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Montessori at home: 10 ways to encourage math skills in young children

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Spoiler: there are no workbooks involved.


The math curriculum is many people’s favorite part of the Montessori classroom. I think this is because it is so very different from how math is taught in traditional schools.

Montessori math is very hands on, with children using concrete materials to learn mathematical concepts. While it would be difficult to recreate that curriculum at home, you can absolutely give your child real, concrete experiences with numbers…and it can even be fun!

Another big thing you can do to help your child learn to love math is to establish familiarity with numbers. Malcolm Gladwell, the author of Outliers, writes that the English language is a barrier for children learning math—our language for numbers is more complicated and less intuitive than that of many other languages, making it more difficult.

Having a certain level of familiarity with numbers helps children be more successful in the classroom. It gives them confidence and prevents what so many children believe, that they’re “not good at math”.

The best ways you can help at home are to spark an interest with real experiences and to give some level of familiarity.

Here are 10 ways to get started!

1. Grocery shop

Enlist your child to help you count out the things you need at the grocery store. For example, “We need eight potatoes, can you help me find eight?”

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2. Follow a recipe

Cooking is a great way to put math to use in the real world. If your child is just beginning to play with numbers, try writing out a really simple recipe for a fruit salad. Let her help you count 20 blueberries, 15 grapes, etc.

Make sure not to correct her if she gets it wrong. You can go over the numbers with her again some other time, but this is just for fun and you don’t want to hurt her confidence. That’s why it’s good to start with a “recipe” that can’t be messed up before you move on to soufflé.

3. Let him pay

If your child is a little further along with math, let him help you pay when you run errands. Show him how to figure out which coins you need and put him in charge of a little coin purse for small purchases.

You might want to start with a low pressure situation like paying for lunch, as it will likely take him a while at first and a long line of people waiting for him to finish at the grocery store may be too much pressure.

4. Play a game

Many games children love include numbers. Try Simon Says (“Simon says jump three times”) or Hide and Seek (“Count to 50 before you look for me”).

Many board games also include counting spaces. You could even make your own board game together, writing out the numbers on the spaces and using stickers to signify the meaning of different spaces for added fun.

5. How tall are you?

Children are highly interested in growing bigger. Measure your child’s height and show her the numbers on the tape measure. Let her have a turn and help her measure the height of her favorite teddy bear. If you have a younger child, you can also just help her count how many blocks high her tower is.

6. Create a road trip game

Ask your child to count how many stop signs or how many blue cars he sees while you’re driving. Hopefully this will also keep you from counting the number of times you hear, “Are we there yet?”

7. Think out loud

We use numbers all of the time in everyday life, but it’s often automatic and done all in our head so our children have no idea.

Try to notice when you’re counting or doing a calculation in your head and say it out loud instead. Even if your child is too young to understand what you’re talking about, you’re getting him used to the language of math.

8. Read and sing about numbers

Read books with numbers, but don’t use it as a chance to quiz your kid. That will take away the fun and make her feel the pressure.

When she recognizes the numbers, she just may shout them out on her own, but otherwise just read the book and know that you’re increasing their familiarity with numbers every time you do.

There are also so many fun children’s songs that involve counting. Some of my favorites are Over in the Meadow, 5 Green and Speckled Frogs, and One Grey Elephant Balancing, but the list goes on and on.

9. Play with patterns

Pattern play is a great way to indirectly prepare children for math. You can use tangrams and take turns making patterns, or make patterns with stickers or by stringing beads.

10. I wonder how many…

Children are often fascinated by really big numbers. Even if your child doesn’t care about counting to 10, he might be interested in how many stars are in the sky. Pose a question like “I wonder how many people there are in the whole world” and then research the answer together. Really big numbers spark children’s imaginations and create a sense of wonder.

The most important thing when supporting any academic skill at home with young children is to keep it fun. If they feel too much pressure, they may shut down. Try to make numbers a part of your everyday conversation and your child will have the familiarity he needs when he learns math in school.

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As mamas, we naturally become the magic-makers for our families. We sing the songs that make the waits seem shorter, dispense the kisses that help boo-boos hurt less, carry the seemingly bottomless bags of treasures, and find ways to turn even the most hum-drum days into something memorable.

Sometimes it's on a family vacation or when exploring a new locale, but often it's in our own backyards or living rooms. Here are 12 ways to create magical moments with kids no matter where your adventures take you.


1. Keep it simple

Mary Poppins may be practically perfect in every way, but―trust us―your most magical memories don't require perfection. Spend the morning building blanket forts or break out the cookie cutters to serve their sandwich in a fun shape and you'll quickly learn that, for kids, the most magical moments are often the simplest.

2. Get on their level

Sometimes creating a memorable moment can be as easy as getting down on the floor and playing with your children. So don't be afraid to get on your hands and knees, to swing from the monkey bars, or turn watching your favorite movie into an ultimate snuggle sesh.

3. Reimagine the ordinary

As Mary says, "the cover is not the book." Teach your child to see the world beyond initial impressions by encouraging them to imagine a whole new world as you play―a world where the laundry basket can be a pirate ship or a pile of blankets can be a castle.

4. Get a little messy

Stomp in muddy puddles. Break out the finger paint. Bake a cake and don't worry about frosting drips on the counter. The messes will wait, mama. For now, let your children―and yourself―live in these moments that will all too soon become favorite memories.

5. Throw out the plan

The best-laid plans...are rarely the most exciting. And often the most magical moments happen by accident. So let go of the plan, embrace the unexpected, and remember that your child doesn't care if the day goes according to the schedule.

6. Take it outside

There's never a wrong time of year to make magic outside. Take a stroll through a spring rainstorm, catch the first winter snowflakes on your tongue, or camp out under a meteor shower this summer. Mother Nature is a natural at creating experiences you'll both remember forever.

7. Share your childhood memories

Chances are if you found it magical as a child, then your kids will too. Introduce your favorite books and movies (pro tip: Plan a double feature with an original like Mary Poppins followed with the sequel, Mary Poppins Returns!) or book a trip to your favorite family vacation spot from the past. You could even try to recreate photos from your old childhood with your kids so you can hang on to the memory forever.

8. Just add music

Even when you're doing something as humdrum as prepping dinner or tidying up the living room, a little music has a way of upping the fun factor. Tell Alexa to cue up your favorite station for a spontaneous family dance party or use your child's favorite movie soundtrack for a quick game of "Clean and Freeze" to pick up toys at the end of the day.

9. Say "yes"

Sometimes it can feel like you're constantly telling your child "no." While it's not possible to grant every request (sorry, kiddo, still can't let you drive the car!), plan a "yes" day for a little extra magic. That means every (reasonable) request gets an affirmative response for 24 hours. Trust us―they'll never forget it.

10. Let them take the lead

A day planned by your kid―can you imagine that? Instead of trying to plan what you think will lead to the best memories, put your kid in the driver's seat by letting them make the itinerary. If you have more than one child, break up the planning so one gets to pick the activity while the other chooses your lunch menu. You just might end up with a day you never expected.

11. Ask more questions

Odds are, your child might not remember every activity you plan―but they will remember the moments you made them feel special. By focusing the conversation on your little one―their likes, dislikes, goals, or even just craziest dreams―you teach them that their perspective matters and that you are their biggest fan.

12. Turn a bad day around

Not every magical moment will start from something good. But the days where things don't go to plan can often turn out to be the greatest memories, especially when you find a way to turn even a negative experience into a positive memory. So don't get discouraged if you wake up to rain clouds on your beach day or drop the eggs on the floor before breakfast―take a cue from Mary Poppins and find a way to turn the whole day a little "turtle."

Mary Poppins Returns available now on Digital & out on Blue-ray March 19! Let the magic begin in your house with a night where everything is possible—even the impossible ✨

Pregnancy has taught me so much—about myself, my body and my marriage.

It has proven that I can handle much more than I've ever given myself credit for—mentally, physically and emotionally.

It has shown me that I am brave. The thought of getting a human out of your body in any way, shape or form can be...well, terrifying. But it must be done. And I did it. Twice.

It helped me discover how strong and capable my body is. What our bodies do to accommodate these little humans growing inside of us is totally wild and impressive—to say the least.

It deepened my love for my husband, the father of my children, in unimaginable ways. (I guess creating a baby together can do that to you.)

Pregnancy has given me two of the most precious gifts of my life.

And I'll deliver one more this fall.

My daughters are my heart and my world. They are these wonderful, awe-inspiring, creative, strong, intelligent humans. I don't know how we did it, my husband and I, but we made some good ones. And I thank my lucky stars every single day for these children.

Pregnancy and I have had our ups and downs, but (luckily) mostly ups.

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I've experienced pregnancy by surprise (twice!) and I've experienced it in a planned, scheduled manner (once!). Both are exciting and nerve-wracking. Seeing those two little pink lines or the word 'pregnant' appear (because, let's be honest, I've taken about 5,729 different types of pregnancy tests at this point) is a mind-blowing experience.

Pregnancy has given me migraines, exhaustion, nausea, gestational diabetes and backaches. It's shown me that I can survive without spicy crunchy tuna rolls and red wine for 40 weeks. And that I can still sleep (...kinda) without my favorite stomach-sleeping-position.

But oh! What wonderful, miraculous experiences pregnancy has also given me.

Sure—there are challenges with pregnancy. 100%. Some women experience extreme nausea throughout their entire pregnancy, some women have to go on bed rest, some women have preeclampsia, some women have bleeding scares, all pregnant women watch their bodies grow and change, and handle it in different ways—there are lots of ups and downs.

Pregnancy isn't for the weak.

But even with the challenges and the 'rules'—there has been nothing like experiencing the miracle of creating and growing another human inside my body.

It will never, ever cease to amaze me.

Feeling those first kicks is absolute magic. ✨

Celebrating the first sign of your baby bump is so, so exciting.

Wearing those first few maternity outfits is...interesting.

Talking about potential names is wild and let's be honest—also challenging. I mean...agreeing on a name is really hard!

Hearing your baby's heartbeat for the first time just about makes yours explode.

Seeing your future son or daughter at each sonogram is truly humbling.

Prepping the nursery and nesting is satisfying. ✔️

Letting go of fears and getting ready to welcome your baby into the world is e v e r y t h i n g.

And knowing when your family is complete is...a bit...confusing.

My husband and I have talked about this baby being our last. That once she is here, our family will be complete. It feels right to us. But it also feels final. It feels like I am 100% ready for this to be my last pregnancy. But it also feels crazy thinking about never being pregnant again.

I've been feeling so many big emotions accepting that this really could be it for me. It's strange, but I have this unexplainable feeling in my heart that three is the right amount of children for our family.

I am sad and happy and relieved and confused and excited and scared—all in one jumbled mix of emotions. (WARNING: Motherhood involves ALL the feels.)

I'm trying to appreciate every moment of this pregnancy all while mourning the inevitable closing of this chapter in my life.

These feelings are hard to process, but I know I will be at peace with it soon. I'm looking toward my future with my heart wide open, ready to welcome our third baby into our family and focus on what I do have, not what I may never have again.

One year ago, a video brought parents around the world to tears on World Down Syndrome Day. It's been viewed almost 5.5 million times since then, and the message behind it is still gaining momentum today. The Carpool Karaoke style video was produced by a parent-led Down Syndrome awareness organization called Wouldn't Change a Thing as a way to show people that families dealing with Down syndrome are just families like any family raising children.

In the video 50 moms from the UK and their 4-year-old kids sing along to 'A Thousand Years' by Christina Perri (aka the Twilight theme). It's a song about love, and it couldn't be a more perfect soundtrack for this group of mamas, who use a simplified form of sign language, Makaton, to amplify their message in the video.

Regardless, the 50 moms were a little shocked (but happy) to see their video go as viral as it did. "We definitely wanted everyone to see it," one of the mothers, Rebecca Carless told the BBC. "The idea is, we are just normal mums, we love our kids, they love us, and they are just like other 4-year-olds, we wouldn't change them."


This year, Wouldn't Change a Thing created another musical number to raise awareness about the lives of kids with Down syndrome.

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This one is set to Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" and shows the kids just being kids and having fun. It has already racked up nearly 40,000 views as of this writing.

These kids are clearly so very loved, and the parents behind these videos want the world to know it every day, but especially on World Down Syndrome Day.

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Many families travel for vacations and family events, especially in the summer months. Taking trips with children has many variables to consider, but one that many parents worry about is their little one's nap schedule while on vacation.

You certainly don't want to resort to staying home and give up all of those potential memories to be made. Instead, devise a plan ahead of time and then be open to going with the flow once you arrive at your destination. You can always get back on track when you get home.

Here are a few questions to consider before leaving for vacation:

Does your child sleep well in the car?

If they do, then you should plan your travel time so they can nap for part of the car, train or plane ride. Or, some families decide to travel late at night so their child sleeps for the majority of the trip. However, if your child does not usually sleep well in the car then don't fool yourself into thinking this trip will be different. In that case, travel right after they wake up, dress them comfortably, and plan to keep them entertained if they won't sleep.

Can you break your journey into segments with stops along the way?

The longer your child is in that car seat, the more likely they are to become upset and struggle to fall asleep when you need them to. Planning a few breaks can give them the exercise and exploring they need to be able to nap later. If you are traveling on an airplane or a train, you can plan to use the aisles for walks occasionally.

When they have trouble sleeping in an unfamiliar place

Once again, preparation is so important when it comes to getting your child to nap in an unfamiliar place. You will not be able to use the exact routines that work for you at home, but try to follow much of your usual routine to create a similar sleep environment for your child.

If your little one sleeps in a crib at home, bring along a portable folding crib.

You can even let your child sleep in that portable crib at home ahead of time so that it becomes familiar. Pack your child's usual blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, white noise, lullaby music, and night lights.

If your little one sleeps with you, create a safe sleeping place for your child in the new location.

Check out the room where you will be sleeping and rearrange as needed. Check to see if you can push the bed against the wall or replace heavy bedding to make things safer. (Always move things back the way that they were before you leave.) If you are staying at a hotel, many are understanding and accommodating. And they may even help with these type of arrangements.

Daily cues are another important factor when it comes to daily naps, and these are the things that often change while on vacation.

Try to serve meals of familiar foods at regular times, expose your child to normal daylight in the morning and dimly lit activities at night, avoid the pre-bed wrestling matches or ice cream treats. All of these small things can help keep nap-time and bedtime more regular and restful.

If you are traveling out of your time zone, you will need to be patient and aware of this transition.

It is a good idea to switch to the new time zone once you arrive at your destination because powerful biological cues also shift, such as the timing of meals & naps. Make sure that your child stays well-fed and well-hydrated and avoid letting them nap longer than they typically do. Don't over-schedule your first few days if at all possible.

It's important to be flexible! If your child naps well in a stroller or on a beach blanket, then let that happen. When away from home, always do what works best for everyone.

No matter what you do, it will take a few days to adjust to a new rhythm so it is important to be sensitive and flexible with these changes.

Originally posted on Elizabeth Pantley.

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My sweet child,

You wake up every morning with the same struggles as us all. Sometimes you're grumpy, sometimes you're just too tired to be happy, but you're always kind. That's just how you are. Even when you're sick, you're more worried about how others are feeling than yourself.

You see, you're tired in the morning because even though you were exhausted the night before, you stayed up talking to yourself about things and going over conversations in your head for the next day at school. I know because I hear you.

You told me you think about a lot of stuff before you fall asleep. You worry about others constantly, including what impression you'll make on others. You want to make sure that you'll say and do the right things, so no one gets upset with you. Because when someone is upset—especially with you—it hurts you deeply.

It stinks, baby, I know it stinks. It is so tiring to be so concerned with others and their feelings that you forget your own.

You're an old soul. You're caring and nurturing. You once gave weeds you had picked to a stranger outside of Walmart because "they looked sad," even though two minutes earlier you were having a meltdown. You quickly forgot that you were also upset because that man's sad face hurt you worse than melting down over a toy.

You let your cousins get the first pick of the prizes at Grandma's. You'd rather be last and get something you didn't want than to hurt someone's feelings. Because if they were sad, that would make you sadder.

I see you, sweet child.

In the front yard picking up shiny rocks from the driveway. They're for me, because you can tell I had a rough day. Your TV show can wait right now, you just want to make me feel better.

I feel you, sweet child.

When you see me laying on the couch and you cover me up and kiss my forehead. I'm not really asleep, you know—I'm watching you, studying you, listening to you—because it's the most beautiful thing I've ever encountered. Beautiful, yet dangerous in a way.

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Dangerous because I know what happens when a heart is too pure. When you care about the feelings of others more than your own. When you can read the emotions of others and feel them too. And I want you to know—although you should be loved and cared for because of your heart, not everyone has the same heart as you.

Not everyone is as loving and kind as you. Not everyone will give you the same love that you give them. Not everyone will appreciate you, and I never want you to be taken advantage of.

I wish I could protect you from anything bad, ever in the world—but the truth is, I can't. All I can do is show you that your deep empathy is a gift that can change the world. And you shouldn't be ashamed of it.

Recently, when I picked you up from school you told me a girl was saying ugly things to you, you said you just ignored her and you were okay, but I could tell you were sad about it. And that's okay.

I explained to you that everything and everyone doesn't deserve your energy (something that you taught me unknowingly), and if she is being unkind then it's because she doesn't feel very good about herself. You understood. You said maybe you can do something to make her feel better.

And that kills me.

It kills me because I'm helpless. I can't go everywhere with you and make sure no one is mean to you. I can't promise that you'll never be hurt or heartbroken. I can't save you from the world's coldness. But that kills me even more because you save me. Every day.

And I want to thank you for that. Thank you for saving me from… well, everything.

From depression. From anxiety. From my own mind attacking me. I get overwhelmed and you can tell. You know when I'm having an episode and I need a long tight hug. You can sense when something happened at work, so you make sure to tell me I'm "the best mom a girl could ever have." I want you to know that you're the reason I am here. You're the reason I keep pushing.

Your nurturing gives me what I need to cope and heal and move forward in life.

So… thank you, sweet girl.

For having a heart as pure as gold. For loving others and showing your empathy and kindness no matter what. For reading emotions and body language like a book. For always being there for me and others. For teaching me to be kind and see the beauty in all things. For showing me that I can get through this wild thing called life, as long as I have you.

I love you always,

Mom

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