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

3-4 years old

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 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.

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!

How to Praise Your Child (and a Great Practical Life Activity)

Monday, April 7th, 2014 11:26 pm | By Stephanie Woo

We live up in the mountains where mornings and evenings get very cold. Whenever we start a fire, B and M are there to help us.  M (3 years 1 month) has experienced the process so many times, she can pretty much do the whole thing by herself, as long as an adult is there to help her light the fire. 

M starts to clean out yesterday’s ashes…

and dumps it out in the trashcan.

She starts scooping again…

…gets a big scoopful, then dumps it in the trash.

After several trips, the fireplace is now clean and ready for new firewood.

She lays down firewood Mark has cut and prepared – starting with one large piece at the bottom…

…and some smaller pieces at top.

She gets the fire starter.

Then she gets the torch. Don’t worry, dear readers – Mom’s the one who lights it!

It’s lit!

Now we have a warm fire to enjoy the rest of the day!

Look around your home and see if there is a task your family does everyday that your child could participate in – and maybe take over. Let them have the choice of doing the activity everyday, but a child under 5 is too young to be required to do it everyday.

When your child starts to help out around the house, don’t feel like you need to reward them or praise them excessively. If you rely heavily on qualitative praise (like, ‘you’re so smart’) or giving your child rewards (like toys, money or cookies) – it will take away from their own sense of accomplishment. Pretty soon, you’ll find that they only do things for your praise or reward. And their joy of doing the activity diminishes.

The best way to praise your child is by using simple phrases like, ‘You cleaned the fireplace,’ ‘You helped wash the dishes’ or ‘You brought your dishes to the sink.’ These descriptive praises tells them you noticed what they did – and your acknowledgement is all they need.

Our Plans for Summer & Fall 2014

Monday, March 31st, 2014 9:39 pm | By Stephanie Woo

Pictures from the summer school we’ll be attending in Taiwan

So much has happened recently, sometimes I don’t know where to begin to share with you all! So I thought I’d give you a brief overview of what we’ve been up to, including our plans for the summer and fall. 

My husband and I are in the final stretch of our training (I’m doing my Primary training 3-6 and he is doing Elementary training 6-12). We will both be student teachers for the next month at one of the best Montessori schools in Portland and then it will be exam time! There is only one word for these AMI Montessori trainings: INTENSE. And to do it with twin 3-year-olds while consulting clients on evenings and weekends…well, it hasn’t been easy. However, it has forced me to do a lot of soul-searching and transformation to become someone who can handle all of this stress! So in that sense, it’s been a great experience. 

This summer, we will be going back to Taiwan. B and M will be attending summer school at Taipei Montessori School. I am sooo excited about this. The program looks AMAZING. I’m not just saying this because I have family ties with that school. Seriously, I’ve looked into so many summer schools these last two years and this one has the best program I’ve seen. 

Summer school starts on June 16th. It runs from 830-4pm Monday through Friday. There is the Montessori work cycle in the morning, followed by extracurricular activites everyday, like Taekwondo, Taiko drumming, mosaic art, cooking, music, gymnastics etc. Afternoons are all cultural extension activities, which means, they explore Taiwanese, Aborigine and the larger Asian cultures through art, music, books, plays and other hands-on, sensorial activities. There will also be outings, including swimming, once a week.

I’m so excited for B and M to finally get fully immersed in a Chinese-speaking environment! I hope some of you will come and spend the summer with us in Taipei. Even if your child doesn’t speak any Chinese, they will learn so quickly. That is the power of the young child’s Absorbent Mind when it comes to language. There are lots of Caucasian children who attend this school and it always shocks me to hear perfect Chinese come out of them! For more information, click here for English and here for Chinese.

Here’s the big news:

Next fall, we will be moving to the Bay Area in California, where we will be starting a Montessori Chinese Immersion school. We don’t have the official name yet, or the exact location, but the details are in the works! It will be a Primary program accepting children between 2.5 – 6 years old. Our anticipated opening date is Jan of 2015. I hope some of you who live out there will come by to check us out!

B and M are now 3 years 3 months and growing fast. They attend a Montessori school here in Portland. I’ve got more updates about them coming up over the next few weeks, so stay tuned…

If Your Child Hits, Bites, Screams or Throws Tantrums

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014 12:05 am | By Stephanie Woo

M (3 years, 1 month) hammering a screwdriver into a piece of plaster to find dinosaur bones

Parents ask me about discipline more than any other questions. What do I do if my child hits, screams, cries or throws tantrums? 

When I address this question straight on, I can offer parents band-aid solutions. We all need something to fix the problem now. However, what I’m really interested in is working with parents to find permanent solutions. Bad behavior is never what it seems – there is always a root cause hidden underneath. 

Dr. Montessori’s own story provides a clue to the conundrum of bad behavior. An Italian physician, who worked with special needs children in psychiatric hospitals, Dr. Montessori became a sensation when her students passed the regular state exams, many of them with flying colors. She questioned how her methods would work with regular children. When a new housing project for migrant workers went up in Rome, the officials couldn’t figure out what to do with the children while their parents were at work. This is how Dr. Montessori came to be entrusted with 40 3-6 year olds children. 

Her methods produced miraculous results. In one year, aristocrats, scholars, teachers and parents around the world started visiting her school at the news of 4-year-olds spontaneously writing. And not just that. The dirty, sullen, timid children of poor, illiterate workers had become polite, self-disciplined, graceful and independent little human beings. 

Montessori writes about her experience in The Absorbent Mind, “The disorderly became orderly, the passive became active, and the troublesome disturbing child became a help in the classroom. This result made us understand their former defects had been acquired and were not innate. But all these disturbances came from a single cause, which was insufficient nourishment for the life of the mind.” (p.199, Kalakshetra)

Herein lies the answer to tantruming, screaming, difficult children: “insufficient nourishment for the life of the mind!” 

So how can we give our children sufficient nourishment for their minds? Let me offer a few places you can start with:

1. Help them do it by themselves. Mackenzie has to constantly remind me with her little shrieks, “BY MYSELF!” That little shriek (and sometimes full-blown crying) is an act of self-preservation.  She needs to learn to do things by herself and become independent. The survival of the human race has depended on our drive for self-sufficiency. If I’ve undone the button for her, opened the door for her or poured the milk for her, I’ll just go back two steps and button the button, or close the door or pour the milk back – and let her do it. That is not spoiling or giving in to her, that is giving her the help she really needs. Do you ever just pick up your child without asking? Do you ever just do things for them because you’re on automatic – serving them dinner, cleaning up after them, putting on their clothes? Yes, it’s automatic for us parents, but if you’ve got a tantruming child, see if you’ve just intruded on their independence and made them into babies. If there is anything they hate, it’s being a baby all over again.

2. Give your children plenty of opportunity to work with their hands. Play kitchens are fine, but pretend cooking with a plastic skillet will never require the kind of hand-eye coordination, care and attention that real pancakes on a skillet would require. Dolls and cars are great, but activities like hammering a nail, sewing with a needle, cutting with scissors are even better for their developing hand and intellect. And your child thrives on perfecting his coordination and abilities. Provided everything is child-sized, those kinds of activities make them happy, independent and trusted. Expect them to become fully absorbed and do things you never imagined young children doing. A child at 18 months and over can start using many kinds of kitchen utensils. B and M used their first pair of scissors at 19 months, cut with knives at 20 months and made scrambled egg here at 22 months. Watch what this Montessori mom does with her little one.

3. Children will do best when activities build on the skills of previous activities. Instructional scaffolding improves learning. If your child has never poured water before, don’t put them in front of a hot skillet to pour eggs. To learn pouring, a young toddler can start with stacking cups in the tub, then given a pitcher and glass at meals to pour his own milk. You can then teach her to pour through a funnel before letting her pour faster, runnier things like eggs. Let your child peel first bananas, then mandarins, then eggs. Let your child help mix things – first something liquid, then something heavier like batter before moving on to salads and spaghetti. Yes, the kitchen is a great place to build skills!

If your child is throwing a tantrum, screaming, hitting, yelling, calling you names, you need to address the behavior. You’re more than likely to encounter resistance though. But a child who is concentrating on doing something with his hands and absorbed in that activity isn’t interested in throwing a tantrum. He’s too busy. And usually, you’ll find that when he comes out of a period of concentration, he’s happier, lighter and more ready to do what you ask. 

I’ll leave you with one final thought: young children need lots of collaboration. If they don’t want to do something in the moment (even though they did it so well yesterday), their brains are not developed enough to have the kind of consistency you want and expect from adults. Today, they may just need a little more help. But not too much help – just enough till they can take over. 

See How Easily You Can Do Yoga with 3-Year-Olds!

Sunday, January 26th, 2014 2:59 am | By Stephanie Woo

With the help of an awesome set of yoga cards we got from my cousin, Daisy – featuring pictures of real children doing yoga, one pose on each card – B chooses Forward Bend as our first pose

B works her way into the Bow Pose

She does it!

Triangle Pose feels great!

M decides to join us in the Child’s Pose

What is yoga without Downward Dog?

We all lay down in Shavasana (Dead Man’s Pose)

We end in meditation. B concentrates hard to get the right hand mudra!

This yoga set is especially good because it features a real child doing yoga. This is better than drawn figures, which can be too abstract for young children. To find out more about this set of yoga cards, visit http://montessoribyhand.blogspot.com/2007/08/yoga-photos.html