Print Friendly and PDF

Motherly @ Work features the stories and insights of modern women growing their careers—and their families.


Like Aileen Chen Co-Founder and CEO of Belly Armor—an innovative company that designs products which will protect you and your little ones from potentially harmful radiation from cell phones, laptops, power lines, and other everyday objects. Belly Armor sells beautiful belly blankets to protect your precious cargo, nursing covers, baby monitors, and more. Belly Armor’s products have received many prestigious awards such as The Bump’s Best of Baby in 2012 and 2015, and Pregnancy & Newborn’s Top Products of 2014.

We caught up with Aileen to find out how she prioritizes her to-do list, and how she’s making a difference in the world.

FEATURED VIDEO

Your business, Belly Armor is super important for protecting ourselves and our little ones from radiation. Why did you want to start your business and create your innovative products?

Aileen Chen: When I was pregnant with my first child, my own worry about the wireless devices I was surrounded by prompted me to look into the potential harm they might pose for my baby. I was surprised to learn of the research showing health risks and the precautionary measures that many governments and health organizations worldwide were advising.

It was well-accepted that everyday radiation (non-ionizing radiation emitted by sources like cell phones, computers, wireless towers and power lines) can have a biological impact, but there was much confusion and debate around how it impacts our health.

Increasingly, research was indicating potential health risks from this radiation, and experts are particularly concerned for young children and during pregnancy when DNA replication and cell growth are at their highest rates. Compounding the risk is the exponential growth in wireless technologies over the past decade—today’s children will be exposed to levels of radiation unprecedented in human history, in closer proximity and for longer durations throughout their lives than previous generations. There was an obvious gap between scientific knowledge and public awareness. As the health experts warned, if history is any indication, it can take years and even decades for scientific evidence to conclusively affirm health risks from environmental hazards and then translate into policies to safeguard people. Such was the case with tobacco, lead, asbestos, and x-rays.

I felt compelled to raise awareness about this emerging health issue, particularly amongst parents and parents-to-be, and design solutions to help families address it.

Wireless technology has become an indispensable part of our modern lives, but I believe we should develop a healthier relationship with technology as the wireless infrastructure around us continues to grow exponentially. With my co-founder, we started Belly Armor with the mission of giving children the best possible start in life, by increasing awareness of this health issue and providing practical and effective solutions for parents looking to reduce their families’ exposure to everyday radiation.

Join Motherly

What would you say are your most popular products and why?

Aileen Chen: Our products are designed with the modern parent in mind—they must fit easily into their everyday lives, while providing effective ways to reduce their exposure to everyday radiation. Belly Armor’s products span maternity, nursery and fertility—from maternity bands and low-radiation baby monitors to men’s boxer-briefs.

Amongst the various product categories, our Belly Blanket Chic is the most popular product in the thirty-plus countries we sell globally.

It is very versatile, being a blanket that can be used during pregnancy to cover the bump while the expectant mom uses a laptop or tablet, as a baby blanket after pregnancy, and have often been used by men under their laptops on their laps.

Our RadiaShield® Fabric—the functional part of the product that has been independently tested to be 99.9% effective in shielding the radiation emitted by everyday electronic devices—is very lightweight and breathable. Not only is this Belly Blanket Chic portable and easy to keep around the office desk or home, it is also super soft to snuggle up with and free of heavy metals, toxic chemicals and common allergens.

The National Toxicology Program (NTP) recently released a study suggesting that chronic exposure to cell phones and other wireless devices may lead to cancer in humans. Do these types of studies motivate you to grow your brand presence? What do you think of the current research on radiation effects on our children in utero and out?

Aileen Chen: This federal study provides further validation and adds to the growing pool of research indicating that cell phone radiation can pose harm and that we need to think differently about the way we use wireless technology. The fact is, wireless technologies have not been around for a long time, but they are growing exponentially around us, permeating into offices, schools, and homes. Our children are exposed to unprecedented levels of wireless radiation and will be throughout their lives.

Most people don’t know that safety standards for cell phone radiation were established nearly 20 years ago using a 200-lb adult male model. (Or, that most phone manuals advise using and carrying your cell phone at least 1/2-inch away from your body.) The phones we use today and the way in which we use them (in terms of proximity and duration) are drastically different from 2 decades ago. In addition, the populations using these phones have changed dramatically—the majority of cell phones users now are less than twenty years old, with growing numbers that are children.

There is still much scientific debate about the nature and the extent of the risks from wireless radiation.

However, what we do know is that radiation at the levels emitted by cell phones and Wi-Fi does have a biological effect. Numerous studies have shown that it impacts the way cells grow, DNA replications and brain cells function, and most scientific experts agree more research needs to be done.

Because children are more vulnerable to environmental factors, many health experts and governments recommend applying the precautionary principle towards these risks until we know more. The World Health Organization has labeled cell phone as a possible carcinogen. The American Academy of Pediatrics has openly urged the FCC to update their safety standards to safeguard children. Nearly 200 independent scientists from 39 countries and institutions like Yale and Berkeley have urged the UN for stricter controls on cell phone radiation. The French government has banned the marketing of cell phoned to children under 12 and prohibited the use of Wi-Fi in places dedicated for children under 3.

Dr. Devra Davis, a renowned cancer expert, a former health advisor to President Clinton, and current president of the Environmental Health Trust, a nonprofit devoted to researching and educating about avoidable environmental health threats such as wireless radiation, says: “If ever there was a time to re-think our growing dependence on wireless in schools, cars, homes, and energy production, this is it. There is no other suspected cancer-causing agent to which we subject our elementary school students or place directly in front of the brain and eyes with virtual reality… It makes no sense to continue building out huge wireless systems until we have done a better job of putting the pieces of this puzzle together. This latest report from the NTP should give us all pause.”

We work with experts like Dr. Davis and organizations like Healthy Child Healthy World (of which Belly Armor is a Trusted Partner) to educate more about this emerging health issue. Seeing the awareness grow and powered by more emerging research, my team and I are even more motivated to do our best in our mission to give children the best possible start in life.

What inspires you to do this work?


Aileen Chen: The ability to make a positive impact in creating a healthier environment for our children.

What are your secrets for integrating work and family?

Aileen Chen: I think work/life balance is very individualistic—everyone defines that balance differently and goes through their own journey to achieve it. Striking that balance is a constant work-in-progress as careers evolve, as life happens and as priorities shift. For me, I believe a good balance is achievable when I am clear and realistic about what that balance means for me.

And I try to achieve that balance by:

—Prioritizing the handful of most important things (work and personal) I must complete each day, and getting those squared away early in the day. There is less stress and overhang once those are done.

—Separating time for work and time for family, and being fully present when I am in either one.

—Automating wherever possible and seeking help as necessary.

—Choosing progress over perfection—knowing when to let something go and not get stuck trying to make something “perfect” (it is still often easier said than done!).

Of course, the key to making this all work for me is that I am blessed to have a very supportive husband, an equal partner in our parenting journey and a strong supporter of my goals.

How do you recharge?

Aileen Chen: During the day, I try to take a break to walk in the sun or listen to music, even if for only 10 minutes. It’s amazing how they can reset me physically and emotionally. At night, I like to read, and do relatively simple but productive tasks in silence—like cleaning or baking—which feel therapeutic, give me time to think, and produce clear results and a sense of accomplishment (even if it’s a small one).

Do you have a mentor or someone you look up to that’s helped to shape you as a woman and a mother? Tell us how they inspire you.

Aileen Chen: I have been very blessed to have had many mentors throughout my life so far. During the earlier part of my career, a couple of them guided me and served as my staunch advocate with promotions and international work opportunities, giving me a wealth of experiences.

There are many female business and political leaders that I admire and would love to meet one day. While some of her policies and actions had been controversial, Margaret Thatcher was a role model for me when I was young, being one of the few female world leaders then (and unfortunately there are still only a handful today). I had the honor of meeting her at an intimate student symposium during high school, not long after she left the prime minister office. I remember being completely inspired by the harmonious combination of her intelligence, toughness, wit, confidence, warmth, grace and femininity. She inspired me to find my own style and voice as a leader, more assured that confidence does not equate to arrogance, toughness can be done with grace, and exuding femininity does not have to imply weakness.

In recent years, my most indispensable mentors have been the groups of women entrepreneurs who have also become close friends.

We have been a part of each other’s entrepreneurial journeys, inspiring and nurturing each other. We share the challenges of parenting while building our businesses, and learn from each other’s parenting styles and philosophies.

Each person is an amazing woman and mother with purpose, vision and compassion. Being surrounded by them has given me perspective and support when I’ve needed it most.

Tell us about your children. How have they transformed your career?

Aileen Chen: As most parents would probably agree—having children can be completely transformative in changing the way we view the world, ourselves, and our purpose.

My kids have brought so much laughter and meaning (and challenges too, no doubt!). They have taught me how to live in the moment, to reflect on my own words and actions, to treasure the simple things in life.

Becoming a mother ignites the intense desire to give your children the best in life, and for me it sprouted Belly Armor.

Being a mother has made me focus my time, energy and experiences on things I care about and the things that will positively impact the world I leave behind for my kids.

What gets you out of bed in the morning and keeps you inspired and excited about life?

Aileen Chen: Technically, well, the alarm clock. And then my kids’ voices and giggles and our dog’s pitter patter on the floor, eager to be walked and fed.

I’m excited by the progress I can make and by the experiences my loved ones can have each day. I believe that as individuals, we can all positively impact other’s lives and collectively build strong communities and societies. I strive to make a difference, and to teach my children to be positive contributors to society.

Tell us about a typical day in your life.


At 6: 30 am. . . Getting up and ready, starting to prep kids’ lunches while my husband makes breakfast.

At 7:45 am. . . Getting kids to put on their shoes and into the car. This can take anywhere between 30 seconds to 5 minutes.

At 10:00 am. . . At my desk with a cup of coffee, working with my team on an awareness campaign.

At 1:00 pm. . . Finishing lunch, trying to get a little sun outdoors.

At 3:00 pm. . . Replying to customer emails.

At 5:00 pm. . . Getting ready to pick up the kids from their after-school activities. Thinking about dinner prep.

At 9:00 pm. . . The kids are in bed; I am tidying up the house, planning for the next day, and catching up with my husband.

What’s one thing you do every day (or try to do every day!) to ensure that your work and home lives run more smoothly?

Aileen Chen: Each night, I plan my schedule and my family’s schedule for the next day (including what to pack for kids’ lunches and make for dinner) and create a To-Do list of the top priority things for the day. It makes it much easier to jump-start the next day and know what you want to accomplish.

We’d love to hear—what would you tell other mamas who have a great idea and want to start their own business?

Aileen Chen: Do something you are passionate about, something that you strongly believe in. Otherwise, your motivation may wane over time, and you may feel increasingly conflicted about your time and energy spent on the venture versus on other responsibilities and interests in your life.

Also, do good planning upfront before you dive in—understand the market demand, target customers, competitive landscape, and differentiators of your products/services. Knowing these, you will be able to test the viability of your idea and gain clarity for your path forward. You have to be really honest about your strengths and weakness, what type of resources and support you need to get started and keep things going for a period of time until you get traction. Your initial capital should also have some of your own capital—having skin in the game will make you feel even more invested and motivated.

Be prepared for the business to take a lot of your time, energy, and mindshare. Because it is your own business, it will be hard to completely turn off, even when you are on vacation or on maternity leave. If you are passionate about what you’re doing, you’ll still be jumping out of bed every day, excited to make progress on the idea.

What do you hope your child/children learn from your career?

Aileen Chen: That they should always try to do things that make a positive impact. That they can pursue their passions and find meaning in their work. That they don’t have to choose between family and career but can have a good balance of both. That challenges will also always exist but can present the most valuable learning experiences. That surrounding themselves with positive influences will enable them to achieve their dreams.

What’s in your purse?

Aileen Chen: Wallet, keys, pen, small notebook, iPhone, headphones, water bottle, granola bar, and a good luck charm I got with my husband and kids at a temple in Japan.

What does ‘Motherly’ mean to you?

Aileen Chen: Being a nurturer and a pillar.

This part of Khalil Gibran’s poem On Children really speaks to me and how I see my role as a mother:

“Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You are the bows from which your children

As living arrows are sent forth.”


Join Motherly

The very best of Motherly — delivered when you need it most.
Subscribe for inspiration, empowering articles and expert tips to rock your best #momlife.

Creating your baby registry is one of the most exciting getting-ready-for-baby tasks a mama takes part in (other than, you know, growing a life). But even though sorting through adorably teeny this and itsy bitsy that can be loads of fun, that doesn't change the fact that there are SO many products from which to choose—not to mention slight variations in version for each. And how do parents know if you even need that *very specific* item to begin with, since each baby's likes are so different? It helps to have an expert guiding you through the what's-actually-worth-it process, whether it's veteran parents in your life who will likely offer up suggestions, or stores like buybuy BABY that handpick the must-have options and make registry building super easy for you.

From strollers to car seats and swings (because you'll definitely be needing a swing at some point), here are our top picks for first-time parents of the items you'll be glad you put on your baby registry, trust us.

UPPAbaby VISTA stroller

UPPAbaby VISTA stroller

The best recommendation is the one from someone you trust and if you ask around, it won't take long for you to learn that UPPAbaby® is one of the most beloved stroller brands by new and seasoned moms alike. The VISTA is their crème de la crème, and it comes with all sorts of high quality features (think an ultra-sturdy frame and all-wheel suspension to help absorb all those bumps on the road) that will keep your babe comfortable no matter where your walk takes you. Plus, it comes in a bunch of great colors and transitions to a double as your family grows.

$959.99

Chicco KeyFit 30 infant car seat

ChiccoKeyFitcarseat

When it comes to keeping your little one safe, a car seat is probably the most important piece of gear you'll buy. While you'll hopefully never need to test it out, the KeyFit® seat keeps your little peanut extra secure with things like side impact protection—plus, thanks to handy bubble indicators, installing it correctly doesn't require a rocket scientist[JS9] . It's all about making your life easier while helping you breathe easier, too!

$199.99

4moms mamaRoo classic infant seat

4momsmamaRooswing

All hail the infant swing 🙌. Whether your cute new bundle is generally calm or has more of a defiant streak, chances are there'll be a time when you need some hands-free soothing. Enter the mamaRoo, a beyond useful swing that looks as cozy as it is. Strap the nugget in, choose one of five distinct motion patterns, and let yourself enjoy that moment of solitude on the couch (without leaving baby unsupervised, of course).

$219.19

HALO Bassinest premier series swivel sleeper

HALOsleeper

Being a new mom is all about snuggles and, if we're being honest, surviving those sleepless nights. And since the American Association of Pediatrics' current recommendation is to have your baby sleep in your room for at least the first 6 months of life anyway, why not have your little one spend his or her early nights snoozing in a bedside bassinet to save some time in the middle of the night? The HALO Bassinest is designed to nuzzle right up next to your bed, too, so you won't even have to get out from under the comforter during those 3am feedings.

Graco Table2Table premier fold 7-in1 convertible high chair

Gracohighchair

Spoiler alert: Your little babe is going to grow up fast. While it may seem like they'll be in that just-learning-how-to-eat phase forever, they'll outgrow the full-fledged high chair in a blink. While you can definitely buy a variety of different seating apparatuses for them, you can also buy one that'll last with your growing baby. With seven different configurations ranging from an infant reclining high chair to a toddler table and little chair, this is the only one you'll ever need.

$169.99

Fisher-Price 4-in-1 sling 'n seat bath tub

Fisher-Pricebath

Bath time is arguably one of the cutest elements of parenthood. So rather than concentrating on holding your slippery little baby safely in the sink while also, you know, washing them, do yourself a favor and invest in an infant tub with an adjustable sling. It'll help make the bonding time fun of bath time more secure so you can focus on enjoying those beautiful sudsy moments.

$39.99

Hatch Baby Rest sound machine night light + time-to-rise

HatchBabyRestsoundmachine

Technology has brought us a lot of advantages, but one of the best? The ability to comfort your little one without ever leaving bed. The Hatch Baby Rest offers sound- and light-control from your smartphone so you can use the power of noise to help them back to sleep if they fuss in the middle of the night without requiring you to drag your tired self out of bed. Plus, when the toddler years come around, it doubles as a time-to-rise clock so that ball of energy knows when it's appropriate to barrel into your room.

$59.99

Fridababy baby basics kit

fridababybasics

Fridababy has made a name for itself with its cheeky (but incredibly practical) products like the congestion-fighting NoseFrida® and the less-than-pleasant Windi. With this basics bundle, you can get four of their most popular—for nose, behind, scalp and nails—in one convenient package. It's not glamorous, mamas, but it's parenting at its finest.

$39.99

Graco 4Ever all-in-one convertible car seat

Gracocarseat

Whether or not you choose to purchase an infant car seat for the first months, you will eventually need a convertible car seat as your kiddo gets bigger, and the best options will grow with them. The Graco® 4Ever All-in-1 accommodates children up to 40 pounds facing backwards and up to 65 pounds facing forward. Plus, it can be used as a booster seat up through the age of 10. One less thing to buy until then, mama!

Skip*Hop explore + more 3-stage activity center

SkipHopActivityCenter

Insider parenting tip: Invest in a few great toys that serve as a great way to help your baby learn and explore and stay safe (read: unable to crawl away when you turn your head for a split second). An activity center serves both of those purposes—keeps them entertained and contained fabulously. Even better, the SKIP*HOP® Explore & More 3-Stage has an extra-long shelf life as it converts to an activity table when they outgrow the harness. Plus, there's a snack bowl attachment, and as every mama knows, snacks mean victory.

$129.99

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

Our Partners

At Motherly we know that mothers can and do balance business needs with the needs of their children every day. We do it every day, and we know that mothers at other companies are doing it every day, too—but this balancing act often isn't talked about.

This week a COO and father, Seth Morales, went viral for drawing attention to how hard his wife, and all working moms, work outside of regular business hours and outside offices.

Morales posted a photo of his wife comforting their child in a hospital bed, writing, "I took this picture of my wife and son this morning. Too often working moms don't get enough credit. I'm sharing this because I want people to know it's possible. You can be great at work and at home."

FEATURED VIDEO

He continues: "But sacrifices need to be made before/after normal working hours. The idea of working 40+ hours in the office isn't realistic. You'd be surprised at how productive my wife is from her smartphone while running errands. But she constantly thinks she's falling short with everything. Balancing life is messy and difficult. For all you working parents out there please have grace for yourself, it's a process."

Morales is right about many things: 40 hours of butt-in-seat office work is not realistic for many parents. Our kids have needs Monday through Friday, 9-5 that we need to be there for sometimes. Clearly, Morales' child was in need of medical attention and that's the kind of thing that parents need to be able to give their attention to, whether it happens during regular business hours or not. And Morales is also right that parents are making sacrifices, working before and after traditional office hours and making the most of small pockets of time. It sound like Morales' wife is multitasking a lot of time time, running her work from her "smartphone while running errands."

It's great that this powerful COO is sharing the struggles that working parents face and that a working mother's spouse is recognizing her efforts on a personal level. But we would challenge partners like Morales: If you see your partner trying so hard to do everything and feeling like she's never doing enough, perhaps it is time to ask yourself if YOU are doing enough.

Research shows that among heterosexual couples, women simply do more of the unpaid work of child-rearing than men do, and it hurts our careers, our families and our relationships (and that if men did just 50 minutes more labor at home every day we could close the gender gap.)

We would also challenge business leaders like Morales: If you see your employees are making the sacrifices that he mentions here, working before and after working hours and feeling like they are merely surviving, not thriving, maybe your culture needs to catch up with the needs of employees.

And finally, we challenge any working mother who "constantly thinks she's falling short with everything" to drop some balls and delegate at home. Get the store-bought muffins and share the load of managing your family load with your partner.

Morales is right, we can be great at work and at home, but not if we're not supported at work and at home.

News

Sometimes it's hard for kids (and adults) to understand things that can't see. That's why some creative teachers are using bread to show kids just how germy their hands can get.

"We did a science project in class this last month as flu season was starting. We took fresh bread and touched it. We did one slice untouched. One with unwashed hands. One with hand sanitizer. One with washed hands with warm water and soap. Then we decided to rub a piece on all our classroom Chromebooks," teacher Jaralee Annice Metcalf writes in a now-viral Facebook post.

When the bread was left in sealed plastic bags the slices that had been exposed to more bacteria via laptops and unwashed hands grew the most mold.

FEATURED VIDEO



The bread that had been rubbed on those Chromebooks might be the grossest piece of bread we've ever seen, and really underscores Jaralee's point: "As somebody who is sick and tired of being sick and tired of being sick and tired. Wash your hands! Remind your kids to wash their hands! And hand sanitizer is not an alternative to washing hands!"

The CDC agrees with this elementary school teacher: Handwashing reduces the spread of diarrheal and respiratory illnesses (basically the bugs kids seem to be magnets for) so it's a good idea to teach kids to do it properly and often.

Jaralee isn't the first teacher to go viral for incorporating this experiment into her classroom and she probably won't be the last. Full instructions for this project are listed on the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital website and are easy to replicate at home.

Her Facebook post has been criticized by people questioning the conditions of her experiment, but as she notes on her Facebook page, they're kind of missing the point: "We are an elementary school. Not a fancy CDC lab, so relax a little and WASH YOUR HANDS."

It's good advice from a caring teacher and a reminder to wash our hands (and sanitize our laptops!)

News

Whether you have a child in a Montessori school or you are just looking for cool gifts that encourage creative, independent play, we've got you covered. We found the most Montessori-friendly gifts available on Amazon and they won't break the bank—win-win.

While they aren't the hottest toys of the moment, they'll last you a lot longer than a trendy product. Here, you'll find handpicked quality and non-tech gifts like marble runs, interlocking discs and iconic board books, that'll stimulate simple, open-ended play. Perfect to share with family members looking for gifts that don't involve a screen.

Here are our favorite Montessori-inspired gifts under $50 found on Amazon:

TT.Remax Montessori munari mobile

TT.Remax Montessori munari mobile

The Montessori mobiles were designed specifically to engage infants in each developmental stage. This one is the first mobile in the series and is meant for newborns which is why it features black and white images.

Age: 3-6 months

$13.99

Kiddison Montessori kicking ball cotton

Kiddison Montessori kicking ball cotton

This handmade ball is perfect for Montessori babies because it is easy for them to hold and rolls slowly, providing just the right amount of challenge for babies learning to scoot and crawl. It also has a soft jingle that babies love.

Age: 1-2 years old

$15.99

Melissa & Doug rainbow stacker

Melissa & Doug rainbow stacker

This ring stacker is made from durable and child-safe wood, rather than plastic, and is simple in design, perfect for a screen-free play experience for babies 18 months and up.

Age: 18 months+

$7.97

Global Babies board book

Global Babies board book

Montessori focuses a lot on world peace and learning about different cultures. This beautiful board book is a perfect introduction. Spanish and English words teach the littlest readers that everywhere on earth, babies are special and loved.

Age: 1-3 years old

$5.99

EOFEEL Montessori interlocking discs

EOFEEL Montessori interlocking discs

These interlocking discs are a good example of a Montessori toy designed to isolate one specific skill—in this case, a baby's ability to transfer something from one hand to the other. It's ideal for building fine motor skills, hand eye coordination and inspiring babies to explore the world.

Age: 12 months+

$6.99

Elite Montessori object permanence box

Elite Montessori object permanence box

This Montessori toy helps babies explore the concept that just because they can't see something, it doesn't mean it's gone. With repeated use of this material, the child learns how it feels to succeed when they have achieved a goal on their own.

Age: 1-10 years old

$22.99

Elite Montessori infant coin box

Elite Montessori infant coin box

This is a more advanced baby toy to help babies further explore object permanence and work on fine motor skills.

Age: 12 months+

$21.99

Sunny Days Entertainment adventure play tunnel

Sunny Days Entertainment adventure play tunnel

Movement and gross motor development are a big part of Montessori and this tunnel can be used indoors or outdoors, encouraging babies and toddlers to keep moving even on the coldest days. When not in use, it folds flat for easy storage and quick portability.

Age: 3-12 years old

$14.39

Helen Oxenbury Baby love: a board book gift set

Helen Oxenbury Baby love: a board book gift set

Montessori books for babies and young children focus on the real world. These little board books depict babies doing things like clapping and saying goodnight, real life events babies can relate to.

Age: 1-4 years old

$9.99

Five Color Lines mini band musical instruments

Five Color Lines mini band musical instruments

While Montessori toys do not feature electronic sounds, instruments that allow babies and toddlers to create their own music are perfect!

Age: 5 years+

$33.99

Schleich north america farm world starter set

Schleich North America Farm World Starter Set

While many Montessori toys are made from natural materials rather than plastic, Schleich animals make the cut because they are highly realistic and to scale, supporting the Montessori ideal of helping young children to learn about the real world through their play.

Age: 3-8 years old

$19.92

JC Toys Berenguer doll newborn gift set

JC Toys Berenguer doll newborn gift set

Providing toddlers with realistic toys like this baby doll or realistic play food supports their exploration of everyday life through pretend play. The 8-piece layette gift set includes short-sleeve bodysuit, short-sleeve t-shirt, a pair of booties, hat, cloth diaper, diaper cover and hospital bracelet.

Age: 2-10 years old

$24.49

TickiT wooden fruit + vegetable match

TickiT Wooden Fruit + Vegetable Match

Montessori classrooms use matching work, like this one, to help young children refine visual discrimination to prepare for reading, as well as to introduce vocabulary. We love that the chunky tiles are easy for small hands to grip, rotate and turn over.

Age: 12 months+

$41.74

Star Right heads + tails animal match puzzle

Star Right heads + tails animal match puzzle

Part of the magic of Montessori is matching a child with just the right level of challenge. This beginner jigsaw puzzle does just that, as you can give a child one puzzle at a time if they're just starting out, or three or four puzzles if they've mastered completing one.

Age: 2 months-2 years old

$8.99

Guidecraft jr. rainbow blocks

Guidecraft jr. rainbow blocks

Blocks of all kinds are in line with Montessori's emphasis on exploration and child-led learning and play. Use this toy when helping kids with hand-eye coordination, visual perception, color exploration or light table activities.

Age: 2-7 months

$24.95

Gabrielle Balkan The book of bones: 10 record-breaking animals

Gabrielle Balkan The book of bones: 10 record-breaking animals

The Book of Bones is the perfect addition to a Montessori library because it provides rich detail about the world in a straightforward, beautiful way. Little readers can examine animals' skeletons and guess to whom they belong; the answers are revealed in humorous explanations.

Age: 7-10 years old

$14.85

ECOOPRO elecfly kids microscope

ECOOPRO elecfly kids microscope

Young children are all about exploring their world and a microscope is the perfect tool for a budding young scientist. It's built-in three different color filters and the rotating wheel saves you from having to stain slides.

Age: 5 years+

$43.99

Kidz Xplore outdoor explorer nature exploration kit

Kidz Xplore outdoor explorer nature exploration kit

Montessori schools often include an outdoor classroom, encouraging children to spend as much time as possible in nature. This outdoor explorer set helps get kids learning outside!

Age: 5-10 years old

$25.97

Thoth Montessori wooden mathematical manipulative material block board

Thoth Montessori wooden mathematical manipulative material block board

Rubber band boards are often used in Montessori classrooms to encourage children to explore geometry, while also working on fine motor skills and concentration. Kids will also learn all types of 2D shapes and concepts around fractions.

Age: 3 years+

$14.99

National Geographic balance stepping stones

National Geographic balance stepping stones

These stepping stones are in line with the Montessori philosophy of encouraging children to use their bodies as well as their minds—these make a great indoor gross motor activity!

Age: 3 years+

$49.99

Fajiabao Montessori logic games slide puzzle board

Fajiabao Montessori logic games slide puzzle board

In Montessori, children work with patterns to encourage early math skills. This toy encourages children to work with patterns in a fun way. The one side of sliding blocks printed with four kinds of shapes and five-pointed star. Matching the different shaped blocks helps kids identify different geometric puzzles.

Age: 3 years+

$14.99

MEROCO Montessori screwdriver board

MEROCO Montessori screwdriver board

Developing real life skills is a big part of Montessori for young kids. Why not let them practice with a real screwdriver instead of a pretend one?

Age: 3 years+

$26.99

Ravensburger solar system jigsaw puzzle

Ravensburger solar system jigsaw puzzle

In Montessori, elementary aged kids are busy exploring the big questions of the universe as they begin to think more abstractly. This type of beautiful and realistic puzzle supports that interest in science while building skills like concentration and creativity.

Age: 8-15 years old

$12.99

DK dinosaur book

DK dinosaur book

Montessori elementary classrooms spend a lot of time studying early history, including prehistoric times as this is a huge interest of many children this age. This dinosaur book is a great way to encourage their curiosity!

Age: 4-7 years old

$20.69

Blue Orange Photosynthesis strategy board game

Blue Orange Photosynthesis strategy board game

Many Montessori classrooms for older kids begin incorporating more group work as social interactions and relationships are so important to this age group. Board games are a great way to support social skills like taking turns and winning or losing gracefully. Kids will love going through the life-cycle of trees and earn points as their leaves collect energy from the revolving sun's rays.

Age: 8 years+

$29.99

NEX sewing machine

NEX sewing machine

Montessori continues to support teaching practical life skills with older children and a sewing machine can be a really rewarding gift as a child experiences the pride of making his or her own clothes. The simple on/off control button and foot pedal make it great for little ones.

Age: 10 years+

$27.99

Hape quadrilla wooden marble run

Hape quadrilla wooden marble run

A wooden marble run is a perfect Montessori toy because it's made of natural materials and encourages creativity and problem solving skills. The marble run can also be leveled or built up with add-ons for more advanced builders.

Age: 4-15 years old

$42.52

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

Shop

A month before Christmas the brakes on my 15-year-old sedan started making a strange noise. The bill at the auto shop came to $2,400. That's a lot of money for my family. My Christmas shopping list was immediately slashed, the vacation we'd been planning for the new year (our first real vacation ever) drifted further into the future.

Every day I look at my family and I think about how lucky we are. Our son is healthy and that is priceless. We have a modest home filled with everything we need and wiggle room for some little luxuries (hello Starbucks and Disney+). And importantly, in an area where unemployment is steadily climbing (and with a spouse who is about to be out of work) I still have a job.

FEATURED VIDEO

But when that $2,400 bill came my usual gratitude was overtaken by resentment. Because as much as I appreciate what we have, I resent how much our culture is focused on the aspirational when for so many of us, even average seems unattainable.

I resent the fact that I am still paying off my student loans.

I resent how incomes haven't risen with housing costs.

I resent how childcare costs eat so much of my income.

But mostly I just resent how society is squeezing parents for every dollar while simultaneously shaming us for not having enough of them.

So to the mama who wishes she had a bigger budget for her kids' Christmas presents, I see you. I know that you're trying so hard and your kids know it, too. Please know that the magic of Christmas is not in the cost, it's in the memories. Please give yourself the gift of a guilt-free Christmas.

To the mama who is working overtime and picking up side gigs, I see you. I see your hustle, your ambition and your love for your family, and this Christmas I want you to try to give yourself a break. Even just a small one, because even mamas are human and you need to rest, too.

To the mama who is running a household on only her partner's income, I see you. I know it can feel impossible (that's because it nearly is). I also know you are supporting your spouse in their career because that's what is best for your family right now. I know that you are working so hard at home and that sometimes it feels like one income isn't enough. Please give yourself credit for all the unpaid labor you are doing.

To the mama who can rely only on her own income, I see you. You're solo parenting, you're the sole provider, and you are amazing. You are strong. You are bearing so much responsibility and I want you to know that you are more than enough for your children.

To the mama who can't afford to live where she wants to, I see you. Maybe you always dreamed of raising your kids in the big city, but economic realities have relocated you to a far-flung suburb. I see you out there, doing what is best for your family on a budget smaller than you'd like, in a city smaller than you'd like. Mama, know that you are a gift to your community.

To the mama struggling to pay for IVF: I see you. And I see how bad you want this. I want it for you, too. I wish you didn't have to turn to loans and credit cards and crowdfunding for this. Please know that motherhood takes many forms and be gentle with yourself this season.

To the mama struggling to pay off a birth: I see you. And I'm angry for you. I am so angry and perplexed by a system that would bill new parents astronomical sums at a time in their lives when they can least afford it. Giving birth should not put people into debt.

To the mama who has reached her limit, I see you. When you're waiting for payday, every minute seems like forever. When your card is declined at the checkout that moment lasts a lifetime. Please, accept help if you need it. There is kindness in the world for you.

To the mama using SNAP or visiting the food bank this season, I see you. And I'm proud of you. I'm proud of you for navigating this challenging time in your life because figuring out how to do this isn't easy. I'm proud of you for being such a good mother and making sure that your kids have nutritious food.

To the mama getting help from her family, I see you. It can be hard to accept help from your parents when you are a parent yourself, but please do try to see it as a gift. They love you so much that they want to support you, and you can honor that by seeing yourself as worthy of support.

To the mama who is not getting help from her family, I see you. It can be painful to watch your friends and acquaintances get financial help from their families when yours is not in a position to do the same. It's human to be envious when someone's dad gives them a down payment, but the best gift you can give yourself is to focus on your own kids and non-financial gifts you are giving them every day.

To the mama who feels like her life doesn't live up to Instagram, I see you. I understand the pain of scrolling through social media, wondering why it seems like everyone else has a nice home and can take their kids on vacation when you can't. Give yourself the gift of unfollowing or turning off social media.

To the mama who feels like she'll never get out of student loan debt, I see you, I am you, and I can tell you there's hope. For years my student loans have kept me down. They are the reason I am driving a 15-year-old, money pit of a car in the first place. But by the end of 2019 they will finally, mercifully be paid off. Most of the student debt in America is held by women. This is an issue impacting a generation of mothers. You are not alone.
Life
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.