Thursday 19 December 2013

Toddling around the Christmas Tree

One my favourite things about my childhood Christmas was dressing our tree. My mum was thankfully never one of those ladies who liked to coordinate decorations in smart monochrome, changing the 'theme' each year. Our tree was a happy higgledy piggledy multi-coloured rambling mass of wonderful memories. In fact, in recent years it has become two or even three trees as well as garlands and other decorations. We had old ornaments that had belonged to my great grandmother, handmade items from my childhood, interesting things my parents had collected over the years, and (one of my favourites) favours or decorations from friends' weddings or special moments. I looked forward to unpacking the boxes every year and discovering again these beautiful items and talking about the memories they held. Mum has started to pass some of these down to me for my own tree, and we've also started to gather our own set of meaningful items - from honeymoon and places we've visited, friends' weddings, special occasions, and some gorgeous baubles and decorations that I treat myself to one or two of every year. I've also started to collect a couple of beautiful ornaments each year for the girls, so by the time they start their own trees they will already have a lovely collection.

 This year, with builders still militantly occupying our house, it has meant some advent festivities have so far been rather held to ransom. While we wait until later this week to get our lovely big tree, we've had a little one to bravely fly the flag for a Christmas in a near finished home. It's one of those trees that is alive and in a pot; a guilt-free evergreen. Almost every year we buy one with the best intentions, hoping it will survive. Every year we plant it, it dies... but we keep trying!

I suppose, through the happy coincidence of having a small tree and a toddler this year, Culturebaby and I have actually found rather a lovely use for it that I hadn't originally intended - a festive invitation to play. This idea isn't new and is a well used term amongst Montessori fans, but seeing the enjoyment this particular invitation has created, I thought it was one worth sharing. In fact I'm rather planning on adding it to our list of burgeoning new traditions for the little ones. Culturebaby is really excited about Christmas. She has been loving the stories and carols, learning words and symbols, asking for Jingle Bells and the Snowman theme on repeat (I do indeed look rather silly walking along the street, pushing a double pram and singing 'We're Walking in the Air' while Culturebaby sits in the front seat and pretends to fly, but she demands it nonetheless) and diligently examining the wrapped Christmas presents she has been sent in advance. She therefore leapt at the chance to own, water and decorate her very own tree. This is such a simple activity to set up and has proved very enjoyable to do. Here's how we did it:

1. Set up a sturdy little tree on the floor or low enough down that it can't topple and can be reached by a toddler (there is something magical about using a real tree but an artificial one would do the job nicely too).

2. Select a range of non-breakable ornaments. It is great if you can provide in true Montessori form) a range of textures, temperatures, materials and sounds from metal to wood, fabric, plastic, card, sturdy glass, painted real pine cones etc... 

3. Place these items in a bowl at the foot of the tree ready to be examined and placed on the branches. I've been demonstrating how to hang them and have happily joined in when invited, but Culturebaby has enjoyed going back and back to this herself. I need to plan a little better next year and make sure all the ribbons are easy to hang as some of the decorations are tricky for little paws. I've also found that decorations which can be placed right on the branches are definitely easier for a two year old to manage.

4. Culturebaby has been so self restrained so far that I've also allowed her to put her presents under her tree, and she's enjoyed identifying which are for her and for her sister. I'll have to keep rather an eagle eye on this I imagine!

I'm also hoping that having her own tree will mean that Culturebaby will be less inclined to disassemble our larger one. We shall see shortly... Either way it's been a lovely tactile activity for us to enjoy together, and with a month old baby sister and Culturebaby's current preoccupation with being a big girl (and activities that only she can do and babies aren't allowed to perform), it has hopefully also served to make her feel a little bit extra special at a time when she really needs that.

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