We have moved into our new home + one of the first things I started to design was the kid's playroom. Actually prob started to before I even had kids 🙈Being an educator, I used to love designing my classroom. It needed to be aesthetically pleasing (who doesn't like things to look nice 💁🏼) but everything needed a purpose. We all learn visually + through our environment. Our playroom was going to be no different.
I decided to put the playroom in our 3rd living area which is surrounded by the boy's bedrooms and has access to outside (we live on acreage so it is important they have lots of outdoor play too). I didn't want toys in their bedrooms, as that is for rest/sleep and reading. The playroom is designed for them to be a place to learn, have fun, create, socialise, share and explore together. So I also wanted the playroom to flow with the decor of our house which was really easy to do. It is probably one of my favourite rooms.
In designing the room, I used Montessori's philology of education. Which very much directs my choice of 'toys'. The space is indicative of their age (0-2years) it will develop and change as they reach milestones and get older. It is very important that the room accommodates for both stages of learning but also provides opportunities for older children to teach/lead younger children.
So at the moment it is simple, not cluttered, not overly simulating, creative and materials which encourage their gross motor skills and imaginative play.
I could write so much about this but today I will keep it simple and as I will change things as the boys grow, I will share loads more resources and explanations on creating the most effective playroom for your children.
What is Montessori in a nut shell:
It is a view of the child that is naturally eager for knowledge and capable of initiating learning in a supportive, thoughtfully prepared learning environment. It is an approach that values the human spirit and the development of the whole child—physical, social, emotional, cognitive. In early childhood, Montessori students learn through sensory-motor activities, working with materials that develop their cognitive powers through direct experience: seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching, and movement.
Theme: Montessori / Wooden / Greys/White + Black
I will explain certain elements of the Montessori principals when I describe certain areas of the playroom. Wooden is based on the toy selection (see 'toys' section).
Colour: a splash of green
Just a little bit which is great for concentration.
Monochrome tones with grey are the best for 0-2years especially for babies as it sends strong visual cues to the baby's brain which helps with faster brain growth. For toddlers it is a good base colour scheme so they aren't distracted or over stimulated and can focus on the specific task at hand. It allows them to really focus on the toys or activity and allow for creative expression as it 'declutters' their brain. Especially useful for gifted children.
Physical (gross motor):
At this age, gross motor is really the focus. The centre of the playroom is our slide. The best investment piece I have ever purchased. The moment this enter the playroom, Hunter's gross motor skills sky rocketed. Hunter is a very early talker and communicator but very late walker. He is overly cautious. Babies that tend to be advanced in one area lack in another as they put all their energy into acquiring and perfecting that skill. Since having the slide Hunter's confidence has grown. His sense of adventure has sky rocketed. He started to climb very early on and the slide really assisted with his balance. It has also helped with concentration.. He will go up and down all day long. It has helped with his strength and creativity. Without any prompting he will get his pinch toys and use the slide as a race track, use pillows to slide down, or climb up it. An investment piece I highly recommend as it also promotes being active in an often sedentary environment.
This is part of the boy's Christmas present which I haven't included yet however I can't wait to blog on this. Very important for gross motor and creativity.
All the way from Belarus in Eastern Europe. These beautiful Eco friendly wooden robed toys are a must for hand eye coordination. The learning opportunities are endless.
The Cow and Car.
Great as a push and pull toy. Imaginative play and sensory stimulation with the ears. Prompts animal and creative play. Helps with balance and gross motor.
Social + Emotional:
The rug (work mat).
The main representation of this is respect. We are developing children as a whole. This is why I love Montessori, we learn academics but we also learn emotional intelligence (will do a seperate blog on this). The purpose of the floor mat/rug and tables is to define the child's workspace and to reinforce Montessori's principle of "freedom within limits". There is such an element of respect with having that defined workspace and it is something that children take very seriously. I teach Hunter how to walk around the mat, how to place his toys on the mat and eventually how to respect one another’s personal workspace. This also reinforces that it is never okay to disturb another person's work. The mat is a place, where Hunter get's direct learning from me or a place to sit and listen or to focus on a specific task. This will change as he gets older but he already knows to sit and listen to mummy when on the mat. It is 'shhhh' time. I may read him a book or show him how a new toy is used. It also is the space we clean up together. This makes children feel safe, have a sense of ownership and responsibility (yes you can do this and start teaching this from 6months). I will also place the baby's playmat on here which will teach Hunter that he can't invade or jump all over his brother. He has to learn to share the space and be gentle. The playmat is stimulating for a newborn and it is his learning time. I've started to introduce the playmat already on the rug and show Hunter it is gentle/quite time. This really helps children understand boundaries which helps with their self esteem. Also has he gets older, on the mat, we take turns and not talk over people. I used to use these in my classroom and we used to say it was the 'safe mat'. We could talk about anything and everything. It wouldn't leave the mat, the mat wasn't judging and no one could make fun of any one else on the mat (works really well with children around year 5/6 as well as younger of course). Great way to get children to express their feelings and emotions.
The reading nook.
Reading. A huge part of learning. Something very dear to my heart, as my late mother was an avid reader. Something I instil in my children. Reading encourages imagination, expression of emotions, language development, promotes learning about others and our world. I started to read to my boys in the womb and now we read everyday together. A book can be the stimuli to all learning activities. I also started every lesson with a book.
The tables in the reading nook are the size for Hunter to be able to get up and down himself to promote independence. I bought a piece of chalk sticker and put it in the centre of the table, so he can freely draw and create but knows the boundaries.
The shelf is really important and will change as he grows. At this stage, it is a place to put the books we are currently reading and learning about. It is a space to share the focus of our learning.
The family height chart.
Where we will create memories over the years, sharing how much we have grown and what we have learnt from the last time we measured ourselves.
The train track mat.
A place to share. A place for creativity and imagination. A train track is great for enforcing space and sharing as it is one way. Children must learn to cooperate when using it. At the moment it is helping Hunter with his hand eye coordination.
When I was at uni one of the first 'arrhaa' moments was wall stimuli. Children or adults, zone out. No stopping it and it is encouraged for relaxation and self esteem. In a classroom, children will zone out which is perfectly normal. Hence why the walls are covered with stimuli. Because if they are 'zoning out' they are at least absorbing information visually. When I was learning Japanese, I put words and phrases all over the house to help me remember. Even without trying, constant recognition triggers the brain into learning. As this is a playroom designed for 0-2 you don't want to over stimulate which is equally as important. So the ABC board is important for recognition of letters. We point to the sounds when we are reading. As Hunter gets older and focuses on letter recognition, phonics and word combinations, I will remove the letters to put on our focus shelf or put a piece of coloured (green) paper behind the letter we are focusing on, that is why I chose this specific piece.
This is what makes up most of the playroom. As children learn through play which evokes imagination, problem solving and creativity. It relates to the real world. This will change as the boys get older especially into dress ups, cooking stations, shops etc. However at this stage the focus is on wooden toys.
Not for looks at all (even though it is an added bonus they look great). Montessori philosophy is based on natural, realistic, creativity and simplicity. So pretty much everything is wooden expect books. So no plastic, natural products that are healthy and safe. They foster creativity exploration and imagination appose to plastic which does the 'thinking' for them ...no flashing things or bright colours which distract children and halter imagination. Also not too many is really important - too many toys is really bad for development. It confuses children. It also makes children not explore or problem solve and have a short attention span (eg if they get bored or can't work out a toy or problem, they chuck it to one side and just get another toy) rather than persisting or creatively thinking with one. Also makes them look after them and teaches them how to not over endulge (which also helps and links with healthy eating etc). The more things we have in a life (especially toys for children as it is their main focus) is promoting excess and greed which isn't healthy. There is a great article below which explains how parents can clear out / purge their playroom to make space for the right learning. The basic understanding is toys that are open ended, natural/wooden, encourage gross motor (not jolly jumpers - terrible for children under 2 or walkers) they claim to help with gross motor but they do the opposite. Often you find children walk on their tip toes, have hip problems down the track and does the exact opposite of exploring as it confines a child.
These include blocks, memory games, model animals, creative building materials, dress ups, shops and art supplies. The abacus is a great way to introduce mathematics for children to explore numbers, patterns and sorting. The little wander game board is great for gross motor and problem solving.
There is a great article below discussing birth-5 year old toy list. I have also included my favourite toys which promote all of the above.
It was important the boys have somewhere to store their toys which was neat and easily accessible (they can easily access them independently). My uncle made it for them which makes it even more special. The race track on the front is at their level and allows for another learning feature. Hunter already knows to put his toys in the toy chest after we have played. It is on wheels too so he can push it around.
A beautiful illustration to remind the boys of how little they were, when they first came into the world and remind them each time of how much they have grown. A beautiful stylish keepsake. Can't wait to get bubba number 2's done and put up when he is born. Also reinforces that this is their space.
Remember a play room is meant to be fun, but thoughtfully planned to help, support, nurture and guide your children to develop their gifts and talents and work on their weaknesses. As parents, we are their first teachers. Don't leave it solely up to educators at school.
Parents are teachers, and home is a child's first and most important classroom - Hilary Clinton
Slide: Jupiduu via Minimacko
Roped Bear: Lalka Store
The Cow: Wheely Bugs via Dreamy Kidz
The Car: David Jones
World mat/rug: Oyoy Designs via Minimacko
Play mat: Papoose_playmats
Tables + Chairs + Shelf: Kmart
Chalk board sticker: Ikea
Reading Nook sign: JiMi Official
Family height chart: Grandad Pat's Treasure Trove
Train track mat: Oyoy Designs via Minimacko
Train track: Ikea
ABC wall art: Ziink_interiors
Birth Print: Aniky
Large pillow: My little joy
Wooden toys (my favourites):
Vines of the wild (value blocks, memory discs)
Milestones and Mayhem (little wander game board, abacus)
Minimacko (Le Toy Van (real life food), Grimms stacking toys and wooden puzzles and toys, a variety of wooden toys).
Monkeynmoo (Pinch toy cars and a variety of wooden toys)
Bello Baby (Wooden shape sorter)
Jolly and Co (Wooden toy camera)
Links to articles:
Montessori - purging toys:
Toy list: birth to age 5
The parent's task is to first nourish and assist, to watch, encourage, guide, induce, rather than to interfere, prescribe, or restrict - Maria Montessori
Being a teacher, I have always been so excited from the moment I set foot in university, to one day to be able to teach my own children. I don't mean at school I mean using my skills I have learnt + being able to implement them at home. I remember whilst study, thinking to myself, it should be mandatory for all parents to do this degree or at the very least a course on childhood development and psychology.
Hunter is starting to get to an age I can start and do more structured activities. I have been teaching him the day he was born and have been adjusting according to his age. Even though he is still little there are certain things we can do. My learning approach at school is the same at home. A Montessori philosophy which is based on life skills (developing and nurturing the child as a whole firstly - manners, emotional intelligence, empathy, problem solving, kindness) and activities that relate to the real world, focusing on the child's strengths whilst creating an arena that supports and works on their weaknesses (yep! Even at 15months old!). I will do a blog post soon on our Montessori-inspired playroom and toys we use (mainly wooden - not just for aesthetics).
Today I want to share how to start activities for younger children whether it is a play date or an activity with your own child at home. We had a play date with my two nieces and nephew and the theme was Father's Day. Hope you find these tips useful!
Be organised + have a schedule:
I am all for creative + imaginative play and allowing children to direct their own learning. Playing for hours in the dirt, in the pool, in their playroom, riding bikes etc. But today I am talking about a structured activity or play date. Where you have a clear learning intention and goal for your child or their friends to complete. If you are having guests, let them know what time you would like them there. It is important for structured activities to have a time frame especially for younger children who still may have naps. It is important to stop for snacks as children use a lot of energy. Also rule of thumb - attention span is based on their age. Eg. A 2 year old has an attention span of 2 minutes, 5 year old = 5 minutes. Have all your materials organised and set up and food prepared before they arrive, as this makes the day flow easier and accommodates for accidents or new learning opportunities. Even though it is important to have a schedule, be flexible for the activity to go in its own direction. Watch how your child responds, if they are really enjoying something don't stop, go with it.
Have a theme + focus:
This just helps to create excitement for learning plus allows you to focus on what you want your child to achieve. It doesn't have to be complicated, it can simply be, to use scissors, to share resources or to make a Father's Day card!
Be clear and set expectations:
Kids love to know what they are doing and what is expected of them. It creates a safe environment. When they arrive or when you start your activity, tell them what the theme is and what they will be doing/making and how you expect them to behave. For example; we will be making Father's Day cards (4 each, one for Dad, grandfathers and an uncle). When you have finished with paint on your hands, put your hand up and an adult can help you wash it off, only one person can use the scissors at time etc. For older children (from 3+) I use a traffic light system which I will write a seperate blog post on later.
Provide examples of your activity:
This is so important and often skipped (at home and in the classroom). Whilst it is important to remind kids that they can do their craft how they like, providing an example is a visual example of what you are teaching them. Learning shouldn't be a 'guessing' game, it should be an opportunity to practise a new skill. For Father's Day craft, make or print out examples of different options they can make, remind them they aren't limited to these though!
Protective clothing + wipes:
Make life easier and have kids in smocks, plastic table clothes, old towels, buckets to wash hands and wipes all readily available! This will save your life. You want a fun and relax environment for play and learning, not a chaotic one.
Snacks + Food:
Have snacks and lunch prepared. Depending on the length of activity and age of child, I usually like to stop for morning tea but if your activity is short and lunch will be served soonish, have a plate of healthy snacks with some treats (optional). Have them scattered on the table with drink bottles. Sometimes children get distracted because they are just simply thirsty. In the classroom I always let kids have their water bottles on their table. Imagine if you weren't allowed to have a drink bottle on your desk at work and only allowed to eat or drink when you were told to. This keeps energy levels up and allows for the shorter attention span. Have a healthy lunch prepared! Have the table set nicely seperate from the activity area. Watch them ate, after a full morning of learning!!!
Know activity level according to age but don't restrict! Open-ended tasks:
For this particular activity we had 2x 4 year olds, 1x 2 year and 1x 15month old. So very varied. But very manageable. With the younger children still show them the end product and let them choose colours (language development is a must) and pointing out tools (scissors, glue, paint). The older children let them choose what they want to make. Cleaning up is definately part of the activity. Just because children are the same age doesn't mean they have the same abilities, strengths or weaknesses. One child might get overwhelmed with all the cleaning up, give them a specific task and praise them when they complete it. For example, pack up all the red items rather than all the paints. Also remember don't restrict children's learning. Let them take the lead. Rather than saying colour in the card, allow them to choose the materials, or how they want to create the card (example they may want a circle or heart shaped and paste pieces of paper together). And let them do it, assist but don't do or over take!
Provide choice but not too much:
Don't go out and buy every piece of craft activity in Kmart. Less is more. Allow children to choose how they want to create or make but don't overwhelm them. This is really important with toys too. When children have too many choices, they don't learn problem solving as if something doesn't work they will just move onto the next and it limits creativity. It also encourages greed. Teach them sustainability from a young age.
Get dirty!!! Let them get covered in paint. Let's them play in the dirt. Let the play room or activity be a mess. Part of the activity is cleaning together after. Know their limits. Obviously a 15month old can't write therefore let them have fun creating, scribbling, painting and you can write the message for them later, don't think they have to do it all.
Share their work:
Probably one of the most important steps. Whether it is for a gift or a scribble drawing. Share their work with each other, wrap it together in a gift, take a photo of it or put it on the fridge. When children see their work is appreciated and has a purpose, learning becomes meaningful and worthwhile.
As an educator my philosophy for teaching was personalised learning. I always wanted to create an arena for children to celebrate their strengths + work on their weaknesses in a loving + nurturing environment. Open ended tasks that allow children to navigate their learning using creativity + imagination as key forces. An environment which encourages individualism whilst embracing a family community. Activities that are related to the real world + learnt for a purpose. Every activity must have a purpose! As a mother, I want nothing less for my children. Montessori is one learning tool I particularly encouraged and am designing my children's playroom based on these principles (blog post to come on this soon).
When Hunter was about 6 months old, my routine (still now) is flexible yet structured. Again, he leads the way, I help him navigate it. This is really important for self esteem and social + emotional development. From an early age this is really important. There is an abundance of research on children who are stressed or anxious resulting in learning delays, even if they are gifted. High levels of stress affect a person's ability to fully reach their potential. When a child feels comfortable, respected, and safe they have the opportunity to tap into their talents.
Pre-baby I heard a lot of parents say, my 18 month old can count or she can count to 30 before starting school. Whilst number recall is great, this is such a common error for parents, as they focus on teaching their children to learn through memory rather than number recognition and working mathematically (numbers with purpose). Their children skid through kindergarten then around year 2, they are starting to see cracks in their children's learning and education. When we focus on memory based learning, children have no connection to it. So when you ask a child to start counting from 11 or backwards from 15, they are very confused. This is just a small example of children not connecting with their learning. Later on, learning becomes a chore + the love is gone.
Learning needs to be fun, whilst having a purpose. I love adventure days. So for H, we try and break our week up, so can get my things done without feeling that Mama guilt. We have a day we leave for appointments, a day for cleaning + groceries, a day for structured learning, an adventure day + a nothing day (in which we do just that and no guilt is endured!). I will talk about each day later on. Some weeks we double on appointments or 'nothing' days (just depends what is happening).
Today I want to talk about adventure days. This is where you get out of the house + allow your child to explore. I start by writing three lists every 6 months.
Adventure days for
My hubby loves to cook so on the weekends, he likes to take charge. This is something he likes doing with Hunter for mummy. Sometimes we will have breakfast out or they will cook. They spend time, making the plate look nice, setting the table and choosing something different to cook each week. This is teaching your child, to think of others, selflessness, of course the endless learning opportunities that come with cooking and organisation. They really take the time to make it presented nicely, which has endless creative learning opportunities.
Church / gratitude
We start most Sundays with going to Mass. We are Catholic and pray as a family all the time. But if you aren't religious, you can always start with sitting around in a circle in the backyard and saying what you are all grateful for. You could each get a leaf and as you place your leaves on top of each other in a circle state what you are grateful for. You can do this with baby, we always pray on behalf of Hunter, they are learning ritual, calmness, community, language development, taking turns, respecting others, and in time, gratitude.
We then went to my uncle's farm. Endless learning adventures here and will change as Hunter grows up but in this particular day we focused on 3 things. Animals, fruit + veg and leaves. We walked around the animals and let him hear their sounds. We counted the rabbits together. He held the rabbits. He felt their soft fur and rough feet. Textures are very important for infants. We pointed out their body parts and how they are the same/different to Hunter's. We let him play.
We picked the lemons, oranges and the pumpkins from the vines. We felt the textures, and smelt the different aromas. Hunter was getting recognition that food doesn't just come from a supermarket. We ate the orange straight away. We talked about the colours and different sizes. For Hunter it is about experience + language development. They are learning more than you realise. Don't ever 'dumb' down your language for a child. I never stop talking to Hunter. from the moment he was born, I explain everything to him and describe it in detail. I think this has had a huge affect on his language development as he said his first word at 5 months and by 12 months was saying 10 words and putting words together.
We played in the leaves and collected them off the floor. I put the leaves next to my hand and compared the veins. Here it is showing how they are a living thing. We took some leaves for our craft for during the week.
Food is such an important part to our family. Whether it is growing it, cooking together or eating a family meal together. Sunday lunch is important. We like to eat at home but also like to try new places. We don't choose kid friendly places, we are teaching that we can all eat together, and if Mum + Dad are enjoying themselves so will baby. I really wanted to try the Shaggy Cow in Mittagong (Southern Highlands, NSW). It recently won cafe of the year. Taking children out to a cafe has endless learning opportunities. Decisiveness (what to choose to eat), talking about ingredients and where the food came from, adding the total of the bill, table manners (manners in general when ordering or receiving a meal). The list goes on. For Hunter, we always try and get him something new to try or give me some of our meal too (just to ensure he is always adventurous with food). We than make sure we repeat thank you when food is delivered. I will write about manners in a different post (so many people 'blame' children for not having manners. This is a parent's responsibility + a learnt behaviour). We then talked about the cows in the pictures and try focusing on anything that is a little different.
Picnic in the lounge room
When we got home we made a bed up in the lounge room and the three of us cuddled and had dinner on the rug. I recently read an article on affection. Their research had summarised that affection is innately part of a person. However, if a child was not shown affection during childhood they are more likely to not be affectionate with others or their own children regardless if they are innately affectionate. If a child isn't affectionate by nature but is showered with affection growing up, they will show affection to others and their children. Therefore, it is a learnt behaviour. What a beautiful gift you can give your child, from the moment they are born.
Adventure days set up our learning for the next week. For this particular adventure day we focused on drawing/painting leaves, cooking with pumpkins, lemons + oranges, and reading books on animals. Adventure days are to be looked forward to and something special. As children get older they can help plan the day and even run it. Another important point is, if you feel your child needs to work on a particular area (eg. social skills or gross motor) incorporate this into your day, so they always have an opportunity to practise these skills in differing environments. Have fun, do things you enjoy, your children learn from you as their first teacher.
I can't wait to get started on my Little Learners corner. We will be talking about activities to do with your newborn + toddler, how to instil a love of learning in your children, how to use technology effectively + the educational apps for iPads, reward + consequence systems, gifted education, behavioural challenges, eportfolios, how to pick a school, what to ask teachers at parent/teacher interviews, healthy recipes and so much more. But today I want to start with a really easy activity you can do with children of any age, using technology.
Technology is a fabulous, enriching, challenging tool - when used correctly. If used just as a babysitter, than you can create many problems for your children. I will be talking a lot about technology throughout my posts, it was an area I specialised in as an educator and whilst working along side Google Education.
So your child, niece, cousin, friend's child wants to play with your phone - all.the.time. Technology isn't going anywhere and it is getting bigger + better. We use it everyday + it is guaranteed to be in your child's future. Learn to love it and what it can do for your child. Learn how to use it effectively.
This activity can be modified from a newborn to a toddler to a primary aged student to a high school student.
Always give an activity a purpose and relate it to the real world. This is 101 in creating a love for learning. Make sure your child can see a purpose in the activity, no matter how big or small. Create a movie for a special occasion (Dad's 30th, Grandfather's 60th, Grandma's retirement, Aunty's baby shower, Cousin's wedding, Mum's new job - remember no matter how big or small).
This will differ according to age however generally
-mathematical (spatial / patterns / time) determining how long a scene needs to go for
-social and emotional needs (planning, editing, working with others, creating something for someone else)
-technology (recording, editing, saving, importing)
iPad or iPhone
Materials around the house: pen + paper, photos
Depending on your time and age of the child involved this could be created in a day, over a week (worked on for an hour a day), over a month. Make sure you leave enough time for planning and editing.
1. Decide on your 'purpose (Dad's 30th)
2. Plan with your children (newborn - you will do the planning, but from 3 up, children can help with planning)
-planning is always good to do on butchers paper or scrap paper - make it big and visual
3. Planning - will you have photos? Actions? Words? Songs? Locations? Make sure you encourage independence + give your child jobs that they are in charge of
4. Create - record or video with your device
5. Edit - using the imovie app, insert your videos, images + music
6. Save your work
7. You could purchase a hard-drive or create a simple blog to store your movies you create, so you always have a copy + it will be a great record of how your child has grown + developed over the years
8. CELEBRATE - this is the most important step. Even if the video doesn't turn out great, make sure you all sit as a family with popcorn + watch the movie together,
- In the beginning you will have to be more hands-on but depending on the child's age, your child could work on certain sections by themselves which they will love the independence and opportunity to work on their own mini project (independent activities can range from creating an artwork for the movie to creating and recording a song or editing the movie).
I would love to see any movies you make, please email or share with me in the comments below.