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This Is the Way We Wash a Wall: the montessori way!

An hand-crank eggbeater utensil, a bowl, and a drop of concentrated soap is an activity any toddler or preschooler will enjoy….and after the fun inside the bowl, why not have a cleaning frenzy?

Children love to clean, and when they get into it, sometimes they can't quite stop.

Let’s give them a huge canvas to explore possibilities.

All you need is a bowl of soapy water, a sponge, and a drying cloth.

I recommend very little actual water. You can always add more later. The sponge should be child sized. That means if you have a toddler, you may want to cut a regular sponge in thirds and give your child a third.

If your child is older, half a sponge may be quite appropriate. This way little hands can feel secure with the right sized tool. I also recommend that if you have more than one child, you give each child his own sponge and bowl so he can go where he likes to clean in his own space.

It is helpful if you give some boundaries. If you want your child to focus on a small section of wall that is especially dirty, you may consider putting some masking tape around the area that you want cleaned and asking the child to stay within the square.

I also recommend giving a lesson on how to wash the wall first.

The Lesson

  1. Carefully gather your supplies and put them right in front of the wall to wash. If in the classroom, this would include putting on an apron (children, too).
 

  2. Silently inspect the wall and use your fingers to point to dirty spots. You may even wrinkle your nose a little and say matter of factly, "This wall is dirty." 
 

  3. In exaggerated fashion, dip the sponge and squeeze out the water. Drip, drip, drip. Again. Dip. Squeeze. Drip, drip, drip. Say, "Now, I am ready to wash the wall." 
 

  4. Scrub. Smile and nod in satisfaction. Put the sponge back down. Use your drying cloth to dry the area.
 

  5. Say, "Now this part of the wall is clean. It's your turn."

 
Montessori Water Play PIN1
 

Ready. Set. Scrub!

Well, after this long lesson, the children are probably dying to jump in there, so go for it! Sing songs about washing like "This is the way we wash the walls" to the tune of "Here we go round the Mulberry Bush." 

Make a big soapy mess and then use your whole body to dry the soapy area. You can see in the pictures how my kids were loving this and dancing around. If you're dancing and having fun, they will, too.

Bonus: Your house gets cleaner, not messier! ;)

Print This Free Montessori Lesson

Download the printable version of this lesson and add it to your homeschooling binder or share with a friend.

Here’s what it looks like, except unfortunately, I will be unable to email you the soap & sponge! I know you’re disappointed, but at least you can get the lesson, right?

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Download your free printable lesson.

  1. Download the lesson. You’ll get the lesson, plus gentle, compassionate parenting tips and information about educating your child at home.

  2. Print and add this lesson to your binder, share it with a friend, or use it with your Montessori homeschooling planner.

  3. Try this activity with your child! It’s a winner!

    How to Help Your Teething Baby

    Twenty little teeth will eventually push their way through your baby's gums, making it easier to chew and digest food. 

    The sign of a first baby tooth, sharp under the pad of your index finger, is a moment that gives many parents a big wave of emotion: a mix of excitement and apprehension, sometimes even fear and exasperation.

    Those baby teeth may start to make an appearance long before your baby is ready to eat any solid foods. Babies can start teething within the first few months of life, or the first tooth may not emerge until after the first birthday.

    Typically, the first teeth to appear are the two bottom center teeth, followed by an upper center tooth. Remember that teething is a very normal developmental process that happens all on its own. You just have to watch and wait for it.

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    Is it Teething, or Something Else? 

    Signs that teething could be happening within the next couple months include drooling, swollen gums, fussy behavior, sleep regressions, and an increased drive to suck or chew on objects. Because these behaviors also often coincide with other developmental milestones off and on throughout your baby’s first year, you never really know for sure if it’s teething until you see that sharp, white protrusion cutting through the gums. 

    If your baby has a fever or other signs of illness such as diarrhea, rashes, or congestion, these symptoms are not likely to indicate teething.

    How to Help 

    Many parents worry that teething will cause a lot of pain, and it is true that for some babies teething does cause discomfort. Other babies appear to not be bothered at all! If your baby seems to be uncomfortable, there are several things you can try to soothe those sore, aching gums.

    • Nurse often if you're breastfeeding

    • Wear your baby in a sling or carrier for comfort

    • Offer a cold, damp washcloth to chew on

    • Massage your baby's gums with a clean, wet index finger

    • Keep a rubber or wooden teething toy with you when you're out & about

    • Refrigerate a metal spoon and allow your baby to explore the cool sensation

    • Wear a chewable teething necklace while babywearing

    • Offer cold fruit in a mesh feeder if older than 6 months

    What I Don't Recommend 

    • Homeopathic teething tablets (read more here)

    • Benzocaine or numbing agents (read more here)

    • Amber teething necklaces (read more here)

    • Teething toys or hard solid foods that could come apart or break off (Those gums are strong!)

    • Over the counter pain relievers (unless recommended by your pediatrician - otherwise, save those medications for true illness, not for normal developmental milestones)

    Try to remember - teething is a normal, healthy process all babies go through. It's nothing to be afraid of or to fret over. Celebrate them one by one, and don't forget to take photos!


    Would you Like some games to play with your teething baby?

    Download this free printable of games excerpted from my book, Baby’s First Year Milestones and let the fun distract you both!

    Here’s a little sneak preview…

    games youll love baby printable.jpg

    Download your free collection of games.

    1. Download the games. You’ll get the games, plus gentle, compassionate parenting tips and information about educating your child at home when you join my community of readers.

    2. Print / Save and share it with friends and family members.

    3. Play with your darling little teething baby!

    Knocking on Baby's Door

    Sometimes the best parenting advice really does come from our grandmothers. Lullabies and little baby games have been passed down from generation to generation, and guess what? They really do promote language and social-emotional development! 

    This is a game I played with my babies when they were just a few months old. I learned it from my mother, who learned from her mother, who learned it from my great-grandmother, who was born in Scotland.

    There are many variations on this rhyme (and feel free to tweak it to make it your own!) but this version I am sharing with you today is a great one to start with if it's new to you. 

    Let’s Play

    Who: You and your baby!
    Age range: 3rd month and up
    Where: on the floor, in the carseat, or even during a diaper change

    Watch the video below to learn how to play this game with your little one. 

    Free printable: Games You’ll Love Playing with Your Baby

    Download your a sample collection of baby games and activities excerpted from my book Baby’s First Year Milestones.

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    Download your free printable here.


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    Is Your Baby Ready for Solid Foods?

    The weaning process begins with the first bite of solid food, long before babies stop nursing. In fact, milk will continue to make up most of your infant’s diet for the entire first year. Most babies are ready for a no-pressure introduction to solid foods around the middle of the first year and not before. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics specifically urges parents to wait until their babies are at least 6 months old before beginning this new stage of life. This brief delay allows your baby to continue to receive the full nutritional benefits of milk while allowing the digestive system to mature. But age alone is not the only factor to consider when gauging whether your infant is ready.

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    So how do you know if your baby is ready for solids? The first sign could be when your baby begins watching intently as you eat and reaching for the food on your plate. Another sign is that your baby has excellent head control and can sit up very well with little to no support. The tongue-thrust or “gag” reflex, where your baby pushes food automatically out of the mouth, is gone, and your baby is eager to bring food into the mouth to be chewed and swallowed. No one can pinpoint exactly when your baby is ready except...your baby!

    One possible introduction to solid foods could be a bit of sensory play. While your baby is seated at a table or in a high chair, offer a small amount of a soft, mashed fruit or vegetable such as avocado or sweet potato directly in front of your little one’s eyes. Those exploring fingers will likely bring some of the food up to the mouth for tasting. Another possible introduction is to offer your baby a bit of pureed food on a tiny spoon. You can do this easily while your baby is sitting in your lap. Hold it right in front of your baby at chest-level and allow your baby to grasp the spoon and guide it into the mouth. With either technique, you are helping your baby to learn the art of self-feeding right from the start. Eating should always be an intentional process.

    Things to keep in mind:

    1. Don't rush it. There's just no need to! Your baby is still getting plenty of nutrition from breastmilk through the end of the first year. Let food be a playful and fun new experience, not a source of worry.
    2. Offer, don't force. Let your baby take the lead when it comes to food. Some even wait until their babies themselves find something yummy on the adult plate and nab it!
    3. Keep it wholesome. Whatever you choose to offer for a first food experience, your best bet is to make that first introduction a whole, unprocessed type of food without added sweeteners or artificial flavors. 

    Five Ways to Respect Newborns

    It's not just you. Science confirms it - babies smell delicious. They also look like angels when sleeping. And nothing is as soft as a baby's bum.

    Little wonder that we think of babies as small and helpless creatures, which is too bad, really. Babies actually have immense power. No adult could accomplish anywhere near the task the baby has taken on in the past nine months of growth. 

    But more than that, our tendency to underestimate babies makes us it harder for us to respect them.

    We love them. We protect them. But respect? Respect In the way we respect a mentor or person who persevered? The concept is too often foreign even though babies both have much to teach us and have undoubtedly persevered. 

    Respect for children -- not just protection but actual respect for them and their work -- should be a central tenant of our social contract. It is one of the surest ways to social growth. 

    The baby is biologically driven toward becoming a great adult human being. If we give him the respect he deserves as an infant, he will grow into an adult who treats other adults with respect -- creating a stronger, more civilized, peace-seeking society in the future.

    Developing human potential

    As Dr. Silvana Montanaro writes in Understanding the Human Being, a newborn has "a strong drive to develop all the components of his human potential harmoniously." Here are five ways to foster this development through respect.

    1. Snuggle and Nurse Your Baby Often

    Give your baby direct, physical contact -- and lots of it. Skin-to-skin cuddles, babywearing, and cosleeping are all great ways to facilitate close contact. Human babies are born with the instinct to be close to their mothers, as they seek round-the-clock nourishment, comfort, and protection. Rather than trying to keep up with the usual household duties, take time to nurse and snuggle. You cannot give a newborn too much physical affection.

    2. Allow sleeping and eating on your baby's schedule, not yours

    The treatment of children should really be considered a matter of social importance.
    — The Absorbent Mind

    Newborns are gifted with a biological rhythm that tells them exactly how much nourishment and sleep they need. Allow them to regulate these needs themselves by making both milk and a calm place to rest available. Trust in your baby's instincts.

    3. Provide Consistent Routines

    Children have a natural sensitivity to order, and routines remain a great comfort throughout childhood. Your baby will naturally come to understand the difference between day and night and will be comforted by daily, repetitive experiences. By changing baby's diaper in the same place often enough, he will come to know and expect what is about to happen. By singing the same lullaby to your baby, he will soon internalize the music, so the first few lines soothe him right away.

    4. Let them look around and move their bodies

    Newborns are notoriously nearsighted at birth for a reason. Their ability to focus on objects is the exact distance between your breast and your face. Allow your baby to gaze on you while you nurse, and give him lots of eye contact and smiles. Newborns also need to be able to move their bodies. Laying on a lap in a rocking chair or on a soft blanket on the floor is perfect for stretching muscles and nearby focusing. Conversely, bouncers, play yards, swaddling blankets, and other common baby products can restrict both the baby's view and ability to move freely (and may contribute to problems like plagiocephaly).

    5. Stimulate their senses

    Babies thrive in environments rich in sensory contact, and you don't need to work hard to create one for them. Bring your baby into the thick of life, and rich sensory experiences will take care of themselves. Eat nutritious food, and you'll give your nursing baby a taste sensation (breastmilk takes on the flavor of what the mother eats). Let your baby listen in on adult conversations, and softly speak to him directly about what you're experiencing. Go outside and feel the wind softly blow. Stand under a branch and look at the leaves as long as his gaze remains focused. 

    Making Tantrums a Positive Experience

    When your child is having an emotional meltdown, it's hard to keep your cool!

    What if your child is crying uncontrollably or is kicking and screaming on the floor? What then?

    No matter what, realize that it is your job as the parent to push your own emotions aside as much as possible in order to help your child. But how? It takes practice and a lot of determination.

    In this video, I ask you to turn your thinking about tantrums around. Instead of seeing the tantrum as something negative to nip in the bud, look at it from an educational perspective...a positive learning opportunity for both you and your child.

    Tips for Success

    1. Be Their Voice. Children do not always know how to communicate their frustrations to you. Your job is to help teach them how.
    2. Be Strategic. There are two times when your child is more likely to be in a receptive state: before the tantrum starts and after the tantrum is over. If at all possible, use those times to your advantage.
    3. Keep Cool. During the tantrum itself, remain compassionate and patient until it's over. If your child likes to be hugged, provide physical comfort. If your child prefers to be left alone, just hang out sympathetically nearby until the tantrum is over.
    4. Keep Firm. If you said no to something your child wanted to do, really mean no and stick to it. Don't give in just because there is a tantrum. Giving in will not solve the problem. Discussing feelings and coming up with solutions and compromises will.
    5. Be Kind to Yourself. You're only human. Every tantrum gives you the chance to grow and change as a parent to meet your own unique child's needs. By putting a positive spin on the situation, you are not only empowering yourself, you are raising a child who will learn how to put life's hurdles into perspective.
    Let Spring Grow a Love for Nature

    The winter is long. The grass dry. The wind biting. Fingers numb. We retreat to our warm homes and look inward toward each other, and we wait.

    And then... a robin is sighted. Buds on trees give us hope. The emergence of a lone daffodil seals the deal, and we feel relief in our connectedness to the warm earth once more.

    Spring is returning.

    Young children are naturally inspired to go outside and explore during this time of year. Reading books about Spring, celebrating Spring holidays, and engaging in the ever-popular Spring cleaning ritual are great ways to acknowledge the seasonal shift.

    However, if we are to truly nurture the whole child, we must stimulate all of their senses. 

    The education which a good mother or a good modern teacher gives today to the child who, for example, is running about in a flower garden is the counsel not to touch the flowers, not to tread on the grass; as if it were sufficient for the child to satisfy the physiological needs of his body by moving his legs and breathing fresh air.
    — Maria Montessori, The Montessori Method

    Teach the Child How to Touch

    April showers bring May flowers, the better to entice eager little fingers. The phrase "Don't touch!" may accurately reflect the parental instinct to protect fragile flowers from a toddler's grasp, but it is not a phrase that fosters learning.

    The next time you see your child reach for a flower in someone else's garden, teach him instead HOW to touch - gently, with one finger, on one petal.

    Whisper that the flowers are fragile. Convey the reverence for nature's beauty with your own brief caress. Feel the dirt and look up in the sky. Say, "These flowers are here for everyone to enjoy. We want to leave them just like this so that they can keep drinking water from the ground and reaching for the sun."

    Find Opportunities for Fewer Rules

    Asking your children not to disturb garden flowers is one thing. Asking children not to touch any flowers ignores their need to explore. Children need to engage all their senses (touch, smell, taste) and talk about the little green, growing things in the ground. This means being allowed to freely explore.

    If you have access to an open space where children can pluck daisy petals and examine roots, seek that experience right away and return often! And don't overthink it. Even a patch of weeds in the cracks of the sidewalk can offer a satisfying experience to a child. What matters is that you've nurtured the child's natural curiosity.

    Plant a Garden 

    Long gone are the days when most children were told to go outside and play unsupervised. Likewise, modern farm technology and urbanization have significantly changed how most people conceptualize their source of food.

    The nature deficit has dire consequences for humanity’s future

    Ask ten adults what, say, a broccoli flower looks like and how to collect the seeds to plant more broccoli, and you are likely to get nine furrowed eyebrows. This nature deficit has dire consequences for humanity's future.

    When we lose touch with how our vegetables are grown and meat is raised, we begin to make lifestyle choices that are not conducive to sustaining our physical lives here on Earth. 

    Get Involved

    Change begins with us. Together, examine the seeds in an apple. Spit a cherry pit into the grass. Roll an avocado's curious, ball-like seed across a table. Put a potato halfway in water and see what happens. Visit a petting farm. Look for ants.

    Go to a farmer's market and let your children pick out something locally grown to taste. I promise it will be different (and better) than what you can buy in a grocery store.

    Because nature can feel more and more remote from our daily lives, we must create hands-on outdoor experiences for their children. As Maria Montessori said, "place the soul of the child in contact with creation." 

    And remember - you don't need to go crazy creating official gardening lesson plans. Simply set aside some time for puttering and weed plucking. If you can grow a whole garden of food to eat, that's wonderful. If you don't have the time, resources, or inclination for it, grow one herb in a small pot, and help your child tend it daily.

    Small changes can lead to great things. Just ask the seed.


    Note: I'm teaching a new course on introducing children to botany. Learn more here. 

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    Human Development is Messy. Montessori's Four Planes Helps.

    Have you ever raised a litter of kittens? It's pretty amazing. Kittens are only kittens for a short time, little nothings with sharp claws and silky fur. Within just six months, they have changed into long, sleek, almost-adults capable of having litters of their own. 

    Watching kittens grow -- or plants sprout -- makes development seem so orderly and straight. We ingest calories; we grow bigger. We acquire information; we get smarter. Inputs and outputs.

    Not a Line But a Wave

    The truth is that growth happens not in a steady trickle but in waves of passion, long periods of lethargy, occasional bouts of depression and changed interests. Growing is push-pull, grab and release, ache and exaltation.

    To us, the cat is the miracle of life in miniature. In July, it's a kitten. By Christmas, it's having kittens. But to the cat, the journey is long and hard and begins before it takes a breath. The time spent in the womb and the effort made in his own birth are intense and miraculous.

    We forget that when our kitten's eyes were sealed shut, it must have felt like he was seeking nourishment out of the darkness for ages.

    We overlook the energy it required to learn the physical skills needed to hunt for food -- to try and lift his entire body into the air and - for the first time - pounce.

    It is the same with humans, but since our childhoods are so much longer, so, too, the journey. By adulthood, we've lost our memories of the darkness of the womb, the ache in our muscles from learning to stand upright and walk. Even the long, painful years we spend yearning for independence yet subject to the whims of adults fade in time.

    But these events shape us -- whether in our conscious minds or not -- and when we take it all in, from conception to maturity, we see it is a long road worthy of our admiration. Growing up should be celebrated.

    The Four Planes of Development

    Still, our drive to find linear order in growth is strong. To counter, we find guidance in Maria Montessori's work. She described human development as occurring in a series of four planes, or periods, and in 1951 developed a graphic to help explain the concept. Here's a version:

    Planes-of-Development-triangle-chart1.jpg

     

    The flame at birth represents the beginning of life: the spark of existence. As the child grows up and passes into and out of each plane, different characteristics emerge. They are surprisingly consistent across all of humanity regardless of culture.

    The graphic is powerful because it lets us see that development is not as a single, smooth line but rather like waves. It very clearly distinguishes the different planes of development from one another yet shows their balance and unity. Notice, for example, how infancy and adolescence mirror each other, as does the elementary child and the college age almost-adult.

    Moreover, it captures the journey within each plane itself -- for example, the change at age 3 from toddler to preschooler. Growth and development become like waves within waves, a turbulent ebb and flow that captures the truth of the matter. Growing up is hard.

    The Story Continues

    For all it's strengths, no single image can really capture the complexity of development. The sharp points of the triangles and the heavy lines convey too much rigidity or structure. Growth is more like the gradual lift and decline of a hill, not the stiff peak of a mountain. (Maria must have felt the same hesitation because she later developed a more organic visualization).

    None-the-less, thinking of child development in this way is truly powerful, for it simultaneously recognizes the ebb and flow of development while giving it an understandable structure. Like the kitten that seems to age before our eyes, the chart makes tangible what is abstract. The miracle of life in miniature.

    9 Never Fail Name Games and Songs for Circle Time

    As a Kindergarten teacher, I spent years collecting songs and name games that were winners for breaking the ice in a new class during circle time at the beginning of the year. I kept a large stack of index cards of my favorite songs and added to the box as I learned new songs from other teachers.

    I now am the proud owner of an index box ridiculously full of hundreds of songs appropriate for the 18mo-6yo crowd. Because music is meant to be shared, I pulled together some of my favorite chants and songs. Who knows...maybe you'll learn a new one to add to your own collection!

    1. Hicklety Picklety Bumblebee

    For this name game, sit cross-legged on the floor and pat your knees while you chant in a regular, somewhat emphatic voice . It's not an easy one for little ones, so it will be mostly the adult chanting. You want their attention to draw toward you as you get softer so that by the time you are mouthing the name silently, the children are totally focused on your mouth and you have their full attention.

    Hicklety picklety bumblebee

    Who can say their name for me?

    Allison! (loudly)

    Allison. (whispered)

    All-i-son. (mouthed without vocalizing)

    2. Johnny Whoops

    This is a name game that starts with your index finger pointing to each finger in succession. Start by pointing at the pinky and when you get to the index finger, "whoops" toward your thumb, say the name on the thumb, then whoops backwards again toward your pinky. The sillier and more drawn out your "whoooooooops" the more laughter and excitement you'll generate. This is a real crowd pleaser. Every child loves to hear his/her own name whoopsing back and forth.

    Johnny Johnny Johnny Johnny

    Whoops! Johnny

    Whoops! Johnny

    Johnny Johnny Johnny!

     
     

    3. Jack in the Box

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    For this name game, the child sits on the floor all curled up hiding his head (the yoga "child's pose").  When you shout, "Yes, he will!" the child pops up...just like a jack in the box, arms up overhead as if to say, "Ta-da!"

    Christopher in the box, sits soooooo still.

    Will he come out?

    Yes he WILL!

    4. Willoughby Wallaby Woo

    First listen to and learn the tune to Willoughby Wallaby Woo by Raffi. Then just sing this short verse below, substituting in the child's name. If you have an elephant puppet or little stuffed elephant to literally "walk" over and "sit" on the child, all the more giggle-inducing!

    Willoughby wallaby woo

    An elephant sat on YOU (point finger toward child whose name will be used)

    Willoughby Wallaby Wistopher

    An elephant sat on Christopher!

    5. Pig On Her Head

    First listen to and learn the song Pig On Her Head by Laurie Berkner. Fill a bag with small toy animals. Let the child reach in and take one out of the mystery bag and place the animal on his head. Switch the song up by choosing another animal out of the bag or by placing it on another body part. This is a delightfully goofy song.

    George has a sheep on his neck,

    George has a sheep on his neck,

    George has a sheep on his neck,

    And he'll keep it there all day!

    6. Who Is Missing?

    Lay out a blanket or very large scarf on the floor. Ask the child to curl up (child's pose) on the floor, and make a dramatic point of draping the blanket carefully on top.  It then becomes a game of peek-a-boo. It's so foolishly simple, but always a winner! I never had a child who didn't want to take a turn hiding after this game was played a few times and everyone was comfortable. Sometimes you  have to speak quickly because the child won't want to wait for the dramatic pause and will swoosh the blanket off him/herself very quickly. That's just part of the fun.

    Hmmm....someone is missing! Who is it? Who's missing? It's...(pull off blanket in a big swooosh).....Kaitlyn!"

    7. Yoo Hoo! 

    I learned this one back in my college music education class and I have no idea who wrote or published it, so feel free to link up the tune if you find it. Until then, make up your own little tune to sing to the words. This time the child hides behind something in the room (a desk? the couch?). You begin by singing and "hunting" with your eyes.

    Somebody's hiding inside the closet.

    I wonder who it could be... Yoo hoo... You hoo...(child sings back from the hiding place)

    I wonder who it could be. ....It's Evan!

    8. Clapping Names

    So simple but also fun! Just go around the circle clapping each child's name with each syllable.

    Let's clap Harriet.  Harr-i-et!

    Now let's clap Kathy. Ka-thy!

    9. Who Do We Appreciate? 

    Be forewarned. This is not a quiet chant. It's a rile-em-up and make them feel like a million bucks chant. For this one, you're going to put on your very best cheerleader voice and grin, clap your hands and at the end wiggle your fingers up in the air like you've won the game!

    2-4-6-8 Who do we appreciate?

    Zachary! Zachary! Yaaaaaaayyyyy Zachary!

    Woooo!

    The Journey to Adulthood: Birth to Age 6

    This is part of a series about the four planes of development. Each plane corresponds to a significant period of human development, running from birth through early adulthood. 

    Unlike many of our mammalian cousins, newborn humans arrive essentially helpless -- half blind, completely reliant on others for food, no ability to escape danger. Some even consider the first few months of life more an extension of the pre-natal journey (a fourth trimester). 

    Still, in the grand scheme of things, that early period of extreme helplessness is brief. Within months, baby has gone from an eating and sleeping machine with few communication tools to a curious toddler navigating the world.

    A few years later, the toddler is a child running, playing, speaking, reading, doing math, telling jokes, and otherwise well on her way to becoming a regular, old human being. 

    A Time Like No Other

    Early human development may seem a snail's pace when compared to horses, who all but walk out of the womb, but don't let looks deceive you. While gross and fine motor skills may be crude (or non-existent) at first, there is a raging fire of growth and development inside that most complex of machines -- the human brain.

    Consider - "Research has shown that half of a person's intelligence potential is developed by age four" and that the brain reaches "half its mature weight by about six months and 90 percent of its final weight by age eight." 

    The First Plane: Birth to Age 6

    While humans never stop developing, what happens in those very early years is unique, remarkable, and greatly responsible for shaping a person's entire life. The scientist and educational pioneer Maria Montessori defined this period as the first plane.  

    Montessori work stems from an era when our understanding about how the brain works reached new heights (both Freud and Jung were contemporaries). A physician by training, Montessori applied her skills of observation and diagnosis to her studies of childhood development and learning. From this work, she was able to define and describe the qualities four distinct planes (or phases) of human development. 

    The Absorbent Mind

    During the first plane (birth to age six), the mind is like a sponge, greedily soaking up information and experiences primarily. Montessori describes the mind of a young child as "absorbent" with good reason.

    Just how absorbent is the mind? Consider the gulf between what a one week old and a six year old knows and can do.

    We can make sense of this epic journey if we think of it as a move from unconscious to conscious thought.

    In the early years, the child absorbs information fairly unconsciously, primarily through the senses. At around age three, the child enters the second half of the plane, becoming increasingly susceptible to direct adult influence and instruction. Still, the two halves of the journey remain bound by the supreme absorbency of the mind.

    Adult Mindfulness

    Because first plane children are so absorbent and ready to learn, adult interactions require a high-level of mindfulness. What an adult says or does will have a lasting, perhaps permanent, effect on the child.

    That said, the human brain is also incredibly malleable and never stops growing and developing. In other words - "Parents and teachers, you WILL make mistakes. The child WILL survive. Relax!"

    The key to success with a first plane child is to follow the child's lead. If you provide the child enrichment, let her naturally curiosity drive the learning, and model with regularity (not perfection) the characteristics and behaviors you hope to foster, you will succeed. The child will learn and explore with a ferocity we adults only wish we could replicate.

    Babies -- we could learn a lot from them.

    21 Montessori Water Activities For Your Practical Life Shelf

    Let's get some Montessori water activities on your practical life shelf! Don't have space for a shelf? Don't worry! Just keep some of these object handy for when kids seem ready for a bit of water play.

    1. Pour water from two tiny pitchers back and forth. Any glass or ceramic creamer-style will work for the Pre-K crowd, but for toddlers, tiny metal creamer pitchers are best.

    2. Spoon water with a ladle from a big bowl to another big bowl.

    3. Spoon little floating objects (corks?) from one bowl into another bowl.

    4. Spoon little sinking toys (marbles?) from one bowl into another bowl.

    5. Try tongs instead of spoons for #'s 3 and 4!

    6. Use a baster to transfer water from one bowl to another.

    7. Use a funnel to fill small vases with water from a pitcher. Then dumping the water back into the pitcher. This is is preparatory work for the flower arranging work.

    9. Squeeze a sponge from one bowl to the other to transfer the water.

    10. Gather small objects from around the house (that won't be hurt by water). Find out which ones float and which ones sink.

    11. Experiment with color mixing. Three small glasses of colored water (red, yellow, blue food coloring) and several small empty bowls. Use an eye dropper or a pipette to make different colors in the bowls.

    12. Whisk one drop of dishwashing liquid in a big bowl of water.

    13. Try an eggbeater in #12 instead of a whisk!

    14. Try grating some bar soap into #12 instead of using dishwashing liquid. (Supervise this one closely.)

    Keep a towel and a nice, sturdy tray handy to catch any spills.

    15. Fill two bowls with water, one hot and one cold. Add one piece of ice into each. Which melts faster?

    16. Use a medicine syringe to transfer tiny amounts of water from one glass to another.

    17. An outside game: Fill a giant plastic pitcher or watering can. Pour the water into a large bucket. Haul the bucket to a kiddie swimming pool and fill it up. Then play!

    18. Have a tea party with real tea (rooibos or berry tea are caffeine-free options.) 

    19.  Scrub a section of the kitchen floor with a small bowl of soapy water and a sponge cut in half.

    20. Put a water-safe baby doll into a large bowl or tub. Add a small pitcher of water, one pump of liquid soap, and a small washcloth.

    21. Mustard/ketchup bottle squeezing. Fill an old squeeze bottle with water and squeeze directly into a bowl.

    You Should Teach How to Hug

    Sometimes there's just too much of a good thing.

    Maybe you're squatting on the balls of your feet near the playground. Your two-year-old has just performed an amazing (in his mind) trick. Now he is barreling at your smiling face for a big open-armed hug. Crash. Newton's laws of physics. And now you're toppling backwards onto the ground.

    You laugh, a bit embarrassed, as the other parents watch you right yourself and try to remain smiling at your little charging bull. You can't help but murmur, "That was a bit too much of a hug for me."

    Or maybe you're at home hosting a play date, and your three-year-old, who has played so sweetly all afternoon, is saying goodbye to visitors. The children are poised eagerly for a hug. 

    You oooh and awww as the three year olds put their arms around each other. Then the moment takes a turn for the worse, and your smiles turn upside down. Your child appears to be squeezing your friend's child like a lemon! Your friend's child looks terror stricken.

    "That's enough hugging now!" you say quickly, a bit panicked, as you pull your child's arms away.

    Your friend puts on a small, fake smile. Her child hides behind her. It's an embarrassing moment, and you cover it with a big wave. "See you soon!"

    teaching Grace and Courtesy

    Hugging seems so natural that we tend to expect our children to just know how to do it appropriately. It's why the thought of teaching someone how to hug may seem odd. The truth, however, is that while physical contact may be a very human trait, there are subtle rules governing how to act on that need. Children must be taught what is acceptable in order to know what to do. 

    Here are four tips to help you teach a child how to give just the right kind of hug. 

    1. Model the types of hugs you want to see

    If you are ending every single one of your hugs with a big tickle and chase around the house, your child is likely to do the same to others. Make sure that when you hug your child, you resist the urge to capture her for longer than she desires.

    Hugs are a two-way street... even for parents and children! Whenever there is an opportunity for you to hug another child or another adult while your child is in the room, just know that your child is probably secretly observing you. Make sure you are hugging the way you want your child to hug others.

    2. Give a lesson

    A bit of information about how hugs work might just do the trick. Take a few minutes with your child to talk about how to give a hug. Do not do this during or just after an embarrassing hugging moment. Wait until later on in the day, or even on another day altogether.

    Depending on the child, you can either use words or just actions. If you do use words, keep it simple but talk about what you are doing and thinking. Don't forget to ask for consent. A healthy respect for personal space is learned in childhood.

    For example: 

    "I would like to give Daddy a hug. Daddy? May I give you a hug? He said yes! I'm going to gently put my arms around him just like this. I'm patting his back. Not too tight, just right. Gentle. And now I look in his eyes and see if he is happy. Does he like the hug? He does! The hug is over and I'm stepping back."  

    A real-live person is best, but if one is not available for the lesson, it's perfectly okay to use a stuffed animal or even the family dog, if he's willing! 

    3. Prepare and support

    If your child is a habitual over-hugger, it might help to give some support just before and also during the hug.

    For example:

    "We are about to say goodbye. Does Aiden want a hug? Ask him. Ok, it looks like he does. Gentle touch. Look at his face. Is he happy?"

    4. Practice

    Children will not absorb the teaching moment without a bit of repetitive practice. Take turns role-playing the hugger and the huggee! Books about good hugging can also help with practice time. Check out some suggestions here.

    Break the "Good Job" Habit with These 21 Alternatives

    Excess praise can be damaging to our children's intrinsic motivation (working just for the pure pleasure of it - not to please anyone else), but what should we do instead? Constant "good jobbing" is a habit, and habits can be hard to break. But it can be done!

    good job.jpg

    The easiest way to stop saying "good job" or "nice work" if you are committed is to simply start by swapping out the praise-heavy phrase with a more neutral one.

    Keep in mind that a child who is used to getting lots of praise will keep asking for it, so using more than one of these suggested phrases when your child keeps probing may help get both of you past the praise dependency. In my experience, most children (even the most persistent praise-seekers) become self-satisfied when there is a meaningful dialogue.

    Below are some phrases that might work for you in your home or classroom. None of them will fit in all situations, and if used without the intention of connecting more deeply with a child, they will definitely not work. Use them as a starting point, and before long, your automatic "good job" will become an automatic "something else."

    Praise PIN.png

    The List

    1. "Hmm!" Smile and nod. That's right. Bite your lip if you have to. Just don't say it! Smile and nod. Smile and nod. And then listen. What will the child say?

    Example: Child brings you a puzzle that has been completed. "Hmm!" Now look the child in the eyes, tune in, and listen. What does the child say about his puzzle?

    2. Tell me about this! 

    Example: Child has glued a yellow circle onto an orange piece of paper and comes to show you the big gluey mess of artwork. "Tell me about this!" What the child says may surprise you.

    3. I can see that you_____. (describe what you see)

    Example: Child has scribbled with chalk on the chalkboard with pink and blue chalk and brings you over to see. "I can see that you have been using pink and blue chalk."

    4. You look proud. Are you? I'm glad you_____. (describe the accomplishment)

    Example: Child chops strawberries into a bowl to serve herself and then invites you to look. "You look proud. Are you? I'm glad you know how to chop your own strawberries now. It's nice to serve yourself when you're hungry."

    5. Describe + How did you do it?

    Example: Child presents you with a handwritten, hand-drawn, haphazardly stapled book that you recognize is very similar to one of his favorite bedtime picture storybooks. "You made your own book. How did you do it?"

    6. Thank you! I appreciate_____.

    Example: Child gives you a love note in pictorial form - drawn for YOU. "Thank you. I appreciate you thinking of me." Never underestimate a simple thank you!

    7. Describe + I appreciate your hard work / effort.

    Example: Child loads dishwasher perfectly and looks to you for approval. "You loaded the dishwasher perfectly. I appreciate your hard work!"

    8. Your face looks happy! It feels so good to_____.

    Example: Child: asks you to watch him perform a physical trick on the playground. "Your face looks happy! It feels so good to stretch your muscles, doesn't it?"

    9. I am so happy for you because_____.

    Example: Child masters the monkey bars and she runs to you to celebrate. "I am so happy for you because I know you've been working on those monkey bars for a long time!"

    10. When you __________, I__________.

    Example: Child builds a very tall tower with blocks and asks you to look look look! "When you started that tower, I didn't have any idea how tall it was going to get! Super tall!"

    11. What was the hardest / easiest part?

    Example: Child learns to ride a bike up and down the block. "What was the hardest part about learning to ride? What was the easiest part?"

    12. When I was a child, sometimes I liked to_____. Do you like to_____ too? 

    Example: Child hands you a list she made of -at words. You read cat, hat, sat, mat... "When I was a child, sometimes I liked to sing a rhyming song. The caaaaat saaaat on the maaaat la-la-la... Do you also like to sing your rhyming words?"

    13. Wow! May I______?

    Example:Child constructs a crazy invention out of straws, paper towel rolls, masking tape, and paper clips. "Wow! May I try your invention? How do I use it? Would you show me?"

    14. Hmm... I wonder what you’ll come up with next.

    Example: Child makes dominoes topple over in an interesting pattern. "Hmm... I wonder what you'll come up with next."

    15. You did it! 

    Example: Child has been trying very hard to write his name and finally has written all of the letters correctly on the page. "You did it!"

    16. I've noticed that_____.

    Example: Child builds an airplane out of legos and comes to show you. "I've noticed that you've been working on your lego building skills and you are starting to make a lot of interesting things.")

    17. I love seeing you_____. Would you like to_____. 

    Example: Child sits and reads a book. When he gets to the end, he closes it and tells you he can read it. "I love seeing you teaching yourself how to read. Would you like to read this book to me? Or would you like for me to read it to you?"

    18. What did you learn from this? 

    Example: Child works hard to match all the pictures of animals that live in Africa to the continent of Africa. "What do you think you might have learned from this?"

    19. How did you come up with the idea for this?

    Example: Child has made a paper airplane and decorated it. "How did you come up with the idea for this?"

    20. You sure are growing! I remember when you weren't able to_____, and now you can_____.

    Example: Child has brushed her teeth, for the first time, by herself. "You sure are growing! I remember when you weren't able to brush your own teeth. I brushed them for you every day. But now you can brush them all by yourself!"

    21. A hug or a pat on the shoulder. As long as you are giving physical affection regularly and not tied to specific behaviors, feel free to connect with the little one without any words at all! A hug can sometimes say it all.

    Patience and Practice

    Like anything else, learning how and when to effectively use these phrases will take practice. Pick a few to try out and get familiar with those first before moving on to others. It's a guarantee you'll find opportunities to use all of these phrases within a single week of time spent with a child, but it will likely take much longer to solidify the new habit.

    Click here for a printable version of this list

    Yes, Early Experiences Shape Our Lives. Yes, We Can Change.

    Though Sigmund Freud's star has fallen quite a bit over the decades, his studies of the mentally ill laid the groundwork for modern psychotherapy. In his deep discussions with patients, Freud uncovered a correlation between childhood traumas and emotional difficulties in adulthood.

    The fact that our childhood experiences can scar us for life seems obvious to us today, now that the field of psychology is well grounded and respected as an academic subject, but back then, Freud's work was groundbreaking.

    The Human Spirit

    One of his notable contemporaries was a young medical doctor and educational theorist named Maria Montessori. As a scientist, Montessori felt compelled to take his assumptions about the nature of the human spirit and challenge them.

    Her conclusion -- Freud's studies, however significant, gave a skewed view of humanity. (Another great example of how Montessori was a person ahead of her time).

    In The Secret of Childhood, she insists that in order to understand the true human spirit, we need more than to study mentally ill adults. We need to study the normal child in as natural a setting as possible, so we can understand what makes a healthy adult as well.

    Permanent Impermanence

    Everything that happens in childhood (including the pre-natal genetic coding) affects the adult personality. If you could look back in your past and see your childhood hopes, dreams, interests (what Montessori calls "the child's soul"), you would see a mirror of your adult self "grasping the realities of human life." In some sense, we are today who we were then.

    But do not despair in your "fixed" faults and anxieties. Recent discoveries, such as neuroplasticity, show that adults are able to grow new neural pathways in the brain and even generate new neurons themselves. In other words, we can overcome even strong tendencies toward certain personality traits. It takes effort, but it can be done. And it starts by preparing for a life of continued growth while in childhood.

    Freud was right. Our early experiences matter. But there is more to us than the scars of childhood. Children are incredible beings -- revolutionary, powerful, and possessed with the potential to transform our world. To help them reach their potential requires strength, sacrifice, self love, and a reverence for their ability to never stop growing.

    Want to Build Fine Motor Skills? Get Nuts.

    When I was a kid, my parents took me to a restaurant where you were not only allowed to throw peanut shells all over the floor. You were actually encouraged to. Sure, it may have just been a marketing gimmick, but to a kid, it was totally awesome!

    And, in fact, shelling nuts is actually a great activity for young kids. Though you probably don't want to recreate the full "throw it on the floor" experience, having kids shell nuts helps build fine motor skills and is just as awesome today as it was in my day. 

    Build A Nut Cracking Station

    Ready to build your own nut cracking station? To start, you'll need a big tray with a tall lip to be the work area. The lip will help keep the work contained while the large size gives the children a wide range of motion.

    Next, you'll need a nut cracker (like in the photo). And, of course, you'll need nuts. Peanuts are best though pistachios are also a good one for beginner nut cracking.

    For a younger child,  pre-crack the shells so they are still challenging but doable.

    The Process

    The pincer grip

    The pincer grip

    Now that you've got the station set up, it's time to let the cracking begin.

    And here's why it's an excellent Montessori fine motor skill activity. Take a look at the photo. See the pincer grip necessary to get those shells open? That's what you're looking for.

    The actual nut cracking tool gets used on the harder shelled peanuts. It's there if you need it or want it, but my kids mostly just use their fingers, which is better for them anyway.

    Go nuts!  (I know, I know...I couldn't resist.)