The Ordered Environment ...

I love the montessori approach to teaching but applying some of techniques has been challenging. Every time I read anything about montessori the term "the ordered environment" always sends chills up and down my spine.  True confession time: I am not a tidy person.  I do not always put things in there proper place.  I am not proud of it, and I am, of coarse, on a voyage of self improvement on that front. I sometimes leave the dishes until after I get the kiddos to bed, fall asleep myself before getting to them and wake up to the treatury that is a sink full of crusty dishes.  Yes, I understand that my day would get off to a better start if I hadn't left the dishes.  I worry about the bad example and all of that.  But somedays I'm just exhausted, energy zapped and prioritize my shower over the dishes. 

One of my main challenges is that our "learning space" is smack dab in the middle of our house.  On good weeks this actually makes it easier to keep up with things.  But on days when I or the littles or the whole family is behind the 8 ball ... it is horrific.  When I look at pictures of montessori pre schools they are calm,open and well ordered.  My environment tends to be well a little less serine.  :)  Here are my top 3 tips that help keep me on track and help me to right the ship when it all goes wong.

  1. Open Bins, Baskets and Trays: I can't believe I'm saying this because it's a concept that I found very annoying when I started implementing Montessori curriclumn in our home. But when displayed in a lovely way toys can be quite lovely.  I have also found that having visable open items reduces dumping and digging.  When they can see what it is they tend to only go for it when they want to play with item.  My favorite change was taking our twigs out of the
  2. Creating environmental freedom doesn't mean EVERYTHING needs to be out all the time.  Especially in a small space having ALL of our materials accessible to small hands creates a cluttered environment. 
  3. Montessori Mats: I LOVE THESE THINGS!  I made some faux montesorri mats until we can afford an upgrade.  I was inspired by Montesorri At Home to make them out of soft shelf liner.  They have been fantastic.  I use them everytime I teach a 3 part lesson.  My oldest son and niece use them all the time when they want to create space for themselves to work on something.  They love the process of rolling and un-rolling them!  :)


Doing Disney with Food Allergies ...

I have to start this blog post with an honest disclosure.  I LOVE Disney World.  It rocks.  My devotion is ...well ... to quote Barney Stinson, "Legendary".  It's really a family affair.  My hubby and I traveled to Disney quite a bit before we had children and we go several times a year with our little ones now.  There is nothing better to me than going for a stroll down Main Street USA.  

However, when my son was diagnosed at a year old with a severe egg, peanut and tree nut allergy my view of Main Street USA changed. I was terrified! In my minds eye, I could see my son with his nose pressed against the glass, looking at - but not able to taste a single confection, ice cream cone, or float.  The amazing news is nothing could be further from truth!  While yes, there are plenty of can't haves at the confectionary there are also plenty of safe alternatives and amazing well educated staff to help you along the way.  Here are my tips for getting the most out of a peanut and egg free Disney World Trip!

1 - Map it out!

Download a map before you go to the park and familiarize yourself with first aid locations.  You can also take some time out to find dining locations near attractions on your must do list.  Disney World not only has all of our their property maps available online @; but you can also print a customized map out just for your trip.  :)

While it is super fun to print or order a custom map ... you really don't need to.  There are plenty of durable pre-printed maps as you head into the park.  Our favorite way to keep our maps in to is via our windows phones.  You can access maps, dining, wait times and more from your smart phone @ am also including hotlinks to the PDF Maps for each of the parks here: Map of the Magic Kingdom, Map of Epcot, Map of Animal KingdomMap of Hollywood Studios, Map of Downtown Disney

2 - Meal Plan before you get to the park.

I know meal planning has become a no brainer for most allergy families.  But it bares metioning. Disney does a lot to make meal planning a breeze.   Your best place to start is @ Guest Services - Special Dietary Request Page.  You can find a comprehensive list of thier policy and procedures for managing food allergies.

- Snack Bag: Disney is great about letting you bring in safe snacks, drinks and treats for your little one.  Be sure to pack a cooler filled with energy rich, safe snack items and refreshing drinks.  It can get hot depending on which park you are in and the time of year you travel.  You can also store your epi-pen in your cooler tote to ensure it doesn't get overheated.   

- Reservations are your friend.  While I am sure you will most likely not want a sit down experience at every mealtime.  Reserving a breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even after fireworks dessert makes life awesome.  When you place your reservation you can alert staff to your allergy and they take special care to prepare for you visit.  You can make dining reservations in advance here:

- Managing Quick Service Walk Ups.  In most places you will find staff at walk ups to be friendly and knowlegable.  Don't worry to much about making a pick from the displayed menu.  As soon as you reach the cashier and alert them to your allergy need, they will page an allergy specialist.  The allergy specialist will walk you through Disney's big book of allergy info to make sure you get a safe alternative for you or your little. Our favorite walk up restaraunt is hands down the starlight cafe.  They just rock and always have.  A few walk ups to avoid: The Walk Up Dine in Option in the American Pavillion at epcot (This is the location of our one and only bad experience).  You also want to be cautious doing walk up dining at any of the asian eateries because of the use of peanut oil.  However, don't rule out all sit down asian options.  Just be sure you make a reservation ahead and note your allergy when booking.

Disney also offers great dining plan options for every budget and lifestyle need.

3 - Stay on property.

From the All Star Resorts to Resorts on the Monorail, disney properties have terrific, accomodating food options. All of the "quick service" spots are well educated on how to safely create options to meet your allergy need. We have NEVER had an issue at quick services or restaraunts in the resorts. Given how fequently we travel and stay on property that is pretty amazing. We love resort quick service in the morning. It's terrific to head to the park with a full tummy. You need that energy boost. And almost all the resorts have wonderful dine in options, some even have pretty fantastic character breakfasts!

4 - The Magic Kingdom ROCKS!

I don't know if it is extra pixie dust, a higher ratio of fairytale royality to commoners, or just sheer happenstance but the Magic Kingdom is in my view the most allergy friendly park at Disney World.  Seriously, I love all the Disney Parks but the Magic Kingdom is well just magical.  So I recommend you start there.  Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios have fewer walk up options, but all will still be able to accomodate you, typically with out making you feel like they are "accomodating" you.  Hollywood Studios is a great park and has some wonderful attractions, but only has one walk up that we felt comfortable in, Pizza Planet.  So when heading to Hollywood Studios our typical plan is Pizza Planet or Making a Reservation. 

Important Links from this post ...
Disney Food Allergy Info
Dining Reservations
Disney Maps


Montesorri Monday: Recycling is Sorting Fun!

One of our guiding principles is that we will practice sustainable living. My older littles are great at throwing trash into their bathroom sized lidded step on trash bin near the art center. One of my nightly duties is to go through their little trash bin and sort out the recycl-able items.

One night, I had a profound moment of realization with regard to the littles "trash bin". Number 1 ... almost everything in it was a recycle worthy item. Number 2 ... My littles can sort. We sort toys, we play sorting games, so why I am building in this extra step and robbing them of a valuable life lesson? The next day, I popped our little recycle bin (made of old rolled up magazines) on the floor next to their trash bin and carefully discussed what went where. They ROCKED it!! I was super proud.

Then about 20 minutes later, in came my little crawler carefully and happily unsorting the recycling. Ooops ... no lid on the bin! My solution. I purchased two brackets at the hardware store and mounted the recycle bin just above our full size trash can in the kitchen. It's high enough to be out of reach for the super little and just in reach of the bigger littles. Perfect! They love recycling and proudly announce when they have an item that need to go to the "cycle bin"


Sprout School Notes: Activity Planning

I am knee deep in activity restructuring and planning for the fall season of sprout school.  We have joined a "Tot School" co-op and I want to be sure that I align our weekly group class initiatives with the other work I am doing at home.  I am excited for the adventure and to be connected with local moms on the same track.

While the tot school is providing a "curriculum" of suggested play based learning activities, I am super committed to not leaving behind my Montessori, art and ASL initiatives.  I'm excited to learn that some of the other tot schoolers are striving for a montessori approach as well.  I was right to have confidence in the co-op moms putting the guide together the first 4 weeks are out and they are good fun activities.  Many that we have done or do regularly and sourced from some of our favorite blogs! Hooray!! :)

My first surprise is that I think my approach may differ more than I initially anticipated to the most of the moms in the co-op.  Ultimately, I don't think the differences will make a huge impact on our experience.  But it's exciting to me to be exposed to so many different approaches.  I think the diversity will only make the group stronger.

One of the areas that I have noticed the most diversity is how each family approaches planning and prep time.  Here is how I manage both ...

Planning Time Vs. Prepping Time

Planning Time:
When I say knee deep in planning time.  It's on paper and on the computer.  I am using my planner printable to pop the concepts and ideas we are going to be working on into a structured plan.  I am reviewing my Signing Time, Montessori at Home, Young at Art and favorite blogs and other resources.  I am making a list of all the things we will need.  It is one of the only times I believe I truly plan without input from my little ones.

Prep Time:
I consider prep time a big part of learning time.  For that reason, I include my littles in almost all layers of prep time for activities.  For example, once I have the list of supplies we need we grab our magnifying glass and go on a scavenger hunt for the supplies we need.  If my little ones aren't into helping I don't force the issue.  But thus far ... they almost never, barring illness, aren't into helping.  If we need "play doh" for an activity they help me make it.  Prep time is full of practical skill and confidence building opportunity.  Yes, it can be a bit messy.  But I have found that it also helps to build excitement about the activity. 

I don't think or I should say I hope there isn't a right or wrong method.  Just a right method for each family and learning style :)  What is your method for prepping learning activities for or with your little?


Montesorri Monday: Laundry Day

My oldest has always loved laundry.  Typically, the clean clothes basket if unmanaged quickly, fast becomes a mountain to climb or a pile of leaves to hide in!  During our practical life activities we have been working on all sorts of things like sorting, pouring, and measuring during play.  But I decided it might be time to put some of that theory to work.  My little one loves to help me out around the house.  But sometimes slowing down enough to accept his help can be a challenge.  Realistically, there is a certain level of observation that will always be required when you are talking about ones so little taking on tasks that, frankly, can be so big that I have psych myself up them.  :) 

None-the-less we decided to add his laundry to my oldest to do lists.  He was ecstatic when I asked him if he wanted to wash his clothes!  He ran to his hamper, grabbed it and carried into the laundry room.  I lifted the basket to the top of the dryer and said okay drop your clothes in.  He had a blast!  And a memory of a good time for almost every outfit that went in.  Then we measured out the detergent and he poured it into the dispenser.  I pointed out which buttons to push and away we went!  We watched the clothes wash for quite a while.  We have a top loader so it would be impossible for my little to fish out the we clothes ... hehehe ... I can barely reach the small loads.  So when the wash cycle was done I pulled them into the hamper and had him toss them into the dryer.

Next step: Folding!  I am setting up a few play based activities to help us practice and develop the skill before adding that to his tiny to do's.  While it takes a bit more time and attention to accept little helpers, I have to admit that I actually look forward to doing the boys laundry now.  Primarily, because I have this adorable little one that asks me nearly every morning, "Is it Laundry Day?!?" Here is hoping that his enthusiasm lasts!!


Lego Duplo: Read and Build

I recently discovered an awesome thing called House Party.  Essentially, you apply to host a house party featuring a specific product or brand and they send you party favors & such to help you host an awesome event. The first party I applied to host was for a "Lego Duplo Read & Build Party".  Sadly, I didn't get picked to host the party.  But the application process got me totally jazzed to try out the product.  So I ordered LEGO DUPLO 6759 Busy Farm

The Verdict:
I was pleasently suprised by how engaging the book was and how simple it was to building the farm animals.  Each page has a diagram that shows the individual pieces needed to make the animals relevant to that page.  My oldest loved tracking down all the right pieces & popping them into place to create some of his favorite critters.  I placed the legos & the book in a little bowl in one of our activity cubbies.  The littles play with it daily! Read & Build Legos seem to me to be a pinch of puzzle solving pattern blocking, a dash of a good book, & loads of lego fun!

The Bonus...
Shortly after buying our first Read and Build set we got an invite to attend one of the Build and Read Parties provided by lego to our community.  It was a fantastic time!  It was so exciting watching all the little ones building and exploring the world of legos together.  Lego Duplo gets two thumbs up in my book for providing so many awesome opportunities for little ones to engage, learn and grow together!

The Extra Bonus ... I did get selected to host a Fisher Price Joy of Learning Playdate!  Keep your eyes posted for the Fisher Price awesomeness to come!!


Fatigue Fight Friday: Hydrating Me!

It's officially my First Mama Fatigue Fighting Friday Post!  One thing I know for sure as a nursing mama is that water matters!!  I recently read a study that indicating that "foggy-brain" and difficulty concentrating begins when the body is at only 3% dehydration.  That explains a lot!

As a mom, I always make sure to pack tons of water for my little ones.  I even pack water for myself.  But, I have noticed that I find it much easier to get distracted and forget hydrate myself.  When my son was nursing exclusively, I always followed the rule that I drank a glass of water every time he nursed.   I still grab a glass of water when I can while he nurses, but his nursing outside of bedtime is sporadic and waning. 

So here is my plan for the month of September, I am going to hydrate every time I hydrate the little ones.  I am also going to keep myself accountable by keeping a log on my phone.  Also, I think I am going to give some of these Aguas Frescas ideas a try!
Do you have any tips or tricks for ways to remember yourself throughout the day?


Mama Needs a Nap!

I hope if you have spent some time on my blog you realize that I adore being a mama!  I love my family! I even love my job!  But sometimes the grueling nature of the day-to-day, frankly, smacks me in the face.   I end up what I like to call, "Mama Road Kill".  I know it's graphic, but it quite adequately describes my flat lined energy level.

A few weeks ago, I was positively energy zapped and man oh man did I ever need a nap!  To be honest, it's not that common of a state for me.  I am an extravert by nature so being around people, especially fellow parents, typically leaves me feeling rested, inspired, and ready for another day.  But, I found myself on a thursday staring down a playdate like it had a pox.  I love PLAYDATES!  It had nothing to do with not really wanting to be there and everything to do with the foggy-groggy funk I was giving in to. 

The recipe went something like this: Take 1.5 weeks and add in four awesome work events, 2 your leading the whole sha-bang playdates, 2 twitter parties, 2 birthday parties, plus all the usual mama duties with 1 part stressful work email, 3 kiddo dr. appts (including allergy testing) and boom!  It was a knock out!  I find it strange even writing it.  Realistically, 91% of what was going on rocked. 

But, I was drained.  I made it to the playdate ... 15 minutes late and looking every bit the "Mama Road Kill" I was feeling.  My mommy friends are awesome and the playdate was wonderful.  None-the-less, it still barely made a dent in re-charging my dead as a doornail mama battery.  As I was heading back to the house thinking about the lunch I needed to make, naps to be navigated, diapers to washed, sheets to be changed, meetings yet to attend, and so on ... I started to consider just how much planning and contingency planning I do. I contingency plan for my little ones to have down time, mood swings and sick days.  I essentially do the same for my hubby.  I have strategies in place to ensure all the work gets done ... be it planned work or unexpected work.  What I don't have is a contingency plan to help me fight mama fatigue.  <insert gasp here> I know it's shocking!

When I had just one little in the house, and mama fatigue or the common cold hit, I actually followed the advice to nap when the baby napped or just go to bed "at his bedtime".  It worked wonders.  When it worked.  But with two in the house, differing sleep schedules and my to do list ever growing ... it just doesn't work for me anymore.  So the moral of the story is this ... I am on a mission to Fight Mama Fatigue! 

So is born Fatigue Fighting Friday!  Each Friday this month I am going to dedicate some of my WN blog time to testing and sharing my contingency plan for preventing and managing mama fatigue!  While I'm out there doing research I would love to hear some of your strategies!!  Leave your comments below and be sure to check back in on Friday!!


Sprout School Planner Printable

As promised, I have posted my planner page templates to the printables tab. The document includes four planning pages. See a brief description for each listed below.

Page 1: My Weekly Planner: This is my planner with the subject content areas and titles I currently use. 

Page 2: Goals & Observations: I use this little template to journal my experience with tot school activities.  In the first column (activity/skill) I list the activity, in the second (goals) what I think we will learn, in the third (observations) what we actually learn, and in the fourth (child interest) I note the interest of the littles.  (i.e. did the have fun with montessori activities are they choosing to self start the activity or are they actively using learn skills and knowledge.)

Page 3: Support Materials Check List: I use this list to double check that I have everything in house that I need for that weeks lesson.

Page 4: Weekly Planner Template: Based on a reader request I am providing a blank weekly planner template.  It is essentially my weekly planner without my content areas pre-popped.  Enjoy!


Montessori Monday: The Cubby Conundrum!

One of the first profound realizations I had upon reading my Montessori at Home curriculum was that my cubby system was not ideal for Montessori style teaching. I couldn't and honestly still can't imagine completely eliminating my labeled bins for storage. They are deep and help make the most of every square inch of that storage cube. We have two cubby bookshelves for our toy storage ... so rather than eliminate all of my bins. I split the difference. Arranging one with open shelves in a more Montessori friendly style.

At first, I was not thrilled. It seemed like regardless of how focused on demonstration and the 3 part lesson I was, the toys on the Montessori shelves ended up all over the house. Then I started paying attention to scale. For example, initially I placed all of the sand paper letters in their holder in one of the cubbies. We would use the mat, accomplish the three part lesson and have great success. My little would even put the letters away and roll up the mat ... but then later that day I would discover sand paper letters being used as snowboards. While it was thrilling ... I was growing tired of finding myself flying across my living room courtesy of a pile of sand paper letters all over the floor.

My solution was to scale sandpaper letters back to 3 or 4 focus letters in a tray. The result quietly but somehow dramatically changed the way I planned what was in our Montessori inspired cubbies. I began to be much more intentional about ensuring that the complete activity but nothing more was in each cubby. What's amazing ... is the planned environment did truly become another teacher in the room. Now the Montessori inspired cubbies are almost always the neatest and most used of our toys.

I still love our binned cubbies for storage. The littles have inspired play while grabbing toys out of them. They also give me a great "Oh my gosh who is at the door storage spot". But ultimately I now do believe they are a little more challenging to keep tidy than the Montessori cubbies. I can't believe I'm saying that! But it's true.

The new paradigm ...  Binned Cubbies = Great Accessible Storage : Montessori Inspired Cubies = Fun Learning in a Little Cubby!


Book Nook

We are participating in the Little Book Case Adventure in celebration of 2012 being the National Year of Reading (hehe ... in Australia).  Challenge one is about creating storage for your books.  We have books everywhere in our house ...  Bookshelves, baskets, and bins oh my!  But I had long been eyeing this little corner of our house .. thinking it would be a great spot to somehow get some extra book storage going.  Then I saw an awesome pintrest pin by "Mom of Two Little Monkeys", a terrific mom blog I just found.  In her post she used horse trough planters for toy storage and I was inspired.

Instead of painting the planters, I decided to sew a little liner for the bins out of some left over map fabric I had from the boys busy book project.  I wanted a liner because I felt it was needed to help books of all sizes stand up neatly and easily.

I used the coconut liner as a template, cut the fabric, sewed it together with a bit of batting in between and popped them into the troughs.  Finally, I added a quick whip stich of yarn around the top of the trough to attach the liner securely to the planter.

I use some heavy duty butterfly screws to anchor the planters into the wall.  Happily I had them on hand from another project.  I would recommend if you have adventurous little ones to go ahead and invest in getting some heavier duty mounting screws than come with the planter.  :)  This is a super quick easy and fun project and challenge one is away!! 

In case you are interested in getting some of your own book or toy storage under way here is the link to the troughs we ordered from amazon:CobraCo HTR36-B 36-Inch English Horse Trough Planter, Black

P.S. Check out the flying book mobile I made out of one of my hubby's worn out but well loved childhood books.  More to come on how to make your own... post to follow soon! :)

The Wasting Nothing Philosophy

Playing, cooking, reading, exploring, loving, laughing, and making a mess with your little one is NEVER a waste of time! It is priority one! It's not just about getting to know your little one. It's about letting your little one get to know you!