Picture this – it’s a warm sunny day and you are in a blissful beer garden with a glass of something cool and refreshing. You may be with your partner, family or friends, or just in need of a sit down for half an hour and a packet of crisps in the sunshine. Small child does not like to sit down and enjoy the peace and quiet.
You could sedate your child with the iPad once she’s made a cursory go of colouring in.
Or you can have a handy list of things to keep your child busy while you feel a smug glow.
If you can manage to get them to do all ten things, you might even get to finish your drink, eat your crisps and find out all the details of what your friend’s other-half did wrong last night.
Ten ways to amuse your young child at the pub.
Camera! A phone is great, a kids camera is even better because you don’t panic they will faceplant with it on the rockery. Send them off to take photos around the garden. I like to do a challenge of interesting things (find an eggshell, a feather, a cobweb) or Guess What This Is (usually close ups taken of a nostril).
2. Nature cards – The single best thing I did since having a kid. Draw them, or print them, laminate and keep in your pocket or handbag for All Time. Give the children a pack of the cards, and ask them to find each item. Works well with the camera unless you want sticky hands thrusting worms in your face. (Pro tip – if you need longer, throw in a wild card or two, like a conker or a holly berry in the middle of summer.)
3. Treasure hunt. Hide ten items around the beer garden, and give them clues to find them. The vaguer the clue, the longer you get to sit undisturbed. Remember there are no prizes, the proud sense of completing a task is the best reward. As if. Bribe with a lemonade.
4. Make a nest. Using moss, twigs and grass who can make the best nest?
5. Colour wheel – Another piece of DIY that yields ten minutes of free time if you’re lucky. Cut a circle out of card, and divide into sections of different colours. The younger the child, the fewer hues and gradients. The challenge is to find items that match the colour.
6. Stones – ah stones. The blessing of the British beer garden. Make a road to drive a toy car along. Build a tower. Colour them with metallic pens. Make a letter and guess it. Toddlers like filling plastic bottles with them and pouring them out again (excellent for fine motor skills) Draw a picture on them and turn them over for them to find.
7. Flower shop. Only using fallen petals, make a flower shop by sorting them into sections with twigs or stones and serve your customers. Good for counting money, learning flower names and language skills.
8. Wild flowers. The hunt is on for daisies, buttercups and dandelions. Dry them between beer mats, make a chain, take them home to wash and place in a jar of oil for a rub you can discard surreptitiously when it goes mouldy.
9. Caterpillar hunt. Find the leaves with the tell tale signs of the hungry caterpillars. Take photos of leaves with holes, search for eggs, caterpillars. chrysalids and butterflies. Identify them with expensive apps or look them up in a book later if you remember.
10. Herbs – lots of beer gardens have herb planters which can provide seconds of fun for the young child. Sniff, taste and blind test the herbs, as long as you know they’re definitely herbs.
Game over. By now your child will be tugging at your arm singing ‘mummy mummy mummy’ and stealing your chips.
Ten things pub landlords don’t like:
Drawing with pens or chalk on paths, walls or furniture
Picking flowers from flower beds, plants and trees
Eating all the herbs
Annoying customers by taking photos of them
Filling glasses with stones and other mixed media art.
Leaving piles of moss, stones, sticks and flowers behind when you go.
This story takes approximately 5 minutes to read aloud, slowly.
You are going to take a meditation journey in your mind to experience what it might be like to be a bottlenose dolphin.
Before you start your journey, make sure you are nice and comfy, and close your eyes.
Take a deep slow breath in through the nose and down to your tummy. Feel if you can inflate your tummy like a balloon but don’t push, now breathe out through the mouth slowly. Do this three times nice and slowly.
Now be very still and see if you can feel or hear your heartbeat.
Now try to focus on each part of your body in turn. Start with your toes. Breathe in slowly and try to push the breath all the way into your toes. Feel them relax. Now your legs.
Keep going all the way through your back, chest, shoulders, arms and head. Take a deep long breath in through your nose, into your tummy.
Hold for one, two, three then let it go slowly out of your mouth for one, two, three, four. Now your body is relaxed and comfortable and you are ready to begin.
You find yourself standing on a raft in the middle of a light blue sea. You take a deep breath and jump into the bright water.
You have become a dolphin, young, agile and full of energy. Your body is sleek and designed to speed through the water and soar up through the waves.
You are filled with delight at the speed and strength of your body, as you burst up through the surface of the water in a breath taking leap. You see the drops of rainbow drops of water against the sunlight and feel the lightness of the air before you dive back into the water effortlessly. It is so much fun you soar up and leap again and again, feeling at one with the sea and the sky.
You hear clicks and noises that tell you your family is close by. You move closer, following the sounds of the pod. You see them and they are so excited to see you, they swim right up to you and nuzzle you with their noses, tails and fins. You are making a happy clicking sound to greet them. Collectively you decide to play up on the surface, chasing each other, leaping and racing over the waves.
Once you have tired of playing, you all head over to your favourite lagoon – a calm area near the beach, surrounded by dunes and rocks that prevent predators and strong currents.
It is very peaceful here, there are long fronds of bright green seaweed waving gently, and shoals of beautiful fish of every colour of the rainbow.
The coral is vivid with long plumes, and some that look like great big brains. There are columns of coral which grow tall, like the ruins of ancient cities. Around them cruise huge silent rays.
You see an octopus wriggling out from under a large fan coral and you swim down curiously to take a closer look. It moves across the ocean floor using its strong tentacles, and when it sees you it stops and turns into the colour of the rocks.
Next you notice a large sea turtle gliding gently among the wavy seaweed. You swim up to see it, and watch how the sunlight dapples its green and brown shell. Its eyes stare at you as it glides, they are old and wise and full of calm.
You push yourself up easily through the water, up and up and break the surface into the bright warm air, taking a deep breath down through your airhole. You stay there for a while, head bobbing, feeling the sun on your skin and enjoying the view of the sea and the sky around you.
You are a little hungry now, and swim down to join your family, and start to hunt some fish to eat. They are plentiful here and it is an easy task to find a silvery shoal. You and your family herd them from different sides into a ball and push them up towards the surface, and feast until you’re full.
You chase some fast ones up to the surface and they jump so far they fly! You leap after the flying fish, some you catch, some are too quick and fast this time.
You chase your family through the waves playfully, feeling the sea-spray on your skin in the dazzling sunshine. The day is yours to play with endless energy and joyful spirits, in this beautiful safe coral reef.
6 ideas to make Hallowe’en a little less grotesque and a little more significant.
Hallowe’en… It seems nearly impossible to tackle this holiday with a Montessori approach, what with all the plastic tat, fantastical monsters, mugging neighbours for sweets and the Godawful music.
However, it’s not impossible to try to balance this Celebration of Tat with some Knowledge and Understanding of the World. There are interesting aspects of Hallowe’en to consider, namely the traditions, history and cultural interpretations. Here are six suggestions to explore Hallowe’en with young children in a non-scary, non-plastic and informative way.
Trace the roots of Hallowe’en.
On All Hallows Eve the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead are said to be at its thinnest.
Maybe avoid the idea of spirits passing into our world and wreaking havoc unless you want hysterical children refusing to ever sleep again. However, there are interesting reasons why this celebration has become part of our yearly festivities.
The customs and tradition of Hallowe’en go back hundreds of years. The festival of Samhain (pronounced sowin) was celebrated by the Celts at the start of November to mark the end of the harvest and to make predications about the harshness of the coming winter. They would wear animal heads and tell fortunes, which could make for some terrifying role play at home.
A major part of Samhain, as well as religions and cultures around the world at this time of year, is remembering our ancestors. It’s a great time to crack open the family photo albums, ask grandparents for stories of their childhood, and copy photos to stick to a family tree. We are going to have a special family dinner and toast to absent family members, and then snuggle under animal skins (faux fur blanket) by the fire to tell stories.
Samhain was incorporated into Christianity to combine with All Souls’ Day on the 2nd November. Soul cakes were baked and left on the porch with a drink for the dearly departed. On All Hallows Day (1st November) children would perform, sing or pray for the dead to earn the treat of the Soul cake, which evolved into the modern day version of trick or treating.
Soul cakes were sweet with a cross marked into the top, much like hot cross buns. They were intended to represent a spirit being freed from purgatory, which is a cheery conversation to have over mixing the dough. Recipe here.
3. Bobbing for apples.
The origins of this game is said to be the Roman festival to celebrate Pomona, the goddess of fruit. A disgustingly unsanitary game, even without the current pandemic, give each person a container of water instead of a group bucket (vom) and pop in a few apples. Set the timer, hold your hands behind your back, and see how many you can get out with your mouth. Bobbing for apples should always be played outside, and followed by a hot shower as everyone will get very wet.
4. Refine fine motor skills with pumpkins.
Once the pumpkins are cut and scooped, young children can separate the seeds from the strands for roasting, and sprinkle slices with cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar for baking. Roasted slices are great for cutting and mashing. There are more activities with the humble pumpkin here at an Imperfectly Montessori Autumn
5. Refine gross motor skills with pumpkins.
A trip out pumpkin picking at a farm is a great way for children to practise manoeuvring a wheelbarrow, do some lifting and carrying, and finally washing them. Once the pumpkins have been cut and scooped out, you can have a game of toss-the-beanbag (or ping-pong balls) to see who can get the most in the hole.
6. Play a game of real or not real.
This is a good way to help children feel less spooked about Hallowe’en and learn a little about the fact and fiction behind the symbols. You can print out some pictures or look online and guess whether they are real or not real. If you print them out then they can be used for matching pairs, memory game and snap. Here are a few facts and resources about out favourite beasties.
Witches – can be nicely explored through a feminist lens. From a secular perspective, witches can be understood throughout history as non-conformist, single, wise women who relied on herbology to avoid dying, and helped other women when medicine was not accessible. They were hunted down by the church, led by men who feared women’s power. More info here https://wiki.kidzsearch.com/wiki/Witch
Werewolves – fictional creatures that originated in Greek and Roman myths with variations told around the world. Some children confuse wolves with werewolves and believe both do or don’t exist. https://wiki.kidzsearch.com/wiki/Werewolf
Ghosts – eek, this totally depends on the culture and beliefs of the family, but an easy out is to explain scientists say they don’t exist.
Bats – likely became associated with Hallowe’en via the Celtic celebration of Samhain. When they sat around the fire at night to appease their ancestors and spirits from the otherworld, midges and mosquitos would be attracted to the light and so the bats would swoop around to eat them. In Central and South America, vampire bats cemented the association with their bloodthirsty nocturnal hunting. https://holidappy.com/holidays/the-history-of-halloween-bats
Black Cats – a superstition that arose in the middle ages in Europe, when cats were bigger and a whole lot scarier than they are now. The fear snowballed into a belief that black cats in particular were witches’ familiars, evil and bad luck. https://www.historicmysteries.com/black-cat-superstition/
Autumn is a wonderful time with young children, unless it’s raining, and here it is usually raining. Nonetheless that makes for jumping in muddy puddles (or lying in them and rolling around like a hippo in a mud-bath while you weep silently under the stony judgement of strangers.)
When they are one, they will eat the colourful leaves and you will forever be unfurling determined fingers clasped around acorns and berries before they get near mouths.
When they are two, they will spend hours dropping tiny pebbles and acorns through drain covers while icy rain drips down your neck.
You will attempt to make pumpkin baked goods and things with cinnamon and all-spice. Most of which will end up in toddler’s mouth, nothing will rise, and the mess will be up the walls and on the ceiling. But there will be a warm autumnal glow for a few minutes there.
Then they are three and the time for different activities has arrived! This is where the fun begins, as they are probably no longer trying to put conkers up their nose or licking toadstools. Now is the time for long nature walks in the woods, collecting interesting things to use at home.
Here we have an interest table with some things we collected on our walk. We have conkers, acorns, chestnuts, pine-cones and (gasp) some decorative leaves I ordered on Amazon. We could use real leaves but they were really wet and my pockets where full of disintegrating mulchy bits five minutes into the walk.
My four-year-old is interested in sorting at the moment, so I found a sorting game and removed the plastic fruit. She chose tongs to sort the items we had found into the different compartments, but she found them too stiff to use. We hunted for other things we could find for transferring and tried children’s chopsticks, a small scoop, a spoon and randomly a candle snuffer she is rather taken with for some reason.
I am going to leave this activity out on her interest table as she is enjoying returning to it, and next we will see how many we can fit in each section using number cards, estimation and counting. We can use the kitchen scales to weigh them and see which is heaviest. Then can play sink or float in a vase of water. Finally she will want to use them to decorate the house, and they will end up covered in glitter and so will we.
Everyday over the next month we will paint, draw, thread and stick things we find and make to hang around the house. Husband will hit his head on garlands and wreaths and will grumble incessantly.
10 ways to kick of an imperfectly Montessori autumn.
Set up an autumn storage box that you can add to each year with decorations, arts and crafts, stencils, activity books, and anything that doesn’t rot. If like us, you don’t have the space to lay out trays of appealing activities on perfectly curated shelves, then this is a way of ‘following the child’ by seeing what s/he is drawn to.
Ours is full of artificial coloured leaves, pegs and twine (for making garlands), printables, pictures, books, Hallowe’en colouring and activity books, pumpkin buckets, and lots of tissue paper and craft paper in gold, orange, red, yellow, black and brown. These are often dirt cheap after Hallowe’en when the stores start bringing out their Christmas stock, so it’s worth picking up then and keeping for the following year.
Having seasonal boxes lets the children get excited about ‘new’ things to use creatively, and lets you store the things you don’t need the rest of the year. A tip that worked for us is to have a cheap magnifying glass in each seasonal box so you can easily create an investigation tray/table without having to hunt for the one you bought last summer which is buried under a hundred soft toys.
Let him/her have a good look and sort through the box, picking out the things s/he finds most interesting and let activities develop from that.
2. Fill a display folder with print outs and pictures and let your child choose an activity. This is another way to give your child autonomy over their choice of work without turning your living room into a Montessori classroom. Most importantly it works like a ready meal for kids – when you’re tired and your brain doesn’t work just chuck the folder at them and have coffee.
Here are some ideas for an autumn folder:
Printouts of autumn-themed cutting, tracing, colouring and threading activities from those really organised people that make you feel bad on Pinterest. They have free printables and it’s worth signing up to a few of them for fantastic resources.
Recipes with pictures
Pictures of arts and crafts ideas. Those infernal children’s magazines filled with plastic tat that grandparents buy for them actually serve a purpose here if you cut out the activities.
Scavenger hunt and nature trail sheets.
3. Collect conkers and acorns on a nature walk for sorting.
Make an easy sorting game by dividing a plate into a few sections with a market, and collect leaves, acorns, conkers, chestnuts, and pinecones on a walk. While making sure little ones aren’t stuffing them up noses and in mouths, encourage transferring skills by providing a spoon, tongs, or chopsticks to sort them from a bowl to the sections on the plate.
4. Set up an autumn interest table.
In the classroom this will be a carefully curated and artistic collection of natural world objects designed to inform and educate the senses. At home you will enjoy creating it with your child and adding interesting things collected on nature walks. Your child will add any old plastic tat they find lying around, 80 crayons and half the contents of the craft box. They will refuse to tidy it and you will be too tired and still have to do the laundry, call the plumber and return six overdue library books. It may get sorted out at the weekend only to start the cycle all over again next week.
5. Make autumn decorations.
This work helps fine motor control, develops muscles in the hand, uses pincer grip and furthers coordination.
Use twine, leaves and pegs to string up garlands, which you can add to with pictures and other creative masterpieces.
Make suncatchers with clear sticky paper and coloured tissue for the windows, cut out leaf shapes to colour.
Make wreaths with old wire hangers bent into a circle and covered in tissue paper, leaves and pinecones.
Paint some little pumpkins and pine cones. Even if you ardently opposed to glitter, somehow it will magically appear and explode everywhere.
6. Sensorial work with spices.
Spices are fun for young children to explore as they practice opening and closing, pouring and transferring, differentiating by smell, and making a mess if you turn your back for a millisecond. It does feel nice and autumnal though and can lead into different extension activities.
Avoiding pepper (unless you are feeling particularly wicked), set out a few identically shaped jars with traditional autumnal spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves. Try to find the spice in its original whole form and place next to the jars so they understand how ground spices are made. Use a pestle and mortar to grind them, or a mini nutmeg grater.
Line them up and encourage her to open the jars (strengthening muscles in the hand, development of fine motor skills, independence, and pincer grip.) Pour some out and match the spice to the jar. Try to differentiate between them by the strength of smell or preference, and guess which lid matches the jar based on matching the smell.
Make fragrances with the spices by adding a teaspoon into a jar of warm carrier oil. This can be dabbed on radiators with cotton wool, or onto pieces of dried bark and pinecones to gently scent the home.
Explore the origin of spices, the spice trade, the merchants, and the old silk road. Use the continents globe and maps to place the spices and show the routes of merchants and ships in the spice trade. Roleplay buying and selling spices, using little bowls, spoons, scales, and money.
Use the spices in baking and cooking. Find recipes in books or online, try making different cookies, tarts, pies, soups, and teas.
Use a dustpan and brush, cloth, and hoover to clean up, while you relax.
7. Feed local wildlife and set up a camera.
Although there is plenty of food around early autumn with nuts, seeds, berries and mushrooms, now is the right time to set up a wildlife watching station for the winter. Helping to care for wildlife can encourage a love of nature in young children and show them how everyone has a responsibility to care for our environment and the animals who live there.
Set up a bird table, bird feeders, and water bowls in your garden, provided it isn’t a cat’s hunting ground. Encourage your children to change the water frequently, top it up, and crack the ice when it is cold. Rub bread crusts into crumbs over the table, and add chopped up leftover fruit and veg, cold cooked rice (never raw), and cereal. The RSPB has a list of what you can and can’t feed wild birds here.
Hang pinecones smeared with peanut butter, or lard/suet and seeds, and thread orange slices with string on tree branches.
Collect fallen apples and slice them to freeze ready to defrost for the birds during the winter. If there is an overabundance of acorns and chestnuts locally, save a few bags worth for the squirrels in winter which you can spread around when it’s snowy or the ground is too hard to dig for their hidden stash.
If you set up a wildlife camera you may see a variety of wildlife, particularly at dusk and dawn though make sure it’s on your private property or you might end up living the plot of a bad crime thriller.
8. Develop an autumn themed library
These are our autumn books, which are lovely albeit highly anthropomorphic, fantastical and even touchy-feely. So not remotely Montessori, but new books are expensive and I can’t afford the library fines for forgetting to return them on time. We love to read these, with their warm autumnal colours and beautiful illustrations.
Autumn (Ailie Busby) is a beautifully illustrated board book that can’t help but get you excited about the season, with wonderful depictions of collecting conkers, baking and playing outside.
In the Night Box and Sweep (Louise Grieg) are stunningly imaginative books about children and their control over the world, managing emotions and the illustrations are dreamily beautiful with autumnal colours.
Fox’s Socks (Julia Donaldson) is a lift-the-flap board book (great for fine motor control and pincer grip) with the usual rhyming structure that makes her such a beloved author.
Pumpkin soup (Helen Cooper) never fails to make us feel warm and cosy, and excited about pumpkin picking.
Off the back of this book we have made pumpkin soup, learned about bagpipes and listened to them (the less said about that the better), explored the predator and prey dynamic and the food-chain, discussed feelings and how we can make sure our friends feel appreciated and not left out, and how to communicate our needs clearly. (If only the duck had explained he would like to try a different role in the soup-making enterprise instead of stropping off in a huff.)
We have also had lengthy conversations about the probability of a cat, a duck and a squirrel sharing a home, whether animals can appreciate music, the appropriate food for herbivores vs carnivores, the significance of opposable thumbs, and whether a bear, a wolf, a fox and a witch are likely to live in the woods. Not bad going for a book about three irascible animals with an unhealthy obsession with making soup.
9. Make autumn scented candles.
I have made my own scented candles for years since I realised how much I was spending on my addiction to them. I buy a bag of pre-assembled wicks, some soy wax pellets and reuse old candle jars. If making them as gifts, then you can buy containers and labels and make sure the recipients use a candle plate underneath.
If you do the melting and pouring of the wax into the container (unless your child is old enough and careful enough to assist) then your child can choose the fragrance and add the drops.
10. Pumpkin picking. Admittedly a very obvious one, but there are lots of ways to power-up the Montessoriness.
Pick-your-own pumpkins at a farm provides the perfect opportunity for young children to see how their food grows, and to see the different stages of growth. It is also super healthy and outdoorsy, and helps local businesses so lots of brownie points there.
If you are given a small wheelbarrow, they can push it and fill it, seeing how many pumpkins they can fit, and which ones are heaviest, (gross motor skills, coordination and strengthening muscles – tick, numeracy skills – tick.)
Paying for the pumpkins – identifying prices on signs, working out offers like 4 for £5, how many can you buy for £10 etc, asking politely at the till, working out the total and the amount of change. (numeracy – tick, grace and courtesy and practical life skills – tick)
Washing the pumpkins – with a brush and a bucket of water is a perfect example of a practical life skill.
Sorting the pumpkins by size, colour, shape or texture. (sensorial)
Cutting, carving and scooping out the seeds – cutting skills, accuracy, fine motor skills, strengthening muscles in the hand, coordination, transferring.
Learning about different parts of the pumpkin – develop vocabulary like pulp, fibres, flesh, skin, centre. (Language skills – tick, KUW/biology – tick)
Using pumpkin seeds – clean them, sort them from the fibres, plant them, roast them, eat them, paint them, count them, use them in crafts.
Cooking pumpkins – look up recipes online (ICT & literacy skills), follow the recipe instructions, measure ingredients & check oven temperature (numeracy skills), cut/mix/stir/sprinkle and cook (practical life skills). Develop vocabulary with words like ingredients, recipe, nutritious, edible and inedible (language skills)
Eating pumpkins – by far the worst bit as they taste revolting. Can be made bearable with the addition of either spices and sugar, or mounds of cream, salt and butter.
Decorate a pumpkin – save a couple for young children to decorate with paint, glue, stickers and the inevitable mounds of glitter. Obviously not to be eaten by humans or animals.
Monitor decomposing pumpkins – see which one rots faster (experiment with variables like temperature & conditions, size, whole or carved, and watch the hairy mould develop (KUW, biology)
Recycling pumpkins – discard your pumpkin carcasses at the bottom of the garden/chuck them in the woods and run away, to provide sustenance for local wildlife. Or use them in compost, feed the scraps to the chickens or gardening beds, hang pieces as bird feeders. (Care of the environment.)
Pre-activity discussion: When magma escapes from deep inside the earth through the crust or surface of the earth it creates a volcano. When the pressure increases it causes the volcano to erupt and the magma becomes lava when it reaches the surface.
Variations by age: Those under the age of 3 will enjoy watching and making the dough, and pouring the ingredients but will probably try to eat it/cover themselves in it. Older children can have the activity linked to geography, science and history.
Vocabulary: magma, lava, eruption, pressure
Step 1: Once s/he’s made the salt dough (using lots of pouring skills and fine motor control) and spent an eternity playing with it, mould the dough around the bottle to look like a volcano, leaving the top of the bottle open. We used a little yellow food colouring in this one to make the landscape sandy.
Step 2: Decorate the bowl or tray with a layer of dough, and maybe some model animals if you’re feeling ruthless. We add little snips of leaves to make trees (fine motor skills and scissor practice)
Step 3: She spoons the bicarbonate of soda into the top of the bottle (prepare 2 tbsp worth into a container so she can use a child sized spoon)
Step 4: She adds a few drops of red food colouring into the top of the bottle, and a squirt of washing up liquid.
Step 5: Pour the vinegar into a child sized jug, and she pours it slowly into the top of the bottle, stands back and watches the reaction. The mixture should froth and erupt over the volcano. Add more bicarbonate of soda and vinegar for further eruptions.
Step 6. She delves both arms into the bowl, and is dyed red for the next two days. She revels in submerging the model animals in the lava and becomes alarmingly blood-thirsty. Covered in red dye and grinning manically while surveying her mass destruction she reminds you of something from the Lord of the Flies. The smell of vinegar will pervade for days. You will go over the words magma, lava, eruption again and again and she will remember none of them. There will be endless mess to clear up and she will refuse to have a bath.
The three period lesson is a way of presenting an activity to a child to help them build an understanding of a concept. The stimulation of the senses helps them form a precept, which combined with language forms a full understanding – a concept.
So, let the child handle the material and have a good feel of it to build a precept before you start with the three period lesson.
Remember to isolate the sense you are working on, so if you’re working on shapes make sure they are all the same size, texture and colour. If you’re working on colour make sure they are the same shape, size and texture. This helps them be able to discriminate between the items.
Name it. Begin by teaching the child the language involved. Say you have a square, a circle and a rectangle on a tray; pick up one, show it to the child and name it. ‘This is a square.’ Encourage the child to feel it, and run a finger over the edges to build a mental impression of the shape. Continue with the other two shapes.
Show me. See if the child recognises the object from its name. So, you place the three shapes in front of the child, and ask the child to point to the object you name. ‘Show me the square.’ Only move on to the next object when the child identifies the object named, keep repeating the exercise until its clearly understood.
Tell me. See if the child remembers the name of the object. Put the shapes down in front of the child, point to the square ‘what is this?’
If they name them all correctly, you can say ‘you named them all’ but avoid saying ‘good job or well done,’ or worse, give a high-five (which I once did as a student to the horror of my course mentor.) We are promoting a sense of satisfaction in the child’s own achievement, not seeking external validation.
At some point during the Montessori course, your teachers will assess how well you present a lesson.
Everything about it is weird. Your teacher pretending to be a four year old child. You acting as though she is a four year old child.
You don’t know what you will be asked to present. You will present a lesson from each area of learning. You hope and pray the golden bead bank game will not feature.
As I found myself presenting a lesson on the Phylum Chordata (yes, really) to a senior director of Montessori Centre International role-playing a four- year-old, I was struck by how incredibly surreal this whole experience was.
I had spent an intensive week in London studying long days at the centre, and long nights reading and revising my notes. It felt like nothing clicked. I hated presenting to my classmates, I felt self-conscious, tired and mostly overwhelmed. It was my first time away from my baby (a full week away from home), and walking back in the footsteps of my former London life was alien and oddly uncomfortable.
I spent most of the week observing and making notes. I handled the materials, studied the purpose and sequence, but really failed to participate in how to deliver the three period lesson on, well, anything.
I did draw some rather nice pictures of all the leaves in the botany cabinet though. Which is a completely pointless exercise, but I think we’d all gone a bit mad by that point.
However, by the end of it, I realised I had grasped the material and its process on a much deeper level than I had appreciated.
Although the more extended and advanced lessons were still not second nature to me, and probably never will be, the opening sequences of the areas of learning and the whole point of them being in that order became totally ingrained.
Watching the experienced practitioners present the lessons is invaluable, they make it look so easy and effortless. But it is neither, it’s a skill to be mastered and takes time, effort and a whole lot of practice.
So my advice, as little as it is worth, is to fully participate and engage in the role play. Make a fool of yourself pretending to be four years old, show a group of 30 year olds how to unroll a mat, and how you build a bead stair.
10 key points to surviving the practical assessment:
Everything is left to right, so plan out the activities with that in mind as it is all preparation for writing.
Sit next to the ‘child’ not opposite, and on the left of the mat/table.
Loudly notice the ‘child’s’ dominant hand and make adjustments to the lesson and positioning based on that.
Show don’t tell. If you’re moving, don’t speak, and if you are speaking, don’t move.
Minimise your movements, the key is economy of movement. Each movement should be precise, calm and clear so they child can watch and absorb exactly what you are doing.
Follow the child. Your examiner may throw a spanner in the works of your carefully prepared lesson by clearly showing no interest, in which case you ask the ‘child’ if s/he would like to continue or have another go another time.
If the examiner is role playing a child who clearly is not ready for the exercise, then make sure to explain you both will revisit a previous exercise in the sequence which will build their understanding.
Don’t say ‘no, that’s wrong’, or ‘that’s not right’. Instead, ask the child to take another look, and make sure to repeat the first period of the 3PL. If the child isn’t grasping the exercise it’s because they aren’t suitably prepared for this stage and need to revisit earlier exercises in the sequence, or you haven’t presented clearly enough.
Don’t say ‘well done’, ‘that’s great’, or ‘good job’. Remember we are encouraging the child’s independence and satisfaction in their own achievements, not to rely on external praise and validation.
Say very little, although ‘you made a bead-stair’ or ‘you’ve matched all the cards’, is fine.
Remember the examiners want you to do well, and there is no failing the assessment. If you have not been able to sufficiently showcase your knowledge, you may be asked to write a piece to outline your understanding of a lesson, or come back to present again at a different time. So, you cannot fail!
Objectives: The children will learn where their food comes from, how it grows, our relationship with the sun, and the food chain. They will build on their understanding of healthy eating and how we take care of the environment and ourselves. There will be opportunity for refinement of fine motor skills with planting seeds, picking, washing, chopping.
Areas of learning: Science/biology, numeracy/measuring, practical life/gardening, meal preparation and cooking, care of the environment, care of self, healthy eating, food hygiene.
Introductory activities: The sun game. This will help the children understand our dependence on the sun for our food. The children place the cards with plants/flowers/crops/vegetables/fruit around the sun in a circle. Then the cards with animals that eat plants around the outside. Then the outer circle is made up of carnivores.
You can explore lots of different activities together, such as drawing parts of plants together, growing peas in clear cups, investigating how fruit and vegetables help our body, and how plants and flowers help the environment.
Activity: Plant some vegetable seeds with the children. We like the M&S little seedling kits which have seed infused sheets with little compost blocks, and tiny paper pots.
All you have to do is soak the compost block ’til it expands, fill the pot and pop the seed sheet on top.
Label each one with the name of the plant, and the child’s name. Place in a sunny area, water it, observe its growth daily.
Measure the height of the shoots and record the numbers, which will help the children incorporate numeracy into the activity and give it a practical purpose.
If you are lucky enough to have a sunny patch of outdoor space, you can plant seedlings in containers, clearly labelled, and continue planting throughout the spring and summer so you always have a ready supply of vegetables.
Edible flowers make a beautiful addition to the kitchen garden, and the children will love garnishing salads with the bright petals.
Once your vegetables have grown, invite the children to prepare a meal with them. A fresh salad of warm new potatoes, peas, broad beans, cherry tomatoes, herbs and edible flower petals will be a wonderful sensorial experience for them, as well as developing practical life skills and a love of nature and food.
Things to incorporate: hand washing, food preparation, chopping,
In real life
It is summer in the UK, and so has rained for the last 45 days, with about three hours of weak sunshine. It is lockdown, and you are desperate for fresh air and Something To Do so you and the child have planted hundreds of seeds and seedlings.
Your child has shown zero interest in the sun game, even though you spent ages downloading the printables, trying the print the damn things on the insufferable printer, cutting them out, sticking to card, and laminating them. Then cutting them again.
She has also shown no interest in the activities you’ve introduced – peas in pint glasses, growing their shoots up the side in wet kitchen roll. Drawing the different parts of a potato plant.
The seeds you planted six weeks ago have struggled into the light with spindly stalks. You started measuring them, but then she wanted a competition and hers weren’t winning so she cried.
You planted a packet of broad beans, tenderly watered them with the Montessori Child daily, observed and measured them. If you were feeling particularly tyrannical, you shut one or two in a cupboard with no light in the name of science.
You now have four or five huge pods, which buy a moment of precious joy as child pops them into a bucket, and looks very sweet in her sunhat.
You show child how to pod them at the kitchen table. You hastily google and find out that unlike peas, broad beans can’t be eaten raw out of the pod. There’s definitely fewer in the bowl than before, but she swears she hasn’t eaten them. You later find them squashed into the carpet.
How big are people’s allotments and vegetable gardens? This took two months and you’ve got about ten broad beans.
But this is lockdown, time has no meaning here.
Next you pluck some butterhead lettuce leaves. The snails ate most of the plants, and the culprits have been chucked over next door’s fence. ‘Snail patrol, snail patrol, be there on the double’ the child shouts gleefully as she hurls them over the buddleia. You have a discussion on care of animals, and she looks at you doubtfully as you squash some aphids.
The tomato plants have some kind of yellow flower on them, and no sign of tomatoes. You are unsure if they are in fact tomato plants.
Your edible flowers have weird gummy black flies stuck around the stamens. You leave them well alone.
Your leek now looks like this.
Potatoes! The potato bags have a little flap you can open to pull the baby potatoes from the roots. Child lifts the Velcro flap and approximately 5kg of compost spills out onto the decking. Husband groans. ‘Never mind’, you trill, child fetches dustpan and brush.
Are those new ones or the original seedling potatoes? They are small and wonky and a bit green. Child enjoys washing them and spreading more earth in physically impossible places.
Child washes and dries the lettuce leaves, and chops them with scissors. Together you carefully boil the new potatoes (and possibly some very old ones) and finally the broad beans.
Your salad has seven broad beans, five new potatoes, four lettuce leaves, and some sad parsley from the herb ‘garden’.
Your child makes the dressing with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. She then screams because lemon juice got in a imperceptible cut on her finger and she needs a plaster Now. Not that one, the Paw Patrol ones. No, the Skye one. And she HATES pepper. The dressing is placed in the fridge for later, or when you notice it covered in mould three months time.
Family forlornly eat the salad. You pour a glass of wine and order pizza.
This meditation story takes approximately five minutes to slowly read aloud.
You are going to take a meditation journey into the world of a jaguar, the powerful predator of the South American rainforest.
Before you start your journey, make sure you are nice and comfy, and close your eyes.
Take a deep slow breath in through the nose and down to your tummy. Feel if you can inflate your tummy like a balloon but don’t push, now breathe out through the mouth slowly.
Do this three times nice and slowly. Now be very still and see if you can feel or hear your heart beat.
Stretch your arms down by your sides and your fingers out as far as you can, hold then let them go. Feel them relax and go floppy.
Take another deep slow breath in through the nose and into your tummy, hold for one two three and release it out through your mouth.
Now stretch your legs, hold them and feel the muscles lengthen, then relax.
Slowly move your head from side to side, up and down, and then take a deep breath down to your tummy, hold for one, two, three then breathe out for one, two, three, four.
Now your body is relaxed and comfortable.
Imagine you are walking through a leafy forest on a hot day.
There is no clear path so you are pushing branches out of your way and stepping over undergrowth.
The branches are thicker and thicker and you push through and then it seems that the trees and plants look completely different.
You find yourself standing in a deep green rainforest surrounded by enormous trees and plants, so thick you can’t see the sky.
The air is thick and humid, like breathing through a hot wet towel. The rainforest is teeming with life, millions of different plants and animals live here, but you are its most powerful predator, the jaguar.
Your body is now that of a big cat, a powerful jaguar. You are muscular and strong, with a long tail and a sleek spotted coat that allows you to stalk through the vegetation unseen.
It is breaking dawn, which is your favourite time to hunt before it is too hot.
Your powerful bite can pierce the skin or shell of most animals, but recently you have feasted on capybara and are not hungry right now.
You have been hunting quite far from your favourite spot to rest, so you are travelling back there now.
You meander through the lush green vegetation, close to the ground, enjoying the powerful movements of your low slung body.
Creatures scurry away through the greenery as you make your way through the rainforest.
Birds call loudly high above, and huge flowers hum with life – insects and hummingbirds, bright blue morphos butterflies and tiny jewel coloured frogs.
You walk slowly down the forest path towards the river and pause at the edge of the clearing to watch the river bank.
You see a bright orange poison dart frog hop along a branch in front of you, and a large black caiman lurk silently half submerged in the water.
Large swallow-tailed butterflies dance past you as they flutter between fragrant orchids and pasion-flowers. Tiny bright hummingbirds hover over flowers to dip their long beaks and drink the nectar.
You pad stealthily along the river bank, startling a capybara who freezes then runs. Your urge to chase the prey is quietened by your recent meal.
Above you, golden lion tamarin monkeys jump from branch to branch of the wimba trees, emerging from their tree holes and scampering through the canopy. They call a loud warning to each other as they notice you weaving through the trees below.
The river is slow moving, wide and inviting. You see a huge green iguana jump into the water from a high branch to escape a predator in the canopy. It swims steadily away to a shady bank.
You take a drink, lapping the cool water with your tongue. Then you leap into the cool water of the Amazon river, your powerful muscles propel you smoothly across to the other side.
You are an expert swimmer and spend many of your active hours here, hunting and gliding through the water. An enormous green anaconda slithers through the long grasses at the river edge.
A flock of macaws fly overhead, screeching as they land on a tree laden with brazil nuts. Their red and blue plumage is bright against the sky.
You head towards the trees where you climb high until you have found the perfect shady branch on which to lie.
You stretch your long lithe body, hanging your legs over the side, and rest your head to take a long nap as the sun rises higher and the rainforest becomes hotter.
You will rest here safely and contentedly until the sun has passed it’s peak and starts to sink lower again. Then you will begin your hunt.