Montessori Basics: Respecting the Child as an Autonomous Person

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The title of this post may seem a little unnecessary.  You may be thinking, “Of course the child is an autonomous person, and of course we respect that!”  If you are here reading this, chances are you care deeply about your child’s education, and more importantly, you care about your child as a person.  When it comes to parenting, however, our inclinations are often to protect and guide.  There is nothing inherently wrong with this (in fact, we can all agree those are our critical tasks), but our good intentions can sometimes get in the way of our child’s individual path.

You’ve probably heard Montessori guides talk about how we “follow the child”.  What this means is that we suspend our own assumptions about how things ought to be done and instead observe the child to see what they actually need and/or want.  Sometimes we forget that children are capable of doing more than we realize, or that they have interests that are vastly different than our own.

We want to show our children that we trust them.  We trust them to learn, to do things for themselves and for others, and we trust that they know what they need.  

What does this look like in the classroom?

As a teacher, especially if one is trained in traditional methods prior to discovering Montessori, there is a sense that we are obligated to engage with the child at all times.  Our society leads us to believe that stepping back and allowing the child to work without us must mean that we are not doing our jobs.

Dr. Montessori, however, had other ideas.  She said, “The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.’”

We want to guide the children in such a way that they are eventually able to direct their own learning.  Our job is to present new material in a way that drives curiosity rather than conveying ready-made answers.  We want to create a classroom environment that supports each child in every stage of development to do as much for themselves as they are capable of doing.

When a child doesn’t need us?  We consider that a win.  Of course, as they grow they will need help in other ways, but the long-term goal is to gently help them reach their potential as they work toward adulthood.  We want them to trust themselves and their abilities, so we show them that we trust them.

Some examples of what you may see in a Montessori classroom that honors a child’s independence:

  • Open shelves at an appropriate height for the children using them.

  • Real (not toy), child-sized cleaning supplies like dustpans, brushes, sponges, buckets, and mops.

  • Clearly defined spaces to store personal belongings on hooks and shelves that the child can easily access.

  • Freedom to use the restroom whenever the need arises, without having to ask permission.

  • Snacks and water available to serve oneself whenever the child feels hungry.

  • Freedom to choose work that feels important and meaningful.

  • Freedom of movement; children may sit wherever and with whomever they like.

  • Work occurring at an individual pace. Children are not expected to all learn the same thing at the same time, but rather progress through skills at a pace that is right for them as individuals.

  • Children using materials that are not typically seen in other settings: glass cups and containers, knives for cutting, and so forth.

What might this look like for families?

Some moments to consider: 

  • Let your child (even your toddler) choose their own clothing. Perhaps you wouldn’t pick the cow-print pants and the polka-dotted dress, but does that make the choice any less valid? Relish in their delightfully unique sense of style! It’s okay to set some parameters; for example require pants instead of shorts on a cold winter day is perfectly reasonable.

  • Show your child how to do something rather than just demanding it be done. Remember, even if you have shown something once (or even five times), learning requires repetition. For example, instead of telling your 6-year-old to make their bed, give them a short lesson on how to do so.

  • Consider your child’s physical autonomy. Don’t force them to hug and kiss relatives if they are uncomfortable. Talk to them about how we are all in charge of our own bodies, and that they have the right to say no (even to you!) if they do not want physical affection.

  • Make sure your child has access to toys and supplies around the house. This might mean having a low shelf in the kitchen stocked with their own bowls, cups, utensils, and even snacks. A designated area in the refrigerator could hold a small pitcher of water, milk, or juice for the child to pour independently. A small dustpan and a basket of rags should be accessible to allow them the ability to clean up their own messes. You will be surprised at how often your child will be motivated to take care of themselves rather than asking you to get or do things for them.

  • Create routines. If your child knows that in the morning they are to use the toilet, wash their hands, brush their teeth and hair, and get dressed, then they know what to expect every single day. Support them with reminders as long as they need it. Some families find a visual reminder helpful - a small note can have a list with words or pictures to keep the child on track.

  • When the urge to intervene strikes, remind yourself to pause and observe. When we see our child struggle it’s natural to want to help, but jumping in and fixing their problems all the time does little to convey that we trust they can do it for themselves. If you see their frustration building, try saying, “I’ll be over here if you need anything.” They will ask if they really need you.

Questions?  Interested in seeing one of our classrooms in person?  Contact us today.  We would be happy to help!

5 Reasons Your Child Should Journal This Summer (and how you can get them started)

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Whether you have a major family vacation this summer or you plan to take a more low-key and local approach, your child is sure to have some fun experiences and adventures.  Capturing these experiences can be done a variety of ways, and one way is to write them down! Journaling has many benefits for children (and adults, if you would like to join in on the fun).  Even very young children who are not yet writing can journal!

First things first: it’s important to make sure you get the right journal for your child.  If your child is a writer, take them to your local bookstore or office supply store and have them select a journal or notebook they like.  This small act of choice will make them more likely to use it than if you decide for them.  Keep in mind the size of the lines on the pages should be a consideration; early writers often need slightly larger lines to make handwriting a bit more comfortable for them.

For children as young as three years old that have not started writing yet, a drawing journal is your best bet.  We love this one, as its large, spiral-bound pages hold together well and provide plenty of space!

In addition to the journal, you can just use whatever pencils, markers, or other writing utensils you have on hand.

Journaling can be done daily, whenever the child has experienced something special, or just as the mood strikes.  Remember to encourage your child to date each entry, or date it for them if they are on the younger side.

On to the benefits…

1. Journaling is an excellent creative outlet.

Whether the journaling consists of drawing, writing, or a combination of the two, having a designated place to record our thoughts is a perfect way to encourage creative thinking.  This is a space that is truly the child’s own, and they get to write their own perspective in a way that is pleasing to them.  They are likely to explore rich language, dialogue, or testing out phrases they have heard others use.  Use of color can help convey different meaning and feeling, and they will experiment with this!

Creativity is the place where we come up with new ideas, ways to solve problems, and take risks in a way that feels safe and supported.

2. The practice can help children observe the natural world.

Maria Montessori was a scientist who believed strongly in the power of observation, and as educators who follow her methods, we hold this practice in high regard.  Taking the time to notice what is going on around us, using our senses, and recording these observations helps us make sense of our experiences.

Did you and your child move worms from the sidewalk after a rainstorm?  Did they discover pieces of a crab shell on the rocks by the beach?  Did you spot an interesting mushroom while walking in the woods?  If it sparked something in your child, encourage them to write about it as soon as you get home.  They likely learned something important in that moment, and writing about it will solidify that learning, and perhaps lead to even more.

3. Journaling is a great way to explore emotions.

Children experience the same range of emotions we do, but they have not yet developed all the skills for making sense of them or regulating them.  Having a place to write down their feelings is a healthy habit to build, and a positive way to work through difficult situations.

There is something to be said for getting our thoughts and feelings down on a piece of paper.  Even if no one else ever reads it (and your child may prefer it that way), finding words that express our emotions can feel validating. 

The next time your child is feeling sad, angry, frustrated, or even joyfully elated about something, remind them that their journal is a great way to feel their feelings and figure out what they can do with them.

4. Using a journal helps children record important memories.

What would you give to have a childhood journal detailing your summer vacation adventures?  Perhaps you do, and it’s a treasure you will hang on to and share with your own children.  Starting a journal while we are young is a gift that keeps giving.  In the moments that a child writes in it, they reap so many positive benefits.  Months or even years later when they return to their writing, they will be able to relive the memories.

So many of the small moments we experience are fleeting.  If we don’t take the time to acknowledge them, they are gone forever.  A written record helps us enjoy those moments forever.

5. They will become better writers (even if they’re not writing yet).

Just the act of retelling what happened - in words or pictures - is great practice for writers.  Features such as logical sequencing, main events, and supporting details will become naturally woven into the pages of your child’s journal.  Like anything in life, the more we practice, the more proficient we become.

For those that are beginning to write words, they will have unlimited opportunities to experiment with vocabulary, punctuation, and sentence structure.  Without the pressure and confines of standardized conventions (like a teacher correcting spelling), they will feel free to stretch and take risks as writers.  While conventions are important in formal writing, the development of unique and authentic writer’s voice is just as difficult and perhaps even more important.  Having a journal all their own creates the perfect space to learn what their own voice sounds like.

We hope your child enjoys trying our journaling this summer.  If you find the idea inspiring, give it a try yourself and journal right alongside them.  Happy adventures!

Montessori Basics: Sensitive Periods

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A child learns to adjust himself and make acquisitions in his sensitive periods. These are like a beam that lights interiorly or a battery that furnishes energy. It is this sensibility which enables a child to come in contact with the external world in a particularly intense manner. At such a time everything is easy; all is life and enthusiasm. Every effort marks an increase in power. Only when the goal has been obtained does fatigue and the weight of indifference come on. When one of these psychic passions is exhausted another area is enkindled. Childhood thus passes from conquest to conquest in a constant rhythm that constitutes its joy and happiness.
— Maria Montessori

Dr. Montessori spoke and wrote about her discovery of what she called sensitive periods for learning.  Simply put, they are periods of time in a young child’s life in which they are primed to practice and master certain skills.  During these sensitive periods, a child craves this practice intensely, and can concentrate on the work deeply and in ways that sometimes surprise us as adults.  Once they have engaged in enough repetition over time, they master the skill, become bored, and move on to whatever is next.

Montessori’s sensitive periods stretch throughout childhood.  It is important to recognize that learning is not linear or standardized.  Different children will arrive at different developmental stages in their own time.  What Dr. Montessori did notice were strong patterns among the children she observed.  The following is a guide to what you might expect: 

Birth to age 1

Sensory learning

Babies interact with their environment in an effort to refine their many senses.  This learning continues throughout early childhood, and Montessori classrooms are equipped with specialized materials that appeal to the child who is seeking such practice.

Verbal language

In the early months of a child’s life, they are listening to the language of others around them, attempting to make sense of sounds, patterns, and inflections.  They derive meaning from the speech of those older than themselves even before they are able to speak.

Ages 1 to age 4

Continued sensory learning

Development of speech (typically until around age 3)

We all know and love this stage!  Toddlers work so hard to communicate verbally for several years, eventually getting to a point where they can be understood.  Afterward they continue building vocabulary.

Continued verbal language

Motor coordination (both fine and gross)

From body control and movement (running, jumping, skipping…) to manipulation of small tools (think holding a pencil, cutting with scissors, sewing, etc.), these three years involve a lot of work on the child’s part!  Their bodies are growing, their muscles are developing, and they are generally having a blast in the process.  

Ages 3.5 to 4.5

Writing

Children at this age are ready to begin the work that will help them become writers.  They will learn to hold a pencil properly, to draw lines carefully and intentionally, and to form shapes that lead to cursive and print letters.

Ages 4 to 5

Continued sensory learning

Continued verbal language

Continued motor coordination (typically until shortly before age 6)

Reading

At the beginning of this sensitive period, the child is understanding sounds and blends.  They then move on to reading simple words, more complex ones, and eventually stringing them into sentences (which may come a bit later).

Mathematics 

During this time the child is preparing to learn basic math skills, and eventually mastering them.  They develop a sense of numeration, place value, and operations, among other important skills.

Ages 6 to 12

Social development

During the primary years children often engage in what is referred to as parallel play, when they sit beside one another but focus on their own agenda.  In the elementary years, there is a definite shift; children crave the company of their peers.  They want to sit together, talk together, work together, and learn from each other.  They learn the many benefits of friendship while also developing skills to resolve conflict and work together as a group. They learn the delicate balance between the needs of the group and their individual needs. 

Understanding and interest in justice and morals

When children at this age have recess time, adults commonly report that most of the time is spent by the children developing the rules for the game, with far less time being used to play the game itself.  They are very interested in making sure things are fair, and they are at the perfect age to learn about character development and how we should treat one another. 

Imagination

Children at this age use imagination not just as a fantasy world, but as a vehicle in which to place facts.  Storytelling used to teach information is particularly useful at this time.

Interest and understanding in human history and culture

Now capable of thinking of more than themselves, elementary-aged children are keen to learn about the origins of humans and the various ways we live around the world and have lived throughout history.

Interest and understanding of the history and evolution of the universe

Much like their interest in humans, children at this age are curious about the universe and everything that resides in it.  They are fascinated by creation stories, both those told from a modern scientific perspective and those that reflect historical cultures around the world.  They are also the perfect age to learn about the evolution of life on earth.

As adults, our task is to be aware and supportive of children’s sensitive periods.  When we notice the deep focus or repetition beginning, we can give children the space, time, and support they need to practice and engage with whatever skill they are working on.  We must let the magic they’re feeling ignite while they learn, for once a sensitive period passes, the child will likely never feel quite as motivated in that particular area again.  Montessori classrooms strive to create environments that guide children to dive deep into their sensitive period work, no matter how old they are.

Curious to see what this looks like?  Contact us for a tour today!

A Montessori Mini-Dictionary

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Dr. Maria Montessori created her methodology over a century ago, and those of us who study her work and practice her ideas know it really works for children, even all these years later.  Like any specialized approach or body of work, Montessori education incorporates unique terminology.  Curious to learn more about what we mean when we say normalized, concrete and abstract, or false fatigue?  Read on to learn more (and bookmark this post for future reference)!

Casa dei Bambini

This was the name of the first school Dr. Montessori opened in Rome, Italy.  It translates to children’s house, and references a Montessori class for 3-6 year olds.  Other names for classes for this age group include casa, primary, children’s house, or early childhood.  Casa classes are a combination of preschool and kindergarten.

concrete & abstract

Dr. Montessori believed that “the hand is the instrument of the mind.”  She understood that children learn best by doing first and internalizing later.  In Montessori classrooms, we give children specialized learning materials that they manipulate with their hands to begin grasping various concepts.  Over time, they use materials that are less concrete, and require more abstract thinking, until they are eventually able to master a skill without the use of any material at all.   

control of error

One hallmark of a Montessori education is supporting children to become independent learners.  Most of the materials children use in our classrooms incorporate a control of error; that is there is only one way to correctly use the material.  If a child uses a material incorrectly, they will not be able to complete the activity, and will understand they have made a mistake somewhere along the way.  An opportunity is provided naturally: instead of a teacher correcting a child and telling them what to do differently, the child is able to self-assess and determine what changes they need to make on their own.

cosmic education

During the elementary years, children begin seeking out answers about the universe and their place in it.  It is our job to provide children with lessons and experiences at this age that aim to satisfy their curiosity, and to give them a deeper understand of the interconnectedness of all things.  We call this broad study cosmic education.  Elementary classrooms use special impressionistic lessons to inspire children as they explore concepts such as the creation of our universe, the evolution of life on earth, the evolution of humans, and the origins of math and language.

Erdkinder 

This was the name Dr. Montessori gave to her ideas about education for adolescents.  The German word for Earth-Children, she felt we should focus less on testing and college preparation and more on self-sufficiency.  Erdkinder programs are traditionally run as farms that serve as micro-economies, with the students running and managing all aspects of operations.  Today, some Erdkinder programs interpret the ideas differently, with students running a variety of small businesses themselves.  Traditional learning is also an element of the program, and real-life experiences are often closely connected to any classroom experiences.

false fatigue

In Montessori classrooms we set aside a large chunk of time (3 hours for children 3 years of age and older) each day in which they receive lessons and work independently.  (Learn more about this in the definition of work period below.)  At a certain point during the course of this time, an adult observing will begin to notice the volume in the classroom beginning to rise, social activity beginning to increase, and an apparent decrease in productivity.  Our task is to pause, wait, and watch for the flow of the room to return naturally to its previous state.  We all need a break once in a while, and it is normal to expect that children will, at some point, need to step away from the work they have been deeply engrossed in.  In the long run, this false fatigue break actually allows them to be more productive and focus better once they return to their work.

grace & courtesy 

This phrase is applied to the approach Montessori schools have when teaching children how to interact with others.  Manners play a part of this work; we explicitly teach children how to say please, thank you, excuse me, and you’re welcome, but it’s also so much more.  We teach children how to navigate friendships, how to resolve conflict, how to express gratitude, and how to share their own feelings.    

guide 

While the term teacher is sometimes used, many Montessori schools opt for the term guide.  Our educators do not stand in the front of the classroom and impart their knowledge upon students in conventional ways.  We don’t feel that our task is to give them information, but rather to lead them toward it so they may discover it themselves.  The term guide is much more fitting.  Another traditional term that is sometimes used in our schools is directress.    

Nido

Nest in Italian, this is the term Montessori uses for the infant program.  Nido classrooms are nurturing and secure, giving babies a safe and comfortable place to begin their exploration of the world.

normalized 

When Dr. Montessori began using this word to describe children a century ago, it was used with a very positive connotation.  When a child is normalized, it means they have embraced to ability to learn independently within the Montessori classroom; they are able to enter the environment confidently, select work that interests them, and complete it with concentration and perseverance.  That is not to say they never feel struggle or frustration, they have simply internalized the expectations of the environment and are joyful learners in the community.

planes of development

As a scientist, Dr. Montessori carefully studied patterns in children’s learning.  Her observations led her to notice specific planes, or stages, of development.  Each plane is marked by very specific differences in the way children view the world and learn from it.  Having this information assists educators in creating environments and utilizing approaches that teach the child according to how they are developmentally prepared to learn.  The first plane includes children ages 0-6, the second plan 6-12, the third 12-18, and the fourth 18-24.

practical life

We make it a point to teach children a range of skills they will need to be successful.  While math, language, and science certainly make the cut, there’s a lot more to life than traditional academic subjects.  Practical life exercises teach children how to clean up after themselves, how to feed themselves, or how to do any number of tasks that are required of us as we grow to become independent humans.  We do not give children pretend food to cook with or play tools; we give them beautiful, sturdy, child-sized versions of the real thing.  This allows them to take this practice seriously, and to know that we take them seriously, too.

prepared environment

This is typically what we use to refer to our classrooms, but the term could actually be applied to just about anywhere.  When a Montessori adult takes special care in creating a space that serves the child in their developmental stage and allows them to explore and learn independently, they have prepared the environment.

sensitive period

During her years of observation, Dr. Montessori noticed that children went through typical periods in which they seemed primed and ready to learn specific things.  While there is of course some variability, Montessori guides know when to expect children to be ready to learn early math skills, beginning language work, gross motor skills, and so much more.  If we introduce a skill too early a child is likely to become overwhelmed and frustrated, if we miss the window, or sensitive period, the child is likely to have lost interest to an extent.

sensorial 

Montessori toddler and primary classrooms provide children with a series of lessons and materials that allow them to refine their various senses.  These are referred to as sensorial materials, and help children learn differences in weight, size, color, shape, scent, sound, and more.

three-period lesson

The three-period lesson is one way Montessori guides present information and assess comprehension.  The first time information is presented to the child, the guide names it.  For example, “This is the gill of a fish.”  The second time (perhaps the same day, perhaps not), the guide will point to a picture and ask the child, “Where is the gill?”  The third, and final period consists of the guide asking, “What is this?” when they point to the gill.  This strategy may be used for presenting and assessing a wide range of skills.

work 

Any time a child is focused on a learning activity we refer to this as work.  This does not mean the child must be writing something down on a piece of paper, in fact more often they are not.  We recognize that work looks different at different ages, and we honor its importance regardless.  

work period/cycle

Montessori schools utilize a three-hour period of time each morning in which children are able to dive deeply into their work.  We recognize that it can take some time to settle into the flow of the day, and giving children this gift of time allows them to fall into stronger patterns of learning and independence.  Older children often have a second work period/cycle during the afternoon.

Preventing Math Anxiety

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Researchers from the University of Cambridge recently released a report following their study of math anxiety in primary and secondary students.  [https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/290514] Their findings illustrate interesting characteristics of children who experience math anxiety, and suggest a potential connection to interactions with teachers and parents.  The interview-based study included 2,700 children in primary and secondary school in the United Kingdom and Italy.  

What researchers discovered

Four general themes emerged from the research:

  1. Girls were more likely than boys to experience math anxiety at both the primary and secondary levels.

  2. An overall perception that math is more difficult than other subjects contributed to developing anxiety.  Children spoke about comparing themselves to others and receiving poor grades in classes and on tests.  This led to a decline in confidence and seemed to contribute to development of math anxiety.

  3. Interactions with adults is a factor.  Children in the primary grades spoke about feeling confused by the variety of methods used to teach certain skills.  Older children felt that negative interpersonal interactions with teachers and parents contributed to their anxiety.

  4. Children in secondary school felt overwhelmed by the transition from primary school.  They indicated increased pressure in regards to the difficulty of math content along with more testing and homework.

What might this mean for Montessori classrooms?

The approach and structure of Montessori classrooms is already so different from that of conventional settings; this may serve as a benefit to students learning about math.  As educators it is critical, however, to be open to new research and dedicated to creating an environment that will nurture our students and their learning in the best ways possible.

We might question: why are girls experiencing greater levels of math anxiety?  It could be beneficial to pay close attention to the girls in our classes and be ready to intervene when markers of anxiety appear.

The children in the study expressed frustration as a result of comparisons with peers.  Montessori strives to create an educational environment that downplays competition and focuses instead on intrinsic motivation.  Not asking students to take tests, not giving grades, and not having a sticker chart on the wall that displays who has memorized their multiplication facts can all help with this.

In Montessori schools we recognize that learning is not a steady, linear progression, nor is it the same for different children.  Students work through a series of materials at their own pace; teachers teach small groups or individuals and reteach as necessary, for as long as necessary, without any pressure to move along a predetermined pace.  

It can be challenging at times to compete among schools that take on more traditional methods.  Montessori schools can feel obligated to offer standardized testing and homework.  It may behoove us to recall the success Montessori has had for over a century without tests or homework.  Most importantly, even while finding a balance, we need to keep our children’s development in the forefront of our decision-making.  One question to ask while implementing something new might be, “Is this new structure affecting our students’ attitudes toward math?”

Of course, as children get older we have a responsibility to prepare them for whatever setting they will transition into.  How might we do this without compromising our ideals?  How can we present homework and testing to Montessori adolescents in such a way that they understand what will be expected of them, while continuing to support them in a supportive and non-competitive learning environment?

What might parents do to help prevent math anxiety?

More research needs to be done to determine how parents can help stave off negative feelings about mathematics.  We have a few ideas to share:

  1. Make a conscious effort to not emphasize your own math anxiety.  It’s certainly fine to share your experiences with children; this allows them to see that we can be successful in the face of adversity and challenge.  The key is to not dwell or allow any residual math anxiety to affect their own perception.  Make sure to avoid saying things like, “I’m bad at math.”  If you hear your child saying something along those lines, you might encourage them by reminding them that they’re not bad at it, it’s just an area that might feel a little more challenging right now.

  2. By all means, engage in math activities with your child!  Just remember to keep them light and fun.  We may have grown up with math drills and rewards for achievement, but a growing body of research is showing us that external rewards are not usually effective.  Math at home should be a fun way for children to see how we use numbers in our everyday lives.

  3. Trust the Montessori process.  This one can be hard.  If you are the type of parent who is actively engaged in your child’s education, you are likely to want to teach them whatever you can.  This is great!  Unfortunately, it can be hard to know exactly when a child is developmentally primed to learn a particular skill.  One common example is parents wanting to teach their child how to add larger numbers.  We believe they could grasp the concept of carrying and doing it all on pencil and paper.  While the child may be able to, Montessori curriculum utilizes materials that allow the child to arrive at such a discovery without the assistance of an adult (and often much earlier than they would typically be taught in a conventional school).  By learning first with the hand and figuring it out authentically, a child is able to understand the whys of number manipulation while simultaneously feeling a sense of empowerment and confidence.  Showing children how to use these specialized materials requires extensive training that all Montessori teachers must complete to become credentialed.  

It will be interesting to see what future research learns about math anxiety in children and how we, as adults, might support them further. 

Have you ever dealt with math anxiety?  What do you think might have made your experience different?

As always, please feel free to reach out with any questions, ideas, or to schedule a tour.

Author Spotlight: Mo Willems

Mo Willems: you either already know and love this author, or you know and love this author’s work and just don’t know him by name.  Best known for his creation of an ornery but lovable pigeon, Willems has written far too many books for us to list all of them individually here.  So, if you and your family are looking for a new author/illustrator to love, look no further! Click on the book images to go to that book’s page on Amazon.

The Pigeon Series

It’s rare to meet a parent who is not familiar with this character, but if you’re not, you’re in luck!  Pigeon (like many children) has strong feelings about what he wants to do in life.  He also has a keen sense of fairness, and often thinks life isn’t fair for him.  Children relate joyfully to this small blue bird who just wants to experience the world on his own terms but is often told he cannot.  There are nine books in this series, but we will highlight a couple of our favorites here:

 

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems

After a bus driver parks and needs to step away for a few minutes, our friend the pigeon begs the reader to let him drive.  He pleads, bargains, and tries every strategy he can think of to sway our minds (obviously without any luck).

 

The Duckling Gets a Cookie!? by Mo Willems

Sweet, charming Duckling is given a cookie as a treat.  Pigeon, of course, is exceedingly jealous and is quite vocal in expressing his feelings.  Duckling patiently lets Pigeon speak, and near the end of the story offers to give the cookie to Pigeon (though not for the reason you might think!).

 

The Knuffle Bunny Series 

Many children have a stuffed animal that is special to them, and Trixie is no different.  The child in the stories is named after Willems’ own daughter, Trixie, who adores her stuffed rabbit: Knuffle Bunny.  This three-book series grows along with Trixie, but you might want to start with the first book:

 

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems

Trixie is a toddler who has not yet started to talk.  Waving goodbye to Mom, she and her dad take a walk to the local laundromat.  It is here that Trixie’s dad mistakenly tosses Knuffle Bunny, Trixie’s beloved stuffed rabbit, into a washing machine.  She doesn’t have the words to tell him what’s wrong, so she expresses her strong feelings like any toddler would: with increasing intensity!  The pair arrive home and Mom notices the missing Knuffle Bunny, which sends Trixie and Dad back to the laundromat.  The ending is what you might expect, but with a fun twist!

 

The Elephant and Piggie Series

Piggie and Elephant Gerald are the best of friends.  In this 25-book series, the pair dialogue their way through exactly the types of scenarios children are faced with each day.  Here are just a few:

 

Are You Ready to Play Outside? by Mo Willems

Gerald and Piggie have big plans for a day of playing outside.  As Piggie imagines all they might do and they go to head out, raindrops begin to fall.  Luckily, elephants are good friends who have a knack for making rainy days fun.

 

Should I Share My Ice Cream? by Mo Willems

While he is alone one hot day, Gerald buys himself an ice cream cone.  Just as he is about to take his first bite, he wonders if he should find Piggie to share it with her.  This sets off a chain of thoughts in his mind, alternating between generous and self-serving.  As with many of Willems’ books, the ending is not what readers might expect!

 

Waiting is Not Easy! by Mo Willems

Piggie has a special surprise to share with Gerald.  Unfortunately, patience is not a characteristic Gerald has fully developed just yet.  Piggie is gentle and encouraging as the two wait for time to pass and the surprise to reveal itself.

 

Cat the Cat Series

These books are perfect for new readers or for babies and toddlers who love being read to.  Simple text, simple illustrations, and loveable characters grace the pages of these four books.  Here are a couple we enjoy:

 

Cat the Cat, Who Is That? by Mo Willems

In this introductory book we are introduced to Cat the cat and all her animal friends.  Their names are quite predictable as one might imagine, and young children love the patterned text.

 

Time to Sleep, Sheep the Sheep! by Mo Willems

With minimal text and adorable illustrations, Cat the cat and her friends get ready for bedtime.  They smile joyfully as Cat reminds them to get ready, and respond by brushing their teeth, taking a bath, gathering bedding, and so on.

 

Solo Books

Willems has lots of non-series books as well.  While, again, there are far too many to list here, check out these favorites!

 

Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed by Mo Willems

In Naked Mole Rat’s world, everyone is naked all the time.  Secretly, he adores wearing clothes of all kinds.  When the other mole rats discover this, the whole community is faced with change.

 

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems

In this ridiculous twist on the classic Goldilocks tale, the dinosaurs are intentionally trying to lure a tasty child into their home.  Luckily, this (pluckier version of ) Goldilocks figures out their plan in the nick of time.

 

That Is NOT a Good Idea! by Mo Willems

A mischievous fox invites an innocent goose to dinner.  Written and illustrated in a style similar to an old silent film, our goose heroine proves she’s not nearly as naive as we feared.

 

Nanette’s Baguette by Mo Willems

If your child loves fresh bread, independence, or words that rhyme with baguette, this one is for them!  Nanette’s mother sends her off to the bakery for first time by herself to buy a baguette, but who among us can resist the delectable smell of a freshly baked loaf? (Certainly not Nanette!)

 

***Special insider’s secret: The Pigeon appears in every single one of Mo Willems’ books.  Sometimes you have to look very closely, but it can be quite a fun game for children!  Enjoy!