Wednesday, 20 November 2013

How do I teach my toddler how to clean up after himself? Teaching kids how to tidy, the Montessori way.

Even though I have a ‘relaxed’ interpretation of the Montessori Method, I do consider myself a Montessori Mum. One of the ways we incorporate the Montessori Method into our daily life is in our care of the home environment. This involves teaching my toddler how to clean up after himself.

"The children of three years of age in the "Children's Houses" learn and carry out such work as sweeping, dusting, making things tidy, setting the table for meals, waiting at table, washing the dishes, etc ., and at the same time they learn to attend to their own personal needs, to wash themselves, to take showers, to comb their hair, to take a bath, to dress and undress themselves, to hang up their clothes in the wardrobe, or to put them in drawers, to polish their shoes . These exercises are part of the method of education, and do not depend on the social position of the pupils; even in the "Children's Houses" attended by rich children who are given every kind of assistance at home, and who are accustomed to being surrounded by a crowd of servants, take part in the exercises of practical life . This has a truly educational, not utilitarian purpose . The reaction of the children may be described as a "burst of independence" of all unnecessary assistance that suppresses their activity and prevents them from demonstrating their own capacities. It is just – these "independent" children of ours who learn to write at the age of four and a half years, who learn to read spontaneously, and who amaze everyone by their progress in arithmetic."
-Maria Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence

Understanding that all his daily activities have a set up, interaction and then a clean up period gives Hunter a sense of order and control which is empowering for him. Actually playing a role in all of those stages is educational and transformative. For me, the positives of this are multiple:

  • The house is generally in a neat state, with only a few toys out at a time. This is great for me as it cuts down on chaos, makes tidying for guests a breeze and gives me more time to enjoy my ‘mummy time’ when Hunter naps. Instead of cleaning up after him, he has already done it as part of his play. As far as he knows, it’s all part of the fun.
  • Toy sets are kept together, meaning no lost parts which saves us money, and saves Hunter disappointment and frustration.
  • My son understands the ideas of preparation, anticipation, and focused play. Only having a few things out at a time limits his options in one way, but in another allows him a deep and meaningful exchange with what he is playing with.In return, he values his toys, and really plays with ALL of them- again, saving me money.
  • I have read that activities like wiping the table down after a meal reinforce development in fine motor skills such as pre writing skills (bring to your mind’s eye the movement of the cloth, left to right and up and down).
  • Being a part of the household activities, such as by wiping down the table after breakfast, helps Hunter feel like a valued part of our family team. He knows that he is contributing his part, and this contribution is valued by Mummy and Daddy. We reinforce this by communicating with him that his work is important to us as well as to him.
  • The respect he has for his environment is great too. He knows what ‘clean’ is, and knows that ‘clean’ is the optimal state for his house. When spills happen, he works with me to help get the house back to its optimal state. This has been so awesome during this time of potty training, as there is so much wee to clean up…
  • A happy house is a harmonious house. Both Lee and I feel more relaxed in a tidy environment. Clutter stresses us both out. Having all three of us on board the tidy train helps maintain harmony. It also helps Hunter understand the relationship between work, order and beauty. I have an inkling that this is part of teaching Hunter mutual respect too.
  • Finally, the seeing his determination, and witnessing the accomplishment and independence Hunter experiences knowing he can do things by himself is priceless.

Having experienced setting up and putting away as part of every activity, Hunter has begun to tidy as part of normal play routine. I said ‘begun to’ because I am not a strict Montessori Mum. There are days (like today for instance) when I couldn’t be stuffed to do much organisation. I haven’t tidied away any of his toys from yesterday, or the day before (I work two days a week, after daycare Hunter has free reign to play with any toy in any way, and Daddy often gets tasked with the tidy up, which sometimes means the tidy up is left for me to do on my first day off). Right now Hunter has out all his matchbox cars, the play garage, a couple of large planks of timber to make car ramps, his trike, pompoms and robot puzzles, his teddy bear and some playdough and cookie cutters- all of this clutter is so not Montessori (and neither are half the toys either, but thats another story for another time). And yet I notice that the cars that were scattered throughout the house are all now back at the ramp. When I told him it was time for a nap, the playdough was returned to the tub and the cookie cutters put in the kitchen sink without my intervention.

So how do I actually do all of this? First, I set up his play environment so he can access the tools he needs. Just near the door to the laundry I have a stash of cleaning supplies for Hunter: a child sized broom, dustpan and brush, and a play vacuum cleaner. In the bathroom there is a pile of washcloths and handtowels, a child sized basin and fresh water and soap. These all allow him to clean like Mummy and Daddy do. And then I show him how to use them. Sometimes we simply clean up as we go, and other times I set up little play tables where we practise pouring coloured liquid from a jug into various vessels, and then we sponge up the mess and look at how the food dye changes the colour of the sponge.

"These very children reveal to us the most vital need of their development, saying : 'Help me to do it alone!'"
Maria Montessori From Childhood to Adolescence

When we prepare meals, Hunter gets his own bowl from the cupboard. Where possible he helps me prepare the food, even if that is just getting the bread and putting it in the toaster slots, or stirring the diced fruit into the yoghurt. What he can’t help with, he watches. He spends a whole lot of time sitting on the kitchen floor looking up at me as I talk him through how I am making us whatever it is we are about to eat. Once the meal is ready, Hunter carries his meal to the table, and we sit together as we eat. Finally, he takes his empty plate and puts it in the kitchen sink, and grabs a cloth or sponge and wipes down the bench. I jokingly call myself a slave driver, but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. This isn’t child labor. This is fun for Hunter- this is learning through play.

One thing I will say, is that this method isn’t all fun and games. Hunter’s participation in the entire process takes TIME. Even though he has ‘cleaned’ the table, I still have to go over it again. It also involves a bit of preparation, such as having a pile of handtowels accessible to Hunter at all times, refilling his water station, researching and setting up games to play that involve the skills, as well as the time it takes to show him what is expected and encourage him to do it correctly. There are times when outside commitments mean I just can’t take an extra ten minutes to have Hunter help. As I said, I am not strict Montessori, but I think having a grounding in this method is worth it, because those extra minutes of preperation will give me hours off in the future- imagine, a teenage boy who can make his own bed!?! :)

"How does he achieve this independence?  He does it by means of a continuous activity. How does he become free?  By means of constant effort. …we know that development results from activity.  The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences."
-Maria Montessori The Absorbent Mind

Through repeated tasks such a cleaning, my little man is refining his concentration, coordination, independence, and sense of order. These are skills and qualities necessary for any toddler to develop into a capable child, an empowered teen, a valuable member of adult society.

Sandi D

Sunday, 17 November 2013

If a better world isn't possible, how will our children's dreams come true?

Ainda dá Tempo (There is still time) from Ainda da tempo on Vimeo.

If a better world isn't possible, how will our children's dreams come true?

There is still time.

It's a Savage-Darling life

November is flying by as fast as a monster truck. I know this because Hunter is still deep in the throws of his obsession with monster trucks, especially fast ones.

Lee has a couple of Tamiya RC cars, which have been accompanying us on our walks to the park. Even though together they drive like a drunk it is seriously adorable to see my two guys, with their matching concentration faces (tongue poking out), sharing the remote controller- Daddy on the forward and back and Hunter on the left and right toggle sticks.

When Hunter needs a bit of chill out time, he asks to watch monster trucks, which means we trawl YouTube for monster truck jump compilations. And watch them again, and again, and again.

At a recent trip to the oppshop I found Hunter a monster truck toy that drives forward and backwards. Needless to say he loves it. The first night he had it, I had to tuck it in to "bed" on the cushion of his reading chair. When he woke me up the next morning he was crying because he couldn't pull the truck through the cot bars, but didn't want to let the truck go.

Late yesterday afternoon Lee decided to move "ManLand" around, and after his bedtime bath Hunter decided to help him. I could hear them shifting the workbenches around and talking about what each of the tools was used for.  I looked in a little while later to find ManLand in complete disarray, planks of wood leaning on every surface, the two of them building ramps (or "big hills" as Hunter said) for racing toy cars and trucks. 

This morning Hunter greeted me with a smile and the words "big hill!". So today we are back in ManLand, racing cars down the planks again.

There are worse ways to spend a gloomy Sunday.

Sandi D

Saturday, 9 November 2013

The Good Food and Wine Festival

Thanks to some amazing bloggy hook ups Lee, Hunter and I went with some friends to The Good Food and Wine Festival. It was fun, delicious and amazing! So many samples, so much cheese, so much wine. I never realised how many artisans are out here making fine wines, cheeses and other delightful noms.

I was most impressed, but not as impressed as Hunter.

The show is still on tomorrow, so if you're looking for a fun (and delicious) way to spend a day, tickets are $25 available at the door. The price includes all the free samples you can consume.

Big prams are going to be a hinderance as the event gets crowded quickly. Even though we arrived as the doors opened, within an hour it became more and more difficult to navigate through the throng of foodies. Face wipes are a must, as are bibs. Don't bother packing snacks though, there is plenty of fun toddler friendly available, from fresh organic fruit, to tapanades, yoghurts, meats and veg. Hunter loved the stewed fruits, conserves, scones, Maggie Beer icecream- although I wish I hadnt let him have that- not just because I wanted more, but because he doesn't get much refined sugar in his diet and so sleep time was an *ordeal*. Even though there was sleepytime hell to pay for the dietary sins I still recommend the day and will hopefully get to go again next year.

Sandi D

How to revamp old wooden puzzles.

Hunter loves playing with puzzles, so every time I go opp shopping I check to see if there are any in the toy section. Generally speaking, the puzzles one finds secondhand are a bit worse for wear.

I love an opportunity to get a little crafty, so we both get to enjoy the purchase!

Here is the 'before' puzzle- its scratched up and some of the pieces are chipped.

Firstly, gently sand pack all the pieces using a fine grit sandpaper. You don't need to go back to bare wood, you just need to remove as much of the lacquer varnish from the pieces to enable the fresh paint to stick. If the pieces are missing parts, use a little car bog or spacfiller to fill in the gaps. Once dried, sand back to smooth.

Rather than go out and buy new paint, i used what I had at home: basic artists acrylic paint. If you have spray paint or lacquer you can totally use those on wood. Just remember the paint trick: oil based finishes will go over acrylic finishes, but not the other way around.

Having watched Hunter play with this puzzle before the revamp, I knew that he needed a little extra help figuring out where the pieces go. I was just going to paint the insert to match the colour of the puzzle pieces, but then I remembered my collection of origami paper. I went through the pieces, finding patterns in similar hues to the puzzle pieces. A smarter person would have chosen their paper first, and then mixed paint to match...I prefer the idea of the pattern because it is a little bit of abstract extension for his developing mind.

I traced the puzzle pieces directly onto the origami paper, and then fiddled around with tidying the edges to get a snug fit. I found an X-acto knife/scalpel to be invaluable, but scissors worked great too. Using a small amount of wood glue (acid free craft glue) I glued the paper down.

Once dried, I took the base board and the puzzle pieces outside and varnished them, using a spray matte varnish.

I can't wait for Hunter to wake up and play with his 'new' puzzle!

Sandi D

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Backyard Painting With A DIY Toddler Safe Easel

An easel is on Hunter's Christmas Wishlist, but until then I have been using an old coffee table turned on its side with some masking tape to hold the paper up.

It is surprisingly sturdy, and just the right size for a large sheet of butchers paper.

I'm also being thrifty with the paint palette, using the base of an old baby food purée freezing station- but you could also use a muffin tray or an ice cube tray, or even an old egg carton.

I love watching Hunter paint- he has now started telling me stories about what he is painting. He painted some wheels, a cats ears, whiskers and tail and then a spider. 

"Paint me like one of your French girls"
Best of all I love to capture his hand prints- lots of Hunter's art gets used as wrapping paper and stationary but the ones with hand prints get kept for me to weep over when he's fully grown.

Bless this mess,
Sandi D

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Halloween in Brisbane

Halloween MumClub was a great success. The kids loved the playground! 

Halloween at home was not as well planned- we ran out of 'treats' just as the last group came by- next year I'll be sure to pick up more sweets and spooky stickers. The kids that did come by were characterized by exuberant politeness, and $2 shop costumes. I saw a whole bunch of Scream masks and glittery witches! In general the kids that came by were in groups, with parents (and family dogs) dressed up waiting on the footpath. I liked seeing everyone out together, it seemed like they were all having a lot of fun.

Hunter had a great time making Halloween art, and loved wearing my witches hat too, so even though we didn't go trick or treating we still had loads of spooky fun together :)

How was your Halloween? Did you also get bunches of super cute kids knocking for treats?

Trick or treats,
Sandi D
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