Sunday, January 30, 2011

Work is calming

Tyler is typically a very fun, easy-to-giggle, happy little boy who loves to go off and play on his own, but ten days of exhaustion mixed with drugged hyperactivity from the lovely amoxicillin he's on, caught up with him for a moment last night. I was attempting to make dinner and Tyler wasn't in the mood for Mommy's attention to be elsewhere. I realized that he needed work, though I had nothing that I thought would keep his interest. I could tell he needed something new but not too difficult. Thankfully I had just read a post on the "Chasing Cheerios" blog about putting Q-tips into a hole in a container. Perfect! Thanks to my container hoarding ("I could use this for something someday, I'm sure...") I had a parmesan cheese container on my storage shelves and we were well stocked on Q-tips. In less than a minute the house switched from one full of whining chaos to silent focus.


As you can see by the amount of Q-tips, this went on for quite some time! He had great focus.

Realizing he could also use this as a soft sounding shaker

I admit I spent much of time that I should have used to make dinner, watching him and taking pictures. After he was finished he was calm and refreshed though, just as Maria Montessori promised! Making dinner was no longer an issue.

On our way to brushing teeth before bed, he noticed the work again and was eager to continue.

Impressive! I later counted 74 Q-tips in the container. This is certainly going on the shelf!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Making and Using Nomenclature Cards with Toddlers

Nomenclature cards are used in Montessori to introduce new vocabulary words, and I've found that there are many different ways to use them! Using the laminator I received for Christmas, as well as Google images, I was able to easily make my own. Having real-life fruits and vegetables would be even better for the 3-period naming lesson. When Ty is older, the idea will be to cut the words off of the bottom of one of each card set, and let him match the word to the card, then self-correcting by looking at the control (the card without the word cut).

First, I found beautiful photos on Google images of fruits and vegetables. I decided to use photos with white backgrounds so that Ty would be able to focus on the image without a lot of distraction. I then cropped the photos and sent them off to be printed, two copies of each fruit or vegetable.

Next, I typed and printed the name of each fruit, twice.

Cutting and placing the name of each underneath the photo, I then laminated and cut the cards. I can't tell you how much I love my laminator!

The finished result. I was very pleased!

Introducing new vocabulary. First, I named each card for Tyler several times, one at a time, looking into his eyes, being sure he was focused. Then I lay them down and asked, for example "Will you please show me the apple?". If the child shows you an incorrect card, you simply go back to the first step of naming each individual card rather than correcting.

"Please show me the strawberry"

"Please show me banana"

Later, I introduced a simple matching game, four cards face down. He wasn't fully interested in learning this game, so we'll try again another time. 

The next day, I introduced Tyler to a matching activity. First, I named each card again. Then, I placed one set of three cards on the rug in a line, and demonstrated how to take one card at a time from the other set and match them to the cards on the rug. He did well with his favorite, the banana, then ran off to play with something else

Tyler has been on amoxicillin for an ear infection, and he is sensitive to the adrenaline in it. This has made him quite hyper (staying up, wide-eyed well past 10 p.m. kind of hyper), so I wasn't surprised that he ran off, but I could tell he enjoyed the activity. Confident that he understood what to do, I left it out for him in case he decided to return. A while later, I caught him looking closely at the cards.

Once he spotted me spying on him he wanted me to join in, so I assisted by handing him one card at a time, naming it, and asking him to find the match. Sitting down wasn't going to happen, which was fine. He did an excellent job and truly had fun with the work.

Today, I will introduce new cards and try again...that is if he makes up for the nine hours of sleep (eek) he got last night with a very long afternoon nap. Otherwise I think we'll be spending a lot of time reading and snuggling!

Here's a link to the laminator I received for Christmas. You can't go wrong for less than $30! I can't imagine what kind of money I'll save making many materials on my own:

Friday, January 28, 2011

Montessori in your Cheerios box

Add caption

"Hope and peace and love and trust.
All the world
is all of us"

Our family has greatly enjoyed the wonderful books that Cheerios and First Book have placed inside of the Cheerios boxes this year. Ty's favorite surely being "The Purple Kangaroo", and mine being the book shown above, "All the World" by Liz Garton Scanton and illustrated by Caldecott Honor Medalist, Marla Frazee. 

The message and beautiful illustrations of "All the World" made me instantly think "Montessori!"  With a peaceful poetic flow, the book takes the child through their connection with nature, from beach to garden to trees and birds, exploring culture, food, family and music, and how these things connect us all, "all the world". It has quickly become one of my favorite children's books.

If you don't purchase Cheerios, or can't find the boxes with this particular book, I've linked the book from Amazon for you below.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Going on a Photo Hunt!

The following is another fun, inexpensive activity for Toddlers and Preschoolers. Ty and I have really enjoyed this great memory game the last couple of days!

1. Take photos of objects around your house. I used toys, stuffed animals, favorite books, furniture, a vent Tyler especially likes, and a couple kitchen items he uses. Some were easy and some more difficult, such as not only finding a pig from his Three Little Pigs play set, but finding the pig with the blue overalls.

2. Print the photos. I don't have a printer myself but was able to get $.09 prints at Walmart.

3. Demonstrate the activity. Then present your child with one photo at a time, name the object, and ask if they can find it. This is another time where keeping things in the same place becomes important!

The photo cards. I didn't laminate or label these with the words, but it's surely an option. I may do this at a later date if the activity becomes a favorite.

Ty ran right to his favorite snowman decoration, then checked the photo.

It's a match!

Naturally, when he found an item, he wanted to play with it. By the end of our second hunt, we got through three cards before the activity ended. When the game becomes more familair to him, I will put the cards in a pocket on the wall for him to play independently. It's clearly self-correcting so I think he will enjoy it!

As he grows older, I'll likely make the game more difficult by photographing certain shapes and/or colors of things such as his unit blocks, or ask him to find a specific page in one of his favorite books. Finding lesser-used items around the house would make it more of a challenge for older children as well.

On a bit of a side note, you can make this activity even less expensive by printing two objects on one card, either by obviously taking a photo of two objects at a time and cutting the photo in half, or by using doing a manual photomerge in photoshop and cropping the photo [File-->Automate-->Photomerge].

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Color Baskets

Sorting is a huge activity in the Montessori world. This is one simple sorting by color activity that I assembled and presented to Tyler today.

Taking items from around the house that were mainly one color, I then sorted them into two baskets (saving green and red for a later date). At first I had yellow and green colors to sort, then realized at this age the colors may be too similar and went with yellow and blue.

After demonstrating the activity and verbally labeling the colors for him, I dumped the baskets, mixed the items and let him sort. I was surprised at how well he did with this activity, though (of course) after a while it became all about filling the baskets and dumping them all over his lap! Though many of the items were toys of his, I was able to find other household objects that were new to him which he also enjoyed exploring, such as a candle, hair ties and a beloved jingle bell from his old Christmas display.

For older children and those who are more adept with their colors and this sort of activity, using four baskets of colors would be appropriate. 

[Excuse the poor quality of the activity photo -- my camera was in the bedroom where my poor husband was trying to sleep off the cold that has gone around our family this week. We're slowly on the mend!]

Friday, January 21, 2011

Our Montessori Home

I've been wanting to post about what we've done with our home to make it toddler and Montessori friendly for quite a while, yet I've always wanted to wait until everything is perfect. I've recently given up on that dream, knowing that I will always want a little more, and have finally found the courage to just post! I love that our home feels beautiful and cozy to us and our visitors, and that it's so functional for all of us, two adults and a toddler, all in the same main living spaces.

Before the mass of photos that are to come, here are the basics of creating a Montessori home:

Childproofing everything so that the child doesn't frequently hear "no". This allows the child freedom and confidence to explore the environment and his world without fear of being scolded. I honestly can't think of anything that at this point that we'd have to tell Tyler not to do other than a few things he enjoys climbing that we'd rather he not..

Make the child's materials and toys easy to access and reach. We've done this with several $15 bookshelves from Walmart. Baskets and trays for these items are also key. Keeping these items in the same place at all times is also important so that the child knows where to find and put away his things. Even when rotating toys, as I do often, I put them in the same center, shelf and area on the shelf. Art work should also be at a child's eye-level, their own and that of the great masters. Currently I have several photos from National Geographic or calendars that I've laminated and hung.

Provide adult materials at a children's size for the child to use and imitate you with. Gaining skills and independence in home-life is of utmost importance with Montessori, and is a whole blog in itself!

When old enough, children should put away one toy/material before using another. I feel at 17 months old Tyler is ready to start. Up until this point, resetting the toys constantly is important. If a room is cluttered with toys, it is difficult for a child to feel organized himself and to find what he needs. Children also watch us carefully and learn to put away toys on their own, which we've also found Tyler to do at times.

The child's environment should be organized, clean and beautiful. The areas shouldn't be cluttered with too many toys, as this is overwhelming to the child and rather than choosing something, they may simply walk away.

Our Living and Dining Room

This is Tyler's pretend play center. As Maria Montessori didn't believe in pretend play until a child had a firm grasp on reality, this is where our Waldorf inspiration has come into play. Some modern Montessorians believe in pretend play and some do not. We have decided that it's important.

This is the building and block center. The area is out of the way with plenty of space for building giant towers and sprawling cities that won't get knocked over by heavy traffic.

As we don't allow the television to be on in our home when Tyler is awake, this area has become a music listening center that Tyler greatly enjoys. We play music through the television/Playstation and Tyler is quite adept at using it himself. He enjoys sitting in his child-sized rocking chair to listen. There's also a container of teething toys available to him in the cabinet, as this seems a prime time to chew, as well as photo albums made for Tyler to look through.

Our family is big on going to the library for story time and to check out books. This small basket next to our  books is for Tyler's own library books.

Though most of Tyler's books are kept in his quiet room, some of the larger and favorite books are kept in a basket next to the couch. This makes it easy to snuggle on the couch and read when we're in the living room.

Music center

Large Motor Room

This room serves as a safe place for Tyler to use his large muscles and is especially great on rainy days. I've also turned it into a multi-cultural room with photos of people from many different cultures as well as world maps. Though it may seem early for maps at this age, Montessori believed that just becoming familiar with the shapes of the continents could be important. Tyler can often be found on his climber staring at the world map or up close looking and smiling at people from around the world and enjoys hearing me talk about the cultures and pointing out areas on the maps.

We took one door off of this closet to allow extra space to play. We left one door on to perhaps give him a private space to hang out and hide as he gets older.

Tent, tunnel and more maps.

Some of the cultural photos up-close. Now that I own a laminator, I will laminate these to keep them protected from little exploring hands!

The closet shelves in this room are where I keep my supplies. I am constantly attempting to organize them, yet every week I seem to add something and the task seems impossible. Perhaps public shame will move me to do something about this eye-sore! 

Our Kitchen

We don't use the eat-in area of our kitchen, which has allowed an area for Tyler's manipulatives/snack table. The shelf next to it contains table toys and a couple books that have somehow always stayed in the kitchen. I keep paper taped to the table with a few crayons at all times. When Ty is a bit older, a smock and drawing and art materials will be set on one of the shelves for access at any time he feels the urge to create.

A closer look at the table toys that are in rotation at the moment

Child-sized brooms are available for Tyler to sweep up his messes and to help us when we're doing the same. I also have a mop and duster which will join the brooms soon.

Several of the drawers have been given to Tyler for his use. One drawer contains bibs that Tyler chooses from before meals. We also have a cabinet that contains empty food boxes, tubs and spice jars for Tyler to play with and stack that isn't pictured. Cooking meals in our home isn't often an issue, as there's plenty for Ty to busy himself with if he wishes to be close to us at that time.

Tyler's Bedroom / The Quiet Room

As Tyler sleeps with us at this point, his room has become a space for quiet activities. One center contains smaller motor toys and at the moment, plenty of shape toys, which has been an interest of Ty's for quite some time. When Tyler chooses to sleep on his own, the mattress here will serve as his bed, built upon the "low-bed" theory of Montessori.

The other side of the room contains a book shelf and a mattress for comfortable reading. Pillows, cushions or a bean bag could also make a cozy spot for a child to read. Favorite books are displayed with other favorites that are out of rotation in easy access for switching on top. Other books are stored away out of sight in a closet. 

Tyler's diaper changing area. Tyler always has a choice between two characters for his diapers, which excites him and makes diaper changing less stressful. He also enjoys looking at the different types of architecture displayed on the wall.

Tyler's bottom dresser drawer contains two outfits for him to choose from every morning.

Though I'm happy with our home at the moment, there are areas and aspects which I naturally wish to change and add as Tyler becomes older. In the near future I'm hoping to add a low coat hook, a hand washing and teeth brushing station, a snack cupboard where he can choose his own snacks, cups and plates, as well as, as mentioned above, an area where his own cleaning supplies are kept. 

Updated: For a look at how our space has grown with Tyler (and moves to two different homes), check out my recent posts titled Our Montessori Home Preschool and Our New Montessori-Inspired Playroom

Monday, January 17, 2011

Homeade Toddler Toys

It never ceases to amaze me, even knowing as much as I feel I do about Montessori, how the most simple toys and materials can became the most prized and paid attention to by my little guy. Today I thought I'd share a few Montessori items that I've created as well as some others that are Montesori-ish or could be adapted. I'm starting work with my Dremel to create some others soon; I'm just waiting to take a trip to Loews's to choose some lumber!

This Montessori toy is a simple slot toy for fine motor control. I used a child's shoe box, taped the lid down, cut a slit, re-enforced it with tape, and cut and opening to retrieve the chips from the front. I used old poker chips that I bought years ago at the dollar store as the "coins".

Tyler immediately took to this toy, completely focused on doing the work over and over, not realizing that we were putting his lunch on the table, that so much time was slipping by...nothing. He goes back to this toy several times a day with much of the same focus.

This single shape sorting Montessori toy I made many months ago, yet Tyler can still be found using it at least once a day. At the time I was attempting to make a Montessori Activity table for him to stand and work with, as walking was a newer skill for him. I covered the table top with blank paper, as it was an old kid's table that I had with distracting animals all over it, then taped the box to it (knowing it would just be thrown on the floor!). Just as the slot toy, I simply cut a square in the box and a space in the front for retrieval. I cut a square shape out of blue paper for the block to rest on in-between uses. He has certainly mastered this one, and I'm eager to make a triangle shape sorter out of wood very soon! 

This toy is a simple fine-motor and toy. You can use any sort of container for this, cardboard or plastic. I simply cut slots in the top to fit popsicle sticks and he practices putting them in and pulling them out.

This is another small-motor item. Tyler has many wooden puzzles that I've purchased from consignment stores or have been given via Freecycle that he's too young to use. Here I've taken the pieces and affixed magnets to the back so he may practice taking them off and placing them onto a cookie sheet by using the small pegs. This is the third puzzle that I've used in this manner, using safari animals and shapes previously. He seems to have grown tired of this toy after several months. Finding a farm scene picture, or drawing one myself, to affix to the back will make it more interesting for him at this age, as he's ready to pretend to place the animals in specific places.

Using magnets and puzzles pieces again here, as Ty is a big fan of both, I've made various puzzles for him on our refrigerator. I used four shapes in the puzzle before this one. I've simply traced the pieces onto paper, taped it to our fridge and stuck magnets to the back. He really enjoys this and it's a great activity for him while we're working in the kitchen!

Magnet strips with sticky side and magnetic sides can be found just a couple dollars at any craft store!

As a toddler who likes to make a lot of noise, these shakers have been a huge hit with Tyler! I bought the small, kid-sized water bottles for the bottles on the left, and recycled old astringent bottles on the right. At first I had made the water-bottle shakers into visual shakers, using oil and water, float and sink objects, glitter, food coloring, sand and water etc, but I then saw Ty focus on a few of the shakers that he could make some noise with and put the purely visual bottles away for now. I've created noisy shakers with dry spaghetti, rice, marbles with a little water, beads with a little water, sea glass, nails and screws, Q-tips and coins (gluing the tops on tightly!). I purposely made some shakers loud and some soft so he can hear the difference. For an older child, making two of each shaker and blindfolding the child, then letting them work to find the two that match would be a great Montessori activity.
 I hope that I've helped someone with an idea. I'd love to hear yours!