Parenting Ideas

Montessori Moods: Your House is a Classroom

I have been dreading this post, because there are times in my life when doing formal Montessori just doesn’t fit. Either I’m tired, we’re busy, or my kids just aren’t into it (and I don’t have the patience to work with them). The thing that encourages me during these times is that my entire house is a Montessori classroom. And yours is, too. My kids put their own clothes on. They did Montessori.

They helped me mix up pancakes for breakfast. They did Montessori.

We read a whole bunch of books together and the older one sounded out some words and was reminded of some puzzle words. We did Montessori.

The older one demanded a chore to do and mopped the floor. He did Montessori!

If you are letting your children live life with you and allowing them to do things on their own as much as you can (and your patience allows), you are doing Montessori. Give them space to do things themselves and let them mess up and get things wrong. And then let them try to figure out how to get it right. This is one of the most difficult things for Mamas to do. I want to rush in and tell them what to do and fix their backwards clothes, but what they really need is for me to leave them alone and let them try to figure it out on their own.


So don’t be hard on yourself when you’re not doing anything formal! Every day has opportunities for your child to learn without you preparing for it.

Step-Parenting Win: Reward System

As I've said in previous posts, being a step-parent is hard work; incredibly rewarding, yes. But hard work. Now, before I get started, this is not a rule bashing or rule encouraging post. It is just my experiences. The type of personality that I have dictates that I have to have a fairly set schedule. I like to know what is coming, what my options are and make a distinct plan. Some of you may call that being a "control freak" and yes, that is partly true (HA!); however, this is what works best for me to keep my arms around the many things that I am responsible for (uh, just being a mom!).

Structure and schedule work best for my son as well. He thrives in an environment where he knows what to expect. When it comes to step-parenting, those things can be a big challenge. I don't get to make the decisions. I get to handle what happens at our house and our house alone. That's ok! It just makes it a challenge to be consistent when it comes to creating structure and rules in a child's life. I struggled for years trying to come up with a way to balance the time we had with my step-daughter between fun times and times of structure. Having her so little time meant that we did not want to always be jumping on her case for behavior issues, and at 2-4 she had quite a few, like any normal child that age!

How did we make sure she understood boundaries without making her feel like our house "had too many rules"? It's a constant struggle with blended families. I racked my brain trying to come up with different ways to help her be responsible for her behavior and to really take control of what happens at our house. She is school-aged now and the independence is just bursting out of her in so many ways! She should be able to have some say in her time with us!

So, I came up with a reward system that has proven to be extremely effective in both letting her visualize her progress and having an obtainable goal.

We created a chart with ten large squares across the width. Each square has three smaller squares in front of it. The idea is that each day she starts off with three check marks in those small boxes. The key is that she started her day positively! If she is a normal, polite kid all day, she keeps those checks and gains a sticker to place in the large square. After she has earned her ten stickers, she completes her goal and gets to do the activity she set to accomplish (ie - Bowling, trip to Amazement Square, fun at Chuck E. Cheese, etc).Photo courtesy of

The BEST part about this system is the opportunity for her to gain additional checks or to lose checks. Negative behaviour (i.e. back talking, not listening after repeated reminders, being rude, etc.) results in a lost check. Positive behavior (being helpful without being asked, being kind, thinking of ways to consider others, etc.) allows her to gain additional checks and put her ahead!

She LOVES this system! There have only been a handful of times that I have had to take a check away and the devastation on her face made me want to give it right back to her. But after a few minutes of thinking about why she lost a check, she is up and asking about ways she can earn it back. She now asks for chores. She is now incredibly thoughtful when she has other children over to play and is so considerate in making sure they have an equal share in everything they do. I got to overhear her making sure her cousin had the same amount of candy and she intentionally stopped playing with the toy he wanted a turn at to share. I was elated! Isn't that all we can ask of our children? To consider others? Wouldn't that make our world such a better place?

Recently she completed her goal of a bowling trip and she is over the moon proud that SHE accomplished that activity. SHE reminds ME that manners need to be used. SHE thinks of ways to be helpful around the house by clearing dishes without being asked. SHE is in constant control of her outcomes in terms of behavior. I believe she has finally grasped the concept that no one else dictates how her behavior can be, it is all up to her. I am so thankful I found a constructive way to teach her this lesson without harping on her constantly! She's still a kid and she has some growing and learning to do, but she is on the right track with understanding the responsibility of her actions. Just the other night she said to me out of the blue, "Bre, thank you for teaching me how to act and use my manners." WOW! I guess parents need some positive reinforcement sometimes too!! I'm so proud of my big girl!!

Do you struggle with manners, chores and discipline in your house? Have you found any successful ways to encourage good behavior? share with us in the comments.

Trying Out a Toy Rotation

Happy December, Readers! Too often this month can become a frantic checklist of holiday planning, last minute shopping (or crafting), readying the house for guests, packing for travel, stressful eating and general busyness. Let's be honest, that is not a recipe for a calm and happy parent. This month we asked our writers to share some of their holiday plans, their reflections on the past year and their thoughts and goals for 2013. As 2012 closes, we are so thankful for the wonderful things that have happened at The Motherhood Collective over the past months. We wish you all a very happy and fulfilling end to your year. ~TMC-- A couple of months ago I noticed that my two sons, 18 months and 3 years, would go to their play area, dump all their toys into a large pile and then wander around the house looking for something to do. While they enjoyed dumping all the toys out of their boxes, it seemed to me that the pile then overwhelmed them. They couldn’t see the individual toys and couldn’t figure out what to play with. Likewise, it was difficult for them to put their own toys away, because, again, the pile was overwhelming.

I had heard of toy rotations before and have friends that do it, but I never thought it was for us. I didn’t think we had so many toys to warrant a toy rotation. But after many days of toy piles and bored children, I decided to give it a try.

After the kids had gone to bed, I went through all their toys and arranged them into categories. I decided on a few rough categories: thinking/logic (like puzzles and games), pretend play (toy food, cell phones, wallet, broom, etc), and toys that foster motor skills and active play (blocks, cars, balls, train set). My goal was to have 10 total toys out at a time. I chose a few things to stay out all the time. For me these were a set of blocks, a train set, and some accessories to our toy kitchen. I picked 2-3 toys from each category to be out at a time. I included groups of toys as “one” toy—so a small collection of cars or airplanes or a small box of pretend items (wallet, cellphone, broom) counted as one.

As I was categorizing I also noticed toys we had out that were either no longer played with (like baby toys) or that I didn’t like. I set these toys aside and either donated them or packed them up.

We ended up only having enough toys for two full rotations with a few extra items to mix things up a bit. Honestly, I was skeptical as to whether my kids would take to it or not. The first thing I noticed was that my children did not notice the missing toys. The second thing I noticed was that my children did not dump all the toys in a pile, but actually played with them! It was honestly surprising. After about a week, they were ready for a switch. But the longer we’ve been doing the rotation, they longer they seem to be happy with a set. I just switched toys today for the first time in two or three weeks. Another benefit I’ve seen is that I play with them more! I’m also less overwhelmed by the toys and am more likely to want to sit down and play with them (WITH the children!).

There are many blog posts on the internet about toy rotations, so you can get a lot of different ideas that might work for your family. I would encourage you to give it a try and see if it doesn’t bring a new perspective into your house. If it doesn’t, you can always go back!

Thriving on a Low-Budget Christmas

Christmas stockings

Happy December, Readers! Too often this month can become a frantic checklist of holiday planning, last minute shopping (or crafting), readying the house for guests, packing for travel, stressful eating and general busyness. Let's be honest, that is not a recipe for a calm and happy parent. This month we asked our writers to share some of their holiday plans, their reflections on the past year and their thoughts and goals for 2013. As 2012 closes, we are so thankful for the wonderful things that have happened at The Motherhood Collective over the past months. We wish you all a very happy and fulfilling end to your year. ~TMC-- This has been a rather challenging year for our family financially and as Christmas neared, I realized with sadness that we would not be able to spend virtually any money on gifts. We’re not a particularly materialistic family, but there is joy in watching others open your gifts and seeing how happy you’ve made them. Fortunately, the children were the least of my concern as the oldest is just 2 and the youngest only 6 months, too young to correlate Christmas with gift giving. However, we had hoped to watch Osias, our 2 year old, open something from us. He is, after all, old enough to at least open the presents and get excited about them. So this year we have decided to re-define “Re-Gifting”.

For the kids: Avia, our 6 month old, will not be receiving anything from us this year. Fortunately for us, she wouldn’t know one way or another anyway and I feel confident she’ll forgive us when she’s older and finds out her stocking was empty this year. For Osias, we’re using an old trick. About a month before Christmas, we packed away a bunch of fun toys that he loves and we’ll fill his stocking with them. I can’t wait to watch him pull each thing out of his stocking and see that adorable look of excitement (and recognition) at finding toys he hasn’t played with in so long! Whatever won’t fit in his stocking will be wrapped and placed under the tree (okay, on the floor since we’re skipping the tree this year).

For our parents and siblings: I love Pinterest, don’t you? I stumbled upon a DIY pin that instructed you how to make…well, let’s just say it’s a simple but useful gender neutral item that I can easily afford the material for (just in case any of our family are reading this, let’s keep it a surprise). So, for almost no money and just a few hours of my time, we are able to give to our parents and siblings as well this year. Aren’t homemade gifts often the best kind? I sure hope so for their sakes!

For each other: The idea for the kids, in addition to an article I read in an old December issue of Real Simple magazine (Susan Dominus. “Honey, guess what I got you for Christmas?” Real Simple December 2009: 254-255.), helped pave the way for what my husband and I would be doing for each other for Christmas. This year, in place of gifts, we’ve decided to write each other “Gift Certificates” for tasks that we know each other would appreciate. Doing chores, give a massage, etc. How nice is it to think, “I’d love to get out of cooking dinner tonight” and then realize that you have a gift certificate for that very thing! In addition to the gift certificates, we will also be stuffing each other’s stockings with items already in our home. Sounds lame, right? Actually it has been quite the fun and exciting experience to wander our house and come across little lost or forgotten items that I know he enjoys, or would make him laugh, or even bring back a fond memory. We happen to move frequently (especially in the past few years) and so much of our belongings have remained in boxes that we keep storing away. Let me tell you, that has been a gold mine for gifts! So far, I have found the little black jewelry box from Zales that I gave him his 2nd wedding ring in (he lost his first in a waterfall of all places), a mini Maglite that has been missing for-ev-er, his old broken Blackberry that got lost in the move and still has all his photos on it, and some pictures I found of us from high school! Ha! I also plan to throw a piece of fruit in there along with one of my homemade sweet potato biscuits that he loves (wrapped of course). I feel confident that his stocking will be filled to the brim with thoughtfully selected gifts that will bring him laughter, gratitude, warm memories, and more. And all at no cost to our faltering budget.

To tell you the truth, I am really excited about how we will be spending (or not) Christmas this year! I expect these gifts to be just as fun if not more than in previous years! Who says you have to break the bank for Christmas?

Trust Your Gut

Permissive parenting, passive parenting, Attachment Parenting, Helicopter Parenting, free range parenting, main stream parenting, Intentional Parenting, Peaceful Parenting…yada, yada, yada!!  Then there is the advice of your mother, your mother-in-law, your sister, your sister-in-law, your boss, your BFF, your husband's boss's wife's cousin.   How in the world is one to choose which advice to follow?!

There are proclaimed experts in every area of parenting.  There is one (or many) in each school of thought.  There is a whole section on parenting in Barnes and Noble.  Thousands of pages, blogs, magazines and articles that specialize in telling us how to rear our children fill all of our media sources.  Parenting is big business!

So how does a newly pregnant woman go about narrowing what works and what doesn’t?  The answer is to read it all.  That’s right, read everything that you can get your hands on while you are pregnant.  Take information from all sources possible.  Listen to other mothers.  Sit in on cafes and small groups at The Motherhood Collective.  This is all very important information to gather, especially when your baby is easily contented with your avoidance of spicy foods and nourished from the umbilical cord.

As you start collecting this information, certain thoughts and ideas will begin resonating with you.  Certain parenting practices will just seem “right” to you.  You will get an idea of what to do when your little bundle of joy arrives.  You will get a gut instinct that will continue to develop as you develop as a mother.

So now your little newborn is here, and you want to know why the things you just knew you wanted to do with your baby aren’t working.  You have a whole arsenal of things to try.  The next step in developing your parenting skills is to stop reading those books and to start reading your baby.  Watch your baby’s cues and signals.  Determine your child’s rhythms and work with them.  All of those thoughts and words of wisdom that you have gained from your pre-baby preparation now need to be adapted to fit your baby’s personality.  I am here to tell you that no baby will fit inside one parenting book, but there are many ideas on parenting that will amalgamate with your baby’s personality.

You will, of course, continue to have questions throughout this crazy and fast journey of mothering.  Your baby will continue to develop and you will continue to adapt.  Continuing to grow and adjust are all part of this wonderful journey.  You are your baby's best mother.  You are also never alone.  Continue to seek advice of those other mothers and your trusted physicians; but more importantly, remember to trust your gut, listen to your instincts, and NEVER say never.

Tutorials for Toddler Gifting

Busy at the sewing machineMy winter project list is growing every day as I think about Christmas gifts!  I just finished making a very simple queen sized quilt for our bed because we needed something warmer this winter (tutorial can be found here: ).  I had this crazy notion that I should tackle a project this huge.  Though making a large quilt has been on my bucket list for a while, I think it’s one that I should have saved for, I don’t know, another decade.  Finishing it was one of those huge sigh moments, with "Glad that’s over with!” ringing through the house.  My number one project for the new year—don’t be a project super woman.  Let this be a warning to the wise. Still, I can’t resist making things a few small things for my son this holiday!  *nervous laugh*  Here are some ideas that, should you choose this mission, can be easily accomplished during nap times and late night coffee binges.   I don’t know that I will get all of them done, and I’m sure my sewing machine will need a good oiling if I do, but they are easy enough I can work on them throughout the year.  They are grouped from easiest to hardest, and the first four don’t require a sewing machine, so don’t shy away non-seamstresses!

  1.  A “People Who Love (child’s name)” book — My friend gave me this idea and it’s as simple as printing pictures of close friends and family then arranging them in a book or photo album.  My son says about 20 words, 8 of which are names of family and friends.  For some reason, he is obsessed with naming people!  I figured he would love a book where he can pretty much “read” every page.  I might even have a note written by each family member, or something like “Grandma loves Gabriel” written next to the photo.  Something to be treasured, and if I may, much cheaper than the recordable Hallmark books (although those are adorable).
  2. A Sensory Stocking — Gabriel has loved little sensory activities, so we will be filling his stocking with fun items found mostly at the dollar store!  Homemade play dough (tutorials: ), more colored rice and pasta (because we just can’t get enough of it!  This tutorial can be used for pasta as well: ), fuzzy pom poms, water beads, mini kitchen gadgets for helping mommy, washable paint, light sticks (for fun glow-in-the-dark baths time), and whatever else tickles my “fancy.”
  3. A Drop Box — This is one I’ve already made for him and it is still a huge hit!  He loves dropping things into the box, opening it to retrieve them, then starting all over again.  Tutorial:
  4. A Light Table — These are so fun for kids, and have a tons of uses.  Play at Home Mom ( has awesome ideas for using one!  There are a million tutorials on them, but some are quite pricey.  Here’s my favorite so far and one I can easily put together in an afternoon:
  5. A Spy Bag — This will be great for a plane ride, and it is easy enough to make for other little friends too!  Tutorial:
  6. A Quiet Book — This is the one that may not get finished until after Christmas but one that I know is worth it!  I remember having one when I was little.  Children love all the little activities on each page, and there are so many creative mamas out there!  Seriously, google “Quiet Book Tutorials,” and be overwhelmed.  The Quiet Book Blog will help get you started:

Whew!  That’s “all.”  We’re excited to try a homemade Christmas this year!  What ideas do you have for your little ones?

You Just Never Know (Until You Know)


tools of the trade by juliesorgeway  

I want to talk about my five-month-old, and pee, and the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Nine years — almost my entire adult life — I have worked as an educator. My husband is a college professor too. Education, facts and research are a big part of our lives, and we were willing suckers for every baby book and doodad that claims to be somehow educational. Black and white brain stimulating mobile? Check. Baby sign language? Alphabet sheets to somehow ooze literacy into his wispy baby head? Check check. But even after just a few months with our little boy, I feel like, cliché or not, really it's I who have most to learn.

Most people are familiar with the paradoxical phenomenon called the Dunning-Kruger effect, even if they’ve never heard of it before. Basically two Cornell researchers did a bunch of observations indicating that in general, the more you actually know about a topic, the more you worry that you don’t know enough. And, not coincidentally, the less you truly know, the more likely you are to overestimate your own expertise! Now, if you're like me, you can instantly, snarkily think of one or two people in your life who this just perfectly applies to. But maybe it’s more useful if we each were first to try applying it to ourselves.

Raising my hand right here: I was a classic Dunning-Kruger parenting “expert” before my baby was born. Reading and note-taking are kind of my favorite thing ever, so I researched the very soul out of every single newborn issue I could imagine. Nine glorious months of page-turning and highlighting! I knew that parts of my pregnancy, birth, and parenting journey would be out of my hands, and parts I could do my best to control. Statistics and anecdotal evidence alike were ready and confident on the tip of my tongue. I spent time reading birth stories of every possible variation of experience. And I don't regret any of that reading, or thinking, or planning. It helped me do pregnancy my way, and made so much of the unknown feel safer to me. Yet within a few weeks of my actual son’s actual arrival? Even though in fact I suddenly had much more experience, I felt so much less of an expert.

Despite having great support, I found there were so many things that felt harder than I had anticipated. It isn't that nobody warned me; on the contrary I had several honest mama friends who shared their hearts and tried to prepare me for the changes newborn life would bring. But nothing really could. So many of the shortcuts, tips, and tricks that had been “lifesavers” for my mama friends didn’t work for me, or for my baby, at all. Even some of the issues I thought I would feel most passionate about, in my prenatal fits of highlighting, ended up falling away as I found myself with a new, smaller set of certainties. Here are just a few of the things I held on to in those early days:

  • Things will get easier. Even though every age will have its challenges, newborn life is a tough adjustment for almost all new parents. The roller coaster cliché is true. But it will be okay.
  • It’s only a little pee. Let’s just say my standards of what constitutes a true midnight laundry emergency have… evolved.
  • Don’t mess with happy. Whether it’s the baby’s happiness, or my own, I have realized how much I tend to over-meddle. He's asleep with his head flopping to the side? That can't be comfortable... maybe if I just "fix" it... You see where this is going, right? It’s not always wise to try to perfect something that is already working out okay.
  • Let him see you smiling. He looks to me so often in this phase of his life. Okay, at first he mostly stared at my hairline or maybe the ceiling fan, but pretty soon he realized it's the parents who are the first center of his universe. So I don’t want to always have my brow furrowed, to always be worrying about the next thing that could somehow be better. I want him to see me smile, because really? We have a lot to smile about.

And even any of these, I know, might not ring true for any one reader in particular. My point is: Not one of them would have seemed like an important idea to me back when I was an expert. And it's this change, from the researched knowledge to the experienced, that no one could really prepare me for.

I still read a lot, when I can fit it in. I still care about doing the best I can to make reasonable decisions on issues that come up. But as my little boy grows, I continue to realize how much is probably out there that I still really don’t know. There are times when I imagine all the questions ahead of us, all the things I don't even know I don't know yet, and within me anxiety starts to rise. But when it does, I try my best to remember good old Dunning-Kruger, take a deep breath, and remind myself that maybe, just maybe, the less I feel like I confidently know “for sure” as a parent, the more I’ve actually learned.

--- The Motherhood Collective is on Facebook. Like us, then comment on our giveaway post for a chance to win a family photo shoot from Adam Barnes Photography. Our contest ends when we hit 500 Likes!

Welcome, Friends!

Pregnant Mom

Welcome, friends, to the Motherhood Collective Blog!
We are thrilled to launch this new online project and hope that it becomes a trusted resource and place for both education and support. We are grateful to our staff of lovely writers for sharing their thoughts about pregnancy, birth, infancy and parenting.

It seems fitting that we begin our project with an emphasis on birth stories, as this is the birth of our new project. Here at the Collective, we are committed to sharing our stories, information, helpful hints and hopefully the concept that "an educated mother is the best mother". We hope to introduce you to some new ideas and reassure you that you have many choices as you travel through parenthood.

Please, explore our new site and familiarize yourself with our local resources. Enjoy the words of our blog writers. Our group has grown because of the knowledge and enthusiasm of our members. If you have resource information to add, have a personal birth story to submit or are interested in contributing to the blog as a regular or occasional writer, please contact us. We want to hear from you!The Motherhood Collective

We are so excited to watch this site grow and change based on the interests of our audience and varied experiences of our writers. We have a lot coming up for you, including some great giveaways from our sponsors. Come, join us on this journey! (ANd check back tomorrow for another BIG announcement you don't want to miss!)

 "Nurturing the mother to grow the child."

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