Link to NPR’s interview with Alison Gopnik, author of “The Gardener and the Carpenter”

Hello Dear Readers!

I was recently forwarded a link to an NPR interview with author Alison Gopnik regarding her book about parenting styles in modern America, The Gardener and the Carpenter.  The interview is part of a month-long project of collecting interviews and stories for NPR’s project “How to Raise a Human.”

So I eagerly read the written overview of the interview, and I was fascinated by what I had read.  I must confess, at this point, I haven’t even listened to the entire interview yet, but I wanted to go ahead and share the link to the interview here on the blog.  I plan on listening to the full interview when I get a few moments of quiet time to myself (29.22 minutes, specifically) this weekend.  Maybe you want to do the same, and then join me here next week where we can review what the author has to say and reflect on our own thoughts about parenting styles.

Until next time!  Peace and love to you!

Montessori at Home: Scrubbing

Welcome back, Dear Readers!  In these days of increasing heat and humidity, I hope you are finding ways to enjoy the outdoors while staying *somewhat* cool (this is possible, right?).  We are enjoying more outside water play; we currently have two (!!) kiddie pools set up.  We will soon open our  swimming pool, and I just peeked at our plastic deck chairs, which have been sitting uncovered all fall, winter, and spring and are now covered in a layer of dirt and pollen.  This current situation (hot, humid days and dirty deck chairs) has reminded me of another classic Montessori activity for young children–table scrubbing!  Let me connect the dots for you.

When I did my Montessori training for primary children (2.5-6 y.o.), I was amazed by all of the layers of purpose for so many of the Montessori Practical Life activities–table scrubbing is an excellent example of this!  The direct aims of table scrubbing are to teach a young child the process of how to scrub a table, including setting up the needed materials, doing the scrubbing, and then cleaning up the entire activity.  The indirect aims are to teach coordination, concentration, independence, and order (read: categorizing and sequencing), as well as preparing a child for working right-to-left (pre-writing and pre-reading).  The official steps in this lesson are many, and I’m not here to replicate those; in fact, I’m here to suggest that you simply give your child a bucket, access to soap and water, and a child-size scrub brush, and let him/her scrub some outside furniture and toys.  If your plastic deck chairs are like mine, they could use some scrubbing.  And the children in your care, who enjoy water play, might also find scrubbing fun and meaningful (and another way to stay cool in the heat!).

Montessori at Home: Using Scissors and Flower Arranging

Welcome back, dear Readers!  Spring is here, and the days are getting warmer and longer!  Our yard is full of wildflowers, and the children are noticing the variety and enjoying the abundance.  A few days ago, my son disappeared to the side yard with his child-sized scissors (that he is allowed to use both indoors and outdoors) and came back with a large, freshly cut bouquet of yellow ragwort.  He asked me to take the bouquet inside and place it in a vase.  And now there’s a bouquet of yellow ragwort on our dining room table.  Every time I walk by it, I smile–those yellow flowers make such a cheerful addition to the room, and my son seemed so happy and satisfied to cut those flowers to bring inside our house.  This experience reminded me of the importance of giving children space and freedom to play and explore and choose one’s activities.  And it also highlights the joy that comes from being confident in one’s abilities.

My son is almost 5, and he’s been working with scissors for several years, mostly inside where I can observe him.  His practice with scissors began with cutting playdough (cutting paper was too frustrating for him at the beginning), and the rule was that all scissor work had to be done at the dining room table.  Now after several years of practice, his abilities and confidence have grown, he’s safe and *mostly* responsible (one of our dogs has received a few haircuts) while using scissors, and he remembers to return them to a high spot on the shelf out of his younger sister’s reach; as a result, he is allowed the freedom to use scissors outside where I am unable to observe.

Although my original intention in sharing this story about my son was to introduce the work of flower arranging that is available to children in a Montessori classroom, I actually want to encourage you to make child-sized (blunt tipped) scissors available to children as a way to build hand strength and confidence–the applications are far-reaching!  In the beginning, set limits and demonstrate how to safely handle the scissors and where to store them (especially important if there are younger children in the home).  Be open to what materials are available for cutting–different kinds of paper, playdough, and thin flower stems are just a few ideas.  Observe the child, and allow more freedom as s/he demonstrates the ability and understanding of safe use.

Lastly, if flower arranging is something of interest to you and the children in your care, here is a simplified breakdown of the steps to help you consider ways to make this process accessible to a child:

  • fill vase with water–directly from faucet or with the help of a smaller pitcher
  • use scissors to cut flower stems
  • arrange stems in vase
  • choose location for the arrangement on table, sturdy shelf, etc
  • discard cuttings in compost or trash



Montessori at Home: Laundry

Hello Dear Readers,

This week I’ve been thinking about all of the ways that young children can participate in the process of doing the laundry.  In some Montessori classrooms, the children wash small cloths on a washboard and hang them up to dry on a drying rack with clothespins.  One of the many goals of having the children wash towels and cloths by hand is to show the work that our modern washing machines do.  In other Montessori classrooms, these towels are washed and dried in a washer and dryer, and then the children participate in folding the clean laundry and putting it away in the classroom.  Sometimes in a school setting there are restrictions on whether children can participate in loading the washer and/or dryer; however, a home setting allows for more flexibility and freedom in a child’s participation.  So let’s take a look at some ways a young child can participate in the various steps of the laundry process at home!

  • carry basket of dirty laundry to the laundry room
  • sort the laundry:  children can sort the laundry into piles by various categories, for example:  whites, light colored items, dark colored items, denim, towels, blankets, muddy clothing, etc
  • load washing machine (adult ensures that pile to be loaded will not overload machine)
  • press “start” after selecting wash cycle
  • remove wet clothes from washing machine and load into dryer
  • add dryer sheet
  • remove clothing from dryer into laundry basket
  • fold towels, match socks, fold his/her clothes (remember:  learning how to fold is a process that takes time and practice)
  • carry basket of clean, folded laundry to linen closet/bedroom/kitchen
  • put away clean laundry

Your home’s laundry process may have variations (e.g., maybe you hang clothes up to dry on hangers or a clothesline), even so, it is my hope that this list has inspired you to think about the process in your home and ways that young children can be involved.

Thanks for reading!  Be well!


Montessori at Home: Window Washing

Hello Readers!  Happy Spring Equinox!  With the changing of the seasons, you and/or the children in your care may be feeling the urge to do a little spring cleaning.  Window washing is an activity that children do in Montessori classrooms, and children can also enjoy this activity at home.  Spring is a great time to introduce this activity and get the windows ready for the extra hours of sunlight.

Necessary items:

  • spray bottle of window cleaner (see below for some non-toxic ideas)
  • squeegee (optional)
  • small towel/cloth for drying
  • caddy for all items (most helpful if using a squeegee)

Check that spray bottle is set to a “spray” or “mist” setting instead of a “jet” or “stream.”  This setting better disperses the cleaning liquid and helps the child be more successful.  Show child how to spray, then squeegee (if using) from top to bottom, then use a towel to dry the window, finishing with a check for any additional wet spots along sides or bottom of glass or window sill.  Then place spray bottle and squeegee back in the caddy.  Move on to another window, if child desires, allowing the child to wash as many windows as s/he wishes.  Be sure to show the child where to store caddy when s/he is finished, where to place wet towels, and where to find additional dry towels, if needed.

Non-toxic window cleaner:

  • Mix water and white vinegar in a spray bottle.  I have used various ratios, from a 4:1 water to vinegar mixture, to a potent 1:1 water to vinegar ratio.
  • Optional:  Add a few drops of an essential oil or a spoonful of lemon juice to mask vinegar smell.
  • Note:  This cleaner can also be used on mirrors.


Thanks for reading!  Feel free to leave questions or comments; we appreciate your feedback!


Montessori at Home: Dishwashing

Welcome back!  If you’ve been reading here lately, you know that we’re in the midst of a series of posts about activities from the school environment that are well suited to the home environment.  This week we’ll take a look at the exciting activity of dishwashing!  Dishwashing is a way for a child to gain a practical skill and offer a meaningful contribution to the mealtime clean-up routines at home, and dishwashing can also be a deeply satisfying experience for the child who is craving a water activity.  The adult needs to provide a few items and be ok with potential broken glass (see discussion at end of post) and water spillage–have a few towels available!

Necessary items:  Two bins or a double compartment sink.  One side for soapy water, the other for rinse water.  A drying rack.  Dish soap.  A sponge.  A sturdy, slip resistant place for the child to stand.  Towels.  Optional: water resistant apron.  And dirty dishes!

The adult can show the sequence of moving a dirty dish into the soapy water, how to use the sponge to clean the dish, then moving the dish into the rinse water, and lastly, placing it on the drying rack.

Dishwashing can be modified in numerous ways, depending on the ability and interest of the child, so I’ll give some examples:

  • Child only washes and leaves the dishes in the rinse water for the adult.
  • Two children work together.  Maybe one child washes and the other child rinses and stacks on the drying rack.
  • Child only washes a smaller selection of dirty dishware, for example:  only plates or cups or bowls or spoons.

Soapy dishes are slippery, so be aware that dishes can break if dropped.  Using plastic bins or a rubber mat at the bottom of a sink can help, but do not totally alleviate this potential danger.  For safety, young children should always ask an adult to lead the clean-up of broken glass/ceramic/etc.  While a broken dish can be upsetting to a child, it’s helpful to keep in mind that a broken dish is providing feedback for the child who is perfecting his/her movements… that soapy dishes are slippery, glass is fragile, and to adjust how he/she is handling the dishes.  Food for thought:  while it may be tempting to only give young children plasticware to wash because it is unlikely to break, the flipside of this choice is that plasticware does not provide the same feedback for rough handling.

Interested in learning more about why Montessori teachers use glassware and encourage its use at home, too?  Here’s a link to a quick read by Montessori educator Kelly Griffith Mannion on the Montessori Services’ website.

Thanks for reading!  Be well!

Montessori at Home: Care of Plants

Welcome back!  Care of plants is an activity that is available to children in a Montessori classroom that can also be adapted to the home environment.

Watering indoor plants:  Chose a child-sized watering can or pitcher.  The size of the container aids the child is being successful with this activity by limiting the total amount of water, which affects the weight of the full container, the ease with which the child can pour the water, and the size of any potential spills.

Indoor plants can also be cared for by gently wiping their leaves with a moist cotton ball (or small reusable pieces of fabric) to remove dust and dirt.  Children can also gently remove dead leaves.

Watering outdoor plants:  An opportunity to be outdoors, to experience and discuss seasons and weather, to observe nature, to care for plants!

Also, an opportunity for children to satisfy the need for exerting “maximum effort”…  when watering plants outdoors, you can give children larger containers to fill with water.  Having a larger watering container can help to satisfy the need for exerting “maximum effort” that young children, particularly toddlers, experience; it’s a sensitive period that looks like this:  the child carries heavy things or pushes heavy items for seemingly no external reason (because he/she is being motivated by internal motivations).

By caring for the plants in their environment, children have the opportunity to be botanists, observing and learning what specific plants need in order to survive and thrive.  And in the bigger picture, these budding botanists are connecting to the larger web of life on Earth.

Montessori at Home: Care of Animals

I’d like to present a mini-series of lessons or activities that are often available in a Montessori classroom that translate easily to the home environment.  These lesson and activities are from the curriculum area “Practical Life,” which is focused on Care of the Environment (meaning the classroom or the home) and Care of Self.  Maria Montessori observed that even young children could take care of their environment (the classroom) and themselves, if given simple lessons (step-by-step demonstrations presented by the teacher) and child-sized tools with which to accomplish the task.  Additionally, Dr. Montessori observed that while doing these activities, the children not only gain the skills directly related to each task, but they also gain independence, coordination, concentration and a sense of order.

Here are some examples in each category:  Care of the Environment includes: dish washing, dusting, sweeping, mopping, taking care of animals and plants in the environment, and table setting.  Care of Self includes: dressing and undressing and the isolation of the skills needed–e.g., buttoning and zipping, washing hands and face, brushing or combing hair, clipping nails, brushing teeth, and preparing and serving oneself a snack.

As you can see, this curriculum area is rich with activities that can be done at school and home.  To decide where to begin, the adult needs to consider the child’s interest:  what is the child showing you that he/she wants to do?  What activity is she always asking to join or mimics your actions?  Then the adult can think about the activity and what child-sized items/tools are needed, where to store these items for the child to gain access, and how to slow down one’s adult actions so that a child can see the steps.  Lastly, cultivate a friendly attitude towards messes, spills, and other “imperfect” attempts.  The child isn’t going perfectly execute an activity; she perfects her actions over time as she practices the skills again and again.   Most of the time, the process is more important to the child than the end result, and the process/practice is where the child gains  her/his sense of independence, capability, and confidence, and the sense of purpose or belonging when one makes a meaningful contribution to the classroom or home life.

Let’s start with the practice of taking animals in a classroom or home environment.  Children can be given the opportunity to provide food, water, and other items that an animal needs.  Here are a few examples:

Feeding Fish:  in my experience, the biggest challenge is to avoid overfeeding fish.  To facilitate the child giving a small enough portion, the adult may actively dispense the food into the child’s hand.  Another way would be to use a very small container that holds just a pinch of food.  The adult can fill this container daily and place in an area that is accessible to the child.  This second method gives the child a bit more independence and also gives the child who is eager to feed the fish multiple times per day, a gentle reminder when the activity has been done for the day (empty bowl=fish have already been fed).

Feeding dogs, cats, rabbits:  dry food can be scooped by child into animal’s bowl.  The size of the scoop can be selected to help the child give the correct portion.  The water bowl can be lifted to the sink and filled by the child, or the adult can provide a child-sized pitcher or cup for the child to take to the sink and fill, and then pour into the animal’s water bowl.  Animals like rabbits, also need hay; and the child can bring in a daily portion of hay that is retrieved from a larger storage container.

*Please Note:  Please use common sense.  To avoid contact with animal feces, young children should not take part in the cleanup of litter boxes, rabbit hutches, etc.

Finally, I would like to give an more specific example of dog feeding routine.  Please note, my goal in giving the details is to provide inspiration for thinking through the steps of the activity and then creating the process that works for the children and animals in your care.  As always, take what you need, and leave the rest.

The Set-up:

  • The dog food is stored in a large bin with a hinged lid.
  • The scoop (a plastic measuring cup) is stored inside the bin.
  • Dog bowls are stored on top of the bin.
  • Towel (to place on floor under bowls) is folded and stored on top of bin.

The Process:

Remove dog bowls and towel from bin lid.  Spread towel on floor.  Open bin lid.  Place bowls on floor or inside bin (varies depending on which child is doing this).  Use measuring cup to fill one bowl with two scoops and the other with three scoops. Close bin lid.  Carry bowls to sink.  Fill each bowl with enough water to float the dry kibble.  Carry bowls one at a time to towel where the dogs eat.  After the dogs eat, place towel and bowls back on top of closed bin.

In our home, as the children’s interests and abilities have evolved, this activity has been adjusted.  For example, when I first presented this activity at home, I pre-filled two small containers with dog food so that a two year old could simply dump one into each bowl.  I quickly realized that the child was more interested in scooping, so I coordinated the measuring cups with each dog’s food needs: “a big scoop for the big dog” and “a little scoop for the little dog.” We even used those phrases as a verbal cue, when needed.  Now the two year old is four, and he and his sister are interested in counting, so I exchanged the different sized measuring cups for a single smaller one; and now they count out two scoops for the small dog, and three for the larger dog.  The children have also needed help at other points, such as adding water to the dry kibble in the bowls.  Sometimes, they have asked for help from an adult at the sink; other times, they have chosen to use a stool to reach the faucet and independently completed the entire process.  I try to observe and wait before I jump in to help, and because of this, I have noticed that the children are often eager to give the dogs extra food (as an act of love for their dogs or as a result of really enjoying the action of scooping the dry kibble… or maybe some other motivation?)  Because of the health risks of constant overfeeding, I have to be aware of how much food is given to the dogs.  So I give the children the space to scoop (without hovering) but I pay attention to the amount in each bowl as it gets carried to the sink.  Then I can gently remind the child with something like this, “That’s too much food.  We want to help Pip stay healthy.  Let’s dump this out and scoop two scoops this time.”  Then we can go back to the bin together if they are reluctant, although most of the time, they are ok with re-doing the scoops.  Lastly, this activity is initiated independently some days, and other days, if I notice it’s undone, I simply ask the children, “Do you want to feed Sandy and Pip?” and at least one child will jump up to do so.  In conclusion, feeding the dogs twice every day has given our children the opportunity to count, scoop, plan, problem-solve, work together and independently, and has given them a tangible way to contribute to the well-being of our dogs and feel a sense of purpose and belonging in our family’s daily routines.  This is one way we “Montessori at home.”


Next post we’ll look at care of plants.  Thanks for reading!

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, albeit 28 days late!  And welcome back to Ithaca Montessori’s blog!  As you can see, we’ve made some changes, and we are excited to host this blog on a new platform.  This new format allows readers to comment, and we are excited about hearing from you–your feedback will help us select topics that are relevant to our readership as we continue to provide helpful, practical information for parents, caregivers, and other allies of children.  So let us know, what comments and questions do you have?  We are hoping to hear from you, dear reader!

We also intend to keep our weekly publishing schedule, so check back soon for the latest post!


being okay with messy and imperfect

Let’s continue last week’s discussion of allowing a child the freedom and space to “do it myself” with some additional thoughts about being okay with messy and imperfect processes and outcomes.

As children work towards independence, they must learn to coordinate and order their movements.  As they engage in various activities, their movements might not be as coordinated as an adult’s, which may make their process look and be more messy or imperfect; however, we adults must be mindful of the child’s need to engage in the activity with his/her own hands, and have time and space to practice and concentrate on the activity.

Let’s illustrate with a scene I observed a few days ago—a 2.5 year old is folding small kitchen towels.  She has independently initiated this activity, and she is folding the towels, making a stack, and then she places the stack in the kitchen drawer.  Her folds are not as neat as mine, nor is her stack; she’s messy and imperfect in her folding and putting away abilities not because she’s careless but quite the opposite—because she’s 2.5 and she’s still perfecting her movements.  If I observe, I can see that she’s working with purpose and great effort to fold the towels and put them in the drawer the way that she’s watched me do it.  If I interrupt her process to refold or restack, I am taking away her moment of concentration and budding independence.  This is an example of when I need to be ok with messy and imperfect because her concentration is more important than a perfectly folded stack of towels.  Seems easy, but this is an example of when I have to check my impulse to step in for the sake of “perfection.”

Another activity that can often be messy and imperfect with children is cooking.  I made pancakes from scratch with a 2.5 year old and a 4.5 year old.  I demonstrated some movements like stirring, whisking, and pouring batter.  Then I let them each have a turn to participate.  Does flour get spilled onto the counter and floor?  Yes.  Did batter get dribbled from the bowl across the countertop to the griddle?  Yes.  But the skills required to cook for oneself take practice—i.e., repetition to perfect.  And to me, these skills are more important than the inevitable mess.  The more often I include children in cooking activities, the more times I practice being ok with messes and shift my perspective to view these messes as opportunities to demonstrate how to clean up.

This brings me to my last example:  cleaning up toys, puzzles, books, etc.  During clean up time, I have to be mindful of letting a child do it his way even if I believe my way to be better.  A 4.5 year old boy likes to use his toy truck to clean up the blocks and put them away in the storage basket.  Would I do it this way?  No.  Does his method take longer?  Yes.  Are the blocks getting put away?  Yes.  So I check my impulse to interrupt this child’s process.

As an adult, bridling my impulses to step in and interrupt a child, and shifting my perspective on messes and imperfection is not always an easy task.  Becoming mindful of my own biases and perspectives is a process, and I am continually evaluating and learning.  I’m discovering that observing a child without interrupting him/her is a skill I must practice.  Sometimes it’s easier for me to busy myself with my own tasks or, depending on the activity in which a child is engaged, I simply walk away so I don’t hover.  As I wrote last week, I can pause, breathe, and observe before I step in to help or otherwise interrupt.  And I can get out of the way (whether literally or metaphorically—with my biases and judgments) so the child can have those “I did it” moments.