Sunday, 30 November 2014

Favourite toys: Christmas gifts ideas

Today's post is about Finley's favourite toys, as I thought it may be helpful to some of you as Christmas presents ideas. We own all the toys and materials in this post and none of the links are affiliate.

1. Makedo kit. We have the Makedo kit for 3 and it is not an exaggeration to say that Finn uses it daily. This would be my safest, go-to idea for any child aged 2+. All you need is some recycled
materials such as cardboard, plastic trays, lids... and the child can build whatever they want using the safe saw and pins. Adults also enjoy joining in the building so it's a great family activity. Have a look at this post to see some of our creations.
2. Finn received his first Duplo as a Christmas present last year (when he was 2) and they have been played with every day since. I can't praise Duplo enough. Imagination, fine motor skills, developing patience, dealing with frustration when things are not going as planned, early maths concepts... so much to say about the little bricks. If you buy a set, make sure it contains some sort of wheels!  Finn's favourite thing to make has long been "digger-planes."
3. Realistic animal and dinosaur models such as Schleich, Papo or Collecta. Those are so detailed, with realistic proportions and colours, that they really are a pleasure to observe and manipulate. We have an ever expanding collection of dinosaurs, wild and farm animals that is used often in block play. They are also used in early science activities, for example leaning about habitats and sorting animals according to their characteristics (does it fly, walk or swim?)
4. Dancing/juggling scarves. These are much cheaper than play silks as they are made out of nylon. They are so versatile that they make an ideal addition to any child's toy collection. We have given them as gifts several times and all children have loved them. Finn uses them for dancing, dressing up, making dens, ties them together to make one long rope, as beds and blankets, skirts... These scarves have been in very regular use since he was about 2 years old.
5. Colouring puzzle. We bought this puzzle recently and I can't say it's actually one of Finn's favourites yet as he's a bit young for it (it is aimed at children aged 6+). I think it is perfect for Montessori in the home though because of its sensorial appeal. At the moment we only take apart the outer ring of pieces and Finn enjoys putting them back on, matching the colour shade of each piece to the ones already on the board. He is very attracted to this puzzle and the way the colours merge into one another. I can imagine him becoming increasingly able to complete more of the puzzle by himself as he grows up.
6. Chime bars. We went for chime bars instead of the traditional Montessori bells. At this stage, we like that notes are colour-coded. The quality of this set is excellent and the sound is very enjoyable. The great advantage of chime bars over a metalophone or xylophone is that each bar is removeable, multiplying the uses. For example, Finn and I play a game where I take two bars out, space them out quite a bit, and play a very simple tune, just three notes, for him to copy. It would be a lot harder for him if the bars were too close together and if there were too many bars. We are very happy with our choice of first musical instrument and Finn enjoys playing these immensely.
What are your children's favourite toys? What do they play with most often?

Monday, 24 November 2014

Introducing... the Bean Lab!

Pouring beans from one jug to another... back and forth... endlessly...
A classic Montessori exercise that strengthens hand muscles, improves hand eye coordination and concentration through repetition. One that only some children take to.
Finn has never, ever, been attracted by a tray containing two jugs and a handful of beans, no matter how many times I offered it.
Classic Montessori tray
This, though?

We call it the Bean Lab!

Containers of different shapes and sizes, a variety of utensils, LOTS MORE BEANS, and the permission to make a mess offer him many more possibilities for exploration.
Not only does he pour, but he also scoops, transfers, uses his (sometimes wild) imagination to make concoctions, learns to level the top of containers, finds out which containers are equivalent in volume, and so much more.

He spent most of today working at the Bean Lab and even found out he could make slides out of Pringles boxes to make some kind of a marble run for beans!
So, which of these two set ups get your vote? Which one do you think your child would enjoy most?

Sunday, 23 November 2014

A merry Montessori Christmas to you from Tower High Learning!

Would you give a child a Montessori material as a Christmas present? I know I would (and probably will!)
Maybe not a division board - unless the child is a maths fanatic - but puzzles, cultural and practical life items? Definitely!

Check out the selection of materials available from Tower High Learning below. Which is your favourite?

Tower High Learning are being generous this Christmas and offering readers from France a special discount on postage! By using the code 10UKP4FR at checkout you will get £10 off shipping for any orders over £50. If you meant to place an order with them, now would be a good time! The code is available until Christmas.

Grow Grow Grow is a Tower High Learning affiliate. I wouldn't recommend a company that I'm not entirely satisfied with.

Happy shopping!

Friday, 14 November 2014

3 ideas to repurpose children's art

Some children can be so incredibly prolific when it comes to art, especially in the stage of discovery, or process art. This is when the focus is on doing rather than achieving a masterpiece.
The products of the discovery are often beautiful in spontaneity and many parents choose to keep them to remember their little explorer many years from now. But piles grow as we lack space to store them all and threaten to take over our already covered walls.
Here are 3 ways I have found to not only store, but showcase Finley's beautiful art.

1. I used the edge of the Montessori inset frames to trace a square on the paintings and cut them out. I arranged them in a geometric pattern on a piece of coloured card and framed it. 

2. We make banners! Lots of them. I cut the art into triangles and Finn helped me sew a straight stitch through them all on the sewing machine.

I find bubble wrap printing is ideal for banners. I sandwiched our rectangles between a long piece of washi tape folded over lengthways.

 3. Cards! I used the same template as for the collage (the edge of the Montessori inset frames) to cut out the art to make cards. We have quite a stock of cards ready to be sent for all occasions now!

What are your favourite ways of reusing your children's art? Please share!

And remember, Grow Grow Grow is on Facebook now! Have you liked our page yet?

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Simplifying our lives

I am the type of person who gets easily overwhelmed. Too much noise, light, movement around me, too many strong smells, too many people, too much to do... All this sensorial input creates an imbalance in me. Sometimes it results in hyperactivity, sometimes in lethargy, but I'm always exhausted inside no matter how my body reacts.
Many people are like that but few recognise the cause. Children are especially vulnerable to an abundance of stimuli which they respond to with stress and anxiety, visible to us as what we call misbehaving. Misbehaviour is very often due to a feeling of loss of control over children's lives. Too much stuff (toys, clothes, books...) can soon become uncontrolable, as can too many planned activities.
Consciously eliminating causes of stress in the home is a constant work in progress. In our house, regular declutter is essential to our family's well-being. We try and keep the things we really need and really love. If something doesn't meet these two criteria, we donate it.

At least, that's the aim.

I find toys especially hard to tackle. Because they are not mine, for a start. For the most part, they were all thoughtfully chosen and of great quality, which makes them hard to part with. But how many toys does a child need? Take building toys for example. Does a child need Lego, gears, three types of building blocks, magnets, Knex, Brio, Kapla... all at once? No. Too much is overwhelming and causes anxiety. You will do your child a great service if you resist the temptation to buy more. Even if it's great quality and a bargain at the charity shop, even if it was given to you for free. Why? Children engage with materials so much better if choice is reduced. Their focus improves and real creativity can happen. It's a bit like trying to make a dish with 50+ ingredients. Try a handful instead and see how much easier it is. Can you be more creative with fewer choices?
Books are just as difficult to sort through. I am in charge of keeping them to a manageable level (which they are not) and this must be the hardest task of all for a book loving person. We are keeping a few of Finn's very favourites from baby/toddlerhood, but otherwise we donate them as he outgrows them. The books that enter our house are only of exceptional appeal and quality.
Too many activities outside the house can also become overwhelming for a child. We try and keep our schedule mostly free, with few planned trips/outings each week. It can be hard to select just a few things to do. It means you have to choose one playgroup, not three. One great class over three average ones. One playdate. Remember, children are slow beings. They need time, plenty of time, to explore and just be. Being busy does not make you or your child happier. It just makes you busy.

What does your life look like? Do you try and be mindful of maintaining a simple schedule for you and your child?

Sunday, 2 November 2014

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