Language Development, Practical Life, Science

If You Only Do ONE Montessori Activity…

Spreading-Cream-CheeseI challenge you to think of one activity that exposes your child to math, language and science, while helping her develop concentration, motor skills, and delayed gratification. It’s not found in workbooks, and you probably won’t see it taking place regularly in most schools (unless they’re Montessori schools).

If you want to know what it is, click here!

On Parenting, Practical Life

Happy Pi Day!

In honor of Pi Day, Zachary and I made a quiche following this tried-and-true recipe.  While not the speediest quiche to make, it was perfect for keeping us entertained on an otherwise lazy afternoon.   Here are some pictures of Zach working, to give you an idea of what a toddler can help with.  Please pardon the shades; he’s 100% three years old and 100% determined to assert his will.  And that includes cooking with sunglasses.

Transferring chopped chard from a bowl to the pan with tongs.
Transferring chopped chard from a bowl to the pan with tongs.

Rolling out the pie dough.
Rolling out the pie dough.

Buttering the "Pi" dish.
Buttering the “Pi” dish.

Grating cheese.
Grating cheese.

He would’ve gladly beaten the eggs and helped to assemble everything, but he had an unfortunate incident that involved forgetting to use the bathroom.  Which then led to him needing a shower.  Which made him tired and grumpy.  And eventually he took a nap and I finished making the quiche by myself.  Such is the reality of Montessori in the home.  Bon appetit!!!

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Practical Life

Absolutely the World’s Best One-Bowl Toddler-Friendly Banana Bread Muffin Recipe Ever Invented… Ever!

You might be able to tell by this post’s title how excited I am about this recipe.  It was given to me six years ago by a Toddler classroom assistant on a small piece of scrap paper.  Now, it’s time to share it and record it on the interwebs for all posterity.

World’s Best One-Bowl Banana Bread Muffins (can be made dairy-free!!!)

(makes 18 muffins)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of melted butter (or melted coconut oil)
  • 2/3 cup of brown sugar (or 1+ cups if you have a sweet tooth, but honestly 2/3 cup is plenty for kids)
  • 4 room temperature eggs (you can put them in lukewarm water for a few minutes to warm up)
  • 5 very ripe bananas (the riper, the better!)
  • 3 tbsp milk (or milk substitute)
  • 2 1/2 cups of whole wheat pastry flour (the “pastry” part is really important!!)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup of crumbled nuts (or slivered almonds) – optional
  • 1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips – optional (but oh so yummy!!!)

Remember, you ONLY need one mixing bowl!!!

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350F and line muffin tins with muffin wrappers.IMG_2397
  2. Measure out the butter (or oil) into the mixing bowl and pop it in the microwave for 30-45 seconds to melt.
  3. Add the eggs and whisk until combined.
  4. Add the sugar.
  5. Add the bananas and mash very thoroughly.
  6. Add the milk and mix all the wet ingredients together.
  7. Add the flour, salt, and baking soda.  Fold into the wet ingredients.
  8. Add the optional nuts and chocolate chips and fold in.
  9. Spoon into muffin wrappers about 2/3 full.
  10. Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes.  Allow to cool in the muffin tins for 10 minutes before removing.
  11. Enjoy the gooey deliciousness!!!

Note: You an also make a loaf with the same mixture, just bake for 1hr 15min.

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Pom-Poms vs. Broccoli

Practical Life activities should be, above all else, practical: real activities that have a purpose and a goal. Practical Life IMG_0309should never, EVER be busy work. Busy work is insulting to the child’s intelligence and developmental drives.

So, let’s say you want to introduce transferring with tongs. Instead of the ubiquitous pom-poms you see all over Pinterest, how about using broccoli?

Here’s what I did with Zach (who just turned 3), when he asked if he could help in the kitchen:

I had already chopped some broccoli (before he asked to help), so I put it in a bowl and had him transfer it piece by piece from the bowl to the hot buttered pan with a pair of long tongs (he has small ones but I didn’t want him to burn himself by getting his hand too close to the pan).

Then, I showed him how to use the tongs to toss the broccoli so it would cook evenly. When the it was ready, I invited him to transfer it back to the IMG_0306bowl.

He’s been cooking over a hot stove for over a year now, so I only had to remind him at the beginning to work carefully and not touch the pan or the heat source. When he was transferring the cooked broccoli back to the bowl, he dropped one stalk.  He picked it up with his hand, and immediately dropped it again.  It was hot!  Good learning experience…

He was so proud of his contribution to our meal, and he learned so much in that short amount of time.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll take broccoli over pom-poms any day.

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10 Quick Tips for Baking with Your Toddler

Note: You’ll find our fabulous, healthy, and toddler-approved recipe at the end of this post! Try it out and let us know if you like it!

I love to cook, and I’d love to include Zach every time I’m in the kitchen.  But as a working mom, I rarely get more than 15 minutes to cobble together a semi-healthy meal during the week.  Instead of pressuring myself to involve my toddler in weeknight dinner preparation, Zach and I bake muffins on the weekends, and we’ve been making the same recipe for the past couple of months.

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I didn’t have in mind the Montessori principle of repetition when I decided to repeat the same recipe over and over.  It was simply a tasty and healthy recipe that worked well, and I didn’t have time to research new ones.  However, it soon dawned on me that revisiting the same recipe was EXACTLY the right thing to do.  Through repetition, both Zach and I have honed our skills and get more enjoyment from the activity.  Since I know the recipe, I can be well-organized, which allows me to observe Zach more closely.  I can notice what skills he needs to work on and which new responsibilities I can delegate to him.  Zach, meanwhile, becomes more confident in his abilities and his self-esteem increases with each achievement.

Here are a ten things I’ve learned from baking with my two-year old:

1. PREPARE: I try to pull out all the ingredients and equipment before I start, and leave them out of arm’s reach of my toddler. Children have a natural impulse to explore with their hands, and you really don’t want your child to test the law of gravity on a carton of eggs or a bag of flour while you’re searching for the muffin tin.

2. KNOW YOUR RECIPE: If there are any time-consuming preparation steps that don’t involve your toddler (such as defrosting), do them ahead of time.

3. BUSY HANDS: If you need to divert your attention from the cooking process (to put things away, wash an item, etc.), give your toddler something to do with his hands. I like the recipe that I use because it involves a lot of stirring, which Zach happily does while I put items back or grab a cleaning rag.

IMG_02414. MODEL AND TRUST: Our recipe involves cracking two eggs. I crack the first one slowly into a small bowl, pausing after each step, while Zach watches. Then I ask him if he wants to do the second egg. The first couple of times, he said, “Mommy do it”. The last two times we’ve made muffins he’s cracked the egg on his own, exclaiming “Zachy did it!”.

5. TALK, TALK, TALK: Baking is the ideal time to increase your toddler’s vocabulary. I give Zach the names of the equipment and ingredients, and isolate the name of each action as I am doing it (e.g. “CRACK the egg”, “stir”, “grate”, etc.). However, if Zach is engrossed in an activity, I hold my tongue until he’s done so I don’t break his concentration! I can always point out what he did afterwards: “You cracked the egg by yourself!”

6. TAKE TURNS: If there’s something that your toddler is not quite able to do yet (like for Zach, grating carrots effectively) take turns. Show him how to do it, then tell him it’s his turn. Give him a chance to try and then say, “When you are finished, it’s my turn again”. If he’s struggling or doesn’t feel capable, you’re giving him a pressure-free way of passing the baton back to you without having to say “I can’t do it”. And when he wants to take charge, you’ll know because he’ll exclaim: “My turn!”

7. INSPIRE, THEN RETIRE: When your child is ready to take charge, let him. I used to spoon the batter into the muffin cups and have Zach use the spatula to help scrape the batter from the spoon to the cups. Eventually, he decided he wanted to take charge: now he scoops the batter with the spoon, and I’m his helper with the spatula!photo (10)

8. CLEAN UP: As soon as those muffins make it into the oven, I give Zach a wet rag and ask him to wipe down the counter. Then he gets down from his Learning Tower and I give him the bag of flour, the carrots, and the carton of eggs to take to the fridge (one at a time). Then I tell him to take the measuring spoons and the platic mixing bowl to the sink. I also tell him to throw the egg shells and carrot tops into the trash. Finally, he uses the dustpan and brush to clean up any flour that fell on the floor. I don’t ask if he wants to help clean up; I tell him with a smile: “It’s time to clean up now.” I also don’t ask, “Can you wipe the counter?”. I show my confidence in him by stating, “You can wipe the counter.”

9. SHARE HIS ACCOMPLISHMENTS: When my husband comes home, Zachary serves us all muffins and we tell daddy everything we did to make them. I point out to my husband the steps in which Zach was involved, and make note of any new achivements (i.e. “Today Zach cracked an egg by himself!”). This, more than praise, helps a child understand that his contribution to the family is appreciated and sets the foundations for meta-cognition (self-evaluation of one’s own learning process).

And above all…

photo (11)10. CHECK YOUR ATTITUDE: You might think that baking with your toddler is a cute and endearing activity, but for your child it is serious business. He’s mastered a wide range of skills in his first two years of life, and now he’s being driven to understand: “What is my place in this family? How do I fit in? How do I contribute?” Practical life for your toddler is not about looking cute in an apron; it’s about self-reliance and contributing to the well-being of his social group (in a toddler’s case, his immediate family).  Make sure your approach reflects the importance of the activity!

Be patient, maintain a healthy perspective, and HAPPY COOKING!

Whole Wheat Carrot-Pineapple Muffins

(makes 12 small or 7-8 large muffins)

Ingredients:
1.5 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp cinnammon

2 eggs
2/3 cups brown sugar
2/3 cup vegetable or coconut oil (melted)
1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup grated carrot (about 1 large or 2-3 small carrots)
1 cup crushed pineapple (drained)

OVEN TEMP: Pre-heat to 350F

1. Work with your toddler to scoop each of the dry ingredients into a small mixing bowl (flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnammon)
2. Let your toddler stir the dry ingredients to his heart’s content, showing him how to hold the bowl with one hand and stir with the other.
3. Show your toddler how to crack an egg into a small bowl. Ask him if he’d like to have a turn. Remove any shells that fall into the bowl.
4. Let your toddler transfer the eggs into a larger mixing bowl. Work with him to add the following ingredients: brown sugar, oil, and vanilla extract.
5. Let your toddler stir the wet ingredients to his heart’s content (one hand on the bowl!)
6. Show your toddler how to grate carrots and ask if he wants a turn. Try not to be paranoid about him grating his fingers off. If he’s not into grating, take a turn and finish the job.
7. Drain the pineapple and measure it.
8. Take a turn stirring the dry and wet ingredients in their respective bowls, to ensure they are well mixed.
9. Have your toddler transfer the dry ingredients into the bowl with the wet ingredients.
10. CAUTION: This batter should NOT be over-mixed, or your muffins will be too dense! Let your toddler stir three or four times and then you should “take a turn”. Gently fold the ingredients until JUST mixed (some dry flour should still be visible) and then ask your toddler to add in the carrots and pineapple.
11. Finish folding in the carrots and pineapple gently. Did I mention not to over-mix?
12. Have your toddler put the muffin cups into the muffin baking tray.
13. Show your toddler how to spoon batter into the cups, using a spatula to scrape off the sticky mixture from the spoon. Your batter should stick to the spoon pretty well, making it easy for a toddler to transfer it to the cups without dribbling it everywhere. The cups should be no more than 3/4 full.
14. Put the muffins into the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until you insert a toothpick and it comes out clean. When the muffins are ready, take them out and let them cool IN THE BAKING TIN for 10-15 minutes.
15. Clean up with as much enthusiasm as you cooked.

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All in Good Time

Dr. Montessori realized early on that young children were concrete thinkers.  This means that their brains have a hard time interpreting concepts that cannot be isolated and experienced through the five senses.  Color is one such concept.  Hues are almost always connected to an object: “red” apple, “blue” sky, “yellow” duck.  The very young child struggles to separate the name of the color from the object it belongs to, and this can bring about imprecise impressions that take time and effort to sort out.

tabletsTo support the child’s precise assimilation of these concepts, Dr. Montessori developed the Sensorial materials.  She isolated the concept – in our example, color – and made everything else about the material the same.  The Color Tablets vary only in color and can be sorted and classified, allowing the child to have a clear and tangible experience of an otherwise abstract concept.   We in Montessori refer to these tangible experiences of abstract concepts as “materialized abstractions”.

There are some abstract ideas, however, that can’t be completely “materialized”, and which only become accessible through daily life experiences once the brain reaches a certain level of maturity.  One of these is time.  In Elementary, we have a material that the children use to learn to read an analog clock.  We also provide children with experiences that allow them to “feel” and “see” the passage of time, but the concept can only be truly grasped when the brain is ready to do so.  timer

Cooking gives children many opportunities to experience the passage of time, and it’s one reason why it’s one of my favorite developmental tools.  During our recent Thanksgiving feast preparation, a six-year old and a seven-year old were making cornbread in a crock pot.  The recipe called for the bread to be cooked in the slow cooker for two hours.

The seven-year old took one of our two kitchen timers, the type that goes up to 60 minutes and is set by twisting a knob, and turned to me: “The recipe says ‘two hours’.  Our timer only goes to sixty minutes.  How do we time the bread?”

I said, “Hmmm, what could you do?”

The boy thought for a second and his face lit up.  “We can turn the timer to 60 minutes and when it rings, we can turn it to 60 minutes again!”

The six-year old, who had been listening quietly to the exchange, suddenly got very agitated.  He took the other kitchen timer, ran over to us, and cried out with excitement: “No, I have a better idea!  Let’s set BOTH timers!  One hour and one hour makes TWO hours!!!”

 

 

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Playing Catch Up

There’s one thing that sets children ages 0-3 apart from children in all other Montessori age groups, and it’s been throwing me for a loop recently:

THEIR NEEDS AND ABILITIES CHANGE SO DARN FAST!!!  AAARRGGGHHH!!!

I spent almost two hours observing through a one-way window in my son’s Toddler Community.  What I saw was amazing.  And disconcerting.

Because the environment I worked so hard to set up for my one-year old just a few months back?  Yeah, completely useless now.

My baby, the one who was content shaking a maraca or drooling over a plastic lion, is now a capable almost-two-year-old who makes his own orange juice, slices cucumbers, washes dishes, paints, draws, pastes, sews, strings beads… The list is endless!

The Montessori mommy part of me is excited at the thought of re-vamping our space to make way for Practical Life activities, but the Montessori teacher part of me knows the hard work that is involved in the creation, rotation, and upkeep of said activities.  *deep breaths*

With Thanksgiving vacation around the corner, I’m going to make it my mission to slowly introduce new activities in our home.  I promise to make time to share them here!

trayFirst step: buy trays.  Like the Primary environment, all activities are kept on color-coded trays.  Unlike Primary, the activities are often performed within the trays.  So, say the child is juicing oranges.  The juicer, orange, bowl for the fruit,  pitcher and sponge would all stay within the tray as the child works.  The trays should have handles on the sides for easy gripping and transportation.  Thankfully, if you live in the United States you can take care of all your toddler tray needs at Michael’s!  Guess where I’ll be this weekend?

Unlike they do in the classroom, I’m not going to paint the trays; I’m going to stain them all the same color and then use colored electrical tape to line the exterior and a matching oilcloth rectangle to line the interior.  This way, I can use the same tray over again for a different activity by simply changing the color coding!  Electrical tape is great for anything that needs color coding: pitchers, buckets, glasses, brush handles, etc.

Second step: make an apron.  Zachary’s school uses this one, so I want to make the same model to support his sense of order and help him master one type of apron before moving on to other variations.  I think I have a few yards of oilcloth somewhere, for the apron I was going to make him one year ago…  Add one more project to my ever-growing list of Thanksgiving activities!

So, there you have it – the truth about being a Montessori teacher/mom.  Just because you know how it works doesn’t mean you have the bandwidth to keep up.

But I’m trying…