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With so many toys out there, it can be hard to find intentional gifts for our children that are both fun and meaningful. Using a Montessori approach to your holiday shopping this year doesn't mean your choices need to be academic. There are plenty of Montessori-friendly toys that are beautiful and engaging, but also appeal to children's developmental needs.

Montessori toys are usually made from natural materials, non-electronic and foster independent play, creativity and concentration.

Here are some great options for the littlest ones on your list this year!

0-18 months

Montessori materials are simple and somewhat minimalist in general, and this is especially true for infants and young toddlers. The world is so stimulating for these little ones already, that simple toys made of natural materials spark the child's curiosity without being overwhelming.

1. Black and white image cards

As young babies can't yet see color, simple black and white images are the most striking to them. This set is great because the images can be used individually, or strung together into a book.

Wee Gallery Art Cards for Baby, Amazon, $15.99

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2. Montessori mobiles

While many mobiles are designed primarily to make the nursery look adorable, the traditional set of Montessori mobiles was developed specifically to provide the ideal level of visual stimulation at each stage for your growing baby.

Four Classic Visual Mobiles, Amazon, $85.99

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3. Activity gym

Many activity gyms can be overstimulating, but this one features wood and more muted colors and designs. It also converts into a little tent when baby is older and on the move.

The Play Gym by Lovevery, Amazon, $140.00

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4. Wooden toy set

These classic Montessori baby toys each isolate one concept that baby is working on, such as cause and effect (shaking a rattle), and in and out (placing a peg in a cup).

Wooden Baby Toys, Amazon, $29.87

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5. Puzzle ball

Puzzle balls are easy for babies to grasp and they don't roll too far. This encourages babies who are trying to learn to crawl, as the ball rolls just out of reach and they exert all their effort to scoot toward it.

Gray Fabric Puzzle Ball, Amazon, $14.00

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6. Object permanence box

As your baby drops the ball into the hole, watches it disappear, and then finds it again, he learns that things do not necessarily disappear when he can't see them anymore.

Montessori Object Permanence Box Amazon, $22.99

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7. Global Babies book

It is never too early to start reading to your baby and books that feature real images of people, nature, and everyday items are a great place to start.

Global Babies, Amazon, $6.95

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8. Finger paints

As soon as your baby is sitting up independently, he can begin to enjoy finger painting, which is a wonderful sensory experience as well as an early introduction to creative art.

Crayola Washable FingerPaints, Amazon, $18.99

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9. Wooden shape puzzle

This is a great first puzzle as it is made of beautiful wood and has only five pieces.

Guidecraft Geometric Puzzle Board, Amazon, $24.99

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10. Pop up toy

This toy is so simple, yet so entertaining for babies and young toddlers, who love practicing taking things out and putting them back in.

Pop up toy, Amazon, $12.14

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18 months-3 years

What most toddlers want more than anything is independence. Many of these selections give your toddler the tools to join in on everyday household life, which is one of the greatest gifts you can give them.

1. Watering can

A quality child-sized watering can is one of the earliest ways small children can help with yard work.

Small Metal Watering Can, Amazon, $8.25

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2. Mop and broom set

Toddlers love to help with whatever household chores you are doing. A mop and broom just their size allows them to clean alongside you.

Melissa & Doug Let's Play House Set, Amazon, $24.99

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3. Learning tower

This enables your child to work with you at the kitchen counter. This particular model lets him climb in and out of the tower independently.

Little Partners The Original Learning Tower, Amazon, $199.95

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4. Pizza making set

Toddlerhood is the perfect time to introduce early kitchen skills, and what more fun way than making pizza together?

MasterChef Junior Pizza Cooking Set, Amazon, $27.99

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5. Hands Can book

This book features beautiful photos of children exploring, communicating, and showing kindness with their hands.

Hands Can, Amazon, $7.19

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6. Wooden blocks

Open-ended toys like wooden blocks encourage creativity and long stretches of concentration.

Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wooden ABC Blocks Set, Amazon, $13.27

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7. Musical instruments

Exploring rhythm and music together is a great activity for those cold winter months when outdoor play may be more limited.

Sokoni Toy Wooden Kids Percussion Instrument Set, Amazon, $29.99

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8. Rainbow stacker

This stacker looks beautiful on the shelf and also offers a challenge and introduces the concept of rainbow order.

Wooden Rainbow Stacking Game, Amazon, $15.99

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9. Easel

An easel is ideal for early art work like finger painting and painting with large brushes.

3-in-1 Multifunctional Easel, Amazon, $71.99

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10. Felt weather board

As growing toddlers become increasingly aware of and interested in the wider world around them, the weather becomes a fascinating topic.

Little Folk Flannelboard Set, Amazon, $19.95

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3-6 years old

Children in the 3-6 year range are ready for longer stretches of concentration and more complex toys. This selection is entertaining, while also helping them develop fine motor skills and concentration.

1. Primary lacing beads

There are so many fun ways for your 3-year-old to play with these colorful beads and necklaces. They encourage fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and open-ended play.

Melissa and Doug Primary Lacing Beads, Amazon, $11.92

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2. Hammer toy

This early hammering work is great for hand-eye coordination and introducing a real life skill. This one provides a greater challenge.

IKEA MULA Toy hammering block, Amazon, $21.98

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3. Pattern blocks or pattern play

Exploring patterns is highly engaging and great for pre-math skills.

Melissa & Doug Pattern Block and Boards, Amazon, $16.99

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4. Parts of the body layered puzzles

These challenging puzzles depict the human body in layers, from a skeleton all the way to a fully dressed child.

Discover Your Body Puzzles, Amazon, $49.94

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5. Memory game

Memory game is a wonderful gift that grows with your child, as younger children enjoy simply examining and matching the pictures and older children love the actual game.

eeBoo Life on Earth Memory Matching Game, Amazon, $18.95

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6. Bingo

Simple games like bingo allow young children to practice playing a game with friends, including how to win and lose graciously.

Butterfly Bingo Board Game, Amazon, $14.99

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7. Young carpenter's set

Once a child can be safe and in control, giving him real tools builds his confidence and allows him to participate in purposeful work.

Melissa & Doug Take-Along Tool Kit, Amazon, $12.34

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8. Fun with magnets set

Toys that support scientific exploration encourage your child to be his own teacher and keep his curiosity alive.

Fun With Magnets, Amazon, $16.13

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9. Yoga pretzels with yoga mat

Yoga helps children learn self-regulation, calming breathing techniques, and control of their bodies.

Yoga Pretzels Card, Amazon, $13.45

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Kids Yoga Mat, Amazon, $15.28

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10. Japanese brush painting set

Calming activities like Japanese brush painting help children in Montessori classrooms learn to be peaceful and can do the same in your home.

The Original Buddha Board, Amazon, $34.95

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11. Origami set

Origami encourages development of spacial skills and a different way of thinking and children love seeing all of the things they can create with just paper.

My First Origami Kit, Amazon, $13.46

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Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy.You've got this.

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Rachel McAdams didn't talk publicly about her pregnancy or her birth story. There are some things this working mama wants to keep to herself, but the fact that she needs to pump at work isn't one of them.

McAdams was recently doing a photo shoot with photographer Claire Rothstein of Girls Girls Girls magazine when she needed to take a pump break. Wearing Versace and a neck full of diamonds McAdmans did what mamas all over the world do every day, and Rothstein snapped a pic that is now going viral.

In an Instagram post, Rothstein explains that she and McAdams had a "mutual appreciation disagreement about who's idea it was to take this picture," but the photographer says she remembers it being McAdams' idea, "which makes me love her even more."

In her caption of the amazing photograph, Rothstein writes: "Breastfeeding is the most normal thing in the world and I can't for the life of me imagine why or how it is ever frowned upon or scared of."

The photographer added that she wanted to put the image out there to change perceptions about breastfeeding, pumping, and working motherhood.

McAdams decision to normalize pumping through this glamorous image is especially cool when you consider that she's not really a social media person, and spends a lot of days in much less glam attire.

She recently arrived for her first interview since welcoming her son in the spring wearing a grey shirt, baggy pants and sneakers, reportedly telling the interviewer (Helena de Bertodano for The Sunday Times U.K.), "I don't even know what I'm wearing today. The shoes are held together with glue. Isn't that sad? I need to get a life."

"I have clothes on and that's a good thing," McAdams told Bertodano during that chat. Her attire for that newspaper interview was a world away from the clothes she wore for the Girls Girls Girls shoot.

During her Sunday Times interview McAdams declined to discuss her son's name or birthdate.

"I want to keep his life private, even if mine isn't," she explained. "But I'm having more fun being a mum than I've ever had. Everything about it is interesting and exciting and inspiring to me. Even the tough days — there's something delightful about them."

Most of us will never look the way McAdams does in this photo while we're pumping, but we can totally understand that sometimes, motherhood means you're wearing sweats and sometimes it means you're pumping in your work clothes (even if for most of us, that doesn't mean Versace).

McAdams may be keeping some parts of her motherhood experience private, but by showing the world this part of her day, she's normalizing something that desperately needs normalizing.

Some mamas pump, and the world needs to know (and accommodate) that.

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To my children,

It's the New Year, and I have been doing a lot of thinking. I want to say, with all of my heart and all of my soul, that I am sorry. I want apologize for anything (and everything) I have said or done that made you feel less-than or sad or small.

I regret, so deeply, the hurt I delivered through harsh words or sideways glances, for steely eyes you didn't deserve and sarcastic replies you didn't understand. I'm sorry for being upset when I should have been more understanding, for resorting to frustration when I should have found more patience, for pulling away when I should have drawn near.

There were the times when you needed more from me, when you asked for more, and I simply couldn't provide. There were the moments when you wanted less of me, needed less from me, and I couldn't—or perhaps I just wouldn't—back away.

I start every day with a hope, a hope that I will be better than the day before.

Sometimes I succeed, but many times, I fail. Every so often, I fail in spectacular fashion. I think about all the times when I wasn't gentle enough or kind enough or attentive enough to you, about all the moments when I was too quick to anger and not quick enough to forgive.

You don't need me to tell you that I'm not perfect. Lord knows, you know far too well.

But I will say it to you, because I think it helps to hear me say it: I am not perfect. I make mistakes. I am human. I have flaws and cracks and blemishes; they are a part of me, just as they are a part of you.

Sometimes, my dear ones, my mistakes are small—like forgetting to pack your lunch or mixing up the dates for Tot Shabbat, or picking you up an hour late from a play date or accidentally switching your piano primer with your brother's, or sending a snack I know you dislike because I didn't have time to go grocery shopping and have no other food in the refrigerator. But sometimes, they aren't so minor.

Sometimes, my mistakes have to do with the way I've behaved, and the words I have said, and the way I have said them. For those times, and for all the times I failed to support you the way I should, or help you in the way you deserve, and love you in the best way I can, I am sorry.

I wish I didn't make so many mistakes. I'm a perfectionist at heart, but when it comes to parenting, there's still so much I haven't mastered. Even after almost a decade of doing this day in and day out, I still feel like a novice in so many regards and as green as I did on day one.

Precious ones, I've come to realize, no matter how hard I try, that I just can't get it right all of the time. I hope you can forgive my failings.

The older I get, the more I realize that life is a jumble of hits and misses. As many times as we try and succeed, we also try and fail. As much as we hope to do right, we often end up doing wrong. It is the story of the human condition—this mix of losses and gains, triumphs and defeats. It's all very messy (think sloppy joes and pancakes dripping with syrup kind of messy), and yet, it's all we know.

My darling ones, I want nothing more than to do right by you and be the best mother I can be for you. I want to love you unconditionally, support you unreservedly, and be present unambiguously.

In the New Year, I resolve to do better for you, to be better with you, and to act as if God is watching. You mean the world to me. You are everything to me. I love you, always and forever.

All my love,

Mommy


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People often say that having a second child doesn't much add to the workload of parenting. There's no steep learning curve: You already know how to make a bottle, install a car seat and when to call the pediatrician. And you're already doing laundry, making lunches and supervising bath time—so throwing a second kid in the tub isn't a big deal.

Except that it is. Having a second child doesn't just mean attaching a second seat to your stroller. Adding a whole new person to your family is more complicated than that, and it's okay to say that it is hard.

A new study out of Australia disputes the popular idea that after making the transition from people to parents, making the jump from one child to two is easy. The researchers found that having a second child puts a lot of pressure on parents' time and their mental health, and mothers bear the brunt of the burden.

When looking at heterosexual couples, the researchers found that before a first child is born both partners feel equal amounts of "time pressure," but once the child is born, that pressure grows, more so for mothers than fathers.

Basically, parents feel psychological stress when they feel they don't have enough time to do all they need to. One baby makes both parents feel more stress, but mom's increase is more than dad's. When a second baby comes, that time pressure doubles for both parents, and since mom already had more than dad, there's now a gulf between them.

The researchers behind this study—Leah Ruppanner, Francisco Perales and Janeen Baxter—say that after a first child is born, a mother's mental health improves, but after a second child, it declines.

Writing for The Conversation, the trio explains:

"Second children intensify mothers' feelings of time pressure. We showed that if mothers did not have such intense time pressures following second children, their mental health would actually improve with motherhood. Fathers get a mental health boost with their first child, but also see their mental health decline with the second child. But, unlike mothers, fathers' mental health plateaus over time. Clearly, fathers aren't facing the same chronic time pressure as mothers over the long-term."

The researchers say that even when mothers reduce their work time, the time pressure is still there and that "mothers cannot shoulder the time demands of children alone."

Adding a second child to the family isn't just a matter of throwing a few more socks in the laundry: It means a schedule that is already stretched is now filling up with twice as many appointments, twice as many school functions. Mothers only have 24 hours in the day, and as much as we wish we could add a couple extra hours per child, we can't.

Time simply can't change to help us, but society can. As the researchers noted, when time pressure is removed, motherhood actually improves mental health.

We love our lives, we love our kids, we love parenting, but there is only so much of our day to go around.

Ruppanner, Perales and Baxter suggest that if society were to help mothers out more, our mental health (and therefore our children's wellbeing as well) would improve even after two or three kids. "Collectivising childcare – for example, through school buses, lunch programs and flexible work policies that allow fathers' involvement – may help improve maternal mental health," the researchers explain, adding that "it is in the national interest to reduce stressors so that mothers, children and families can thrive."

Whether you're talking about Australia or America, that last bit is so true, but this research proves that the myth about second-time parenthood isn't. Even if you already have the skills and the hand-me-downs, having a second child isn't as easy as it is sometimes made out to be.

We can love our children and our lives and still admit when things aren't easy.

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We know life gets a little (okay, a lot) busy around this time of year so if you haven't crossed off everyone on your Christmas list just yet, here's your reminder that you've still got time. Fortunately, that Amazon Prime membership of yours comes in handy... especially for the holidays.

Here are some of the best last-minute gifts to get on Amazon. Also, that extra couple of dollars for gift wrapping is *so* worth it if it's available. 😉

1. Tape Activity Book

So your little can create just about anywhere—on the go, in the car or hanging out at home.

Melissa & Doug Tape Activity Book, $6.47

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2. Instant Pot

Mama, meet your new best friend. 4.5 stars with nearly 30K reviews.

Instant Pot 8-qt, $89.95

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3. Silicone Teething Mitt

Offer relief to your teething one with a mitt that stays in place.

Itzy Ritzy Silicone Teething Mitt, $8.99

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4. Roomba

Give the gift of never having to manually vacuum again.

iRobot Roomba 690, $279.00

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5. Magnetic Tiles

These are always a favorite for kids of all ages. Build endless possibilities and work on fine motor skills—win-win!

Magnetic Tiles Building Blocks Set, $31.99

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6. DryBar Triple Sec

Perfect addition to mama's stocking, or paired with a salon or blowout gift card. Adds *so* much texture and volume.

DryBar Triple Sec 3-in-1, $35.99

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7. Plush Animated Bunny

Plays peek-a-boo and sings for baby.

Animated Plush Stuffed Animal, $32.97

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8. 23andMe

Learn everything you want to know about your family history, where you came from, and even information about your genetics.

23andMe DNA Test, $67.99

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9. Boon Bath Pipes

Make bath time more fun. They suction to the wall and can be played with individually or altogether in a chain.

Boon Building Bath Pipes, $14.99

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10. HP Sprocket Portable Photo Printer

For printing all of those adorable Instagram moments—and for getting *all* of the photos off your phone.

HP Sprocket Portable Photo Printer, $99.95

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11. Board Blocks

Kids can sort, learn colors and shapes, and work on their hand-eye coordination.

Wooden Educational Geometric Board Block, $6.39

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12. Ring Doorbell + Echo Dot

A great bundle for the techie in your life.

Ring Doorbell 2 and Echo Dot, $169.00

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13. Pai Technology Circuit Conductor

For the little who wants to learn to code, this offers endless learning fun.

Pai Technology Circuit Conductor Learning Kit, $69.99

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14. Kindle Paperwhite, Audible + Headphones Bundle

Bookworms will love this bundle. Enjoy a new Kindle Paperwhite, wireless bluetooth stereo headphones, and 3 month free trial for Audible for new users.

Kindle Paperwhite Bundle, $139.00

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15. Wooden Grocery Store

We love this imaginative play grocery store, complete with a beeping scanner and hand-cranked conveyor belt.

Melissa & Doug Freestanding Wooden Fresh Mart Grocery Store, $179.99

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Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work.We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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