Friday, December 9, 2011

Play with your child: A great video clip

A great video! The father is looking at his child, smiling encouragingly, making eye contact, and making up rhymes about what he and his son are singing (plus he uses his son's name in the rhymes). A super example of a non-traditional father and toddler interaction that works out wonderfully.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Monday, November 28, 2011

Montessori and Infants: Topponcino

This nifty secure baby pad is called a topponcino, and it is a Montessori staple for infants after they progress from the Moses basket. After the first three months in the Moses basket, your infant will move to the thin mattress on the floor. At this point, he or she needs only a topponcino, a light cotton pad (shown above) on top of the sheet.

Your infant's room should be kept at a comfortable temperature for his or her small body. Do not use pillows because they are too big and put your child at risk for suffocation.

If anyone makes topponcinos, please do post link in a comment here! We are always looking for good ones to recommend.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Montessori Environments for Infants and Toddlers: How to Handle Chaos

We frequently hear from parents who are trained in Montessori for the Primary class (ages 3-6) that it is impossible to apply Montessori setups and presentations when they work with their own infants and toddlers. All too true! If you do a nice Montessori setup in your home classroom for your infant or young toddler, expect it to be trashed! It's the nature of the child at this age, so we have to adapt.

Here are some tips:

1. Have one or two low shelves in your child's bedroom. On each shelf, put a few books, one or two large pieces of equipment, and a couple toys. Oh, yes, make sure your child can safely climb on the shelves without them tipping over.

2. If you are setting up a home or school room for toddlers, strip down the shelves! If you set the shelves up in typical Montessori Primary class fashion, the contents will be all over the floor in no time. Has this happened already? No need to reprimand your child at this age, just remove items from the shelves when he or she isn't around. Then re-present some of the items -- you can move the shelves a bit, too, so the room doesn't look oddly bare.

3. Infants and young toddlers are too young to learn to work with the mats. You can have one larger carpet (make it thin, so that towers and blocks do not wobble in the shag) in the middle of the room.

4. Put together one nice box or basket with items to explore. Small interesting items can go inside. Make this the only container with lots of small items for now. When your child gets a bit older and starts putting things away regularly, you can add another special box.

5. Keep blocks in a block area with a large box. The box should be more than large enough to hold all the blocks, so your child does not have to figure out how to fit them inside to put them away.

6. Make sure it is easy to put everything away by grouping items on the shelf. Books go on the bookshelf, toys go on the toy shelf, Imbucare material goes on the Imbucare shelf, and so forth.

7. Keep clear floor space for motion! Your child should be able to crawl around the room, roll, scatter blocks, and whatever else might happen without losing things under sofas and damaging anything.

Good luck!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sensorial for Tots: DIY

Photo credit: Bright Tomato Learning in Australia

The Smelling Bottles are a super popular Montessori Sensorial exercise for children in the Primary class.

For younger children, you can use scents and language in an overall experience without any special setup. Select something like cinnamon bark, hold it and sniff it. Now hand it to your child to sniff. Say that it is cinnamon. Put the cinnamon in a small jar with a lid on a low shelf in his or her home classroom or bedroom, so that it can be taken out and enjoyed. Add a new scent the next day. A vanilla bean, nutmeg, chili pepper, basil leaves, dried orange peels, and other different scent objects make wonderful additions to this collection.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Toddler Cooking Project:

We discovered that baking fruit is a wonderful cooking project for toddlers and parents.

What to do:

1. Setup a child-sized table for food preparation. You and your child wash hands (make this a ritual for all food preparation and your child will do it automatically later). Preheat the oven to 350.
2. Have four apples ready.
3. Ask your toddler to take the apples from the bag (or refrigerator or wherever you store them) and wash them.
4. Your child will wash the apples at a child-sized sink.
5. Have a baking dish ready (not a non-stick).
6. Your child can apply butter or olive oil (butter can be spread by hand and oil can be spread with a wooden or plastic spatula).
7. Your child can place the apples in the pan.
8. You put the pan in the oven.

We usually cook the apples until the juices burst the skins because they taste so good that way. This requires about 45 minutes.

The beauty of this project is that the apples do not require any preparation (later, your child can practice cutting, coring, and peeling them).

You take the pan out of the oven. When it is cooled enough, your child can use a large metal spoon and one hand to take each apple out of the pan and place it on a plate for serving. The apples are great eaten plain, or your child can experiment with topping them with Greek yogurt and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Putting Parenting Into Perspective: Notes from a Dragon Mom

Notes from a Dragon Mom, an article by Emily Rapp in the NYTimes, puts most of our usual concerns for our children aside. I have selected a few quotes below to share, and I highly recommend the article for parents and teachers alike.

"MY son, Ronan, looks at me and raises one eyebrow. His eyes are bright and focused. Ronan means “little seal” in Irish and it suits him.

I want to stop here, before the dreadful hitch: my son is 18 months old and will likely die before his third birthday. Ronan was born with Tay-Sachs, a rare genetic disorder. He is slowly regressing into a vegetative state. He’ll become paralyzed, experience seizures, lose all of his senses before he dies. There is no treatment and no cure.

How do you parent without a net, without a future, knowing that you will lose your child, bit by torturous bit?

Depressing? Sure. But not without wisdom, not without a profound understanding of the human experience or without hard-won lessons, forged through grief and helplessness and deeply committed love about how to be not just a mother or a father but how to be human.

...And there’s this: parents who, particularly in this country, are expected to be superhuman, to raise children who outpace all their peers, don’t want to see what we see. The long truth about their children, about themselves: that none of it is forever."

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Creating a Montessori Environment at Home: Electrical Outlets

For those of you who have our Montessori for Infants or Toddlers album, you will have read our section on safety and setup of a Montessori environment at home.

One common problem is the placement of electrical outlets, especially for those of you who need them for lighting (e.g. older houses with no ceiling lights).

A solution that we have found effective is to take a wooden cabinet with locking doors, cut a hole in the back, and put a power strip inside attached to the wall. You can run the cords up through the top of the cabinet to reach what you need. Bolt the cabinet to the wall to make sure it will not tip over -- some toddlers display the most agile of climbing abilities at an early age!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Foreign Language Exposure

We posted a short piece on ourMontessori Mandarin blog regarding bilingual experiences and infants.

The article discusses the usefulness of bilingual exposure in developing and broadening a child's language capabilities.

In the classroom, we try to present basic foreign language material for very young children. For example, try counting in a foreign language, singing a familiar and easy-to-follow children's song or phrase (e.g., good morning, good morning, good Chinese, Spanish, or whatever language you speak).

If you do not feel your language skills are up to par, find someone to spend 30 minutes several times a week, if possible. Some parents put together a small play group and find a Spanish-speaker (in areas where it is easy to find Spanish speakers) at a local college or among the group of parents. You can also find some success in looking for foreign parents who would like a language exchange group -- we have successfully paired Mandarin speaking parents working overseas with English speaking parents, for example.

The language exposure can be super simple. The idea is to introduce your child's brain to the sounds and cadences of another language at this key point in his or her life.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Quick and Dirty Flammability Test for Children's Products

Wanting to avoid chemicals in material, we wanted to use wool insulation at home. I had some wool fleeces, so thought to wash them, soak them in boron (for insects), and felt them for the ceiling. Then we got a few samples of wool for wool insulation vendors...

It occurred to me to test the wool to see if it burned. Sadly, my own washed fleeces burn. Not well, but if you leave a match on them, they do keep burning on their own. The other samples from Oregon Shepard extinguish themselves.

Some time ago, I also tested a natural latex mattress (latex from the rubber tree). It burned too well to want to use it for a child.

So, I'm suggesting holding a match to anything in question. Not that it's the most scientific study, but, hey, it weeds out some contenders. Not that I am suggesting garbing your child in flame retardant soaked chemical clothing. Just sharing what we're doing here.

Ideas? Send 'em along!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Manners: Beyond Please and Thank You

In these early years we set the groundwork for the type of language that our children will use as well as how they will use it. This is where manners and politeness in your child's environment enter the picture.

Starting from the beginning, keep these tips in mind:

1. Use language in front of your child that you would wish him or her to learn. Even if your child is just an infant.

2. The relationship between you and your spouse will be the primary example of appropriate language use that your child learns. Think about the ethics, manners, level of politeness, discussion, ways of disagreeing, and so forth that you would like him or her to learn from you.

3. Speak to your child as if he or she is an intelligent and worthwhile person, and that is what you will receive that the end! Make sure whomever cares for your child in your absence shares this view.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Infant and Toddler Language Development: Naming and Identification

Introduce your child to the names of things and people in his or her environment.

This comes naturally at first. For example, "Mommy" or "Daddy" are easy to introduce.

Other family members and friends can be introduced when your child meets them, too.

Now consciously work to introduce your child to the names of objects in his or her immediate environment. Introduce place names, too, such as "bedroom" and "bathroom". For example, as you carry your infant into a room, you can say, "we are going to the living room."

Introducing the names of foods provides a wonderful opportunity to expand your child's knowledge of objects and the association with their names. Talk about peeling the banana and eating it.

Similarly, as you dress your infant (your toddler should be dressing him or herself), describe what you are doing to include the name of the item of clothing.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Outdoor Practical Life

Try leaf collecting with your toddler or seated infant.

If your child can walk independently, you can provide him or her with a small paper or cloth shopping bag with a handle in which to collect fallen leaves.

You can make your own collection of leaves, too, or, if you are working with more than one child, all the children collect bags of leaves. Then conduct circle time outdoors on the lawn where each child can share his or her collection.

Select at least two or three leaves for identification. Make them easy ones such as maple, birch, and oak. You'll be surprised at how well young children remember these names and their associated shapes! Encourage your child to go and hunt for more of the same.

For a seated infant, you can sit down with him or her outdoors and reach for leaves to examine and put in the bag. If your child is still at a mouth-exploration stage, you can also set this up indoors using fruit and vegetables that can be put into a pan for washing. You can also provide a small pan of water for your child to wash them in. Remember to discuss and name whatever your child is handling -- cucumber, apple, et al.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Practical Life: Carrying for Gross Motor Skill and Coordination Development

As soon as your child can walk, he or she will want to follow you and join in whatever you are doing.

Try introducing a simple carrying exercise as a precursor to more formal Practical Life exercises later.

Here is one idea:
1. When you have a number of things that are light-weight and not breakable to carry, ask your child if he or she would like to help you. For example, carrying towels to the washing machine.
2. Your child can carry the towels one by one and put them in a basket by the washing machine. Towels are great because they do not need to be carried any specific way (unlike, say, a bottle that will spill).
3. You can start with a pile of five or so towels and see how it goes.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Infants and Toddlers: Introducing New Vocabulary for Language Development

If you are using our infant and toddler albums, you will already be talking with your child using natural language and a full vocabulary, not a truncated "baby speak" type of dialog. In this case, it will be easy to integrate new vocabulary.

As September unfolds, use the changing season to introduce new vocabulary in context as you remark on the falling autumn leaves, the beautiful colors of the maple leaves as they turn red, and the shapes of leaves as you and your child gather them.

Take a walk with your child to collect leaves. Your child can collect whatever he or she likes, but you should collect one or two specimens of each type of tree. Take them home for discussion.

Even walking holding an infant, you can embark upon the same rich dialog and introduction of vocabulary. Sit down and let your infant touch and hold the leaves as you talk.

In the first year of Primary class, ages 2 1/2 to 3 1/2, children learn to work with cards and labels that contain the names of the shapes of leaves as well as trees, flowers, and other plants, so this is great preparatory work.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Montessori & Toddlers: No to "No!"

The toddler years can be rough. Our little ones scamper around enjoying the new independence of walking and running as they climb up on everything to explore the world around themselves.

Our job is to nurture this independence and excitement for learning while providing safety. It is relatively easy to do this at home, but what about the outside environment? Cars, public spaces, and other challenges await.

First, start at home. Once your home environment is safe for toddler exploration with the appropriate facilities in child size (bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, and so forth), your toddler can develop good habits to take outside the home.

One key to safety that is easy to overlook is what you say to your child. Make sure you do not give commands such as "No!" as part of your usual interaction with your child. You need to save this command and this tone of voice (we all know that tone of voice, right?!) for an emergency. Your "no!" should stop your child in his or her tracks. Just before he or she darts in front of a car, pulls a pot of boiling water down from the stove, or sticks a knife into an electrical socket.

Practice at home. Now let's try outside.

Here are some tips to start:

1. Let your child walk and explore independently, but when you stop at a crosswalk, you and your child hold hands to cross the street. If your child does not want to hold hands, the street does not get crossed.
2. Say, "We look left, right, and left. And we cross the street." Keep it short and simple. And demonstrate by saying the words as you do the actions. No whining or talking as you two cross the street.
3. Develop a routine for getting into the car and ready to go. Create a checklist and say it aloud with your child. For example, "Sit in the carseat, buckle up, Mommy puts on her seatbelt, and off we go." Sitting in the carseat and buckling up are part of the routine and your child learns that the car doesn't start without these two things.

In between times, try to allow your child the freedom to explore and look around. For example, if he or she is crouching on the ground looking at something, don't let yourself admonish him or her for crouching on the ground. Either join your child or let him or her enjoy the exploration unhindered.

One easy thing to do is to develop the habit of not interrupting your child. It is easy to wonder what your child is doing and call him or her to see what's up. Don't do this. If you must, quietly walk to the room your child is in and take a peek. If all is well, leave without saying anything if you have been unobserved (and especially if your child is absorbed in something).

These simple steps help develop concentration and discipline. More shortly!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Summer Practical Life for Infants and Toddlers: Fruits and Vegetables

Summer is a great season for infants and toddlers. They can roam around unbundled as they creep, crawl, and toddler to explore the out-of-doors.

Here are some ideas for incorporating fruits and vegetables into your child's summer:
1. Grow plants for your child to water, weed, and pick. It is important that they be pesticide free and that you not be upset if the plants bear a bit of bad treatment if your child bites the leaves or whatnot. We suggest growing only edible plants so that your child does not risk poisoning that can happen with occasional decorative plants.
2. Take advantage of growing the fruits and vegetables by showing your child how to pick them and put them into a basket.
3. See our Practical Life post on our general Montessori blog for ideas on incorporating the plants and produce into a variety of exercises.

Infants can handle the produce, and you can show them how to peel or eat the fruit/vegetable. You can show your infant how you take the peeled fruit and prepare it, if it is too big to be bitten from the whole.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Business of Being Born

We just came across this new DVD and the trailer is pretty compelling. The Business of Being Born is a documentary by Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein...more details after we've watched it!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Infants: From Sitting to Standing (2)

As we discussed in our earlier post, it is really important never to help your child stand by pulling or pushing, using artificial props (like bouncy seats), or suspending him or her by the arms/hands.

Thank you to the parent who wrote in stressing the mental development aspect of our discussion, too. Yes, one of the main reasons why we do not help children stand is that their brains need to develop the capacity to control their bodies before the bodies are put in that position.

Balance, coordination, brain development, limb and core strength, and experience are all key factors in your infant's progress from sitting to standing.

By providing ample space for scooting and crawling activities, along with supports (discussed in an earlier post) that your infant can use to help him- or herself stand, we are providing our infants the opportunity to build the brain capacity to allow the body to stand.

Are family members bugging you to "get your baby walking"? Ignore them!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How to Help Your Infant Move

Earlier, we discussed what not to do: Don't provide artificial movement for your child (no bouncy seats, for example), don't hold your child's arms over his or her head to help with walking or standing (bad for brain and body development), and so forth.

But what can you do?


1. Sitting on the floor and letting your infant use your leg as a prop to stand up. Watch in wonder as he or she tries and tries again. Remember not to dive in to help (and no saying, "be careful!")

2. Lie on the floor. Let your infant use you for crawling and propping him or herself up.

3. You can assist an infant on his or her back by holding both of your arms out, so he or she can grasp your hands to pull up. Do not pull your child, but stay stable and still so that you are useful. Let your infant grip your hands as if they were stationary -- leave your fingers closed and curved a bit, so there is a natural grip available.

Have fun and take pictures!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Infants: From Sitting to Standing

Infants are in an amazing state of development as their minds soak in language and knowledge from the world around them.

Physical movement and exploration is one of the most important things for this age group. Creeping and crawling, pulling and pushing, grasping and biting...these all allow our children to explore their surroundings and learn about them in an interactive way.

Infants strive to stand and walk with incredible intensity as this stage of their development is a major milestone.

How can you help?

First, do not physically help your child stand or walk because he or she needs to progress slowly at the pace where his or her body is able to handle the weight of the body and the balancing of this weight when standing or walking. So, if you hold your child's hands, for example, it will prevent him or her from strengthening the muscles involved, and it will hinder balance. Also, holding your child up from his or her arms is an awkward and potentially damaging move (think if someone were to lift you by your arms). Small muscles and connective tissue can be injured in this way.

But you can help by making sure the environment is safe and promotes movement. Your child's bedroom should be completely free of anything that could injure him or her during a fall, and the floor of the bedroom should be comfortable and promote wiggling, crawling, and walking.

More details in our Montessori albums for working with infants and toddlers at home. The samples can be saved to your computer, and you can use the table of contents as a guide starting right now!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Brain-Body Development for Toddlers: DIY Tennis Ball Exercise

Material needed:
One canister of tennis balls with a lid

Make sure the canister does not have sharp edges (some use pop top type aluminum seals).

Open the plastic lid, pour the tennis balls out onto a carpet (a thick carpet or blanket keeps the balls from rolling away), pick up a ball with both hands, and put it back into the container. Do this until the balls are all in the canister. Put the lid on. Ask your toddler, "Would you like open the canister of tennis balls?" (Note that we always use a few useful nouns and verbs).

Let your child play with the canister in whatever way interests him or her. We demonstrate just to give them an idea.

Other materials you can use include an empty oatmeal cylinder and other types of balls, wool felted balls, and so forth.

For everyone who is worrying about infant and toddler material purchase prices, bear in mind that most of the equipment needed in these years can be made at home! The expensive stuff you see for sale increases in quantity each year because it is a fabulous market, not because your child needs all of it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

DIY for Toddlers at Home: Making Music

You can scale down the larger exercise for making musical instruments with empty glass bottles and water to suit toddlers.

Material needed:
One empty glass bottle with a wide mouth (milk bottle, etc)
One small pitcher of water
Tiny teaspoon

Demonstrate pouring the water from the pitcher to the glass bottle, striking the bottle delicately with the spoon, listening to the note, adding more water, striking it again, and then emptying the water into the pitcher. Strike the bottle when it is empty, pour a bit more water in, strike again, and so forth. Your child will be eager to try.

A tip for working with really young children: Make your part of the demonstration short. Then let your child work with the material. Next time, you can show him or her a small extension to the initial exercise. The key point is to show, not tell. (Did you ever have someone try to tell you how to swing a golf club? If that worked, we'd all be pros).

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Montessori Method: Marie Montessori's Own Handbook Online

For all our new readers, I wanted to remind everyone that the classic and timeless handbook written by Maria Montessori herself, The Montessori Method, is free and online. The copyright expired, so The Celebration of Women Writers project volunteered and set it up.

Some of the prose is not as easy to go through as today's works, but it is truly brilliant. I suggest going through it quickly, skimming to find ideas that are useful, and then you will be much more patient wading through the rest of the text. The original was written in Italian a long time ago.

This is one of my favorite paragraphs as Maria Montessori comments on a teacher she is observing:

One day, the children had gathered themselves, laughing and talking, into a circle about a basin of water containing some floating toys. We had in the school a little boy barely two and a half years old. He had been left [Page 92] outside the circle, alone, and it was easy to see that he was filled with intense curiosity. I watched him from a distance with great interest; he first drew near to the other children and tried to force his way among them, but he was not strong enough to do this, and he then stood looking about him. The expression of thought on his little face was intensely interesting. I wish that I had had a camera so that I might have photographed him. His eye lighted upon a little chair, and evidently he made up his mind to place it behind the group of children and then to climb up on it. He began to move toward the chair, his face illuminated with hope, but at that moment the teacher seized him brutally (or, perhaps, she would have said, gently) in her arms, and lifting him up above the heads of the other children showed him the basin of water, saying, "Come, poor little one, you shall see too!"

Undoubtedly the child, seeing the floating toys, did not experience the joy that he was about to feel through conquering the obstacle with his own force. The sight of those objects could be of no advantage to him, while his intelligent efforts would have developed his inner powers. The teacher hindered the child, in this case, from educating himself, without giving him any compensating good in return. The little fellow had been about to feel himself a conqueror, and he found himself held within two imprisoning arms, impotent. The expression of joy, anxiety, and hope, which had interested me so much faded from his face and left on it the stupid expression of the child who knows that others will act for him.

Here is the link to The Montessori Method

Our Montessori curriculum can be found on My Montessori House

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Infants and Toddlers: Touch and Movement

A question we got in following our post about reading aloud to infants asked about what to do if one's infant only wanted to grab and bite the books, not look at them.

Our answer: More grabbing, grasping, creeping, crawling...and more things to gnaw on!

Why? Because your infant or toddler is only responding to what he or she needs at that moment. Your child is too young to reason with because he or she is at that crucial age where needs must be met. By the parents. If your child needs to grasp and bite, he or she will do that. You can help out by providing the environment with more equipment so your infant can do this!

Overall physical movement is also important, so check out our earlier Montessori and infant movement post and think about creating a Montessori infant and toddler bedroom setup with a futon or thin mattress on the floor along with a floor area for activity.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Reading Aloud to Your Infant

One of the best ways to instill a love of reading in your child is to begin reading early and often. Lie on the floor with your infant, hold the book so you can both see the pictures and text, and read aloud.

The books can be picture and word books with interesting pictures that you discuss or storybooks with good stories. Avoid simple phonics books that are constructed for beginning readers -- Run, Jack, Run -- because there is no storyline or point of interest for your child.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Infants and Toddlers: Drinking from Glasses

Banish the image of a sippy (or tippy) cup from your mind! As soon as your child can manage to hold a small sturdy drinking glass, find one that will fit into his or her hand securely. You can use a weighted shot glass, small measuring cup, or other solid glasses that do not tip over.

Clear glass facilitates your child's ability to see the liquid in the glass, making it easier for him or her to begin developing the hand-eye coordination necessary to drink from the glass.

And, save the sippy cup for long car rides (since you have your coffee cup, both of you will have car sippy cups).