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Discover the secret of childhood from 0-3 year old:

Video: Grocery Shopping with 3-Year-Old Twins

Monday, December 8th, 2014 1:16 pm | By Stephanie Woo

Grocery Shopping with 3-Year-Old Twins

Whenever I go grocery shopping, I always see children in strollers with iPads, food or toys while their parents are zipping through the aisles, picking out the necessities and checking out as fast as possible. Their aim is to get in and get out before the children start acting up. I know what that feels like, because I’ve done it plenty of times myself in crowded grocery stores with unforgiving fellow shoppers. In those cases, I always wished I had kept the children at home or shopped online. 

But if you’re lucky enough to have a grocery store nearby that doesn’t get too busy when you go – and you have a little bit of time to spare – then grocery shopping with them can be so much fun and educational. Having traveled from NYC, to Baltimore, to Denver, to Portland, to SF and to Taiwan, we’ve been to lots of grocery stores together. (New Seasons in Portland, OR is our favorite. The staff is extremely friendly and we always go during off-peak hours). What children can learn in a grocery store is endless: new vocabulary (Can you pick out the ‘turmeric,’ ‘chanterelle mushrooms’ and ‘fennel’?), counting and simple addition (“I need 8 mushrooms”), food culture (Is it local or organic?), sensorial exercise (How do you pick the juiciest grapefruit and the firmest onion?) grace and courtesy (What do you say when you bump into someone?) and so much more. But I think my favorite is self-control. How do you explain to children why we can’t buy down the whole chocolate aisle? (Try acknowledging their feeling, being firm and then redirecting: “I know you really want those cookies, but we are not buying those today. Hey, what’s over here? Look at these pretty flowers! Which ones should we buy to put on our dining room?” Or “We can’t buy those cookies today, but we can buy these!”)

We took this video when B and M were 3 years 4 months. Mackenzie has always been more interested in helping to get groceries, but Brooke will also help. As a general rule, after I given them a task that they want to do, I only help when I know something is outside of their ability, like something is too heavy for them to carry. But even then, I wait and observe. I make sure they really need help, because children will surprise you. My goal is to help just enough, never more. If you find me buried in my iPhone or drinking my coffee – I’m doing my best not to look at them while they’re working. This ensures that I’m not giving any unnecessary help. I think (and hope) they have a lot of confidence in their abilities. Aside from encouraging them to do things they are interested in, even if it seems outside of the norm for a 3-year-old, I also try to make sure the environment is set up in such a way that they will experience success. It takes a lot of quick thinking and ignoring stares from strangers, but watching their independence and confidence grow makes it worthwhile!

Wanna Nurture Will, Determination and Concentration? Help Your Child Find His Work

Thursday, November 13th, 2014 7:58 am | By Stephanie Woo

Brooke Washing Dishes

In Montessori, we talk about the child ‘finding his work.’ This means helping the child discover a piece of work that grabs his attention so much that – when undisturbed – he will work at it for long, long time. Preferably, it is a solitary piece of work done with his hands, using real objects, accompanied by increasing precision and concentration. Play kitchens, dollhouses, legos and most other conventional toys do not fall in this category. Don’t get me wrong, those activities serve wonderful purposes and are important, too. But in this case we are referring to activities like polishing a shoes, cleaning the windows, sweeping the floor, ironing, sewing, etc. Again, to review, these are 1. solitary activities 2. done with the hands 3. using real objects 4. requiring increasing precision 5. accompanied by concentration.

Helping a child find his work is a science and an art. You need to create the right environment. You must observe the child to see what he’s capable of and interested in doing. You have to respect the child when he finds his work and never interfere when he’s working. And you have to never give up on the child. Some children take a really long time to find their work and you have to keep presenting new materials till it sticks. Once found, nothing should stop you from protecting those critical moments of concentration.

I’m telling you this because when a child finds his work, you’ll be the happiest parent ever. Here’s how I know.

I have two very different children. Mackenzie loves to work. She is constantly busy. The quintessential Montessori child, she’s always coming into the kitchen saying, “Mama, I want to help you.”

Before you ask why I should be so lucky, I have another child, Brooke, who is the exact opposite. She’s more of a floater. She doesn’t like to work much. When I offer her lessons, she wanders off. Her favorite activity is to lie on my lap and suck her thumb. She’s not a passive child though, as 90% of the tantrums in our house originates with her. Cleaning up is especially painful and can take her twenty minutes to put away three pieces of Lego.

If you remember this post, she found her work here: changing into swimsuits. That has continued to be something she loves doing, changing outfits, doing her hair and putting on accessories. But recently, we went through another difficult spell with her. “I’m at my wit’s end,” was the exact text I wrote to my friend.

Then, about a week ago, after we made breakfast together, I asked Brooke (3 years 10 months) if she wanted to do dishes. I did a double-take when she said yes. For half an hour, she stood in front of the sink and washed those dishes with precision and care. She would sponge up a cup inside and out, put down the sponge, rinse away all the soap suds, then place it carefully in the dish rack. She worked for such a long time, I checked on her several times. When she got to the bottom of the sink, I found more dishes and quietly slid them into the sink. I even put in a few clean cups. I wasn’t going to let the lack of dirty dishes stop her from working with this level of concentration! When the sink was finally empty, she said, “I’m done.” Without any prompting, she noticed and wiped up the (very wet) floor too. Then she took off her apron and put it away.

After that moment, I saw a change. For days, she didn’t throw tantrums. She’s been working with intense concentration on other things. Overall, she’s been a much happier child. But you know who’s even happier? Me!

M washing fruits and vegetables to juiceM washing fruits and vegetables to juice

B and M have been doing Practical Life activities since they started walking. And they haven’t stopped. Now that they’re older and more capable, I give them more complicated Practical Life activities. Take juicing, for example. At 2-years-old, they juiced pre-cut oranges, all presented to them on one carefully-prepared tray. By 3, they learned to slice fruits and vegetables before juicing them. Now, they fetch the fruits and vegetables from the fridge, wash, cut, juice, clean up everything, then serve it to the whole family. A 1-year-old can only do one step of the process. At 4-year-old, the child can do the whole sequence.

Now that B and M are almost 4, I feel some pressure for them to learn to write or do math (it’s in the Asian gene, what can I say?!). We work on some of those things, but the bulk of their time with me is still spent working around the house. I know Maria is right when she placed her first emphasis on Practical Life. That is where the child builds will, determination and concentration. That is where the foundation is set. If you’re wondering how to ‘fix’ the child who loves to throw tantrums, or one who can’t concentrate on anything, or one who is overly aggressive or overly clingy, or if you’re simply wondering what activities to do with your child, try practical life activities. Ones that fit the criteria I mentioned in the beginning: a solitary piece of work done with the hands, using real objects, accompanied by concentration and increasing precision.

I think you’ll be happily surprised.

Video: How To Teach Your Child to Tie A Bow (or Learn Anything)

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014 10:00 am | By Stephanie Woo


Just a few days ago, Mackenzie, 3 years 10 months, successfully tied her first bow. It was a huge victory for her. This did not happen overnight. She had been watching, practicing (and failing) for 18 months!

In Montessori classrooms, we have bow-tying dressing frames to teach children how to tie bows. We generally present this dressing frame to the 4.5 year old child. Unless the child is very interested in learning, then like everything, follow the child.

Mackenzie was always trying to tie bows. I’ve helped her by demonstrating it very slowly every time I tied her apron or dress. When you teach a young child anything, don’t talk, just move your hands slowly and precisely. Invite the child to participate if you know there is a part she can do. For example, starting very young, M could pull the two hoops together at the end. Not long ago, she figured out how to tie the first knot before the bow. So for a few months, I would let her tie the knot, then I would do the middle part and finally let her pull it tight at the end. I also never rushed her when she was trying to figure it out. After I’ve shown it once that day, I would just let her do whatever she was doing. Even if she was struggling, I would just let her. If the opportunity presented itself the next day, I would slowly demonstrate it again, and then let her work on it for as long as she wanted without correcting her.

What do you say when your child is successful? There’s no need for effusive praises or rewards. Just a simple description of what she did, “You tied a bow!”

Of course it’s easier said than done because it’s SO exciting when your child learns to do something new, isn’t it?

What Is Your Child Eating At School?

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014 11:38 am | By Stephanie Woo

What's For Lunch?

I want my children to eat well. I feel strongly about this and I think most parents would agree. 

In the last 18 months, my children have attended 3 different schools: a Montessori school in Portland, Montessori summer school in Taiwan and a public school in Brooklyn, NY. I’ve witnessed three completely different food environments in these schools, and the impact they had on my children. I’d like to share this experience with you. I’ll be blunt and tell you the list starts with my least favorite. 

NYC Public School

NYC Public school offers breakfast and lunch for the children. For families in need, this is wonderful. It’s even a service for busy parents who don’t have time to think about these things. 

Now, let’s see what’s on the menu? Items like bagels, french toast and pancakes are served for breakfast. Chicken tenders, sloppy joe and mozzarella sticks for lunch. Here’s a link of the NYC public school menu for the month.

We decided to try the school lunch on the first day. B and M told me they had chicken (great!) with ketchup (uh-oh…knowing my children, they probably had ketchup as the main course) and chocolate milk (they’ve never had chocolate milk). After a meal of high fructrose corn syrup (main ingredient in ketchup) and sugar (main ingredient in chocolate milk), I immediately asked the teacher if they can bring their own lunches moving forward. 

But the sweets didn’t stop there. A birthday happened last week, and they came home telling me they had cupcakes and candy. And then it was chocolate milk and cookies on another day (“I only had 2!”). And then yesterday, they took a field trip to the supermarket and all the children got Halloween goodie bag with candy bars. 

They’ve never had a snicker bar before. Not a fun size. Not even a bite. I decided to let them have one on our way home because they wanted it so badly. Well, after M finished a fun-size snicker bar, she threw the biggest tantrum on the street I’ve ever seen. I don’t know if this is an accident, but there sure seemed like a correlation between that sugar high and her behavior. 

Montessori School in Portland, OR

This is a great private Montessori school, with AMI-trained guides and assistants.

The school does not provide lunch, only snack. Everyone brings their own lunch. We had very specific instructions in the beginning of the year that children are not allowed to bring candy or cookies in their lunch. The teacher also asked us to help conserve waste, so we were asked not to bring individually-wrapped cheese, individual yogurt containers, etc. 

Children had snack in the morning and the afternoon. They were served pistachios (a great choice in my opinion because it takes great fine motor movement to open pistachios), almonds, banana chips, pumpkin seed, carrots, sliced oranges, apples and pretzel sticks. The children helped prepare some of these. There did not seem to be great variety, but children did not seem to mind. They developed a taste for these things and asked for them at home as well. For me, those snacks were great choices. 

Ms. Lam Montessori School in Taipei, Taiwan

This school provides lunch, morning and afternoon snack everyday for the children and teachers. From what I understand, a few other Taiwanese pre-schools also offer menus like this. 

Here’s the lunch menu for the first week of October:

Monday – Wild Mushroom Risotto Cream and Carrot soup.
Tuesday – Sweet and Sour fish, Bean Sprouts with Fried Leek, and Turnip Ribs soup.
Wednesday – Curry Chicken Rice (with Raisins and Soft Boiled Eggs) and Boscht.
Thursday – Apple Egg Salad on Toast with Potato, Carrot and Cucumber, and Corn Soup.
Friday – Noodles with Soy Bean Paste and Meat Ball Soup.

That’s just Week One. 

Snack includes items like home made egg cake, boiled tea eggs, rice balls, green bean soup. 

Click here to see what’s on the menu the rest of the month. 

If you’re saying to yourself, my children would never eat those things, well, that’s what I thought too! But here’s what happened to us. Before Taiwan, for over a year, the only green things my children would eat were avocados and grapes. Any other green thing we got into their bodies was through hiding it, blending it with apple/pineapple juice or through sheer luck that ended the next day. Eating green vegetables was a struggle that I lost nearly everyday. Until they started going to school in Taiwan. 

It began one day when they saw stir-fried spinach on the dinner table, B said, “We eat that at school, too!” And then proceeded to eat big bites of it (along with rice, fish, soup, etc). They would say things like, “I love to eat broccoli!” And fight over who gets the last one on the plate. Since Taiwan, eating vegetables is no longer a struggle in this house. Last night, we had marinated cucumbers. B looked in the bowl and said, “I want the biggest one.”

I don’t know how their teachers did this. I would hug and kiss them if it were appropriate. I’m immensely grateful, to say the least.

Young children have the Absorbent Mind. This means they unconsciously absorb everything in their environment easily and effortlessly. This includes food. If you give them chocolate and candy, they will eat that. If you give them fruits and nuts, they will eat that. If you give them gourmet meals with wild mushroom risotto and carrot soup, they will eat that.

I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts on all of this. What do your children eat at school? How does it impact their food choices at home? Please share! 

What Children Really Want

Monday, October 27th, 2014 1:08 pm | By Stephanie Woo

Book about baking bread

Last night, we read a book about children making bread. It showed them kneading the bread so hard their faces turned red. 

M (3 years 10 months) asks, “Why is her face red?” 
I replied, “Because she’s working so hard.” 

Five seconds later, M asks, “Can we make bread tomorrow? I want to work hard too.”

M’s little sentence reveals the true nature of young children. We adults can’t understand that because we want to exert minimum effort. We are happiest lying on the beach doing nothing. Children are happiest when they are doing hard work and exerting maximum effort. I thank Montessori everyday for this knowledge.

Needless to say, we are making bread today. The kids will be working and I will be sipping coffee reading a book. 

What We Did All Summer (of 2014)

Saturday, October 25th, 2014 7:17 pm | By Stephanie Woo

Mackenzie learning the Chinese Alphabet

Mackenzie learning the Chinese Alphabet

Since I haven’t written for such a long time, I keep thinking that the first blog that comes out must be perfect. I’ve been waiting for perfect, but perfect never happens and, really, it’s the wrong way to look at it. So if this blog post rambles on, forgive me, I’m just gonna give it a go. 

What a summer we’ve had! 

This was the most upheaval we’ve gone through together as a family, and I wasn’t ready to write about it till we’ve come out the other end. Our friends and family went through all the ups and downs with us. We’re lucky they still love us after what we’ve put them through!

I last left off in June, when Mark and I both got our AMI certifications in Portland and were on our way to Taiwan. We spent two months there. Brooke and Mackenzie attended my mother’s school, Ms. Lam’s Montessori school, while Mark and I worked in the school. He taught soon-to-be first graders, while I observed and taught in both primary and toddler classrooms. 

I grew up knowing that our family ran Montessori schools. But it didn’t mean much to me because I didn’t have kids and Montessori was just something Mom did. Now that I’ve been trained in two levels (0-3 and 3-6), I’ve taught at a few schools, observed at many other schools and been a parent with children who have attended a couple Montessori schools, I have a lot more experience evaluating schools. As strange as this may sound, I was completely surprised to discover for myself just how excellent my mom’s school is. Mark and I were so impressed, we even decided to forego our own egos and opt to continue what my mom started. What does that mean? We are going to open a Ms. Lam Montessori school here in the US. 

We left Taiwan in August, where we continued the next part of our summer adventure in California. I’ve always thought I would love California – sunny, beautiful and the perfect place for a school. Well, dream and reality did not mesh this time. Because everything was new, it turned out to be extremely difficult for us to accomplish all we wanted to do. I was also pregnant when we arrived in California, and when I had a miscarriage – most likely due to the stress of the situation (more on this later) – I knew this was not the place for us.  One month after we arrived, we decided our future is where we came from: back home in Brooklyn, NY. 

We landed in New York in mid-September and moved back into our own building in Williamsburg. The second we arrived, we were immediately surrounded by friends and family – don’t know why we ever thought we belonged anywhere else. We immediately started working on opening our new school. There’s permits, handbooks, websites, classroom design. We’ve got a long to-do list!

Meanwhile, we did something radical. We decided to send Brooke and Mackenzie (3 years 10 months) to public school until our school opens. Why? The school is right next to our house; there were two open spots; it’s just for 2-3 months; we need to save every penny to renovate our school and buy the best materials for our future school. Sometimes logistics win.

I’ve had moments of doubt, but overall, public school has been an interesting experience. The most surprising thing is this: everyday, when they come home, they don’t want to go anywhere or do anything. Not even the park. They just want to stay home and work. They are totally concentrated and self-sufficient until dinnertime, which is about 3 hours.  I don’t know what they do all day at school, but I think some part of them craves working independently. 

Brooke washed ALL of those dishes in the drying rack with just sponge and dish soap

At home from school, Brooke washed ALL of those dishes in the drying rack!

After school activity - Mackenzie builds with Magnatiles

After school activity – Mackenzie builds with Magnatiles for hours

Well, here we are, at the other end of our summer adventure and settled into our new – hopefully permanent – life and home. It feels FANTASTIC to be writing this blog from a home I can finally call my own.

How to End Bullying Forever

Thursday, June 5th, 2014 8:23 am | By Stephanie Woo

As I was driving B and M (3.5 years old) home from school yesterday, I overheard this conversation.

M calls B “Poopy.” B says, “My name is Brooke, you can call me Brooke.” 

M calls her “Poopy” again. B says, “If you are mean to me, then I’m going to walk away.” 

M turns to her and pleads, “Can you please play with me?” 

B says, “Then don’t be mean to me! If you are nice to me, then we can play together. If you are not nice to me, then I’m going to walk away.”

If every child learned this Montessori Grace and Courtesy lesson, bullies would have no one to bully. And bullying in schools would literally Cease. To. Exist.

**Join Stephanie’s next Long Distance Courses! The next First Year Course starts Wednesday, June 18th. The next Toddler Course starts Tuesday, June 19th. Find out what recent participants have said here.

My First Magazine Article: Creating an Amazing Home Environment for Your Toddlers!

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014 10:47 am | By Stephanie Woo

In the spring, I was invited by Montessori Life, American Montessori Society’s (AMS) quarterly journal, to write an article about how to create an amazing Montessori home environment for toddlers.  Here’s a sneak peak of the article for my blog readers!

Read article now

If Your Child Hits, Bites, Screams or Throws Tantrums – As Told By A Lizard

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014 10:38 pm | By Stephanie Woo

You’ve read a lot of blog posts and watched a lot of videos. I hope this format will work better for us sleep-deprived mothers – expanding your screen will make it easier on your eyes, too!

What should you do if your child hits, bites, screams or throws tantrums? Watch the slideshow below and take some parenting advice from a wise ol’ lizard…

Learning Geography Through Fun and Play!

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014 12:03 am | By Stephanie Woo

In November, Mark and I went to our children’s school for “Parent’s Night” so they could show us what they’ve been working on. We discovered that they had started working with the World Map!

Then one day they came home and over dinner, the two of them spontaneously broke into song. Like this:

That was a clear sign to me they were interested in the names of the continents. So I immediately bought a globe on Amazon.

A great way to introduce globes to children is to start with the basics. I would point to a blue part and say, “Ocean.” We’d turn the globe to find more oceans. Then I would point to the colored parts and say, “Continent.” And then together, we would find more continents. Our globe also has raised surfaces for mountains, so I would point to those and say, “Mountain,” then ask them to find several more mountains. 

Whenever I tell them stories about our family and friends who live faraway, like A-gong and A-ma (grandpa and grandma) who live in Taiwan, Grandfather who lives in Austin, TX or Great-uncle who lives in Paris, we would take out the globe to find those cities and countries together. If we travel – for example, we went to Seattle a couple weeks ago – we would look for those on the globe as well. 

I started looking for a way to teach them the Chinese names of countries. I never buy any Montessori material for our home if I know they have it at school, so I didn’t want to buy the wooden Montessori maps. Then I saw this GeoPuzzle Map. I must confess the quality is just above average. It requires adult presence because the puzzle pieces move around quite a lot, so it can be frustrating for a 3-year-old to do on her own. However, it serves my purpose: it is different enough from what they have at school and I can use it to casually introduce the Chinese names of these countries. To them, they don’t know the difference, it’s just a fun puzzle they want to play with a lot! 

Between 0-6, the child is in the Sensitive Period for Language. Between 3-6, the child has an insatiable desire for vocabulary words. There is really no limit to how much vocabulary they can learn during these few years. Learning all the continents and then all the countries within those continents is easy (and interesting!) for them during this age. 

The other day, M picks up a cookie, bites it into a long oval and exclaims, “South America!” She also sings a little song about Kazakstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. It’s all fun and play – a foundation for geography just happens to come along with it. 

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The foundation of a child’s life starts in the first year. If you set up the first year right, things will be much easier moving forward. Perhaps you have a child between 0-12 months. Or you plan on having a child. Or you are interested in learning more about this age group. Join my next Long Distance Course, starting April 26th! Take the course from the comfort of your home and learn at your own pace!