Laura de Medici-Bentley: Giving Livia the best of both worlds
Livia had amazing teachers at the school where I taught in Arlington. Not only was she constantly stimulated; she was very, very loved. It has been months since she’s been in school, but she still vividly remembers her teachers and talks about them frequently. Sometimes, she still asks for her first teacher, whom she calls “Mama Vera,” since she was like a second mom.
Once we moved to Winchester, I decided to stay home with her and enjoy these early years as much as I could. Before I made the decision, I put a lot of thought into what I wanted each of us to get out of my staying home.
I would want our days together to be fun and flexible, but also intentional. She was learning so much at school, and as a teacher, I couldn’t let it go to waste. I decided that it was essential for Livia to continue to have the same learning experiences that she would if she were still in school.
It took a lot of brainstorming to figure out how to give Livia the best of both worlds, a cozy home and a good learning environment. I knew I couldn’t turn my house into a preschool, but I could make it as learning-friendly as possible.
I thought about some of the basic things each of our classrooms had — a variety of books, puzzles, blocks and other manipulatives, a dress-up area, a play kitchen, art supplies, a sensory table (usually filled with sand, water or rice for pouring), low/open shelving, and child-sized furniture. (Thankfully, I had most of this already).
Then, I thought about where to put it all. To keep things balanced, we ended up dedicating a little bit of each room to Livia.
The back of our living room is perfect for most of her things. We have two Ikea bookshelves that frame a large window in the living room. The top shelves hold décor and adult books, and their bottom shelves are the perfect height for a toddler.
One shelf now holds puzzles, blocks, a wooden truck, a shape sorter, and other ”problem solving” items. The other shelf, which is beside her play kitchen, serves as a “pretend pantry” for play food, dishes, and a real cookbook.
Across from the shelves, I put together a “dress up basket” and a small area for her baby doll and its accessories.
Our kitchen doubles as our “science and discovery” area. It isn’t carpeted, so frequent spills are easy to clean up. Livia is very hands-on and loves to pour and explore. I put her sensory table (two clear bins held in place with pvc pipes) here. The bins can hold water, sand, rice, beans … the sky is the limit. She uses measuring cups and funnels to pour from one bin to the other, and I also add in things like magnetic letters or small plastic toys — all things that can be found at a dollar store. She can see if they sink or float in water, or she can bury/ rediscover them in sand and rice. A sensory table is wonderful for language development — Livia talks about what she finds in the bins, she learns about “full” vs “empty,” she practices counting, and we practice identifying colors.
A corner of the dining room is dedicated to arts and crafts. We reused an old coffee table for her art table. A rolling caddy with shelves holds crayons, scissors, stamps, stickers, and Play-Doh.
To help build her independence and confidence, we have stepstools throughout the house. Livia washes her hands and brushes her teeth independently. She loves having access to things she couldn’t otherwise reach without help — especially food!
Finally, I put a “reading basket” in every room. In addition to books, I include postcards from her grandparents, children’s magazines, and I throw in a small instrument so we can sing songs.
I love the one-on-one time that I get to share with my daughter. Throughout the week, we enjoy swimming lessons and trips to the library for story time. Parts of our daily routine are similar to the one she had at school: we do some sort of “planned” activity in the morning, we go outside multiple times a day (rain, shine or snow), and she takes a nap after lunch.
One challenge I initially faced was learning different ways to include her in household tasks, but like everything else, it’s trial-and-error. She helps throw laundry in the dryer, she puts her dishes in the dishwasher, she is very involved in preparing meals, and we use errand running as an opportunity to learn new vocabulary and greet people in our community.
Of course, there are plenty of challenging days, but I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather spend them with.
Laura de Medici-Bentley, of Winchester Virginia, is a former early childhood educator who currently enjoys staying home with her [almost] 2-year-old daughter. She is an author of a personal blog, CiaoMommy.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org