Each year about this time I get the uncontrollable urge to purge - to clear out cupboards and, in true "Messie Manual" style, pack away, give away, throw away. While I was sorting through one particularly messy corner cupboard, the little ones were becoming increasingly irritable and bored. I had just put aside two old phone books I was going to put in the trash later, but decided to have a little cheap fun with it first. The children were SHOCKED to see me tear out pages with gay abandon and merrily throw them in the air. But it only took them a second or two to recover, and they jumped right in and joined me! Belly-giggles and jolly shrieks galore!!
Oh my goodness, did we have fun this afternoon!!! A while ago I wrote down a recipe for clean mud, and when boredom seemed to be looming on the horizon earlier today, I rallied the troops and we all had a hoot making a batch of the stuff.
Here's the recipe:
Tear about 1 and 1/2 rolls of toilet paper into squares and place in a large, shallow tub.
Grate half a bar of white baby soap, and add to the toilet paper.
Add about 5 cups of warm water.
Stir with your hands until creamy. It will take about 15 minutes to get a really creamy consistency, but the little people got impatient, so we quit after about 7 minutes and got on with playing!
I put them in the bath tub with the tub-o'-mud between them and they had a blast! (Next time we will do it outside, though, as the soap made it all very slippery)
I was surprised at how well the mud kept it shape - it felt like working with a nice, creamy clay. We made a batch of mud pies, and even a tower. The highlight was when I hosed them down with the shower head afterwards!!
There was little dots of clean mud EVERYWHERE, because we had SO much fun squelching it between our fingers and watching it fly! I don't DARE suggest it until they are much older, but this stuff will make the best ever kleilatte! (I am not sure if there is an English word for this?) As children we used pot clay to make a little ball which we formed around the tip of a willow branch and used as ammunition in kleilat-battles!! I know there must be someone just about fainting at this suggestion, but we spent many a Friday afternoon squealing with the excitement of a kleilat-battle, and proudly showing off our bruises afterwards.
So here's the situation: We have ONE step stool, and TWO eager dish washers in this household. It DOES NOT work to try and have them stand side-by-side to help me do the dishes.
So one morning earlier this week, just as I had started to carry the breakfast dishes to the sink, the two bambinos eyed each other suspiciously for a moment. and then both made a bee-line for the bathroom to see who would get to the stool first. Sweetpea is faster, but Arrow curled himself around that stool like a little octopus and w-o-u-l-d... n-o-t... l-e-t... g-o!!!!
So I gingerly stepped over their writhing, hysterical bodies and fetched two plastic tubs, which I promptly filled with warm soapy water and tiny sponges. Instant smiles all around as I tied the aprons on, and off they went, merrily washing their toys dishes.
Of course, I should have guessed that they would wriggle themselves out of their clothes at the first opportunity...
...and it was just a matter of time before she climbed in!
Needless to say, I got the dishes done, and some admin, and had a cup of tea all by myself while sitting down!! thanks to the sudsy fun they were having.
And afterwards I dried those gorgeous little bodies with a fluffy towel and my heart skipped a beat at the joy of smelling their early-morning-sun-bathed skins and feeling the joy just oozing out of them as they hugged my neck...
When Summer finally reached our shores, I was so thrilled that I decided for just a few days to try and forget about the horrible additives and other yucky stuff on the ingredients list of a tub of ice-cream, and we celebrated the warm weather with some sweet coolness!
Sweetpea has been very interested lately in the way ice cubes 'disappear' in her drinking glass, so we started our Ice Cream Days by observing things that melt: an ice-cube and a small scoop of vanilla ice-cream was left on the kitchen counter, and every few minutes we would go check on what was happening. And this super simple scientific exercise cleared up the mystery and added a few more words to her vocabulary!
We practiced counting and recognising the number of dots with a home-made ice-cream cone game I made out of felt. The die is a polystyrene cube and I only drew on one, two and three dots, since we are currently working on those.
On Sunday afternoon the Dad took us for soft serves at the beach, but Mama forgot to bring the camera!!
However, there was plenty of tasting opportunities during the rest of the week!
Ice-cream on a stick...
Ice-cream from a tub, eaten with a little wooden spoon...
And even some yummy chocolate and hazelnut flavoured frozen yoghurt!
Sweetpea was DELIGHTED when she woke up from her nap one afternoon to find that she had become the proprietor of an ice-cream stand!
Its just a large box covered with butcher paper, two bamboo stakes I use for my tomato plants and little bowls of pretend ice-cream things!
The wind got a bit wild, though, so we moved our premises indoors, which means all paying customers could now also sit down at our cafe table to enjoy their desert!
I folded the cones from biscuit-coloured cardboard, and stapled it together. The ice-cream is extra large pom-poms, and the cherries are small pom-poms through which I stuck a pin. Sweetpea knows how to work with pins, but I removed these when ArrowBoy woke up.We also had paper napkins, but they were used by the very messy customers when I took the photo below. That chubby little hand is reaching into our 'cash drawer' for some change.
"No, you can't have pizza, it says ICE-CREAM, right there!"
He bore a little hole with his finger in the pack of lentils, and returned to it several times that day, 'spreading the love' all around the kitchen floor, until I finally had to toss the bag and find a lidded container for the remaining lentils! (which is now kept way out of reach). Lovely sensory experience though! *wink, wink!*
Sweetpea and her friend Little E love to paint, so when they took a break from water painting the outside walls during a recent play date, I got out the Real Thing and they had fun making bubble bears!
I stuck two rectangles of bubble wrap to the small table, and the girls then painted it brown.
Then they pressed cardboard teddy shapes onto the wrap and carefully lifted it off.
They used foam circles and googly eyes to decorate their teddies. Since Little E is not quite two yet and was heading the right way for glueing Papa Bear's eye onto his foot, I put a little drop of white glue where the eyes and 'buttons' had to go, and she just had to aim and stick down! They were very impressed with their teddies and was tickled pink when I used them as 'puppets' to tell the story of Goldilocks!
I had planned a coin polishing activity for Sweetpea as a Practical Life excercise for this week.
I set it up as follows:
Coins, a paste made from bicarb of soda and water, water for rinsing with a drop of white vinegar added, polishing cloth, an old toothbrush and a glass jar for cleaned coins.
Sweetpea loved this activity! The highlight was the way the coin fizzed as soon as the bicarb reacted with the vinegar!! :-) It was great for introducing new vocabulary: shiny and dull, scrub, bicarb of soda, polish etc.
I had not planned any further than just the cleaning, but she started noticing the pictures on the coins, and soon was sorting them enthusiastically. We casually spoke about the National Symbols represented on each, and I was impressed by how quickly she cottoned on to the fact that this is "South Africa's flower/bird/etc". She immediately made the connection that these symbols were similar to the national flag, thanks to the flag crafts we did around the time of the Soccer World Cup.
She sorted the coins according to picturesand size first, and then we arranged them from shiniest to dullest! We also counted each row to see how many of each value there was. I made a point of calling the coins by their value and picture names, eg, "Let's count the 5 cents with the Blue Crane on." At the moment I am not at all concerned about teaching her number symbols - I feel it is far more important to first understand how many five are, than recognising an abstract symbol.
She then decided to stack them, so I just sat back and enjoyed!
After all this we sat back and basked in the glow of all the magnificent learning that had just taken place. These are moments that seem to almost transcend the need for words. There we are, a mama and her daughter, blissfully satisfied, almost as after a wonderful meal, with a knowing little smile around the corners of our mouths, and a glint in our eyes: "I know you know that we know more now than we did before!!" We were really just in our little house, playing around with some coins, and yet...We were together someplace magical. And I will not trade these moments with my child for ANYTHING in the world - not status or money or pretty shoes or designer clothes or fantastic holidays or to do my grocery shopping at Woolies. I will go threadbare and hungry if only I can continue feasting on these moments of love, and warm myself at the fire of the light in my children's eyes. And I thank God for a husband that values this, too.
Our friend Little E came over for a play date on Tuesday. She's just become a big sister and since we know what a lot of work a newborn can be, we thought she could do with a break, so we had her over for a morning of fun in the sun!
I filled a bucket with lovely cool water, the girls each grabbed a paint brush, and for the rest of the morning they happily painted our outside wall!
Such a nice, big canvas - so much room for artistic expression!
ArrowBoy was having his nap while all this was going on, but after Little E had gone home, he just took over where she had left off.
Sweetpea then moved her attention to the rest of the garden...
And the house...
It is now two days later and they are still at it! I just top up the bucket from time to time, and grin from ear to ear as I manage to tick things off my to do list at alarming speed, while the bambinos are so happily occupied with this super-simple pastime!
Sweetpea (now 34 months old) was about nine months old when I first read Montessori From the Start, by Paula Polk Lillard and Lynn Lillard Jessen. This book has profoundly influenced the way I mother my young children, specifically with regard to fostering independence. One of the cornerstones of Montessori education is to not do for a child what she can do herself. It has also encouraged us to teach our children the 'correct' way from the start - i.e we never use potties, but train the children on the proper toilet from the start (we do use a set of steps with an attached seat that makes it easier for them to get on, and prevent them from falling in, but Sweetpea very soon grew tired of this and preferred just using the toilet without gadgets); we've never used bottles or sippy cups (I breastfeed, so we don't need bottles, and we've been teaching the children to drink from tiny glasses from about 7 or 8 months old); and of course by the time ArrowBoy came around, we had aslo ditched the traditional baby cot, and my boy is thriving on his 'montessori bed' - you can read more about our cot-free baby room here.
The motivation behind all this is a respect for each child as an individual person, who needs to gain independence in order to be free to learn and explore this wide and wonderful world in an unconstrained manner. In a practical, everyday sense it means that my daughter can go to any toilet without fear or issues, I don't have to carry a plethora of drinking devices with me everytime we go out, and my son has never had to stand screaming in a cot, waiting for someone to pick him up. In fact, because he can freely get out of his bed whenever he is ready, and because his toys are on a low shelf within his reach, he most often wakes up cheerful and keeps himself occupied with books and toys until he is ready for me to come get him, at which point he will knock on the door!
One of the most beautiful results of this approach is the fact that our children can, for the most part, keep themselves occupied. When children are given the freedom to function at their own pace in a prepared environment (see * below), it results in them confidently engaging with their surroundings, exploring and choosing activities which appeal to them. It encourages free-play and creativity AND, although this is not the main aim, a definite fringe benefit is the fact that it allows Mama some time to get stuff done!!
My goodness, all of that, and all I actually wanted to say was that I love the fact that my children can play independently!! And that I am always impressed by how creative they can get when left to their own devices for a while. Point in case: I was catching up on some reading this afternoon while Sweetpea was quietly playing with a fresh batch of playdough. We often play with this medium and both the children love pinching and prodding and rolling it. But in the past I have either been playing with them (see examples of some of our play dough fun here, here and here!), or they simply rolled it out and pressed out shapes with cookie cutters. When I got it out for Sweetpea today, she wanted only the dough and had been playing contentedly for a long time when she quietly called me over for a look.
There were two odd shapes with a tiny ball near the end of each: "That's a mama dinosaur and that's her eye, and that's a Sweetpea dinosaur and that's her eye." I could just kiss her!! Where on earth she's learnt about dinosaurs I don't know, but there's definitely a bit on Bronto going on here, don't you think??
Oh, and the outfit...another result of blossoming independence and blooming creativity!!
*The term 'prepared environment' is mostly used when referring to the child-friendly and beautiful way in which Montessori classrooms are set up to invite exploration and make it easy for a child to function in an area where furniture and activities are suited to his physical proportions and intellectual needs. But it can also be true of a home environment where children have access to a variety of learning experiences, and their personal spaces are set up in a way that encourages independence. An example would once again be a Montessori bed: my son can get in and out of bed without help, and his books and favourite toys are on a low shelf where he has access to it. I often find him sitting on his bed thoughtfully 'reading' a favourite picture book!