Follow Your Child's Interests

The blog has been quiet, but our lives have been busy. Honestly, I had little intention of writing another post anytime soon, but then this happened.

FYI, this is the Eye Witness book about music. 

FYI, this is the Eye Witness book about music. 

I can't say for sure what started it all, but Wilson's love for and curiosity in music has taken off. Yesterday he asked me for some books about " 'tars and banjos." So off we went to the library, where we asked the children's librarian where we could find a book about musical instruments. We came home, read every page, and then read every page again. He noticed the different shapes and styles of guitar, asked about a small photo of John and George playing... one thing led to another and suddenly we were listening to "I Want To Hold Your Hand," and "Octopus's Garden" and "Twist and Shout." He has learned at least a dozen new words surrounding guitars and how they are played. His play is becoming more detailed and specific. He and I have connected over reading and singing and researching. He is excited and wants to hear more, see more, learn more. 

Long story short: watch the children in your life, note their interests, and follow them. The results are magical. 

Playing anything and everything like a guitar. 

Playing anything and everything like a guitar. 

Tutorial: Coffee Table Train Set

Wilson recently started showing an interest in all kinds of vehicles, both real and toy. Each morning he would ask to visit the library to play with the trains, so I looked into getting some to keep at the house. It turns out that train sets are really expensive! So when a local mom posted that she was giving away a small set for free, I jumped at the opportunity. The set was in rough shape-scribbled on with marker and crayon and gummed up with old hot glue. 

 

image.jpg

Nothing a can of spray paint couldn't fix - after a few coats of black they were looking like new again.

 

image.jpg

Then I noticed that W's toddler body kept getting in the way of his play - he would try to find a comfortable position to reach the train cars and accidentally sit on the tracks. Aha - so that's why train tables are so popular! 

Luckily our coffee table is long and low to the ground. I stuck some felt dots on the bottom of each piece so they wouldn't scratch, and now we have our own version of a train table set! 

image.jpg

The Joy of the Felt Board (spotlight on Little Goat Learning)

Throwback to 2007 and my first felt board activity in action! It has been used by dozens of children since then, and hopefully by Wilson some day!

Throwback to 2007 and my first felt board activity in action! It has been used by dozens of children since then, and hopefully by Wilson some day!

One of the best, most classic early education materials is the felt board. Found in preschool, kindergarten, and even first grade classrooms (that may be stretching it these days, but we can still hope), the flannel board allows children to work through all kinds of concepts in a playful, tactile way. I'm a huge fan. When Wilson crossed over to the "nearly two" age range, I couldn't wait to start using it with him. Enter Ash from Little Goat Learning: she's got experience in early childhood care and education as well as printing... so you can only imagine how beautiful her materials are. 

Here's a little more information about felt boards, taken from Ash's website

"A felt board is a board covered with flannel or felt, and is used by placing shapes, symbols, and story character cutouts on it. Your simple flannel board is very versatile. It enables your child/children to engage in imaginative play while also developing fine motor skills, and can be used not only by you to tell stories, but also gives your child/children an opportunity to practice telling stories, act out their own narratives through dramatic play and explore concepts."

For Wilson I chose 5 Little Ducks, which has become one of his favorite stories and songs. It's simple, repetitive and familiar. The learning kit came packaged beautifully; the carrying pouch even has the words printed on the front.  

On the left is a very useful handout on felt boards.  

On the left is a very useful handout on felt boards.  

I made my own felt board by stapling a large piece of felt to a canvas (I found everything at Michael's), but Ash sells some really beautiful vintage frame ones as well. 

I took out the pieces and right away he got to arranging them on the board. 

We use our board flat on the floor as well as against a wall. 

We use our board flat on the floor as well as against a wall. 

I told the story, moving the ducks one by one to the upper corner of the board (spoiler alert: at the end, they all come back to their mama duck!). 

"5 little ducks went out one day, over the hills and far away. Mama duck said 'Quack quack quack quack!' But only one little duck came back..." 

"5 little ducks went out one day, over the hills and far away. Mama duck said 'Quack quack quack quack!' But only one little duck came back..." 

Wilson spends plenty of time exploring his felt board on his own as well. He arranges the pieces, moves them across the board, and holds them ever so gently.

 

His favorite duckling

His favorite duckling

image.jpg

I'm thrilled to have stumbled upon Little Goat Learning. The quality and design of Ash's learning kits are top notch, and she hand makes each piece (which is, in my humble opinion, the most important aspect of a good felt board activity). Visit her website, follow her on Instagram, or take a look at her Etsy shop to learn more about her materials (or felt boards in general).

Toddler Closet

At some point, a lot of  ductwork was added to our home for the heating and cooling system. This resulted in slightly awkward bump outs in each bedroom. When we first saw what would become Wilson's room, I turned to my husband and said (squealed), "This would be the perfect toddler closet!" Yeah, I'm a Montessori nerd... but in all honesty, I've always wanted to let my kids choose their own clothing. Read more about the benefits here.

Here's what I came up with: 

Two top options, two bottom options and a basket for socks and pajamas. The grey basket has diapering stuff, and the chair is a nice place for W to sit when he wants to put his own pants on. The mirror is acrylic (from Amazon) and the tension rods and hangers are from Target.

Two top options, two bottom options and a basket for socks and pajamas. The grey basket has diapering stuff, and the chair is a nice place for W to sit when he wants to put his own pants on. The mirror is acrylic (from Amazon) and the tension rods and hangers are from Target.

I still store the rest of W's stuff in the big white dresser (you can see it here), but this little closet allows him to make his own choices without getting overwhelmed. He loves sliding the hangers back and forth, taking them off and putting them back on the rod, and helping put out clothes for the next day (usually we do this before bed).  

I know this nook may not always be used as a closet, but it's working well for now and is easily dismantled if and when we want to make a change. 

Post-bath outfit choosing! 

Post-bath outfit choosing! 

What We're Doing at "Nearly Two"

I'm not sure when it happened, but I recently stopped referring to Wilson's age by the month. It started to seem cumbersome, awkward... and, in all honesty, I kept having to count in my head to figure it out. So, now he is "nearly two." We still have a few months until his birthday, but his development is on fire and I am starting to see him more and more as a two-year-old. 

Here are some of this "nearly two"-year-old's favorite activities lately:

Gardening: Although we haven't done any planting yet (here in New England the rule is after Mother's day), W has seen us till, weed, rake, and prepare our small yard for the summer months. He loves to help with his child-sized tools and watering can. 

image.jpg

Trains: Something clicked a few weeks ago, and suddenly W was fascinated with the train table at our local library. Another mom was gracious enough to give us some tracks and cars that her children had outgrown, and it has been a favorite since. 

Spray painted tracks!

Spray painted tracks!

Open-ended Art: I blogged about this a while back, and this area hasn't changed much. Playdough, crayons, and dot markers are still favorites, as well as an easel! So far we've done chalk as well as water painting (which helps to offer practice with a brush before any paint gets involved). 

A very simple art shelf, kept in the kitchen (where cleanup is a lot easier). 

A very simple art shelf, kept in the kitchen (where cleanup is a lot easier). 

Pretend Play: A lot of Montessorians will tell you not to encourage pretend play because real experiences are more valuable, but I don't agree! If I gave Wilson a real hammer at "nearly two," we would be in trouble. Instead, his play tools allow him to act out all the fixing and renovating happening in our home. 

Wilson's "tool bench" 

Wilson's "tool bench" 

Using his pretend drill to help build a sandbox

Using his pretend drill to help build a sandbox

Toddler Kitchen Storage

Our house has a kitchen layout that's completely different from the one in our apartment: it's bigger, which is definitely a plus, but there are fewer walls, which makes furniture placement a bit trickier.

Remember when I covered the open shelving to keep Wilson from taking out bowls, pots, and pans? Well, our new kitchen has enough cabinet space to house all of that stuff (woohoo!). Now, this shelf is just for Wilson. From left to right, top to bottom: his placemat, napkin, eating utensils, cup, and dishes, towels to wipe up spills, and a bin for dirty dishes. 

image.jpg
FYI: the dishes are OXO Tot, the tray is IKEA, and the mug is from Muji.  Slowly we're working our way to glass and ceramic.

FYI: the dishes are OXO Tot, the tray is IKEA, and the mug is from Muji.  Slowly we're working our way to glass and ceramic.

We started with this setup at the apartment, so it's familiar to Wilson and he knows where everything is kept. It's a slow and steady learning process. He needs quite a bit of modeling and support to set his table, wipe up spills, and clear the table when he's finished. Things get thrown on the floor, carried into other rooms, and the shelf looks nothing like this at the end of the day. Still, his growing independence and sense of empowerment are completely worth the effort!

A more accurate representation of what this shelf looks like throughout the day. 

A more accurate representation of what this shelf looks like throughout the day. 

PS. click here for some dreamy Montessori-inspired kitchens that have got me thinking about possibilities for our space.

Currently On Our Shelf...

As I mentioned earlier, we will be moving in less than two weeks! As we slowly started putting things in boxes, I had to decide how much of Wilson's belongings to pack away. Luckily, because we practice toy rotation, there are quite a few materials that he doesn't see regularly (we keep them at the top of his closet). I took stock, set aside a few of his favorites, and put everything else into a (large) box. 

A basket of instruments, some colored see-through blocks, and a circle puzzle are holding down the fort in W's room. 

A basket of instruments, some colored see-through blocks, and a circle puzzle are holding down the fort in W's room. 

A play kitchen and a baby doll, both Christmas presents, are set up in the living room. 

A play kitchen and a baby doll, both Christmas presents, are set up in the living room. 

Empty boxes and closets are so much fun! 

Empty boxes and closets are so much fun! 

So far, so good. My plan is to set these toys up at the house (and in the same areas) so that we can keep some familiar things in an otherwise strange new place.  

Speaking of, here's W's favorite part of his new home: 

Stairs! This photo was taken after we had gone up and down three times.  

Stairs! This photo was taken after we had gone up and down three times.  

See you on the other side!

Trust Your Child

Kids are so incredibly capable. When my main job was being a teacher, I never doubted this; the children in my class went about their days, choosing their own activities, preparing their own snacks, cleaning up their messes, while I watched. If they needed help, they asked for it. Now that my main job is being a mother, it's much, much harder for me to remember how capable my son is. Concern and uncertainty (the kind that only parents experience) often creep in and alter my judgement: does he need me? what can I do?

If you let them, your children will remind you of what they can do. This morning, I was trying to pack a moving box while Wilson ate a snack. Then I heard his cereal spill all over the floor. "Oh no..." I went back into the kitchen to find this: 

"I got this, Mom." 

"I got this, Mom." 

Teacher Me is nodding knowingly and cheering him on. Parent Me is dumbfounded, thrilled, and also a bit sad at the realization that I have a capable, independent child. It's so simple and so complicated at the same time!

Moving to Medford!

After a lot of thought and a little bit of searching, my husband and I have purchased our first home! We will be moving to the city of Medford, Massachusetts at the end of January. We're thrilled, anxious, overwhelmed, and eager to get settled. I'm also very excited for the blogging opportunities this experience will bring. Owning our living space means that we will be able to make some more permanent changes that cater to Wilson's development and independence. It's an old house, so this will also bring some new challenges in terms of designing thoughtful spaces. There's also the whole moving part: packing up a toddler's things, moving them to a new and unfamiliar space, keeping some semblance of a routine... I have some plans for how we'll manage and I'd be happy to document our experience as we go.

Happy New Year!

With all the paperwork we had to sign at the closing, Wilson needed to join in too... and make it really official with a pickle sticker.

With all the paperwork we had to sign at the closing, Wilson needed to join in too... and make it really official with a pickle sticker.

Anatomy of a Stocking

I have always loved the idea of my children having a stocking hung so that little goodies and heartfelt treasures can be secretly dropped in during the weeks leading up to Christmas. Here's what we put into Wilson's first stocking!

I bought him only two toys: the set of emergency vehicles and the Grimms nesting bowls. The placemat is something I made (more on that in a future post). All the other items (utensils, cloth napkin, dad's old running watch, a new toothbrush, a pair of glasses, and a tiny wooden book) came from around the house - I think it will be fun for him to recognize some things among all the brand new stuff he'll get tomorrow. 

I hope you enjoy this holiday season! And for those who celebrate Christmas, may you get a stocking stuffed with treats of all kinds!