a peek inside the fishbowl

At what age should a child be taught how to slice a banana? It’s something I found myself thinking about as I was chatting with Pat Gere, the director at OMS Montessori. Studies show that kids crave and thrive when given age-appropriate responsibilities, yet we find ourselves in a society that is becoming increasingly fearful of kids walking to school alone, playing at the park unsupervised, or even helping in the kitchen. (More about banana slicing in a moment.)

A peek inside OMS Montessori

A peek inside OMS Montessori

Sometimes I think that if I wasn’t a writer I’d be a teacher. I believe that education is the foundation of everything and teachers have an incredibly important vocation. What can be more important than inspiring a generation of creative, independent, curious citizens of the world? This is why I’m very happy to let you know that OMS Montessori has joined the Fishbowl family as a patron.

I had a chance to visit OMS, meet some of the staff, and see what the Montessori program is all about. Confession: I had no clear idea and had a lot to learn. Although the term Montessori is used by many caregivers and preschools to describe their programs, OMS is only one of three accredited Montessori schools AND they were the first to be established in Ottawa. In fact, next year is their 50th anniversary.

A Montessori education is based on the philosophies of Dr. Maria Montessori. You can read more about her on the OMS website. It’s fascinating stuff.

OMS students range in age from 18 months to 18 years. Yes, 18! Ottawa’s first high school based on the Montessori pedagogy is called The Element and it will be moving to Lansdowne in September. (I’ll be writing more about that later!)

OMS is dedicated to creating focused engagement for students of all ages. Classrooms are communities, a place where it’s normal to ask for help and to offer help, and they contain multi-age groups: 3-6 year olds, 6-9 year olds, 9-12 year olds, etc. Montessori recognizes that children are social creatures who have a lot to learn from one another, no matter the age.

One look into the classroom and it is obvious that students are engaged in joyful learning. The Montessori approach offers an individualized, hands on learning experience in which students are free to explore topics and subjects that interest them, while meeting – if not exceeding – the curriculum at the same time.

A peek inside OMS Montessori

These are kids who start learning the fundamentals of math when they’re three, and learn cursive before print, for example:


A peek inside OMS Montessori

Montessori children will write before they read. (!) I still have to wrap my head around this.

The Montessori method taps into a child’s natural curiosity and abilities to cultivate a love of learning. It’s child-directed learning with adult support and guidance. Pat told me the true test of a Montessori class is that if the teacher leaves the class, nothing changes. The kids just go on working because they’re so absorbed in what they’re doing. I thought about my own school experience, in which we sat in rows and some teachers ruled by fear and punishment. Shouldn’t learning be joyful? Isn’t learning what life is all about? What happens when kids are fuelled by their own natural curiosity and able to stretch out and get comfortable? Well, this is what happens:

A peek inside OMS Montessori

A peek inside OMS Montessori

Which brings me to the banana slicing. It’s natural that as parents we want to protect our children. We’re afraid they’ll hurt themselves, or make a mess, but the truth is that we all need to challenge ourselves in order to grow, and this appears to be a fundamental truth in a school environment that encourages learning through activity. Children learn through what they do, and adults do too.

The youngest OMS students (18 months to 3 years) explore their senses and learn life skills along with their colours and numbers. Slicing bananas/apples/eggs, and squeezing oranges for fresh juice are the norm here (not to mention the washing up afterwards):

A peek inside OMS Montessori

The curriculum is set up to meet the natural tendencies and characteristics that children have at a particular age, and OMS helps children be focused and engaged learners in whatever they do. And it’s amazing to see it in action.

Curious? OMS invites prospective parents, friends, neighbours or anyone interested in knowing more about Montessori education to contact the school. The OMS office is open all summer. It’s a great time to explore your options and consider the possibilities! For more information, check out the OMS website or following  them on Facebook and Twitter.

Someone asked me if this veg challenge has been hard. The short answer is no: it hasn’t been hard. To be perfectly honest, there’s only been two times I’ve missed meat. (But more on that in a moment.)

One person called me out on eating too much processed food recently. I guess you can say that my All-bran buds, veggie burgers, chips, and PC mini-naan breads are processed, but overall I think I’ve been eating ok over the last two weeks. (I’m tracking it right here.)

Related: one thing that I will never understand is my true weight. Perhaps this is an issue that comes with having a digital scale. When I weigh myself it’s at the same time of day, but I seem to fluctuate five pounds within the span of a day or two: between 140 and 145. I don’t know if it’s me, my scale, or what.

A note about those veggie burgers. I picked up Boca brand burgers recently and I think they’re my new favourite. Someone on twitter asked me where I bought them. I assumed Rainbow Foods – and said so – but then Rainbow Foods replied to say they don’t actually carry Boca burgers. I am having a total brain fail. Where in Ottawa did I buy them?? (Help!) I could have sworn I got them at Rainbow!

June 21 #dailylunches - veggie burger

It was Father’s Day this weekend and it included two meaty meals. One was on Saturday and it featured BBQ ribs (by special request), the other was breakfast sausages on Sunday. These are both meats that I enjoy.

So on Saturday I made my own veggie kebab in lieu of the ribs: halloumi cheese with red onion and red pepper. I doubled up on the cheese in an effort to overshadow the ribs and it worked. Eating is such a communal activity, isn’t it? One passes heaping plates of food that are thoughtfully prepared: here, take some. Let me feed you. It is a loving act, and to remove yourself from the ritual can be a little sad. (Lesson: it is depressing to feel like you are missing out. So prep something that will make you happy.)

On Sunday we had homemade waffles with sausages, so I just loaded my waffles up with a double helping of fresh fruit salad. The fruit salad was so lovely that it distracted me from the breakfast sausages.

You know what meats I’d miss if I was a strict vegetarian?

  • bacon in all forms
  • butter chicken
  • BBQ’d ribs
  • chicken wings
  • excellent salami
  • turkey, in sandwich format (e.g. post-Thanksgiving)
  • saucy meatballs
  • pulled pork

The rest I could probably do without. What about you?

20 Jun, 2015

Weekend reading: June 20 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

On the nightstand: The Good Girl

As part of a work-related thing, I was asked to email a recent photograph of myself. Guess what, I didn’t have any. How can someone who takes photos as part of her living not have any photos of herself?

It is for this reason, and more, that I am very happy to welcome a new patron to the Fishbowl, Sara McConnell Photography. If you’re looking for a baby, maternity, family, or newborn photographer in Ottawa, Sara is it.

What can I say about a person when I’m already such a huge fan of her work?

I’ve actually worked with Sara on a few different projects, most recently through my job as editor of Capital Parent Newspaper. I hired her to do some cover photography and also featured some of her photos in other parts of the paper.

I’ve had the pleasure of watching her career unfold and I’ve always been thrilled with her professionalism, creativity, knowledge, and perhaps most importantly, her good humour as it pertains to the shoot itself. (This is important when dealing with children, right?) There are many fly-by-night amateurs out there but Sara is the real deal: 2015 marks her fifth year in business and she’s photographed over 1700 sessions.

Sara has a background as a grief counsellor. I already knew this but was reminded of it recently. I think that’s why she has such a gentle approach. She has a natural ability to read people. I’ve seen her in action, and she has a very special touch with children. Here she is, with her own brood:

Sara McConnell Photography

(Photo by Blue Dandelion Photography!)

Sara’s clients come to her from all over Ottawa. (I should point out she has a home studio – a very professional set up – but she will also go on location if that happens to be your preference.) It’s worth noting her clients include children who have special needs or other challenges. Parents appreciate her experience and patience when it comes to getting photos of their kids. She gets through a shoot very quickly – somehow without ever seeming like she’s rushing – and you get photos in hand (or should I say, downloaded) just as efficiently.

Have you ever had a family portrait taken? We have a family session booked with Sara in July and I’m pretty excited about it. As many of you know, our daughters are 14 and 16 now, and lately I’ve felt as though time has been rushing past us too quickly. I take thousands of photos every year, but I’ll finally have a good one of us that has me in it too.

You can read more about Sara right here. She’s also on Facebook, so follow her there for special deals and peeks at some of her amazing photography. Some of my favourites are of her breastfeeding and maternity photos. They represent such a lovely sliver of time. How I wish I had the foresight to capture it forever in a photograph!

Edited to add: Awhile back I decided to take a closer look at some of the items I’ve bookmarked via Pinterest and actually DO something with them instead of admiring them. This is the second in the series so far.

Spoiler alert: If you’re looking for a healthy treat to whip up this weekend, this mango ice cream is it. No ice cream maker required!

When I pinned this idea originally, I figured that if this mango “soft serve” was anything like the banana version it was going to be a winner.

This quick mango ice cream recipe

I can’t even call this a recipe, because all you need is:

- two cups of frozen mango cubes
- two tablespoons of whipping cream

Let the mango sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes before pulverizing it in your food processor. Add the whipping cream near the end as the mango is reaching a creamy stage (you will need to scrape down the sides a few times). You can add sweetener but it was plenty sweet for us. It serves two, and it was a lovely snack to enjoy on the back porch. I might even make my next batch for a summery breakfast.

Soooo… was this recipe pin worthy? I say YES!

Is it pinworthy?

Want to follow my recipe board on Pinterest? You can do so right here. And if you try this recipe yourself, don’t forget to let me know! I’d love to hear how your batch of mango “ice cream” turned out.

I was out of town yesterday and as soon as I set out I realized I was setting myself up for a potential failure. You see, although I had packed a lunch I was unprepared to face one of my big road trip habits: a stop at Tim Horton’s for coffee and a big meaty breakfast sandwich. I always get it to go, and then eat and drink in peace while happily listening to radio. It’s blissful.

As I sailed past the Timmy’s, wiping away the drool and dreaming of bacon, I realized that habits and food-related traditions are probably among the top challenges for vegans and vegetarians. After all, there’s a lot of comfort to be found in these traditions, whether it’s a drive-thru on a long trip or a big breakfast of fried sausages shared with the family on Christmas morning.

The pull was strong, but I managed. Interestingly, I felt a bit depressed about it, like I was missing out on something. Is it this feeling that causes people to cave and eat meat again?

It’s one thing to be a vegetarian or vegan in your own home, it’s another issue when you’re out and about, looking for a restaurant or visiting friends. I can toss together some leftover chickpeas with items from the veggie drawer…

June 16 #dailylunches - bowl o'grains, chickpeas, kale, cranberries, pecan bits and light lemon dressing.

… and have it turn out ok for the most part, but going out to eat is a whole other kettle of fish.

Vegans have the extra challenge of needing to know the exact ingredients that are in their food. For example, if they’re at a party, they’ve learned to avoid the dip because there’s probably eggs or dairy in it. Or they ask. Vegans always need to be prepared otherwise their choices are limited and they’re stuck with unhappy meals. I can’t imagine how exhausting this must be.

I asked Twitter vegetarians or vegans to finish this sentence: “The hardest thing about being a vegetarian/vegan is…” I thought it’d be interesting to share a few replies here:

Do you have anything to add about your personal experience? Good or bad? If so I’d love to hear about it, whether you define yourself as a vegetarian, vegan, or not!


NAC Ottawa family events

Saunders Farm annual passes for family fun!

Mrs Tiggywinkle's - the best toy store in Ottawa

Joan of Arc Academy in Ottawa

OMS Ottawa Montessori schools

Sara McConnell photography Ottawa

Rethink Tires - Community Renewal Fund

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  • Ginger: I am going to try this out!
  • Margaret Whitley: As a long time Montessori Educator, student, parent, and supporter, I am pleased to see your profile of OMS. They are a fine example of what Montesso
  • Michael Milsom: Way to push yourself out of the box to explore another dimension..taking us all along for the ride :-) 21 days ..is a LOT of days to commit to doing
  • My 21-day vegetarian challenge is done! >> a peek inside the fishbowl: […] and sweet potato tacos (sort of based on this recipe), beer, tortilla chips and salsa* - snacks: DIY mango soft serve, coffee with milk, a
  • 21-day vegetarian challenge – it’s done! >> a peek inside the fishbowl: […] alfredo with kale and green onion - vegan black bean and sweet potato tacos (sort of based on this recipe), beer, tortilla chips and salsa*
  • Dee: If you do this again, you can get veggie sausages for your breakfast. Give me a heads up and I'll get them for you - my pusher lives in MTL :)
  • Molly: Thanks for sharing the recipe! A is a big fan of Naked Fish and was equally disappointed to find out it was closed for renos the other day - I think

The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our two daughters Emma (15) and Sarah (13). I am the editor of the Kitchissippi Times and a regular contributor to MediaSmarts.ca. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger, and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999... which makes me either a total dinosaur or a veteran, I'm not sure which! The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

If you'd like to contact me, please use this form. If you're so inclined, you can read more about me here. Thank you for visiting!


My right hand is actually a camera

Connect with me at these places too!

The #dailylunches project – 1000 lunches and counting

Every day I eat lunch and take a picture. Here's the latest:

Created with flickr badge.

Click the photo for details: what it is, where I ate it (if it's worth a mention!) and how to cook it (if there happens to be a recipe). You can also read more about this project right here.


  • Two articles of mine were published in the summer issue of Ottawa Magazine. One is a Q&A with a dermatologist about summertime skin care (YES, those are my superwhite legs in the photo) and the other is a blogger face-off about bikinis.

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  • So I was feeling a bit ranty and wrote this post about raising children in an age of zero privacy in the hopes it will start some conversations! Please leave your two cents right here.

    - #
  • My latest post on the MediaSmarts website is up, and it's about family social media accounts. (Yes! It's a thing! And I think it's pretty neat.) Is this something you do as a family? I'd love it if you left your two cents on the topic.

    - #

On the nightstand

... check out past nightstand reads right here.

All hail the mighty Twitter