Monday, December 24, 2007

Pick a Card, Any Card

So these are my new pass-the-time (Ha-Ha) craft.
Seriously, I really enjoy doodling with water color paints and can do so even when looking after my small child. I keep my paints & brushes ready and water is always close (of course it is with my little guy around). When he is finger painting, I paint too. When he is occupied with an activity, so am I..paint doodling I call it. When he is off and running, I sent it aside and then when he is in bed I find it again and cut it up into little slips of paper. I write words on them (words of encouragement/inspiration/comfort) and when time allows I have them laminated at my local UPStore!

Woo-La! Affirmation cards.

For those of you not familiar with the concept: You keep a dish of these special words/phrases near your bedside or where you start your day (ours are near the bowl that holds the car keys). Each morning/evening you choose one card randomly and that is your word to reflect on.
I used them in my classroom when it was some one's birthday. The birthday child would pick a card and that word would be their word for the year to come. It's a wonderful tool for teaching new vocabulary words and sharing a personal moment with your students. Other times we would just pick them at circle time, pick a card and read it out-loud, what does it mean to you?

I made a set of them for my 3rd grader's classroom, the set was made up of phrases, I explained that all the statements were true of who-ever chooses them, if not when they picked them than after. If you haven't had an opportunity to encourage peace for example, after choosing that card you will.
I am an artist ~ I make healthy choices ~ I encourage peace ~ I sing beautifully ~ I read well ~ I try my best ~ I care for the Earth

The teacher told me, they use them every day as a way to regroup after recess. The children look forward to choosing different words or phrases in relationship to what is going on for them in their lives.
[And it really does work! When I was expecting my third child (but did not know it at the time)
I pulled the following cards in a row: expectancy, waiting, fate, choice, and birth!
I am not making this up!]

So remember during this holiday break, to nurture the creative spirits not only in your children, but in all of you! Take time to paint-doodle. Make something with your hands, get messy and have fun!
We are ALL Artists after all.
Happy Holidays

Sunday, December 23, 2007

My Favorite Things About Christmas 2007

1.) Our Tasha Tudor style Christmas tree my husband and sons cut from our property.
2.) Not having to travel ON Christmas this year.
3.) Christmas cookies (& trying new recipes. Like Blueberry Cottage's Pumpkin Whoopie Pies!)
4.) Belfast's down town Christmas lights that zig and zag above the streets.
5.) Homemade gifts both made and received.
5 1/2.) CARDS!!!! I almost forgot. I LOVE getting Christmas cards.
6.) Tea and cookies with friends both far and near.
7.) Displaying our family's Nutcracker collection.
8.) Listening to The Muppets & Jon Denver's Christmas CD, a classic.
["Piggy pudding?"
"No FIGGY pudding, it made with FIGS."
"And bacon."
9.) Our church's annual Solstice Celebration.
10.) At night, after the kids are all tucked in, sitting in the dark with only the tree lit with my husband...that's Christmas to me.

Makin' it Look Easy

Someone recently commented that I "make it look so easy"and while the part of me that really likes compliments REALLY liked reading that, another part of me thought I should say this:
This is a hard job and making it look easy is easy to do I guess, because it is anything but.
Yes, writing a BLOG is easy, but being a parent is the most challenging job a person can/will ever have. None of being a stay-at-home Mom is easy. Being home when I have always worked and contributed to my family financially is not easy, being in financial hardship is not easy, being away from my beloved co-workers (yes, I truly mean 'beloved', you haven't met these women, I MISS them SO much!) is not easy, being home and having one-sided conversations with a toddler for most of my day is not easy, being too tired to DO all the ideas I have is not easy either.

I LOVE this blog because it allows me in a way to contribute, to connect with other parents of small children, to share and vent, and ask for ideas & suggestions too. I'm trying hard here, not trying to make it look easy. When given a compliment, my Mom used to say, "I try hard." I remember thinking to myself how I wished I could be that humble and how I wished I could say that and really mean it too. I think what my Mom meant by saying, "I try hard." is that she always did her best. Because really all any of us CAN do: try.

All I can do is try, because there are plenty of times when things don't get done around here and I could really start to feel like a failure if I let myself focus on all I haven't done or could do. I just try hard. So for example if I write about making bird feed with kids and I don't ever actually do it with my own kids, at least I may have inspired YOU to make bird feed with YOUR kids.

So, I'm trying, but it's never easy. This job is really really hard.
I going to keep trying and hopefully inspire others to want to learn more about Maria Montessori and her amazing philosophy (I truly believe in the Montessori way of educating and caring for children), I going to try and give others who work with children a reminder about what really matters, and I going to try and not be so hard on myself when I don't meet all the expectations I have.
As always, thank you for reading this and your comments!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

How OLD is this kid?

My toddler believes he is nine years old not nineteen months old. I am sure of this. His BIG brother who just happens to be nine years old, is his hero. He wants to be like him in every way. Well, after much frustration over not being able to brush his teeth sink side, like BIG brother does, Not-So-Little One's Mama (that's me) wised up and got him a step stool.

Today the water play activity I set up in the kitchen (located by ME, so I could keep an eye on him AND attempt to finish some holiday baking) took on a life of it's own. Soon we were no longer in the kitchen. The bathroom is my little guy's favorite room and while I want to promote a fondness for this area of the house (with potty-training still to come) I wanted to get some baking done. The bathroom sink is his new passion. Silly me for thinking I could get something I wanted to do, done today, when there is a sink he can reach!

Who got him this step stool? Oh, yes, that was me....
I try and remember, what was it Dr. Montessori said?
"These words reveal the child's inner needs:
"Help me to do it alone."

So, the cookies will wait until nap time I guess, I follow his lead and find myself standing in the hallway snapping photos of my Not-So-Little little one at work in the bathroom.
Baby washing, filling up and pouring with water, climbing up and down a new step stool.'d think this kid was nine already!

Thanks for the inspiration: Wide Open :)


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sponge Print Wrapping Paper

For this week's Art & Play class we made sponge print wrapping paper! This was easy, fun and dried quite quickly.

You will need:
  • butcher paper or a roll or thin painting paper
  • scissors to cut it
  • kids craft paint (in the colors you choose)
  • sponges cut into shapes (or not)
  • cookie cutters to dip too (if desired)
  • a paper plate
  • enthusiasm for filling a big space
There are allot of choices for the young child with this activity. What colors to use, which shape sponge to work with, where to place the's also a nice toddler activity because of the big area to fill. Be sure to put out lots of newspaper or create this art on a linoleum floor; make your clean up easy!

To dry: hang from a clothes line or piece of yarn hung across a room, using clothes pins.

Remember to have fun and to use the end result to wrap gifts for Grandparents (they LOVE kid-made treasures like this one!)
Happy Holidays

Thursday, December 13, 2007

MORE Ways to Explore Colors Together

Let's talk Colors!
So many of you responded to my recent post about ways to play with color, I thought I would share a couple more ideas with you!
Often children are drawn to colorful toys and activities and then when we ask them to tell the names of the colors, they hesitate and sometimes will say something they recall about colors; for example, "An apple is red." or "Grass is green." they will make these statements with pride over remembering a factual piece of info. Of course apples are not always red, nor is the grass always green..but that's a conversation for another day. To help young children learn the names of the colors they love, here are a few more color recognition games you can make and use in addition to Montessori's color tabs.

Sort it OUT!
Do you have a color die? Great fun can come from adding one of these to your classroom or home. The possibilities are endless! The Color Sort Game is tons of fun for small groups and Circle time too. Gather many small items that a one color enough for each of the colors on the color die, then roll!
The way to play:
The children take turns rolling the color die and collect from the basket the many different items the color they role, until the basket is empty. Everybody wins! This is a fun way to evaluate the students' color recognition skills and learn about the things that interest them as individuals. For example: From the items that are white, did they choose the ghost, the baseball or the bottle of milk? Also this game can be played by many or few, very young to school-age, and if you update the items regularly, it will be chosen again and again.
As you can see many different conversation opportunities can arise from this easy and fun color game. Make one today. [If you do not have a color die, make one or for added fun place crayons the color of the items you have collected in a cloth bag, when a child takes a turn the reach into the bag and pull out a crayon and match the object to the crayon color. Have fun!
Eat Your Colors!
Prepare a colorful snack with your children. Let them pick out healthy foods that are the colors they know: EX: Red:cherry tomatoes Orange: Orange slices, Yellow: bananas, Green: grapes, Blue: Blueberries.
Color Collections:
Take a nature walk and collect items of various colors (remember to take only things that have fallen) Add to the nature collection items such as buttons, bits of paper, bolts, yarn. Ask your children to build a rainbow with the items and display them in a shoe box or use in a sculpture.
Choose a Color for a Day:
Let your children choose a color for the day, pull a crayon from a bag or roll the color die. Focus on that particular color for the day. Let's say it's RED.
Make red playdough, finger paint with red paint, place lots of red clothes in your dress-up area, read the story “Little Red Riding Hood” or the “Little Red Hen”, make red paper chains, make a "Red Collage" materials could include such items as; red pictures cut from magazines, red buttons, red ribbon pieces, red flower petals, red tissue paper squares, red paper hearts, red straw pieces, red poms, etc. (you get the idea)

Most of all enjoy one another.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Too Cute!

First friends have fun together! Here my little guy learns how to stick out his tongue for the first time. I LOVE this photo and just couldn't help but share! May all of you have a moment or two or this one today.

I spent my morning with two toddlers, making and playing with play-dough or rather 'snow-dough' (because I ran out of food coloring) reading stories (see list) and taking turns pushing the button on the Singing Santa doll! I highly recommend spending a morning this way!
PEACE to all,

Winter Poems by Jan Warren

A wonderful winter poem for

excusing children from a small group activity:

Four little snowbirds went out to play.
Along came _______
And chased one away.

Three little snowbirds out in the snow.
Along came ______
And one decided to go.

Two little snowbirds up in the tree.
Along came _______
Now only one do I see.

One little snowbird, now all alone.
Along came _______
So he flew home.

Take turns with your children
to fill in the blanks of this fun poem.

Snow, snow all around.
I like to watch it _______ to the ground.

Snow, snow oh so cold.
It feels like _______ on my nose.

Snow, snow falling hard.
It looks like _______ on the yard.

Snow, snow on the ground.
Makes a very _______ sound.

Snow, snow, let’s make balls.
Then we’ll make a ______ so tall.

For more Preschool poem fun
check out her web-site: Preschool Express

Seasonal Scissor Fun

For those of you who have children who love to cut with scissors, I've got some ideas for you!
Starting with the one pictured here: Cutting ever-green boughs! Not only is this a wonderful practical life exercise but your classroom or home will smell wonderful! The children will enjoy snipping the needles and filling a bowl, and later the cut needles can be added with crushed cloves and dried orange peels for a seasonal potpourri.

At the Montessori School I visit, children make seasonal potpourri pouches. They work as a classroom community to make the potpourri in various stages, then when all the yummy smelly ingredients have been combined to make a potpourri, they spoon it into the center of a square shaped piece of fabric and gather all four corners, securing with a pipe-cleaner with a bell on it.

I love this classroom tradition! Sometimes teachers are blessed with a season potpourri pouch gift, given to them by a small friend who knows "it's all about the process" and will leave school with a jingle in their pocket. Many times I have come home with such a treasure to hang upon our family tree. I just might have to make these with my kids here at home this year!
(Pictures will follow.)

Other fun ways to practice using scissors:
Making garlands!
With a bold marker draw straight or dashed lines for the child to use a guide while cutting strips of colored paper (stiff paper works best/card stock). After color strips are cut, they can be made into paper rings to link with contrasting colors ex: red and green, using tape or stapler. These paper garlands can be used to decorate almost anything, a doorway, a tree, a mantel. Another idea, make a paper link chain with just enough links as days are left until Christmas or New Year, your child can then 'cut' one paper link each day.

Greeting Card Collages:
Cutting up greeting cards and last year's calendar. This type of paper is stiff and easier to cut than regular paper. The fun pictures are often interesting to young children and after the cutting is done, the gluing can begin! Make a holiday collage from the bits of cards.

Most important: Have fun and enjoy one another.

Lovin' Eric Carle

Colors, colors everywhere! My little one is drawn to bright colors and especially Eric Carle books. Okay, maybe that's me who loves Eric Carle but either way we seem to be reading allot of them lately. Brown Bear Brown Bear is a favorite. Here I have drawn the animals from the story on construction paper and laminated them (so they will last longer). My busy toddler enjoys matching them with the pages of the book and can now (after many times reading this favorite story), he can identify by pointing, to the animals and colors I name. You don't have to draw them yourself, you could make copies or ask an older child to draw them for you. This is a fun way to extend a treasure of a story and learn about colors.

Also pictured: A photo book I made with my 3-6 class one year. [The class was called: The Chickadee class] I am not comfortable sharing the children's photos without their parent's permission, so here is my page from the book, I'm sure you get the idea. The children read this book through-out the school year and seemed to enjoy finding their photo very much.
(And it was easy to pull together).
Have fun! In PEACE~~MM

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ways to Encourage Turn Taking: The Share Stone & Talking Stick

In a group setting, or at home with more than one child, taking turns is the work of the young child. Over the years I have found that using turn taking tools helps take the emphasis off what they are NOT doing and puts it back on the listening. In the same way the sound of a rainstick turning, is an easier way to bring the children together when it is "Circle Time" rather than either personally going around to each child and quietly asking them to clean up their work and join you at Circle or making a group announcement (i.e Yelling so everyone can hear you!) would be. The Rainstick sounds and the children know they need to put away their work and join everyone at Circle. Works like a charm! Turn Taking Tools are just that, tools that help you (the teacher) have to do less managing and instruction and let the listening and turn taking develop naturally with a little help from these simple natural objects: stones, shells, sticks etc.
Turn Taking Tools:

My favorite: The Share Stone
The Share Stone can be a stone or shell, any natural object that fits comfortably in one hand.
The Share Stone is introduced during the first week of school . The teacher explains that the person holding the Share Stone can speak and share their thoughts, opinion etc. while the other people get to be the audience and listen to the speaker. (You see it is all in the presentation...being the 'Audience' is just as important, if not more important, than being the speaker). Okay, so the teacher explains and then you all practice, just like anything else, practice and practice and practice. Expect that not all the children will understand right away and that is okay. Remember for some of these children, this may be their first time in a group setting and taking turns and waiting are new concepts for them.
Ways to practice: Being with questions that have one word answers, for example: "What is Your Favorite Animal?" Pass the stone giving each child a chance to, lizard, wolf...the possibilities are endless! Each child has a chance to say their animal or 'pass'.

Other questions to get the ball rolling:
"Which do you like better?" questions... apples or oranges? Summer or Winter? Reading books or drawing? drinking juice or milk?
You don't want to ask questions that could alienate children like "Do you know how to ride a bike?" because the child who doesn't isn't going to want to answer obviously.
As the year progresses choose more thoughtful questions that require longer answers such as:
"When it's your turn, please share with the group about something you do very well." Be sure to give an example so they get the idea. I love to make collages and my students know this so I might start the sharing circle and say, "I am proud of the way I have learned how to cut with scissors, so I can make collages."

Even in June, I begin a sharing circle by explaining the way the Share Stone works aloud, "This is our Sharing Stone, when you are the person holding it you are the speaker and when you are not holding it you are the audience" I use the same language every time and by March (some times earlier) the children say the words (in bold) while I simply pause while they tell me how our Share Stone works. Sometimes I will spice it up by asking someone to raise their hand if they know what the word 'Audience' means. Anyway....the Share Stone is Circle Time Savior. I would be lost without it as a teacher and highly recommend using one.

The Talking Stick:
The Talking Stick is used mostly during a time of conflict resolution between two people. I introduce this valuable tool at the beginning of the school year also but this is easier to introduce after the children have already learned about the Sharing Stone . This is a thick stick about 6 inches long decorated with brightly colored yarn and beads (and feathers if you like!) The way it is used is "The person holding the talking stick gets to talk while the other person gets to listen, then you switch." (simple, clear directions) the stick is passed between the two people many times with the teacher as the mediator (until they get the hang of it, usually by January). The Talking Stick lives in the PEACE corner and is optional, not everyone working a problem out needs/wants to use it.

I hope these ideas help you.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Festivals of Light

"This Little Light of Mine, I'm Gonna Let it Shine!"

(my favorite song to sing with young children this time of year)

Every Montessori School is different, of course, and if you are home-schooling using the Montessori Method, how seasonal/religious celebrations are introduced will vary from home to home. Over the years I have found that when trying to avoid talking about the topic of Christmas (just one example) the more it turned up in the classroom. When everywhere you and your children go, there are lights and decorations screaming about the holidays, it can be difficult to keep the topic at bay. In the classroom although the decorations are not there, the children are and so is their excitement about the holiday their families celebrate.

Your school may have a policy in place when discussing holidays with children, always check with your director before introducing new non-Montessori materials.

That said, what I have to share here is one way of talking with your class about some of the many Festivals of Light that take place this time of year. Respectfulness is KEY when
presenting this material
. Be careful with the words you choose and how you handle the materials. Refrain from saying “all” and “every” because as we know, not
all and everyone belonging to a faith or belief always feel the same way about everything.

Young children are concrete learners. These materials can be introduced slowly beginning when the children return from Thanksgiving break. Which one you start with is up to you. Familiarize yourself with the materials and holidays BEFORE presenting as there are sure to be many questions. *Before sharing any of these materials a note home to parents is essential your head of school will most likely write this.

Also: Refrain from sharing your personal beliefs with the children, I know this may be difficult for some of you and I empathize because I write this warning based on personal experience. I once shared my personal belief and seasonal celebration traditions with the class at circle and the result was one little girl refusing to attend her family’s church because she wanted to join me at mine…needless to say, her parents were not happy with me. It’s easier to refrain entirely than share a little bit of something that means so much to you. If you want to share of yourself, remember to present your personal beliefs with the same respectfulness and word use you do the others.

The goal of this lesson is not to share about one celebration being better than another, but rather the commonalities the many celebrations share. (Related POST Cosmic Education)

Asking the children’s families to contribute is a nice way to continue with the sharing about our differences and similarities through-out the classroom community.

Honoring the Festivals of LIGHT

Lesson Plan

(Based on the Godly Play by Jerome Berryman & a Spirit Play presentation by Nina Pinfold adapted by MM for use in the Montessori Classroom/home)


Different symbols used by various world religions (with candles):

Menorah, advent wreath, Kwanzaa kinara, winter solstice candle/Yule log, a box of birthday candles

Candle snuffer



“This is the season of many festivals of light. Each festival has its own special symbol of Light.”

Point to each of the different candle holders displayed on rug

“The candles come in all shapes, sizes, and colors……some of them are used for counting:

Like the candles on a birthday cake…one candle represents each year of life.”

(Begin with the Festival of Light that happens first on the calendar, marking the classroom calendar with candle symbol for each Festival ex: draw a menorah for the first day of Hanukah, a Kinara for the first day of Kwanzaa, you get the idea)

Hanukah: show menorah and Shamash:

Count aloud as you place the 8 candles in the menorah (children will most likely count with you)

Other symbols: oil, star of David, dreydel

“To remember the 8 days that the oil lamp burned when the Jewish people reclaimed their temple from the Syrians. some Jewish families light the candles of the menorah, using a special candle called a Shamash.”

Christmas: show Advent Wreath with four candles

Other symbols: Christmas tree/Santa Clause/ the nativity

“To remember the 4 weeks of waiting and preparing for the birth of baby Jesus, some Christian people light the candles of the Advent Wreath.”


“Other candles are used for celebrating:”

Kwanzaa: Show Kinara and candles (using slow movements place each candle at this time you could explain the meaning of each the colors: the seven candles called mishumaa saba the 3 candles on the left are red (representing the struggle), the three candles on the rights are green (representing the future), the candle in the middle is black (representing the people)

Other symbols:1.) woven place mat called a mkeka (mm-KEH-kah) 2.) a large cup called a Kikombe cha umoja (kee-KOH-beh chah-oo-MOH-jah) 3.) fruits and vegetables called mazao (mah-ZAH-oh) 4.) ears of corn called muhindi (moo-HIN-dee) 5.) candleholder that holds 7 candles called a Kinara 6.) the seven candles (see above) 7.) gifts called zawadi.

“ In honor of their values and customs, some African American families celebrate Kwanzaa by lighting the 7 candles of the Kinara.”

Winter Solstice: A time when the night is the longest/day is shortest (light a simple candle or a yule log could be used also)

Other symbols: sun/earth / ever green tree

“Solstice is celebration of the longest night of the year—from this day on out the days will get progressively longer. Some of the people who celebrate Solstice honor the earth and believe Mother Earth will give birth to new life in the spring.”

After each the introduction:

Light the candles of the Festival of Light you are showing that particular day and admire.

Let’s enjoy the light together.”

Sit peacefully and enjoy the light together in silence for a moment.

Next: Slowly lower the candle snuffer over your light, holding it over the wick a moment and then slowly raising it. Watch the smoke curl up into the air and fade into the whole room. (this step could be done by a child also)

Name the Festival of Light you have just shared about then place the objects in the basket from which they came, put away on shelf, roll up rug. Explain that this material is available to the children to explore, but that matches will not be provided (a good time to review fire safety rules) and encourage the children to use their imaginations to light the candle flames.


Additional materials needed:

Tray with sand

Box with small white candles (2 dozen)


[More seasonal celebration materials]

After each the introduction of the Festival of Light(s):

Bring the box of candles and the sand tray to circle and place on the rug.

Pass the box of candles around circle so that each child has a candle of their own to hold.

Light one of the small candles from the flame of the symbol you are sharing about and place the lit candle in the sand tray.

(optional: Sing: This Little Light of Mine)

Each of YOU has a light…”

Call up one of the children (they bring their candle). [*Note: this child could be the leader of the day (if you do that at your school), or just a child you know needs some extra attention today…if possible you could do this part of the lesson with a small group allowing time to light EVERY child’s candle and place in the sand tray. I do not recommend doing this with a group larger than 5, the waiting can make for restless children and wiggly bodies around lit candles is not safe.]

Light the child’s candle from the celebration candle(s) and place it in the sand tray.

“Look how the light is growing. It all came from the Light here.”

Pause to admire

“I’m going to change the light so that it is not just in one place anymore. It can be in many places all at once. Watch.”

Slowly lower the candle snuffer over your light, holding it over the wick a moment and then slowly raising it. Watch the smoke curl up into the air and fade into the whole room.

“Now I will change each of your lights so that can be in more than one place.”

Go around the circle and change the light of each child. When all the lights are changed, end with the Festival of Light.

Name the Festival of Light you have just shared about then place the objects in the basket from which they came, put away on shelf, roll up rug. Explain that this material is available to the children to explore, but that matches will not be provided (a good time to review fire safety rules) and encourage the children to use their imaginations to light the candle flames. Collect the candles as a way to excuse the children.

There is a wonderful book called:Christmas Around the World by Mary Lankford

That gives a simple but through overview of many different word traditions and is a fun way to share with children about children all over the globe. A friend of mine used this book by bringing the globe to circle and asking a child to pick a continent (by spinning the globe and touching with their finger) then she opens the book to a page about a country on the continent chosen and shares how children living there celebrate.

Other Books I recommend using:

Kids Around the World Celebrate by Jones

Children Just Like Me Celebrations by Kindersley

Celebrate Christmas Around the World by Beth Stevens

Questions to close presentation with:

I wonder where the light goes when it changes?

I wonder how many candles we could light from this one light?

MM Notes:
This can easily be changed from a holiday theme lesson to an on-going cultural study in the geography area of your classroom. I've seen classrooms that have shelves dedicated to the seven continents and the many countries of our world. Perhaps you could introduce these types of materials with a focus on celebrations to develop over time. What a rich class you would have! Most of all enjoy yourself and the children. Ask questions and look up the answers together. It's a big place this planet of ours with many different people, languages, types of homes, foods to eat and celebrations! Explore and Enjoy.

~~MM original

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A Thanksgiving Poem by my 9 year old son

(Photo from when he was a Pixie in a play last year)

Family is the best thing that I have ever had.
They make me really happy when
I am very sad.
Sometimes I wish I never had one
but that's a complete lie!
Because they usually help me
when I start to cry.
There are many other things that I can not say,
But my family is special in every single way!
He read this aloud before Thanksgiving dinner.
God, I love this kid.
I hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I did. Well, aside from my baby with the double ear infections who is addicted to Barney and his Mama (that's me) and not wanting to be put down for the past two entire days, everyone else sneezing and coughing with head-colds (resulting in line 4 of my middle son's poem here), and yet another trip home to visit MY family canceled; the food was good, and playing board games was fun, even though I lost at Scrabble to my 15 year old's odd word choices (Has anyone ever heard of a 'holk') ? Okay, it was family..there are many other things that I cannot say, but my family IS special in every single way!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Stone Soup's ON

Today in Montessori classrooms all over New England children are making Stone Soup.
Last week when I visited the Montessori preschool (where I taught once upon a time), I saw a familiar poster hanging on the wall. Created by the children, it was large picture of a big pot filled with yummy items the children planned to bring to school on Stone Soup Day. At the top of the picture some of the children had traced their hands to show (similar to the illustrations by Susan Gaber) hands dropping the items into the pot.
And honestly, my waves of melancholy over not being their teacher any more, were washed away by the beauty of their collaborative art. I love this time of year! When the classroom community really starts to gel and the children work together on their first big community project. The look on the face of the child who discovers the stone in their bowl of soup is priceless! This morning I imagine children setting the table for the feast and the smell of the yummy veggie soup is bubbling through-out the busy classroom. Teachers are watching the clock and keeping track of which child has yet to add their contribution, and if everyone has had a chance to stir the pot, and is every one's place mat on the newly set table? Bellies are rumbling and excitement is building.

Before they eat, the children will sing a special blessing song: Oh the Earth's Been Good to Me, and the Stone Soup will taste delicious because together they made it; it will be the best soup they ever eaten. (Someone usually says this at least once, every year).

So there you go, another addition to my What I'm Thankful For This Year List: Stone Soup!
Here is a recipe for you and your children to use to make your own pot of Stone Soup. It can be found at the back of the book we most enjoy using at Stone Soup retold by Heather Forest and illustrated by Susan Gaber.
You will need:
  • one large stockpot
  • a group of friends
  • one stone the size of an egg
  • two quarts of water
  • one quart of tomato juice
  • several carrots
  • an onion
  • a couple of potatoes
  • a couple of stalks of celery
  • a cup of peas
  • a cup of corn kernels
  • a tomato
  • a bunch of green beans
  • small pieces of broccoli
  • a quarter-cup of uncooked pasta
  • a tablespoon of salt
  • a quarter-teaspoon of pepper
  • a loaf of yummy bread
  • and last but certainly not least the Magic ingredient: "Sharing"
Set a time and place were friends can cook together (this could be your home, a church, community center, go ahead start a tradition! Rent a hall even) Invitations could read:
"Bring What you've Got, Put it in the Pot, We're Making Stone Soup!"
Each friend brings something to contribute to the soup and every person (young and old) helps with the washing, cutting, slicing, pouring and stirring! Obviously wash your stone thoroughly before adding it to your soup water. This recipe makes 10-12 adult sized servings.
Here's the important part: While the soup is cooking, sing songs and tell stories.
Enjoy one another, be thankful for everyone and everything you share together. It's a nice grace to go around the table and ask each person to share something they are thankful for or to say something they enjoy sharing with others, (limit your guests to one word or the soup might get cold).

Captain Distructo!

Faster than my nine year old on a sugar rush, cuter than TWO baby lambs, it's a small secret agent with plans to disorganize tidy homes every where!
So what if he's only two feet tall and has limited language skills. This little guy can disassemble an entire tidy house in about two minutes flat! Everything I DO, he UN-does. It's amazing. His inner sense of order is total chaos apparently.
Do any of you have this person living at your house? Have you ever noticed how when you fold the laundry there is someone lurking near by to un-fold the laundry? Or how about the book shelf? Once they are all ON the shelf, someone (let's call him Captain D for short) is waiting to take all the books OFF the shelf? This is my morning, I tidy up and Captain D makes messes. It's symbiotic actually. I think I'll re-read my earlier posts...Everything in it's place...Montessori at Home....

I feel better now.
Okay, a tidy house can wait. Hugs are in order. Some trucks and farm animal play. Coloring with chubby crayons. Snack and a walk outside.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Hidden Treasure

Sensorial Activity for three year olds+

Materials needed:
dish washing basin
sand (can be purchased at garden store/hardware/on-line)
a few special items (such as fake gold coins, seashells, small wooden animals)
a sifter (a small strainer works great)
a bowl to collect the found items

Fill the basin 1/2 way full with play sand (the thin soft sand intended for children's use)
hide special treasure items in sand
provide children with a sifter and a list of the items they are searching for. It works best if the list is visual with photos or drawings of the items they are trying to find buried in the sand.
This activity can be done without the sifter or with beans rather than sand which is easier to clean up, depending on the age of the child and how much you anticipate the sand being spilled; the items 'lost' can be changed to reflect the seasons i.e: acorns in fall, craft snowflakes or large buttons in winter, marbles could even be used if you are certain there is no chance the children will mouth the objects.
Most of all: Have fun!
~~MM Original

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

What I'm thankful for...

Honestly, to write down everything and everyone I am thankful for would take more space than I have here. So, here is my personal short list followed by a list of ways you and your children can show YOUR thankfulness this year.

What I'm Thankful for this year....
small hands to hold
a new friend
heart shaped stones found when you least expect to
the telephone (Thank you Mr. Bell)
Cornerspring Children's House
my wedding ring
hot chocolate
polar fleece
my library card
readers everywhere!
Some ideas for you and your children
to do together this Thanksgiving season:

Place Cards
Using card stock create one of a kind place cards for your holiday table. On the underside of each card ask your children to help you create a list of three things they love about the particular guest; during the meal invite the guests to turn the cards over and read aloud the kind words.
While cleaning for expected house guests, gather up some items you are no longer using and with your children donate them to your local Goodwill.
Visit a Hospital:
The hospital can be a very lonely place for patients, especially during the holidays. Spend some of your time this holiday season with those who aren't able to be at home. You might visit the children's hospital and hand out stuffed animals or treats to children who need the extra cheer. Ask your kids to pick out a gift they think a kid like them would love.
Send a Care Package:
A holiday care package can be a great pick-me-up for soldiers who are far from home during the holidays. Gather up everyday necessities like soap,toothbrushes, and travel-sized toiletries. Don't forget to include some goodies to keep their bellies full, like cookies, Rice Krispie Treats, canned foods, and gum. Games, like small sudoku or crossword puzzle books, will help them stay busy during their free time.
Create a "We Are Thankful For"..poster:
Talk with your child about the things you're both thankful for. Some ideas could include: food, a home, friends, family, teachers or caregivers and school, your neighbors, your faith community, pets, favorite stuffed animals or toys, books and movies, etc. Be sure to include things that your child may not know you are thankful for, such as your education or your health. You can either write these ideas down or just talk about them. Next look through the magazines and cut out pictures of some of the things you're thankful for. You can also draw or write down your thoughts. At the top of the poster board write in colorful letters, "We Are Thankful For..." and explain to your child that you're going to fill in the mural with your ideas. Arrange the pictures on the poster board and glue them on. Add drawings and words where needed. Decorate your poster board with glitter, fabric, sparkles, etc. Then, hang it up for your friends and family to see!
Volunteer At the Animal Shelter:
It's important to keep family and friends in mind during the holidays, but don't forget the animals! Hundreds of homeless animals need your time, love, and hugs. Take your son or daughter to an animal shelter to volunteer for a day, or sign up to volunteer once a week to spread the love throughout the year.
Invite Someone New to Join You!:
The holidays are a time for giving and togetherness. If you know someone who will be alone for the holidays, make them feel loved by inviting them to your family's holiday dinner this year. The more, the merrier!
I'm sure that together you and your children will come up with other ways to make contributions to your community. Enjoy one another and be thankful.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Making Bird Feed

Materials needed:
  • basket of dried bread
  • small wooden hammer(play dough hammers work great)
  • plastic bag (sandwich size or recycle an old bread bag)
  • bowl
  • carpet square (to muffle hammering sound)
  • tray/or table top surface
The child takes a piece of dried bread and places it in the bag.
He/she hammers the bread into fine crumbs, then pours the crumbs into the bowl.
He/she continues this process until the bowl is filled with bread crumbs.
He/she then carries the bowl over to the bird feeder and empties it.
He/she returns the bowl to the tray, then sits back and watches the birds eat the feed.

  • to feed the birds
  • gross motor skill development
  • to feel helpful and good about providing food for animals
  • frustration release
The photo is of an egg carton bird feeder my middle son and I made this weekend. He has yet to make the bird feed mentioned here, I'll let you know how it goes. I like the idea of him making something with his own hands. It feels so good to create. ENJOY! The bird feed idea is from a book called: The Outdoor Classroom by Mary Boden, I highly recommend this book!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

My Hero, Fred Rogers

When reading Mr. Rogers today I stumbled upon this when I really needed it.
"As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has—or ever will have—something inside that is unique to all time. It's our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression."

Clean-up Magic

Parents often say to their child's Montessori teacher, "At school my child is involved in caring for his classroom but at home I can't get him to help out. How can I encourage my child to clean up at home?" I have a two part answer for those of you wondering this. 1.) School is not home. (Please read my earlier post Montessori At Home) And 2.) It's natural for children to feel overwhelmed when they are asked to 'clean up'. Sometimes a job can feel more manageable when it is broken down into steps, smaller specific tasks. Here are my suggestions.
Ask your child to help you come up with a list of things that need to be done to make the room clean. Here are some (bed room) clean up ideas:
  • Return books to shelf
  • Put dirty laundry in hamper
  • Return blocks to block bin
  • Smooth comforter on bed
  • Arrange stuffed animals
You get the idea. Write or draw (with your child's help) each job on a separate index card. As if you were doing a magic trick, hold the job cards face down fanned out like a deck of cards. You might even make a drum roll sound and ask your child to pick one card. Read the task aloud. For ex: "Return books to shelf." Watch as your child will make the books "disappear" from the floor! When each task is done, ask your child to pick a new card. Pick a card for yourself, too. Your children may worry that you will expect them to do all the work of cleaning up. If you work with your child, doing one chore while your child does another, the time will go faster and you have an opportunity to have fun with cleaning up. Enjoy your time together and have fun! Presto, clean-up Magic!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

"Be Gentle, Be Safe, Be Kind"

It is said, "Understanding the Ground Rules will set the child free". Montessori teachers say this to illustrate Dr. Montessori's philosophy; often Montessori education is criticized for allowing the child 'too much' freedom. This seemingly contrary statement explains that it is the rules that set the child free, and this is true. It is the confident grasp of 'what is expected here' or the classroom ground rules, that frees the child to independently explore, attempt challenging tasks without fearing failure, and it enables them to relax and enjoy the learning they are experiencing.
Structure equals security:
When you confidently know how you will clean up a spill or where you will put away something after you are done using it, you will direct your efforts and effectively utilize the materials provided for you. The Montessori classroom environment is prepared to nurture the growth of the individual child's self-discipline, by providing him/her with the opportunity to pursue areas of special interest to him/her, make choices and solve problems.
I believe that at home, we as parents can also prepare our environment to support their growth and exploration. By setting clear safety limits and general home 'rules' or guidelines (which ever word you are more comfortable using), you provide your children with everything they need to be successful, healthy and happy.
In my home (and in my classroom) we have three rules: "Be Gentle, Be Safe, Be Kind". One of my wonderful teachers MissE from Northeast Montessori Institute, shared these with me. She uses them in her classroom and her examples of how to use them made us all giggle one afternoon during a long weekend training (thank you MissE).
Almost everything you can think of, can fall under these 3 rules.
For example: Your child is standing on the cat's tail. Is this safe? Is this gentle? Is this kind? If the answer is "No" to any of these questions, it is our job as parents to point this out to our children and help them to move on to something that is safe, gentle and kind.
I'm using a very obvious example but really it's a helpful way for me not to go crazy trying to keep three children healthy and happy. My older children now ask each other and sometimes silently ask themselves, "Is this gentle, safe, kind?". It helps to remind them of what is acceptable behavior for the space they are in. At home those 3 rules cover just about everything, at their schools they learn the ground rules that are in place for that environment. I pray they are similar and hope that if they are not, that possibly our home rules will come into play for my sons when tough choices present themselves.
Remember the 3 rules apply to anyone who enters your home, that includes you and your partner too. These rules are not for children only. Hold your self to the same expectations you hold your children, it's respectful and in showing them respect they will in turn respect you.
As for the photo with this post: My little guy is just learning our 3 ground rules, and bath toys float after all! Gotta love toddlers!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

"Everything in it's place and a place for everything."

"Children absorb unconsciously from their surroundings. The importance of the prepared environment is paramount in the Montessori classroom. The prepared environment of the practical life area is uncluttered, inviting, home like, clean and orderly. The materials beautiful but not distracting, one of each activity which helps the child to develop self discipline and patience is included. The furniture is appropriately sized to meet the needs of the children, and the materials are attractive and call to the child to be held, explored and mastered.

The six basic components of the prepared environment are: The concept of freedom, structure and order, reality and nature, beauty and atmosphere, the Montessori materials and the development of community life.

The most important aspect of the prepared environment is the emotional climate; “a fearful child can not learn” and so the classroom should be both prepared with appropriate materials and also with clearly defined ground rules, understanding, consistency and love."

~~~Montessori Mama (school paper)

This is all well and good in a Montessori school classroom but how do you create this at home? (Please see my previous post: Montessori At Home (September), for more ideas and encouragement).

Making your children the number one priority in your life is a huge step in the direction of Montessori parenting. Begin by preparing your home environment to meet their needs AND your needs. Look at your home through their eyes. Are there lots of things that are off limits, behind a gate, up high, out of reach? Who lives here? Who's home is this anyway?

Think about it, where are your things? Your car keys for example? Do they hang on a hook near the door like so many of ours do? Why? So you will have them when you need them, right where you left them, easily accessible, ready to be used for the purpose they are intended.

We adults (for the most part, certainly I have been known to mis-place my car keys) arrange our belongings (let's call them 'materials') for usefulness and because it looks pretty. The coffee maker, we use every morning is out on the counter, not tucked away, but available for us to use it when we need to. Photographs are displayed attractively and at our eye level for our enjoyment.
And our music CDs are stacked in a CD holder or on a shelf, perhaps in order of type of music or even alphabetically? What works for our personal inner sense of order, is how we as grown ups prepare our environment. Yet, we throw our children's materials into a heap in a toy box, or bin? We restrict them to using the materials they desire to when it is convenient to us.

My Nana used to say, "Everything in it's place and a place for everything." Where would your child find his red matchbox car? In a small basket/tote with like items or at the bottom of a large toy box? So will he need to dump that large toy box to discover his the single treasured red car or just the one basket of match box cars? And which would be easier to clean up when he's done?

I know I make it sound easy, and it definitely is not; but making changes to accommodate
the growing needs of your children and preparing an environment that aids in their learning and development is worth the trouble. Keeping things tidy for the sake of having things tidy, is not my point. And I admit that my house often looks messy and disorganized, no one of us is perfect, (boy, would that be boring!).
Perfection is not the goal here, creating a prepared environment, prepared with love and thoughtfulness for the people sharing the space and the things that interest them is.

In my house I have some cupboards that are home to things I don't want my toddler playing with right now. These cupboards have safety locks on them and are not a choice for him at this time. That's me setting limits and protecting my materials. There are however cupboards that are home to items he can explore and investigate and then clean up of these materials is made easier by baskets and totes with photo labels for my non-reader.

Creating these opportunities was work (yes, I know I am a stay at home mom working part-time out of her home right now), but I'm here to tell you, it CAN be done with very little money and a little effort. And it's worth it! My stress level has lowered and my toddler is a very happy busy learner. Clean up seems so much easier now and the other members of my house hold (boys #1 and #2) help out more. Share your ideas with me and each other, leave a comment about how you help your littlest members of your home organize their materials.

And remember, the most important aspect of the prepared environment is the emotional climate; and we are all doing our best, parenting is the most challenging job you will ever have.
Montessori Parenting is what I hope to promote with this BLOG of mine. In my home I am trying to guide the growth of healthy, happy, independent children who feel loved, safe and respected. I believe following their lead and paying attention to their natural inclinations insists that I follow Dr. Montessori's philosophy. I will post more soon about Dr. Montessori's philosophy to help illustrate why a prepared environment is so important. Thank you for your time reading this and your opinions. I welcome them!


Monday, October 22, 2007

Autumn Sun Catchers

Here is one of my all time favorite Autumn craft projects. It's an easy craft for very young children and involves getting outside and collecting, which many 2 and 3 year olds especially enjoy doing.

You will need:
  • An eager child and a fall day
  • Natural materials
  • hand made paper (if available & desired)
  • clear contact paper
  • hole punch
  • yarn
  • twig
Take a nature walk and bring a bag to collect pine needles, grasses and leaves. Natural items that can be placed between clear contact paper without causing too much of a wrinkle. Also provide natural fiber color papers that can be cut or torn to add to your Autumn collage.
Arrange items on sticky side of contact paper, reposition if needed, and cover with another piece of clear contact paper. These collages I've found work better if kept on a small scale but can be created large too. With sticky paper like this young children can get frustrated.
To display: Punch two holes at the top and thread a piece of yarn, attach yard to a twig (also found outside) and hang like a picture in a window.

Our Autumn Sun Catchers have been up since last fall and visitors often notice them, making my son feel very proud. He usually says, "You can make one too, they're really easy, want me to show you?"

~~~MM (original)

A Fall Poem

May the glory of the passing away
of autumn
lie about us
fresh gold
for a time.
And when the dark comes, and
the cold
may we remember how today we stand in glory,
how we walk in bounty
heaped upon earth's dark carpet,
how we move knee deep in
flung against night's winter
We are thankful for its coming
and for its passing.
Let it be.

~~~Barbara J. Pescan

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Gourd Friends

Move over, Jack. There are new gourds in town. These fanciful little folks will put a whole new face on decorating for the season. Here's how to craft your own.

You'll need an assortment of gourds or ornamental pumpkins. Choose ones that are free of mold and bruises (they'll last longer), and wash and dry them once you get them home. You'll also need a variety of natural trimmings, such as pine needles, pinecones, leaves, seeds, and the like, plus a glue gun or glue dots for tacking everything in place. Thinner glue dots (often labeled "paper thin") are fine for light items, but we preferred thicker ones (1/16 inch or more; 3-D dots work especially well) for pinecones and large twigs.

Once you've gathered your supplies, play around with how to arrange them, starting with the body. (One, two, or three gourds? Smaller ones stacked atop larger ones, or vice versa?) Next, try out some features. We used leaves for Maude's hair, Frank's bow tie, and Myrtle's arms, while our gallery of noses includes a berry for Frances, a single pinecone scale for Myrtle, a peanut shell for Neville, and a piece of a stem for Harriet. Small, round items, such as beans, berries, and Indian corn kernels, make great eyes, noses, and buttons, while sticks and stems work well for hair, arms, and smiles. But anything goes, have fun!

If you're using multiple gourds, glue them together (remove the stems from the lower ones first), then add the features. You can also connect them with round toothpicks or trimmed skewers (use a small nail to make pilot holes if necessary). If you plan to sandwich leaves between two stacked gourds, as with Neville's and Myrtle's collars, be sure to glue the foliage to the bottom gourd before gluing the top one in place. Gourd wobbly? Glue nutshells or small pinecones to its base to help stabilize it, as we did with both Frank and Neville. Your fall friends will likely last two to four weeks in a cool, dry spot.

Another fun idea from Family Fun

Where in the World?


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