Isolation of difficulty, or “why are so many of the materials so plain?”

N is into puzzles. Really into puzzles. He ran through all of the puzzles we had from K’s toddlerhood in just under an hour, because hey, where’s the challenge? I mean, the lion puzzle piece fits into the lion-shaped hole with the same illustration. It’s a good thing that he loves repetition, because even though he figured out each puzzle in under two minutes, he was happy to do it over and over again.

When he started (and quickly finished) our wooden number puzzle a few days ago, I decided to extend the activity a bit and link the puzzle pieces to the fabric numbers I made way back when. Remember these?

So I pulled out the felt numbers and showed one to N. “This is number two. Your puzzle has a number two. Can you find it?”

He did. And so I silently marvelled at my son’s genius. Two years old and matching numbers! Hmm… better check it to make sure it’s not a fluke.

“N, this is number six. Can you find the six in your puzzle?”

No. No, he couldn’t. He did, however, find me the eight. I realized, belatedly, what he was matching: the colour! He was able to match the two because it was the same colour in both the felt numbers and the puzzle. When faced with different shapes and colours, N’s default was to match the colour. As you can see in this picture, that would be a rare match indeed.

That, in a nutshell (okay, a very large, slightly verbose nutshell,) is what isolation of difficulty is all about. Montessori materials are designed so that all of the components of a given material are identical except for the one feature that the material is supposed to teach. That’s why the pink tower blocks are all the same shade of pink. The tower might look prettier with multicoloured blocks, but the entire point of the material is for the children to practice their size discrimination. The sandpaper numbers, unlike my felt numbers, are all the same colour and grit of sandpaper on the same colour background; the only difference between them is the shape of each number, which is what the child is learning from the material.

So there you have it. Many materials are intentionally simple so that the children aren’t distracted or confused when learning new concepts. One day the children will be able to identify scents from varied objects or put a large number of different fruits and vegetables in order from large to small, and within that, in rainbow order. At the beginning, though, Montessori allows children to master each concept completely. You have to walk before you can run, as they say, and you have to recognize shapes before you can jazz ’em up.

Any questions?

Parachute clip dressing frame (tutorial)

N has a new obsession these days: parachute clips. They’re on every highchair, carseat, and stroller; they’re even on K’s backpack, which N has adopted as his own for the purpose of practicing. He’ll crouch down, intently focused on inserting one side of the clip into the other. As soon as both clips are done he’ll come barreling towards me, thrust the backpack into my hands, and order, “puhn-ih,” which as far as I can tell means “open it.”

This would all be very entertaining except for the fact that K’s backpack is now MIA because N drags it around everywhere. Yesterday I decided that it was time to make N a dressing frame.

A what?

Dressing frames are found in every primary Montessori classroom. The children use them to practice opening and closing all kinds of buttons, snaps, clips, velcro, and zippers so that they will have the skills to dress and undress themselves. Typically, dressing frames look something like this:

I made my dressing frame out of an old IKEA picture frame, some ribbons from my sewing stash, and three parachute clips that I bought at Fabricland. It’s extremely simple.

Step one: remove the backing, picture, mat, and glass from the picture frame. Push the little metal tabs back so that they don’t stick out.

Step two: cut six lengths of ribbon, each about 3/4 as wide as the frame. Singe the ends of the ribbon by passing them close to a candle flame (this will stop the ribbons from fraying.) Note that I made the ribbons extra long because N doesn’t yet have the strength and coordination to pull on the ribbons while connecting the clips – if the ribbons are too short for him to clip them comfortably, he’ll just give up. Feel free to experiment with the best ribbon length for your child.

Step three: separate the parts of the three parachute clips. attach each piece to the end of one ribbon by looping the ribbon through the slot in the clip and then gluing down the end. I used fabric glue, but you can use whatever works for you.

Step four: Connect the clips to each other (so that you don’t accidentally glue the ribbons to the wrong sides) and glue the loose ends of the ribbons to the inside of the picture frame.

At this point, you may want to further secure the ribbon ends. I used a piece of wood trim for each side of the frame. Using wood glue, I glued the trim down over the ends of the ribbon and clamped it. After an hour, there was no way the wood trim – or the ribbon – was coming off.

And that’s it. Trim the ribbon ends, double check that all the glue has dried and is holding well, and your dressing frame is ready for action:

Any questions?

Montessori-ing my home: baby stuff

Have you ever noticed that babies seem to bring a lot of stuff along with them? A couple can be happily living in 450 square feet, and then they have a baby and – BOOM! – the entire place is full of baby equipment. Swing, bouncy chair, bumbo, exersaucer, gymini… and that’s just the living room.

We had all those things for K. It drove me nuts – my living room looked like Toys R Us had thrown up in it. By the time N was born I had become accustomed to a living room without baby paraphernalia and I wasn’t in a rush to put it back. The bouncy chair went into storage and the exersaucer went to the backyard (a sanity saver when I wanted to do some gardening and N didn’t want to be strapped to my back). Then K started school and after reading everything I could about Montessori and parenting, I concluded that my next baby would have a lot less stuff.

And so it is. We do still have the swing, but that’s it. Instead of the crazy primary-coloured gymini, we have a wooden arch that is very sturdy and holds a hanging toy (more about that in a moment). We also have a foam mat and a long, low mirror. Aside from that, we have adults who snuggle R and siblings who dote on her.

So what’s with the mirror and the mat? And the hanging toy? I’m glad you asked.

The movement mat

"Aw, geez. We're wearing the same thing. How embarrassing!"

According to Montessori, babies need freedom of movement. These days babies don’t get much of that, if you think about it: Swings, bouncers, strollers, bumbos – all those things keep the baby physically passive and largely immobile. As a result, babies don’t have enough opportunities to develop their muscles and proprioceptive sense (the sense that tells you where your body parts are in relation to each other). K’s school principal recently mentioned that many children don’t have the hand and wrist strength required to write properly because they don’t sleep on their tummies as babies, and thus don’t get enough practice pushing up with their arms.

(I’m not saying that we should go back to putting babies to sleep on their tummies; there are plenty of waking hours in which babies can practice those skills.)

Right. So recognizing babies’ need for freedom of movement, Montessori parents will set up a movement mat. It’s a semi-soft surface on the ground where a baby can gradually develop its movement skills. A new baby might lie on the mat looking up at a high-contrast mobile, or lie on his or her tummy to develop the neck, trunk, and arm muscles. The mirror holds the baby’s interest (look! another baby! in the same shirt as I’m wearing! what a coincidence!) and also provides visual feedback on the baby’s movements.

In our home the movement mat is also K and N’s play mat. The only addition we made to it was a cheap back-of-door mirror from Canadian Tire (as an aside, K and N love the mirror, too.) R spends a lot of time on her mat. At the age of three months she mastered the front-to-back roll and two weeks ago (four months) she started flipping from her back to her tummy faster than you can say “get the camera!” She also manages to rotate her body so that she can look in another direction, and to shimmy herself a foot or so away from where I’ve placed her. And – this one is scary, y’all – she’s started to stick her bum up in the air, as if she’s ready to start crawling (I’d better find the baby gate.)

Do we miss having the other stuff? Well, yes and no. It’s a bit of a different experience, not having so many places to “park” the baby when we need to put her down. But babies aren’t cars. We’re not really supposed to park them (even though sometimes we need to). Not having all those pieces of equipment is not only cheaper, it also forces us to accommodate the child’s needs rather than our own. If I really, really need to park her somewhere, on my back in a baby carrier seems to do the trick.

The hanging toy

I know, I know. That toy isn't wooden. But look at the concentration on her face as she tries to grab it!

R loves her hanging toy gym. I love it, too. It’s from IKEA, it’s made of wood (and most of it is a natural wood colour for the decor snob in me,) and the toys are wooden as well. In a traditional Montessori infant environment, babies begin with a progression of mobiles that encourage the development of visual discrimination. When they begin to reach for the mobile, it is exchanged for a hanging toy – usually a wooden ring on a length of elastic. The theory goes that the child can practice grabbing and manipulating the ring, and also learns cause and effect when she lets go.

That’s all fine and good, but I’ve found another wonderful reason to love hanging toys on elastic: they can’t fall and roll away. How many times have I given my babies something to hold and play with, only to have to pick it up for them every time it drops? Well, not anymore! R grabs, twists, turns, pulls, and chews on her hanging toys (oh yeah, there’s another advantage: she can actually put the toys in her mouth.) When she lets go they fly up into the air and then they’re dangling within reach again. It’s impossible to lose the toys.

I also can’t help thinking that what R does with her hanging toys right now is similar to a resistance band workout. I’ll bet she’s got some serious little baby biceps going on.

The high chair

R isn’t quite ready for this one yet, but when she begins eating solid food she’ll be sitting in a Tripp Trapp chair. This is a bit out of line with the classic Montessori approach of having a tiny table and a chair with arms that the child can access all by herself, but I like to have the kids at the table with the family. The Tripp Trapp is fabulous because it has an adjustable seat and footrest, so that the child can sit properly (and can use her feet and legs to re-adjust for comfort) at the correct height for their elbows to be just above table level.

So that’s it… three pieces of equipment for the baby. And what about toys? R has about eight of them. A skwish, Sophie the Giraffe, a homemade fabric ball with ribbon tags, three hanging toys that we rotate out, a very soft rabbit blanket (i.e. a stuffed rabbit whose neck is the center of a minkee blanket)… hmm, that might be it. I can’t think of another one right now. Anyhow, with seven toys in rotation R is perfectly happy and my living room is a little bit less cluttered.

So there you have it… the Montessori-flavoured guide to having a baby without buying every possible piece of baby gear.

Any questions?

How I sweat the small stuff

If my post about having child-sized tools and furniture convinced you, you may be trying to figure out where to get child-sized items that aren’t plastic and that are actually sized correctly for your kids. You could just go with a Montessori-oriented shop like Michael Olaf or For Small Hands, or you could save some money and collect things from a variety of other sources – if you know what to look for.

What’s wrong with the plastic stuff? For starters, it’s often garish and ugly (there. I’ve exposed my bias.) It’s also often not even the right size for a young child. Take the ubiquitous IKEA plastic tumblers. Sure, the cups are small – no, wait, they’re short. The diameter is pretty much the same as many regular glasses, which means that a child won’t be able to drink from it one-handed until maybe age eight, by which point you really don’t need plastic because of reason number three: kids need to learn how to handle fragile objects. I’ve written about it before, so I’ll just mention that N broke a glass for the first time last week. He was horrified and amazed, and has been noticeably careful with glasses and plates since then.

I find a lot of good stuff at IKEA. Not in the children’s section (they do have some cute china dishes, but they’re a bit too small even for a baby.) The shot glasses and espresso mugs are just the right size for a toddler – don’t forget that it’s not just the height of a glass, but its diameter/circumference that makes it appropriate for a child.

Dollar stores, dollarama in particular, tend to have a lot of smaller versions of adult tools. I suspect it’s because a smaller pitcher or colander requires less material and is therefore possible to sell for a dollar and still turn a profit… but it’s a boon to us Montessorians. Among the dollar store finds we use every day are small pitchers and jugs, a hand broom and dustpan, miniature spray bottles, a small colander, a little wooden tray, small bamboo cutting boards, and K’s tiny hairbrush.

I’ve noticed that places like Mastermind and Scholar’s choice sometimes have child-sized tools, but you’ll want to check carefully to see how functional they actually are. Likewise, specialty stores (Lee Valley Tools comes to mind) sometimes have good-quality child-sized versions of adult tools. K recently received a gift of a pocket hammer (perfect size for a child) and safety goggles, a child-sized garden spade and a set of kid-sized hand tools for the garden. The stuff is out there if you keep your eyes open. Oh, and your imagination. It doesn’t have to be marketed for kids to be the right size and weight for a child. Some of the nicest child-sized things I’ve found have been in regular kitchen stores: “cocktail” forks and spoons, pretty shot glasses, small plates.

As for furniture, IKEA has some great kids’ furniture that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, or you can build it yourself – there’s a fabulous website called Ana White that has tons of free plans for furniture, and most of it only requires a few basic tools.

Know what I’m still looking for, though? Child-sized cutlery with a knife that can cut something harder than a banana. Honestly, how am I supposed to teach my kids to use a knife if the only knives they can handle properly are completely useless? I might have to resort to grinding down the pointy tips of some paring knives if I can’t find something soon. It definitely helps to be a DIY-er when it comes to the small stuff.

If you’ve found a great (and preferably inexpensive) source of kid-sized items, please share it in the comments!

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!”

DIY Toddler bed tutorial

A few posts back, I showed you the toddler bed I made for K. A couple of months ago I decided to make one for N, since R will soon be needing the crib.

No, N’s not sleeping in his new bed. He still doesn’t understand the whole “you need to stay in your bed” thing, and frankly I think he’ll learn that lesson much more quickly when he’s a bit older. But for now he’s excited to have a bed just like K’s, that he can climb up and sit on to flip through his board books. Here’s a pic of the bed:

Jealous? Don’t be – the whole thing took me about 3 hours to build, and I’m going to take you through the process. Ready?

First, the stuff you need:

Tools

  • handheld cordless drill/screwdriver
  • countersink drill bits (optional)
  • carpenter’s square (or other way to check for a 90 degree angle)
  • staple gun and LOTS of staples
  • ruler or measuring tape
  • sewing machine (optional)

Lumber (take this list to Home Depot or Lowe’s and have them cut the boards for you)

  • 2 – 1 x 10″ boards, 8 feet long. Cut each one into a 52″ length and a 29 3/4″ length.
  • 2 – 2 x 2″ furring strips, 8 feet long. Cut 50″ lengths of each.
  • 3 – 1 x 4″ furring strips, 8 feet long. Cut them into 27″ lengths – you should end up with 9 of them.
  • 1 – small piece of plywood (24 x 48″). Cut a piece 29 3/4″ x 22″.

Other materials

  • 1″ upholstery foam. Scraps will do, as long as it’s at least 5″ wide and you have enough to stretch along 200 linear inches or so.
  • Quilt batting. I used one and a half packages of 70″ x 100″.
  • Fabric to cover the bed. You’ll need a strip of 16″ x 135″ (I sewed a few strips together to make a long one) and a 35″ x 38″ piece for the headboard.
  • Screws. I used #8 screws that were 2″ long.

Got all that? Good! Follow along, now:

Building the frame

Lay the two 52″ long boards on the floor. On each one, measure and mark a line 3″ from one edge (long edge). Position a 2 x 2 x 50″ furring strip so that its top runs along the line. Predrill 5 holes (evenly spaced) along the 2 x 2, then screw it into the long board. It will look like this:

Set those two long pieces aside.

Take one 29″ board and predrill three holes on each side, about 1/3 of an inch in from the end. Take one long board and stand it on edge so that the 2 x 2 rail is close to the top. Stand the 29″ board on edge, align it at a 90 degree angle with the other board, and screw the 29″ board into the end of the long board:

Repeat with the second long board.

Take the plywood piece (22 x 29 3/4) and predrill three holes on each side. The holes should be within the bottom 9 inches of the board – you’ll be using them to attach the headboard the same way you just attached the footboard. Square up the corner and screw the headboard to the open ends of the long boards. You’ll end up with a frame that looks like this:

Congratulations! The woodworking is done! That means it’s time for…

Padding the frame

Take the upholstery foam and staple it around the top edges of the frame, like this:

Open up the quilt batting so that you’ve got just a double layer of it. Cut into a strip about 18″ wide. Beginning at one side of the headboard, wrap the batting around the frame lengthwise, stapling it inside the top and bottom of the bed frame. Take another doubled piece of batting and use it to wrap the headboard. It will end up looking like this:

Adding the fabric

First prepare your long strip of fabric. You can either cut an 16″ wide strip out of a really long piece, or you can be cheap like me and sew a few strips together.

Staple the end of the fabric to the back of the headboard (so that it’s ready to wrap around the sides). Begin wrapping the fabric around the frame, being careful to stretch it a bit so that it doesn’t end up wrinkly. Staple the top edge, then turn the frame on its side to staple the bottom edges. Be sure to pull the fabric tight and place your staples very close together so that the upholstery doesn’t look bumpy.

Now, the headboard. You can either sew a bit of a slipcover for it, or just wrap it and staple. I chose to sew a cover – I draped a piece of fabric over the headboard, pinned it where I wanted the seams to be, sewed it, and then put it on. Staple the ends on the front below the level of the 2 x 2 furring strips, pull tight down the back, and staple to the inside bottom edge of the headboard.

The ends where the headboard meets the side rails are tricky. I still haven’t figured out how to do it perfectly, so I’m no help to you here. Do your best. When in doubt, staple everything at the back of the headboard.

This is how mine looked at this stage:

You’re almost done!

Take the 9 pieces of 1 x 4″ furring strips, and lay them across the bed so that the ends are resting on the 2 x 2 rails. Spread them out evenly.

Now you can place your crib mattress on top of the rails, add bedding, and voila:

Happy building!

The one about the kitchen sink

Over winter break, K started preparing her own snacks independently. There was one hitch, though – we found that she can’t reach the faucet handle, so she needed someone to turn the sink on and off for her when she was rinsing her fruit. Such a simple thing, but it’s an impediment to being completely independent at snacktime.

I posted about this problem on facebook and several people recommended a high stepstool or a learning tower so that K would be able to reach the existing handle. The thing is, our sink is very large (read: deep) and she’d still have to reach about 20 inches back just to get the handle. A step stool isn’t going to cut it for a kid who’s only about three feet tall.

Today I was in Canadian Tire. It just happens to be where I bought our faucet, so I figured I could comb the aisles for possible solutions and then check in the faucet aisle to make sure they fit. I arrived in the plumbing department and I saw it. The perfect solution to my problem:

Clear vinyl tubing.

I bought a small roll of it ($7 plus tax), came home, and pushed the end of the tubing onto the faucet handle. I cut it about 12 inches long. Perfect! It’s a tight fit, so the tubing won’t get pulled off, and the extra-long lever has the added advantage of requiring even less force than usual to turn the water on.

But that wasn’t all. No, that was not all. I grabbed some decorative pebbles that just happened to match the accent tiles in the backsplash (matching is easy when you have a favourite colour) and pushed them down the tube. Now it’s functional and pretty not entirely ugly. Win!

Hannukah “Play”, Montessori-style

I have always been in favour of what I call “child labour” (letting children do actual household tasks) and have often viewed most toys as superfluous, unnecessary, and even insulting to children’s abilities and intelligence. Recently, though, I’ve come to see how having one child in a Montessori school has affected my parenting decisions for the other children at home. Here’s the most recent example:

It’s Hannukah (as we all know by now), and while perusing our local Jewish newspaper I saw an ad for a sale on a wooden hannukah playset. It looks like this:

I considered buying one. I thought that N would definitely love putting the candles into the menorah over and over again, and he might actually like to spin the dreidel. I went so far as to put “buy wooden hannukah set” on my to-do list. Then I laughed at myself, because the Montessori parent in me knows that this is a ridiculously unnecessary toy.

N wants to put candles into a menorah? Good. Let him practice with real candles and a real (metal, unbreakable) menorah. Does he want to hold and look at a dreidel? Great. I happen to have a large wooden dreidel (too big to be a choking hazard to anyone) that he can hold and play with. And what use is wooden hannukah gelt? It’s not shiny like the real thing, and you can’t eat it. No, better to give him one or two pieces of real gelt to look at, and later show him how to unwrap it and let him taste the chocolate. As for the wooden latkes and frying pan, why would he need those when he’s allowed to help me wash potatoes, mix the batter, and eat actual latkes?

This is a very real, concrete example of the Montessori attitude towards pretend play. In Montessori, children don’t have to pretend to work in a kitchen, or to plant a garden, or put candles in the menorah. They don’t have to pretend, because they can really do it. They might want to repeat the task (put candles in, take them out, examine them, put them in, take them out…). They might not do it with great skill. But they will do the task over and over again until they have mastered it. No toys, just real objects and tools that are appropriately sized for children’s hands.

As for N, this morning he pointed at the menorah and put his hands over his face, imitating the way we cover our eyes when lighting shabbat candles (we don’t cover our eyes for hannukah candles, but I suppose candles are candles, at this age).

“Do you want to practice lighting hannukah candles?” I asked, and in response he put his hands over his face again and then peeked out, smiling.

I gave him a box of candles and set him up on the window seat so that he could reach the menorah on the windowsill. He picked up one piece of the menorah (it comes apart) and tried to walk away with it. “N,” I said, “the hannukiah stays here so that everyone can see it when we light the candles.” He put the piece back. Then he reached for the candles and began to place one in each holder. When all of the holders were full, he covered his face and giggled.

N repeated the task over and over again for about half an hour. Some candles got broken, but gradually he learned to be more gentle with them. The focus and pride on his face was an excellent reminder that, given the tools and the opportunity, our children will master the tasks that make up our lives, no toys required.


Family Breakfast

I’ve read, as I’m sure you all have, about how important it is for families to sit down to dinner together every day. In my house that almost never happens. The kids need to eat before 6, and getting home by then is pretty hard for Montessori Dad. What’s a mom to do?

Well, we all wake up at the same time, and we all need to eat before we leave the house. We all sit down and eat breakfast together every day. Here’s how it works:

We don’t do anything fancy. Generally we’ll alternate having oatmeal or cold cereal on the menu. I set out bowls, spoons and mugs the night before, and if it’s a cold cereal day then I’ll put that out too. I cut up some kind of fresh fruit and put it in the fridge. For oatmeal days, I start the steel-cut oats the night before, then leave them to soak overnight. I prepare a tray of toppings and a small jug of milk and put those in the fridge where K can reach them.

In the morning, I just have to turn on the oatmeal for 10 minutes (I do it right when I get up, and by the time we’re all dressed the oatmeal is done). K’s job is to take the tray of toppings out of the fridge and bring it to the table. When N sees this happening, he goes to the play kitchen (also where we keep the kids’ dishes and cutlery), gets himself a spoon, and then stands patiently by his chair until we help him in. Both K and N seem to take pride in doing their parts to get ready for breakfast. And of course, everybody loves their oatmeal.

The topping tray is a very lightweight tray from the dollar store, with dollar store ramekins to hold each item. I also put the serving spoons and tongs on it in advance, and there’s a little cloth mat that absorbs the stray nuts and crumbs. Here’s what tomorrow’s tray looks like:

We have different toppings every day. The tray above is what I call “apple pie” – apples, raisins, walnuts, and cinnamon sugar. We also do “banana nut” – brown sugar, pecans, and bananas. “Cranberry almond” is pretty much what it sounds like – dried cranberries, slivered almonds, brown sugar.

And, in the spirit of montessori-ing my home, I put the tray of toppings and the jug of milk on the lowest shelf in our fridge so that K can reach:

To give you a sense of size, that’s a 500 mL (2 cup) jug. It’s maybe 5 inches tall.

Mmm… oatmeal and toppings. This post has made me want to go to sleep so that I can wake up and eat breakfast. Yum.

Montessori-ing my home (the particulars and the pictures, part I)

… but first, a confession:

When I show you pictures of my creations or home improvement projects, I do clean up a bit before taking the pics. Not that I’d have you believe that my house is always pristine, but I don’t want you distracted from the main point by bits of, oh, let’s say dessicated play-doh studded with forgotten cheerios. From now on, if a photo I post represents how things actually look, I’ll say so. Otherwise please assume that some cleanup happened.

I think we’ll begin our tour of my montessori-ed home (and yes, as I’ve explained previously, that is a verb) in the kids’ room. There are a few minor improvements, a big build, and a couple of things that are simply organizational changes.

The bed

Hardcore Montessori parents eschew cribs in favour of a mattress on the floor, in keeping with the principle that children should be free to explore their environment. That’s all fine and good, and if I had thought of it before we had K, I might not have bothered buying a crib. But I did, and so the baby is in a crib while K sleeps in the snazzy toddler bed I built her. In my interpretation of montessori principles, it was important that K have a bed that is scaled for her, that she can enter and leave easily by herself (not that she’s allowed to, but that’s another post!), and has bedcovers of a manageable size. K was delighted with it from the moment she laid eyes on the raw lumber, and it’s been the site of many bedtime group hugs (yes, it supports two full-grown adults and a kid). Here it is again, the 5-hour upholstered toddler bed:

Grooming station

In montessori, children learn to care for their home, their classroom, their earth, and themselves. K hated having her hair brushed, and it occurred to me that she should have an opportunity to brush her own hair. Using a thrifted mirror and a section of picture-ledge shelving I created a vanity station. K keeps her brush and comb here (we used to keep hair elastics in a container on the shelf, but she just couldn’t resist pushing the elastics into the heating vent, and so when the elastics had disappeared we chose not to replace them on her shelf) as well as some decorative items of her choosing. She seems to enjoy seeing herself in the mirror and now stands much more patiently for her morning ponytail.

Dressing area

Okay, I actually didn’t change anything except how I use this area. The change table has been with us since K was about 2 weeks old, and we store the baby’s clothes here in bins with graphic labels. Diapers are in the drawers, wipes on top, and two diaper pails – one for ‘sposies and one for cloth.

After reading the blog of a montessori teacher who is now also a parent, I finally realized there was a solution to my recent dilemma – how to let K choose her clothes without letting her walk out of the house looking like a walking goodwill store? I do believe kids need to learn to choose their clothes and dress themselves, but I’m just not able to go all the way and give her free rein when it comes to her clothes. Anyhow, the solution was to offer her a selection of pre-matched outfits. When the kids’ laundry is done, I choose five outfits, put them together on hangers, and hang three of them on the drawer knobs. When she wakes up in the morning she can choose her outfit. It saves time over having to match, and then argue about, clothes in the morning before school.

This is what her selection looks like now, ready for the beginning of a new school week:

I think that’s pretty much it for the kids’ bedroom. Next time on “Montessori-ing my home” I’ll take you into the kitchen.