Thursday, March 7, 2013

An Easy DIY No-Sew Montessori Placement and Simple Lives

I have a coffee mug at work. It's huge and says "World's Best Teacher" in IPA. I drink coffee from it every day, usually multiple small cups throughout the morning.  After Ellie was born, I took 10 weeks off from work.  When I returned, I felt like a completely different person. I knew that my brain had changed, in a very literal sense, and that everything about me felt different. Coffee meant more to me than ever when I returned.  I'd gotten used to drinking much less during pregnancy but that cup was a vital symbol of the start of the day at a time when the line between day at night was a little blurry.  My work cup of coffee marked my entrance to the office, as Alicia the Employee. But the strangest thing happened when I returned to work after those 10 weeks;  I looked into the cabinet full of coffee mugs and didn't recognize mine.  I paused there for a few moments and thought hard about something that had been so completely automatic for me just a few weeks before. I finally recognized it and poured my cup, but frankly I was a little rattled. What else had I forgotten?  By building new connections in my brain for Ellie, how she smelled and moved, the easiest way to get socks onto those little feet, how her breathing changed right before she woke up, and all the subtle details that go into taking care of an infant, I'd lost some connections, or at least weakened them.

Like all children do at some point, Elle hit a language burst around 14 months when she suddenly realized that everything has a name and she wanted to know it. She started learning new things so quickly. She would literally wake up from a nap and know something that she didn't know before she fell asleep. She's still going through this insane period of rapid growth and I hope it never stops.  When it first started, I was just blown away. When you're a first-time parent, every minute thing your child does is incredible. When you meet them, their sighs and sneezes are better than any concert or television show you've ever seen. The first laughs send you into tears. By the time they're taking their first steps, things feel like they're moving too quickly. You barely have time to enjoy one development before it's gone and the next one begins.  And when they start talking, it's pretty much the most incredible thing ever because you're finally gaining access into their brains. I work in language, so when those first words came, I marveled. (Her first word, by the way, was "wow!" which is so perfect that I don't have words to describe it.) I remember holding her and nursing her to sleep when this phase had just started. I recalled the earliest days when I'd hold her on my belly and try to imagine her inside me, barely able to understand that somehow she'd once lived in my body.  I wondered if she remembered what it was like to be in the womb. I felt a pang of sadness as she nursed because I knew that all these new words and ideas would push out those memories of being a part of me, and that one day she might not remember nursing at all, either.

Every night, she goes to sleep as one person and wakes up a different one the next. Every day she becomes someone new, and leaves the old behind. I realized this, and a few moments later realized that the very same is true of me.

I've been thinking a lot about the things I've left behind to become a good mother. I am lucky to be naturally good at living in the moment, and things right now are so good, but it's hard for me to let go of looking back and forward. I'm trying my best to let go of the past and not worry about the future. It's difficult. It's one lesson that parenting has brought to me in a way that nothing else ever has.
I try to remember what our nightly routines looked like before Ellie was born, or even before we had a dog. Now, our routine is somewhat strict, which I sometimes resent but mostly love. It's hard to imagine life any other way.

One of the most important parts of our routine is meal time. It's important to me that we sit down for dinner and we do every night. In the Montessori style of child-rearing, routine is incredibly important and children are expected to take part in family routines as quickly as possible. We've tried to incorporate some of this philosophy into our kitchen by giving Ellie her own space.
Here's Ellie's kitchen area:
Would you believe me if I told you I thrifted the kitchen for $5?  
When she was younger, we filled the cabinets with her plastic dish ware but it just wasn't working. She'd just pull everything out and throw it all over the room.  
Now this is what it looks like: (most of the time)
One plate. One bowl. One cup. One pitcher.  (All glass/ceramic.)  And this set of toddler silverware in her pitcher. There are also a couple towels in case of spills, which pretty much always happen.
We try to get her dishes out of this cabinet before each meal, but honestly it doesn't always happen.  At this point, the important part for me is that she has a small portion on her plate and she eats with silverware. Often she puts her own food on her plate. She always pours her own water from the pitcher to the cup.  We've been working on this water station lately:
She really loves to drink water so I like having it available to her at all times, and opening and closing the spigot is great for practicing fine motor skills.  Yes, we still have lots of spilling, but almost no playing, which is a big development.

When we finally bought her flatware I wanted to try a Montessori-style placemat for her. It models the basic place setting.  I like to sew but wanted to throw one together quickly and am pretty happy with how this one came out.  **I have only spot-cleaned the placemat. I'm not sure it'd make it through the washing machine intact.**
Here's what you'll need to make your own placemat:

Here's a closeup of the Wonder Under label front
and back
You'll first iron it on to the colored fabric and then iron that directly on to the placemat.  

Begin by putting all the dishes on the Wonder Under.  You just need enough to cover the bottom of the plate and glass and around each of the pieces of silverware.  Just cut a big rectangle. No need to be exact. You'll iron this rectangle onto the colored fabric and use that to cut out the shapes.
Iron the full rectangle on to the colored fabric.
Outline the dishes with a marker on the Wonder Under.  Cut everything out. 
Peel the Wonder Under off the pieces. The fabric will feel sticky.  
Position them on the placemat.  Put down a damp towel between the fabric and the iron so that the hot iron doesn't overheat the Wonder Under. Iron and press firmly.  
Done. You can run a cooler iron over the pieces just to finish up if you'd like.  
This would be a good activity for older kiddos to help with.  
Ellie still doesn't get how to put all her pieces in their places, but I think reinforcing it at every meal will help her get it soon.  
Have you ever used a Montessori placemat, or any other Montessori techniques with your tots?  I'm finally reading The Absorbent Mind and it's remarkable how much she got right that psychology has since proven.  I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences.
Finally, it's Simple Lives Thursday!  Please grab the badge from my blog or another hosting blog:

 link up, and have a look around.  
 1. Homemade Zucchini Bar Recipe by Our Heavenly Homestead. "If you are anything like me, you are still trying to use up the numerous bags in the freezer of shredded zucchini from the last couple of seasons. If not you can just buy a couple and still make this amazing dessert." DSC01855-001-300x225
 2. DIY Baby Legwarmers by Purposefully Simple. "A while back I found a tutorial (or two) floating around Pinterest for DIY baby legwarmers and I thought they were super cute and functional (no need to take them off for diaper changes!) so I've been on the look out for discounted knee socks so I could make some."
 3. Making a Rainbow Cake with All Natural Food Coloring Review-Does it Work? by Green Idea Reviews. "Colored baked goods to suit your fancy is a fun way to express yourself in the kitchen. But the artificial dyes used to do this are generally chemicals that have a shady history and are hazardous to your health."


Niki said...

Tears in my eyes! It is hard to always take all the time with Mara I would like because Stella is here, too, but it would be fun to make these mats together for both! Stella goes to Montessori school, and the funny thing is, another mom and I were just talking about how we wish they did a bit more at mealtime, because that's the one place where they rather let things go wild. We always do mealtime at home together, and Stella sets the table, but I never thought of putting all of her own dishware at her level--or in her kitchen (which is not as sturdy and realistic being one of those little wooden kid-size things). Thanks so much for taking time to sit and write all this Alicia! You're a star!

Alicia said...

So happy to have you reading. I really don't know how I'd do it with two, and we do consider only having one. I know for my own sanity that I need to have just E for now.
I'm sort of shocked to hear about meal time at that Montessori school, not only because it seems so contrary to her philosophy (what better teaching opportunity than meals, which we all have to take part in multiple times a day?) but also because I just can't fathom letting kids do all that on their own. We have always let Ellie do her own thing for meals when it comes to what to eat and how much, but she still has to follow some basic rules or it'd be nuts.
Miss you, dear. Hug those girls for me, and give our love to the husband.

Kristin said...

I'm not a sewer (yet!), but I really enjoy doing hand embroidery. I'd love to stitch those sweet outlines onto a placemat!

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