Why Boring is Good

You might think that the home of a Montessori teacher is like a miniature classroom, with shelf after shelf of perfect little materials and not a plastic object in sight. That might be true for some teachers’ homes, but not for ours! We have a little cupboard that holds a few activities: musical instruments, a basket of containers, nesting cups, and a couple of books. He also has a Ball Tower, a basket with assorted balls, a push toy, and a couple of stacking toys.  That’s pretty much it.


Sometimes I feel bad that I don’t have time to make beautiful little trays with activities Zach might benefit from.  But then I realize that his entire day provides plenty of opportunities for physical and mental development.

I want to share some of the things we do during the day so that if you’re in the same boat as me (working, cooking, cleaning) you will feel better knowing that when you give your toddler the opportunity to engage in the activities of daily life, you provide all the stimulation he needs. No cute trays or expensive materials required!

Toileting: He goes to the bathroom as part of his daily routine: upon waking, before and after meals, before and after naps, before leaving the house and upon returning, and before bedtime.  Apart from the obvious benefit of helping him develop independence, care of self and awareness, it’s also a wonderful time to engage one-on-one without distractions.  We sing songs, read books, or just look into each other’s eyes and smile.  He loves to empty his potty into the toilet (!!!), open the wipes container, and pull out a wipe, which are great opportunities to practice fine and gross motor skills (and help me develop nerves of steel).

Dressing and undressing: Zach sits on a stool in his room, then I tell him the name of each piece of clothing and explain what I’m going to do before I do it.  He helps by undoing the velcro on his shoes, lifting his arms and feet to put on his shirt and socks, and pulling off his shirt once I get it up around his head.  These activities help him develop language, independence, care of self, sequencing, order, and fine and gross motor skills.

Cooking: On the days I don’t have to go to work, he helps me to make breakfast by picking the eggs and scrambling them in a bowl.  Then he watches the rest of the cooking process from his Learning Tower.  Cooking is a great opportunity to develop independence and coordination.  It also lets him see that he’s contributing to family’s well-being, and allows him to develop patience.  Cooking is actually exposing him to a myriad different subjects, from language to chemistry to botany, although he doesn’t know it yet!

Mealtimes: He eats breakfast and dinner with mom and dad, using silverware (with a little help), real china, and a glass & pitcher.  He has lunch and post-nap snack at his weaning table, and is even learning how to pour a smoothie from his pitcher to his glass!  We are working on establishing a clean-up routine that keeps him engaged, because right now he’s more interested in dashing off to play than in sponging up spills (this will come with age…).  Meals allow him to practice grace & courtesy, and help him develop fine motor skills and independence.  Meals are also prime opportunities for establishing and upholding limits, and letting him experience natural and logical consequences. 2013-04-11_08-01-08_618

Play: Zach has lots of time for free, unstructured play, both at the park and at home.  At the park he’s free to roam, check out other kids’ toys, climb structures and go down the slide, and play in the sand.  I stay in one spot, approaching him only if he’s in danger of falling from a play structure or if he’s engaging in inappropriate behavior (like mistreating someone’s toy or eating someone’s snack).  These activities offer countless opportunities for developing gross & fine motor skills, independence, problem-solving abilities, social skills, and risk assessment. I have to say I underestimated the importance of socialization for young toddlers.  He has learned so much (both the good and the not-so-good) from watching other children who are slightly older.  He often gets into heated “arguments” over a toy.  These encounters sometimes end in tears but more often than not the two children figure things out on their own!  At home he can play with his toys, look at books, or work outdoors transferring dirt from one container to another.  We also put on music and dance!  I let him take the lead on what he wants to do.  If he seems restless indoors, I simply open the door to the patio and normally that will spur him into action.

Over the months, I’ve tried taking Zach to baby yoga, music & dance classes, baby sign language… You name it!  It seemed like “everyone” was doing it, and I wanted to see what the hype was about.  I quickly discovered that – at least for my child – these classes do not provide much benefit and are really just an added stress that interferes with our routine.  Adults welcome change in their day, and I know many moms find these classes a great opportunity to socialize, but babies can find the hectic schedule difficult to handle.  What has worked best for us is a steady, rhythmic, predictable day.  Boring is good: knowing what comes next gives your baby security, and it lets you prepare an environment that will support his growth.  No cute trays or expensive materials required!



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.


Childhood is the Laboratory of Genius

When my uncle was in the sixth grade, he was expelled from the German school he was attending because, according to the teachers, he would never be able to keep up with the level of math required in junior high.  Twelve years later, the boy who would never be good at math received his Ph.D. in Geophysics – GEOPHYSICS!! – from one of the top universities in the United States, and is now a leader in his field.

Inside every child is a genius.  Inside each of us is a genius.  For some of us, that genius will sadly remain buried under layers of self-doubt, misguided expectations, and irrational fears that stem from childhood.  Our children don’t have to be doomed to that same fate.

What does it take to support your child’s genius?  Start believing it exists, but stop trying to find it.  Get out of your child’s way, but be available unconditionally.  Let your child be a child: let him play without adult guidance; let him explore nature without an educational agenda; let him make mistakes without fear of rejection.  Observe, observe, observe – take note, not of what you would like to see, but of what you are really and truly seeing.  And don’t judge that which you see, for you have no way of knowing what it will lead to.