Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Pumpkin Scrubbing

Fall is finally here!  It's my favorite season, and one that is perfect for creating seasonal works.  There are many natural materials that you can find at your local farm (or even grocery store), and since they only come around once a year, children are excited to experience them!

No matter where you get your pumpkins, they are sure to have mud caked onto them.  That mud should be cleaned off before you use your pumpkin for display or for a work, so why not allow your toddler to give the pumpkin a bath?  I set up this temporary work on a towel on the floor -- if I lived on a pumpkin farm and had unlimited access to dirty pumpkins, this could be a more permanent work.  I put a spray bottle and a produce scrub brush next to a bin with a dirty pumpkin inside.  The spray bottle is small enough for L to use by herself (although she needs help with aiming it...), and the scrub brush is the perfect size to fit in her hand.  I found the spray bottle in the travel-size toiletry section at Target and the brush at the dollar store.  A fingernail scrubbing brush would be a good size for small hands as well.

When L came down after her bath the other night, I had this all set up for her.  She ran over to see what it was.  I first demonstrated the process by spraying the pumpkin and then scrubbing it a few times with the brush.  L immediately wanted to take part.  L's hands are still pretty small, so she uses both hands to spray the water and is not the best at aiming it at a particular object.  I aimed it for her while she sprayed the pumpkin.  Then she picked up the brush and began scrubbing.  She noticed the dirt coming off and coating the bottom of the bin and pointed at it excitedly  -- she could see the results of her labor.  After she had scrubbed the pumpkin much longer than necessary to create the cleanest pumpkin you've ever seen, we took it out of the bin and dried it on the towel.  L was very proud of her work and carried the pumpkin around for the rest of the night!  We are planning on going to the farm to pick out a big pumpkin for carving this weekend (if Baby #2 decides to stay put until then...), so we will repeat this work with the larger pumpkin then.


Friday, September 25, 2015

Ring Hanging

Most of L's works are in our living room, so I'm trying to branch out and place things in other parts of the house.  When I was in the classroom, I came up with a quick hanging work when I found some hooks that we were just going to throw away.  I decided to recreate the work for L.
I hung some magnetic hooks on our fridge and placed a bowl full of bracelets on a radiator cover across from the fridge.  We call the bracelets "rings" to prevent L from just putting them on like bracelets, and so far that has worked.  When L discovered the bowl one day, I showed her how to hang each ring on a hook.  There are enough rings for each hook to hold three, so the work lasts a while.  When each ring is hung up, she takes them off and puts them back in the bowl.  

This is an easy work to modify as your child gets better at it.  In my classroom, I started the year with the hooks and a basket full of bracelets, like this.  As the year went on, I switched out the bracelets for keychains, which are slightly more difficult to hang on the hooks.  By the end of the year, I had put out bells with a loop of yarn tied to them, the most difficult object to hang.  


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

In and Outs -- Small Holes

A few months ago, L noticed the holes in my mom's crocs and thought they were the coolest thing ever.  She kept trying to stick her fingers in.  I realized that she needed an in and out work with smaller holes, something that would require more control to put the objects into each hole.  One day a few weeks ago, we took a trip to the dollar store -- the Montessori teacher's dream!  When you have a small monthly budget for classroom materials, the dollar store is the place to go for bits and pieces for different works.  I had found some reusable coffee stirrers at Target earlier, so I was searching for something with the perfectly sized holes to put them in.  I found this colander for $1 and snatched it up.

I asked my husband to build a special floor table for this work.  It's simply a low table that the child can kneel beside to do work.  In this case, the work stays at the table -- it does not have a space on the shelf.  That's because this work is rather large and would be difficult for L to carry back and forth easily.  The first time she did it, L was a bit mad that she wasn't allowed to put it away on a shelf, but she quickly caught on.                                                                                                             I placed the coffee stirrers in a basket to the left of the colander.  In Montessori works, everything is placed from left to right, laying the groundwork for reading.  I showed L how to take one coffee stirrer and place it in a hole.  She loves this work and will do it until all the pieces are in place, then remove them one by one and put them back in the basket.  This work teaches hand-eye coordination.  There are quite a few coffee stirrers, and the repetition of placing them in the holes one by one builds focus and concentration.


Friday, September 18, 2015

Object to Object Matching -- Language Basket

Object to object matching is the next step after the nomenclature basket that I wrote about earlier.  L has gotten very good at naming the animals I put in her nomenclature basket, so I added this basket to her language shelf.

 With this basket, you simply put two of each object in, and the child is meant to match each one. Every toddler I've ever met has loved animals, so that is one great type of object to put in any language basket.  Michael's sells small animals by theme in tubes, and every time I go there I check to see if they have any good ones.  I think this particular set is from the "Household Pets" theme.  As with the nomenclature basket, you can name each animal using the three period lesson.  Then you can match the animals that are the same.  The one-to-one correspondence helps with visual discrimination of the objects, and you can also talk about the differences between the animals as your child's language grows.  The next step after this basket would be an object to picture matching work.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Positive Redirection and Natural Consequences to Prevent Tantrums

Toddlers are notorious for their tantrums.  Telling a young child "No" seems to have the opposite effect of the one intended, as toddlers take that as a direct challenge and continue to do the "bad" behavior.

Montessorians take a different approach to discipline.  Rather than telling a child what we don't want them to do, we tell them what we do want them to do -- positive redirection.  Instead of saying, "No running," we say, "Use your walking feet."  Instead of saying "Don't climb on the table," we say, "Put your feet on the floor."  And, for the most part, it works.

With L, this technique does not work in the bathroom.  Sometimes, she goes in the bathroom and begins to misbehave instead of standing to get her diaper changed.  Most of the time, this means she sits down on the floor.  Using the technique above, we would say, "Stand up."  She simply replies, "No."  When the positive redirection technique is not working, it's time to offer choices.  Only two choices, and you must be ok with either option being chosen.  In this circumstance, we say, "Are you going to hold on to the railing or are you going to hold on to the door?"  Bingo.  L feels like she has the control again -- because isn't that what misbehavior and tantrums are all about?  She quickly stands and chooses one of those places to hold on to.

Another Montessori strategy when dealing with misbehavior is to enforce natural consequences.  This isn't a punishment like grounding your child from tv or threatening her with no dessert after dinner.  The consequence must make sense for the offence.  If your child throws her food on the floor during dinner, she must climb down, pick it up, and put it on her plate -- and that means she is all done.  (L is very young.  When this happens with L, we remove her plate from reach for a minute or two, then ask if she is ready to eat again.  When we give it back, she does not throw it on the floor again.)  If she throws her work across the room, she must clean it up and be all done with that work.  If she continues to throw other works across the room, she may no longer choose any work for a while.

When these strategies are used consistently, by all caregivers in the child's life, they are almost foolproof.  There are the occasional times when neither strategy works for L and she explodes into a screaming tantrum.  On those occasions, we ignore her (while still making sure she is safe and not able to hurt herself).  There are no "time-out" chairs or corners.  We haven't reached this level of tantrum yet, but if it ever happens that her flailing around is dangerous to herself or others, we will move her to a "calming spot" that is free of obstacles and offers her a safe place to calm down.

It sometimes possible to defuse a tantrum in the middle of one.  If your child is screaming and carrying on in typical tantrum fashion, change your tone of voice.  Try whispering.  If your child wants to hear what you're saying, she'll have to quiet down in order to hear your whispered words.  Try counting in a low, soothing voice -- usually by the time you get to 20 or 30 the tantrum has eased and the child begins to calm down.  A trick I used when I was a teacher was singing -- if you have a room full of loud, crazy toddlers who won't settle down, begin to softly sing a familiar song.  It's like magic.  The mood in the room instantly changes and everyone quiets down to hear the song.  I'm sure this will work on an individual basis, as well.

Most of all, remember that it's completely normal for toddlers to be acting this way.  They are new to this world, and trying to find their place in it.  Toddlers constantly test boundaries -- they want to know where they stand.  Providing consistent boundaries helps your toddler to feel safe and secure, because she knows what to expect in each situation.

L certainly does her share of testing boundaries and throwing tantrums.  I am lucky enough to have spent many years observing toddlers and being trained in how to deal with them, and it was definitely one of the topics that came up most often when parents asked for help at home.  Each situation is different, and you need to find the strategies that work in those situations to provide your child with a secure environment.


Friday, September 11, 2015

Shapes -- Sorting by Size

You don't always have to spend tons of money on pretty toys or authentic Montessori materials to teach your children the basics.  Many beautiful works can be made with just paper (and a laminator, if you want it to last for a while), and they are just as interesting to young children.  I made this shape work for L as her language is beginning to grow.  She is now saying a lot of words, so I wanted to add some shape and size words to her vocabulary.

I cut out each shape in three different sizes.  We use the words "big," "medium" and "small" to describe each triangle, square, and circle.  In the beginning, this work is good for simply sorting each shape regardless of size.  Once the sorting by shape has been mastered, we can begin to work on laying them out by size as well.  For now, L uses this work to name each shape, and for more practice using a work rug.


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Cleaning with Toddlers

Toddlers love to do what they see their parents doing.  I'm kind of a neat freak, so I have a cleaning schedule for myself with one task to be done each day.  L loves helping out!  I swear I'm not running a sweatshop out of my house -- L is genuinely excited to help me clean the house.  Now, she's only 1 and a half.  Does her cleaning actually produce huge results?  Not really.  But does it help some?  Absolutely.  Especially now that I'm hugely pregnant and cannot reach some places easily.  

If your child shows an interest in whatever you are using to clean with (as long as it's not chemicals...), let her try it out!  I use swiffer sheets to dust, and L has loved that since before she was even 1 year old.  Sometimes she dusts really odd places (like her stomach), but she usually sticks to what she sees me dusting.  

When L was about 14 months old, she saw me using a push broom on our back patio a lot.  She tried using it, too, but it was too long and heavy for her to maneuver, so she got extremely frustrated.  We ran out to Target and found a push broom that is just her size, and she uses it almost every time we go outside.  

When L was about 15 months old, she started being a little scared of the vacuum cleaner.  I thought it might help her fear if she was able to help vacuum, so I showed her how to use a hand-held vacuum.  Now she loves it!  Every time we get out the vacuum (and many other times!), she runs for the hand-held vacuum to help.  My living room floor is looking a lot cleaner these days.

L is also very helpful when it comes to weeding.  Our back patio is made of old stones, and unfortunately there are often weeds growing up between them.  My husband started pulling some of the weeds up while they were outside one day, and L immediately joined in. 

With most of these cleaning tasks, we didn't have to encourage L to join in or set it as a "chore" for her to complete.  She wanted to to do it all by herself, so we let her -- seriously, who would turn down free, happy labor!


Friday, September 4, 2015

Language Photo Cards -- Family

Every morning while I'm getting ready, L explores our bedroom.  My husband has a bunch of loose photos of family and college friends in his nightstand, and L loves to take them out and look at them.  She frequently brings them over to me and points to all the people shown as I tell her who they are.  So I decided to make a more durable work for her involving the same concept.  I printed a bunch of photos from our family vacation this summer, glued them to cardstock, and laminated them so they cannot be easily destroyed.  I put them in a shallow box on her language shelf.  L chooses this work daily, and it is helping her to learn the names of all of our extended family members.  She especially likes the photos where she is pictured with the family member, as well as the large group photos with a lot of different people she recognizes.  When I got my latest ultrasound pictures of Baby #2, L was extremely interested in those, so I added a few to the box.  This is a work that can easily be updated with new pictures, especially once L's baby sister is born.


Tuesday, September 1, 2015


Many of the works that I put out for L are sparked by my observations of what she's interested in and showing a developmental need for.  We've spent a lot of time in the kiddie pool this summer, and I've noticed L pouring water from one container into another.  My nerves are not quite ready to make that an indoor work, so I simply encouraged it when we were outside in the pool or playing with the water bin.  Inside, I put together a dry pouring work that is less messy.

I put a bunch of small bouncy balls into a cup with an empty cup beside it.  That's it.  L will easily spend 10 to 15 minutes with this work, pouring the balls from one cup to another.  Sometimes she misses a cup and the balls spill out.  That's why this work is on a tray with high sides -- the balls stay on the tray and she is easily able to find them all and put them back.  As L continues to get better with this work, I'll soon have to put aside my qualms and construct a water pouring work for her.  For now, I'll stick with the bouncy balls.