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As a Montessori teacher, I could never pick a favorite type of work in the classroom—but I must admit, I have a soft spot for "food prep" work. There is something magical about watching tiny people create their own culinary masterpieces with complete independence. Maybe it's the look of satisfaction on their faces or the way they offer to share their carefully prepared snack with a friend, but it's incredible to observe.

The best part is that this is something you can totally recreate at home. Children are naturally interested in preparing (and eating!) food so empowering them to help in the kitchen can be a wonderful first step in bringing Montessori into your home.

Creating a Montessori kitchen can sound daunting, but it can really be as simple or comprehensive as you like. Here are some easy ways to create an inspiring Montessori kitchen in your home.

1. Set up a workspace

Until your child is tall enough to reach the kitchen counter, they will need a work space. There are many ways to set this up, but the important thing is that it's comfortable for your child and they can access it by themselves.

Some Montessori families use a play kitchen (this site has beautiful options), but present it to your little as an actual workspace, rather than a toy for pretend play.

Another option is to use a child-size table in your kitchen area and let the kids do food prep work while sitting. The table should be small enough that they can get in and out of the chair independently.

Some Montessori families also use a learning tower or similar kitchen helper to helps kids work at the kitchen counter alongside the grownups. This works really well for smaller kitchens where a more elaborate child workspace may not be an option and is also useful for allowing you to work alongside your child to cook great meals together.

2. Implement child-sized tools

Providing your child with tools made just for their little hands will allow them to be both safe and competent in the kitchen. For Small Hands has a wonderful assortment of children's kitchen tools that you can pick out together. Some good ones to start with are a chopper, cutting board, vegetable scrub brush, spreading knife, small whisk, and mixing bowl.

Montessori classrooms also always have kids use an apron for food prep work. This keeps their clothes clean, but it also helps define the beginning and end of the work cycle. They'll put on an apron when they begin, and keep it on until they have completely cleaned up the work.

3. Clear out a low shelf or drawer for supplies

Encouraging independence and facilitating order are two guiding principles in any Montessori space. For a Montessori kitchen, this means giving your child access to the dishes and supplies they will need so clear out a low shelf or kitchen drawer.

Keeping their dishes within their reach will allow them to help set the table and help put clean dishes away. Similarly, keeping kitchen tools on a low shelf lets them complete the whole process independently from setting up to cleaning up.

Some families also choose to designate a refrigerator drawer for their child or include some shelf-stable snacks on their low shelf so they can choose a snack for themselves when they want.

4. Set up cleaning supplies

In a Montessori classroom, cleaning up and putting away a piece of work is just as important as the work itself. Children are expected to leave the work they use as they found it. The same goes for food prep—washing any dishes and tools used, folding aprons, and putting the work back on the shelf where they found it.

To be successful with this, children need you to show them how to clean up, and they need easy access to cleaning supplies that they're allowed to use.

The first time you present any skill, such as chopping fruit or spreading peanut butter, to your child, show them the complete process—where to find the supplies, how to carry them carefully to the workspace, how to do the work, and how to clean up.

Keep things like a sponge, a broom and dustpan, and small towels on the low shelf. Many young children take great pride in cleaning up after themselves when they are given the tools to do so freely.

While it can be hard, try not to jump in as soon as a spill is made. Watch and see what they do. If you ask them to wipe it up, they may resist, but if you just watch, they may do it of their own accord with satisfaction.

These four things are really all you need to set up a Montessori kitchen for your little one. Working in the kitchen is great for developing fine motor skills, independence, and concentration, and it can also be a wonderful bonding time for you and your child if you enjoy cooking.

As you begin, try to keep it simple. Introduce more skills as your child's abilities develop. Watch to see which parts of being in the kitchen they most enjoy. Do they love preparing snacks all by themselves? Do they prefer to bake alongside you? Each child is different and you can tailor your space to fit their unique wants and needs.

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Most nights as I put my daughter to bed, rocking her to sleep in the darkness, I find my mind wandering to all the things I need to accomplish once she's asleep. I can't forget to throw that load of laundry in the dryer. I need to make sure I finish that lesson plan. I really should mop the kitchen tonight if I have time. As a busy working parent, the mental to-do list is never-ending, and my mind is always taking inventory of all that I've accomplished, and all I've yet to get done.

But tonight as I rocked her, I looked down at my daughter's legs, which now stick out past my arms when I cradle her in the rocking chair. I recalled how my arms used to wrap completely around her tiny little body. She used to lie in my arms, swaddled tightly like a little burrito, and her entire body would fit perfectly in my arms. It feels like this was only yesterday.

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I blinked, and somehow my tiny, sleepy newborn became a sweet, but strong-willed toddler.

I stared down at her little face in the darkness, forgetting the list of things I wanted to accomplish once I put her to bed. I watched her eyelids flutter as she fought sleep, and I recalled all the sleepless nights we spent in this rocking chair.

I remembered rocking her back to sleep on that very first night home from the hospital, so overwhelmed with love and joy, but also plagued with exhaustion.

I thought of all the nights between then and now. The tough, sleepless nights—through growth spurts, teething, and colds—and those sweet, easy nights where she drifted to sleep effortlessly and slept the whole night through.

I watched her eyelids become heavy as she drifted off to sleep, and I snuggled her a little tighter and rocked her a little longer. The days have flown by since we brought this tiny little blessing home, and I know that time is never going to slow down.

I know that there will come a day in the not-too-distant future where my precious little girl won't want her mama to rock her to sleep anymore. She won't want to hear Goodnight Moon for the one-millionth time. She won't want me to kiss her forehead and wish her sweet dreams before tucking her into bed.

So tonight, I made sure to be present in the moment rather than letting my mind wander to the next item on my to-do list. I watched my precious girl fall asleep and I savored every moment of it. I rocked her and rocked her and then rocked her some more.

I stared at her sweet face, wishing I could freeze this moment and keep her my baby forever. But I know that the future will bring new and exciting things as well.

For the time being, I'm going to enjoy where we are right now and do my best to just be in the moment. Because the laundry will still be there in an hour or two, and if the floors don't get mopped until tomorrow, nothing is going to happen.

Right now, just being here in this rocking chair with my baby is the most important thing in the world.

Life

With American officials now cautioning that Coronavirus outbreaks are highly likely within the 50 states, experts are also urging schools and businesses to prepare for disruptions. If it comes to this, the United States can follow Hong Kong's model—where protests through the fall shut down schools and then the threat of Coronavirus led classrooms to shutter again through the majority of winter.

With schools closed and the city effectively on lockdown as the threat of Coronavirus touched all aspects of public life, students around Hong Kong have been forced to adjust to virtual schooling, and that means mothers have been forced to adjust, too.

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"Extending the class suspension has been a difficult decision. Yet as the WHO [World Health Organization] predicted, the epidemic will last for a while and the Bureau thinks it is the safest decision to ensure the physical well-being of students," said Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung in a press statement this week, announcing the decision to push back opening schools until April 20.

For American mom Arcadia Kim and her family, this effectively put their lives in Hong Kong on standstill even though they were all healthy. Rather than wait it out in Hong Kong, the family decided to "self-quarantine" in Hawaii earlier at the beginning of February which they were able to do as American citizens. As the family hastily packed up their lives with just one hour of notice, they included their digital tablets and laptops—which have since become not only their lifelines to home, but also the children's method for schooling.

"Online classes and virtual school look like 'ready player one,'" says Kim, who runs Infinite Screentime, which helps families strike a better balance with screens. "[It's like] some dystopian future where you are plugged into the matrix."

Although screen time is a stressful topic among many modern parents, Kim had a unique vantage point on the perks and pitfalls: A former chief operating officer for Electronic Arts, Los Angeles, she was closely involved in the development of some of the most popular video games in the world—and understands exactly how they were created to be addictive.

After being conscious of her children's screen time throughout their lives, it felt strange for her to encourage them to log hours upon hours on their computers in the name of school. "They are in front of their computers for nearly six hours a day," she says of her children's virtual schooling. "It looks crazy, but this is crazy."

Still, for being pushed into this new way of schooling that they didn't request, Kim was impressed by the way her children quickly adjusted. Whereas they could have lost one year of education, the Kim children now wake up across the ocean from their school, log on by 8 a.m. to receive their assignments and then get to work for the day—which looks like anything from the 13-year-old Skyping with a tutor who is a PhD candidate in microbiology, the 7-year-old assessing the symmetry of objects using a tablet, or the 10-year-old learning scratch programming.

To provide a counterbalance at the end of the screen time-rich school day, the family makes a point of getting out and exploring their new surroundings.

While the circumstances in Hong Kong may be unique, students, parents and educators from around the world are embracing online classrooms for a variety of reasons. According to a 2019 report from the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), nearly 300,000 K-12 students in the United States were enrolled in full-time virtual schools.

However, experts from NEPC, a research organization based out of the University of Colorado at Boulder, expressed concern about the effectiveness of virtual schooling—which is still somewhat of an unregulated, "wild west" approach to education. Notably, the graduation rate from virtual schools is approximately 50 percent while the national average for public schools is 85%.

"Given the lack of understanding of what is actually happening in virtual education, policymakers should require that any virtual school operating in their jurisdiction be required to provide the necessary information to examine the effectiveness of the virtual education that is actually being provided," the authors suggested in the report.

Kim agrees the downsides to virtual schooling remain clear, especially because educators in Hong Kong had to scramble to offer this option on such short notice. "There are some things that seem better and more conducive to learning online than other things," she says. "Can a 7-year-old really understand the significance of the Day of Death by watching YouTube videos only? It would have been much cooler if they could have done the dress-up festival like the school had planned."

Yet Kim says her eyes truly have been opened to the possibilities that virtual schooling presents through this experience—even as she's looking forward to her children having the chance to go back to their normal classrooms. "This is going to be the future," she says. "[Online school] will force kids to be more self-reliant and motivated. Parents will need to be more flexible about what is to come."

News

Pregnancy is a naturally beautiful thing in a woman's life and the same should be true of the skincare products we use. But, that's not always the case. Did you know that just because a label says "gentle" or "all-natural" it doesn't mean it's non-toxic and pregnancy-safe? There can be a lot of sneaky ingredients that aren't so great for you, mama. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists warns that prenatal exposure to toxic environmental agents can be linked to cancer and reproductive issues later in life. The good news is that you can reduce exposure to toxic chemicals by carefully reading labels.

The Cosmetics Database has a list of good-for-you ingredients if you're ever unsure. And, to get you started, these are our favorite all-natural, pregnancy-safe beauty products:

Acure prickly pear + fig extract shampoo

Acure shampoo

Free of parabens, sulfates, phthalates, mineral oil, petrolatum, silicone, and just about anything that could threaten you or your baby, this is one of the most accessible shampoos on the market that actually works wonders for pregnancy and postpartum hair loss. It increases hair's elasticity and aids in preventing breakage after a few uses. Their masks also make great self-care treatments both before and after your little one makes their arrival. Trust us, you'll have earned a little pampering!

$8.27

Amareta brightening gel cleanser

Moon Light Brightening Gel Cleanser

Wouldn't it be great if a skincare line had products for every stage of pregnancy and new mom life? Wish = granted.

This lightweight daily face wash cleanses, balances and brightens your skin throughout your hormonal cycle. Plus, you won't find chemicals, synthetic preservatives or harsh acne treatment ingredients, but you will find lots of vitamin C to brighten and hydrate even the dullest skin.

$48

Beautycounter hydrating foundation

Beautycounter hydrating foundation

Beautycounter is a mom-founded company that has been making waves by pushing the FDA to enact stricter rules about what is allowed into cosmetic products in the U.S. They hold themselves to a high standard, banning 1,500 questionable or harmful chemicals from all of their products—without sacrificing on quality.

Our favorite product includes the hydrating foundation that's perfect for light to medium coverage, and it includes sodium hyaluronate, a natural moisture magnet, to promote smoother-looking skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

$42

Belli anti-blemish facial wash

Belli anti-blemish facial wash

Sometimes pregnancy can do not-so-beautiful things to your skin. Since most anti-blemish treatments contain chemicals not recommended for pregnancy, we love Belli Skincare as a safer alternative. While all their products are free of parabens, gluten, artificial dyes and fragrances, their anti-blemish spot treatment and acne wash is great for pregnant or nursing mamas battling problem skin. Plus, it feels and smells super luxurious.

$22

Erbavia stretch mark cream

Erbavia stretch mark cream

No one deserves a little spa treatment more than pregnant mamas. But in case you don't have time for an afternoon away, we recommend Erbaviva's line of organic and chemical-free beauty treatments.

For a little nightly belly pampering, we loved combining the stretch mark cream (non-greasy so you can dress right away!), stretch mark oil, and belly butter. All three products feature the same earthy, spa-like scent and pair beautifully for a deep hydration—take that, third-trimester itchiness.

$30

evanhealy sea algae serum

evanhealy sea algae serum

When searching for pregnancy-safe products, you can't go wrong by starting with nature. Evan Healy's line of skincare products are all-organic and plant-based, leaving out synthetics or other toxic ingredients. We're super into the sea algae serum that's made up of sea buckthorn oil, seaweed, algae, hyaluronic acid and CO Q-10 to tone and beautify skin your entire pregnancy.

$45.95

Naked Truth Beauty lip + cheek stick

Naked Truth Beauty Lip & Cheek stick.

Naked Truth Beauty is a beauty company firmly rooted in safe products and ingredient education. Even their packaging is made from recycled ingredients and can be recycled or composted after use.

While they carry an assortment of bath and beauty items, our favorite is the Lip + Cheek stick. It's easy to apply, the color blends perfectly and they have a fair variety of shades for different skin tones. Plus, who doesn't love a product that pulls double duty—just like you, mama.

$26

W3LL People nudist lip butter

W3LL People nudist lip butter

What happens when an elite makeup artist, a cosmetic dermatologist and a tree-hugging entrepreneur team up to create a beauty line? Safe product magic.

That's the story behind W3ll People, a company firmly rooted in non-toxic formulas and minimalist makeup looks. Every product contains premium natural ingredients and skips fillers, propylene glycol, petrochemicals, and petroleum by-products, meaning you'll look as good as they make you feel.

We loved the lip butter for natural shades that work on any skin tone (plus a slight tingly that plumps your lips). This powerful lip butter also provides SPF 15 broad-spectrum protection for mamas who love the sun.

$13.99

Ilia limitless lash mascara

Ilia Limitless Lash Mascara

Infused with a hint of organic shea butter and keratin to help boost and enhance lash condition, this lightweight and nourishing formula is just what the doctor ordered for a classic, black finish. You'll also find a blend of organic bee and carnauba waxes to weightlessly condition each lash, while still keeping them lifted throughout the day.

$28

Pleni Naturals cleansing oil and exfoliating mask

A little goes a long way with this face oil. While the price might seem initially steep, when you're using only a few pumps a day this bottle can last longer than you might expect. Plus, it's two products in one.

We love this certified non-toxic and vegan formula for being super gentle on your skin and pregnancy safe. You can use this in your everyday cleansing routine—leaving your face feeling clean but not tight or squeaky—or you can leave it on for up to 10 minutes as a mask to get the exfoliating benefits from the papaya enzymes to help you gently dissolve dead skin cells. It's so great, you might want to consider keeping it in your routine beyond pregnancy, too, mama.

$48

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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As a dentist and a parent, I know getting kids pumped about dental care is not always easy. Especially when quality time with the toothbrush means an inevitable tantrum, as it does for some toddlers.

While the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends a visit to the dentist when the first tooth appears, or no later than your child's first birthday, establishing a few simple habits before your toddler's first dental appointment could be your best bet for an easier first time in the dentist chair.

Here are five easy ways parents can prepare their toddler prepare for the first dental visit.

Start brushing early

I know how important (but tough) it is to get kids into any sort of routine—let alone a dental one. We began our children's dental routine as infants by cleaning their mouths and gums regularly with a soft infant toothbrush or cloth and water. Between 12-18 months, we started a brushing routine with non-fluoridated toothpaste.

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The earlier children fit toothbrushing into their daily routine, the easier their first dental visit will be. Just like adults, children should brush their teeth twice daily for 2-3 minutes, ideally early in the morning and before going to bed.

Schedule your child's nighttime brushing before they get too tired. For example, if your child usually nods off at 8 pm, have them do their nightly brushing and flossing at 7:15 pm. We're all a bit more cooperative before the Sandman comes knocking.

Make it tasty

Finding a gently-flavored children's toothpaste your child likes to brush with can make brushing a lot more enjoyable—and may make that first dental visit go more smoothly, too. While mint flavored is a good go-to for adults, bubble gum or chocolate-flavored toothpaste may be more appealing for the little ones.

Parents can begin brushing their children's teeth with a tiny pea-sized amount of non-fluoridated toothpaste as early as 18 months. Once your child learns how to spit (around 2 years old), switch to fluoride toothpaste to protect against dental decay.

Avoid surprises

Most kids don't particularly enjoy bad surprises—and who can blame them? Showing up to a strange, sterile place like a dentist's office, with loud, scary noises and "a big person" putting their hands in your mouth? No, thank you!

The best way to prepare a child for the dentist is to tell, show and do:

Tell: Start by spending some time telling your child about the dentist and why it's important to visit.

Show: Demonstrate for your child what the dentist does by reading a children's book (and explain why it's not scary!).

Do: Bring your child on a quick field trip to the dentist and let them see, touch and experience the office before their first visit.

Play pretend

Before the first visit, try play-acting "trip to the dentist" with a stuffed animal. Encourage your child to count and brush teeth, floss between their chompers and have fun taking turns in a pretend dentist chair.

Use praise + positive reinforcement

Visiting the dentist is a new and sometimes scary experience for children. While starting and prioritizing a brushing routine helps in the long run, no amount of prep can guarantee a perfect first time dental visit.

Praise and positive reinforcement helps kids become excited to care for their teeth. Rewarding healthy habits and your first dental visit with a trip to the park, smiley stickers and big hugs makes the process less frightening for kids—and less troublesome for parents.
Learn + Play
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