Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Update on the Montessori Floor Bed

On Sunday morning, Tate woke up, crawled to his shelf, pulled up, and began rummaging through a little wooden box with toys in it. It gave me the idea that now might be a good time to give an update about the Montessori floor bed since we've used it through two infants and are still using it with our toddler (is three the official end of toddlerhood?). 

Using a floor bed is similar to using a crib, except that the entire room becomes a crib. For both Henry and Tate, we used a crib mattress (a three-inch one from IKEA) and placed it in the middle of the floor on a soft rug for bedtime and naps. In Henry's first room, we moved it back to the corner every day; in Tate's room we simply leave it in the middle of the rug all the time. 

The Montessori books recommend placing the floor mattress in the corner because infants like the feeling of being more closed in, but it's always felt safer to us to not have it against the wall. 

The first reason I love the Montessori floor bed is the cost. It's much cheaper to buy a crib mattress than an entire crib. But more than the cost factor, I love what it communicates to even the youngest baby. It communicates that they have the freedom to explore their surroundings on their own terms. It also gives them an uninterrupted view of the room, as opposed to seeing it through slats. 

I also love that we never had to go through any huge transition to a "big boy bed." We did upgrade to a regular twin-sized mattress, but we didn't have to put up any bars to prevent Henry from rolling off. And now when we sleep in hotels, he can easily sleep on regular-sized beds when he needs to. 

I completely understand why people don't go this route (and I even know trained Montessorians who choose to go the crib route), but I just wanted to share my perspective about how well it's worked for both boys. It's definitely not a mainstream choice, but it has felt like the right one for our family.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Life as a Work in Progress

If you want to know how I'm feeling on the inside, just take one look at my surroundings. Up until yesterday you would have seen a messy house, messy car, and messy work bag. And I'm gaining weight. 

Inside, I feel like my to-do list is endless, things are coming at me too fast, and I'm completely exhausted all the time. None of this is a surprise. When I planned to open a school in 2014, I was only going to have one kid and s/he was going to be 3.5 when the school opened. That scenario would have been way easier. We changed our minds about the only child thing and then had to hurry up and have another baby before the school opened. A miscarriage happened and pushed back the timing even more, which means I'm trying to work time-and-a-half professionally, while also juggling an infant, a toddler, and a wicked case of sleep-deprivation. 

But I wouldn't have it any other way! I love my job and am so thankful that we were able to grow our family. It's just a matter of getting everything to a manageable place.

When I get to that point where everything feels cluttered and overwhelming on the inside, I usually start with the outside. First I started with my car. I pulled out all the trash, Henry's bike and helmet, the assortment of socks, the glass that has been rattling around for a week, and everything else that managed to accumulate. 

And then I moved into the house. I put away all the work stuff that started piling up. Once one system starts to go (e.g., once my car gets messy), then I lose all motivation to keep anything else organized. It's so much easier to take something out and not put it away. At the end of the night, I just want to crash rather than put in the ten minutes it would take to tidy everything up. 

It's the same thing with food. I eat when I'm stressed. Once I start getting stress pounds (apparently the German's call this kummerspeck), then I throw all abandon to the wind and eat whatever I want. Whenever I want. Which is all the time. 

Of course I like it in the moment, but it makes me feel terrible! I feel sluggish and uncomfortable in my clothes. 

So, I need to figure out the healthy eating piece. Matt and I are really having trouble getting to the store every week. Not going to the store leads to trying to piece meals together and also going out too much. 

When I want to make a change, I identify what the change looks like and when it occurs. 

Change #1 = I want to use my meal planning template to pick healthy meals for the week. I can take Henry and Tate shopping on Friday afternoons after I pick up Henry. 

Change #2 = Although I've loved my new smoothie recipe, I think it's time to move away from the peanut butter. I'm going to go back to my yogurt, orange juice, spinach, frozen mango, and banana smoothie. I'm going to start measuring the ingredients into blender to be more cautious of how much I'm eating. 

Change #3 = I'm going to purchase frozen meals to have on hand in case we don't have enough leftovers for lunch. I hate the packaging and the expense of frozen meals, but it's where I am right now. I'd like to get to a point where I could make frozen burritos on Sunday to eat throughout the week, but I'm not there right now. This is the year to make a clearing.

Change #4 = I need to figure out the exercise piece again. I had been going to the YMCA regularly, but now Tate hates the daycare and I can only squeeze in 15 minutes of exercise before they come get me. My goal is three runs a week. I can go to the YMCA on Saturday morning with Henry (while Matt runs with Tate). On Sunday, Matt can take the boys to the dog park while I run around the trail (since he plays soccer in the afternoons). Then, once during the week, Matt could switch his running time from 8:30am-10am to 3:30pm-5:00pm (if it works for his work schedule), and I could fit in one more run while he takes Tate in the stroller and I take Henry to the YMCA. 

Phew! I feel better just having a plan of action. Of course I keep coming up with a similar version of this plan every couple months, but I'm okay with that. Life is a work in progress. 

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Monday, February 24, 2014

The Pause

We once asked my mother-in-law if her pregnancies were indicative of her son's personalities. She said no and instead explained that their personalities were more reflective of their births (her data pool includes three boys). 

I have no idea if Henry's 45-hour birth is linked to his behavior, but he definitely takes his time. He takes his time getting into the car and out of the car. He takes his time when washing his hands or getting dressed. 

His deliberateness and propensity to pause and look at things can rub up against my innate urgency. I have to intentionally create wide-open space for us to interact. I try not to take him on too many errands and instead carve out time to let him entirely direct our play. He tells me where to sit in the "airplane" or the "tent" or the "paraglider" and I move there. Then he decides when we should have a roof over our heads. He decides when we should take our shoes off and when we should use building blocks as "phones." We don't spend all our time together this way. I also do my own thing (usually cleaning) so that he gets practice with playing independently. And sometimes when he's directing our play I let him know if I don't want to do something or don't want to play in a particular way so he gets used to playing with people who have different opinions.

But I need to do better in all the other moments. I find myself jumping to tell him to do something, even though he is often just about to do it. 

For example, I've been trying to do more practical life with him, so I asked him to load up the dishwasher and put in the soap. As he was putting the soap away, I was about to say, "Remember to put the cap back on." But instead I kept myself silent. And sure enough, he noticed that the cap wasn't on and rectified the situation himself without any prompting. 

I've been trying to do this kind of pausing more and more. Before I say, "Remember to get your lunchbox and jacket out of the car," I just pause and wait to see if he does it himself. About 75% of the time he independently does whatever I was just about to remind him to do. I would be undermining the development of his sense of self and his confidence and the development of his personal responsibility and his critical thinking if I jumped in every time. 

When he forgets to do something even after I've given him a lengthy pause, I try to have the least invasive response possible. For example, if he forgets to close the car door (after he's remembered his lunch and his jacket), I simply stay by the car and say, "Henry, I notice something." It gives him a chance to self-reflect and self-correct before I say more.

It's a work in progress but it's fun working on it.

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Ideal Workplace

School is starting in 165 short days! I'm still pinching myself. 

Our team is working really hard to get everything in place for the beginning of August, and I was hoping you could help me with something. 

What makes your workplace awesome? Or what do you wish your workplace had to make it more awesome? I'm thinking about the big things (onsite childcare?) to the little things (surprise masseuse on site for a day of chair massages?). 

Thank you in advance for any ideas you are able to share! 

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Planning the Garden

Despite the fact that we've lived in our house since August, it still looks like a construction site (sorry, Neighbors!). It's been really hard to prioritize landscaping because a) it's so expensive and b) I'm juggling a million other things that feel much more urgent and important.

We did manage to get three different plans and quotes, and we fell in love with the design above. It's an edible landscape. The squares are raised beds that will provide 64-square feet of gardening space, strategically situated between our driveway and the front door so that we constantly have to walk through it. There are also five blueberry bushes! And a pomegranate tree! And an herb garden. And random things stuck in there like kale, swiss chard, etc. 

My favorite part is that the design includes drip irrigation, which is better for the environment and will reduce the amount of required maintenance. 

I think it will be a fun little place to explore and experience the awe of gardening. 

We're hoping to be able to get afford to get this done in the next couple months!  

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Monday, February 17, 2014

Travel List

Our family has traveled twice in the past three weeks: once to Houston for my birthday weekend and again to Houston for a spontaneous trip to the AMI Montessori Refresher Course (with a side trip to San Antonio to work on Redbud Montessori For All for 2016).

On the first trip, we forgot to bring Tate's rice cereal. On the second trip, we forgot Henry's underwear. 

The frustrating part was that we could've avoided both of those issues (and made the entire packing process less stressful and more efficient) simply by making a list (and using the same list as a starting point for every trip). 

I'm fine making mistakes, but I don't like to make them over and over again simply because I haven't set aside time to fix them. So now is the time. Here is my general list:
  • Sara's clothes (including undergarments)
  • Matt's clothes (including undergarments)
  • Tate's clothes 
  • Tate's socks
  • Henry's clothes
  • Henry's underwear
  • Henry's nighttime diaper
  • Tate's diapers
  • Tate's wipes
  • Rice cereal
  • Phone charger
  • Computer charger
  • Toiletries (comb, soap, toothbrushes, floss, razor, nursing pads)
  • Henry's toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Tate's bed and blanket
Thanks for bearing with me through this boring post! 

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Guest Welcome Basket

We have a friend coming to visit from out of town this weekend, and I'm inspired to create a welcoming experience for her. I was reminded of this post I wrote last year when we were waiting to move into our new home:
I want our home to be the kind of place where we invite people to stay for dinner at the last minute and can whip up something delicious. I want our home to be the kind of place where children can run, explore, connect with nature, and swim. I want our home to be the kind of place where our family can curl up together on Friday nights to watch movies. I want our home to be the kind of place where everyone crowds around the kitchen island to help with dinner. And the kind of place where we gather around the table for board games in the evening. I want our home to be the kind of place where robots are built out of cardboard, Halloween costumes are sewn, cookies are baked, science experiments are conducted, and bird feeders are built. I want our home to be the kind of place where out-of-town guests choose to stay and where they find fresh towels and Aveda shampoo waiting for them. I want our house to be the kind of place where Classical music flows and spontaneous dance parties erupt. The kind of place where marshmallows are toasted while chatting in Adirondack chairs. And the kind of place where vegetables are grown and fruit is harvested. I want our home to be full of laughter, love, and joy.
So, fresh towels and Aveda shampoo it is!

Other ideas for welcoming guests:
  • A welcome note written on a mini-chalkboard (or maybe it should be on a card so they could keep it?)
  • High-quality instant coffee (is there such a thing?) 
  • Little chocolates (could we keep these in the house without eating them?) 
  • Maybe an extra toothbrush, dental floss, and soap in case they forgot something?
Image from Martha Stewart (of course)

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Montessori Practical Life

Henry has definitely undergone the shift that happens in development between 0-3 years-old and 3-6 years-old. It's fascinating to watch him grow! 

After a conference with each teacher, I realized that I've been over-nurturing certain aspects of his development and unintentionally treating him more like a 6-9 year-old. Matt and I are both Montessori trained in 6-9, so that's where we're more comfortable. For example, Henry has shown interest in "doing research," like wanting to learn more about motorized para-gliders after we saw one on a hike (they are fascinating!) and wanting to research whether or not it's developmentally appropriate for him to get a pedal bike. 

The conference with his teacher reminded me of the importance of good ol' Practical Life for young children (and all children but especially the little ones!). I'd like to set some goals for myself around how to encourage more practical life within our home. As always, when I'm trying to make a change in my life, I have to visualize exactly what I want to see myself doing and--most importantly--when I want to do it:
  1. When Matt is playing soccer on Sunday, that's the optimal time for Henry and me to do some work together, especially when Tate is napping. I ordered him a child-sized broom, so we can sweep the front and back deck together. We can also sweep the driveway and sidewalk. 
  2. Another other time for us to do practical life together would be after school. I cut a sponge in half so we can clean his table, his learning tower, and the high chairs together. 
  3. I'd like to be really intentional about cooking dinner with Henry at least once a week. He definitely helps out with chopping, etc., but I find myself relieved when he's engaged in independent play and I can hurry and cook by myself. I'm going to commit to cooking with him from start to finish (including dishes!) at least once a week.
  4. I ordered these beautiful placemats from Kylie, so we can have more of a process around setting the table for dinner. I also ordered this apron and this apron from my friend Karla for cooking/baking and dishwashing.
  5. I also think we need to slow down the evening process, so that Henry can be more involved with clearing the table and putting away his toys at the end of the day. Right now, Matt shuttles Henry and Tate into the bath right after dinner while I do all the cleaning. I think we should push his bedtime back a little later to make time for these important steps.
I need to go back and watch Edison's Day for the 40th time. It's so grounding and beautiful. It helps me rethink what is possible for young children.

Image courtesy of How We Montessori Shop

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Job Openings

The other day, I e-mailed a longtime blog friend to see if she had any leads on potential staff members for the school I'm working to start, and she mentioned that she and her partner might be interested once they finish their graduate school programs. It gave me the idea to put the request out there to all of you! Perhaps Magnolia Montessori For All is "the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet" or you might know of someone else who might be interested! 


Do you believe that schools should educate the whole child? Do you want to support learning that is hands-on, differentiated, and student-led? Do you believe that how we educate children today determines what kind of world we live in tomorrow? Do you think we can cultivate children academically, intellectually, socially, emotionally, creatively, ethically, and physically--all while ensuring stellar results on standardized tests? Even in diverse, low-income communities? 

Join the founding team of Montessori For All as we collaborate to build an innovative pre-K3 through 8th grade model and prove what's possible. We are seeking to blend the best of what's happening in high-performing charter schools for economically-disadvantaged children with the best of progressive approaches to pedagogy that focus on educating the whole child for success in college, the 21st-century, and life as leaders in their families and communities. Our model incorporates personalized learning, hands-on materials, student-led projects, multi-age classrooms, and dual-language development.

We are currently recruiting their founding staff and offering a unique opportunity to participate in this innovative vision as we open our flagship school and then grow into a national charter management organization. Alex Hernandez of the Charter School Growth fund named it one of two schools to watch in 2014, schools that are doing some of "the most interesting, complicated and messiest work going on in K-12 right now." He called it "education R&D for the next century."

We are looking for talented people who have a particular passion for a more individualized, holistic, sustainable approach to teaching and learning. In particular, we are looking for:
  • Director of Student Affairs & Services: This position is essentially an AP position--great for someone who wants to be on the principal track and is really strong with classroom management, culture-building, connecting with families, and coaching teachers. Bilingual in Spanish/English, preferred (although all candidates will be considered).
  • Director of SPED & Intervention: We are looking for a SPED guru who is passionate about working with students with special needs and also has the skills and strategies necessary to set up and manage the entire SPED program. 
  • Lead Teachers: We are looking for amazing teachers who are more interested in being a "guide on the side" as opposed to a "sage on the stage." The school is willing to pay for individuals to undergo their Montessori certification the summer before school starts.
  • Associate Teachers: This hands-on fellowship is a great opportunity for someone who is looking to become a teacher but needs more experience. The fellowship involves working alongside a lead teacher while undergoing professional development and a gradual acquisition of responsibilities. 
For more detailed job descriptions, visit:

Or contact Founder & Principal Sara Cotner at for more information.

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Matt's parents gave us $100 as part of our Christmas gifts this year, and they requested that we select a charity of our choice to donate it to. I decided to invest $50 of it in a Kiva loan. Henry and I browsed the website and decided to give our money to Ashkhen so she could help build her farming business. 

The amazing thing about donating through a micro-loan program is that if our money is repaid, then we can reinvest it in someone else!

Henry definitely understands the concept of money now. He loves his jar system, and it's been really sweet to watch him make his choices. When he finds random money, he gets to decide which jar to put it in. He usually puts it in his charity jar. Sometimes he decides to put his money in Tate's jars! 

He decided that he wanted to give away the money in his charity jar to the homeless people we pass on the street. He divided up the money into ten separate baggies, and he hands them out in lieu of water. We definitely want to begin brainstorming ways to do more volunteer work in the community, especially when Tate gets a little older. For now, this feels like a good start.

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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Reflection & Rejuvenation: February!

And with that, we are already 1/12th of the way through 2014!

It feels so good to be back in the habit of setting monthly goals again. It feels good to envision something and then make it happen. I feel like this month's process has worked particularly well. The goals weren't too ambitious, and I put them into my weekly electronic action plan (I use a OneNote binder uploaded to SkyDrive) so I was constantly looking at them. It can be discouraging when there are too many goals or when I don't look at them until the end of the month and suddenly have to fit everything in.  

January has been a good month. Here's what I was aiming for: 
  • Plan Henry's birthday party: Yes! Evite was created and sent out. We are hosting a wear-your-pajamas-and-build-forts-pancake-and-waffle party at our house. Good times! 
  • Plan my birthday party: Yes! We headed to Houston for a weekend of visiting our favorite friends and places. 
  • Set up a housecleaner: This one got put on the back burner because our nanny share unraveled and we had to hire a nanny by ourselves. We cannot spend extra money on a housecleaner right now. I owe you a post about the nanny share situation. 
  • Get a robotic vacuum: Yes! We got one has a Christmas present from Matt's parents. Thank you!
  • Join the YMCA: Yes! I joined during January when the joining fee was waived.
  • Get security system installed: Womp, womp.
  • Request addresses and birthdays from dear friends: Yes!
  • Get whiteboard hung: Yes! I owe you a post about this one...
  • Plan dinner party with Diana: Yes! 
  • Run at least 12 times and go to yoga or Pilates at least four times: I ran 6 times and didn't go to yoga at all. It feels like a start!
  • Drink at least 80 ounces of water a day: I neglected this one early in the month but then did it faithfully! 
  • Add at least one new meal to our weekly rotation: Yes! Mexican mac-n-cheese.
As for my goals for this month! First I need to revisit my yearly goals:

I want to strengthen my habits of health and wellness:  
  • run at least three times a week and go to yoga once 
  • drink at least 80 ounces of water a day 
  • add new meals to our weekly rotation 
I want to continue to put down roots and connect with those around me: 
  • attend church potlucks 
  • sign up to support people by delivering meals, etc. 
  • regularly invite people over  
  • send birthday cards 
  • completely organize our house 
  • finish our front- and backyard landscaping 
  • get house completely organized 
  • do service learning with Henry 
  • start a garden 
I want to create the kind of school I want to send my own children to. 

Based on those yearly goals, what do I want to accomplish this month? (I'm also going to look back at the list of monthly goals I already started to create so that I'm planning things in advance throughout the year.)
  • Run at least two times a week and do three sun salutations at least three times a week: I'm lowering this goal to make it more realistic for me right now. I hate exposing Tate to all the germs in the YMCA childcare room. But I don't really have any other options right now. 
  • Drink at least 80 ounces of water a day 
  • Incorporate more practice life into our schedule
  • Add at least one new meal to our weekly rotation 
  • Get our front and back landscaping completed
  • Plan my presentation for the American Montessori Society conference
  • Completely finish our white board 
I honestly think that's all I can tackle at this point. I feel pushed up against the edge of my capacity right now. It's a combination of sleep deprivation and a big deadline at work (our student recruitment process ends on February 27th and the lottery is March 3rd). My mantra for the year is "Make a Clearing." I've got to keep focusing on that! 

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Monday, February 3, 2014

Seven Months: Happiest Birthday, Tate!

Oh, Tater Tot! This has been a major month for you! 

You still army crawl all over the house. Really fast. Mainly towards the one thing you can't have: Hoss's water bowl. You like to climb in the dishwasher and explore the refrigerator. You pull up on shelves, window sills, couches--you name it! You are busy, busy, busy. 

You also learned how to sit this month, but you really have no use for it. You are immediately trying to tuck your legs underneath you and crawl away to find something to pull up on. 

And you eat like nobody's business! You eat all sorts of purees: green beans, peas, pumpkin, sweet potato, summer squash, quinoa, cauliflower, prunes, parsnips, apples--the list is pretty endless. You are very demanding about it, and you want to hold the spoon for yourself.

You hate taking naps. You simply don't want to miss out on any action. We have to get you really tired before putting you on your bed or else you just keep crawling to the door. Once you're really tired, you sleep well and wake up with a huge smile on your face. 

You pretty much always have that smile on your face. It's the cutest thing! You light up for anyone and anything. Thank you for bringing so much joy to our lives!

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