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Montessori at home: 7 ways to teach your children to be problem solvers

It can be scary to think about, but the truth is we have no idea what the world will look like when our children grow up. But that doesn’t mean we can’t prepare them.


We can help them develop life skills that will serve them no matter what the future holds. One of the best skills you can work with your child on is problem solving.

Children encounter tons of “little” problems each day—each of them a possible moment for exploration and creativity! Remember that though the problems seem little to us, they can be big deals for kids. A puzzle that can’t be solved often elicits that “I CAN’T DO IT!” frustrated cry that we all know well.

Here are seven things to try when your little one encounters a problem:

1. Name the problem

As a teacher of young children, I’ve often seen children get so upset that they’re in tears, but they can’t tell you why. Sometimes we need to help a child identify the problem before she can see a solution.

For example, a little girl was working with water in the classroom and had a big spill. She burst into tears and threw her scrub brush across the room. In a situation like this, I might say, “You seem upset about that big spill. That’s a lot of water to clean up. What should we do first?”

Naming the specific problem makes it seem smaller and asking a leading question helps her figure out what to do next.

Try this at home next time you hear the familiar refrain of “I can’t do it!” For example, if your child is struggling with his shoes, try, “You can’t get your shoe on because the Velcro is closed. What could we do to make it easier?”

2. Answer with a question

Sometimes it seems like a child asks a thousand questions in a single day. Curiosity is a beautiful thing, but you don’t always have to give the answer. Try throwing a question back at him sometimes instead.

In the classroom, if a child asks why he has to wear shoes on the playground, I might ask him how his bare feet would feel in the gravel. If he asks why he has to stop playing and eat lunch, I might ask how he would feel that afternoon if he didn’t eat anything.

This strategy can work for bigger questions too. If your child comes home upset and asks how to get her best friend to stop being mad at her, help her brainstorm some ideas herself. Ask leading questions and write her answers down to show their importance.

3. Provide resources before answers

More than ever before, we have the answers to many of children’s questions at our fingertips. Why is the sky blue? No problem, let me Google that for you.

But in answering these questions so easily, we may be forgetting to show children how to find their own answers.

If a child at school asked me what lions eat, I would help him find a book about lions rather than just telling him. If you don’t have the necessary resource at home, you could visit the library, or simply involve your child in the research process on the computer.

Instead of quickly Googling on your phone, sit down together and talk to him about what you’re searching for and how you’re choosing a reliable site to read.

4. Set the right level of challenge

At school, we are constantly introducing children to things that are just out of their reach. We want the work to be challenging, but not impossible.

If I give a counting lesson to a child who is ready for addition, she would be bored, but if I give her a lesson on multiplication, she would likely get frustrated and discouraged.

Watch your child and give her opportunities for challenging tasks at home. That might be a puzzle with a few more pieces than she’s used to or buttoning her own jacket. Be there for support, but let her struggle with it too.

5. Embrace open-ended play

In a Montessori classroom, there is a full array of materials designed to allow a child to explore, hypothesize and test his theories, and figure out how the world works.

The truth is, though, you don’t need any special materials at home. All you need is to encourage open-ended play.

Playing with blocks or playing in the backyard offers all of the problem-solving opportunities your child will need. If he wants to build a tower taller than he is and runs out of blocks, what can he use instead? Let him figure it out. If he’s playing super heroes in the backyard and needs a shield, what can he use? Let him figure it out.

This is problem solving in action and the skills he learns in play will transfer over to academic skills.

6. Focus on effort

As a teacher, I would never say, “You got the right answer in all of your equations!” But I might say, “You concentrated on your math for a long time and finished three equations.” Focusing on the child’s effort, rather than results, encourages him to try challenging things.

Try this at home by offering encouragement after your child struggles. If he tries to build a new Lego set and can’t quite do it, you could say something like, “That’s a really tricky one. You worked really hard on that. Maybe we can try again tomorrow.”

7. Slow down and step back

One comment I’ve heard many times as a teacher is, “I didn’t know he could do that, he never does that at home!” This could be referring to putting on his own shoes, packing up his own lunch, or cleaning up spilled juice.

Children do things independently at school because they’re expected to, but also because we don’t jump in to help right away.

I might get a towel and ask a child if he’d like help with a spill, but I would not swoop in and do the whole thing for him, even if he’s upset—that would be robbing him of the sense of accomplishment he’ll feel when he helps solve the problem.

Next time your child is struggling at home, try starting with the minimum amount of support and increase as necessary. The goal is to walk the line between doing everything for a child and letting him get so frustrated he doesn’t want to try.

Try these tricks at home to help your child build his identity as a problem solver. Confidence and the willingness to try go a long way.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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As a military spouse, Cydney Cooper is used to doing things alone. But when she delivered her twin daughters early after complications due to Influenza A, she was missing her husband Skylar more than ever.

Recovering from the flu and an emergency C-section, and trying to parent the couple's two older boys and be with her new infant daughters in the NICU, Cydney was exhausted and scared and just wanted her husband who was deployed in Kuwait with the Army and wasn't expected home for weeks.

Alone in the NICU 12 days after giving birth, Cydney was texting an update on the twins to her husband when he walked through the door to shoulder some of the massive burden this mama was carrying.

"I was typing up their summary as best I could and trying to remember every detail to tell him when I looked up and saw him standing there. Shock, relief, and the feeling that everything was just alright hit me at once. I just finally let go," she explains in a statement to Motherly.

The moment was captured on video thanks to a family member who was in on Skylar's surprise and the reunion has now gone viral, having been viewed millions of times. It's an incredible moment for the couple who hadn't seen each other since Skylar had a three-day pass in seven months earlier.

Cydney had been caring for the couple's two boys and progressing in her pregnancy when, just over a week before the viral video was taken, she tested positive for Influenza A and went into preterm labor. "My husband was gone, my babies were early, I had the flu, and I was terrified," she tells Motherly.

"Over the next 48 hours they were able to stop my labor and I was discharged from the hospital. It only lasted two days and I went right back up and was in full on labor that was too far to stop."

Cydney needed an emergency C-section due to the babies' positioning, and her medical team could not allow anyone who had previously been around her into the operating room because anyone close to Cydney had been exposed to the flu.

"So I went in alone. The nurses and doctors were wonderful and held my hand through the entire thing but at the same time, I felt very very alone and scared. [Skylar] had been present for our first two and he was my rock and I didn't have him when I wanted him the most. But I did it! He was messaging me the second they wheeled me to recovery. Little did I know he was already working on being on his way."

When he found out his baby girls were coming early Skylar did everything he could to get home, and seeing him walk into the NICU is a moment Cydney will hold in her heart and her memory forever. "I had been having to hop back and forth from our sons to our daughters and felt guilty constantly because I couldn't be with all of them especially with their dad gone. It was one of the most amazing moments of my life and I won't be forgetting it."

It's so hard for a military spouse to do everything alone after a baby comes, and the military does recognize this. Just last month the Army doubled the amount of leave qualifying secondary caregivers (most often dads) can take after a birth or adoption, from 10 days to 21 so that moms like Cydney don't have to do it all alone.

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Yesterday at Target I stood in line behind a Mom with two screaming kids. One clung to her leg while the other, a brand new baby, wailed from her arms.

I am not used to being the one who is not the parent of the screaming child.

This was uncharted territory.

I identified with her painfully and I wanted desperately to affirm her. I wasn't sure what to do except smile and look as nonjudgmental as possible. I tried to think of what I could say, like, should I shout above the screaming, “YOU'RE AMAZING!!" Or should I go in for a fist bump, “You got this!!"?

Before I could process what my awesome, pro-mom, non-judgey response was going to be the mom turned to me with desperate eyes, “I'm sorry, um, can you hold her?" She held out her crying infant towards me.

“YES!" I said eagerly. As I took her precious one in my arms, the little girl made eye contact and then wailed. I bounced her gently and put her pacifier back in her mouth, feeling such an intense solidarity with this mama.

“I have four," I offered, hoping to reassure her that she hadn't chosen a psychopath.

“Me too," she smiled.

“Target with kids is hard," I said, “how old is she?"

“Four weeks," she smiled with postpartum exhaustion in her eyes, “thank you so much," she took back her baby and I watched her walk away.

No…thank you. I thought.

I have been the woman in the checkout line more times than I can count.

I've stood sweating in this woman's exact position, barely commanding the tears to wait until I got to my car. I've felt my face grow red and hot as my toddler screamed and kicked, waking up my baby who was angry and ready to nurse. I've felt so alone and so out of control.

I've thought I SHOULD BE ABLE TO DO THIS. I AM DOING SOMETHING WRONG AND EVERYONE KNOWS WHAT IT IS EXCEPT FOR ME.

I've pretended to be calm and cool while inside I felt like I was suffocating. I've felt embarrassed and emotionally naked in front of an audience of spectators. In my mind people were waiting and expecting me to GET IT TOGETHER.

But as I rocked this baby I thought, in those moments, there were probably people just like me who were longing to lighten my load and whisper—hey, I get it, I've been here too—you're doing a great job.

This mama was brave.

She let her guard down and because of that, gave me a gift. She redeemed a thousand of my own frantic check-out moments by letting me be a part of hers. She let me join her village and reminded me that I'm not alone.

I am not the first one to walk this road and I will not be the last. There are grandmas, great grandmas and great great grandmas that have gone before me. There are mamas whose kids are older than mine and who are navigating junior high and high school. There are those who are right where I am and those who have brand new babies.

Whatever stage I find myself at, I will not find myself alone. This is a weathered road we travel.

I'm not the only parent whose kids have thrown tantrums in Target, I'm not the only one to have her kids tell a lie, I'm not the only Mom to lose her temper. I'm not the only one to have a son who struggles with reading, or the only one to have a child scream I HATE YOU. I am not the first and I will not be the last.

We really are a part of a village, a part of something much bigger than just ourselves and there are women all around us who simply get it.

Chance brought me one of my people, a sister I just hadn't met yet.

She is one of the ones in the ring with me, doing messy, but beautiful work. We are both knee deep in motherhood and for a moment our stories crossed and I am grateful.

To me she was beautiful and valiant, a mother holding everything together by a thread. I don't know how she felt. I don't know if she felt small, or if she felt tired. I don't know if she felt undone or defeated…but I hope she felt supported.

I hope that in that moment she did not feel alone.

I hope she felt like I was WITH her.

No judgement.

Just respect.

We are not the first moms and we will not be the last to have a “moment."

It is messy, it is hard, we will fail often…but we do none of it alone, and we are never, ever the “only one."

#Solidarity

Jessica writes at her blog Wonderoak. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

We all know that being a mother brings many joys, but a phenomenal sex life is not usually one of them. While parenting with a partner can be the most beautiful bonding experience, it can also be a breeding ground for resentment, romantic disconnect and unsatisfying sex.

But all is not lost to a life with little ones. As a mom of two, I attest to the fact that parenthood can actually improve your sex life; and as a relationship coach, I know I'm not alone in that. But here's the thing: you have to give it some attention. Great sex doesn't just happen on its own.

A truly satisfying sex life after kids requires education, communication, commitment and confidence. It asks that you shift your attitude from seeing sex as a chore to something pleasurable that you have the privilege of doing with the partner you love.

And I'm here to show you how.

Here are six elements to have a great sex life after kids.

1. Time

A great sex life requires time. I know what you're thinking: there's already too much on your to-do list. But you're just as important as everything else, and you need to make pleasure a priority. Maybe you put the kids to bed 30 minutes early or swap babysitting nights with your sister-in-law for a pre-planned date night. But you need to find the time to focus on yourself as a woman and as a lover.

2. Sleep

You need sleep to feel like a human, and you need to feel like a human to rekindle your sex life. A 2015 study found that with just one more hour of sleep a night, women were 14% more likely to engage in a sexual activity the next day. So do whatever it takes to get more sleep; take two 20-minute naps or promise yourself one early bedtime a week and see the difference it can make.

3. Ask for help

Between picking up after the kids and laundry and dishes, household responsibilities can put a toll on your relationship. After all, they provide the perfect breeding ground for resentment; and, let's face it, resentment is the opposite of attraction. So ask for help. Yes, from your partner (research shows that sharing household responsibilities increases the frequency of sex a couple has), but also from the reinforcements. Call your mom or your best friend and ask for help, or even splurge on an agency to help you get things back in order.

4. Attitude

When you want a happy and healthy sex life, you need the right attitude—one that doesn't treat sex and intimacy like a chore, but enthusiastically embraces sex positivity. Although it sounds difficult, it's really just four principles.

First, make sex a PRIORITY, which may mean giving up an evening playing Candy Crush to have a romantic night with your man. Then you need to do some PLANNING and put sex on your calendar. Planning intimacy does not have to take the fun out of it, but instead builds the rhythm we need for spontaneous lovemaking to occur.

But you also need FLEXIBILITY to make a great sex life work, especially with parenthood. Is one of the kids sick? Push back your special night until tomorrow. Babysitter cancelled? It's okay to settle for Netflix and a quickie. Go with the flow a little more and you may be surprised what fun you can have. Finally, FOLLOW-THROUGH and commit to these principles. If you throw in the towel after the first roadblock, you're telling yourself and your man that your sex life isn't important enough to fight for, which only leads to more disappointment and resentment.

5. Sex toys

Sex toys aren't only for solo play, they can add fun and excitement when used with your partner. A toy, whether a vibrator or silk blindfold, brings newness to the bedroom, which can turn you on and inspire you to explore. Beyond their aphrodisiac effect, sex toys can give you the extra stimulation you need and ensure that you get your happy ending, too.

6. Sense of humor

Parenting can bring MAJOR frustration to your sex life, and when it goes unaddressed, it drives a wedge in your relationship. Don't let it. Approach parenting's chaos with a sense of humor. Share your oh-my-god experiences together and laugh about them. Embrace the crazy joy parenthood offers and use it as a connection point, something that ties you together, not tears you apart.

Mamas, I know you're exhausted. And I know sex is often the last thing on your mind. But I promise, if you put in a little bit of effort and dedication in your sex life, it pays back tenfold. You get better sex. Your relationship improves. And your partner transforms, once more, into your lover.

The mental load of motherhood is heavy, but it can be difficult to explain what it really feels like to others. It's that never-ending to-do list that has to get done, but only seems to get longer. It's the constant worry of having to get all of those things done, from routine check-ins to managing the emotional balance of the household.

Simply put, it's invisible work that has to be done by someone—and that usually falls on mama.

If you're having trouble explaining that load to others, whether it be friends or your partner, Karen Kleiman, a well-known international maternal mental-health expert, put it into words. And Molly McIntyre, an illustrator and comic artist drew beautiful images.




Illustrated by Molly McIntyre. Molly McIntyre is an illustrator and comic artist with a background in traditional printmaking and book arts techniques. Her illustrations have been featured in Bitch magazine, Everyday Feminism, ScaryMommy, Psychology Today, and more. She is currently working on a collection of comics about new motherhood, called Momzines. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband and young son.

Comics from Good Moms Have Scary Thoughts, an accessible collection of comics and resources, releasing March 1st from Familius and available at bookstores everywhere.

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