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5 parenting lessons I learned as a Montessori teacher

4. Give children fresh starts: Don’t broadcast to everyone they “had rough mornings.”

5 parenting lessons I learned as a Montessori teacher

Teaching little ones was such an honor and so much fun (most of the time).


I feel so lucky to have had the experience of being in the classroom before having children of my own. I not only learned so much about children and how to interact with them, but I also I gained valuable insight about the type of parent I want to be.

I worked mostly with 3 to 6 year olds and occasionally toddlers, so—as the mother of a baby—I won’t need to use most of these ideas for quite some time. And when I do, I may fail at all of them. These are just a few things I hope to keep in mind as my little guy grows based on what I saw work (and not work) with parent-child interactions when I taught.

1. Avoid labeling: “bored” or “shy” or “picky”

I want my little guy to learn as many words as possible in the next couple of years... But there are a few words, such as “shy” and “picky” and “bored,” that I’m in no hurry for him to learn.

Obviously children will learn these words on their own eventually, but why speed up that process? Why teach a child that when there’s nothing going on, you are “bored”? I promise you will regret it when they tell you 1,000 times in an hour that they’re bored.

If that ship has already sailed, try, “Oh, you’re bored? Bored means there is nothing to do. I have something you can help me with.” Proceed to involve them in folding laundry, sweeping the floor, whatever else needs doing... They will quickly learn to stop telling you they’re bored and start figuring out something fun to do.

Along similar lines, why teach a child that he is “shy”? Feeling shy is totally fine, but labeling someone as shy is different. That becomes part of their identity.

I think it’s important to help small children understand and name their feelings, but when little Johnny is hiding behind your leg, instead of saying “Sorry, Johnny is shy, he wants to stay with me,” you could say “Johnny, it seems like you’re feeling hesitant to go in today. I see your friend Bobby over there.”

Same with picky–sure some children are picky eaters, but if they hear you label them as “picky,” it becomes a part of how they see themselves and they are much less likely to try new things.

2. Don’t interview for pain

Children are perceptive. Children want your attention. They will quickly figure out what gets the most attention from you and do more of that thing.

If you ask your child about their day and then focus in on the one negative thing they’ve mentioned and proceed to question them about it for the next half hour and comfort them (even if they weren’t upset about it to begin with…), they will quickly learn to bring up more negative things. Whether or not anything bad has happened. A little disagreement they had with a friend becomes a huge drama where they were the victim. This is not to say your child will lie, but that the way they view what happened will change.

How you see the world impacts how they see the world. Parents do this because they want to make sure their children are OK and are taken care of. Of course it’s a parent’s job to be their child’s advocate and protector. But if you have a big reaction every time your child mentions anything “bad” happening, they will likely begin focusing on these interactions, and becoming more upset over them.

3. Don’t greet with criticism

Picture this: Little 3-year-old Sally has spent 20 minutes putting on her own shoes. She sat there and concentrated and did it herself, even though it’s so hard.

Mom comes in to pick her up from school: “Oh, your shoes are on the wrong feet. Let’s fix that before we get in the car.” Mom proceeds to do it for little Sally because it’s faster. Message: You did it wrong and I don’t think you’re capable of doing this on your own.

If you’re worried your child might be uncomfortable, you could say “Do your shoes feel comfortable?” If they say yes, just leave it alone and maybe make a mental note to show them a trick for remembering which shoe goes on which foot later. Or not. They will figure it out eventually.

4. Leave it at the door

Imagine this scenario: A little girl in pigtails comes bouncing into school, a smile on her face, lunchbox in hand.

Mom: “Poor little Jane had an awful morning. She slept terribly, cried about putting her shoes on, and fell and scraped her knee on the way to the car. Good luck with her today.”

The little girl is no longer smiling. Clearly…

Children generally move on quickly. While all of the events of a rough morning are likely still swimming around in your head, the child has likely moved on. Even if she hasn’t, why not give her a fresh start when she gets to school (or to a friend’s house, or wherever you’re going).

This could also be broadened to say avoid talking about your child like she’s not there—she is always listening.

If you need to tell a teacher or another adult about something going on with your child, leave a note! This way the relevant information is passed along and the child doesn’t hear the reminder that she’s probably in a bad mood and may be a pain to be around today. Yikes.

5. Avoid saying “no”

This isn’t what it sounds like: This does NOT mean let your child do whatever they want. It’s just that children—especially toddlers and very young children—are sensitive to the fact that they are constantly told “no.”

There are ways you can rephrase what you’re saying to avoid directly telling them no and triggering a power struggle. Examples:

Child: “Can I have a piece of candy?”

Parent: “Yes, this evening, after we eat dinner.” (Or, “Mmm, I like candy too, I wish we could eat it every day! Candy is a special treat. We’ll have some in a few weeks on Halloween.”)

Child at the store: “Can I have this toy? And this toy? And that toy?”

Parent: “Ohh, that looks like a fun one! I’m going to take picture of it so I remember it when you have a birthday.” (Or write a note—children love seeing you write notes, it shows them what they’re saying is important to you.)

Child: “Can I go play outside?”

Parent: “Yes. As soon as we’re done cleaning your room, you may play outside.”

Even though he’s only 8 months, I try to practice this way of talking with James because I think a big part of it is habit. When he tries to roll away while I’m changing his diaper, I say “You may roll as soon as we’re done with your diaper.” It may not make any difference to him yet, but I think it’s helping me remember to practice this skill. I try to save “no” or “stop” for things that are unsafe so the words have more impact.

I want to be clear, I know it’s about 1,000 times harder to be the parent you want to be in the moment than to think about it in the abstract. But, armed with goals and good intentions, I truly believe these guidelines will be a good place to start.

Without camps and back-to-school plans still TBD, the cries of "I'm bored!" seem to be ringing louder than ever this summer. And if you're anything like me, by August, I'm fresh out of boxes to check on my "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys.

With that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite wooden toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

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Why do all of my good parenting or baby-focused inventions come after they've already been invented by someone else? Sigh.

Like the Puj hug hooded baby towel, aka the handiest, softest cotton towel ever created.

Safely removing a wet, slippery baby from the bath can be totally nerve-wracking, and trying to hold onto a towel at the same time without soaking it in the process seems to require an extra arm altogether. It's no wonder so much water ends up on the floor, the countertops, or you(!) after bathing your little one. Their splashing and kicking in the water is beyond adorable, of course, but the clean up after? Not as much.

It sounds simple: Wash your child, sing them a song or two, let them play with some toys, then take them out, place a towel around them, and dry them off. Should be easy, peasy, lemon squeezy, right?

But it hasn't been. It's been more—as one of my favorite memes says—difficult, difficult, lemon difficult. Because until this towel hit the bathtime scene, there was no easy-peasy way to pick up your squirming wet baby without drenching yourself and/or everything around you.

Plus, there is nothing cuter than a baby in a plush hooded towel, right? Well, except when it's paired with a dry, mess-free floor, maybe.

Check out our favorites to make bathtime so much easier:

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This viral post about the 4th trimester is exactly what new mamas need right now

"We are alone. Together. You are surrounded all the other mothers who are navigating this tender time in isolation. You are held by all of us who have walked the path before you and who know how much you must be hurting. You are wrapped in the warm embrace of mama earth, as she too settles into this time of slowness and healing."

Artist and teacher Catie Atkinson at Spirit y Sol recently shared a beautiful drawing of a new mom crying on a couch—leaking breasts, newborn baby, pile of laundry and what we can only assume is cold coffee, included. Everything about the image is so real and raw to me—from the soft stomach to the nursing bra and the juxtaposition of the happy wallpaper to the palpable vulnerability of the mother—I can almost feel the couch underneath me. I can feel the exhaustion deep in this woman's bones.

My heart feels the ache of loneliness right alongside hers. Because I remember. I remember the confusion and uncertainty and love and messy beauty of the fourth trimester so well. After all, it's etched in our minds and bodies forever.

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