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Montessori for the Holidays

I spent much of our Thanksgiving break sprinkling our classroom with holiday cheer, and I thought I’d share a few scenes from our space, in case they should inspire you in any sprinkling you’re doing in your home or classroom.

I love decorating the classroom at least as much as I love decorating my home – in fact, the tree, however small, went up here before one went up in our living room. I love this little, live tree, which has temporarily replaced the Umbrella Tree that normally graces our reading corner. Between it and the wreath on the door, it smells of evergreen throughout the whole room. Originally, I thought I’d leave the decorations for this tree in a basket so that the children could decorate it themselves over and over, but I found that the process was not exactly pleasant, due to the very sharp little needles on this particular tree, so it stays decorated to make the classroom more beautiful, and another, smaller tree is available on the shelf for the children to decorate and redecorate as much as they’d like.

Classroom Christmas Tree: Vibrant Wanderings

Decorating is not a skill of mine, at all, but I get a kick out of stringing ornaments from the ceiling. I feel like it makes the room look like a winter wonderland.

Ornaments strung from the ceiling: Vibrant Wanderings

A big part of preparing for this season in the classroom is adding a holiday flair to everyday activities. I loved seeing what the children painted with the red, green, and silver paint I put out today.

Christmas Colors at the Easel: Vibrant Wanderings

It was great fun changing out the objects in our I Spy basket for holiday-themed ones, too. From left to right, we have a ribbon, gift, bell, tree, candy cane, sled, mitten, horn, and drum. The sled, horn, and drum are from the language objects starter set I received from Montessori Services. Others are tiny items from my collection.

Holiday-themed "I Spy" Basket: Vibrant Wanderings

I had fallen out of love with my aging mini-felt board, but I got the brilliant idea of making a new one using a photo frame, from Itty Bitty Love, and the spark was re-kindled. Felt boards always used to remind of my childhood in Sunday School and I thought of them as outdated and boring, but I’m telling you – the children love them. I love them most of all for recreating beloved stories. When the children take a special liking to a story, making felt versions of its characters and placing it on the pre-language shelf always inspires much more exploration with and expansion of the story and its themes.

Christmas Tree Felt Board: Vibrant Wanderings

Another holiday twist on a classic Montessori work. There are some precious little boxes in here, and a few of them have clay figures hidden inside as a little surprise. I believe the green box with the candy canes was made by my great grandmother when she was still living :)

Festive Opening and Closing: Vibrant Wanderings

Practical Life work really doesn’t require many bells and whistles. Aside from the opening and closing, I also put out a tray with cloves and clementines for making pomanders. A great fine motor activity and a wonderful sensory experience.

Making a Pomander: Vibrant Wanderings

Festive transfer work with tongs. I’m loving these tension tongs I recently bought from Montessori Services, especially for round objects. They require just the right amount of strength and, from my observation today, I’d say the children enjoy using them as much as I do.

Transfer with Tongs: Vibrant Wanderings

Snowflake pouring. I love the sound these snowflakes make, and the weight of the pitchers adds a great point of interest, too.

Snowflake Pouring: Vibrant Wanderings

I love this blue pouring set, and wish photos could do it justice. I just put it out for the first time, as I love the blue and white combo to add to the winter-y undertones in this holiday theme. It’s a great new challenge for those children who have already mastered pouring liquids into one or two containers. I colored the water blue to make it easier to see any spills or drips.

Pouring into Multiple Containers: Vibrant Wanderings

The art shelf always gets the biggest makeover at this time of year. I replaced our leaf gluing with these construction paper shapes. The children can get as abstract as they’d like, but the idea is that these lend themselves to the creation of a colorful menorah – with the rectangles as candles and the triangles as flames.

Menorah Gluing Tray: Vibrant Wanderings

Our leaf stamps have been replaced by this Christmas Tree. I’m finally seeing children take their stamping work to the next level, adding color and other personal touches after printing the design. Just a little change in the activity inspires more, and deeper work.

Christmas Tree Stamping Tray: Vibrant Wanderings

This little puncher can be used to make snowflakes for use in gluing or other art work, or simply for recycling or taking home in an envelope.

Snowflake Punching: Vibrant Wanderings

This photo makes it hard to see the lovely little flecks of cinnamon in this cookie dough play dough. Always a favorite, and a great activity for those children who need something calming and engaging as they settle in each morning.

Cookie Dough Play Dough: Vibrant Wanderings

Snowflake sorting has been quite popular. I traced one of each shape at the top of these felt mats as a control. The snowflakes come from a garland I purchased and cut apart some years ago, probably at a craft or dollar store.

Snowflake Sorting: Vibrant Wanderings

We’ll be spending most of our group times during the month of December, and for much of January, learning about holidays around the world. The first one we’re discussing is Hanukkah. I put our classroom menorah and the appropriate number of candles for each day in this basket so that the children can put them in and take them out on their own.

Menorah with Candles: Vibrant Wanderings

The ever-popular mini Christmas tree decorating work. I don’t think this spent more than a minute at a time on the shelf today. My favorite local craft store has mini trees galore, which was wonderful since the one I’ve used the past several years had started to look pretty sad, and there were plenty of tiny items for decorating them, too.  As I set this work up each year, I always find myself thinking about how many tiny objects the children manipulate and transfer, over and over, in the process of completing it. Part of the preparation of any new work involves the teacher practicing it her or himself, not only to make sure all of the pieces work together well, but also to get a sense of how long it will take the child to complete and whether some objects should be added or removed so that the work does not take too long (or not enough time). We want concentration to be inspired and developed, but we do not want exhaustion, frustration, or boredom to set in. I would hesitate to put any spooning, tonging, or other simple transfer work on the shelves with this many objects, as many children would never complete it. Carefully placing 20 or so miniature candy canes, nearly as many ornaments, and half a dozen little gifts is not at all tiresome, however. The children love this, and work at it for very long periods, building their powers of concentration as they go. It’s a thing of beauty!

Decorating a Mini Christmas Tree: Vibrant Wanderings

Of course our exploration of world holidays will include plenty of talk about Christmas. These nativity figures allow children to recreate the story behind the holiday.

Nativity Set: Vibrant Wanderings

To help us keep track of all the holidays, I finally made the wall calendar I’ve been envisioning for months upon months. It’s so imperfect, but I love it, and the children were quite taken with it as well. We’ll add more holidays to it as we discuss them. The school where I interned did not use a calendar with the children at all, because they felt it was too abstract at this age and not a great use of the children’s time. I agree, to an extent, and don’t see much need for working on memorizing the months or the days of the week unless children show a particular interest, but I do feel like the calendar is so relevant to children’s lives that referencing it becomes important, and I’ve been noticing more and more questions about it in the past few weeks. With all this in mind, I decided I did want to add one to our space. I don’t really care for the bright, many-colored pocket chart calendars that are so popular in preschools, however, so I looked around for an alternative and, finding nothing affordable, designed this instead. December seemed the perfect time to introduce it, as we’ll be talking about a number of important dates this month.

DIY Felt Wall Calendar: Vibrant Wanderings

Meanwhile, in the part of our home where we do our outside-of-school-time living, I’ve set up an old holiday favorite: this large opening and closing activity, for Elliot. For years, I have saved beautiful boxes and tins that I’m given by friends and loved ones, and I was never quite sure what I’d use them for … until I had children. Elliot, and Annabelle before him, have loved opening and closing them, filling them with things, giving them to others, and opening and closing them again. 16-month-old Elliot will sit with one of the tins and open and close it over and over for several minutes. It’s fantastic.

Opening and Closing Large Containers: Toddler Fun at Vibrant Wanderings

I’m in the process of preparing several more things that I’m sure I’ll share as we go along, but this is what we’ve enjoyed so far this week. I’d love to hear what holiday-themed work has been going on in your house or classroom!

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