Many of my friends are teachers.  Almost all of my friends are parents.  We talk a lot about education and how the system is struggling.  Some school districts have so much and others have so little in the way of funding and resources. 

Frequently we focus attention on what is wrong with education.  We blame teachers, administrators, school districts, unions and politicians.  Many of these problems seem out of our control.  But there are things we can do.  There are things in our control. 

Take a look at the person in the mirror.    

Setting high expectations for ourselves

Do we set a strong example of hard work for our children/ students?  Do we focus on what is important?  What are your priorities as a parent?  Education, learning new things, having/ showing respect for ourselves and others?  Do we admit when mistakes are made or do we make excuses?  Do we, as parents, take responsibilities for our actions? 

Children are watching us at all times, observing and learning how to behave in every situation. 

Setting high expectations for our children

Expecting kids to be respectful – to teachers, other students and themselves.  You don’t have to always agree with others, but we must teach children to be respectful.

Teachers deserve our respect.  No one is perfect, but most teachers have the best of intentions and earned their degrees in education with the sincere hopes of inspiring children to learn.  Support teachers and allow them to do their job whenever you can. 

Don’t allow your child to develop a habit of blaming others for mistakes.  Teaching children at a young age that it is okay to make mistakes and to grow and learn from these experiences will help them as they mature.  Encourage perseverance. 

What works:

Teach independence early.  When children are young simple chores to encourage responsibility

Your child may encounter their first homework assignments in grade school.  Initially these are simple projects that are usually fun.  A perfect opportunity for your child to get in the habit of completing their “work.” 

At our house we try to get homework done before it gets too late, mutually agreeing on a deadline with our children – such as 6 pm.  This way they have the choice to complete homework right after school or relax a bit first.  The child has some choice, but it will be completed by 6 pm.  If you wait until after dinner everyone will be tired (parents and children) and the task is much more overwhelming.  Increasing the odds for arguments and meltdowns. 

Set your child up for success. 

What doesn’t work:

Children who have no sense of responsibility.  At any age.

Children who have no limits on time spent with electronics.  Have you ever attempted to remove a child that has been in front of video games, the computer or television and get them to go outside and play, read a book or do homework?  It can get ugly. 

Parents who hover.  Some parenting books describe this as helicopter parents.

Do not do your child’s homework at any age… and don’t write any of their college entrance essays either.  You would be surprised how tempting it can be, especially if your child is struggling. 

In the long run, letting them struggle and work hard and figure things out on there own is the answer.  In the long run they will be much better off and more prepared for the future.  Struggle and disappointment can help build character. 

The big picture

Talk about the future with your children.  What are their hopes and dreams and what will it take to get there? 

There are always years when your child may not get the teacher you were hoping for or your school district does not have the funding it needs.  Instead of giving up and focusing blame on things you can’t control – focus on what you can and teach your children to always keep trying.  Never give up.  No excuses. 

Definition of perseverance:  “steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.”

Perseverance is a skill that will always serve your child well.

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When Parenting Is Overwhelming!

“When you have a baby, you set off an explosion in your marriage, and when the dust settles, your marriage is different from what it was.  Not better, necessarily; not worse, necessarily; but different.   –  Nora Ephron (writer)

At every stage in parenting there can be moments when you feel overwhelmed.  When children are small you may be physically exhausted from the day-to-day needs of your young child.  When they are older you worry at times if your child is making friends or if they are doing well in school.  As your children reach the teenage years there are so many worries and you have less control.  Other concerns may include financial stresses.  If you stay home with your children you may feel guilt for not being able to contribute to the families finances.  If you work either part or full time there are additional anxieties and responsibilities.

Most importantly as a parent you feel so ultimately responsible.  “Is my son or daughter happy?”

If you are feeling overwhelmed as a parent, take some time to discover what could
help.  Sometimes it could be as simple as taking better care of yourself.
Exercise, eating well and getting plenty of rest are sometimes the quickest solution to reduce stress.  (Notice I didn’t say EASY solutions!)  When children are young getting enough sleep is definitely a challenge for parents, so tag team with your spouse or a good friend to allow opportunities for rest.  Babysitters can be wonderful as

Another way to take care of your self is to remember what makes you happy.  Do you need some time alone, with a good book or a funny TV show?  Or would time spent with friends help brighten your day? When my children were little I joined a playgroup with other Mom’s in my town.  We all had kids around the same ages and met once a week for many, many years. It was a lifesaver.  Even though we now all live in different states, some eighteen years later, we are still good friends.  Those ladies and the laughter they provided during those early years gave me just what I needed and kept me sane.

A more recent discovery for happiness (as a slightly older Mom of now teenagers/ college
age children) are books on CD!  I love reading but can never find the time.  I need to exercise but also struggle to make this happen.  Our library has lots of books on CD (or you
can download them onto your smart phone) then put on your workout shoes and
take a long walk while listening to great books!  Something so simple has brought great joy these past few years.  Each time if feels as though I have taken a mini vacation.

In David Nivens’ book “The 100 Simple Secrets Of Happy Families” he discusses
research on what makes happy families happy.  Niven provides short stories with examples on how we can find contentment with regards to parenting.  Some of the simple suggestions are; finding a community that fits your family, taking comfort from routines and seeing the big picture whenever possible.  For more information on author David Nivens’ books go to

Being overwhelmed happens to all of us at one time or another.  Never hesitate to ask for help if you need it.  Stress and sadness can lead to depression and talking to others can help remind you that you are not alone.

In many ways parenting is not so different from childhood.  Making mistakes and learning from them.  Finding what works for you at each stage.  Actively working to create a life that brings you contentment and peace.



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A Time and A Place for Technology

It is true. Technology is here to stay and will only become more predominant with each passing year. Studies are working hard to justify the benefits of technology use for our youngest children claiming, “Children engage in high levels of spoken communication and cooperation at the computer. They initiate interactions more frequently and in different ways than when engaged with traditional activities, such as puzzles or blocks. They engage in more turn taking at the computer and simultaneously show high levels of language and cooperative-play activity. (National Association for the Education of Young Children). However, the use of technology does not address how children learn – by sensorially engaging multiple senses through touch, vision, sound and taste in a constructive process. Mealtime can be a perfect time to incorporate sensorial learning with creating socially prepared children and fond memories.

While walking through a restaurant the other evening I noticed something…something that was disturbing to see at the time and has bothered me ever since. Every single child in every single age bracket was plugged in to either an ipad device or a smart phone. And I am not exaggerating! Every child I walked past looked utterly disconnected to anything around them. They were zombified by the visual imagery in front of them. Parents every where had a hand held babysitter for the sake of a quiet dinner. At what cost? Where are the lessons of social engagement? How many of those children will understand the skill of conversation with adults, waiting their turn, asking to pass the salt, learning self-control to sit long enough to wait for their food. What happened to the days of being intrigued by those around us and discovering objects in new and unfamiliar surroundings?

I am a Mom. I get how tempting it is to simply press the “on” button for a peaceful meal. Meal time in my memory was a time for talking to each other, learning about what is going on in our day, telling stories, or playing “I Spy” or tic-tac-toe if the meal was really taking a long time. Interaction is important for both children and parents. Many of my fondest memories is of eating dinner with my Mom, Dad and brother laughing about our days events. I have since lost my Mom and am thankful for those memories. As a parent I am now holding on to each and every family meal with our son as time is flying by entirely too quickly. Even when he was very little it was a joy to sit together and share a meal. The time was as limited as his attention span, but special and funny none-the-less.

In this fast paced life family meal time can be a challenge to even accomplish. Why waste the precious moments we CAN fit in by adding even more technology to an already technology filled life? Technology has its place in learning and in our world – just not at the dinner table.

So what to do to keep your children engaged? Here are a few suggestions:
provide small table top manipulative’s for your littlest children. Something with moving parts and color work visual senses and fine motor skills
bring crayons and small coloring books or blank pages for creating their own pictures
small water doodles are clean easy fun for creating
visual/verbal games such as “I Spy”
Spend time learning about each other with questions not normally brought up throughout your day.
What do you like most about your dinner?
If you could make you (peas, broccoli, etc.) a different color what color would they be? Why?
What do you want to be when you grow up?
What is your favorite smell?
What is the best thing that happened today?
What do you like most about your friends?

A little effort will make for memorable and life lesson learning meals. Enjoy!

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When I was four years old my mom and I were walking to the grocery store…

Thinking back on being a kid I started to see a pattern.
The moments I remembered most were while out in nature.  My Mom had a knack for creating these moments, whether she knew it at the time or not. Her patience and ability to stop and allow me to discover had an impact which has endured the test of time.

Now I know technology for children was pretty much non-existent when I was a preschooler (I’m not THAT old BTW, just old enough to be before gaming systems which is the point!).   How many opportunities are passing us by because it is easier to plug our kids in to an electronic babysitter? Creating moments for discovery does require patience on our part.  Or perhaps we are now defining “slowing down to enjoy the moment” as requiring patience – which is sad.

Now I admit that I too am baffled by the notion of stopping
long enough for my child to study an ant colony. However my Mom did take the
time and I was able to discover the ants had the same eye color as me!

Errands and laundry can wait. Taking your child for a walk
in nature to touch trees, really look at a flower, or simply laying in the
grass to watch the clouds cannot wait. Let nature nurture your child’s innate
sense of curiosity. You may be surprised what YOU learn from the experience.
Get out and enjoy!

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Quick activities to do with your child

Parents often ask what they can be doing at home to encourage their child’s education.

First, can we clarify what you should NOT be doing?  That would be any activity where a young child is expected to sit still for any length of time against their will!

Our primary goal is simple – promoting curiosity in kids!  Secondary goals are to encourage focus and concentration for any length of time, create opportunities to enhance gross and fine motor skills by encouraging movement and independence and finally spending time together with your children.

Any activity that get kids thinking about their world!

Here are a few ideas:

1) Beauty

Place things of beauty where your child can enjoy and experience them.

Child-safe art such as sculpture that kids can touch and investigate.

A book with beautiful pictures on the cover – on a subject that your child may find fascinating (bugs/ trains/ fairies) – on a table where your child will see it.   Any book that can entice your child’s curiosity and focus for more that a few minutes is a success!  Creating a situation where books are a source of joy when children are young sets you up for having children that find books joyful as they grow up.

Why are books important?  The obvious reasons are the information they contain.  Books and reading also encourage imagination.  The stories and characters teach us about human nature.   Not to mention the increased vocabulary gained from reading will have a positive impact on future test such as college entrance exams.

Have markers, paint, crayons and paper where your child can create their own works of art safely.  To protect your tables we always have a few large plastic trays that the kids use to create their art on.  Then hang them up where everyone can enjoy and appreciate their creations.

Teach your child about the great artists by taking them to the library for age-appropriate books and also to museums if you have access.

Music is a wonderful way to introduce your child to the beauty of their world.  Play different types of music from various cultures and countries.

2)  Language.

Pre-readers:  Throughout the day ask children what sounds different things begin with.  We use phonetic spelling  – “cat” begins with a  “cuh” sound.  If you are driving and see a tree, “What is that tall green thing outside your window?”  then when they name it…“What sound does it begin with?”  “t”

When they are getting themselves dressed in the morning, “what is that you are putting on your foot?” …. “sock”  what sound does sock begin with?”  Do this periodically throughout the day, when they are getting tired of this game you will know to stop.  (Observation!)

Grocery Store “I-spy”:  Keep kids content and curious when running errands.  Take turns as to who does the guessing.  You can do I-spy with colors or shapes to keep it interesting.  “I-spy something shaped like a triangle!”

Readers at every level:  Reading signs around town or at the store.  Have grandparents and friends send postcards that child can read and enjoy.

Keep it interesting by finding books on subjects they are interested in!  When younger my boys loved “Captain Underpants” or anything silly.  My daughter loved Harry Potter but hated other science fiction.  Middle son has always liked mysteries (The Westing Game)  Youngest son loves fantasy.  Find what they like – at each age!

3)  Math

Cooking together is so much fun!  Child will need to count when measuring each item.  Listing off the ingredients helps to create both order and focus in their minds.  Cooking is a great opportunity to discuss and explain fractions with different age groups.

Basic counting at home:  How many shoes are in your Mom’s closet?  (try individual shoes one day then eventually ask them how many pairs of shoes!)  How many legos are in that pile?  What if you took two legos away?

Airport Math:  I heard an amazing dad with his two sons waiting in the airport check in line.  He was asking them;  “If we have six suitcases, how many will each of us have?”  and  to his older son;  “If our plane takes off at 3 pm and it takes 2 hours to get there, what time will we arrive?”  He was REALLY making them think about each question!  Instead of bored and antsy kids, he was engaging them them in the process!

Advanced math concepts:  Place small items (marbles/ legos/ cheerios) in groups of five and count by fives.   (Then 10’s)

Eventually you can explain that multiplication is adding groups of numbers while division is subtracting groups of numbers.

Estimation jar:  See our My Works Video!  This is one of our favorites to create curiosity with numbers!

4)  Science:

If your child likes frogs you can go to library or on computer and discover the different parts of a frog.  Where do they live?  What do they eat?  Draw pictures of the frogs in their natural habitat.  Write stories about frogs if the child is able to write.  What is the difference between a frog and a toad?  Enjoy the direction that each of these questions/ explorations takes you.

We teach concepts to encourage critical thinking.  What is living and what is non-living?  (Is a rock living?  What about a flower?)    (See the My Works video on Living/ Non-Living)

Animal or plant?

A guessing game with animals – Does it have scales/ fur or feathers?  Child says “fur” and adult guesses animals with fur!  (I have a family in my classroom that plays this game every night at dinner.)

5)  Culture:

We have continent boxes in our classroom with items from different continents.  This could also be done with different countries.  Items in the North America box have photographs (many times laminated from magazines) of food, people, animals, buildings and climate.  Rain forest in South America, dessert in Africa, pyramids in Egypt, Great Wall in China.  You get the idea.  Before discussing a certain area of the world we always get out the globe to show the perspective of where we live vs. where the area we are exploring is.  The world is so cool!  (See the My Works Video lesson on continent boxes)

Listen to music from different parts of the world.  Indian music is so peaceful, unique and relaxing to listen to!  Mexico, Russia, China… every area has it’s own sound.

Maps: first of a room in their world (with furniture and items that are important to them), then their house,  eventually of their street, town, state, country, continent and eventually – when the are ready to grasp it – a map of their word.  Don’t forget to have them place a sticker or a star where they are in the world!

Cooking:  Foods from different countries.  Kids enjoy cooking so much!  Get out the globe to show where in the world that food comes from.

And so it goes….

By the way…Where do the bananas we eat come from?  What about milk?  How about apples – there are so many different kinds!

There are some wonderful web sites that have amazing activities for you to do with your child such as: Many of these are free!

Asking questions just creates more questions… it’s a beautiful individualized curriculum for your family to explore together for many years to come.

So unplug the passive electronics and actively plug into the world – with your children!!!

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Letting Go.

I love the movie “Finding Nemo”.  So many wonderful messages for parents.

My favorite moment is when Marlin (Nemo’s father) meets the sea turtles.

These sea turtles have an extremely wise approach to parenting and if you ask me, they must have had some Montessori training at some point.  🙂

When the father turtle (Crush) is explaining to Marlin how to know when the young turtles are ready to swim off on their own, the following dialogue is exchanged:

Marlin: “How do you know if they’re ready?”

Crush: “Well, you never really know…but when they know…you know… ya-know?”


It happens in gradual steps:

– You let go of their hands as they take their very first steps.

– You let go of the back of their bicycle seat as they ride off for the first time.

– Getting on the bus the very first day of Kindergarten.

– Leaving for an entire week summer camp.

– Watching them pull away in the car with a brand new drivers license.

– Letting go… as they prepare to leave for college.

How can parents best prepare their kids for life?

There is a wonderful quote about “Roots and Wings” as being the two best gifts a parent can give their children.   (WHAT?  Not a new car when they turn 16???)  😉

Many parents (including me) are experts at the “roots” part of this equation.  We are there for our kids when they need us.  We provide them with so much.

Where most of us have room for improvement is the “wings” part.  Crush, the father sea turtle, had it all figured out.

Let your kids fail – early and often.

Small mistakes when they are little and the mistakes gradually built to create a wealth of experiences.

When our kids struggle we have the primal urge to swoop in and help.   Rushing in to call the school, the teacher, the neighbors, anyone who is creating and uncomfortable situation for our children.  Does this ultimately help them?  Of course not.

At every age – whenever possible – let them solve their own problems.

At every age – whenever possible – let them fight their own battles.

At every age – whenever possible – let them struggle.

It is no coincidence that many times those that have experienced the most adversity, are ultimately the best prepared to face the challenges that lie ahead.

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The Beauty of Observation: Discovering what you need


Montessori teachers are trained to observe and pay attention to what children need most – at any given time and on any given day.  We do this simply by taking the time to watch, and then take note.

This power of “observation” can work with your 3 year-old children as well as with your teenagers.

Take a moment to observe:

Does your child need more opportunities for independence?  Are you doing too much for your child and not allowing them to learn new things on their own?  Choosing what they wear, cleaning up after them, getting their meals, putting their coats and shoes on.  You will be surprised what kids can do themselves…and how much they learn by trying things independently.  This independence may take more time, but even putting on their own clothes can help develop small and gross motor skills, focus and concentration and a sense of order.

Does the child need order?  In early childhood education we talk a lot about developing focus and concentration in young children to help them with future academics.  If a young child has trouble at times creating order in their lives, such as rushing from one activity to the next and the inability to focus for any amount of time, we may encourage them to slow down and engage in an activity that they find really fascinating.  (They may of course need some physical activity and fresh air first!)

Does the child need movement?  Is the child unable to sit still and frequently wiggles around?  Does the child act aggressively at times with other children?  We can’t say it enough, young children need to move before, during and after they are learning new things.

Is the child ready to read?  In a typical 3 – 6 classroom we regularly present sound lessons to children.  We make these lessons fun and playful and change it up if the child is getting bored.  Sometimes a child has these sounds mastered at the age of 4, sometimes 5 and sometimes 6.  Every child is unique and early reading does not mean a brilliant child and guaranteed academic success.  We “follow the child” and observe when THEY are ready to blend the sounds into words.

Is your child overscheduled?  Free time each day to play, create, dream and discover are invaluable opportunities for your child to learn.   Boredom is a good thing!

“Boredom is your brain begging you to be creative!” –  Author unknown

Observation works with adults as well.  Turn your focus inward to become aware of what it is that you need.

Do you need more sleep?  Well-rested parents are more patient and generally much happier.  Parents need enough sleep – just as children do.

Recently in an interview with actor, Jack Black, he was discussing being a parent of two young children.  He admitted how challenging it is to be “up for the job” of parenting.  “The more sleep I get, the better dad I am. Parenting is 90% energy; if you don’t have it, then there tend to be some lazy TV-watching days with the kids, and that ain’t gettin’ it done.  A great day with them — my sons are 4 and 2 — is an energized adventure into the world.”

Are you a stay-at-home Mom who needs some time away?  Then ask a friend or get a babysitter.  Take care of yourself – we all need alone time to re-charge our batteries so make that happen for yourself.

Do you need more physical activity?  Parenting children of all ages takes energy!  Exercise helps promote better sleep, eating healthier and can help alleviate depression. Even a 10-minute walk outside can make you feel so much better. Just do it.

In the classroom observing what a child may need changes daily and sometimes hourly.  As parents we can use this same technique to be aware of what it is our children need at home.


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