Practical Life: Flower Arranging 

I’ve been wanting to do some simple flower arranging with Frida for a while now. Frida loves flowers, and flower arranging felt like a perfect summer practical-life activity. 

We often have fresh cut flowers in our home – a luxury, but one which I feel adds a valuable element of beauty into our environment. 

I thought we would start off really simply today, with flowers, which Frida chose from the shop and I then trimmed, and a vase, which I had already filled for her. 

This meant her focus was solely on the task of arranging the flowers into the vase.

Once Frida had filled the first vase, I provided her with more flowers and a second vase. Once that was done, she wanted to keep going, so she filled a small vase for the shelf in her playroom. 

Frida was quite tired when I offered the activity to her (she hasn’t been talking naps for a while) and it went down very well. It’s such a soothing activity, beautiful and fragrant and peaceful, perfect for restoring calm. 

Frida was so pleased with the results! 

We distributed the vases throughout the house. I love the colours she chose. 

In future I will expand the activity by including pouring water into the vases, and eventually, cutting and trimming the flowers. 

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.

Toddler art activities: modelling clay 

We have recently introduced Frida to modelling clay! I have such fond memories of using modelling clay (I think we called it plasticine?) as a child, and so was really looking forward to getting some out to use with Frida. 

Although I could have made a batch of playdough and mixed up all different colours, I thought it would be simpler and nicer (and actually a bit cheaper than buying loads of food colouring!) to buy some ready-made modelling clay. 

I went for this stuff by Okonorm as it’s non-toxic and gorgeously bright soft clay that doesn’t dry out at all, despite being stored in open air. 

Although the primary benefit to modelling is that it’s fun, playing with materials like clay, dough and bees wax is so good for young children – the pinching, patting, kneading and rolling all help to build up the muscles and fine motor coordination they will need for holding a pencil and writing. 

I also find it’s a calming activity that we can do together as a family. There’s something so soothing about using modelling clay to create simple figures, even as adults. A few days ago the three of us sat down and modelled and chatted for a while before supper, and it was so lovely to create and play together in that way. And of course, modelling encourages imagination and creativity. 

Frida is still too young to be able to make anything realistic, so what I’ve found she really enjoys is if I make a simple figure or two (say, a cat and a mouse), and then she can make them “food” and “blankets” and so on. This stops her getting frustrated at her own technical limitations whilst allowing her to create purposeful things to use in her play. We have also made simple flowers together, and Frida is getting better at “fixing” models when they break, for example sticking an errant ear back onto a dog! 

This is obviously an approach tailored to Frida’s personality – other toddlers may prefer parents to leave them to it, but Frida definitely prefers us to be involved. 

Do you use modelling clay with your toddler? What’s your favourite way to use it? 

Toddler music study: Peter and the Wolf 

Over the last week, Frida and I have been listening to Peter and the Wolf. This is the first time that I have been intentional about introducing Frida to a piece of music, with discussion, repeated listening, and supporting activities. I think Frida has enjoyed it – I have certainly found it really enjoyable to explore this piece of music with her.

Peter and the Wolf is the perfect piece to kick off music exploration. Written especially for children by Sergei Prokofiev, it tells a (narrated) story, and has very clearly defined instrument sounds. Peter is played by the violin, the bird is played by the flute, the duck is played by the oboe, the cat is played by the clarinet, the Grandfather is played by the bassoon, the Wolf is played by the french horn, and the Hunters are played by the timpani. This makes it an ideal piece to introduce these instruments to young children.

I am a big fan of providing Frida with the materials to act out and play around stories we have been reading together, so I thought that an enjoyable, concrete way to bring the story alive for her would be to provide her with a Peter and the Wolf story set.

This is made up of Holztiger animals and tree, and a Grimms boy doll. Frida already had most of these items, but I ordered a boy and a howling wolf (these are used in everyday play, as well as in telling this particular story, so I don’t feel these are poor value for money – I certainly wouldn’t have bought them if Frida wasn’t already heavily into imaginative play, and we were already planning on getting her a boy to go with her girl). I also made a DIY duck pond with some kite paper and the tray from Frida’s Grimms rainbow friends in cups, which she no longer uses.

Frida has also been exploring some of the instruments present in the piece using figures from a Safari Toob. Although nowhere near as good as seeing or handling real instruments, I hope these help her in being able to recognise the individual instruments and spot them when watching the piece of music.

I also really like the simple instrument videos from the London Philharmonic Orchestra (here is a link to “trumpet”). They are short, clear videos explaining how each instrument works and demonstrating a range of sounds the instrument can make. Perfect for toddlers with an interest and older children.

We have been watching and listening to this version of Peter and the Wolf, played by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra: https://youtu.be/MfM7Y9Pcdzw. When we first listened to it together I wasn’t convinced it would hold her attention, at nearly 30 minutes, but it captivated her.

Although we aren’t huge fans of screentime for young children (Frida has started having a very small amount – a blog post for another day!) I think there is a huge value in watching instruments being played, and being able to link the sounds to the actions of the musicians.

Obviously YouTube pales in comparison to watching real instruments though! Over the next few months I’m going to be taking Frida to some local Bach to Baby concerts (if you’re in the UK check them out, great short concerts for babies and young children). We haven’t been for a while, and I’m hoping it will be a great way for her to learn more about music whilst enjoying herself.

Learning about bees 

If you’re in the UK, I hope you’re enjoying the gorgeous weather we’ve been having! We’ve been spending a lot of time outdoors, and Frida has been learning about bees at the moment. Although I didn’t plan it, I have had a couple of opportunities to facilitate some hands-on learning experiences for her.

There are so many of these amazing creatures around at the moment, it is easy to observe them flying, resting, or collecting pollen from the flowers which are in bloom. We are very lucky to have a garden, which makes this observation easy! It also means that occasionally bees fly into our home, and sadly, sometimes perish, or are unwell.

Recently we found a dead bee, so I thought I would set up a simple piece of observation work for Frida. I put the bee in a bug viewer, provided her with a magnifying glass, and that was that.

Frida was interested in this, although it didn’t hold her attention for as long as I thought it would. I think she still struggles with holding the magnifying glass at an optimal distance, and as she is quite hands on she likes to be doing something. She declined to touch the bee, though watched me as I gently handled it, pointing out the parts of its body.

We also were able to have an impromptu lesson in the care of animals through finding a poorly bee in our home. I showed Frida to mix sugar and water, then give some to the bee for energy. We took it outside, and eventually moved it onto a plant (with a few drops of sugar to speed it on its way).

I’m not confident it survived long, but it was a good opportunity for Frida to experience caring for a living creature, as well as a great chance to observe the bee drinking with its tongue.

We’ve been reading about bees too (and bugs in general – there are so many to look at around this time of year).

We especially like Insect Emporium, a gorgeous book which I would recommend to any family, and Bee: Nature’s tiny miracle (Britta Teckentrup) which is a beautifully illustrated tale of bees collecting pollen, with peek-through cut-outs which are so appealing to small children. For older children, I really recommend Nature Anatomy (Julia Rothman) which has a section on bees and is great for nature study and journal inspiration.

Sadly our bee theme took an unexpected turn for the worse when Frida somehow managed to step on a bee which had found its way into our dining room, getting a sting on the sole of her foot in the process. She was fine, though upset at the time, and it gave us a whole-family, unplanned lesson in bee stings, how to deal with them, and why they happen.

It made me feel quite relieved that we had done our bee study before the sting, as I’m not sure how keen she will be to talk about them or be near them for a little while (I haven’t removed the bee observation work from her shelf but may do so, following her lead). I hope this experience won’t leave her afraid of insects, and we were careful to explain that the sting had only occurred due to the bee being trodden on.

I hope all your children avoid stings, but if they do, here’s the NHS advice on treating them and what to look out for. 

Montessori shelf update at 25 months 

It’s been over a month since my last post. Eek. Sometimes life gets in the way, and I’ve found it hard to find the time at the moment. Those of you who follow me on Instagram (come and say hello!) will know that Frida’s sleep patterns have been unpredictable to say the least, and whereas before I could rely on having the time to blog during naps that is not the case any more.

I have also had a couple of personal issues to deal with over the last few months, and I just haven’t really had the head space to be thinking much about blogging. But I’m starting to get back into a rhythm again, and I want to try and make the space in that rhythm for blogging more often.

I recently decided to do a major declutter of Frida’s work shelves, where I keep some Montessori-inspired activities as well as art materials for her. Working on the less is more principle, I cleared the top of the unit, took a long hard look at the contents, and put most of the materials we had out away.

I also took down all of her paintings that I had affixed to the wall; they were making the space too busy, and I think I made an error in putting them up to begin with. It was just too much. I’m still learning! I repainted the wall to get rid of any traces of paint, and for now I have left it bare. I might put up one frame at some point, but I need to think about it carefully.

You can see what Frida’s shelves looked like before in this post.

On Frida’s work shelves, she now has:

Bead threading. I have provided a selection of wooden beads (all the same colour, as I want her to focus on threading rather than colour) and a shoelace with a bead knotted into the end to allow for threading.

Frog life-cycle models, frog life-cycle book. Earlier this week we spent an afternoon at a pond, dipping for and meeting tadpoles and toads. Now her interest is whetted, I thought it would be the perfect time to introduce some frog life-cycle materials for Frida to explore.

This lovely book Growing Frogs is from the library and is perfect for toddlers to primary age children. The life-cycle set can be bought here.

Butterfly and caterpillar figures, magnifying glass. Frida enjoys exploring these materials, and is currently working on how far away from the object to hold the magnifying glass in order for it to work – she is learning that when you hold the glass to your eye, or directly to the object, it doesn’t do much!

I have also displayed Insect Emporium on the top of the unit (such a gorgeous book – we love it), and held it open at the caterpillar and butterfly page.

The caterpillar and butterfly figures are from an insects Safari Toob and the magnifying glass is from Plan Toys.

Clown stacking puzzle. Frida is still not hugely into puzzles, preferring imaginative play, but this stacking puzzle seems to hold her interest. It’s quite challenging for her but with patience, she can complete it. I have found it a good material for developing her fine motor skills as well as her concentration.

I can’t find this for sale in the UK, my mum bought in in a charity shop (thrift store) so I think it must have been discontinued. It’s for sale on the US Amazon site here.

Watercolour painting tray. With a small jar of paint (I like Stockmar), a brush, and some watercolour paper. I will rotate art trays so that she always has one self contained art activity available, as well as her crayons and coloured pencils.

Geometric solids. I love these geometric solids for light play and for sensory activities using kinetic sand or water. When Frida is older we will use them to discuss shapes, volume, geometry, light and much more, but for now they are for her to play freely.

Not pictured is a tub of kinetic sand for further play, and a big mat to work on (to contain the sand).

Invitation to draw with wax crayons and colouring pencils. At the moment, I keep a big roll of paper (from IKEA) out on her table, along with a basket of wax crayons – you can’t get better than Stockmar beeswax crayons – and some coloured pencils (also from IKEA), as a permanent invitation to play.

Frida’s favourite thing is to ask us to draw something then help to embellish it, but I hope she will gradually enjoy drawing alone more and more.

There is also a plant which Frida can help to care for.

I really enjoy the process of observing Frida and our environment, seeing what works for her and what doesn’t. This space feels so much more appropriate for her now, and I’m very happy with it – for now!

What are your children working on at the moment?

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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