What we’re reading: June 

I’ve done some book rotation, including some books with a summer / seaside / bugs theme. I often just show you a small selection of the books we have out, so I thought I would show you the whole of Frida’s book shelves.

Because it’s June, I’ve updated the seasonal books on the shelf in Frida’s room.

On her shelf she has: Summer / Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature / Summer (from The Nursery Collection) / Flower Fairies of the Summer

When rotating books, I usually try to ensure a balance of current favourites and books we haven’t read for a while, reality-based books and books with an element of fantasy, easy books and ones which are a little more challenging (either because they are longer or deal with more complex topics).

Top shelf: Dogger (MF) / Paddington in the Garden / When We Were Very Young  (MF) / Wild Animals (also published as British Animals) MF) / Out and About: A First Book of Poems (MF) / The Story Orchestra: Four Seasons in One Day (MF although there are accompanying sounds)

Middle shelf: 199 Things Under the Sea (MF) / Tiddler / Meg at Sea / The Storm Whale (semi-MF) / British Seashore (MF) / The Blue Whale (MF)

Bottom shelf: Bee: Nature’s tiny miracle (MF) / First Facts Bugs (MF) / 1001 Bugs to Spot (MF) / Look Inside: Your Body (MF) / Summer  (MF) / Eating the Alphabet (MF)

MF = Montessori-friendly, ie. reality based

We also have a basket of library books in our sitting room. I do try to keep these separate just for ease, but in the shelves above I have included a couple of library books. Again, when we go to the library, I usually try to strike a balance when choosing what to borrow (and of course Frida has an opinion too!)

We have also recently started listening to some audio books together, mostly Mog books (by Judith Kerr) and Alfie stories by Shirley Hughes. I would love your recommendations for pre-school age audio books.

What we’re reading: March 

I wanted in this post to talk a bit about how we choose which books we bring into our home. Although we are a Montessori-inspired family, one of the areas I struggle with is books, and I wanted to share my thoughts with you as they relate to our family.

I want to start with a confession: we read fantasy to Frida. This seems to be a hotly-debated topic, but as I understand it: strict Montessorians will not introduce young children to books which have fantasy in (for example, talking animals, animals wearing clothes, magic, witches and wizards, fantasty creatures such as unicorns and monsters, and so on). The idea behind this is that it’s better to give children reading materials which are based in reality, as they have no way of distinguishing what is real and what is not. Young children are learning about the world through all we present to them, so by presenting reality-based books we are reinforcing real-life to them.

Whilst I have some sympathy for this view, it isn’t one which works well for our daughter, or family! Although we give Frida many Montessori-friendly books (her favourites for a long time have been Shirley Hughes books, and fact-books about birds and animals and insects), we have always had a selection of “fantasy” books (mainly books which feature talking, person-like animals).

Frida is nearly two, and she already understands perfectly well the difference between stories which could happen in real life, and things which are “pretend” – if you ask her “do animals really talk?” she knows full well the answer is no! We spend lots of time going to farms, to the zoo, to aquariums, and we have a pet cat – none of which wear clothes, or talk, or sing. She is also using the idea of “pretending” in her own play, and will delight in telling us that she is pretending her rug is an island, or that she’s pretending to sleep.

Fantasy stories, for Frida, are captivating. I would also argue that many of them are superbly written, with the sort of language I haven’t seen in more Montessori-friendly books. Just this week she has learnt the words soporific and implore, and can use these correctly in a sentence. These both come from a Beatrix Potter book! The rhythm and rhyme found in some of these books is amazing, too – really good for language development. I do think that books are part of the reason why Frida’s language and vocabulary has been quite advanced from a young age.

For our family, a mix of books works well, especially now that Frida has strong views about which books she would like (she loves to look at the “more books in this series” pages in hr books and point out the ones we don’t have and that she would like to read!). We mix fantasy books with books based in reality, and lots of discussion about real vs. pretend, and with lots of learning about the real world.

These are the books Frida is enjoying this month. I’ve marked them MF (Montessori-friendly) or NMF (not Montessori-friendly), for ease!

The Barefoot Book of Children (Strickland / DePalma / Dean)
This book is simply amazing. I think it belongs on the shelf of every child. It’s a wonderful celebration of diversity, what makes us different, and what we all share. Frida loves to talk about why we have different skin colours, why some people have different family set-ups, and why some children need to use a wheelchair. A beautifully illustrated book which will open up many important discussions. If you only buy your child one book, buy this one! (MF)

Bee (Britta Teckentrup)
A lovely read for spring! This shows the journey a bee goes on, collecting pollen and drinking nectar. There is a ladybird to spot on each page, and lots of familiar animals and flowers to look at. The illustrations are gorgeous, and Frida really enjoys reading this book. (MF)

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls
Another amazing book, and one which we will be reading (and using as a basis for further learning) for years to come. It features the stories of 100 inspirational women and girls – from Cleopatra to Malala – alongside great illustrations. Another must-read for boys and girls alike! (MF)

How Does My Garden Grow (Gerda Muller)
This book is a little bit old for Frida, but she loves to look at the illustrations, and talk about how vegetables grow. It’s a brilliant book for sping time, just as all of the shoots are coming up, and it tells the story of a little girl who goes to stay with her grandparents and learns how to grow food. (MF)

123 (from our beloved Shirley Hughes Nursery Collection)
I always rave about how much we love Shirley Hughes, and this book is no exception. Frida is starting to show some interest in numbers, so this book is a perfect addition to her current shelves. (MF)

Hairy Maclary, Shoo! (Lynley Dodd) and Hairy Maclary’s Hat Tricks (Lynley Dodd)
Frida LOVES the Lynley Dodd books, and has done since she was very small. The language Dodd uses is fantastic, and her rhymes are brilliant too. I actually think these are pretty Montessori-friendly – despite featuring animals, they don’t talk, they just do / think animal things (for example, in Shoo, Hairy goes into a delivery van, gets lost, runs around lots of places, and finally gets taken home by a neighbour). These were a great library find! (MF)

The Tale Of Peter Rabbit and The Tale of The Flopsy Bunnies both Beatrix Potter
These are new for Frida, and my goodness, she loves them. They have been inspiring all sorts of rabbit-based imaginative play, and lots of discussion. The language Potter uses in her books is great – not at all dumbed down. We have had to slightly censor a couple of things in these books, as on occasion they do talk about baking rabbits into pies / turning them into purses (!), but I think on the whole Frida is ready for these slightly longer books. The illustrations are beautiful too. (Very much NMF though I’m afraid!)

The Cat in the Hat Comes Back (Dr Seuss)
We are big Dr Seuss fans in this house. For a long time The Cat in the Hat was a firm favourite (to the extent that my husband memorised the whole thing to recite during car trips!) and so I thought it would be fun to get the sequel. Frida was delighted with it. (NMF)

Tabby McTat (Julia Donaldson)
A good library find for my cat-obsessed toddler! Julia Donaldson is great, too – some of her books I find better than others, but the way she writes is catchy and the stories are great for little ones. Frida loves the Gruffalo (which we also learnt by heart for her), the Gruffalo’s Child, the Snail and the Whale, Tiddler (another we both learnt by heart!), and A Squash and a Squeeze. (NMF)

What books are you loving this month? I’m thinking ahead to Frida’s birthday in a few weeks – I’ve already put aside a copy of Home by Carson Ellis for her birthday, but I will probably get a couple more books and would love some inspiration!

This post contains affiliate links at no cost to you! Win-win!

What we’re reading – February

I can’t quite believe we’re in February already! Although we’re making the most of winter with frosty walks, hot soup, candles at every meal, lots of baking, and generally snuggling up with books or playing slowly with toys at every opportunity, I must say I’m starting to yearn for a bit more sunshine. I enjoyed seeing shoots peeping out in the park this morning!

We’ve started adding a weekly library visit into our family rhythm, as we simply can’t buy enough books at the moment to keep up with Frida’s insatiable appetite for them! Going to the library is such a great activity for toddlers – we walk there (stopping to look at the fire engines in the fire station we pass), select some books to read, pick up those we’ve ordered, order more, return old books and borrow new ones with the self-service machines, and then walk home.

This month, Frida is particularly enjoying: 

Can You Say Peace? (Karen Katz)

This lovely book shows children from around the world and describes how they say the word “peace”. It’s a simple but beautiful book, and is a good starting point for conversations about diversity. With the state of politics both at home and abroad, I feel this is an important book to have in our home.

Peep Inside Space (Simona Dimitri)

A fun lift-the-flap book offering an introduction to space, rockets, and astronauts, recommended to us by my friend Rachael. I think the concept is still a little complex for Frida at 21 months but I don’t think it’s too early to introduce her to it.

Out and About: A First Book of Poems (Shirley Hughes)

Our current favourite Shirley Hughes is a collection of Olly and Me poems and illustrations (some of which are found in other books), starting in spring and ending in winter. Beautiful and very Montessori-friendly.

The Story Orchestra: Four Seasons in One Day (Jessica Courtney-Tickle)

The illustrations in this book are very lovely, and the snippets of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons make an interesting conversation prompt about music and weather and the seasons.

Lulu Loves the Library (Ann McQuinn)

A reality-based book about a little girl who goes to the library with her mum every week. As we’ve started going to the library more regularly I thought this would be a sweet book to introduce.

How to Catch a Mouse (Phillippa Leathers)

Not one for Montessori purists (as the cat reads a book and the mouse dresses up!) but Frida is loving this library find, requesting it over and over again. It tells the story of a cat who is not very good at catching mice, until a mouse gives him a cunning idea.

We are also still reading Frida’s winter books, though I’m looking forward to putting them away at the end of the month and getting out her spring ones.

And one for the grown ups… 

I’m feeling a need for a bit of self-care at the moment as my skin is looking a bit grey and sad as we near the end of winter, so I’m currently reading Pretty Honest by Sally Hughes to get some tips on what I can do about it! Next up is When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.

What are you reading this February?

This post contains affiliate links at no cost to you. 

What we’re reading – January 

We have a lot of books in our home, for Frida and for us. It’s very important to me and to my husband that we encourage a love of books in Frida, and so far I think it’s working. She is a big fan of reading. From a young age she has had a long attention span, devouring story after story, picking out details, and learning chunks off by heart.

Although Frida is only twenty-one months, we don’t really have many “toddler” books for her (such as board books) as she tends to get bored by these very quickly. Instead she loves books which are visually rich, either with a good story or full of animals or other details to build her vocabulary.

We try to keep books “Montessori-friendly” for the most part, ie. based in reality, factual, or mirroring every-day life. I have to admit though that there are a few books which we have which are more fantastical and although I don’t love these (the Meg and Mog series springs to mind) Frida ADORES them and so we have kept them.

We rotate Frida’s main book display which is in our spare room (it’s a tiny room, just with books and a day bed – Frida sweetly calls in the “reading room”). She can reach the bottom two shelves but can see all three shelves.

Frida also has a small book stand in her room of other “active books”, as well as a small basket in the sitting room.

We also have a big basket in the spare room where we keep books which are out of rotation (though Frida can and does search through these if she wants a book which isn’t displayed). Books which aren’t currently suitable I have kept in a cupboard out of sight in her bedroom.

You will notice that we have a lot of books “out” at once, which is unusual for many Montessori-at-home families. This is because we are following Frida’s lead, and she loves to have a big choice – she will often request books which aren’t on display, and we can easily get through five books in a sitting as she has a good concentration span. So it works for us to have a fairly wide selection available.

Because of this it was so hard to pick just a few books to share with you, but I thought I would try and pick books which are new, or special favourites.

This month, Frida is particularly enjoying: 

They all saw a cat (Brendan Wenzel)

This is a new book. I saw it and couldn’t resist buying it for my cat-mad daughter! It’s a great book as it is simple for young children – the story follows a cat who is walking through the world, being seen by other animals – but it also holds appeal for older children as the illustration of the cat changes depending on which animal is seeing it.

Actual size (Steve Jenkins)

Frida loves this book. It has illustrations of different animals in their actual size – it’s fascinating for adults too. Frida’s favourite is the pigmy mouse lemur; my favourite is the fold-out page of crocodile jaws. I am sure this book can be found in many Montessori homes!

Frida (Jonah Winter)

This book tells the (simplified) story of Frida Kahlo’s life. It is beautifully illustrated, and Frida is really taken with it, asking for it often. I am sure she will continue to get lots out of this book for years to come.

Brilliant birds (QED publishing)

This book is a huge hit. When I bought it for Frida for Christmas I wondered how she would find it as it is quite big and there are hundreds of different birds inside – I did question whether it would hold her attention, or be overwhelming. I need not have doubted! It’s not unusual for Frida to spend over half an hour just on this book alone, and there have been times where she has spent an hour with it. Her bird naming skills are getting better than mine!

Noisy (part of The Nursery Collecton, Shirley Hughes)

Oh Shirley Hughes, how our family loves you. We always have a few Shirley Hughes books out on display, and they are just so wonderful. Beautiful, realistic illustrations of family life, gentle rhymes, lots of exploring of seasons and the senses. Frida has learnt so much from Shirley Hughes books, and I would strongly recommend The Nursery Collection (a set of ten short books, including one for each season) to any family with a baby or toddler.

And one for the grown-ups… 

I am also trying to read more at the moment, and I’m currently reading “The Pier Falls”, a collection of short stories by Mark Haddon. Earlier this month I read “The Power” by Naomi Alderman, and next on my list is “At The Existentialist Cafe” by Sarah Bakewell.

What are you reading at the moment? Do you have any recommendations (children or adults)? 

We love… Books about wildlife 

Like most young children, Frida is fascinated by wildlife. Mammals, birds, insects, fish – you name it, she loves it. Because of this we read a lot of books about wildlife and animals (“ana!”), and these are probably her favourites (as well as her ever-growing collection of Mog books and Lynley Dodd books). 

We do a lot of talking and pointing when we read wildlife books. We are constantly amazed by how many animals she recognises when asked. At 15 months I genuinely think she might know more animals and birds than my husband! Moorhens, coots, blackbirds, great tits, owls, herons, geese, ducks, buzzards, goldfinch, bullfinch – the list just goes on and on. Children really do have an absorbent mind. 

Frida also enjoys getting out her collection of Holztiger animals at the same time to do matching and play. 

Some of our favourites include:

Wild animals.

This is probably her all time favourite. A beautifully illustrated book containing images of British wildlife. I think some of the appeal is that we can often spot animals we have seen on our outings or in our garden, such as squirrels, foxes, magpies, ducks, starlings… 

Outside your window.

A beautiful book which has illustrations from around the year, as well as some practical ideas for fun things to do in nature. Lots of rabbits and birds and sheep cover the pages of this pleasant book, and I can really see it growing with Frida.

Beautiful birds.

“A is for albatross, the admiral of the sky. B is for bee-eater, beware any bug that flies…”

We love this book. Bright drawings, rhyming, and a fabulous selection of birds make it so much fun to read and look at. My husband and I almost know it off my heart and have been known to recite it on difficult car journeys!

Animalium.

A classic. This is still a little bit big for Frida – physically, it’s a huge book! The gorgeous drawings make it an enjoyable read for her now, but it has so much information that I can see it being on her shelves for years to come.

Animals.

This is a similar layout to the wild animals book, but include animals from around the world. It also has pages dedicated to each colour, and animals are grouped by characteristics which makes it  a fun read because all the pages are so mixed. 

The Joyful Child : Montessori for birth to three

I have just finished reading The Joyful Child: Montessori Global Wisdom for Birth to Three by Susan Stephenson, and I wanted to share a little bit about it with you.

Stephenson gives lots of ideas on how to implement the Montessori philosophy at home, covering the child’s first year, and then moving onto topics including care of self, language, art, music, science and maths, plants and animals, toys and puzzles, preparing a Montessori environment, and parenting.

IMG_9591

There are a couple of elements in the book which I don’t quite agree with – these deserve their own blog post (in fact I have been writing one on and off for some time!) but in brief, they are around parenting during early infancy. I am a firm believer in attachment parenting which, for me, includes mothering through breastfeeding not just when the baby is hungry, but when they are in search of comfort or reassurance. I know many will not share my views but I must admit I find it slightly jarring when I read that babies should not be nursed to sleep as for my daughter, nursing her to sleep is the option which feels most natural and gentle. I also continue to bed share with Frida, so for our family the Montessori floor bed is not yet relevant – however, when she outgrows the family bed then she will certainly have a floor bed. The book does not mention bed sharing which is a shame as I am sure many Montessori families practice this.

Despite these small gripes though this book is fantastic, and lots of it really stood out for me. For example, she describes how important it is to support the development of the infant’s self image through the example of a baby having their nappy (diaper) changed. Reacting negatively to a bad smell can be distressing for an infant as they have no way of knowing the adult is reacting to the nappy, and not to them as a person.

She also encourages parents and caregivers not to talk about children in front of them, but rather include them in the conversation, even babies. I definitely need to work harder on this as I often find myself talking about Frida with my husband or with friends in front of her. It’s easy to do so in a society which does not treat children as equals, but it is very important and this book was a timely reminder – after all, you would not do this to adults!

In fact a lot of Stephenson’s book, as with other Montessori books, focuses on showing respect for the child, through offering choices and empowering children to do things themselves. So much of the Montessori philosophy goes hand in hand with gentle empathic parenting, and in this book Stephenson stresses being child-led with routines and the value of nurturing touch.

“We must remember that nature has given the infant an inner guide that provides the wisdom of when to sleep, to wake up, to eat, and to move… many potential problems can be prevented when the family is careful to observe the infant’s needs and not interrupt the process of development by trying too soon to fit him into our schedule”

– Susan Stephenson

The book is easy to dip in and out of and I will be coming back to it time and again over the next couple of years, for ideas and inspiration. I would certainly recommend it as a good book to read for an overview of the theory and practice behind raising a Montessori infant, or for anyone who is interested in gentle and respectful parenting.

Next on my reading list is classic attachment parenting text The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff which I have been meaning to read for months.