Five Easy Pieces


  This one is a toddler favorite.  This set of 5 pieces snap together with magnets in a three-dimensional-puzzle sort of way to create a concrete mixer.  The wheels really roll and the drum can rotate.  I have used this item in my class for an eye-hand coordination activity as well as a language activity; chassis, frame, grille, cab, and drum.

There are many different versions of this available.  Here are some

I Carried a Watermelon

IMG_0851.JPGHave you ever noticed once a young child can walk he picks up the largest and heaviest things he can and tries to carry them across the room? Why is that? This is what we call Maximum Effort. This is the fascinating phase that children go through to challenge themselves around a specific emerging skill. This phase lasts throughout childhood and presents differently as children grow.

Examples of Maximum Effort:


It is important to recognize these efforts in your child and allow him to explore his own capabilities. There will be moments of success. There will be moments of failure. And there will be moments when he will challenge himself to try again. Making mistakes is an important way to accelerate learning. Research shows self-control and perseverance are predictors of success later in life.  

If we as parents can foster these moments, while giving clear guidelines, we support our children’s natural curiosity. “Yes, you may jump outside” (not on the furniture;-) ); “yes, you may practice balancing the beanbag (not that antique vase); “I hear what you are saying and I have a different perspective on this.” Encouraging our children in this way Helps them keep lit a passion to explore the world. This is what leads to true education.

What moments of maximum effort have you seen in your own children?

Five Easy Pieces

This post is the first of a series I will call “Five Easy Pieces”. Yes, that is the title of a 1970 Jack Nicholson film, but it is also the idea in fashion that five key pieces in your wardrobe can make all the difference.  I am going to take this opportunity to show DIY activities for young children that can be made from Five Easy Pieces and inspire hours of educational fun!

This week’s project: Magnet Language Activity

Screenshot 2015-03-16 21.27.03


  • Visual matching
  • Eye-Hand Coordination
  • Vocabulary Enrichment

The five pieces: 

magnetic board

 magnet setspaperbox for magnet boardadhesive



  • a magnetic board
  • a set of magnets
  • 11″ x 11″ color paper
  • a small tray or basket
  • adhesive

1. Choose a magnetic board.  I picked up one for $3 in the Target dollar section.  They are also available on as well as office supplies stores.  I recommend 12″x12″.

2. Choose a set of realistic magnets.  I found a couple MagnaFun sets at our local Ross store. Melissa and Doug have some nice sets.      I also really like this set by Mud Puppy 

3. Make categories of 5-6 magnets.  For example, I bought a farm set and a wild animal set and was able to make; farm animals, birds, farm equipment, mammals, African animals… Arrange each category of magnets face down on a color copier, place a piece of 11″x11″ color paper on top. multiple magnet sets

4. Color copy the image onto card stock.

5. Trim the image as needed (I like to round the corners with a corner rounder).  

6. Attach the laminated picture to the magnetic board with double stick tape.

7. Attach the magnetic board to the wall with industrial strength Velcro.  (This can also be kept flat on a shelf, but I find young children like to see the magnets vertically on the wall).final magnet board

8. Use a light weight basket or tray to house the magnets and attach it to the wall under the magnetic board.  

9. Change the picture and magnets as your child’s interest changes.

Bread; a time to connect

My son Edison and I have been baking together ever since he could stand at the counter.  We used a Learning Tower in our small galley kitchen, and it was just what he needed to comfortably and safely help me in the kitchen.  One of our favorite recipes was the bread recipe I learned to make in my Montessori Training. He has it memorized now and often wakes up on Saturday mornings wanting to start the day by making bread.

Image from

7 reasons to let your child bake bread:

1. He appreciates the hard work of kneading warm dough

2. He has developed the patience to wait through a second rise cycle

3. He has internalized the chemistry of the yeast, water, and sugar

4. He enjoys the taste of freshly baked bread

5. He fails sometimes and takes note of what might have happened, so that he can fix it for next time.

6. It is a process that takes at least three hours.

7. It makes the house smell great.

Check out this website for more ideas for you and your child in the kitchen!

Here is our recipe for bread (pizza dough, rolls, calzones, breadsticks…)

1 cup warm water

3/4 cup sugar

3 tsp active dry yeast

3 cups flour

1 Tbs olive oil

Mix water yeast and sugar.  Set aside for 15 minutes.  Add flour and olive oil.  Mix until all the flour is incorporated. Knead on a floured surface for 10 minutes.  Place dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a towel. Place in a warm location and let rise for 1 hour.

Knead the dough on a floured surface.  Place it back in oiled bowl, cover and let rise for another 30-45 minutes.  Knead the dough one last time, place it in a greased loaf pan and bake at 350* for 30 minutes.

Enjoy together!

A Conversation After School

imageIf you are a parent of a young child who attends school, you have probably been told not to ask your child about their day at pick up.  So many parents ask me, why is that?  It seems so natural to ask the ones you love about their day when you come back together.  It actually seems like it may be a part of helping a child adapt to his culture through grace and courtesy.  So why are we asked to refrain from the questions?

First, your child who is younger than five years old lives in the moment.  This means that when you come to pick him up from school, he is enjoying the moment of seeing you again and may be full of gratitude for that moment.  If in that moment, you ask, ” How was your day?” Or ” what did you do today?” he may be caught off guard and unable to answer your question. In his mind, he is enjoying the present and not recapping the day in his head.  The ability to recap the day is a function of the reasoning mind of an older child, not the absorbent mind of your young child.

Next, children who feel compelled to answer their parents when asked, “Did you do any work today?” May feel unneeded pressure to preform.  If he doesn’t have an answer at that very moment he may come up with an activity he remembers, a person he recalls, or a staple answer that has seemed to work in the past: “Snack.”

Also, because many children don’t imagine each moment of their time at school to be nearly as significant as their parents see it, they don’t always share the details.  As a parent, you may find it very interesting that they practiced sandpaper letters and learned four new sounds today.  However, your child may just see it as another good day of work.

So, as parents, how do we connect with our children at the end of the day? How do we learn about the details of the day without putting them on the spot or forcing them to come up with something? 

We model.  

We model conversation about our day.  This can be done with another adult or an older child, but this can also be done as an individual. Imagine you pick up your child from school.  You see his sweet face, you embrace and say, “Hello, it is so nice to see you.”  He may say something similar.  Without asking the teacher about the details of the day and without distractions of other parents or your phone, your focus is on your relationship with your child as the two of you walk together to the car or possibly walk all the way home.

On your way home, you wait patiently, offering your child time to open up if he chooses.  If he too remains silent, possibly contemplating the day, you can offer a description of your day. “I was working in my office today.  I organized some papers and called a client.”  Pause.  Your child may have a question for you.  Or, he may share something about his day.  Continue to refrain from questions.  You may want to offer another sentence like, “I enjoyed the salad I packed for my lunch.”  

Making statements such as this will help your child understand what might be notable from his day.  Over time with this modeling approach, your child will start to offer his own tidbits about his day and a pattern of exchange will emerge.  Letting him develop his own ideas in his own time will make the conversation that much more meaningful for both of you.

Five ways to build your child’s brain

Your child sees everything in your house. You have created a physical and emotional space for him to grow. Is everything in this space just as you want him to know it?

Your young child’s brain works as an Absorbent Mind, taking in everything in his environment.

This was one of Maria Montessori’s great discoveries in the early 20th century.

Your child takes in everything around him. All that he sees, hears, tastes, smells, and touches, instantaneously. He soaks up the full experience. In this way, he has no control over what he takes in, and he has an amazing capacity to store this information. Then he builds the connections in his brain from these experiences. These experiences become him; his will, his intellect, his personality!

Five ways to build a better brain:

1) Keep items that help him have purposeful activity and opportunity. Keep your home free of clutter and ‘noise’.
2) Offer the best to your child whenever possible, whether it be fresh peaches instead of canned ones, or grass for crawling instead of concrete. Remember, he is building his brain from each experience.
3) Talk with your child. Model correct and complete language. Use pronouns correctly; refer to yourself in the first person (e.g., “I’ll do it,” instead of “Mommy do it”).
4) Respect the time it takes for him to live in the moment and enjoy the sites and sounds around him. Children have their own rhythm of life that is different than an adult’s rhythm.
5) Be ready and willing to repeat. Children depend on repetition to learn things. Through repetition he builds his ability to concentrate and his understanding of the world. When he repeats, he can remember the new concept.

A Book for the Holiday

Explaining any Holiday to young children can be difficult. Books are often helpful as they offer words and pictures to connect the experiences a child is having. Although there are many books about Thanksgiving, rarely have I found one that is appropriate for a young child. Most Thanksgiving books describe the origins of the Thanksgiving meal. Although this is important information to pass on, it may be too soon for children under three. I find it is much more appropriate to discuss what it means to be thankful and then discuss for what we might be thankful.

The book Thanksgiving is for Giving Thanks by Margaret Sutherland is the perfect book for children under three. It is clear, diverse in its illustration of family and friends, and the perfect length.