Montessori Baby – What’s on James’s Shelf?

Good morning!

I wanted to share an update on James’s nursery today.  I set up his toy shelf before he was born, but it was really just for looks in the first few months.  In the last month or so though, James has been much more interested in toys.

He is all about using his hands and bringing things to his mouth these days.  Now that he actually plays with the toys on his shelf, I try to rotate a few of them at the beginning of each week.  Here’s a snapshot of what’s on his shelf now at five and a half months.

As a side note, Montessori has a big emphasis on using natural materials and I hope to collect some small baskets and wooden trays to hold his toys.  In the meantime I’m using these colorful boxes my Mom had from Birchbox.  I got the idea to use these as storage from The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

This basket of books is the newest addition to his shelf and I am absolutely loving it.  There is a closet with built-in shelves right outside James’s room and we keep his books there.  However, I’ve been remembering to read to him a lot more now that there are a few right there on his shelf.  I rotate these each week, except for Goodnight Moon, which is a permanent staple as we read it each night before bed.  This basket is right next to the glider so it is super easy to sit with him there and choose a book to read.

Gund Fuzzy Frog

This has a special place in my heart because I spent way too long browsing stuffed animals and trying to pick the perfect one for him while I was pregnant.  He does not yet show any particular attachment to a stuffed animal, but he does seem to enjoy reaching for them and “wrestling” them.

Crochet Vegetable Rattles

I love these because I think they’re adorable, but I also like that each one offers a different way to grip and a different level of challenge.  For instance, James could grasp the mushroom right away when we gave him these at 3 months old, but the tomato and radish are more difficult.

This Etsy shop has some other really beautiful wooden and crochet toys as well.

Montessori Grasping Toys

These are classic Montessori baby toys, gifted to me by the head of school where I taught.  The one with two discs is great for passing back and forth from hand to hand and James loves to hold the one with wooden beads and work one of the beads into his mouth.

Haba Rainbow Clutching Toy

This seems to be one of James’s favorites.

It is easy to grasp, but also interesting as it bends and has lots of fun colors.  I love Haba toys in general.

Haba Rainbow Ball

Another Haba favorite.  I love this ball because it has lots of interesting textures and colors.  It also rolls away, but not too far, so James can still see it and reach for it.

When James is a little older and can crawl over to the shelf by himself, I will likely have fewer items on each tray (for instance, one or two vegetable rattles instead of all of them).  At this point though, I’m just bringing him the toys, so I can bring him one at a time.

If you have children, do you have any baby toys you recommend?

Are you more of a minimalist or do you like to fill your house with many things you love?

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Day in the Life – 5.5 Months

Good morning!  I hope you’ve had a great week and are looking forward to something fun this weekend.  I’m hoping to do a day in the life post once a month, so I can remember what life was like at each little stage.  This was our day on Tuesday.

I woke up at 5:20.  James was squirming, but not crying or anything.  I fed him so that he would go back to sleep for a little longer.  He stayed half asleep while he ate and then went back to bed.

While he slept, I ate breakfast, drank coffee, and then did a 30 minute Barre3 workout (<- referral link).  One thing I like about Barre3 is that you can select a whole workout, or just choose 10 minute segments, so I don’t have to worry about him waking up and needing me in the middle of the workout.  This time I did get to finish the whole thing though and it felt great!  I don’t always feel like doing it, but I feel so much better when I get a workout in first thing in the morning.

James started squirming again at 6:59 – perfect timing.  I feel like it works best when he wakes up around 7.  When he wakes up earlier, he’s still super sleepy all morning and when he wakes up much later, he doesn’t take good naps.  I give him some time to wake up while I unload and load the dishwasher.

I used to go in immediately when I heard him, but have started trying to give him at least ten minutes or so to wake up first.  He almost always wakes up in a happy mood in the morning and rolls around and talks to himself.  I hope having time in there alone helps him feel comfortable and safe in his room as he gets older.  I am also a major introvert and feel like I’d be heavily annoyed if someone came in and started talking to me right when I opened my eyes every morning 🙂

As a side note, I wish the baby monitor took pictures / videos.  Does anyone know if this is a thing?  I feel like it should be, I’d buy it.  He is too cute squirming around in there and chatting up a storm.

We have a new favorite morning tradition.  After I greet him and we snuggle for a few minutes, we go sit outside on the back patio.  This has been a different experience since daylight savings, but I figured he is never outside when it’s dark, so maybe it’s interesting?  I love all of the morning sounds and there is something so nice about getting outside first thing.  I know it puts me in a good mood anyway.  Sometimes we sing songs out there and sometimes we just listen and enjoy the stillness.

Today it is just starting to get light and the moon is out.  I think this may be the first time James has seen the moon, which makes me really appreciate all of the wonder of such a beautiful morning.  It was a little chilly, so I put on his cozy fox hat – I can hardly even handle the cuteness.  We sit out there until he starts to get antsy and then I change his diaper and get him dressed for the day.

We go in to say good morning to his Dad – always a highlight of the morning.

After snuggling and playing in our bed for a while, I feed James and then he plays in front of his mirror.  He has been initiating wrestling matches with his blankets lately and it is highly amusing to watch.  I sit next to him and read about the upcoming milestones to expect in a baby development book until he wants attention.

I hold him upright while he bounces – his absolute favorite activity of the moment!  I feel like he has very little interest in practicing sitting up because he just wants to MOVE.  Bouncing is much more his speed.

He is getting sleepy eyes so we sit in the glider while I read him “Polar Bear Polar Bear, What do you Hear?”.  I then turn on the white noise, sing him a song (Forever Young – our goodnight song), and put him in his sleep sack for his nap at about 9:10.

While he naps, I work on my Baby Sign Language post and this post.  I also clean the kitchen, dining area, and living room.  Yikes, I need to work on cleaning the floors more often before he starts crawling!

James woke up a little after 11.  I fed him and we set out on the day’s adventure!  My husband was working from home today, so he joined us for lunch.

His favorite taco place (Taco Deli) is right next door to my favorite juice / smoothie place (Juiceland), so it works out perfectly.  They also have outdoor seating, which gives the little guy a lot more to look at.  We go here probably once a week.

When we got home, James had some play time before his afternoon nap.

He goes back and forth between two and three naps these days.  When he takes a long morning nap, he often only takes one afternoon nap.  This is especially true on days like today where he is in the car / on our laps for a lot of his awake time and hasn’t gotten to roll around get his energy out.

He napped from about 2:30-3:30 and then we sat in the backyard again for a little while.  It was seriously beautiful out today.  He played a little more while I folded laundry.

I fed him and when my husband was done with work, we went for a long family walk.

Today was the first time we put him in the stroller without his car seat / converter.  He’s been really squirmy in his car seat lately so I looked up when he could go in the stroller without it…8 weeks.  Whoops.  #newmomfail.  He seemed much happier in the stroller this way so I’m excited to hopefully be able to take some longer walks!

After our walk, James played some more and then we took his 24 week pictures…hard to believe!

Then is was bath time…one of his and my favorite times of the day.  After plenty of bath time fun, I fed him, gave him a massage and we all read Goodnight Moon together before putting him to bed.  I seriously love this stage.  It was a great Tuesday.

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I Saw the Sign…Baby Sign Language

I officially apologize for getting that song stuck in your head 🙂

Something new we’ve just started doing is introducing baby sign language.  If you’re not familiar with it, baby sign language allows you to communicate with your pre-verbal baby through signs.  The theory is that this lets them communicate earlier so that they can tell you what they need before they can talk.

This is an idea I’ve been in love with ever since seeing it in action with some of the babies / young toddlers at the school where I taught.  Some studies do show that it has benefits for both cognitive and emotional development…but I also just think it looks so fun!

We just started signing to James last week, so I am by NO means an expert.  I wanted to share some of what I’ve read though in case anyone else is thinking of using baby signs.  Please chime in in the comments if you have any experience with baby sign language; I would love any advice you may have!  I’ll do an update in a few months too, after we know how James takes to it and if we see any benefits.

When should I start signing to my baby?

It’s never too early…or too late!  Many people recommend starting around six months though.  Every baby is different, but if you sign consistently and often, you may see your baby start signing back around the time they start waving hello and goodbye.  If you think about it, that is just a simple sign!

From what I’ve read, this is often around 8-9 months, so if you start signing around 6 months, they’ll have plenty of exposure before they’re ready to sign back.  If you sign consistently though, your baby may pick up on it much sooner.  For instance, if you do the sign for “eat” every time you feed him, he will likely see that sign much more frequently than he sees someone wave.

We started now (at five months) because I know it will take us a while to remember to do the signs.  Hopefully we’ll be doing them consistently by the time he’s six months old.

How do I introduce a new sign?

Simply start doing the sign when it’s relevant throughout the day.  For example, I sign “milk” before I feed James, saying the word “milk” at the same time.  There is no need to give any sort of formal lesson, they watch everything you do!

How many signs should I start with?

I’ve read that 3-5 is a good number.  You can introduce more once they start to sign back.

Which signs should I start with?

We’re starting with “more,” “milk,” “sleep,” and “eat”.  The daily life words are the easiest to start with because they come up the most often, so your baby will see you do them constantly.  You could also start with “Mama” or “Daddy,” things that are relevant to their lives.  For instance, you could do “dog” if you have a dog, but if you don’t have one, it likely won’t come up enough to sink in at first.

What if I don’t know sign language?

I do not know sign language, but I’m confident that I can learn a few signs at a time.  Also, you don’t have to use formal American Sign Language (ASL) – your baby won’t know the difference 🙂  I figure I might as well use ASL when possible because he may retain it later in life, but if a particular sign is too difficult for your baby to use, you should feel free to make up a different one that makes sense.  I’ve also read that babies will sometimes make up their own signs after they’ve been signing for a while.

We also got this book to help us.  That way, there’s something both my husband and I can reference to make sure we’re using the same signs.  It was very inexpensive and easy to look at.  This particular book does not give any background information on signing, but I had already read enough about it that I was just looking for the actual signs.

Will signing delay my child from starting to speak?

This is a concern some parents have – does providing babies with another way to communicate take away the drive to start speaking?  Everything I’ve read says no.  In my opinion, I think babies want to communicate like we do, and in a much richer way than just learning some basic signs gives them.  I don’t think signing takes away the drive to speak any more than crawling takes away the drive to walk.  You also always say the word out loud along with giving the sign, so it does not take away from your baby’s exposure to verbal language.

Also though, I don’t really care if using sign language means James won’t say his first word for an extra few weeks.  Of course I’m eager to hear him talk, but I try not to get too hung up on racing to get to the next milestone.

I would really love to hear about any experiences you have with baby signs!

Have you used baby sign language?

Do you know sign language?

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Weekend in Houston

Happy Monday 🙂  We had the best weekend!

The highlight was definitely spending time with my family in Houston, but I want to start with Friday.

I implemented the things I mentioned in my Operation Bring Friday Back post (minus the happy hour because we left for Houston that evening), and it was the best day.

I started with a simple ten minute yoga video in the morning and it made me feel SO good.  Just ten little minutes and what a difference it made to the start of my day.  I felt so ready when I saw James start to squirm on the monitor, so ready to greet him and really be there with him.  We even had a Bob Marley dance party at 8:30 in the morning…what better way is there to kick off the weekend?

Along with the self-care theme, I also took a bubble bath and read on the back patio with some tea.  It was glorious.  Despite the winter theme of my mug and book, it was in the low 70’s and beautiful.

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is acoomplished” Lao Tzu.  My teabag was wise 🙂

I felt great and I had so much more energy to be present with my little guy – a win-win for sure!

Someone else enjoyed reading outside too 🙂

We left for Houston at around five and James was a trooper.  He hung out and played with his crocheted mushroom for the first couple of hours and slept the rest of the way.

He transfered easily to bed and I proceded to hang out with my Dad until 1:30 in the morning…whoops!  After waking up at 4:45 Friday morning, that was quite a long day, but so worth it.  I knew I wouldn’t get to see him much the next day due to all of the girly things we had planned, so wanted to make sure I got to spend time with him while we were in town.

While I was a little tired Saturday morning, I was also super excited because we were going wedding dress shopping for my sister!  We started with scones and mimosas at her house before going to her first appointment.  One of her best friends / bridesmaids came too, so it was great for me to get to know her before the wedding.

My husband and my sister’s fiance hung out with James while we went to the first bridal boutique and then we all met up for brunch.  James decided there was way too much exciting stuff to see at my sister’s house and barely napped.  Fortunately, he was still in a great mood!

I brought James with us to the second appointment and he enjoyed flirting with all of the ladies at the wedding dress shop.  My sister looked so beautiful in all of the dresses and I have to say, it was way more fun to watch her try on dresses than it was choosing my own a few years ago.  I can’t share a picture of it, but she found her dress and it is absolutely perfect for her.  I’m so happy I got to be there for it!

I crashed hard Saturday night and then was up bright and early Sunday for a class at our church.  James is going to be baptized at the church I grew up in in May (on Mother’s Day!) and my husband and I needed to take a pre-Baptism class first.  It was nice and they gave us a lovely board book for James, explaining Baptism.

James stayed home with my parents and took a great nap.  He was in a very happy mood when he woke up and we all went out to get Indian food, my favorite!  Despite his solid nap, I think the little guy was still catching up from Saturday, because he fell asleep on me, which he hardly ever does anymore.

He used to fall asleep on me all the time, which made it very hard to get things done.  Now that it never happens anymore though, I love it when he does this, it is so sweet.

As soon as he woke up, we drove back to Austin.  James entertained himself with some new books my mom got him (more on these wonderful books soon!).

We hadn’t done this much in a single weekend since before James was born.  We were all pretty tired by the time we got home, but it was such a wonderful weekend with my family, and so worth it.

What was the best part of your weekend?

Do you live near your family?

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Operation Bring Friday Back

Happy happy Friday!

I hope you had a great week and have some fun plans for the weekend.  We are heading to Houston to take a class at my home church that we need to do before getting James baptized.  I’m also going wedding dress shopping for my sister…I could not be more excited!

For a long time, Friday was my favorite day of the week.  Everyone was in a little bit of a better mood.  Things seemed a bit more relaxed.  All of the anticipation for the weekend was there.

My husband and I would usually go out to dinner and watch a movie.  We were not big partiers even before the little guy 🙂

The thing about being a stay at home mom though, is that in a way every day is Friday and in a way Friday never comes.  For me anyway, all of the days can sort of run together sometimes.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, as for the most part, the days are very good.

I am still excited for the weekend of course because it means spending time with my husband.  But I want to bring back that relaxed, celebratory Friday feeling I used to have.  And I’ve got a plan.

1. Use James’s afternoon nap to do something fun

As all parents know, nap time is crucial for getting things done.  I usually have a plan going into each nap time for exactly what I want to accomplish so that I don’t waste any time thinking about it.  I want to celebrate the start of the weekend though by doing something relaxing.  Ideally, I want this to be something other than watching tv, something like sitting outside and listening to music, coloring, reading a book, or taking a bath.  Yes, nap time is important for getting things done, but James’s late afternoon naps are usually about 35 minutes long…I think I can spare 35 minutes for my happiness 🙂

2. Yoga

I’m pretty sure I haven’t done yoga since I was pregnant.  Now I was never a devoted yogi by any means, but I do feel better when I take the time stretch and breath and be still.  I particularly love Yoga by Adriene.  My best friend Ali turned me on to her.  She has a bunch of free yoga videos and she is funny and doesn’t take things too seriously.  I’m not going to be overly ambitious here, but I would like to do at least a short video every Friday, preferably first thing in the morning.

3. NO work Friday night

I’ve recently started doing some freelance writing work, which I’m excited about, but I’m still finding a balance with it.  I have limited and unpredictable amounts of time to get the work done.  Also, whatever the opposite of a procrastinator is, that is what I am.  I feel a ridiculous need to get the assignments done ASAP, even if I have several days until a deadline.  This has led to some unnecessary stress lately.  I want to SLOW down a little.  I’m going to make sure I set aside all work Friday evenings and just relax and spend time with my husband.

4. Get something easy / fun for dinner

I think the days of going out to dinner Friday nights are over for us for a while, and that is just fine.  It’s much easier and more relaxing to take our little buddy out to lunch.  He’s generally in a better mood earlier in the day and we’re not rushing to get home for bedtime or trying to keep him from falling asleep in the car.  I pretty much never feel like cooking dinner Friday night though.  I grocery shop Friday mornings, so I’m going to make sure to get something easy to make for dinner that night.  Or we could order takeout, but we pretty much never do that for some reason.

5. Have a fun drink

Yes, I’m bringing back happy hour!  Now this does not have to be alcoholic, it could just be kombucha or a fun mocktail, which I love.  It will probably be beer or wine though, preferably enjoyed out on the patio with snacks.  Nothing says the weekend is here to me more than a good, old fashioned happy hour 🙂

That is the plan!  We shall see how it goes.

Do you have any rituals to get you into the weekend spirit?

What is your favorite day of the week?

Any fun plans this weekend?

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How I Left the Corporate World for Montessori – Part 2

If you haven’t read part 1, you can find it here.

 

I was accepted to the UT MBA program (hook ‘em horns!) with a large scholarship.  I grew up loving Longhorn football and all things UT, so this was very exciting.

I left my job pretty much right away to take some time off before business school.  My husband works in IT and his company agreed to let him work remotely, so we decided to move to Wisconsin, where my husband is from, for six months before heading to Austin for school.

My husband’s family has a house on a lake a few hours northwest of Milwaukee and they graciously let us live there for a few months.  It was the best.

I fondly refer to this time in my life as my retirement.  We moved there at the beginning of February, which provided just enough winter to enchant this Texas girl.  I went sledding daily right outside the house.  We went for canoe rides where my hands were aching from the cold, but it was worth it to hear the slow drip of melting snow and see the animals deprived of their hiding places with no leaves on the bushes and trees.

We saw countless deer, sandhill cranes almost as tall as I am, foxes, river otters, raccoons, and so much more.  It was like my favorite kind of vacation, extended for six months.

I sat on the deck and read.  I experimented with cooking.  I wrote a book that will likely never be published, but that’s okay; that’s the sort of thing one does in retirement.

I spent hours walking the country roads and thinking.  I came to have a favorite cow, a favorite barn.  The kind people of Arkdale would stop and ask me if I needed a ride.  I guess they thought I was lost.  And I sort of was.

As much as I was enjoying my retirement, I began to feel a sense of dread.  It started small enough that I didn’t even recognize it.  Does that ever happen to you?  I often get a funny feeling, a shadow of uneasiness, before I realize what I’m anxious about, or even realize that the anxiety is there.

As the months went by, I started getting emails about orientation and new student trips.  All I felt was dread.

Now I am a worrier by nature, so at first I thought this was just a fear of change, a fear of being thrown in with a bunch of new people.  But there was no excitement to balance it out, not even a little bit.  This was not a good sign.

I began to doubt that I should go to business school, but I felt trapped.  I had no other skills, no other plans.  I had quit my job, spent a bunch of time and money applying to school, gotten my family excited about it, and moved us across the country.  It didn’t seem right to just say “uh, sorry guys, just kidding.”

But it also didn’t seem right to dig myself deeper into a career I knew in my heart wasn’t for me.  If I hadn’t had the luxury of those long days to think and reflect and pray, I know I would now be the proud recipient of an MBA, going to an office each day and trying not to question it.

But in those long hours, it just sort of came to me.  And it seemed so very obvious.  Of course this was what I should do.  I had always loved school, loved children, loved Montessori.  I had taught Sunday School and Vacation Bible School with my mom and loved it.  Most importantly, it was something I believed in and knew could make a difference.

 

It was May by this point though and with schools letting out for summer, I had to act fast.  I quickly researched and contacted every Montessori school in Austin I could find.  We decided to still move to Austin, as we love the city and it’s near my family in Houston.  Plus, you know, Austin rocks.

We flew to Austin to look for apartments and I interviewed at two schools.  The first one was just not right and my heart sank a little bit.  I really had no backup plan.

I pulled up to the second school, Hawthorne Montessori, and knew immediately it was the kind of place I wanted to be.  The first thing I saw was a child peacefully painting at an easel outside among the trees.  Peeking through the window of the 3-6 classroom, it reminded me so much of my own wonderful days in an early childhood class.  The head of school was wonderful and I tried to remain calmly enthusiastic and not beg for a job.

She took a chance on me and for that I’m forever grateful.  I was an assistant in the toddler and 3-6 classroom for a year, took my training and interned, and then taught at this wonderful school.

I look forward to going back to teaching someday, but also feel so lucky to have had this experience before having my son.  I learned so much about myself, about children, and about the importance of giving yourself the gift of time to explore this beautiful world and find your place in it, the place that calls to you, the place you’re truly meant to be.

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How I Left the Corporate World for Montessori – Part 1

Inspired by my friend and mentor Natalie, I wanted to share how I came to Montessori.  This turned out to be quite long, so I’ve broken it into two parts.  Stay tuned for Part 2….

It all started 26 years ago…I’ll try to keep this part short.  Don’t worry, I’m not pulling a David Copperfield on you 🙂

I have a sister who is 15 months older than I am.  As a little girl, I of course wanted to do everything she did right when she did it.  I pretty much followed her around begging her to play with me, but that’s another story.

When she was five, my sister Kathleen started kindergarten at our local public school.  I begged to go too.  I was apparently so persistent (err, annoying) that my parents gave in.  Since I was too young for public school, they put me in a nearby private school for the year, School of the Woods Montessori.

As eager parents often do, my parents would ask us daily what we did in school.  My sister would say things like “we learned the letter J,” or “we sang a frog song”.  I would say things like “Pluto is the smallest planet and furthest from the Sun”.  Hmm….

The difference between the two schools quickly became pretty obvious.  I want to note that this is in no way a knock against public or traditional schools.  This was just not a good one.  They actually switched my sister into a class that was taught almost entirely in Spanish…no bueno.

My parents switched my sister to School of the Woods.  They had planned to send me there for a year, but we both stayed all the way through middle school.  I can’t tell you how fond my memories are of that school.

I have the clearest, most joyful memories of learning to read and of my first experiences with math.  I loved the little boxes of perfect miniatures used to match to written words.  I LOVED golden beads and the “bank game” (a hands-on material used to show the decimal system all the way through division).  I loved the handwashing work, where a child completes a very precise set of steps using beautiful materials to wash his hands, scrub his nails, apply lotion, etc.

Did I love every teacher I had through the years and want to go to school every day?  No.  But I did cry when I got the chicken pox and found out I had to stay home.

When I was in middle school, my mom, who was a lawyer in a previous life and then stayed home with us when we were little, decided she wanted to become a Montessori teacher.  I remember going with her to her training sometimes that summer.  I strangely remember two nice ladies in her training, both named Debbie.  The things we remember are strange….

My mom came to teach at School of the Woods, and is still there today.

So after having such a wonderful experience, did I know in my heart that I was meant to be a Montessori teacher too?  No.  That would have been so simple.

You would think the countless days I spent play-teaching my little brother, or my ongoing childhood experiment of trying to teach my bunny rabbit English would have been clues.

But it’s so complicated for children today.  There is so much talk of money and success and so many confusing role models.

When I applied to colleges, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do.  I tried to imagine different careers, but everything was so vague and unfamiliar.  I really think high schools should have a class devoted to explaining different careers and having people from those careers some speak.  Did anyone’s school have something like this?

I applied to a business program because it seemed highly practical, but I really had no idea what a career in “business” would look like.  I think I’ve mentioned before my strong fear of failure.  Whatever “business” was, it sounded like something I could get a job with.  Wow, what a way to choose your life’s work.

I had the best time at Georgetown University (Hoya Saxa!).  I learned a ton, both from my excellent professors and from moving to a part of the country I had never so much as visited before freshman orientation.  I enjoyed exploring DC and all that it had to offer.  Upon graduating, I got a job in strategy and management consulting (sticking with the vague theme…) and loved it.  At first.

I was working with highly intelligent and motivated people to solve interesting problems.  We were working with federal government clients and I enjoyed the travel involved in my first project.  I think because of the novelty, the wonderful people, and how much I was learning, I really enjoyed this job for some time.

The thing is, I could never see where it was going.  I couldn’t picture myself going into an office every day for the next forty to fifty years.  I was restless.  Despite all of our hard work, I couldn’t really tell you anything meaningful we were accomplishing at the end of the day.  I most certainly couldn’t tell you that strategy and management consulting was my passion.

So did I quit in a heartbeat to follow my dreams?  No.  That is so not my personality.  I am a type A planner to the core.

I applied to business school.  That was the logical next step if I wanted to make a change.  Because hey, if an undergrad business degree hadn’t gotten me a career I cared about, a graduate degree was sure to, right?  I don’t regret applying to B. school for a second though because I know that it’s what I personally needed to do in order to quit my job.

I could not simply quit such a promising career with no plans for the future.  At the same time, I could not find the space I needed to figure things out while immersed in that world.

To be continued….

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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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James at Five Months

The last month has flown by!  Time in general seems to have acquired entirely new properties since our little guy was born, but this month in particular was FAST.  I wanted to document this very sweet time in our lives and share what’s new.

I have to say, this is my very favorite stage of development so far (yes, I think this at almost every stage…).  James is so engaged and interactive, but is not really mobile yet, which I know will bring new challenges.  He is such a happy little guy and is changing all of the time.

Gross Motor

James is determined.  He started rolling from tummy to back at three months and back to tummy at four months, but he really mastered rolling this month.  He also started desperately trying to crawl, but so far this mostly results in scooting backward or slowly rotating in a circle.

Funny story – half way through the month, he seemed to forget how to roll over!  I think once he mastered it, he didn’t care as much about practicing anymore and was likely focused on learning something new.  After constant rolling back and forth, he started trying to roll over, than flopping back down and giving up.  Has this happened to anyone else?

Once I realized this, I started putting toys / interesting objects diagonally above him so he could see them, but would need to roll onto his tummy to get a better look / grab them.  Within a day and a half or so of doing this, he was back to rolling regularly.  (I jokingly referred to this as rolling boot camp.)  Not being able to roll over was seriously impacting his naps, so I was happy when he was at it again!

James has also been practicing sitting and baring weight on his legs.  He can sometimes sit for a couple of minutes, with his hands on the floor for balance.  This seems to surprise him more than anything.

He also loves being held upright to practice standing.  He often collapses after a few seconds, but the last week or so he has started bouncing while doing this with a HUGE grin on his face.

Fine Motor

Last month was all about clasping his hands together and this month has been all about reaching for objects and bringing them to his mouth.  I so clearly remember when he couldn’t get his hand to his mouth at all as a newborn (and so desperately wanted to), and it is amazing to see him now, using his hands so deftly.

Sleep

James has made great strides with sleep this month and I must say, it’s made a huge difference in our family’s happiness!

He is not yet sleeping through the night regularly (he usually wakes up once in the middle of the night and once in the early morning), but I honestly don’t really care about that.  He goes back to sleep quickly and on his own after I feed him, so it’s just a 15-20 minute process.

The change this month, however, has been falling asleep independently.  This is something we’ve really been working on since he was three months or so, but saw significant progress in this month.  He’s been able to fall asleep on his own after night wakings for months, but just recently started doing so for most naps and at bedtime.  He used to cry and cry and need significant comforting, but I now just sing him one song and put him in his bed and he usually falls asleep.  I sometimes have to go back in to sing him another song and he sometimes needs more help with his late afternoon nap, but the days of lying next to him and rubbing his back or tummy while he cried seem to be mostly over (at least for now!)

He did have a strange 5-6 day string of very difficult bedtimes a couple of weeks ago.  I honestly have no idea why.  He started crying SO hard when we put him to bed; it was terrible.  After a few days though, he went back to normal and seems perfectly happy at bedtime most days.

Awareness

One of the biggest changes I’ve seen in James this month is his awareness.  He seems to be recognizing patterns and anticipating what will happen next.  For example, he gets super excited when I put him in his stroller to go for a walk.  He also gets a huge grin on his face when we start getting ready for bath time – one of his all-time favorite activities.  I actually wonder if this greater awareness is what caused his temporary bedtime rebellion – he would start crying as soon as the bedtime routine started.  Regardless, it is so fun to see this mental leap.

I honestly can’t believe that our little buddy is almost half a year old!  Six months seems like such a milestone to me and I just wish time would slow down.  I can only imagine what the next month will bring, but I’m trying not to look ahead too much, to focus on savoring these sweet days one at a time as they come.

Do you have children?  If so, what is something new they’re doing this month?

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Top Five in the First Five Months

It hardly seems possible, but little James turns five months old today.  (Five month update coming soon!)  I still clearly remember being pregnant and trying to sift through the ridiculously long lists of things you “need” before bringing baby home, so I thought I’d talk about the top five baby items that have stood out so far for us in these first few months.

These are certainly not the items I would have predicted, but they have been the best for us. I am by no means an expert and of course each baby has his or her own preferences.

Note: I did not include the floor bed, which has absolutely been a favorite, as I discussed it in detail here.

Thick Blankets

Everything I read when I was pregnant emphasized that you could never have enough light swaddle blankets, especially these Aiden and Anais ones.  I don’t know why, but I feel like we barely use these.  Sure, we tuck one around James in the stroller, but I seem to have about five times as many light blankets as I need.

We have far fewer thick blankets, but use them much more.  These are the ones we lay James on when he’s playing.  This may be because we have hard wood floors, but we often double up so he doesn’t bang his head when he rolls over.  My very favorite is the one that my friend and former boss, Lisa, made me.  It is soft and thick and was especially perfect when James was learning to hold his head up and often lost control and hit it on the floor.  There were no head bumps or tears when he was on this blanket.

Independent Black and White Books

I love to read, and absolutely love reading to James.  It is one of my favorite things.  When he was a newborn, I would lie next to him on the floor and read to him.  He now sits and my lap as we read.

As much as I love reading books with James, I really appreciate the books that he can look at independently.

Two of these we’ve particularly loved are the Black & White board book and Art for Baby.  The Black and White board book unfolds like an accordion so that the baby can look at the images independently.  James LOVED this as a newborn.  He would lay and stare at the images for the longest time.  It was the first thing I saw him really concentrate on.

We didn’t have the Art for Baby book until he was a little older, but he still loves that one now at five months.  It features black and white images from different well known artists.  It is much larger than most board books and quite sturdy so that it’s easy to stand it up opened to a certain page to allow your baby to look at it on his own.

Mirror

This was a relatively inexpensive item that I can see us using well into toddlerhood and beyond.  It is probably my number one favorite baby item – and we almost didn’t get it!  While I always loved the idea of having a mirror in James’s room, I got a little overwhelmed trying to figure out what type to get and how to mount it to the wall.

I was concerned about the safety of having a glass mirror in his room, since he could potentially bang toys on it and break the glass when he gets older.  (I wouldn’t have worried about this if he didn’t have a floor bed / freedom of movement or if we were going to put it in a playroom rather than his room.)  On the other hand, many reviews of acrylic / unbreakable mirrors complained about distorted images.

In the end, we ordered an acrylic mirror from Home Depot (our Home Depot didn’t have them in the store, but they do have them online).  I couldn’t be happier with it!  Is the image perfect?  No.  Does James stare into it and smile and gaze with fascination?  Yes!  He does this every single day.

He has been transfixed by it since we first showed it to him as a newborn.  If you look into the mirror from across the room, the reflection does look slightly distorted, but from his close up vantage point, it looks great.

Skwish

This is the only toy to make the list – James loves it!  He has been given so many beautiful rattles and toys, but this one definitely stands out as his favorite.  My mom gave it to him for Christmas because she remembered it as one of my little brother’s very favorites when he was a baby.  It has not disappointed!

This was one of the first toys James could reliably grasp and hold onto.  He also loves putting the knobs in his mouth.  We have the one with colored knobs, but there is also an unpainted natural wood option.

Boppy Infant Lounger

This was something we added to our wish list just for fun, but it turned out to be so helpful in the first couple of months.  While we mostly put him down on a blanket when he was awake to allow freedom of movement, he did sometimes seem to enjoy the change of perspective of being in the lounger.  It let him get a better view of the Christmas lights or watch us as we were eating dinner.

As much as I have loved these items, even they have not really been necessary.  I’ve been amazed by how engaged James is just looking around the room, watching us go about daily tasks.  He has also been captivated by household items like the ceiling fan, a red and black plastic cup we got from a bbq restaurant, and, perhaps his favorite, a beautiful blue silk scarf given to me by a friend (thank you Lisa!).

In the end, we certainly have a few things we haven’t used (the bassinet…), but I’m so glad we didn’t rush out and get everything on the lists.  Each baby is so different and you just never know what they will love!

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