Lessons from summer camp

My kids aren’t going to day camp this summer. The little ones are too young and I also like having the flexibility to sleep in, hang out, and not rush the children to go anywhere.

It comes at a price, though… having three little kids at home all day can result in a very, very messy house, and since my oldest doesn’t nap anymore, there’s no kid-free time to clean it.

In keeping with Montessori philosophy, our home is a place that we all need to keep clean so that it is ready for us to use and enjoy. That means everybody does their part, everybody cleans up their own messes, and everybody can be productive. Even the babies. But how to implement it in a way that won’t make the little ones rebel?

Good thing this Montessori Mom learned a few tricks at summer camp:

1. Cleanup after breakfast

Young children crave order and repetition. My young kids seem happy to have a set morning routine: Wake up, get washed and dressed, eat breakfast (oatmeal from the crockpot – mmm!) and then, just like at camp, you go back to your bunk and clean up before you go outside to play. We call it “Nikayon” (Hebrew for “cleaning”) just like we did at camp, and everyone gets a task.

N and K love scrubbing the toilet. I let them, although sometimes I make a big fuss about it being “my turn” just to keep them interested. They like it when I let them get into an empty tub and scrub it with baking soda. We also have a sticky roller on a long handle that they enjoy pushing around to pick up dust and crumbs. Seriously, they fight over these tasks. It’s very cool.

Nikayon time also includes tidying up the toys in the living room and picking up everything from the bedroom floor. Beds get made. Our nanny does the kitchen cleanup while I finish off the bathroom. The place is clean… and then we go out.

2. Mealtime routine

At summer camp there is always some kind of system for clearing the table, usually involving a dishpan of soapy water, a slop bucket, and a scraper. It’s a fabulous example of Montessori’s “prepared environment”; the children are able to clear the dishes because all of the necessary tools and facilities are readily available and easy to use.

We’ve taken to filling the plastic sink in the children’s play kitchen with soapy water. When they are finished eating they carry their plates to the kitchen, scrape them into the green bin with a rubber spatula, and put their dishes in their sink. The table is clear and the dishes are ready for the dishwasher regardless of how long it takes for me to get back there and load them all in.

3. Get outside

At summer camp you’re only in your bunk to get dressed and to sleep. The rest of the time is spent outdoors. Same deal here: we clean up and then we leave the house, even if just for the backyard. Remember: they can’t mess up the house if they’re not in the house! Seriously, keeping the kids outside as much as possible really helps cut down on the indoor chaos.

4. Daily activities

We have tons of games, crafts, and toys here at home. Every day we try to bring out one new thing for the kids to play with in the morning. We’ve done a water table, bubbles, sidewalk chalk, bikes, and we usually set up some kind of beading craft. Even just handing them the garden hose counts, as this morning’s mud bath proved. Prepare the environment and then get out of their way, and the kids will do fascinating – and fun – things. It works at school, it works at camp, and it works at home.

5. Rest hour

Or as we say at Jewish summer camps, “Menucha.” It doesn’t matter how old you are, how tired you’re not, or whether or not you ever sleep during the day. After lunch we have rest hour, which means everybody is quiet and in their own “bunk.”

More often than not, rest hour turns into “rest couple of hours,” which is fine by me. Sometimes even I get to do some napping.

 

And that’s how things are at Camp Jewish Montessori Mom. I have to run – I’m in the mood for some water sports. Happy camping!

Yes, that’s me… the ultimate happy camper!

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When work isn’t a four-letter word…

My kids love to work.

That probably sounds odd to many of us – “work” usually means “the stuff I HAVE to do before I can get to the stuff I WANT to do.” Not so in Montessori. Almost everything we do is work: creative work, academic work, practicing new skills, maintenance work. The children choose their own work in school. Painting is work, as is practicing long division, as is preparing the snack. Work is fun!

In our home, it helps that I enjoy crafting and building, because I’m frequently heard saying, “I really want to finish my work on that blanket I’m sewing,” or “I don’t get as much time to work on my carpentry as I’d like.” My work is something I wish I had time for. Even Montessori Dad is often eager to get to work on some of his volunteer stuff.

Apparently the kids absorb it, because K is forever asking if she can do a particular job (imagine my surprise when she offered to clean the floor after N vomited. I declined her kind offer – we’re trying to keep everyone healthy and that means restricting access to one another’s body fluids, but that’s another story for another time.) Her latest passion is the dishwasher.

Overheard four nights ago in my kitchen:

“Mummy, can I put the soap in the dishwasher?”

“Of course you can, but please let me finish loading it first.”

“But I want to load it. I want the dishwasher to be my job!”

“Okay, then. It’s your job.” Your job ’til you move out of the house, kid!

K is inordinately proud of her new job. She even got out of bed last night, distressed because she’d forgotten to turn on the dishwasher. She finished the task, returned to bed and promptly fell asleep.

And as goes K’s interest, so goes N’s. He now takes his plate from the table (real china, of course) to the kitchen, dumps the remaining food into the green bin, and places it in his play sink.

I pray they’ll never grow out of this. As a fellow Montessori parent once said, “Montessori education just pays off in so many ways!”