Parenting

Mindfulness for Children

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You may be very familiar with mindfulness, or you may have a vague notion of a buzz word that has something to do with meditation.  Regardless of your experience, we are here to detail the ways in which mindfulness can be beneficial to your children.  Being more mindful helps people reap a multitude of benefits, anyone can participate, and learning alongside your child can be fun!

What, exactly, is it?

Merriam Webster defines mindfulness as:

  1. the quality or state of being mindful

  2. the practice of maintaining a nonjudgemental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis

also: such a state of awareness

Sometimes it can be helpful to define mindfulness by stating what it is not.  Mindfulness is not about clearing the mind.  It is not about silence or ending conflict.  Mindfulness is definitely not a quick fix for anything.  Mindfulness provides us with a way of looking deeper at our lives.  We learn to observe events, sensations, and feelings while acknowledging them and accepting them for what they are.  

In today’s society it can be easy for everyone - children included - to get caught up in the daily rush.  Mindfulness allows us to slow down and be present.  Many who are new to the practice may wonder how they might find the time to squeeze in one more thing.  Once you form daily habits of mindfulness you will see your schedule open up, and you may realize your life feels a lot more free and flexible.

Setting realistic expectations

It’s important to remember that mindfulness is nonjudgemental.  Although it does tend to help people in many ways, it wouldn’t be fair to try it with the intention of making a child become, say, more attentive.  Improved attention and focus are a likely outcome, but cannot be expected.  Mindfulness is different for everyone, and acceptance of oneself and each other is a healthier and more realistic goal.

On a more basic level, you may be excited to try these exercises and ideas, while your child may not be.  We find that many kids do love the meditations and games detailed below, but they’re not for everyone and that’s okay.  So, as you give mindfulness a try with your children, keep in mind that they are their own independent people.  Everyone will take away something different from the practice.

The raisin meditation

Mark Williams and Danny Penman have written a great book entitled Mindfulness, an Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World.  This book is written for adults, and we highly recommend it as a resource.  It’s full of scientific explanations regarding how behaviors are dictated by brain function and what we can do to create change within our own lives.  As a bonus, it contains a link to meditation audio files.  Although not a book for children, there is a fantastic exercise contained within that kids love: the raisin meditation.

Sit in a quiet space with your child.  Feel free to light a candle (or not) and get comfy.  Ask your child to open their hand, palm facing upwards, and place a single raisin in the middle.  Tell them not to eat it just yet and take another raisin for yourself.  The goal of this exercise is to slow down and pay close attention, seeing if you can notice attributes that are typically overlooked during the business of our everyday lives.  We use all of our senses to zoom and observe this raisin closely.

  • Sight - Look carefully at your raisin.  What do you see?  Allow your eyes to explore the ridges and valleys, to notice color variations, and to find the spot where this dried grape was once attached to a stem.  What words might you use to describe these observations?

  • Sound - With a raisin, this will surely be a little silly, but that’s okay!  Hold the raisin gently to your ear and have a listen anyway.  Children will revel in watching their parents listen to a piece of dried fruit as they do the same, you will all confirm its silence, and have a giggle before moving on to the next step.

  • Smell - With delicate, inward breathes, take in the scent of the raisin.  What do you notice?  What could you compare it to?  Try not to rush this step; take the time to really pay attention.  Find words to describe the scent.

  • Texture - This will be done in two parts.  First, gently feel the exterior of the raisin with your fingertips.  Repeat the process of noticing and describing.  When everyone is ready, place the raisin on your tongue.  Without chewing use your tongue to pay attention to what the raisin feels like in your mouth.  Later, when you do end up swallowing it, notice the sensations as it travels down your throat.

  • Taste - Likely the moment your child has been waiting for, ask them to take their time while chewing and tasting the raisin.  Because you have spent so much time noticing every detail of this tiny piece of fruit, the anticipation may make it seem like the tastiest raisin you have ever eaten!  Is it sweet?  Sour?  Bland?  Intense?

This activity can be repeated with almost anything, and it’s a great idea to do so.  Wait a few days and try the whole process over again with a chocolate chip, slice of cucumber, or whatever else you happen to be eating.  At mealtimes, take a few moments to be intentional about appreciating your food.  Notice what it looks like, smells like, feels like, and chew slowly to discover more about how it tastes.  Most importantly, have fun while doing so!

Looking for more mindfulness games and activities?  Try these ideas:

  • Object box - Find a small collection of very similar items (cards, pennies, pebbles, etc.)  Each player chooses one and has one minute to study their item carefully.  The items are then placed in a box and shaken up.  Players try to find their original item.

  • Creature search - Take a walk along a familiar path or through a park you frequent.  Everyone has to pay attention and find as many living organisms as possible.  It’s amazing how much we overlook even when we spend time in nature!

  • Visual breath games - There are many variations of this.  Try blowing bubbles or using a pinwheel with your child.  Encourage them to take a deep breath in through their nose and feel the air as it leaves their mouth.  They can take tiny breaths or big breaths, slow breaths or quick breaths. 

Meditation resources

These videos will give you examples of some common, basic mindfulness meditations.  We recommend that you use the videos for their audio.  Children should not be watching the screen as they listen so they can focus on all their senses.

Body scan meditation: Direct your awareness to specific parts of your body, noticing sensations (or lack of sensations).

Loving kindness meditation: Take time to love yourself and send loving thoughts to others. 

Observing thought meditation:  This type of meditation is best for children ages 6 and up.  This video explains why it’s helpful, while this one guides children through the practice. 

We hope this post has been interesting and informative.  If you try any of the meditations or ideas with your children, we would love to hear how it goes!  

5 Ways to Help Kids With Anxiety

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Anxiety is a completely normal part of the human experience.  Both adults and children experience anxiety from time to time.  As children grow, they go through so many changes physically, cognitively, and emotionally, it’s understandable that they may feel nervous occasionally.  You will likely notice your child pass through a number of phases in which they display anxious behaviors.

If you feel like your child’s anxiety is more than just a phase it’s important to talk to your pediatrician.  Anxiety can negatively affect people in a myriad of ways, and it’s important for kids with chronic worry to get help that will change those patterns.  

The good news is there are things we can do at home and school to help children deal with their anxiety, both proactively and reactively.

In the Moment

It helps to have some strategies on hand for when a child is experiencing anxiety.  It can be difficult to learn a new skill while our bodies are experiencing nervousness, so try these out with your child while they are calm the first time.

  • Mountain breath - This is a kid version of the well-known 4-7-8 technique.  If you’re not already familiar, Harvard graduate Dr. Andrew Weil developed the simple exercise.  After releasing the air from your lungs, breath in for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 7, and release the breath slowly for a count of 8.  This slows your breathing while also allowing your body to absorb more oxygen.  Ideally 4-7-8 should be practiced several times a day and then used as needed.  For the children’s ‘mountain breath’ version, have your child hold up all five fingers on one hand.  Using the index finger of the opposite hand, they will trace up and down each of the five fingers, pretending they are mountains.  Say, “We climb up the first mountain (breath in), stopping at the top to look around at the view (hold breath).  Then we climb down this side (breath out)”.  They continue this with the remaining four fingers.  The count of 4-7-8 is less important for kids than the pattern and practice.  For more information on Dr. Weil’s technique check out this video:

  • Grounding exercise - The amygdala is a small, almond-shaped cluster located deep inside the brain.  It’s one of the most primitive parts of our brains and serves many functions.  The amygdala is connected to fear conditioning, and is connected to why we react in fearful ways to certain situations and stimuli.  Think of it as your fight or flight center.  

    When we are in the midst of panic, our brains lose the ability to behave according to the reality of a current situation.  Our bodies feel like there is great danger and our amygdala is feeding those false connections.  The good news is there are tools we can teach children to trick that part of their brain and remind themselves that they are safe.

    A grounding exercise uses the senses to remind the brain there isn’t really any immediate danger and that we are safe.  As a quick reference, remember “5,4,3,2,1”.  First, we use our sense of sight.  We look around and locate five things we see and name them, simply.  This can be done aloud or in our heads.  For example, we may say, “Light. Floor. Hand. Paper. Table.”  Next, we identify four things we can feel, and touch them as we name them.  “Hair. Fabric. Wood. Skin.”  We then name three things we can hear. “Breath. Fan. Car.”  The final two steps include identifying two things we smell and one thing we taste.  These steps are not always practical, and it’s okay to skip them.  Again, try to teach this exercise to your child when they are feeling calm so that it’s more accessible to them when they are not.  

    For a video of an extended version of this exercise, watch here:

  • Straw & cotton- This exercise is fun, and likely seems more like a game.  Using a piece of tape (painter’s tape or washi tape works well), create a line about two feet long on a hard floor - carpet won’t work.  Place a cotton ball on one end of the line and using a drinking straw, blow on the cotton ball in an attempt to have it travel the length of the line.  It can be challenging to control one’s breath and keep the cotton on the tape, but it’s a fun and silly exercise.  Doing this distracts the child from anxious thoughts and forces them to control their breath.  If they get really good at it, you can create a tape maze on the floor instead of a simple line.  Have fun with this one!

Creating Routines

Routines help everyone, but especially children, to feel safe and centered.  While flexibility and spontaneity are also important, it’s a good idea to create predictable structures for kids.  Read on for some ideas on how we can support our kids and attempt to prevent anxiety.

  • Morning and evening routines - Waking up is hard.  Especially on these chilly, darker, winter mornings!  Decide on a routine that works for you and your family, then be sure to stick to it.  One sample: get up, use the toilet, get dressed, brush teeth, brush hair, eat breakfast, put shoes on, go to school.  Repeat every day in the same order.  For some children, it helps to keep at least some version of this routine on the weekends.

    Consider the same idea in the evening.  Another sample (but do what works for you!): take a bath, put on pajamas, eat dinner, brush teeth, read two stories, cuddle for five minutes, go to sleep.

  • Preparing ahead - In the evenings, it really helps to get as much done ahead of time for the day ahead.  Much of this responsibility falls to parents, but as children get older they can certainly pitch in.  Some ideas:

    • Making lunches

    • Laying out clothes

    • Keeping bags, jackets, and shoes ready by the door

    • Have healthy breakfasts prepared

    • Leave lots of time - kids often take longer to get things done than we expect.  Instead of rushing them through what needs to be done, wake them up a little earlier or start bedtime sooner than you think you need to so that everything gets done and everyone gets a good night’s sleep.

  • Presetting for changes - Routines are great, but it’s impossible to stick to them all the time.  You may have an early morning meeting, your child may have a doctor’s appointment, or any other number of unpredictable variables may come up.  When this happens it’s unsettling to us as adults, but it can really throw kids off and spark anxiety.  To help ease their concerns, we can preset them ahead of time whenever possible.  The night before a change in routine, take the time to tell your child what will be happening and how it will affect them so they know what to expect.  When something unpredictable happens, take a moment to stop and speak to your child calmly and softly; let them know what’s going on, and what you think will need to be done next.  Including children in conversations about changes is empowering for them, and will likely help them feel calmer about whatever situation they are in.

We hope this post will help you and your family prepare for tough moments of anxiety.  If you try any of these ideas we would love to hear how it goes.  Do you have other tips or tricks?  Let us know!

Gift Giving Montessori Style

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The holiday season is in full swing and if you haven’t already started your shopping you’re probably thinking about it!  This week we take a look at gifts for children, whether they be your own kids, nieces and nephews, or friends.  We all adore that look of joy on a child’s face when they open up a surprise.  Read on for a Montessori holiday gift-giving guide…

Keeping Development in Mind

Montessori’s concept of the developmental planes can be helpful to keep in mind while selecting gifts. Reminding ourselves of the characteristics of each phase of childhood can give surprising insight!  Here’s a brief summary with ideas:


Developmental Plane

Some Characteristics

Gift Ideas

Ages 0-6

  • Sense of order

  • Language development

  • Movement/ development of motor skills

  • Refinement of the Senses

  • Child-sized cleaning supplies

  • Books

  • Scooters or bicycles (tricycles or training wheels)

  • Playdough or cooking tools

Ages 6-12

  • Use of Imagination

  • Creative Thinking

  • Social - Prefers Groups

  • Cultural Awareness

  • Science-based activities or games

  • Art supplies

  • Board games

  • Books about topics of interest

Ages 13-18

  • Creative Expression

  • Physical Development

  • Looking for Place in Society

  • Personal Reflection

  • Music (albums, player, headphones, lessons)

  • Sports or outdoor gear

  • Tickets to an event

  • Journals or items related to their current interests


It’s Okay to Reinvent Expectations

Many of us have fond memories of large piles of presents and we want our children to have great holiday memories, too.  The thing is, it’s okay if their holidays don’t include so much stuff.  Young children, especially, don’t have expectations like we do.  A few carefully chosen, nice quality gifts will make them just as happy as you were as a kid.  You know that nagging feeling you sometimes have that their toys are taking over the house?  It’s totally okay to give them less.   

Another idea to consider is to give the gift of experiences.  This works really well for adults and older children, but can be used with younger children as well.  Tickets to an event, movie passes, or a gift certificate (trampoline park, art open studio time, mini golf) will always be appreciated.  As a bonus, the recipient can often enjoy these experiences with someone they love.

Build in (or Continue!) Traditions

You likely already have traditions, either from your own childhood or that your family has developed over the years.  Creating rituals creates memories, and a deep sense of love and celebration that won’t soon be forgotten.  Looking for some ideas? We’ve got some!

  • Have a collection of holiday books.  Keep them packed away in a closet most of the year, but this time of year they can be placed in a nice basket in your living room, with a new one added each year. 

  • Find a way for your family to give back to the community.  Older children can volunteer at a soup kitchen, but even younger children can help bake cookies to take to local firefighters.  If you live in an area where there is a homeless population, you might work as a family to create care packages: small bags filled with food and other items that might be useful.  They can be kept in your car to give to people as you meet them, or they can be dropped off at a local shelter or similar organization.

  • Bake cookies.  Or cook or bake something else that’s special to your family.  Time spent together in the kitchen is so special, plus you’ll be sharing important skills with your kids.    

  • Make decorations.  With a little guidance, even a six-year-old can string together popcorn and cranberries.  

  • Enjoy storytelling.  Every culture, religion, and family have tales to tell.  Gather around a fireplace, candlelight, or just cozy up on the couch and tell stories.  Folktales, myths, and family history are all great!

Resources for Montessori Families

Are you looking for specific places to buy gifts?  Try supporting small local businesses - they often have items that are hard to find anywhere else.  As a bonus you will be supporting your local economy and helping your neighbors!

For Montessori-specific gifts, we recommend the following:

For Small Hands/Montessori Services

https://www.forsmallhands.com/

https://www.montessoriservices.com/

This company provides high-quality products with Montessori families specifically in mind.  

Acorn Naturalists

https://www.acornnaturalists.com/store/index.aspx

If you’re looking for nature and outdoor learning gifts, look no further!  This website caters to teachers, but many of the learning materials would be just as appreciated at home.

Nova Natural

https://www.novanatural.com/

With a focus on real wood and natural fibers, this Vermont-based toy company is a Montessori parent’s dream.

Happy shopping!

What’s in a Pumpkin?

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Halloween is right around the corner…

If your family celebrates this holiday, your child is likely thinking about costumes and candy, while you’re probably thinking of ways to keep the evening fun without a total sugar overload.  Whether or not you participate in Halloween, pumpkins are a fun symbol this time of year.  This nostalgic squash can be found everywhere in October, and there are so many fun ways to use them with your children.  Read on for inspiration...

Visiting a Farm

If you have a local farm that grows and sells pumpkins, you are in luck!  Not only is a trip to the local pumpkin patch a traditional autumn activity, it provides kids with an opportunity to learn about the source of pumpkins.  Instead of thinking we just buy them from a store, they will have exposure to the very place that plants the seeds and grows them.  This will offer them a sense of connection and an appreciation for the people and plants involved in the process.  

Life Cycle Learning

While it may be too late to grow your own pumpkin patch, there’s still plenty of time to teach our kids about the life cycle of a pumpkin.  You could have a formal discussion about it, or just ask questions informally while you pick pumpkins, while you carve jack-o-lanterns, or during any other pumpkin activity.  Some ideas:

  • Where do pumpkins come from?

  • How do pumpkins reproduce/make more of themselves?

  • Where do the seeds come from?

  • What color are pumpkin flowers?

  • How do pumpkins grow?

  • What do they/plants need to grow?

  • How long does it take a pumpkin to grow? 

  • What happens when a pumpkin’s life cycle ends?

Check out this free pumpkin life cycle printable booklet if you’re looking for something to make together at home: https://teachingmama.org/pumpkin-life-cycle-booklet-free-printable/

Cooking Up Some Fun

Round up the kids and head to the kitchen!  Cooking with children is fun, gives them a way to contribute to the family, and teaches them valuable life skills that they will hold onto forever.  (Plus you can always sneak some math in!)  Whatever your own personal culinary skill level is, there are options for everyone.

Want to keep it simple?  Hang onto those seeds and roast them for a delicious (and super healthy) snack.  These tiny treats are full of magnesium, fiber, protein, and lots of other beneficial nutrients.  And they couldn’t be easier to make.  Try this recipe for crisp, flavorful seeds - https://www.tasteofhome.com/article/roast-pumpkin-seeds/

Are you a baker?  Skip the canned puree and try your hand at this pumpkin pie from scratch -https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/nancy-fuller/from-scratch-pumpkin-pie-2251073

If your family loves cheesy pasta, this pumpkin and tortellini dish will be a hit - https://www.rd.com/food/recipes-cooking/vegetable-recipes-cheese-tortellini-with-pumpkin-ricotta/

Looking for a recipe that’s way outside the box?  Try pickled pumpkin! https://www.rd.com/food/pumpkin-pickles-recipe/

Sing a Song

“Five Little Pumpkins” is a classic song written by Raffi Cavoukian and Kenneth David Whiteley.  It’s short, sweet, and simple for little ones to memorize.  Below are the lyrics and a link to hear Raffi’s version of the song:

Five little pumpkins sitting on a gate

The first one said, “Oh my, it’s getting late.”

The second one said, “There are witches in the air.”

The third one said, “But we don’t care.”

The fourth one said, “Let’s run and run and run.”

The fifth one said, “I’m ready for some fun!”

Ooooo went the wind and out went the light

And the five little pumpkins rolled out of sight.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVJFF6jfAgY

Squeeze in Some Skills

Did you know that in many Montessori classrooms it’s common to have a large stump that children are able to hammer nails into?  This is great practice for motor skills and coordination, but did you know you can put a seasonal spin on it?  Use a large pumpkin, a hammer, and either nails or golf tees to let your 3-6 year old have some fun.  The nails can be taken out and used over and over again, much to the delight of little ones.

For older children, estimation and measurement are skills that can be naturally practiced while enjoying pumpkins.  You might estimate the weight of a pumpkin or how many seeds are inside, then have fun finding out.  More measurement activities could include determining the height, width, or circumference.  Parents can develop real-life math skills by creating oral word problems on the spot.  If there are four people in your family, each person wants to carve a pumpkin, and they cost $6 each, how much will you spend?  And will your child even realize they’re doing multiplication?  Spoiler: as a Montessori child, they probably will realize it, and they will probably love the opportunity to have fun with numbers!

Hopefully we’ve given you plenty of pumpkin inspiration after reading this post!  Before we end, we’ll leave you with a joke that will make the kids chuckle…

Q-What do you call a pretty pumpkin?

A-Gourd-geous!

Montessori and Nature

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“When children come into contact with nature, they reveal their strength.” - Maria Montessori

We all know spending time outdoors is good for our kids, but what did Maria Montessori have to say about it?  What can we do as parents to support our children’s development in the natural world, and what responsibilities do our schools have in regards to this critical work?

Traditional Methods that Fall Short

What do we think of when we imagine educating our children about nature?  Perhaps a small collection of shells on a windowsill, planting flowers in the spring, or pushing a toddler in a stroller through a park come to mind.  While all of these activities have a place and can be enriching in their own way, they fall short of giving children authentic natural experiences.  As adults, we have developed habits that keep our interactions with the natural world at a distance.  We don’t appreciate being stuck out in the rain, or even the sun for that matter.  We find ways to carefully shelter ourselves away from the elements so that we may be safe and comfortable.  We likely developed this perspective while we were still children ourselves, at the urging of adults who didn’t want us to jump in puddles or ruin our best clothes.  Might we step back and reevaluate our own relationship with the natural world?

A collection of shells is lovely, but a child will have internal context if they have actually visited the seashore and collected the shells themselves.  As adults, we love flowers, but children react more strongly to plants they can interact with: think a vegetable garden or even just a tomato plant in a pot.  Taking our children for a stroll in the park is important but let us give them a bit of freedom so they may move at their own pace and on their own feet.  Let them explore and stop to notice the things we so quickly pass by.

Have you ever had a moment - it might have been somewhere on a lake or at the ocean, in the mountains or in the middle of a desert - when an intense, almost indescribable, feeling settled over you?  You noticed that something deep within yourself felt connected to the earth and everything on it.  You probably felt alive and at peace at the same time.  Some of us are lucky enough to have had many of these moments, others, only a few times.  Children have the ability to feel this so much more than we do.  The world is still so fresh and new to them, and natural experiences can have a lasting impact.  

As Dr. Montessori so eloquently stated, “Only poets and little children can feel the fascination of a tiny rivulet of water flowing over pebbles.”  Even when we make efforts to take our children on a walk in the woods, it’s easy for us as adults to focus on the walk or the destination.  Children are fortunate in that they live in the moment.  They see a caterpillar and it calls to their desire to observe.  A small fragment of a fallen leaf is a tiny window into a world they are still discovering.  Children’s wonder and curiosity has much to teach us, if only we can remember to slow down and follow their lead.

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A Burgeoning Movement

While many people have always valued a strong connection to nature, it’s likely fair to say that most of us have experienced at least some level of disconnect.  In recent years, however, more and more people seem to be looking for ways to rebuild those connections.  We participate in community supported agriculture, hobby farms, and keep chickens in our backyards.  We vacation in national parks, participate in hiking challenges, and take up kayaking.  

We know that something is missing, and while we don’t always articulate it, we are searching for our way back to nature.  

Could it be that our children have the ability to both inspire and teach us the way?  If we let them slow down and notice the little things - the insects, the toads, the way the sunlight reflects off a shiny rock - maybe we can learn to slow down and notice them, too.  If we start by considering how we would like our children to eat as healthy as possible, maybe it might lead us to visiting farms or growing our own food (with our kids, of course!) 

Practical Ideas

Montessori suggests that it is not the act of going out into a garden that leaves an impression upon a child, but the whole approach of ‘living naturally’.  From Japanese ‘forest bathing’ to Norwegian ‘friluftsliv’, cultures around the world have known the importance of our connection to nature for centuries.  Scientists echo these ideas, reaffirming the notion that spending time outdoors and surrounded by elements of the natural world is good for us.

So what can we do to apply this knowledge?

Montessori classrooms work to apply natural living on a daily basis.  Nature is frequently brought into the classroom in the form of live plants and animals that the children help care for.  Even the materials themselves are made of natural materials; plastic is avoided whenever possible.  Ideally, a classroom has access to the outdoors so that children may come and go as the space calls to them (and as is appropriate). 

As parents, the easiest way to let our children live more natural lives is to lead by example.  We can find ways to enjoy the outdoors on a regular basis, in all seasons.  Explore the parks, trails, nature preserves, and bodies of water near your home.  It can be fun to take up new hobbies together as a family, or to find other like-minded families that you can team up with.  Whether you like adventure, taking it easy, or something in between, there are outdoor activities that will put you back in touch with the world around you.

Already love the outdoors?  Find ways to make what you love accessible to your kids.  Ready to head out for the first time (or the first time in a long time)?  Here’s one great resource to get you started: https://www.alltrails.com  

Enjoy, and let us know about your adventures!

5 Time Savers for Your Morning Routine

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The slow, easy pace of summer is rapidly drawing to a close.  Everyone tends to have mixed feelings about going back to school; the prospect of seeing friends, learning, and getting back into the regular routine are all enticing, but the loss of the magic of summer can be tough.  How can we, as parents, make the switch easier on everyone (including ourselves)?  By focusing on making our mornings run smoothly we set a positive tone for the rest of the day.  Check out these 5 great time savers to make the sleepiest time of day just a little bit easier.

1. Meal Plan

Thinking ahead when it comes to meals is one of the most impactful steps you can take to start the day off right.  Think quick and healthy breakfasts, lunches you can make days ahead of time, and ways to make dinner prep simple when everyone gets home after a long day.

Breakfast 

Overnight Oats are a nutritious and simple option.  Using the measurements listed on a container of steel cut oats, bring the water to a boil and cook for just 5 minutes.  Cover, remove from heat, and place the whole pot in the fridge overnight (perhaps with a potholder or trivet underneath).  In the morning everyone can stir in their favorites: berries, apples, bananas, walnuts, honey, cinnamon - the possibilities are endless!  The oatmeal keeps well in the fridge for a few days, so go ahead and make a big batch!

Not-So-Green Smoothies can be prepared several weeks in advance.  Line up your freezer containers on the counter and distribute the following among them in whatever amounts you prefer: spinach, mixed frozen berries (these tend to turn the smoothie purplish), sliced apple, and banana (optional).  In the morning, place the frozen contents in the blender, add some water, and blend until smooth.

Lunch

Making lunches the night before might be one of the most helpful things you can do for your morning routine.  Looking for more ways to simplify?

  • Cut up an assortment of vegetables Sunday night that can be used throughout the week.
  • Keep it simple - lunches don’t need to be fancy to be delicious!
  • Sandwiches are key: find out what your kids like and keep it coming!
  • Have older children help pack their own lunches.

Dinner

Many families find that a little planning on the weekend makes the whole week feel easier.  Ask your family for input, then decide what dinners you’d like to make throughout the week.  Grocery shop on Saturday or Sunday and prep whatever you can before Monday (chopping vegetables, shredding cheese, etc.)

Does it ever seem like generating recipes is the most tedious step?  Basic meal schedules can help.  Having a basic plan with room for variation makes the whole process so much simpler.  Use the following as inspiration:

Mondays: Pasta (pesto, ravioli, primavera…)

Tuesdays: Tacos (soft, crunchy, chicken, tofu…)

Wednesdays: Breakfast for dinner (pancakes, scrambled eggs, crepes…)

Thursdays: Leftovers

Fridays: Pizza (homemade or takeout!)

2. Check the Weather

This tip is quick and straightforward.  Don’t get caught scrambling to find rain boots or sweatshirts on your way out the door.  Having a general idea about predicted temperatures and precipitation is useful information to have when getting ready for the day ahead.

3. Getting Clothing in Order

As Montessori parents we like to give our children choices.  It’s important for them to have a say in what they will wear to school, partly because it allows them to express their individuality, but also so they can practice learning what is appropriate for the season.  Try having your child select and lay out their clothes the night before for a speedy morning routine.  Better yet - lay out a week’s worth at a time!  One easy way to organize this process is to buy small removable hooks (Command-style) and place them somewhere out of the way - like behind a bedroom door.  Five hooks (with a hanger on each) can display five outfits, making getting ready for school fun and easy.

4. Establish a Routine

Create a morning routine and stick to it.  This makes the days predictable for kids, which makes it easier for them to know what’s expected and to get things done.  For example, your child could wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush their teeth, put their lunch in their bag, and put on their shoes.  By keeping steps the same and in the same order, the process (eventually) becomes second nature.  Figure out what works for you, and then try not to vary it too much.

5. Create Reminders

We all need reminders when we’re getting used to a new routine or just because we’re tired.  For older children it’s a simple as making a written list on a sticky note and hanging it somewhere noticeable like the bathroom mirror or refrigerator door.  For younger kids it’s best to have a picture list.  You don’t need to be an artist to sketch out simple images layered in an order that will serve as a reminder.  Bonus: have your child color the pictures so they’re more attached and more likely to refer back to it.

May your transition back to school be joyful, peaceful, and an exciting time for everyone.  See you soon!