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While you could easily spend hundreds of dollars on all of the beautiful Montessori toys available to buy, it's just as easy to provide engaging, Montessori-inspired learning activities for your child that cost almost no money at all.

In addition to the obvious advantages to your wallet, creating simple learning activities for your child lets you customize the work to their interests and level, which is perfectly in line with the Montessori philosophy.

These classic Montessori activities for toddlers, preschoolers and kindergarteners cost $10 or less—and you probably have many of the supplies already!

10 budget-friendly Montessori activities using materials you already own (or can get for under $10):

1. Montessori activity: Water sponging

Materials: 2 bowls, 1 kitchen sponge, 1 tray or cookie sheet


All you need for this learning activity is a tray with two pretty bowls—one full of water and one empty—and a small sponge (cut a normal kitchen sponge into halves or thirds).

Show your child how to submerge the sponge in the bowl of water and then squeeze out the water into the second bowl. Transfer all of the water this way until the first bowl is empty and the second is full, and then let your child have a turn.

This is a common Montessori classroom activity because young children love working with water, and the activity teaches the foundational skill of how to clean water spills with a sponge. Learning this skill gives young children independence, because they can do things like pour water, paint or have tea parties without worrying about spills. It also helps young children develop concentration and their hand muscles.

Every child is different, but this work is usually interesting for 2 or 3-year-olds.

Once your child has mastered sponging, they can continue to explore water by pouring liquid from one pitcher to another, or using basters and medicine droppers to transfer water between containers.

2. Montessori activity: Open and close

Materials: A variety of containers with lids, laundry basket or other large basket

Fill a basket with a variety of small containers that close in various ways and let your child practice opening and closing them.

This may not sound very exciting, but young children often love this task, because learning to open containers gives them the independence to do things like get themselves a snack, open a paint jar, or open the shampoo by themselves to wash their hair. Young children crave independence and are willing to work hard to master these skills.

Provide containers that close in various ways such as a jar with a lid that twists on, a small container with a lid that snaps on, a small coin purse, and a pouch with a button. No need to buy special containers, just use what you have at home!

You can also add little objects inside the containers to make it more interesting. For example, you might include a few coins in the coin purse or a pretty marble in the jar.

3. Montessori activity: Color matching and sorting

Materials: Paint color cards, scissors

Grab some free paint color cards from a local hardware or home supply store—you'll need two of each color. Cut the cards into individual colored rectangles, then mix them up and show your child how to match colors. This is an exercise in visual discrimination, but also in organization as your child learns how to use an orderly process for finding a match.

For the youngest children, Montessori teachers provide just three colors (red, yellow, and blue), while older children work with more.

Once your child has mastered color matching, you can show them how to grade colors, arranging from lightest to darkest. For example, you might provide 10 different blues and show them how to compare each card to find the lightest, then the second lightest, etc.

4. Montessori activity: Open-ended sorting

Materials: Assorted small objects such as beads, buttons, coins, stickers or natural items (acorns, stones, shells)

This is a creative scientific exercise that allows children to explore classification systems. Start with a variety of small objects, such as beads, buttons, stickers, natural items, or whatever else you have at home.

Tell your child you're going to think of as many ways to organize them as possible. Dump them out and show your child how to create a system, sorting the objects by color, size, shape, texture, or whatever else you come up with. Then invite them to try, and see how many methods you can come up with together.

Follow your own child, but this activity is often good for 5- and 6-year-olds who can begin to understand more abstract concepts.

5. Montessori activity: Sequencing

Materials: Index cards or cardstock, pencils or crayons

Sequencing, or putting events in order, is a key concept in understanding stories.

Think of an activity your child likes, like going swimming, and draw three different pictures of that activity on separate pieces of card stock. The first picture can be of your child finding their swimsuit, the second of them in the pool, and the third of them drying off. Show them how to put the pictures in order. You can do this with any activity your child loves.

If you're not artistically inclined but you have a printer at home, you can take pictures of your child doing everyday tasks like brushing teeth, eating meals or putting on shoes. Print the pictures and glue them onto cardstock, then let your child put the images from their day in sequence.

You can do the same activity using images from your child's favorite books (you know, the ones you've read together so many times you practically have them memorized?). Photocopy or take pictures of illustrations from The Very Hungry Caterpillar or The Napping House and let your child put them together in order.

6. Montessori activity: Secret message game

Materials: Paper and pencil

This one is for early readers, and all you need is paper and a pencil!

Tell your child you're going to write them a message with a top secret direction, just for them. Write something you know they can read and fold the paper in two, making a big deal out of it being a secret message. Your child will enjoy reading the messages and acting out the directions because they're top-secret and just for them—even if the message is as simple as "get a cup" or "sit on the couch" or "pet the dog." Make the messages more complex as your child's reading skills grow.

7. Montessori activity: Memory game

Materials: 3 shoeboxes, baskets or containers, 10 slips of paper, assorted small objects such as shells, buttons, or beads

Many Montessori math materials can be pricey, but Memory Game is a number activity you'll find in Montessori classrooms that you can easily make yourself.

Place a box or basket full of small objects, such as beads or buttons, next to an empty basket. At a separate workspace—a table or desk nearby—number 10 slips of paper and fold each paper in half to hide the number. Mix up the slips of paper in a box, then choose a slip of paper and silently read the number to yourself, but don't show your child what it is.

Leaving the slip of paper with the number on it behind you, go to the box of small objects, pick up the right number of beads or buttons, and place them in the carrying basket. Bring them back, count them, and then show your child the number you picked. Then it's their turn!

Memory game helps children practice keeping a number "in their head"—remembering the number they need without bringing the paper with them.

8. Montessori activity: Nature journal

Materials: notebook and pencil

Get a notebook with story writing paper (where each page has a space to draw and a space to write) and invite your child to start a nature journal.

You can ask them to go outside and find whatever they find interesting to draw and write about, or give them a more specific task, like "see if you can spot a bug to draw."

For children who are not yet writing, ask them to tell you what they saw and write the words for them. With time, they can take over the task.

9. Montessori activity: Matching hunt

Materials: Natural or household materials

There is a lot of matching work in early childhood Montessori, because it is excellent for visual discrimination, organization and vocabulary.

You don't need a fancy game or toy to practice matching—you can find matching items all over the house, and right outside your door. Go on a nature walk or an indoor scavenger hunt with your child and collect as many matching items as you can find: leaves, blocks, crayons, stones, acorns, marbles, two of each kind. Save them in a basket or tray and show your child how to match them by type, then label your collection.

10. Montessori activity: Peace activity

Materials: Any objects that make your child feel peaceful

Many visitors to Montessori classrooms comment on how peaceful they are and this is not by accident!

There is a big emphasis on peace in Montessori, both global peace and peace within the child. Many Montessori classrooms will have a peace area with little activities children can do to center themselves.

Some examples are a small music box your child can sit and play, a sand timer your child can watch while practicing silence (not forced silence, just let them try their best) or a small photo of nature or of your family that your child can sit and reflect on. Talk to them about how these things can help them feel calm when they have big feelings.

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Things We're Loving

It was a historical moment for the world and a scary moment for a woman who had just become a mother for the first time. When the Duchess of Cambridge stepped out of the Lindo Wing at St. Mary's Hospital on July 22, 2013, with her new baby in her arms she was happy—but understandably scared, too.

Kate Middleton recently appeared on Giovanna Fletcher's Happy Mum, Happy Baby podcast and when Fletcher asked her about her postpartum debut Kate said she felt a little freaked out when she stepped out with her newborn.

"Yeah, slightly terrifying, slightly terrifying, I'm not going to lie," Kate said.

During the podcast the Duchess opened up about her pregnancy and birth experiences, explaining how much hypnobirthing helped her and that she didn't know whether she was delivering a prince or princess until Prince George was born as she'd opted to be surprised.

She was surprised and thrilled when she met her son, and looked forward to post-pregnancy life after spending her pregnancy quite ill with hyperemesis gravidarum (a seriously debilitating form of extreme morning sickness). She was happy, but was also (very understandably) overwhelmed. In addition to all the pressure new moms feel, Kate had an army of photographers waiting outside the hospital for her.

"Everything goes in a bit of a blur. I think, yeah I did stay in hospital overnight, I remember it was one of the hottest days and night with huge thunderstorms so I didn't get a huge amount of sleep, but George did, which was really great," she explained. "I was keen to get home because, for me, being in hospital, I had all the memories of being in hospital because of being sick [with acute morning sickness] so it wasn't a place I wanted to hang around in. So, I was really desperate to get home and get back to normality."

Kate wanted to get home, but she also did want to share her baby boy with the public who had been so supportive of her young family, she explains.

"Everyone had been so supportive and both William and I were really conscious that this was something that everyone was excited about and you know we're hugely grateful for the support that the public had shown us, and actually for us to be able to share that joy and appreciation with the public, I felt was really important," she shared, adding that "Equally it was coupled with a newborn baby, and inexperienced parents, and the uncertainty of what that held, so there were all sorts of mixed emotions."

"All sorts of mixed emotions."

The now-iconic images of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge exiting the hospital with their firstborn have gone down in history, but so has Kate's bravery that day.

There's been a lot written about whether those pictures put pressure on other moms who might not feel ready for heels and blowouts right after giving birth, but one thing critics of the photos often miss is the positive impact it had on other young women.

Yes, Kate looked beautiful, but she also looked like a woman whose body had just given birth—and the iconic images of her in that polka-dot dress taught a generation of women that the female body isn't an elastic band and that recovering from birth takes time.

"I, myself remember being really surprised when Kate Middleton came out of the hospital holding Prince George," Tina, now a mom herself and a model of postpartum realness in Mothercare's "Body Proud Mums campaign" explained last year.

Tina recalls how Kate's postpartum appearance showed her a reality society hadn't: "She had the baby bump, and I remember being surprised that your belly doesn't just go down after giving birth. I also thought how stupid I was to have ever thought it would. I guess pre-children you just have unrealistic expectations."

Tina wasn't stupid, she just hadn't been shown the truth.

So thank you, Kate, for stepping out of that hospital in 2013, despite being terrified, and showing the world your beautiful baby and your bump.


Despite the encouraging growth of free or subsidized preschools in some American cities, the fact remains that preschool and daycare cost about as much as rent in many areas.

But there's some good news, which is that parents who pay for preschool or daycare while they're at work may qualify for a credit that can help you save money on taxes this year. Here's what all parents should know before filing their returns.

Is preschool tuition tax-deductible?

The sum of your child's entire preschool tuition is not tax deductible, but you may be able to get something better than a deduction: a credit called the Child and Dependent Care Credit, worth up to $1,050 for one child and up to $2,100 for two or more kids.


How do I know if I'm eligible for the Child Dependent Care Tax Credit?

There are a few criteria to be eligible for the Child and Dependent Care Credit:

  • If you have someone take care of your child so you can work or look for work
  • Your child is under the age of 13 at the end of the tax year (no age limit if they are disabled)
  • You must be able to claim your child as a dependent
  • Your filing status must be single, head of household, qualifying widow or widower with a qualifying child, or married filing jointly.

Does preschool tuition count as dependent care?

Yes, it does count if you are paying someone to take care of your child so you can work or look for work. Day camps, such as summer camps and sports camps, count as well, but overnight camps don't.

How much could I potentially get back on taxes for preschool tuition?

If you are able to claim the Child and Dependent Care Credit, you may be able to claim up to $1,050 for one child and up to $2,100 for two or more children.

The great thing about credits is they are a dollar for dollar reduction of your taxes. So if you owe taxes of $1,050 and have one child, you may qualify for a credit of up to $1,050 and wipe out the taxes you owe.

The credit is based on a sliding scale: Depending on your income, your credit is 20%-35% of your childcare expenses up to $3,000 (or $1,050), and 20%-35% of childcare expenses up to $6,000 (or $2,100) for two or more kids.

The bottom line: While this tax credit is unlikely to completely cover your child's preschool tuition for the year, don't miss out on this tax credit if you're paying for preschool or daycare for your child so that you can work. And remember to check your eligibility for other tax credits and deductions for families, including the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Credit.
Work + Money

Celestial baby names are flying high right now, and the brightest star of them all? Well, it's actually Luna, the name of the Roman goddess of the moon, and the Latin word for "moon."

At #23 in the US in 2019, Luna's rise has been, well, astronomical ever since it re-entered the Top 1000 in 2003, for the first time in almost a century. That was the year that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was first published, featuring the kooky but courageous Luna Lovegood.

The once-unique baby name has since been picked up by stylish celebrity parents such as Penelope Cruz, Uma Thurman and John Legend, and now ranks in the Top 100 in at least 18 other countries, including Australia, Chile, Denmark, France, Italy, Norway and Slovenia.


But if Luna's meteoric rise to the top of the baby name popularity charts puts you off, here are 100 more magical, moon-inspired baby names to consider.

Baby names that mean moon

Girls' names that mean "moon" include a multitude of attractive Turkish names containing the element ay, meaning (you guessed it!) "moon." These range from rising international star Ayla to popular picks like Miray, Belinay and Aysima, which are all in the current Turkish Top 50 for girls.

Boy names that mean "moon" include dozens of dynamic Japanese names like Michika, Reito and Tsukio, which can all be formed from different kanji combinations to give various moon-related meanings.

Moon-inspired girl names

  1. Aruna: This pretty Japanese name, which can mean "moon love" (depending on the kanji characters used), is a perfect underused alternative to popular A-sandwich choices like Aria and Aurora.
  2. Esmeray: A beautiful Turkish name with the evocative meaning of "dark moon", which might appeal to lovers of rapid riser Esme.
  3. Lusine: Also spelled Lucine or Lusineh, this sophisticated Armenian choice could make for an unexpected route to Lucy or Lou.
  4. Mahina: A moon goddess in Hawaiian mythology, whose attractive name literally means "moon" in the Hawaiian language.
  5. Sasithorn: This poetic word for the moon is also used as a name in its native Thailand, pronounced "sah-see-TAWN". Sweet short form Sasi also means "moon".

And here are a few more of our favorite lunar names for girls from around the globe:

  1. Adzumi
  2. Aysel
  3. Channary
  4. Hala
  5. Indu
  6. Livana
  7. Lua
  8. Mahrukh
  9. Miray
  10. Neoma
  11. Orana
  12. Quilla
  13. Runa
  14. Saran
  15. Sihana
  16. Tsuki
  17. Vinterny
  18. Volana
  19. Zira
  20. Zulay

Moon-inspired boy names

  1. Ainar: This strong-sounding Kazakh name is actually unisex, meaning "male moon", "fire moon" or "pomegranate moon" (what a great image!).
  2. Isildur: A literary lunar name from J.R.R. Tolkien's legendarium, in which it belongs to a heroic king.
  3. Jerah: A rare Biblical boys' name with a contemporary sound, which could make for a great underused alternative to the likes of Noah and Jeremiah.
  4. Mani: Properly spelled Máni, this energetic mini name belongs to the personification of the moon in Norse mythology.
  5. Vikesh: A strong and striking Hindu name which is fairly common in India, but virtually unknown elsewhere.

And here's a selection of other great moon names for boys from around the globe:

  1. Asaki
  2. Aydemir
  3. Badar
  4. Chanchai
  5. Dal
  6. Ehaan
  7. Hilal
  8. Iyar
  9. Kamer
  10. Koray
  11. Luan
  12. Mahan
  13. Maziar
  14. Naito
  15. Nantu
  16. Qamar
  17. Rakesh
  18. Rua
  19. Zoro
  20. Zunair

Galactic moon names

We recently reported on the rise of planetary baby names, as well as of mythological names relating to the heavens, like Apollo and Zephyr: Greek gods of the sun and the west wind, respectively.

But how about the names of other moons? There are some stellar options out there, mostly drawn from myth, legend and literature—right on trend, but rarely used.

Galactic moon-inspired girl names

  1. Amalthea: A moon of Jupiter, named for the goat (or goat-keeper) who raised the infant Zeus. It would make a lovely longer form for the fashionable mini-name Thea.
  2. Calypso: A fun-filled name with a lively rhythm and musical links to the West Indies. Callie and Cleo could make for great nicknames.
  3. Leda: The name of the beautiful mother of Helen of Troy in Greek mythology is surprisingly underused, despite its simple, international appeal: it was given to just 17 baby girls in 2018.
  4. Thebe: Far rarer than Phoebe, but with the same light and simple sound, Thebe is another moon of Jupiter.
  5. Skathi: This tiny moon of Saturn is named for Skaði, the Norse goddess of winter and archery.

And here are a few more appealing faraway moon names for girls:

  1. Anthe
  2. Belinda
  3. Bianca
  4. Carme
  5. Cressida
  6. Despina
  7. Elara
  8. Galatea
  9. Helene
  10. Io
  11. Larissa
  12. Mab
  13. Miranda
  14. Ophelia
  15. Pandora
  16. Perdita
  17. Rhea
  18. Rosalind
  19. Thalassa
  20. Titania

Galactic moon-inspired boy names

  1. Ariel: This handsome Hebrew name may have become far more popular for girls in the US, thanks to a certain Little Mermaid, but it's a truly unisex choice in Israel: #4 for boys and #23 for girls in the last year on record (2016).
  2. Fenrir: The name of a monstrous wolf in Norse mythology, and of an evil werewolf in the Harry Potter books—but if Wolf itself can catch on…
  3. Hyperion: One of the Titans in Greek mythology, Hyperion lends his majestic name to another of Saturn's moons.
  4. Narvi: Also spelled Narfi, this quirky Norse mythology name belongs to the father of Nótt, the personification of the night.
  5. Umbriel: A moon of Uranus, named (along with Ariel and Belinda) for a character from Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock. The name was probably inspired by Latin umbra "shadow."

And here are more magical moon names for boys from myth and legend:

  1. Aegir
  2. Atlas
  3. Caliban
  4. Ferdinand
  5. Francisco
  6. Janus
  7. Loge
  8. Neso
  9. Nix
  10. Oberon
  11. Pan
  12. Prospero
  13. Proteus
  14. Puck
  15. Sao
  16. Stephano
  17. Surtur
  18. Titan
  19. Trinculo
  20. Ymir

This post by Emma Waterhouse was first published on Nameberry

Learn + Play

My son is terrified that he might win his school's reading contest. If he does, he'll be invited, with the other winners, to attend a special lunch at a local Chinese food restaurant. My son loves books. He hates Chinese food. In fact, he hates pretty much any food that isn't chicken fingers, french fries, ketchup, bagels and cream cheese, or cereal. Occasionally he'll eat a jam sandwich but only if the jam isn't homemade. He'll eat apples, but only Red Delicious. And carrots. Raw.

I know what you're thinking. I let our child dictate the menu for the entire household based on his sugary and basic likes. Except I don't. I just have a very picky eater.


His fussiness over food has been something I've struggled with. I devoured articles on picky eaters and followed their advice to the letter. Did you know that if you present picky eaters with a certain food an average of 17 times they will finally try it because it seems "familiar"? Except he didn't.

I tried sneaking "good" food into what he would eat. Bran muffins harbored shredded zucchini. Pizza sauce hid pureed carrots. Chocolate cake was made moist with pumpkin. I felt like a cheater. And still, it didn't work. This kid has olfactory skills that would shame drug-sniffing dogs – assuming the drugs smelled like broccoli.

I model good eating. A plate loaded with organic veggies aside whole-wheat pasta, for example. Homemade bread teeming with hemp seed. Even my "bad" food is good—biodynamic wine and homemade tortilla chips.

Nope. He had none of it.

I felt inferior to friends whose toddlers nibbled shrimp or requested sushi with an adorable lisp. I envied their breezy sophistication. Their worldly and open-minded kids. I feared a life that precluded ever taking my son to a restaurant that didn't offer a kids' menu. I imagined the future people who would never date him, joking with their friends about his love of "nuggets." I imagined the jobs he wouldn't get because the executives, over lunch, would conclude he couldn't think outside the box, given that his food was served in one.

But most of all, I worried about what my son's narrow appetite said about me.

I was pedestrian. Parochial. Predictable. Picky.

It's with that realization that I was able to abandon my mission to convince, cajole, bribe, trick or otherwise coerce my child into eating food he refuses.

I ate pizza for the first time on my 19th birthday. Tried lasagna in my second year of college. And finally indulged in spaghetti and meatballs when, at 23, I was poor, studying in France and ordered the cheapest—and most recognizable—thing on the menu. I was 25 before I tried any type of ethnic food. Twenty-eight before I ate lobster. I still don't eat ketchup. Or mayonnaise. Or mustard. I'm not just anti-condiment. I also won't touch fish with their eyes intact. Liver. Tongue. The list goes on and on.

My own childhood menu consisted of bologna sandwiches (white bread, thank you very much). Saltines. Boiled potatoes. I ate hamburgers, plain. Chicken (white meat only) with no skin or sauce, broiled. Iceberg lettuce and carrots. Occasionally I would eat an apple. My brother refuses to accept I've ever been a child since I didn't eat peanut butter, "the official food of childhood," he points out.

What changed? Well, I grew up. Moved away from home. Spent time in another country renowned for its food. On my own, I began to experiment. To try, just a nibble. With no one taking inventory of what went into my mouth, I felt freer to explore and draw my own conclusions.

I'm beginning to believe my son will follow a similar path. Just the other day he tried red pepper. "Yuck," he said.

Will he someday meet me for sushi? I doubt it.

But I don't like sushi anyway.

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