Monday, April 30, 2012

Garage Sale Season & Montessori-itis

For a while I was cured of my obsession with garage sales--I went cold turkey.  But when I attended classes to become a Montessori teacher and then opened my own school I had the perfect excuse to start trolling the sales again!

The way that "works" are presented in the classroom requires oodles of trays, a plethora of pitchers, a variety of baskets, a bevy of bowls, a multitude of get the picture.  I recently took photos of some of the things we use around here and realized that I had found a lot of my stuff at garage sales, thrift shops and clearance racks.  I also developed a sixth sense for re-using empty food containers (to the point of being a little weird about it!)

Here are just a few examples.  Beware:  it can be addictive to look at the world through "Montessori Eyes" and think about how you might use someone's old junk in your classroom!

The biggest, longest mat was sold in the clearance bin at Pottery Barn as a table runner.

Empty basmati rice containers are great for storing tons of little pieces (in this case, plastic letters).  

The cheese eaten long ago, this is currently being used to store treats for potty successes!

The larger brie containers are good for CDs and those discs you put in the Viewmasters.

Platform is from an old sushi set, bowls from a sale.

More thrift store finds!

'Nuff said....

After trying many different racks for brooms over the years, this garage sale basket works the best.

The "Opening and Closing" work is a no-brainer.

Happy "Sailing"!  (**Update 10/15/12:  This post has a nice list for you to take with you on your next "hunting" trip:  Molly Makes Do)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

What Kind of Bugs Are These?

Anyone recognize these bugs?  For my birthday the kids worked in the garden and we ended up seeing some neat creatures.  The first is some kind of spider with an egg case--but what kind?

This second creature reminds me of a ladybug larva, but do they have all of these spikey things?  Thanks for your input!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Fun with French: Short Audio Clip and Flashcards

My friend Ellen Green is an amazing mother of five and French teacher.  She whips up these silly short short stories for her 2-year-old student and is sharing them with us.  Let me know what you think!  Comments welcome :)

And here are the flashcards that she made.  Enjoy!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Silence Game

Here's a totally free Practical Life exercise to do at home with your kids.  "The Silence Game" can help you see how far your child is coming in his control of his actions and his movement, but it is also vital to helping him to communicate--with God and with others.  He'll be ready for it when he's learned what silence is, he's able to keep still, and he's developed the will through other Practical Life work.

First I'll share the link about the church where my husband and I were married, because reading it today inspired this post (Thanks, Katie!)  The Backs of People's Heads and Baby Faces: In the Silences of The Heart

1.  Invite the children to make silence in the room (you all may sit).
2.  Draw the curtains or dim the lights and wait until it is so quiet that even very soft sounds can be heard.
3.  Wait for a period of one or two minutes, depending upon the group.
4.  When the time is finished, you may return the lights to a normal level.  Invite the children to share what they heard.

This is actually an incredible exercise of the will and of freedom.  Enjoy!

Freedom and Inner Discipline

Why does it seem like children from the cleanest homes, with the tidiest clothes and hair, are sometimes the worst behaved?  Think "Lord of the Flies."  Once the plane full of English school kids crash-landed they quickly turned into savages.  They weren't civilized once they were removed from civilization.

These are the kinds of things I think about while people watching at the playground, grocery store or school pick-up.  When we see children acting like savages remember what Dr. Ray Guarendi says, "If the cookies come out burnt, do you blame the cookie?"  In other words, how has the child been raised to behave by the adults around him?  Do my children behave like savages when I'm not right there correcting them?

Maria Montessori talked about the interdependence of knowledge and the will.   Liberty is the freedom to choose what is right and good--not evil.  So we need to help small children know what is good and also help them to develop inner discipline and self-control.  The hard part is that it takes so much work on our part!  But it also means that we can develop alongside our children if we try to grow in self control and be good examples.

Montessori believed we need to give children real freedom, including the freedom to make bad choices.

"It's a risk.  In giving freedom we are allowing him to exercise his will within boundaries.  Practice some trust.  Let him do this in a safe environment.  Let him learn about consequences." (from my Philosophy Album, Belmont University)
And that's often where the mess comes in!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Cheap Entertainment!!

Baby Jonathan is in the "dump and fill" stage--he's almost 14 months old.  His smart mommy Liz (we went to Montessori training together) made a Montessori Lite toy out of an empty juice container and wooden clothespins.  "He loved it!  He was occupied for a good 15 minutes," Liz said.  (This is a LONG TIME to us mothers of toddlers!  LOL)

Inspired by this, I saved an empty parmesan cheese container, found some dried lima beans and made our own cheap entertainment for Alleluia.  At 28 months she is strong enough to flip open the plastic lid, put the beans in (one at a time), click it shut and SHAKE SHAKE SHAKE!  At her age she is not so interested in dumping and filling, but it bought us some good quality time after dinner.

A good resource for other Montessori ideas on the cheap is Montessori on a Budget at

Banana Slicing

There are lots of things you do with your toddler every day that, with a little tweaking, can become lessons in independence.  Here Alleluia is slicing a banana to eat.  She's standing on a large, heavy step stool that we love.  There are less expensive, more portable versions out there, too.

To get her started I just sliced through the peel on both ends.  Seems like toddlers enjoy doing this kind of stuff for themselves!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Work? Play? It's All the Same Sometimes....

I wanted to use a new chart I'd just printed from Montessori Print Shop, so I rolled out a mat and got out the Constructive Blue Triangles (you can print those out if you don't own them).

She said, "Train!" and got out a wooden shapes set that's perfect for toddlers.  She loves to make the train by putting rectangles, squares, triangles and circles in the board.  But she also wanted to get out the more advanced version of the train so that the two trains could be friends.

Before long the trains were having a picnic and we were getting all of the wooden shapes out, pretending that each was a different kind of food, and feeding the duckies as well!  Below, the duck is eating snap peas.  I think the hexagons were quesadillas, the small blue squares were blueberries and the yellow diamonds were potato chips.

All of this took about 10 minutes.  We both had fun, we used a lot of language, and Alleluia had a little exposure to the Constructive Blue Triangles.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Crushing Eggshells

Have a mortar & pestle?  We like to save eggshells when we're cooking and baking, let them dry for a day, and then crush them up!  It's a good workout for a toddler to pulverize the shells and add the powder to your favorite potted plant.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

What do YOU do on a rainy day?!?

What do you do when the weather is yucky and your toddler has WAY too much energy? My friend Liz takes her son Jonathan to Whole Foods, gives him a baby cart, and goes shopping. He's 13-months-old now and a good walker, but, "He even loved it before he could walk on his own," she says. "I just put in an apple or something and he's happy."

Personally I've always used the bath tub for water play. I have every water toy in the book! Plus bubbles..........

Please let us know what your survival mechanisms are. :)

"Montessori Lite" When You Don't Have Montessori Stuff

You don't have to have the official "Montessori Stuff," like the Pink Tower or Moveable Alphabet to use Montessori principles at home. Improvise! This week Alleluia and I rolled out a big, long table runner (bought on clearance from Pottery Barn) and used an old DK alphabet kit in a novel way. We pushed out the foam lowercase letters and put them, left to right, along the top of the runner/mat. I said the sound each letter makes as I placed them down and tried to come up with a few words that started with that letter. Then her job was supposed to be to take each capital letter and place it underneath its lowercase match (I think we called them the Mommy and the Baby letters). She was getting bored and restless so she used a little ride-on horsey to get from the letter basket to the mat. There are also small cards with printed letters on one side and a photo of an object that begins with that letter on the other side. We did a few of these before the dog ruined our layout one too many times and Alleluia had had enough!

Any time you can fit in 10 or 15 minutes with your child for something like this is great! At dinnertime tell the family about what you did and give your toddler a chance to "report" to Daddy et al. Your child will feel so proud!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Messes Can Lead to Interesting Surprises

Sometimes science lessons come from simple accidents. When our oldest was 4, he put green food coloring in water and poured it into a wax-coated paper cup. He left it on our back porch, the temperature dropped and gosh were we surprised by the ice formation we saw the next day!

It wasn't a uniform block of green ice at all--instead, it formed what you see in this photo. The ice is transparent with a spherical ball of food coloring in the center. When we tried to repeat this by putting another sample in the freezer we didn't get the same result--we just ended up with a uniformly-colored block of ice.

Why the green blob? We're not really sure. The food coloring contains proplylene glycol, which has a lower freezing point than water. Some food scientists at Ohio State University (where we were at the time) suggested that the food coloring is pushed inward as the water freezes from the outside in. To reproduce this effect, the water must freeze very slowly, as it will if you put it outside when the temperature is only slightly below freezing. So the fact that our oldest put the water outside was the key to this whole phenomenon.

He was always doing silly little "experiments" like this. I like to think that if I hadn't tolerated his little messes he never would have discovered this exciting surprise!


Maria Montessori was a careful observer. Being watchful helps to know what our children need NEXT. When I got out my camera to freeze frame the pincer grasp, I was surprised to see all of the different ways 2-year-old "Alleluia" (she has a nickname now!) picks up these Knobbed Cylinders. Try observing carefully today.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Bugs in the Backyard


If you have a backyard or access to a park, there are lots of living things to grab a toddler's attention--but you may need to patient and vigilant! In just a few hours of puttering around outside yesterday, my girls saw some amazing things. Eight-year-old Peel spotted the ladybug eggs and then the 2-year-old (she doesn't have a nickname yet!) saw the ladybug.

The bunnies have been really active lately and then the caterpillar was a complete surprise--trying to cross the street after nightfall! Before bedtime we looked up some info on the critter. Apparently it will turn into a Giant Leopard Moth with a wingspan of 3 inches! (Yes, we let him go after watching him for a little while.)

You can go in so many directions with a day like this--take photos and make your own flashcards, create a backyard bingo game, put together a nature journal, start a unit on the life cycle of ladybugs, etc.

Re: the photo near the pink peony: I was once told that peonies only open after a bug crawls across the bud. Is that true?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Complicated Cooking

What to do when you don't have the time and energy to make a decent dinner? Get the kids involved. Here 8-year-old "Peel" and 11-year-old "Chop" help make borscht.  We used the  Twelve Months of Monastery Soups cookbook.

Painted Toast

-White bread
-Food coloring
- Cheap plastic paintbrushes
- Small bowls
First, put some milk into each bowl. Then color the milk different colors using the food coloring. Next, take a piece of white bread and paint it with the milk using the paintbrushes. Finally, toast it.
Here's some pictures I took:
Before toasting:
After toasting:

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Easy Science Lesson

Our 14-year-old daughter had to do a project for school that entailed taking a picture of an example of refraction, dispersion, or reflection. The picture was captioned:
This image was made using a pair of glasses. These lenses, which are concave, make images appear smaller by bending light (refraction). The light enters the medium of the glass and slows down.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Kiss the Joy As It Flies By

Our eldest is about to fly the coop to leave for college and our youngest had just started walking well when I took this picture last year. One of the nice things about being "experienced" parents is that you learn what's important and what isn't. You don't waste your time or energy on non-essentials. You appreciate tiny but amazing moments of beauty and joy and you savor them.

If you are a new parent, take the time to get to know several older parents. Watch especially those whose marriages you admire. They may not have homes that are immaculately clean. Their flower beds may be full of weeds (our is!). But I bet they have a sense of humor