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! 

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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. 

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. 

Snack station 

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

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

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

I have included:

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

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

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

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

40 practical life activities for toddlers

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

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

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

Care of self

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the kitchen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chopping fruit and vegetables using a crinkle cutter. 

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

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

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

Spreading condiments on bread or crackers.

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

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

Care of their environment

Mopping. Cleaning + water play = everyone is happy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watering outdoor plants. With a hose or watering can. 

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

Out and about 

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

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

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

Care of animals

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

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

Phew! 

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

What are your favourite practical life activities? 

Practical life: baking scones

Today has been wet and cold. Usually we have outdoor playgroup on a Monday morning, but lots of the group currently have poorly children and Frida woke up a lot last night, so I opted instead for a slow day of pottering and playing and baking. 

I hadn’t made scones with Frida before, and they are so easy that I figured even tired me couldn’t mess them up too much. I always use this BBC recipe for scones as I’ve found it very reliable. 

I prepared everything we needed first to make it easier for Frida to be involved.

She poured the flour into the mixing bowl then I added a pinch of salt – the only ingredient I didn’t really want her to handle. 

Frida then transferred the cubed butter from a bowl into the mixing bowl with a spoon. She took this very seriously and was very thorough. 

Then I demonstrated to Frida how to rub the butter into the flour, and encouraged her to have a good go. I had to help at the end to ensure it was all mixed in properly. 

Next Frida added the sugar and milk – I think she got a bit over excited and forgot to put the ramekin down before grabbing the milk. 

As an aside, you will notice that here Frida is using “proper” crockery – Denby bowls, glass ramekin and glass. We have always trusted Frida to use the same crockery as us and so far she has never broken anything! 

She then mixed up the mixture, and I added some more flour (I never weigh anything so at this stage I often have to tweak quantities slightly – now Frida is getting older I must buy scales as I don’t want her to pick up sloppy cooking practices from me). 

I brought the mix together into a dough and Frida did some kneading. Last week at our Steiner playgroup Frida kneaded some bread dough to make rolls, so this was fresh in her memory. She enjoyed making fingerprints in the dough more than she enjoyed the kneading! 

We then used some dinosaur cutters to shape the scones. I thought Frida would love this part but she preferred to continue making finger prints (!) so gave up after a couple. I cut out the rest and laid them carefully on a baking sheet. 

Frida then mixed up the egg and used a clean brush to carefully paint the scones with egg wash. She had to do this very gently as otherwise the dough became squashed, so good fine motor practice. 

Finally – cleaning! This was quite a messy activity with flour and bits of dough everywhere so it required a thorough clean up. 

The scones tasted amazing and came out quite well (although the “second batch” which I finished off looked neater as they hadn’t been as squashed!). I’m trying to eat a bit more healthily at the moment but I couldn’t resist eating one, and Frida devoured two scones as soon as they were out of the oven. 

Next time we make them we’ll do some savoury ones, as I do try and avoid giving Frida too much sweet food. 

You can read about last month’s cake baking efforts here: baking chocolate and banana cake

Montessori challenge: the bathroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does your child have access to her toilet accessories?

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

Can your child reach the light switch?

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

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

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