Saturday, September 8, 2012

Our Montessori Home

In my last entry I discussed our efforts in creating a safe environment for Bee to investigate without disruption. One of the biggest changes we've made to our living room was upgrading from our old sectional sofa, which took up two entire walls in our tiny apartment, to a regular sized sofa with a cozy side chair. We have so much more room now to ensure that Bee is a welcome part of this space. When revising the room to fit our needs, we very much tried to keep Montessori principles in mind. Montessori is an educational approach developed by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori. It's focus is an emphasis on independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child's natural development.

Children learn by doing, and this requires freedom of movement and spontaneous investigation - so a safe, baby proofed space is essential. Other core components of a Montessori room include low shelves, child sized furniture, natural materials where possible, and a strong emphasis on keeping the area beautiful and organized. In our room, we created three separate areas which we loosely modeled after prepared environments found in a Montessori classroom. As Bee grows past infancy, these prepared environments will evolve to incorporate more specific themes, such as language arts, geography, everyday living, music, art, and more. For now, I believe we're off to a great start!

We've called this first area our Creative Learning station. This station is the area that we took the most liberty with and is much more loosely modeled after a prepared environment than the next. Here's a closer look:

One key aspect of any Montessori room is beautiful artwork hung at the child's eye level which is changed frequently. I was able to find these wonderful hanging frames at the dollar tree for only $1.00. They hold six 5x7 photos and are the perfect size for hanging at child level!

One of my favorite items on this shelf is this felt basket which holds several different fabrics. These fabrics are a great sensory experience for Bee's sweet little hands and a fabulous way to draw her attention to things like weight, size, color, shape, and texture. I gathered these on the cheap from a clearance bin of leftover remnants at a fabric store. All together, everything seen here, including the felt basket, was less than $2.00. 

Coming in at another $2.00, these brightly colored pipe cleaners and red pasta strainer were both more dollar tree finds and quickly became one of Bee's favorite things! In addition to being a fabulous introduction to counting, this activity is fantastic for developing coordination skills. The pipe cleaners can be bent, mouthed, thrown, pulled, pushed, curled, and re-threaded back into the strainer.

In this bucket I keep a few soft books which I change out regularly to keep Bee's interest. While I am using baskets and other storage containers on this shelf it's important to note that there are only a few objects in each basket. Every object can easily be seen when pulling the basket off of the shelf. Organization is very important in a Montessori space, and each item should be visible to the child so that they are free to choose without becoming overwhelmed.

I created this engaging "toy" by reusing an old baby wipes container and filling it with more fabric store remnants. I folded the pieces of fabric in such a way that every time Bee pulls one out, the next one pops up. The prints, colors, and textures of the fabrics vary and she's always quite impressed with her ability to remove each of them from the box!

This second area is our math and science station. While the name may sound like it places an intimidating amount of attention on infant academics, these toys are all age appropriate and all serve as an early introduction to mathematical concepts like geometric shapes, counting, and sorting!

From a closer look at the bottom shelf, you can see these terrific blocks which Bee takes great delight in knocking over once I stack them for her. The middle basket contains some interesting shapes that she loves to examine.

Aside from developing coordination, this bead maze is laying the foundation for counting and numbers!

Each of these balls offers a different tactile experience, and Bee enjoys examining each one, taking time to return to her favorites!

While Bee doesn't stack these cups quite yet, she is certainly able to deconstruct them, and so fascinated when they come apart! 

 And what better way to learn about an object than by mouthing it?!

I bought his great wooden pathfinder from a local swap group. What an excellent way to boost coordination, fine tune small motor skills, and develop a sense of direction!

Finally, the beginnings of our reading station. After all of that exploration this comfortable arm chair provides a cozy retreat where I can grab a book and a soft blanket for story time before nursing sweet Bee to sleep. As she grows into toddlerhood we plan to provide her a child sized arm chair of her own where she can sit next to me while we each read our books.

Monday, September 3, 2012

A furniture makeover

With Bee becoming so mobile within the last few months we've started to shift our efforts towards baby proofing our living spaces. Creating a safe space for her to investigate without interruption has been one of our highest priorities lately. I believe that we've created a wonderful 'yes!' environment for her, where we don't have to worry about constantly redirecting her or telling her not to get into things - everything is fair game!

The first step was finding a tv stand which was high enough to keep the tv out of reach and organizing the electronic cords so that they were hidden and out of the way. The television set was probably the most dangerous item for Bee in the entire room, and it quickly became her greatest interest, so a solution was in order - and what a tall order it was! We needed something high enough so that she couldn't reach the top. Something sturdy enough so that tipping wasn't a concern. Something which had doors that could keep all of the cords and accessories hidden away, but not glass doors! Something that was functional, but also aesthetically pleasing, and most of all within our budget.

...and we never found it. So, instead we revamped a piece of furniture that was given to us by Bee's grandmother (thank you!), a hot bar meant for serving food. Here it was before, in all it's hot bar, food-serving glory:

And, after a little demolition took place to remove the border on the top surface:

We sanded it, repainted the hinges and cabinet hardware, removed the hardware from the drawers, filled in the holes that held the old hardware in place, drilled new holes for the glass doorknobs, painted, and black washed. In the end, we got this:

You can still see the previous holes a little on the drawers and we're largely undecided about the black wash,  but overall we are in love with this piece and how perfectly it fits all of our needs.