Saturday, August 3, 2013

"Messing About" Montessori Style

I saw a meme on Facebook with a John Holt quote saying "Children need what we rarely give them in school - time for "messing about." Granted M is not even three yet, but I feel like a lot of parents of toddlers get so caught up in being "kindergarten ready" that they forget to give the kids time to just be kids. I'm working to find that balance between pure play and taking advantage of the "sensitive periods" to allow M to explore and learn as much as she can.

Here's what we've been "messing about" with lately.

Practical Life

Eating, cooking and nutrition definitely fall under "practical life" in my book (I'm still figuring out the "official" Montessori classification...). Since we're back at the beach, I decided to try some ocean-themed snacks this week.

Hammerhead Banana Pops!

This was not a very successful snack if you're looking for a final product that actually resembles a shark, but it WAS a successful snack if you're looking for something fun, messy, and delicious!

I decided to cut the bananas in half, use pieces of Hershey's chocolate bars for the "hammerhead" and the fin, then coat them in vanilla yogurt and crushed graham crackers. This was VERY messy, so I don't have pictures of the actual assembly. I let M help cut the bananas in half. I stuck toothpicks into the bottom (we're on vacation and I didn't have popsicle sticks with me). I realized that the toothpicks would be sharp, so I added straws over them to cover the toothpicks.

Next, I stuck a piece of chocolate into the top of each banana for the "hammerhead" (this was a little too hard for M), and cut another piece of chocolate on a diagonal to make two triangles that were added as fins.

We covered the banana sharks in vanilla yogurt, then pressed them into the graham cracker crumbs. We put the in the freezer overnight and enjoyed them for snack the next day!

Go Fishing Snack
I know I saw this on someone's blog, but I can't remember where. I bought some honey wheat pretzel twists (which are bigger and thicker than regular pretzel sticks), and showed M how to dip the end into almond butter or Nutella, then try to "catch" some goldfish on a plate.

I thought this was so cute! Apparently M did not. She wanted nothing to do with the pretzel "fishing rod" and wanted me to leave her alone with her goldfish snack. Oh well!

Octopus Spaghetti
After the goldfish disappointment, I almost didn't try this at all, but I'm glad I did. I broke up the spaghetti into thirds before cooking it so the pieces would be shorter, then cooked the spaghetti and meatballs. M thought this was the coolest thing ever! She helped and watched as it cooked, and we talked about how an octopus has eight tentacles instead of arms or legs. (Interestingly, a quick Google search taught me that six of the tentacles are used as arms, and the other two are used as legs!) She helped me assemble it on the plate by adding eight "octopus legs" and a meatball for an "octopus head."

Fruit Kabobs
Not ocean-themed, but we bought a bunch of fruit to snack on this week, so I decided to give M some toothpicks and show her how to make fruit kabobs. She really liked this, and even started trying to make patterns with the different pieces of food.

Tilapia Parm
We have tilapia on a fairly regular basis - it's one of my favorite fish, and M really likes it. In honor of our ocean theme, I figured it made sense to throw in some fish for dinner. M decided to eat hers picnic-style in the little alcove under the TV with Tigger.

On to some other practical life activites:

Transfer objects with a net
M mad a mini "ocean" in her bucket at the beach. She filled the bucket with water, then added handfuls of sand and shells to the bottom. I thought that was so smart! I showed her how she could add some sea creatures, like her turtle, crab and starfish sand molds, and scoop them out with her net.

I brought out M's ocean sensory bin again, which was met with only mild interest. She pulled out a few beads from the bin, and showed them to my aunt, who told her they were beads for a necklace. Well, let's make a necklace! I grabbed one of the laces from her lacing kit, tied a knot in one end, and helped her pick out as many beads as we could find from the ocean sensory bin for her to thread onto her necklace. This kept her attention for over an hour, and she was so proud when she finished it!

More Lacing
M had so much fun making her necklace, so I added a box of lacing cards to trays of activities to choose from.  She sat inside the fort she had made (her "house") and "sewed" a horse. She was very insistent on doing this completely by herself.

Keeping House
M is very much in the imaginative play stage, and loves making houses and taking care of all of her babies. She turned the alcove under the TV into a house, complete with a bed and snack area, as well as suitcases positioned to create a door. 

Earlier in the day she had asked me to please wrap Paci Bear on her back so she could take care of her while she played.     


"Pink Tower"
This is obviously not a true pink tower, but I thought it was funny that M decided to stack these cut pieces of a pink pool noodle. This was a little more challenging because of the wind, but I think that actually made it more fun. When I originally cut these, I cut different sized pieces. I didn't push M to arrange them in any particular order (and she didn't), but if I gave them to her more often she may notice the size difference. Since they all have the same diameter, it isn't any easier to stack if the larger pieces are on the bottom, like with the real Pink Tower.

As I watched her play with these, I wondered if there may be an easy way to turn this into a cheap knobless cylinder activity, but that may be more trouble than it's worth.

Sink or Float
M filled her bucket with water, then dropped different objects into the bucket to see if they would sink or float. We have played and explored with this topic before, and this time she made predictions as she dropped the objects in ("This shell will sink! This boat will float!").

Water Beads
This was the clear winner for the week! M had an absolute blast playing with the water beads, and there were so many different activities to try!

First, we looked at how small the beads were, and I told her that they would absorb water and get bigger. We filled a container with water and poured in a packet of green water beads.

They didn't "grow" as quickly as I was expecting, but I think that actually made it more fun. The water turned green immediately, and I gave M some small plastic shot glasses to transfer some of the small beads and water so she could look at them more closely.

She liked scooping them out with her melon scoop to see how much bigger they were getting.

Pretty soon, she wanted to transfer them to more containers. We got out a couple of different scoops and several containers. It was a little messy, but I gave her some paper towels and she mostly contained the spills on her tray.

She liked picking them up with her hands and feeling how slippery they were. She was also counting some of them as she moved them from one container to another.

The one small packet made a LOT of beads! Next time I would probably make fewer at a time, but we honestly had so much fun with this. When she was done playing with them (I actually had to wait until she went to bed that night), I cleaned them up, dumped out the excess water, and stored them in a ziplock bag. Not only would this make a cool filler for a sensory bin, but I think there are a lot of  other ways these could be used! (These are non-toxic, but could be a choking hazard for smaller children who still put things in their mouths.)


Letter Puzzle
I got this foam letter puzzle from the Dollar Spot at Target. M hasn't been too interested in puzzles lately, but for some reason this one caught her eye. As she put the letters back in the right spots, we practiced saying the sounds of each of the letters. In the past, I had always said the names of the letters (A, B, C), but after reading more (like this post), I have started using the letter sounds instead (a as in apple, b as in baby, etc).

M thought this was really interesting, and kept asking "Why does it make that sound?" She did the puzzle four times in a row, and started saying some of the sounds with me toward the end. I think it may be time to invest in some sandpaper letters!

M is almost 3, but I still love to babywear (or "toddlerwear" as it may be...). We're currently on vacation in Florida, and are staying in a really nice community with wide sidewalks and lots to look at. We have gone out on several evening walks, and I like to wear M so we can see the same things and talk about what we are seeing. We watch for birds, lizards, ducks, different kinds of trees and ponds, and listen for dogs, crickets, cicadas, owls, and birds. There are so many topics we have discussed that just wouldn't have come up if we weren't out walking and talking together.


I made a kind of DIY spindle box out of felt, ribbon, magnets and popsicle sticks. I thought it would be nice to have one that was magnetic and could stick on the fridge. The one I made is only for numbers 0-5, since M is still just starting to grasp one-to-one correspondence and I didn't want to overwhelm her.

First, I cut out small rectangles of felt (12 rectangles total), and hot glued pairs of rectangles together on three sides to make 6 pockets (for numbers 0-5). I traced some cardstock numerals onto felt and cut those out and hot glued them to the front of each pocket.

Next, I hot glued a ribbon across the back of the pockets. Be careful to put the numbers in the correct order, so that when you flip it over the zero is on the left (the zero is on the far right when face down). I added a strip of magnet to the back of the ribbon at the top of each pocket (I added six individual strips of magnet instead of one long strip so it would be more flexible and so it will fold up easily.)

I added stickers the top of 15 colored popsicle sticks (just enough to fill the pockets). I showed M the numbers on each of the pockets, and how to put the right number of popsicle sticks inside each of the pockets. We counted together as she added the sticks, and she was so proud when she finished.


We did this activity again later in the week, and we talked a lot about how the numbers increased from left to right - each pocket had one more stick than the previous one. We also moved the sticks around to do some basic addition and subtraction. If there were already two sticks in the #2 pocket, and I added one more, she would say "No! There were already two in that pocket and you added another, so now there are three and that's too many!" She thinks it is so funny when I try to do something wrong.

Field Trip!

I've been looking for some unique places to visit while we're in Florida, and decided to take a trip to St. Augustine to see the Alligator Farm. I had been there when I was much younger, and I knew M would really like it. It was quite pricey (adult admission is $22.95), but it was really well done. The walkways were very shady, and it made the Florida heat bearable, even in the middle of the afternoon. M was amazed at all of the different species of alligators and crocodiles (I was too!), and they had other animals on exhibit too (birds and reptiles). Overall it was a nice trip.

Check out more ideas from the Montessori Monday Link-Up!
Montessori Monday

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