An update on the Summer Screen Rules

Well, we are a week into summer vacation here in the SFC household.  As you may remember I posted about the Summer Screen Rules here and I thought I’d give an update.

It’s actually working!!!

Firstly, it helps that E is goal driven and the rules are clear.  If this is what it takes to get an iPad or movie in his hands then he is going to do it as fast as possible.   It also helps that H follows older brother lead in a lot of things.

The first few days E was up at 6:30am making his bed, doing his math page and reading his book.  He even mopped the kitchen floor and did a load of laundry while I was sleeping to complete his chores. (!?!?!?!)

Furthermore, he has not complained once about the tasks he has to do. He just does them and move on into iPad time.

And H is good with it, too.  He wakes up, does his imaginative playtime with E and a pile of Legos, makes his bed, and then I sit with him as he does his reading, his math from one of those great Brain Quest books, and his writing.  For his writing, since he is 6, he decides between a word sheet in the Brain Quest book and continuing to use his “reflections” book from school.  The teacher was having the students draw a picture and then write a sentence about the picture as their reflection of the day or weekend.  He really likes it. And he especially likes that he has a choice.

The chores we have for him are scaled to his skill level.  He dusts, he folds towels, he puts away dishes.  Not without whining, but once he gets going he’s good.  And the whining is getting less and less as this becomes “just how things are done.”

And then they sit and play the iPad.

The one area that hasn’t gone according to plan is playing outside for 30 minutes.  On the really hot days it gets hot fast.  The shutters are closed and the windows sealed by 9am.  If we don’t go to the pool in the afternoon, our practice has become to go outside in the evenings to bike or have a water fight.  The neighbor boys are home and battle can be epic.

But all-in-all it’s going really well!  Tomorrow Aunt Ellie comes and the day after Uncle Erik joins us!  We are going to take them to a mountain (also a heat avoidance maneuver) and show them around Basel.  And then a few days after they leave the boys are I are off to Edinburgh, Scotland for a week!

I hope your summer vacation is as relaxing as ours!

Counting Down to the End of School

We have 7.5 days of school left here in Switzerland and the boys are counting down. I am counting down too, but instead of checking the calendar 18 times a day and jumping around the house shouting about how I’m almost free like they are I am coming up with strategies on how to save my sanity.

One of the banes and yet saviors of my child-rearing existence is the iPad. It can hold their attention for hours, giving me needed time to myself, but it is such an attraction that they whine and plea and beg and generally make themselves 10th level nuisances until I give in. My thoughts lately have been how to use the iPad as a tool, but keep them from needed a 12-step program at the end of the summer.

A friend of mine recently posted a great meme from about rules for summer.

summer strategiesI think this is a great template for me/us.  It keeps some routine, responsibility, and non-iPad stuff in our summer days.

However, I think I need to expand on this list for my older son.  He is older and is capable putting more time into things.  This is what I’ve come up for him.

summertime rulesAccomplishing this list could take anywhere from 3.5 hours to 4 hours, depending on how quickly they can make their beds and do their two chores.  I think half a day without screens is ideal.  And if we go to the pool that’s even longer without screens.

I am hopeful that the Swiss culture of letting kids have their freedom will allow them to have a fun and free summer.

I also am hoping to be able to do some day trips with the boys and really take advantage of our location in Switzerland.  Who knows where we’ll go? Maybe a weekend in Paris? Maybe to the Matterhorn?  We’ll see what the boys choose.

Also during this summer the kids and I will be going to Scotland!  I am extremely excited!  We will be seeing  Loch Ness, Glen Coe, and Hadrian’s Wall just to name a few places.  Our base of operations will be Edinburgh so we will be seeing a ton of things in Edinburgh, too.

And we are having visitors!  My brother-in-law and sister-in-law are coming in the first part of July and then my parents are coming back to visit in the later part of August.

As I read through this post I am seeing that we are going to be packing a whole lot into the scant 8 weeks that they boys have off from school.  Now maybe I’ll be checking the calendar 18 times a day!

Raising Gritty Kids

What is Grit?

I was first introduced to the concept of “grit” while watching the movie True Grit. If you haven’t seen it, 14-year-old Mattie Ross leaves her home in Illinois alone to find the man who killed her father in Arkansas. She finds Rooster Cogburn and declares him the man with the “grit” necessary to help her go into Indian Territory, find the killer, and bring him to justice. The journey ahead is hard and the characters are continually beset with challenges and close calls, but they succeed through sheer determination. Through Grit.

There is a lot of talk about “grit” and raising children with “grit” in today’s psychology and education journals.  My sons’ school even did a great workshop on building determination through failure; which inspired me to read more about grit.

In her Ted Talk, Angela Lee Duckworth, a psychologist, MacArthur Genius Grant winner, and former teacher, discusses grit. Her research has found how much grit and determination a child has to be a better indicator for success than IQ scores or talent. That it is more important to have the tenacity to pick yourself up after a fall and keep going than it is to have natural talent or incredible intelligence.

“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future; day-in and day-out. Not just for the week. Not just for the month. But for years. And working really hard to make that future a reality.”

I have a gritty child and a no-so-gritty child (NSG child). One of my children, the NSG child, LOVES to win. He will do anything to win and if he loses, or even thinks he’s going to lose, he cries and wants to quit.  The other one doesn’t even seem to realize he’s lost and just wants to keep repeating the task until he’s satisfied with the outcome.  Being a life coach and Master’s Degree of Organization Development holder I immediately went into my psychology books and education journals to find the best way to help our NSG-child find his inner grit.

What is success? What is failure?

Educators and psychologists define success as a mathematical equation.

Success = (effort x ability)
manageable task

Written out, if students take the maximum effort they are capable of, multiplied by the abilities they have, and put those into a task the can achieve they will have success.

Simple, right?

So what is failure? Well, it’s not achieving the success you think you should have had in a task.  Putting in too little effort. Not having enough natural talent.  Taking on a task that is to complex or difficult. In the equation above, having any of the numbers out of balance can lead to failure.

Failure isn’t nice. It doesn’t feel good. And it’s not supposed to.  At a primal level, failure hurts to ensure we do everything we can not to feel that hurt.  But failure is necessary in giving kids grit.

We’ll say a student always puts in the maximum effort they are capable of.  And we’ll say they have a good level of ability. The trick to success in learning is to make the task one that is in an area slightly beyond what they can already do without help. This is called being in the Zone of Proximal Development.

The concept of the Zone of Proximal Development was developed by the psychologist Lev Vygotsky, who believed the best learning could be achieved by guiding students into situations where they are not 100% assured of success and failure is an option and experiences where they would need guidance to succeed.

How do our kids get “gritty”?

Praise the work, not the achievement.

Carol Dweck, a professor in the Department of Psychology at Stanford University, has done a lot of research on the effect of motivating children’s performance. Children who are praised for effort, rather than outcome care more about the process of learning. Whereas the children who are praised only for succeeding care solely about the final grade rather than what they actually learned.

I know that when my kids show me something they’re proud of the first words out of my mouth are “Good job.” In our society the words “good job” are used so often they don’t mean anything anymore. They are merely pacifiers for people who don’t know what else to say.  Try telling them “You worked really hard on that,” or “I can really see all the effort you put into drawing that picture,” instead of defaulting to “good job.”

Let them take risks

John C. Maxwell, author of Falling Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success, says that in order to actually succeed at something worthwhile you need to take risks. Risks should be calculated with something at stake and a payoff at the end.

A risk could be anything from trying a math problem that seems to be above a child’s current level, to letting them fill the washing machine without supervision, to allowing your child to participate in a ropes course.  A risk can be anything that pushes them beyond their comfort zone and into the Zone of Proximal Development.

Allowing children to take these calculated risks helps them to build their confidence in themselves. They learn who they are: their strengths and weaknesses, what they enjoy doing, and how badly they want to succeed. On the flip-side, it is also crucial for us, as parents, to see our children taking these calculated risks and succeeding in order to build confidence in our own parenting.

Let them fail

This is a tricky one and it tied in with letting them take risks.  As I noted previously, knowing your child is going to fail and then letting it happen is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do as a parent. But failure is necessary for building grit. They need to know that life goes on after a failure and that they can survive and try again.

When they fail don’t say it doesn’t matter. It’s natural for parents to try and soothe away the hurt, but the failure matters to them. By saying it doesn’t matter you are invalidating their feelings, thereby removing the stimulus that makes them strive for improvement.

In 2005, Steve Jobs gave the commencement address at Stanford University. He goes into detail about the building of Apple. The dreams he had; the hard work that it took; and the success he and Woz were having. And then he was fired. Very publicly and very painfully. He felt he had failed. But, and he admits this, if he had never been fired he would have never started NeXT or Pixar or met his wife or made Toy Story and he would have never been in a position to come back to Apple and spearhead the iPod revolution.

Think of what would have happened if Steve Jobs had only success in his life?

Analyze the outcome

Building grit starts with looking at what happened – whether you won or lost – and analyzing it. We’ve all done it or seen it done. Steve Jobs certainly thought about what happened.  And haven’t we all watched the after-game interviews of a ball game and listened to the reporters ask the players, “So, what happened out there?” The players start talking about their game, highlighting the successful and unsuccessful plays crucial to the outcome of the game.

That is analyzing the outcome.

We use Appreciative Inquiry in our house. Appreciative Inquiry is a way of analyzing situations or organizations using positively worded statements to talk about tough topics. For example saying What can I improve on instead of What went wrong makes confronting failure feel less unpleasant and more constructive.  Appreciative Inquiry is in organization development to help executives and employees focus on accepting where the company is right now, strengthening what is going well, looking at what could be improved, and how to improve or change those areas. (David Cooperrider has a great book on this, published in 2007.)

As a parent it’s hard to slow down and think about what currently “is” when you’re trying to do laundry, cook dinner, and coordinate homework simultaneously, but that is just what is needed in order to have a grit-building conversation.

It’s especially important when you are helping at NSG child develop grit. A grit-building conversation after a little league game or a math test would look like this:

  • Hey! You won (or lost)! (acknowledge what is)
  • What do you was your best moment? (look at what went right)
  • Where do you think you could improve for next time? (what didn’t work)
  • What do you think you’ll do next time? (How can you improve on what went right and wrong)

Children who are low on grit are very reluctant to face their weaknesses. My NSG son will stall for time, change the topic, or even pretend to be reading a book to delay talking about where he fell down.  However, he loves talking about what he did well. Using Appreciative Inquiry and starting out by analyzing the good moments helps to get my son talking and gets us into reframing failures into an Ah-Ha moments.

Get rid of labels.

When your daughter comes home with an A on her test it’s so easy look at her beaming face and say, “You are so good at math!” We mean it with all our hearts and we really do want our babies to think they are good in math and talented in music.   However, these labels can be double edged.

Labels such as “good in math,” “quite a reader,” or “you’re smart” actually build our children’s identity in such a way that these traits become fixed in their minds. They believe this is what they are. It limits what they can become.

They are good in math instead of someone who works hard at math.

They are smart instead of someone who tries their best.

Carol Dweck called children who identify themselves in these ways as having a “fixed mindset” in her paper Parent Praise to 1 – to 3 – year old Predicts Children’s Motivational Framework 5 Years Later.

In her book titled, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck discusses studies that demonstrate that children who have these fixed mindsets and fail believe that they failed because they aren’t smart enough or good enough to succeed. They believe something is wrong with them.  For example, “a good reader” who then becomes challenged by a book tends to stop reading that book.  They stop rather than fail because if they fail they become “not a good reader” anymore and that creates an identity crisis.

However, children who have been told, “You worked hard” and had the effort they put in praised have developed “growth mindsets.” Children with growth mindsets view these same failures as minor setbacks and as opportunities to learn.  They want to try again after they experience failure.

Get gritty with them

In Facing Failure and Breeding Success, Mr. Richard Barth and his co-authors suggested restructuring schools into a safe places to encounter and learn from failures.  As parents it behooves us to take it a step further and restructure the home into an effort laboratory.

I always felt as though I were on a grand adventure when I was in my college chem labs.  Full of unknowns and potential explosions.  Like any laboratory, this one is full of experiments and unknowns to be discovered, but hopefully with few explosions.

One of the most fun experiments in the effort laboratory is a regular family game night. Board games like Settlers of Catan, Stratego, or Castle Panic are wonderful for not only teaching grit, but also building family bonds. Our family game night is Sundays. After the game is over we have fun talking about how the game went. “Wow! That was fun.  H won! I thought I did great at X. What do you think you did great at? I think I should have moved this piece earlier. What do you think you could have done better at? What do you think you might do next time?” It teaches grit in a fun and subtle, but meaningful way.

Another fun experiment is doing a project together.  Planning a long-term project with your child, something that isn’t done on the first day and that will challenge the both of you, is a great way to develop grit.

The project can be anything that requires long-term goals.  From building a shed or peddle car to planting and caring for a garden.  The important thing is that you make it a habit to analyze how the project is going and make adjustments as you go along.  And don’t be afraid of letting them see you struggle.  You’re being an example of what having grit looks likes.

My husband and the NSG child (along with a visit from my husband’s father) built a slate patio two summers ago. They had to rip out the vegetation that was there, level the ground, and put in the slate. It was an entire summer of slowly working and adjusting and fixing.  The NSG child learned a lot about grit and at the end we were able to have a lovely barbeque to celebrate our achievement!

Feeling the grit

Some children take longer than others to develop some grittiness.  They aren’t very confident in themselves and, therefore, don’t want to put in much effort.  The key to getting them hooked on feeling gritty is to help them experience some successes.

Getting grit into your child can be a slow process.  It starts with asking yourself a few questions.  What is your child talented at?  Are there any manageable tasks you can think of where your child can experience success with small amounts of effort?

Once they’ve experienced a series successes and you have some practice at analyzing the outcomes in a fun and low-key way, make the tasks require just a little more effort.  Don’t worry about going slowly.   One of the worst things that can happen is that your son or daughter feels like they are too far over their heads too quickly and respond by shutting down.

If that does happen take a few more minutes than usual to analyze the outcome.  Then take a few steps back and have them try things you know they can already do to build up their confidence again.  Or, if they want to, you can assist them on the task.  Let them take the lead, but be there to lend a hand.

My NSG child is becoming grittier everyday.   It all started with praising his efforts to build his confidence instead of using labels as praise.  Then we started giving him tasks we knew he could succeed at and as he found his efforts rewarded with success he wanted to try harder.

Once he found a certain number of successes we began analyzing his outcomes using Appreciative Inquiry.  Game night was crucial for this as it included everyone in the analysis and we kept the tone fun.  As he become more comfortable with the whole process we started pushing the tasks into the Zone of Proximal Development.

Now he is excelling at math and trying some of the challenge problems his teacher is putting in front of him instead of just turning in blank pages when he felt challenged.  He is back to reading anything he can get his hands on instead of sticking to less challenging books.  And, as you read previously, last week he took on his fear of heights and did the ropes course down in Langenbruck.

I can’t wait to see what he’s going to try next!

Oh Sh*t. When Our Kids Start Learning “Those” Words.

We have hit new chapter in child-rearing.  E is 9.  When you are 9 and go to school on a bus or tram you find yourself surrounded by full-fledged teenagers.  And those teenagers tend to let some curse words fly.

It makes me cringe every time I hear a high schooler drop some “colorful metaphors” (as the late, great Leonard Nimoy called them in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home).  I always look at my children to see if they are listening.  And once I even admonished an American girl who seemed incapable of finishing a sentence unless every other word was “fuck.”  (To her credit she did look mortified that she was dropping the f-bomb with a 5yo sitting right in front of her.)

My friends from my youth are now totally laughing at me.  My language was so peppered with f-bombs, damns, hells, and s-shots that it is amazing I developed any other vocabulary.  But over the years I matured (somewhat) and found great joy in finding much more creative ways of expressing myself.

E and I were on the tram when he confided in me that on of his friends tricked him into saying a “bad word.”

I braced for disaster. When I brace for disaster I go into a bird mode.  My neck goes straight up; my head cocks to the side; and my shoulders jerk back.  I look like a deranged chicken.

“OH?” I said, my voice pitched high enough to make dogs howl, “What word would that be?”  Glass threatened to crack as I amended my request to, “Let’s talk about this when we get home, okay?”

Putting him off also gave me time to think about how I was going to handle this.  I was unprepared and I certainly wasn’t going to discuss English curse words with H, the 5 year old, within earshot.  Plus I really wanted Mark there.  If I was going to have to go through this then he was, too.

I wasn’t completely unprepared.  The minute your child is born there are certain talks that you know you’re going to have.  They are, in order of deranged chicken reaction (from lowest to highest):

Drugs and Alcohol / Peer Pressure
Where did I come from?

Clearly this is just the first of many tricky conversations that we would be having with E.  My friends call them Milestone Conversations.  And I kind of felt like this was going to set the tone for all of the other 4 Milestones.  No pressure.

Mark had gotten home a bit late. We had already started dinner and there was no way to warn him about what was coming, but I broached the topic again after dinner.  H was done and had gone downstairs to play.  As calmly as I could I asked, “So, E.  Is there something you wanted to talk to us about?”  And E said, “Yes. So, I’ve heard the word ‘bitch’ and I wanted to know what it meant.”

Mark dropped his fork.

Since I’d had time to think about it I took the lead and gave Mark a moment to get over his shock.

Unblinkingly I explained the nice and not-so-nice definitions for ‘bitch’ and then let him throw out a few more that he wanted defined.  I kept it all calm and very matter-of-fact.  To Mark’s horror, I also added a few more that I was sure would come up eventually.

Then he asked me Why.  Why would people want to curse and swear?  What was the point?

While his apparently lack of interest in swearing made me feel amazingly good as a parent, explaining why people use them was tougher and more uncomfortable than simply defining the words.  I theorized that since one heard adults and older teens using the words that younger kids would feel older if they used them.  Mark, finally recovering, threw in that they were shocking and some kids liked the feeling of being shocking.  We concluded the discussion that there were better words, and often funnier words, to use for expressing one’s self.

So, he is convinced that, for now, cursing is for the unimaginative.  And we can check that particular conversation off the list.

Next up, God help me, will be where did I come from.  And I will be using the book of same name that my mom used with me.  I distinctly remember this book.  When she got to the part of the pregnancy where the baby flips downward I passed out and smacked my head on the metal table leg.  Let’s hope my attempt with E goes better than that.


Using Montessori at Home

Before moving to Switzerland I was the administrative head at Rock Creek Montessori, a Montessori pre-school and kindergarten outside of Washington, DC in Maryland. There is a toddler room for children 18 months through 3 years and a primary room for children ages 3 though kindergarten. (Check out their website,

Both of my children went there.  E started when he was 3 years old and declared himself “bored” at daycare.  With H, I had transitioned to being a stay-at-home-parent and so he went into the toddler room for half-days when he turned 18 months old.  It wasn’t until the next school year that I started working at Rock Creek.

The root concept of Montessori is that children want to learn.  They are naturally curious about the world around them and they want to interact with it.  The Montessori classroom is set up to foster independence.  The materials are attractively arranged and at exactly the right height for children.  They can’t help but want to touch and handle them.

To encourage independence and immersion into the work, the teacher gives the child a long and thorough lesson on the materials and then steps back and has the child do the work themselves.  It might be messy. It might not be perfect. But they did it all by themselves.

Montessori carries this into the natural world.  Many Montessori schools incorporate gardening and hiking as part of an outdoor classroom.  I can’t count how many times I have laundered rocks or other hiking treasures hiding in coat and pant pockets.

Children carry over how they learn in a Montessori classroom into their everyday lives.  They ask to help fold towels.  They demand to set the table.  They beg to stir the sauce for dinner.  Our students were so empowered by the Montessori methods that by October the #1 question from parents was “How can I do this at home?”

So how do you make a Montessori home?

What your child is capable of doing? Watch what they do at home.  If your child attends a Montessori school, make an appointment to observe them in the classroom.  A typical 4 year old in Montessori can peel vegetables; cut carrots, strawberries, and apples; arrange flowers; sew on a button; and set the table – to only name a few!  Start making a list of things that they can help with around the house.

What does your child like to do?  What are they always asking to help with?  Add these to the list you started.

Work with the intention of independence. Look at your list above of what they are capable of doing and what they are doing in school.  Think about where these skills can fit in your house. What can you let them do independently.  Can they help peel and cut the carrot?  Can they set the table?  Can they iron the napkins?  Can they make the table center piece?  Can you let them do all of this independently?

Prepare the environment and materials.  Once you have thought through what they can do in the home it’s time to think about how they will do their tasks. You want to set everything up for the greatest chance of success and so they can work independently as possible.plates

If they are going to set the table, move the plates, silverware, napkins, and cups down to a drawer or cupboard at their level.

If they are going to peel and cut carrots for salad, you will need to make sure they can reach the counter comfortably, have a peeler that fits their hands (like this one), and a knife they can use (a serrated paring knife or one of these from Small Hands is great).

E's book area.  Loads more are up at his desk and the papers scattered around are different "project notes."  Embrace messes.
E’s book area. Loads more are up at his desk and the papers scattered around are different “project notes.” Embrace messes.

Books! Books! Books! Get plenty of books on all sorts of different topics and subjects that might interest your children.  If you can, let them have their own book cases in an area of the house that can be for them.  E has a case in his own special nook.  H has his case in his bedroom.  Both the boys have the two lower shelves of the bookcase in our living room.

Rearrange their dresser to that they can get their own clothes out in the morning.  Dreading what combination of clothes they are going to put together?  No problem!  One mom gave me the great hint of rolling up complete outfits at the beginning of the week and then letting them choose which roll they will wear each day.  No arguments and no stress.  Start them early enough in the “getting dressed” process so they have time to finish dressing themselves in the morning before school.

Take time to teach.  Just like a Montessori teacher has to give a lesson before the child can do the work, so must you.  The Montessori teacher physically demonstrates and verbally coaches the student through the process the first, second, and maybe even third time.  Then they hang back and observe as the child works independently.   Occasionally (about every third time) they will sit in on the work and make suggestions for improvement.  For example, while washing the table they might suggest making smaller circles around the edge of the table and bigger circles in the middle.  In order to set your child up for success you also must take the time to teach them the task, observe, and make suggestions for improvement over the next several weeks.

Let go of perfection.  Whatever your child does, it’s not going to be perfect. Just like nothing we do is perfect. The sooner you accept that, the happier you’ll be. Your child is going to try their best, however.  Remember, all this is new to them. They don’t have the years of practice that we have to make things just so. Let it go and let them try.  The more they practice the more skilled they will become.

Embrace messes.  My children can make a mess like they are being paid six-figures to make that mess.  Part of it is the joy of making messes.   When they are doing a household task the mess happens because they are still learning.  And on top of that they are still developing their fine motor skills.

Montessori in my home

I am all about using my kids’ Montessori education in my home.  The minute my boys started asking to help with things I started celebrating.  It is so much easier to establish the pattern of helping out and taking responsibility for chores early.  If their job at age 3 is to fold washcloths and put them away, they won’t find it weird at age 10 when their job is to put the laundry in the wash and then fold it when it is dry.

I’m not saying that my children go whistling to work like Snow White’s seven dwarves every time there are chores to do.  I get a symphony of groans, a good old-fashioned ‘No’ or two, and (my personal favorite) the I-have-homework-to-do dodge.  However, they know how to do it, they know I expect them to do it, and they do, actually, enjoy completing it.

The autumn leaf chain the boys made.
The autumn leaf chain the boys made.

My son, E, is now 9 years old.  He is great at folding towels and will soon learn how to wash clothes.  He runs the vacuum whenever he’s angling for something or time on the iPad.  He also makes his own lunch and baking has become a new interest.

My son, H, is 5 years old.  He can handle folding washcloths. He loves the Swiffer Sweeper and Mop.  He is a champion duster, shoe straightener, and bed maker. He begs to “do everything” for the pizza dough.

Other things they can do is dust (my goodness do they love any task that involves a spray bottle), feed the cat, wash dishes, and bring in the newspaper or mail from the mailbox.   And since we are in Switzerland, E is viewed as old enough to go to the grocery story by himself to do a little shopping.

Montessori isn’t solely about teaching children how to do chores.  I get kind of carried away on the practice life aspect of Montessori because my boys’ help makes a huge impact on my life.  Montessori also teaches them about order and process and analysis.  When they are interested in something, like nautilus shells or Napoleon Bonaparte, they know how to do the research, process what they have learned, and report it out – either verbally or in writing.

Performing scientific experiments is a major part of my boys’ lives.  They don’t even fully realize it (well, E is starting to), but they know all about asking a question, forming a hypothesis, testing the hypothesis, and forming conclusions. Today E noticed that the Kindle was reflecting light onto the fridge.  We talked about it and I suggested he take my pocket mirror and see if it reflected light in the same way.  He told me all the ways he noticed they were different and we had a good discussion about reflectivity of certain materials.  That is science.

Living Montessori

You don’t need to do all this to bring Montessori into your home.  I have and it has worked for us, but my family is not your family.  Do what works for your family.  If your child attends a Montessori school I highly recommend that you speak to the teacher.  They know your child well and they can give you tons of suggestions on other Montessori resources to explore.

Frankly, the most Montessori thing you can do is to give your children the freedom to explore their environment independently, the proper materials to research with, and answer their questions with questions.

I will close with this thought.  If you can do one thing Montessori for your child, say “yes” more often.  Say yes to their requests to help. Say yes when they want to go to the zoo.  Say yes when they ask you for one more story.  My default a lot of times is a quick “no.”  I am busy.  I am in my own head.  I don’t have the patience to say “yes.”  But when I do say “yes” it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for my children and our family.

Good luck!


For Small Hands.  Montessori materials for families.

Montessori Services.  More for schools, but it still has some great stuff for homes. This is the sister organization to For Small Hands.

Center for Montessori Education at Loyola.  They offer training courses through many off-site partners across the United States and they have an on-site training program at Washington Montessori Institute.  They also have excellent Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree programs in Montessori education.

Martha Lange.  Martha is the founder of Rock Creek Montessori school. She also consults parents on how to set up Montessori homes.  She is currently living in the San Francisco Bay Area.  You can contact her at

Parenting Risk

And while we are talking about “parenting risks” (from my articles Failure as an Option and Free Range Parenting) let me tell you a little story about letting your child take a BIG risk that, in hindsight, makes my parents my heroes.

When I graduated from college I had a smooth and easy path laid before me.  I had a job offer, I had a car, and I had a house to live in.  All provided for me by my parents.  They had offered me a job within the farming corporation.  They had rental houses they offered to me as my residence.  They had many, many trucks own by the farm for me to drive.

And I looked around me and thought, “Is this it? This is the best I can do? Do they think I can’t get a job by myself?”  (That is absolutely not what they thought, but this is my 22-year-old self talking.)  I suddenly saw the entirety of my life right before my eyes.  And I got scared.

I figured I had two other options. (A) I could move to Colorado and live with Shaun and continue the many adventures of Thelma and Louise (kind of risky considering that would put us dangerously close to the Grand Canyon), or (B) I could move to California, live off my savings while I found a job, and see about this guy I met at a party a little over a year ago. (Spoiler alert: He worked out.)

I was doing all this soul-searching in December, and so I was inspired to look up the average snowfall of each region in December (12 inches in Denver vs 0 inches in Berkeley).  Hmmmmm…. California it is!  I mailed 5 boxes of my stuff to this guy’s house, asked him to look for a room in an apartment for me, and bought a one-way ticket to San Francisco with the quarter collection I’d been saving since I was 12.

And what did my parents say? My mother’s response started with “Over my dead body,” and went downhill from there. My dad got really quiet and went outside to “check the cattle.” After a week or so Dad offered to drive me to the airport and Mom told me I could always come home.

This was a huge risk.  Probably a larger risk for them than for me.  I was being incredibly naive, but I did know that if it didn’t work out I had a solid Plan B.  It turned out more perfectly than I could have hoped for in the end, but I can only imagine how many rosaries my Mom wore out and how many sleepless hours I gave Dad.

And that is why letting your child take risks now is so important. If my parents hadn’t allowed me to learn to drive when I was 9, or left me home alone after school while I was in 3rd grade, or even make my own curfew decisions in high school I would never have had the confidence in myself to take this kind of a risk. I would never have made some awesome life-long friends in the Department of Economics, married Mark, and had our two children.

I also would have never had the guts to travel to Paris with my mom – a trip that changed our relationship forever – or gone off on this adventure to Switzerland. Taking these risks, failing, and succeeding have made me the person I am today.

Thanks, Mom and Dad.

The Rheinbrucke. A beautiful bridge over the Rhein River.  One of my favorite pictures of my parents.
The Rheinbrucke. A beautiful bridge over the Rhein River. One of my favorite pictures of my parents.