Montessori playtime: When no schedule is the best schedule

"I took a step back—and we were both so much happier."

montesorri play with no schedule

You would think that being a stay-at-home mom means you actually stay at home. But not really—as I’ve recently found myself spending less and less time at home.

At night, I would start to get a slightly panicky feeling if we had nothing planned for the next day, and then I would try to think of something we could go do together. I think this happened for a few of reasons.

First, my son, James, has gotten to an age where it’s really easy to take him out and about. He is also awake for much longer stretches of time now. It can be daunting to think about three hours at home with nothing to entertain the little one.

Also, while I largely used to sit back and watch James play fairly independently, I had gotten out of the habit of doing this when he started pulling up to stand. I was a little terrified because he would just let go and fall straight backward and hit his head.

So I followed him around constantly. While this may have been necessary for a week or so, it is certainly not necessary anymore. James is super capable of coming down gently and intentionally now, and he rarely falls. When he does fall, he almost always catches himself with his hands.

I just need to retrain myself to let him be.

I started reading Your Self-Confident Baby, by Magda Gerber, because I was curious about the RIE philosophy and how it was similar to/different from Montessori. I am loving the book, and it really reminds me that:

1) Children need long, uninterrupted periods of time to play

2) I need to interfere as little as possible when a child is playing/working on something.

These two things are definitely emphasized in Montessori as well.

So last week, I took a step back—and we were both so much happier. I chose a spot to sit in the room and let him play without me hovering to make sure he didn’t fall.

He played happily and periodically came over to check in with me. He usually came over very briefly and climbed up on me for a hug before zooming off again. Sometimes he would choose a book for me to read to him before continuing on his own. It was so fun and interesting just to watch him play.

I realized that while it seemed like James was getting bored playing for a long stretch of time, it was really just false fatigue.

False fatigue is a term we use to describe how the children behaved late in the work period at school. In a Montessori classroom, the children have three-hour-long work periods where they choose to work independently. A few hours in, some of the children would start to get silly and stop working.

The children would wander around, aimlessly chatting with other children and become rambunctious. It would seem as if they were done for the morning.

In reality, they were a little fatigued from all of their hard work, and they needed a little help settling back into work mode. After connecting briefly with a teacher, many of the children would transition back to do some great work. I’ve seen the same thing with James.

He will start rage crawling, as we call it, around the room, grunting or whining and not choosing anything. It’s as if he’s totally done playing in the room. I’ve found that often I can help him settle back into playing by connecting with him. First, I just talk to him about what I’m seeing, what he may be feeling, and some things I see that he may enjoy doing.

I also find it helps if I put all of his toys back on the shelf where they go. Since he doesn’t yet restore his own toys, the room is a mess after a while. I think it becomes visual clutter to him when everything is on the floor—as if he can no longer see anything interesting to work with.

As soon as I put the toys away, he often sees something that strikes his interest.

If that doesn’t work, I’ll read him a couple of books, or sing a couple of songs with him, and then help him get started playing with something. Then, I back away and let him play on his own.

These tactics usually work very well, unless it’s late in the day, at which point James may be just too tired to be as independent as he is most of the time. At that point, I’ll continue reading books with him or singing songs, as long as he enjoys doing it, or I will take him outside for a change of scenery.

When he is playing happily on his own, I just try to watch, which is a big part of Montessori as well as RIE. Honestly, though, I don’t find myself able (at this point at least) to merely sit and observe him all morning, so I bring a book or a notebook and read or write while I watch. (I find that if I have nothing else to do, I often wind up jumping in when James doesn’t need my help.)

I always put down my book as soon as he comes over to me—I choose a book because I think that it’s beneficial to model reading and writing, rather than being on my phone. Seeing adults read can help children want to read, as they want to do everything we do. I hope that, with practice, I’ll be able to observe James for longer stretches of time.

I believe that a baby is part of the family, and that involves compromise. So if I’m going crazy being in the house, I will take James for a walk in the stroller, which he seems pretty neutral about, but I really enjoy.

I try to make sure he has some free time to play in every block of awake time throughout the day, and that he has at least one really long stretch of time every day to play freely.

By shifting my perspective, I no longer feel like we must have something to go out and do every day. This has made such a difference in our days—now I enjoy being with James at home so much more.

In This Article

    Ara Katz/Seed

    We spoke to Ara Katz, co-founder and co-CEO of Seed, who shared her journey to (and through) motherhood—and gave us the lowdown on how probiotics can benefit mamas and children alike.

    Chances are, you're aware that probiotics can help us digest the food we eat, keep inflammation at bay, synthesize essential vitamins and more. But here's the thing: When it comes to probiotics, there's a lot of misinformation… and because of that, it's hard to know what's actually a probiotic and which is the right one for you.

    That's why we chatted with Ara Katz, who is a mama to son Pax and the co-founder of Seed, a company disrupting the probiotics industry. The entrepreneur told us about her motherhood journey, what led her to start her company and what she wants other parents to know about probiotics.

    Q. What was life like for you before you became a mama?

    I was bi-coastal after co-founding a mobile tech company in New York City with a partner in LA. My life was, for as long as I can remember, consumed by creating and work. I was fairly nomadic, loved to travel, spent many hours reading and practicing yoga, being with friends [and] waking up at the crack of dawn. [I] was fairly sure I would never marry or have children. And then something shifted.

    Q. What were some pivotal moments that defined your journey to motherhood?

    Ha, that makes it sound like motherhood is a destination when at this very moment, more than ever, it evolves daily. I lost my mom when I was 17 and spent most of my life believing I didn't want to be a mother. I had a lot of wiring about its limitations and constraints—I'm sure relics of grief and the fear of loss.

    My journey started with a physiological wanting to be pregnant and have a baby. There was a kind of visceral sense that my body wanted to know what that was like and a strange curiosity that, at least for that period of time, usurped my ambivalence about motherhood.

    Then I had a miscarriage—a beautiful inflection point in my story. I resigned from my company, chose a coast, committed to be more committed to my (then) boyfriend, now husband, and tried again. I got pregnant shortly after that and found pregnancy to be a profound journey within, a reshaping of my life and the tiniest glimpse of how motherhood would unfold.

    In the 55 months since giving birth (and I like to use months because I have learned in the moments that I am most frustrated as a mom that he has only been on this planet for less than 14 fiscal quarters), I have realized and surrendered to a definition of motherhood that is a process. One of cultivating, creating, recreating, shapeshifting, learning, feeling, healing, hurting and experiencing the most potent form of presence I have ever experienced—and an aching, expansive love I didn't know possible—not just for my son, but for all living things.

    Q. How did motherhood change your approach to your career?

    Becoming a mother is certainly a persistent lens on all of my choices, but it was really my miscarriage that recalibrated my path. My pregnancy rekindled my love of biology and health and led me to my co-founder and the microbiome. My breastfeeding experience incepted our first product focus, and the newfound accountability for a human inspired our brand.

    Q. What inspired you to co-found Seed?

    I met my co-founder, Raja, during my pregnancy with Pax. [I] was immediately awestruck by his ability to both deeply understand science and to methodically break down a product, dietary question or piece of advice in a way that's educational (you actually learn something about your body), actionable (you understand what to do with the information) and foundational (you can build on that knowledge in the future to continue to make better choices).

    As we spent more time, our combined passion for microbes, their potential impact on both human health and the environment, and how to set up a child for a healthy life became increasingly clear. And through birth, seeding (the process by which we get our foundational microbes and the inspiration for the name of our company) Pax and my struggles with breastfeeding, my entrepreneurial spirit was lit to build something with Raja. His deep experience in translating science to product, and mine in consumer, community-building and translating through storytelling, culminated in a shared vision to set a new standard in health through bacteria.

    Q. Probiotics have been trending in recent years, but they're nothing new—can you talk a bit about the importance of probiotics?

    Interest in gut health and probiotics increases month by month. However, despite the quickly growing number of "probiotic" supplements, foods and beverages out there, there's still a lot of consumer confusion—particularly around what they are, how they work and why we should take them. Probiotics have been studied extensively across various life stages, body sites and for many benefits. Digestion is an obvious and immediate one (and the primary reason most people currently take probiotics). But other strains have also been studied for skin health, heart health and gut health (including gut immune function and gut barrier integrity). But this doesn't mean that any and all probiotics can do these things—this is the importance of 'strain specificity.' In other words, ensuring that the specific strains in your probiotic have been studied for the benefit you desire is critical.

    Seed Daily Synbiotic


    Seed's Daily Synbiotic is a 24-strain probiotic + prebiotic formulated for whole-body benefits, including gut, skin and heart health.

    Q. How do probiotics play a role in your life?

    I mean, I take them, I develop them and I work with some of the leading scientists from around the world advancing the field—so they play a big role. As for my personal health, I take our Daily Synbiotic daily and my son also takes specific strains for gastrointestinal health and gut immune function. Beyond that, it's the re-orientation around my microbiome that guides many of my choices: how important fiber is, specific compounds like polyphenols found in berries, green tea and other foods, avoiding the use of NSAIDS like ibuprofen and antibiotics when not needed, exercise, sleep and time in nature [are] all aspects of our daily life that impact our microbiome and our health.

    Q. What are some misconceptions about probiotics that you would like to set straight?

    There's one main myth on from which all the other stem: that probiotics aren't considered a serious science. On the contrary, it's a field of inquiry that demands incredible rigor and extensive research. And when anything and everything from chocolate to ice cream to fermented food and kombucha to mattresses can call itself "probiotic" due to underregulation in the category, that grossly undermines the science and their potential.

    The term 'probiotic' has a globally-accepted scientific definition that was actually co-authored by our Chief Scientist, Dr. Gregor Reid ,for the United Nations/World Health Organization.

    At Seed, we work to reclaim the term for science, through the development of next-generation probiotics that include clinically validated strains and undergo the most rigorous safety, purity and efficacy testing procedures. Because why would you invite billions of unknown microbes into your body without asking "what's in here, is it the correct dosage that was studied, and has that strain in that amount been studied in human clinical trials to do something beneficial for my body"?

    Q. Can you tell us a little bit about what product you plan to launch next?

    We are developing a pipeline of consumer probiotics to target specific ecosystems of the body and life stages, including a synbiotic for children. Our next product will reflect a unique breakthrough in the field of pediatric probiotics, which we are excited to announce soon.

    This article was sponsored by Seed. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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