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May | 2013 | Atomic Bee Ranch

Monthly Archives: May 2013

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A Little Weekend Reading: Blog Links

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A couple great blog posts this past week and half that I wanted to share:

  • Want to help your child follow directions? Try singing them. A post from Moving Smart about how singing instructions can help your child retain directions better.
  • Having worked in the classroom I’ve seen how delicate a balance it can be when choosing to either start a child early or late. There can be social issues and developmental issues and even self esteem issues. This article makes a really, really good point about the Montessori educational structure that I had never considered. It essentially eliminates the need to either hold a child back or send them in early by grouping students in 3-6 and 6-9 classrooms.
  • I came across this post through one of my library blogs, but it so spoke to what I am looking for in creating an educational experience for my daughter. It’s all about blending subjects better and the importance of teaching and encouraging inquisitiveness and the ability to think. It also talks about the duration of an education and how shortening academics can leave time for other important activities  like music and art…The piece isn’t long, but it’s really fabulous. I highly recommend reading it.

Encouraging Independence: Toilet Learning

Toilet Set UpHoo-boy. Toilet learning has been an experience for us. Most of it is a story for another day, but one aspect we have struggled with is getting Cam to sit on the potty.

When she was very young (8 months) we began sitting her on the potty at various points during the day and she began to actually use the potty. I had three different baby potties, one in each bathroom and one in her bedroom. We were thrilled that she would use the potty and hopeful that it would stick. But it didn’t.

As soon as she could walk there was nothing we could do to persuade her to sit still on the potty for long enough to actually use it. She would walk up, sit and then immediately stand and run off. Then at some point she refused to even sit on any of the baby potties and would cry if we tried. Finally, she began to indicate that she wanted to sit on the grown-up potty by pointing at it and patting it and staying still if we lifted her up to sit on it.

But of course, adult potties are not designed for small children, so we bought a new lid that has a small seat that folds down and is appropriately sized for her. Cam has yet to really use the adult potty but she sits on it several times a day without fussing. She also requests that I read to her while she sits.

Although the situation is not ideal, we have a step that she can climb up and rest her feet on while she sits on the adult toilet. Despite the difficulty I have tried to set it up to make her as independent as possible with this task. I think even if she could get up there by herself, she would still need some supervision and help in the bathroom, so it may not be such a bad thing even if I feel like I am stepping on her independence.

Academic Creep

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I normally save my links to share on Fridays, but I came across this one today and didn’t have anything else planned so I thought I would share it. Academic Creep is the push and desire for academic subjects (like reading, ABCs, and 123s) with younger and younger children. I really really disagree with it and this blog post really spoke to that dislike. It isn’t long, but it’s very good. It makes the distinction between academic and educational very clear.

Academic Creep on Moving Smart blog

A Little Weekend Listening: Connections

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We are very lucky to live where we do because our local public radio station has a classical music station. It doesn’t play classical 24 hours like it used to, but it’s pretty close which is fine with me. During the week the station plays music, but on the weekends they have several shows (centered around music) that air. A few are nationally syndicated, but two are locally produced.

Saturday at four is the show Connections which, if you are interested in classical music and music appreciation, is fabulous. The host chooses a theme and then finds pieces from medieval times through the present that are representative. We are not always home to listen to Connections, but they have begun putting up a podcast of it on their website. While all the episodes are worth listening to two weeks ago the theme was birds, a favorite topic in our house. Cam and I just listened to it on Wednesday and it features some excellent music including the incomparable “Lark Ascending” by Vaughn Williams.

I highly recommend giving the show a listen, especially if you are studying music, want to share music with your child, want to introduce them to classical music or want to teach them to listen carefully to music. Episodes are just under an hour long, but could in theory be broken up into several sittings. It’s one of those resources too that will teach you something as well as your child.

A sampling of shows:

The Avian Connection

The Spring Connection

The Irish Connection (in honor of St. Patrick’s Day)


Encouraging Independence: Snack Table

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Snack Table

As a compromise with the Montessori weaning table, I did create a small area next to our kitchen, pantry and dinning table that gives Cam a small table for snacks. I like the idea that Cam can determine when she needs a little snack or drink during the day without being overly reliant on me to get it for her.

The “table” is actually a breakfast-in-bed tray with a blanket folded underneath to act as a floor cushion. She keeps her water bottle or cup here and there is frequently a bowl with a snack on it. Because it is portable I have also started pulling it out into the middle of the floor while I cook dinner. I place some crayons or a toy on it to keep her entertained and it keeps her close enough to me that she doesn’t become clingy.

The Weaning Table

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The prepared Montessori environment includes as small table and chair for children learning to eat solid foods. The use of this table is continued into toddlerhood. Here is a quote from the North American Montessori Center (NAMC) about how the weaning table is used:

As soon as an infant can sit up with support, she can be fed at a low table. Typical high chairs are not used. Instead, specially designed infant chairs which are low enough for the child to get in and out of by themselves. Unlike other chairs in the Montessori environment, these chairs are heavy and not easily moved or tipped over. The Montessori caregiver feeds the child sitting on a low stool, facing the child and places the food dish on the table in front of her.

They go on to say:

As soon as they are able, children are given the opportunity to feed themselves, practicing and mastering their developing movement skills. Once the infant can walk, she is invited to eat with other children, sitting around the table in a chair more suited for her developing needs.

Dinner TableWhile I appreciate the independence that is given to the child who sits at a low table in a low chair and could see how this would work in some households, my own approach to eating and food has been very different. My philosophy has always been, Cam eats what we eat, when we eat it. Because we eat a nutritious and healthful diet, I never saw the need to create special meals for Cam.

I also firmly believe in the importance and significance of the family meal. I think the weaning table separates the child from that dynamic too much and encourages different meal times and by extension different meals. Cam and I sit at the table together for every breakfast and lunch. If my husband is home he joins us and he is there for dinner every night.

That being said, I do still try to afford Cam her independence at the table. She is never forced to eat something she doesn’t like (although so far she has yet to meet a food she doesn’t like) and if she can’t eat something (like if I make a dish too spicy) I make accommodations. She is not in a high chair, but a youth chair which is much less constricting than a high chair. She is also free to ask to get down out of her youth chair at any time. Sometimes she eats a little and runs off only to come back. Other times she wants to sit in one of our laps and continue eating. And sometimes she runs off to play.

So far this has worked very well for us. Cam eats well and eats broadly and is learning the social etiquette of the table. I’m very curious, however, to hear what other people’s experiences and approaches have been to eating and weaning.

A Little Weekend Reading: Zoobean

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A little shameless self promotion of sorts today. My most recent job is working for a site called Zoobean. To quote them they are, “Remarkable books for kids. Handpicked by parents.” I am a curator for their collection, which means I chose books that I would personally recommend and add them to their database.

In honor of Children’s Book Week, Zoobean went live. I highly recommend checking it out as there are a ton of good books and it’s easy to search for what you’re looking for. They also have a Love Collection, the best of the best, that you can sign up to receive monthly. Part of the proceeds from the Love Collection goes towards a youth literacy organization.

I’ve really enjoyed working with them because, even though my daughter and I read a lot, this has given me the opportunity to revisit some of my old favorites from childhood and from the classroom.

Encouraging Independence: Steps

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Bed Step

One aspect of creating a home environment I struggled with at first was the desire to copy classroom environments. I noticed too, that many classrooms seem to struggle with the desire to copy the home environment. The problem with this lies in the fact that houses are not classrooms and classrooms are not homes. While a classroom may try to create a kitchen environment, a home comes readily equipped with one. While a home may try to create an open, free-flowing set up between all the major areas, a classroom is already a large open space.

At first I really wanted to create an environment with entirely child-sized furniture, down to the sinks and toilets. But of course, this is not possible. My house already has an adult Toilet Steptoilet and adult-height sink. Not to mention classrooms get a fresh crop of students each year, whereas my house has only one child who continues to grow (despite my best efforts to keep her small). In the end, I learned to embrace what my house is, a home, and make modifications.

Sink StepBecause my daughter is small and because she needs to have access to certain parts of our home that are designed with grown ups in mind, we’ve done a lot to incorporate step stools into our environment. She has them to reach the sinks. She has them to get onto her bed and the sofa. She has them to see onto the kitchen counter and to get up to the toilet.

Although she hasn’t mastered climbing all of them without help, they still provide her with a certain degree of independence. She is able to get in and out of bed without help and can stand at the bathroom sink to brush her teeth without someone holding her. To encourage her independence further we have bought some very light stools, which Cam moves around herself.

All our step stools appear to be from IKEA with one exception:

Sofa StepBedroom step: Trogen Footstool

Tall step: Bolmen Stool

Short step: Forsiktig Children’s Stool

Purple step: Kikkerland Rhino EZ Fold This step is great because it easily folds flat and can be stashed in a narrow space. Plus when it folds it has a little carry handle.

A Montessori Nursery

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From my own research into Montessori infant environments I believe the single most important underlying principle of them is freedom. Freedom to move about. Freedom to explore. Freedom to select toys and materials. There is also a very clean aesthetic and a focus on ownership. The room belongs to the child, not the parent. Which means shelves are low, pictures are hung at child height and furniture (with a few good exceptions) are child-sized.

But, if you are anything like me you need a bit more than abstract principles and a few pictures gleaned from Pinterest to go on for creating an environment. Especially when you are a brand new parent or in the last months of pregnancy. When I decided to go with a Montessori style nursery for our daughter I began looking around for a mix of principles, ideas, and pictures. If you are fortunate enough, you can even attend classes and talk with teachers at your local Montessori school. That was not the case for us, so it was all by the seat of our pants!

I didn’t figure out the Montessori mobiles or what infant materials Montessori created in time to really use them with Cam, but I have since come across this information. For anyone else struggling I’m using this Monday to aggregate some resources I have found for creating infant (first year of life) environments. I hope someone else finds them helpful.

  • Some thoughts on creating an infant environment from North American Montessori Center. This has the Montessori mobile sequence.
  • Here’s a link to a tutorial for a cloth puzzle ball. She also has tutorials for making each of the mobiles.
  • For the very young infant grasping toys are a great thing. Montessori mentions a small silver rattle to begin with, but you can also try these wooden toys or these grasping rings. I have also knit small, medium and large balls for a number of my friends and my daughter. I even put rattles in a few of them just to give them an added element. (The links I’ve added are to places you can buy the toys from, but I have not personally ordered from any of these companies or people so I can’t speak to their service and quality.)
  • Once the child is older, these are the “official” infant toys designed by Montessori, but if you take the ideas behind them (dropping a ball through a hole, threading a ring on a dowel) I think you can find other, less expensive toys that may serve the child longer. (See pages one and two, the rest of the puzzles and the like are not exactly Montessori.)
  • For pictures of some well done Montessori nurseries see my Pinterest board: Montessori Spaces
  • I also would like to note that if you have an IKEA nearby, they are a great resource for inexpensive and flexible furniture. We have A LOT of IKEA furniture and with the exception of the birds tearing it up, we haven’t had any problems with quality.

I will conclude by saying we didn’t go for a full-blown Montessori nursery. We were just a little too late to the game and our house wasn’t (and isn’t) fully remodeled. That made storage tight in the nursery and in other rooms. We eliminated a fair amount of storage, come to think of it. We also took an eye to the future and put in more shelving (such as a reading bench) so the space can grow with Cam. I am always an advocate of striking the right balance of principles and your own lifestyle. So use the resources to help you find what aspects work best for you.

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For the next few weeks I am going to focus on the emphasis and the importance of the environment in a child’s education. Since environment encompasses many rooms, spaces, and ideas I decided to make this a series that includes both a look at the philosophy behind several of those areas, as well as sharing how I have set up our own home. Fostering Cam’s independence was a very important consideration when designing her environment, but it wasn’t the only facet so I am also going to run a few blog posts on Thursdays this month that will focus on how I have set up the environment in our home to specifically give her independence.

Thoughtful space planning was one of the principles of both the Montessori and Reggio-Emilia approaches that I was especially drawn to because I believe an environment (for anyone, not just children) can foster independence and confidence. When I was in college I became very interested in cultural use of space and I carried this interest over into graduate school when I began writing my thesis on space use in libraries. Everything from placement of entrances to the type and placement of furniture give subtle cues to how people should interact with and in a space. So when I began reading about the scrutiny and thought given to both Montessori and Reggio environments I was inspired.

In a Montessori classroom or home there is reference to the “prepared environment”. In a Reggio-Emilia classroom or home the environment is simply called the “third teacher”. While these two ideas are not identical, they share a fundamental idea: that the environment plays an important role in helping the child develop. Respect for the child also underpins these principles because you focus on creating an environment that is intended for the child, not the adult; an environment that tells the child you believe they are deserving of space that doesn’t force them to fit in with your life, but a space where they are capable of tending to their own needs, both intellectual and physical. Both require close observation by the teacher to determine the optimal set up.

Montessori: Prepared Environment

For a great article detailing the six principles of the prepared environment, see here. They are: freedom, structure and order, beauty, nature and reality, social environment, and intellectual environment. Montessori classrooms and homes encourage the child to be independent. They are also very orderly and follow a particular sequence of setting materials out. Furniture is child-sized so as not to intimidate children and allow them to safely interact with and use the tables, chairs, etc. Careful thought is given to the placement of activities and furniture.

Reggio-Emilia: Third Teacher

“Given this belief in the active exploration of young children, the space must encourage investigation and be open to change to respond to the demands of active learners.”

Authentic Childhood: Experiencing Reggio Emilia in the Classroom

Whereas most Montessori classrooms look very similar (low shelves, same materials), Reggio takes a slightly different approach. Classrooms should reflect the interests of the children, so the placement of materials, furniture, and equipment, even the variety of these things, is directed by the child(ren) using the space. So a classroom may look very different from year to year or from home to home. The Reggio environment is also influenced by their principle of provocation. Teachers are encouraged to place materials and equipment in ways that make the child think and draw them in to explore. Because there is no set curriculum, the space is very flexible and varied.

Ultimately, I think it’s fine to mix these two strategies or approaches because the foundation of respect, observation, independence, and learning is the same. Those principles are what are important when designing an environment that will allow your child to flourish.