Diamond Favourites: Every Star Is Different

Hey friends! I thought I’d start a new feature, maybe once a month or so, of makers and materials I love, that I trust to use in my classroom, and in my home, and I thought the best way to kick this off would be with my good friend Renae, her company Every Star Is Different, and their newest printable bundle about holidays around the world.

Renae is an amazing human. And while her and I live completely different lives, with completely different faiths and experiences and traditions- our core values are the same. Renae is unbelievably kind, loving, accepting and wants to teach her children about cultures and traditions that don’t just include her own religion. I can’t tell y’all how much I respect and love Renae, and why I was so excited when she said she was making this set.

Like I’ve said (ad nauseam, I’m sure) - representation matters. And it’s true not just of books. It matters in the lessons we teach, the information we impart to our students, and the ways we discuss things like holidays. Things like three part cards, and booklets, and other classroom materials matter. So I’m totally thrilled to have this massive bundle to share with y’all.

Renae’s Holidays Around The World Bundle is amazing. It’s nearly 500- yup, you read that right- pages of materials to use with your children or students covering Christmas (and not only North American Christmas), winter solstice, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Diwali, and Ramadan. I have just spent the better part of two days printing and prepping some things to show y’all some previews of the amazingness in this bundle.

 Just some of the Diwali materials included!

Just some of the Diwali materials included!

We’ll start with Diwali (which goes until Friday, so you could, if you act now, get all this stuff and have some relevant materials out!!)- which I printed as soon as I got my copy so that I could have some stuff out for this week in class. My students loved the diya printable to decorate with stickers and glitter. I made some of the cards into a booklet to tell the story of Diwali. There are cards talking about symbols of Diwali, the days of Diwali, and my personal favourite, which just makes me hungry- some nomenclature cards of Indian desserts. Delicious.

 Only some of the Hanukkah materials. This pack is full of awesomeness.

Only some of the Hanukkah materials. This pack is full of awesomeness.

There’s a pack for Hanukkah- (Dec 2nd-10th this year) which is wonderful. Lots of nomenclature cards, including things like sufganiyot, oil, gelt, etc. The booklet for the story of the first Hanukkah is accurate and lovely and I’ll definitely be using it with Noora.

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There are materials to talk about the winter solstice, including descriptions of different celebrations all over the world.

 Christmas figures from around the world.

Christmas figures from around the world.

 A lot of these materials make me hungry.

A lot of these materials make me hungry.

Materials for Christmas around the world include some lovely cards of different Christmas figures- Sinterklaas, Befana, etc. I really love these cards. And there’s a fabulous set of Christmas desserts and country flag matching. I’m surprised at how many materials in this bundle make me hungry, but there ya go.

There’s a religious Christmas pack, and while I’m not religious, as we all know, even I found things to love in this pack. There’s a lovely art sorting work of different styles of paintings that have to do with the nativity, the baby Jesus and the Madonna. It’s a great set, and as much of traditional European art has had inspiration from Christianity, it’s totally usable in even secular settings. This pack also includes cards of animals at the manger, the story of Christ’s birth- which I’ll be making into a booklet for my nephew, whose parents are religious- and a set of cards to go along with Handel’s Messiah.

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The Christmas language bundle is great and has cards split into pink, blue and green categories to go with a common Montessori language program. There are cards that you can use to have the student find the beginning sound; matching cards to images; tracing words; and more. It’s super comprehensive and I know my students will enjoy these language materials in December.

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The Christmas botany pack has lovely cards, and blackline masters, for various plants associated with Christmas. This set will get a lot of use in my class, I’m sure.

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This is the set I’m super excited about- because I get to learn too. I have never, here in Vancouver, met anyone who celebrates Kwanzaa, and I don’t know much about the holiday. The Kwanzaa pack (Kwanzaa starts on Dec. 26th) is amazing and has cards to explain the symbols and themes of each of the seven days; cards featuring important people in African-American history; patterns and fabric from Africa; and so much more. I love all the sets in this bundle but wow, is the Kwanzaa one amazing.

 The Ramadan set is fabulous.

The Ramadan set is fabulous.

The set for Ramadan (which starts May 5th in 2019) is wonderful. There’s really comprehensive cards of symbols and things to do with Islam; a lovely easy sorting set (who fasts and who doesn’t); and a phases of the moon booklet. I’m really excited for this set. I also really appreciated that the depictions of Muslims in this pack are diverse- so many times we only see Muslims being shown as Arab folks, when Muslims are found all over the world and of all skin tones. It was a nice touch to an already lovely set- representation matters, friends!

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Finally, the bundle comes with two bonus packs- one on gingerbread activities, and one on the Nutcracker. The gingerbread one has one of the cutest sequencing materials I’ve ever seen (and again- what’s with the materials in this bundle making me hungry??) and the Nutcracker pack has materials i could keep on my shelves year round. The ballerina cards I’m going to put on my movement shelf this week, and the nut nomenclature cards are great, especially for a classroom where you aren’t allowed nuts!

Seriously, friends. I’ve never done a blog post like this. You know I don’t recommend things like this unless I mean it. Renae and her husband have done their research. This bundle is respectful, embracing of difference, well thought out, and all can be used in Montessori environments. I’ll be using so much in my own classroom and with Noora. Remember that those of us who are tasked with teaching and raising the next generation have so much fear and hate to undo and fight. This bundle is great- and teaching children about cultures outside of their own is, in today’s climate, definitely a revolutionary act.

And for now, until Tuesday at 11:59PM, this bundle is 75% off. For just the next few days, it’s available for $19.99. That’s a ridiculous deal, for nearly 500 pages of amazing materials to use with your students and children. Get yours HERE (using my delightful affiliate link) and let me know what you think of this bundle. I love mine.

Queer Kids Book Club: The Boy & The Bindi

Hello, friends! It’s been a couple weeks since the last Queer Kids Book Club, and I’m going to get better at this scheduling and writing and blogging thing one day, I swear. But this book is worth the wait- it’s lovely and one of my favourites and not one I see too often.

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“The Boy & The Bindi” is a children’s book by Canadian author, musician and visual artist Vivek Shraya. And I love it for many reasons but first and foremost- let’s talk about representation. Representation matters, a phrase I use hundreds and probably thousands of times on my Facebook and Instagram and here. And while it’s amazing that we have so many children’s books today that feature LGBT children and families- we need to wrestle with the fact that the vast majority of queer kids books (like all children’s books) feature white folks.

Queer black, indigenous and people of colour (QBIPOC) exist- obviously. But looking at the media representation of queers, you wouldn’t know that. The public face of queerness skews incredibly white. Representation for any child of colour who exists anywhere on the LGBT spectrum is super hard to come by. Which is why I love this book.

Written by a trans woman of colour, “The Boy & The Bindi” is an #ownvoices book (own voices meaning that the author has lived experience of what they are writing about- ie, books about queers written by queers, books about Indian culture written by Indian authors rather than white ones, etc.) and one that features a little boy who wants to wear a bindi just like his mum.

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In the story, the child wants know what his mother’s bindi is and she tells him she wears it to stay safe, true, and to be reminded of where she’s from. When her child asks if he can wear one too, the mother reacts positively, and tells her child of course. One of the many things i like about this book is how the story doesn’t involve the gender-non-conforming child experiencing bullying or oppression. His mum is loving and kind, accepts him wanting to wear a bindi (traditionally worn by women) and the children at school are curious, rather than bullies. Too often stories involving queer children hinge on the oppression narrative- a child has to learn to be true to themselves despite the bullying and fear of the outside world. When every story about someone who is like you is centred in oppression and trauma, what message does that give?

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The child in the story puts on the bindi his mother gives him, and it makes him feel safe, connected and himself. It’s a beautiful story, and in a world where queer children of colour are nearly never represented in media, “The Boy & The Bindi” is an incredible addition to children’s literature. Children- of all colours, genders, orientations- deserve to see themselves in stories. This story provides a mirror for children who rarely get one in books.

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Above all, right now, non-binary and trans folks in the United States (and elsewhere) are under attack. Now- more than ever before- it is important to make sure any children in your homes and schools see positive representation of gender non-conformity, of trans folks, of non-binary people. While of course children who are any of those things deserve to see themselves in stories, cis children need to see stories that normalize non-cis folks. With the rhetoric of hate ramping up and up and up, it is up to us as educators and parents to teach children that all gender expressions are valid and worthy. “Boy & The Bindi” is a charming, sweet and loving story that embraces children outside of the gender binary and it should have a place on every bookshelf.

Have you read it? What were your thoughts? Let me know!

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(This post contains affiliate links).

Holiday Books: Halloween Edition

Halloween! One of the most child-centred and fun ‘holidays’ out there, Halloween season brings about so many fun stories and books to share with children. I love Halloween, I love ghost stories and I love books, so obviously this time of year is like, 100% Ashley-approved.

But. There’s always a but. Children’s books- we all know- are white as heck. The majority of children’s books feature white (usually male) protagonists. And when you’re talking about books to do with specific holidays or themes- that number goes up even more (this I base entirely on anecdotal evidence I’ve compiled over a decade of seriously looking at and collecting children’s books, as I’ve never seen a study that focuses on children’s books for specific holidays. Here’s one of the many, many studies on how white children’s literature is overall.)

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We know that representation matters. We know that it matters for black and brown children to see themselves in media. We know it matters for white children to see black and brown children in media. And we know that holidays and how we represent and talk about them in classrooms matters. So when children are seeing holiday stories- stories about days our culture has deemed important, stories about cultural touchstones we’re all supposed to related to, stories about children having fun and celebrating significant days- that feature only (or primarily) white children, that’s a problem.

In the spirit of diversifying children’s libraries and school bookshelves everywhere- here’s a list of some of my favourite Halloween books. Most of them feature children of the global majority.

“Flashlight Night” by Matt Forrest Esenwine is a fun, rollicking, spooky romp following three children traipsing around their backyard at night with a flashlight. It’s an ode to childhood imagination and while it isn’t Halloween specific- it’s one that features monsters and spookiness and fits in well with the spirit of the season.

A Tiger Called Tomás” by Charlotte Zolotow is an absolute classic for many reasons. This recently released new edition of it is gorgeous and features Spanish words and phrases sprinkled throughout. Following a little boy who is anxious about having just moved, it’s sweet, is totally relatable for any child who has ever felt like the odd one out, and is lovely.

Behind the Mask” by Yangsook Choi is one of my favourite Halloween stories. A little boy decides to be his grandfather for Halloween, and his friends all scoff at the idea- without knowing that his grandfather was a traditional Korean mask dancer. It’s a lovely story that blends two cultures- something children of immigrant parents will recognize and connect with- and it’s beautifully illustrated.

Monster Trouble” by Lane Fredrickson is hilarious and features one of the best named protagonists in children’s literature- Winifred Schnitzel. A clever little girl who tries to stop the neighbourhood monsters from keeping her up at all hours, it’s smart, funny and not so scary at all. While it isn’t Halloween specific, it definitely fits the season.

Witches” by Cheryl Christian is a colourful, rhyming romp that is an absolute joy to read aloud. It features children of all colours, and even includes children with physical disabilities- without drawing attention to that fact; the children in chairs are just there, participating in trick or treating with the rest. It’s fun, colourful and a delight with so much casual diversity in its pages that I can’t help but love it.

Finally, while these three stories have nothing specifically diverse or even human about them- “Stumpkin” by Lucy Ruth Cummins, “Pumpkin Soup” by Helen Cooper and “The Legend of Spookley the Square Pumpkin” by Joe Troiano- they top my list of favourite pumpkin related stories and all actually feature good messages of inclusion, kindness, and respecting and embracing differences. All three are favourites in my classroom- including “Stumpkin”, which I only discovered last week!

There you have it. Some of my favourite Halloween themed picture books. All I’ve used in my class, all I love personally, and I hope you find some new favourites from this list! And if you have other inclusive Halloween books to share, I’d love to hear about them!

(This post contains affiliate links!)

Queer Kids Book Club: Julián Is A Mermaid

I’d like to get back into blogging and I thought I’d start with an easy, once a week type deal where I focus on specific books I love. And I realized that there are many weekly book blogs, which are great, and I love, but I haven’t seen one focused specifically on books that feature queer kids or families. So I’m going to start one. Welcome! Let’s jump right in, shall we?

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I hope all of you have seen this book already. Julián Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love came out this summer and quickly joined my list of favourites- not just queer books. Any books. It’s beautiful, heartfelt, endearing and charming. Literally all of those things, on every page.

 The entire book is fully of dreamy, beautiful illustrations I can’t get enough of.

The entire book is fully of dreamy, beautiful illustrations I can’t get enough of.

This perfect story follows Julián, who loves mermaids, and his abuela. He has beautiful dreams and fantasies of being a mermaid, and finally decides to take down a curtain in his abuela’s house to wrap around himself and make into a tail. Instead of being angry (though the expression on her face when she discovers him adds the absolute perfect amount of kid tension!) she takes him to the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. It is one of the most wholesome books I’ve had the pleasure of reading.

 See? Perfect level of kid tension.

See? Perfect level of kid tension.

So many- so, so, so many- books that feature children who are gender non-conforming focus on overcoming oppression. The child who is non-binary, trans or gender non-conforming in these stories often deals with bullying, family that is unsupportive, at least at first, and the stories usually focus on overcoming that. This one does not. This is about a little boy who wants to be a fabulous mermaid and his abuela who loves him. It is exuberant, radiates pure love and is just a total treat.

 I cannot overstate how gorgeous this book is.

I cannot overstate how gorgeous this book is.

Children- no matter how they present, no matter their gender identity- deserve to see themselves in books that show their joy. Not every book for queer kids needs to be (or should be, frankly) about being true to yourself under external pressure. Cisgender and heterosexual children have a vast array of stories that reflect themselves and their joy. Queer kids deserve the same.

And the fact that this story features a Latino child makes it all the more incredible. White cis-het kids (specifically male) feature in the vast majority of children’s literature. The numbers are bleak and depressing. And while queer kids need representation in stories- not all folks who reside on the LGBTQ2SA spectrum are white. Obviously. So when you’re looking for two categories already underrepresented (queer children and children of colour) to be represented in the same space, in one child- well. It’s like finding trying to find a unicorn. Or, in this case, a mermaid.

I’d love to hear what you all thought of this book, and what it meant to you or your own gender non-conforming little ones. (And for those who are as obsessed with these boy mermaid nesting dolls- here’s the link to the store!)

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(A note about the word queer: Queer is, much like many colloquial terms, one that is slowly being reclaimed by folks on the LGBTQ2S+ spectrum, to mean a variety of different things. Some folks, particularly those of older generations who remember it being a slur, are not comfortable with it. I am a millennial, I love the word queer, and am happy to continue using it and reclaiming it to describe myself and my friends. I use the word queer because while pansexual- being attracted to folks of any or no gender- is technically the most accurate description of my sexuality, it doesn’t feel right to me. I wouldn’t use pansexual to describe myself. It doesn’t fit. Queer does. But what’s acceptable to me, may not be to another. Just like other groups of people, queer folks are not a monolith. Ask. Respect people’s identities and words for them. Words matter. )











Travelling with Baby- California Edition

A couple weeks ago, two of my very favourite people got married. (Yes, to each other). They live in California, and so we had a wonderful very brief weekend away to watch the nuptials and to see friends who are basically family (don't you love when that happens?) and that meant travelling with a young toddler. 

 This kid loves airplanes.

This kid loves airplanes.

Noora's first flight occurred when she was only a few months old, not mobile, and she (blissfully) slept through almost all of both legs of the journey. This time around, we were faced with 4 flights in 4 days with a 13 month old- a very wriggly, gross-motor obsessed 13 month old- and I'm not going to lie, I was a bundle of nerves about the whole thing. So, I did what I usually do, which is to completely geek out and I made a little California travelling kit for our little one, full of activities to keep her entertained on planes and in airports. And it worked! (Mostly). All of these were simple, easy, California-inspired materials that anyone can make or apply to really anywhere you'd travel. 

 Noora carried these cards (and also licked them and tried to eat them) all over the house for days before our adventure. 

Noora carried these cards (and also licked them and tried to eat them) all over the house for days before our adventure. 

The first thing I did, even before we travelled, was to make a set of cards of the people we were staying with. Noora is pretty good with people- she's a super social baby- but this would be a lot of concentrated time with people who aren't familiar to her, so I wanted to do what I could to at least make her familiar with them. I printed pictures on cardstock, laminated them, and cut them. She loved these cards, and I would love to believe one of the reasons she was so cool with everyone was because she even vaguely recognized them. I kept them out and used them with her for just over a week before our travels. 

 These were definitely the favourite California activity (after the face photos!)

These were definitely the favourite California activity (after the face photos!)

This shell activity was super simple- I got this Safari Toob of shells and then a small plastic craft bottle, some craft sand and shells. I put the tiny shells (I got mine in a bag at Michael's) and the sand in the bottle, sealed it with glue, and she had a beach-themed shaker and sensorial bottle to play with for the flight. The toy shells we used in the tub at the hotel (and with a net that I forgot to take a picture of and then left in said hotel, because I'm clever that way). She was a huge fan of these and I think I'll be making many more baby sensorial bottles as time goes by. 

 Classy hotel floor picture!

Classy hotel floor picture!

Next, we had another Safari Toob- this one sea creatures (I removed the penguin, sperm whale, and hammerhead shark) and matching cards. Noora loves animal figurines and matching them to the cards is a new addition to her exploration of them. She wasn't entirely sure of the matching aspect- it was pretty hit or miss, though she seemed to get at least the starfish, humpback whale and octopus consistently. But she did try, and she was able to point to the animal figurines on the plane as I gave her the names- animals of any kind are a guaranteed way to occupy this kid. 

 Noora absolutely knew avocado and grapes- two of her favourite foods!

Noora absolutely knew avocado and grapes- two of her favourite foods!

We also had these cards just for vocabulary and interest. I printed off pictures of California symbols- like the avocado, grey whale, redwoods, etc.,- and showed them to her a few at a time. This was a great activity for the plane as it was quiet and didn't include tiny figures she could hurl across the aisle! (As happened with the shells before I took them away and only let her use the bottle. To be fair- it was 6 in the morning and she'd been up since 4). I love making picture cards for vocabulary building and Noora is definitely used to this activity with me, so it was a familiar one for her. 

 These books were all fabulous. 

These books were all fabulous. 

Finally- BOOKS! What would a trip be without any books?? We got three California board books for our book loving girl, and they were all delightful. First- San Francisco: A Book of Numbers by Ashley Evanson, which is a lovely counting book and I think my favourite of the ones we purchased. Then we had All Aboard! California: A Landscape Primer by Haily and Kevin Meyers, which was a cute overview of a variety of California landscapes, including deserts, cities, redwoods, vineyards, etc. To round them out, we also had 123 California: A Cool Counting Book by Puck, and honestly, it had gorgeous and bold, graphic illustrations but it was really very short, and had no words (just a number on each page) and Noora lost interest in it fairly soon. I think it would have been better if she'd been a bit younger. 

That's it! A few simple activities in ziplock bags, a few books, and a hotel bathtub and Noora was pretty content during most of our trip. What activities do you prepare or do with your children when you travel? We have several trips coming up this year so I'd love to hear what others do! 

 Wedding cake was certainly a success. 

Wedding cake was certainly a success. 

*This post contains affiliate links. 

Bringing Diversity Into Your Home - Toddler Edition

One of the things we were adamant about when we had Noora was that we would provide as many different toys, books and cultural experiences as we could for her. Our world is an increasingly fractured and partisan place, and one of the things that we wanted to instill in our daughter was open-mindedness, love and inclusiveness. 

But how does one start the process, with a toddler? I teach 3-6 and I can talk about race with preschoolers and elementary children without much of a problem. I know those conversations, and while sometimes hard, I can handle them. Teaching inclusivity to a one year old, on the other hand, was totally foreign to me. And still, so important. We know that children begin to recognize and internalize racial differences as early as two- so how do we promote cultural diversity, acceptance and awareness early enough to help make a difference? 

Thankfully, it doesn't even have to be that hard. One year olds aren't sitting for a complicated chat about implicit biases or systemic racism or police brutality. But they will sit and look at books with you. Or play with dolls and other toys. Or see art on your walls and in their rooms. So. Let's talk about ways to introduce diversity into your home.

 The lovely doll on our bookshelf is from  this excellent Etsy store . 

The lovely doll on our bookshelf is from this excellent Etsy store

 

1) Books! So many books! When choosing books for your child, make a conscious effort to include books featuring children that aren't white. Children's books are well known for a lack of diversity but it's getting better every month, and there are great board books out there featuring children of colour. 

Look for books by Black, Latinx and Indigenous authors and pick books that have a variety of cultures, religions and people represented. Some of our current favourites are pictured below: including Shades of Black: A Celebration of Our Children (as it is a universal rule babies love to look at pictures of other babies and children, no matter skin colour!); Learn the Alphabet with Northwest Coast Native Art (actually all the board books from this store are gorgeous and all illustrated and written by Pacific Northwest First Nations artists); First Book of Sushi (all the world food books in this series are delightful); and Sweetest Kulu (an Inuit lullaby).

Other excellent examples of board books featuring children of colour are Whose Toes Are Those; Please, Baby, Please (a book I can now recite by heart because it makes Noora laugh every time and I'm a sucker for her laugh); Lola at the Library; and More, More, More, Said the Baby. I'm always looking for more books, and if you have any recommendations for board books featuring Asian, Muslim, or Latinx characters specifically, I'd love to hear about them! (It's increasingly easy to find books featuring Black children- less so other children of colour). 

 

2) Toys! I have a major obsession with peg dolls in particular, but this can be applied to any doll  toy. Pick the one that doesn't have white skin. When you're grabbing that action figure or Barbie off the shelf- pick one with brown skin instead. At this age, because toddlers aren't going to have a racial dialogue with you, what matters is the exposure to different races and being comfortable with diversity. 

I have these gorgeous peg doll sets thrown in with other toys- a casual and conscious choice we made to include toys featuring people of colour and of different religions. The beautiful Muslim dolls in the first picture are from this fantastic store on Etsy; and the wonderful multicultural career peg dolls are from this equally fantastic store, also on Etsy

 Seriously, how adorable are these dolls?

Seriously, how adorable are these dolls?

 I also made matching cards for this set for when Noora is a teensy bit older. 

I also made matching cards for this set for when Noora is a teensy bit older. 

Or this toy, featured in a previous post, and one of my all time favourites. Designed by a prominent BC First Nations artisan, the shape sorter is a simple, easy way to bring in Indigenous art into Noora's world without being culturally appropriative. Look for toys made by artists and designers of colour and support independent women and minority run businesses while you're at it! Everyone wins!

 This is probably the most beautiful shape-sorter I've ever seen.

This is probably the most beautiful shape-sorter I've ever seen.

Finally, and of course I don't have a picture off hand because I decided to write this while Noora is asleep and that means no going into her room, but have pictures and art up that depicts a variety of people and cultures. Surround your children with books, art, food and toys that represent the vast and amazing spectrum of humanity and it will help lay the groundwork for future acceptance, understanding and inclusivity. 

Colour-blindness is not an option- it supports those with racial privilege and not those who are oppressed. It's easy to get anxious about talking about race (and don't worry, when we get to that point, I'll have more to say about those conversations!!!) but for toddlers and babies, you don't need to fret. It's as simple as picking some books and toys and adding them into your rotation. Raising this upcoming generation to do better than the status quo and to be more kind and inclusive than the world currently is requires conscious choices on our part- choices of representation and inclusion in our children's lives. And while that's not always easy, this is the easiest way to start. 

Let me know other ways you've brought diversity into your homes for your young children in the comments! 

(This post contains affiliate links).

On Our Shelves: 13 Months

Noora is fully into young toddlerhood, and so we've changed around the materials on her shelf in her playroom again to suit her needs. Her current obsession is dumping things and putting things into other things, and from what I've gathered, this is about standard for her age. So. What do we have on our shelves to allow her to do these things?  

(As mentioned before, we have one main playspace for Noora, and that's in this room, where the majority of her toys are kept. She has some toys in the living room and in her bedroom, but this where most of her playtime is spent). 

 I cannot tell you how much I love the Kallax line at IKEA. 

I cannot tell you how much I love the Kallax line at IKEA. 

1) Pop Up Toy: This toy is a perennial favourite in homes and Montessori classrooms, for good reason. The best $12 you can spend- Noora loves it and is just beginning to figure out how to make the figures actually pop up and out. 

2) Tree stacker: I picked this up at the American Montessori Society conference last week to bring back for missy, and it's been a hit. She isn't close to building it in order of size, but she's been enjoying getting the pieces on and of course, taking them off. 

3) Shape sorter: This shape sorter is the most gorgeous one I've found yet, and designed by Bella Bella artist Ben Houstie. Noora loves it, and it's definitely more challenging than some of the earlier ones we had. It's important to me that Noora be exposed to different Indigenous cultures, particularly those within BC, where we live. The company Native Northwest (which only carries pieces made and designed by indigenous artists and designers of the Pacific Northwest) has amazing options on their site that make it super easy to find beautiful materials that aren't culturally appropriative and that support local artisans and authors. 

 I seriously love this shape sorter. More than I can say.

I seriously love this shape sorter. More than I can say.

4) Montessori Coin Box: This was given to Noora by one of my dear friends for her 1st birthday, and it quickly became one of her favourites. She's finally figured out how to retrieve them from the drawer and that's made it even more fun- though she sometimes only wants to open and close the drawer over and over and over because, well, babies. Ha! 

5) Basket of Books: Noora has books available in basically every room of the house, and here is no exception. We aren't as strict about board books as others are- it's one place I deviate from my training. We mostly stick to Montessori ideals- real or realistic images and stories, but I don't mind the odd fairy tale, talking panda or mythology board book. And Star Wars. Of course. 

6) Pounding Toy: This was another birthday gift and a definite hit. The hammer that came with it is currently put away- Noora doesn't have quite the coordination down for that yet, and is still enthralled with putting things in and out and so using her hands to put the pegs in and push is perfect for her right now. 

7) Mirror blocks: It is no secret that I love block play, and these may be some of my all time favourites. We've only put out three for now, and Noora definitely enjoys looking at them and has even started holding them up to things and looking at them in the reflection. (See the picture at the end of the post to see her playing with them). 

And finally, 8) Music Basket: Noora has many musical instruments scattered throughout the house, including claves, shakers, a ukulele (under very careful supervision), and a glockenspiel, but this set is currently the winner. Colourful and bright, with a tambourine, maraca and castanet, Noora is totally taken with them (the tambourine is by far the most popular). 

(I can't find the entire set on Amazon for some reason -it was another birthday gift and I'm not sure where it was found originally- but the link is to a percussion set with similar pieces and other instruments she definitely enjoys!)

 

And that's what's on her shelf in her playroom for now. We have a few more peg activities to switch out when she masters some of these easier ones, and I can't wait to see how her work progresses now that she's in young toddler stage and not a little baby anymore. What are your favourite toys for a brand new toddler? 

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 Her fav thing to look at in her mirror blocks is herself. <3

Her fav thing to look at in her mirror blocks is herself. <3

My Version of a Birth Story

Last year, at this time, I was (finally) asleep/unconscious after (finally) getting an epidural. It was a Tuesday morning, and I had been in the hospital since Saturday afternoon. 

That Saturday, I had been shopping for a car seat with my doula and my sister- I had had a scare that week and had almost required a c-section almost 7 weeks early. For some reason, my main concern at the hospital had been that I had no car seat and therefore no way to get a baby back to my house (obviously it's not as though my folks, sister, in-laws, best friends, whoever couldn't have picked one up. Pregnancy brain is real, y'all).

After shopping, I stopped at Starbucks and picked up a venti caramel frappucino, as all responsible diabetics who are 7.5 months pregnant and on insulin do, because I was sick and tired of not eating or drinking anything fun (I was severely sick throughout my entire, high-risk pregnancy and on a very limited diet- i.e. white bread and pasta, basically). I drank it down, went home, and felt dizzy. I assumed my sugars would be off the charts- a venti frap is basically pure sugar- but to my surprise, they were hovering just under the 2 mark and I thought I was going to pass out. 

Both my midwife and the endocrinologist told me to get to the hospital ASAP and bring a bag with clothes because I wasn't going anywhere. So, my husband and I headed out. At the hospital, it was decided I would be induced- my sugars weren't getting back up- and because of my high risk status, they kept me in the hospital. 

 Day 3 in the hospital- my sister taking the time to capture the moment.&nbsp;

Day 3 in the hospital- my sister taking the time to capture the moment. 

I paced the hallways of the hospital with my doulas (I had a doula-in-training observing so I got 2 lovely women with me through basically the whole thing). Apparently, as my response to stress has traditionally been to shop, I kept that up, and during contractions, I would buy something 'for the baby'. I was fairly alarmed, after Noora's birth, to discover the vast number of emails I had from Etsy congratulating me on my recent purchases. I received hipster, organic baby things for MONTHS afterwards. 

 The phone with which I purchased all of Etsy's baby department, apparently.&nbsp;

The phone with which I purchased all of Etsy's baby department, apparently. 

We had visitors- according to photos and other people telling me. I have no major memories of the four days I spent being induced, except that I was pissed off that every meal seemed to include fish, which made me sick, and that I was in pain. 

I don't have much of a traditional 'birth story' for y'all. I have some pictures, taken by my sister and my doula. I have a four day experience in the hospital that included proposing and declaring my eternal love to an anesthesiologist whose name I don't remember. I remember being grateful for the midwives from the birth program I was in- even though I had been transferred to the care of an obstetrician once admitted because of my high risk status, they didn't leave me. I remember crying and vomiting in pain and was ready to say fuck it, let's do a c-section, make this stop, when they told me I was starting to dilate and could finally get an epidural and sleep. Finally. 

I don't think birth is magical. I think it is supremely badass and powerful and kind of disgusting and scary and overwhelming and gross and hardcore and astonishing. I'm proud of myself for getting through it. I'm grateful to medical science for helping me stay alive during what was a hellish pregnancy and delivery. I'm thankful for my husband and doulas, who were nearly as tired and worn out as I was and still managed to keep my spirits up. 

In less than 6 hours, I'll have a one year old. And I will post about my girl and how my world changed and how she became the centre of it. But this time last year, I was still in labour and I wanted to talk about that for a bit. All my fellow mamas out there who did this badass, amazing thing, whether naturally, in a pool of water, with your hair mermaid perfect, or ugly crying in a hospital bed, or doped up like I was finally- so much so that the pushing was the least awful part of the whole damn thing, or by caesarean, or any other way you can think of, because this birth thing is hardcore and proof positive of female strength and power- you rock. You did the thing. And so did I. 

Book Review: Ada Twist, Scientist

Representation matters. We know this. We know that seeing children that resemble themselves helps with self-esteem and confidence. Media children consume during their early years helps shape their ideas of what they are capable of- what they can do and be. Unfortunately, representation in children's books is abysmal. In 2015, only about 14% of children's books featured characters that were non-white. Less than 8% feature Black main characters. Less than 4% feature Asian characters. Less than 3% feature Latinx characters. Less than 1% feature First Nations or indigenous people. To put those numbers in perspective, talking animals and trucks make up just over 12% of children's book characters. 

The numbers get worse when you start tallying up girl characters. In all categories. 'Boy' is still seen in publishing circles (and others) as default- the assumption being that girls will read books about boys but not the reverse.

So. In this tiny space I have, this small little blog where I can do and say what I wish- I am choosing to do my very best to bring your attention to books featuring minorities of all stripes.  

 

With that in mind- let's talk about a book that features a Black girl scientist. "Ada Twist, Scientist" by the incomparable Andrea Beaty, is a fabulous, rhyming and delightful romp through the world of small Ada, a young girl who didn't speak a word until she was three- only to dive into why, why, why, why, why with a vengeance. 

 The illustrations, by David Roberts, are absolutely lovely.&nbsp;

The illustrations, by David Roberts, are absolutely lovely. 

Ada's parents, and later teacher, struggle to keep up with her as she strives to figure out the what, how, why of everything she comes across- like any good scientist. One day, Ada decides to figure out big stinks- how does the nose know something is stinky, and where does a big stink come from? She tests her hypotheses- maybe it's cabbage stew? Perhaps the cat? Until her tired parents have had enough and have her sit in the hall. 

 Seriously, the illustrations are a delight.&nbsp;

Seriously, the illustrations are a delight. 

So Ada sits. And thinks. And sits. And thinks. And sits and thinks and thinks and sits until she starts writing down all of her questions and answers until the hallway is covered and her parents, like good parents should, recognize their daughter's curiosity as something to be valued. 

"Ada Twist, Scientist" is by the same duo that brought us the lovely "Iggy Peck, Architect" and the absolutely stellar "Rosie Revere, Engineer" and they have not dropped the ball with their third offering. There are so few books featuring young girls of colour in STEM themes that I would, frankly, take basically any book, with even the barest hint of a plot, and without decent illustrations. Thankfully- this time I don't have to. It is a treasure, and should be in all classrooms (and homes). 

 

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From Floor Bed to Crib: A Montessori Journey

One of the biggest differences between Montessori parenting and other parenting styles is that Montessorians generally advocate against having a crib. We prefer floor beds, lovely, independent spaces that our children can move in and out of at will. Pinterest is full of beautiful, serene nurseries featuring floor beds, and I spent hours planning ours. 

 Our original nursery, when Noora was still in a bassinet in our bedroom and we used her bed as her movement and mobile area during the day. Pinterest worthy floor bed room.   

Our original nursery, when Noora was still in a bassinet in our bedroom and we used her bed as her movement and mobile area during the day. Pinterest worthy floor bed room.

 

I had a floor bed. A simple mattress, a fitted sheet with a cut up pool noodle along the edge so that Noora couldn’t just roll out, and a never ending supply of books, articles, and resources that kept assuring me this was the Montessori way and I couldn’t possibly go wrong.

Until we got to 11 months and Noora still didn’t sleep through the night. Ever. She woke up every 2-3.5 hours. She crawled around her room, screaming and crying, sometimes just talking but certainly not sleeping. Had she fallen asleep on the carpet regularly, I’d have been fine with that. It would have been a relief. But she didn’t. She just cried until I came in and nursed her back down.

She didn’t nap well during the day, except on day 5 of not-good napping, when she’d finally crash, sleep for 3 hours, and not go to bed until 11 or midnight. And then repeat. I was miserable. Sleep tends to exacerbate any issues one might be having, and my issues include post-partum depression. Not sleeping was killing me. 

 Floor bed, nursery 2.0. Once Noora moved out of our bedroom, we moved her mirror to the playroom, added a wardrobe, and made this a baby friendly, independent space for her, so that if she crawled out of bed, she'd be able to be in here safely.&nbsp;

Floor bed, nursery 2.0. Once Noora moved out of our bedroom, we moved her mirror to the playroom, added a wardrobe, and made this a baby friendly, independent space for her, so that if she crawled out of bed, she'd be able to be in here safely. 

But how could I be wrong? How could I give up on this? My entire life revolves around the Montessori world, and here I was, considering throwing out a huge chunk of the philosophy. I was considering a crib and I was wracked with guilt.

Then- relief. Permission. I walked into our baby Montessori class- a parent participation class led by a friend and colleague- and she, my friend, looked at me in a bit of alarm and asked if the sleeping was improving. And I passed her Noora and sat in the observation chair and tried not to sob and sob and sob in front of a class full of parents and children. Not normal behavior, certainly.

And my good friend, one of the most Montessori people I know, messaged me later, making sure I was still alive and safe, and told me to just get a crib. Some babies can’t handle freedom, she said, and you’re following the child. That’s Montessori. Noora can’t handle the floor bed. Montessori is your life, she said, just like me, but this isn’t helping anyone. Get a crib. 

 I was almost in tears building the crib, several times. I felt like I had failed as a Montessori parent and teacher. How could I preach this if I couldn't follow it?

I was almost in tears building the crib, several times. I felt like I had failed as a Montessori parent and teacher. How could I preach this if I couldn't follow it?

And so I did. Just to see. And my child, who had never slept through the night, not once, in 11 months, slept. She woke up once. The next night, she slept. The night after that, she slept. Apparently my child can’t handle freedom. My child needed walls to feel secure.

And I breathed a sigh of relief, and I slept. And I slept. And all of a sudden it wasn’t so overwhelming, and the world wasn’t as dark, and I enjoyed parenting again. And that was huge.

So- to all my mamas out there, struggling to commit and stay committed to a philosophy, who are trying so hard to get through and be the perfect Montessori or RIE or Waldorf or attachment or whatever parent- sometimes, letting go is the best thing you can do. It’s okay. Follow the child, and you won’t go astray.

And a huge thanks to my husband, parents, and friends who helped me take care of Noora when I hadn’t slept and wasn’t capable. And a massive, eternal thanks to my pal, Christie of Aid to Life Education, for recognizing me in a bit of a crisis and giving me the permission I felt I needed to deviate from the plan. (Seriously, any parents in the Lower Mainland area should attend her classes- she's magic). 

 This happy baby sleeps through the night. Will wonders never cease?

This happy baby sleeps through the night. Will wonders never cease?