Practical Life Math

My son, age 5, has recently become very excited about math. He is working on golden bead addition at school and is eager to explore all things math related. Listening to Maria and “following the child”, what should we do to encourage this love of math? We could go out and buy math “works” to extend his learning at home, but I am very strongly against doing work outside of school and the work period. We could get flash cards to drill and kill math facts, but that seems to me to be the quickest way to drill and kill a love of math. Instead we decided to focus on math that we encounter in our daily lives, the truly practical life math.

We encouraged and incorporated practical life math in the following ways:

  1. Measuring anything and everything. The kids use a tape measure to help their dad figure out how much molding we need for a house project. They use measuring cups to find 1/4 cup of sugar for pancakes. Measurement is a great active type of math that combines both the tactile experience with brain power needed to make sense of the numbers.
  2. Adding the tip and total at a restaurant. This is by far my favorite thing we started doing. I love to see my son, pen in hand puzzling over the amounts. We work with the kids to figure out how much to tip (doubling the first number of the total) and then how much the total is once the tip is added.


    Adding up the tab at our favorite Tex Mex place.

  3. Monitoring sports scores. I am a huge college basketball fan, so March has left many games on in our house. We challenged the kids to figure out who is winning and by how much. It is so fun to watch my 7 year old approach this challenge differently than the 5 year old. It is also fun because in basketball the score changes quickly and they have to think fast to keep up!
  4. Telling time. This one is tough because time is still very abstract to both of them. We usually just ask probing questions to get them to think about time. For example: “What time is it? If we need to go to ballet at 4:30, how long do you have to play?” Neither of them get the answer right very often but that leads to a great teachable moment about 60 minutes in an hour and so forth.

I love watching my kids use math in their everyday lives. I hope they continue to love math and see the connection between being independent and using math!


Parenting: Revisiting Simplicity

Every six months or so, I pick up and reread (or re-skim) Kim John Payne’s “Simplicity Parenting”. It has easily become my favorite book on parenting and one of the pillars of my parenting philosophy. It resonates with me for two main reasons: it is aspirational and it is practical. It challenges me to be a better parent and actually provides ways to implement the philosophy in practical ways.

Simplicity Parenting

When I first picked up the book in the summer of 2013 it prompted me to set some really great goals for our upcoming school year that proved that small changes can make a big impact in our daily life. I usually pick the book back up when we, as a family, are ‘off’. Usually after the whirlwind of the holidays or if my husband has been traveling a lot for work. It is a home-base for me, to recenter my parenting and realign my actions with what we value as a family. I also really enjoy discovering new points in the book that I may not have gravitated to in prior readings.

Here are some of my take-aways from this go around:

“We may be the architects of our family’s daily lives, but it’s hard to draw blueprints of something that is constantly changing and growing.” pg. 15

This is the forever-needed reminder that parenting is real hard, y’all. It is not static. It is absolutely true that once you get something down or feel confident in one area of parenting, something will change and you may have to go back to square one. This passage reminds me that I am not alone in that feeling and it is a totally normal part of parenting.

In the chapter entitled “Environment”, Payne discusses the negative effects of advertising on our children.

“These messages (advertisements), over time, create both a sense of entitlement, and a false reliance on purchases rather than people to satisfy and sustain us emotionally.” pg. 58

The conclusion, not only re-inspired me to continue to keep my kids away from marketing and advertisements directed at them as much as possible (thanks PBS and Netflix for making that easier), but also pushed me, uncomfortably, to think about my own relationship with entitlement and how advertisements or even social media can play with my sense of worth. 

I am currently in discussion with my husband on whether or not my son, age 5, is ready to play soccer or baseball in a team setting. I had originally placed an “at least wait until Kindergarten” pin in the discussion, which was arbitrary  and therefore not really worth much in the context of this debate. After observation of my son’s skill level I lean toward ‘yes, he is ready’, but based on observation of his need for rhythm in his schedule I lean toward ‘no, not yet’. My son loves to play soccer in the park and at recess. He adores a game of baseball with his dad on weekends. Am I doing him a disservice by not allowing him to play in an organized league? The book shines through right on cue:

“Given ordinary opportunities and encouragement, a truly exceptional talent will surface. But interests–even strong interests and abilities–often burn out when they’re pushed too hard, too fast, too young. The drive toward the exceptional leaves many loves and passions in its wake.” pg. 152

This passage validates my concerns about pushing too soon and reminds me to chill out. If he is to become the next soccer or baseball star he will do so regardless of playing in an organized way in PreK. I also like that he has joy for these sports and do not want to taint that joy so early with a negative experience in organized sports.

I really do love coming back and rediscovering a point or unearthing something new to fit our new stage of life. I take notes in the book’s margins in a different color every time I pick it up. This colorful timeline is a visual reminder of how valuable this book has been to my parenting journey and I look forward to revisiting simplicity in the years to come.

Practical Montessori for the Modern Home

The title of this post also happens to be the subtitle of the blog. While I hope the sentiment is an undercurrent to all of my posts I decided I could be a bit more direct with what “practical” means to me and my family. The intention of this post is to capture parents like myself who love Montessori ideals and perhaps have children in Montessori school but are overwhelmed by where to start. This post is dedicated to those of us that have no desire to homeschool or those who may feel inadequate when a google search returns magazine quality photos of toddlers concentrating deeply in well-appointed and calming environments.

So where to start? How do I create a Montessori home environment and implement a Montessori-inspired parenting style without spending thousands of dollars and needing Montessori certification? To help answer that question we have to boil down some big picture stuff into practical chunks.

Big Picture One: Montessori is a way of being with children. 

In a school environment Montessori is a curriculum, but more importantly it is a way to interact with children. Montessori is not pink towers and red rods. Montessori in the home, especially, is not “works”. It is the understanding and desire to treat your child with respect and work within his/her developmental limits. I love Merry Montessori’s document on the four planes of development. As a parent I focus in on the “Needs of the …Plane”. I have read and reread the description of each plane in order to gain a better understanding of my children. Armed with this information I can adjust my parenting to meet my child’s needs based in developmental science and not my guesswork. So how might I take this information and use it in a practical way? Practical example: My first plane son, 5 years old, has a developmental need for opportunities to communicate. As a parent I can make sure that when I have a conversation with him it is during a calm time of day with limited distractions so he can focus on both the listening and speaking components of communication. This means that I cannot be distracted with my phone or the needs of my other child. Time and space is all you need to fulfill this need. Other examples about how I have adjusted my parenting with my new 2nd plane kid can be found here and here.

Big Picture Two: A properly prepared environment is more important than what we tell a child when directing his/her behavior.

Montessori is all about structure and order. It may look chaotic but that is because we are used to seeing overt adult direction when it comes to children, particularly verbal direction (“Don’t touch that. Do this.”). The prepared environment is one set-up by adults with development and limits taken into consideration. Practical example: Your child is taking too much at snack time? Reduce the amount offered. They maintain the freedom to help themselves, but within the adult set environment.


Big Picture Three: Fostering developmentally appropriate independence is the primary responsibility of a parent. 

When it comes to Montessori in the home one of the best and easiest ways to foster independence is through every day tasks. This also goes hand in hand with the prepared environment as the environment will allow for the independence. Practical Example: Think about your child’s day from the time they wake up to the time they go to bed. Make a list, in your head or on paper, about everything your child needs to do throughout the day. Travel from room to room as you make your list. For every action that your child needs to accomplish, can they do it themselves with no adult intervention? The goal here is to answer “Yes!” to as many tasks as possible.

Example of a morning for my 5 year old:

1. Wake up and get out of bed- yes, bed is appropriate height for him to get in and out of without help. Also appropriate size (twin) for him to make his bed every day without adult help.

2. Turn on his lights in his room- yes, he can reach his lamp, but no he could not turn on his overhead or closet light, so we added a longer chain to his closet light and we added a light extender to his overhead light. Small inexpensive way to build independence.


A simple tool that has made a difference in my son's independence.

A simple tool that has made a difference in my son’s independence.

3. Get dressed-yes, all of his clothes are in low baskets that he can reach. A place for his dirty clothes is also accessible.

4. Eat breakfast-yes, plates, cups, and pitcher of milk are all in low cabinets, drawers, and fridge shelves. On days when my husband or I don’t cook breakfast, he can access a bowl of cereal all on his own.

5. Pack his lunch for school-yes, explained in detail in this post.

6. Brush his teeth-yes, a sturdy stool helps him gain access to a tall pedestal sink, toothbrush and paste are all within reach.

7. Grab his backpack and out the door-yes, we keep our backpacks on low hooks.

My son can go an entire morning routine taking care of himself and his needs without adult intervention. This leaves time for conversation at breakfast and me feeling less like a task master.

Montessori is not all or nothing. Practical Montessori is about incorporating big ideas in simple and effective ways that create a calmer, happier child and parent.




Montessori Ideas: Getting a Reluctant Spouse or Partner Onboard with Montessori School

This time of year many parents are beginning (or in the middle) of discussions on the educational future of their children. Maybe it is selecting a school for a kindergartner, maybe it is debating whether or not to put your three year old in a Montessori school, maybe it is deciding to switch schools for a better option, maybe it is going over finances to see if you could swing a private school…

If one of your discussions included a Montessori education then I have the post for you! It often seems that one parent gets onboard with a Montessori education, but one parent (or grandparent) is reluctant or downright opposed. On many message boards and parent education sessions I heard from parents that their partner wasn’t as “into it” as them. I will say that my husband has always been 100% onboard with sending our kids to a Montessori school, mostly because we sort of fell into it and both discovered it at the same time. I hope this post is a jumping off point to many future discussions between partners and within a greater educational context.

The first step in this process is to have a discussion with your partner about educational goals and outcomes for your child(ren). This is not the time to bring up Montessori. This is the time to share hopes and dreams for your child. It is a way for couples to find common ground and clarify who they hope their child will become. This is best reserved for a time you are both in a happy and content mood with alone adult time. Perhaps on a date to a coffee shop or other quiet place. Maybe it is just on the couch after the children have gone to bed. Questions may included: Is college a requirement? Are sports or particular extracurriculars a requirement? At graduation what skills do you hope our child has gained? Is prestige or name of school important? Can we afford a private school? Have we explored all of the public school options in our area? Are we open to homeschooling?

Once you have discussed goals and found common themes, you can bring up Montessori.

A good place to start is with basic background information on Montessori. Since Montessori is often lumped into progressive or innovative buckets people assume it must be new. That it must be untested. That their child might be an educational guinea pig! If this is the case, share these facts first: Dr. Montessori opened her first “Children’s House” for children ages 1-6 in 1907, putting her years of research and observation into practice. An educational curriculum that is 108 years old and practiced throughout the world is well-tested and nothing new!

Other resources that may help lay the groundwork are:

Still not convinced it is right for your child? Try the scientific approach. Dr. Montessori was a physician (the first female one in Italy!) and a scientist. All of her theories and practices were carefully crafted from observation and based on childhood development. Today because of brain scan technology we know that her theories over 100 years ago about how a child’s brain develops were spot on!

Dr. Steve Hughes is a pediatric neuropsychologist and president of the American Academy of Pediatirc Neuropsychology.

You can watch him discuss Montessori here:

Last but not least are two videos that show a Montessori school in action.

A Montessori Morning: A glimpse of a Montessori 3-6 year old classroom. This one gives me the warm fuzzies, big time!

Inside Melbourne Montessori School: A wonderful introduction and overview of a school as a whole.

Who could be reluctant knowing all this! If you are held back by not being able to afford a Montessori education, consider fighting for a public Montessori option in your area. My children are able to attend a wonderful public Montessori school (PreK3-8th grade) because Montessori educators and parents rallied around the need and worked hard to make it a reality. I am helping pay it forward by working on a committee to bring a public Montessori High School to my area through Friends of Montessori. 

What are the reasons you choose to send your child to a Montessori school or not?

Top 5 Posts of 2014!

Another great year is now coming to a close. I am very excited to continue blogging in 2015, but first I wanted to share one last post looking back at the most popular posts from 2014.

  1.  5 Montessori Take Aways- This was a great way to reflect on a great school year.
  2.  Montessori Ideas: Entering the 2nd Plane-The 2nd plane is great!
  3. Parenting: The Long Run-Growing adults is hard, rewarding work!
  4. Learning to Take the Fear out of Parenting-Still a struggle. Still worth trying.
  5. Adventures in Cooking-Little brother has also taken to cooking since this post.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me through shares, follows, comments and likes. See you next year with new posts!



Parenting: The Long Run

I feel like we are entering a clearing, in a few weeks my children will turn seven and five. Five was a turning point for my daughter and looks to be shaping up similarly for my son. Parenting small children is a whirlwind of stage after stage, milestone after milestone, with little time to stop and take stock of how it’s going. Parenting a baby. Parenting a toddler. Parenting a preschooler. One right after another with different needs, tricks, and challenges. Now we stand ready to parent kids. Just kids.

Now that we can see past the next urgent stage, I have been thinking more about parenting as a long term process and not just a day to day attempt at keeping everyone alive and relatively well. Maybe it is the teacher in me, but backwards planning my parenting feels totally logical and a bit insane all at the same time. For non-educators what I mean by backwards planning is the idea that I should look at who I want my kids to be as adults and let that inform my parenting now.

This type of parenting is often seen in the extremes, hyper-tiger-mothers that say brain surgeon or bust or the willful stage parents with stars in their eyes and dollar signs above their kid’s head. That is not the type of planning I am talking about. I do not wish to dictate what my children will do as careers or their political beliefs or how they will love. I do, however, wish to do my best to set my children up for being functional adults. Adults able to care for themselves and others. Adults that can handle life’s challenges. Adults that have a strong sense of self and purpose regardless of what that may be.

I know that sounds all well and good, but what does that look like? Here is what I am thinking.

1. Acknowledge that we are raising future adults. It is very easy to think about parenting a five year old in preparation for a six year old. It takes a bit more awareness to remember, regularly, that this is a process of transitioning from dependent child to interdependent adult. That every single day we are progressing towards that reality whether we acknowledge it or not. Whether we are fostering the transition or stifling it, time keeps on chugging along. I think this awareness will also help me appreciate the present a bit more, knowing that it is fleeting.

2. Raise awareness of our own baggage. Despite growing up in a lovely stable home with two adoring parents, I still have issues handed down from my family. We are fairly classic WASPs, in that anything unpleasant needs a few glasses of wine and hours to tease out the truth. I am totally aware of this issue. I know that I could easily carry that torch with my own children or allow the pendulum to swing too far in the opposite direction. The awareness piece allows me seek out a middle ground; to find resources and advice about how to communicate effectively with my kids within boundaries. *This is an on-going process, but I will share any great stuff I find in case you fall into a similar boat*

3. Stick with our parenting philosophy. I truly believe in my heart that a Montessori parenting philosophy will help me raiserecite-18895-864535439-1dvajzb functional adults. I think you must have that belief in any parenting philosophy or guidelines that you choose to follow in order to get the outcome you want. I also fully acknowledge that Montessori isn’t the only way to produce functional adults. But it feels right to me, which is why it is my parenting philosophy to begin with. It also creates a default. A place to go when life throws you curve balls. It doesn’t mean being inflexible or unwilling to say something isn’t working. It does mean having a perpetual “sniff test”. A space to ask “WWMMD?” (What would Maria Montessori Do?) It allows for a “why” behind family decisions which bolsters my confidence and ability to stick to my guns on the important things.

This parenting stuff isn’t easy, but looking at it in the context of raising future adults actually makes it feel more exciting. I get to gift the world with two awesome people that make life a little bit more rad for being in it.

Side Note: My 2nd Blogiversary is coming up on October 27th. I have set a goal of 7,000 page views and 100 Facebook likes by that date. You can help make that happen by “liking” my Facebook page if you haven’t already ( and sharing your favorite posts with like-minded friends and family! Thank you!