the new outdoor kitchenette

After painting the table we originally intended to be the outdoor kitchenette, we declared it was too nice for water and dirt. It is now residing in Elliott’s room, to hold his stereo and books. So we needed a new table, but one that looked just as spiffy. We spent most of the afternoon constructing and painting, while watching over the boys. Sadly, Elliott was in such a funk, we had to ban him from any participation. Lately, he totally disregards instructions and suggestions, yells back at us, and breaks things when angry. Sensing how that could impact a quick construction project or a tidy paint job to get to the actual play, we sent him off to play elsewhere (a few times to his room too).

Mike cut and built, I painted. Oliver created mischief. But by 3:00, we had an outdoor kitchenette.

I decided since we have no intention of introducing dirt to it, at least while we are residing here for the next two months, I cannot really call it a mud kitchen. So with sand, water, and vegetation, it is our outdoor kitchenette. The boys needed no instruction!  Oliver had a cup he filled with water, which he repeatedly had me ‘drink’ from. Elliott set to work on muffins, a cake, and soup. While I missed a photo of it, the boys collecting leaves in their baskets was so sweet. This short time playing refreshed everyone’s attitude. Amazing what a little sand and water in pans can do.

                                    

        

the best day in many days

Today was very full but very satisfying. I was able to forget we were moving and focus on the moment. Despite having a sick fevery boy, I got to get on my bike (after wiping the inch of dust off, hm). Since I have been running the past few weeks, biking felt tremendously good. Normally, I am huffing, mentally beating myself up, and turning back at the first real hill. Today, I felt like I was flying and it was so relaxing to be out riding alone, focused only on how nice the river was, how perfect the wind was, and how I felt taking each hill. Lately the focus has not been about how fast or hard I seem to be running/biking, but my own personal goal setting and breaking. That is so much more satisfying and, ultimately, I perform better.

Later, I ran errands, which normally are less than joyful. And some were not all that fun – give up a little blood, off to discuss ‘issues’ at the sweeper store where I got my new vacuum, return an item elsewhere. But deciding to look at mud kitchen supplies was rather uplifting and exciting. I found some sweet scores at the local Goodwill and, perhaps feeling nice toward me because of the blood donation bandage I was sporting, the clerk made the deals even better with some extra discounts. Wonderful!

We have been admiring the mud kitchens at a few blogs (here, here, and here). I told Elliott as soon as we moved we would set it up. But we are putting a lot on hold here for The Move. When we move we will: live on a farm, get chickens, build a banging wall, make a mud kitchen, get out all the toys we have packed away, get out your work table and tools, and so on. And with many things likely to remain in boxes while we face a possible year in an apartment, I felt tired of saying “when we move”. Plus, I got to enjoy myself finding these treasures and seeing the delight in little boy’s faces.
But the best treasure and surprise for my boys was a little wooden pink table. It was marked $9.99, but the senior discount knocked it down to $7. Elliott has been saving free paint samples we got online – a buttery yellow he picked out – to paint an item all his own. Again, this was something I kept saying we would do soon, once we moved, once we found the right piece of furniture.

When I arrived home, Oliver was in a funk, so I allowed him to dig right in to the giant bag of pots, utensils, and baskets. He was delighted and immediately set to transporting some items right to the mud kitchen. His delight makes me so tickled inside.

 

Elliott jumped in too, forming an attachment to the beeswax pot I got. (Finally, a dedicated pot to melting wax and candle making, which was Elliott’s idea after a visit to Conner Prairie.) He also wanted to organize the shelves and remove stickers to get them ready. It was hard to convince him that tomorrow he would feel more like painting shelves and dipping candles. He was ready to set to work today, fever and all.

 

To put the icing on the cake of a day, my food processor and immersion blender arrived early. Whipped cream for our fruit at dinner and cracker making in the near future made for a very satisfying end to the day. And a little boy’s delight in the packaging was just fantastic.

Now, off to a glass of wine and playing Ticket to Ride with Mike!

consequences of the storm

After Hurricane Elliott (and his playdate friend) rolled through the house, they left in their paths three rooms covered with stuff – kitchenette items here, silkies there, baskets of toys dumped, more mess than I have ever seen. While playing, I had suggested a few times that clean up after said friend left would be hard but his responsibility. But on the storm rolled.

Once his friend left, he was suddenly too tired to clean up and the tears started up. I offered music to aid the clean up process and to help some after I finished my work. But the picking up did not start. Calmly (but pulling out all the tactics), I stated that if he was too tired to clean up, he was too tired for gymnastics with friends tonight, too tired to stay up tonight, and he would no longer have friends over if he could not follow up a playdate with clean up. Then, I see Oliver with beads in mouth as he slipped on a kitchen baking pan. At that point, I lost it and yelled, well, a lot. As I rattled off all the consequences to him again in my loud mama voice, I realized it would not work. Elliott is strong-willed and will drag out something until I go nuts. But I wanted the house picked up NOW. So I decided I could still enforce consequences, but I would keep Oliver safe by picking the items up into boxes. So now four boxes sit in the laundry room and Elliott is starting to realize that not being able to play with any other toys until the mess is cleaned up stinks. He can be stubborn, but at least I have the house picked up and I am not going to go (as) nuts.

In the midst of situations like this, all ideas of how to act or suggestions I have heard seem to go out the window. I am left not knowing if my reaction was the best reaction. If I had not made so many of the toys or liked some of these gifts from friends, I would be inclined to box them up and say good-bye at Goodwill. Not sure that would be an appropriate reaction either.  But at least if I can find a plan that stops me from yelling, it has to be a decent one. I think. Any thoughts?

(To give you an idea of what this near five-year old is like: Just before I cleaned up into the boxes, I said in anger, “You’re not doing ANYTHING else until this mess is cleaned up.” He followed up with “Can I turn on a light? Can I sit down?” … Now, as I write this, he is asking me to pack up more of his stuff and asking if he can just touch his toys… I just might go nuts! Daily, I miss the window for clear calm communications and it is all downhill from there…. But, after posting, I asked him (calmly) to tell me what has happened and why. It is clear he understands and he can detail it out. And the internal screaming starts.)

Take a tour… part five

For the fifth, and final, house tour post, I will start with Elliott’s room. Once Oliver was crawling, we had to find a way to keep him safe from small toys. Elliott learned at a young age some items were not for eating, and I believe Oliver will be quick to figure this out. But right now, everything is sampled and felt with his mouth. Legos posed a real hazard. So once we determined Elliott had long enough legs (with the help of a stool), he got a gate for his room. On the other side of the gate is the stool so Elliott can step over and get in and Oliver cannot walk off with the stool. Oliver loves watching Elliott play and listening to the music from Elliott’s CD player. And I love not  running over every five minutes to supervise. In case you are wondering, we cannot just close the door and have it click shut because of Elliott’s door slamming ‘habit’. To curb that, a few months ago we put thin foam tape along the inner edge. Right now, it does not close completely and, when slammed, it slows down just right!

Elliott’s drawers in his dresser do not allow him to be independent in dressing, so I selected seasonally appropriate clothing and organized it out on his shelves. He has 10-12 long sleeves, 8-10 pairs of pants, 4-5 t-shirts, 2 pairs of shorts, 2-3 sweaters, and a variety of warmer and cooler pajamas. He is able to open his sock and underwear drawer so those remain in the dresser. Because our weather has been all over the place, we still have a mix of clothing. Once winter hits, we will remove the lighter clothing and add more warm choices. For months, this has been a wonderful solution. He has just enough items to choose from and I no longer worry the drawers will fall out on his toes.

Under Elliott’s bed are bins of trucks and cars and stuffed animals. He also has an old stereo to play CDs on, set low for ease of use on a Daddy-made table . This is another big attention grabber for Oliver. He loves buttons, even if it messes up the tune he was dancing to. Yet another reason to keep him at a distance, just watching and dancing by the gate. Elliott has one of our two fish tanks in his room to keep him company and is a very responsible feeder – with a very tiny scoop and tiny container of food. On the Daddy-made Lego table there are always new ‘special’ Lego vehicles being built so it always seems to be rather busy (messy). Next to that is a selection of books, which get changed every month or so. Of course we need a cozy space to read and the guest futon serves nicely for that.

In the laundry room, we keep the child-sized broom, dust mop, swiffer cleaner (easy to adjust to child size by removing middle snap-in section), dust wand, dust mitts, window cleaner, spill cloths, and a small vacuum. These used to be out in the living room, but as furniture was rearranged and Oliver began pulling up, we moved it behind a closed door. These supplies are fabulous… Elliott sweeps his lunch crumbs, washes windows whenever he pleases (typically when we have guests!), and occasionally dusts a few shelves. The best part is that he is completely able to clean up most messes without an adult.

 In the bathroom we have pulled out Oliver’s small potty to begin that fun-filled stage. We started about this same age with Elliott and found that while overall the process took longer, we were daytime dry earlier than typically expected. We followed a lot of the advice found in Diaper Free Before 3. And it was just right for Elliott… he was so proud of himself and eager to take part in learning this life skill. I am hoping for an even smoother transition since Oliver has such a good role model! Not visible are the baskets of underwear, spares for all the changes we will be making each day. The stool pictured is the lower one that Elliott can use now. We are saving the first stool Elliott used, the taller, two-step stool, for when Oliver can be sturdy standing at the sink.

In the corner we have a towel at Elliott and Oliver’s height and the mirror hung low, for checking a goofy grin or brushing teeth. We left one drawer without a child lock for wash cloths and toothbrushing items. Elliott is quite good at washing his own face on nights we skip a bath and is working towards flossing and brushing independence. He wants a little too much personal time though, slamming the door and practically yelling at us if we suggest he needs help. Unfortunately, when it comes to his teeth, he still does need some help flossing or brushing well.

 

Oliver’s room is by far my favorite for lighting. He has four window to see tree branches and our tall grasses swaying. But the winter is harder because it is the coldest room in the house. Aside from his dresser and cabinet (both complete with pinch-free child locks), he has a floor bed, a low book shelf, his walker wall, and his toy shelves which are just below the towering children’s ‘library’. While he is nearly beyond the use of the rail on the walker wall, he delights in himself, walking towards the mirror and laughing. The floor bed has gone as well for him as it did for Elliott. He occasionally stays up to play, but will fall asleep when he is tired. In the morning and after naps, he can easily self-entertain for at least 15 to 30 minutes since he has access to toys and books without any hazards for us to worry about.  Oh, and see that sweet little pillow? Elliott designed it after he saw the one I made for him room. It is an island with volcanos, trees, and a sun. Oliver is so lucky to have a brother like Elliott!

 

It has been fun showing you my home,  a bit of what the boys are up to, and how we try to foster their independence with our home environment. Because of the efforts put forth, I love our cozy little house and the feeling of security I have when we are all home together. I hope your home, whatever kind and wherever it is, makes you feel peaceful together.

 

take a tour… part 4

After seeing a friend’s blog of her home, mine is feeling a wee cluttered. Frankly, it always feels that way to me. Day in and day out I see the items that bug me and nag me. I have all day to fuss over the messes. On one hand you could say we have such busy, full days we have all of it out because we work with all of it. Or we have two children so we have to have so much more stuff out to meet both their needs. Or I am a crummy photographer, not taking nicer simpler pictures. But what you see is what is really there. I wish it were that easy to shift the blame. I know the real reason is because we are often too busy, or lazy, to remove what is underused or what we are completely done with. For instance, in doing this blog post, I was too lazy to take out what we were done with before pictures. I just let it go. I did manage to clear some of our nature table, though it typically has to be spilling over the tray onto the floor before I remind Elliott we should remove a few ‘treasures’. With reluctance, I will continue our house tour, trying to focus on the positives of the space!

Being able to see what my boys are up to with a quick glance is wonderful, making me feel a bit closer and more connected.  And if someone is not visible, they are almost always within ear shot, giving me time to step in if needed or listen and observe from a distance. For this reason, I love our house. From this second living room I can see many directions and hear everything. I can watch children out the back sliding doors or have a wide open area to work and play on the floor. This is where we tend to play board games with Elliott, wrestle around with Oliver, or hang out with friends during playdates.

We have Elliott’s work table and will be bringing Oliver’s smaller, shorter one back in from the garage soon. The upper shelves hold our Montessori materials – the bead materials for mathematics, number rods, geometric shapes cabinet for sensorial work and inset tracing, and the ten boards (more mathematics). On occasion Oliver has begun to notice these items, but I try to keep the more dangerous small beads and materials to the back. We also have out a few shape puzzles for either boy, plenty of plastic Mr. Potato head pieces, and many Schleich animals and dinosaurs for scenes, sorting by continents, or, lately, setting up as family sets across the whole floor. I am so happy Santa thought of these because they are so realistic and beautifully made. They are a favorite for both boys. Under the shelves, and oddly never noticed by Oliver, are boxes of the moveable alphabet and a rug for laying out words.

  

More fragile materials are up higher or pushed back from Oliver here too. I have out the binomial cube, puzzle words and phonetic reading commands, and sequencing puzzles. Sandpaper letters, sandpaper phonograms, and chalkboard had to be lower since they are so heavy, but they do attract little fingers. We have had a few close calls! Below that is a dressing book, shape sorting, container opening (small objects inside the box for Oliver to practice opening) and some wood blocks. The bottom shelves are mostly directed towards Oliver but Elliott is still interested.

While Elliott started learning print at his Montessori school last year, I was trained with showing cursive first. So I had already ordered cursive sandpaper letters and a cursive moveable alphabet while he was learning to print his name. While he is able to recognize the sounds either way for a majority of the letters, he still shows little interest in really wanting to write or read. I am trying not to push anything but only show him something when he seems interested. When interest wanes, I give up for the time being. Working with mom can frustrate him more than I think he would normally get in a classroom setting.

 

 In the hallway we have a frame from Michael Olaf with changeable Bit of Intelligence Cards from The Gentle Revolution Press. I love this frame and the pictures that perfectly fit. Quickly, any time I please, I can slide the current picture out the top and one of the nine others behind it can be the new natural picture or art for the time being. When those 10 have cycled through, I sort through my giant stack to find more. They are lovely images with 10 facts about the pictured scene or item. We have paintings by a variety of artists, leaves, insects, butterflies, musical instruments, and flowers. The boys seem to appreciate the subtle change in the environment and like having lovely images right at their eye level.

Next to the kitchenette we have a large bin of dress up clothing and a puzzle of the United States. While I love our puzzle maps, the World puzzle and North America puzzle had to be hidden in our room because Oliver was eating Asia and all small Central American countries. He has not yet acquired a taste for Rhode Island or Vermont so for the time being we can leave this puzzle out.

If any area is where the clutter is at, it is always the nature table. Elliott is a treasure hunter. Small or large, it makes it way here. Feathers, nests, nuts, leaves, seeds, rocks, shells, squished bugs, butterflies, even found trash all get displayed for a period of time. We also keep arts and crafts on this shelf because we can hide so much in the drawers and cabinets. In the open areas, we have finger knitting, bead stringing, sewing, handmade books on the natural world (life cycle of a seed, land and water forms, how a chick is born), play dough and tools, and a bead craft. Inside the cabinets are markers, pens, pencils, stickers, papers, cards with envelopes, stamps and ink pads, scissors, a stapler, a ruler, tape, glue, a pencil sharpener, any necessary supplies a four-year old needs to make anything crafty. Paper crafting is very important here. Oh, and a mat! This is quite important for the period before something has been mastered (drawing on paper, gluing only on the intended item). All of these items were gradually added to Elliott’s shelves, being introduced one at a time so he had a chance to practice and learn. Typically I even set up each activity with its own supplies. For example, for gluing, I put out a glue stick, small papers to glue, a special mat just for gluing, and large papers to glue on, all contained on a tray. Once shown how to handle the glue, he had everything he needed gathered together so he could practice and gain control, repeating as much as he wanted, but not distracted with all the other craft choices. Once he mastered that, I changed papers, tried new types of glue and then, finally, added glue to his regular crafting supplies. I did this same slow introduction process with cutting work, stickers, stapling, stamping, markers, colored pencils, and painting.

 

 

 

 

* Please note no animals were harmed in the filling of the specimen jars. All specimens collected had already perished. Elliott is just that good at finding dead things outside. Recall the squirrel?

 Next on the tour… the boy’s bedrooms and the bathroom. Oh, the excitement!

take a tour… part 3

In our house we have two rooms that for us serve a very similar purpose, but I suppose could have been very distinct. We have two living  rooms, both available for child’s work and play with only one with chairs for adults. Because our house is small, our office had to move into the space as well when Oliver was born.

While I like the idea of children having space in each room for some items of their own, part of me does wish we had a more open play space (but with a door) so adults could have some peace while imaginative (loud) play occurred. I feel I often have to hush Elliott while Oliver sleeps or try very hard to tune the boys out while I get some of my work done. I love the stories and interesting games, but it can be overwhelming in a small house.

This is our front room, with our fishbowl windows we opted not to cover with curtains. We love to see out and have lots of natural light. So what if everyone sees us at night!   

In this space we have the computer desk, piano, and adult furniture. This left less space for children’s stuff… but we still have a book basket and child’s chair for reading, two open cabinets with baskets of activities, a closed cabinet with many puzzles and games, and a large play table for playing house/farm (or trains if the mood suits us to switch it).

 

The activities on the shelves these days: a basket of small toddler mouth-friendly toys, a musical piano, musical bells, a big bin of musical instruments, and children’s CDs on a low shelf (available for Elliott only, behind a cabinet door).

We also have out a wooden animal memory game (or picture cards for Oliver), a natural items basket (with shells, household items, pinecones, rocks, various fabrics), plastic art sculpture making toy, a race car track, a musical peacock, soft blocks, play silks, and a jack in the box. Oh, and a cabinet with puzzles and games. So as you can see, there was only a little space for children’s stuff in this room!

Truthfully, this amount feels overwhelming to me some days. I have found one thing though to help keep my children’s interest in books, toys and games high, but the clutter to a minimum for me. I have a large storage closet. As Elliott out grows something, I save it for Oliver. If Oliver is bored with the alligator pull toy, I bring out the rabbit pull toy from Grandma. If Elliott mastered the 8 sets of sequencing puzzles on the shelf, I add a few new ones in to the mix. If we have too much out, some items go up. And sometimes, we donate. I have a constant rotation of items or pieces to add to make something more interesting or more challenging. For this age, having less out but in an organized manner allows them to have engaging periods of play because all the pieces of an item are there, ready to use and the amount is not overwhelming. They are also able to be successful cleaning it up because the toy has a clear space on the shelf. The biggest challenge to this system is bringing out new seasonally appropriate books and engaging toys. It takes time to change what is out on the shelves, especially when I have an eager helper. Elliott is very capable at helping by bringing items we agree to remove and selecting new ones to put out, but it does take that much longer. He needs time to mull over the choices and suggest/debate with me about what he thinks Oliver would like!

Tomorrow I will follow-up with our other living room space, an area where we keep more of the Montessori materials and nature items.

take a tour… part 2

 

Welcome to our dining room and kitchen. Since we ran out of space in our actual kitchen cabinets, we use a pantry for all dry non-perishables. Our clear glass Ikea cabinet has it good points and bad points… On one hand the boys can see the snacks they want and make a choice. On the other, the boys can see the snacks they want. This has led us to discuss healthy choices and unhealthy choices for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack time… time and time again. It has also led the boys to throw tantrums on occasion when they cannot have whatever their eye desires. (Yes, I realize I could just not stock it with goodies, but then Mommy would not have as many goodies. And sometimes, goodies are just good!)

Our dining table is also from Ikea. The chairs for the boys are both Stokke and we love these high chairs. We opted to use only the baby rail, not the straps. But once they figured out how to pull a leg out to try to get out, we have had to spend many a meal reinforcing staying seated or leaving the chair. It has felt harsh with Oliver at only 13 months to remind him a few times and then remove him for a minute while he screams on the floor, wanting to eat. But in 2-3 weeks the issue no longer seems to be an issue. He understands in some way what has happened. Eventually, the rail is removed and they learn how to get up and down in the chair from a very young age. For the first few months when this first happened for Elliott, it was a confidence boost 4-5 times a day when I could ask him to get himself seated at the table for a bite to eat.

If you notice in the picture we have two trash cans. Here in Muncie, you have a regular trash bag and then a bag for all recyclables. While that makes it easier to explain to Elliott about sorting since there are only two choices, what exactly goes where has been harder. I finally made a sign and taped it inside the lid with web images of all of the recyclables (newspaper, foil, glass bottles, aluminum cans, yogurt cup, and the actual recycle logo). Google image searches gave so many choices. For an older child who has trouble remembering, a written note might be helpful.  

 In our kitchen we use the learning tower to allow Elliott to reach the counter top to help measure, pour, mix, or just observe. He is now able to move it on his own and, since he can reach the dog biscuit jar, is now sole supplier of treats to Addison, our dog. Needless to say, she loves him!

 Soon Oliver will be up with Elliott. It will be a little tight with both in the tower together, but Elliott could easily stand on a stool now if needed.

Our kitchen is not ultra small like our apartment in Boston was, but it is also not grand and full of cabinet space. For that reason, real estate was at a premium and only one low cabinet could be given to the boys. It appears to be a bit cluttered, but Elliott is wonderful at maintaining the order.

Having even one cabinet has been wonderful though. If you do not think you can devote a whole cabinet in your kitchen, please find a drawer or small space somewhere. With access to a plate, a bowl, a cup, napkins, and utensils, the child can set their own place at the table, preparing their own snack even, if water and snacks are available. They are also able to put away their own items when helping with clean dishes. This is an example of the water and food set up we were doing for Elliott a few months back. While we abandoned some of the snack layout, the beverage pitchers are still the same. Many, many, many times I am so busy, I send Elliott to get his own drink and foods. Relief for mommy, independence for Elliott. He has gotten so independent lately that he has taken to setting his breakfast place and selecting his cereal before my husband even makes it to the kitchen. I only wish he could reach our plates and bowls. I feel he would like to help even more without having to wait for a parent. With another inch of growth, he should be able to reach from the learning tower very soon!

Thanks for coming along tonight… I will be back shortly for a tour of our living room and some of the activities currently available on our shelves for little hands.

come with me, take a tour… part 1

I would like to invite you on a tour to show you parts of my home. It is my interpretation of the Montessori method applied to the home environment. It is my attempt to raise my children in an environment that will allow them be more independent. It is not the most ideal home or the most ideal set up, but it is what we have found suits our family and our needs at the moment. And for anyone looking to give their child or children more independence in the home, it is really about what suits your whole family. If you have toddling twins, but also older children, it is likely you will not want certain activities within the little ones reach for your sanity. More activities may be in cabinets, out of sight but hopefully not out of mind for the older children. Or if you have only one young child, you may have less on your shelves, as not to overwhelm them with choices. Additionally, as a child masters some skill, say the ability to fill water from the bathroom sink and can be trusted to do so, then a water pitcher on the shelf is no longer necessary. As Elliott grew and as he welcomed his baby brother Oliver, the houses we have lived in have shifted for their needs. And it was not just putting on potty locks or moving the cactus. New activities have come out to match their needs and interests, furniture has moved to make it easier for an adult to safely supervise without interfering, whole cabinets rearranged to make space for children’s items.

But I believe that the biggest factor to making your home more attuned to your child’s need for independence is one’s attitude towards the child’s independence. And of course, this is the biggest challenge. We all say and truly believe we want our child to be independent and capable, working to the best of their abilities. But it takes time and patience, something many of us, including me, lack enough of. When I am wrestling the boys into socks, shoes, coats and hats on these cooler fall days, I keep telling myself to give Elliott time to practice his socks, the one tricky thing for him these days. Oliver forces me to allow him to participate. He now juts his foot out when on his stool getting on socks and shoes. He wants to do what he is capable of and he is helping as much as he can.

Our children need time to be shown how to do something and time to practice that skill – without criticism, without constant ‘helpful’ comments, without actual help unless asked by the child. Once mastered, they need the opportunity to use those skills to participate in the home. Though I know this, it is a constant struggle to me every single day. I can set out new activities, I can show Elliott patiently how something works, but in the stress of being with two children under the age of five, I can lose my cool very quickly with yet another water spill or when we need to try the zipper for the 10th time. So please recognize that setting up the home environment is just one step in the process to allowing your child to grow and learn according to their needs and abilities.

Because I will just have to add my commentary to my home, I will spread the tour out over a few days. To begin, step into our backyard.

 

From the back door, I can see the boys playing in their house, in their garden/mud/construction pit, in the sandbox, or by the swings. There is hard concrete for chalk and lately, Elliott’s massive sweeping project in effort to control the leaves. In the garage, we have two large set of shelves with outdoor balls, trucks, sand toys, bug collecting containers, bubble solution, chalk, and children’s garden equipment. Elliott also has a workshop table with tools and wood for a variety of woodworking activities. As an example of adapting, we did move this to be in an adult’s eye sight after a few wild episodes with the hammer and plastic containers! Our backyard is contained on three sides by fence. Since working with Elliott from a very young age, he has learned he cannot leave the back without an adult. Oliver is now starting to explore the backyard more independently so I know soon we will be using short phrases and reminders to keep him back when we absolutely cannot go up front. In our front yard is our garden and most of our flower beds, so it is a big draw. Plus, Oliver loves to walk down the driveway, right into the road. He has places to go.

 

In order to go outside, we have set up coat hooks and a shoe rack right by the back door. With all the rain coats and winter coats and light jackets, the coat hooks were so full I could not bring myself to take a picture of the mess, so I will just tell you that we have adult height hooks and child height hooks. This allows Elliott to hang and remove his own coat and little bags whenever he needs them. Below the coats we have a few pairs of shoes per person. Additionally, each person has a bin to hold their own hats, mittens, glasses, slippers, or other odds and ends. To have everything right there has made getting out the door easier. I can observe and help Elliott gather his gear and dress himself while dressing Oliver and myself. Over the past two years, Elliott has had time to practice and master putting on his shoes, velcroing his shoes, putting on his coat, zipping his coat, putting on a hat, putting on snow pants, putting on mittens, and putting on gloves. All that remains is socks. Those darn socks! Because as adults these skills seem so basic and now innate, it can be hard to trudge through each learning period. But when you see it all click for your child and they suddenly just know, it is amazing and can be such a sweet joy for them and you. And you can hope that what they remember is that self-satisfaction. There will be no external criticism or impatience along the way for them to remember, right?

I will be back soon to continue the tour with more pictures. Our house is not large, but this post is!

follow up on the yelling

We let the yelling jar go a bit beyond a week, to fall on a day of the week when we could fulfill the counting and family activity together as a family – a Sunday. To recap what we are doing, visit this post.

Total counts for the first week:

big E – – 19

mama – – 7

daddy – – 6

We found we had to find a way to throw a few extra stones in for Mike since he is gone during the day time. Even with the amount we decided to add in, he still came out with less. He decided we would play bocce ball on the front lawn, since little O desperately needed to get to bed. Next week I hope we can make sure we can all really be present and little O is not just known as part of the family by his snoring over the moniter!

Some things we noticed this week…

– Big E was quite honest and willing to admit when he had been yelling and to put in his stones. He even was willing to admit he had not calmed down and yelled repeatedly, so he put in two stones. (He actually said he should put in five or six, but I let that slide.)

– I also noticed that because big E would remind me that I was yelling, I was quicker to calm down, recognize I needed to rephrase, and felt better finding a way to change my reaction.

– Putting stones in for yelling did not change overall general nasty remarks or snippiness. As long as we were not yelling it, we had to let it slide, atleast for now. That may be what comes next for this family.

I realize that this is the first week so we were trying hard and really felt accountable. We will see what next week holds. Big E did seem to want to do better. Maybe there is hope.

sound it out

From birth to age six, language is an area of great and rapid development for children. You might know that to be obvious, if you have a baby or been around one. We babble and coo and talk to our infants, waiting for that special first word. All that time they are learning as they listen. But once a child starts to speak and reaches the milestone of the first word and the first sentence, it is easy to forget the importance of language in a child’s life. Often, we are jumping ahead to a big milestone: reading. 

But in between there is plenty of growth and learning happening – pronunciation, proper use of pronouns and verb tense, vocabulary enrichment, and verbal story telling to name a few. Reading to your child is a wonderful way to aid your child’s developement, and is fairly well understood. We all know reading to children is important, so by all means, keep it up. But letting a child learn to express themselves and express their ideas often is also wonderful tool for letting them practice language skills and develop their own ideas. This is an important foundation to learning to read other people’s thoughts and ideas in books. A major principle in the area of language in a Montessori environment is let a child learn to express their own thoughts first, through oral and written language. Then, as they discover they can read what they wrote, they can begin to read other people’s ideas. After they know their own thoughts and have sufficient practice, they can grasp what other people have to say.

Ideally this should be a smooth, fun-filled journey of discovery for the child, one without worksheets and hounding a child to practice writing or reading. Obviously, this is not always the case. One was to make learning about language more fun is to play sound games. In the Montessori classroom, a teacher would have a box with small objects, such as a coin, a small bag, a replica of a turtle, any object that is easy to manipulate and easy to recognize. The teacher would remove three objects and carefully name the beginning sounds for the child. The child could try it if they wanted. The home environment will differ in how you present this material. At home with my son, we would go through as many as he wanted to do, initially doing the beginning sounds. Later, we tried to name just the ending sound. After beginning and ending sounds is trying to identify middle sounds. This is one activity that helps lead to a child who can use phonetics to sound out words to write. In the Montessori classroom, this would be with the moveable alphabet. At home, it might be with an alphabet or with a pencil. What makes this game so much fun at home is the box is filled with so many captivating small objects the child is eager to look them all over. It is great when the child makes the leap to realize they can name any beginning sound with all the household objects around them, moving beyond the box.

This is when another game can be introduced – around the house, on the road, waiting in the doctor’s office. It is basically I Spy but with beginning or ending sounds. This is for the child that has a good grasp of the sounds and familiar with I Spy in another format (items with certain colors or shapes, etc). If you are not familiar with I Spy, an example would be “I spy with my little eye something that starts with a ‘tuh” (t for table, in this example). The child is then invited to look around and make a guess. Then they can take a turn spying with their little eye while you guess.

All this sound work lays a foundation for the beginning of writing phonetically. Playing the games gives a child the sound, not the name, of the letter. Rules of spelling and complex words will come later. To encourage an eager writer, and later reader, sounding out is the best and easiest start.

Below is a list of the words to help you with the sound a letter makes. Of course this is not true in all words, but that comes later. These are the most common sounds for the letters and what will aid in writing and reading. Since most children are likely to learn the ABC song, and hear others around them refer to letters by their name, we find it easiest to clarify that all letters have names and sounds. To explain this to big E when someone watched him write his name and said “Nice E!” I said “Your name begins with the sound ‘eh’. The letter’s name is ‘ee’.” Problem solved!

When saying a sound do not include the vowel sound after it. Isolate the initial sound. This is a list for showing the sound at the beginning of the word. (This list is also available on the left sidebar as a page by itself.)

a= apple

b= bag

c= cup

d= dog

e= egg

f= frog

g= gap

h= hum

i= igloo

j= jump

k= king

l= lamp

m= mom

n= nut

o= octopus

p= pig

q= queen

r= rabbit

s= sun

t= top

u= up

v= vest

w= winter

x= box (end or middle sound)

y= yarn

z= zebra

I hope this can jump-start some fun language games at your home or on a long (or short) car ride. Many more ideas are available in books about doing Montessori education in the home if you are wanting to do more with your child, whether it is in language, mathematics or just setting up a home environment with their needs in mind.

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