In the kitchen: baking mince pies 

I have a love-hate relationship with mince pies. I actually (whisper it!) don’t much care for mincemeat. But there is something so wonderfully festive about eating a mince pie, preferably warm and with some sort of boozy cream on top, that I still enjoy them. Strictly in December only, mind. 

With that in mind, Frida and I have been busy in the kitchen this afternoon baking our own mince pies. They are a brilliant idea for baking with young children, as they can do so much! 

First Frida chopped all the butter using her crinkle cutter (asking each time “Is this piece perfect? Is this one perfect?”) and added it all to the flour. This was also a good opportunity to use words like “half” and “quarter”, or give instructions like “cut it in half, and then in half again”. 

Then she started mixing the butter and flour into breadcrumbs (I finished this to achieve the correct texture, plus she got a bit bored), then added an egg yolk which I had already separated for her, scraping the bowl with a spoon to get all the yolk out. 

She gradually added some water, which she fetched herself, and helped to mix this in. I then pulled the mixture together into a dough which she was able to roll out (again, with help as the dough needed to be thin – I think we still made it too thick). 

After we cut out pastry together she helped to fill the pies  (I helped as by this point she was needing to move around a bit!) then give them their pastry lids which I cut out and passed to her. We used pre-bought mincemeat – as I’m not a huge fan I didn’t have a burning desire to make my own! 

I then cut the slits and put them in the oven, although she could have done the cutting with supervision. By this point she was done with baking though and wanted to go and play. 

I will freely admit it – as mince pies go, these are pretty poor. I think the pastry was too thick, and because we were baking together the lids were not as well sealed as if I’d been baking alone. I’m planning on serving them warm, with a healthy sprinkle of icing sugar and some brandy cream, which I hope will hide their multitude of sins! But as ever when cooking with Frida, the real joy was in the baking. 

Have you been baking mince pies this December? What is your go-to recipe? 

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Kuhn Rikon kinderkitchen knife review 

Frida is really enjoying helping me in the kitchen at the moment, which is lovely. She has become very proficient at chopping, always using her trusty crinkle cutter (this is the one we use). This has been one of our best buys ever for Frida – it is so easy to use, even for very young children, and therefore so empowering. With it she can chop most things, from soft fruits to hard vegetables like carrots, and I feel confident that she is safe.

Because of the nature of the crinkle cutter though, Frida’s knife skills were not really being developed (the action required is very different), so I thought the time had come for a next stage knife. After some research – and some Instagram advice! – I recently bought Frida the Kuhn Rikon kinderkitchen Children’s Knife.

I have been really impressed with it. It is sharp, ie. it is a functioning knife, but feels safe due to its rounded end, chunky shape, and sturdy build. This means I can give Frida more independence with it, leaving it out on her kitchen shelves and not feeling that I have to hover over it when she uses it (although of course I would never leave her using it unsupervised). I feel much happier with her using a sharp knife which works well than her using a blunt knife which may require more force to be effective; I feel it’s much safer.

As a bonus, Frida really enjoys that this knife looks like a dog. She is two and a half, after all!

Frida is very much still learning how to use this knife, as this is the first time she has had to use a sawing motion to cut. As such, I am doing a lot of modelling cutting myself (we usually work in the kitchen side-by-side), and am giving her practical guidance by helping her to position her hand correctly. I trust that she will get there in her own time.

Although using knives obviously does carry an element of risk, I believe it is absolutely worth it. Even very young children can make a very real contribution to their home, and I think that it is our role as parents to teach them how to use these tools safely rather than shielding them from anything which might harm them. Kylie from How We Montessori has a great blog post on this topic here. 

Knife progression

Whilst Frida is still getting the hang of using a “proper” knife, I imagine she will continue to use her beloved crinkle cutter for a good while yet.

She also uses a child size table knife for spreading which works well.

When she is comfortably using her kinderkitchen knife, I will buy her the OPINEL Le Petit Chef knife. I have heard really good things about it, and I really like that it has a hole to encourage correct finger placement, but it feels like it’s a little too advanced for where Frida’s knife skills are at currently.

Does your pre-schooler have their own knives for cooking? Which do you like the best? 

Montessori Gifts for Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers

With the festive season fast approaching, I have updated my Montessori-friendly gift guide. I hope you find it useful!

Below are a selection of toys I feel pretty sure would be welcomed by any family with an interest in the Montessori ethos –  or actually, any family at all. They are well made, beautiful, mostly made of natural materials, and invite open-ended creative play. A few are classic Montessori, a few are Waldorf-inspired, and a few are just classic toys which any child would love.

I have categorised these items by type rather than age (apart from infant). This is because our children are all different, and tend to pay no attention to age restrictions on toys – a 13 month old and a 28 month old might well both enjoy the same item, albeit perhaps using it in a slightly different way (that’s the beauty of open-ended toys).

I haven’t included books in this list – it would be too long if I listed all our favourites. Needless to say, books make a fantastic gift for any age child. Some of our favourite non-fiction books can be found here, and I’m confident that most young children would enjoy finding one of these under their tree!

INFANT

Rainbow bead grasper. Such a beautiful toy for babies – a sensory delight.

Mobile. There are just so many mobiles out there that I didn’t have time to go through them all! A simple design which could be hung anywhere would be a winner though.

Interlocking disks. A Montessori classic material for babies. Really well made and a treasure for any keepsake box.

Soft baby. At 7cm these are ideal for babies who are just beginning to grasp.

Pop-Up Toy. A classic toy, which Frida played with for a long time, and one which I have gifted many babies. One of our all time favourite toys, and very reasonably priced.

Nesting cups. A great gift for a younger baby or toddler, and can be used for imaginative play as they get older. Again, this is one of my go-to gifts when buying for a new baby. Frida still plays with hers daily at two and a half!

Rattle. How beautiful is this rattle? It would make a lovely gift for a young baby.

Soft ball. A beautiful felted ball to engage the senses, this would be used for years.

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GRIMMS WOODEN TOYS

We really love Grimms wooden toys in our home!

Open-ended, ethically made, and beautifully tactile, these toys are really very special. They make such wonderful gifts, and can be used in endless ways.

Some of my favourites include the large rainbow, the semi-circles, the stacking boxes, the dolls and doll’s furniture (including the gorgeous mobile home), and the many different stackers (we have the cave and waves).  They also sell stunning building sets, blocks, cars, peg dolls… I could go on.


FOSTERING IMAGINATIVE PLAY

Dolls (Anatomically correct plastic baby / Waldorf-style dolls). Frida has a very simple plastic baby doll with a soft body (similar here) which has served her well. Dolls are so important for boys and girls alike and I think young children are really drawn to them.

Doll sling. A wonderful gift for a child who already owns a doll!

Blocks (simple blocks here / beautiful natural ones here). A staple for every household.

Play silks. These are such a beautiful, open-ended material. In our home they are used as doll slings, as backgrounds for playing, as decorative materials, for hiding and playing peek-a-boo, for dressing up… These make a lovely gift for a child of any age!

Wooden animals and figures (Holztiger / Ostheimer). Frida’s Holztiger wooden animals have been such a joy, for her and for us to use with her. Beautifully made, pleasant to handle, and perfect for open ended play for years to come. She plays with them day in, day out, and I often buy them for gifts. We also love the trees, and this year I have bought Frida some play grass and a wooden well.

Schleich animals. I am sure these are found in every Montessori home! Anatomically correct, versatile, resilient, these are amazing and make fantastic gifts. Frida has some farm animals in adult / baby pairs (great for matching activities for younger toddlers) and some sea animals which she uses in the bath.

Vehicles (cars / fire truck / fork lift / horse on wheels / aeroplane). I love simple vehicles (we have the Grimms cars and a Plan truck), but I’m sure most would go down well with toddlers.

Dolls house. These would make an incredible gift for an older toddler or child. Frida has a simple Grimms doll house frame, which I love as it’s versatile (doubling up as a cafe or stable) and easy for little hands to navigate.

Farm house or stable. Ditto – an amazing gift to go with wooden or Schleich animals.

Plan Toys vegetable garden set. The loveliest toy to go alongside small dolls and animals!

Toy kitchen (IKEA / Myriad). A classic toy for toddlers and young children, again available to suit every budget. There is a debate within Montessori families about the use of toy kitchens, some eschewing them altogether, some preferring to use them alongside real crockery and food, and some using them for imaginative play whilst ensuring the child gets plenty of access to real food preparation. We fall in the latter camp.

Train set. A classic gift but a great one! Again, you’ll be able to find one to suit every budget. We have a cheap IKEA one for now. Setting the track up is like a puzzle in its own right too.

Frida loves using natural materials in her imaginative play, including precious stones, conkers, pieces of wood, stones, shells… A collection of natural “loose parts” gifted in a bag or basket would be the most wonderful gift for an older toddler or preschooler.

PUZZLES AND GAMES

Object permanence box. A wonderful, classic Montessori, gift for a baby. You can see Frida using hers here when she was 10 months.

Simple peg puzzles (shapes / three circles / circle). Classic Montessori and brilliant for older babies as an introduction to puzzles. I loved using the three circles puzzle with Frida when she was younger, and it was a good way to introduce her to size.

More complex peg puzzles (shapesfarm animals / wild animals / vehicles). Good for older babies and toddlers.

Shape sorter / shape sorterimbucare box. Young children love posting, and shape sorting is great for their hand / eye coordination. The animal shape sorter I linked to would be good for older babies – Frida was bought a second hand one and loved playing with the animals.

Two piece / multiple piece puzzles. Great for younger toddlers who are just starting to learn about how puzzles work.

Jigsaw puzzles. There are so many to love! We especially like the Ravensburger frame puzzles.

Magnetic fishing game. A lovely game which encourages coordination and fine motor skills. We have a cheap one my mum bought for Frida but I’ve linked to a similar one and there’s another here.

Animal dominoes. Animal matching, plus putting things in and taking them out of their box. What’s not to love?!

Bird Bingo. A Montessori family classic! We have learnt so much from ours. There is also a Bug Bingo as well as cat and dog versions.

Where’s My Piglet? A beautiful matching game with adult and baby animals to match. When children are older this can be played as a memory game. 

ART MATERIALS

Stockmar crayons. I love these so much. They smell divine as they are made from beeswax, their colours are beautiful, and they are a great shape for little hands to grasp. Putting them in and taking them out of a tin is an activity in itself! They come in sets of 8, 12 and 16.

Paint. I especially like these GALT squeeze and brush paint pens for young toddlers, although those looking for something more natural might prefer finger paints like these natural ones.

For older toddlers and preschoolers I cannot get enough of these Stockmar opaque paints. The colours are amazing and they are such good quality.

Colouring pencils.. We adore Lyra pencils – their quality is second to none. For a cheaper option IKEA do great cheap, chubby ones too – pick some up if you are making a trip!

Modelling clay. I love this Okonorm clay as it doesn’t dry out at all, and the colours are gorgeous despite being natural.

Colour paddles. Great for all ages, to use as a sensory item through to learning about colour mixing.

PRACTICAL LIFE

Cleaning set. A set which children can use to really clean alongside their parents

Clothes pegs. A slightly odd gift idea perhaps, but children love clothes pegs! If you want to push the boat out Grimms do beautiful ones. Frida also loves using her own clothes horse.

Apron. A lovely idea for little ones who enjoy baking (this might be better for older toddlers as infants will probably find it easier to use a full-sleeve bib or art coverall).

Gardening set. Even children who don’t have access to a garden will enjoy these tools as they can be used in a sand pit, or in a local wood, or to help pot up plants on a balcony. We have this set and they are perfectly suitable as well as reasonably priced.

Puddle suit. A brilliantly practical gift for any age child. Even babies who cannot crawl yet can use a waterproof suit for sitting outdoors and exploring the earth with their hands.

Crinkle cutter. The perfect stocking filler! Frida uses hers all the time, and has done for a long time now. It’s a great “first knife” and enables young children to contribute to cooking in a meaningful way.

MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS

Glockenspiel. These come at all price points and in all colours and styles. Frida’s was a gift and I love that it is a “proper” adult one rather than a toy one – having a better quality of material makes a big different for instruments as the sound is so much clearer.

Hand held bells. Perfect for all ages. These are a more natural looking option.

Tambourine. Great for making lots of noise!

Shakers and maracas. A great gift for little ones who have just started grasping.

There are more beautiful instruments on the Myriad website here, any of which would be a perfect gift.

FINE MOTOR SKILLS 

Grimms threading bead set. This set is fairly expensive for what it is, so you could probably make your own set using cheaper materials, however I think it would make a beautiful gift.

Bee hive set. A truly lovely toy which encourages fine motor skills, colour matching, and imaginative play.

Grimms rainbow sorting bowls. These are also quite expensive so you could probably make your own set using cheaper materials. Again though, a really beautiful gift which I am sure would be treasured.

Stickers. At two and a half Frida is still really into stickers, and the peeling makes for a great fine motor activity (for a younger child I would peel the backing off to make it a bit easier to begin with).

Letter work book. This is a great gift for older toddlers who might be starting to show an interest in letter work. This is a lovely book with textured letters to encourage tracing.

GROSS MOTOR SKILLS

Sheepskin rug. Perfect for a new baby to lie on next to a mirror, observing their movements. Great for an older baby who is sitting, and a lovely addition to a chair or floor in a toddler bedroom.

Crawl-through tunnel. Brilliant for infants who are just starting to crawl, for playing peek-a-boo, and for imaginative play. Can be used indoors or outdoors.

“First” slide. Frida has a very small slide which she was bought for her first birthday (similar to the one linked to though not the same) and it was a great gift – small enough that she could play on it without us hovering over her, and for her to feel a sense of accomplishment. It was also small enough that if we wanted to it could easily have been brought inside our home.

Wobbel board. Frida was bought one last year and it has just been brilliant. I cannot recommend it enough.

Micro-scooter. This 3-in-1 version is suitable from around the age of one (dependent on motor skills obviously) and will last for years to come. Frida was bought this for her first birthday and it’s been a fantastic present.

Rocking horse. These can be as expensive as your budget will stretch to, though I have linked to an IKEA rocking moose as this is what we have and Frida loves it! At two and a half she still uses it all the time.

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I hope that this list has given you – and your family members! – some inspiration for birthdays and celebrations, as well as some ideas for toys your infant or toddler may enjoy.

Do you agree with the list? Think I’ve missed something? If you end up being inspired let me know how you get on!

None of the items I have mentioned have been sponsored, although this post does contain some affiliate links at no cost to you. 

Why we love… Nature Storybooks 

As a family, we read a lot of books. I aim to take Frida to the library regularly, I read children’s book reviews, greedily soak up recommendations, and love discovering new books to share with her. One of my happiest discoveries has been the Nature Storybooks series, and I have been meaning to share a little bit about the books for a while now.

The Nature Storybooks series is perfect for Montessori and non-Montessori homes alike. Each beautifully illustrated book tells a fact-based story based on one animal.

Some of the stories feature a child learning about and observing the animals with a family member. White Owl, Barn Owl features a little girl building an owl box with her grandfather, Growing Frogs shows a child collecting frogspawn with her mother and growing frogs in a tank, Yucky Worms has a grandmother teaching her grandchild all about how helpful the worms in the soil can be, and Just Ducks! depicts a girl visiting local ducks. Each of these stories is factually correct, and includes lots of information about the habits and biology of each animal.

Other stories are told about the animal themselves, as they go on a journey. Tigress tells the story of a tigress who needs to find a new home for her cubs, The Emperor’s Egg is all how the lengths emperor penguins fathers go to to protect their eggs and chicks, and Tracks of a Panda tells us about a panda and her growing cub.

I love that these books convey factual information through story. They are so engaging for young children. Many of these books have really inspired Frida’s play and imagination. She might be pretending to be the newborn panda cub from “Tracks of a Panda” eating its first bamboo shoots, or making her toy guinea pig make the noises described in “I Love Guinea Pigs“. She has learnt so much effortlessly, and loves to tell us about the different animals we have been reading about.

Frida has been enjoying these books since we discovered them just before she turned two, and she was able to understand the sweet, simple stories and the facts included within the books. The books themselves say they are targeted at children in UK school years 1-4 (so age 5-9) but I certainly think far younger children could enjoy having these books read to them.

I cannot recommend these books enough. Luckily our local library does have a few of these books, but we have happily bought a number of them as they are a joy to read – for us as parents as well as Frida. I have actually learnt quite a lot from them!

Next on the list for us to find a copy of will be Seahorse: The Shyest Fish in the Sea or Caterpillar Butterfly. The back of each book has a list of some of the others in the series, so Frida loves going through, saying which ones she has read, and choosing which she would like to read next.

These books would make lovely gifts, especially when paired with a matching toy animal or two to deepen the play opportunities.

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 

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!