Five facts about Mardi Gras

Ah, Mardi Gras, another celebratory reason to get in the kitchen and cook a little treat!

Before we talk about my favorite part of the celebration (yes, the King cake), here are five facts about Mardi Gras you might not yet know -I learned a lot while prepping this post! (Don’t believe me? Websites are cited at the end of the post!)

Five facts…did you know?

  1. It’s a celebration lasting more than a day: Carnaval is the period of celebration beginning la fête des rois (Epiphany) and ending Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday).
  1. Mobile, Alabama was the site of the first Mardi Gras celebration, in 1699.  A French Canadian explorer, Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville discovered, named Point-du-Mardi-Gras, and celebrated there in 1699.
  1. New Orleans began celebrating Mardi Gras in 1857. Fun side anecdote: In the summer of my tenth year, our family visited New Orleans. Although it was not Mardi Gras, we still got a taste of it by visiting Mardi Gras World. We tried on the masks, the costumes, and saw the floats. I’ll always remember Dad with a Joe Cool Camel head and my mom, sister, and I wearing Cinderella inspired headdresses. I will look for the 3×5 prints later and perhaps add them here!
  1. It’s the law: legally speaking, (in New Orleans) if you’re on a float you must wear a mask; for Mardi Gras (one day only!), revelers are allowed to wear masks.
  1. King Cake is a typically American traditional dessert for Mardi Gras. In France, it is tradition to have crêpes (very thin pancakes), gauffres (waffles), and beignets (donuts). I remember always eating pancakes at church Shrove Tuesday dinners…the reason for crêpes, pancakes, gauffres, and beignets is because (according to the Christian season of Lent) people were trying to clean their pantries of all of the “fats” that were forbidden during the Lenten period – ingredients such as butter, eggs, milk.

Weather forecasting

Like Chandeleur, Mardi Gras has some well known sayings that mention weather:

Mardi Gras sous la pluie, l’hiver s’enfuit  

Fat Tuesday under the rain, winter runs away.

A mardi Gras, l’hiver s’en va 

On Fat Tuesday, winter leaves.

Mardi gras pluvieux, fait le cellier huileux 

Rainy Fat Tuesday fills the larder/pantry.

After this last bout of winter weather I am ready for spring! I think we have at least a few weeks of winter left, but I can be hopeful right?

King cake

We made our King cake on Valentine’s Day, and MC really enjoyed watching the yeast foam, the milk boil and bubble, and the dough rise. It was the perfect edible science experiment.

My jaw dropped at first glance of the recipe– it made two cakes, and served 16 people total! I decided to make the full recipe, quarter it (for four people each cake), and freeze three for later. I am usually the only one to eat sweets and I thought I should pace myself.


The plan for today is to make some party crackers, thanks to a tutorial from Tête à Modeler. If they turn out, I’ll post them online later today!

We might decorate the outside with stickers left over from this month’s Toupie magazine competition – to make a Monsieur Carnaval. MC was very modest in her use of stickers this time around. (see below!)

There is also a little comptine (nursery rhyme) about Mardi Gras, again from Tête à Modeler. It’s a cute little song telling Mardi Gras not to go, that we will make him crêpes. Then it recounts the crêpe’s misadventures when getting flipped- she ends up in the soup, on the ceiling, in the dust, on my head, and on a lamp post.

What is your favorite Mardi Gras tradition?



Six helpful workbooks for teaching French to preschoolers

In a previous post, I mentioned one of the workbooks that I had found on our recent trip to France. People travel to France to source fashionable finery, redolent perfume, exceptional art, or any number of other things…Montessori inspired pre-school books? This might be a first…

I went a little crazy buying workbooks for Mon Cœur (MC) while we were there – partly knowing I was going to continue to be at home with her and I wanted support for teaching her en français (in French), and partly out of a crazy dream I have to one day open a Maternelle bilingue (bilingual preschool).  I do miss having a classroom and working with students, so…perhaps one day…

I mainly purchased ones I could use right now with her – the 2-4 age range.  It will give us a good reason to return to France, and we simply didn’t have the room in my luggage for anything else!

Workbooks we’re using and like:

I noticed that the majority of the books were rooted in Montessori values, and stickers were used extensively to make an activity interactive, to provide a manipulative. The stickers are added motivation and MC loves them. Bonus: her little fingers working to peel each sticker are building fine motor skills.

Below are descriptions and a review of each book:

Toute ma maternelle Petite Section (Hachette)

Age range: 3-4 years old

Activities: Eighty-eight activities cover language, writing, math, and discovery of one’s world.  

Sounds, initials, introducing oneself, tracing rounds, straight lines, shapes, giving one’s age, directional prepositions (up/down, behind/in front of), shapes, and counting 1-6 are just some of the activities to be completed.

Personal review: I really like that for each activity, the educational goal is given: Draw rounds, differentiate sizes, memorize a short song and its gestures, find and associate identical images, recognize a three letter word, reproduce a repetitive pattern.  I also love how each activity has a short question to jump start the activity – what’s the weather like today?  Today, it is [x day of week], What time of day is it?  We are in [x season].  Each of these questions is accompanied by pictorial answers for the child to circle.  These questions are repeated throughout the book, so that by the time we finish, these questions will have helped build an understanding of days of the week, seasons, times of day, and weather.

Extras: This book comes with a “whiteboard” page with numbers 1-10 as well as a poster with the alphabet on one side and a picture of a house (and an accompanying story) on the other.

J’apprends à lire et à écrire (Hachette)

Age range: 3-6 years old

Activities: Fifty-five activities start out with simple one letter- one sound correspondences, and two letters-one sound, and then complex phonemes.  Letters are presented in a progressive order of difficulty, script (cursive) writing is introduced, and pictures are used to practice with words containing the focus letter.  As the book progresses the student goes from reading and writing single letters to syllables, to simple words and even phrases.

Personal review: I am not sure if I bought this book more for MC or me!  I am always looking for ways to improve my pronunciation, and this book presents letter combination and sound correspondences that will help me to (correctly, hopefully) teach MC the proper pronunciation to help with reading, speaking, and writing.

Extras: The book comes with lettres rugueuses, rough letters for little fingers to peel, place, and trace.

J’apprends à compter jusqu’à 100 et à calculer (Hachette)

Fun fact: in France, they begin counting with their thumb, instead of index finger.

Age range: 3-6 years old

Activities: This book presents 85 lessons for counting and the four operations in a Montessori-style manner, with raised numbers, and images depicting math used in everyday life.  There are lots of visuals to help introduce numbers, counting (one to one and counting on fingers), and writing numbers.

Personal review: Each lesson begins with a picture to make an observation. I love this starting point to begin a lesson, where MC and I can have a conversation about what we see and then relate that to the lesson. For math, at least through the number ten there is a focus on the numerical symbol, the number on the face of a die, the number as represented by fingers on the hand, as well as counting physical objects.

Extras: Stickers to use for activities as well as chiffres rugueux, rough numbers for little fingers to peel, stick, and trace.

Mon cahier Montessori des lettres (Nathan)

Age range: 3-6 years old

Activities: The alphabet is presented, letter by letter, not in alphabetical order, rather in order of difficulty.    This is more of a scrapbook where MC can collect pictures of friends, pictures from magazines, and stickers from the book for each letter of the alphabet.

Personal review: I think a notebook of letters could just as easily be made from scratch, using a composition notebook and pictures. It is handy though to have the stickers, and have a book with a researched order to present letters. I appreciate the guidance given to parents at the beginning of the book regarding letter order, and how to introduce the letters. This is a great ready-made book to allow us to survey the world around us (and to use the sticker inventory at the back of the book) to find and categorize people and things that begin with each letter of the alphabet.

Extras: Stickers

Ma Maternelle avec Montessori (Larousse)

Age range: 3-4 years old

Activities: This book presents a mix of activities, 85 total, that teach the letters of the alphabet, counting, arranging, and categorizing, and discovery and games.  The letters are arranged in alphabetical order here, with math and observational activities alternating between each letter.

Personal review: We have only just started this book, although MC loves it. For the letter pages, instead of having her practice writing a letter across a whole line, I have her practice tracing the large letter. MC is three and a half, so the thought of making her sit with a pencil and make a line of A’s is not appealing to either of us. She enjoys finding the letters in her environment and in print, and we make letters with play dough and tracing with our fingers. Leaving this part of the book blank for later, it will let us go back to review the letters and then practice writing.

In order to give consistency and repetitive practice of letters, we’ll be following the alphabet order in the book reviewed just above, Mon Cahier Montessori des lettres.

Extras: Sticker alphabet and cut out manipulatives for geometric shapes (for sizing and categorizing activities).

à la maternelle Je découvre et j’apprends en images! (Magnard)

Age range: From 2 years old

Activities: The 19 activities in this book are fairly short, designed to go with a toddler’s attention span.  Each theme has one large picture to talk about, with a question, a short fact, and then 2-3 activities incorporating simple graphics (making dots, coloring, tracing a route), math concepts (recognizing smallest and largest objects, recognizing shapes, coloring pictures that have a certain number of objects), discovery (recognizing fish from a set of other animals,  animals with horns, teeth, etc, ), language (matching objects that belong with certain characters, finding the object that does not belong, circling named objects), and reading (letters).

Personal review: I’ve used this book the most so far, as it is simple to use, I can skip around, and its focus is mainly on themes for discovering the world around MC.   Some themes include in the kitchen, the Three Little Pigs, the beach, at the market, pirates, the bath, flowers, etc.  

This book has been great because we can complete an activity in one sitting of about ten minutes, it introduces vocabulary to MC, and she loves talking about the large picture.  If we are starting a themed unit that is also presented in here, or reading a book that incorporates one of the themes, I love to use this book in tandem to reinforce concepts.

Extras: Stickers for certain activities. One sticker per page with one of two characters disguised to fit in with the activity’s theme.

What questions do you have about how MC is learning French or the workbooks we have chosen?

Read more about our France trip in the posts below:

Or, visit my Instagram for more pictures from the trip. 

Christmas celebrations in French

I had not planned anything specific for celebrating the holiday in French, but our December Toupie magazine (part of MC’s birthday gift from her Ami) arrived with a sticker advent calendar as well as stories and a “picture dictionary page” with the Christmas theme.

Toupie’s Advent Calendar

Each day there is a new animal doing something, from a pig bringing home a Christmas tree to a lion brushing his mane and a hippo lifting weights. Lots of opportunity for us both to use the language (and learn some new vocabulary!) as we count up to Christmas.

There are many learning opportunities in this advent calendar, from recognizing numbers to following a path, fine motor skills of plucking the stickers and patience in placing them (semi) square on the calendar. It’s a great little activity to help start our mornings and get a little French conversation in.

Here was our conversation for today’s sticker, a toothbrushing alligator:

Qu’est-ce que c’est? (What is it?, pointing to the alligator). -An alligator! Ah, oui, un alligator ou bien un crocodile, peut-être? Qu’est-ce que Monsieur Alligator fait? (Oh yes, an alligator, or maybe a crocodile? What is Mister Alligator doing?) -He’s brushing his teeth! Look I’m brushing my teeth with my finger! Ah bon, il se brosse les dents. Et toi! Tu te brosses les dents avec le doigt! (Oh, yes, he is brushing his teeth. And you! You are brushing your teeth with your finger!) -Yeah! Haha!

From the beginning, I have not pushed MC to respond in French. Instead, when it’s a time that I am focused on French, I have repeated what she says in English in French. I think part of my success so far with speaking French to her (and her not fighting it), has been that I don’t push her to respond in French, and when she asks me to explain something in English, I do. I have heard French words sink into her conversations, and when I ask her a question in French, she demonstrates comprehension, even if she gives me the answer in English.

Christmas books

I also found a Juliette Christmas book that was boxed up with our Christmas stuff, and she delighted in reading that this morning on the couch. She absolutely loves these Juliette books and the main character is as chipie (cheeky) as she is. We have a few other winter holiday themed books, but Juliette Fête Noël is her favorite.

I especially appreciate how she asks questions about the story or the pictures. If she doesn’t understand what I said in French, she asks, “Mommy explain to me in English.”

Today, she wanted to know why Pierre was crying:

Why is he crying? -C’est parce que sa sœur joue avec son cadeau, son cheval à bascule. (It’s because his sister is playing with his gift, his rocking horse.) Oh, okay.

I explain the pictures in French and answer questions in French except when she specifically asks for English, and I make the language connection for her.

Christmas stories to listen to

One other resource we are using this holiday season to bring in the French language, arrived in my inbox yesterday and is completely free! is a website for Parisian/French families to discover activities and experiences and they launched an advent calendar of sorts: a story a day to listen to, right up to Christmas. I am looking forward to listening to a new story each day with MC!

These are just a few simple ways I am bringing in French for this holiday season. None of these was planned, although all of these activities give intention for using the language.

If you are a multilingual family, how do you bring languages, traditions, and culture together during the holidays?

Falling for all things Fall: Apples, Leaves, and Pumpkins!

I really feel this year (especially) that fall is a new beginning for us.  I am super grateful for the cooler weather and the extra time spent outdoors.   

Last week we went apple picking at our local orchard, Carter’s Mountain.  While it was a different experience with “the Virus” this year: “Mommy, where’s the tractor for the [hay] ride?”  “Sorry Love, because of the Virus, they won’t be doing hay rides.” – it was still a fun and enriching experience for the whole family.

We picked three different types of apple: Jonagold, Granny Smith, and Golden Delicious.  The Jonagold we learned should be more red than green and are good as is (so don’t bake with them!). The other two are great for cooking and our family loves a good crisp.  In fact, I believe a good crisp is a suitable meal for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and snack time in between.  But…that’s just me.

Apple books we read and enjoyed:

Curious George: Apple Harvest

Mon Cœur (MC) loves Curious George, so naturally, we read Curious George: Apple Harvest adapted by Lynne Polvino.  We’ve read other Curious George books and I really enjoy the playful, childlike aspect George brings to a theme and how he discovers different ways that the world works.  

In this particular book, he helps to harvest and sort the apples, and also discovers how a cider machine works.  I appreciate how there’s more than just a main picture to explain information.  For example, with the cider machine, there are three different mini-pictures that sequentially explain the process of making cider. It makes for vocabulary building with sequence words as well as conversation and curious questioning throughout the book.

Applesauce Season

Applesauce Season written by Eden Ross Lipson and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein is a wonderful book exploring different apple varieties and recounting the story of three generations of a family who come together each year to make applesauce.  It is beautifully illustrated, and reads like an interactive, family souvenir recipe narrated by the grandson.  

At the end is a sweet surprise of a recipe for the applesauce made in the book.  I love how this book shows where applesauce comes from (not just a can in the store), and the different variations of taste that applesauce can have (depending on the varieties in season and used).  

After reading this book, it’s easy to see what “eating in season” is all about, and I love how the book begins:

“My grandmother says there’s no reason to start eating apples when peaches are perfect.  So we don’t eat the ones ready in August.”

Applesauce Season

The family lives in the city, so although the book doesn’t include a trip to the apple orchard, MC saw illustrations of a farmer’s market, and added that concept to her concept bank.

Seed by Seed 

What apple themed reading selection would be complete without a book about Johnny Appleseed?  Seed by Seed, written by Esmé Raji Codell and illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins takes the reader back in time, away from the hustle bustle of the city to simpler, slower times.  

Although much of what we may have heard about Johnny Appleseed is legend, Codell focuses on five lessons we could learn from him:

  1. Use what you have.
  2. Share what you have.
  3. Respect nature.
  4. Try to make peace where there is war.
  5. You can reach your destination by taking small steps.

This was a fabulous non-fiction read to introduce MC to Appleseed and how he led by example. I love that these five lessons are simply taught for little readers and serve as a reminder for adults, too.

Apple Activities:

As we read these books, we completed various activities involving apples, including:

  • A visit to an apple orchard.  We try to visit the orchard each year, and especially this year, we wanted to get out and enjoy the fresh air and get some apples.  I was impressed that MC remembered the orchard – when we arrived she asked, “Is this the orchard we visit last year with O?” and “Where is the tractor? I want to ride!”

It was a great experience to get out as a family, pick apples, and see how they grow.  

  •  Apple washing:  Yes.  This sounds silly, but those apples needed to get washed before they were eaten or cooked.  I could have done it by myself, but that would have taken less time, made less mess, and been less fun and educational! So I cleaned the sink and MC pulled up a chair to stand on. For the next fifteen minutes, she enjoyed splashing around and using a rag to wash the apples.
  • Apple sorting:  We bought three different kinds (all fairly easy to distinguish – red, green and golden varieties), so I decided MC could complete a breakfast invitation where she sorted the apples by kind and counted.  I counted to see what was the largest quantity of apple we had, then I created a graph that went as high as that quantity.  In the morning, MC took each apple out of the bag and began sorting it into the graph.  Afterwards we counted each kind to practice one to one counting.
  • Apple cake and apple crisp:  MC loves to bake, so naturally we had to make some fall treats to eat. A friend shared her family’s apple cake recipe (delicious!) and an apple crisp is a Fall tradition in our house- one sweet treat that all of us enjoy!

RELATED:  Apple craft: Last year, we ended up with some apples that weren’t quite ready….what to do? We cut them up and did some apple stamping.

RELATED: What’s a breakfast invitation?  Read this related post about our new morning activities we do that are either created or inspired by Days with Grey.

Fall books we read and enjoyed:

Hocus Pocus, It’s Fall

Written by Anne Sibley O’Brien and illustrated by Susan Gal, this was a fun little book to get in the mood for Fall.  MC loved the “magic words” Alakazam, Abracadabra, Shazam, among others, as well as the fold out pages.  We loved reading and relating to all the fall fun festivities – back to school, milkweed seeds floating away, changing and falling leaves, apple picking, and pumpkin patches.  The rhyming and spellbinding words kept MC tapping her hand and smiling as I read. it was a great book to remind us of all the enchanting changes happening as one season ends and another makes its dramatic entrance.

My Leaf Book

This was the perfect book for providing general leaf and tree identification information.  Written and illustrated by Monica Wellington, it provides just enough information about trees to spark a kid’s curiosity and interest in identification. The simple shapes and illustrations together with a “think aloud” show readers how easy it is to identify trees.  Many of the various trees mentioned in the book- sweet gum, honey locust, oak, cherry, sassafras- are trees that we have at our house, so it gave us a springboard for scavenger hunting.

Scattered on each page is a quick, fun fact about each different tree, and at the back there are many different suggestions for leaf projects involving leaf rubbings and prints.

J is for Jack-O’-Lantern, A Halloween Alphabet written by Denise Brennan-Nelson and Illustrated by Donald Wu

This was a great book for us to continue talking about letters and the alphabet in general.  It touches on many different Halloween topics – jack-o’-lanterns, witches, pumpkin patches, skeletons, and scarecrows.  

Although what I read to MC was just a four-line poem for each letter, in the margin of each page, the book included background information or an idea for a craft or a recipe for each Halloween word. Bobbing for donuts, ideas for unusual costumes, deviled egg eyeballs, popular symbols for Halloween were just a few of the margin notes that I found interesting.


This summer we had good luck with our citrouille (pumpkin) harvest, a French heirloom variety Rouge Vif d’Etamps, also commonly referred to as Cinderella’s pumpkin.

We planted them a little later, around the Fourth of July, and that ended up being perfect timing for harvesting early October.  We have enjoyed watching the vines sprawl across the yard, claiming ten, 15, 20 feet of land.  We’ve watched the blooms open, the fruit begin growing, and then change to a vibrant red-orange color.

Mon Cœur (MC) loves the pumpkin patch, and anything pumpkin…except jack-o-lanterns…There is something about a face on a pumpkin that she does not like…No, it’s not natural, but it’s classic Halloween…So we chose a couple of pumpkins to save and carve, hoping that will take any mystery out of jack-o-lanterns and making them a little less intimidating. The others we processed into a purée and canned for bread, pie, and soup.

Pumpkin books we read and enjoyed:

How Big Could Your Pumpkin Grow? 

Pumpkins as boats? Giant pumpkin balloons?  Seriously?  Yes!  Author Wendell Minor wrote the book, How Big Could Your Pumpkin Grow? around the theme of giant pumpkins and monumental American sites.  We learned that in Vermont, people actually carve out giant pumpkins to make boats for Regattas and festivals.  In Wisconsin, they hold giant pumpkin contests each year, where pumpkins weigh in around one ton each!  In New Mexico they host a hot air balloon festival where there are many amusing and non-traditional balloons in shapes of animals or insects, in Fall shaped themes, and even a Jack-O-Lantern balloon.

This was a fun, silly book to introduce the idea of giant pumpkins and to show them superimposed with scenic views across the United States, such as Mount Rushmore, Kennedy Space Center, the US Capitol, a Paul Bunyan statue, and the Grand Canyon.

I like how in the very back of the book, each place is labeled with the location (State) and a little history.  I really didn’t believe people made boats out of pumpkins until I saw the back of the book.  It was fun to discover these places, events, and facts with MC.


From a gardener’s perspective, I really enjoyed Pumpkins, written by Ken Robbins.  Beautiful photography accompanies the story of a pumpkin’s lifecycle from seed to farm stand or pumpkin patch.

Even though we had our own pumpkin patch to observe, it was nice to have a book that illustrated and narrated the growing cycle of the pumpkin.  

And at the end of the book, there is a quick jack-o-lantern how to. The different carvings allowed us to talk about the faces we liked the most and the faces we liked the least and why.

Pumpkin activities:

As we read these books, we completed various activities involving pumpkins, including:

  • Pumpkin faces:  We have been bouncing back and forth between fall and all about me themed activities.  One morning for her breakfast invitation, I cut out simple orange circles and some eyes and a mouth.  Before I could even get out of bed, she already had the top off of the glue stick and was making faces. Love!

RELATED: What’s a breakfast invitation?  Read this related post about our new morning activities we do that are either created or inspired by Days with Grey.

  • Pumpkin-themed oobleck:  Susie at Busy Toddler frequently posts pictures of oobleck on her Instagram.  I really loved her Halloween-themed oobleck, although our stash of holiday themed knick knacks was lacking…we used what we had on hand: pumpkin seeds, ping pong balls, orange dice, and googly eyes.

Oobleck is a “non-Newtonian” substance, meaning it’s neither solid nor liquid, and yet exhibits properties of both.  It is made by mixing two parts cornstarch to one part water.  You can use food coloring to dye the water and make your oobleck any color you want.  We made ours orange!

It took some getting used to at first- MC didn’t like the texture or the mess. I sat there scratching my fingers through it, picking it up, letting it ooze and drip from between my fingers…I was astounded…It eventually grew on MC, and we were able to save and reuse the oobleck for a few days before having to trash it. She experimented moving it around with a scoop, a ladle, and a funnel. It was so fascinating to see how differently the oobleck reacted to a scoop (it was more solid, and crumbled) versus moving through a funnel (it acted more like a liquid, dribbling out of the funnel).

  • Pumpkin baking:

It was a family effort to process two pumpkins, and we were able to purée and can 12 fifteen-ounce jars of pumpkin. That’s a pretty impressive quantity for us, and we’ve been sharing with friends and trying new recipes. We’ve tried a pumpkin bread and muffin recipe so far, and have pie and soup on the list to try next. The pumpkin muffin recipe came from Smitten Kitchen, and made me completely forget about the pumpkin bread we made the week before. It was perfect for a tray of 6 large muffins, and made a great breakfast treat for us…I found them to be so amazing that I ended up eating two this morning! The cinnamon sugar is a perfect topping for the muffins and gives it a satisfying crunch. I love that these can be frozen – I am going to try to make some and stash them for later, when I won’t have time to make them.

What is your favorite fall read or activity?

Six steps to creating a themed learning unit for my toddler

My mentor and supervisor once provided game-changing feedback in a post-observation meeting. He said, “Every great lesson has an invisible thread – a theme that ties it all together.”

In four years of teaching, I hadn’t received as valuable feedback as I did in that year, and truly in that moment. That’s when I began switching gears to using literature as a springboard for learning. I targeted areas to teach (grammar, writing, reading, science, math) and built activities around a chosen piece of literature. After making this switch, I’ve found much supporting research on why deeply exploring a theme boosts vocabulary and deep learning.

As I have embarked on the at-home teaching journey with Mon Cœur (MC), I have continued to embrace this idea of thematic learning through literature. Luckily, for the preschool aged audience, practically all the resources I’ve found are naturally organized into themes, since at this stage, toddlers are learning all about the world around them.

At the beginning of the year, I had reorganized MC’s bookshelves by theme to facilitate this. As I strive to bring more structure and learning opportunities, I am trying to plan more activities and lessons around these themes, too.

How am I doing this, and what resources have helped me? Read below for my six steps on how I am making this work. I am just starting to assemble themes, and so I am still learning as I go what works for us. I will continue to revisit this topic on the blog and share themes and resources that have been successful for us.

1. Choose a theme

When thinking of themes, I thought, “What is MC interested in right now: unicorns? dinosaurs? the farm?”… Additionally, I think ahead about any upcoming trips, events, seasons or holidays.

We are between beach trips right now, and before we left for our first trip, I began the theme of the beach.  I knew this would be a fun unit, and a perfect theme for summer.  

After our first trip, she now understands the beach better- having played in the water, felt the sand between her fingers, found shells, and observed crabs, fish, and jellyfish.  She asks to go back to the beach every day! We talk a lot about the experiences she had on her first trip, as well as what she will want to do when we are back at the beach.

2. Collect and assemble materials

I searched MC’s bookshelves for any books that have to do with the theme. I also looked through all of the maternelle (preschool) workbooks I purchased while we were in France.  

For our theme of the ocean, I had a surprisingly good stash of books:

  • The Underwater Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta has wonderful drawings and some excellent specimens of underwater creatures – from Angel Fish to Zebra Pipefish. This book has amazing illustrations and is chock full of ocean facts for MC and me!
  • Ballyhoo Bay by Judy Sierra is a personal favorite – it incorporates art and all manner of sea creatures, and the rhythm and rhyme of the story is catchy, too.
  • Two books from a boxed set found at Goodwill: Les petits animaux de la mer, which gives a few facts about four small ocean animals (clownfish, seahorses, octopus, and starfish); and Les grands animaux de la mer, which gives a few facts about four large ocean animals (dolphins, whales, orcas, and sea turtles).

Other books had a few pages that complemented our learning of all things ocean and sea:

  • A to Z animals coloring book: This coloring book had a few pages (Narwhal, Shark, Whale) that tied into the theme, and allowed for a little down time (coloring) as well as a learning conversation (I would read the short facts, and MC would ask a question that would require some research on my part).
  • Je découvre et j’apprends en images!: This is one of the preschool workbooks I found while in France. Each spread in the book covers a different theme – the farm, the beach, at the market, the bath, pirates, in the forest, etc. I love that there is one huge picture for discussion and then just a few activities to do. This book has been a great starting point for different themes, and allows MC to practice language, math, and writing skills. Plus, she loves the stickers that come with the book, making the experience fun and more interactive for her.
  • Raconte-moi des histoires d’animaux: This is a cute book that is intended to be read together with your child. The parent reads most of the text, however there are images throughout, that are meant to be “read” by the child. There is one story in the book (below) about a crab and a girl who hides her “treasures” in the sand.

3.  Search online for additional materials

I bookmarked a list of tried/true websites using keywords for my theme and “preschool.”  I included a list of keywords and thought of any possible synonyms.

I focused on resources en français (in French) for this theme because I knew we would be discussing and talking about the beach a lot in English with our family, and I wanted MC to have dual language input.  

At first, I was just searching using the keywords: maternelle petit section (pre-school, 3 years old), activités (activities), and plage (beach) and not coming up with much.  When I widened my search to include mer (sea) and océan (ocean), then I found many more resources. It was astounding to see how much more was available in resources when I used different keywords with similar meanings.

Any resources I found to use, I downloaded and saved to my computer in a folder labeled with the name of the theme. I renamed files as necessary, adding the type of resource (writing, reading, math, song) to help when I was searching for them again.

4.  Find a way to incorporate lots of different activities

I thought of all the different activities I wanted MC to do: art, numeracy, literacy, songs, physical activities, etc.

I found comptines (children’s songs), craft ideas, and coloring book pages to do alongside with the theme of the ocean. On the first day, we made a crab with half a paper plate, google eyes, paint, and pre-cut construction paper arms. We sang a comptine, Le Crabe, with hand movements that I made up to go with it.

The pictures above show the coloring pages we’ve completed from the A to Z coloring book. The coloring activity has been a good, creative break, and lends to learning as the book includes a few short facts for each animal. MC has had questions about each animal – I like to write down her question, then we look for an answer together, and I write that down, too. For the shark, I found some sandpaper in the house and had her tape it on the shark, so she could understand the texture mentioned in the first fact about sharks.

Other activities we’ve completed with the ocean theme include:

  • Art: creating a shell garden with sand and shells brought back from the beach,
  • Art: tracing MC on a piece of butcher paper and adding a mermaid tail – she added shell stickers and colored in her outline,
  • Math: practicing one-to-one counting using resources from dans le sac de maitresse Claire
  • Math: complete the pattern/ what comes next? with sea themed stickers
  • Literacy: practicing matching text and reading pictures of different sea animals using resources from dans le sac de mattresses Claire
  • Music: listening to various songs from the Vive les Vacances CD of le Top des Tout-p’tits
  • Music: Singing comptines such as Le Crabe and Le Coquillage magique
  • Play: Fishing game with magnetized poles & fish
  • Play: Water table with plastic fish, net

5. Whenever possible plan ahead

I kept all resources that could be used for the theme together in our kitchen (where we do our work). I tried to choose a few activities everyday to do with MC, and I often revisited activities that MC liked or I wanted to practice more.

One resource which has been helpful in creating an overall game plan for the themed unit is Guidepost’s Family Framework. The website is a *free* Montessori resource website for parents. I like their weekly activity planner, and they have great ideas for age-appropriate, stimulating, meaningful activities for toddlers.

I completed the activity planner in the beginning with potential activities, and have been checking them as we have been completing them – this has been a great resource to help keep me organized and see the overall big picture.

6.  Have a predictable routine, remain flexible

I have pockets of time I dedicate to the theme sprinkled throughout the day: morning, late morning, and early afternoon.

Above: a morning activity with fish. I drew different types of fish, then added colored dots in each fish – one color per fish. The colors correspond to the dot stickers we have, and MC had to place a sticker on each dot. Then she practiced one-to-one counting with the stickers.

I have been working to create a morning activity MC can complete independently while I have coffee and prepare breakfast, and then we usually have a time to read or sing together later in the morning and do a craft, math or reading in the afternoon.

Sometimes activities get switched around or skipped, other times we end up spending more or less time on an activity depending on MC’s attention that day.

I have attempted before to have a “schedule,” however, I have found a flexible routine without time restraints (other than fixed meal, nap, and bed times) works better for me.

MC and I have had a lot of fun with learning about the sea, and it’s been an opportunity for us to use French more. Switching gears from planning for secondary students to an empty slate with one preschool student has been a definite change of pace and a welcome challenge.

I am still working through how best to organize our days in general to fit in learning, as well as everything else. Planning has been my biggest challenge so far.  However, it’s summer, and right now, I am trying to balance play and learning (I need to work on not trying to make everything a lesson!). I have decided not to truly “buckle down” until fall.

We have just been going with the flow every day, navigating days, moods, to-do lists, and life as each new day comes. We are making it work one day at a time, staying flexible, and enjoying the journey as we go.


These are just some of the websites I’ve found to be helpful while creating themed units for MC. Some are in English, others are in French.

Happy Tot Shelf: Fynn has some great themes with activities around each theme. Ice cream, farm, garden, apples, ocean, and weather are just a few of the themes for which she has created shelves and learning activities.

Family Framework by Guidepost Montessori: This is an amazing, free resource to help parents to establish routines, make kids more independent, and plan activities for kids to learn. I love their Activity Planner and they have sample plans as well as activity banks to help parents get started.

Orphée école: I have had this site bookmarked for years, and frequently visit for ideas. There are so many resources for pre-k through elementary, and with a plethora of themes and lessons, I can’t list them all here. Wonderfully organized resources.

Dans le sac de maitresse Claire: This is an excellent site with French resources organized by theme: the farm, the sea, insects, back to school, etc.

Les docs d’Estelle: Another fabulous site with French resources and themes such as spiders, snails, hedgehogs, and ladybugs!