A modern lifestyle brand redefining motherhood
Print Friendly and PDF

Montessori children’s environments are carefully designed to encourage independence and concentration. Even small changes in a room can have a noticeable impact on children’s behavior.


Whether or not your child is in a Montessori school, setting up a Montessori-inspired play space at home is really simple, and may transform the way your child plays.

Here’s what to do:

1. Simplify

I recently had someone ask me why our playroom, setup for my 1-year-old, is so “minimalist.” This totally caught me off guard because I had never thought about it that way. When I started comparing it to more traditional children’s rooms though, I quickly got what they meant.

FEATURED VIDEO

Montessori spaces use more neutral colors than the bright colors often associated with young children. The goal is to make the space soothing, so that it fosters concentration. They also have far fewer things, both on the walls and to play with—you may find a small shelving unit with two or three shelves and just a few items on each shelf, with plenty of space between each toy.

If you want to make a Montessori playroom in your home, you don’t necessarily need to get rid of a bunch of toys, but you will likely want to put many of them in storage. Putting out just a few toys at once, and rotating them regularly, allows your child to really focus on what’s available. Rotating toys has the added bonus of keeping your child’s interest as you can regularly put out “new” things without breaking the bank.

When you offer limited options, it also becomes really clear which ones spark your child’s curiosity. I’ve often noticed that a once beloved toy has remained on the shelf for a whole week untouched. I then know that it’s time to put it away and put out something different.

2. Give everything a place

Montessori wrote a lot about “sensitive periods.” A sensitive period is a time when a child is especially attracted to and able to learn about something. Children have a sensitive period for order from birth through age five, peaking in early toddlerhood.

You can see this through young children’s love for routine and repetition (and their sometimes extreme reactions to something being done the “wrong” way or in the “wrong” order). Young children like order in their daily lives, and also in their physical environments, but they definitely need some help to establish that.

Montessori environments support this desire for order through giving everything a specific spot where it goes. You will not find big toy bins full of many unrelated things in Montessori play spaces. Each toy has a space where it belongs on a shelf. Toys including multiple pieces, like blocks or play animals, are often organized in small baskets or trays on the shelf.

You might think this would make it more difficult for the children to put their things away, but it’s really the opposite. It turns out it is much more satisfying to put something in the perfect spot where it belongs, than to toss everything together in a big bin.

Always finding things in the same spot is calming because it’s predictable.

3. Include open space

Montessori environments have plenty of work space, both on the floor and at tables, once the child is old enough to sit at a table independently. Having open space in the room also allows for plenty of movement, which is essential for young children.

4. Think low

The furniture in Montessori classrooms is child-sized and the materials are kept on low shelves so that the child can access them herself. For a toddler or older, you would also want to include a child-sized table and chair so the child has the option to play on the floor, or at a table for things like puzzles.

Ikea has some great, inexpensive options such as this shelf (placed horizontally) and this table and chair set.

You may also want to have a high-up wall shelf to keep any of your own items, like a cell phone or cup of coffee, that you don’t want your child to play with.

5. Include nature

If possible, choose a room with natural light. Few things are more beautiful than watching a baby discover shadows by playing in the changing light from a window or watching a child mesmerized by the rain.

Windows also offer endless entertainment and opportunities to talk about what your child sees, whether looking out at a busy street or a quiet backyard. If the window is too high up for your child to look out of, try providing a step stool. Just make sure to ensure safety while you child is by the window.

It’s also wonderful to include plants and animals in the environment whenever possible. Hanging plants or herbs with edible leaves are a great option for babies in the “eat everything in sight” stage. House plants also offer toddlers and older children a chance to take care of something, as well as adding natural beauty to the room.

Babies and young children also love watching fish or other pets and toddlers and older can help feed and care for them as well.

6. Make it beautiful…for the child

So many children’s rooms have beautiful artwork or photographs hanging, but at a height where children can’t see them. Montessori spaces hang artwork at the child’s level. This way the child can really benefit from the beautiful images you select

For babies, it’s great to include simple black and white images. For older children, images from nature, family photographs, your child’s artwork, interesting maps, and art from different styles of painters or different cultures all work well.

7. Choose toys carefully

Unless you are homeschooling, there is no need to fill your home with “academic” work. It is great to choose a variety of toys that help your child develop in different ways though.

You might think about including toys that develop fine motor (small muscles), gross motor (big muscles), art and music, books, and open ended items (like blocks) for creative play. It’s also important to include toys that offer a varying degree of difficulty. You want a mix of challenging toys, like maybe a puzzle with more pieces than your child usually works with, and things that are easy and familiar for your her to play with when she needs a mental break.

In Montessori, we also look for open ended toys that engage rather than entertain. We don’t generally include things that light up or make noises. We also choose toys made from natural materials, like wood and metal, whenever possible to give the child more real experiences.

8. Create a cozy space

Lastly, it is great to include a cozy space, somewhere for your child to rest or recover from an upsetting moment. This is often a big floor pillow in a corner for a younger child. It could be a comfy chair by a window for an older child.

This might seem like a lot to think about, but the great thing is you can totally pick and choose what works for your child and your home. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You may decide to simplify, but keep your child’s favorite electronic toy. Or you may choose to have low, orderly shelves, but also keep a big bin of stuffed animals.

Do what works for you mama!

The very best of Motherly — delivered when you need it most.

Subscribe for inspiration, empowering articles and expert tips to rock your best #momlife.

Already a subscriber? Log in here.

As a former beauty editor, I pride myself in housing the best skincare products in my bathroom. Walk in and you're sure to be greeted with purifying masks, micellar water, retinol ceramide capsules and Vitamin C serums. What can I say? Old habits die hard. But when I had my son, I was hesitant to use products on him. I wanted to keep his baby-soft skin for as long as possible, without tainting it with harsh chemicals.

Eventually, I acquiesced and began using leading brands on his sensitive skin. I immediately regretted it. His skin became dry and itchy and regardless of what I used on him, it never seemed to get better. I found myself asking, "Why don't beauty brands care about baby skin as much as they care about adult skin?"

When I had my daughter in May, I knew I had to take a different approach for her skin. Instead of using popular brands that are loaded with petroleum and parabens, I opted for cleaner products. These days I'm all about skincare that contains super-fruits (like pomegranate sterols, which are brimming with antioxidants) and sulfate-free cleansers that contain glycolipids that won't over-dry her skin. And, so far, Pipette gets it right.

What's in it

At first glance, the collection of shampoo, wipes, balm, oil and lotion looks like your typical baby line—I swear cute colors and a clean look gets me everytime—but there's one major difference: All products are environmentally friendly and cruelty-free, with ingredients derived from plants or nontoxic synthetic sources. Also, at the core of Pipette's formula is squalane, which is basically a powerhouse moisturizing ingredient that babies make in utero that helps protect their skin for the first few hours after birth. And, thanks to research, we know that squalane isn't an irritant, and is best for those with sensitive skin. Finally, a brand really considered my baby's dry skin.

Off the bat, I was most interested in the baby balm because let's be honest, can you ever have too much protection down there? After applying, I noticed it quickly absorbed into her delicate skin. No rash. No irritation. No annoyed baby. Mama was happy. It's also worth noting there wasn't any white residue left on her bottom that usually requires several wipes to remove.


Why it's different

I love that Pipette doesn't smell like an artificial baby—you, know that powdery, musky note that never actually smells like a newborn. It's fragrance free, which means I can continue to smell my daughter's natural scent that's seriously out of this world. I also enjoy that the products are lightweight, making her skin (and my fingers) feel super smooth and soft even hours after application.

The bottom line

Caring for a baby's sensitive skin isn't easy. There's so much to think about, but Pipette makes it easier for mamas who don't want to compromise on safety or sustainability. I'm obsessed, and I plan to start using the entire collection on my toddler as well. What can I say, old habits indeed die hard.

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

Our Partners

This week an investigation by Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF) made headlines, proclaiming 95% of baby foods the group tested contain at least one toxic chemical, including lead, arsenic, mercury and cadmium. The results are similar to those The Clean Label Project released in 2017.

These reports suggest many commonly consumed products, including formula, baby food in jars and pouches, and snacks contain contaminants like arsenic and lead, in some cases at levels higher than trace amounts.

These reports were not published in peer-reviewed journals, but the items were tested and reviewed by third-party laboratories. The products were screened for heavy metals and other contaminants, and, in many cases, tested positive for things no parent wants to see in their baby's food.

FEATURED VIDEO

It's important to note that all of us are consuming arsenic in some form. According to the FDA, it's naturally found in soil and water and absorbed by plants, so many foods, including grains (especially rice) and fruits and vegetables contain arsenic.

Everyone is exposed to little bits of arsenic, but long-term exposure to high levels is associated with higher rates of some cancers and heart disease. Previous studies have shown that babies who consume infant formulas and rice products already tend to have higher than average levels of arsenic metabolites in their urine (due in part to the natural levels of arsenic found in rice), so additional arsenic in baby goods is certainly not ideal.

“To reduce the amount of arsenic exposure, it is important all children eat a varied diet, including a variety of infant cereals," says Benard P. Dreyer, MD, FAAP and president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). “The AAP encourages parents to speak with their pediatrician about their children's nutrition. Pediatricians can work with parents to ensure they make good choices and informed decisions about their child's diet."

According to the World Health Organization, arsenic exposure is associated with an array of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.

Arsenic was not the only chemical found in the tested products that could potentially pose a danger to the babies consuming them. The new report from HBBF looked at 168 baby foods from 61 brands and found 94% of the products contained lead, 75% contained cadmium and 32% contained mercury.

This is not the first time lead (which can damage a child's brain and nervous system, impact growth and development and cause learning, hearing, speech and behavior problems) has been found in baby food. A previous report released in 2017 by another group, the Environmental Defense Fund, found 20% of 2,164 baby foods tested contained lead.

As the FDA notes, lead is in food because it is in the environment. "It is important for consumers to understand that some contaminants, such as heavy metals like lead or arsenic, are in the environment and cannot simply be removed from food," says Peter Cassell, an FDA spokesperson.

Cassell says the FDA doesn't comment on specific studies but does evaluate them while working to ensure consumer exposure to contaminants is limited to the greatest extent feasible. “Through the Total Diet Study, the FDA tests for approximately 800 contaminants and nutrients in the diet of the average U.S. consumer," Cassel explains.

The FDA works with the food manufacturing industry to limit contaminants as much as possible, especially in foods meant for kids. “We determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether to take enforcement action when we find foods that would be considered contaminated," Cassell adds.

The people at HBBF are calling on the FDA "to use their authority more effectively, and much more quickly, to reduce toxic heavy metals in baby foods," says HBBF research director and study author Jane Houlihan.

HBBF is circulating a petition urging the FDA to take action "by setting health-based limits that include the protection of babies' brain development."

Parents who are concerned about heavy metals in baby foods should also consider speaking with their pediatrician.

"Pediatricians can help parents understand this issue and use AAP guidance to build a healthy diet for children and limit exposure to lead from different sources," says Stephen R. Daniels, M.D., Ph.D., FAAP, chair of the AAP Committee on Nutrition.

[A version of this post was originally published on October 26, 2017. It has been updated.]

You might also like:

News

Over the last few months, I've made a new friend called Grief. She first showed up when the midwife told me, "I'm sorry, I don't see a heartbeat anymore." She quickly barged into my life, inviting herself into every moment of every day. She was an overwhelming, overbearing, suffocating presence. But in time, we learned to set some boundaries. Together, we created space for Grief to live in my life without feeling all-consumed.

Grief is pushy. I have learned that when she knocks on the door, it's best to just let her in. She has things to say and she's going to make you listen. Sometimes, we'll sit together for a while before one of us will say "My, look at the time. I've got things to do." Other times, it's a quick visit, and I can move on with my day.

FEATURED VIDEO

I've learned a good bit about my friend Grief through the experience of having a miscarriage. We've spent a lot of time together, and I've gotten to know her well. I hope this helps you get to know her better, too.

1. Grief can become a friend.

Over time, Grief has morphed from feeling like an invader, an attacker, and a bully to feeling more like a friend with a hand resting on my shoulder. She is gently present, palpable and—unexpectedly—comforting. Grief reminds me of the love I felt; that I have something to miss; that my baby was here. Grief comes to visit much less often, now. Some days, she still barges in unexpectedly. Some days, I go calling for her to come over.

2. Grief will teach you.

Grief has taught me that you never really know what others are going through. She has taught me to try to listen better, to be a better friend, to be more empathetic. Grief has emboldened me and demanded space for my feelings when I felt I couldn't. She's forced me to learn how to ask for help, how to advocate for myself and not apologize when I have needs. She has made my worldview richer, my love deeper and my appreciation for life stronger.

3. Grief will make you brave.

I never knew my own strength before I met Grief. Through her, I witnessed myself suffer and persevere with a strength I didn't know I had. I have felt her fully, and I am less scared of her now. I have walked through the fire with her, and she's shown me that I could do it again if I had to. But we both hope I never do.

4. Grief will bring you together, apart.

Grief has shown me some of her many friends, and through her, we have become friends too. Our relationships with Grief are all different. But, Grief unites us in a way that people who don't know Grief could not understand. In my marriage, Grief has made it clear she has a relationship with both of us, differently. She has shown us that we can visit her together, but more often than not, she wants to spend time with us alone. She visits us on different days, at different times, and in different ways. Learning to know Grief together, and apart, was challenging.

5. Grief knows when you need her before you do.

Grief knows me in a way that a friend knows me. She remembers the milestones and helps me remember too. She has the hard dates etched in her calendar and I'm sure she won't forget them. She's quietly with me, her hand on my shoulder when we see a stroller, a butterfly, a new pregnancy announcement. Sometimes she is there waiting for me before I even realize why.

"Welcome to your third trimester!" my email greeted me this morning. I thought I had unsubscribed from them all, but this one snuck through. An unpleasant reminder of what I already knew: Today should have been a milestone.

I took a moment to let it sink in when I felt her hand on my shoulder. Once you get to know her, Grief can be a really good friend.

You might also like:

Life

I check my phone. It's 3 am. I wrench myself from bed and zombie-walk into my screaming son's room. Please just let him go back to sleep quickly. I'm so exhausted. I see my 9-month-old son crying and reaching out for me. I immediately pick him up and plop down in the rocking chair feeling discouraged and depleted.

I stare exhaustedly at the wall, contemplating what I should be doing right now.

Should I let him cry it out? Should I give him his stuffed bunny so that he can comfort himself? He should know how to self soothe, right?

FEATURED VIDEO

I definitely should not be picking him up out of his crib.

I definitely should not be nursing him back to sleep. That is definitely NOT what I am supposed to be doing. (*I know this because I've read about 8,000 articles and a dozen or so books saying just that).

But it's what he wants, and I'm tired. It's what my heart wants, regardless of what the "experts" say I should do. I feel like a failure for giving in. The books say to be firm—he's fine; he's just crying; he's being lazy because he knows I'll swoop in and comfort him back to sleep.

I should be able to treat him like an appliance—follow the instructions without input from my heart. Right? Maybe I can redeem myself by putting him back "drowsy but awake." Yeah, right.

I'll just have to start this whole process over again when he goes from "drowsy but awake" to "wide-eyed and screeching."

In the midst of the mental ping-pong between my head and my heart, a thought suddenly and forcefully rushes in—you're missing it.

I look down into the face of my infant son. His big teary eyes are locked on mine. He smiles, letting a little dribble of milk out of the corner of his smirk. This is what I'm missing. These moments—loving and being loved despite the crippling exhaustion of nursing throughout the night for the last nine months, these moments of real connection, of being a mother.

I'm missing the joy in motherhood under a dark cloud of shoulds. I can't see the good because I'm so focused on the bad.

And just as I am reveling in this epiphany, a chubby little hand reaches up. I watch his hand coming and think, This can't get any better! This sweet child is going to lovingly stroke my cheek! But, it turns out to be so much better than that. He literally slaps me in the face and giggles, delivering humor and lightness as only a child can.

Life is not as serious as I make it out to be most of the time. I've learned this from my children. I prayed that night that my child would go back to bed. I prayed that he would do what he was supposed to, or that I could do what I was supposed to (according to whichever expert I was abiding that week). But all I'm really supposed to do is show up and trust my heart without trying to fix it all, ALL the time.

Life isn't perfect. Otherwise, we wouldn't have moments like these at 3 am that crack us open and lay bare what really matters.

My mantra now is radical acceptance.

It's radical because, for me, it means defiantly and unequivocally accepting what my anxious mind tells me is unacceptable—the messy, the imperfect, the difficult.

It is a radical act of rebellion against the mind and its need to control and fix.

It is choosing to trust my heart and seeing through that lens rather than the broken lens of my mind.

It is seeing the good, the joy, the love, the humor, rather than what is broken and what is wrong.

It is radical for me to look at my life in all its messy splendor and not try to fix, change, or be perfect.

That is a radical act, I assure you, and my mind coils up in a panic every time.

But the moment I overcome that initial coiling and clinching and embrace simple acceptance, the fear and doubt are vacuumed up, and the joy inevitably rushes in. Little miracles, every time. Radical acceptance.

You might also like:

Life

Positive parenting has become quite the buzz word these days, but what does it really mean? And more importantly, does it work?

At first glance, positive parenting sounds like parenting without consequences for bad behavior. Contrary to what many may think, positive parenting doesn't mean you respond with "I love you" when your 3-year-old hits you.

Positive parenting is not a vague concept of being nice to our children when they don't deserve it. It's a parenting philosophy and strategic method based on the idea that our relationship with our children is the most important thing, and that we can help children develop self-discipline.

FEATURED VIDEO

To be clear, positive parenting is not permissive parenting, which is parenting with high responsiveness and low demandingness. With positive parenting, there is a focus on discipline, and the goal is to raise a person who follows the rules and respects others, not because of fear, but because it's the right thing to do.

Here are some ways to help your child develop discipline, while being a positive parent:

1. Set boundaries

Having boundaries in our relationship with our children is key to being successful in positive parenting. Having, and enforcing, boundaries allows us to remain patient and calm because we feel respected and that our needs in the relationship are being met.

A good way to know when you need to establish a new boundary is when you are feeling exasperated, impatient or angry by a recurring behavior or situation.

Do you dread dinner time because your child insists on sitting on your lap and you can't eat? If so, establish a rule that everyone sits in their own chair for meals. You can snuggle after dinner.

Do you feel resentful because your child begs you to play dolls first thing in the morning every day when your eyes aren't even open yet?

Establish a rule that you get to sit and drink coffee for 10 minutes before you're available to play. Will your child complain? Probably. But they will also begin to learn that you have needs too.

You will be a better parent if your own needs are being met and your child will see a wonderful example of how to advocate for their own needs in a relationship.

2. Build connection to gain cooperation

Do you remember having a substitute teacher as a kid? Did anyone listen to them? Probably not. Children need to feel a connection to an adult to listen to them. This is a good thing—you don't want your child listening to any random stranger who tells them to do something.

But it also means your child is more likely to listen to you when they feel connected to you. This is the problem with punishment. It puts you at odds with your child, diminishing your connection and making it less likely your child will do what you ask.

If your child is going through a rough patch with behavior, try to build in a little extra one on one time to connect. This does not need to be a long stretch of time, but it does need to be frequent and focused. Even 15 minutes a day of dedicated, phone-free, time with your child can make your connection stronger than ever.

3. Be firm, but loving

So much of positive parenting is in the tone. You can be firm and hold your children to high expectations, while still being loving.

Decide what rules are important to you, clearly communicate them to your child, and be consistent with enforcing those rules. Being a positive parent does not mean letting your child walk all over you. It does mean trying to maintain a calm, loving tone when your child needs reminders about the rules.

4. Avoid shaming

"You're 6 years old, don't act like a baby!"

"Your room is disgusting, go clean it up."

"Why can't you ever listen? It's not that hard!"

Have you said those words? These phrases all have a shaming effect, making children feel bad about themselves. This naturally has a negative impact on a child's self-esteem, but it is also not effective because it reinforces a child's identity as someone who behaves a certain way.

If your child is always told they're acting like a baby, they will absorb this and behave that way even more. If you refer to them as a bully, they will think of themselves that way and act accordingly. Try to comment on your child's behavior, letting them know when it's inappropriate, without inducing feelings of shame.

5. Try natural consequences

Punishing your child makes you the enemy and can often be confusing if the punishment is unrelated to the offense. Instead of punishment, try allowing the natural consequences of their actions to unfold.

For example, if you ask your toddler to put on their rain boots and they refuse, the natural consequence is that their feet will get wet outside. They will be far more likely to acquiesce next time it's time to put on boots than if you respond with a time out when they say, "no!" to rain boots.

6. Use logical consequences

While natural consequences are ideal because they don't put you in opposition with your child, there is not always a convenient, short-term natural consequence.

For example, it might be important to you that your child puts all of their Legos away every day so that you don't step on them (ouch!).

The eventual long-term natural consequence would be that some Legos might get lost if they're not put away every day. This could take weeks or months to occur and your feet might not be able to take that.

In this type of situation, try to think of a related consequence that makes sense, and execute it without anger. The consequence might be that if you step on a Lego, you're going to put it away in the garage instead of back in your child's Lego bin.

7. Use positive reinforcement

Did your child remember to put their shoes away all by themselves? Did they help their sister when she was frustrated with her homework? Let them know that you noticed!

It's easy to comment on bad behavior, but just smile to yourself when your child does something beautiful. Make sure they get more attention for good behavior than for bad.

This doesn't mean you need a lavish reward system—just tell them what you saw. Say something like, "I noticed you put your shoes away all by yourself. That shows real responsibility!" Or, "I saw you help your sister. You really care about other people."

In addition to letting them know you noticed, this kind of praise helps your child maintain a positive self-identity that they will want to live up to.

8. Model respect

Children copy what we do. If we want them to be respectful to others, we have to be respectful toward them.

If you want your child to say "please," say "please" to them.

If you want them to wait until you're available instead of interrupting you, wait until they get to a stopping point in their play before asking them to do something.

If you want them to be kind and gentle with their siblings, be kind and gentle with them.

It can be hard to put into practice in our busy, frazzled lives, but children absorb everything around them, and this definitely includes how we treat them.

9. Strive for empathy

It can often seem like our children are misbehaving just to make our lives harder. Why can't they just follow the rules at the park so you can all have a nice time?

There is always a reason for misbehavior though, whether it's as simple as a hungry or tired child, or more complicated like difficulties at school.

If you can understand the reason behind the misbehavior, it will be so much easier to find empathy for your child and respond with kindness. If you can't figure out the reason, just know that there is one. Your child loves you more than anything and wants to please you, so there is a reason if they are acting out.

10. Use time-in, not time-out

The goal of positive parenting is to build and maintain your relationship with your child, while also raising a person who will do good in the world.

Time-out sends the message that we can't deal with our child's behavior, that we don't want to see the part of them that is loud and angry and messy. It pushes you apart.

Time-in, or spending time being present with your child, brings you closer together. It recognizes that what all children need is to feel loved and accepted by their parents, no matter what their behavior looks like that day.

Time-in is not always a pleasant thing. It's not all hugs and painting rainbows together.

It may look like your child crying or throwing a tantrum next to you because you're holding the line on a boundary. It may look like you explaining the importance of the safety rules you have in place and why you had to leave the park early.

Time-in doesn't mean that everyone is always smiling and happy, but it does mean that everyone feels loved, that your child gets the message that you will always be there and can handle anything they throw your way.

You might also like:

Learn + Play
Motherly provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.Your use of the site indicates your agreement to be bound by our  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Information on our advertising guidelines can be found here.