Montessori Fundamentals: the three hour work period

“But the first step (toward concentration) is so fragile, so delicate, that a touch can make it vanish again, like a soap bubble, and with it goes all the beauty of that moment.” Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

Good morning and happy Monday!

Continuing with my Montessori Fundamentals series, I want to talk today about the three hour work period.

If you visit a Montessori classroom, one thing you would notice is that the children stay in one classroom working for a long period of time, generally three hours, though it can vary by age and school.

Children do not switch from English to Math to Art every hour.  They spend their time in one environment where all of these subjects are included.

As noted here on the American Montessori Society website, three-hour work periods are not generally appropriate for very young children, such as infants and toddlers.  Infant and toddler classes still have very minimal group activities or transitions, just with shorter work cycles that are developmentally appropriate.

Why It’s Important:

One main reason that Montessori classes don’t have pull-outs or adult-directed activity changes is to protect children’s growing concentration.  While some see the role of a teacher as a person who directly imparts knowledge, a Montessori teacher’s role is more indirect.  One of the primary roles of a Montessori teacher is to provide a stimulating environment and then protect concentration so that a child can discover things for himself.  This simply can’t be done in 45 minute increments.

The Work Period in the Classroom:

A Montessori class has as few interruptions and transitions as possible.  Many Montessori teachers have a “circle time” at the end of a work period where the group comes together, but even this time is generally optional.  If a child wants to keep working, he may.

Thus work time is interrupted for lunch and outside play, but that is about it.  A typical schedule might be:

  • 8-11 individual work time
  • 11-11:45 lunch
  • 11:45-12:30 outside play, with a similar structure in the afternoon.

That is not to say that a child sits and works on the same thing for three hours straight – far from it!  A child may do 2-3 pieces of work in that time, or he may do 8-10.  It depends on the child and the day.  A child may work on math for the entire three hours, or he may split his time between reading and math and geography and art.  He receives some guidance from the teacher when necessary, but how he spends his time is mainly up to him.

Having long stretches of time encourages children to engage deeply with the materials and develop concentration.

How can I use it at home?

As a teacher of young children, parents would often ask us what kinds of things they should have at home to help their child with school.  We almost always replied that no academic materials at home were necessary, or even advised (apart from reading lots of books of course!)  Children need a place of refuge, just like adults, a place to just relax and have fun.  If they’re in school all day, or even half of the day, they are likely getting all of the academic practice they need.

One thing you can do at home though is to encourage concentration and independence, which will help a child in school (and life!) more than any workbook.

You can use the same approach of the three-hour work cycle at home by allowing your child regular stretches of unstructured time.  It might be uncomfortable at first, but through having this time at home, he will be able to explore what he’s really interested in and will have the time to concentrate on it.

It may not be realistic to have uninterrupted three-hour stretches at home – and that’s okay!    Life happens.  Right now, with a one year old, I aim to have 1 – 1 1/2 hour stretches of play without interruption.  This isn’t to say that we don’t interact in this time, but that we stay in the same environment, inside or out, with no structured activities or plan.

Any amount you can increase your child’s true free time to explore will help him learn to concentrate and to entertain himself.

Will he get bored?  Yes!  Almost certainly.  And, in my opinion, that’s more than okay, it’s incredibly useful.  It’s through being bored that children learn to use their imaginations, to look deeper into their surroundings and find something interesting, and to engage with the world.  A certain amount of boredom is good.

If you’d like to read more, I really liked this post on the subject and this post, which includes a beautiful short video of one 4 year old’s morning in a Montessori classroom.

Please leave any questions you may have about Montessori in the comments, I would love to address them!

Continue Reading

Guest Post: Tips for Playfulness and Roughhousing

Good morning and happy Friday!

I’m excited to share a guest post today from Laura at Listening for Good, a fellow Austin blogger who writes about respectful parenting and education.  She has a masters from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and is an instructor with Hand in Hand Parenting, a positive parenting organization that works with families to build stronger parent-child connections.

Today I’m sharing a post that originally appeared on her awesome blog about how to have fun and play with your child, while still respecting them and the inherent power differential between a child and an adult.  I loved this post and I hope you do too!

Tips for Playfulness and Roughhousing

By Laura Minnigerode

I have been trying some new playful parenting tools. Play is an amazing connector of hearts and creator of laughs, two really important and valuable things! It just does not always come naturally for me.

One thing that does help, though, is a good list of starting points!  My sources for these ideas: Hand in Hand Parenting‘s wonderful resources, and the books Playful Parenting and the Art of Roughhousing. Share more ideas with me in the comments or on Facebook in my Parenting by Connection group.

 1   Tune in, don’t swoop in. This kind of playfulness is about connection. It is important that your child has the upper hand in the power balance. At the same time, it is such a good chance to pay close attention to cues. It is vital that you honor this.   

2  Think of ways to be silly. Look for any possible avenue. Go way over board on this. Some examples: Pretend you forgot what day it is, or that you are mixed up about the way to pronounce something. Hold the homework paper upside down while trying to figure it out. With toddlers, especially, any thing that produces laughter is a winner.

3  Play may lead to big feelings. Tears or upset during or after play times are ok! It does not mean you did it wrong. Listen to the feelings that come up and stay present. In fact: sometimes imperceptible and even imaginary hurts can come up during play, and respond as if they are real and important.

4  Careful but not too much caution. It is good and so important to be safe. When doing active play like a pillow fight, choose your space with this in mind, and remove any potential hazards.  At the same time, try not to project an overly cautious attitude. When kids see that you are attentive to safety but also trust their play, it’s an incredibly powerful message. This is a big step towards resilience.

5  Don’t tickle. It is an uncomfortable feeling that takes power away. Parents generally have more power so it is valuable to invert that relationship in play.

 6 Use Listening Time to get support. Save your responses and use the support of another person or listener, that is the place to process your annoyance, anxiety or frustration about parenting.

Check out Laura’s blog for more great tips, as well as parenting workshops!

Continue Reading

November Goals

Good morning and happy first of November!

I normally set a series of small goals each month, but this month I have one really BIG goal that I’m excited to share.  But first, here’s a look at last month’s goals to keep me accountable:

October Goals:

Make Montessori work for James:

Yes!  I did lots of this and it has been so rewarding to watch him play with and love many of the things I made for him.  I shared a few of these here, but will share some more easy ideas soon.

Work on long-term writing projects:

Ehh, sort of?  I started one project that’s been on my mind for a while, but didn’t get very far.  I’d give myself a C – on this one.

Find / make fun recipes for James:

No, I did hardly any of this.  On the plus side, James is eating mostly what we eat now, so it’s becoming less necessary.  He did try and love turkey chili and corn chowder this month!

Choose a half marathon plan:

Yes!  I’ve made a training plan for myself and started following it and so far it’s going great!  It involves a LOT less running than a typical half marathon plan, but that is what I need given my long-term foot injury.  My basic plan is:

  • Tuesdays: Easy run of 3-5 miles – My husband sometimes works from home on Tuesdays, so if that’s the case, I’ll do this during naptime.  Otherwise, it will be a stroller run.
  • Thursdays: Short two mile speed interval run on the treadmill or tempo outside + short strength or yoga (loving this yoga video)  If my foot starts really bothering me, I’ll ditch the speed work and switch to a longer strength workout.
  • Saturdays: Long run.  Right now I’m only at 7 miles, but I have almost three months, so I can build up to twelve or so miles gradually.

I’m hopeful that my daily walking and the added difficulty of stroller runs will make this enough…we shall see.

November Goals

I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month (also known as NaNoWriMo)!

That’s right, only one goal this month.  I’m equally excited and terrified to do this because I honestly don’t know where I will find the time, BUT, I was thinking about it and realized this is probably the least busy I will be for many years (yikes…).

I feel busy many days, but I’m a stay at home mom to one child.  I plan to hopefully have more children and go back to work, so with that in mind, I will only become busier over the coming years and I’m not ready to let go of this life goal of mine.

One caveat – the program is set up to write a 50,000 word novel in one month.  There is of course a lot of variance, but I believe the average novel these days is around 80,000 words.  I already have about 20,000 words, so hopefully I can at least get close to finishing.  I’m going with a goal of writing 50,000 words rather than a goal of finishing.

If I start to feel like the quality is suffering, I will step back from the word count and make some other type of tangible daily writing goal.  For me, this is less about finishing the writing project I’m working on and more about creating a daily habit and carving out time to work toward my big goals.

I’m excited and I would love to connect with anyone who also wants to do this!

Do you have any November goals?  Please share in the comments!

P.S. If you’re looking for something to read, check out this article I wrote on how rewards impact children!

Continue Reading

Montessori Fundamentals – Oberservation

A teacher should acquire not only an ability but also an interest in observing natural phenomena.  In our system, he should be much more passive than active and his passivity should be compounded of an anxious scientific curiosity and a respect for the phenomena which he wishes to observe.” Maria Montessori, Discovery of the Child

I’m starting a new series on the blog giving an overview of Montessori basics – the fundamentals of the philosophy, why they were developed, and how you can use them at home.  My hope is to do this in short, easily digestible tidbits and to make Montessori less mysterious and more accessible.

I decided to start with one of the most fundamental aspects of both Montessori schools and Montessori parenting – observation.

How it Started – A Scientific Beginning

Maria Montessori was a scientist and a doctor before she was an educator.  She approached teaching children just as she approached everything else, scientifically.  She threw out all of the preconceived notions on how to run a school and started from scratch by observing the children and building a school around what she saw.

She watched them and how they interacted, what they needed, and what they responded to.  Through rigorous observation, she developed a system to meet their needs, the model for today’s Montessori schools. (You can read more about the history here.)

Why It’s Important

Observation lets us see a child in a different, deeper way.  If we’re able to sit quietly and fade into the background, even for a few minutes, it gives us glimpses into who they are apart from us.  Observation also shows us where the child is in terms of development, and the types of things they may need from us to progress.

The Role of Observation in the Classroom

Montessori teachers conduct both formal and informal observations every day.

For example, when I was teaching and we had a new student ready to move up from the toddler room, we would always go observe him in his current environment first.  We would watch his social interactions, how he interacted with the teachers, what type of things he was drawn to, and his ability to concentrate.

We would conduct formal observations of our own classrooms as well.  This meant sitting with a notebook and watching the classroom for 15 minutes or so.  Children would sometimes come up to us while we were doing such an observation, but we would signal we were unavailable and they would move on.  Respecting that an adult is sometimes occupied and not always immediately available is a good exercise in independence as well.

Sometimes we would observe a specific student who was having a behavioral issue and sometimes we would observe the classroom as a whole just to see how things were going.

Montessori teachers also engage in less formal observation all of the time, making mental notes that a child is struggling with the “P” sound or that a child follows what another tells him to do instead of making his own choices.  It is through these observations that Montessori teachers are able to individualize the curriculum for each child, a key component of any Montessori classroom.  Each child is encouraged to work at his own level and observations show us what that level is.

How can you use it at home?

It may seem silly to formally observe your own child, whom you see constantly, but stepping back and just watching, and even taking notes, really does give you new insights into him.

To observe your child, choose a time when he is relatively content.  Choose a spot nearby and just sit quietly and watch.  It can help to have a notebook to take notes, and to signify to your child that you’re not available for play at the moment.  I personally find that taking notes really helps me to stay focused, but if I don’t have a notebook handy, I just try to be as present as I can be.

I watch for new developments, things he may be struggling with, and what he is drawn to.  Is he looking for new gross motor challenges and climbing everything in sight?  Is he fascinated by the light coming through the window and the shadows?  Is he interested in tiny objects and working to refine his pincer grip?

Then I try to think about how to I can respond to these interests.  I think about whether there is already something available to him to support his new interest and, if not, what I can provide.  This helps me decide what to put on the shelves in his room and what kinds of things to make available around the house.

Below is an example from last week.  We were in the backyard and James spent the first few minutes testing limites and trying to get into the few things out there he knows are not allowed (i.e., pulling up the succulents).  Soon though, he settled into content, independent play and I realized it would be a good time to observe him.  I found a quiet spot to sit and this is what I saw:

If you’re interested in reading more about observation, this article is focused on the classroom, but it gives great ideas on the kinds of questions to ask yourself when observing.  I also love this article on observing your child at home.

Are there any Montessori questions you’d like me to cover?  I’d love suggestions!

Continue Reading

Montessori-friendly Etsy Finds for 12-18 Months

Browsing Etsy with a cup of coffee in hand used to be one of my all time favorite lazy weekend morning activities.  (I’m sure it still would be if we ever had lazy weekend mornings these days.)  I never even bought that much, but for some reason love looking at all of the beautiful hand-crafted items.  Maybe it is because I love homemade things, but am the ultimate least crafty person in all the world.

The one downside with Etsy is that for many items, you understandably have to order further ahead of time so the person can make the item and ship it from potentially across the world.  For this reason, I’ve been browsing with Christmas in mind lately and found several beautiful things I’d love to get for James.

Here are a few of my favorite Montessori-friendly finds, great for babies 12-18 months old (pictures from Etsy website).

Balance Board

I’ve been hoping to find more indoor gross motor toys for James, and think this one would be perfect.  I love that it’s small and doesn’t take up too much room as well.

Pikler Climbing Arch

Similarly, this would be great for indoor climbing.  Toddlers need gross motor opportunities, and it’s hard to redirect them from climbing on the furniture if there is nowhere appropriate for them to climb.  This bridge also looks like a great indoor gross motor option.

Sensory Beanbags

A craftier person could make something like this themselves, but I am not that person 🙂  I think these would be great for a younger baby to touch and explore, and for an older baby to practice throwing into a basket.

Wooden Peg Board

I love the natural wood used here.  I also love that this could be used at several different levels.  For a 12 month old, it’s great for removing / replacing the pegs, while an older toddler could sort based on the types of wood or make patterns.

Xylophone

I’m looking to get more musical toys for James and love the natural wood and clean look of this one.

Musical Marble Run

I’m not sure James is quite ready for this one, I may wait until his second birthday, but I had to share because it’s probably my favorite.  I think the colors are so beautiful and at less than $50 before shipping, it seems very reasonably priced to me.

Wooden Stacking Toy

This would be great for a baby who has mastered the rainbow stackers because the wood offers less of a clue as to which ring comes next so he would have to pay more attention to size.  I also just love how it looks 🙂

Iceburg Stacking Toy

A creative twist on the rainbow stackers, I think this would look so beautiful on the shelf.

Baby Sorter

This one could also get more challenging as baby progressed as it can simply be used for putting on the rings, or for sorting by shape.

Toddler Permanence Box

This helps young toddlers practice object permanence, and is also great for fine motor control.  It is also super easy to make a homemade version of this though, I just made one and will share it soon!

Simple Vegetable Magnet Puzzles

I have a feeling these may make it under our Christmas tree this year, love them!

*Please note this post contains affiliate links – I get a small percentage if items are purchased, at no cost to you.  I only include items I have and love.  Thanks for your support!

Continue Reading

5 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Montessori School

Montessori education has gained significant popularity in recent years, which I love to see!  One downside though is that many schools have popped up that claim to be “Montessori,” but really aren’t authentic Montessori schools when you take a closer look.

Montessori is not a trademarked term and any school can add “Montessori” to its name.  This is a scary thought if you’re choosing a school and don’t know what to look for.

If you’re considering a Montessori school for your children, here are five questions to ask before choosing.  (Many, but not all, of these questions are relevant for other types of schools as well.)

1. What is the daily schedule?

One trademark of the Montessori method is that the children have long, usually three hour, blocks of uninterrupted work time.  Ideally, they would have one 3 hour work period in the morning and another in the afternoon.

Uninterrupted time is necessary for the children to achieve deep concentration.  Some children come in and start with challenging work right away, but others need to ease into it by starting with an easier task.  Long stretches of time give them the chance to do this.

2. Are the teachers AMS / AMI certified?  Is the administrator?

Certified Montessori teachers, also called “guides,” go through a rigorous training program and are observed by experienced Montessori teachers to make sure they’re prepared to lead a Montessori classroom.  Certified teachers also complete an internship with a mentor where they are able to practice their new skills.  Some online training programs have become available as well, but I’m not familiar enough with them to comment.

Many Montessori schools have assistants who have not completed training, but in looking for a school for my child, I would want a classroom where the lead teacher was AMS (American Montessori Society) or AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) certified.

I personally think it’s a plus if the administrator is also certified because he or she is more likely to make decisions for the school based on Montessori principles.

3. How is discipline handled?

I would ask this at any school.  Montessori classes should use positive discipline and natural consequences.  You should not see children being put in time out or shamed in any way.  When asking this question, it might be helpful to be more specific, such as, “how to the teachers handle it if a child hits another child?”  If there is a particular discipline issue your child is struggling with, ask how that specific issue is handled.

4. Are the classes mixed-age?  What is the ratio of each age group?

Montessori education uses mixed-age, mixed-skill level classrooms.  This allows the younger children to learn from the older group, and empowers the older students to act as role models and leaders.  Montessori classes generally include a three year age span, (3-6 year olds, 6-9 year olds, etc.) though infant and toddler classes include smaller age groups due to how quickly they develop.

Most classes won’t have a perfectly balanced percentage of each age group, but it’s useful to ask about the ratio, because classrooms with a fairly even balance of younger and older children generally run more smoothly.

5. May I observe?

Most Montessori schools will allow you to observe a classroom if you are interested in the school.  When observing, try to assess the environment, the teacher, and how the children interact.

In the environment, look for a clean, organized room with all materials accessible to the children.  Furniture should be child-sized and things like supplies, snack, and cleaning materials should be readily accessible to the children without needing to ask an adult for help.  Also look for concrete Montessori materials, rather than worksheets.  There should ideally be nature included in the classroom in the form of plants, animals, and interesting items like fossils or rocks, etc.

In the teacher, watch how she talks to the children.  She should speak to them respectfully with a firm, but kind, voice.  She should also speak fairly quietly so it does not distract the other children.  She should be working with one child at a time, or a small group, rather than giving large group lessons.

In the children, watch to see how they interact with each other, and with the environment.  Do most of them walk carefully around the room, picking things up when they’re knocked over?  Do most of them speak to each other kindly?  How is it handled when they don’t?

Of course there are always children testing the limits, but through observing the children, you can get an idea of the classroom culture and what behavior is generally accepted.

I’m a big believer in going with your gut instinct with things like choosing a school for your children.  At the end of the day, you want a place where they will be safe, respected, challenged, and nurtured.  If you are interested in a Montessori school, I hope these questions help you find a great fit!

Have you gone through the process of choosing a school for your child?  What was the most challenging part?

 

Continue Reading

Monthly Meal Planning Update with a Sample

I mentioned several months ago I was going to try meal planning on a monthly basis, rather than weekly.  Now that it’s been a while, I wanted to do an update on how it’s going, because I really love it!

Reasons I tried monthly meal planning:

– Every week I would realize it was time to go to the grocery store and I had no plan.  This would usually happen at night when I was too tired to get out cookbooks / look through pinterest so I quickly scrawled out an unimaginative grocery list with things I didn’t need a recipe for

– Because of the above, we ate the same things all of the time and I was getting really sick of it

– Because I wasn’t putting much thought into meal planning, I often had to go to the store multiple times per week

– I love shopping at Trader Joes, but there are some things they don’t have, or that I prefer to buy elsewhere.  I really don’t want to go to multiple grocery stores every week though.

My process:

1. Choose cookbooks

I personally love looking through physical cookbooks, so I like to choose a few to use each month.  I have a lot of cookbooks already, but I think I may try checking out some new ones from the library next month just for fun.  I also use online recipes sometimes.

2. Choose 16 recipes

We almost always have leftovers (though I’m not sure how long this will remain true with the amount our little guy is eating these days….).  I usually choose four recipes per week, and this is almost always enough for us.  I just make a list of the recipes, noting which cookbook they’re from and the page number.

3. Make a weekly calendar

I plan four weeks at a time, so I make a simple grid.  (Someone spilled a whole cup of coffee on this one…not naming any names.)  I divide up the recipes by week, trying to balance things I like with things my husband likes, lighter meals and heavier meals, etc.  I write the source and page numbers on here too.

Yes, I have bad handwriting….

4. Make grocery lists

Once I’ve divided the recipes by week, I make the grocery list for each of the four weeks.  I only plan dinners, as I almost always eat the same breakfast and eat random salads and stuff for lunch.  I always add things we need to the list before going to the store, but it’s great to have the main list done ahead of time.  As I’m going through the recipes, I make separate lists for things I want to buy at Costco or Target.  These lists are usually small.

I keep the list on the refrigerator so that, theoretically, my husband could add stuff he wants me to get.  I don’t think this has actually have happened though….

5. Grocery shopping

I go to Costco once at the beginning of the month.  I usually buy all of our meat here and a few other staples.  I don’t make a special trip to Target, I just save that list for whenever we need to go there next.  Then I go to Trader Joe’s weekly, usually on Mondays.

What I love:

– I actually enjoy looking for recipes now!  I like to cook, so this is fun for me when it’s not a weekly scramble.

– We are eating so much more variety now.  This is especially important to me now that James is often eating what we’re eating, as I want him to try lots of new foods while he’s still really willing to eat almost anything.

– I rarely have to make extra trips to the grocery store.

– I haven’t actually tracked this, but I think we’re saving money due to fewer grocery trips and more conscious meal planning.  I usually plan several vegetarian meals per week, which definitely cuts down on costs.

– It’s more efficient.  It takes me maybe 1.5-2 hours to do this every month, but for me, that’s much quicker than the cumulative time of doing it weekly.

– Every week feels balanced with a mix of vegetarian and meat-based recipes and a mix of lighter and heavier meals.

What I don’t love:

– It’s harder to be flexible.  Things come up, people come to visit, we decide to go out of town, etc.  It can be annoying to update the grocery list because I have to figure out what ingredients were for what recipe, etc.  This can be annoying, but it’s worth it to me for all of the pros.

This Month’s Meal Plan:

Most of the recipes I use are from actual cookbooks, not online, so I can’t share all of the recipes, but here is our meal plan for this month.  It wound up being a little more meat-heavy than usual, but otherwise is pretty typical:

October 9-15

Salmon with potatoes and vegetable

Enchiladas from this post – loved these

Ham and cheese waffles & eggs from The America’s Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook (didn’t actually make these, I don’t remember what we did instead….)

Red lentil dal with cilantro rice

October 16-22

Salmon Bites with cous cous and brussels sprouts

Turkey black bean chili (a recipe I’ve used for years from a blog that no longer seems to exist)

Brown rice stir fry with tofu from Martha Stewart’s Meatless

Vegetable Tostadas from The America’s Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook

October 23-29

Salmon

White corn cheddar chowder from Martha Stewart’s Meatless

Southwestern Hash from Martha Stewart’s Meatless

Steak and mashed potatoes with broccoli (I didn’t actually buy the steak at Costco, so will come up with something else, probably fish)

October 30-November 5

Lasagna (this recipe or this recipe – haven’t decided)

Chickpea burgers from Martha Stewart’s Meatless with naan and tzatziki

Lemon rosemary risotto from Risotto with chicken sausage

Burrito bowls (homemade beans with brown rice and toppings)

Do you meal plan?

Do you have any good lasagna recipes?

*Please note this post contains affiliate links – I get a small percentage if items are purchased, at no cost to you.  I only include items I have and love.  Thanks for your support!

Continue Reading

A Montessori Baby Shelf – 12 Months

The type of toys James is interested in has really changed over the last month or two.  Here’s a peek at what’s currently on his shelves!

In his room:

The shelf in James’s room is relatively small, which works well for us because he doesn’t spend a ton of time playing in there.  He usually spends about an hour playing in his room right when he wakes up in the morning, and then sometimes plays in there right after he wakes up from his naps, so he doesn’t need a ton of toys to keep his interest.

Right now, this shelf includes:

Stuffed fox – I got this on Zulily when I was pregnant and can’t find it online right now, but the brand is Manhattan Toy Company.  James is just starting to cuddle with stuffed animals more and it is super cute!

Tin Music Box – I love music boxes for children and this one is very sturdy.  I also love these for slightly older children.

Basket of Shakers – I switch these out regularly, but right now this has a maraca, a homemade shaker filled with dried chickpeas, and this Brio bell rattle (love this brand).

Homemade Insert Work – James is super fascinated by taking things in and out of containers right now, so he has a lot of insert work on his shelves.  This one is a little red bud vase I already had with a peg from a baby hammering toy.  He loves it and really concentrates on trying to get the peg into the vase.

Open / Close Basket – Similarly, he is currently really interested in figuring out how to open and close things.  I think this is basically like a form of a puzzle – figuring out how things fit together.  This basket has three little boxes that I already owned – a paper box, a box made from cinnamon wood, and his favorite, a little bejeweled box that a sweet student gave me.  It also has a little drawstring bag.

This is one of his favorite things on his shelf right now.  He looks SO pleased when he gets the lid onto a box by himself.

Montessori Egg and Cup and Peg and Cup – This is another insert work.  It was given to me in a Montessori baby toy set similar to this one.  He has loved taking these apart and holding the little egg for months, but I just put them back on his shelf given his current interest in putting things together.

Wooden Shape Sorter – My mom just gave this to James for his birthday and he loves it!  He loves taking out the shapes and putting them back in (with the lid off, not through the little shape holes).  He also holds the shapes up to us to name for him.  I can’t find the exact one we have, but it’s similar to this one.

Fossil and Box – James loves to examine rocks, so I put a large fossil (also given to me by a student!) on his shelf.  I found this unfinished wooden box at Target in the craft section and it was just the right size for him to practice putting the fossil in the box.

In the Playroom:

We often spend a large part of the afternoon in his playroom, so there are a few more toys in here.  Currently, we have:

Fox Stacking Puzzle: This came as part of a bead maze toy my mom gave James for his birthday.  We have the bead maze part of the toy in another part of the room and it is super cute too, but James especially loves this stacking puzzle.

Basket of balls – This has a bunch of balls in it including sensory balls, a lacrosse ball, and a really cute butterfly ball we got at our local wildflower center.

Pop Up Toy – This is one we just got recently and it’s super cute.  There are springs under the four pegs, so they bounce when you tap them and will pop out if you hit them hard enough.  James also likes just taking them out and trying to put them back in.

Rainbow Nesting / Stacking Bowls – These wooden bowls are beautiful and nest as well as stack.  I love that when he’s older we can use them as containers, perhaps to organize art supplies in, so I see us using them for years.

Smelling Bottles – These were so easy and fun to make!  I got two sets of inexpensive salt and pepper shakers from Target and filled each with something with a strong smell.  I used fresh ginger, lemon peel, fresh rosemary, and coffee beans.  James likes to hand me a bottle to smell, and then smell it himself.  I love watching him sniff with his little nose, it is so cute! (idea from this post)

Jar of Rings – This is just an old applesauce jar filled with these rings.  He actually hasn’t been using this as much lately so I need to find something to replace it, but for a while taking the rings out of the jar and putting them back in was one of his absolute favorite things to do.

Wooden Dowel with Bracelets – I used the wooden dowel from this rainbow stacker and put several interesting bracelets on it.  James loved the rainbow stacker, but was beginning to lose interest, so I switched out the rings with bracelets to mix it up and spark his interest again.

Three Piece Wooden Puzzle – James has shown some interest in the puzzle, but so far he only removes the pieces, he does not try to replace them.

In addition to his shelf, he has a few other toys around the room:

Animal Rescue Shape-Sorting Truck – My friend Natalie gave this to James for his birthday and it is SO cute!  He loves examining the little animals and putting them back in the truck.

Bowl of Pumpkins – I got James an assortment of small pumpkins and gourds at Trader Joe’s and he loves taking them all out of the bowl and putting them all back in.  The bowl is glass and makes a great gong-like sound when he drops the pumpkins in.  He also loves chewing on them….

Rainbow Blocks – I’ve mentioned these before, but we are still loving them.  I have these on the window sill right now because they look so pretty with the light coming through.

Comotomo Silicone Baby Teether – I’ve also just started keeping this on the window sill because James is teething and loves to chew on the window sill.  To try to deter this, I have the teether right there for him.

Duplos – We don’t keep a ton of toys in the living room, but we do have a set of zoo animal Duplos tucked away and James loves playing with them.  He hasn’t yet figured out how to put them together, but he loves taking them apart and putting them back in the bucket.  This is extra fun because my husband’s parents sent the set that belonged to him as a kid.

And that about sums it up!  I’m looking forward to making him some more things for his shelves, so if you have any ideas or favorites, please share!

*Please note this post contains affiliate links – I get a small percentage if items are purchased, at no cost to you.  I only include items I have and love.  Thanks for your support!

Continue Reading

Five Tips to Maximize Naptime

As any parent of young kids knows, nap time is super valuable, and one of the best (only?) times to get things done.  I actually find myself wondering how parents get anything done when their kids no longer nap, but I try not to think about that too much.

When I first had James, especially when his naps were often short and unpredictable, I found myself a little frantic during naps.  I wanted to get so much done, but my brain was too foggy to remember it all and I wasn’t sure where to begin.  Plus I also wanted to just lay down and relax sometimes, but if I did that, I just kept thinking about all of the things I should be doing.

Well I finally have a nap time strategy that works well for me, so I thought I’d share.

1. Make a plan – and write it down

This seems fairly obvious, but it took me a while to actually start doing this.  I would come up with a plan in my mind, but I would often forget what it was and I still found myself questioning the best use of the time the whole time he was sleeping.

Now I take a few minutes on Sunday and schedule what I plan to do during each nap time throughout the week.  I enter it all in my Google calendar.  Jame’s naps aren’t always at the exact same time, but he always takes two right now and they’re roughly at 9 and 1:30, so I just use those times on my calendar.

Obviously things change throughout the week, so each night I look at what I’ve planned for the next day and adjust as needed.

2. Don’t save everything for nap time

Sometimes I’ve planned to get something done during nap time, but then I look around and the house is chaos and I decide to spend *just a few minutes* straightening up.  It’s never just a few minutes.  Even if it is, that’s still time I could have used toward whatever I planned.

So I really try to do that straightening up when James is awake.  It is a more efficient use of my time and I also think it’s beneficial to show even very young children that cleaning up is a part of playing and a part of life.  Sometimes it’s comical trying to put things away with my little sidekick following me around “fixing” everything, but I just remind myself that I have all the time I need.  I also do things like folding laundry while James is playing next to me.  Some chores, like sweeping and mopping, are pretty impossible with a baby nearby, but I am often surprised by how much I can get done while he’s happily playing in the living room or kitchen.

3. Divide the time

I’ve pretty much come to terms with the fact that I will never again be fully caught up on everything, at least not for eighteen years or so.  Housework is pretty quickly undone around here, and that’s okay, it’s just part of this (mostly really fun) stage.  Still, I don’t want to spend every minute of James’s nap time cleaning, that’s just no fun and it would leave no time for things I love (like writing this blog!)

So I roughly divide what I work on by his two naps.  I generally use his morning nap for computer projects, like the blog, freelance writing, working on his baby book, planning trips, emails, etc.  I then use his afternoon nap for cleaning and prepping dinner.  This helps the house not get too out of control, but also ensures I have time to work on other things.

This also works for me because I’m a big time morning person, so it makes sense to do the things that require thought / creativity in the morning.  I think it helps to figure out what time of day you do your best work.

Obviously he won’t always take two naps.  When he moves down to one nap, I’ll probably either divide the time in half, or alternate days, depending on how long his nap winds up being.

4. Commit to relaxation

While it’s tempting to use every second of every nap trying to catch up, that would make me crazy.  Everyone needs some time to just chill (and we’ve already established we’re never catching up anyway, so might as well take a break).

I usually use at least one Friday nap and read a book.  This is one of my favorite times of the week.  It feels luxurious to sit with a book in the middle of the morning and it’s something nice to look forward to at the end of the week.  Because I’ve planned it ahead of time, I have an easier time just relaxing instead of thinking about everything I should be doing instead.

5. Be flexible

This is definitely the hardest for me.  While I do think it really helps to have a plan, obviously baby isn’t in on this plan and he may only sleep for thirty minutes, regardless of what you need to get done.

One thing that helps me with this is setting a minimum nap time.

I didn’t do this when he was younger, and would often wake up crying, but now I pretty much always make nap time at least an hour, even if he wakes up sooner.  He stays in his bed until it has been an hour (this isn’t a hard and fast rule, I would certainly go check on him if he was really upset).  He usually just talks to himself in his bed when this happens, and sometimes even falls back to sleep!

How do you maximize your time, any tricks?

Are you a morning or night person?

Continue Reading

A Weekend Away – Wine Tasting in Fredericksburg

This past weekend was my sister’s bachelorette party.  It was the first time I’ve ever been away from James overnight (and I’ve only been away once for bedtime when he was less than three months old).

I thought about this weekend on and off for months.  When I was having a hard day, I’d look forward to it.  When James was being clingy, I’d worry about it.

As it approached though, I was pretty confident he’d be just fine.  He loves his Dad so much and I knew they’d have a blast together.  I was really hoping I would be able to relax and enjoy the time with family and friends without worrying too much, and that was a success!

The weekend went by so fast and I didnt’ take nearly enough pictures.  Still, I want to remember this time, so decided to share a short recap anyway.

We went to Fredericksburg, TX for the weekend to go wine tasting.  If you’re not familiar with the area, it’s about an hour and a half from Austin in the heart of the Texas hill country.  There are many vineyards there and also lots of cute little shops and restaurants.

We rented a house through Airbnb and it was SO cute.  There were so many adorable details and we seriously could not get over the house.  It was so nice to be able to sit around and hang out together instead of going back to separate hotel rooms.

We were getting in kind of late Friday night, so I just made taco stuff ahead of time and brought that and we had margaritas.  I somehow managed to stay up until 2 AM, which I certainly haven’t done in a LONG time.

Despite the late night, I woke up pretty early Saturday and enjoyed some time sitting in the amazing outside space at the house.  I was so sad to realize I had forgotten my book at home, but it was still nice to sit out there with a cup of coffee.

People got up gradually and we drank mimosas and ate bagels with some great homemade spreads my mom made.  Eventually, we headed out to do some wine tasting.

If you’re ever in Fredericksburg, I highly recommend the 290 wine shuttle.  It’s a great compromise between hiring a driver and driving yourself.  Many of the vineyards are along the same road and the shuttle runs between them every 15 minutes.  The daily pass is only $25, so it’s much more cost effective than a private driver, and also more flexible.

We went at a very leisurely pace and only went to two vineyards.  Both were beautiful and the weather was really great.  It was so nice to sit outside with live music sipping wine with family and friends.

Eventually we headed back to the house to hang out for a while before dinner.  At this point, I tried to do a video chat with my husband and James.  James had been doing great the whole day, but when he saw me on the phone, he definitely started looking a little concerned.  He was making little whimpering noises and it was so sad, so I hung up pretty quickly.

My husband reassured me that he was doing great and sent me lots of pictures from their adventures.  I think seeing me on the phone just reminded him that I wasn’t there.

We went to dinner at the Treaty House and it was so, so good.  It was small plates and they were all delicious, but my favorite part was probably the craft cocktails, which were some of the best I’ve ever had.  There was also a really cute little jazz band and some couples dancing.  The atmosphere was great.

We hung out at the house some more and went to bed.  The next morning, we opted for more bagels and hanging out over our original brunch plans and it was a super relaxing morning.

As we made the drive back to Austin, I got more and more excited to see the little guy!  I had a really wonderful weekend away, but I could not wait to see him.  My husband had the window on the front door open and James ran over and started waving and giving me the best smiles.  It was a pretty great feeling.

Even though I didn’t get much sleep this weekend, I feel really refreshed after a little time away and so excited to just hang out at home with James today.

Have you had any fun weekend trips lately?

If you’ve had a bachelor / bachelorette party, was it pretty low-key or totally crazy?

Continue Reading