumping water on a table to make a pool for some toys, playing in dirty dishes... Wait, that last one isn't really a problem...

Because washing dishes is the perfect solution.

Ignore the Christmas pjs... it WAS early morning... in April.

After separating the sharp and the heavy, I showed Ryann how to wash things with a rag, turn on the water, rinse, turn off the water (because we don't waste water, I repeat this mantra multiple times a day) and then put the item to drain. She was fantastic at it!

Until she suddenly shouted, "I need a boat, a penguin and a bird!"

"A what??" I asked, totally taken off guard since *I* was thinking about dishes. She explained further and I got her a penguin, a bird and suggested a boat made out of a bowl.

And the fun continued. A little less structured, but a lot less dirty.

After my blog post about creating a Montessori environment at home, Grandma Honey and Grandpa Norm gave us a bench to use as a stool for the kitchen.

We've had it a week and it's made a world of difference! Ryann can reach the facet and see into mixing bowls. She really gets into cooking now. Which has lots of benefits, like she was finally willing to try some banana bread since *we* made it instead of just me.

When Ryann was done with the dishes, I threw everything into the dishwasher. It made my work that much easier and she had a great time.

Such a great time, in fact, later on she ran into the kitchen with a scrub brush and said, "I need a bowl and some soap!" She was full of declarations today.

I got her the bowl and the soap, asking all the while what the bowl and the soap were for to no avail. When she finally revealed it was for the floor, we had to talk about how you need to prepare and sweep first, but I don't think she cared much for my explaination. I swept and then we got to work on scrubbing the kitchen floor. No pictures for this one, floor cleaning keeps me too busy trying to keep the water level down enough that we don't slip all over!

I'm hoping as she masters these cleaning skills she feels the need to make a mess with water less and less. Until then, I'm always looking for a constructive outlet for her water obsession.

Monday, April 12, 2010

My first Montessori purchase: An A Plus Montessori review

A few weeks ago I ordered sound boxes and a scale from A Plus Montessori. I ordered on a Friday and got an email from the company on Tuesday saying they did not have the scales in stock :( I was quite disappointed since that was what I wanted most, but that stuff happens, right? I had the option of switching to another product of similar price or just going through with my order without the scale. I decided to just get the sound boxes and asked when the scales would be back in stock. I got a reply the next day with the tracking number for the sound boxes and a note saying the scales would be in stock within two months.

The following Tuesday the sound boxes were on my doorstep! They were packaged well and in great shape. They seem to be of high quality, as well, considering the low price point of A Plus Montessori's products. All in all, I am quite thrilled with my experience. I would have liked a quicker email that one of my products was out of stock, but I thought the customer service was otherwise excellent.

And look how cute the sound boxes are on our activity shelves!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Montessori enough

This isn't really about Montessori, but it somehow fits so I decided to make a post about it.

I just started watching Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution and, wow, is that some powerful stuff! For those that don't know, Jamie Oliver is a British chef who's taking on the American obesity epidemic by introducing whole foods to schools. He implemented a similar program in south London with great success. The idea is getting a bad rap in the States, which is really awful if you ask me. How is it controversial to feed kids nutritious food? Isn't that what we all strive for?

There was one part of the episode last week that really struck me as a Montessori mom. Jamie asked for knives and forks to be set out for the kids to use and it caused quite a stir. The lunch staff was appalled that anyone would let preschoolers and kindergartners use knives and forks because they are too young to know how to use them. Jamie's response? "This is school. You teach them to spell, you teach them to read, you teach them to write... you teach them how to use a knife and fork."

How easy it is to forget there are some things children need to learn that are more important, more basic, than what is in a standard school curriculum.

The clip below is very poor quality, but the only clip I could find! If you want to check out the whole episode, you can watch the series on Hulu.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Spring cleaning with a toddler

Oh, yes, it can be done.

Now, no two-year-old I know is going to organize your sock drawer (in any way you might call organized) or alphabetize your CDs, but that down and dirty deep clean you've been putting off all winter? Little kids have you covered.

Last week (yes, last week, it takes me awhile to formulate posts) we spring cleaned our bathroom. I had been meaning to do it for a few days, putting it off because I thought Ryann would need to be asleep or at her dad's before I could do any "serious" cleaning. I had already cleaned out the bathroom cabinets a week earlier, a little at a time, but how would I clean the tub and mop the floor with a "helper?" I had previously tried to scrub the kitchen floor with her help. I tried to have her watch how I did it: Dip a sponge in soapy water (Dr. Bronner's soap and baking soda is my magic cleaner), wring it out, and clean small sections at a time. This ended with one small section of clean floor, a large puddle (I thought I added so very little water too) and a very hyper, very slippery little girl.

I was trying to think of how to include Ryann in my cleaning while still allowing her to explore the tools on her own terms and not drive me batty. Then it hit me -- the bathtub! She could wash the bathtub, while IN the bathtub to contain messes, and I could wash the rest of the bathroom. And this is what we did. It was a great success. She had plenty of freedom to play with the soapy water bucket and after a few minutes she asked me to show her how to wring out the water and all the things I had tried to show her before to great frustration.

The only downside was that she didn't want to stop. Ever. I had every. single. surface. clean and she still wanted more! Unfortunately, her work was long done, in reality and in her ability, so spring cleaning turned into a bit of a mess. She threw quite the tantrum. Which I ended by suggesting a game of Memory. I've realized that Ryann has a hard time realizing when she is done with an activity and often drags it on until she is miserable. So when the Memory game reached a logical conclusion I firmly suggested she stop and things went much better. Observation is such a powerful parenting tool!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The prepared environment at home

According to the Association Montessori Internationale, there are four characteristics of the prepared environment:

Beauty, order, reality, simplicity and accessibility.

Children must be given freedom to work and move around within suitable guidelines that enable them to act as part of a social group.

Children should be provided with specifically designed materials which help them to explore their world and enable them to develop essential cognitive skills.

Mixed age groups (eg. three to six, six to nine, nine to twelve) encourage all children to develop their personalities socially and intellectually at their own pace.
All of these things are easily accomplished at home. As a family with both children and adults, you already have a household of mixed age groups that your Montessori child can learn from even though it might not be the age groups as outlined above. Sometimes you just have to work with what you have ;)

If your home doesn't already have beauty, order, reality, simplicity and accessibility for you, it should! We all want these things in our homes and we should expand this to an awareness of how our children experience the space as well. Keep your house well organized, clean and don't collect a lot of stuff that will interfere with the simplicity and beauty of your home. It should be easy for your child to understand how to run your household and to be able to emulate your routines. To be honest, this is an area I have a hard time with. I have a tendency to let things pile up (mail, work, toys) and I don't always have an orderly place for everything I use regularly. Ryann has too many toys (still, I'm trying!) and it's hard for her to understand where they all go, and there are too many to keep in an orderly fashion. The goal here isn't a minimalist household, but an organized and easy to use household that everyone can appreciate.

Freedom of movement can be a challenge depending on the age of the child. When they are young, you really must babyproof everything and not rely on restrictive playpens and baby gates to keep them away from danger. Instead of keeping toddlers out of the kitchen and bathroom, keep safe supplies down low and dangerous things up high. This will likely take rearranging over time as the child's skills change. I kept a lot of my low drawers in the kitchen and bathroom empty until Ryann got past the dump everything stage. You want to create a "yes" environment, where the child can touch and interact with everything within their reach. So if it's not dangerous, they should be able to use it. If they can't use it, teach them!

Finally, we get to the specifically designed materials. This is where the low table, child-sized brooms, little cups and saucers and the like come into play. Everything that you use every day should be accessible to your child in a size that is easy for them to manipulate. This isn't always possible at home with each and every item, but it is important to try and make it as easy as possible for your child to do things for themselves. Keep their dishes, food, toothbrushes, clothes, coats, etc. in easy to reach places. Keep a stool or two handy so the child can reach the sinks and counters without any restrictions. Ryann has a stool her Grandpa made her a couple Christmas's ago and it is used many, many times a day. Unfortunately, it is not quite tall enough for the kitchen sink and I haven't found one that is other than the Little Partners Learning Tower, which is (more than) a little out of my price range.

My house is far from perfect, but I do strive towards all these things and have even before I started researching Montessori schooling. It just seems right to include my daughter in everything I do. As a result I have a fully capable, independent child who sees accessibility problems as the highest form of injustice.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Montessori school open house

There are two Montessori schools within a reasonable distance from my house and work. One is a public school that gets awful reviews and test scores, not a "real" Montessori school. The other seems to follow the methods fairly strictly and I've been obsessed with the thought of it since Ryann was born. She will be three in September so if she's going to a Montessori school, now is the time to enroll. Ack! When did she get to be old enough to go to school?

The school held an open house last weekend so I went to check out the facilities and ask some questions about tuition. I had a fairly good idea of what to expect after dissecting their Web site over the last couple years, but I have to say it was really amazing seeing the facilities. The classroom was just beautiful, with clearly defined areas for each type of work. They had lots of pets, Degus, frogs and a tortoise. Ryann mostly liked the pets but she was also allowed to work with the materials. She got to make a yarn picture with paste and scissors to take home. And she made a big mess out of the other materials.

The only thing I didn't like was that the teachers would just say, "if you have any questions let me know." I asked a couple questions here and there, but I couldn't think of anything really probing to ask and I really wish they had interacted with the parents more proactively. I did, interact with one teacher a bit and I loved the way she talked to Ryann, like she was a person who could understand everything that was going on, which is how she is treated at home.

I also talked to a couple parents of students at the school and of course they raved about the methods and the school. It was really neat to talk to other parents who cared so deeply about their children's education and had the same goals I did. Before then, I hadn't realized that one of the perks of a Montessori school would be that the children Ryann went to school with would have similarly hands-on parents. The school really reaches out to parents and has lots of community events, one of the parents said it's like a big family atmosphere.

Overall, I *loved* the experience and I hope Ryann will be able to attend in the fall. I plan to continue with our at home Montessori activities and lifestyle, but I'm excited about the new learning opportunities she will have at this school.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Clearing the clutter and other promises to myself

I'm at that stage of organizing when you sit down for a break and are looking out at a sea of STUFF you have no idea what to do with or how so much STUFF got in your house to begin with. This is kind of a mandatory decluttering because I am signed up for a booth at a mom to mom sale next weekend and time is running out to gather my wares. I have great plans to simplify Ryann's things, but looking out at this sea of toys it's hard to know what is necessary and what is not.

The short answer, of course, is that none of it is necessary. Kids have just as much fun with a cardboard box and a bit of string as they do with any plastic, light up, talking toy you could buy. Even so, I find it hard to suppress the consumer in me and forgo all the fun stuff. And once it's in the house it is well-loved. The problem I have currently is that there is so much of it. It is impossible to treat so many objects with care, to keep them neat and organized. Last night I was reading this page from Montessori World and this passage spoke to me:
Children of this age like order. They make a great effort to remember where everything is kept and to return things to their right places after using them. Making this effort is an exercise for the mind. The children need to be observant. They must memorize the environment. They must be aware when something is out of place. If the environment contains too many things, they cannot do this; there is too much to remember. If the environment is cluttered with materials, it is too confusing. There is too much choice and the children do not work well. In a good classroom, there is everything necessary for the development of the children using the room, but very little else.
Obviously, if too many materials is confusing, too many toys would be just as confusing. If I barely know how to take care of them, how is my two year old supposed to know?

Clearing out the clutter will likely take me all week. Each pass through the house clears out more things, but I'm finding it very hard. Because everything has a story and a memory and a use... it's hard to let go.

While simplifying I always think of new ways to reorganize our space. I realized this morning that we need a new place for Ryann's books. The built-in shelves I'm using now would be better suited for toys and the books should have a more prominent place in the room. This means we need a new bookcase and even though I have made multiple pacts with myself to stop buying particle board furniture, I found myself perusing the Sauder knock-off isle at Target today. Particle board doesn't last as long or look as good and offgases more than real wood furniture, so why buy it? Because it's $20 a bookcase at Target, that's why, and it's hard to pass up! I kept my promise to myself today though, and decided to at least look at a couple second-hand places before buying another short term solution. And then I think, if I just followed through on decluttering I probably wouldn't need another bookcase at all.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sunshine Award

I was pleasantly shocked (is that a thing?) when I was given a sunshine award by Curly Q's Hairdos! I have seen this award passed around on some of the blogs I follow and it is supposed to be for blogs that inspire and spread sunshine to their readers. I have to say, receiving the award definitely added sunshine to my day! I'm so excited to be able to pass this award on to other bloggers!

1. Green and Crunchy
2. Preschool with Mom
3. The Free Lunch Blogger
4. Just one heartbeat at a time
5. Journey into Unschooling
6. FatFree Vegan Kitchen
7. What DID we do all day?
8. A Montessori Musing Place
9. Fox Toy Box

I was supposed to add 12, but my blog roll is wimpy and this is the best I could do!

Now, the Rules of Acceptance:
  • Put the logo on the sidebar or within a post
  • Pass the award on to 12 bloggers who brighten your day
  • Link to the nominees within your post
  • Let the nominees know they received this award by commenting on their blog
  • Link back to the person who gave you this award, as a way of showing your appreciation for being appreciated.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Awesome Montessori bedrooms to drool over

I know I say above that this blog isn't about unattainable ideals, but these bedrooms are sooo adorable! And probably attainable, if you are willing to simplify and wait for the right materials to come your way.

Isn't this just the cutest room ever? I love the colors!

Check out more pics at United Teaching.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

My frequently asked questions

My blog is far too young (and rarely posted on) to get questions from readers, this post refers to the questions I frequently ask myself, or Google, about the Montessori method and how to make it work in my household.

I haven't posted much recently because we haven't *done* much recently. Or at least much Montessori-ish. And the things we have done haven't gone as hoped.

Like last week I brought out this bean spooning activity.


She actually watched me do the activity and then repeated it fairly well (although a little haphazard at the end) the first time through. Then she wanted to do it again. And again. And suddenly it wasn't an activity so much as it was beans all over the floor.
This was also the first activity that I left out when not in use. Usually I put activities like this UP, very high, so I'm in control of when and how it happens. Of course, this is not part of Montessori's philosophy at all! The materials should be available at all times for the child to get out when they want to use it. Unfortunately, in this house that turns into a lot of playing with beans and not a lot of organized activity. In fact, I think almost all these beans have been lost to the vacuum after I got sick of picking them up.

So here are my questions to anyone who stumbles across this blog with more experience than me. 

How do you teach respect for materials and make sure your child doesn't just play with them while you are, say, doing the dishes?

How do you effectively stop an activity when it's obviously degrading yet the child doesn't want to stop?

How do you present materials that have already been demonstrated? 

That's all I have for tonight, but I'm sure I will have plenty more in the future!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

How to help children learn to read

This is the title of a COMPLETE course that teaches the Montessori reading method available for free online. It's an amazing series of videos featuring Margaret Homfray, a Montessori teacher who studied with Maria Montessori for 20 years. I have not watched all the videos, considering Ryann is a few years away from reading, but the ones I have are certainly interesting. She has a very blunt style that I both like and abhor, but once you get the whole picture of what she's talking about it's really quite cool. Anyone who is looking to do a traditional Montessori reading curriculum, this course is the place to get your info!

Some general things I liked about her introduction: She stresses always showing the proper way to do things, don't let the child figure it out on their own if they aren't doing it right. It is much harder to correct something that has been done wrong for a long time.

Children pick up reading the best between the ages of four and six. She says any earlier and they are bored with it before they have a chance to really use it and any later they are likely to not catch on as fast.

Don't read small children fantasy books, only present them with facts. This I thought the most interesting tip of all. Homfray likened it to being exposed to a country you had never been in and when you asked about the culture people just told you made up stories. It would be so confusing. Let young children get a grasp on reality and then introduce fantasy when they understand that it is fantasy. I'm not sure that I'm going to go pitch three quarters of Ryann's book collection, but this gave me much to think about!

I will probably reference this course in the future as it's got a lot of gems in it. I just have to find time to watch the whole thing!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Peeling a banana

Yesterday we peeled a banana. Yeah, not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. In fact, while Ryann was excited about it when we started, she seemed not impressed by the end result. What I found amazing about the peeling exercise was that she followed it from beginning to end and actually paid attention to what I was showing her!

I think the turning point for this hyperactive girl was getting a rug that is used exclusively as an activity rug. "Exclusively" for putting a puzzle together once as of the time of this writing, but just the *idea* of a specific place to do activities really helped Ryann take it seriously. The activity rug is a subject for another post however!

So yesterday we peeled a banana.

First, it helps to define the area and a cutting board worked well for this.

Cut into the top of the banana with a serrated knife. We used a butter knife.

Just make a shallow cut like this.

Peel each side carefully.


Afterward we practiced cutting. And she promptly lost interest. 

Friday, January 22, 2010

Cheap Montessori materials you don't have to make yourself

I've been on the lookout for genuine Montessori materials that don't cost an arm and a leg and after a long and mostly fruitless search I found an awesome resource! A Plus Montessori is a discount retailer with amazing prices and everything I've been looking for.

I've been on the lookout for a pink tower and everywhere I looked they were easily $100! For wooden blocks! Making one myself was pretty much out of the question so I had almost given up on the authentic pink tower experience (nesting blocks anyone?) when I found one on A Plus Montessori for $26.95.

$26.95? That's, like, affordable.

Three Period Lesson success!

Shortly after I posted about the three period lesson I tried it with Ryann and she loved it! This is officially the first intentional Montessori activity that she completed from beginning to end.

Ryann has this puzzle:
KID O Arranging Short To Tall Puzzle

I love it, but she hasn't really touched it since opening it on Christmas. I thought maybe it would hold more allure if we went over the concepts of short and tall. I picked the shortest and the tallest pieces and set them on the floor. First I identified the pieces, "this is short," "this is tall." Then I asked her which was tall and which was short. Finally, I asked her what each piece was. She understood it immediately wanted to do the lesson twice in a row but the second time through she labeled the pieces as "a elephant" and other such silly things.

I think the real success though was when she brought me the pieces a couple days later and asked to do the lesson. And she loved it just as much! I plan to do this with as many things as possible since this is something she is willing to focus her attention on.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Three Period Lesson

I'm realizing more and more that Montessori is as much as educational experience for me as it is for my daughter. Today I discovered the three period lesson and while it's easy and most of us probably do it with our children already, I'm fascinated with it's simplicity and wonder if I am delving into too many complicated topics too soon.

The three period lesson is how you present concepts and labels to your child. I found a couple youtube videos that I think explain it better than I ever could.

This video shows exactly how to present the lesson to the child, very helpful!

I love youtube :)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Using sensory activies to get what you want. Maybe.

I'm not sure how traditionally Montessori this is, but the other day we did a bean scooping activity. My current goal as a new Montessori mom and a long-time Green mom is to phase out all the plastic plates, cups and bowls in our house. There are a lot of health reasons to ditch the plastic but I would also like to have the mindfulness that breakable dishes entail. Watching my daughter throw her bowls and cups around at eight months old made sense, at two years it is time to be careful and respectful of the things she has. It's all too easy to let plastic sippy cups fall off the table but you wouldn't dream of letting a glass break in the same way!

In spite of this, I have not made the switch. Why? Because I have given Ryann glasses and ceramic plates and bowls and it did not end well... She is just not careful and she isn't old enough to care about breaking things. In fact, I think she rather liked it. I'm also having a hard time getting her to eat and drink mindfully, without spilling everything down the front of her.

Which brings me to bean scooping (I was getting there!). The exercise was to scoop dried beans into the cups of a muffin tin. This will help her gain control of the muscles she uses to eat and also train her to be careful with her utensils.


I'm not convinced it's working yet. Although it started out great. She almost let me show her how without interrupting and then went to work.

See our high-class plastic cookie tray used as a bowl? I told you we need to ditch the plastics.. sigh.

By this point, beans were flying everywhere. She tried, she really did. Until...

It  seemed far more fun to dig in them with her hands and drop them all over the floor.

Oh well.

Maybe tomorrow.