When I posted here I was feeling quite defeated. Quite overwhelmed. I was wondering if this Montessori stuff was really able to work with siblings. Did these peaceful children's communities really exist?! (I have still never seen one in real life). It didn't seem to be working for my children. I was full of doubt.
My faith has been restored. Now I believe that children can peacefully coexist in a shared space. The change has been dramatic! Since I got the environment right I haven't even needed the baby gate to separate them.
What were the key changes?
- A seperate shelf for each child
Having the shelves separate is more for my sake than for theirs. It helps me to notice what I am choosing for each child. It helps me to remember that they need/enjoy different things. It helps me to make sure I am putting out enough for each of them. It also helps them know where to look for something that will be fun to play with.
- A seperate area for each child to play
A comfortable and attractive area next to their shelf makes it easy for them to choose a toy and settle to play with it. Having enough space helps them stay out of each others way so they don't disturb each other accidentally.
- Thoughtfully chosen materials for each child
Bear and Fox are at different developmental stages. They have different temperaments and interests. They have different skills. I try to give them several choices and pay attention to the things that they choose to spend time with. This helps to select which materials to pack away for a while and which to leave out.
I have found that they don't actually need to be physically separated from each other to concentrate on work if they are really interested in it.
The boys have lots of things to concentrate on. Most of the time they are too busy and too focused to bother one another.
I have been particularly impressed how often they choose to play side-by-side. Even little Fox will choose a toy off his shelf and carefully carry it over to sit next to Bear. They actually do like each other and can enjoy each other's company. They just need an environment that helps them do it.
Our house continues to evolve.
As a family of four we were having trouble squeezing friends around our dinner table in the corner where it was.
We had a bigger area at the back of the playroom which wasn't really right for anything else. I had tried making a play space for Fox there but it hadn't worked out. The problem was that it was too close to the playroom to keep Fox and Bear separate. It is also a dark and ugly area at child height. I think that was part of the reason the boys didn't seem to like being there. They would ignore the toys on the shelves there.
I moved the dinner table into the dark ugly space (which is less ugly at adult height) which has opened up a new area for the boys to play.
The space is a 2mx3m thoroughfare next to our kitchen. Fortunately little children don't need much space. There is enough room for a little shelf, a little table, a little chair and some space to play on the floor. The glass sliding doors look out to the yard, with sheep at the fence and the hills beyond. At toddler height this is the best window in the house to watch the freight trains come past. Izzy's (the dog) bed is just at the door - she can lift up her head lazily to peek in and see what Bear is eating for lunch.
It's a space both Bear and Fox can use. I have a few things on the shelves for each of them and it has become very popular!
I think they are attracted here because everything is on their scale. It fits them just right. They can look out the windows. They can reach their things. They can sit quietly without being in the way. Bear can even open the door himself to go outside. They can find what they are looking for and concentrate without being distracted.
The proximity to the kitchen is an advantage as well so that I can do my work while they do theirs.
It has become helpful having a second area to play so that I can separate the boys. I don't have a toddler area and an infant area - almost all their things are safe to be shared so they both come and go as they like. But there are so many times when they get in each other's way and frustrate each. All I need to do is pick Fox up and put him at the opposite end of the house to Bear and he happily finds something else to do. Then they can both concentrate where they can't see or hear each other.
A new spot for Bear's "naughty chair" has opened up as well. He can't reach anything from the chair and he can see (and be seen from) almost every part of the house. Perfect.
It's a constant challenge making our house meet all of our very different and constantly changing needs. But it's so satisfying to solve a problem in a way that makes home a more peaceful, more comfortable and more fun place to be!
This reading corner has been a long time coming.
I had the idea of turning this unused doorway into a book shelf before Fox was born. Little by little I've been chipping away at this project. Now it is finally finished (well mostly finished...). At least it is ready to use!
I have experimented with various ways to store and display books that haven't worked out. I tried a basket on the floor. A basket on the coffee table. A basket on Bear's shelves. A regular book shelf with spines facing out. A regular bookshelf with books standing up. Books in a box. We were having problems with each of these. My biggest problem was mess - the books wouldn't stay where they were supposed to be!
So I brainstormed goals for book storage/display:
- beautiful to look at
- easy for Bear to choose a book
- easy for Bear to take out one book at a time without disturbing the other books
- easy for Bear to put books away by himself
- flexible in terms of the number of books it can accomodate
- separate from toys
- in an area that is peaceful and comfortable
- a special area that acknowledges how special and precious books are
I think this ticks all the boxes.
The 3 lower book shelves are only 10cm deep so books stand up easily on their own but they will be able to accomodate several layers of books in future. There's a 3cm lip that stops the books slipping off. The shelves are removable but very sturdy. They have a catch that will stop Fox pulling them off when he inevitably starts to pull up on them.
We don't have room for child sized furniture in this area. We're a bit tight on space as it is. Bear gets himself onto the couch easily and we can both read together comfortably. We used to have a footstool for Bear to climb up. We'll bring it back out when Fox is ready for it.
Rotating the books keeps bringing Bear back to the couch. He's asking to read books that were being ignored before. I love when he asks me to read with him. It such a great invitation for a cuddle and a chat!
Fox is appreciating the low shelf too - it might just be the thing that inspires him to crawl!
I have revisited toy rotation and I've been brutal.
Somehow toys have been walking out of cupboards of their own accord. I don't know how it happens. At the end of every week we seem to have toys everywhere. Most of them are being ignored. There is nothing interesting left to get out of the cupboard. I drive myself crazy constantly tidying up.
Actually I know exactly how it happens. I have too many toys on the shelves. I'm not rotating them often enough. Partly because there aren't enough toys left in the cupboard to rotate out! Bear knows where the toys are kept and helps himself to more. Or he asks me to get something for him. I give it to him but don't put an unused toy away. I put a toy on a shelf because the shelf looks bare. I am tempted to think more toys will keep him more engaged.
Solution? Less is more!
I have also simplified the way Bear's toys are presented.
An example is the way Bear's trains were presented. Bear's train set was all thrown in together in a big basket. Bear wasn't choosing his trains even though they were still clearly his favourite. I think it was to hard for him to find what he needed so he didn't bother. He still loved to play with them but only when I brought out the basket and helped him build a track.
I've put the tracks in one basket that's big enough to rummage through without spilling on the floor. I've put aside a few pieces that are frustrating or duplicates.
Trains are in another basket. Trees are in another. Cars are in another.
So simple. So obvious now that I've done it. It has turned one set of toys into 4 sets of toys.
Bear is choosing them everyday again. He plays with them without any help. Sometimes he plays with them all together. Sometimes one basket at a time.
They also double as ready made baby baskets for Fox.
Bear doesn't spend much time using the things on his shelves. He really doesn't need much on them. Most of our time at home is spent working together - cooking, cleaning or gardening. Then there are books to read, food to eat, baths to have...
Having fewer things around makes the few things seem more special and make it easier for him to choose something interesting and focus on it. It definitely makes packing up less of a chore and something Bear can participate in.
My name is Vicky I am wife to Ranger and mum to two boys - Bear (2) and Fox (8 months). Somehow I stumbled across Montessori and now my goal is to raise and educate my children with a Montessori philosophy in country NSW Australia.