Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Montessori: Sensitive Period for Movement

This post is part of my Montessori series on The Sensitive Periods. You may want to read the intro and The Sensitive Period for Order before reading this post. As always, if you have any questions about Montessori theory, philosophy and practice - or - about parenting, child-rearing and development, please do not hesitate to send me an email and ask. I love reader questions and sharing Montessori with you!

The sensitive period for the coordination of movement, or just movement, is what drives the child to develop strength through practice and refinement of gross and fine motor skills. Children do this through observing and absorbing abstractions related to human movement, imitation of these movements and, finally expressing one's own desire to move.

The absorbent mind (another full post coming up on that!) is very much at work when it comes to the sensitive period for movement. Children, in order to learn bi-pedal locomotion and sophisticated human movement, must observe and absorb these movements first. In orphanages throughout history, there have been instances where children's movement was severely restricted. In some cases, they could still observe the nurses walking and moving from their cribs. But in other instances, cribs had solid sides and babies and toddlers with no model of walking and human movement were very stunted and curtailed in ever developing these movements themselves. The absorbent mind, along with the sensitive periods disappears by age six. So, before that time, the child's mind sees things differently and absorbs totality images indiscriminately.

Stop for a moment and think of someone you know who has a very ungraceful walk. We all know someone who plods around, hunched over slightly, clomping and stomping as if they have sandbags tied to their feet at all times. It appears to take great effort with each step to lift their foot off the ground and their hair may even shake and tremble from the force of it all. This is a totality image. I do not have an absorbent mind, so I labeled it right off as ungraceful and cast a negative judgment on such a walk. But the absorbent mind does not do this; it simply takes it all in and concludes, "That is what walking is" and then sets about training the body to do just that. So you can see that the images presented to the child matter very much, as they're what wind up being imitated, unconsciously, by the child's body.

A teacher in a Montessori classroom is always aware of how they move. When I was in the classroom, I walked so quietly and deliberately always because the absorbent mind is always watching and downloading everything it sees. This is evident in ways you'd never think possible. My trainer said she had to start wearing her hair tied back because she saw all of the children, including those whose hair was too short to tuck behind their ears, repeatedly making that movement. Another teacher I know who wears glasses said that after a few months, children would push their middle finger up the bridge of their nose repeatedly. She could not figure out what these kids were doing, and when she asked them about it they just looked at her blankly. It wasn't until she was out to dinner with her mother and saw her mom push her glasses up that she realized they were simply doing what they'd seen her do a million times! I have an ear that requires me to pinch and blow air into it a dozen times a day. After a few months in the classroom, I had to make sure I stepped out to do so because all of the kids were doing it!

So, movement is huge. Children will respond with their full body to rhythmic actions like sweeping. They also can be taught things that seem impossible to teach a baby or toddler. If your baby is having trouble with tummy time, get down and model it for them. Do not speak, just show them. For older babies, teaching them to go down stairs backward is the single biggest sanity saver of a favor you'll ever do yourself. Tell them, "Look honey, this is how you can go down the stairs" and then show them without talking during your movements. You can exaggerate your movements slightly for emphasis and clarity, but don't overdo it or they will, too. For older toddlers and preschoolers, exposure to a variety of movements and allowing them to try the ones that appeal to them is very important. Ballet, skiing, scootering, balance bikes, and of course, running, walking climbing, etc are all extremely beneficial.

Once a child hits four-and-a-half, the sensitive period for movement is fading away, never to return. Their foundation for coordination and refinement of movement has been laid and will limit them throughout their life. If they develop high levels of coordination, balance, gross and fine motor skills, they will always be able to take on that high level of activity as they grow and are ready for different challenges. If they don't, then they won't. Each child is motivated by different things and this will impact the type of coordination of movement they develop. Some might excel more at fine motor and some at gross motor, while others still excel at both, or neither. It doesn't mean new skills can't be learned, but it means that the potential for mastering new movements is somewhat set.

A few other posts to read which you might find relevant:

Analyzed Movements

Perceived Risk


Setting up for Success

Sorry for the missed post yesterday. It was J's birthday and we had so much fun celebrating, I completely forgot about writing the blog until I was in bed, nodding off peacefully. I promise that I will get back to your questions and comments on last week's post ASAP. They really were such thoughtful questions and comments. Thank you for taking the time to respond. It really does make my day! xo

Friday, March 24, 2017

Have a great weekend!

I saw this gorgeous photo on Instagram Monday and it made me so darn happy. Can you believe that spring is here?! I feel like I was just exclaiming how excited I was that March had finally arrived and then we got more snow. Then all the snow melted and now it's nearly April. Time just keeps on flying. It is truly crazy.

Tomorrow Coco, J and I are going skiing together. The weather looks perfect! And Monday is J's birthday. I'm so excited for a date night and Coco and I are making him a Pavlova. Of course Theo will help, too. And here's a bit of what caught my eye around the web this week:

This recipe looks delicious!

I've got this at the top of my wish list.

Coffee shops that will welcome your laptop in Paris. (Not easy to find!)

Cling to this tiny habit.

The bit on the US is particularly spot on.

French Toast 101.

Oooh, want.

The world's most hipster neighborhoods.



Have a wonderful weekend and I'll see you back here Monday! xo

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Around here

What a day we had around here. This morning I didn't have to work until early afternoon, so I was at home with Coco and Theo. Coco was playing quietly in the living room. She comes up with the sweetest games and is always making something for me, or J, or Theo, or all of us. I overheard her saying, "Daddy is the best artist, so I'm making this for him." Cue hand to heart. Oh how I love her so. I hadn't seen Theo for a few minutes, so I went looking for him and found him all snuggled up in the big bed. He looked so cute that I grabbed my phone to snap a photo, but there wasn't enough light, so I opened the curtains and he reached out and smiled and exclaimed, "Morning time!" and I honestly thought my heart would melt. He is the most incredible boy. And Coco is such a wonderful girl. I love them more every single day which I never would have thought it possible. But it is. Being a mother is absolutely magical that way.

The morning slipped away from us and soon we were on the way to Coco's school. We got her all set and then Theo and I had coffee with my uncle Cyrus. After I dropped Theo off, I went to put some air in one of our tires that has had a slow leak for a while. It had been damaged on the side wall and couldn't be repaired, but happily a sealant got us through the winter no problem. With all the melting, we think the sealant unfroze and that's why it started leaking again. Boo. So l pulled up to the air thing at Les Schwab, grabbed the pressure gauge and when I got around to the passenger side, noticed that the tire was practically flat! The Les Schwab guy ran out to see how I was doing and four new tires later, I drove away. Ouch. Having a car and driving every day sucked already, but four new tires?! Just painful. Give me back my city life! On a side note, those Les Schwab guys really do run. All the time. They never walk! They're running to the cash register and running to the shop. Run, run, run. When you're in a hurry, it really does make you relax while you're waiting, because clearly they're getting you out of there as fast as they can.

Let me just say that the car drives like a dream with four new tires. And thinking of our road trip to California, I'm glad that there is not a high likelihood that we'll find ourselves in the middle of nowhere with a flat tire, or worse, in an accident due to a blow out. It's expensive to get new tires, of course! But so worth it.


The news is making me feel more than a little crazy lately. Even just scanning headlines makes me want to bury my head in the sand. I talked with a friend about it today and she mentioned how she was getting involved in local politics. She joined a few groups and feels more empowered and surrounded my like-minded people. I'm curious, what are you doing to get involved? What is making you feel engaged and active lately? I hate the feeling that I just read the news and feel terrible and don't do anything. I don't have a ton of time, but I think it's important to make it. I would love to hear your pointers, particularly for local level involvement. Grassroots efforts really are all about affecting positive change right where you are, and acting from the bottom up. Postcard parties and calling senators are important moves (I've done both) but coming together within our own communities and speaking with a collective voice on local issues is critical. I can't honestly say that I feel that settled or integrated into our community in the first place, but I want to do more to change what I see happening on the national level and it starts at home.

I'm off to bed. Today was such a strange day. It had all the trappings of a horrible, depressing day, and yet I felt good today and focused on the positives. I'm making so much effort to savor the small, everyday pleasures after reading the piece On Final Things in The Book of Life. It's so easy to get caught up in problems, or stress about things that really don't matter all that much (like new tires! Will I think of those and wince in twenty years? No way!) and when we do, we miss out on the beauty right in front of us. Like gorgeous, happy children and their hugs and snuggles and stories, or rushing waterfalls, or light streaming in through the windows, or birds singing, or even just how pretty our soaps and perfumes look on a vanity tray. I had a strange day, but a good day. Read On Final Things. It will change your day tomorrow, guaranteed. And probably the day after that, and the day after that, and hopefully it will get you into a new, beautiful, life-affirming habit. Goodnight. xo

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What do you look for in a home?

After my first few rentals in college, I had experienced some of the worst: a basement apartment with a leaky ceiling, terribly uneven (and expensive!) electric heat, and an awful little galley kitchen in which the refrigerator actually went into the bedroom closet, where it was fully visible and noisy every time I went to select my clothes. So it didn't take very long for me to come up with a list of must- or really-would-like-to-haves.

At that time, my list was actually pretty short:

  • Window in the bathroom
  • Window above the kitchen sink
  • White kitchen cupboards
  • Hardwood floors
  • Fireplace
Our apartment in Zurich had everything but the window in the bathroom and I really loved and appreciated all of those other items so much. When we first came to Spokane, we went around with a realtor and looked at houses. There were so many houses that I got really excited about based on how cute they were from the outside, and then when we went inside and my heart sank! House after house had been "improved" with hideous, generic mosaic tile and pedestrian cabinets and fixtures from Home Depot. Or worse yet, they went for the "high end" stuff and made it look like some sort of faux Tuscan villa. It makes me want to cry thinking of the beautiful original kitchens that were torn out in order to replace them with that crap. 

Nowadays my list is pretty much the same, but I would add:
  • A dishwasher
  • Bathtub (not just a shower)
  • Radiator heat
  • Washer and dryer, or W/D hookups
  • Patio, balcony or outdoor space
But I have learned that I prefer a smaller apartment in an urban setting with parks and outdoor space within walking distance to a larger place with more space and even a yard or patio. And last week, I was having kind of a bad day and then J and I made a fire and sat down to have our nightly fireside chat and I said to him, "You know, all I really care about is having a fireplace anymore" and we both got a good chuckle out of that, because it's true. Having a fireplace is better than having your own washer and dryer, or a balcony or patio, or any of it! 

What do you look for in a home? What is an absolute deal breaker for you?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Four Fab Finds

This week has already felt about ten years long, don't you agree? We have been so busy and tired, but the kids are so cute and they make us laugh and smile and bring so much joy every day. It really is just a lot. Lots to do, lots of laundry, lots of snuggles, lots of cuteness. I'm doing my best to stay present and enjoy every moment. And here are four gems I just had to share.

I can't wait to sit on my patio this summer and drink my morning coffee in this Rosé All Day t-shirt. It's only $12 at Old Navy and I know it's going to make me feel like a million bucks with these adorable cropped sweats. Bring on the patio weather, summer! This mama is ready. All I need to add is a good book. Yasssss.

Buuuuuut, summer is not here yet, and nights can still be a bit chilly. We all know that sleeping in a cool room leads to better sleep, but it can also lead to, well, getting cold. So J and I have taken to sleeping with socks on! I usually just sleep in a tank top and undies, but with a pair of regular old socks, I'm so toasty and warm that I fall asleep faster and wake less often. Game changer!

And speaking of game changers, have you ever used a mascara primer? I was given samples of Chanel Beauté des Cils primer and Le Volume mascara last fall and tossed them in a drawer and forgot all about 'em. Then, a few weeks ago, I stumbled across them and figured I would give them both a try. WHOA. Lash primer makes mascara go on smoother (no clumps!) and lashes miles longer.  I went out and bought the full sizes within a few days. Seriously. I'll never go back! I have noticed no flaking over the last few weeks and no transferring to my brow bones. I'm in love! Plus I almost look like I have false lashes on, but they look real because they are. Too good.

And, finally, since I started using NARS Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturizer a few months ago, I constantly get complimented on my skin and asked what foundation I'm wearing. Usually, I have trouble finding a good match for my skin tones as I have olive tones from my French heritage and very pink tones from my Irish heritage. What a mess! But the shade Finland from NARS is absolutely perfect. I don't use it all over as that can create a really flat and unnatural look. Instead, I balance out the redness where I need it around my nose, between my brows and on the soft part of my cheeks. Then I blend out the edges until they're invisible. With a light dusting of NARS Orgasm blush and the power primer-mascara combo above, I feel totally polished and glamorous in minutes!

What's making your life easier lately? Any fun tips to share?

Monday, March 20, 2017

Montessori: Sensitive Period for Order

Dr. Montessori observed four sensitive periods: order, coordination of movement, development and refinement of sensory perception and language. Let's start with the sensitive period for order, which goes from birth until 4 1/2 years old. I wrote in my introductory post about the sensitive periods that the periods are active from birth until 6 years old, but that is not entirely accurate. To clarify, only one sensitive period, language, goes until 6, the other sensitive periods all end at 4 1/2.

A few things to know about the sensitive periods before we go further. Montessori borrowed the term "sensitive period" from the Dutch biologist, Hugo DeVries (1848 - 1935). DeVries studied genetics, but not on humans, rather on fruit flies. In his work on Porthesia Butterfly's Life Cycle, he described how as a caterpillar, the Porthesia species is strongly sensitive to light. It's this sensitivity that prompts the caterpillar to move from where it hatches in the deepest, darkest part of the tree where the branch meets the trunk, to the end of the branch, where the most tender leaves, the only leaves the caterpillar is capable of eating at its tiny size, are located. It's as if the caterpillar is attracted to the light by an irresistible and impossible to ignore voice. Then, the sensitivity to light, no longer needed, vanishes and the caterpillar is completely indifferent to light once it's a bit bigger. But that period of sensitivity to the light is critical. Without it, the caterpillar might look for food in the wrong places and perish before finding any.

Just as with the butterfly, sensitive periods in children last for a determinate amount of time. Parents will often tell me they're planning to have their child start Montessori when they are four instead of three. But I have bad news for these parents. The Montessori classroom is designed and perfected to welcome children at three years old (younger in infant/toddler communities) largely because of the sensitive periods. If a child starts at four, and there are only six months remaining in three of the four sensitive periods, and in most cases, this limited amount of time means that the child will not become fully functional in the routines, structures, methods and movements that make the improbable Montessori class set up possible in the first place. In some cases, it works out because the child's home life is amenable to the pace and framework of the classroom. But, this is rare because life outside the Montessori prepared environment is structured around and designed for adults, not children. Most children have a low degree of independence, have insufficient unstructured time in which to focus on their developmental tasks as dictated by the sensitive periods, and are rushed far too often. My kids included. Life cannot always move at their pace. We make great efforts to respond to their developmental needs and give them the time and space to follow their whims, but it's not always possible or safe. That's why Montessori schooling is so wonderful. When a child arrives at three, there is time to lay a strong foundation before the sensitive periods for order, coordination of movement and sensory perception end.

So how can we recognize and foster the sensitive period to order? Sensitivity to order in children can be observed in their extreme attention to detail and precision, aversion to messes and insistence on things being in their proper place. For example, it's not unusual for a toddler to go around and close drawers that have been left open. Toddlers also pay close attention to very small things, like ants, and can spend a very long time (an eternity for a bored adult waiting for them on a walk;) just watching them move and studying their very existence. Some children like to line things up and order manifests itself this way. A parent is usually pleased to see their toddler closing drawers, but may be tempted to pull them away from the ants, or jump in and show them how to build with the train tracks instead of lining them up, but to do so would interrupt their developmental work.

The developmental goal of the sensitive period for order is for external order as created and dictated by the child to act as a foundation for internal order and mental organization. Making this possible is the use of the hand as an instrument of the mind. And ultimately, through manipulation of their environment, the toddler becomes a well-oriented child with an orderly mind.

If the toddler prefers to line up the train tracks side by side, like tally marks, we must let them line them up. It's not hurting anyone and they're not damaging the train tracks, so why would we stop them?! When left to their own devices, a toddler will line up the tracks, then sit back and admire them for a moment, and most likely, gather them up and do it all again. Repetition is a hallmark sign that a sensitive period is at work. Children will repeat, tirelessly, until they feel satisfied. Allowing a child to follow their inner drive and exercise their hand as an instrument of the mind is critical to allow the sensitive period for order to do its work. Another supportive piece is having reliable and predictable routines in place that allow a child to predict and know what's coming next and develop that mental organization.

The photo of Gaudí apartment building was taken in Barcelona by J. I included it for two reasons - one, because this building would probably be very offensive and terrifying to a child in the sensitive period for order. It defies all predictability and preconceived notions we have of what a building is. Its form is completely unexpected and irregular. But, lest you should begin to think that the sensitive period for order leaves no room for unfettered creativity and imagination, that is the second reason I included it. Being well-oriented to one's world and surroundings and having an orderly mind is the very fertile breeding ground of creativity, imagination and expression. One cannot create and conceive of interesting or compelling ideas from a place of confusion, misunderstanding and disarray. A successful sensitive period for order sets the child up for complex and intricate thoughts, ideas and actualization across all disciplines.

Next week we'll move on to thwarting by adults and the finality of the sensitive periods in conjunction with the sensitive period for coordination of movement. Montessori theory is especially difficult to write about well. The ideas are not linear, but more like an interconnected web and it feels like writing a circular outline, which is just whacky and almost disorienting. So thanks for hanging in there! And please leave your questions in the comments below! I want to hear what made sense and what didn't. I'll absolutely answer them all. Major kudos to you if you made it this far without falling asleep! xo

Friday, March 17, 2017

Have a lovely weekend.

Do you have big plans this weekend? Tomorrow, J, Coco and I are all going skiing together and Theo is spending the day with my mom. Sunday, we're just hanging out and maybe going to the park if the weather is good. Right when the snow hit the east coast, we got some sun. Finally! I'm happy for the switch.

And here's a bit of what was on my brain, or caught my eye around the web this week:

So excited to have these lilac soaps and spray in our kitchen for spring. YUM! They smell sooooo good.

This article caused quite the outrage in Spokane this week!

So much so that The Guardian issued this apology

Grammar rules. (OMG.)

I need this. (I mean I don't, but I do.)

And, an ode to Ireland. Happy St Patrick's Day!

Have a lovely weekend and see you back here Monday! xo

(Photo via Pinterest)

Thursday, March 16, 2017


I miss walking so much. Now I know what you're thinking. Yes, it is possible to walk here. There are streets and sidewalks and I still have feet. But it is not the same at all. This photo is of us leaving our house in Kieselgasse to go somewhere when Coco was a baby. Every time we left the house, every single day, we left like this. No car, just on foot. And it always felt totally comfortable. I know there are places like New York or San Francisco in the US where people walk, but unfortunately Spokane is not one of those places.

Last winter, Theo and I went to the library one morning and happened to get there before it opened. So I figured we would take a walk. We headed down a residential side street and Theo was having a great time looking at fences or footprints in the snow or stopping to admire shrubs. Then, a truck came along and as it got nearer, it slowed down, and then it pulled over. The driver rolled down the window and shouted over the engine, "Are you okay?!"

There was no one around. No one. But I was so stunned, I actually did one of those looks over my shoulder like, who is he talking to? Oh yeah, he was talking to me. "Um, yeah, we're fine," I said, and his response was, "Did your car break down?" to which I replied, "No, just taking a walk waiting for the library to open." And then he gave me the thumbs up and drove away.

Now don't get me wrong. I appreciate this stranger's concern and I appreciate his goodwill. But damn, am I really living in a place where is it so inconceivable that people would go out for a walk?!

Today was sunny - very windy, but sunny - so I walked to work. When I failed to get a ride home from a colleague, I was pressured to either take the bus or get a Lyft home because after dark it would be unsafe to walk. Wow. Unsafe to walk after dark. That makes me so sad. And kind of angry. I only live 12 blocks away, but I'd have to pay to get home safely. I wanted to walk. So I just left work ten minutes early and got home before dark. On the way, I had three drivers actually glare at me or throw their hands up because I was in the crosswalk and they wanted to turn. And I spent a good deal of the time waiting for walk signs. Overall, it's just not comfortable or relaxing in any way to have three lanes of cars whizzing by noisily (and fast) as you walk. Sigh.

It was a beautiful evening though. I popped into the store for half n half, bread and eggs on the way and it was seamless and easy to do on foot. It almost felt like old times in Zurich. And when I walked through the front door, I felt happy and all pumped up on endorphins from walking up the quite steep South Hill. So there is that. But I hate that walking is this extraordinary, potentially dangerous act here. If I want to walk, I have to be deliberate and plan and make extra effort to make it happen. I just hate that. I miss walking being an innate part of every day. I miss it so much.

So now, I guess we have to either move somewhere that isn't car based, or just get used to it. Tell me honestly, how much do you walk on a daily basis? Do you use your car every day? Every week? When you walk, why do you do it? To get somewhere? For exercise? To get outside? To walk your dog? Please tell me all about it! xo

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Worry Time

I'm a huge worrier. I fret. I hem and haw. I bite my nails. And for the past year or so, I seem to wake up at 3 am and find it impossible to go back to sleep again. Sometimes I'll lie awake for several hours imagining worst case scenarios, or just general nondescript horrific scenarios before finally nodding off again. By that time, I can sleep just long enough for my alarm to be really painful when it goes off a short while later. Ugh.

So in the book I just finished, Leap Year, by Helen Russell (the same author as The Year of Living Danishly, which I also loved) she suffers from the very same woes and decides to try a little thing called Worry Time. It's wonderfully simple, you just set aside 30 minutes at the same time each day, preferably before a transition in your day, and write down everything you're worried about. You don't have to go into the reasons or search for solutions, just get it all out on paper, by hand. Then do it again the next day. Russell chose to worry right before leaving to pick her son up from daycare, and for me, a good time to worry is right before lunch.

It's amazing, because I have enough worries - real and imagined - to fill hours and hours of nighttime. But in broad daylight, worrying for 30 minutes is actually an incredibly long time and feels like a chore! The first day, I only managed to worry for 20 minutes. The next day the same. The third day, I was feeling quite frantic and made it the whole 30 minutes, but the day after that, just 15. After that, I was less worried and stopped keeping track.

Somehow the act of writing worries down immediately lessens their severity. And it also felt to me as if having my worries written down, they were safely kept and therefore I didn't need to exert as much effort holding onto them and carrying them about the rest of the time. Side note: Montessori was very keen on the brain-hand connection. She called the hand the prehensile organ of the mind, and modern-day brain scans show that a greater surface area of our brains is devoted to our hands than any other body part. It seems that writing our worries down with our hands actually does move them out of our brains, right through our fingertips onto the paper. It's like magic!

I have to say, I'm quite pleased with the results. My nails are long enough to paint and I've been sleeping through the night. This is huge! How do you keep your worries at bay? Would you try worry time?

(Photo via A Little Bit of Bliss)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Learning to Ski

All winter, I've been saying that this would be the year I would learn how to ski. And all winter long, I've kept putting it off, thinking I had more time, or it really wasn't important, or that actually I'd never learn how to ski anyway, so why bother trying?

But then it occurred to me that with Coco being a total shredder (that's an actual word) and Theo turning three in August and getting on skis himself next winter, if I didn't learn now, very soon I would no longer be part of my family in a very real way. It was time.

So Sunday was the day. My mom took the kids and J and I headed up to the mountain...

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