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cooking strategies from Montessori teachers

If you visit any Montessori classroom for young children, you'll likely see a few children in aprons working to prepare food. Teaching children to cook goes far beyond giving them culinary skills—it gives them a sense of pride and independence. There is something so satisfying for a child, who is usually the one being served, to be able to prepare something on their own and serve it to someone else.

Here are 10 fun and simple ways to introduce cooking to your child:

1. Set them up for success with the right tools

There are a few basic things children need to be successful in the kitchen. First, they need a work station that they can easily reach. This can be a small table by the kitchen or you can use a kitchen helper to allow them to reach the counter.

They will also need a few child-sized tools like a wavy chopper, apron, cutting board, small wooden spoon and whisk. But don't feel like you need to buy everything at once, mama. You can add to their kitchen tool collection over time.

2. Talk about safety… then back away

When you first introduce things like a wavy chopper, talk briefly about safety and any rules you might have like keeping the work in the kitchen and keeping tools out of mouths, etc.

Then make sure not to hover as your child works. You can supervise of course, but they won't be able to focus or do their best work if you're standing over them.

3. Introduce chopping

Isolating skills like chopping makes them easier for children to learn.

Show them how to use their wavy chopper, starting with something easy to chop like a cucumber. For round things like cucumbers, it can be easier for the child if you first cut the vegetable lengthwise so that it has a flat side they can put on their cutting board.

Make sure to give them a little bowl for the pieces they're slicing. Young children do better if it's really organized and they know where to put things.

4. Put them in charge of snacks

Children in Montessori schools almost always have self-serve snacks, where they either make their own snack or select a portion of food from a tray and put it on their own plate. They also generally wash the dishes when they're done.

While you likely won't have a big tray of food from which your child can serve themselves, they can easily choose a pre-set number of crackers from a box, serve themselves a serving of fruit from a bowl in the fridge or chop carrots to eat with hummus.

5. Start a kitchen herb garden

Showing your child the process of cooking from start to finish.If you're not much of a gardener, you can simply choose a couple of herbs and keep them in pots. Invite your child to water the plants and pick the leaves when you need them. Tearing herb leaves is also a great fine motor activity and one that even small toddlers can do!

6. Invite them to help with dinner

Beyond gaining cooking skills, making a meal together really helps small children feel like they're important and a contributing part of the family.

It also goes a long way toward solving the fiasco of trying to cook dinner with a small child who wants your attention. The good news is that almost all meals have some aspect that children can help with, even if it's simply tearing lettuce for a salad or chopping some vegetables.

Bonus: Your child is more likely to eat something if they helped make it!

7. Introduce specialty tools

I'm not always big on one-use kitchen items for myself, but there are a few small and inexpensive kitchen tools that really help make cooking doable (and fun!) for kids. Things like an egg slicer (which is great for strawberries as well), a cherry pitter, and an apple slicer keep things fun and interesting for your child and let them practice with different foods.

8. Let them measure + mix

Measuring and mixing is one of the simplest ways kids can help in the kitchen.

Choose a recipe that isn't super precise, like soup or granola, and show your child how to use measuring spoons and cups to measure the ingredients.

If you're worried they'll dump in way too much, have them dump things into a separate bowl and then add to the main mixture so the whole recipe isn't ruined.

9. Allow them to choose the activity

This may be the hardest part for parents. Do you really want to deal with the mess of letting your child practice their budding culinary skills on their own whenever they wish?

They key is to set your child up for success. If they're only 3 years old, don't provide an array of options that are likely to make a huge mess. Instead, choose one simple activity like carrot slicing or cherry pitting and put everything they need on a low shelf where they can get it themselves.

Make sure to show them the whole process including washing hands before and after and how to clean up. Make sure to specify that they should clean up the whole activity before eating the food they've prepared. This helps ward off the clean-up battle.

Once they've mastered the activity, including clean up, you can add another option. This is a great way to control the mess factor without hovering over your child, which totally ruins the fun!

Here are some potential activities you might put on your child's shelf to do independently, and what you might want to have on the tray:

Clementine peeling

What you'll need: a tray, small bowl for peel, small bowl or plate for clementine slices.

Banana peeling + slicing

What you'll need: a tray, bowl for peel, banana slicer or wavy chopper, cutting board and a small bowl or plate for banana slices.

Carrot cutting

What you'll need: a small basin and scrub brush for scrubbing carrots, small sponge for spills, small carrot peeler and bowl for scraps, wavy chopper, cutting board and a small bowl or plate for carrot slices.

Strawberry slicing

What you'll need: a cutting board, egg slicer or wavy chopper and a small bowl or plate for slices.

Note: It helps a lot if you cut off the green tops ahead of time.

Egg peeling + slicing

What you'll need: a small bowl for peels, cutting board, egg slicer and a small bowl or plate for slices.

Cheese grating

What you'll need: a cutting board, mini grater and a small bowl for cheese.

Peanut butter spreading

What you'll need: a small container with lid containing a teaspoon of peanut butter, spreading knife, cutting board, crackers to spread peanut butter on and a small plate for the crackers.

Cherry pitting

What you'll need: a cutting board, cherry pitter, small bowl for pits and a small bowl for cherries.

Making trail mix

What you'll need: several lidded containers with different nuts, cereals, dried fruit, a scoop or small measuring cup and a bowl for the trail mix.

10. Set up a mud kitchen

Play is such an important part of how children process experiences and new information. If you start cooking with your child and then set up a simple mud kitchen outside, you will see them practicing their new skills and coming up with all sorts of creative dishes on their own.

Remember: This doesn't have to be fancy. It can be as simple as some play pots and pans and old kitchen utensils with some sand or dirt nearby. It's great if you have a water source your child can use, but this can simply be filling up a large basin or water table using the hose.

When it comes to introducing cooking to your child, the important thing is to follow their interests and skills. Introduce one thing at a time, don't freak out about the mess, and let your child lead the way. Bon appétit!

14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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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

Organization isn't just being able to find what you need, but also having what you need. For formula-feeding on the go, keep an extra bottle with the formula you need measured out along with water to mix it up. You never know when your outing will take longer than expected—especially with a baby in the mix!

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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You'll obsess over these newborn baby pictures.

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