The Summer Prep Series - Part 3: Resources
This is the final part of The Summer Prep Series
The mindset, curation, and organization for a summer of family connection, and growth at home.
Spaces that emerge
It’s the week of summer solstice; the closing off of projects, recitals, fun fairs, and evenings in the garden trying to squeeze in what will be our end of season yield. For us, it’s in some ways our final week of preparation before summer break. In other ways, it’s the beginning of of preparations as I know the next couple weeks will tell me if what I’ve setup will serve our family well until September.
As I look around our space, I see partially tended to upper shelves above organized work areas, perfectly sized and considered for little bodies.
A creative/maker space
At times a place for self expression, with final art pieces that are deeply meaningful. At other times, a place for repetition and craftsmanship, honing a skill they are determined to master. With replicas produced en mass, a short acknowledgement of the final result is all they need before diving back into a state of making.
A weaving station
Identified by both of my girls as an activity they wanted to have out as part of their “Summer Six”, yet largely untouched in the last 6 months. I dedicated a quiet corner with a permanent setup, and all materials at hand to remove all of the friction of engaging in this work.
Our Montessori-at-home shelves
Most often math and language materials that stretch their abilities. These require an introduction for child to each activity. They may only do one of these a week, and sometimes they’ll want me there or nearby, but by the end of summer the’ll be doing them on their own, and teaching their friends with pride.
A family game shelf
This summer my littlest is 3, old enough to engage in some family games with help. The girls are old enough to play together on their own or with friends. It’s time to dedicate a spot in our living space to this, liberating our games from their bins and stacks on the shelf out of reach.
The library and music room
A contemplative space that’s a reprieve from both the physical and mental stimulation present on the rest of the main floor.
These spaces aren’t finished, and that’s ok. This isn’t an HGTV makeover.
Experience has shown me that well designed family spaces can’t be revealed to you, but rather, emerge from your family living within them.
Designing for moments
When you think of your home, what portion of the square footage is recreational/lounge space? Food/eating? Learning/thinking? Music? Bathing/self care? Spiritual? Movement/wellness? Sleeping?
Much like a Montessori classroom, the spaces we create at home communicate what’s important to our children. It is one of the ways we communicate our culture and values, and if we observe, we can see if we’re effectively communicating, or if we have work to do.
In our early parenting days I couldn’t get away from questions like these;
Why was the main floor or many family homes largely dedicated to entertaining adults, cooking, and relaxation when there was such a great benefit to children to be a part of and build their skills for independence in the activities that happened here.
Why were children relegated to the basement with less sunlight, lower air quality, and little attention given to how they experience their space or direction given on how to care for it.
Why were children’s bedrooms afforded so much precious space, designed to be pleasing for adults but inaccessible to children who find self care very meaningful work.
Why were garden’s designed primarily with ornamental plants, reducing the learning potential that dyeing, medicinal, and edible gardens, even more so with native plants, are so abundant in.
We could do better if we could approached our homes from the perspective of our children’s developmental needs and interests. Our homes could be rich what ifs and ah-has. With the aromas of math and culture as we baked together. Scattered with scraps and threads as we used great grandmas sewing kit to mend our clothing, connecting with her and generations past. These weren’t always activities that interested us adults before kids, but that became meaningful and interesting through their contributions to the family culture and connection.
For these moments to happen while my children were still young, that I needed to design spaces built for connection and learning early on, choosing methods over madness. I needed to observe like Maria Montessori, to find joy in every object we chose to keep like Marie Kondo, to view parenting as a mutually beneficial partnership like Dr. Shafali Tsabury, and to find efficiencies and harmony in designing our whole system like David Holmgren, and Bill Mollison of Permaculture.
Opportunities for moments of learning, development, and connection can be designed into our spaces, as much as spaces can detract from these moments happening very often if at all. You’re here with me, aiming for the former, right?
Magic and tidying up
Every item in your home needs a place where it belongs. One of my design constraints when we or the children want to add to our space is that every item must have a spot among like items on one of our many storage options. A new set of hair clips must find a home among our other sets of hair accessories. A new set of pencil crayons can come out if there’s room for them in our holder.
If that’s not possible, then;
we can store it to use when we have room
something needs to get put away to make space for it or,
we can increase our storage by adding a unit or shelf for it.
Simple to say, but I know it’s harder in practice. Items have a way of floating out of place around here - maybe you have this kind of magic in your family home too.
In Alison Gopnik’s book The Gardener and The Carpenter, she offers parents encouragement to continuously reset our space to reflect the environment we want to provide our children. If we think about this in terms of our own wellness, we need to design our spaces to fit within our capacity to care for them.
These three techniques have helped me hold that boundary for myself and in these final days before summer break are hopefully the most accessible and easy to implement aspect of this series for you:
In all of the shelving configurations I’ve had, and those that knew us at our townhome knows that’s been many, I’ve found that the maximum number of learning materials I can keep up with per child is 6, along with art materials, and some mainstay loose parts sets like wooden blocks and animals, train tracks, lego, or a small collection of vehicles. Anything more and it becomes overwhelming.
I try to ensure the 6 activities are balanced around the 6 areas of a Montessori classroom. I recently asked my 5 year old to pick out up to 6 activities to have out for this summer and here’s how they matched up with the classroom areas.
Practical life - Bow tying dressing frame
Sensorial development - Weaving with a loom
Language - Bob Books Readers
Cultural - finger puppets
Sciences - a vehicle puzzle
Had she chosen all of one or two types as sometimes happens, I would have helped her make a more balanced selection.
Everything else goes into closed storage, out of rotation on a shelf nearby so that I can access and organize it easily in the in between moments. When we moved into our current home, I made the mistake of trying to keep this in the basement, which led to too many activities in our main space and an overwhelming amount of stuff to tidy. Last week we brought it back up stairs and it’s already easier to put away excess items or find additional materials. We’ll finish it with some woven doors and a couple more bins to keep it tidy, but the majority of its benefit is in it’s proximity to our living space. Welcome back old friend.
There is part art and part science to displaying learning materials on our Montessori-at-home shelves. If I’m lucky I’ll find the right balance of aesthetics, access, transportability, setup, and put away. Often, I’ll need to tweak it to get it just right so that they can follow through from shelf to workspace, and back to shelf.
Thrift shops, yard sales, and Melissa & Doug packaging have provided my favourite wood and woven baskets and containers for our learning materials.
No matter the material, I’ve found 2 important insights to a successful display:
Have everything needed for that one activity available together. If it’s a sewing activity, include the needle, thread, and scissors. If it’s a polishing activity, include the vessel for water, sponge, and drying cloth.
I’ve found my children are much more drawn to puzzles or building sets when they are displayed disassembled. Displaying them completed doesn’t seem to inspire them as much.
Left: Sat untouched for months. Right: didn’t last 1 hour before someone decided to complete the fish
Children collect a lot of little things from within and out of the house. My answer to all of those loose and tiny items is collection bins out of reach of children. Place them on every floor of your home, out of sight. Add additional mini containers if you want to section out hair accessories, buttons, or animal figurines to make it easier to sort as it fills.
Every day I take a few items and return them to the sets they belong to, around our home, on our shelves, or in out-of-rotation storage. I completely empty them every few months visiting the garden to return snail shells, the basement recycling bins to add to my Tiny Toy Co. collection bin that I will one day send out to teacher-librarian and ecological educator Rebecca, or our donation bins, and unfortunately the rest goes to waste. This waste inspires me to say “let’s get something better for the earth” every time my kids are offered a small plastic thing from the dentist or elsewhere.
I am so happy to see that so many of you made it through this series with me - I hope it has and will serve you well!
It has been such a pleasure to create this series for you. From sharing how I went from a rigid and uncompromising parent to compassionate and respectful, to the methods and insights that inspired a family first approach to designing family homes, to a deeper understanding of our relationship with stuff and how we’ve chosen to curate and organize, we’ve made it! Well…almost :) You’ll hear from me mid-summer for a check-in and end of summer for a reflection.
I did something big and bold this week - I flipped on the option for paid subscriptions here on Substack.
My goal for this newsletter was to explore deep, inspiring, and at times unpopular ideas around residential design and Montessori-at-home and those pieces will be available to all free and paid subscribers as we explore these topics together once or twice a month.
Paid subscribers will have access to future series like this one, as we move through the rhythm of the year, with inspiration, resources and Q&As. I know for many of us, there’s something special that comes from doing this together, in real time. I would be so honoured to be part of your parenting toolbox and create a place where we can connect over crafting these nurturing and beautiful spaces for our families.
All series will also be available as purchasable guides on BuenoMarket.com starting 2023. Pricing and details will be announced when they’re ready!
And last of all, do you know someone who is keen to create a nurturing space for their child at home? Who isn’t afraid to think deeply, and question assumptions, especially when it comes to parenting and their home environment? If so, please share Raise In Place with them! They are meant to be here with us.
What’s next for the The Summer Prep Series:
June 24th - Part 3’s follow up resource (you are here!)
July 26th - Half-way Check-in
August 30th - Summer Reflection
This newsletter is called Raise In Place, and is the newsletter companion to my Residential Design Consulting Services + Shop, Bueno Market. This Summer Prep post is part of a series inside that newsletter called The Summer Prep Series.
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