Montessori and the Development of Independence – Part 2 (Autonomy)

“We must clearly understand that when we give the child freedom and independence, we are giving freedom to a worker already braced for action, who cannot live without working and being active.” (Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind)

Autonomy Support

A key component of the Montessori environment that supports development of independence is freedom of movement.  Dr. Montessori wrote that, “movement helps the development of mind, and this finds renewed expression in further movement and activity.” (The Absorbent Mind, p.142).  Children are free to choose from among a variety of meaningful works, and the organization of the prepared environment along with the variety of available works promotes both gross motor and fine motor movement.  


The ability children have to move about their environment means that children are able to self-regulate their need for physical movement (within the boundaries of respect for others and the environment), rather than being told when and how it’s appropriate for them to move.  This early practice at self-regulation aids in more advanced self-regulation later. For example, the child may learn from an early age that they need to move or stretch their body some before sitting down to a task, and this self-knowledge can help them as they strive to complete longer and more elaborate works.

Many classrooms have jumping games, yoga cards, and dancing activities on the line to help children move their bodies when they need to.

Along with a freedom of movement within their environment, children in the Montessori environment are able to choose their work freely, within the boundaries of works on which they’ve been given a lesson. This freedom of choice represents a trust that the child will demonstrate their needs so the guide may better help them find the appropriate work within the environment.  This freedom of choice also supports the child’s ability to do work that is consistent with and serves whatever sensitive period they are experiencing at that time.  By being able to do the work that calls to them, it is the child, not the adult, who meet their needs, and it is through this process of meeting one’s own needs that the child’s autonomy is supported.  It is the job of the guide, rather, to observe and learn from the child’s choices, and to guide them only if they have trouble finding meaningful work.  This makes it really important for the guide to wait and watch unless the child is doing harm to self, others, or the material.

The prepared environment itself supports a child’s autonomy in many ways.  The materials have a built-in control of error, which allows the child to focus not on the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ of their work, but rather on the process, as they receive feedback from the material and are able to continuously explore and experiment guided only by their own will and developing understanding of the concrete concept (rather than receiving outside feedback from an adult).

Knobbed Cylinders have perfect built-in correction of error.
Knobbed Cylinders have perfect built-in correction of error.

In addition, the shelves for each content area are laid out in such a way that children are aware of a progression of materials.  This serves as motivation for future learning and exploration, as younger children see the older kids able to do complex work and this motivates in them the desire to work toward these sorts of tasks.  This progression allows them to gauge for themselves, visually, where they are in the progression of work toward their desired goal, so when they ask to do the “big kid” work in the classroom, the guide can give an answer that makes visual sense, “you’ll be ready for that lesson after these other works that come before.”  That is not to say that the curriculum is so rigid that every child must master every work before moving on, but rather that there exists a natural growth, supported by the materials in the classroom. 

The Practical Life area of the Montessori curriculum lends itself particularly well to the support of autonomy.  Practical life activities allow children to take care of their own needs, and this means they rely significantly less on adults in their environment.  Just as learning to walk and talk brought the child a great deal more independence, also learning to meet their basic physical needs (dressing themselves, preparing food, toileting, etc.) means they are free to strive to greater levels of independence in their ability to carry out complex tasks.

Buttoning frame.
Buttoning frame.

“First in one way, and then in another, [the child] becomes ever less dependent on the persons about him; till the time comes when he wants also to be mentally independent. Then he shows a liking to develop his mind by his own experiences, and not by the experiences of others”  (Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, p.91).


Montessori and the Development of Independence – Part 1

Recently for my Montessori Primary training program we were required to write a philosophy paper on one of many key topics to the Montessori Philosophy and Method. Since I sometimes struggle in having the patience and clarity to support Oscar’s development of independence, I figured I should give this topic some deep thought.  As a result, I decided to use a framework, the Educational Psychology concept of Self-Determination, to guide my observations and actions.

I was very happy with how this framework helped me to organize my observations and actions around supporting independence, and so I thought I’d share it with you, dear reader, in hopes that you find it helpful as well. Without further ado, here is part 1 of 4, and please do let me know if you find this line of thinking helpful by leaving a comment!

One important goal of Montessori Education is to support children in their development into individuals committed to peace and respect who will strive to go out into our world and make a difference.  For this goal to be realized, children must be provided, from the earliest age, with opportunities to exercise their minds and bodies in ways that promote independence.  


In the context of the broader goals of Montessori education, more is meant by independence than simply children being able to do things by themselves (although that IS important). The independent child in the Montessori environment is self-determined,  or motivated to carry out tasks that are consistent with their developing sense of themselves in their world. The self-determined child believes in their competence and is goal-oriented, while at the same time being aware of the needs and perspectives of others and how their own actions impact their families, friends, and eventually their greater community.


Dr. Montessori said that, “the child has an internal power to bring about co-ordinations, which he thus creates himself, and once these have begun to exist he goes on perfecting them by practice. He himself is clearly one of the principal creative factors in their production.”  (The Montessori Method,1995, Holt print version, pp. 143-144).  This is to say that children strive toward independence from early life.  At first, the child’s sense of sight starts to develop, as they are able to focus on objects farther and farther away, and then the child begins to reach for objects they have tracked with their eyes.  


After some exploration, they discover that they, indeed, are the ones who are controlling these hands, and begin experimenting.  Children gain further independence as they learn to sit up, crawl, walk, eat solid food, feed and dress themselves, and learn how to contribute to their family and community environments. Ideally, even as adults we never stop striving for this self-determination.


According to Dr. Montessori, it is only through meaningful work that this independence can be achieved,

“The one thing life can never do is stand still.  Independence is not a static condition; it is a continuous conquest, and in order to reach not only freedom, but also strength, and the perfecting of one’s powers, it is necessary to follow this path of unremitting toil.”

It is the job of parents and educators to provide the child with the environment and opportunities to keep moving and working toward that physical and psychological independence, and it is through this work that the child will be able to meet higher needs such as esteem and belongingness and become self-actualized (a la Abraham Maslow).

To aid in the exploration of how this sort of independence is supported in the Montessori environment, I draw on the framework of Self-Determination Theory (SDT), which has been proposed by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan.  Self-Determination Theory, like Dr. Montessori’s Philosophy, is based on the assumption that people are naturally active and are driven toward growth and mastery, and that the work they undertake is to build themselves.  Both SDT and Dr. Montessori’s work describe the need for an appropriate, nurturing environment for this self-creative work to happen .  

I chose to use Self-Determination Theory to look at the ways the Montessori Philosophy and Methods support the development of children’s independence because given their similar underpinnings, I felt that I could really think critically about each aspect of Dr. Montessori’s philosophy, while maintaining the integrity of her observations about humans’ natural tendencies toward growth and self-development and the importance of appropriate supportive environments in that work.

Self-Determination Theory proposes that an appropriate developmental environment meet the child’s basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness .  Since each of those terms has a lay meaning, it may be helpful for me to clarify what each means within the context of SDT.  In this context, autonomy means that the child feels they are able to make choices consistent with their goals and values, or their sense of self.  Relatedness refers to a child’s relationship with others and their sense of community and belonging, and competence refers to the child’s perceptions regarding their abilities.  

Below is a fun video outlining more about each of these three basic needs. 

Basic Needs Video
Click image to watch a short video on basic needs.

According to SDT, all three of these needs must be met within the child’s environment for the child to become self-determined. Why do we want kids to be self determined? Self-determination, in research literature is associated with positive outcomes in terms of learning and academic achievement, as well as career satisfaction and even positive health outcomes .

Throughout this series, I will highlight the many ways that the Montessori Philosophy and Methods support the development of independence in children by thinking about how each of these basic psychological needs is met within the Montessori environment.


Tune in next week for lots of specific examples of how supporting children’s autonomy in a Montessori environment helps them gain independence!

Until then, dear reader,

Be well,


(with a special thank you to Jessi Belle)

Confessions of A Montessori Novice – The Path (Volume 4)

“Teaching, like any other truly human activity, emerges from one’s inwardness, for better or worse.  As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students and our way of being together  The entanglements I experience in the classroom are often no more or less than the convolutions of my inner life.  Viewed from this angle, teaching holds a mirror to the soul.  If I am willing to look at that mirror, and not run from what I see, I have a chance to gain self-knowledge, and knowing myself is as crucial to good teaching as knowing my students and my subject.”          – Parker Palmer, The Heart of A Teacher

As I am sure you have surmised, I have been feeling a little overwhelmed at the task I’ve chosen myself of becoming a Montessori guide.   Some days I see some of the path forward and others I feel like I’ve fallen down some Carrollean rabbit hole with this journey, and could well end up a bit like the Hatter or Hare from staring at the looking glass too long.  That said, I am not alone, and for that I am grateful!


Our second week back from the holiday break we are focusing on the roles and responsibilities of the guide, and I was concerned that with the pressure I’ve been putting on myself to improve in my areas of struggle, I would emerge from this week feeling even farther from my end point, but instead things feel much clearer.  This is in no small part to the realization that I truly am not alone.  I may not have the answers to all my questions, but I do have a great number of companions and mentors and with each of our little lanterns, the path becomes lit, and will become increasingly so, as long as we all keep fuel in our lanterns.  With that, dear reader, here are some reflections how  I plan on filling my own little beacon.

There are things I know help me feel more balanced and centered in everyday life, and I think that some of these things help in the classroom as well.

Taking care of my body is important to every facet of life, and can make a huge difference in how I interact with the outside world.  Making sure I am not overly hungry, that I’m eating a balanced diet, and drinking plenty of water are all essential.  Getting as much sleep as is possible is a high priority (and difficult with a toddler who doesn’t sleep all the way through the night most nights yet). Exercising helps clear my head and my body of discomfort and tension.  It flushes out excess hormones and strengthens the muscles that are necessary for lots of (physical) ups and downs in the classroom.  I also treat myself to a massage once a month, although I wish I could do more, as it makes a big difference.

Just as I feed my body, I try to also feed my spirit, and in the same way that we are encouraged to focus on the strengths of the child, I try to regularly remind myself of my own strengths as a parent and future guide.  I have been (very) slowly integrating some mindfulness practices as well.  I love yoga, both for exercise and meditation, but I have to be careful because of a hip issue, so I don’t practice as much as I would like. Instead I have been trying to take a little time daily to feed the spirit by listening to guided meditations.

It’s also important to take a little time for the things I love outside of learning and parenting.  When I can I crochet or spend time out with close friends I feel renewed in a very specific sort of way, and this renewal must be given some priority.

caterpillar crochet

On of the most important things I can do for myself is to slow down, especially in the morning.  Being deliberate is its own challenge when getting Oscar and myself ready in the mornings, but it makes a great deal of difference in terms of the way I feel the rest of the day.

Last, I have made a practice of taking a few deep breaths as we approach Oscar’s school door, and visualizing a cleansing wave coming over me as I step across the threshold. This wave takes with it the worries of the day and keeps them outside of my interactions with Oscar, the guides, the other parents, and the children as I enter the school.  It doesn’t work perfectly (rather I don’t always let it), but I find it helpful and I hope to continue to use this visualization as I begin my own work as a guide.

There are lots of other things that are important, and while I’m not quite sure yet how to implement them, I do have some ideas.  For instance, I have greatly appreciated all of the experienced guides I know sharing ways they fill their own glowing lanterns when they’re feeling a little off one way or the other while in the classroom, with the children.  I know that I worry about feeling overwhelmed at everything going on, and the idea that keeping a photo of my little love or some treasures from great moments past can make a huge difference in the moment is lovely.  One of my mentors mentioned just this type of treasure once when I was visiting her at school.  She talked about the idea of carrying around a little something that reminded her of her children, and if she was struggling, just touching the little treasure deep in her purse or pocket reminded her of the love in her life and could everything into perspective at times.

I’m grateful to know a good number of people who have been on this path a long time, I think forming these relationships and being open to their guidance will help with the times where I feel like I’m not doing enough to meet the needs of the children in the classroom, or when I am having a rough time centering.  Gratitude and connection are powerful things. Last, I think just keeping a growth mindset, and being compassionate to myself about that growth can make all the difference. <3


What do you do to fill your little lantern, dear reader?

Be well!


Confessions of Montessori Novice – Grateful if not yet Graceful (Volume 3)

What a month!! I feel pretty silly for being so impatient, because I really had no idea what I was in for.  We’re halfway through the Philosophy curriculum and taking stop at Practical Life.  I have learned so much, and I’m feeling like I understand Montessori’s writing style, if not always her Discourse (language referring to specific medical or pedagogical concepts that are situated in her place, time, and educational background).

Grateful Heart
Grateful Heart

All said, I can tell you it’s been a wonderful learning experience, and that I’m very grateful to have the support of so many awesome Montessorians.  So that’s where I begin.  First, I’m thankful for Ms. A, without whom I might never have discovered Montessori, second for her daughter, also Ms. A, who inspires 15,000+ of us to continue to learn about Montessori every day.  Third, my son’s teachers, who care so much about each and every one of the children and their paths, it’s truly inspiring, and last, my wonderful instructional guides and cohort.  I can tell we’re all going to be quite close after 18 months together!

So, I am glad that the first thing that it occurred to me to talk about was my thankfulness, because to be honest, I feel in over my head.  It’s not the discussion groups, the video chats, the videos, the readings, or the level of organization needed to govern all of it.  It’s the spiritual preparation of the teacher.

I don’t feel calm enough, I don’t feel graceful or courteous enough, I don’t feel patient enough…right now….

Spiritual Preparation

I’m trying my best to hold onto the quote Kitty Bravo, one of the directors of the Center for Guided Montessori Studies sent us the week before we started,

“Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language.
Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now,
because you would not be able to live them.
And the point is, to live everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps then, someday far in the future,
you will gradually, without even noticing it,
live your way into the answer.”

Ranier Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

…and in the meantime, I’m working toward a mindfulness meditation practice (starting by listening to the audio book of Daniel Siegel’s The Mindful Brain), because I think it might help me live my way to the answers…gradually…someday.  Some of my cohort have given me great mindfulness resources to look into as well.


More on the specifics of what I’ve been learning next time, dear readers,

Love, Light, & Grace,


Confessions of a Montessori Novice – Have Patience… (Volume 2)

Classes Start Monday!

I am beyond excited to start my program on Monday.  My cohort is set, the Moodle (online learning environment) is up and running, and my first exciting class IS….ORIENTATION. :/ (sad trombone). Well, I mean, I know it’s helpful to get to know a program and find my way around the Moodle, but I won’t lie, I’m just itching to get going learning about….well, SOMETHING Montessori!? Spiritual preparation of the teacher?  Language materials? Grace & Courtesy?  I guess maybe this is spiritual preparation in patience?

I thought maybe in the meantime I’d do some preparation of my own learning environment, and for you, dear reader, describe my chosen program in a bit more detail (or you can read the full description here).

I am now a student of the Center for Guided Montessori Studies.  This program is online, but requires a 9 month practicum and a 2.5 week in-person residency to complete the full certificate.  The program is accredited by MACTE (Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education) and IMC (International Montessori Council) affiliated.

In order to apply, I sent in my transcripts, letters of recommendation, application paperwork, essay, and tuition agreement.  Once all of those were received, I spoke on the phone with their associate early childhood director, which was informative.  She asked me some about my background, but definitely focused in on my plans for the practicum phase of the program.  She emphasized that it will be important for me to have access to a Montessori environment for both observations and for working with authentic Montessori materials.  

I have been offered to complete my practicum at my son’s school, but we haven’t decided whether or not that’s the best choice for mine and my son’s learning (more on that in another post!).  A week later, I got my acceptance (YIPPEE!), and now the Moodle is open and ready to peruse for my orientation. I am very much looking forward to getting to know my cohort.  Also, I think I’m officially a Montesaur?

Finally, once I was accepted, I received my book list, ordered my books (about $180 including some used), and since then I’ve been twiddling my thumbs… Kidding, I’ve been completing the training in order to be a substitute teacher at my son’s Montessori school and getting my house in order *chortles* for less available time.

Looking forward to next week when I can tell you all about meeting my cohort and the much talked about Moodle!  In the meantime, I’m going to be practicing a very special kind of patience with my own little guy…

Patience in learning to "do it myself". :)

Much love,




Confessions of a Montessori Novice (Volume 1)

Maria Montessori
Maria Montessori

So, if you’ve read my blog before, you may have noticed I have the utmost respect for the Montessori Philosophy and Method.  I’ve geeked out on many things Montessori for years, but NOW, dear reader, I am ready to put my money (and time, love, etc.) where my mouth is.  I will be undergoing training to become a Montessori Guide. You may recall that my family and I are hoping to open a community center here in Austin in a few years.  Right now we’re collecting resources and preparing ourselves.  We’d like to have a low-income preschool, social services on a sliding scale, and a space for families to bring their kids to interact.  


Community Center

Eventually we’d like even more, but these first few pieces are already a lofty start, as I’ve been told recently (repeatedly).  One step at a time, and the next step is ME.  Knowing what I already do about the Montessori Method, and how closely it aligns with educational and developmental research and best practices, I feel that it would be ideal for our preschool environment, particularly for the indoor portion of the day (work cycle) at the preschool.  I am also drawn to loose parts play, but that’s another post, and in fact not counter to the Montessori Philosophy. 


I have applied to the Center for Guided Montessori Studies, an online program with a heavy practical component as well as a residency.   The program was recommended to me by both my original Montessori mentor (I did an independent study at a wonderful Montessori school during undergrad) and my son’s Montessori guides, as well as several helpful folks from the Montessori 101 facebook group.  I feel confident that I will be learning what I need to be a successful Montessori guide, and I’d like to document this process for both myself, and for others who are interested in the journey.  I will not be sharing any of the actual materials from the program, but I may describe what I liked about and learned from specific readings and assignments. 


I’ve started with some goals for myself, based on my own strengths and weaknesses:

Focus, intention, grace.
  • I will take a moment to visit my intentions and goals before entering learning spaces (ex: be direct, show grace and kindness, observe deeply).
  • Relatedly, I will work on being intentional about cultivating a slow and calm presence whenever around children. 
  • Whenever I am learning a new concept, I will make all efforts to practice these concepts both with materials and with children so that I am truly prepared for my practicum and beyond.


I’d love your feedback, whether you know nothing about Montessori, or are a veteran Guide!  As always, thanks for reading!



Travel Play

Hi All!

Last week our family returned from a week-long camping trip. Yay, outdoors! Oh, except that it was in the 40’s and 50’s and rained almost the whole time! Good thing I remembered to bring a variety of playthings for O.

I was determined to pack as lightly as possible, and so I allotted one small box to toys, playthings, and books.  As I was filling this box, I realized that I was using the same principles I use to design his home play space to pack a week’s worth of entertainment.  Granted, we were to be camping, and that is its own entertainment, but I thought, “it’s nice for kids to have some things that feel like home when they’re away”.  I did not think of days of rain, however (as it wasn’t in the forecast).

Oscar is 26 months now, and learning new things every day.  Some of the things I chose are things he uses all the time and some are fairly new. I chose some things he’s mastered, some he is exploring, and some that are novice, and probably a little beyond where he is right now on his own. I also took into consideration a variety of skills.  Here’s my picture and list:


– 1 small playsilk with 3 aquatic animals (imaginative play)

– pail, shovel, and turtle sand mold, and we couldn’t leave his watering can (seriously, he would have missed it!)

– A few books he hadn’t seen in awhile, including a good night book

– Crayons and a coloring book (fine motor, color concepts)

– Magnetic building blocks (new to him)

– His favorite tractor (gross motor, pretend play)

– Threading block (fine motor)

Here’s the box, all packed up!


He needed some support with the magnetic building block play, but really enjoyed a new type of block.  He played with all the toys, and even had some pretty sustained pretend play, but I wish I had packed a clipboard for art!  We had lots of fun counting the numbered campsites as we walked around exploring.  I was counting on the sandy beach and water at the campsite for plenty of sensory play, but BRRR!!  We did get to play with pine needles, pine cones, miscellaneous leaves, tree bark, bugs, etc. Also HOT Fountains and Springs

treesitter springs  HotFountain

Happy Spring/Summer travels,





Invitation to Play: Treasure Baskets and Mystery Bags

Treasure Baskets and Mystery Bags: Integrating Multiple Senses and Building Language through Natural Exploration

Small children love being able to explore everyday objects, and infants will often engage with an object for long periods of time, exploring it tactilely, looking closely, and even tasting the objects.  Over time, children can develop their logical reasoning, tactile sense, and vocabulary by playing simple games with just objects you have around the house!  

Stage I – Treasure Basket (roughly 6 months to 2.5 years).
stageIIn this stage, the purpose of the basket is to provide rich sensory experience.  Put 3-5 everyday objects in the basket for your child to explore.  Choose a collection of round objects, fabrics with different textures, kitchen utensils, self-care items (comb, brush, toothbrush), or choose items that are all the same color. Watch your child to see their interest grow, peak, and wane to guide when it’s time to change items in the basket.  Encourage your child to explore objects with multiple senses through modeling.  
One extension (for kids with emerging verbal skills and up) of the Treasure Basket is to play a game of “I Spy” with the objects.  “I spy with little eye something ____” choosing a unique characteristic of the object for the child to pick.   Start with objects that are quite different, and this activity could be modified to search for even the most minute detail for older kids.”
Stage II – Treasure Basket and Mystery Bag (Emerging verbal skills – 3 yrs). In this stage, the purpose of the basket and bag is dual, sensory experience and memory exercise.  Start with the objects in the basket; allow your child to explore each object (the amount of time for exploration will vary with the child’s age).  Let your child watch while you place items from the basket into the bag.  Model and narrate while exploring items, “This one feels smooth and round, it must be the ball!”.  Start with a very familiar set of items that are quite different from one another and work toward items that share more similarity.  Early example: wooden spoon, small ball, and a shoelace or ribbon.  Later example: toy giraffe, elephant, and lion (these examples work for stage III also).
Stage III – Mystery Bag (Intermediate verbal skills – 6 yrs).In this stage your child is using their senses and their memory together to determine which familiar objects you have put in the bag.  Place items in the bag while your child is not around.  Model feeling the items and describing what you feel (without giving away the contents of the bag).  Let the child feel the items and describe them.  Gently encourage your child to guess without looking at the objects, however at this stage some children will get frustrated and want to look, you can always repeat the activity and modeling later.  Once your child has had success with basic objects, group objects by a common property and have them guess each object and what they have in common (see extensions below).
Extension: Geometric Shapes (fun way to introduce these mathematical concepts).geometric 




Extension: Color Bag (All objects of one color, let them name the commonality after seeing objects).blueobjects 



Extension: Literacy Bag (All objects that begin (or end) with the same sound, have your child come up with other objects that share the sound).R sounds 


Invitation to Play: Making sensory activities fun (for both of you).

Ah, Sensory Play, kids LOVE it, but in my experience many parents do not.

Sensory activities are great for toddler and preschool brains because they help build neural pathways in the brain associated with multiple senses to make stronger connections, they build fine motor skills as kids manipulate the medium and the tools, and they are a great vehicle for linguistic development (describing words) as well and socio-emotional development (decision-making)!  On top of that, a great invitation to play can keep kids engaged for long periods of time, which is a hallmark of effective learning!

2015-02-14 12.15.50
Pink kinetic sand and cookie cutters (I got the tray, cookie cutters, and tin at thrift stores).


Here are some tips for making the messy stuff fun for you both:

1. Location, Location, Location!  Everyone’s different, but I figure anyone can find somewhere they don’t mind a little mess. There’s really something to be said for the bathtub, or the backyard, or kitchen tile.  If you want your kid to be able to really let loose, make sure you pick a place with easy cleanup.  Drop cloths are great, so are trays, having a clearly defined play space will help you to tell your kids where the mess stops.  If you want mess containment to be part of the lesson, that’s fine too, but lead up to it slowly, and take your child’s development of motor skills and self-control into consideration.

sensorypumpkin  pumpkingoo

2. Join in the fun!  To be clear, I’m not suggesting you become your child’s entertainer here, but rather that you enjoy the medium yourself.  Draw, paint, sculpt, make a sand castle, or even experiment with slime.  If you’re enjoying yourself, you can bet your kid(s) will too, and your modeling of appropriate use of the materials is great for them, too!

3. Create a YES space.  If your child is in the same testing phase as mine, starting out with a list of don’ts might not be the safest idea as it can pretty much guarantee you’ve just given them an arsenal of buttons to push.  Even with kids who are not currently experimenting with testing, it can be quite deflating to start out with lots of no’s.  I recommend creating a YES space, giving them ideas of what they CAN do with the medium, and setting a general expectation of where this play CAN happen (see #1).


4. Boundaries. When something unacceptable does happen, try to address it firmly and calmly on a case-by-case basis.  It’s helpful for me to think about what might go awry ahead of time and think of a few key phrases I can use so that I stay calm in the moment (you know, that moment when you’ve suddenly got oobleck in your nose and an elbow in your left rib!).  “I won’t let you throw the sand. It could get in our eyes.” “I can see you’re having trouble keeping the slime in the bin, I’m going to put it away for a little while, we’ll play again later.”

Whatever limits you set verbally, make sure to follow-through, this will make future play much more fun for the both of you!  For more on YES spaces and setting boundaries, I highly recommend Janet Lansbury’s blog, Elevating Child Care!

Lastly, remember that playing in dirt, exploring nature, cleaning, cooking, and even bathing are terrific sensory experiences.  Everyday items provide great sensory experiences, you don’t have to buy a lot of fancy stuff, it’s all around us all the time.  For instance, try putting some shaving cream on the table the next time you want your kid to help clean up!

Have fun!





If it’s making you frenzied…make fun of it!

  Whenever Oscar starts doing something that makes me feel a little frenzied (like messing in the dishwasher while I’m loading it), I have started trying to identify what’s so interesting to him about the situation.  I’ve found that if I make him a “work” or learning activity to correspond to that interest, not only is he less likely to do the thing that makes me nuts, but he’s also learning something practical! When I was a teacher, we called these “teachable” moments.  Now that I know more about learning, I prefer to think of them as learnable moments, or following the child.

Oscar loves water.  He loves baths, washing his hands, and most of all pouring, dripping, or squirting water on everything in sight.  It’s cute until it’s not.  I can only take soggy snacks and lunches so many days until I want to scream.  So what did I do? Well, first I learned to take away the water as soon as it starts, then I made him some activities so that he could play with water and also develop his motor skills.  Here are a couple of the water works we’ve explored together so far.  Believe it or not, he likes cleaning it up, too!

turkeybaster pouring pipette

What did I do when he took the package of animal stickers his daddy gave him and stuck them all over his puzzle animals (image on the left). I decided to start with an animal matching activity and go from there since I had doubles of these three beauties (OH MY!).

matchinganimals ohmy

When he became obsessed with sticking stick-like objects into crevices (thank goodness for outlet covers!)?


When his Aunt Jessi asked what she could get or make him for Christmas, I immediately thought of how he’s always sneaking off with our keys to try to fit into keyholes. This was the result (and yes, he has an awesome Aunt Jessi!):

keyboxclosed keyboxopened

When he started stealing my broom to spread the nice neat piles I made all over the kitchen, what did I do (I mean besides learn not to leave him alone with dirt piles)?  I got him a hand sweeper so that he could practice sweeping piles into the bin and pouring them out into the trash can.  For his 2nd birthday he is getting a broom. Yes, a broom, and I know he will be very excited.

So back to my example of the dishwasher.  When it is open Oscar plays with the silverware, and every time we have to stop him.  So that’s where we’ll start. He can learn to sort the silverware out of the caddy into the tray.  We’ll start with just his silverware into his tray and who knows, maybe by the time he’s 3 I won’t have to unload the dishwasher anymore, right (yeah, right)? 


Lots of the ideas I have for activities come from Montessori philosophy as well as other early childhood blogs and books.  I am not a trained Montessori guide, but I do have a deep appreciation for Montessori Philosophy.  

On a last note, following your child doesn’t mean letting them do things that make you crazy (setting clear, calm boundaries is as essential as ever), but it does mean recognizing that getting into things is often a sign they’re ready to learn!