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Montessori at home: 10 tasks young kids can totally do on their own

"Help me do it myself" is a common phrase we try to remember in Montessori.

Young children crave independence. They are driven to achieve it from birth. If we can help them get there, we can minimize a lot of the struggles associated with toddlers and young children, and empower them to feel capable and confident in their growing abilities.

Because of Montessori's focus on independence, parents are often shocked when they see their children do certain things all by themselves at school. "My child never does this at home!" is a common response.

Here are some examples of things young Montessori children do for themselves, and how to encourage your own child to greater independence.

1. Get dressed

From the time children enter the Montessori toddler classroom at around 18 months old, they are encouraged to dress and undress by themselves. This happens in very slow stages, with undressing usually occurring first.

Montessori toddler teachers patiently show a child each step of dressing and undressing, from pushing down their pants to strapping the velcro on their shoe.

To try this at home, find times that are not rushed to practice with your child. Make sure the clothes and shoes are easy to get on and off. After you've shown them how a few times, sit nearby and offer the minimum amount of help they need to be successful. You might start with just a verbal reminder of what they need to do. He may be able to pull up the front of the pants, but need help with the back. Gradually, they'll need less and less help.

2. Wipe their nose

Montessori toddlers and young children have access to tissues and are encouraged to practice wiping their noses in front of a mirror so they can see when their face is clean. An adult may have to alert them that they need a tissue before they learn to complete the task alone.

Children can also take care of other basic self-care activities like washing their faces, drying their body after a bath, washing their own hands with soap, brushing their own hair, etc.

The job might not be done as quickly or as thoroughly, but empowering your child to take on these tasks raises their body awareness and helps his confidence grow with each new skill they develop.

3. Set the table

From the time they are walking, Montessori babies help set the table. This starts with something simple like bringing a plate to the table or bringing over their own lunchbox.

As the child grows, the process involves more steps, with the 3-6-year-olds setting their place with a napkin and placemat, glass plate, fork and spoon and a water cup.

To try this at home, use a low shelf to place a few dishes for your child. Show him how to carry each item carefully, one at a time with two hands, to his spot at the table. He may need a step stool to reach the dining table.

4. Clean the table and floor

Montessori children clean the tables and floor when they have made a mess by sweeping up any spills.

They also often choose to scrub a table or chair or mop the floor when there is no specific mess. The children enjoy the sensorial experience of the soap and water and experience a great sense of pride at seeing the results of their labor.

To try this at home, give your child a small broom and encourage them to help you sweep after meals. Give them a scrub brush and spend time scrubbing their outside toys together.

5. Put away their own toys

Montessori children are expected to put their own work and toys away, and they generally do so without reminders after becoming acclimated to the classroom.

Every item in the classroom has a specific spot where it belongs and the children quickly understand the expectation and social norm that everyone cleans up after himself.

To try this at home, ask your young child to put away a toy when he is done with it before he gets out another one. Toddlers may need you to clean up with them, especially if it's something like blocks with many pieces.

6. Help prepare food

Food preparation work is often a favorite among Montessori children. The interesting thing is they love activities like washing and cutting carrots and apples even if they choose not to eat the food they've prepared. This is because they are getting to use real tools and participate in the work of everyday life in a real way.

To try this at home, find ways your child can help in the kitchen, either preparing a salad alongside you or making a snack independently. Slowly introduce your child to the tools and skills needed in the kitchen, always watching for safety, but also giving him the freedom to work on his own.

7. Problem solve with a friend

While kindness and peaceful actions are always emphasized in Montessori schools, disagreements between children still inevitably occur.

Rather than acting as a referee, the teacher acts as a support and a guide, helping the children to talk to each other about what they each want and need resolve the situation.

To try this at home, next time your child has an argument with a friend or sibling, take a step back and see how they handle it on their own. Step in if it's becoming violent or escalating too much, but take the minimal action needed to help the children sort through the situation on their own.

8. Play independently 

As Montessori lessons are generally given one on one, rather than a group, the children spend a good deal of their time at school working independently, practicing the lessons they have already been given.

Playing with your child is a wonderful thing, but don't be afraid to tell her you're unavailable if you need to get something done. This will help her learn to play on her own, too.

To try this at home, if she's used to always playing with you, start with really short tasks. You might say something like "I'm going to unload the dishwasher and then I will come play with you." Slowly stretch the time she is comfortable playing on her own.

9. Take care of a pet

Pets are a big part of many Montessori classrooms, in part because they let us observe biology in real life, but also because they offer a great opportunity for the children to take care of another living being.

Children feed and give water to the pets daily and even help clean and scrub their habitats.

To try this at home, if you have a pet at home, show your toddler how to feed it or your preschooler how to scrub the pet's food bowl to keep it clean.

10. Think through a problem

Montessori teachers often answer a question with a question. "Where might you look for that? What should you do next? What are you missing?"

This encourages children to think through a problem rather than turning to an adult for the solution.

To try this at home, you can use guiding questions in the same way at home to help your child think more independently.

The journey to independence is a messy one. It is so worthwhile though to see a young child doing what he is capable of – helping to take care of himself and his community. This not only leads to independence, but gives him such a sense of purpose and pride in being a contributing member of the group.

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My village lives far away—but my Target baby registry helped them support me from afar

Virtual support was the next best thing to in-person hugs

They say you shouldn't make too many major life transitions at once. But when I was becoming a mama for the first time nearly five years ago, my husband and I also moved to a new town where we didn't know a soul, bought our first house and changed jobs.

To put it mildly, we didn't heed that advice. Luckily, our family and friends still made it feel like such a magical time for us by supporting our every move (literal and otherwise) from afar. They showered us with love through a virtual baby shower (expectant parents nowadays can relate!) featuring the unwrapping of gifts they were able to ship straight to me from my Target registry.

Here's one piece of advice I did take: I registered at Target so I could take advantage of the retailer's benefits for registrants, which include a welcome kit valued over $100, a universal registry function and more. Fast-forward a few years and Target has made the registration perks even better for expectant parents: As of August 2020, they've added a Year of Exclusive Deals, which gives users who also sign up for Target Circle a full year of savings after baby is born on all those new mama essentials, from formula to diapers and beyond.

Honestly, even without the significant perks of a free welcome kit with more than $100 in coupons, additional 15% off coupons to complete the registry and a full year of free returns, registering at Target wasn't a hard sell for me: Even though the experience of shopping for baby items was new, shopping with Target felt like returning home to me… and the comfort of that was such a gift.

And of course, Target's registry plays a vital role right now, as expectant parents everywhere are being forced to cancel in-person baby showers and navigate early parenthood without the help of a hands-on village. A registry like this represents a safe way for communities to come through for new parents. If you're anything like me (or any of the other mamas here at Motherly), you certainly have emotional ties and fond memories associated with Target.

What to register for at Target was also an easy talking point as I began to connect with moms in my new community. I will always remember going on a registry-building spree with my next door neighbor, who had young children of her own. As we walked the aisles of Target back in 2015, she suggested items to add… and we laid the foundation for what has since become one of my most cherished friendships.

Even as I made connections in my new hometown, I was nervous that expecting my first baby wouldn't feel as special as if I were near family and friends. But my loved ones exceeded all expectations by adding the most thoughtful notes to gifts. They hosted a beautiful virtual baby shower and even encouraged me to keep the registry going after my baby made his debut and new needs arose.

In the years since, "community" has taken on a wonderfully complex new meaning for me… and, in these times of social distancing, for the rest of the world. I've come to cherish my newfound friends in our local community alongside those long-time friends who are scattered around the county and my virtual mama friends.

Now, as my friends' families grow, I'm so grateful that I can show them the same love and support I felt during my first pregnancy. I sing the praises of Target's baby registry—especially in light of the pandemic, since I know mamas can do everything from a distance thanks to Target's website and the added benefit of getting trusted reviews and helpful registry checklists.

And now that I'm on the gift-buying side of the equation, I've found new joy in picking thoughtful gifts for my friends. (Because goodness knows Target has something for everyone!)

For my friend who is a fellow runner, I teamed up with a few others to give the jogging stroller she had on her registry.

For my friend who is a bookworm, I helped her start her baby's library with a few books that are also well-loved in our home.

For other friends, I've bundled together complete "sets" with everything they need for bathing or feeding their children.

I know from my own experience that, yes, the registry purchases are so appreciated, but the thoughtfulness and the support they represent means even more. Because although my village may have been distant, the support they showed me was the next best thing to in-person hugs.

Start your own Target Baby Registry here to experience a Year of Benefits including a Year of Exclusive Deals through Target Circle to enjoy for a full year following your baby's arrival, a year of free returns, two 15% off completion coupons and a free welcome kit ($100 value).

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

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Motherly editors’ 7 favorite hacks for organizing their diaper bags

Make frantically fishing around for a diaper a thing of the past!

As any parent knows, the term "diaper bag" only scratches the surface. In reality, this catchall holds so much more: a change of clothes, bottles, snacks, wipes and probably about a dozen more essential items.

Which makes finding the exact item you need, when you need it (read: A diaper when you're in public with a blowout on your hands) kind of tricky.

That's why organization is the name of the game when it comes to outings with your littles. We pooled the Motherly team of editors to learn some favorite hacks for organizing diaper bags. Here are our top tips.

1. Divide and conquer with small bags

Here's a tip we heard more than a few times: Use smaller storage bags to organize your stuff. Not only is this helpful for keeping related items together, but it can also help keep things from floating around in the expanse of the larger diaper bag. These bags don't have to be anything particularly fancy: an unused toiletry bag, pencil case or even plastic baggies will work.

2. Have an emergency changing kit

When you're dealing with a diaper blowout situation, it's not the time to go searching for a pack of wipes. Instead, assemble an emergency changing kit ahead of time by bundling a change of baby clothes, a fresh diaper, plenty of wipes and hand sanitizer in a bag you can quickly grab. We're partial to pop-top wipes that don't dry out or get dirty inside the diaper bag.

3. Simplify bottle prep

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4. Get resealable snacks

When getting out with toddlers and older kids, snacks are the key to success. Still, it isn't fun to constantly dig crumbs out of the bottom of your diaper bag. Our editors love pouches with resealable caps and snacks that come in their own sealable containers. Travel-sized snacks like freeze-dried fruit crisps or meal-ready pouches can get an unfair reputation for being more expensive, but that isn't the case with the budget-friendly Comforts line.

5. Keep a carabiner on your keychain

You'll think a lot about what your child needs for an outing, but you can't forget this must-have: your keys. Add a carabiner to your keychain so you can hook them onto a loop inside your diaper bag. Trust us when we say it's a much better option than dumping out the bag's contents on your front step to find your house key!

6. Bundle your essentials

If your diaper bag doubles as your purse (and we bet it does) you're going to want easy access to your essentials, too. Dedicate a smaller storage bag of your diaper bag to items like your phone, wallet and lip balm. Then, when you're ready to transfer your items to a real purse, you don't have to look for them individually.

7. Keep wipes in an outer compartment

Baby wipes aren't just for diaper changes: They're also great for cleaning up messy faces, wiping off smudges, touching up your makeup and more. Since you'll be reaching for them time and time again, keep a container of sensitive baby wipes in an easily accessible outer compartment of your bag.

Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on www.comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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10 photos to take on baby’s first day that you'll cherish forever

You'll obsess over these newborn baby pictures.

Bethany Menzel: Instagram + Blog

As you're preparing for baby's birth, we bet you're dreaming of all of the amazing photos you'll take of your precious new babe. As a professional photographer and mama, I have some tips for newborn photos you'll want to capture.

Here are the 10 photos you will want to take on baby's first day.

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