The Struggle is Essential

A desire I often hear from parents and caregivers is “I want for my child’s life to be easier than my own." I get it. As adults we know that life is hard. Equally hard is thinking about the child experiencing some of those same hardships we have experienced. 

The question we must ask ourselves, is life easier if we shield the child from all stress, frustration, hardships and boundaries? In my opinion, absolutely not. In fact, this kind of protection mindset will make life much more difficult for them in the long run. 

For the young child (under 3yo) it can be especially difficult for us to imagine them enduring hardships. They are so sweet, squishy, small, innocent and unaware of the difficulties of life. Or are they? 

By two years old your child has surely struggled already:

To adapt to their environment (especially after that warm hot tub-like floating magical experience in the womb).
To learn to communicate needs.
To explore and move, sit up, crawl, walk, run and fall down a million times.
To accept and trust new adults.
To begin to learn how to be in community and share space.

When we look at the young child from that angle, we see how capable they are, how much they have already struggled and succeeded at overcoming so many of life's demands. 

The idea to let the child struggle can at first feel like abandonment. I want you to look at it more as collaboration or support. We can and must support the child in their experiences, not shield them from these important life lessons.

Maria reminds us to "wait, and be always ready to share in both the joys and the difficulties which the child experiences.” We must commit to sharing in both.

This can be small, like letting them work hard to put on their shoes by themselves without intervening immediately.
This can be big, like letting them cry and scream when an appropriate, fair and just limit is set. When we refuse to accept the invitation to the tantrum. 

To struggle is to live. Lucky for us, the young child is quite competent and quick to adapt and accept, so long as we are there to support them along the way. No matter what we do, life is and will be hard for them. Life is hard for everyone. In fact, the struggle is essential in learning how to navigate our time here on this planet. 

To be confident enough to do, yet trusting enough to ask for help is one of the greatest gifts we can give the young child. 

Let them struggle. 
Let them learn to overcome hardships. 
Let them know you will always be rooting for them.
Let their battle cry be that of:

I will. 
We will. 
I can.
We can.
I did it. 
We did it.
I am confident.
I am trusting. 
I am supported.

(not, you did it all for me to make the situation less uncomfortable)


“Loving a child does not mean giving into all their whims. To love them is to bring out the best in them, to teach them to love what is difficult.”
-Nadia Boulanger 

Food Is To Eat

I work hard to uphold an environment rooted in reality for the Toddler-age child.

Knowing this, naturally one of my biggest pet peeves is work that involves food & play. Whether it’s paint stamps with fruits and vegetables, pouring grains back and forth or sensory tables with beans, I just can’t get down with it.

Why? Because food is to eat.

Why else? Because how can we expect the highly literal young child to understand when they can and cannot play with their food, if sometimes it’s okay, and sometimes it is not.

But mostly, it’s about respect for what nourishes us. What keeps us alive and thriving. And what is a scarcity for many.

Dear Christmas, We Need To Talk


This feels like a big one...

But really, it's simple. We must stop lying to our children for the sake of tradition. Period.

The magic and wonder of the season can remain present while telling the truth. That being: Santa is a story, a fairytale. It is you, the adult (in tandem with your child), who creates the magic. There is no need to lie. Enthusiasm and honesty are far greater sources of joy. Plus, give yourself some credit, it's not easy making all that magic. (and remember, less is more for the young child)

And as for the Elf. Just don't. It's creepy, and dishonest.

Dear Christmas,

Let's celebrate honesty this year. For the sake of the child. And the world.



Uncertainty & Confusion - Talking With Your Child About the 2016 Election.

'If taught in the right way, the child reveals wonders, and I assure you that a new world will come from the revelations of the youth of the day, and not from the leaders of today."  -Maria Montessori, Essay from Kodaikanal

'If taught in the right way, the child reveals wonders, and I assure you that a new world will come from the revelations of the youth of the day, and not from the leaders of today." -Maria Montessori, Essay from Kodaikanal

I cried myself to sleep last night. 

Not so much for myself and my personal reasons for feeling horrified about the results of the 2016 election, no. 

I cried for the children.  

How do we as loving and accepting adults explain to our children that a bully has become the President of the United States?  

The answer is, I really do not know. We do not know what the future holds with a madman as our "leader".  Uncertainty can be one of the most challenging feelings to have for a parent - especially when it comes at a magnitude such as this.

We want our children to feel safe, secure and accepted, but when we ourselves do not feel safe or secure, when we are filled with uncertainty, how do we model this? How do we turn all this divisiveness into something positive?

Be honest. For so many of you, the last thing you want to do is deliver news like this to your children, but it is the truth. This happened.

Answer questions and be a sounding board for your child. Let them know that they can ask you anything about this process, no question is unwelcome. This can be hard to do because children are often the ones who ask the most raw and honest questions. If you don't have an answer, tell them that - "I just don't know." We must be honest with our children about this, and not shelter them from what is happening.   

Let them see you cry. If like me, this election has moved you to tears, do not fear showing this to your children. But reassure them that you are going to do everything in your power to keep them safe.

Turn off the news. A running cycle of the news in your home does not serve anyone well. If you must, watch when your children are at school.

Check in with each other at the end of the day. The teachers of the world have a big job ahead of them today. There is bound to be plenty of talk about this election among the students of school. The last thing we want is to divide our children based on our preferences. Invite your child to talk with you at the end of the day about conversations at school. Again, continue to be a safe place for your child to talk freely. Refrain from getting angry or upset by what they have to say. Calmly discuss, ask questions, move slowly with your words. 

Be aware of your adult conversations. Yes, you must be honest with your child about this election, but you do not have to tell them everything. Be aware of your conversations with other adults. Your children are listening to everything you say and do, so save your venting for when your children are not around.

Model love and acceptance. In a situation such as this, it is very easy to point fingers. To get mad at others. To create divisions - us vs. them. This will get us nowhere. We do not have to like one another. We do not have to like the choices made. But we do need to love. We need to accept. We need to treat one another fairly. More hate will spiral this into an even darker place. Choose love. 

Keep the conversation going. This is not going away, and for many the healing process may be long. Continue to talk with each other about this upcoming change, do not sweep it under the rug.

Brainstorm together. Think of ways to help out in your community together - volunteer, practice random acts of kindness, help out a neighbor. Be kind.

Discuss your family values. I do not want the boys of our world to look up to him.  He is not worthy of that. I do not want the girls of our world to think it is okay/normal/typical for a man to treat them disrespectfully. It is not okay. Discuss with your children what your family values are. Ask them to chime in. How do we treat others (and those who voted for him)? Do we have a loving and accepting heart for all? Are we respectful and kind? 

Bullying is not acceptable. It is easy to tell our children not to bully others, but we must first explain how a bully acts so our children know what not to do, and what to look out for. This is now much more difficult, as the person who our children should be able to look up to is the king of bully. Talk about great men and women of our country - find different role models together. Refrain from being a bully yourself (again - vent AWAY from your children.) 

Stress safety and security with your child. Uncertainty is a scary place for us all. Remind your child that they are your first priority, and their safety and security matters to you. You don't have to say this with your words, a person can feel safe simply by the environment provided, the tenderness given, and the knowledge that there is a parent/adult who will listen. 

Take moments for yourself to heal. You must take care of yourself in order to take care of your child - especially in such a highly emotional time. Remember to breath. 

And lastly, do what I did and blast Whitney Houston's "Greatest Love of All"
I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children's laughter remind us how we used to be...

Love on one another today my fellow Americans. That is sometimes the best we can do.  

Bug policy. Respect Them, We Will.

It is late spring in Colorado, and in my environment with toddlers this means extra time outdoors with much of the morning spent in the garden.  

This time outside naturally brings about into our lives all the wonderful bugs, creepy-crawlies and spiders that thrive and present themselves during the warm months of the year.  

And yes, I did say wonderful while referring to bugs.

Toddlers are curious by nature, so of course, bugs of all sort are high on the list of the wonders of the world. In fact, children at about the age of 18 months to 2.5 years go through what Maria Montessori called a "Sensitive Period" for tiny objects. This means that the child is unconsciously and almost obsessively drawn to any and all tiny things in the environment, both indoors and out.  

Of course, bugs fall right into this category of development.

Knowing this innate, almost uncontrollable need of the curious toddler, all the while respecting the natural environment, my rule of thumb with the children is simple and clear - we look with our eyes and NEVER intentionally step/stomp on a bug. Some insects, like worms, can be picked up without causing harm, but most insects can either get squished between tiny fingers or are too dangerous to handle.  

We look with our eyes and respect the insect’s path in life by not touching it.

I know that we, as adults, all feel differently about insects and their presence in our human existence. After years of working with children, and watching their fascination with even the tiniest of “creepy crawlies”, any squeamish feeling I had has left. 

If we find a spider in the class, I capture it, we look at it and then release it outside, saying “have a nice life spider!”.  If we see a bee on a flower, we watch carefully and discuss what he is doing (gathering pollen, helping the plants thrive and eventually making honey - how amazing and grateful we are! That honey tasted so good on our waffles!) and that this is very important work! If we see a roly-poly walking along the path we, of course, stop everything we are doing, crouch down low and watch intently his every move.  

Growing accustomed to this policy I have observed children running aimlessly through the playground, only to find a bug upon the path, stop and investigate, and then awkwardly, as only a toddler can do, jump over the bug so as not to disturb its path, culminating in a most beautiful act of uncontrollable curiosity, self-control and respect.

Not everyone is quite this comfortable with bugs. Many adults initial reactions to insects is to kill them, stomp on them, etc. and children pick up on this, fast. By being so quick to kill, even the smallest of creatures, we are creating a huge disservice to our children.  

*praying mantis nymphs for our garden

*praying mantis nymphs for our garden

Our children deserve to understand that insects are alive and are a very important part of our natural world. In fact, we as humans could not exist without the bugs, insects and creepy-crawlies of the world. Even if this seems small, it is one extra way of helping your child respect and understand the natural world, something that is direly needed on our planet.

If you are squeamish about bugs, I recommend doing what I did; find the beauty in the creatures with your child. Get down low and watch and see what your child sees from their perspective.

It just may change your point of view.

Bugs - Respect them, we will.


Fear and Lies - "Okay, Bye, I’m Leaving Without You."

 This is one of those statements that crushes me when I hear it spoken to a child. Like, I can feel my spirit ache for the spirit of the child in this moment. While this statement can be effective, I want to challenge you to take a moment to think about two ways it will impact your child:

  1. Fear
    How scary it must be for a young child to think, if only for a moment, “My parent/caregiver is going to leave me. Abandon me.” And why? Because they did not want to leave a place of enjoyment? Or because they are naturally inclined to oppose you based on the development of their brain?

  2. Lies.
    Are you really going to leave your child alone? Are you seriously going to get in your car and drive away? Because unless you are actually going to leave your child then in this statement you are modeling acceptable dishonesty. Which is, in fact, HIGHLY unacceptable.

So what I am saying here is that when your child does not want to leave, and you are trying to get out of your house in the morning, or leave school at the end of the day and you say, “Okay, goodbye. I am leaving without you” you have simultaneously lied and created a sense of fear, all in one short sentence. Yikes, I bet you didn't mean to do that!

Instead of using fear and lies to get going, give your child a choice. “You may walk by yourself, or I will help you walk. We are leaving right now.” This choice puts your child in a position of much desired control over their life. This also puts you in a position of control, because no matter what the answer is, you will both be leaving the at the same time.

And if you establish this limit/expectation, I guarantee it will be more positive departures than negative ones. Once your child tests your limits a few times, of course. They are in the crisis of self-affirmation after all.

The Child is Much More Spiritually Elevated.

The child is much more spiritually elevated that usually supposed. He often suffers, not from too much work, but from work that is unworthy of him.
— Maria Montessori

“Spiritual” can be a misleading word to use at times. In this case I take it literally, meaning, relating to, or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things

Every so often I will take a little stroll through the toddler age designated section of Target. Each time I leave feeling disheartened for the children that have to develop their minds using such mindless materials. 

The materials, filled with plastic, lights, “bells and whistles” do not call to the child’s inner sensitivities and tendencies, but in fact do the opposite and simply entertain and grossly over stimulate.

Toddlers need life being lived. 
Toddlers need rich language and reality. 
Toddlers need experiences in nature. 
Toddlers need authentic (and not synthesized) musical experiences. 
Toddlers need wooden puzzles and beautiful toys (bless you Melissa & Doug).
Toddlers need silliness, hugs, high fives and books! 

But plastic-light-up-gadgets, toddlers do not need.

Next time you find the urge to buy your child something new, keep in mind this quote, and make mindful choices (you can contact me anytime for ideas!) Or plan a walking trip in the foothills for the afternoon to collect rocks, leaves, sticks, etc. to make an art sculpture with. Go to your local bookstore or the library and restock the household bookshelf. Or experiment with a new recipe together with your child. 

Just make sure that whatever experience you provide for your child is worthy of their rapidly developing mind.

It's Kind Of Like Working Out: A Simple Reminder About Change.

When parents/caregivers make a fundamental change in a toddler’s life, whether it is something simple like eating dinner a little later, or something big, like transitioning from a crib to a bed, I always get asked the question:

“How long will this take?”. 

Unfortunately, there is no set timeline for children. Each child is unique in their path and handles changes differently. A specific date of completion is something I (or any other honest educator) will never be able to provide.

Change, well, it's kind of like working out.  

When you begin a workout at the gym you know that with time, consistency, healthy patterns, patience and commitment you will begin to see results. And as much as we would all like to got to the gym once or twice and see immediate results, we know full well that is just not going to happen.

So think of any change made in your child’s life much like if you were beginning a work out regime. The only way that you will see positive results is if you stick with it, and trust that with that dedication, patience, hard work, etc., you will reap the reward of a happy, healthy, well-adjusted child.


“Ms. Nichole, I ate all my carrots!” the 2.5 year old told me.
”Oh yeah! How did they taste?” I asked.
And on and on we talked - about delicious, crunchy, healthy carrots.

Had I told her what she wanted to hear/had grown accustomed to hearing: “Good Job!” our conversation would have stopped there, and she would have learned that what I think/feel about her carrot eating matters more than what she thinks.

Which is wildly untrue.

Adults simply overdo it when it comes to congratulating a child on an accomplished task.  While the intention of using praise, such as “good job”, comes from a place of good intentions, it does not serve the child as they construct themself for life.

This is precisely the problem with praise, or at least praise aimed at performance. It’s like crack for kids: Once they get, they need it, and they want more. And the real world doesn’t praise them for getting dressed in the morning.
— Jenny Anderson, The New York Times

If the goal is for the child to be a confident being who accomplishes daily tasks for themself, we have to come to understand that giving constant praise for tasks is ultimately setting them up for failure. 

What the use of “good job” does is not only drive your child to accomplish tasks for you rather than for themself, but they also become empty words when used over and over and over again.

So what does one do, especially when we get so excited for the child when they accomplish a task, reach a milestone, or paint a glorious picture? 

First off, it is okay to think the words in your head. I want you to be proud of your child. I want you to recognize that yes, when they got undressed all by themself they did in fact do a great job at it.  However, do not speak those specific words. 

Instead, simply say, “You did it!”

Or “thank you”.

How grand it must feel for the child who has worked tirelessly at a task that for you and I is so simple (i.e. getting dressed), to feel within that they did it. What an opportunity to open up the world to them, building confidence, worth and a feeling of being capable of so much more!

Get creative and BE MINDFUL about what you say to your child before you say it. The words you speak, in any given moment, matter much more than you may think. Choose your words wisely and put value and meaning into what you say. 

Your child will thank you for it later in life, maybe not by their words, but by their actions as they navigate life, not seeking praise, but because they know know their capabilities and worth.

 Other phrases that you can use with your child in replace of “Good job”:

State the Obvious
“I see you put on your pants all by yourself. Now, can you put on your socks too?”

“I see that you used a lot of blue while you were painting. And look, some circles too.”

“I saw you while you were working with that puzzle, it looked like you were working really hard, and you did it!”

“Look, we made this bread together and it tastes so delicious. Remember when you poured in the olive oil?”

Bring It Back to the Child
“I see that you ate all your carrots at dinner. Did they taste good?”

“Wow, you cleaned up your room all by yourself. It must feel nice to have a clean space to play in now.”

“You put on one shoe. Now, can you do the other one too?”

"Thank you for getting dressed so quickly this morning."

"Thank you for putting your lunchbox away when we got home."

You can find Jenny Anderson's full article here.

The Three Period Lesson.

In Maria Montessori’s observation and work with children she discovered early on that asking a child a question that they do not know the answer to is not what encourages learning. Engaging a child, providing knowledge/information and developing confidence is what encourages learning. 

From there the three period lesson was developed, a method used on all levels in the Montessori Method. The three period lesson is used to introduce new concepts and valuable lessons. This is a method that you can easily modify and implement in your home with your child.

Your child is constantly absorbing language acquisitions and how to communicate. Before your child is able to speak, they understand your words (receptive language). You can say to your child, “Please go get your shoes.” before your child can say, “Shoes”.  Your child has the words often times long before they can speak them. 

This Three Period Lesson will help you help your child, with language development, communication and confidence in learning. 

  1. Introduction - "This is..."
    I introduce the objects to the children, one at a time and slowly.

    "This is a picture of a sailboat. This is a sailboat. Would you like to look at the sailboat? Please pass the sailboat to Jayden. Sailboat. This is a picture of a speedboat. This is a speedboat..."

    When I introduce language to the children, both during a language lesson, books or just in conversation, I make sure to speak slowly, clearly and repeat myself often.

    As you can see from the introduction, I find a way to say the object's name as many times as possible in different sentences. Once I have introduced all of the objects to the children (in this lesson there is a jet ski, speedboat, sailboat and cruise ship), I re-name them all and then move on to the second period.

  2. Recognition/Association - "Show me..."
    In the second period, after I have introduced all the objects to the children, I then ask the children to "Show me" the objects.

    I will say, "Jayden, please show me the sailboat. Derek, please point to the speedboat. Nate, where is the jet ski?, Sofie, show me the cruise ship."

    Because the children oftentimes know the name of an object before they are able to speak the name verbally, the second period allows me to "test" their knowledge and recognition of the objects I have presented.

    If I ask a child to, "Point to the sailboat" and he shows me the cruise ship, instead of saying, "No, that is not the sailboat." I instead will say to him, "Oh, you found the cruise ship, now let's find the sailboat." Again, we are trying to not only teach the children, but also build up confidence.

    The second period is the longest period of the three. I will stay on this for quite some time, depending on the difficulty/obscurity of the objects/language that I am presenting. As I work with the children during the second period I will listen and observe, taking note of who can verbalize what. This will help me in the third period.

  3. Recall - "What is...?"
    In the third period I will ask the children "What is this?" while pointing to a particular object.

    The key to this period is that I only ask the child what something is once I know they can say it. Asking a child who cannot verbalize a word, "What is this?" only sets them up for failure. In the first and second periods I am taking note of who can verbalize what and will bounce around between the 2nd and 3rd lesson depending on what the child will/can say.

You can use these same tools and concepts with your child.  Replicas, pictures cards and books are the best way to use this, but even when you are at the zoo or the grocery store, the Three Period Lesson can come into play. 

Have fun with language, all the while remembering that you can build your child's vocabulary, love of learning and confidence all in the same moment.

Radicle Beginnings?

A few years ago, during a conversation with a dear friend, we started discussing and brainstorming names for, at the time, what I wanted to call my idea for a new business. 

Rewinding from this conversation a few years, I have often daydreamed about opening my own school one day. I can visualize the environment, the handmade furniture and materials, the mission statement of the school, and so on, but what resonates the most is the name, Aspen Grove Montessori. You see, I am a native of Colorado and have grown up admiring the brilliance of Aspen Groves. 

The Aspen Grove is one of the world's largest living organisms, interconnected through their root system underground, while emerging individually above the surface of the earth. The life of one individual tree is no more or less important than that of the next as they are all connected, bound together under the surface. 

A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
— Albert Einstein

Individually, they are a part of a whole, as are humans. We exist together. No one human is more or less important that the next. We are all connected in this shared human existence and we cannot survive without one another. Individually, we are part of a whole.

I was describing this idea of mine, the link between humanity and Aspen Groves and children, and through some Google searching about plants and how they begin life, we discovered the "radicle"

The radicle is defined as, "part of the embryo of seed-bearing plants that develops into the main root."  Without the growth of the radicle, the plant will not survive. 

The moment I read this I knew that this would be the name I would use to one day get my message out. I loved instantly that the definition in botany is so closely intertwined with the meaning of the age of toddler-hood, along with the pronunciation:

radicle = radical.

From day one in my Montessori career I have been a radical thinker. One definition of "radical" states "thoroughgoing or extreme, especially as regards change from accepted or traditional forms."  When it comes to my ideas of raising children, toddlers specifically, this certainly does define me. 

My ideas go against almost all of the accepted or traditional forms of raising children. I believe that children deserve respect, rich language, beautiful materials, experiences outdoors, and a faith in them that eliminates the need for all the ridiculous mechanisms that our consumerism society deems necessary. 

We are not here as adults to entertain or pacify our children. We are here to aid and model life, real life being lived. Yes, I am a radical thinker, and I look outside of the box, always seeking out what is best for children, not what a marketing executive makes one believe is best for children. 

My ideas can be off-putting at first for many. But my goal is for adults to think and not just buy, or pacify, to use intuition, to gather knowledge, to understand that a toddler is not a baby. 

A toddler needs experiences. 
A toddler need language and conversation. 
A toddler needs respect, kindness and no "time-outs". 
A toddler needs to begin to understand human emotion and how to manage that.  A toddler needs role-models. 

And a toddler needs adults who understand this critical part of life.

So welcome to my world of radical thinking and Radicle Beginnings. There is no judgement here. Just an ever-present desire to educate and help adults think outside of the box. All for the benefit of the child.

Children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their innocence and of the greater possibilities of their future.
— Maria Montessori

So here we go...

For years I've thought of starting a blog and creating a space where I can download all the thoughts that run through my head in just about every moment of every day about the life of a toddler. 

After talking to my beautiful and brilliant, blogging cousin during a recent family gathering I found myself finally inspired to release any fear I might have about "blogging" and what people might think of all my crazy (and radical) ideas about toddlerhood, step into the unknown, and put my constant stream of ideas into words.

As mentioned above, in just about every moment of every day I think about toddlers. Thoughts about how much our world would change (for the better) if only adults knew the massive amount of potential that toddlers encompass. Thoughts about how often adults stifle the growth of the young because of a lack of knowledge about this time, a time that I feel strongly is the most important in a human's existence. 

People complain about the state of the world, and my answer to almost every strife in human existence is "go to the children". Children hold the key to the future of humanity. Children come into this world as blank slates, ready to absorb and learn from every.single.thing.around.them.   

So as I step forward into this new avenue of release, my hope is that this little space of mine will provide information - through ideas, stories, experiences, articles, quotes, photographs and videos - all about life with a toddler (and sometimes about life with an infant, or an older child), and how to best maximize this time in order to positively aid, not stifle, this rapid and ever-important development.

So here we go...