Book List: On Kindness

We are just around the corner from Valentine’s Day!  Before we dive into paper doily cards and candy hearts let’s take a moment to think about the reason we celebrate: love.  And what better way to experience love on a daily basis than to live a life of kindness?  Your children learn kindness by watching others, including their friends, their teachers, and you.  When we take the time to have conversations about the importance of kindness, children understand that it’s something we value.  This month’s book list includes ten titles that will help you get started.  Enjoy!

 

The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney

This wordless book (aside from a few beautifully illustrated sound words) is a retelling of the classic Aesop fable.  The majestic and powerful lion shows mercy on the tiny and unassuming mouse, who later returns the kindness.  Children and adults appreciate this classic and gorgeous rendition.  

 

The Three Questions by Jon J. Muth

Based on the classic tale by Leo Tolstoy, a small boy is searching for the answers to his three questions.  What is the best time to do things?  Who is the most important one?  What is the right thing to do?  His own journey leads him to the answers, which are of course, based in being kind and present in the moment.

 

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson

CJ is a bouncy young child who is traveling across the city with his grandmother one Sunday.  A bit annoyed that they must ride the bus instead of hopping into a car, he is full of questions which his grandmother patiently answers.  CJ learns many things and meets many different people before arriving at their final destination: a soup kitchen where he and his grandmother will help people less fortunate than themselves. 

 

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Many of us are familiar with Silverstein’s timeless treasure of a book.  While the tree in the story is exceedingly kind to the boy, this is a good book to teach children about the limits of kindness.  We can be kind to others without putting our own happiness and well-being at risk.

 

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Mellon by Patty Lovell, illustrated by David Catrow

Molly Lou Mellon’s buck teeth, short stature, and deep voice may not be what many consider to be the standard of perfection, but Molly’s grandmother has instilled a strong sense of positive self-esteem in the young girl.  When Molly moves away and is teased by another child in her new school, fierce determination and pride in her unique qualities help her shine through the challenge.

 

Have You Filled a Bucket Today?: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids by Carol McCloud, illustrated by David Messing

This beloved book encourages readers to visualize a bucket that we all carry around with us.  When the bucket is full, we feel happy and content.  When we are sad, lonely, or upset, the bucket may be empty.  The story talks about different ways our actions can affect one another, either emptying or filling each other’s buckets.  This book also helps children understand that negative actions that may empty a bucket, such as teasing, are not permanent or definitive of who we are.  There is always room for us to grow and love others.

 

A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams

A little girl tells the story of working toward a simple yet special goal in the aftermath of an apartment fire.  All the family’s belongings were destroyed, and while their neighbors and friends donated what they could, something important was missing: one soft, comfortable chair for her to share with her mother and grandmother.  The three save every coin they are able in a large glass jar, until they are finally able to make a trip to the furniture store together.

 

Should I Share My Ice Cream? by Mo Willems

One hot day, Elephant Gerald hears the enticing call of Ice Cream Penguin.  He happily purchases a cone, but just before he takes his first bite, he thinks of his best friend, Piggy.  Would Piggy want some of his ice cream?  Should he wait and share?  Would she ever know if he ate it without her?  His big heart wins the internal battle, but there is a twist ending.

 

Leonardo, the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems

Willems says this tale is written for those as young as 3 and as old as 36, but frankly, we think those age limits could be extended a bit.  Leonardo wants nothing more in life than to scare the tuna salad out of someone, but he doesn’t seem to be able to.  He finally finds some success, but might he discover that friendship is a lot more satisfying?

 

We hope you and your family enjoy these books about kindness.  Please let us know what you think, and if there are any others you think we should add to the list!

Montessori Basics: Observation

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Montessori classrooms rely heavily on the art of observation.  You may see it in action some time, or you may have an opportunity to try it yourself (which we welcome and encourage!).  If you ever walk past a classroom and see the children working intently, while the guide is quietly sitting in a corner with a clipboard, know that guide is working intently as well.  

Why we do it

Dr. Maria Montessori was a scientist and a physician.  Her education and background helped her look at the world in a way that is different from most traditional educators.  Observation of children was what inspired her work in education, and she used it to develop her methods.  Not only that, but Montessori guides all over the world rely on observation to learn about their students, gain insight about developmental phases, inform our decision-making, and to assess the children’s mastery of skills.  So what are the main goals of observation in the classroom?

  • Planning appropriate lessons - Montessori educators are trained to have extensive knowledge about child development.  While most traditional teacher education programs require students to take a course on the topic, development is essentially the foundation of everything we do as Montessori guides.  Practiced guides know so much about the behaviors of growing children that seemingly insignificant occurrences signal a transition into a new plane of development.  The toddler that has mastered toileting and can be observed spending long amounts of time with practical life activities is making the transition necessary for the primary classroom.  A child nearing six that has lost a tooth and seems suddenly very motivated by social interactions with their peers is moving into the second plane of development and will respond well to lessons involving storytelling and deeper information about cultures around the world.  The challenge of the guide is to identify the moment when a child is entering a sensitive period; this is their development showing they are ready to learn specific skills that must be taught in a way that honors their growth.  

  • Making sure the environment serves the children - While the guide’s role in a child’s education is important, the environment plays an even bigger role.  It is the guide’s job to make sure the classroom environment allows children to find what they need, feel inspired to work, fosters independence, and allows for safety and comfort.  If, during an observation, it is noted that a piece of furniture disrupts the flow of movement, it will be moved at a later time.  If many children prefer to work on the floor, it will be important to note whether there are enough work rugs for them all to use.  If no children have used a specific material in a number of weeks, it may need to be reintroduced or removed from the shelf.  Each item in the classroom must be placed intentionally and with a specific purpose in mind.  If it is no longer serving its intended purpose, reflection and a solution are required.

  • Assessment of skills - The word assess is derived from the Latin form to sit beside.  Montessori schools do not determine mastery with the use of tests, but rather by utilizing observation.  Instead of giving children a piece of paper with questions on it, we watch them in action.  When a child is able to independently place number tiles in random order on a hundred board, we know they have grasped the concept of ordering those numbers.  A child who is able to complete complex patterns within the shape they traced using a metal inset, and who also frequently uses the sandpaper letters correctly is likely ready to learn the written formation of letters using a pencil on a piece of paper.  This assessment, of course, ties back into planning appropriate lessons, as the guide has concrete information to inform their instruction.

What it looks like

  • Formal observations - A Montessori guide will likely observe in the classroom most days, or multiple guides may take turns observing.  These observations typically last between fifteen and thirty minutes, but the amount of time can vary.  While each guide has their own preferred method, they typically sit quietly and use a notebook to record what they observe.  Children are taught about the importance of this work and they know not to disturb the adult at this time.  Sometimes a guide will sit in a specific chair or use a special clipboard to signal to the children that they are working.  For new guides, the temptation to intervene can be powerful, but we learn that unless a child is in danger it’s often best to wait it out and see what happens.  Most classrooms have a second adult that is able to redirect a child who may be overly disruptive, allowing the observing adult to continue.  During this time the guide simply watches and takes lots of notes.  It is important that the notes be strictly observational and that any judgement or inferencing be reserved for another time.

  • Informal observations - During the course of the work period, guides will make a great many observations in the moment.  While walking across the room to retrieve something, while speaking to a child, or even whilst in the middle of a lesson, there are many helpful bits of information a guide can gather and record that will help make the children’s educational experience the best it can be.  As you may imagine, this results in many, many notebooks full of amazing and adorable anecdotes. 

Visitor observation

Whether you are considering Montessori for your child, they are in a program but getting ready to move to a new level, or if you’re just curious and want to learn more about the philosophy, observation is one of the greatest tools available to you.  Even the most experienced guides make time to visit other Montessori schools when possible so that they may observe other classrooms and gather fresh ideas and inspiration.  We invite you to contact us should you be interested in giving it a try.

When you enter a Montessori classroom to observe, it is very important to know that the children will be engaged in their work and the goal is to watch without disturbing them.  In many other scenarios in life, we announce ourselves upon entering a room, perhaps even greeting others enthusiastically.  When observing in the classroom, we ask that visitors refrain from doing these things, tempting as it may be!  You will likely be greeted by an adult or child and directed to a chair.  Having a notebook or clipboard is helpful, as you are sure to experience moments you will want to record.  If a child approaches you and greets you, by all means please feel free to briefly greet them in return.  In general, however, you will need to sit quietly and observe in a way that the children forget you are there, leaving them free to focus on their work.  Montessori children are quite used to visitors, so this shouldn’t be a problem.

Some questions that will help guide your observation include:

  • In what ways are the children displaying independence?

  • How do the children choose their work?

  • What do transitions between work look like?

  • How do the adults respond to the children?

  • How do the children respond to the adults?

  • How do the children interact with one another?

  • How do the children care for their own basic needs?

  • Does anything about the classroom environment surprise you?

When your observation is complete, it is best to slip out of the classroom quietly.  In this situation you are not expected to say any formal goodbyes.

You can do this at home!

While home is very different from the classroom, there are ways that parents can apply the basic concepts of Montessori observation.  While trying to engage with our children, it can be easy to fall into patterns in which we begin directing their play.  Every once in a while, sit back and watch as your child plays.  You may notice them using their toys in surprising ways, and this may give you insight to their interests and maturity.  Similarly, it can be tempting to jump in and help any time your child spills something, falls down, or struggles to do something.  Instead of rushing to the rescue, wait.  If they ask for help, of course, lend a hand, but oftentimes they will want to address the situation themselves.  Watching to see what our children are capable of and nurturing their independence is one of the greatest gifts you can give them.  

As you pay attention and observe your child’s play, eating habits, sleeping habits, and social habits, you may learn many new things about their development.  This, in turn, will allow you to reflect on how you might best support them on their journey through childhood.  Slow down, observe, and enjoy those moments.

Book List: The Passing of Time

As we welcome a new year we thought it would be the perfect time to share a book list about the passing of time.  Throughout human existence we have generated ways to record time, and while many of our earlier innovations are no longer used, the old has been blended with the new.  Most children are curious about time, yet it can be a tricky subject to comprehend for younger ones.  Check out our list for some helpful suggestions.

 

About Time: A First Look at Time and Clocks by Bruce Koscielniak

This fabulous book teaches children about the history of timekeeping.  Throughout time, humans have needed to track the passing of time and have discovered many creative ways of doing so.  This book is sure to delight children in the elementary grades and beyond.

 

The Reasons for Seasons by Gail Gibbons

Gibbons writes books for children that are beautifully illustrated, clearly written, and tend to mesh very well with the style of Montessori education.  The Reasons for Seasons can be appreciated by younger and older children; it contains simple text that explains the science behind our seasons.  It differentiates between the Northern and Southern hemispheres and teaches kids about solstices, equinoxes, and why the Earth’s axis plays an important role.

 

I Had a Favorite Dress by Boni Ashburn, illustrated by Julia Denos

We believe that representation matters, and having children’s books that feature children of color is a good thing for all kids.  This is a fun days-of-the-week book in which the main character begins by telling readers about her favorite dress that she wears each Tuesday, which happens to be her favorite day of the week.  One day she discovers the dress is too small, but her creative mother transforms the dress into a shirt that the girl then wears every Wednesday.  That is, until it no longer fits...

 

A Second, a Minute, a Week with Days in it: A Book About Time by Brian P. Cleary, illustrated by Brian Gable

The title of this book says it all: it’s a simple and straightforward explanation about simple units of time.  The illustrations help give children a clear visual representation of these abstract concepts.

 

The Story of Clocks and Calendars by Betsey Maestro, illustrated by Guilio Maestro

Like Koscielniak’s book, The Story of Clocks and Calendars fills the important role of teaching children about the history of time.  Maestro details the differences in calendars from different societies, along with descriptions of various types of clocks.

 

Chicken Soup with Rice by Maurice Sendak

“In January it’s so nice while slipping on the sliding ice to sip hot chicken soup with rice.  Sipping once sipping twice sipping chicken soup with rice.”  This classic Sendak book will help young children learn the names of the months while being delighted by his poems and illustrations.

 

Thirteen Moons on Turtle’s Back by Joseph Bruchac and Jonathan London, illustrated by Thomas Locker

A young Abenaki child is treated to a lesson and storytelling from his grandfather.  The grandfather explains that just as there are thirteen scales on the old turtle’s back, there are thirteen moons during the year.  This book honors the Native American tradition of storytelling, and each page teaches about a different nation’s moon story.  This book would be best appreciated by elementary-aged children.

 

When the Moon is Full: A Lunar Year by Penny Pollock, illustrated by Mary Azarian

Another book about the Native American lunar year, the illustrations in this book make it come alive.  Poetry and tradition guide the reader through twelve moons.  While older children would likely enjoy this book, it easily appeals to younger children as well. 

 

A Child’s Calendar by John Updike, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

Updike’s poems carry readers through the months of the year, highlighting seasons, holidays, and favorite childhood pastimes.  A Child’s Calendar is a Caldecott Honor Book.  

 

Me Counting Time: From Seconds to Centuries by Joan Sweeney, illustrated by Annette Cable 

As a child prepares to celebrate her seventh birthday, she pauses to think about time.  This story is relatable, informative, and entertaining for kids.  Written at about a second-grade reading level, the content would be best enjoyed by children ages 4-7.  They will learn all about units of time, from a second to a millennium.

 

We hope you and your family enjoy these books.  Let us know what you think!

Mindfulness for Children

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You may be very familiar with mindfulness, or you may have a vague notion of a buzz word that has something to do with meditation.  Regardless of your experience, we are here to detail the ways in which mindfulness can be beneficial to your children.  Being more mindful helps people reap a multitude of benefits, anyone can participate, and learning alongside your child can be fun!

What, exactly, is it?

Merriam Webster defines mindfulness as:

  1. the quality or state of being mindful

  2. the practice of maintaining a nonjudgemental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis

also: such a state of awareness

Sometimes it can be helpful to define mindfulness by stating what it is not.  Mindfulness is not about clearing the mind.  It is not about silence or ending conflict.  Mindfulness is definitely not a quick fix for anything.  Mindfulness provides us with a way of looking deeper at our lives.  We learn to observe events, sensations, and feelings while acknowledging them and accepting them for what they are.  

In today’s society it can be easy for everyone - children included - to get caught up in the daily rush.  Mindfulness allows us to slow down and be present.  Many who are new to the practice may wonder how they might find the time to squeeze in one more thing.  Once you form daily habits of mindfulness you will see your schedule open up, and you may realize your life feels a lot more free and flexible.

Setting realistic expectations

It’s important to remember that mindfulness is nonjudgemental.  Although it does tend to help people in many ways, it wouldn’t be fair to try it with the intention of making a child become, say, more attentive.  Improved attention and focus are a likely outcome, but cannot be expected.  Mindfulness is different for everyone, and acceptance of oneself and each other is a healthier and more realistic goal.

On a more basic level, you may be excited to try these exercises and ideas, while your child may not be.  We find that many kids do love the meditations and games detailed below, but they’re not for everyone and that’s okay.  So, as you give mindfulness a try with your children, keep in mind that they are their own independent people.  Everyone will take away something different from the practice.

The raisin meditation

Mark Williams and Danny Penman have written a great book entitled Mindfulness, an Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World.  This book is written for adults, and we highly recommend it as a resource.  It’s full of scientific explanations regarding how behaviors are dictated by brain function and what we can do to create change within our own lives.  As a bonus, it contains a link to meditation audio files.  Although not a book for children, there is a fantastic exercise contained within that kids love: the raisin meditation.

Sit in a quiet space with your child.  Feel free to light a candle (or not) and get comfy.  Ask your child to open their hand, palm facing upwards, and place a single raisin in the middle.  Tell them not to eat it just yet and take another raisin for yourself.  The goal of this exercise is to slow down and pay close attention, seeing if you can notice attributes that are typically overlooked during the business of our everyday lives.  We use all of our senses to zoom and observe this raisin closely.

  • Sight - Look carefully at your raisin.  What do you see?  Allow your eyes to explore the ridges and valleys, to notice color variations, and to find the spot where this dried grape was once attached to a stem.  What words might you use to describe these observations?

  • Sound - With a raisin, this will surely be a little silly, but that’s okay!  Hold the raisin gently to your ear and have a listen anyway.  Children will revel in watching their parents listen to a piece of dried fruit as they do the same, you will all confirm its silence, and have a giggle before moving on to the next step.

  • Smell - With delicate, inward breathes, take in the scent of the raisin.  What do you notice?  What could you compare it to?  Try not to rush this step; take the time to really pay attention.  Find words to describe the scent.

  • Texture - This will be done in two parts.  First, gently feel the exterior of the raisin with your fingertips.  Repeat the process of noticing and describing.  When everyone is ready, place the raisin on your tongue.  Without chewing use your tongue to pay attention to what the raisin feels like in your mouth.  Later, when you do end up swallowing it, notice the sensations as it travels down your throat.

  • Taste - Likely the moment your child has been waiting for, ask them to take their time while chewing and tasting the raisin.  Because you have spent so much time noticing every detail of this tiny piece of fruit, the anticipation may make it seem like the tastiest raisin you have ever eaten!  Is it sweet?  Sour?  Bland?  Intense?

This activity can be repeated with almost anything, and it’s a great idea to do so.  Wait a few days and try the whole process over again with a chocolate chip, slice of cucumber, or whatever else you happen to be eating.  At mealtimes, take a few moments to be intentional about appreciating your food.  Notice what it looks like, smells like, feels like, and chew slowly to discover more about how it tastes.  Most importantly, have fun while doing so!

Looking for more mindfulness games and activities?  Try these ideas:

  • Object box - Find a small collection of very similar items (cards, pennies, pebbles, etc.)  Each player chooses one and has one minute to study their item carefully.  The items are then placed in a box and shaken up.  Players try to find their original item.

  • Creature search - Take a walk along a familiar path or through a park you frequent.  Everyone has to pay attention and find as many living organisms as possible.  It’s amazing how much we overlook even when we spend time in nature!

  • Visual breath games - There are many variations of this.  Try blowing bubbles or using a pinwheel with your child.  Encourage them to take a deep breath in through their nose and feel the air as it leaves their mouth.  They can take tiny breaths or big breaths, slow breaths or quick breaths. 

Meditation resources

These videos will give you examples of some common, basic mindfulness meditations.  We recommend that you use the videos for their audio.  Children should not be watching the screen as they listen so they can focus on all their senses.

Body scan meditation: Direct your awareness to specific parts of your body, noticing sensations (or lack of sensations).

Loving kindness meditation: Take time to love yourself and send loving thoughts to others. 

Observing thought meditation:  This type of meditation is best for children ages 6 and up.  This video explains why it’s helpful, while this one guides children through the practice. 

We hope this post has been interesting and informative.  If you try any of the meditations or ideas with your children, we would love to hear how it goes!  

5 Ways to Help Kids With Anxiety

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Anxiety is a completely normal part of the human experience.  Both adults and children experience anxiety from time to time.  As children grow, they go through so many changes physically, cognitively, and emotionally, it’s understandable that they may feel nervous occasionally.  You will likely notice your child pass through a number of phases in which they display anxious behaviors.

If you feel like your child’s anxiety is more than just a phase it’s important to talk to your pediatrician.  Anxiety can negatively affect people in a myriad of ways, and it’s important for kids with chronic worry to get help that will change those patterns.  

The good news is there are things we can do at home and school to help children deal with their anxiety, both proactively and reactively.

In the Moment

It helps to have some strategies on hand for when a child is experiencing anxiety.  It can be difficult to learn a new skill while our bodies are experiencing nervousness, so try these out with your child while they are calm the first time.

  • Mountain breath - This is a kid version of the well-known 4-7-8 technique.  If you’re not already familiar, Harvard graduate Dr. Andrew Weil developed the simple exercise.  After releasing the air from your lungs, breath in for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 7, and release the breath slowly for a count of 8.  This slows your breathing while also allowing your body to absorb more oxygen.  Ideally 4-7-8 should be practiced several times a day and then used as needed.  For the children’s ‘mountain breath’ version, have your child hold up all five fingers on one hand.  Using the index finger of the opposite hand, they will trace up and down each of the five fingers, pretending they are mountains.  Say, “We climb up the first mountain (breath in), stopping at the top to look around at the view (hold breath).  Then we climb down this side (breath out)”.  They continue this with the remaining four fingers.  The count of 4-7-8 is less important for kids than the pattern and practice.  For more information on Dr. Weil’s technique check out this video:

  • Grounding exercise - The amygdala is a small, almond-shaped cluster located deep inside the brain.  It’s one of the most primitive parts of our brains and serves many functions.  The amygdala is connected to fear conditioning, and is connected to why we react in fearful ways to certain situations and stimuli.  Think of it as your fight or flight center.  

    When we are in the midst of panic, our brains lose the ability to behave according to the reality of a current situation.  Our bodies feel like there is great danger and our amygdala is feeding those false connections.  The good news is there are tools we can teach children to trick that part of their brain and remind themselves that they are safe.

    A grounding exercise uses the senses to remind the brain there isn’t really any immediate danger and that we are safe.  As a quick reference, remember “5,4,3,2,1”.  First, we use our sense of sight.  We look around and locate five things we see and name them, simply.  This can be done aloud or in our heads.  For example, we may say, “Light. Floor. Hand. Paper. Table.”  Next, we identify four things we can feel, and touch them as we name them.  “Hair. Fabric. Wood. Skin.”  We then name three things we can hear. “Breath. Fan. Car.”  The final two steps include identifying two things we smell and one thing we taste.  These steps are not always practical, and it’s okay to skip them.  Again, try to teach this exercise to your child when they are feeling calm so that it’s more accessible to them when they are not.  

    For a video of an extended version of this exercise, watch here:

  • Straw & cotton- This exercise is fun, and likely seems more like a game.  Using a piece of tape (painter’s tape or washi tape works well), create a line about two feet long on a hard floor - carpet won’t work.  Place a cotton ball on one end of the line and using a drinking straw, blow on the cotton ball in an attempt to have it travel the length of the line.  It can be challenging to control one’s breath and keep the cotton on the tape, but it’s a fun and silly exercise.  Doing this distracts the child from anxious thoughts and forces them to control their breath.  If they get really good at it, you can create a tape maze on the floor instead of a simple line.  Have fun with this one!

Creating Routines

Routines help everyone, but especially children, to feel safe and centered.  While flexibility and spontaneity are also important, it’s a good idea to create predictable structures for kids.  Read on for some ideas on how we can support our kids and attempt to prevent anxiety.

  • Morning and evening routines - Waking up is hard.  Especially on these chilly, darker, winter mornings!  Decide on a routine that works for you and your family, then be sure to stick to it.  One sample: get up, use the toilet, get dressed, brush teeth, brush hair, eat breakfast, put shoes on, go to school.  Repeat every day in the same order.  For some children, it helps to keep at least some version of this routine on the weekends.

    Consider the same idea in the evening.  Another sample (but do what works for you!): take a bath, put on pajamas, eat dinner, brush teeth, read two stories, cuddle for five minutes, go to sleep.

  • Preparing ahead - In the evenings, it really helps to get as much done ahead of time for the day ahead.  Much of this responsibility falls to parents, but as children get older they can certainly pitch in.  Some ideas:

    • Making lunches

    • Laying out clothes

    • Keeping bags, jackets, and shoes ready by the door

    • Have healthy breakfasts prepared

    • Leave lots of time - kids often take longer to get things done than we expect.  Instead of rushing them through what needs to be done, wake them up a little earlier or start bedtime sooner than you think you need to so that everything gets done and everyone gets a good night’s sleep.

  • Presetting for changes - Routines are great, but it’s impossible to stick to them all the time.  You may have an early morning meeting, your child may have a doctor’s appointment, or any other number of unpredictable variables may come up.  When this happens it’s unsettling to us as adults, but it can really throw kids off and spark anxiety.  To help ease their concerns, we can preset them ahead of time whenever possible.  The night before a change in routine, take the time to tell your child what will be happening and how it will affect them so they know what to expect.  When something unpredictable happens, take a moment to stop and speak to your child calmly and softly; let them know what’s going on, and what you think will need to be done next.  Including children in conversations about changes is empowering for them, and will likely help them feel calmer about whatever situation they are in.

We hope this post will help you and your family prepare for tough moments of anxiety.  If you try any of these ideas we would love to hear how it goes.  Do you have other tips or tricks?  Let us know!

Gift Giving Montessori Style

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The holiday season is in full swing and if you haven’t already started your shopping you’re probably thinking about it!  This week we take a look at gifts for children, whether they be your own kids, nieces and nephews, or friends.  We all adore that look of joy on a child’s face when they open up a surprise.  Read on for a Montessori holiday gift-giving guide…

Keeping Development in Mind

Montessori’s concept of the developmental planes can be helpful to keep in mind while selecting gifts. Reminding ourselves of the characteristics of each phase of childhood can give surprising insight!  Here’s a brief summary with ideas:


Developmental Plane

Some Characteristics

Gift Ideas

Ages 0-6

  • Sense of order

  • Language development

  • Movement/ development of motor skills

  • Refinement of the Senses

  • Child-sized cleaning supplies

  • Books

  • Scooters or bicycles (tricycles or training wheels)

  • Playdough or cooking tools

Ages 6-12

  • Use of Imagination

  • Creative Thinking

  • Social - Prefers Groups

  • Cultural Awareness

  • Science-based activities or games

  • Art supplies

  • Board games

  • Books about topics of interest

Ages 13-18

  • Creative Expression

  • Physical Development

  • Looking for Place in Society

  • Personal Reflection

  • Music (albums, player, headphones, lessons)

  • Sports or outdoor gear

  • Tickets to an event

  • Journals or items related to their current interests


It’s Okay to Reinvent Expectations

Many of us have fond memories of large piles of presents and we want our children to have great holiday memories, too.  The thing is, it’s okay if their holidays don’t include so much stuff.  Young children, especially, don’t have expectations like we do.  A few carefully chosen, nice quality gifts will make them just as happy as you were as a kid.  You know that nagging feeling you sometimes have that their toys are taking over the house?  It’s totally okay to give them less.   

Another idea to consider is to give the gift of experiences.  This works really well for adults and older children, but can be used with younger children as well.  Tickets to an event, movie passes, or a gift certificate (trampoline park, art open studio time, mini golf) will always be appreciated.  As a bonus, the recipient can often enjoy these experiences with someone they love.

Build in (or Continue!) Traditions

You likely already have traditions, either from your own childhood or that your family has developed over the years.  Creating rituals creates memories, and a deep sense of love and celebration that won’t soon be forgotten.  Looking for some ideas? We’ve got some!

  • Have a collection of holiday books.  Keep them packed away in a closet most of the year, but this time of year they can be placed in a nice basket in your living room, with a new one added each year. 

  • Find a way for your family to give back to the community.  Older children can volunteer at a soup kitchen, but even younger children can help bake cookies to take to local firefighters.  If you live in an area where there is a homeless population, you might work as a family to create care packages: small bags filled with food and other items that might be useful.  They can be kept in your car to give to people as you meet them, or they can be dropped off at a local shelter or similar organization.

  • Bake cookies.  Or cook or bake something else that’s special to your family.  Time spent together in the kitchen is so special, plus you’ll be sharing important skills with your kids.    

  • Make decorations.  With a little guidance, even a six-year-old can string together popcorn and cranberries.  

  • Enjoy storytelling.  Every culture, religion, and family have tales to tell.  Gather around a fireplace, candlelight, or just cozy up on the couch and tell stories.  Folktales, myths, and family history are all great!

Resources for Montessori Families

Are you looking for specific places to buy gifts?  Try supporting small local businesses - they often have items that are hard to find anywhere else.  As a bonus you will be supporting your local economy and helping your neighbors!

For Montessori-specific gifts, we recommend the following:

For Small Hands/Montessori Services

https://www.forsmallhands.com/

https://www.montessoriservices.com/

This company provides high-quality products with Montessori families specifically in mind.  

Acorn Naturalists

https://www.acornnaturalists.com/store/index.aspx

If you’re looking for nature and outdoor learning gifts, look no further!  This website caters to teachers, but many of the learning materials would be just as appreciated at home.

Nova Natural

https://www.novanatural.com/

With a focus on real wood and natural fibers, this Vermont-based toy company is a Montessori parent’s dream.

Happy shopping!