On Parenting, Social and Emotional Learning, Theory and Practice

The Good Struggle

This morning, let’s talk about compassion (identifying our common struggles) and empathy (letting others know they’re not alone).

Raise your hand if you want your child to show compassion and empathy for others.  OK, that’s pretty much everyone in the audience.  Put your hands down.

Now, raise your hand if you want your child to suffer.  Anyone?  Anyone?  *crickets*

Most of us agree that it’s painful to watch our child get hurt (physically or emotionally). So painful, in fact, that it triggers the Mama or Papa Bear in us and we come out swinging against the person or situation that is causing our child pain.

But, what if I told you that suffering is at the root of compassion and empathy?  

Really. Uncomfortable. Thought.

I get it.  So, let’s leave our children’s suffering aside for a moment, because I have a story to tell you about my own journey towards compassion.  Before I became a mom, I thought that parents who, in my lofty opinion, didn’t have their act together deserved zero compassion.  ZERO.

I had a long list of parenting choices I would never make (screens, junk food, yelling at my kids) and I had an even longer list of behaviors my children would never exhibit (because they were going to be Montessori children).  I looked down my nose at those “hot mess” moms and their unruly kids who broke my rules for a perfect life.

And so, of course, the gods sent me two beautiful, loud, demanding, free-spirited children to take me down a notch or fifty.  Now, after seven years of being dragged through the parenting rodeo, I’m a proud card-carrying member of the Hot-Mess Moms club.

Do I still judge other moms?  Yes.  For about two seconds.  But then a voice inside me says, “Psst.  Girlfriend… Take a look in the mirror!”  That’s the voice of compassion. (I thought the voice of compassion would sound like Pema Chodron.  Yeah, no.)  When I hear that voice, my resistance to accepting my own imperfect humanity and that of others melts away.

Now here’s the thing: My lack of compassion for other parents stemmed not from being a bad person, but from not having lived through the struggles of parenthood.

So how does all this tie back to our children?  Well, if we want them to feel compassion, we need to let them connect with the struggles of others by letting them struggle a little bit themselves.

And if we want them to learn how to show empathy, we need to connect empathically with them post-struggle.  Let’s put aside our “I told you so’s” and “You’re OK’s”… When we suffer, all we want to hear and know is “You’re not alone.”

compassion-suffering

 

 

On Parenting, Practical Life, Social and Emotional Learning

Entitlement: Been There, Done That

Few things trigger me more than interacting with a child who has an entitled attitude.  rich-kidWhy?  Because I was one of them.  I grew up in a traditional Mexican upper-middle-class family, with a stay-at-home mom and two maids who did all the housework so we didn’t have to.  I never did my laundry, tidied my room, or set a table.  Those things just happened!

When I was 18, my mom went back to school and decided that I needed to learn how to run a home.  One night, my dad was coming home a bit later than usual, my mom had class, and the maids were gone, so I was tasked with re-heating my dad’s dinner.  With the burner on high, I stirred the tomato sauce and thought, How will I know when it’s ready?  It eventually burned and my dad had to eat charred tomato sauce on his pasta.  I remember the feelings of shame and incompetence that washed over me as I watched him pick through the blackened bits on his plate.

The irony is that I ended up in hotel management school in Switzerland, which is like Practical Life boot camp for rich kids.  Within weeks I went from not knowing how to boil water to cooking coq au vin; from not knowing how to make my bed to mastering hospital corners; from not knowing how to set a table to prepping a banquet room for 350 people.  My teachers were kind, but they also had high expectations and only a few short months to prepare us for demanding industry internships.

After 12-hour shifts scrubbing pots and pans, I would drag myself to my dorm, body aching but self-confidence bolstered by what I had accomplished.  During my three six-month internships, I sometimes cried in the bathroom after getting chewed out by the head chef, but then I’d wash my face, put on my apron, and continue plucking thousands of chicken feathers or slicing tray after tray of tomatoes.

The resilience, growth mindset and grit that define my adult personality were not developed in my posh private high school or in my comfortable childhood home.  They came from three bone-crushing and character-building years of meaningful work, high expectations, and caring guidance.

Meaningful work.  High expectations.  Caring guidance.  These are the three cornerstones for the development of true self-worth.  They’re also inherent in the work children do in Montessori environments (both in school and at home).  When we do things for our children that they can do for themselves, we rob them of the experiences that will help them forge strength of character, develop autonomy, and lead fearless lives.

PS: About a decade ago, my father lost his business in one of Mexico’s financial crises, and my mom had to go into the workforce to support them.  She works long hours and doesn’t have time to cook, so my father was forced to prepare the meals.  He’s now a passionate home chef who pours over elaborate recipes and has found self-worth through cooking amazing meals.  It’s never too late to transform your life through meaningful work.

On Parenting

Full Bloom

When you’re pregnant, it’s as if you’re handed a seed of unknown origin. You put it in the soil, water it, and give it light. The first seed leaves emerge, and you feel so proud! As the first set of true leaves unfurl, you begin to imagine the possibilities. You’re sure your plant will be a hydrangea, because those are your favorite plants and surely nobody would give you a seed of a plant you don’t like!

But then, much to your surprise, your hydrangea begins to look more and more like a tomato plant. Oh no, tomatoes were never part of your plan! You can choose to be frustrated by your tomato plant; move it into one pot and then another and another, feed it chemical fertilizers, stake it, place it among other hydrangeas in a partly shady area, and pinch off its flowers, all in hopes that it will somehow turn into a hydrangea.

Or, you can observe it. You can notice its delicate yellow flowers, the tiny hairs on its stems, its jagged leaves. You can marvel at the first tiny green tomatoes, and leave it undisturbed where it gets the best sunlight. You can feed it the best organic soil, learn what time of day it likes to be watered, and surround it with other companion plants that attract helpful insects. And you can rejoice when your little tomato plant puts forth luscious, juicy, red fruit. Just as it was meant to do all along.

We don’t get to choose the seed, but we do get to choose how we tend it. What does your seed need in order to blossom? Observe it. It knows.

tomato

Montessori Theory, On Parenting, Practical Life

Prepare to be Amazed

prep-bananaMany parents like to help feed or dress their children, even when the children become capable of doing it on their own, because they feel it’s a way of showing love. While parents who follow the Montessori philosophy understand that it’s important to support their child’s budding independence, they sometimes don’t know how to channel their affection in a way that’s helpful to their child’s development!

You’ll be happy to know that in the Montessori philosophy, you – the parent – play a very important role… Click here to find out what this role is and watch a short video.

Montessori Materials, Montessori Theory, Practical Life

Your Child Has a Secret

nut-boltIf you’ve been following the Voila Montessori video series, you’ve probably had the opportunity to give several presentations to your child by now. She might have shown interest in some activities, and completely ignored others. Do you feel frustrated when that happens? All that hard work to put together the material, and your child isn’t interested in it!

Find out why this happens and what you can do about it by clicking here!

Uncategorized

10 Quick Tips for Baking with Your Toddler

Note: You’ll find our fabulous, healthy, and toddler-approved recipe at the end of this post! Try it out and let us know if you like it!

I love to cook, and I’d love to include Zach every time I’m in the kitchen.  But as a working mom, I rarely get more than 15 minutes to cobble together a semi-healthy meal during the week.  Instead of pressuring myself to involve my toddler in weeknight dinner preparation, Zach and I bake muffins on the weekends, and we’ve been making the same recipe for the past couple of months.

IMG_0239

I didn’t have in mind the Montessori principle of repetition when I decided to repeat the same recipe over and over.  It was simply a tasty and healthy recipe that worked well, and I didn’t have time to research new ones.  However, it soon dawned on me that revisiting the same recipe was EXACTLY the right thing to do.  Through repetition, both Zach and I have honed our skills and get more enjoyment from the activity.  Since I know the recipe, I can be well-organized, which allows me to observe Zach more closely.  I can notice what skills he needs to work on and which new responsibilities I can delegate to him.  Zach, meanwhile, becomes more confident in his abilities and his self-esteem increases with each achievement.

Here are a ten things I’ve learned from baking with my two-year old:

1. PREPARE: I try to pull out all the ingredients and equipment before I start, and leave them out of arm’s reach of my toddler. Children have a natural impulse to explore with their hands, and you really don’t want your child to test the law of gravity on a carton of eggs or a bag of flour while you’re searching for the muffin tin.

2. KNOW YOUR RECIPE: If there are any time-consuming preparation steps that don’t involve your toddler (such as defrosting), do them ahead of time.

3. BUSY HANDS: If you need to divert your attention from the cooking process (to put things away, wash an item, etc.), give your toddler something to do with his hands. I like the recipe that I use because it involves a lot of stirring, which Zach happily does while I put items back or grab a cleaning rag.

IMG_02414. MODEL AND TRUST: Our recipe involves cracking two eggs. I crack the first one slowly into a small bowl, pausing after each step, while Zach watches. Then I ask him if he wants to do the second egg. The first couple of times, he said, “Mommy do it”. The last two times we’ve made muffins he’s cracked the egg on his own, exclaiming “Zachy did it!”.

5. TALK, TALK, TALK: Baking is the ideal time to increase your toddler’s vocabulary. I give Zach the names of the equipment and ingredients, and isolate the name of each action as I am doing it (e.g. “CRACK the egg”, “stir”, “grate”, etc.). However, if Zach is engrossed in an activity, I hold my tongue until he’s done so I don’t break his concentration! I can always point out what he did afterwards: “You cracked the egg by yourself!”

6. TAKE TURNS: If there’s something that your toddler is not quite able to do yet (like for Zach, grating carrots effectively) take turns. Show him how to do it, then tell him it’s his turn. Give him a chance to try and then say, “When you are finished, it’s my turn again”. If he’s struggling or doesn’t feel capable, you’re giving him a pressure-free way of passing the baton back to you without having to say “I can’t do it”. And when he wants to take charge, you’ll know because he’ll exclaim: “My turn!”

7. INSPIRE, THEN RETIRE: When your child is ready to take charge, let him. I used to spoon the batter into the muffin cups and have Zach use the spatula to help scrape the batter from the spoon to the cups. Eventually, he decided he wanted to take charge: now he scoops the batter with the spoon, and I’m his helper with the spatula!photo (10)

8. CLEAN UP: As soon as those muffins make it into the oven, I give Zach a wet rag and ask him to wipe down the counter. Then he gets down from his Learning Tower and I give him the bag of flour, the carrots, and the carton of eggs to take to the fridge (one at a time). Then I tell him to take the measuring spoons and the platic mixing bowl to the sink. I also tell him to throw the egg shells and carrot tops into the trash. Finally, he uses the dustpan and brush to clean up any flour that fell on the floor. I don’t ask if he wants to help clean up; I tell him with a smile: “It’s time to clean up now.” I also don’t ask, “Can you wipe the counter?”. I show my confidence in him by stating, “You can wipe the counter.”

9. SHARE HIS ACCOMPLISHMENTS: When my husband comes home, Zachary serves us all muffins and we tell daddy everything we did to make them. I point out to my husband the steps in which Zach was involved, and make note of any new achivements (i.e. “Today Zach cracked an egg by himself!”). This, more than praise, helps a child understand that his contribution to the family is appreciated and sets the foundations for meta-cognition (self-evaluation of one’s own learning process).

And above all…

photo (11)10. CHECK YOUR ATTITUDE: You might think that baking with your toddler is a cute and endearing activity, but for your child it is serious business. He’s mastered a wide range of skills in his first two years of life, and now he’s being driven to understand: “What is my place in this family? How do I fit in? How do I contribute?” Practical life for your toddler is not about looking cute in an apron; it’s about self-reliance and contributing to the well-being of his social group (in a toddler’s case, his immediate family).  Make sure your approach reflects the importance of the activity!

Be patient, maintain a healthy perspective, and HAPPY COOKING!

Whole Wheat Carrot-Pineapple Muffins

(makes 12 small or 7-8 large muffins)

Ingredients:
1.5 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp cinnammon

2 eggs
2/3 cups brown sugar
2/3 cup vegetable or coconut oil (melted)
1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup grated carrot (about 1 large or 2-3 small carrots)
1 cup crushed pineapple (drained)

OVEN TEMP: Pre-heat to 350F

1. Work with your toddler to scoop each of the dry ingredients into a small mixing bowl (flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnammon)
2. Let your toddler stir the dry ingredients to his heart’s content, showing him how to hold the bowl with one hand and stir with the other.
3. Show your toddler how to crack an egg into a small bowl. Ask him if he’d like to have a turn. Remove any shells that fall into the bowl.
4. Let your toddler transfer the eggs into a larger mixing bowl. Work with him to add the following ingredients: brown sugar, oil, and vanilla extract.
5. Let your toddler stir the wet ingredients to his heart’s content (one hand on the bowl!)
6. Show your toddler how to grate carrots and ask if he wants a turn. Try not to be paranoid about him grating his fingers off. If he’s not into grating, take a turn and finish the job.
7. Drain the pineapple and measure it.
8. Take a turn stirring the dry and wet ingredients in their respective bowls, to ensure they are well mixed.
9. Have your toddler transfer the dry ingredients into the bowl with the wet ingredients.
10. CAUTION: This batter should NOT be over-mixed, or your muffins will be too dense! Let your toddler stir three or four times and then you should “take a turn”. Gently fold the ingredients until JUST mixed (some dry flour should still be visible) and then ask your toddler to add in the carrots and pineapple.
11. Finish folding in the carrots and pineapple gently. Did I mention not to over-mix?
12. Have your toddler put the muffin cups into the muffin baking tray.
13. Show your toddler how to spoon batter into the cups, using a spatula to scrape off the sticky mixture from the spoon. Your batter should stick to the spoon pretty well, making it easy for a toddler to transfer it to the cups without dribbling it everywhere. The cups should be no more than 3/4 full.
14. Put the muffins into the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until you insert a toothpick and it comes out clean. When the muffins are ready, take them out and let them cool IN THE BAKING TIN for 10-15 minutes.
15. Clean up with as much enthusiasm as you cooked.

Uncategorized

Playing Catch Up

There’s one thing that sets children ages 0-3 apart from children in all other Montessori age groups, and it’s been throwing me for a loop recently:

THEIR NEEDS AND ABILITIES CHANGE SO DARN FAST!!!  AAARRGGGHHH!!!

I spent almost two hours observing through a one-way window in my son’s Toddler Community.  What I saw was amazing.  And disconcerting.

Because the environment I worked so hard to set up for my one-year old just a few months back?  Yeah, completely useless now.

My baby, the one who was content shaking a maraca or drooling over a plastic lion, is now a capable almost-two-year-old who makes his own orange juice, slices cucumbers, washes dishes, paints, draws, pastes, sews, strings beads… The list is endless!

The Montessori mommy part of me is excited at the thought of re-vamping our space to make way for Practical Life activities, but the Montessori teacher part of me knows the hard work that is involved in the creation, rotation, and upkeep of said activities.  *deep breaths*

With Thanksgiving vacation around the corner, I’m going to make it my mission to slowly introduce new activities in our home.  I promise to make time to share them here!

trayFirst step: buy trays.  Like the Primary environment, all activities are kept on color-coded trays.  Unlike Primary, the activities are often performed within the trays.  So, say the child is juicing oranges.  The juicer, orange, bowl for the fruit,  pitcher and sponge would all stay within the tray as the child works.  The trays should have handles on the sides for easy gripping and transportation.  Thankfully, if you live in the United States you can take care of all your toddler tray needs at Michael’s!  Guess where I’ll be this weekend?

Unlike they do in the classroom, I’m not going to paint the trays; I’m going to stain them all the same color and then use colored electrical tape to line the exterior and a matching oilcloth rectangle to line the interior.  This way, I can use the same tray over again for a different activity by simply changing the color coding!  Electrical tape is great for anything that needs color coding: pitchers, buckets, glasses, brush handles, etc.

Second step: make an apron.  Zachary’s school uses this one, so I want to make the same model to support his sense of order and help him master one type of apron before moving on to other variations.  I think I have a few yards of oilcloth somewhere, for the apron I was going to make him one year ago…  Add one more project to my ever-growing list of Thanksgiving activities!

So, there you have it – the truth about being a Montessori teacher/mom.  Just because you know how it works doesn’t mean you have the bandwidth to keep up.

But I’m trying…

Uncategorized

How to Montessori Your Home

Welcome!  Come on in… I’m Zach and this is my home.  I was born in my parents’ bedroom upstairs and have spent my entire life – a whopping 16 months – living here.  I love what my parents have done with the place and I want to share my favorite spots with you.

Let’s begin in the kitchen.  When I started being strong enough to open the drawers on my own, my mom had to do some re-arranging.  She moved all the chemicals to the bathroom (the only cabinet in the house with a child-proof lock).  She put her glass tupperware in a higher drawer so I wouldn’t accidentally break it while playing with the other containers, and she moved the silverware (except the sharp knives) down to a low drawer so I could have access to it.  Other than that, she left everything else as it was.  A few times I tried investigating the delicate items she had in some of the drawers, but she would come over and tell me “no, those are not for you”.  She would then show me which drawers I could play with.  Now I know!  I got my fingers caught in the heavy drawers a couple of times, but now I’m really skilled at closing them.  My favorite item in the kitchen is my dad’s old blender.  I spend hours assembling and disassembling it!

DSC04010

Next to the kitchen is the little wooden cupboard where I keep my toys.  My mom found it at a swap meet and I love it because it’s the perfect size for me!  We keep my cars in one basket on the floor and my balls in another.  Mommy says baskets are great, and I agree!  I especially like to dump everything out of them and then put things back (or walk away and leave a giant mess behind, depending on my mood).

cupboard

Next to my toys is my weaning table.  This is where I had my first meal with a bowl and a spoon!  When I first used the table, at 4 months of age, I needed help sitting up.  Now, all mom has to say is: “It’s time to eat!” and I run to my table, pull out my chair, and sit down on my own!  Sometimes I share my weaning table with my friend James.  We have so much fun eating lunch together!  My dad and my aunt Debbie made the weaning table from plywood he had lying around in the basement.  They also built my Learning Tower, which we move into the kitchen when I need to wash my hands or help with the cooking.  I hope one day I can be as crafty as they are.

table

I have breakfast and dinner with mom and dad at the dining room table.  I have a Tripp-Trapp chair that was a present from my grandparents, aunt, uncle, and cousins.  I love knowing that my entire family has contributed to my independence.  I am learning to climb in and out of the chair on my own, and it’s so nice to share meals with mom and dad.  We always light a candle and use real china, silverware, and glasses.  I love feeding myself, which can get a little messy but it’s also a lot of fun.  I’ve broken a couple of glasses and plates, but now I have a lot of respect for them.  I am so careful, that now I am in charge of taking the plates and silverware to the table when it’s time for dinner!

DSC04026

OK, moving along… Squeeze by the couch and follow me outside.  Here are my geraniums, which I water every day (I’m working on getting more water into the pots and less water on the floor).  Over there is my water source, and my watering can.  I quickly learned how to get water to come out of the spigot, and now I can fill my own watering can.  My mom put a large container underneath to catch spills, and an old cooling rack serves as a surface for resting my watering can.  I also have a pot with a lot of dirt, and an almost-empty pot that I am slowly filling up with dirt and toys and pinecones and rocks and everything else I find in the patio.  My mom always says that she needs to “put more work into the outdoor environment”, but actually this is my favorite spot in the entire house!

outdoors

Let’s come back inside.  Careful with those steps, you might want to hold on to the low railing my dad installed so I could go up and down the steps on my own.  This way, I can get to the bathroom when I have to use the potty.  Here’s my little toilet; I have another one upstairs.  Here are my underwear and my books.  Mom and I spend a lot of time here, reading books, singing songs, and waiting for me to do my business.  When I pee or poop, I proudly empty my potty into the toilet on my own, while my mom flinches and tries to pretend like she’s not dying to help me.

potty

Oh, look, right outside the bathroom is the dogs’ water bowl.  I used to make a giant mess every time I walked by – I couldn’t resist turning over the bowl and spilling the water everywhere!  I’m much more mature now; I notice when it’s empty and take it to my mom so she can fill it up.  She didn’t understand me the first time I took it to her and said “agua“.  She told me, “No, there’s no water in the bowl right now”.  Moms can be so dense!  I persisted, and eventually she understood and got really excited at my new “level of awareness”, which is what she called it when she told daddy.  Call it whatever you want, mom, but someone had to give the dogs water!

Let’s go upstairs.  Mind the gate at the bottom of the stairs, which nowadays is only used for keeping the dogs downstairs.  We still use the one at the top of the stairs when mom has to take a shower and I am hanging out  upstairs.

Here’s my bedroom.  I slept on a floor bed for many months.  It was a crib mattress placed on the floor, and I really enjoyed the freedom it gave me to explore my room after my nap or if I wasn’t feeling sleepy.  Unfortunately, I am a big-time roller, and in the winter I would roll out of bed and get very cold sleeping on the wood floor.  My parents found the perfect solution: this neat bed from IKEA!  Instead of using slats to raise the mattress off the floor (like the original design intended), my dad came up with the idea of putting the mattress on the floor so that there would be a low wall surrounding it.  There’s a little entry/exit built into one end of the bed’s frame, but I’m also really good at climbing in and out the side of the bed (I landed on my face the first few times I tried this, but now I’m a real pro).  Next to the bed is my stool and my laundry hamper.  Mom says I’m a wiggle worm; she tries to get me to sit down to get dressed, but I often end up running around the room half-naked.  However, I do love to put my dirty clothes into the hamper!

room

In the upstairs bathroom I have a stool to reach the counter so I can brush my teeth, and I also have another potty like the one downstairs.  In my parents’ room I have a few toys on a shelf, which I mostly use only when mommy is getting dressed.  This was my movement area when I was younger; I had my mobiles, mirror, and a bar for pulling up and cruising.  We’ll soon turn it back into a climbing wall so I can give mom more heart attacks start bouldering!

upstairs

Well, that’s it, folks!  I hope you’ve enjoyed the tour of our Montessori home…  Thanks for visiting, come back soon!

Uncategorized

Supporting Independence

“I wish they would stay at this age forever,” commented the father of one-year-old twins.

“My little boy is growing up too fast,” lamented a friend on Facebook.

“If I wean my baby, I feel like I’m losing my connection with her,” a fellow mom admitted.

We can’t deny that from the moment of birth, our babies demonstrate an unstoppable drive towards functional and intellectual independence.  A few moments after leaving the womb, if given the right environmental conditions, babies start working hard to focus their eyes and take in their immediate surroundings.  They struggle mightily to control their limbs and only a few months later begin to roll, crawl, and stand.  They discover food and try eagerly to communicate their desire to partake in mealtimes.

Fast forward a year or so and you’d be deaf to not hear the battle cry of the toddler: “Help me to do it by myself!”  The “terrible twos” are nothing more than the child’s struggle to assert his independence in a world that’s not ready to support it.

The elementary-aged child who has mastered the ability to dress, groom, and feed himself now has another goal in mind: “Help me to think for myself!”  And the adolescent, so much the contrarian at times, simply wants to play an active role in a society that doesn’t acknowledge his potential. walking

If Nature has endowed the human species with this unstoppable drive, then shouldn’t our role as parents be to support it, nurture it, celebrate it, and remove obstacles from its path?

There’s a reason Maria Montessori stressed the importance of reality: it helps us accept life as it is, and not get lost in a fantasy world of things as we wish they could be.  So let’s accept what is happening: our children are growing up.  Instead of fighting Nature and handicapping our children’s development in the process, let’s protect and guide this growth!

Keep your children away from negative media influences that will warp their perspective.  Choose your words wisely so they transmit trust and confidence in their abilities.  Set clear and reasonable limits and enforce them with determination.  Take deep breaths when shoes take ten minutes to get tied, shirts are worn inside-out, plates break, and the pancakes get burned.

Give them time and freedom to explore, discover, make mistakes, deal with consequences, get into problems, find creative solutions, ask for help, assist someone in need, and eventually to discover why they’re on this planet.

Cherish those sweet memories of the past, but leave them there.  Celebrate your child’s present achievements, not with a “good job” but by acknowledging their new abilities and incorporating them into your expectations.  Open your arms wide to receive your child in a hug, but then turn towards the future and spread them even wider to let him fly free.

Uncategorized

Learning

So often we focus our parenting energies on “teaching moments”: spouting nouns ad nauseum, choosing the perfect picture book, or refereeing toddler interactions on the playground. We fail to notice, however, that babies and toddlers really learn the most when they are given the time, space, and framework to explore, experiment, and reach their own conclusions.

Zach is transitioning from babyhood to toddlerhood, a process that’s as enthralling as it is exhausting. Meals are messy food-flinging fests; underwear and diaper changes are full of protests; getting him dressed often ends up with me chasing him across the room while he crawls away with his shirt half-on; and I seem to spend half my time averting disasters and the other half dealing with bumps and bruises.

In all this chaos, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that each mess, protest, and bruise is in reality a learning opportunity for Zach. I don’t have to do anything overtly educational to help him learn – no preaching or teaching are necessary. I just have to be consistent with the routine, establish limits, and let him experience life and consequences within those boundaries.

Last night during dinner, Zach was focused on drinking water from his glass. Every time he brought the small cup to his lips, two-thirds of the liquid would run down his chin and onto his bib and shirt. He was clearly surprised whenever he felt the cold water hit his chest, but he was determined to repeat the activity. In my state of exhaustion, I silently bemoaned the mess he was making on the newly-cleaned floors. My husband, however, pointed out that Zach had learned a lot during that meal, and that’s when I remembered that learning happens all day, every day, as long as we allow it.

Additionally, there are so many things Zach has discovered in these past few weeks because I was too busy to pay attention to him! He figured out how to walk backwards with his push wagon while I was doing dishes and couldn’t get his cart out of a corner; he discovered how to scoop sand into a container while I was chatting with a friend at the park; he learned how to transition from one piece of furniture to another when I was talking on the phone and couldn’t offer a helping hand.

Of course, there’s a fine balance between giving your child space and neglecting them, but in the helicopter parenting society in which we live, most children would benefit from a little more breathing room. So, the next time you’re tempted to jump in and teach – don’t. It might be just the learning opportunity your child needs.