Montessori at home

Here the article I had published in Juno Magazine, Winter edition 2014

I’m a Montessori teacher, but first a mother. When I had my daughter, almost 7 years ago, I already had plenty of experience in childcare and a background in psychology but I was also living abroad and isolated from family support.  I remember spending a month at home in Belgium and all my family members were carrying her around, she was delighted and contented. Alone with me, she didn’t want to stay anymore on a playmat.  She wanted me to help her to sit up or to carry her around.

As a first time parent, I fell in the trap of buying lots of stuff to try to keep my daughter occupied.  It didn’t really work. A good friend of mine recommended How to raise an amazing child by Tim Seldin based, among other philosophies, on Montessori  education. The book promotes the freedom of movement and an uncluttered environment. I was hooked and tried straight away with my daughter.  This was how Montessori education made its entry into our home and is still very present in our family life.

You might be familiar with the Montessori as a school system, but what does it mean to raise a child the Montessori way? In our everyday life, we prepare our home to help our children to thrive, explore freely and become independent. We observe them and adjust the activities we provide in order to respect their needs and sensitive periods of development.

Babies and toddlers observe us all the time and they learn that way. Their only purpose is to learn life skills to become independent human being. That’s why they are so interested by kitchen utensils, laptops, keys, purse and mobile phones! For a young baby, a treasure basket full of everyday objects to explore is far more interesting than any plastic noisy toys.

There are some simple steps that as a parent you can take to have a child-friendly home. For example, why have fragile decorations that your toddler is not allowed to touch? This intense phase of exploration doesn’t last for long. In our house, we don’t have knick-knacks and fragile vases. I have plastic containers, kitchen utensils and baking material in the lower drawers so they can explore it.

What about toys? We have toys of course but only toys that follow our children’s sensitive periods. I rotate their activities regularly to avoid boredom and I present them in an orderly way. Children less than 6 years have an immature brain and the order outside helps them to order their thoughts. If their toys are classified by type, they will be able to classify in their head too. It will improve memory and concentration. And they will play better! You don’t have to buy anything expensive, some of the best activities for my toddler are just a collection of little boxes and bottles to open and close.

Now that my eldest is almost 7, I can see the long term benefits of this philosophy. As long as I prepare the environment, she can be totally independent. She knows where the art and craft material is and decides what to do and take what she needs to do a piece of art. She is in charge of her toilet and dress up by herself every day. During the school holidays, she loves to have projects and to learn about something specific. Following the Montessori ideas of learning through the 5 senses and hands-on material, I help her to explore a subject of her choice. In this way, I have found the Montessori philosophy to be of benefit to us all.dscf2346dscf2347dscf2348dscf2349dscf2350

Update from that beautiful space that was our home!

We had just moved in our new home, my son was 2 and 5 months, my daughter just 7. I had managed to have all their toys downstairs, saved a few very girly that belongs to my daughter in her bedroom (and more books upstairs) but look at those uncluttered shelves!

As I’m “challenging” myself and my hoarding tendencies (with the excuse that it’s for the kids!), I will take an “horrible” after pictures of those shelves and an after “after” picture when that toy’s space is organized again!

 

 

 

 

Montessori challenge – the bathroom

bathroom-storage

Welcome to the first month of the Montessori house challenge (use the hashtag #montessorihousechallenge when sharing about this challenge). I have started this challenge with our bathroom because I have done many improvements recently.

I hope you have enjoyed the video. If you want to watch it, here the replay on fb.

How to improve your bathroom quickly to support your child, first ask yourself those questions:

  • Observe the room and how your child is using it. Every time your child asks for your help (or when you go and help him without him asking), try to see what prevents him to do it by himself.
  • Depending of your child’s age, encourage your child to be independent regarding self-care. As rule of thumb, if your child walks, he can attempt most of his self-care needs with little support.
  • Does your child have access to the sink? Can he see himself in the mirror?
  • Does your child have access to his toilets accessories?
  • Can you child reach the light switch?
  • What kind of bath toys does your child have? Does he play with all of them? Can he access his toys by himself?

Now, here my quick fix for the questions above:

  • access to the sink and mirror: try a stool but check carefully if your child can then see herself in the mirror. My son was not complaining about not seeing himself, my daughter was able and it took me months to realize that my son was not looking at himself in the mirror, it might explain why he was not keen to brush his teeth by himself? In our bathroom, we have two stools as we have two children of two different sizes.
  • access to their accessories: it’s best at this age to keep their own accessories separate from the parents’ ones, mainly because they will see them better and they will take ownership and responsibility for their own stuff.
  • light switch: one reaches it by climbing on the stool, my son is still too small so I added an extra cord (as it’s a pull down cord switch).
  • bath toys: very quickly the number of toys can climb up but really, children don’t need that much! Even just some empty containers can be enough (we used to have an empty plastic juice bottle in the bath, it was by far my daughter favourite toy). Sort and reduce until you have a manageable quantity for your child to handle.

Now for the great accessories to have in the bathroom, check the picture above and here what there are:

1. Zelta PS Resin Toothpaste Tube Squeezers Flatteners Crocodile Shaped Multi-colored 3 Pcs I’m buying this one as we have tried an automatic toothpaste squeezer and it was a disaster!

2. Kids Toothbrush Timer ~ 2 Minute Smiley Sand Timer for Brushing Children’s Teeth (Blue), there is one with the Ikea storage board but as I said in the video, that time is very long!

3. Ikea stool we have that one, and a smaller one that they don’t do anymore at Ikea but it’s on sale elsewhere so here is the link IKEA CHILDS FOOT STOOL / STEP WITH ANTI-SLIP FÖRSIKTIG

4. Ikea Storage board set with suction. This one is very sturdy so far, attaches properly to tiles and glass (we use it on the shower screen) and it’s at our children’s level. My son loves it!

5. Munchkin Quack Bath Caddy: I didn’t buy this one as we have a nest that I have just attached to two suctions hooks. But if my children were younger, I would have invest in that storage as it makes them access their toys easily. My children are 4 and 9 and can manage the nest storage by themselves.

6. Suctions hooks from Ikea: so far, I cannot fault those suctions hooks. In the past, I had bad experience with suctions systems so it seems that in 15 years, those systems have made lot of progress. Which is good as it’s so practical when you don’t want to drill holes! We have one for my son bathrobe (pajamas are in their bed generally and my daughter has hooks in her bedroom for her bathrobe), one for the towel next to the sink. Another idea for towels and bathrobes/pajamas was to add over the radiator hooks or to drill in the door to add hooks to the children’s level (but I was not keen to damage the door).

7. Another suction mirror from Ikea: if you don’t want to go for the big panel, this one is perfect too!

Not pictured is the accessories to wash their hands, as seen in the video, I found the little nailbrush at Tiger (UK shop).

Also here a few things that could be reallly useful

A tap extender (I haven’t try this myself) New Faucet Extender For Toddle Kids Children Hand Washing Leaves Shade

An over the bath, sink for toddler. We had the same one when my daughter was a toddler. We didn’t took it with us when we moved from Ireland to UK (I don’t remember why! I would say because she was getting older and we were not planning a second child at that time). But it was very useful and practical.

Not pictured either are the bath toys my children enjoy the most (the ones I kept after a much needed sorting)

Green Toys STCA-8586 My First Stacking Cups what I like with this one, it’s that it’s great for pouring but also for counting and volume comparison.  Each cup is numbered on the bottom from 1 to 6 and is volumetrically accurate. Fill cups 1 and 2, for example, and it will equal the volume of cup 3.

Green Toys Blue Handle Submarine Bath Toy ideal for Babies and Toddlers

By the way, Green toys are Made in USA and of recycled milk jugs, very safe and ecological toy.

Alex Rub a Dub Pals Stickers for the Tub bath toys: I bought this out of the blue as it was super cheap at my local TKMaxx, and they have played most of the time with it ever since. (I think it was for Christmas two years ago)

Marine Figure Set – 12 Piece Sea Life Toy Figurines: my children have lots of plastic animals, they are, IMO, one of the best toys to have (I will write an post about that resource!)

And a simple plastic doll is great to bath too. My children also like bath crayons but I cannot find a brand that doesn’t dissolve after one or two baths. If you have a good recommendation, I’m listening!

And involve your children in your cleaning routine for the bathroom. In our case, we wipe the shower screen after use. I figure that as my children love to use the squeegee already on the windows, they might enjoy this activity in the bathroom too. Other tasks they can do in the bathroom: empty toilet paper in the bin, put their own dirty clothes in the laundry basket (our own laundry basket is in the corridor or bedroom), wipe sink and counters (they can use a mix of vinegar/water/essential oil to clean), spray the mirror (same mix to clean). They can hoover/sweep and mop the floor too with your help. I would leave the cleaning of the toilet seat to the grown up.

As my children are older, I didn’t chat about potty training but if you need advice/tips for this, comment below and I might do a post about our own experience and how to potty train the Montessori way.

I hope you have some ideas and are ready to tackle your bathroom if it needs improvements. What are your challenges for your bathroom? Please share in comments!

Thanks for reading!

If you blog about the challenge, grab the button

Montessori-family
Montessori-family

I have created a linky for the Montessori house challenge so if you have a blog with a post about how you have set up a room/area following the Montessori principles (or helping your child to be self-sufficient), feel free to link it.

get the InLinkz code

Montessori challenge

join-us-for-thesweet-sixteen-of

About how I fell down the Montessori wagon and how I get back in!

9 years ago, I trained as a Montessori teacher. My first child was 16 months old and I was using Montessori with her since she was 6 months old. I went back to work on and off ever since. I had a second child in 2012, following a big move from Ireland (Quiet Dublin life, near the beach) to the busy London (overwhelming and wonderful at the same time).

In London, I started my own business (what I still do now in the English countryside). I had a second child and a very busy life. Slowly but surely, I was doing less of Montessori at home while teaching Montessori to parents through my playgroups and parenting workshops. Ironic? We say in French “c’est le cordonnier le plus mal chausse” or “the cobbler’s children go barefoot”.

In an attempt to get a better quality of life, we moved away from London. Me and my husband are both from the countryside and we couldn’t afford to buy a house in London anyway. We wanted to slow down and we wanted our children to enjoy an outdoor life.

So we bough our house in 2014 and I went back to work full time in a Montessori school! I managed to overwhelm myself very quickly again. I left my job in July for various reasons but the main one was that I had the opportunity to send my own son to a Montessori school that has an elementary program (while the one I managed was only a preschool). Distance wise, it was not possible for me to commute anymore while doing the school drop off.

So I was back to running my own business and finding at last the balance I wanted and going back fully to Montessori in my own home too!

I have always embraced the Montessori philosophy. I let my children explore, I let them express their own opinion, I follow their sensitive periods and provide what they need. We are reality based in everything we do. We don’t overwhelm them in their schedule, toys, routines… We have a Montessori inspired discipline with no rewards, no punishment, a lot of discussions about their emotions. However, sneakily, they were less and less independent because I never took the time to design our new house to their needs. Too busy with my job, I was doing for them instead of providing the tools for them to do it by themselves. Too busy with my job, I was hurrying them out of the house, to the childminder, to school in order for me not to be late. Not letting them being in charge of their shoes, their school bags… And the first job of a Montessori teacher is to prepare the environment in a way that it helps the children to be independent and is conductive to self-directing learning. Well I had forgotten my first job…

So for the last 4 months, since I left my job, I have started to come back to the basics and I encourage my children to be independent in everything they do. I encourage them again to help me when I cook, to pour their own drink, to tidy up after they’ve finished playing. I have sorted their toys to reduce what they have, I have reviewed some areas that weren’t promoting independence and to add to the difficulty, we have now a puppy so I had to review how to have things at the children’s level without having the puppy taking things.

It’s very much a work in progress and I want to be real with you and show you every month our progress, in order to inspire you to maybe do the same.

For me, being a Montessori parent is about the Montessori philosophy: respect for your child, observing your child, promoting independence in everything you do with your child.

It’s not about having the perfect house, it’s not even about the Montessori material at home. It’s not about being a Montessori trained teacher either.

So I have started a Montessori challenge; every month, I will share a video touring an area of my house, I will give you tips to design your house in a way that promotes independence and self-directed learning. It will be very simple tips and activities, nothing that you cannot achieve easily as a parent.

I hope I will inspire you to help your child to grow the Montessori way!

So join me every first Thursday of the month, 1pm on the fb page for a live video. The video will then be shared in a blog post with tips for you to get started. I hope you will share your progress and enjoy the process with me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Favourite board games

As a family, we enjoy playing board games. We started when my daughter was 2 years old. She was already able to count and quickly learned to count on the dice (up to 6 even if she was loosing her focus with more than 4 dots on the dice).

 

Her first board game was:
Orchard Toys The Game of Ladybirds. A great first math/counting game.

img_3876

Then we were hooked to the Orchard toys, designed and made in UK! So many that we like! I find most of those board games at the local charity shops.
Orchard Toys Shopping List Game

Orchard Toys Lunch Box Game

We also like to play with non competitive games like this one, where everyone has to collect fruits before the crow reaches the end of the path.
HABA My First Orchard My Very First Games This is the youngest ones version, there are different versions of this game.

We also have the travel version with cards.

We are also big fan of classic games like draught, snakes and ladders and simple card games.

My 9 year old has started to play chess too. By the way, there is a guide book about how to learn to play chess the Montessori way!

Another favourite brand is Djeco and we have many of the card games. Because we travel often to our family in Belgium, the kids have been offered many games from that brand, easy to bring back home in the suitcase, and also easy to play while travelling.

Djeco Card Game – Batamino
 It’s a first game of battle when the player who has the biggest animal win (you see numbers on the cards too). We enjoy this game together with my son since he is 3, with his big sister too (4 years gap so it’s sometimes challenging to find games that they will both enjoy)

Djeco Card Game – Diamoniak
Be the first person to build a castle in one’s own color. More advanced in terms of rules. (recommended for children aged 5 to 9)

Here another “classic” from our own childhood and I love to play with this one. My son used to play in my team until very recently. He can now play by himself with only a bit of input from me.
UNO Cards

We also found this antic game in my husband’s grandmother house. It was his mum’s game that he played with when he was little. We brought it back home and now we play with my 9 years old. I used to play this game too as a child and still enjoy it very much!
Dujardin – 59062 – Mille Bornes Fun & Speed Card Game – Metal Box
Other classic toys we like: Mastermind and Who’s who!

A last one that I might order to get in time for New year eve to have fun with the kids.

Hasbro Pie Face Game

What are your favourite board games? Share in comments!

Santa Claus and Montessori

At the playgroup, we had our Christmas/End of the term party. While I themed it with Winter and some of the Christmas symbols, I didn’t go heavy on Santa and there is a reason why, I don’t make my own children believe in Santa.

And that was the first question of one of the mums at the playgroup this morning, why don’t Montessori teachers celebrate Santa? My answer in a nutshell: because it’s not real and our children learn about the real world around them.

As a Montessori teacher, I’m a firm believer of the reality principle. It means that children first must be introduced to the real world, must know the difference between what is real and what is fictional before being introduced to fantasy. Fantasy is an imaginary world, created by adults, by the abstract mind of the adults. Children have a concrete mind, abstraction comes slowly and later (after 6 years old).

It’s especially true for the children under the age of 6, during the first plane of development.

Maria Montessori discussed fantasy and reality quite extensively and believed that fantasy was an adult imagination imposed onto the child. Children are credulous and will believe what adults tell them. They will embrace our fantasy world but they will not understand that it’s pretend for quite a while.

Santa Claus, as presented by parents, to their children, is part of that fantasy world. We might believe that it’s part of the traditions, part of the “magical” childhood but it’s mainly a lie, even if it’s a lie that we tell to “please” our children. Also, a vast majority of parents will use the Santa Claus story to keep children well behaved for the whole month of December (at least). Not to mention, that nowadays, the Elf on the shelf is acting like Big Brother, monitoring all bad and good actions of the child.

As a Montessori teacher, I’m against all forms of rewards and punishment so clearly the idea of threatening my children that Santa will not come if they are not good is a big no no.

In our family, we don’t pretend that Santa Claus exists. Full stop. No elves, no gift from Santa, no cookies and warm milk… Nothing like that.

But now that my daughter is 9, we read the story of St-Nick, I explained to my children who was St-Nicholas, that he is celebrated the 6th of December. That he was kind to people and children of his time and he was well known to give gifts, anonymously. We have books with Santa in them, when my children were very young (and my youngest is 4 so still young), I used to say, Santa Claus is in the books, it’s a story. And I avoided Santa stories until my children were over 4.

But no, I don’t make them believe that a man comes into their house at night. I find it creepy to encourage my children to believe that it’s ok for an old man to come into our house at night. My daughter questions on a regular basis if the house is safe, she is afraid of burglars so I’m not going to tell her that our house is safe, locked but the chimney, hey! No problem, you come in and out and you will never be seen!

I help children under 6 to discover a world that is real, that they can touch and explore. They imagine with objects and what they see, touch, taste, hear and smell. The whole Santa tradition is totally imposed upon them, it would be totally my doing, my fantasy, to make them believe. For sure, children are credulous, they will believe their parents because they have no reason not to trust their parents. They must trust their parents, basic survival instinct! But what do we do to this trust when we tell our children a few years later that it was a lie? I know it’s a lie to please them, to play with them but well, it’s still a lie. On the other hand, if our children tell lie, we tell them that it’s not good to lie and sermon them about the virtue of the truth. Not sure why one is allowed but not the other.

In addition, I read this article about fostered/adopted kids and Santa and how traumatic Santa could be for those kids and it reinforces again my guts instincts not to carry on this tradition. Even if the majority of children don’t have trauma, every child has his own sensibility and we don’t know in advance if a child will be scared, worried with some of all parts of the Santa traditions or we don’t know how a child will react when he will know that Santa doesn’t exist.

And historically, who is Santa Claus? Who is Father Christmas?

Father Christmas in the UK was first associated with adult feasts and not related to children until the Victorian times. He was the spirit of good cheers spreading joy on Christmas day (Green coat by the way at the time!). Then in 1848 in New York, an article described different ways to celebrate Christmas eve around the world and included the tradition of St-Nicolas giving presents. It’s then that St-Nicolas became Santa-Claus and was merged with Father Christmas and finally started to be associated with Christmas day.

I have also difficulties explaining to my own children why we donate toys at Christmas for the children who don’t have any if Santa comes around and distribute toys (why then some families don’t have any? What do other parents answer? That Santa gives one gift to each child in the world but those poor children don’t have toys from their parents?). As we don’t celebrate Santa, I just explain that some parents don’t have money to buy toys so we help them.

And lately, I also feel that there are new traditions or traditions from other countries to be embraced, and a good marketing plot to make us spend more and more.  A Christmas eve box, the elf on the shelves (sold out everywhere at the beginning of December, the elf from the States), the Advent toys calendar (not the simple chocolate one, you must have a Star War one? A make up one if your child is a teenager and not just one in fact, give them 3…), the reindeer food ultra well packaged… I had a big overwhelming sensation this year although I knew I was not going to do any of this. But it was everywhere and I can sense that some parents must feel that they must do all those traditions, by fear of their children missing out (we have heard since the 1st of December that my son’s best friend has an elf on the shelf and my son did ask where is our elf then?).

Those are all the reasons why we don’t celebrate Santa in our house.

However, we celebrate Christmas as a family and we spend time together. We offer a few gifts to the children and if we have guests, we offer them gifts too. We decorate the house and the Christmas tree (Christmas tree has nothing to do with the Christmas/Catholic/Christian celebrations by the way). We eat well and we play games and go for long walks.

Now, as it’s a Montessori inspired blog, I would give the Montessori advice that I give to all parents who ask me:

If you want to introduce Santa Claus, delay until your child is able to talk about it. It’s easy to do with the first child, not so easy if it’s your second. Don’t overdo it until he is able to talk about it. Let your child explore the myth, the ideas around Santa by himself. Let him ask questions but answer vaguely or with questions. Don’t give him adult-made answers to his questions. For example, he might say, does Santa come in the house through the chimney? Ask him “what do you think?” (my daughter at the time replied that he was too big to come through the door). If your child comes back from the nursery talking about Santa, you might just say “who is Santa?” and you will then know what she knows already. She might try to explore the ideas with logic and compare to what she knows of the reality (like he lives in north pole with polar bears and reindeers, more than with elves?).

Also, avoid the naughty list/good list, don’t use Santa as a threat (think of long term, what are you going to do on the 26th of December 😉 )

I found that letting my child explore the ideas around Santa by herself was the best compromise: I didn’t feed them with big lies and their desire to believe (reinforced by the fact that they are exposed no matter what) was respected.

My daughter talked about Santa from around 3 to 5 years old and my son has really started this year to be passionate about the subject (he is 4). And they are welcome to express their ideas but their gifts under the tree are from us, with all our love.

To my family to your, I wish you a Merry Christmas or any other celebrations, happy time together and let me know your thoughts!

 

 

 

 

 

What is worth than being sick?

Being a mum and sick.

Being a mum and sick and being self employed (and missing a day of work, aka loosing money)

Being a mum and sick and taking care of the kids, anyway.

Being a mum and sick, having the husband taking care of the kids, the dinner and the house but expecting you to get the grips and help (thanks God for a lot of paracetamol)

Being a mum, recovering just in time to collect the family at King Cross and coming back to a sick child.

Being a mum, taking care of a sick child during the holidays.

(all the previous statements + a puppy who is not toilet trained and likes to nip feet, constantly)

Being a mum, 3 days before Christmas, no Christmas tree, Christmas decorations made by children stick to every wall with blue tag. Couldn’t care less what we’re going to eat for Christmas.

Bring it on 2017!