Since Ryann has been able to walk I’ve dabbled in creating spaces for her in the kitchen. At one point she had a cupboard for her snacks and dishes but I wasn’t very good about keeping her snacks stocked and she rarely used it.
We moved into a new house in July and I’m just now getting a handle on how to approach her space in the kitchen.
I bought cheap, clear plastic bins to hold her snack foods. She still has access to the entire refrigerator and pantry, I don’t think keeping something as basic as food off-limits is very Montessori, but this gives her some ownership of “her” food and helps her choose what she wants to eat for snack. She has two boxes in the refrigerator, one with food and the other with drinks. And another box in the pantry for dry goods. I may add another pantry box, but it might get too overwhelming for her.
Currently, her snack boxes look like this:
Drinks: Vanilla milk, Tropical Punch Capri Sun
Refrigerated snacks: Cottage cheese cups, sliced apples, string cheese
Pantry snacks: Pringles, applesauce, pineapple fruit cups, fruit rollups
These are the normal choices she has for her lunches as well. So the snack boxes organize the sides for her lunch so she is less overwhelmed by what to choose. Usually when I ask her to help me pack her lunch she quickly asks me to pick for her. But tonight she could easily pick a couple sides to go with her macaroni and cheese.
Next I need to find a way to put her dishes down where she can reach. I will update when I piece the rest of the kitchen organization together. For now, how do you help your child’s independence in the kitchen? Add your experiences in the comments.
Every summer I feel like the school year looms out in the distance, suddenly coming into focus far too late to properly prepare. Ryann’s school year starts right after labor day and I already feel behind in preparing. We both need time to get used to the idea. She will be in her third year of primary and it’s hard to think of my little girl as being so big.
School marks the end of summer too. Days filled with swimming and flip flops and shorts turn into school dresses and cute shoes and sweatshirts at night. I’m not ready for that either. Every time I open Ryann’s closet another round of clothing has been outgrown and I haven’t been able to keep up. As of last week, Ryann had three (or maybe four) pairs of sandals and not one pair of shoes that required socks. And buying new shoes is always a hassle.
I spend a lot of time looking for shoes with laces that tie and buckles that buckle. Unfortunately, they are few and far between. Instead traded for velcro and slip ons. On one hand you can appreciate the kid-friendly nature of it. Most young children don’t have the dexterity to tie laces and buckle straps and everyone gets to get out the door faster without them. And a child that puts on their own shoes gets a higher level of autonomy and accomplishment. But when you really think about it, velcro is not kid-friendly at all. It’s adult friendly. It requires the least amount of patience and help from the adults in the child’s life. Kids are rarely burdened by the arduousness of a task, they revel in taking forever to get out the door in the morning. Velcro and stretchy shoes keep up with an adult’s pace, not a child’s.
Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it, searching stores for working laces and straps, having to choose among a couple ugly options when the world has different ideas. Am I clinging to the past, giving up on advancement? After all, looking into my own closet I only have one pair of shoes with laces. None have buckles. And I would say only two require any effort to put on. Ryann could conceivably never have to tie a shoe and live a perfectly normal life. Maybe the adult pace is the child’s pace too.
But like so many things, tying a shoe is not just tying a shoe. It is a sense of accomplishment. It is goal-setting. It is working diligently on a task. It is having pride in your work. It is fine motor function. It is self care. It is part of what Montessori is all about. And without a pair of shoes to tie, what is the point of learning it? Where is the real world application of the skills learned at school?
So I continue my search for shiny, red Mary Jane shoes that buckle, with real buckles. And gym shoes with real laces that don’t stretch to receive a foot. I don’t always succeed, to be honest. Ryann has plenty of slip on and velcro options in her closet. But I think it’s important to try and teach the value of a buckle and the skill it takes to fasten it.
Now, no two-year-old I know is going to organize your sock drawer (in any way you might call organized) or alphabetize your CDs, but that down and dirty deep clean you’ve been putting off all winter? Little kids have you covered.
Last week (yes, last week, it takes me awhile to formulate posts) we spring cleaned our bathroom. I had been meaning to do it for a few days, putting it off because I thought Ryann would need to be asleep or at her dad’s before I could do any “serious” cleaning. I had already cleaned out the bathroom cabinets a week earlier, a little at a time, but how would I clean the tub and mop the floor with a “helper?” I had previously tried to scrub the kitchen floor with her help. I tried to have her watch how I did it: Dip a sponge in soapy water (Dr. Bronner’s soap and baking soda is my magic cleaner), wring it out, and clean small sections at a time. This ended with one small section of clean floor, a large puddle (I thought I added so very little water too) and a very hyper, very slippery little girl.
I was trying to think of how to include Ryann in my cleaning while still allowing her to explore the tools on her own terms and not drive me batty. Then it hit me — the bathtub! She could wash the bathtub, while IN the bathtub to contain messes, and I could wash the rest of the bathroom. And this is what we did. It was a great success. She had plenty of freedom to play with the soapy water bucket and after a few minutes she asked me to show her how to wring out the water and all the things I had tried to show her before to great frustration.
The only downside was that she didn’t want to stop. Ever. I had every. single. surface. clean and she still wanted more! Unfortunately, her work was long done, in reality and in her ability, so spring cleaning turned into a bit of a mess. She threw quite the tantrum. Which I ended by suggesting a game of Memory. I’ve realized that Ryann has a hard time realizing when she is done with an activity and often drags it on until she is miserable. So when the Memory game reached a logical conclusion I firmly suggested she stop and things went much better. Observation is such a powerful parenting tool!
Beauty, order, reality, simplicity and accessibility.
Children must be given freedom to work and move around within suitable guidelines that enable them to act as part of a social group.
Children should be provided with specifically designed materials which help them to explore their world and enable them to develop essential cognitive skills.
Mixed age groups (eg. three to six, six to nine, nine to twelve) encourage all children to develop their personalities socially and intellectually at their own pace.
All of these things are easily accomplished at home. As a family with both children and adults, you already have a household of mixed age groups that your Montessori child can learn from even though it might not be the age groups as outlined above. Sometimes you just have to work with what you have
If your home doesn’t already have beauty, order, reality, simplicity and accessibility for you, it should! We all want these things in our homes and we should expand this to an awareness of how our children experience the space as well. Keep your house well organized, clean and don’t collect a lot of stuff that will interfere with the simplicity and beauty of your home. It should be easy for your child to understand how to run your household and to be able to emulate your routines. To be honest, this is an area I have a hard time with. I have a tendency to let things pile up (mail, work, toys) and I don’t always have an orderly place for everything I use regularly. Ryann has too many toys (still, I’m trying!) and it’s hard for her to understand where they all go, and there are too many to keep in an orderly fashion. The goal here isn’t a minimalist household, but an organized and easy to use household that everyone can appreciate.
Freedom of movement can be a challenge depending on the age of the child. When they are young, you really must babyproof everything and not rely on restrictive playpens and baby gates to keep them away from danger. Instead of keeping toddlers out of the kitchen and bathroom, keep safe supplies down low and dangerous things up high. This will likely take rearranging over time as the child’s skills change. I kept a lot of my low drawers in the kitchen and bathroom empty until Ryann got past the dump everything stage. You want to create a “yes” environment, where the child can touch and interact with everything within their reach. So if it’s not dangerous, they should be able to use it. If they can’t use it, teach them!
Finally, we get to the specifically designed materials. This is where the low table, child-sized brooms, little cups and saucers and the like come into play. Everything that you use every day should be accessible to your child in a size that is easy for them to manipulate. This isn’t always possible at home with each and every item, but it is important to try and make it as easy as possible for your child to do things for themselves. Keep their dishes, food, toothbrushes, clothes, coats, etc. in easy to reach places. Keep a stool or two handy so the child can reach the sinks and counters without any restrictions. Ryann has a stool her Grandpa made her a couple Christmas’s ago and it is used many, many times a day. Unfortunately, it is not quite tall enough for the kitchen sink and I haven’t found one that is other than the Little Partners Learning Tower, which is (more than) a little out of my price range.
My house is far from perfect, but I do strive towards all these things and have even before I started researching Montessori schooling. It just seems right to include my daughter in everything I do. As a result I have a fully capable, independent child who sees accessibility problems as the highest form of injustice.
I’m at that stage of organizing when you sit down for a break and are looking out at a sea of STUFF you have no idea what to do with or how so much STUFF got in your house to begin with. This is kind of a mandatory decluttering because I am signed up for a booth at a mom to mom sale next weekend and time is running out to gather my wares. I have great plans to simplify Ryann’s things, but looking out at this sea of toys it’s hard to know what is necessary and what is not.
The short answer, of course, is that none of it is necessary. Kids have just as much fun with a cardboard box and a bit of string as they do with any plastic, light up, talking toy you could buy. Even so, I find it hard to suppress the consumer in me and forgo all the fun stuff. And once it’s in the house it is well-loved. The problem I have currently is that there is so much of it. It is impossible to treat so many objects with care, to keep them neat and organized. Last night I was reading this page from Montessori World and this passage spoke to me:
Children of this age like order. They make a great effort to remember where everything is kept and to return things to their right places after using them. Making this effort is an exercise for the mind. The children need to be observant. They must memorize the environment. They must be aware when something is out of place. If the environment contains too many things, they cannot do this; there is too much to remember. If the environment is cluttered with materials, it is too confusing. There is too much choice and the children do not work well. In a good classroom, there is everything necessary for the development of the children using the room, but very little else.
Obviously, if too many materials is confusing, too many toys would be just as confusing. If I barely know how to take care of them, how is my two year old supposed to know?
Clearing out the clutter will likely take me all week. Each pass through the house clears out more things, but I’m finding it very hard. Because everything has a story and a memory and a use… it’s hard to let go.
While simplifying I always think of new ways to reorganize our space. I realized this morning that we need a new place for Ryann’s books. The built-in shelves I’m using now would be better suited for toys and the books should have a more prominent place in the room. This means we need a new bookcase and even though I have made multiple pacts with myself to stop buying particle board furniture, I found myself perusing the Sauder knock-off isle at Target today. Particle board doesn’t last as long or look as good and offgases more than real wood furniture, so why buy it? Because it’s $20 a bookcase at Target, that’s why, and it’s hard to pass up! I kept my promise to myself today though, and decided to at least look at a couple second-hand places before buying another short term solution. And then I think, if I just followed through on decluttering I probably wouldn’t need another bookcase at all.