Try Something New for 30 Days

”These are days you’ll remember. Never before and never since, I promise the whole world be warm as this. And as you feel it you’ll know it’s true that you are blessed and lucky. It’s true that you are touched by something that will grow and bloom in you.”
—These are days, 10,ooo maniacs.

You know that thing where you learn a new word and then for a time you start hearing that word ALL the time  even though it seems that you’d never really heard it before? You hear it on the radio, in conversations at work, on your favorite sitcom? It’s as though the universe it telling you to pay attention.

Recently this happened to me with the concept of meditation.

First I heard an ad for Headspace, which is an app that is an introduction to meditation. Then on the Happier in Hollywood podcast, I listened intently while Liz and Sarah talked about their meditation practices. My boss mentioned in casual conversation that she meditates followed by yoga daily.

Every three months our school closes for an in-service. The staff has a chance to meet and discuss Montessori philosophy and learn about tools and techniques that help support self-care and personal growth as well as better ways to support the children in our care with their own personal growth. During our February in-service Monti Pal a psychotherapist and Montessori mom taught our teaching team about mindfulness. She explained in simple terms how important it is to be present in the moment and to make mindfulness a daily practice. 

Things have been a little nuts at work with a recent turn over of adults.  I’ve been stressed about it and my husband surprised me one weekend by telling me he has started meditating and that I should try it too. My jaw dropped and then I listened as he described what had been working to keep him from losing  his cool at work.

my H at age five on the playground at Montessori school

I decided to try meditation.

I remembered a TED talk I had seen recently in which Matt Cutts urges the viewer to try something new for 30 days. I listened to the universe and I took his advice.  I did it! All 30 days.

On display at a beautiful Thai Fusion restaurant in Denver

I started with the Headspace app I mentioned earlier and I really liked the 10 day introduction to meditation.  The guy has a really soothing voice and he walks you through a simple ten minute meditation each day in which there’s a little breathing, a body scan, an opportunity to let the mind wander and then bring the attention back to the body. Lastly the guide suggests a mood check to assess how you’re feeling.  I added a simple step at the end by setting an intention for my day. So far I kinda like it. It feels like a really good way to start the day, especially if I follow it with yoga with Adriene.

I have missed a day here or there and that’s ok. On the days when I practice my meditation and the follow that with yoga, I feel stronger. I feel proud of myself. I feel good.


As a Montessori teacher, I help young children learn to recognize and manage their emotions. Young people often have BIG feelings and they need time and space to practice how to navigate their feelings.

My colleague, Christina of, wrote a terrific article about how to use mindfulness with a toddler for called “Ease Your Anxious Child: 6 Simple Mindfulness Exercises To Try Today“.

 I recently learned about the RULER method of teaching children about feelings developed at Yale center for Emotional Intelligence. Simply put we intend to teach children to:

  1. Recognize emotion in themselves and others,
  2. begin to Understand the causes and consequences of different emotions,
  3. build a sophisticated vocabulary to Label a full range of emotions,
  4. how we Express  emotion as well as external factors that influence expression,
  5. and then the goal is to teach the children how to Regulate their emotion.  

It was a terrific lecture and I took lots of notes about how to help the children in my classroom. In fact, I mentioned it to my boss and she sounded like she might include some of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence techniques for  teacher in-service in the future.

a 5-year-old finding a moment of quiet (not sleeping)

This week I added the “quiet spot” in my classroom. I wanted to provide a place where the children can have some private time to get quiet and re-set. I arranged the furniture a little differently so that the adults could supervise a child in the quiet spot and yet the child feels secluded. There’s a cozy cushion (actually it’s a dog bed kinda like this one!) and I put a little shelf next to it with some of our peace activities.  


a worry stone

I noticed the success of the quiet spot RIGHT AWAY! I made sure the children knew that only one person could be in the quiet spot at a time and that if they saw someone there, they were working hard on finding peace and that they could not be interrupted. For several days I protected and guided the work there at all costs so that the expectation was clear. Also, if someone was particularly active, like standing up a lot or something like that or if they weren’t actually being quiet, then I would redirect them.

Sometimes a child will just lay there on the cushion and sometimes a child will take something with them from the peace shelf. Some of the things we have out right now are:

  • A meditation stone (a cool-looking, heavy rock)
  • An hourglass
  • A worry stone (something pretty that fits in the palm of a tiny hand)
  • A finger labyrinth
  • Some visualization cards from A Handful of Quiet
  • A “breathe deep” stone (a big, smooth river rock the child holds to his chest and takes 5 deep breaths)
she holds a large river rock against her chest, taking five deep breaths

All of the peace work can be used elsewhere in the classroom too. We teach some other breathing and meditation techniques that require no object at all.  And then of course the adults and the older children model the kindness and compassion of helping out a friend who is struggling with conflict either internal or external.

It’s really easy to show a child how to take deep breaths and they remember to practice if they see a tangible object that reminds them to practice. Do you have a quiet spot in your home or in your classroom? How do you help the little people in your life recenter?

Consider mise en place



 The holidays for me is about time to relax and slow down, and it’s about time with my family.  When my husband and I are working and the boys are in school, it seems like we’re always in a rush so time to play and connect are crammed between school, homework, making dinner, putting food into our mouths, and bedtime. If you’re a parent reading this blog, you likely agree there’s not enough hours in a day.

  My younger son A., loves to bake. During the winter break I baked with him three times and he baked with his Grammy once as well. We made a gingerbread house from scratch! We also made raspberry thumbprint cookies from Save Room For Dessert. Although A. loved pressing the center of his cookies with his thumb, we should’ve used a bigger thumb to allow for more jam!

A making jam thumbprints

  As an avid watcher of America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country on PBS, I know the term mise en place. This is a french cooking term that translates to “everything in its place”. What it really means is to gather up all the necessary ingredients and supplies before beginning a task.  This concept is very Montessori.  I was reminded of this concept when listening to episode 95 of the Happier podcast.

H making Aunt Christi’s Ragu      

  When we bake together it’s my job to guide the order of the process. On the cooking shows they have everything all measured out into tiny glass bowls all in a row. My boy likes to scoop things with the measuring spoons and level them off with his fingers, so I just put the ingredients out on the counter for him to measure. He can read the recipe but he needs help understanding some of the terminology and remembering which step is next. Rather than instructing him by following the recipe myself and telling him what to do, I ask him questions, make suggestions, and confirm his decision-making. We have a lot of fun baking together. He dances to the rhythm of the Kitchen Aid mixer and he always licks the spoon.


  Dr. Montessori  called the classroom together with the trained adult “the prepared environment”. A lot of thought and consideration is put into what goes onto the shelves of the classroom. Every activity is complete with the exact materials needed to complete the task and practice the isolated skill. Just like on America’s Test Kitchen, the Montessorian considers the mise en place making sure everything is in order before beginning a task. Whether it’s the apple cutting activity, or the stamp game, the work should be clean, complete, and as I tell the children “neat and tidy” as it sits on the shelf waiting for the next child to use it.




  The first week back from winter break I took a group of 10 older children, ranging from 4 1/2 to 5 years old, to work in our school’s vegetable garden. Before beginning, I sat with the children and showed a group lesson on the life cycle of a plant. We sat on the deck in the crisp afternoon air and discussed seeds, seedlings, which part is the stem, what does a seed need to grow, etc. I told the children how my dad taught me to use a string to make straight rows when planting.

I showed them the materials I had collected:

  • yarn
  • seed packets
  • tongue depressors to mark the rows
  • a sharpie marker
  • 6 sticks (I had the rarely used white colored pencils)
  • 2 rakes & 2 hoes

  After our discussion, we headed to the garden. We dug around preparing the soil, taking turns watching and digging. This was a particularly patient group, waiting for their turn. However, I recommend bringing a basket of gardening and plant books for the children who have trouble waiting their turn to work.  There are so many awesome books about gardening and all things related. Gail Gibbons has two great books on the subject: From Seed to Plant  and The Vegetables We Eat. The children enjoyed looking at the broccoli and cabbage that was already successfully growing in the garden as well as giving their friends advice about how to do the task at hand.

We tied yarn to the white pencils and stuck them in the ground. I showed them how to make a little trench all along side the string. Their favorite part was putting seeds in their hand and letting them sprinkle them in the trench and cover them up. We moved the string to repeat the process for the rest of the seed packets, then labeled the planted rows with the sharpie marker on the tongue depressors.

  We ran out of time to water the seeds before it was time for a water break and a well-deserved snack. Thankfully, our toddler group took charge of watering the seeds later in the afternoon.

  Before setting off to do any task, consider mise en place. By making sure to gather up all the materials and supplies you will need, you decrease the chance of frustration, and increase the chance of being successful and having fun.

how to keep your cool part 2: at work

Sometimes all I really want to feel is love.

Sometimes I’m angry that I feel so angry.

Sometimes my feelings get in the way

of what I really feel I needed to say.

Modest Mouse-The Sad Parts.


Part 2: keeping calm at work

(to read part 1: keeping calm at home, please follow this link)


As I started to feel more centered at home, naturally I was able to feel more calm in the classroom. Although, yelling wasn’t really an issue at school, staying calm and centered was.

I observed myself through the day.  

I watched for triggers. What was happening when my jaw would tighten or my voice would change tone? When my shoulders would tighten? Here’s the short list:

  • When a child doesn’t get what he wants and so he throws a loud, emotional “tantrum.”
  • When a child chooses to ignore or disrespect either an adult, or another child.
  • When a child interrupts me when I am speaking to either an adult, or another child.

Analyzing the emotional triggers allows me to look at the whole picture.  Once I have identified the trigger within myself, I am often able to let it go before it comes up.

Let’s break it down.

How do I stay calm when a little kid throws a tantrum when she doesn’t get what she wants?

The first thing that is important to understand about tantrums:

All of the child’s feelings are important.

All of the child’s feelings are ok. (even if we don’t like how they are reacting)


Here’s a  list of a child’s fundamental needs from the lobby at work.

I don’t know if it’s new, or if I just noticed it for the first time while waiting for my lunch to warm up in the microwave.  I like it because the list describes what every human wants.  

I think people sometimes forget that children are just tiny humans trying to navigate the world just like we adults.

If a child is expressing his or her feelings loudly and disruptively, as adults, we often get triggered.  We feel embarrassed, frustrated or angry, maybe out of control. Typically the child wants something and we want something different.


Here’s a mental checklist that guides me:

  1. Check in with myself
  2. Remember that today is a NEW day
  3. Listen and acknowledge the child’s feelings
  4. State the expectations
  5. Allow the feelings
  6. It’s not personal
  7. It will pass


When you check in with yourself, it’s helpful to have a mantra or maybe a visualization to help you stay calm. What children need when they’re feeling out of sorts is a calm, confident leader.  Children don’t know what to do with all of those big feelings, and so you need to be the calm and confident one.  Believe me,  children can smell doubt, so be strong.  My mantra comes from one of my favorite child care authors, Janet Lansbury: 

She’s awesome. She has a helpful website and several books like No Bad Kids, Toddler Discipline Without Shame and  Elevating Childcare, a Guide to Respectful Parenting; however, I am a huge fan of the podcast.

In fact, the title of her podcast is my go-to mantra: Unruffled.  I recommend the podcast to assistants in my classroom. When attempting to help or redirect a child who is freaking out about something (usually because the child is wanting to do something that he’s not supposed to and needs to be redirected) I imagine myself wearing a pretty white cotton sundress.  I take a deep breath and as I exhale and put my shoulders back, I imagine all of the wrinkles falling out of the dress. I try to relax into a calm and confident place before approaching the child.


I added today is a new day to my checklist a few months ago, when I saw this video from the Association Montessori International (AMI) website.  In it, the woman suggests that, as parents and teachers, if we hold on to yesterday’s drama and conflict, not only is it a disservice to the child, it may also cause the conflict to continue.  So saying “ugh, here we go again! He always does this…” could be making it more likely to continue.  Holding on to something—some behavior a child did yesterday—could potentially perpetuate the undesired behavior. So let yesterday go and treat the moment as the first time.

When a child disagrees with you (aka throws a tantrum) you must remember that all his feelings are ok. His feelings are normal.

Now, what the child does with his or her feelings, that’s another thing.

In the photo series above, I told Helen, “It looks like you’re done with this map. Your pencils are all over the place and you keep walking away.”

Helen threw herself on the floor and yelled at me, telling me “no.” I held the line, reminding her that she could put the work away and do the rest in the afternoon or tomorrow.  When she’d finished expressing her displeasure with me and she had  purged her “emotional backpack,”aka tantrum,  and she was calm enough to hear me, I calmly and confidently asked how I could help to put part of the map away.  She’s so fiercely  independent, which I love, that she said I could help by just watching.


When a child interrupts me I feel, what? Annoyed. Rushed. Disrespected. The strategies I use in the classroom for interrupting are the same ones, basically, that I use at home.

If I can, I start with a proactive approach.  I tell my assistants that I will be giving a lesson to someone and therefore I will not be available for a bit. (Likewise, if I am at home, I tell my two sons that I will be on a phone call, for an example, and won’t be available for however long.) My assistant knows to protect my lesson presentation by intercepting any children who appear to need help from me.

Next, I have some hand signals that I use to let people know the status of my availability. If I am working with a child and someone comes over, saying, “Ms. Natalie, Ms. Natalie!” (or rather, “Miss Nat-O-lee!”) without taking my eyes off my work,   I will put up one finger near the child about to interrupt. One finger up lets the child know that I will be with them in a moment if they are able to wait a minute. Alternatively, if I put my whole hand up, that indicates that I am gonna be a while and the child should find another adult for help if possible. My assistants also watch for these signals and intervene when necessary.

If I feel myself being interrupted a lot/more than usual, it is a red flag that I need to re-teach the  children what my hand signals mean and why they are important.  If I focus on it for a week, it usually improves dramatically.


If two children are having an argument in which one or both of them are feeling dismissed or disrespected that appears to be escalating, I step in and act as a mediator. Let’s say Helen and Connie are in a disagreement over who had the red pencil first. 

Both girls have their hand on the pencil and neither one is willing to give in. I would step in and ask what’s going on or some such thing, at which point both girls would start to explain that “I had it first, no, I had it first!” I would remind the girls that we have to take turns to talk. I would ask one girl her side of the story and reflect back what she said, then do the same thing with the other girl. Then I would state the facts without judgment.

“So what I hear is that Helen was using the red pencil and she wasn’t done. Connie saw the red pencil on the table beside Helen and no one was touching it, so Connie thought it was available. Is that what happened?”

After both girls feel heard, the next part is the tricky part. Helen, would you be willing to tell Connie when you’re done with the red pencil? She REALLY wants to use it next.” Usually the child complies at this point.  (The tricky part comes when Helen says,”NO! I’m never going to be done with the red pencil!” At which point I would offer to help find Connie an alternative that is available, hoping she goes along with the suggestion).

Here’s the key: If a child is disrespecting me or another adult, it doesn’t feel good.  Respect is a foundation I firmly believe in. If the adult treats the child with respect, the child will typically reciprocate. If a particular child is not responding to my requests or instructions, often it means I need to take the time to rebuild a connection with that child.  Sometimes the child is being such a turkey that the last thing I feel like doing is sitting down and spend extra time with him or her. I know from experience, though, that it works like magic to just be there, listening to a child who has recently been acting out of sorts talk about how many snails or rolly pollys he counted on the way to school or whatever. When the child feels heard and respected, he will feel more calm and will act more respectful during tense times.


I always try to remember, it’s not personal. This moment will pass.


Next time I want to post about an ongoing struggle of mine: taking time for me.


settling into normalization

"Only You" ~ Dean Jackson ( format):

Four and a half years ago, I was hired to co-teach with another trained Montessori teacher. She had the lead position and I taught lessons and supported her by managing the classroom (I like to equate it to being an air traffic controller).

She was hired 3 months before I was and she had carefully arranged the furniture in the classroom to fit what her training had taught her. I didn’t question the layout of the classroom at that time because I was her subordinate and she had 5 years more experience as a lead teacher than I did. Along the long wall of windows, my lead teacher arranged all of the shelves in rows perpendicular to the wall (like a ladder). The wall opposite the windows had a large area for walking and for working on rugs. Again, because the lead teacher had more experience, I accepted the classroom setup as it was, although secretly, the configuration looked—and felt—odd to me.


The first few months there were so hard.

The children were out of sorts.

They were rude to each other, they were dismissive of the adults and disrespectful to the classroom and everything in it.

The school had only been open for 4 years, and there had been a number of different adults that had come and gone. At the time, I thought maybe the children just needed consistency. After all, children need time to build relationships and to trust the adults who care for them. The relationship building process takes time.

So I waited.

I watched. I took notes. I looked for patterns of behaviors. I worked on building relationships with the children. I modeled appropriate behaviors and gave lessons on Grace and Courtesy as I wrote about in a previous post. I showed lessons about control of movement like the ones found in Beth Phillips’s Walking the Line in the 3-6 Classroom.

I looked to my lead teacher for guidance and I watched her struggle.



And then I began to notice something.

The children did not have work that met their need for challenge and purpose, and therefore, they flit from activity to activity without sinking into deep concentration.

As I observed the children at work, I noticed that the open layout of the classroom—with the tables and shelves all up against the one side—allowed for a long runway through the space. The children literally ran through the room. There was no reason to slow down and walk with intention. There was a huge free space to unleash their boundless, frantic energy.

The lack of purpose and intention spilled out into the backyard, too. The children dangerously tested boundaries and pushed limits. They didn’t respond to the adults at all. The whole situation was concerning and overwhelmingly exhausting.

And then, something unexpected happened It had been building for several weeks unbeknownst to me. The lead teacher and our school director had a difference of philosophy that required a parting of ways.

Our boss pulled me aside one day after she and the lead teacher had struggled with their differences and asked, “Are you ready to take over this classroom?”

It felt like a left hook to the jaw!

The lead teacher was leaving the school, and it was going to push ME into the lead position!

Yikes! I was immediately faced with a huge responsibility. Although I was worried that I lacked experience and that I might be in over my head, the school director had confidence in me, so I decided to trust her judgment and step up to the challenge.

The first thing I did was rearrange the furniture. I arranged the shelves and tables in the classroom to somewhat resemble rooms and areas, like in a home. The children would have to walk through the environment with care not to bump the tables and shelves as they made their way, meandering through the space. I would show the children how to carefully walk around a friend who has work on a rug on the floor and how to be mindful of their own body within the space.

Careful to walk around a friend’s work

Again, I waited.

I watched. I took notes. I looked for patterns of behaviors. I worked on building relationships with the children. I modeled appropriate behaviors and gave lessons on Grace and Courtesy. I gave lessons based on what the children seemed to need.

Most importantly: I set limits.

I love this quote from Montessori Northwest, a teacher training center in Portland:
“Maria Montessori recognized that when allowed freedom of choice within clear, firm and reasonable boundaries, children act in positive ways that further their development. Freedom is frequently misunderstood, and many people take it to mean that children can do whatever they want. Montessori believed that freedom without boundaries was abandonment….But this freedom within limits allows for the natural development of self-regulation.”


In chapter 14 of Dr. Montessori’s book The Absorbent Mind, she wrote,” One of the mistakes of modern times is to consider movement separately from the higher functions.” Control of movement starts in infancy as a baby learns to hold up his head or learns to grasp a toy. Montessori taught us that the child’s “work is inseparable from movement.”


Many of the learning materials that she designed have movement built into the lesson. The long red rods for example, are designed to be carried one at a time with care and concentration to the work rug.null Indirectly experiencing the decimal system, ten times the child walks to the rug. Ten times the child walks back to the shelf to restore the rods.

Not only is the concept of length learned, self control, body awareness, concentration, muscle memory are practiced as well.



Staying organized

It took about six months as lead teacher for the children in my class to normalize. And although we had our ups and downs (and still do, in my current classroom), when we divert from normalization, I always look at how children move through the classroom. I show the children how to walk the line. I revisit the lessons of grace and courtesy. I take time to make personal connections with the little people.

When things in my classroom are, as my mother-in-law says, “fruit basket turnover”, again, I return to the foundations, including grace and courtesy, personal connection, and control of movement.

Young children need freedom to move and yet they need purpose, guidance and limits. Taking time to connect and build relationships with each of the children, showing the children lessons on the work that is just the right amount of challenge will settle them in a way that is remarkable.


Grace and Courtesy here, there & everywhere

Some people forget that love is
tucking you in and kissing you
“Good night”
no matter how young or old you are

Some people don’t remember that
love is
listening and laughing and asking
no matter what your age

Few recognize that love is
commitment, responsibility
no fun at all

Love is
You and me


Love Is by Nikki Giovanni


There is a room in my house in which I rarely set foot—for fear I may puncture my foot on a Lego.

I think the room was designed to be a formal dining room, but formal anything is just not my style.  So instead, the room has always been a playroom, as well as a place where our guests stay.

Image result for public domain legos on the floor

Cubbies and shelves hold bins, boxes and baskets for toys and supplies.  Although everything (okay, okay, most things) have a place, I allow my boys to spread out books, toys and projects in that one room, and leave them there, untouched.

And in contrast to my classroom, where the children are required to restore each work before choosing another, I don’t require that the boys even tidy up the playroom every day. The exception is when guests come to stay.  

When H was a toddler, we tidied the playroom each evening together.  I would remind him what belonged together and where things went. He would help while he sang “What’s Gonna Work? Teamwork!” at top volume.

Around age four, I knew H could tackle cleaning the playroom solo, so I  decided to modify our schedule a bit. I told H to clean the playroom while I finished dinner.  

But just ten minutes later, when  I went in to check on him,  he was playing!

Through trial and error, I discovered if I sent him to clean the playroom alone, he still didn’t really understand what I meant, so he’d either put everything into one big, tangled mess in the biggest basket he could find or he’s get distracted and start to play.  

By telling him to “go clean the playroom,” I was being too vague. He still needed my guidance.

I still had to show him that when I said,”Clean your room,” it meant something specific, like:
*Put the blocks back in the green basket and then restore the basket on that shelf.  
*The books go on the shelf with the binding facing outward.  
*Trash needed to go in the trashcan, and abandoned socks needed to go to the hamper.

Even now that the boys are 8 and 11, I still have to guide the clean-up a bit.  I still model for them what my expectation of a clean room looks like by doing it with them.

Today, my help looks different.  I take a supporting role. I make an observation, and then ask which part should I do, like, “ I see lots of Legos, books, and stuffed animals around.  Which one do you want me to do and which ones do you guys want to do?”

If one of the boys stops cleaning, I make another observation. “It looks like you’ve stopped cleaning. Do you want to play with Legos when we’re done cleaning? Yes? Ok, that sounds fine. Which Legos do you need to leave out and which can you put away?” Then we clean up everything else with the promise that they can play a bit later.


Although they work well for some families, I don’t do chore charts of any kind.  When the boys were one and four, I had a chart that had
daily tasks for which each boy was responsible.  The chart was not for chores, but for self-care things that needed to happen each day. In fact, the responsibility chart was put into play because I felt like a nag. It worked well for the tasks that each child needed to remember to do each day, such as clearing his own place at the table, putting his own laundry in the hamper, brushing his teeth, etc. The boys had a feeling of accomplishment when they could see all they’d done, and—bonus—I did a minimal of reminding.  

The best part: when  the patterns of responsibility were intrinsic, the chart hung unused.

Today in our family, when some chores need to be done, we tell each other and it happens.  There are  no stickers, there are no rewards, and there’s no allowance associated with personal and family responsibility. We have a “we’re all in this together” thing going on.

That’s grace and courtesy: care of self, care of others, and care of environment.




As I said in my last post, when Dr. Maria Montessori began work in her first classroom back in the early 1900s, she developed a teaching style using the practical applications that prepared children to normalize, allowing the mind and body to work together. Dr. Montessori’s aim was “to allow the child to do, in a more perfect and orderly manner, what he strives to do in any case by his own natural impulses.” (Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work)

When I mention the phrase, Grace and Courtesy, you may automatically think of manners. Saying please and thank you, or holding the door for someone coming out of a shop. When I brought up Grace and Courtesy to a group of well-seasoned Montessorians over lunch this past weekend, my colleague Patti said, “Grace and Courtesy isn’t what you do, it’s who you are.”  It’s a bit of both what you do and how you do it and it comes from the heart.

carry one thing with two hands



In the classroom, we teach Grace and Courtesy lessons and we support  the children as they practice both with each other and with the adults. Montessori Publications has a great collection of the lessons given in the classroom. The skills learned in these lessons happen inside, outside, and at all times of the day. Just like I had to show my toddler what I meant when I ordered him to clean his room, I show the children:

  • How to greet the teacher
  • How to use a quiet voice
  • How we hold things with two hands
  • How to wait their turn to talk
  • How to have polite conversation
  • How to ask permission to walk past
  • How to walk closer to talk to each other
  • How to resolve conflict
watching respectfully

To name a just a few! I even show a child who is running how to stop and look around to see if it’s a good time and place to run, and then confirm his declaration, “We can run later when we’re outside.”

staying organized

There’s lots of other things that go along with using grace and courtesy in a community.  Things that  are more tangible and more  concrete, such as the lessons that I mentioned in my Practical Life post:cleaning up a wet spill with a rag or a sponge, sweeping the floor, restocking when you used the last of something, restoring your work where it belongs, and keeping your work space organized.

The Peace Rose

A lovely book called The Peace Rose by Alicia Jewel uses something tangible, like a rose or other artificial flower, that two children can hold when handling something invisible: feelings and conflict resolution. It is a lesson that helps when the children take turns to say how they feel using “I” statements and coming up with a solution together.

using the peace rose to say, “you hurt my feelings when you said…”

Modeling is key when it comes to Grace and Courtesy. Your walk has to match your talk.  Act like you want your kids to act.

If your spouse is in the living room and you’re having a conversation from the kitchen as you finish the dinner dishes, your child will imitate by trying to chat with you from the next room, too.

Two sisters made their way through my classroom. Both girls struggled with this issue. They would call my name, or just start telling me whatever it was that they needed to say from across the room.  I would gesture an exaggerated beckoning hand gesture until the blue-eyed girl came closer.  Then, before she said anything, I would exaggeratedly say, “Thank you so much for waiting until you were close to talk to me.  You were so far away, I couldn’t hear you.” When in fact EVERYONE in the room had heard her.

Image result for public domain kitchen pass through

I remember asking the little sister about her house, wondering if she had a big house with maybe a great room or something. I just knew it was their family culture to have conversations through a kitchen pass-through or some such thing. If those kinds of long-distance  conversations are part of their family culture, and the whole family is on board, that’s ok.  It’s really  a matter of teaching the child to observe and adapt to the culture of different environments. We’re quiet in a library, in a museum during a flag ceremony, or in a place of worship, for example.




Please and thank you are only one tiny part of Grace and Courtesy. Social manners encompass so much more. Understanding emotional needs of yourself and others is an important life skill. Being a part of a community, whether it is a family community or a school community has its own skills  set and expectations.  

Grace and Courtesy is a very BIG important thing that we sometimes forget is even there.
Children need us to support them as they learn, how to be gracious, how to be thoughtful, how to wait, how to be helpful, how to stay organized, and how to be aware of their own needs. We can show our children these aspects of life without nagging, rewarding, punishing or shaming. If we can guide them with respect, with modeling, with observing and offering a helping hand in a supporting role, the qualities we desire to see will start to become our child’s natural impulses.

Purpose in Practical Life

Isn’t it interesting how children imitate the grown-ups in their lives?  We can’t deny that our kids pick up words and phrases that we say (keep it clean, folks!). When cracking pecans in the front yard some years ago, my two-and-a-half year old hit his thumb and dropped an f-bomb. The phrase sounded a lot like something from Papa’s work buddies. I asked him to repeat what he had just said, and so he did. Yep. That’s what I thought….

Our babies smile when we do, laugh when we do, and copy us all the time. And they do it with such purpose.

Young children are drawn to do the chores and activities that their parents do around the house.  We’re told that we should read and also
write in front of children so that they will understand the value of these skills. Entire marketing campaigns monopolize on the fact that children desire to imitate their parents.  

Like when mowing the lawn … as a toddler, my son H had a bubble-blowing toy lawnmower that we were constantly filling with bubble solution so that he could help his Papa mow the lawn.

And in maintaining a home … H and his toddler buddy spent hours “fixing things”with a set of plastic construction tools. They hammered and twisted and sanded, even if there was nothing but air beneath their little fingers.

And while cooking … When my younger son, A, was three, he had an extensive collection of dishes and pots and pans with which he would make me imaginary gourmet toddler meals, including blueberry pizza, whipped cream sandwiches,  and peanut butter salad.

One area of the Montessori foundation is called “practical life.”

It relates to a child’s natural desire to imitate adults and fit into this world with purpose. Initially,
Dr. Maria Montessori and her assistant taught the children in her first classroom to take care themselves and their environment out of necessity.  There were simply too many students for the two adults to attend to. The children had to learn to tie their aprons and wash their own dishes, among other things.

What Dr. Montessori discovered from this was  interesting. She discovered that many chores used in everyday life helped the children to “normalize.”  These  life skills, such as sweeping up a spill, sorting forks and spoons, and folding laundry, all allow the child’s mind and body to align.  

Life skills that Dr. Montessori included in the “practical life” curriculum are lessons in:

  • grace and courtesy (making eye contact, saying thank you, waiting for a turn to speak, etc.)
  • care of self (toileting, blowing nose, zipping a jacket, etc.)
  • care of the environment (watering the plants, sweeping the leaves off the back porch, clearing the lunch dishes, feeding the pets, etc.)
  • control of movement (control and strength of the hand, fine  and gross motor skills, impulse control, etc.).

The Montessori philosophy of Practical Life is really simple when you break it down.  

First, the number one way to create successful behavior in children (or if you’re more of a glass half empty type: the number one deterrent of undesirable behavior in children) is: Purpose. When a child has purposeful work, when a child feels helpful, when a child is proud of his accomplishments, he is his best self (That’s what Dr. Montessori called a normalized child.).

In a Montessori classroom, we prepare activities that allow children to practice a specific skill.  The children practice scooping beans from one bowl to the next, for example.  They practice buttoning and unbuttoning fabric on a frame.  They practice pouring water from one container to another. The skill is isolated so that it’s simply one skill. There are only one or two steps. At home, the skills your kid needs to practice will not be isolated.  The skills he will need to learn and to practice will come up naturally and might contain many steps.

So many parents are scared of messes. I love messes! Messes are an opportunity for your child to practice body control, hand/eye coordination, attention to detail, and  concentration. Last week, my student, “Tommy” chose to do a science work with which the child explores how water moves and flows. There’s a big container and some foam shapes that float and stack.  The child basically builds a waterslide, and then scoops water and pours it to see how it flows on the structure.
“Tommy” used this work for a very long time, using it as it was designed to be used, and when he was done, he experimented by pouring the water back into the narrow pitcher rather than the larger, easier bucket provided for the work.

Naturally the majority of the water spilled onto the floor.

I just watched.  I even protected him from friends (and adults, too) who were ready to correct him and to point out his large spill.  Next, “Tommy” sat on the floor with one of the foam shapes in his hand, carefully dunking it in and out of the half-filled pitcher, watching as the water level rose and fell. When he was done with that, he stood up and started to walk away.  

This is when I spoke to him, saying,”That’s quite a lot of water on the floor.  Are you going to get another towel or do you want to get the mop?”

I didn’t hear his response, although he returned in a few minutes with the mop. “Tommy’s” whole experience, including the cleaning up, took 50 minutes.  This four-year-old boy was deep in concentration for a very long time and he was experiencing many important things including order, sequence, gravity, water displacement, flotation, surface tension, volume, to name a few. If I had interrupted him to prevent a mess, he would have missed the whole  opportunity!

Have a whisk broom and dust pan available for your child for when he makes a little mess (or a BIG mess!) Here’s a whisk broom my boys use at home. Get down with him and talk him through the process of cleaning up step-by- step together. He’s seen you use the broom. Now let him do it while you watch. As his body becomes more coordinated, you will help less and less.  

When your child has a sniffly nose, show her, standing side by side in front of a mirror, how you blow you your nose and let her blow her own nose.

When your child has a shirt with buttons in front, show her how to button it and let her practice.  If you see that your child really tries to fasten the buttons, and she cannot, only supply her with knit shirts she can don by herself. Try again a few months later with buttons. The same goes for blue jeans or overalls.  You should not have a button frame like we do in the classroom that isolates the skill of buttoning.  You can offer your child a real shirt of her very own to practice buttoning (while it is OFF her body, is easier at first).

An important side note here.  A child may show an interest in something that he is not yet ready to do. Children often show an interest in reading and writing before they are ready to tackle those skills. My Montessori colleague Beth Phillips, at Academy Montessori Preschool in Albuquerque, NM wrote, “In Montessori, I am trained to observe the child for indications of both needs and readiness.” In her blog, Montessori Publications, which you can read here, she talks about how a child can only understand academic material once they have normalized. Observing your child without engaging is important.  See what he is interested in and at the same time, see what he is capable of.

Watch your child.  Show him how…then get out of the way and let him try. Let him struggle a bit. Let him persevere.

I hope you found my explanation of Practical Life helpful.  I welcome your questions and comments. Next time I plan to post about Grace and Courtesy.

how i found montessori


“We are made of our smallest thoughts

We are breathing and letting go

We will take the best parts of ourselves

And make them gold”
–Chvrches ‘Make Them Gold’


Just like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz,  it turns out, I had Montessori inside me all along.  I had to take those parts of myself and let them grow.

In August of 2007, I was immensely pregnant and expecting my second child. I knew I would need to spend some time bonding with the new baby so I set off to tour preschools. I wanted a school that was a just-right fit for my bright and articulate son, who would soon be three years old.

I know every mom thinks her kid is the smartest kid on the planet. I am no exception. But no, really —  my kid was so clever and so articulate. It was crazy how much more  verbal he was than his two year-old peers. He started to talk exclusively to his teachers. He even began to take on the profound stutter of the teacher at his twice-a-week Mother’s Day Out program. His peers couldn’t have a full-on conversation with him, so he decided he would chat up the teacher instead.  The stutter passed, thankfully, but what lingered for me was a nagging feeling that a play-based program wasn’t the right learning environment for my little man. I thought he needed something more.

Several people (including my mom and my mother-in-law, both of whom often offer sound advice) suggested that I look at Montessori schools, so I decided to start there.  

During my first tour, I felt overwhelmed. The director walked me through a mixed age, mixed-skilled classroom, telling me that Montessori was about “experiential learning and supporting independence and autonomy.”  


Come again?

My 8-months-pregnant brain became cloudy and overwhelmed by what she was saying to me, so instead, I  focused on the children working in the classroom.  I was impressed.  Rather than zipping wildly from one bleeping toy to another, the children were calm. The room was quiet and peaceful. There were activities rather than plastic toys. Instead of an alphabet of animal-shaped letters and distracting cartoony posters littering the walls, the room was decorated like a home with lamps and plants and framed art.  I saw children sitting at little tables, deep in concentration.  I saw two children on the floor poring over a map of the world together. It was clear at a glance that the children were independent and had purpose. I was surprised that it took me several moments to locate the teacher in the room.  She was practically invisible, quietly assisting a child with a box of letters spread out on a table.

As I hoisted my huge, round belly into my car after the tour, tears of joy and relief fell. I knew that some of the tears were hormone induced. Fine. Pregnant women cry at the drop of a hat.  But I was also crying because I knew this kind of school was perfect for my curious and clever kid. 


I enrolled my guy into a Montessori school shortly before his third birthday. The classroom was small, warm and inviting. It felt like home.  As I began to learn more about the way Montessori teaching works, I realized something: I was already incorporating many of the foundations of the Montessori philosophy into my parenting style, and I didn’t even know it.

  • I used real language and didn’t use baby talk.  (To this day it bugs me when a parent says “horsey” or “doggie” to their child!)
  • I followed my child’s curiosity and stayed out of the way as he experienced new things. (I offer open-ended questions to lead him to find his own answers and I “help” without doing it for my kid.)
  • I set clear expectations and I allowed appropriate choice. (My husband and I have firm boundaries with our boys and we respect them as much as we expect them to respect us.)

A few years later, I enrolled my second son into the toddler program at a Montessori school.

That’s when I found myself lingering in the coatroom  just after I dropped the boys off.  Parents weren’t allowed in the classroom, so I hung around and asked questions. I wanted to see what was going on in that school! I was jealous that my boys got to go there every day and I had to go to the grocery store, run errands, clean house, and all that boring mom stuff.  I took on any and every task that teachers gave me. I volunteered to Xerox copies, cut paper into booklets, sharpen pencils, organize office supplies, and whatever else they would let me do, just to get an  idea of what Montessori was all about.  The director of the school was so patient with me for several months. She must have thought I was crazy! One day, she handed me a business card for the Montessori training center.

I completed my Montessori certification from the New Mexico Center for Montessori Education in 2012.  I have worked at Hawthorne Montessori school, here in Austin, Texas since I got my certificate.  Both my boys attended Montessori through their kindergarten year.

The parts that are ingrained in me — my parenting style, my core beliefs, my inner voice — are what drew me to that Montessori school building. I found the building. But I think parts of the Montessori way of life had me all along. I just never knew it.  

Please join me on my blog journey next time as I explain what Montessori calls “Practical Life” activities and why they are essential in a child’s development.