## Sorting: Montessori Style Tray Activities

Here are some more Montessori style tray activities for sorting. These are a little more open-ended and follow on from sorting experiences already presented (Click here for an explanation of how to introduce and sequence sorting experiences and here for the follow-on with 4 and 5 category sorting ideas.)

DESCRIPTION:

• The child uses the plates to sort the plastic cutlery according to their chosen attribute. There is more than one way to sort the cutlery and once children have sorted one way (usually by colour) I ask them to see if they can do it another way (by type; knives, forks, small and large spoons.)

CATEGORY/SUBJECT AREA:

• Mathematics

CONCEPT/SKILL:

• Sorting, classifying, identifying attributes

EQUIPMENT & MATERIALS:

• 4 plates
• 4 sets of real or plastic cutlery

DESCRIPTION:

• Children place the chopsticks into the egg carton holes then drop the beads onto each chopstick according to their colour.

CATEGORY/SUBJECT AREA:

• Mathematics

CONCEPT/SKILL:

• Sorting, classifying, identifying attributes

EQUIPMENT & MATERIALS:

• large beads (same shape) with 4 colours or
• large beads of the same colour with 4 different shapes
• 4 chopsticks
• egg carton segment

DESCRIPTION:

• Children sort the animals into the craft container according to their chosen attribute (type of animal, colour, number of legs, zoo or farm etc.)

CATEGORY/SUBJECT AREA:

• Mathematics

CONCEPT/SKILL:

• Sorting, classifying, identifying attributes

EQUIPMENT & MATERIALS:

• plastic animals (these are called cocktail animals and came from the party section of a discount variety store.)
• segmented container or collection of small containers to sort animals into.

DESCRIPTION:

• Children place the chopsticks into the holes before sorting the beads onto each chopstick according to their chosen attribute. (This is a commercial set of attribute beads and can be sorted by several different attributes.)

CATEGORY/SUBJECT AREA:

• Mathematics

CONCEPT/SKILL:

• Sorting, classifying, identifying attributes

EQUIPMENT & MATERIALS:

• 6 chopsticks
• cardboard box with contacted top for strength and holes for chopsticks

Please see my pages titled “Workjobs and Learning Styles” and “Brief Montessori Overview” for more general information on Montessori and workjob activities.

## Make your own baby and toddler toys – ball posting

Ball posting is another very basic activity for babies and toddlers. Plonking the balls in through the hole and learning how to shake them back out again is absorbing and clear containers add to the interest. Ball posting is great for  playpen time and mat time, but not as good for table time or highchair time simply because the balls fall off and roll away.

DESCRIPTION:

• The child posts the balls through the hole and tips them back out again by shaking the container.

CATEGORY/SUBJECT AREA:

• Practical life

CONCEPT/SKILL:

• Fine motor development

EQUIPMENT & MATERIALS:

• Container with lid (cut a hole into the lid slightly larger than the balls)
• Balls or other objects to post and shake out again

## What’s for lunch Mum?

We’ve all heard it before; get organised and menu plan! Save time and money and get rid of the daily headache of thinking about what we are going to prepare for dinner half an hour before we should be serving it.

I have menu planning systems (weekly, monthly, shopping) and I do use them (most of the time!) but I was finding lunch particularly difficult to wrap my head around. I wanted it to be quick and easy but not just bread, bread and more bread. There were also occasions when I needed to pack lunch boxes and I didn’t want them to be nothing but sandwiches either.

My favourite lunch is what we call a ploughman’s plate. Sounds fancy, but all it means is that I pull out all the fruit, salad, veggies, cheese, left overs, cold meats or anything else I can spot laying about the fridge, cut it into pieces and arrange it on a plate. That works great when the fridge is stocked, the fruit bowls are brimming over and there is plenty of choice, but by the end of the week this is not a good option.

I decided to sit down and make a list of as many lunch ideas as I could come up with, barring leftovers and hot meals. Much of my list came from the excellent resources at Meerilinga plus a few ideas of my own.

I have printed it out, laminated it and taped it to the pantry door for inspiration at the last minute and to use when making up my shopping list for the week. You will find a printable version here.

## Make your own baby and toddler toys: posting bottles

Babies and toddlers just love to put things inside small spaces and empty containers out. It is great fine motor practise and they will often concentrate for amazing lengths of time if the challenge level is just right. If a child is frustrated by their inability to do the task, simply change the activity for now and re-introduce it a little later. It should have an element of difficulty, but not so difficult that they cannot be successful. This is a great activity for highchair time, playpen timemat time or table time.

DESCRIPTION:

• The child posts the dolly pegs into the lid of the bottle and pulls them back out the bottom.

CONCEPT/SKILL:

• Fine motor development

EQUIPMENT & MATERIALS:

• Large plastic bottle with hole cut into the front. (Tape hole to cover sharp edges)
• Dolly pegs or any other suitable object to post into the top of the bottle (regular pegs, wooden peg halves, popsticks etc.)

In this example the solid bottle adds a different dimension and the pegs are shaken out once posted.

The posting bottle can be combined with other skills. Sliding the dolly pegs on and off the edge of a sturdy cardboard box is a complete activity in itself. My children usually enjoyed taking the pegs off the box but did not choose to put them back on again. When they were finished with the activity we slid them back on to the box together as part of the packing up process and they happily practised this skill.

## Christmas traditions: Jesse tree symbols

As we continue to get organised for the advent season, I have put together a list of the items I want to collect for our Jesse tree this year. There are many different versions of the traditional readings (bible verses) for each day of December and the key characters to be included on the Jesse tree. The list below contains the ones we are focussing on this year and next year we will add completely different symbols, representing over time as many different parts of the bible as possible. I may end up swapping out a couple of these bible characters for others if I have trouble finding a suitable symbol.

Down the left are the “characters” and in brackets to the right are possible symbols for each. Readings can be found on so many different websites, I haven’t listed them here but I did include some links on my last Jesse tree post.

• God (sun, Earth)
• Noah (ark, dove, rainbow)
• Abraham (tent, stars, camel)
• Isaac (stick bundle, ram)
• Joseph (coat, sack of grain)
• Moses (burning bush, baby in basket, reeds)
• Israelites (lamb)
• God (10 commandments stone tablets)
• Joshua (ram horn)
• Gideon (clay pitcher, sword)
• Samuel (crown, lamp)
• David (shepherd’s crook, harp, 6 pointed star of David, sling shot)
• Elijah (alter, raven)
• Hezekiah (tent)
• Isaiah (tongs, hot coal, scroll)
• Jeremiah (tears, hand)
• Habakkuk (watch tower)
• Nehemiah (city wall, trowel)
• John the Baptist (shell, fish)
• Mary (white lily, letter M)
• Elizabeth (Mother & child, letter E)
• Zechariah (stylus & tablet)
• Joseph (hammer, saw)
• Magi (star, 3 gifts, 3 crowns)
• Jesus (manger, star)
• Christ (chi-rho symbol)

## Christian families and Father Christmas

The children love to play with this nativity scene. In case you are wondering, baby Jesus is up in the hay loft.

I must admit, I hesitate to write this post knowing that many readers will disagree and perhaps even be offended. I apologise in advance to anyone who is offended but think that the topic is important enough to broach. I hope you will approach what I have to say with an open mind and make your own judgements based on biblical understanding and after prayerful consideration.

With Christmas decorations hitting the shops, I have turned my thoughts towards this year’s Christmas celebrations and plans. Is it possible to celebrate Christmas with Father Christmas or Santa Clause and still be honouring to God? Can we participate in all the pretend and story telling that goes along with it without lying to our children? How can it be ok to deliberately lead our children to believe that something is true when it clearly is not? The bible tells us that God is truth and Satan is the Father of lies. (John 8:44) Is it all just harmless pretend and imagination, or has it gone one step further than that?

We teach our children that being truthful and honest at all times is right and pleases God and tell them that pretending is fine as long as others know you are pretending. If our children report an event or happening to us that is not true, without making it clear that they are “telling us a story” or “pretending,” we treat this as lying and give appropriate consequences. I can’t reconcile that standard with telling them the traditional Santa tales, knowing that they fully believe every word of it to be true.

Why do many of us celebrate Christmas with the Father Christmas myths as a central part? For most of us, we grew up with it and loved every minute and our families (parents and extended family) may be upset if we decided to make a change. Many also seem to think that their children will miss out on the “magic” of Christmas. Some say they grew up with Santa and are still Christians so therefore there is no harm at all in doing it with their own children.

We are living in a time when reportedly up to 80% of those making decisions for Jesus walk away from the church or “backslide” as we often term it. Why take the chance with anything at all that could potentially harm our children’s faith?

We all know there will come a time when children will work out for themselves that Father Christmas isn’t real, but after years of hearing from trusted parents that he is real (and often that the Easter bunny and tooth fairy are also real), is the next step to question whether Jesus is real or just another pretend that Mum and Dad have told over the years?

At this time of year it’s hard to steer clear of the commercialism of Christmas and keep the focus on celebrating Jesus’ birth where it should be, without adding reindeer stories and Father Christmas into the mix.

We feel that we can still make Christmas a wonder-filled time of joy and fun without involving Father Christmas at all. We do give gifts, but the focus is on celebrating Jesus’ birthday and the tradition of gift giving started by the wise men at Christ’s birth. We have a tree, but it is a Jesse tree with the symbols on it related to bible stories. We spend time together making decorations and dressing the tree, eating special Christmas treats and listening to joyful Christian Christmas music. We have an advent wreath with candles to light as we read Christmas devotions and other special Christmas stories set aside for just this time of year. We cook together, hold family get-togethers, feasts and invite special visitors and are endeavouring to build many other Christmas traditions to knit us together as a family.

Our children love Christmas and look forward to it with as much joy, anticipation and excitement as I think I ever did and we can have the peace of mind and clear conscience of knowing that we are striving to teach them to love God with all of their mind, soul and strength and endeavouring not to steer their hearts and affections away from God in any way. Just because something is traditional, cultural, I personally grew up with it and society promotes it doesn’t mean it is right.

We do teach our children the legend of Saint Nicholas and some of the possible origins of the Father Christmas tales. We also teach them that children from other families believe Father Christmas is true and it is not for them to tell them otherwise.

I encourage you to think the issue through, talk it over with your spouse, pray about it, read your bible and come to a decision for your family that is Godly and right.

## Christmas traditions: Our Jesse tree

(Updated to add: See photos of the finished ornaments here,  a list of stories and symbol for each day here, advent and Christmas tradition ideas here or for a different take on Jesse trees, see our names of Jesus Jesse tree symbols.)

I know it’s only November, but Christmas is fast approaching. Every year I have grand plans for advent style activities, but before we know it, December has started and I’ve missed the beginning again. Not this year!

In the after Christmas sales last year I ordered a bunch of books and several of them are meant to be read on a daily basis leading up to Christmas. These will be out and plans for our Jesse tree are underway (in my head anyway!)

We have two Christmas trees already – a small one and a much larger tree. I have always loved decorating a beautiful tree and making it “just so” and didn’t want to add the children’s handmade decorations to “my” tree. Thus the little tree was theirs and the other was Mummy’s! As of last year however, I finally let go of my idea of a perfect tree and handed it over to the children. I arrived at this decision after allowing them to help me decorate my tree (after much begging and pleading) and finding the whole episode frustrating and annoying.

Later I sat down and reflected on the whole event. I want to create loving and memorable family traditions that the children will remember fondly throughout their lives and perhaps even carry on with their own family. Traditions are one of the ways we can create family togetherness – they knit us together. Decorating the tree should be a wonderful time of family togetherness and fun; not a time of grumping and correcting about how it was done. Sooo… my tree has gone and the large tree is now the family tree with everything on it (yes, I mean everything, sigh) and the smaller tree will act as our Jesse tree until the number of symbols builds up to the point we need to move to the bigger tree.

What is  a Jesse tree?

The Jesse tree is a representation of Jesus’ family tree. Jesse was the Father of David and God promised David that his kingdom would last forever. It was through David’s  line that Jesus comes and the symbols used on it traditionally represent those in Jesus’ family tree.

It is called the Jesse tree because of this verse in Isaiah 11:1-4:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. (Isaiah 11:1-4)

Rather than sticking to the traditional Jesse tree symbols, we plan to keep adding more and more symbols from as many bible stories as we can each year. I plan to collect objects from around the house, decorations we already have that match a symbol (eg, an angel) and buy a couple more every year to expand the collection. The children will make some cardboard creations, however I also want to collect a bunch of pre-made symbols that can be hung daily without us having to make something. Last year we started with the idea of making a symbol every day but it was just too hard to keep up. This year we will make a few and add a few.

Here are some useful links. Keep in mind that most of them are Catholic websites so use them as a guide and modify the readings and symbols chosen if desired.

http://www.cresourcei.org/jesse.html Lots of information about Jesse trees, including a very useful table of themes, scripture readings and symbols

http://www.domestic-church.com/CONTENT.DCC/19971201/FRIDGE/FRIDGE1.HTM Symbols with readings that can be copied, coloured and cut out to make your own homemade Jesse tree. Click on the symbol downloads to see the scripture references.

http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/activities/view.cfm?id=545&repos=3&subrepos=1&searchid=801729 Scriptures and ideas for objects that may represent them – some alternative ideas here.