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!


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



Adventures in Independence: Packing School Lunch

My children have helped pack their own school (or daycare!) lunches for about two years. It has always been a small, daily way to build practical life skills.  Now that they are 4 and 6, they are expected to pack their lunches with little to no intervention from an adult. They are able to accomplish this goal for the following reasons: We have carefully prepared the environment of our kitchen to allow them total freedom within the set limits, we have invested in a few tools to increase their independence in food preparation, and we have streamlined the process over the last two year.

The Limits

I believe it is important to teach my children what to pack in their lunch and provide only food that is acceptable for our family as choices. I want them to have total freedom to decide what “snacks” to pack and therefore have to make sure I am only buying things I am okay with them consuming.

A properly packed lunch in our house must contain one thing from each category:

  • A “Main Dish”: this is a term we use to mean something with protein like a sandwich, pretzels and hummus, apples and peanut butter, etc.
  • A fruit
  • 2 “snacks”: cheese, yogurt, raisins, nuts, applesauce, etc.
  • A drink

These limits allow the kids to chose what they want to eat without ending up with a lunchbox full of cereal bars.

The Prepared Kitchen

We designate two shelves of the pantry and the lowest shelves of the refrigerator for lunch supplies and food. This means that the kids never have to ask for help in making their food selections. The set-up also helps facilitate snack time and if the kids need water throughout the day.

Examples of food in our "snack" basket. We try very hard to eat non-processed, whole foods.  1. cashews 2. raisins 3. trail mix 4. peanut butter

Examples of food in our “snack” basket. We try very hard to eat non-processed, whole foods.
1. cashews
2. raisins
3. trail mix
4. peanut butter

Special Tools

This is a picture of the lowest drawer in our pantry. It houses all of the kids’ lunch and snack supplies.



1. small collendar for washing fruit 2. small picture. find it here.  3. small water glasses 4. snack bowls 5. cutting boards and cookie cutters for sandwiches. 6. spreader. find a similar one here. 7. reusable water bottles and our Ziploc lunch containers.

1. small colander for washing fruit. find it here.
2. small pitcher. find it here.
3. small water glasses
4. snack bowls
5. cutting boards and cookie cutters for sandwiches.
6. spreader. find a similar one here.
7. reusable water bottles and our Ziploc lunch containers.

Lessons Learned 

One of the main lessons learned came after I observed a Children’s House lunch period in the cafeteria. I watched the poor lunch monitors zooming from kid to kid helping them open various parts of their lunch. It was then that I decided to make sure my kids could access every part of their lunch without the teacher’s help. This is why we switched to using the Ziploc containers and remove all excess packaging during the packing process. The next lesson is that my kids are totally capable of packing their lunches, but when I hover too much or nag too much they ask me to do much more for them. If I am hovering in the morning, all of the sudden I am being asked to open the peanut butter jar or slice apples which didn’t seem to be an issue for them the day before. I also push myself to say “no” when asked for help. I want to make sure that they have attempted the action before stepping in. Most of the time they surprise themselves by being able to complete the task.


My 4 year old opening the peanut butter to make his sandwich for the day.


Lunch preparation is an important part of our day. Yes, it takes time and a bit of effort, but the payoff is huge!

A note: If you are concerned with time in the mornings, I recommend having children pack their lunches the evening before.



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!

Responsibility: Gift Wrapping

I was not blessed with the gift of gift wrapping. I am always in awe of those that can tie a bow with the flick of a wrist or at the very least cut a straight line. I chose to cover up my lack of skill by doing the gift bag thing for a very long time, too long. I gave up the bag habit when we starting attending a lot of birthday parties, a whole lot of birthday parties. With two kids under 6 we go to at least 2 birthday parties a month and some months it is as high as 5! So with 2-5 parties a month, gift bags + tissue paper+ a card is almost as expensive than the gift inside! Also if you have ever seen a Christmas tree with only gift bags under it, it looks pretty sad. The conclusion, I must go back to gift wrapping. I needed to simplify the process and loop the kids into the process.

Now, my all occasion gift wrapping supplies include: brown butcher paper, washi tape, and a set of letter stamps. That’s it. No ribbon, no cards, no tissue paper. I use butcher paper because it comes in large rolls that last forever. I also like that it can be dressed up or down. I use washi tape because even the kids can wrap it around the gift and it looks great. They also come in really fun patterns and colors, but is more user friendly (or idiot proof if you prefer) than ribbon. I use stamps because it looks cool and even the three year old can help! I also let the kids decorate the gift with any drawings or designs. This replaces a card for us and is more personal in my opinion.

My five year old can complete all the steps on her own and the brown paper is very forgiving of non-straight lines. I didn’t get any pictures of her doing the early steps, but below are a few of her stamping a gift for a friend last weekend. I also make this process even easier because I only buy Step into Reading books, that’s it. So if you invite us to a party, you are getting these books. Sorry to ruin the surprise but kids love them and they are easy to wrap (do you sense a theme?)!

DSC_0419 DSC_0420

Happy Wrapping!


Finished product!

Finished product!

Montessori Ideas: Money Matters

Emptying the piggy bank has been an annual event in our home for some years now. I would realize that the piggy was feeling heavy and we would dump his shiny piggy innards onto the floor and count up the total. I would then put the money in a bag and allow the kids to spend it somewhere like Target. They would spend most of it buying a vanilla milk box and a cookie at Starbucks, but it was their money to spend as they saw fit. Let me back up and provide some context: my kids do not get paid for chores, grades, or anything for that matter. The money totally comes from being found, either found on the street on the way to the park or more often then not, found on Daddy’s nightstand after he has emptied his pockets. We allow them to take a coin or two every so often, but my husband does require that they know the name of the coin or they can’t take it.

I liked this plan well enough because the kids were learning the names and sometimes the denominations of the coins and perhaps even some basic money sense. The problem came because it wasn’t really how I wanted them to view money in the future, as in totally spendable. So this year I decided to change up the routine.

The beginning remained the same, we dump one piggy bank out on the rug like normal. We work as a team to sort the money into like groups, then into dollar groups. I lead this activity by giving the directions like “Now put the quarters in piles of 4 and the dimes in piles of 10” etc. My kids find it very fun and take the counting very seriously.

sorting coins

Next we determine the total by counting the dollar piles and leftover coins. Once we have the total I then label three bags: Save, Spend, and Give with the child’s name. We put half of the money into the Save bag. This is returned to us parents and we will then transfer that amount into the child’s 529 college savings account. Yes the bank will probably think it is silly that we are transferring $4.50 to a savings account, but I want my children to know that we followed through on depositing their money. Next we put half of the remaining money into a bag for spending. My daughter put her bag in a prominent place in her room so she won’t forget it next time we go to a store. My son chose to put his Spend money back into his piggy bank. I want to brag about him being frugal but the reality is that money in the abstract means nothing to him, but the clinking sound of coins going into the bank is satisfying.

We then put the remaining funds into the Give bag. I gave them two choices on what they could do with this portion of money; they could put it in the collection plate at our church or give it to someone who is homeless. My son chose the first option and my daughter the second.

I am excited to continue this yearly tradition as they grow and “real” money starts coming in from the tooth fairy and relatives at holidays. I look forward to helping them save for their future and see the excitement when they have spending money of their own. I also look forward to helping them find a cause that they feel passionately enough about to use their Give money on.

Money Bags