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!


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?

Montessori in the Home Presentation Fall 2014

Welcome to those of you that have found your way here after attending or hearing about my parent education presentation from Friday.

Attached you will find the PowerPoint and below that are links to some of the referenced posts from yesterday!


Montessori Philosophy at Home 9.26



Preparing the Kitchen Environment:

Montessori Meal Time a NEW Adventure

Adventures in Independence: Packing School Lunch


Preparing the Environment Around the House:

Montessori Ideas: Preparing the New Home Environment

Kid in Charge: Bath Time Routine


Integrating Montessori Language and Actions at Home:

Magic Montessori Words and Ideas

Montessori Ideas: Adding Sign Language



Parenting: Competence, Confidence, and Self Esteem

One of my favorite things in the whole world is when I am doing research for my job working with adolescents and something resonates so clearly and appropriately to my parenting that it feels almost serendipitous! That is what happened within the first 20 pages of “Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings” by Kenneth R. Ginsburg.  Obviously the book is about all ages and stages of children but I began reading it specifically for the teen sections, however the applicable content for my own 1st and 2nd plane children is too much to ignore!


For six months I had been struggling to write a post about self-esteem and confidence in Montessori children. The primary focus of “Building Resilience” was succinctly laid out and was exactly what I was trying to put into words: Competence leads to Confidence. When children are competent in a task or ability then they have true confidence. Confidence is different than self esteem. Self-esteem is how we feel about ourselves at any given moment. As an adult I find my self-esteem fluctuates depending on arbitrary things like a fresh pimple on my chin or a particularly flattering outfit. I am, however, confident at my job. I have proven my competence at many areas of my work and that gives me confidence to show up and do my job even with that pimple!

One of the many things I love about Montessori education is that Montessori teachers treat every student as competent. The thoughtful way the classroom is setup is specifically done for students to gain competence. The confidence then follows suit.


I often joke that my children certainly don’t have self esteem problems when they engage in conversations with adults, but that is inaccurate. What strangers and friends are seeing is their confidence. I attribute this confidence to their Montessori education and our Montessori-based parenting philosophy. They know deep in their hearts that they are competent and capable beings and it shows.

How can parents grow children’s confidence through the lens of competence? 

  1. Creating a home environment that allows children to complete daily tasks with little to no adult intervention. Examples included here and here.
  2. Communicating with children with dignity and the assumption of competence. Example “I know you know what to do before bedtime. Let me know if you need any help.”
  3. Consciously shutting down fear-based parenting. More on that here.
Confidence isn't a super power. It is better.

Confidence isn’t a super power. It is better.

Montessori Ideas: The Good, the Interesting, and the Ugly of the 2nd Plane (so far)

As a parent I finally feel like I am getting the lay of the land of the second plane with my six and a half year old daughter. I am decoding what it means for her (and me!) and who she is becoming in this new plane. It has led to several eye opening moments and a few frustrating ones as well.

Here’s what I’ve observed so far:

The Good

I have been blown away by my daughter’s creativity lately. Her brain definitely seems to be visualizing and conceptualizing things in a new way. The other day she was in her room folding paper in various shapes which led to putting the shapes together to make a house which led to making things for the house like little plates with food and a TV showing the World Cup. It was awesome to witness and so fun to hear what she had added when she came into the living room to give updates.

The ever expanding creative house project. She is now determined to add a pool!

The ever expanding creative house project. She is now determined to add a pool!

Another thing that is so great is how she has become “kid funny”. She now enjoys the time honored tradition of bad kid jokes.

Bad kid joke example:

Q: Did you hear about the race between the lettuce and the tomato? A: The lettuce was a “head” and the tomato was trying to “ketchup”!


She has told jokes and then literally slapped her knee and chuckled. It is awesome to remember at some point I also liked knock-knock jokes and a good pun. The innocence of the humor is so much fun to relive through her eyes. It is a nice reminder that kids are still kids even in our current times.

The Interesting

There were a few things that I knew about the 2nd plane from general Montessori reading and curriculum that I was interested to see in my own child. One of those things was the idea of research. Most people know that kids are naturally curious and prone to ask ‘why’, but Montessori encourages the child to find out the why with as little adult intervention as possible.

My husband and I have tried to prepare our home environment to encourage research in a few ways. One of the ways is to deflect the ‘why’ back at the child. I will respond to her “why” questions with “why do you think…” I find that she usually has an answer and then we can have a better discussion about the topic at hand or find the answer together. Another way we encourage research is to have a few resources handy. I found out that a few awesome atlases were on the bargain table at Barnes and Noble and snatched up a world atlas and a body atlas. These two books have been enormously helpful in encouraging both curiosity and independent research. For example, a dear friend of ours was moving to Israel. We looked together at the world atlas to discover where Israel was in relation to our house. We talked about how he would have to get to Israel from Houston and if he would be able to visit regularly. Both of my children like to just peruse the atlases. I would really like to get a space atlas to add to our little collection.


The body atlas certainly holds their attention and encourages many, many questions. I wonder why...

The body atlas certainly holds their attention and encourages many, many questions. I wonder why…

Another thing I had read about and was excited to observe is the emergence of the ethical self. The idea that the child is trying to figure out what is fair and ethical in our culture and society. I noticed that my daughter was tattling on her brother more frequently and the phrase “that’s not fair” has come up more than once this summer. As parents, my husband and I have to continue on our consistent path. Tattling is a non-starter in our house and forever will be. I try to be consistent and fair in my parenting and when its not possible like when one child is invited to a birthday party and the other is not, I try to explain the reasons as efficiently and without drama as possible.

The Ugly 

In this context I am using ugly in a very southern way, not as an appearance but as an action. And boy has my daughter has been acting ugly recently! She has unmistakably entered the “Age of Rudeness” as Maria Montessori coined it. My sweet kindergartner is gone and replaced by a blunt direct kid. This article by Maren Schmidt certainly helped give me perspective. Yes it is normal. Yes she is exerting her mental independence and sharing her own unique opinion for the first time. The problem I am having is how do I respond to this normal developmental behavior because it makes me nutty! I can’t bite my tongue when she is being rude and so far calling her out on it isn’t really helping! I also have to be careful in my response because I don’t want her to feel like she can’t share her opinion or speak her mind. I think what I am looking to do is teach tact. So dear readers how do you teach a six year old tact? And how should a parent respond to a child acting ugly?