A Montessori Harmony Day

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It is yet another rainy Thursday afternoon in Sydney and I am sitting in my classroom waiting for my own children to finish up school for the day. I am sitting in stillness listening to the wind chime out side my class door and the rustle of our zebra finch as they build a nest inside their enclosure. I am reflecting over the last two weeks as this is the first time I have actually been able to just sit and soak in the noises around me. Oh, how I do love a rainy day that makes me draw inward.

I have been meaning to share some photos of the children’s Harmony Day at school. It is very special in a Montessori school as we are such a tight knit community and those who are available pitch in to create a lovely display of multicultural tables to represent our countries of origin. To be honest, Harmony day sprung up on me this year and I wasn’t planning on doing a table at all; however with very little coaxing required gave in and spent a weekend driving around Sydney gather Vietnamese items from our families homes and any odds and ends from thrift shops that I might find to make our display look complete. After all, I wanted to make my in-laws proud that I represented their Motherland well.

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We have a rule in our house that on Sunday everyone has to sit down together as a family and do something as a family (it has to be technology free). Normally it is a puzzle or origami. I used this time to get all of us involved in making our display board for Harmony Day. It was a great team effort and Lachlan even took it upon himself to draw a map of Vietnam which his dad projected on the way. Oliver, drew and colored the original flag and Noelle helped me research interesting topics about the country.

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I was so blessed that the day before Harmony Day another mum from the school approached me saying that she was Vietnamese and would love to help. I was overjoyed because all that was left to organise was cooking a Vietnamese dish and I wasn’t sure how this American was going to cope with that. Thankfully the beautiful mum brought yummy Vietnamese Spring Rolls on the day that were devoured so quickly!

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Here are some photos of a few of the other displays to see what Harmony day was all about at our Montessori School. You’ll also notice that the children were asked to wear their cultural clothes or dress in orange for the day.

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Our Picks for Toddler Toileting!

Hey all!

It’s a rainy Saturday here in Sydney. I finished up my first toileting workshop for 2017 with a great group of parents. I always share my favourite items that assisted us during the toileting process. Design is important, especially for the potty and step stool. They need to be just the right size. For example; potties should have a bucket with good depth so when the child walks it to the toilet it doesn’t slosh around and we want stools that are strong and sturdy but also light enough that the child can move around.

So for your convenience, I came home (left my children to their devices) and whipped up some of my favourite picks to help you get through the process.

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  1. Toti Potti 4 in 1 by Infasecure
  2. Ikea Lockig children’s potty
  3. Potette Plus- portable potty
  4. Ikea Molger 2 step stool
  5. Ikea Trogen Foot/Dressing Stool
  6. Ikea Bolmen step stool
  7. toileting-picks-2Conni Kids Tackers
  8. Ikea Ragrund toilet roll stand
  9. Children’s Cotton Head Mop from A2Z Montessori
  10. Conni Kids Bedpad with Tuckins
  11. Baby Beehinds Wetbag

Helpful Hints when shopping for the above items…

Aldi in Australia often sells the Conni bedpads for a fraction of the price listed on Conni’s website so keep a look out for them. Also, regarding the training pants: many of the ones in our stack are from K-mart’s in-house brand. I could not locate them on their website but look in-store in the area of their baby toileting items. They are about $3.00 a pair!

If you need more toileting guidance click on the Toileting link on the left to visit the archives to view previous posts. Best of luck!

With gratitude,

Megan xx

 

 

Exploring Wildlife in Our Own Backyard

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We are really fortunate that we back up the bush (that is Aussie talk for the forest or woods). We get incredible spottings daily of various wildlife including frogs, lizards, snakes, birds, foxes and unique insects. It is a real treat for our nature loving family and the reason why we bought our current home.

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It is Spring time here in Australia and we don’t have to look very far to find wildlife in our backyard. Normally a creature will catch us off guard like a Southern-leaf gecko camouflaged on the brick of the house, a tree frog hiding under the dog bowl or a lizard trapped inside an empty pot. Of course the many spiders and millipedes found inside the house goes without saying. One thing this large continent does well is spiders (and snakes).

For those that know my history, know that I originally started out pursuing studies and a job in Wildlife Biology and Veterinary Medicine. Studying nature, especially the behaviour of animals has always fascinated me. I suppose that is why it was easy for me to make the switch to studying human development; put me in a room with any creature, big or small, civilized or not and I will observe for hours. I was that kid sitting on on a rock watching turtles dive and surface in a pond until sunset. I think this honestly where my patience was built!

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I certainly have tried to nurture this love or at least respect for wildlife in my children. I delight in seeing the twinkle in their eye when they spot a beetle or skink in the yard. My daughter, Noelle certainly has the patience of a research biologist. Like me, she can sit for an hour waiting for a butterfly to land on her arm. She seems to just quietly call them to her by her sweet nature. We always have called her a little ‘Snow White’. Those who know her would confirm it is the truth.

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I come across many children who do not have exposure to the living world around them. They could be exposed so easily but life often seems like a rush and they are often toted off my their parents to something else; perhaps an activity or just merely inside. The opportunity seems to pass by too quickly.

I speak a lot of technology and how it is changing childhood. I am not anti-technology; it has its place in our evolving world. I am however ‘anti-technology first’. I do believe that children should learn by first-hand, meaningful experiences. Using all the senses to explore is important and innate. Seeing the ancient Sequoia or Redwood tree in a photograph or documentary is interesting and fascinating, but seeing one in person is majestic, amazing and magical! I remember being moved to tears the first time I stood under one. I felt so small, yet so connected to the Earth and God. What a privilege to experience a creation so grand!

I have no idea when my children will see their first Sequoia, but I do know that it is the everyday things in their world that makes life meaningful. My job is to slow their world down a little bit; let them follow snail trails, investigate hollow logs and probe with sticks in ponds and mud puddles. What I love most about the warmer weather is that we are rarely inside. No one asks what time it is in anticipation of their favourite TV show, the only signal to come in is dinner or mozzie bites forming on their legs.

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So let your children run wild and free. Slow down and let them explore. Get a butterfly net for catch and release fun, let them take their shoes and socks off and feel the Earth beneath their feet. Breathe it all in with them. Respect for nature is born here in these moments.

With gratitude,

Megan xx

Green Goodness- Smoothies my kids love!

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Smoothies are what got me through finals week in college. Depending on your fruit and veg of choice, they can be packed with loads of vitamins, antioxidants, fiber and energy! They certainly give me a boost as I get through my day with my three lovely children.

The best thing about smoothies for me is that my children just LOVE them! It is the simplest way for me to make sure they are get their daily intake of vegetables–especially greens. Like many kids, mine aren’t always too keen for greens; however if I whip it up in a smoothie with some almond milk and a banana or pear they are as happy as can be.

Now, I know some of you are thinking that something so green could never taste like anything more than grass, but I assure you it is not the case. Even if you have had bad luck making a palatable green smoothie in the past, please don’t give up! It just takes the right combination of fruits, veg and liquid such as almond milk, coconut water, etc to find your taste. Luckily, our own Australian, Sally Obermeder has done all the trial and error for us. I picked up her smoothie book at my local K-mart, quite frankly thinking it might be another one of those books just to add to my collection on the shelf, but I have been so happy with the purchase! My children and I use this book everyday and we have not yet made a smoothie that we have not ALL liked. That’s right, we all have been sipping them, including the kiddos.

I love that my children get to see that “green” is good and that it can taste delicious! Nothing beats that vibrant, fresh colour in a cold mason jar. The best thing for us is that most of the greens,;like spinach, celery and cucumber, we collect from our garden. The kids pick, wash and throw them in the blender themselves. The involvement in the food prep gets them more excited about trying and testing out flavours.

Sally also gives great tips about prepping and freezing fresh vegetables in ziplock bags so they are all ready to go. Just pour in the blender, add liquid and voila! This has been a true time saver for me. Also having the fruit and veg ice cold gives the smoothies the best, smooth texture without having to add ice, which just dilutes it.

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The amazing thing is the amount of greens that EACH of us will slurp up in a serving–wait for it….2 cups! The majority of  it for us is our prefernce of kale or spinach and I am delighted that my children consuming it all in one sitting! My children will both drink one whole mason jar, but if you have the half masons as we also have that is 1 cup of just greens, not to mention the other fruit and veg you might add. Amazing to any parent who has ever had to hide greens in their child’s food.

If you have a really picky taste tester hear are a few of my tips:

  • Start with more fruit and gradually increase the greens or vegetables as you go.
  • Start with less bitter vegetables like peas, celery, cucumber and baby spinach then work your way up towards other types of greens. My kids hail kale! from the get go :)
  • Start with smaller servings of green smoothies for children who are just starting out to eat greens. My Ollie loves them and I can tell you that when he first started without portion control it was a real bowel cleanse!

So give it a go, I say. Go green! You and your children just might be surprised

Baking with Toddlers and Preschoolers

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One of the main focuses in the Toddler Program I run at Northside Montessori is food preparation. A good rule of thumb for any toddler program is that there should be at least eight food prep areas in which children can practice and master various skills. Why is this so important? Well, food prep is more than making a meal, it is about using those fine motor skills to master refined movement. Kitchen work also opens up opportunities to learn more language, entice the senses, explore mathematics via weight and measurement and also develop problem-solving skills. There is of course the sharing of a meal which foster social development.

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So it isn’t any wonder that when you walk into my classroom the first thing that the child will see is practical life work which half of that involves the kitchen area. My room is purposefully set up as development in this area is so important as they are precursors to other things in the environment (especially reading and writing as the child moves on to the 3-6 Cycle). A well trained Montessori Directress can in fact tell you what child hasn’t had exposure to such tasks in their early years. It becomes very apparent while observing a child’s awkward movements in the following years. So your children in he kitchen cooking and table washing. The benefits are great!

Today I am sharing with you a favourite not only in my toddler program but also at home….baking! So many children love to bake and it isn’t always about the end result, it is about the process. Many will of course be eager to taste their reward but others are happy to just do it and leave the munching to someone else. This NEVER happens in my house. I will be lucky if mommy gets a piece  😉

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We love to use over ripe bananas to make simple muffins. In our program at school I have everything pre-measured for a child to walk over when he likes and begin baking. At home, the only guidance I give is with measuring for my youngest (my 5 and 7 year old have now mastered it). I then step aside and just observe. We have baked so many times that my children know the steps by heart and even the ingredients. Somewhere in today’s baking Oliver said, “You forgot sugar!” Indeed, I did!

Some worry about small children in the kitchen when it comes to baking. There should always be a watchful eye and equipment that the child can use successfully. It is helpful to have child-sized utensils and that are child-friendly. We use special knifes for example and also have a small toaster oven for them to use independently. A double oven glove (ours is from Target Australia) is perfect for covering the child’s entire hands and arms while taking things out of the toaster oven. A mini twelve-hole muffin tray is perfect for toaster oven. Ours is Willow brand from Big W Australia.

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If the photos featured don’t look like a confident, independent three- year old then I don’t know what does? What do you think? They are so capable if trusted and given the opportunities.

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With gratitude,

Megan xx

A “Tiny” Nature Hunt Game

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We have been trying to make it up to the mountains for a month now but each weekend has posed a challenge. First there was a major accident going up the mountain which caused us to turn back and change our plans, then Mother’s Day weekend some genius decided it would be a great time for hazard reduction burning which left all of Sydney and beyond covered in a haze of smoke so we were home bound. On top of a couple of kids unwell on various weekends, it seemed like me might not make it up in time to see the autumn colours. However, if you know me, nothing will get me down. I am one determined momma so last Sunday rain or shine we headed up to lovely Mt. Tomah Botanic Gardens.

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Despite a little wind, it was a gorgeous sunny day. We packed a picnic and Noelle even organised a fun little treasure hunt game for us. It is the sweetest little version of treasure hunt and your children will love it. Plus, it is simple to make. All you need is some tiny little match boxes or similar. Noelle  spent the day before decorating them all and the once we got to the mountain, explained the rules. Very simple: everyone gets a box and has 15 minutes to find small “treasures” that will fit inside. Whoever has the most, wins.

It provided a great opportunity to slow down and look closely for things in our surroundings that would fit in the small match box. We discovered tiny seeds and even insects that we otherwise might have missed. At the end of the game we all gathered back on our picnic rug and shared out bounty, trying to identify each item. The children were all so interested in each others findings that no one bothered to count to see who won. I am going to risk sounding a bit smug here and confess that I do love that my children are not competitive in this way!

And when fished they invented a new game called “Roll the Rug” which involves throwing the picnic rug down the hill and chasing it with squealing laughter!

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So a quick blog but a fun and easy game for your children to get them out and exploring nature. Plus, there is something about teeny tiny things that children just love and certainly do treasure.

 

With gratitude,

Megan xx

Au revoir, Beau- Coping with Death

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The last month has been tough around here. Lachlan has been processing the death of one of his school teachers and then yesterday our pet rabbit, Beau passed away.  Our sweet rabbit took his last breath in my arms while Lachlan stood over me. I cried while I stroked his soft fur and thanked him for being such a loving companion to us over the last year.

Beau was a rescue bunny. We adopted him from the RSPCA just a year ago. He was an older rabbit and not trainable like our previous one. He peed and pooed everywhere and never  earned the privilege of being a house bunny. He was so sweet though and like all animals he loved us unconditionally and we adored him. We were happy to give him his forever home with us, though we wish it would have been for longer.

A teary eyed Lachlan asked if we were going to bury him. I agreed but we would have to wait for the rain let up. We sat outside next to Beau as the gentle rain fell from the sky and tears slowly streamed down our cheeks. I asked him how he was feeling. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “okay” and wished that the rain would ease up soon. It did and we went into the garage to locate the shovel. He said that he wanted to dig the hole and found one of his own. We walked up to the spot in the garden next to our other rabbit’s resting place and after looking for the perfect spot broke into the soft earth with his spade.

Lachlan wanted to own every step of the process. I could tell that doing so was very therapeutic for him. I also gathered that it wasn’t all about Beau either, but also about his teacher that he lost last month as well. We have lost pets over the years but I have never seen him so adamant to be involved. There was never any news of a funeral for his teacher as I think the family kept it private and I think he has had this lingering sense of needing closure. Going through the burial ritual for Beau seemed to be bringing a completion to both deaths–at least I hope this is the case.

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After he dug the grave, I gently lowered our beloved Beau into it and Lachlan very gently filled up dirt all around him, over his body and lastly his head. He collected some of Beau’s favourite treats from the garden: a lovely bouquet of flowers, herbs, dandelion and clover. He and Noelle used a heart shaped rock we found at the beach over the summer to make a headstone for him.

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We said a prayer and gently laid them in place on his grave. And then…

The world went on again.  All three of my children ran around the garden, collecting beetles with smiles and giggles. There was no trace of what had just happened.

Parents often ask if this is normal and yes, it is. Children are really good at living in the present. They master it so much better than us as their life experiences are incredibly small compared to an adults. When something tough occurs, it is generally a new encounter for them. Unlike with us adults, it can often trigger a memory–and often unpleasant.

We of course can’t assume that the smiles and giggles means that they are done processing the event. This takes time and we need to allow children exactly that: time. We also need to provide a healthy space to grieve, which includes an adult who will listen and answer questions.

Listening is key. Also be careful not to assume your child feels a certain way. In death we often approach children with; “you must be sad.” However, sometimes that feeling is not there for the child.  A better approach is: “How are you feeling about this?” The child might be sad, angry, confused, numb, guilty and so on. Death brings complex emotions some all felt at once and others on different days of the week. The harm in assuming a child feels sad when he doesn’t is that it may create guilt as the child asks, “What is wrong with me. Why am I not sad? Mom is sad, so I should be too.” This can create a space where the child is afraid to open up because he feels like his feelings are not the norm and will not be accepted. He might even feel ashamed.

A helpful tip when talking about life and death with children is by answering their questions with a question. We need to be careful not to answer with more than what they are truly asking and this technique helps with this. I often give the example of when our 4 year old niece was staying with us and asked me out of the blue if I thought that she would ever die. I was caught of guard while trying to enjoy a Vegemite sandwich with her. This was the last thing on my mind! I wasn’t quite sure where this all came from and what she was really asking or thinking about so I simply asked: “Well, what do you think?” She immediately replied with a smile, ” I think I am going to live a very, very long time!” and then asked if we could go outside for a walk to the park.

That was it! I was off the hook. She answered her own question and was pleased. She didn’t even yearn for my response or flinch. Off she skipped. Can you imagine if I would have answered with details about life and death, perhaps saying that we all die or our time is on Earth is uncertain? I could have opened up a discussion that she was not developmentally ready for or even inquiring about at all!

Another important thing to keep in mind is that it is okay to not have all the answers. If your child asks you a question and you are caught off guard (and almost choke on your Vegemite) or just quite frankly do not know the answer, tell your child that you need some time to think about it. That is totally okay! Telling your child you aren’t quite sure, want to look into it more to give him the best answer is an admirable quality. Just make sure that you set a time to get back to your child with the answer, otherwise he will be afraid to ask again or fear he did something wrong by asking in the first place.

Remember that children are resilient. They are capable of getting through a lot! Think of all that your have survived in your life. Yes, life is a roller coaster but having supportive and loving parents that a child can count on is key. This really builds up that resilience factor; having a sounding board and a safe place to ask questions is so important.

Always follow your child’s lead. Death is hard stuff. The feelings are complex and we all grieve differently. Some children will want to be involved in some sort of planning and carrying out the rituals of the process. Others, will just not care or need space to be alone. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. I am reminded during times like these of a verse that talks about how God gave us one mouth and two ears and that we should learn to use them proportionately. It is so true. These are the times to do more listening than speaking. Often open arms are ears are the best comfort.

So we take it day by day. The sun rose today and there was no mention of Beau. As soon as we are out in the garden I know someone will be mentioned. It might be wondering if Beau is in Heaven (My children envision all our small animals in Heaven being cared for by my Grandpa Bill who passed a few years ago) or it might be asking if we will get another rabbit.

I think at the moment we will not be adding any more furry companions to our brood. As much as the children would love to welcome another rabbit. I think this momma needs a little respite for awhile (especially since we have broods of other animals/creatures in our care. At the end of the day I am the one that has to make sure they are all fed and well; whether I care for them myself or have to constantly remind the children to. It is just more on my plate and I have had a very full one this year! I think we will be enjoying what we have at the moment.

All the best.

With gratitude,

Megan xx

Baking up Paleo Banana-Raspberry Bread

I am so grateful for the energy I have had today and for my asthma being manageable as well. Fingers crossed it will last more than 24 hours! Since our return from the US in October I have had a chronic infection which triggered adult onset asthma. I have a low grade fever every day and my immune system is so weak that it is having a hard time fighting off the infection. Sleep is hard for me and most days I have to keep my inhaler by my side. Having three children certainly adds to the fatigue but watching them grow and feeling their hugs gives me strength and motivation on the hard days. It has been impossible to exercise and cooking and cleaning often seem like daunting tasks. I am fortunate I have an amazing husband to share the load on days I am not up to par.

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Today however, despite the lack of sleep last night, I found my second wind and was motivated to do a bit of baking. I cheated and used my Thermomix, but am so thankful that I have it, otherwise it would be so hard to make the foods that my restricted diet allows. (I am gluten, lactose and grain-free) We had some very ripe bananas around so I put them and my Thermie to good use to whip up some little bread loaves. I used this recipe from the Thermomix Recipe Community. I did adapt it by adding some raspberries and sprinkling shredded coconut on the top. They made a lovely morning tea for Oliver and me. He loves raspberries in his morning cereal and yoghurt, however they must have tasted a bit more tart in the bread as you can see my the lucky shots below! (Note: If you don’t have a Thermomix you can simply use a food processor or alternatively mash the bananas by hand- great for children to do! and use a mixer for the rest. This would certainly be the preferred Montessori way!).

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Even Noelle couldn’t resist a loaf after school!

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What are your favourite foods to whip up and share with your child?

Window Washing: Practical Life for Toddlers and on…

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Window washing has to be one of the most favourite and easiest practical life activities to implement in your home for your children. Toddlers love it because they generally are fascinated by water. It is a great activity to redirect them to if you find that they are destructively splashing around in your dish washing area or just wanting to pour water for drinking all over the table. They simple want to experiment with it and see how it moves! Window washing allows them to do some of this with the spraying and moving it on the glass with the squeegee.

Window washing also has another great benefit when introduced in toddlerhood. If your child is going to tranistion up into a Montessori 3-6 classroom, window washing will also be a presented activity there as well. It is a constant in the classroom and always available. Window washing becomes a lovely, familiar activity for new children when they begin in a new environment. This familiarity gives the child a sense of security and confidence in their new space. It also has the advantage of developing motor skill and muscle tone. This is all preparing your child for important tasks and skills they will learn in the future.

Here you can see you just need some basic items that you may already have in your home or can pick up easily at a dollar shop or other home store.

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  • Spray bottle (test to ensure the trigger is easy for your child to use before buying)
  • Squeegee (shower ones are the perfect size for little hands)
  • Cloth or soft sponge
  • Water proof apron
  • Basket to hold everything

Some notes:

You’ll find in a classroom we colour code everything as much as we can to help the child see what goes together. You can do the same at home if you are buying new items, however it is not necessary as things are less likely to get mixed up at home as in a classroom where there are hundreds of prepared objects on trays and shelves everywhere!

Also, put just a small amount of water in the spray bottle at a time. This will ensure that your child doesn’t totally drown the window and floor!

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You’ll also notice that my children rarely wear aprons at home any more for window washing. My children have mastered this task and are very tidy. I don’t insist that they put on an apron for window washing, unlike for cooking and painting as it is more about keeping their clothes from being changed over and over in the day. Here in Australia, it actually feels pretty nice to have some mist fall on you in the summer! However, in the classroom they will be directed towards putting on the apron so nice to get into that routine :) I am a Montessori Directress, yes. But I am just a bit more relaxed with certain things in my own home.

Really important! Always present a new task to your child. Your child wants to be successful and learn to do what you do to take care of the environment in which you both live. Demonstrate how to hold, aim and spray the bottle and the squeegee. Show by doing and then allow your child a chance as well. If he is unsure then gently help him. Only do the one thing to guide him without taking over the whole task. This is really important for self mastery and confidence!

When finished show your child how to pack it away in the basket and where the basket goes. At our home we have a small stool next to our sliding doors where it sits all the time as it is a favourite for Oliver. You might have a shelf with other practical life activities or cupboard that it will stay in. Let your child know that now that he knows how to wash windows the basket will be available for him whenever he would like; so make sure that is accessible!

Happy washing and hope you have a great week!

With gratitude,

Megan xx

Blue Mountains Sunday

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I have an ol’ college friend in town from the States visiting us. We took Sunday to take her up to see the Blue Mountains as it is her first time in Australia; and actually doing international travel so it has been a fun experience for all of us. I was telling her how much I have appreciated where I live even more since her visit. While I always am in awe of the beauty of Australia and the gifts God has bestowed on this great land, I had forgotten what it was like to see it with ‘new’ eyes. Epic, breath taking, amazing and surreal were words I heard over and over again from my dear friend as she took in each view; whether it was of the beach, mountains or city skyline. In the most respectful way, I compare it to that as a child discovering something for the first time with deep fascination and awe. Don’t we all wish that we can feel this way again? And we so can if we continue to expose ourselves to new experiences and places. It was such a lovely reminder for me as I experienced gratitude in each moment that I should not be taking for granted.

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I saw the same in my children leading up to our short road trip. Oliver had been asking for a month to ‘climb up the mountains’ after his interest in land masses lately. When we pulled up to one of the look outs, Noelle squealed with excitement saying, “I can’t wait!!” Lachlan was full of adventure and wanted to explore each trail and track, despite the fact we hadn’t planned for long trekking this time around.

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We all seemed to relax more as we breathed in the fresh mountain air and took in the majestic views from Echo Point and Govett’s Leap. We told stories of the mountains from bush fires, explorers, Dream Time and great rescues. The children even drew their own Aboriginal style carvings into the dirt at one of the mountain tops.  We had Aussie meat pies and sausage rolls for morning tea, listened for our echos to bounce back from across the vast ravines and most of our crew lazily dozed the majority of the way home.

If you follow on our Facebook page you would have seen that we spent the majority of our weekend in nature’s great playground. Stealing the thought from my friend, it has been “epic” with lots of dirty knees, muddy feet and stained clothes. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Get out in nature and have fun.

With gratitude,

Megan xx