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!

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What’s on Frida’s shelves (22 months) 

I recently decided to refresh Frida’s art shelves and change the area a little bit. Previously, these shelves contained only art materials, but I thought it would be sensible to use them for Frida’s Montessori-inspired work, as I wanted to keep this work separate from her other toys. Frida is tall enough to reach her art materials now that I have put them on the top of the unit, and can clearly see what she is reaching for.

She has the following art materials freely available to her:

  • Paint
  • Felt-tip pens
  • Coloured pencils
  • Wax crayons
  • Paintbrushes
  • Paper (both plain and coloured / textured)
  • Stickers and sticker books

Liquid watercolour, glitter, glue, and other materials I keep stored away out of reach.

In addition to her art materials, on her work shelves Frida has:

Shadow matching cards.

These are a lovely, simple material for toddler matching work. You can read my blog post about these here. 

Geometric solids and kinetic sand (sand not pictured) 

These solids are a brilliant way of introducing 3D shapes to toddlers in a fun way. There’s no pressure for Frida to learn or memorise shape names (though I mention these to her), they just provide her with a tactile way of exploring 3D shapes as well as a fun tool for building with her kinetic sand.

I keep the kinetic sand in a big tupperware tub, which sits just behind the shapes on the shelf (fun fact: this is the same tupperware I brought Frida’s placenta home in!)

These are the geometric solids we use and this is the kinetic sand.

2D shape work

Frida is using this as a puzzle and as a matching game, as I made her some simple cards to go along with the puzzle. This is also a great way of expanding her vocabulary to include shape names.

We choose to use the proper words for the shapes such as quatrefoil and rhombus rather than clover and diamond.

Similar shape puzzle here.


Colour paddles

Frida still loves to use these, enjoying holding them up to her eyes and experiencing the change in colour.

Similar colour paddles here.

Knobbed cylinders 

These are still keeping Frida engaged but I think it’s time to add more to keep this challenging. You can read my blog post on these here. 

I didn’t buy these but this set looks similar.

Ink stamps 

These are still in rotation as Frida is still showing interest in them, but they’ve been on her shelves for months now! You can read my blog post on these here. 

This is the stamp set Frida uses.

I feel like this area works well for our needs at the moment, though I have had the same pieces of Frida’s art work up for months now so I need to find time to refresh these. As ever, I am constantly finding that I need to make tweaks and changes to our space to ensure it’s fit for purpose and fulfilling all of Frida’s needs. But isn’t that part of the fun of Montessori!

Shadow-matching cards 

I haven’t set up any specific matching work for Frida for a while, as I was struggling to think of something which would be suitably challenging (she’s tended to find colour matching and card to object / object to object matching work quite easy). 

To be honest, I’ve not set up a huge amount of Montessori-inspired work for Frida in the last few months full stop, as I’ve found she is strongly drawn to imaginative play instead and doesn’t have a huge appetite for it. However recently I have been making more of an effort to set up some appealing work for her. 

After seeing these shadow matching cards on This Merry Montessori I thought they would be a perfect activity for Frida at 22 months – familiar yet more challenging. 

I bought the PDF for the cards from the Montessori Print Shop online store, for around $2 which seems very reasonable! I then just had to print and laminate them. 

I would say they are a hit! I have been presenting all of the shadows together then giving her one animal at a time to match, as otherwise I thought it might be a bit overwhelming (there are 15 pairs). 

Here Frida is working on her cards after breakfast, still in pyjamas! I often find her concentration is best after breakfast when she hasn’t already thrown herself into other play. 

Some are harder than others – notably the snake as the shadow card just looks like a blob! – but mostly Frida can already do this activity with ease, and can complete the set of cards. I think the next step might be matching some shadow cards to animal figures, and I’m sure that would be more of a challenge.

These cards will also make a fun pair-matching memory game when Frida is older. 

Snack station 

After putting it off for ages (we don’t have the space! It will be messy! The cat will eat the snacks!) I have finally sorted out a snack station for Frida. It’s important to me that she can get food for herself if she is hungry without having to rely on us, and I think it sends a message to her that we trust her and her ability to self-regulate her food intake – one of the reasons we chose to do Baby-Led Weaning. 

We live in a small house – I like to call it an ever evolving space! – and the only place which made sense for a snack station was the IKEA KALLAX unit next to her play kitchen. I have moved all of her play accessories into the play kitchen unit itself (apart from the big basket of play food which I have kept in the KALLAX).

I have explained to Frida that if she would like a snack, she is to put it on a plate and carry it over to the table. I imagine that at first I will have to supervise and prompt her, but I am hopeful that soon she will need little or no supervision.

I have included:

Snacks. I have put out fruit (I cut a small cross into the top of the tangerines to make them easier to peel, plain oat cakes in a container which Frida can open, and oat and fruit bars in a container which Frida can open (I snipped the top of the wrapped so she can open these by herself).

Water in a jug, drinking glass, and small flannels to use as a cloth for spills. I have only filled the jug around a third full to minimise spills. This jug is the one we have been using.

Plates, crinkle cutter, knife. As I’ve written before, we have chosen to trust Frida with real (breakable!) crockery. So far nothing has been broken. This is the crinkle cutter we use.

I need to add some hooks for her apron and a tea towel, and watch Frida to see if this space needs further changes, but for now I am hopeful that it will work well!

40 practical life activities for toddlers

Frida is 21 months, and does very little in the way of working with traditional Montessori materials at the moment. She’s outgrown her infant materials, and is still too young for most materials geared towards the 3-6 plane of development. What she does do a lot of, though, is practical life, which I believe to be the real focus of the toddler years. By involving Frida in practical life – real life, purposeful activity – her confidence and independence visibly grows. 

I thought I would share some ideas with you for how to incorporate more of these moments into every day life. These are all wonderful opportunities to slow down, allow your child to learn, and show them that you value them as a capable and helpful member of the household. And whilst practical life is integral to any Montessori family, you don’t have to know anything about Montessori to do these activities! In fact I bet you’re already doing lots of these things every day.

Note: These are all “real-life” activities, as opposed to activities set up on trays such as pouring beans or scooping rice or grating soap. Whilst I have nothing against those activities I have found with Frida that she likes her work to be purposeful and to have meaningful results!

Care of self

Choosing clothes. We have been encouraging Frida to choose her clothes from a young age and have recently set up her wardrobe to maximise her independence. 

Nose wiping. We are in the process of teaching Frida to do this independently, using Nicole at the Kavanaugh Report’s method. 

Putting on a cardigan and/or coat. Show them the Montessori coat flip and you will never look back!

Getting dressed. Every child will learn at different speeds but at 21 months Frida is putting on pants and trousers (with little help), is getting more confident with tights, still struggles a bit with socks and shoes, and helps to pull on her tops and dresses. Providing your child with some time to practice when they are not rushed is key.

Getting undressed. Much easier than getting dressed, as anyone who has tried to keep socks on a baby will know! 

Hair brushing. Frida’s hair has always been quite long so getting her involved with and used to hair brushing has been important for us. 

Washing hands. Most toddlers I have met love doing this. 

Face wiping. After lunch or a snack I offer Frida a damp flannel. She also washes her face in the bath.

Tooth brushing. Although I brush Frida’s teeth for her (it’s important for it to be done thoroughly) she enjoys brushing them herself once I’m done. 

Applying sun-cream. Not so relevant for our family now in January, but Frida does like to be involved in putting her moisturiser on after her bath (we use Waitrose Bottom Butter as a body cream, it’s just olive oil, vanilla, and chamomile). 

Toilet learning. Montessorians tend to believe that children enter a sensitive period for toilet learning between 12-18 months. We started Frida’s learning journey at ten months and at 21 months we are done with the basics – we have very few accidents and she is dry at night. The next step will be Frida telling us every time she needs to use the loo rather than us prompting her, which will come with time. You can read about our journey here. 

Using a nail-brush. Particularly useful after a muddy ramble around the park when your child has dirt under their nails. 

Doing up side-release buckles and using zips on bags. Frida loves clipping buckles together, and has been interested in zips for a while now. Great for fine motor skills too. 

In the kitchen

Pouring water or milk from a jug. Spills are a great opportunity to practice wiping.

Baking. This involves a range of different skills including mixing, transferring, glazing, and kneading. If you don’t bake much, scones are a great starter for both of you!

Using a cookie cutter. It’s also fun to practice with playdough.

Washing dishes. If you are nervous about smashing start with pans or cutlery. 

Mashing. You can start small with bananas and a fork, and move on to vegetables and a potato masher. 

Assembling smoothies. Choosing, chopping, and adding fruit and veg, pouring milk or water, scooping yoghurt or nut butters, adding nuts and seeds. 

Chopping fruit and vegetables using a crinkle cutter. 

Peeling. Bananas, tangerines, and eggs are all great for under-twos. 

Learning to crack eggs. This needs very hands-on parental support! 

Grating cheese. The hard thing for me is preventing Frida from eating it all as she goes!

Spreading condiments on bread or crackers.

Helping to load / unload the dishwasher. The cutlery is a great place to start (just remove any sharp knives first). 

Helping to set the table. We don’t do this with Frida yet as our table is too high for her to reach, though I’d like to think creatively about how I can empower her to help with this soon. 

Care of their environment

Mopping. Cleaning + water play = everyone is happy!

Sweeping. Frida has a Melissa and Doug child-size cleaning set with a broom, mop, duster, dustpan and brush. It’s the perfect size for a toddler. 

Dusting. This is especially helpful if your toddler has low shelves for toys and materials, as they can collect dust easily! 

Helping to load / unload / hang / take down the laundry. 

Sorting dry laundry. You can also turn this into a matching activity, for example pairing socks, or finding all the underwear. 

Tidying up after themselves. We have encouraged Frida to do this from a young age. It’s helpful that all of her toys / materials / clothes / books have a set place, so she knows where everything goes. 

Wiping the table or work surface with a damp cloth after their art and craft / cooking / meal. If your child has a blackboard they can also wash this down regularly. 

Watering and dusting indoor plants. A lovely way of teaching children gentleness, concentration, and control. 

Watering outdoor plants. With a hose or watering can. 

Sowing seeds and growing plants. We will start germinating some seeds soon indoors – I need to get organised! 

Out and about 

Sticking stamps on letters and posting them. I have never met a toddler who doesn’t love to post. This is a lovely extension to art activities as your toddler can post one of their pieces to a friend or relative. 

Ordering in a cafe or restaurant. If your toddler would like to, encourage them to order their drink, snack or meal from the barista or waiter! A lovely way to build confidence. 

Food shopping. Involve your toddler – let them choose some food, for example which pasta shape to buy or what sort of apples. Let them put things in the basket or trolley, and talk about what food you will cook. They may even enjoy to carry something home. 

Care of animals

Topping up pet food and water dishes. Decant pet food into larger containers and let them top up your pet’s bowl. We are going to start doing this with Frida.

Grooming. If you have a pet which needs grooming, your toddler can be involved. 

Phew! 

I hope this has given you some ideas, and show that Montessori parenting doesn’t have to be complicated, or involve lots of fancy furniture or expensive materials. 

What are your favourite practical life activities? 

Montessori challenge: the bathroom

I have joined in with Carine from the Montessori Family blog, who is doing a Montessori challenge for every month this year. Each month I will be posting about a space in our home and talking about the challenges we face with it, and how we have improved it or plan to improve it.

This month we are blogging about our bathrooms – definitely not where I would have chosen to begin, as in our home the bathroom is our most problematic space! Our bathroom is tiny (a tub and a sink, with a separate toilet) and is the only part of our home that we still need to renovate completely. The tiles make me shudder slightly, the sink is rickety, and the space is just not very child-friendly.

However! I have made some changes, and have many more planned, which I will talk about now.

I am using Carine’s bathroom challenge questions, and will answer these as I go.

Observe the room and how your child is using it. Every time your child asks for your help (or when you go and help her without her asking), try to see what prevents her to do it by herself.

Because Frida is still so small and our bathroom was not designed by us, it is not a great space for encouraging her independence. However, we have tried to make small changes.

I recently bought this brilliant suction set from IKEA  which includes a mirror and storage, as well as a timer. I have attached this on the wall next to the bath tub, which means when Frida is standing in the bath she can see her face in the mirror, and can reach her toothbrush. She can also turn the timer (which runs to six minutes, so quite a long time! I’m not sure what IKEA intended it for).

Depending of your child’s age, encourage your child to be independent regarding self-care. As rule of thumb, if your child walks, she can attempt most of her self-care needs with little support.

Although she is only 20 months, we do encourage Frida to be as involved as possible with regards to her self care. We have a box of reusable wipes from when she was in nappies which are basically like small flannels, and these are a perfect size for her to wipe her face or wash herself. After I have brushed her teeth she will then usually carry on for a while. She also brushes her hair – and ours!

We have also encouraged Frida to be independent in her toileting, and stopped using nappies at 17 months (you can read more about our toilet learning journey here). We are currently working on helping Frida to be more independent whilst dressing.

Does your child have access to the sink? Can she see herself in the mirror?

No, she doesn’t, and when we renovate the bathroom (hopefully within the next few months) we will be placing the sink lower down so that she can reach it when standing on a stool. Even standing on a stool now she is too small, so she washes her hands by standing on this red IKEA step stool and leaning over the bath tub. I would also like to add a tap extender so it’s easier for her to reach the tap.

She cannot see herself in the mirror either though there is one in her IKEA set pictured above, and she has a full-length mirror in her bedroom. When we renovate this is also something I will be thinking about.

What kind of bath toys does your child have? Does she play with all of them? Can she access her toys by herself?

We don’t have many bath toys for Frida – she tends to be much more interested in pouring, or “swimming like a mermaid”, or generally having fun with the water. She currently has a jug, an empty shampoo bottle, some Schleich sea animals (orca, tiger shark, great white, blue shark, dolphin), and a Plan Toys speedboat. You can see these in the photo above, stored in an IKEA suction storage basket, which she can access as it is low above the bath.

Does your child have access to her toilet accessories?

Yes, she does. Frida uses a Potette seat (pictured above) over the regular toilet, and has done since she was 17 months. She uses the red stool pictured earlier to climb up, though will ask for help sitting down. She can wipe herself after peeing, climb down on her own, and pull her trousers and pants back up.

Can your child reach the light switch?

She can – we have a pull-down light with a long cord.

So that is our bathroom, our challenges, and how we are trying to overcome them and make our space one where Frida can feel empowered to do things herself.

What are your bathroom challenges? As we are planning our new bathroom, what tips or “must haves” would you recommend for a family with a young child?

Montessori coat flip 

(Well, in this instance, cardigan flip.)

The coat flip is a fantastic trick to help toddlers put on their cardigans and coats independently. I have been demonstrating the Montessori coat flip to Frida for a couple of weeks now but she has shown absolutely no interest in trying for herself. 

Today she finally decided to do it with a cardigan! I demonstrated it to her and laid it out for her. You can see her doing it in this video:

Did you notice at the end she immediately started to take her cardigan off? Frida is still not loving putting her clothes on, and it still can feel like a struggle to get cardigans, coats, and shoes on her. It means a lot of slow starts, as unless we absolutely have to be somewhere I try to give Frida all the time she needs to be ready to go outside.