Parenting: The Rhythm of Summer

Summer. The season I love and hate. The season where memories are made and sanity is barely held together. We are doing a bit of traveling this summer and a few camps which are great, but the day to day at home with the kids is always a challenge for me. It doesn’t come naturally to me and I have no desire to set up elaborate crafts and experiments for them. I do my best to schedule fun outings and adventures, but living in a subtropical climate leaves outdoor activities mostly out of the question.

So what to do? What fits with my parenting philosophy? What do I want for my kids this summer?

I want to honor unstructured time. I want to allow them to be bored, but I also don’t want to be driven crazy with the “what’s next” questions. I want to create a rhythm to our day.

The kids are so used to the routine and rhythm of the school day so to go from that to nothing is jarring. To solve these issues and create a summer that honors our family values and keeps me sane, I created a flexible schedule that is posted in our family room.

Words and pictures help even the little one know what's next.

Words and pictures help even the little one know what’s next.

The cards are movable from day to day, but most cards are in the same order from day to day to maintain that comfortable rhythm. We might do playtime at home or a playground or a friend’s house but it usually occurs before lunch and before dinner. Family time always happens after dinner and is the time when all four of us gather to play card and board games, read, or do puzzles. Screen time is limited to once a day and includes all screens that they may choose whether it is a TV show or game on the iPad. My kids do better when they have limited screen time so it is a maximum of one hour.

The kids love the posted schedule more than I ever thought. They refer to it often throughout the day and I no longer get questions about “what’s next”. The unstructured playtime is still my favorite, because even though they bicker more (more opportunities for conflict resolution and peace education, right!?) they always impress and surprise me with what boredom breeds. Already my daughter has cut up most of her coloring books to create puppets for plays. Dance parties, building of fairy houses, and Lego masterpieces have all come out of these times.

One of the many puppet plays I have been able to attend.

One of the many puppet plays I have been able to attend.

It is a challenge to create a summer that is both structured and free for exploration. We continue to work on that balance to make sure everyone, mom included, makes it to the next school year!


Per request, attached are the cards that I made using word and clip art. Feel free to edit them to suit your individual needs! I printed mine on regular paper and use painter’s tape to attach to our family room wall. I would recommend using heartier paper if you have it.

summer schedule 2 summer schedule pieces


Montessori Ideas: Entering the 2nd Plane

My daughter is six and a half and entering  her last few weeks in her Children’s House classroom. By June 1st,  she will officially be a Lower Elementary student and fully in Montessori’s second plane of development. (For an overview of the planes, look here.) I have already begun to notice her interests, interactions, and personality change. She is no longer a first plane child trying to get command of her body; she is now far more interested in exploring her mind.

My first clue that I needed to look into what on earth a second plane child is all about came when I began to notice the changes in my children’s relationship with one another. Although the age gap remains two years and two weeks, the gap currently feels much larger. We had at least one full year of the kids enjoying similar things and playing in similar ways. Now they still enjoy spending time together and enjoy some of the same activities, but they approach them differently and my daughter is more interested in separating herself from her brother than she ever has before.

This is completely uncharted territory for me. As a parent I obviously have no experience with second plane children, but I also have no experience as an educator because I work solely with third plane adolescents! So the question burning in my mind is: how can I, as her parent, help her in this new plane?

First we should look at what she needs (from Merry Montessori):

Needs of the second plane:

• Security of home and family balanced by movement out into the world
• Social interaction within a peer group
• Opportunities to explore all aspects of the natural world
• Opportunities to explore human experience in the natural world
• Concrete materials as a basis for abstract studies
• Physical exercise tied to purposeful activity
• Collaborative work
• Opportunities to explore roles in a fixed society
• Opportunities to explore ethics and morality
• Ideal exemplars of behavior and achievement who are excellent and
trustworthy role models

What does this look like in our family’s lives?

  • The number one thing that will not change from plane to plane is our family’s stability and reliability for our children. Our goal is to ensure that we keep our family and home life as a “home base” for our children as their lives continue to change.
  • The approach to friends and friendship will change. My son will continue to explore friendships, but my daughter’s friendships will become even more important. We will need to have discussions on how to choose friends and what happens when someone who says they are your friend sure doesn’t act like it. This is also the time when I feel comfortable having her stay over at a friend’s house for an extended time or even overnight.
  • We will continue to explore the world outside our door, both the natural aspects and those that are man-made. My son will experience these adventures based on the “what” and my daughter on the “why”. As parents, my husband and I need to be aware how they may view a family outing differently and think of ways to accommodate them.
  • We need to encourage her to find her own answers to the “why” through independent research. We are taking a trip to Minnesota this summer to visit some friends. My daughter is very excited about this trip. She developed many questions about the trip and Minnesota. Instead of sitting her down to tell her about my own experience visiting, I directed her to a book we have on the states and she looked up the section on Minnesota. She learned all about the lakes and that it is very cold in winter. She then decided to write about it in her journal. This is such a Montessori thing to do and I know it is being taught at school. I am happy to continue to encourage the same research-minded learning at home.
  • There are many more things that will come up and change in this new phase of childhood. I will write about our experience in this plane as we experience it.

I am eager to continue to learn about this next phase in our lives. This is the beginning of a six year journey and all things don’t have to be implemented at once; but it is important for me as a parent to understand truly that my daughter’s needs are changing and will differ from the needs of my son for a few years.


Still a team despite a changing relationship.

Still a team despite a changing relationship.

Learning to Take the Fear Out of Parenting

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about fear and anxiety and how big a role it sometimes plays in parenting. Whether navigating the world of a new baby, the anxiety of school admissions, or the fear of what the next stage will bring, it feels like fear is on the top of many parents’ minds.  With all of that fear around, I decided to add a parenting commandment to my philosophy:

“I will not parent from a place of fear.”

This, of course, is a billion times easier said than done. I am not saying that I will never have fear, but rather I will not let my fears dictate my parenting decisions. Instead of allowing my anxiety of the “what-if”s and “might-be”s to rule the day, I choose to ground my parenting in things I believe. I believe in a Montessori approach to parenting which supports the idea that my children are capable beings. I believe that it is my job as the parent to set the limits, but within those limits I cannot micromanage or unnecessarily help my children. This does not come naturally to me. As a parent, I am a verbal helper. I tend to give unsolicited advice, prompting, and caution that are almost always rooted in my fears. Fear of injury. Fear of judgement. Fear of the unknown. My educator brain knows this is not helpful and even potentially harmful in the long run, but my parenting brain doesn’t always listen.

I read an interview on NPR with Hanna Rossin a writer covering overprotected children and what really struck me is that she pointed out the difference between risk and danger. As a parent we want to protect our children from danger, but can’t and shouldn’t want to protect them from risk. The problem I have as a parent is that I confuse the two or overreact to the idea, the mere idea, of risk. I am convinced, despite logic, that my son is always on the verge of killing himself by doing something “unsafe”. This is the irrationality that sometimes comes with parenting. But the truth remains, risk or even the perception of risk is important.

My daughter has become a bit of climber lately. She climbs the monkey bars, the tops of all the play structures, and trees. She goes as high as she can. Does this fill me with fear? Yes. Have I learned to be quiet about it? Yes. It actually helped me that she did fall one time. She fell from the monkey bars when they were wet and belly flopped onto the mulch. Bruises, mulch in her mouth, and a scream cry all included. It was awful to watch and no fun to console, but the next day she got back on the monkey bars. She discovered a little bit about her limits and the risk of a slick monkey bar. Every time I consciously decide to shut up I know I am giving her room to assess the situation and evaluate the risk on her own terms. You see, I don’t want my daughter to listen to my voice saying, “Be careful.” I want her to listen to her own voice, the one that lives in her gut and is called “conscience” and “instinct”. If she can pull back when she has gone too high now then I know that voice will grow a little and hopefully show up when confronted with larger risks with bigger consequences in adolescence.

For me to stick with my new commandment I need to focus on two things:

1. Shutting up and pausing before letting my own fears take over a decision for my children.

2. Asking myself is this risky or dangerous, before intervening..

If I do both of these things regularly I know that my fear will go down and my children’s ability to manage their own risks will go up.


Risk versus Danger

Parenting: Staying on Offense

Last week I did the most Montessori thing I have ever done, but the actual Montessori-ness of it is secondary to the reason why I did it. You see, my children had to stay home from school for the second time in four days due to an “inclement weather” day. In Houston this just means:  “Dear God…we have NO IDEA how to handle rain that is slightly frozen.”

The first unexpected school closure was on a Friday, so we treated it like a lazy weekend day. We watched Batman cartoons, baked banana bread, stayed in PJs for a great deal of the day. It was great, but by the end of the day the kids were a little stir crazy and bickering about everything. When school was canceled the following Tuesday I knew we could not have a repeat performance for various reasons namely that a lazy day sandwiched between two school days would really mess up my kids’ routine. I knew I had to stay on the offense. I had to plan something concrete and productive to do for a few hours to give some structure to their day.

Since both children attend Montessori school it made the most sense to me to build in a morning work period. I created a very simple work plan that is not very authentic but I knew would be enough work for us to make it to lunch. We don’t have many authentic materials so we had to improvise!

I made this "work plan" on a half sheet of paper. I wanted to include all of the subjects she normally does plus some other things. Her practical life activity was doing her laundry and her reading was to read aloud a chapter of a book of her choice.

I made this “work plan” on a half sheet of paper. I wanted to include all of the subjects she normally does plus some other things. Her practical life activity was doing her laundry and her reading was to read aloud a chapter of a book of her choice.

My daughter, in her interesting free choice outfit, doing the one piece of Montessori work we actually have! It is an addition board.

My daughter, in her interesting free choice outfit, doing the one piece of Montessori work we actually have! It is an addition board.

This is my son doing his culture work. He is just trying to recreate the states puzzle.

This is my son doing his culture work. He is just trying to recreate the states puzzle.

So what was the result? The kids were much less “crazy” and grouchy than they were on the previous Friday. They didn’t ask me two hundred times “what are we doing next?”

While this plan worked for us and I will definitely being doing it again, the same principle can be applied to whatever you can dream up and feel confident about. Maybe it is a craft morning or a cooking morning or a mini-Olympics morning! I just know that when I play offense my day AND the kids’ day goes so much smoother.

Montessori Ideas: Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda

My husband and I knew from the time my daughter was about 2 years old that Montessori was the right educational choice for our family but it took almost two additional years to realize that Montessori was the right parenting choice for our family as well. In that time our two children moved quickly beyond anything resembling babyhood, so when I began to read, research, and put into practice practical Montessori strategies all of the sections on babies were just a little too late. The silver lining of sorts is that now that I am in my early thirties I am experiencing a baby boom through friends! This post is dedicated to all of my friends with babies.

I am still very inspired by the Montessori baby literature even if it doesn’t apply to me directly anymore. If I could go back in time to the birth of my oldest I would implement the following Montessori inspired ideas. *One caveat: I am not a Montessori purist, I believe in the philosophy, but like to apply it practically. If you are looking for a purist take on Montessori from infant-hood I highly recommend Kylie at How we Montessori*

  • The mobile: We did have a mobile when my daughter was born, it was brightly colored and played a pretty annoying song. I wish I had known enough about child development to find more appropriate or make my own mobile(s) like Sara at Feeding the Soil. I love how it gives the baby something to focus on which is serious hard work for an infant!
  • A “movement space”: Even when my daughter was born I understood the importance of “tummy time” and having space for the baby to move around and test out her growing strength. What I like about the Montessori approach to this same idea is that you dedicate a space in the child’s bedroom or family room for this practice. The movement space includes a mat, an acrylic mirror, and sometimes things to pull up on in front of the mirror. If you have ever been around a baby you know they love looking at the baby in the mirror. Tummy time was often an unpleasant experience for my oldest, but I think if we had put a mirror next to her she might have actually enjoyed it. Some examples of this movement space can be found at Montessori Moms.
  • From bottle (or breast) to cup: Down with the sippy cup! 🙂  Montessori advocates to cut out the middle man. Young children are capable of drinking from a cup so why don’t we let them? The cup is actually what made me fall in love with Montessori when I saw my then 18 month old drinking water from a cup.  The sippy cup is an unnecessary step in the weaning process. If you have ever witnessed a child move from sippy cup to regular cup you know they tip the cup too far and make lots of messes, which is why you use the sippy cup in the first place to avoid the spills so why prolong the inevitable learning curve. I also love how the cup forces the child to sit down (or at least stop running) to take a drink which is a healthy habit we pushed to instill later so why not break the habit before it becomes one. We still fell a little into the sippy cup trap even after seeing my daughter’s capabilities, remember how we were slow to connect school and home, but I do think Montessori schooling helped push us to move beyond the sippy cup earlier as both kids were fully in cups by 2 years old.
  • One last thing I would change: I wouldn’t have been so hard on myself.  Although every decision felt like the most important thing in the world, six years later it seems silly that I lost sleep over it.

Every day is a new day to try again for both child and parent.

Good luck!

Top 5 Posts of 2013!

As we wrap up the year (in shiny ribbon), I wanted to share my top 5 posts from the year 2013! This was my first full calendar year to blog and I am very proud of what this little space has become. If you like what I do here please share, comment, follow, and like! It keeps me motivated and accountable.

Top 5 of 2013:

1. Parenting: Becoming an Anti-Helicopter Parent. I can see why so many people liked this post, it was one that I was most passionate about as well. I am still trying to suppress my tendency to control and make sure my children are self assured and successful without mommy intervention!

2. Organization: Library Bookshelf. My husband gets almost total credit for this one, but I am happy to say that after several months and a move to a new house both shelves have held up spectacularly!

3. Montessori Ideas: Why My Kids Don’t Do Chores. I got you with the tricky title right?

4. Montessori Ideas: Glimpses of a Montessori Adolescent Environment. I love this one too! The beautiful classroom space and awesome students have really made this semester a joy. I am looking forward to next semester and how our little program will grow.

5. Magic Montessori Words and Ideas. If your child is in a Montessori school use these terms. They really are magic!

What was your favorite post from 2013? 

Joy and Peace to you from Whining Is Closed!

Joy and Peace to you from Whining Is Closed!

Posts that are coming up in the new year will included: Parenting: Adding Non-Verbals, Montessori Ideas: Preparing a New Environment in a New House, and the Case against “achievement”. What are you interested in me exploring in the new year? 


Montessori Ideas: Why My Kids Don’t Do Chores

If you walk into a Montessori classroom of any age group you will likely observe some of the following: a child sweeping, a child window washing, a child serving others a snack, a child cleaning up after him or herself, and other mundane yet important daily duties. If you ask these children what they are getting paid or earning for these chores you will likely get a very odd look in response. Although by definition these tasks are indeed “chores” the Montessori classroom treats them instead as an integral part of the classroom community.

This concept of community is one of the many things that attracts me to Montessori at home. It is a shift in mindset from “we are a family unit with two leaders and two subordinates” to “we are a family with four community members that individually and collectively have valuable roles to play”. Our family works best when all community members are contributing. Based on this philosophy my children do not do “chores”. They do not get paid for doing things around the house because they are expected to help for the benefit of our family exactly like my husband and me.

If I didn’t feel so strongly about this topic it would be very easy to be sucked into extrinsic motivations for completing chores. Chore chart ideas are everywhere from Pinterest to parenting magazines and admittedly they are aesthetically adorable. There are also apps (APPS!) that allow children to log chore “points” to earn virtual prizes like monsters and passes to an online carnival. While I don’t fault parents for trying everything they can to get their children to contribute to the family duties, the message that you must earn something for doing the expected concerns me. Last time I did a few loads of laundry, I was not rewarded with money or gifts despite how great that might be. There are no boxes to check or clothes pins to move from “To Do” to “Done” and yet my children still manage to add value to our community and here is how…

At 3 and 5 my children are expected to contribute in the following ways:

  • Emptying the dishwasher of at least their dishes, most of the time they also put away the pots and pans. This is typically done with myself or Dad putting away our dishes at the same time.
  • Sweeping up after meals. At least twice a week, one or both of the kids help Dad to sweep under the table. They use their broom and hand sweeper with dustpan. 
  • Daily cleaning of his/her room. Each child is responsible for putting away all belongings and generally straightening his/her room before starting his/her shower. They may ask for help if they feel the job is too big.
  • Laundry. I have discussed this in a separate post, but I am happy that the kids now recognize when their laundry needs to be done and will often let me know that they are going to start their load instead of by my suggestion.
  • General cleaning of the house. When Dad or I clean an area of the house the children are invited to help and more often then not happily contribute. They love to dust in particular and my son (3 year old) just this week was excited to learn how to use the handle attachment on the vacuum to get into corners.

A note before you think we lead some “perfect” life where our children are always gladly scrubbing floors: They complain regularly about some of the above expectations. My daughter is particularly keen on the saying “Didn’t we empty the dishwasher yesterday?” Yep, we sure did and we will likely do it again tomorrow. Room cleaning is often done with a heavy sigh, but it is still done. Children rise to and are ready to meet our expectations so complaining or the slow walk to complete some less desirable tasks doesn’t bother me. I too have been known to get quite the sour face when confronted with a sink full of dirty dishes. Taking care of our community is not always our preferred activity at any given time, but there is always a sense of (intrinsic) satisfaction when the job is done!