Saturday, December 7, 2013

Involving Young Children in Decorating for the Holidays

The more I try to incorporate Montessori ideas into my home, the more impressed I am with how much my children are capable of learning and doing, and how happy it makes them to have the power and ability to do things for themselves.

Things take more time, but if I plan for it, I usually have plenty of time.  I would rather do fewer things and let my children participate more fully in each of those things, and that realization has shaped the way we're decorating for Christmas.  We're decorating a little at a time, and enjoying the process even more than the results.

As we decorate for Christmas I try to regularly ask myself, what can my toddler and preschooler help with?

Maybe help is the wrong word, because "help" implies that, well, it's going to be helpful.  Since my children are so young, a better question might be "how can my children participate?"  How can I get them involved, help them feel ownership, give them the pleasure of participating in our holiday traditions?

When I think of it that way, it reminds me that they're not here to help me decorate, I'm here to help them participate.  It's my job as a parent to find ways for them to feel helpful and included.  I'm sowing the seeds for children who will be legitimately helpful, independent, and capable later on.  More importantly, I'm helping them have enormous fun and make beautiful Christmas memories NOW!

Greg and I love doing things with Will and Andrew as a family, and that means finding as many things as we can that little hands can do.  Greg is a natural at this... I often have to think about it.  I'm really happy when I do :)

Luckily, there's a lot!  Here are some examples.  Happy decorating!

What can your little one's hands do?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tip: Use a Coat Rack to Help Young Children Decorate Holiday Wreaths

Not how I would have spaced the ornaments,
but it'll make me smile every time I come home :)
It's December, and since we celebrate the Christmas tradition, that means it's time to decorate!  I love having the kids help, because they have so much fun being involved.

Greg ordered a wreath from the boy scouts, and it recently arrived ready for us to decorate! 

I used a low hanging hook on our coat rack as a stable place to hang the wreath where Will and Andrew could reach it.

I pulled out a small number of decorations, kept it simple, and was sure to supervise while they hung the breakable ornaments on the branches.  They would hook them where they wanted them, and then I made sure each one was secure.

Afterwards, Will eagerly helped to vacuum up all the pine needles while I hung the wreath on the front door.

If you're feeling less brave, or don't have time to clean up a potential mess, you could always use less breakable decorations.  Outgrown mittens on strings make adorable wreath decorations!

I figured that while I had time to supervise them, it would be good to give them the chance to handle delicate decorations.  If one fell and broke, we could talk about how some things are breakable, and what to do if something breaks.  (Stay really still until a grown-up can pick you up so you don't cut your hand or foot, put shoes on before you vacuum, etc.)  I didn't have to have that conversation because they were so careful, but I knew I had time to deal with the mess if it happened, and it's always good to teach kids how to handle breakable things.

Wreaths are such a great thing for kids to decorate, because they're smaller projects than a tree, and with the help of a coat rack they can reach the whole thing! 

He loves helping SO MUCH!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Two good kitchen tasks for preschoolers

Preparing food is easier when I can do prep tasks ahead of time and include the boys so they're content while I'm working - today for lunch they eagerly took turns brushing dirt off mushrooms, and washing the brussel sprouts.

I was amazed to find that even my 21 month old was able to effectively get dirt off the mushrooms with the brush, then set the mushroom on my cutting board for me and let his brother have a turn.  Color me impressed!

Washing fruits and vegetables is a no-brainer task to let kids do - but I particularly liked brussel sprouts because there were so many individual, sturdy items to wash.

I wish I could tell you they then ate both foods... But that didn't happen.  It was more likely than if they hadn't been involved!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

My kitchen aid dough hook finally has a purpose!

I've always been a fan of kneading my own yeast breads - I enjoy it too much to automate the process.  No bread machine, no dough hook; just old fashioned bread making in our house.

But it's hard to let a one and three year old knead bread.  They need really clean hands, and they lose interest long before the job is done, reducing the "we did it" feeling to a "we helped" feeling.  Still good, but when I use a dough hook, they can add every ingredient to the bowl if I measure them first, turn on the mixer, watch it knead the dough (they watched an entire five minutes... mesmerized!) and even oil the bowl for it to rise in.

Inspired by Will's Montessori preschool, I try hard to let the kids do as much for themselves as possible.  In the day to day rush, it can be hard, and I don't always do as well as I like.

Making bread or cooking with the boys is an exercise for me to work on letting them do everything they can, helping as little as possible.  They carry the ingredients to the counter, wash and dry their own hands, dump everything into the bowl, and help clean up.

It takes A LONG TIME.  That means that for a good hour, they're not making a mess or fighting with each other anywhere else :)

Note: the brandy in the photo was for a fig log I made - not to help me get through the supervision process, I promise :)

Friday, November 1, 2013

Guest Post: Will's Halloween

Hi.  It's Will.  Mom's pretty busy so I'll be doing some guest posting.

Yesterday was Halloween.  I like Halloween.

This is my little brother Andrew.  He is not big.
You can carve pumpkins to look like faces.  You will need a grownup to help with the knife.  I made a scary face and Mom tried to carve it on a pumpkin for me.  She did all right.  I probably could have done it myself, though, because I am 3.

Dad did Andrew's pumpkin.  He is sticking his tongue out.

I got the pumpkin seeds all ready to go in the oven for roasting.  You need to get them out of the pumpkins, wash them, then pat them dry.  Then you mix them with salt and a little olive oil and put them in the oven at 350 for 20 minutes or so.  A grown up can stir them sometimes while they are cooking because they are VERY HOT.

Mom tried to help me dry the pumpkin seeds, but I could do it all by myself.

Mix the salt and olive oil on really well.  Wash your hands first.
Then you need to wash your hands again.  They will be sticky.

When people ring your door bell, you can open your door and hold out the bowl of candy and they will take some.  They wear costumes.  Sometimes they smile at you.  If they ask you how many they can have you say "one".  Otherwise you don't even have to say anything.  When you open the door and hold out the bowl they know to take the candy.  When they are done taking the candy you can shut the door.  It is nice to say "Happy Halloween".

Then after dinner you can go to other people's houses.  They will have candy.  You say "trick or treat" or "Happy Halloween" and then you can take some candy and put it in your purple pumpkin and eat it later.

Try to eat as much as you can right after you get home, because after Halloween is over you will only get one piece a day at snack time and that is not a lot.  Two would be better.  Or five.

Did you have a good Halloween, too?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Photo of the day: Our Montessori Closet

It's really great if you can arrange your child's closet so they can reach their own clothes.  The more they can do themselves, the less frustrating it is for them to be little and have so many things they can't do or decide for themselves.

We've hung all Will's clothes where he can reach them, and I'm so glad.  It teaches him responsibility in caring for his own clothes, and helps him feel empowered by letting him choose what to wear.

It's awesome.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Painted Halloween Pumpkins!

I painted Halloween Pumpkins with the boys - they had a wonderful time, didn't eat too much paint (*cough* Andrew *cough*) and they've lasted for several weeks on our counter as a great Halloween decoration.

The activity itself probably lasted for under ten minutes, but that didn't make it any less fun :)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


Give your kids apples.

For dessert.

Sweet, crunchy, and an event when they have to wait until after lunch!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Idea for embellishing a lunch box

I don't like going to the mall.  I don't like being inside, under fluorescent lights, I don't like driving the busy, divided highway to get there, I don't like using my precious babysitting time to be there, I don't like dragging my complaining kids in the stroller who want to get down, run away, and fondle everything over $100 that they can reach.

So, I kind of put off getting Will a lunch box for his first lunch at school.  He'll be staying at his preschool for a little extra time just one day a week, and having lunch there.  That way, since his normal school time is only 2 hours and 15 minutes, I'll have a chance to get more done with Andrew one day a week.

Only, he needs a lunch box.  And all the other kids are probably going to have SUPER CUTE lunch boxes.  Because what parent doesn't want their adorable little preschooler to have the coolest lunch box ever that will make them smile at lunch time?  No parent.  We all want that.

Except I didn't go to Pottery Barn kids, or Hanna Andersson, or even manage to Amazon Prime one from Skip Hop in time for tomorrow.  I didn't even hit up the local toy store, Magic Beans, that I'm sure has lunch boxes.



So I did what any parent would do in the eleventh hour, after all the stores have closed, the night before their child's first school lunch ever.  (I may have been in denial, because this seems like a big deal, Will actually eating a meal without me...)

I rummaged around the house.

I found a lunch box of Greg's.  (Sorry, honey.)

I found colored duct tape in the basement.  (Huh?  Ok.  Cool.)

I spent over half an hour making the best darn duct tape train I could, and cut out Will's name in bright letters to label his lunch box.

Is it from Pottery Barn?  No.  Did it cost a lot?  No.  Is it, from an artistic perspective, of any merit whatsoever?  No.

Will he love it?  Probably.  Does it have his name on it in big, bright letters for the teachers to see?  Definitely.  Will any other kid there have the same lunch box?  Hell no.

Love you, Will.  Doing the best I can.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Happy 30th... to me :)

I turned 30!  And I'm still alive.  I'm only mildly surprised.  I realize I've just alienated all of you who are over 30... except perhaps you remember feeling the same way.  After all, when you turn 20, you have 21 to look forward to.  When you turn 30 you have... umm, well you see my point.

To celebrate, I ran my first half marathon on the last day of my twenties, something I'd been training for for four months.  (Read about my journey on my other blog,

My husband then surprised me with a birthday party where he rented a bouncy house and invited all of Will's playgroup friends and some of our favorite neighbors over for a wonderful afternoon of fun, complete with Qdoba catering so none of us had to cook or clean up from dinner.  The toddlers ate like champions, the weather was perfect, my parents were in town and helped with everything, it was a wonderful time!

If you're looking for the perfect gift to give anyone who is having a big birthday, my mother spent hours and hours putting together an amazing photo book of my last thirty years.  Since I grew up before the world of digital cameras for the most part, she had to recruit my Dad's help in transferring images from slides and prints, as well as choosing from hundreds of images and organizing them to tell my story.

It was such a heart-warming, powerful, and beautiful gift.  Many of these photos, since they were in slide format, I haven't seen in years.  Even the recent ones were often from their cameras rather than ours, and it was fun to see memories I shared but different photos than the ones we have.

My friends at the party enjoyed laughing with me over photos of my teenage years, and smiling at what a happy childhood I had, which is very obvious from those early pages.

It almost... almost, makes it easier to leave my twenties behind ;)

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Yeah... We hired a babysitter on a weekend

This was such a revolutionary idea the first time we did it, but there's a lot to be said for hiring a babysitter on the weekend!

We had lots of family time, friends over yesterday, a long morning at the playground today, car washing and a snack this afternoon... And then 3-6 with a babysitter so Greg and I could have a break and get stuff done.

I wrote a post for my running blog and tackled a closet that was driving me crazy, he went for a swim and is trying out running shoes.

(Wow, they didn't even use it as bonding time... Yikes!)

I know.  We're rebels.  We love it.

And in fifteen minutes, we'll have a nice meal together as a family and then bath and stories.  What a great day :)

Friday, September 6, 2013

Teaching toddlers to empty the dishwasher

I've been trying to embrace Montessori principles in our house, helping the boys learn to do things for themselves when I can.

This morning, I discovered that they were both very eager to help me empty the dishwasher! Will, almost 3, has helped me in the past.  But this was the first time they both helped together.

Will emptied the glasses one by one, carefully setting them on the counter under the cabinet they go in.

Andrew took utensils out one by one and chucked them into the silverware drawer.  

Yes, I had to rearrange the silverware and put the glasses from the counter into the cabinet... But for the whole time I emptied dishes, it was quiet, they were happy, and each felt like they contributed something.  And you know what?  They did.

I didn't think an 18 month old could help... Makes me wonder what else they can do that would please them and help me!

Sort napkins from clean laundry?

Andrew set the table along with Will?

Teaching them to be part of the household helps all of us!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Pineapple Kale Smoothies - I Love It When I'm Wrong

I read A LOT of parenting books.  A lot.  Probably too many.  Anyway, my recent favorite is Positive Discipline for Preschoolers.  It came recommended by Will's preschool for next year, and it's amazing.  It's built on the premise that parents need to be kind but firm with their children, and that many of us go back and forth between being kind without enough firmness (letting our kids walk all over us) or being too firm without enough kindness (erring on the side of strictness).  

This book is one of the first books I've read that's given me confidence in every parenting situation.  By just repeating the "kind but firm" mantra in my head, I am better able to decide how to respond to each situation.  Before, I felt like I read so many parenting books that I was unable to decide in a given moment how to apply the advice, or what the author of the book would tell me to do.

The book had a lot of chapters that summarized concisely the advice on a given topic that I'd read whole books on, and wouldn't have needed to, if I'd just read this book first.

I would recommend this book to any parent, grandparent, or teacher of small children.

But I digress.  This is about pineapple kale smoothies.

looks disgusting, right?  that's because it's HALF KALE.

The chapter in the book about preschoolers and eating mentions that kids are much more likely to try new foods that they've had a hand in preparing themselves.  (I've read this a lot of places, and I know it to be true, but it can be hard to let Will assist in food preparation when Andrew inevitably wants to help, too, and they end up pushing each other on the stool and fighting over kitchen spoons.)

One of the anecdotes in the book is about a preschool teacher that had kids make pineapple kale smoothies.  The ones involved in the preparation tried them, said they were great, and went back for more.  The kids in the class next door who hadn't been involved wouldn't touch the stuff.

Hah, cute story, I thought.  There's NO WAY that Will would drink a pineapple kale smoothie, even if I let him make the entire thing himself.  That's the most stereotypical, new age healthy mom, trying way too hard, why don't we eat chia seeds, oh my goodness bread is bad for you, kind of drink you could make.

So I decided to try it.  I googled "pineapple kale smoothie" and got about 3,700 recipe results.  (No seriously, this sounds disgusting, but it's totally a thing.  There are A LOT of recipes online for this.)

I took the number of recipes to mean I could do whatever I wanted, so we dumped a can of pineapple juice in the blender with some ice and kale and Will zinged the @#*$) out of it.

And then he drank it.  All of it.

Wow.  I love it when I'm wrong.

The moment I thought for sure I was right!

Huh.  Really?  Seriously?  Ok.
(They actually aren't that bad, pineapple has A LOT of sugar in it.)