Friday, 22 November 2013

Mopping and Washing Up - Practical Life Activities

'Following the child' is one of those phrases that Montessori is famous for. Simply put, it is meeting the interest of the child with an activity at their level. This week, we had two perfect examples.

My daughter has a strong interest in water based activities at the moment, whether it be washing her hands or washing the dishes, amongst other water activities. These activities fulfil the practical need whilst also giving her meaningful work to do. On this occasion her interest was in washing up. We set up the table together with cloths and a towel under her feet (see photos) and she took over the remaining items needed from the kitchen, one by one, using both hands: dish rack, dish brush, container for water to wash in, small bottle of diluted detergent to squirt and a jug of warm water. It is a good exercise involving concentration, balance and care. She then collected a bowl of dirty items from morning tea in a bowl, and began her work.

Pouring in water
Detergent in child size dispenser
Child size dish brush

For my son, following dinner he had a very strong urge to mop their play area. He packed up his blocks and cars and we cleared their play area of their work tables, snack table & chairs and the play mat. Whilst we were doing this he explained to me "Teamwork mummy, we are doing teamwork". Due to timing, I swept and he collected the dust using the dustpan & brush. He collected the floor cloths he needed while waiting for hot water. He has seen my husband mop with cloths underfoot and this is how he prefers to mop also. We then prepared the bucket, he poured in the water and I the cleaning solution and off he went. No direction or interruption on my part. Once he had completed their play area to his satisfaction, he offered to do the kitchen as well. While he went outside to tip out the dirty water, I went on ahead and swept and collected the dust this time. With refreshed water he continued mopping without loosing any concentration or motivation. Once he was happy with the result we went outside to rinse the mop & bucket. How satisfying!

Sweeping up the dust












The tiles are shiny once again!


















Getting more water



















Filling up the bucket to rinse mop


















Final rinse with clean water ...





















and pouring all that dirty water out - job done!





















Introducing the child to the right practical life activity at the right time is important. In this example, this is a work that he has done before, but in the first instance can be achieved by observing the child's physical capabilities and interest level, as well as having child-sized materials ready and available prior to presenting it to him. This activity like all practical life activities gives the child a strong sense of purpose and contribution, as well as satisfaction and confidence upon completion.

Most importantly there is no pushing the child to choose a 'work' rather, 'following the child' by responding to his internal need and supporting him.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The 'Advent Book Calendar' and The Christmas Story Activity

With Advent about to start in just a few weeks, the Christmas decorations have well and truly started showing in a commercial sense at the shops which has made me start to think about our Advent preparations. 

Last year, I came across an idea and had just enough time to prepare for it before Advent started: an Advent Book Calendar, simply, a book for each day leading up to Christmas. This meant a minimum of twenty four books wrapped, numbered and placed near our Christmas tree ready for my son to open in the morning. This was a great visual and tactile countdown to Christmas with the added bonus of reading and sharing the excitement and anticipation of the birth of Jesus. I had thought only master-almost-three at the time would be interested in this activity but once miss-fifteen-month-old saw all the unwrapping going on she wanted to join in on the fun too! We would open a book in the morning and read it throughout the day together with the previous days' books. Such a wonderful time to share and reconnect with all our favourite books.

I found this activity was an absolute success! I find in general, having too much choice (books and activites) on a daily basis can be overwhelming and makes it a bit harder for the children to keep things tidy, so the selection of books was a mix of old ones from when they were babies right through to the current favourites which they read on a daily/weekly basis. Added in the mix were activity books, a few new books and of course our ever growing collection of Christmas books which only come out at Advent and stay for the following twelve days of Christmas. So thrilling for a little child. It brings a smile to my face just thinking of their pure, innocent joy :)

This year I'll wrap a set for each child with the 'Christmas' books to be a shared opening, starting with the traditional Catholic 'The Christmas Story' from the Little Golden Books range. This particular book is a perfect introduction for a child as it is simply told and beautifully illustrated. Just thinking about this book reminds me of when I first started reading it to our then ten-month-old-son during his first Advent, before he was tucked into bed each night.

Our first Christmas book from our growing collection

























We will read 'The Christmas Story' daily throughout Advent at dinner as we did last year, with my son re-enacting alongside using the little Nativity figurines which their Grandmother kindly gave us. No doubt there will be turn taking in the re-enacting this year!

During the day the Nativity set is packed up in a basket together with the book. Last Advent the children knew that they could work with 'their' set as an activity throughout the day as they wished and would often do so, often asking me to read it to them, retelling the story to themselves, 'playing' with the figurines or in a truer sense, meditating on the story of Christmas. Little children are never too young to absorb the true mystery of Christmas!

A scene from last year. You can see the three
wise men in the background on their way to

visit Jesus.



























The Advent Book Calendar is wonderful, hands-on activity and something that can be as cheap as a few rolls of Christmas wrapping paper!

Sunday, 3 November 2013

I love Sydney! Pirrama Park, Pymont

This would have to be one of the best parks in Sydney that we have taken the children to so far.

We have previously only driven past this park, not really taking too close a look but noting its water play feature for future reference. Today was the day. The day was forecasted to be hot, and we were in the area for Mass anyway, so it made sense not only to pack casual play clothes but also swimmers and rash vests for water play.

Pirrama Park is found at the end of Harris Street in Pyrmont. On one side of the road is a huge sandstone wall and on the other, the park. Given the history, the industrial feel of Jacksons Landing has been maintained. The use of recycled timber in particular to create structures adds a very earthy and distressed feel. The colours are soothing, enticing and automatically relaxing. There are lots of native plants around to subtly demarcate play spaces. The park itself is very attractive from an adult perspective and I can only imagine very fascinating for the curious child. It has been a multiple award winning park, notably the 2010 Kidsafe National Playspace Design Awards and it's not hard to tell why. 

What a park! We headed straight for the water. This was a series of water fountains spurting from the ground to create a tunnel of water. The children were a little sheepish at the start and enjoyed observing others until ready to test it out. They played together for a little while before our son headed over to the sandpit. Our daughter, the water-baby, continued running through the water, filling her hat and paper cup with water with such pure delight!


Water features

A glockenspiel - just find a stick! 

Fantastic netting for climbing, which also had a slide and a few
seating options

A sensory or musical option

Even the bathrooms had a certain aesthetic to it which was
pleasing.































































































The features we loved and used today were the water fountains, sandpit, climbing ropes, swings, glockenspiel, slides and fortress type structure for toddlers. My husband and son enjoyed a gentle stroll around the peninsular before we set off home. In addition to this, there is lots of space for wheeled adventures, be it tricycle, bike or scooter. The BBQ area was in use at full capacity with a large group of Japanese students all having a great time.

The only downside would be that there were not enough shaded areas for sitting.

As we were leaving, my husband and I got talking to a mother who had brought her two little girls along. It turns out she worked for the company which designed the park. A feature she mentioned was that instead of using fencing to enclose the playground, the park relies on a series of barriers so that children are naturally impeded from leaving an area, without intrusive fencing, thereby making the space "open" yet "contained". Such a great park! Something for everyone. 

And just when we thought it couldn't get any better, we see a cafe through the sprinklers - coffee and ice-cream are on hand! Oh, we are coming back for sure!

Saturday, 2 November 2013

The gardenia, an exquisite and romantic way to start the day

As a child, I remember Dad teaching me about cross-air ventilation. I'm guessing this must have been in summertime and my room was hot. We didn't have fixed or portable fans so learning about cross-air ventilation saved me during those hot summer nights. I've realised now that I reflect, I have an almost obsessive morning habit of opening every window and door we have in the house to let in the fresh cool morning air of the day. It doesn't bother me at all that I may have to close them all again within an hour. I find this habit particularly interesting now as I came back from further testing with the allergist as having a very strong mould allergy. Natural cross-air ventilation is a key in preventing mould. No doubt its the subconscious in play! Thanks Dad.

We have a potted gardenia at the step to our front porch which mum kindly gave me when we moved in. It has easily grown to almost double it size. "Water" she said, "make sure it's watered". Thank you Mum. I absolutely love it and here's why.

In the last few weeks, the days have been very hot and all the buds are opening up and displaying their wonderfully delicate, creamy white blossoms greeting me with the most gorgeous scent when I open the front door each morning. In comes the fresh morning breeze and on the same crisp wave arrives the exquisite gardenia scent. Oh, I don't think I will ever tire of opening my front door this summer or any summer! Our gardenia is full of buds patiently waiting for their turn to shine. 

Below is a recent opener which I just had to stop and capture to share. If only scent could be shared over the internet too. Stop and smell one on your next walk or perhaps your date could wear one as a corsage, or your husband on a 'dinner-date-night at home' if you have little ones? Very old fashioned I know, but how very romantic! ;)


Gardenia is also described as a flower of love and romance 


Friday, 1 November 2013

The afternoon sun and a bucket of water, a practical life activity unfolds

The beautiful afternoon weather presented us with an practical life activity enjoyed on the deck. Dirty sand-shoes, detergent, and a bucket and sponge each was all that was needed. Both children worked industriously and independently from each other and myself for a good thirty minutes. The result is still drying. The only involvement I had was to squeeze out the excess water before putting them up to dry in the fading sun. 

It is certainly a very strong driver for the child to want to do what the adult does, be it household work, shopping, cleaning the car.. they see and they want to copy especially when the desire and belief in oneself of 'me do it!' is so strong. With this activity they needed no encouragement either, the bucket of water was probably enough though! 

Practical Life Activities are activities where the child is being exposed to basic every day activities that are both purposeful and meaningful that they can do using 'real' materials, in turn building confidence and a greater sense of contributing to the family unit. This particular example of a practical life activity would come under 'care of person'. It's an activity that they 'can do' when provided with the opportunity, needs little direction and for the children today kept them concentrating on their work for a solid amount of time. Concentration in particular and providing opportunities to deepen this is of utmost importance. Interruptions, verbal or otherwise are kept to a minimum.

We are consciously encouraging and fostering independence from a early age where appropriate, it's not always possible when time is not on our side, but the ideal is in the forefront of our minds!







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