Tag Archives: Big Picture

Our Toy Philosophy: Part 3

Next up in talking about our toys should be a fairly short, but I think important, discussion of wooden vs. plastic. You can see the earlier posts in this series here: Part 1 and Part 2.

Both the Montessori method and the Waldorf philosophy advocate using only really high quality wooden (and glass and wool) materials with children. It has something to do with absorbing beautiful aesthetics early on and the natural feel and warmth of wooden objects. I get it, I really do, but I also disagree.

We have a lot wooden toys and when we can afford them I do tend to purchase them. They have a beautiful feel and look. But I take issue with this idea in a number ways. First, they are often unaffordable. I will skip buying several cheap plastic toys in order to get something much nicer in wood, but ultimately I’m interested in having things to keep Cam engaged and active. If that means she needs plastic, then so be it. I’m not going to make her wait months and months while I save the money for a wooden toy (that in three months she may not be nearly as interested in) when there is a perfectly acceptable plastic version.

I’ve also found that not everything that is available in plastic and that Cam is interested in, is available in wood. She is very into construction equipment and Bruder makes some amazing plastic working models of these trucks. I found one and bought it for Cam. The wooden back hoes just don’t have the same appeal and the Bruder stuff is really nice. She is also into puzzles. There are wooden puzzles out there, but not nearly enough to keep her busy (and going back to the previous point, the bigger they are the more expensive they get). So she has some cardboard ones too.

Not all wooden toys are created equal. Wooden toys that are affordable are often not very high quality. There is one particular toy company I haven’t been very unimpressed with. I would rather we have a quality standard for our toys that looks purely at quality of make and at Cam’s interest in it, than one that rules something good out based solely on material.

The thing is, we live in this world and we have access to toys that are made from a variety of materials. I’m okay with that. This is just our philosophy. I really respect people who have made a commitment to having fewer toys and only beautiful wooden toys. Sometimes I find myself wishing we were those type of people, but we aren’t. We like to get materials and toys into Cam’s hands that she wants to play with quickly and without breaking the bank.

Our Toy Philosophy: Part 2

Two weeks ago a talked about how I have come to accept that Cam has toys and how I feel better now that they are organized better. Today, and for the next couple of weeks, I wanted to talk a bit more about how we go about selecting toys. The thought processes beyond does she need this?, because that answer is always no.

One idea I have really gravitated toward is the idea of both a mix of “boy” and “girl” toys and gender neutral toys. When Cam was very small I read the book Cinderella Ate My Daughter. It’s a fabulous book written by a feminist who points out that there are some really dark undertones to the pink princess culture that is taking over little girls. I totally agree with her ideas, but I won’t go into detail here, mostly because this isn’t what this post is about and because I don’t want to get too feminist and frighten people off. :) Suffice it to say, her point is that the pink princess culture tells girls to value their beauty (a subjective thing) over anything else and ties their self-worth to their beauty, as well as over sexualizes them. I highly recommend reading it, or other books that tackle the topic, and I want to address one aspect of it in another post .

So while we avoid toys that are meant to market or are just plain inappropriate for a young girl, what about other toys? The Montessori materials and a lot of Waldorf toys tend to be gender neutral, meaning they don’t really have culturally assigned conceptions about which gender should be playing with them. Those are toys like puzzles, the knobbed cylinders, art supplies, wooden building blocks etc. For a long time I just wanted Cam to have toys like that, but that isn’t realistic. I have curated a lot of high quality gender neutral toys, but it was much easier when she was a baby to do this. I still think they are incredibly important to have around and definitely strive to find them. But I was foiled in this idea when she was drawn to baby dolls.

That led me to start curating things like high quality “girl” and “boy” toys. Nice baby dolls. Homemade dolls. She even has a couple tutus. She also has books about “boy” things like trucks. She has wooden railroad sets (mostly left over from my husband’s childhood), tons of toy cars (also from my husband), and lots and lots of Legos.

To me, the important thing was to have a mix of toys. And never to tell her “oh that’s for boys”, as many girls sadly do get told when they are small about things like cars and building blocks. Cam is very spatial and mathematical, so she is drawn to building blocks and other things that you might call “boy toys”. And she loves to take care of her dolls and stuffed animals as much as she loves to play with her trains and look at “scoop dumps” (what she calls construction equipment) when we go out.

A word about toys with specific characters. I think these types of toys are meant to inspire brand loyalty very early and are marketed especially to children in a kind of underhanded way. But we do have a few. What to do? I just don’t use the names of the characters with Cam and let her decide. So a Snow White lego figure we have is just “the princess”.

Ultimately we live in this world and this culture. We can’t avoid it all and nor should we have to. Cam likes “the princess”. I just want to give her lots of positive messages about herself, her self-worth, and help her be able to make smart decisions for herself about what she wants in her life. I also want her to have high quality toys that she wants to play with. And few cheap ones she felt she couldn’t life without. :)

Our Toy Philosophy: Part 1

One aspect of the Waldorf and Montessori approaches that I love is their minimalistic approaches to stuff. Fewer toys, less clutter, better organized storage. It’s also probably one of the hardest aspects for us. Cam has a lot of toys.

For a long time I worried over how much stuff she had. It spoiled her; it looked messy; a lot of if was cheap. But then I also realized, especially when I went to get rid of things, she plays with almost all of it. Especially the little things that seemed like clutter, the stack of Starbucks cards or the three sets of blocks she has or all those stuffed animals (so many stuffed animals!). I also noticed a good portion of the things that she has were Tom’s and mine when we were little (particularly the stuffed animals) and I didn’t want to get rid of that stuff.

So I stopped worrying about it. We try to buy her high quality toys when we buy her things, but we also aren’t going to sweat the dollar-bin car that she wants to keep in the car or the tiny set of hinges she wants from the hardware store. She’s attracted to those things and, in playing with them, gets something out of it. Be it fine motor practice threading the teeny tiny screws through their holes on the hinges or pushing the car along a make believe road and talking about fire engines while she does it.

Cam is incredibly lucky and there isn’t anything wrong with that. I also feel like I have finally gotten a good handle on our organization. She has a well stocked classroom that has tons of art supplies, open ended materials like blocks and small pieces like rocks, pinecones wooden balls and number tiles. I tend to switch out the books that are out and the puzzles and some of the “educational” toys that she loves (peg board, stacking toys, etc.). I recently did a deep clean in her room and closet and did donate a few things (I was a bit concerned that the shelves we have in her closet were getting too weighted down). I also straightened up and put a box of toys that she’s too young for (toys from Tom’s and my childhoods) out in the shed so I don’t have to sort through them all the time.

What’s the point of talking about all this? Mostly I think I just wanted to share our philosophy on our space and our toys. I think it can be difficult seeing so many beautiful spaces on blogs or on Pinterest or where ever. It gives you clutter-free envy and house envy. But I think it’s nice to know and to believe that what we have is also good and that other people out there don’t mind the mess and the abundance of things.

Below is a gallery of pictures from our classroom and Cam’s bedroom. It shows the various areas and methods of storage. As I said, it’s messy in some places, but it’s all (mostly) accessible to Cam and all important.

Our Home Rhythm

I don’t know if it’s the quiet reflection Fall alway inspires in me or if it was something that had been coming on longer, but I’ve found myself seeking out calm. I got tired of feeling pulled in many directions, tired of feeling like the housework was overwhelming me, and tired of feeling like I didn’t know where our day had gone.

I have also been working very hard to establish some family traditions, especially ones that de-comercialize the holidays and the seasons. I want Cam to simply enjoy the rhythm of the seasons and look forward to holidays throughout the year that mark special times for our family to come together and reflect on life.

With all this in mind, it suddenly became much easier for me to let things go, prioritize better when it came to getting things done around the house. I suddenly felt okay saying, that won’t get done today. Sure, there’s the occasional day when there is something pressing, but I let everything else go. I still like having a neat and tidy home, but if we leave out some of Cam’s art supplies it isn’t the end of the world.

I recently came across several Waldorf blogs that had some lovely posts about creating a home rhythm and I found those posts to be quite inspiring (especially this one). I realized we had been working toward several Waldorf principles and decided not only to create a home rhythm, but also to revisit Waldorf principles. Through Happy Whimsical Hearts I found a reading list and got ahold of a few of the books.

The most inspiring to me was Heaven On Earth, and I may write up a whole post about my thoughts and notes on that book. I also tried out Beyond the Rainbow Bridge, but wasn’t as enthralled by that one. What I did take away from that was the idea of “breathing in” and “breathing out” in a home rhythm, which is when you come together and then break apart for activities and time. This really plays into the toddler desire to both cling to you and be independent. We were already doing this to some degree, but now I am making a conscious effort to “breath in and breath out”.

I also read through a copy of Project-Based Homeschooling and was really inspired. This concept of totally child-directed learning that delves deeply into a topic of interest just really resonates with me. (This may be apparent from my Homeschool Manifesto and also my discussions of how I like the Reggio Emilia approach to learning.) In the past I complained about how Reggio resources can often feel very theoretical, and Project-Based Homeschooling is the antidote to that. It is very practical advice on how to approach what is essentially a Reggio education without telling you exactly how to do any lesson. I am now working toward introducing Cam to a variety of materials and creating a much better atelier/learning space. This reexamining of her learning spaces has also lead to a much better rhythm at home in that we really spend conscientious time in our spaces.

So, I suppose all this is to say I feel much more present and peaceful since the Fall started. I know I haven’t blogged much lately, but I think that’s just par for the course at this point. While I really want to be sharing what I’m doing and documenting what Cam is learning, I’m also not going to stress myself out over writing up posts. Please continue to join us on our journey even if I’m not around every week.

Reggio Resources

Resource Series BannerI recently culled through my blogroll and removed some of the blogs I was no longer interested in and added some new ones that I had come across. One of these is An Everyday Story.

In addition to fabulous ideas and pictures, Kate at An Everyday Story has put together several incredibly helpful blog posts about various aspects of the Reggio Emilia approach. I thought I would go ahead and share the links here as part of the resources series.

  • I have shared a list of books on Pinterest that pertain to the Reggio Emilia approach, but Kate has also put on together, which you can see here. I haven’t heard of all of them, but several are familiar. I would add Authentic Childhood, which is the Reggio book I began my research with.
  • A Reggio inspired education doesn’t have a set curriculum or any set activities. Instead it focuses on projects that are inspired by the interests of the children. Here Kate explains the difference between this project based learning and themed learning.
  • Here is a post about the materials found in a Reggio classroom.
  • And finally, a post about how to set up a Reggio inspired activity. This one is excellent and a good how-to for when all the theory of Reggio overwhelms you.

Resources Series: Montessori Scope and Sequence

Resource Series BannerWay back in June I posted that I was working on a scope and sequence of Montessori materials and activities. You can refresh your memory here if you’d like. Long story short, I finished it and am ready to share. I know the blogosphere likes to share, especially the Montessori/homeschool crowd and I really want to contribute something.

There may very well be something out there on the Internet like this and it may be better. I haven’t found it though, so I created this scope and sequence. It is just that, a scope and sequence for the infant, toddler, and 3-6 age groups. It simply shows what the various Montessori activities and materials are and in what order they are presented. I have also cross referenced everything so you can see where each material falls in the sequence (often in more than one place) and how the various activities relate to others across areas of “study”. Meaning, you can see how the Red Rods are related to both early numeracy and the sensorial activities, etc.

While I have loosely grouped it into age ranges, none of those are hard and fast rules. My own daughter is ready for some things that would be presented to older children but is not ready for other things that are intended for younger children. It is organized in a couple ways that make sense to my particular brand of crazy organization. :) I included a couple ways of using and looking at it so I could get a handle on everything and how it all functions as a cohesive curriculum. I hope someone else finds it helpful too and that maybe someone else will feel less confused in the way I was to begin with.

As a side note, if you use it and have suggestions or find typos please let me know. I will certainly try to fix typos and would love to consider other input. I am already making changes to it that make sense for us as I am using it. It’s a living breathing document and should be flexible. I want it to be responsive, that’s one of the beauties of a blog and online community. 

Montessori Scope and Sequence Outline – This is truly an outline. With Roman numerals and tabs and everything. It may be the easiest to read, but to me it was the least useful way to work with the curriculum. This was the basis for everything else, though, and I use it in tandem with the Presentation Record.

Montessori Visual Outline – This shows you in a more visual way how all the pieces relate to one another. It does not cross reference anything though. It’s more like a curriculum map, if you’ve ever seen or worked with one of those.

Montessori Presentation Record – This allows you to record when you have presented a material or activity, when the child works with it, and when they have mastered it. This was really my end goal. From a homeschooling standpoint, this is probably the most useful, but I use it in tandem with the Outline.

Infant Activities & Materials Map – This is just a visual representation of the infant materials. It maps out the information from the outline and puts into more of a timeline context. I wish I had done this when Cam was still a baby.

Disclaimer: I would like to make clear that I am not a trained Montessori teacher and these don’t replace reading up on Montessori’s own works. I created this for myself and am sure it is flawed.They are here to help parents who want to do Montessori in the home but are having trouble grasping where to jump in and where they are supposed to go once they have. It in no way is meant to tell you exactly how to follow the curriculum or what your child is ready for. All children are different and learn at their own pace. It is also probably not comprehensive. I included a detailed list of sources that I drew from. It made more sense for me to combine all of that information into one cohesive, useable, workable document and for my purposes it’s comprehensive enough. It is licensed under Creative Commons. You are welcome to share and change it, however I would appreciate you crediting me where appropriate.

My Current Project

Resource Series BannerYou may remember a few months back I talked a bit about how I felt it was difficult to get a handle on what all the Montessori activities/materials were and in what order they should appear. I did a bunch of searching and found several scope and sequences (sort of) that helped me see better. The problem was, none of them were complete and they frequently didn’t match up exactly with each other. I was still a bit confused and frustrated.

So, this past week I’ve been working on creating my own scope and sequence. I’m essentially combining all the other ones I have found, but I am cross referencing activities/materials in a variety of sections where they have relevance. I’m also putting it together in several formats. My hope is not only to use it myself with Cam, but to share it here and I thought it could be helpful for people to have it in visual, outline, curriculum map, and check-box formats. That way you can access it in whatever way makes most sense for you. I’m still plugging away at it, but hope to have it to share pretty soon, so check back.

A Little Weekend Reading: Blog Links

Weekend Reading.jpg

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.

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 Reading: Infographic

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I actually came across this infographic on one of my library blogs, but I thought it was very relevant for what I talk about here. It’s a bit text heavy and rather long, but so worth looking over. I understand how fortunate I am to be able to stay home with my daughter and I also understand it is not the best choice for everyone for many reasons. But it’s nice to have some validation that I am making a choice that will give my daughter a good foundation. As a side note, I am not necessarily endorsing the company this came from even though there is a link to their site at the bottom of the infographic.

The Importance of Childhood Education [infographic] – An Infographic from SchoolTutoring.com

Embedded from SchoolTutoring.com