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Montessori at home: Giving your child 'purposeful work' could be a game-changer

When prospective parents come to observe our Montessori classroom, they often comment on how quiet and calm it is. They sometimes wonder whether their own child could be successful in such an environment. How are all of these children working independently, moving around the room carefully, and speaking softly?


The answer is purposeful work.

Montessori classrooms are designed to provide children with meaningful activities that align with their developmental needs. Just like grownups, children often reach a calm, highly focused state when they find a purpose toward which to direct their abundant energy.

In addition to giving them a sense of pride and confidence, helping children find purposeful work is a powerful way to redirect "misbehavior."

Years ago when I first became an assistant in a Montessori classroom, we had a sweet little 3-year-old boy who had more energy than any child I'd ever seen. We were on the playground one day, and he kept getting cups of water (meant for drinking) and dumping them out—on people, in the sandbox and pretty much everywhere he could think of.

I tried, without success, to redirect his behavior by reminding him of the rules, trying to entice him to do something else, and standing between him and the water station to block his way. Nothing was working.

I was trying to fight against his impulse, and it was a losing battle. An experienced Montessori teacher came over and simply said, "I see you want to work with water. Let's go find the watering can."

She helped him get started on watering the plants, and he peacefully did so for the rest of playtime. I couldn't believe how focused he was! I couldn't believe how much energy I had spent futilely trying to thwart his efforts when she had so easily redirected them with purpose. Instead of telling him "no," she gave him an outlet, a way to be successful.

His impulse wasn't wrong. He needed to work with water. He just needed help finding a purposeful and appropriate way to fulfill that desire.

Dr. Montessori observed that children are happiest when they have purposeful work that they had a part in choosing.

Children, of course, need lots of time for open-ended play as well—play is their work. But when you see a child breaking the rules, try to look for the impulse behind it and help him find a way to be successful.

Is your toddler carrying around a step stool and knocking things over? Perhaps they're looking for some heavy lifting. Try taking them out to the backyard and letting them move some stones to create a new flower bed border or carry buckets of water to fill up the kiddie pool.

Are they throwing sand out of the sandbox? Show them a purposeful way to use the sand. Demonstrate how to build a sand castle or show them how to sift the sand to get rid of any rocks that have found a way in.

Are they trying to cut a page in a book? Give them work with scissors, perhaps trimming the grass outside. Or simply give them a basket of paper scraps they can cut to their heart's content. They could save them for future collage work.

Are they throwing the laundry on the floor while you try to fold it? Maybe they want to help, to be part of the action. Show them how to organize the laundry into piles of pants, shirts, etc. Show them how to fold the washcloths and stack them neatly. Show them how to match socks. Give them a stack of laundry to carry into their room. Find a way for them to help that matches their ability.

Children have strong impulses and often can't yet fight them—this is really a good thing. These are the same impulses that drive a baby to work hard to learn to crawl and walk and speak. This is how they build the skills they need.

Does this mean they get a free pass to behave however they please? No! They very much want and need our guidance. But it does mean we should approach their misbehavior with a different perspective. They're not doing these things to us, they're just struggling to find an appropriate way to explore the world.

Trust that your child knows better than anyone what they need to practice at that very moment. Take a minute and think about how you can suggest an alternative way instead of saying "no" or "stop."

This takes practice, but becomes natural with time, and is so worth the effort. Children are never so calm and focused as when you find the right match of work to meet their needs.

It would be so much easier if children could just tell us in words exactly what they need, but they can't. Instead, they tell us with their actions and with their behavior. We just have to watch, to interpret, and to learn their language. We won't always get it right, but it will be so much more successful than just saying "no."

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Summer heat has a way of making the house feel smaller, more congested, with less room for the air to circulate. And there's nothing like heat to make me want to strip down, cool off and lighten my load. So, motivation in three digits, now that school is back in, it's time to do a purge.

Forget the spring clean—who has time for that? Those last few months of the school year are busier than the first. And summer's warm weather entices our family outdoors on the weekends which doesn't leave much time for re-organizing.

So, I seize the opportunity when my kids are back in school to enter my zone.

I love throwing open every closet and cupboard door, pulling out anything and everything that doesn't fit our bodies or our lives. Each joyless item purged peels off another oppressive layer of "not me" or "not us."

Stuff can obscure what really makes us feel light, capable and competent. Stuff can stem the flow of what makes our lives work.

With my kids back in school, I am energized, motivated by the thought that I have the space to be in my head with no interruptions. No refereeing. No snacks. No naps… I am tossing. I am folding. I am stacking. I am organizing. I don't worry about having to stop. The neat-freak in me is having a field day.

Passing bedroom doors, ajar and flashing their naughty bits of chaos at me, is more than I can handle in terms of temptation. I have to be careful, though, because I can get on a roll. Taking to my kids' rooms I tread carefully, always aware that what I think is junk can actually be their treasure.

But I usually have a good sense for what has been abandoned or invisible in plain sight for the lack of movement or the accumulation of dust. Anything that fits the description gets relegated to a box in the garage where it is on standby in case its absence is noticed and a meltdown has ensued so the crisis can be averted. Either way, it's a victory.

Oh, it's quiet. So, so quiet. And I can think it through…

Do we really need all this stuff?

Will my son really notice if I toss all this stuff?

Will my daughter be heartbroken if I donate all this stuff?

Will I really miss this dress I wore three years ago that barely fit my waist then and had me holding in my tummy all night, and that I for sure cannot zip today?

Can we live without it all? All. This. Stuff?

For me, the fall purge always gets me wondering, where in the world does all this stuff come from? So with the beginning of the school year upon us, I vow to create a new mindset to evaluate everything that enters my home from now on, so there will be so much less stuff.

I vow to really think about objects before they enter my home…

…to evaluate what is really useful,

...to consider when it would be useful,

...to imagine where it would be useful,

...to remember why it may be useful,

…to decide how to use it in more than one way,

... so that all this stuff won't get in the way of what really matters—time and attention for my kids and our lives as a new year reveals more layers of the real stuff—what my kids are made of.

Bring it on.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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For many years, Serena Williams seemed as perfect as a person could be. But now, Serena is a mom. She's imperfect and she's being honest about that and we're so grateful.

On the cover of TIME, Williams owns her imperfection, and in doing so, she gives mothers around the world permission to be as real as she is being.

"Nothing about me right now is perfect," she told TIME. "But I'm perfectly Serena."

The interview sheds light on Williams' recovery from her traumatic birth experience, and how her mental health has been impacted by the challenges she's faced in going from a medical emergency to new motherhood and back to the tennis court all within one year.

"Some days, I cry. I'm really sad. I've had meltdowns. It's been a really tough 11 months," she said.

It would have been easy for Williams to keep her struggles to herself over the last year. She didn't have to tell the world about her life-threatening birth experience, her decision to stop breastfeeding, her maternal mental health, how she missed her daughter's first steps, or any of it. But she did share these experiences, and in doing so she started incredibly powerful conversations on a national stage.

After Serena lost at Wimbledon this summer, she told the mothers watching around the world that she was playing for them. "And I tried," she said through tears. "I look forward to continuing to be back out here and doing what I do best."

In the TIME cover story, what happened before that match, where Williams lost to Angelique Kerber was revealed. TIME reports that Williams checked her phone about 10 minutes before the match, and learned, via Instagram, that the man convicted of fatally shooting her sister Yetunde Price, in 2003 is out on parole.

"I couldn't shake it out of my mind," Serena says. "It was hard because all I think about is her kids," she says. She was playing for all the mothers out there, but she had a specific mother on her mind during that historic match.

Williams' performance at Wimbledon wasn't perfect, and neither is she, as she clearly states on the cover of time. But motherhood isn't perfect either. It's okay to admit that. Thanks, Serena, for showing us how.

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There are some mornings where I wake up and I'm ready for the day. My alarm goes off and I pop out of bed and hum along as I make breakfast before my son wakes up. But then there are days where I just want 10 more minutes to sleep in. Or breakfast feels impossible to make because all our time has run out. Or I just feel overwhelmed and unprepared.

Those are the mornings I stare at the fridge and think, Can someone else just make breakfast, please?

Enter: make-ahead breakfasts. We spoke to the geniuses at Pinterest and they shared their top 10 pins all around this beautiful, planned-ahead treat. Here they are.

(You're welcome, future self.)

1. Make-ahead breakfast enchiladas

www.pinterest.com

Created by Bellyful

I'd make these for dinner, too.

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