Friday, September 30, 2011

Classic Game Week!

Along with some new Montessori works Tyler has started that I'll talk about in another post, we also make it "Classic Game Week" in our home. It's been so much fun teaching Tyler the games that so many generations of children have grown-up with, including of course, ourselves! It seems that just like Mother Goose, these games are starting to lose popularity (did you know that it's not uncommon for children to enter Preschool or even Kindergarten never having been introduced to finger plays or nursery rhymes?!). I'm not sure if it's the growing issue of kids with too much screen/sedentary time and or if parents have just forgotten why these things are so important for the developing child, but it's quite sad to see.

All of the games that we played this week worked on important toddler skills such as following directions, socialization skills, body control and awareness, counting, and listening skills. Seeing that Tyler is only 25 months old, we simplified the games so that he could be successful, and we will move on to the full, traditional version of each game when he's ready.

To "teach" Tyler each game, my husband I would play them together, making big dramatic movements while he watched. He would naturally start to join in after a while or we would ask him if he wanted to play too. Observing what we were doing really seemed to help his understanding.

"Musical Chairs"

For the toddler version of musical chairs, we used just as many chairs and they were people rather than taking a chair away and making someone be "out". We walked around the chairs in a circle, my husband or I paused the music which was close by, and we all sat down until one of us started the music again. This quickly became Tyler's favorite!

First day, learning the rules and listening closely for the music to start again.

By the second day, Ty understood the rules and did very well!

Ty is so excited to play this that he now runs to set-up the chairs himself!

"What Time is it Mr. Fox?"

Though he "got it" at times, this game has been the trickiest for Tyler. My husband or I would stand on one end of the room to act as the fox, while the other walked with Tyler to act as a model. The walker would ask "What time is it Mr. Fox?" and the "fox" would give a number such as "Three O'Clock!". Ty was to then take three steps and stop until asking the fox about the time once more. This would go on until Tyler reached whomever was the fox. He was great at counting steps aloud as he took them, but his problem sometimes lay in would be expected at this highly active age!

Taking big, careful steps while counting each aloud.

"Simon Says"

I've played this copy-cat game once or twice before with Tyler in short bursts, but it was more fun to play as a family. Typically the person you are copying will occasionally leave out the word "Simon", saying something like "jump up and down" rather than "Simon says jump and down" and anyone who jumps would be out. We left that part out for now, making it and easy but fun copying game. I have a feeling we'll be able to play the full version soon!

"Simon says touch your toes!"
   "Simon says put a balloon on your head!"        "Simon says stomp your feet!"

"Red Light, Green Light"

For this game I created a sign with a green "go" on one side and a red "stop" sign on the other and attached it to a popsicle stick. I showed Tyler each side and talked to him about what they meant. After my husband demonstrated and worked along side Ty on the concept, he stood back to take pictures for me. Ty did really well with "go" and as expected had some troubles following the direction to "stop" at times. I find this game especially important for those moments when your toddler may be about to cross the road or do something dangerous so that yelling "stop!" may have a more guaranteed result.

Doing well following directions and looking at the sign for guidance. 

Sometimes it was easier to stop than others!

"Hide and Seek"

I probably don't have to really explain this game to anyone! First we created some hiding places in our living room by pulling the couch away from the wall, putting a blanket over the kitchen table and keeping the closet door open. We decided to stick to one room rather than hiding all over the house to decrease frustration. Either my husband and I would hang out in the play room with Tyler and count to twenty with Ty (he is counting to nineteen now but sometimes skips 15-17 so this was also good practice) while the other hid. Ty and his "helper" would then search around the room looking for the missing person until they were found. After a while we tried to see if Ty would hide by himself while we counted, but he always came to find us so he could count too!

Found you Daddy!                                Found you too, Mama!

We've repeated these games throughout the week and will keep practicing whenever Tyler wishes to participate. We've had so much fun as a family and it feels great to know how many vital skills Ty is picking-up as we play!

What were your favorite games as a child? What games do you and your child enjoy playing together?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"A Person's a Person, No Matter How Small"

Though this blog is typically about activities and the Montessori, I woke early this morning and out of nowhere began writing post in my head. These are my opinions, and as an imperfect parent, I'm not here to judge. I did however wish to share my reflections, what I've learned, and what I believe.

Responding to Children's Fears

Tyler has recently become scared of several of his stuffed animals. After removing five stuffed animals in the last two days, I understand that when he's staring across the room saying "Oh no! Help, help Mama! Bye Bye!" it's time to figure out which animal needs to disappear. Since he was a baby, Tyler has shown fear of a few random stuffed animals and animal pictures. I'm unsure if he's recently having nightmares about some of his animals chasing him or hurting him or if he's stressed about something in his life, but lately his fear has reached a peak. I could choose to chide him and tell him that he's silly to be afraid, that they're not real, that they're just pieces of material sewn together and filled with fluff. I could call him a baby. I could even be terribly cruel and leave the animals where they are, insisting that he "get over it" and "conquer" his fear. If children's emotions and fears were somehow less real and experienced at a much lower level than those of adults, perhaps the above strategies would work...but they're not. In fact because the world is so new to children and their quantity of life experiences to take from so much less, I daresay that children's fears are felt at a greater depth than our own.

We are all afraid of something. Many of us have had the same fears for years or our entire lives without abatement because fears and phobias are difficult if not impossible to shake without intensive therapy. For me, all of the logic in the world won't make me afraid of falling out of an enclosed ferris wheel car and plummeting to my death, especially when it's stuck at the top. Someone without arachnophobia can tell me that the enormous wolf spider that was just killed next to my bed is gone so there's no reason to be afraid to sleep, but my brain can't help what it thinks or my body how it reacts. The person not afraid of spiders can "not get it" all they want, it's still my reality. So for Tyler, even if I don't understand the fear or it make absolutely no sense, I respect it. I give him the word "scared" or "afraid" to help him label his emotions. I remove the offending animal, letting him watch me stuff the frightening beast high in a closet corner. We tell it "bye bye", over and over until he seems satisfied. Now that he's older I let him show me where the animal should go and reassure him that the animal will stay there until he says it's okay for it to come out. After this little ceremony, all is well, and we move on with our day. When he's older and has more words, I will be free to listen and let him express his emotions and fears in whatever way he is experiencing them. Though I may take a brief moment to educate if needed, I will refrain from judging, no matter how "silly" it may all seem to me. I will look for ways to comfort and console without disregarding what his brain tells him is real.

"No Mom, I'm NOT okay"

As parents, one of the easiest things for us to say to our children is "it's okay" or "you're fine". We've all done it. Whether our children are upset about another child taking a toy or they fall down safely in the grass and come to us crying, we say it.. It's not that we're bad parents and don't care. We hate to hear our children cry. We want them to feel better and fast. For some reason though, we believe that an adult authority telling them that they're okay will cause the child to stop and realize that they're actually just fine and life will suddenly go on like nothing happened. Maybe we don't even think of it that way. Maybe it's just an automatic response that so many of us have learned. Even when a child hurts themselves badly, is having a painful procedure, or just experienced something traumatic, the line we choose to croon over and over to them is "you're all right, baby. It's okay", as if we say it enough times it will come true...for the child and for ourselves. Once you see how illogical these words are, when you realize that the child is their own separate being with true experiences, it's obvious that this response doesn't make sense or show compassion for our children at all.

Perhaps for some it's not about making the child instantly feel better, but about not raising a child to be a "baby" or a "whiner". Maybe it's about raising a little boy who grows up to be "tough" rather than a "sissy". For whatever reason, I imagine that all of these small children who are being soothed with "you're okay" must be screaming inside: "No, I'm not okay! I fell down and wasn't expecting it. It was scary. I'm scared! I know my knee looks fine to you but that little scrape hurts and you didn't notice my wrist twist when I landed on it. Don't you know what it's like to be hurt? Didn't you cut yourself with the knife chopping vegetables the other day when you were distracted by me? You yelled out in pain and your eyes were full of tears for several minutes! What about when you burned your hand on the stove and mentioned how much it hurt all night whenever it bumped into something? I hurt just the same as you and it's extra scary to me because it's all new. I don't understand a lot of things yet, but I do know that I'm not just fine!". Of course they're right. Unfortunately most children don't have the words or guts to express themselves in this manner. We have to be the mindful ones.

This is not to say that every time your child falls down or bumps their head you should rush over and exclaim "Oh my gosh are you okay?!" I've seen this for the most minor of accidents, and I can tell you where it leads a lot of overly dramatic children. That or kids who have to look at their parents for their reaction when they have the most minor of falls to see if they're okay, as if it's up to the parent to let them know if this is something to be worried about. Clearly it should be up for the child to decide if they need boo-boo kissing or if they can just move on and keep playing. I can tell you from years of experience with small children that unless it's a good-sized injury or a good amount blood is involved, most kids will carry on with their play...and you can let them. My husband and I make it a habit to cover our gasps with our hands or bite our lips when Tyler has an accident of some sort. If he is truly hurt, or just so tired that even the most minor incidents upset him, we offer our embrace and do our crooning, but we try hard to say things such as "Ouch! That hurt, huh?" or "Did the cat give you a boo boo? I'm sorry. That doesn't feel good and made you sad" or "I saw you fall off your bike and hurt your hand. It hurts!" rather than letting that "you're okay" line slip out of our mouths. Neither of us are perfect, but we're trying.

Having others who will respect and validate feelings, pain and experiences is something we all want in life. Our children's needs and desires are no different just because they are small. If we raise our children in this mindful manner, perhaps they will be the one to hug and console a friend petrified by a garden snake spotted while playing kickball rather than the one calling the phobic child names and chasing them around the field with the snake danging from their hands. In a society that's a bit too full of bullies and selfish behaviors, we can at least try to mold children who will model compassion and understanding for others. It has to start somewhere right?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Montessori Sunday: A Week of Challenges!

Here are some of the activities we've been up to in the last week! I felt like a lot of these challenged Tyler just enough, and some took him just a bit out of his comfort zone, which felt good for both of us when he was successful! I often feel like he masters things far too quickly and I'm left scrambling to come up with more, more, more. These should last!

We worked on sorting shapes, using objects that were square, circular and triangular. Ty knows his shapes, but sorting isn't always his thing. I hoped to be able to gently challenge and convince him to give it a try.and did wonderfully. Though Montessori isn't into pushing kids to do what they don't want (learning is joyful!), if a child is avoiding a certain area, there are attempts to entice them. I felt like this went pretty well. He seemed proud of himself for completing the task!

On that note, I wanted to quickly show these soft shapes from Manhattan Baby. Ty's had these since he was born and they're a wonderful sensory experience with different textures, patterns and have a light jingly and crinkly sounds. You can think of them as early and safe geometric solids! I rediscovered these when I was gathering items for a garage sale and realized how very "early Montessori" they were!

Ty has never wanted to even attempt lacing beads until this week, telling me "no" whenever I demonstrated. They're still not his favorite work ever, but he can do it and feels quite proud of himself when he laces them all! This is a great skill for him to practice as it forces him to use two hands together in a really coordinated way, something he can be lazy about at times.

Along the same lines, Ty has really gotten into his Educo Baby Connects as well (kind of like pop beads but more complex). It used to be that I would have to connect them in some fashion myself and then he would work to pull them apart, but now he's enjoying putting them together! I didn't care for this product at first as the plastic is soft and seemed kinda flimsy, but they're working well!

Thanks to the Pink Tower, as well as just pointing out big and small in every day life and books, Tyler has a good grasp on the concepts of big and small. The next sensorial area I'm introducing is "tall" versus "short". Some of his mini cylinders are graded by height, but we haven't had a lot of discussion around them as I tend to let him work alone with these materials. Here I used some of his short and tall cylinders from his unit blocks. My intent was to have him sort by height, but he wanted to stack instead. I worked with it, labeling each block "tall" and "short" as he stacked them, then he began labelling them on his own.

 We've also started working on "tall" and "short" with straws cut at two different lengths. After labeling the straws and looking at them side by side, we created two playdoh worms, one for short straws and the other for tall, and he put them in the appropriate place while verbally labeling them. This has made sorting a bit more fun for him! Next time I will visually label each with a picture and word card as well.

I've been a bit undecided about creating a letter tray for Tyler, but this week I made one using the sandpaper letter "b". In the tray are a: beetle, butterfly, button, wooden banana, magnet letter b, block, box, black and blue paint chips, balloon memory card, flashcard with a ball (if it were a real ball it would be far too distracting for him!), and his favorite, a bird. We work with this together right now, as I need to remind him to trace the letter and say the sound before handling the objects. He's really enjoys this and is great about saying each word over and over again on his own. I emphasize the "b" sounds with him and point back to the letter here and there. Though I do like this idea now, I feel I need to do something else as well. He isn't as into three period lessons as he used to be. Suggestions are welcome!

These two piece "Where's My Tail" puzzles from Infantino are another activity that we've had for quite a while that Ty has never been into. After being in the closet for quite some time, I let him explore these then asked him to pick three of his favorite animals. This seemed to entice him enough to want to try, and he's even picked this activity on his own a few times.  

Ty is over the grudge he had with his Wedgits and they are by far his favorite activity now! I really think that if Dr. Montessori were here to see these she would approve! You can build so many different ways while learning about space and size (and color...he loves to name each color) and they're fun for adults too!

The birdseed sensory table has gotten a lot of use this week. We babysat a friend's daughter at our house and this was her favorite activity by far. She's three, so she also enjoyed adding Ty's jumbo animals to the table for some pretend play. I was happy with how well Ty played and socialized with her...after he stopped crying about her playing with his toys! I hope to watch another toddler when we move to our new city, so this was a good test to see how Ty would do. I think he'll really enjoy having a regular friend in our home!

As for large motor activities, Ty is now swinging on a big kid swing and even trying to pump on occasion! This takes a good amount of core strength, balance and coordination. We're really proud of him! I'm not sure if it's coincidence, but since he's been trying and succeeding with so many new large motor activities, his language and social skills are really taking off, as well as his general confidence. If you need proof that gross motor is important for the brain, I think I've got a little 25 mos old example right here for you!

The other day I purchased a big plastic bat from a thrift store for Tyler to practice hitting his hanging wiffle ball with. My husband was adamant about teaching him how to swing in just the right way, so he's been working on this with him. By the second round of trying, Ty was hitting the ball all by himself! Great bilateral coordination and eye-hand skill!

Two of Ty's cousins had birthdays on Wednesday, so we made them cards to mail to them back in NY. He used markers, stickers, stamps, glue and glitter to create them. There was barely any room for me to write a greeting by the time he was done, but they were certainly made with love!

We also tried a painting project I saw on "Getting Messy With Ms. Jessi" that would be especially good for kids who don't like to get messy. I made a bubble wrap "glove" for Ty.and showed him how to dip his glove/hand into the paint and make prints on the paper. He thought this was somewhat bizarre, but did smack his hand on the paper to make some prints. Half of the fun of painting for Ty is getting dirty, so this wasn't quite for him!

Afterwards we had a lot of paint left and I hate to be wasteful, so I pulled out a roller I made about ten years ago, back in my daycare days (yes, I keep everything!). It's simply an empty lint roller that I glued yarn to so that when you roll it over the paper, it makes interesting prints. The only issues with toddlers is that it isn't their natural inclination to use a flat, rolling movement like this to print, so it's better for older children. Ty did get creative though; he started moving the roller back and forth with his hand the same way you would to form playdoh snakes and it worked well. Clever!

Showing Ty how to dress independently is something I slack on a bit, mostly because I forget about it. Ty's close to getting his shirt over his head and can do the arms, but I also found out the other day, by accident, that he knows how to put his pants on from start to finish...we just never gave him a chance. Montessori Mommy fail! We will be much more mindful of this from now on!

Ty has become quite skilled at using his hand broom when he spills, though he usually needs a reminder to do so. Here my husband holds the dust pan, though I've seen Ty hold the pan and sweep into at the same time as well. I've seen other parents who tape a square to the floor to sweep into (great idea!), but I know for certain that our current landlord, who's in and out fixing things lately, would not approve! 

Linking-up with 1+1+1=1, One Hook Wonder and Living Montessori Now!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Recent Favorites: Linky Love!

Ty and I literally did nothing new last week! We have had plenty of older activities to keep us busy, I spent a lot of time preparing the house to move (though it looks like now that's on hold), and we spent a large amount of time socializing and visiting various parks. We've been working on a few new things this week, but nothing I'm ready to share yet. On the other hand, I've really enjoyed several blogs and specific posts by others recently and wanted to share them with all of you.

I've been wanting to create a post about what Montessori essentially is for many months, but always found it such a huge project that I never got far. Deb at "Living Montessori Now" took on the daunting challenge and (not surprisingly) did an amazing job with it! Her post is great for showing family and those interested in Montessori the basics of the philosophy. You can find this particular post here.

I just adore this two part series about selecting thoughtful toys for your children by Jessica at "Our Montessori Home". A must read! "Toys and the Child": Part One and Part Two.

I also wanted to share a new-to-me blog with all of you who enjoy doing art projects with your kiddos. Getting Messy With Ms Jessi is full of great ideas from her own classroom, as well as those that link-up with her. I can't wait to try so many of her ideas with Ty!

A great new Montessori blog discovery I've made (just today!/) is Carrots are Orange. Two pages in and I'm already quite inspired!

I'm not sure if I've shared this blog with my readers or not, but I've often been asked about Montessori for really young children and I've found that Montessori House  is a great place to find simple ideas for infants and toddler, especially if you're newer to practicing the philosophy at home. The latest posts talks about exploring autumn with your child.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Two Ways to Paint with Colored Ice Cubes

I have had colored ice cubes sitting in my freezer for about two weeks now, dying to be used, but lots of rain and chilly temps kept my activity ideas on hold...until yesterday!

To make the ice cubes, I simply filled an ice tray with water and added several drops of food coloring to each ice cube. When they started to freeze, I stuck popsicle sticks into a few of the colors and left the others whole, as I had two ideas in mind. Easy!

Warm weather + an eager little boy= time to paint!

We started with the loose ice cubes for ramp painting. I taped paper to cardboard and propped it up on a container. Ty could then put the ice cubes at the top of the paper and watch them slide down, making fun stripes and dots of coloras they went! As he put each cube back in the bowl he named the colors as well, totally unprompted. This made me smile! It's great to see my little guy more verbal lately.

After a while, Ty decided to save time and dump all of the ice cubes out at once! He dumped every last drop of colored water out of the bowl and onto the paper as well. This was definitely a big hit! 

For the second project, we used the ice cubes on popsicle sticks to paint with. This is a project I've seen all over the web this summer. He liked this as well, and experimented with painting his hands (of course) and the driveway too. The results of both were quite pretty. I just adore watercolors on white paper!

I reserved some ice cubes and saved what was left from our projects so that Ty can play with them in his next bath. Should be fun!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Montessori Monday

I've seen this Montessori marble and golf tee activity all over the web, as well as in John Bowman's book "Montessori at Home" (if you don't yet have this book, it's a must!) and couldn't wait until the right time to introduce it to Ty. The child's work is to push golf tees into styrofoam, then balance marbles onto them. I feel that Ty is a bit young to understand the control of error needed for that (crooked golf tee = marble not balancing) but I knew he'd enjoy the latter part of the activity. I wrapped styrofoam (I used a piece from a broken disposable cooler) with card stock and easily pushed the golf tees through. Montessori activities tend to use either five or ten of something, so I went with five tees.

I wasn't sure how he would do with not knocking already placed marbles off when placing the last marbles, but he did great! I just love that look of pride and satisfaction when a work is completed! Sometimes he would get going to fast and the marbles would fly everywhere, but he learned quickly to direct his focus more carefully. I also placed the work in a tray, as I should have from the start.

Practicing his cutting fruit work, Ty realized that he had seen an apple on the counter and wanted it, then saw the banana and pear as well. We matched with his wooden fruit with Ty got a big kick out of it!

Tyler handling real fruit for too long with these types of activities often results in bruised and wasted fruit, so I created a permanent work for him using our homemade nomenclature cards. It had been a while since these cards  were in rotation, so this in itself was exciting for him. His work is to match the wooden fruit to the nomenclature cards.  

 After he started to purposely dump rice onto the floor (which told me it's now too easy), I removed Tyler's spooning rice activity from his Montessori table. I then replaced it with pouring beans with shot glasses which  takes some careful work as the the glasses are of course small. This works on the "C" hand grip, working slowly towards the correct writing grip (see John Bowman's book for more on this!). I was impressed with his patience in picking-up each and every bean that spilled onto the tray. I then noticed that there were too many beans for him to do without spilling (they bounced off of each other at the top) so I only filled the glass to 2/3rd of the way full after this initial try.

We've been working on the Sandpaper Letters here and there with three period lessons. He was really into these at first, but doesn't care to do this work as often anymore. I'm considering doing a letter tray instead for a while, but am also hesitant. He surprised me the other day when I was looking through the box of letters...he grabbed several letters out himself that I hadn't introduced yet and said their sounds or the letter name. Hmmmm. I have to figure out a good approach for this little guy.

Though we've had a few warm days, we're certainly going through a change in weather patterns and it isn't appropriate to play with ice cold water from the hose as much. To avoid the frustration of Ty seeing his table outside and wanting to fill it, no matter the weather, I've brought it in to use as a sensory table again. I've filled it with bird seed and provided a shovel, measuring cups, measuring spoons and a few containers to pour into. I've also hidden ten rocks for him to discover. We've moved a lot of his water play items to the tub now, and I'm pretty sure his already marathon-long baths could now last for days!

I've started to introduce the traditional Memory game to Tyler using four cards (two matches). I picked the kitty and train matches, two of his favorite things, to entice him. I lay the matches face down on the floor to demonstrate and then we took turns flipping two cards over. We've done this once so far and I think it will take a few more tries before he gets the full jist of the game, but I think he'll really enjoy it when he does!

This Hobby Lobby lap desk has really encouraged Tyler to practice his drawing. He goes through several sheets of paper a day and is really practicing drawing things. Sometimes I have no idea what it is that he's drawn, but he will work on very purposeful lines and look at me with a big smile like he's made a big accomplishment. I don't try to guess at what he's drawn in these cases, but share his excitement and say something like "look what you drew!!" or "I see what you drew with your blue marker!". If he were more verbal I'd say "would you like to tell me about what you've drawn?" instead of praising (i.e judging) or I would simply make an observation such as "You used a lot of green in this picture, and look at all of the blue circles!". I try hard not to judge his work so that he doesn't feel the need to please me with what he does or to "conform" to my opinion and create to my liking. It is up to him to feel like he did a "good" job or to decide if he's pleased with his work.

For a fun (and adorable) practical life activity, Tyler's baby has started joining him in the bath. He practices washing her head and body with a wash cloth and does this with quite a bit of care. He has also decided to give her "boat rides", pushing her back and forth in an old wipes container I added for water play.  

Ty continues to help out more in the kitchen, from helping to make his own sandwiches, learning how to use the microwave, spreading things onto crackers (he's getting better!) and here, helping Daddy flip pancakes. 

For gross motor, we've been up our typical activities such as catching, running, throwing, climbing, working on pedaling a trike, skating, using a scooter board, and jumping. Our favorite place to take Ty is still the Open Gym at our local gymnastics center. I love that, unlike in a formal class, he can decide what equipment to use and for how long rather than being directed by a teacher. He is free to explore and do as his body desires and practice what his brain and and body need to in that moment. There are important skills and social lessons learned by taking a class, but at 24 mos old, I feel more comfortable with him playing in an open way.


We've now changed Ty's Fisher Price "Grow With Me" roller skates from the walking stage to the rolling forwards stage, and he's doing great! Here he is skating outside with Daddy for the first time. They were both very excited, and my husband was a great role model deciding to wear his helmet too.

In a somewhat random, informational side note, some people seem to have the misconception that Montessori is all about sitting down and doing work. The truth is, Maria Montessori understood that intellectual and gross motor play are completely intertwined. Dr. Montessori believed in the development of the "whole child" and emphasized that both of these play a crucial role in that creation. I've also read (I wish I could remember in which book) that she created many amazing playgrounds for children, which were scoffed at in her time as being  something that children didn't really need. It's amazing how much work one woman did to improve the lives of children then and now!

For more Montessori ideas, be sure to check-out Montessori Monday at Living Montessori Now.
Also linking-up with Carisa's Tot School!