On Staying Home More as a Stay at Home Mom

You would think that being a stay at home mom would mean you’re at home all the time.  This is often not the case though and I recently found myself spending less and less time at home.

At night, I would start to get a slightly panicky feeling if we had nothing planned for the next day, and try to think of something we could go do together.

I think this happened for a couple of reasons.  James has gotten to an age where it’s really easy to take him out and about.  He is also awake for much longer stretches of time now and I think it can be daunting to think about three hours at home with nothing to “entertain” the little one.

Also, while I used to largely sit back and watch James play fairly independently, I had gotten out of the habit of doing this when he started pulling up to stand.  I was a little bit terrified when he started pulling up because he would just let go and fall straight backwards and hit his head.  So I followed him around constantly.  While this may have been necessary for a week or so, it is certainly not necessary any more.  He’s super capable of coming down gently and intentionally now and rarely falls.  When he does fall, he almost always catches himself with his hands.  I just needed to retrain myself to take a step back again and let him be.

I started reading Your Self-Confident Baby, by Magda Gerber, because I was curious about the RIE philosophy and how it was similar to / different from Montessori.  I am loving the book and it really reminded me that 1) children need long, uninterrupted periods of time to play and 2) to interfere as little as possible when a child is playing / working on something.

These two things are definitely emphasized in Montessori as well, I just needed a reminder.

So last week, I took a step back.  And we were both so much happier.  I chose a spot to sit in the room and let him play without hovering to make sure he didn’t fall.  He played happily and periodically came over to check in with me.  He would usually come over very briefly and climb up on me for a hug before zooming off again.  Sometimes he would choose a book for me to read him before continuing on his own.  It was so fun and interesting to watch him play.

I also realized, while it seemed like James was getting “bored” playing in his room or playroom for a long stretch of time, I think this was really “false fatigue”.

False fatigue is a term we used to describe how the children behaved late in the work period at school.  In a Montessori classroom, the children have three-hour long work periods where they choose work independently.  Often around 10 AM or so, some of the children would start to act a little bit crazy and would stop working.  They would wander around aimlessly chatting with other children and getting silly.  It would seem as if they were done for the morning.  In reality, they were a little fatigued from all of their hard work and needed a little help settling back in.  After connecting briefly with a teacher, many of the children would settle back in to do some great work.  I’ve seen the same thing with James.

He will start “rage crawling” as we call it around the room, not choosing anything and grunting or whining.  It will seem as if he’s totally over playing in that room.  I’ve found that I can often help him settle back into playing by connecting with him.  First, I just talk to him about what I’m seeing, what he may be feeling, and some things I see that he may enjoy doing.

I also find it helps if I put all of his toys back on the shelf where they go.  Since he doesn’t yet restore his own toys, the room is a mess after a while.  I think it becomes visual clutter to him when everything is on the floor and it’s as if he can no longer see anything interesting to work with.  As soon as I put the toys away, he often sees something that strikes his interest.

If that doesn’t work, I’ll read him a couple of books or sing a couple of songs with him and then help him get started playing with something, before backing away and letting him play on his own.

These things usually work really well, unless it’s late in the day, at which point he just may be too fatigued to be as independent as he is most of the time.  At that point, I’ll continue reading books with him or singing songs as long as he enjoys doing it, or take him outside for a change of scenery.

When he is playing happily on his own, I try to really observe him, which is a big part of Montessori as well as RIE.  Honestly though, I don’t find myself able (at this point at least) to just sit and observe him all morning.  So I also bring a book or a notebook and read or write after observing him for a while.  I find that if I have nothing else to do, I often wind up jumping in when he doesn’t need my help.

I alternate observing him with reading or writing, and always put down my book as soon as he comes over to me.  I choose a book because I at least think that it’s beneficial to model reading and writing, rather than being on my phone.  I think that seeing adults read helps children want to read, as they want to do everything we do.  I hope that, with practice, I’ll be able to observe him for longer stretches of time.

While this is just a change in outlook, it has seriously made such a difference in our days.  I enjoy being with him at home so much more, and I no longer feel like we have to have something to go do every day.

I also believe that a baby is part of the family and that involves compromise.  So if I’m going crazy being in the house, I will take him for a walk in the stroller, which he seems pretty neutral about, but I really enjoy.  I try though to make sure he has some free time to play in every block of “awake time” throughout the day, and that he has at least one really long stretch of time every day to play freely.  So far, so good!

Do you like being home a lot or being out and about more?

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Four Developmental Milestones you Won’t Find in Baby Books

It can be hard not to get caught up in the “milestones” baby should be achieving.  I try to ignore these largely arbitrary markers though, as I have no real concerns that my son won’t be sitting or walking when he goes off to college.  I don’t really care if he sits at six months or nine months, as long as he’s making progress and getting the opportunities he needs to work on these skills.

I’m not saying these indicators of healthy development should be totally ignored, as there are of course instances where there may be a developmental delay that needs to be addressed.  I’m talking more about the semi-competitive “my child rolled over at two and a half months” type of thing where people obsess about achieving these markers by a certain date.

Instead, I try to focus on the life skills that I believe will help him be successful in whatever he decides to do.  I watch for the development of these skills as he plays and I try to provide opportunities to help these skills grow.  For me, the following are much more important “milestones” of development than those found in most baby books:

1. Concentration

Protecting children’s growing concentration is a huge part of any Montessori classroom.  I believe it is equally important to do this at home.  Sometimes James floats from toy to toy, activity to activity, busy as the little bee he likes to carry around with him all day.

But sometimes, time stops, all is quiet, and the beautiful look of concentration takes over his little face.  This happened recently as he tried to put the purple ring on his new wooden ring stacker toy.  He usually just takes the rings off, which he enjoys very much, but this time he was determined to get that purple ring back on.  He tried and tried, not making a sound, not looking at me, not paying attention to anything else.  I sat very still and watched him.  Though I was tempted to take a video, to capture this moment, I refrained because the smallest of distractions, even just seeing me moving out of the corner of his eye, could easily break the newly developing concentration.

Was he successful?  No.  Does that matter?  Not at all!  He concentrated on the task for several minutes before moving on, which is something I love to see.  I watch for this so that I can provide opportunities to expand this skill.  Observing the types of things that captivate him allows me to provide toys and experiences that may spark this type of concentration in the same way in the future.

2. Problem Solving Skills

This is another area we always watched for in the classroom, and I try to foster problem solving skills at home.  In the classroom, it would be things like does the child immediately ask a teacher if he can’t find paper, or does he look around first?  Does he always ask for help as soon as he gets stuck on a math problem, or does he try different things before asking an adult?  When working on problem solving skills with children, we would ask them leading questions instead of giving an answer right away:  “Hmm, you need paper to write your equation on.  I wonder where you could find that.”

I try to do the same thing at home.  Lately, this has looked like James reaching across the coffee table for something out of reach (often a coaster….).  I could of course just hand him the coaster, problem solved.  But is that what he really wants?  No, I don’t believe so.  I think he wants to be able to get it himself.  So I muse aloud, “hmm, that coaster is too far away to reach.  I wonder what else you could try to get to it.”  I get out of his way so that there’s a clear path for him to edge around the table to get to it himself, which he is totally capable of.  I try to help him see that just because he doesn’t see how to do something right away, doesn’t mean he can’t figure it out.

3. Resilience

Babies and children are constantly trying to do things that are just out of reach of their current capabilities.  This is how they stretch and grow and reach the next level.  When James is trying something new and challenging, I watch to see if he gets frustrated and gives up right away, or if he keeps trying even though something is difficult.

I think babies naturally have a lot of resilience – they almost have to, as everything starts out hard for them and they have to keep trying or they’ll never get anywhere.  I do think though that there are things we as parents can do help encourage this skill:

  • Don’t help too soon – I think it’s important to walk the line so that the child is trying on his own…but not to the point of having a meltdown.  The goal is for the child to push himself, but not so far that it’s a negative experience and he won’t want to try again in the future.
  • Timing – Everyone’s resilience is lower when they’re tired and a child (or any human) may need more help at the end of they day.  He may be able to crawl across the room by himself in the morning, but need to be carried late in the afternoon, and that’s fine.
  • Balance – No one wants to feel like everything around them is hard.  I try to balance James’s toys so that there is something challenging available, but also some easy things that he’s familiar with.  We try to do this with his food too – sure, he loves picking up peas, but he also wants something big and east to hold so that not every bite is a challenge.

4. Creativity

Creativity often brings to mind art and music, but people can be creative in everything they do.  For babies, I think this means letting them explore (safely) in ways you may not have intended.  This may mean letting them combine different toys or build with their shakers instead of their blocks.  I think this gets trickier as they become toddlers and it can be too easy to say “no” before really considering if something is harmful or unsafe.

I try to take a moment to see if James really needs to be stopped, or if he’s just exploring creatively.  Can he play in the grass?  Sure.  Am I going to let him eat a bunch of it?  No, probably not.  But I can redirect him to our basil plant or rosemary bush if he wants to explore what eating leaves is like.  I try to think about what it is he’s trying to do and how can I meet that need in a way that is safe and acceptable.

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Five Parenting Lessons I Learned as a Teacher

Teaching little ones was such an honor and so much fun (most of the time).

I feel so lucky to have had the experience of being in the classroom before having children of my own because I learned so much about children and how to interact with them, but also because I gained valuable lessons about the type of parent I want to be.

I want to be clear, I know it’s about 1000 times harder to be the parent you want to be in the moment than to think about it in the abstract.  I worked mostly with 3-6 year older (a little bit with toddlers too), so I won’t need to use most of these ideas for quite some time.  I may fail at all of them, who knows.  These are just a few things I hope to keep in mind as my little guy grows based on what I saw work (and not work) with parent-child interactions when I taught.

1. Avoid Labeling: “bored” or “shy” or “picky”

I want my little guy to learn as many words as possible in the next couple of years…but there are a few words, like “shy” and “picky” and “bored” that I’m in no hurry for him to learn

Obviously children will learn these words on their own eventually, but why speed up that process?  Why teach a child that when there’s nothing going on, you / they are “bored”?  I promise you will regret it when they tell you 1000 times in an hour that they’re bored.

“Oh, you’re bored?  Bored means there is nothing to do.  I have something you can help me with.”  Proceed to involve them in folding laundry, sweeping the floor, whatever else needs doing….they will quickly learn to stop telling you they’re bored and start figuring out something fun to do.

Along similar lines, why teach a child that he is “shy”?  Feeling shy is totally fine, but labeling someone as shy is different.  That becomes part of their identity.

I think it’s important to help small children understand and name their feelings, but when little Johnny is hiding behind your leg, instead of saying “Sorry, Johnny is shy, he wants to stay with me,” you could say “Johnny, it seems like you’re feeling hesitant to go in today.  I see your friend Bobby over there / I see your favorite book is available to read”.

Same with picky – sure some children are picky eaters, but if they hear you label them as “picky,” it becomes a part of how they see themselves and they are much less likely to try new things.

2. Don’t Interview for Pain

Children are perceptive.  Children want your attention.  They will quickly figure out what gets the most attention from you and do more of that thing.

If you ask your child about their day and then focus in on the one negative thing they’ve mentioned and proceed to question them about it for the next half hour and comfort them (even if they weren’t upset about it to begin with…), they will quickly learn to bring up more negative things.  Whether or not anything bad has happened.  A little disagreement they had with a friend becomes a huge drama where they were the victim – this is not to say your child will lie, but that the way they view what happened will change.

How you see the world impacts how they see the world.  Parents do this because they want to make sure their children are okay and are taken care of.  Of course it’s a parent’s job to be their child’s advocate and protector.  But if you have a big reaction every time your child mentions anything “bad” happening, they will likely begin focusing on / embellishing these interactions, and becoming more upset over them.

3. Don’t Greet with Criticism

Picture this: Little three-year old Sally has spent twenty minutes putting on her own shoes.  She sat there and concentrated and did it herself, even though it’s so hard.

Mom comes in to pick her up from school: “Oh, your shoes are on the wrong feet.  Let’s fix that before we get in the car.” Mom proceeds to do it for little Sally because it’s faster.  Message: You did it wrong and I don’t think you’re capable of doing this on your own.

If you’re worried your child might be uncomfortable, you could say “Do your shoes feel comfortable?”   If they say yes, just leave it alone and maybe make a mental note to show them a trick for remembering which shoe goes on which foot later.  Or not.  They will figure it out eventually.

4. Leave it at the Door

Imagine this scenario: A little girl in pigtails comes bouncing into school, a smile on her face, lunchbox in hand.

Mom: “Poor little Jane had an awful morning.  She slept terribly, cried about putting her shoes on, and fell and scraped her knee on the way to the car.  Good luck with her today.”

The little girl is no longer smiling.  Clearly….

Children generally move on quickly.  While all of the events of a rough morning are likely still swimming around in your head, the child has likely moved on.  Even if she hasn’t, why not give her a fresh start when she gets to school (or to a friend’s house, or wherever you’re going).

This could also be broadened to say avoid talking about your child like she’s not there – she is always listening.

If you need to tell a teacher or another adult about something going on with your child, leave a note!  This way the relevant information is passed along and the child doesn’t hear the reminder that she’s probably in a bad mood and may be a pain to be around today.  Yikes.

5. Avoid Saying “No”

This isn’t what it sounds like – this does NOT mean let your child do whatever they want.  It’s just that children, especially toddlers and very young children, are sensitive to the fact that they are constantly told “no”.

There are ways you can rephrase what you’re saying to avoid directly telling them no and triggering a power struggle.  Examples:

Child: “Can I have a piece of candy?”

Parent: “Yes, this evening, after we eat dinner.”  (Or, “Mmm, I like candy too, I wish we could eat it every day!  Candy is a special treat.  We’ll have some in a few weeks on Halloween.”)

Child at the store: “Can I have this toy?  And this toy?  And that toy?”

Parent: “Ooo, that looks like a fun one!  I’m going to take picture of it so I remember it when you have a birthday.”  (or write a note – children love seeing you write notes, it shows them what they’re saying is important to you.)  This trick is from my friend Natalie and I love it and definitely plan to use it!

Child: “Can I go play outside?”

Parent: “Yes.  As soon as we’re done cleaning your room, you may play outside.”

Even though he’s only 8 months, I try to practice this way of talking with James because I think a big part of it is habit.  When he tries to roll away while I’m changing his diaper, I say “You may roll / crawl as soon as we’re done with your diaper”.  It may not make any difference to him yet, but I think it’s helping me remember to practice this skill.  I try to save “no” or “stop” for things that are unsafe so the words have more impact.

Do you use anything you’ve learned at work in your home?

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What is the role of a parent?

There are a lot of things I want to be for my child.

Above all, I want to be a loving, safe place for him where he always feels welcome and knows he can be himself.

I want to be someone who challenges him to push himself, to not give into his fears, and to always strive for his best.

I want to be the person hugging him, or sitting quietly by his side, when his best falls short.

I want to be a scientist, always observing him so that I can know him better and know what he needs.

I want to be an architect, shaping his environment so that it offers him a place to thrive and grow.

I want to be a librarian, reading to him for hours on end and planting the seed for a love of books.

I want to be his travel agent, planning adventures near and far to open his eyes to the world.

I want to be an explorer, discovering whatever worlds his yet to be determined interests lead me to, so we have common ground.

I want to be his chef, cooking him healthy meals and baking cookies with him on a Sunday afternoon.

There is one thing though that I do not want to be: I do not want to be an entertainer, making sure he’s always occupied, never bored, constantly engaged in something fun or “educational”.

I believe that boredom is needed for creativity, that quiet times of nothingness are where imagination sparks and ideas are born.  I believe that the ability to entertain yourself is a life skill, one that is falling away now that we have constant entertainment in our pockets.

So while I of course play with him, after all I’m his only available playmate most of the time, I don’t interact with him 100% of the time he’s awake.  I look for those moments when he’s inside his own head and I sit quietly while he entertains himself.

I watch as the time he can do this stretches and I hope it serves him well as he grows.  I watch as he discovers shadows on the floor and tries to capture them.  I watch as he stares at his reflection in the mirror and watches himself move.  I watch as he stares out the window at the beautiful world, captivated by the leaves dancing in the wind.

I watch as he starts to get frustrated or want attention, and then I watch a little bit longer, until it’s a little uncomfortable, walking that line so that he knows – he doesn’t need me to entertain him.

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Montessori Peace Education and Babies

Montessori is not just a method of education, it is a philosophy and a way of being, and peace is at its very core.  Maria Montessori lived during a time of war and turmoil and she viewed children as the hope for the future.  Thus, peace education was and is an extremely important part of Montessori.

When I think about peace, I picture concentric circles with peace radiating outward.  It all begins with inner peace, peace with one’s self.  Then comes peaceful interactions with people you know.  Global peace, or a peaceful outlook toward other countries and cultures and humankind, follows.

This may seem like a lofty topic for babies, but how could it ever be too early to incorporate something so essential?  The early months and years are when a person forms his sense of self, who he is going to be.  What better time could there be to think about peace?

With that in mind, I’ve been trying to incorporate some peace “activities” into our routine.  I really believe that so much of this comes from modeling – children watch how we treat people at the grocery store, they listen to how we talk about people when they’re not there, and they sense how we feel about “others,” or people outside of our own culture.  Still, I think there are some things we can do to intentionally incorporate peace as well.

Cultivate Silence

This may seem impossible with young children, but if you catch them in the right frame of mind, it can be beautiful.  I feel like people often think of children as silly and playful, which they certainly can be, but they also have such deep, beautiful souls if you give them the chance to show you.

In the Montessori classroom, children play the “silence game”.  This is NOT like when an adult challenges a rowdy child to be silent for as long as possible.  The thing about the silence game is you have to catch a child when they can succeed.  If you asked me to be silent when I was in the middle of excitedly telling you something…or right after my second cup of coffee, I would fail too.

But if you notice when a child is already calm and peaceful, you can stretch this and cultivate that sense of peace by sitting in silence.  In the classroom, we would sometimes use a candle or an hourglass timer to mark the game.  We would also sometimes play it while sitting outside and then talk about the sounds we heard.

Obviously this looks different with a baby, but I like to take James outside and sit in silence when he is peaceful.  Often we do this first thing in the morning.  He will eventually start to babble and then we sing songs or talk about what we see outside, but I want him to know that it’s also okay to just be still, to sit without words.

Use Peaceful Language

To encourage peaceful interactions with others at this stage, I just try to use peaceful language.  I know that he’s always watching and listening and I strongly believe that he will pick up more from watching us interact in the world than from us telling him to “play nicely” when he’s older.  I also talk to him about being “gentle” when he reaches out to touch his baby friend (or tries to roll right into her…)  I have no idea how much of this he understands right now, but I figure it’s never to early to start.

Explore Other Cultures

This is a fun one!  I think familiarity with other cultures is a big part of avoiding prejudice.  Some of my favorite memories of attending Montessori preschool as a child are of celebrating holidays from other cultures – exploring their dress, trying their foods, and listening to stories and songs from other countries.

With James, I’m loving the book Global Babies right now.  It shows babies from countries around the world and talks about how they are all beautiful and loved.  He likes looking at the pictures of different types of faces.  I also try to sing peaceful songs with him and look forward to introducing him to foods from different cultures as he continues his journey with solid foods.

For older children, Same, Same but Different is an excellent book.  I also remember loving this book when I was a child and hope to do more things to celebrate different cultural holidays as James gets older and becomes more aware.

These are just a few easy things we try to incorporate into daily life.  Hopefully we can do more as he gets older!

Were you exposed to different cultures as a child?

If you have children, do you have any tips for incorporating peace / any book ideas?

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The Gift of Nature

“There is no description, no image in any book capable of replacing the sight of real trees, and all the life to be found around them in a real forest.” Maria Montessori

I am happiest outside.  Whether it’s going for a run, sitting on our patio with a glass of wine and a good book, or, perhaps my favorite, hiking in a national park, I would pretty much always rather be outside.

In addition to loving being out in nature, I believe strongly that it’s important for children.  Nothing sparks curiosity more than hearing the music of the birds in the morning or noticing a rustling in the bushes and standing completely still to see if you can discover the mystery behind it.

When teaching in the classroom, I saw fist hand the magic of giving children the gift of time outside.  We had an outdoor classroom where children could bring their work.  It was beautiful to see the concentration that happened when allowing them to do their work in the fresh air, rather than just catching occasional glimpses out the window.  For some children in particular, it made a remarkable difference.

Incorporating outside time into our routine with James has been easy.  A normal Saturday for us before he was born would often include hiking on Austin’s Greenbelt and then eating at Tacodeli at the picnic tables outside.  This is still what we do, just with an extra passenger in tow!

We go for walks every day.  Sometimes these are on a trail somewhere, but often just around our neighborhood.  I would like to get a membership to the nearby Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center soon and take some of our walks there.

We often spend some of his playtime on the back patio.  It’s so easy to bring a blanket out there and get some sunshine.  Sometimes we take playtime to a park too, or this week to Barton Springs, for some variety.

When playing inside, we’re almost always in front of either his mirror or a window, sometimes with the window open to feel the breeze and hear the outside sounds (which are sometimes just traffic noises….)

Bringing nature inside is something I really want to start doing more.  I am the WORST with plants.  I do not have a good track record with them.  I really want to have more plants in our house though.  I need to research some really easy ones instead of just wandering blindly around a plant nursery and picking something pretty.  Any ideas?

While we spend a lot of time outside already, I know there is so much more we could do.  Some things I would love to start including:

  • Nature Books: James has a book about National Parks and one about bugs, but I think those are really the only ones he has about nature.  I plan to go to the library soon and see if I can find some other good ones.  I also might make him one on Shutterfly using photos we’ve taken (my husband is a great photographer!)
  • Nature Photographs: James has nature photographs up in his room, but I’d love to print some more and laminate them so that I could prop them up for him to look at and switch out the images.
  • Outdoor Environment: While we often bring a blanket outside and play, I do not have any sort of real outdoor environment set up for him yet. I’d like to get a cabinet to hold outdoor play items like bubbles.  I would also like to get some sort of shade structure and a water table or small pool for the spring and summer.
  • Nature Box: I would love to have a box or basket of items from nature for James to look at, but I’m not quite sure how to go about this given his strong desire to put everything in his mouth right now. I’m thinking of looking for bigger things like large sea shells or fossils that aren’t a choking hazard.
  • Garden: I’m hesitant to even include this given my aforementioned history of killing plants, but I know gardening is such a rich experience for children. I’m thinking of starting with just a small vegetable garden and seeing if I can keep them alive.  Perhaps I will beg my mom to come help me….

I would love more ideas!

What is your favorite way to get outside? 

If you have children, how do you expose them to nature?

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