Montessori at home: Choosing holiday gifts that encourage independent play

Some children are naturally more content to play independently than others. I vividly remember my sister playing contentedly by herself for hours, while I would choose to play with someone every single time if given the choice.

Temperament aside, there are definitely things we can do to help our children learn to play independently, and part of this is selecting certain toys and leaving others in the toy store.

Avoid toys that hinder a child's ability and desire to play on their own. Instead, opt for toys that help your child explore the natural world and the way things work show them that they don't need anybody else to learn. They teach them to be an explorer in their own world, to be their own teacher.

In contrast, certain toys invite children to become lost in their own play, to the point where they may seem to forget that you're even there. This is hugely beneficial, not just for you and your ability to get things done, but for your child.When children are deeply engaged in play, they are exercising creativity and concentration, which both grow and develop with practice.

Whether the toy explores magnetic fields, gravity or the intricate details of butterflies, here are a few things to look for when buying holiday gifts:

1. Open-ended

Open-ended toys, like blocks, have nearly infinite uses. Children can use them to build towers or cities or can make patterns from the shapes or colors. There is no one right way to use an open-ended toy, and so it invites children to be creative and explore the many possibilities their minds come up with.

2. Artistic

High-quality art supplies encourage creativity and also provides many interesting sensory experiences as children explore what paint and glue feel like, and how different writing instruments feel in their hands. Painting and drawing can also be excellent for fine motor development as the child strengthens their hand and becomes increasingly exact in their creations. To support your child's confidence in engaging with art materials independently, try not to show them how to draw something specific. They might become discouraged when their own picture doesn't look the same. Instead, expose them to all sorts of art, from completely abstract, to impressionist, to surrealist so they learn that artistic expression can look all sorts of different ways.

3. Imaginative

Children really don't need anything other than free time to use their imaginations, but there are some great toys that can help them along and add variety to their games. Items like dress ups and costumes invite children to become someone else, to create a different world in their minds. Model toys, like animals, figurines or train sets, also invite imaginary play and many children can play with this type of toy for quite a long time on their own.

4. Problem-solving

Toys like puzzles that encourage problem-solving skills, can suck children into deep concentration if they are just the right level of challenge. Completing this type of activity also gives children a deep sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

Every child is different, so be sure to know what's best for your child. Notice when they're lost in play and seems to forget you're there. That is when the magic is happening.

Make note of what they're playing with when this happens and keep that in mind as you select toys for him in the future. Encouraging this type of deep engagement and independent play will serve your whole family well beyond the holiday season.

Here are a few toys to look for:

Brain Blox wooden building blocks

Brain Blox wooden building blocks

This block set inspires boys and girls to think creatively, supports logical thinking and improves spatial awareness. It's the perfect educational STEM toy for all ages.

$57.99

LEGO classic medium creative brick box

LEGO classic medium creative brick box

This build your own play toy allows kids to create toy trains or tigers for hours. It also comes in a large plastic storage box that's great for housing all the tiny pieces.

$27.99

kedudes watercolor artist set

kedudes watercolor artist set

These non-toxic watercolor cakes come in a spectrum of bright and vibrant colors. "This set is definitely a win in our book," says one Amazon user.

$14.95

Learning Resources super magnet lab kit

Learning Resources super magnet lab kit

Engage your kids with hands-on magnet play as they learn magnetism, magnetic force, magnetic fields, poles, and much more.

$32.95

Sharp Brain Zone 3D wooden brain teaser puzzle

Sharp Brain Zone 3D wooden brain teaser puzzle

Let this puzzle serve as an intellectual challenge for problem solvers and game lovers. It's recommended for ages 6 and up, but really anyone who loves a challenge will enjoy it.

$19.99
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I don't think anyone told me I was "glowing" either time I was pregnant. I'm not sure that is the word I would have used to describe me in the early months, either—nauseated is more like it, or tired. Add to that some extra-dry skin and acne like I hadn't had since middle school, and let's just say I wasn't feeling my most beautiful. Apparently I wasn't alone.

"Hormonal changes, and, of course, all the ways your life is changing, can lead to some unpleasant skin changes during pregnancy," says Diana Spalding, Motherly's Digital Education Editor, midwife and writer of The Mother Guide to Becoming Mama. "It's so easy to get dehydrated during pregnancy, which can lead to issues like dryness and itchiness. And nights spent tossing and turning (because how is anyone supposed to sleep with all those sweet baby kicks?!) can lead to dark circles."

If you're suffering from any of the common pregnancy skin issues, but you don't want to pile chemicals on your skin, there are natural, healthy pregnancy-safe makeup and skin care products out there for you. Some even contain treatment ingredients that could help alleviate your skin symptoms, all while covering them up in the meantime. It's also worth noting that the FDA maintains an updated list and categorization of ingredients used in beauty and cosmetic products women should avoid if they are pregnant. A few include: retin-a, hydroquinone, formaldehyde, dihydroxyacetone, benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acids.

Just remember that sometimes itching skin can be a sign of a "serious complication known as cholestasis, so definitely check in with your midwife or OB before trying to treat the issue on your own," says Spalding.

The bottom line is, whatever your pregnancy skin care issues are, we've got you covered.

Here is what you need to fix eight common pregnancy skin problems:

For oily skin: RMS Beauty 'Un' Powder

Un Powder RMS BEAUTY

Sweaty? Oily? Yup, you can thank those pregnancy hormones for that! The RMS "un" powder can help! This ultra-fine, super-silky powder has only two ingredients (mica and silica—not to be confused with silicone) and will never give you a white cast. It's so sheer but so effective. We promise no one will know you're wearing powder.

$34

For dull skin: Plant Makeup Pink Rose Shimmer Balm

Plant Makeup\u2019s Pink Rose Shimmer Balm

Pregnancy can make a lady tired, and along with fatigue comes dull skin. Plant Makeup's Pink Rose Shimmer Balm to the rescue! Made by hand with French pink clay and pure natural mica, this very subtle balm moisturizes, highlights and adds a little sparkle. We love that it's not glittery, but rather reflects light for a hint of highlighting.

$3

For breakouts: Juice Beauty Photo Pigments Perfecting Concealer

Juice Beauty Phyto-pigments Perfecting Concealer

Oh, hello, pimples. We meet again. Juice Beauty's Photo Pigments Perfecting Concealer will mask your blemishes while healing them with organic coconut oil, known for its antibacterial, anti-fungal and antimicrobial properties.

Editor tip: For best results, warm formula with finger or brush before application.

$25

​ For dry + itchy skin: Suntegrity 5 in 1 Tinted Face Suncsreen

Suntegrity 5 in 1 Tinted Face Sunscreen

Winter months can take a toll on your skin, and with low temps come flakes, bumps and cracks. And if you're pregnant, dry skin can during this time can be even worse. So how about a multitasking product that moisturizes, soothes and protects while providing a light tint for that no-makeup look? If you suffer from parched and dry skin during pregnancy, Suntegrity 5-in-1 Natural Moisturizing face sunscreen is the product for you.

$45

For dark circles under eyes: W3ll People Bio Correcting Multi-Action Concealer

W3LL PEOPLE Bio Correct Multi-Action Concealer

Tossing and turning at night because you cannot get comfortable? You know what that means. Dark circles and puffy eyes are sure to appear. We love W3LL PEOPLE Bio Correct Multi-Action Concealer because it contains caffeine, so while the gorgeous mineral pigments cover those circles, the caffeine also depuffs your under-eye area.

$22.99

For capillaries + visible veins: Gressa Minimalist Corrective Serum Foundation

Gressa Skin Minimalist Corrective Serum Foundation

During pregnancy, your veins may make your body look like a country map. Nothing to worry about, your network of veins is actually here to carry your increasing blood supply and provide a support system to your growing baby. Unfortunately, you may also experience spider veins (also spider angiomas or spider nevi) on your face, which is also due to increased blood circulation. Gressa Skin Minimalist Corrective Serum Foundation is a serum-to-powder formula, almost like a multi-vitamin for your skin and provides seamless coverage.

$62

For dark brown spots: 14e Aloe Nourish Foundation

Aloe Nourish Foundation

Are you noticing, dark, blotchy brown spots on your cheeks and forehead? Blame it on an estrogen surge stimulating melanin production. Aloe Nourish Foundation by 14e Cosmetics provides medium, buildable coverage while leaving you feeling weightless with a satin semi-matte finish. It has only a few ingredients, and its base is aloe, which means it soothes as it covers.

$38

For tired eyes: Alima Pure Natural Definition Mascara

Alima Pure mascara

In my opinion, nothing wakes up a face like a good mascara. Alima Pure's Natural Definition Mascara makes one that's super-subtle, if you're not much of a makeup wearer and don't want to look like you suddenly went all-out.

$22

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Beauty + Style Shopping Guides

At one of the most important nights of their career, celebrities made sure their hairstyles stayed put at the 26th Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards. As a collective, the hairstyles were beautiful—french twists, bobs, pin curls and killer cuts filled the red carpet on the night to remember.

And surprisingly, the secret wasn't just the stylist team, mama. For many of the celebs, much of the look can be attributed to a $5 hairspray—yes, you read that correctly.

Dove style+care micro mist extra hold hairspray was one of the top stylist picks for celebs for a lightweight, flexible finishing spray, leaving tons of body and bounce. Unlike most hairsprays that can take several minutes (even a half hour) to set the look, this extra-hold one contains a fast-drying, water-free formula that helps protect your hair from frizz in minutes. As a result, celebrities were able to hold the shape of their styles with mega volume.

"Dove hairspray works well by holding curls in place with maximum hold and ultra shine, while still maintaining soft, touchable texture that is easy to brush out," says Dennis Gots for Dove Hair, who styled Phoebe Waller-Bridge for the SAG Awards. Translation: It's great for on-the-go mamas who want a shiny hold that lasts, but doesn't feel sticky.

Here are a few awesome hairstyles that were finished with the drugstore Dove style+care micro mist extra hold hairspray at the SAG awards:

Lili Reinhart's French twist

"I sprayed Dove style+care micro mist extra hold hairspray all over Lili's hair to lock in the shape and boost the shine factor, making the whole look really sleek," says stylist Renato Campora who was inspired to create the look by Reinhart's romantic gown. "Lili's look is sleek and sharp with a romantic twist."

Cynthia Erivo's finger waves

"This look is classic Cynthia! I knew I wanted to keep it simple, but it's actually quite detailed and intricate up close," says stylist Coree Moreno. "While the hair was still wet (yes—I needed to work fast!) I generously spritzed on the hairspray for all night hold without flaking. The hair continued to air dry perfectly while she finished up makeup."

Nathalie Emmanuel's curly high pony

"Nathalie wanted a retro Hollywood glam for the SAG Awards, so I used her natural texture and created a high pony with loose tendrils framing her face and neckline," says stylist, Neeko. "I finessed the look with the hairspray to lock in the style while keeping her hair looking and feeling touchable."

Phoebe Waller-Bridge's slicked back bob

"I used duckbill clips on different areas of her hair to keep the shape and curl while the hair air dried. Air drying the hair allowed for maximum shine and then I sprayed lots of hairspray all over to truly lock in the sleek shape and enhance the shine," says stylist Dennis Gots, who was inspired by a 90s vibe for Waller-Bridge's look.

Dove Style+Care Micro Mist Extra Hold Hairspray

Dove Style+Care Micro Mist Extra Hold Hairspray

Who doesn't want a hairspray that makes your hair feel as good as it looks? Dove Style+Care Extra Hold Hairspray holds body, volume and enhances shine. It gives your hair touchable hold while fighting frizz, even in damp or humid conditions.

$4.89

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

Beauty + Style Shopping Guides

Keeping up with a skin care routine isn't as simple as it seems when you're a busy mama. When you're trying to bathe kids and get them to bed, or rush out the door in the morning, the last thing on your to-do list is probably using a serum. Plus, figuring out which masks work for your skin type, or what is *really* worth that hefty price tag seems overwhelming.

Until now.

Amazon launched its first-ever skin care line called Belei last year. It featured 12 products that can complete your skin care routine, from moisturizers and serums to cleansers and masks.

Our favorite features? (Aside from the fact that you can Prime these goodies straight to your door).

  • Clean—free of sulfates, parabens and phthalates
  • Affordable—everything is under $40
  • Dermatologist tested + not tested on animals
  • Offers satisfaction guarantee—if not satisfied, they'll refund within a year

Right now, each product is up to 20% off so it's the perfect time to try it out. Here are some of the products we're adding to our cart:

1. Triple-Peptide Eye Cream

Amazon skin care line eye cream

For those inevitable nights with little sleep. Complete with caffeine to reduce puffiness and ingredients like shea butter to minimize the appearance of fine lines and dark circles.

$14.40

2. Charcoal Balancing Mask

Amazon skin care line charcoal mask

Have five extra minutes? Lather this on to absorb excess oil, deep clean and balance your skin.

$14.40

3. Retinol Refining Moisturizer

Amazon skin care line retinol moisturizer

Retinol has so many benefits, from smoothing your skin to helping it retain moisture, but it often comes with a price—not this one, luckily.

$28

4. Blemish Control Spot Treatment

Amazon skin care line spot treatment

You can't always stop breakouts from happening, but you can fight blemishes with this.

$17.60

5. Dark Spot Solution

Amazon skin care line dark spot solution

Your body has gone through a lot and that usually means your hormones have fluctuated. For some, that causes dark spots or uneven skin tone. This is packed with rich ingredients to even everything out.

$17.60

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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If you're visiting a new mama, it's customary to bring a little something to celebrate. This person just went through a monumental, life-changing event and most people focus on bringing stuff for the new baby, who has no idea what has happened—they just want all the snuggles and food. But we say to go ahead and celebrate mama. You can bring flowers or her favorite dish from that restaurant she loves, a little note with a gift card—it doesn't have to be expensive or shiny, just something that shows you care about them.

If you need ideas, Frida Baby, the brand that creates those super useful tools (looking at you, nose-sucker) has you covered.

This Frida balloon was just launched by the company and it's funny, real and will most definitely make any new mama feel seen.

Check it out:

It's a Mom balloon

It\u2019s A Mom Balloon

Everyone is likely familiar with the traditional "it's a boy" or "it's a girl" balloon that every hospital store sells, but it's time to celebrate moms with this "it's a mom" balloon. Sure, it's funny, but also super real. Also, keep in mind that this ships flat so be prepared with some helium to make it float.

$6.99

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