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.

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Poetry for children

One of my favourite things to do with Frida is to read poetry together. We curl up in an armchair, or on the sofa, or I read to her whilst she is in the bath, or on a train, or whilst she plays. Although I love reading story books, or factual books, with Frida, I definitely find reading good poetry to her the most enjoyable in terms of reading aloud.

The benefits of reading poetry to children are huge. I would argue that poetry has a big role to play in building the foundations for literacy.

Poetry is a wonderful way to build a child’s vocabulary and language structure. With the rhymes inherent in so many poems, even very young children can easily learn new words. The very nature of poetry demands for precise vocabulary to match the rhythm and rhyme of the poem, which means language is often more imaginative and varied than in a story book.

Poetry also encourages children to recognise patterns.  Poems are often repetitive in their structure and/or meter and/or language, which is brilliant for recognising patterns. Often children will be able to guess which word will come next despite having never heard a poem before, because they have understood the pattern.

Reading poetry to your child is also really enjoyable – a big benefit in my eyes! But don’t stop at just reading it. Memorise and recite some of your favourites (start short and work up), and encourage your child to memorise and recite them with you. They can do this long before they can read the poems out loud! This might sound unrealistic, but many parents find that their toddlers have learnt parts of their favourite books off by heart. Poetry is no different!

“Experts in literacy and child development have discovered that if children know eight nursery rhymes by heart by the time they’re four years old, they’re usually among the best readers by the time they’re eight.”

[Fox, M. (2001). Reading Magic. San Diego, CA: Harcourt.]

You could begin by pausing before the end of each line of the poem, to allow your child the chance to finish it, then gradually leaving out more and more, giving them the chance to fill in the gaps, before finally asking them if they would like to tell you the poem. Of course they may well need no encouragement; I often hear Frida reciting short poems and verses to herself, and the delight and pride she takes in doing so is obvious. Your child may surprise you!

You can also make up silly poems together, a brilliant way of exploring rhyme and developing phonemic awareness.

Building a child’s poetry collection

Starting a poetry collection for your child might seem a little daunting, but it doesn’t need to be! Start with a couple of classics – don’t forget to make use of your local library too! – and take it from there. Maybe there were poems you loved as a child you would like to share?

If you are thinking of starting a poetry collection for a young child, here are some of my recommendations. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but I think this would provide an excellent base for any  child’s book collection, and they are certainly all books which we read often and love.

When We Were Very Young by A. A. Milne. This is a must-have in my opinion. We read this so often!

Now We Are Six by A. A. Milne. Ditto. Simply superb.

Out and About: A First Book of Poems by Shirley Hughes. Gorgeously illustrated, gentle poems. I would recommend this to every family with toddlers.

A Child’s Book of Poems by Gyo Fujikawa. The illustrations in this volume are superb, as are some of the poems included.

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot. So much fun! The language is fantastic and the poems are brilliant. Buy this if you want your child to effortlessly learn words such as prestidigitation and suavity.

The Complete Nonsense and Other Verse by Edward  Lear. We LOVE Lear’s nonsense poems – you have probably heard of the Owl and the Pussycat, his most famous one. When Frida was a tiny baby I could always calm her down if she was upset by reciting “The Quangle Wangle’s Hat”.

I would also add in a good nursery rhyme collection; we have The Puffin Book of Nursery Rhymes illustrated and compiled by Raymond Briggs.

If you enjoy reading poetry and rhymes together, I would encourage you to learn some simple verses together too, perhaps involving some finger-play. We love Waldorf-inspired verses and have been lucky enough to learn some through the Steiner playgroup we attend. There are too many to share with you, but a google search should bring up many!

I will leave you with one of Frida’s favourites:

“A big big cat, (open your hands further apart horizontally)

“And a small small mouse, (bring your hands closer together)

“Lived together in a tall tall house. (open your hands further apart vertically)

“But the big big cat (open your hands further apart horizontally)

“Ran fast fast fast, (use your hands to make running paws)

“And the small small mouse was… (bring your hands closer together but don’t close them)

“Caught at last!” (clap your hands as if catching a mouse)

Do you enjoy poetry or verses with your child? Which are your favourites?

“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. 

Learning to read and write the Montessori way: building the foundations for literacy

I have been thinking a lot about the Montessori method of learning to read and write at the moment. Frida is deep in the sensitive period for language at the moment, and so it is something which is top of my mind!

Laying the foundations for reading and writing starts at birth. The brilliant book “Montessori Read and Write” summarises this important work of building strong foundations, saying:

“[To learn to read and write] your child will need:

  • To love and enjoy books so that she wants to learn to read and write.
  • To have a knowledge of the world around her so that she can make sense of the books you read to her, and use this knowledge to express herself in writing.
  • To have the ability to use her own language well and to enjoy the sounds, rhymes, and patterns in it, as this is the starting point for both reading and writing.
  • To develop a knowledge of print and how it is used in both reading and writing.
  • To develop good control over her body, and in particular her hand, if she is to find writing relatively easy.”

So, how does one lay these foundations for literacy? One thing which may seem conspicuous by its absence in the list above is a knowledge of the alphabet, of letters. Surely teaching a child their letters is the first step to literacy? Not in the Montessori school of thought. In the Montessori approach, there is a whole lot of important work which come before any formal work with letters, and often letters are not introduced at all until the age of three.

Instead, there is a lot we can do and offer as parents to build a strong foundation for reading and writing for our children.

Create an environment and family culture which values reading

  • Have a wide variety of beautifully illustrated, well-written, engaging books, filled with rich vocabulary, to read with your child. Ideally you would have a mix of story books, poetry books, and non-fiction books. When Frida was first really learning to talk she had a voracious appetite for animal reference books which taught her literally hundreds of animal names.
  • Read throughout the day, not just at bedtime. I will never turn down Frida’s requests to be read-to unless I really can’t, and we spend a lot of time reading together each day. I can’t think of many things more important than reading to her.
  • Create spaces in the home for reading which are child friendly, perhaps with a front-facing bookcase so your child can choose their own books and return them afterwards, and a cozy place to sit together.
  • Take trips to the library together to choose new books.
  • Let your child see you reading, too! It is valuable for children to see their parents enjoying reading. I have moved a comfortable armchair into Frida’s playroom, and often read whilst she is lost in play. I feel no guilt about this – I’m glad she sees me enjoying books. We also have a lot of our own books in the home.

Provide your child with a rich vocabulary and language

  • Use correct, adult language when talking to your child. Between the ages of birth to six, children are in a highly sensitive period for language acquisition.  I refuse to believe that young children can learn the names of ten dinosaurs but cannot learn other complex words. If using new words for the first time, explain them to your child using words they do know – they will surprise you by how much they can understand!
  • Read books with rich vocabulary, from a young age. I really encourage you to look carefully at the books which you borrow or purchase for your child. Will it build up their language, or dumb it down? Does it make you want to pick it up again and again? Does it rhyme or have a strong metre?
  • Read poetry aloud. This is so good for children, and really enjoyable too.
  • Play rhyming games, make up silly songs, tell puns – enjoy language together.
  • Recite poems, verses, and rhymes, and encourage your child to do the same. My husband and I have been reciting to Frida since she was born, and I enjoy learning new poems and verses to teach her. She can now recite a number of simple four-eight line verses herself, and delights in doing so.
  • Tell stories, and encourage your child to join in (or in the case of Frida, dictate exactly what the story must contain!)
  • Ask your child questions about the books you have read or the stories you have told. What happened to this person? Why did this person do that action? How do you think this person felt? Then what happened? These can be more complex as the child is older.

Provide opportunities for the development of fine motor skills necessary for writing

  • Give your child as many opportunities as possible to join you in meaningful work. So much practical life work involves fine motor skills, such as chopping, threading, using tongs, or peeling. Here are 40 practical life activities for toddlers.
  • Model with clay or playdough together.
  • Provide plenty of opportunities for art, using a range of materials including paint, crayons, pencils, and felt pens.
  • Offer knobbed puzzles or knobbed cylinders, for honing the pincer grip.
  • Bake together – kneading dough is great for strengthening hand muscles (plus who doesn’t love fresh bread?)
  • Provide threading work. When your child has mastered threading beads, they may move to simple sewing work.

Build your child’s knowledge of the world around them

  • Name everything around your child! Talk to them about what they can see, about what you are doing, about what they are experiencing. This starts at birth.
  • Read books which are filled with real-life experiences, objects, animals, and phenomena.
  • Provide your child with opportunities to classify the objects she sees, and give her the words to do so; floating / sinking; mammal / bird; food / non-food; soft / hard; rough / smooth.
  • Create opportunities for matching work, for example object to card, then object to similar object.

This is not an exhaustive list at all, but I hope it gives you a flavour of some of the things you can do from a very young age to start building up the foundations of literacy in your children. If you feel I have missed anything please let me know!

In my next post I will be talking about the next step in learning to read and write from a Montessori perspective, which is where we are currently at with Frida (clue: it’s still not teaching her the alphabet!) 

Laying the feast

“We spread an abundant and delicate feast… and each small guest assimilates what he can.” – Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason was writing here about the need to provide our children with a rich, diverse, interesting, tempting, beautiful education. An education which invites them to consume diverse ideas and stories and concepts, tempting them in with lovingly prepared morsels and encouraging them to dig deeper and fall in love with learning.

I love this idea of laying the feast, and have been thinking a lot about it recently. Mason was writing specifically about (home) education, and as we go forwards in our homeschooling journey I am sure it will continue to inspire and motivate me. But I also feel it is a really valuable idea for those pre-school years, raising babies and toddlers. It is a simple and wonderful concept.

I also really love that she refers to children here as “guests”. How much better would our society be if each child was treated as a valued and respected guest by their caregivers, whose wishes and needs were truly listened to with empathy and love? At difficult moments I try to ask myself: “How would I respond if this was an adult who was having a tough time? How would I speak to them?” The idea of thinking about our children as beloved guests is a powerful one – made more so by the fact that, just like guests, they will not be living with us forever.

We have our children for such a short time, and it is up to us to fill that childhood with an abundant array of experiences and ideas.

A WORD ABOUT THE PREPARED ENVIRONMENT

I think the concept of laying the feast ties in well with the Montessori idea of the prepared environment. If Mason wants us to lay the feast, then Maria Montessori wanted the feasting table to be at the child’s height, with appropriate crockery, and a vase of fresh flowers!

If I were to lay a real feast, I would also think about presentation and appearance. So too I put emphasis on these things when laying the metaphorical feast.

I believe that children will get the most out of surroundings which are calm and uncluttered, where they know where their belongings are, can reach them, and then replace them to be used next time. I recognise my immense privilege as I type this – we are lucky enough to own our home and to have space to store our belongings. But it does not have to be expensive – a few baskets at child height next to a small rug is a wonderful place to start with a child’s space.

LAYING THE FEAST FOR FRIDA AT 26 MONTHS

Let’s be clear – children do not need to be in formal education to be learning! Frida is constantly learning, all day every day, so this is not about actively “teaching her”. It is more about me being intentional with how we will spend our days, and the sorts of books and toys which we provide her with.

Some days are “perfect” – we bake, go to the park, model with clay, read poetry and curl up with piles of books, build a beautiful seascape for her animals, then prepare supper together, leaving a tidy home. Other days are less so – we don’t leave the house, I do a little too much benign neglect, I hand out raisins in exchange for a minute to empty the dishwasher, we barely read two books, I find myself saying yes to requests to watch “Room on the Broom” yet AGAIN and the house is a mess! That is just real life. But I find it helpful to constantly remind myself about laying the feast for my daughter, and what that feast should look like, and I find that – really stretching the metaphor here! – on days where the feast has been well set, she may be nourished enough to tide her over on a day where it’s looking more like cheese on toast.

Here are some of the ways in which I aim to lay the feast for Frida:

Surrounding her with good books. We have a lot of books for Frida, and we take great care in choosing books which are good quality for her to enjoy – I will often try and see inside a book before buying it, even if it’s purchased online, or I seek out recommendations from those whose opinions I value.If she shows an interest in a certain topic or author then that might guide our decisions. We maintain a balance between story books, and factual books – Frida loves both. What is important to me is that they are well-written, beautiful, and use rich vocabulary. I really love using books to introduce new concepts or facts to Frida, such as how her body works, or what microbes are, or the names of different jelly-fish. She might not understand everything in every book she owns, but she “assimilates what she can” and we have certainly watched her knowledge and vocabulary grow and grow. If she has a new interest – microbes are her current obsession – then we follow her lead and will find ways to further explore and discuss the theme with her. We usually set new books out on her shelves and then she can choose what she is interested in. We also make regular trips to the library.

Using rich language. We use rich and accurate language with Frida, both when talking to her and in the books we choose. We don’t shy away from long or unusual words, but will take time to explain to her what they mean, and model them in sentences. Every child will develop language at their own pace, but I see no need to wait until they are speaking fluently before introducing rich language. A brilliant tool for this is poetry, as it often combines interesting language with strong metre and rhyme, and I read aloud daily to Frida from various books of childrens’ poetry. I also recite short seasonal verses and rhymes, and Frida is now enjoying reciting these on her own.

Providing opportunities for practical life experience. I involve Frida as much as possible with real tasks such as cleaning, baking, and cooking, as well as encouraging self-care in areas such as toileting, and in making valuable contributions and choices outside of the home (selecting and scanning library books, choosing fruit and vegetables in the supermarket). I see this as giving her a diversity of rich, hands-on experiences, as well as setting the foundations for growing independence and the joy and pride which that will continue to bring her.

Giving her open-ended and beautiful toys (and uninterrupted time to play with them). Play is the work of the child! And I want Frida to have good tools. We have prioritised open-ended wooden toys (such as Grimms) as well as wooden animal figures, dolls and a dolls house, and playsilks. Some of these are expensive, but my hope is that they will see Frida and any future children we have through many years of happy, imaginative play. There are no batteries, and they are very hard to break, and seeing how deeply Frida plays I feel they were well worth the investment. I also set aside big chunks of time for Frida to play without interruption. This is so valuable, and I really see her reaching the “flow” state as she plays happily.

Prioritising time spent outdoors in the natural world. People have written whole books about the importance of being outside for children (if you’re interested Last Child in the Woods and How to Raise a Wild Child are both excellent), so I will not cover that here! But I do try and get Frida outside at least once a day, even if that is just into the garden. Being outdoors together feels like a feast just by itself – there is such an abundance of things to see, smell, discuss, touch, climb… Frida gets so much joy from being in nature, which would be worth it alone without all of the knowledge she takes from it too. Vocabulary from naming plants and insects and animals, science (Does this sink or float? How do plants grow?), gross motor skills…. the full list is long!

Planning interesting outings. Once or twice a fortnight we will take a trip to do something a little bit special, such as go to a pond with frogs, go to a museum, or visit a wood. I love these days as I think they bring something special to our time together, and often form memories which we then talk about for months to come or which lead to further exploration in books. For example, we have been pond-dipping for toads and frogs recently, which has led to natural learning about life-cycles in books, and discussion about other baby animals, which then led to discussion about mammals giving birth to live young vs. animals which lay eggs, which then led to… you get the idea!

Encouraging arts. Frida has free access to simple art materials and I often offer her the chance to paint or create, and we will sometimes take trips to galleries to look at art. The illustrations of many of her books are beautiful too. I have started to be more intentional about exposing Frida to music, including live concerts, and exploring pieces of music with her. She is old enough now that I am thinking about taking her to children’s theatre or dance performances in the near future.

Carefully selecting “work” materials. You will notice I have put this last, not because I don’t think these are important, but because I think children can do with very few. There is so much pressure to buy more more more for our children – a pressure which I am absolutely not immune to – and it is just not necessary. Frida has some shelves with work materials on them (for example including bead threading, modelling clay, and a stacking puzzle) and honestly? I think if I took them all away tomorrow it would be fine! When she is a little older I will be looking into getting her some materials related to literacy and numeracy, but at this stage I think books, good-quality toys, and ample opportunities to be involved in practical life tasks are much more important.

How do you set the feast for your child? 

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.