natural materials for learning


My little one was completely smitten with this small wooden vessel that I thrifted for $2. Right away he placed it on the table in front of him, out of the wrapped paper, and pulled off the lid. He looked inside, and actually pretended to pick something up out of it, then looked at me. I laughed inside because I knew what he was thinking, "uh mama shouldn't there be something inside? or no just imagine?" I asked him if he wanted to place something inside. He answered "uh huh, yes!" with a smile. So I cut a few stickers and handed them to him. He placed them inside and then proceeded to open and close and carry the vessel around, looking carefully inside at the stickers each time. He would sometimes remove all of them and place them on the table, then again one by one return them to their storage. This will be a fun item to add to the Montessori space I am putting together for him at home. It is a great way to exercise fine motor skills in grasping the small lid and placing it carefully onto the bowl. Inside it might house something to count.

This reminded me of how little ones tend to love the box that the toy comes in or the pots and pans that are in your kitchen versus the toy ones.  My boys have always been fascinated with a small jewelry box that sits on my nightstand. It is often the unexpected item or the item that you use as an adult that becomes of interest to the child. Obviously not everything in our home is play worthy or safe for a toddler, but it might be a surprise what you could find. Something as simple as a wooden vessel could spark curiosity. I figure if his interest is fleeting, it only cost me $2 and can serve other purposes. We all know toys and educational supplies can top that in cost, even a box of washable crayons is double the price.

And look how perfectly the small vessel fits into those baby hands!




My Montessori Experience

What I love about Montessori is based mostly on my own personal experience. I went to Montessori for the pre-primary years (ages 2.5-5) and then back again for 2nd grade. My two older boys attended for three years each as well. Some of my favorite parts of the Montessori method include: working with simple, natural materials in a prepared, child-sized environment, and having the freedom for a small child to move about the space and learn at their own pace.  This setting fosters independence, and promotes the care and beauty of a learning space.  The lack of sensory overload encourages the importance of concentration, as the child develops an awareness of community and learning practical life skills. I see bits of Montessori style learning everywhere, not just in the school classrooms. I see people pinning on Pinterest ideas to teach their children practical life skills, like tying their own shoelaces and buttoning their own coats (reminding me of how I practiced this skill as a preschooler on the dressing frames). There is an obvious trend towards more natural toys made of wood, instead of plastic as well. I see many pins and blog posts about creating play spaces with a more clean, uncluttered aesthetic.  I like that some mainstream schools are even adopting more student-driven learning through projects, exercising the curiosity and creativity in every student. There are so many ideas and examples out there and I find it all very exciting.

My first memory of my Montessori experience was gardening. I was in a beautiful Montessori space (a school in Yellow Springs, OH) that had a small vegetable garden. As a young 3 year old,  I began planting and harvesting the vegetables with my peers. We would serve fresh garden peas, radishes and other vegetables that we picked for a snack. I remember setting the snack table with real, heavy dishes like at home. I remember these same familiar materials that my children used when in their pre-primary years. One of my favorite lessons in elementary class was learning all the different flags from around the world. The flags were arranged on wooden stands, along with dolls from each country. I remember being able to work on a special project about a specific country I was interested in, doing my own research and self-directed learning. It was a beautiful way to learn.

My baby will be two this winter, and I am starting to see that switch from playing with toys at random, to more purposeful play, like working on puzzles, flipping through books and pretend play with animals. I've also been wanting to tidy up our 3rd floor family room to be a little more functional for everyone. Right now he has toys in baskets and boxes, and there is no organization. I spent some time last week sorting through the toys and packing away the baby toys, the ones I know he doesn't play with anymore. I was honestly sad to see his soft infant toys packed up. (tears)

Preparing the Montessori Environment

I have decided to switch some furniture around and continue our Montessori learning in that space. When my parents were downsizing, I snatched up the two custom bookshelves with matching toy chest that my Mom had made for my sisters and I when we were young. They were Montessori inspired and have been holding books only thus far. These two shelves will be the foundation of the space for my toddler plus a tiny drop-leaf table (I know?!!) that I picked up before I had any children. (Yes I shopped before having kids for my future kids!) It needs a little sprucing up, should I paint it ivory? Or should I sand it and stain back to a wood finish?

I went to an antique thrift store last week looking for some natural, reusable materials for the space (see all that beauty above?). I was mostly looking for small containers, trays or baskets to hold materials for him. I really lucked out and after a thorough search found a few more pieces in addition to what I was looking for: a small wooden easel for his artwork, 2 small framed pieces of art to hang at his eye level, an adorable nesting doll, a set of wooden fruit and a carved wooden maraca. This was all for.... $36!

I will also add a few things we already have, along with 1-2 specific Montessori items. My goal is to create a beautiful learning space, scaled to his size, with interesting materials that will engage him and encourage exploration and spark his curiosity. My older two boys are excited to participate and help with this Montessori space. We have some really exciting projects for creating materials with their help! I will be posting about this little space over the next few weeks.

A little more inspiration?

Here is my Montessori Pinterest board and also this website is great if you want more general information on the Montessori philosophy. Read this  and watch this to take a peek at the many well-known, creative and inventive people who were former Montessori students! And one of my favorite online friends (now local friends-yay!) is a Montessori teacher (among many other fabulous titles) and she shares bits about it all here.