In praise of good quality art materials: Stockmar and Lyra review (+ discount code) 

Art is an important part of our daily rhythm at the moment, with Frida choosing to work with her paints, pencils, crayons and modelling clay most days – sometimes more than once. She has free access to paints, water, pencils, crayons, paper, and felt tips (you can see our current set up here), and tends to work with them either before breakfast, after lunch, or before supper. 

I am a firm believer in giving children the best possible quality art materials we can afford. If you have ever used poor quality art materials, you will know why! Cheap crayons which snap, brittle colouring pencils which leave a weak colour, box paints which are watery and pale. How can we expect our children to develop a love of art when their materials are so often second-rate and frustrating? I believe that giving children good-quality art materials sends them a clear message: that their art work is important and deserving.

I realise that good quality art materials are not always cheap, but perhaps gifting them at special occasions, or asking friends and family to do the same, would be a way to slowly build up a selection of great-quality materials. These have the benefit of often lasting much longer, making them more cost-effective in the long run.

With this in mind, I was so delighted to receive some new, quality, art materials in the post from One Hundred Toys for Frida and I to review!

Stockmar Opaque Colour Box Paints

I feel rather cheeky in reviewing the Stockmar Opaque Colour Box Paints, as if we weren’t sent them to review I would definitely have bought them myself.

We are big fans of Stockmar products, and own both the block wax crayons and the stick wax crayons (Stockmar crayons are worth buying if only for their gorgeous honey smell, let alone the wonderful colours, texture, ergonomic shape, the fact they last for ever… I could go on!) as well as some concentrated watercolours. I have talked about Stockmar before, but I really do love the brand, and the high-quality Waldorf-inspired art materials they produce for children. I was therefore very excited for Frida to try out the Opaque Paints!

We have not been disappointed. These paints are so richly pigmented that the gentlest paintbrush stroke on the paints translates into rich colour on paper – perfect for a two year old who is still learning how to use water colours. I have tried out other “children’s palettes” before and been so disappointed with the weak colours. These are excellent quality, and need so little water that I am sure they will last a long time (making them good value too). I think there is obviously a reason that these paints seem to often be found in Montessori and homeschooling family homes!

The set comes with a paintbrush, some white paint, and a mixing tray. Frida has been really enjoying mixing up some lighter colours using these.

I love watercolours for young children as they are such a wonderful practical life activity! There are so many steps; filling the water, fetching an apron, fetching paper, rinsing the brush after each use, emptying out the dirty water and cleaning the brush after use, wiping up any spills… There are also numerous benefits in terms of fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and building up little hand muscles in preparation for writing one day.

Now that we’ve tried these, I feel like every home should have a box of them. I can’t imagine a better set of watercolours for young children, and once again am really impressed by the quality and beauty of Stockmar products. If you have family or friends who are beginning to ask questions about holiday gifts, these would make a wonderful suggestion.

Lyra Ferby pencils

We were also sent some Lyra Ferby pencils to try out. I love that these are short, providing much more balance for little fingers, and have a triangular shape which makes it easier to hold them. Frida is still working on her pencil grip, and these pencils make the perfect “starter” pencils when moving on from crayons. The colour range is excellent (Frida was so drawn to the white pencil, and for a few days did a lot of white-on-white drawing) and the colours themselves are bright and highly pigmented.

Lyra also do longer crayons, and I love the look of this skin-tones set which has been designed to reflect the diversity of skin-tone children see all around them. Once Frida is drawing figures I will absolutely be buying her a set.

Frida was previously using IKEA pencils, which are around the same size but less ergonomically shaped. These are, unsurprisingly, much cheaper, although seeing the two used side by side I think it’s clear which ones are the better quality as the pigmentation in the Lyra pencils is much stronger, giving a brighter colour with less effort (this is important I think when you are two!) and a wider colour range.

We were also sent a little Lyra pencil sharpener. It seems like a pretty unexciting object, but Frida has been really taken with it, and is trying very hard to learn how to sharpen. Pencil sharpening is such a satisfying practical life and fine motor skill activity. I love how it is shaped to fit little fingers. I really recommend it as a first pencil sharpener.

A quick note on age: Frida is 28 months and really enjoying using these art materials. I think the age you could introduce them depends a lot on your child – some 18 month-olds would love these, whereas some 36 month-olds may still not have much of an interest in painting or drawing. Follow your child! For gifts, I would probably gift the wax crayons from the first birthday onwards, and then pencils and paints from the second birthday onwards.

I love gifting art materials – both for my own daughter, and for other children in our life. I have already bought Stockmar crayons in the past to give as birthday presents (the parents have assured me these have gone down well with their little ones), and I will absolutely be buying some of the Stockmar paints and Lyra pencils to gift for birthdays and Christmas presents, as Frida and I have both been very impressed by them. They are high quality materials which are so well designed for young artists, and I cannot sing their praises highly enough.

One Hundred Toys are kindly offering you lovely readers a 10% discount to use in their online store with the code: FRIDA101

They have so many other beautiful craft items and toys on their site; do have a look!

The Stockmar paints, Lyra Ferby pencils, and pencil sharpener were gifted to me from One Hundred Toys to review, but this review is my own honest opinion (and Frida’s!) I only ever recommend things which we have tried and genuinely loved – and would buy again. 

I also love the One Hundred Toys blog which you can read here: https://www.onehundredtoys.com/blogs/news 

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My favourite Montessori books for parents

I am often asked if I can recommend some books on Montessori for parents who would like to find out more, or to deepen their knowledge and understanding on the topic. I have finally organised myself enough to share some recommendations with you!

There is so much more to the Montessori philosophy and approach than pretty trays and wooden toys. At the heart of Montessori is a deep respect for the child, a trust in their desire and ability to learn, be independent, and make good choices, and a desire for peace and cooperation, in the home and in the world at large; it is this element of Montessori which first got me interested in its approach to education. It goes hand-in-hand with gentle, respectful parenting – no shouting, no punishments, no reward-charts or bribing, just learning, together, with love.

If you have heard about Montessori, but don’t know where to start, I urge you to begin with books – for yourself. Although it can be tempting to throw yourself in at the deep end right away and start making changes to your home or buying Montessori materials, a little time spent reading to fully understand how to set up a Montessori home – and a Montessori parenting attitude! – will allow your child to truly flourish.

Here are some of my recommendations:

Learning Together: What Montessori Can Offer Your Family (Kathi Hughes)

This is a lovely, short “beginners guide” to Montessori. A perfect place to begin if you’d like to find out more about the Montessori approach, or to buy for your partner / your child’s grandparents / anyone you think would benefit from an overview!

The Joyful Child: Montessori Global Wisdom for Birth to Three (Susan M. Stephenson)

If I had to recommend one Montessori book to a parent of a baby or toddler, this one would be it. It covers everything you need to know, including the prepared environment, physical development, toys, music, language, self-respect, science, care of self, and much more. I found this book invaluable when Frida was younger and I was just starting to really learn about the Montessori philosophy, and it shaped a lot of my thoughts and parenting.

Child of the World: Montessori Global Education for Age 3-12+ (Susan M. Stephenson)

I have just read this, and now my husband is reading this. It’s a great overview of the topics children should be introduced to, and how to introduce them. I can see myself coming back to this book a lot! I really enjoyed reading it, and felt it conveyed a lot of easily-digestible information in a short book.

How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature (Scott D. Sampson)

Not actually a Montessori book, but I think it should be prescribed reading for every modern parent! On days where I really don’t feel like leaving the house, the lessons from this book serve as a virtual push to get us outdoors, and I have never once regretted it.

Montessori Today (Paula P. Lillard)

This book is a great overview of Montessori education, from birth to adulthood. There is a focus on the classroom rather than the home, but I have still found it a very useful book in terms of development and the sorts of activities to be considering now as well as planning in the future.

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids (Kim John Payne)

This book deeply affected the way that I think about parenting, our family rhythm, and what I want to prioritise as a mother. Although it is rooted in Waldorf philosophy, I think it will resonate with Montessori-inspired families. I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone with children.

Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason (Alfie Kohn)

This wonderful book has really influenced the way my husband and I parent, and again, although Kohn is not a Montessorian, his gentle and respectful approach to parenting without praise and punishment fits in beautifully with the philosophy. We love this book so much, and it has given us much food for thought.

Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Pre-school Years (Elizabeth G. Hainstock)

A lovely, approachable, illustrated book describing a wealth of practical life, sensorial, language, and math activities, all suitable for pre-schoolers. Because this is aimed at parents teaching Montessori at home, many of her activities can be DIY’d, and she even provides instructions. When I first read this book I was struck by how un-intimidating it made Montessori activities feel. I love it!

Montessori Read & Write: A parent’s guide to literacy for children (Lynne Lawrence)

I believe this is essential reading for the parent of any young child, not just those Montessori-inspired families. The approach Lawrence sets out in her book is beautifully simple and logical, and would be a wonderful complement to traditional schooling as well as a fantastic resource for homeschooling families. If you have a little one, and wish to help them learn to read and write, then you need to read this book!

Basic Montessori: Learning Activities for Under-Fives (David Gettman)

I would recommend this book to anyone who has decided on a Montessori approach (or whose child will be attending a Montessori nursery or school) and who has perhaps read other more general books on the Montessori philosophy first. This brilliant book is a practical guide to many Montessori materials, including what the child learns from each one, how to present it, and (if appropriate) some options for DIY. I find myself picking it up constantly at the moment.

How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk (Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish)

I love the respectful, encouraging ethos of this book, and I’m sure I will be returning to it a lot over the years. It is definitely aimed at parents of older children though, so I have How To Talk So Little Kids Will Listen in my online shopping basket at the moment!

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As we are planning on home schooling, I find myself reading so many books on education. Although I love the Montessori approach, I personally see real benefit in reading about many different approaches, so my bookshelves are groaning under the weight of books on Steiner Waldorf education, project-based learning, classical education, Charlotte Mason, unschooling, and more. From each book I read I find myself storing little parts to take forward with us on our journey.

Which parenting or education books do you love? Please share your recommendations with me in the comments, as I love discovering new titles. 

Our homeschool space update – art, work, and practical life

As the summer starts edging towards autumn (and it really does feel like that here in London – sunny days are sandwiched between days of pouring rain, the blackberries in our garden are coming to an end, and the apples on our neighbour’s tree are ripening) my thoughts are inevitably turning to planning for the months ahead – definitely a habit entrenched from years in education when September meant new stationary, uniform, and back to classes.

I’ve been thinking a lot about our rhythm and what I want it to look like come autumn, as I feel a bit like I’ve lost my way during summer. I’ve also been thinking hard about Frida’s work space (our “homeschool space”, if you will – AKA half of our dining room) and how it’s working for her following a recent developmental leap. I’ve made a few changes recently, mainly focused around making her art materials more accessible and appealing, and allowing her to be more independent whilst caring for herself and our home. 

The first change is that I have brought Frida’s table into the middle of her work space, rather than leaving it tucked in next to the chalk-board. Already I’ve observed that she is using it more – and using the chalk-board more, too, as it’s more visible now. 

We have also attached a spice rack to the side of the table to store her crayons and coloured pencils, so that these are convenient and accessible for her. Another spice rack has been painted with chalk-board paint and attached to the wall to store Frida’s chalks. 

I have also created a little art material storage area, by using a tiny £5 IKEA bathroom shelf unit. These are not all our art materials, but having everything out would be overwhelming for a 28 month old, and her parents! I have included some finger paints (in dispenser jars to make it easier for Frida to help herself, alongside ramekins for the paint), paintbrushes, watercolours (a review on these coming up soon), glitter glue pens, marker pens, and modelling clay. Other materials I will rotate in or bring out when she will use them. Paper sits tucked behind these materials, flush to her shelves. 

Finally, I have recently added a little practical-life area to the room, with a child-sized clothes’ horse, a basket of pegs, a hook for a tea-towel, a water dispenser, and a basket of cleaning cloths, cut down for little hands. Next to this area is a stand with her cleaning tools and apron. 

Her work shelves remain much the same as I only updated them a few weeks ago, though since then I’ve made a couple of tweaks after observing Frida (you can read about what was on them at the beginning of the month here). 

There are no toys in this space, unless you count things like puzzles and jigsaws, as I have decided to consciously separate imaginative play from her work space. This works well for us. 

As you’ll have noticed, in this space Frida currently has access to paint pumps, water, and art materials. I want to stress two things, in case you’re reading this post thinking “oh I could never give my child free access to those things, my child would make such a mess and I would find it so stressful”.

1) Frida DOES make a mess. Some of it accidental – she is two, and she’s learning! – and a lot of it intentional – it’s exciting to see what happens when a glass overflows! Frida is also an a developmental stage where she needs to push and test boundaries, which can be a wild combination when mixed with free access to messy things.

2) I find it really hard to let go. I am not one of those amazing people who can just relax, laugh about the chaos, and sit back. I am really working hard to to be more relaxed about mess and spills, and trust in Frida’s learning process, but it’s not easy for me or at all natural. I’m trying my best to not interfere too much but my goodness it’s difficult for me. 

However, despite this, I think it’s so important that Frida have independent access to these things. Mess provides an opportunity for modelling and/or practising tidying. Spills provide a wonderful practical life lesson in cleaning and wiping. I want Frida to know that I trust her ability to use these things in the correct manner (eventually, when the novelty wears off and the repeated lessons sink in – she’s got a long time to learn) and I think the positives wholly outweigh any minor stress on my part around mess. In fact, I think it’s a good learning opportunity for me, too. 

I am sure this space will see many more iterations as Frida grows and her needs change, but right now I hope that these simple changes will make her space work even better for her. 

Does anyone else feel like they are constantly changing their spaces around? How much freedom do you give your children around “messy” stuff – and how do you stay hands-off, trusting the process and allowing your children to make a mess? I’d love to hear your thoughts! 

Beautiful non-fiction books we love 

Hello! I hope you are all enjoying the summer. Here in England it seems like the sunshine has finally come back out for a while after weeks of rain – good timing for us as we have spent the weekend camping with friends. I’ve come back feeling physically tired but mentally refreshed after a weekend of fresh air and plenty of good conversation.

I wanted to share some of our favourite non-fiction books which we are currently reading. I love children’s non-fiction, and feel like we are so spoilt for choice at the moment, with many wonderful authors and illustrators working to bring the most beautiful books to the market. Here are some of our favourites, some of which are relatively new to us, and some of which we have had for a while but keep coming back to. Please feel free to share your favourites in the comments!

The Street Beneath My Feet (Charlotte Guillain and Yuval Zommer)

Frida has been asking us a lot recently about what is under the ground, and I felt like our explanations were not satisfying her need to really explore the topic. So I did what I always do when I want to look at a new idea with Frida, and researched books on the topic! I am really excited about this book, and I think that if you have children then they will be excited by it too. It’s a pull-out book, which opens up into a long vertical “slice” of under the ground, from the surface of the earth right to the earth’s core. Along the way we encounter underground trains, animal burrows, soil, rocks and minerals, pipes, bones, and much, much more. One side looks at the ground under a busy street, the other the ground under a garden or field.

This beautiful book takes a fairly abstract concept and makes it tangible for even very young children to grasp, with sufficient information and detail that much older children would be delighted by it too. I will definitely be buying this as a gift for some of the children I know – I can’t imagine any child not enjoying this gorgeous publication!

Today (Julie Morstad)

I love the concept of this book so much. It starts with a child waking in the morning, then each double-page spread looks at a choice they might make (where to go, what to wear, what to eat for breakfast), illustrates lots of options, then asks what you would choose! We have had so much fun as a family reading through this book, talking about which choices we would make. As well as being a fun book it’s also brilliant for expanding a child’s vocabulary. Love it.

Lots: The Diversity of Life on Earth (Nicola Davies)

I am a huge fan of Nicola Davies’ books, and this one does certainly not disappoint. A stunning book tackling the important issue of loss of diversity as well as introducing the concept of ecosystems in an accessible and interesting way. I love that her books do not have a huge amount of writing, allowing the illustrations to speak volumes. This book is very special and, in my opinion, extremely important. A great place to start conversations about conservation and the need to look after our planet.

The Barefoot Book of Children

I am sure I have written about this book before, but I didn’t feel I could write about beautiful non-fiction book without including this. If you don’t have it in your child’s book collection, buy it, or reserve it from the library. Seriously. It’s a wonderful look at the ways in which children around the globe are all different and unique, and yet all so very similar. It’s such a good place to start if you want to introduce more diversity to your child’s bookshelves, and an excellent basis for talking about peace, and disabilities, and different family set-ups, and geography, and and and…

How Do Flowers Grow? (Lift-the-Flap First Questions and Answers)

We recently bought this book, and I wished we had bought it sooner! A beautiful, simple book showing how flowers grow from seeds, how pollination works, how seeds are dispersed, and much more. Fantastic.

Grandma’s House (Alice Melvin)

This book is just so gorgeous, a real visual feast for children to enjoy. The book follows a girl as she walks through her grandmother’s beautiful home, ending up in the sort of garden dreams are made of! There are not many words, but the illustrations are so rich; this book is perfect as a vocabulary building book, as there are so many objects to point out on each page, so many things to talk about. Since reading this book Frida has become very taken with the idea of attics, and what people keep in theirs.

Atlas of Animal Adventures

I love the content of this book, which features some amazing animals from across the globe. From birds of paradise to polar bears, this book makes for fascinating reading – I have certainly learnt a lot! The book includes a map of the world and separates the animals into continents, so it’s a great way to introduce some geographical concepts alongside learning about some of the incredible animals we share our planet with.

A note: If you are following a very strict Montessori approach towards books, you may want to think carefully about this one. Although all of the written content is factual, some of the illustrations appeal to children’s silly nature, and put some of the animals in human accessories or situations. This doesn’t bother me at all and Frida finds it funny, but I only introduced this book when she a) already knew what these animals looked like, and b) could clearly understand that this was for comedic effect rather than because animals wear hats or drink from tea cups!

Look Inside: Our World (Usborne)

This book is a wonderful, accessible, and fun introduction to geography and biomes. Children will adore lifting the flaps on each page (as, ahem, do I) and seeing what lies beneath, to learn more about rivers, deserts, jungles, oceans, and much more. Frida is enjoying this book now but I think she will continue to get a lot out of it for years to come as we explore these concepts further.

In the same series Frida also loves Look Inside: Your Body, which I thoroughly recommend to any family with a young child as a brilliant, visual introduction to human biology. We will definitely be looking to add more of the Look Inside series to our book collection, as I think they make complex topics so accessible for young children.

Moon (Britta Teckentrup and Patricia Hegarty)

Disclaimer – we haven’t read this yet, as it’s not actually released until next month! But we love Britta Teckentrup (we have Tree: Seasons Come, Seasons Go and Bee: Nature’s tiny miracle, both of which are wonderful) and I think this book looks stunning. I will definitely be buying a copy and using it as the basis for further discussions and work around the phases of the moon, something we haven’t really touched upon yet.

I am always looking for recommendations for gorgeous, well-written, inspiring non-fiction books to share with Frida. What beautiful books are you reading at the moment? 

Montessori shelf update – 27 months 

Frida has had a big developmental leap recently, which always means I feel the need to move things around, source new work materials for her, rotate, and generally re-think our spaces.

Frida is suddenly showing a real interest in Montessori-style work materials after a long period of focusing on imaginative play and language acquisition, and so I have had to quickly adjust to her new needs! As well as suddenly showing a huge interest in letters and numbers, she has discovered jigsaws (up till now she has always turned her nose up at them!) and shown a renewed interest in puzzles.

All of a sudden, her one set of work shelves didn’t quite seem enough any more, so I moved her toy kitchen and play food into her playroom, and brought down another set of shelves so that her downstairs space could focus solely on work. This makes sense for us, as this was always going to be the space we used for homeschooling (in our dining room; we have a small house so spaces need to be multi-purpose, no big homeschooling room for us sadly!)

Frida is free to choose where she wants to be in our home at any time, and what she wants to work or play with. I might occasionally suggest something, but I aim to be led by her wants and needs. These materials are no different! If something is new on her shelves then I will demonstrate it to her, but she is otherwise free to explore, use, play, make, work as she wishes. Sometimes I sit with her, sometimes I am busy doing something else. It works for us!

Art materials

  • Modelling clay – I love Okonorm as the colours are natural and it doesn’t dry out at all, even in open air
  • Coloured pencils (we love IKEA and Lyra)
  • Stockmar wax crayons(both stick and block)
  • Chalk

Work shelf

Work shelves

I wanted to finish off by stressing that these materials are chosen following Frida’s current interests and developmental needs. Every child is different, and your child at a similar age might be using materials which are more complex, or might not be ready for some of these materials yet. This list of materials is certainly not meant as a “this is what your child should be working on now” list! I love seeing what other children have on their work shelves, and so I hope these updates are useful as inspiration or encouragement for others.

“I like them so much!” Ostheimer review + discount code 

Frida’s most beloved toys are without any doubt her collection of wooden animal figures. These are played with all day, every day, with the rest of her toys mere accessories for her animals, acting as homes or caves or oceans or food, and I have watched as her imaginative play, storytelling skills, and vocabulary have flourished whilst she plays. With this in mind, I have been wanting to try out Ostheimer figures for a while now – their animal figures are natural, ethical, and absolutely stunning.

I was delighted, therefore, when One Hundred Toys offered us the chance to review some Ostheimer figures. The lovely Alexis made up a beautiful selection for Frida to play with, sending her the hunter, a wolf, a goose, a fox, a fawn, a rabbit with its ears up, and a running rabbit.

Ostheimer toys are all individually carved from native German hardwoods such as maple and ash, and then painted by hand, giving every figure a unique look and feel – no two are identical. These beautiful figures are then dipped in an all-natural walnut oil, giving them a soft finish. They feel wonderful, very tactile and pleasing for little hands.

In an age where machine-made, identical, disposable plastic toys seem to rule, I think that these toys are so special. Ostheimer toys will be especially appealing for parents inspired by a Montessori or Steiner approach, where there is a strong focus on providing a beautiful environment for our children, featuring natural materials where possible – in fact, one of the core Montessori principles for creating a prepared environment is beauty.

Being wooden, these toys won’t break or run out of batteries, so will last for years and can then be handed down to others, avoiding landfill. They also encourage children to use their imaginations and play creatively – there are so many uses for them! Even very young children can enjoy the sensory experience of holding a wooden figure (especially as these are safe to mouth as they don’t use harsh chemicals or dangerous paint) or enjoy a puppet show by their parent or caregiver. This is a lovely introductory article to puppet play the Steiner way and I have certainly seen Frida transfixed by the simple puppet shows at our parent child group. I also love this blog post on using animal figures in play.

When I gave Frida her new toys, she immediately started to play with them, incorporating other toys and launching into a complex story of animals being friends and running away from each other and sharing their homes. I took this as a very good sign! After a little while I asked her what she thought about the figures, and she replied “I like my new toys SO MUCH!”

She has been playing with them non-stop since they arrived, the hunter being at times a postman, a farmer, and a daddy (and also brilliantly fulfilling the role of hunter in Peter and the Wolf, Frida’s favourite piece of music). The rabbits in particular have rarely left her side, and we have had a lot of fun building different habitats and backdrops for the figures together.

If you’re just starting to think about buying some natural, open ended toys for your child, or perhaps you’re being asked by relatives what to buy for birthday or Christmas gifts, my recommendation would be to start with a few animal and human figures such as these Ostheimer ones (you could start with animals your child already knows and loves), a couple of playsilks, and some wooden blocks. Just these few toys would open up so many play opportunities and give room for young imaginations to take pride of place!

Ostheimer vs Holztiger 

The rest of Frida’s animal figures have all been Holztiger, so I was interested in seeing how they compared.

Below is a size-comparison with some Holztiger figures. The smaller ones are Ostheimer, which I actually prefer for little hands (and for storage purposes!); I’ve noticed Frida is really drawn to her smaller animals.

I think the style difference is quite visible too. The Ostheimer feel more natural to the touch – you can really feel the wood grain. Ostheimer figures are a bit more expensive that Holztiger (example the Holztiger wolf retails around £7 whilst the Ostheimer wolf is around £10) but if money were no object I would certainly have chosen to collect Ostheimer for Frida instead as I think there is something quite magical about them.

The two brands work together beautifully and going forward I will definitely be looking at buying more Ostheimer for Frida. On my wish-list for her is this beautiful rabbit hutch which I can see her playing with for hours on end, along with this magical wishing well (currently out of stock but I will be keeping a close eye on its return – something for Christmas I think). They are truly special toys which make wonderful gifts will take pride of place in any child’s home, and I really recommend them – as does Frida.

One Hundred Toys have kindly offered new customers 10% off their first order with the code: FRIDA100

They have so many other wonderful toys and craft items on their site; do have a look!

The Ostheimer figures were gifted to me from One Hundred Toys to review, but this review  is my own honest opinion (and Frida’s!). I only ever recommend things which we have tried and loved. 

I also love the One Hundred Toys blog which you can read here: https://www.onehundredtoys.com/blogs/news 

Learning to read and write the Montessori way: sound games

In my last post I talked about how we are laying the foundations for literacy for Frida. Laying this foundation is, in my opinion, very important and absolutely necessary before any sort of formal literacy learning takes place.

Frida is now at a stage in her development where she is ready for work which will have a more direct impact on her reading and writing skills, “keys” to reading and writing. We started this work a couple of months ago and I wanted to tell you a little bit more about it. However, for those accustomed to flash cards, ABCs and alphabet songs, this work may look a little unusual. In the Montessori philosophy, a child’s first reading work does not actually consist of learning any letters. Sound strange? Hopefully this blog post will make things clearer!

“I spy with my little eye…”: playing Montessori sound games

These games are the first step towards learning to read and write the Montessori way, and as such are crucial if choosing this method. They are designed to help the child recognise and be  aware of the different sounds that make up words. The child uses the skills she develops in these games to help her to sound out the first words she reads and writes.

It is really important that you use the proper sounds when playing these games. You are not naming the letters, eg. the letter ‘a’ is not ‘ay’ but ‘a’ as in apple. The letter ‘b’ is not ‘bee’ or ‘buh’ but ‘b’ as in tub. ‘F’ is not ‘eff’ but ‘fff’. It does take a bit of practice! I would recommend searching online for “Montessori sound charts” or looking in a Montessori book for the correct pronunciation of letters and digraphs (sounds which are created when two letters are combined, such as ‘ai’, ‘ch’, ‘th’ or ‘sh’).

It is suggested that these games are introduced once the child is talking close to fluently, with a strong grasp of language and a wide vocabulary, along with good pronunciation. Another way to know if your child is ready is how they react to the game – if they are not interested then it may well be that they are not ready. I know that I tried to start playing sound games with Frida a month or so before we actually started and she just was not up for it at all. When I introduced them again just a month later she was immediately interested and will now happily play for a long time, which says to me that she is ready whereas she wasn’t before.

I would also stress that it’s important to start with the sound games before introducing materials such as the sandpaper letters, as these build on the skills your child will develop through these games. 

How to play?

Level one – Choose one object, for example a pen, hold it out and show it to your child. “I spy with my little eye something in my hand beginning with ‘p’.” Then child will say “pen”. You can repeat this with various objects. When the child appears to be beginning to listen to the sounds, move to level two.

Level two – Choose two objects, with different initial sounds, and play the game. Your child now has to make a choice, affected by how she distinguishes sound. When she has mastered this stage, increase to three, then four, then five. You can be more subtle, introducing similar sounds such as “p” and “b”. When the child has mastered this, move to level three.

Level three (where we are currently with Frida) – Choose a room, garden, or illustration, and a sound which represents more than one object in it. Once your child has offered one object, encourage them to volunteer more. You are not asking your child to search for one object that you are thinking of, but rather any item beginning with that sound. Your child may also take turns to choose the sound for the objects. Use digraphs as well as single letters. Play this game often!

We either play this game using our surroundings as inspiration, or by looking at the pages of a beautiful book. Some of my favourite books for playing sound games include “Grandma’s House” and “Lots: The Diversity of Life on Earth” (both are gorgeous books which I really recommend), although any book with rich illustrations works well and we play it a lot whilst reading.

I have been really encouraged and energised by playing these games with Frida. She also seems to enjoy them and can often be heard talking to herself or to us saying “‘A’ for Albie”! And ‘f’ for fur, and ‘f’ for Frida! ‘M’ for mummy.” I think this is a good sign that she is in the sensitive period for this work.

A note on age: “Montessori Read and Write” suggests introducing the level three sound games around age three to three and a half (following level one around age two and a half, and level two around age two and a half to three). Frida is only 26 months at the time of writing. However, I felt that she was ready as her spoken language is very strong for her age, and she was able to immediately grasp the first two levels with ease. Some children may be ready sooner than the suggested ages, and some may be ready later, preferring to work on other skills. Every child is different! 

Further sound games and language work

Rhyming games – Frida and I play a game where we think of words which rhyme. I might start with I spy: “…something beginning with ‘sh’.” “Shoe!” “Yes, that’s right. Shoe begins with ‘sh’. It ends with an “ue” sound – can you think of any other words which rhyme with ‘shoe'”? Another variation is to play “I spy with my little eye something that rhymes with…”. 

We will also play games where I will make up a silly rhyme (which Frida doesn’t already know) and then she will finish the rhyme by choosing an appropriate word. She will pretty much always choose the word which I would also have chosen; it’s a fascinating look into how logical small minds are!

Sorting objects by beginning sound – This is an activity that Frida has recently been working on and enjoying. I have provided a pile of animal figures (maybe 3-4 animals of each letter) and suggested that she sort them by the sound they start with. This was fine, but once she realised she could do it she wasn’t very interested in continuing to work on it!

To make this work more interesting / challenging for her I gave her pieces of paper for each animal with the corresponding letter on (not making a big deal of the letters, just saying “This page has a ‘d’, it makes a ‘d’ sound – ‘d’ as in ‘dog, d-og’. All the animals which begin with the a ‘d’ sound can go on this page.”)

I think this is probably quite unorthodox and not what Montessori would recommend, as I have introduced some written letters here; however my main intention is the sorting rather than the letter itself – but knowing Frida I thought the exercise would appeal to her. So far we have done this with five letters (d, c, g, m, f) building up to using all five at the same time over two days, and she has been able to sort the objects with ease, coming back to the exercise with no need to be reminded of what the letters were.  She has really enjoyed this work.

Next steps

Sandpaper letters – I have purchased some sandpaper letters, and the next step will be for me to formally introduce these to Frida. I have really deliberated about whether to introduce these now or wait a little while – I was in two minds! Everything I have read on the subject says to wait until the child is confidently playing sound games at level three before introducing the letters, which I feel Frida is. She is also showing an interest in letters and punctuation marks at the moment, and just through casually introducing her to a few letters in the sorting game she seems to have remembered the sound they make with ease and shows an interest in exploring more letters (“what letter is ‘b’?”) However, I am unsure if her fine motor skills are good enough to trace the letters successfully which will of course be a factor in using the sandpaper letters as a material. It’s hard – I am mindful of wanting to wait until she is truly ready, whilst also not wanting to delay in case I miss a sensitive moment. My gut tells me to introduce them and be ready to put them away if she doesn’t seem ready, but I would appreciate any thoughts or guidance you might have!

We have the book “Montessori: Letter WorkEdit” which is great for independent letter exploration. It has rough textured letters with images (which are actually correct in terms of sound – so many books aren’t, for example including a giraffe for ‘g’ where a goat or girl would be more accurate). I have just moved this onto Frida’s work shelves with a brief explanation of what it is, and I have observed her looking at it independently a number of times as well as asking to look at it together. 

More sound games – When we move on from our level three sound games, we will not only focus on the initial sound but the initial and end sounds (“I spy with my little eye, something beginning with c and ending with t). This is level four. Once she is able to do this, we will start enunciating all of the sounds in words (“Let’s listen to all of the sounds in cat; c-a-t. Did you hear the sound after c? Let’s say cat again! C-a-t”). This is level five, at which time it is suggested to use the moveable alphabet. I feel like this will be quite far away for us so I won’t go into it now!

Further reading

If you are interested in reading more on this subject, I really recommend buying “Montessori Read and Write: A Parent’s Guide to Literacy for ChildrenEdit” (Lynne Lawrence). It is a fantastically clear guide to helping your child develop literacy skills and is well worth a read even if your child will be attending a non-Montessori nursery or school.

There are also some brilliant blog posts on this subject from Amy at Midwest Montessori (“Sound games come first” and “Sound games: Montessori I-spy“) and from Mars at Montessori on Mars (“Our first alphabet work did not have any letters“); please do read these, they are superb summaries written by dedicated Montessori mothers.

I will share more with you as we continue our journey! Stay tuned for a post about how we are laying the foundations for numeracy in the home.