Teaching Character Development in Early Childhood: Part 2

This is the second post in a monthly series that will be devoted to practical tips for using the Virtues language when teaching character development in early childhood. We’ll explain how we use this program in our classrooms, what it sounds like in conversation, and how you can use it at home in a variety of examples. We’ll be highlighting two Virtues each month, so be sure to subscribe to our blog for monthly Virtues tips that you can use at home!

If you missed last month’s post, you can catch up here:

And, if you haven’t already downloaded our mini guide — Virtues 101: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the Virtues at CHMS, you’re going to want to do that now.

Go ahead, we’ll wait.


All caught up? Good! Let’s dive into today’s Virtues:

The Virtues Project™: Helpfulness

Helpfulness is being of service to others, doing thoughtful things that make a difference in their lives. Offer your help without waiting to be asked. Ask for help when you need it. When we help each other, we get more done. We make our lives easier.

Two boys practicing helpfulness / teaching character development in early childhood
The job gets done faster, when we help each other!

Young children love to help! The like to know that they are contributing, that they are needed, and that their actions are having a positive impact on the people in their environment. So, tell them! Beyond just saying “thanks for your help,” give you child more information about how they are being helpful, what that means to you or your family, and how they can continue to be helpful in the future.

Children can be fickle, as you’re probably already aware, so don’t be surprised when their urge to help comes and goes. Just keep acknowledging it when you see it, expecting it when appropriate, and — as with ALL the Virtues — modeling it yourself.

In the classroom, we point out Helpfulness all the time! It takes a lot of work to keep the classroom running smoothly, and we can’t do it without a lot of help from the children. As your child gets older, expect their help in different areas of the home: cleaning up toys, helping with chores around the house, and other day to day activities.

You don’t have to do it all yourself! Acknowledge their helpfulness when you see them using it, correct them when you don’t, and let them know that you expect it in different circumstances. For example:

Acknowledgement: “You put your books away without being asked. Thank you for your helpfulness.” 

Guidance: “There are a lot of grocery bags in the car. If we all carry one bag inside, we’ll get done faster. I’d appreciate your helpfulness with this.”

Correction: “When it’s time to clean up the toys, we all need to do our part so that it gets done quickly. Next time, please use helpfulness and start putting toys away the first time I ask.”

Psst! Not sure what we mean by “Acknowledgement, Guidance, and Correction”? It’s in our mini guide — Virtues 101: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the Virtues at CHMS.

Moving on…

The Virtues Project™: Orderliness

Orderliness is being neat and living with a sense of harmony. You are organized, and you know where things are when you need them. Solve problems step by step instead of going in circles. Order around you creates order inside you. It gives you peace of mind.


This can be a tough one for parents to get a handle on. If you’re like the majority of parents out there, you’re still in some form of Survival Mode on a day-to-day basis. Between work, home, school, activities, and everything else that lands on your plate, it’s all most people can do to just get from one day to the next. Throw in multiple children at multiples stages of life and Orderliness can seem impossible. Yet — and this is a big YET — it’s the ONE thing that will help life come together and settle down.

Taking the time to organize your home, your schedule, your closets, the playroom, and whatever else needs organizing, will have a ripple effect on your family. Orderliness is calming. When we know what to expect, we live with less chaos, less stress, and are more at ease. Everything from a regular bedtime routine, to eating meals at the table, to putting the puzzles on the bottom shelf, is Orderliness.

When we teach our children to create order, restore order, and function with order we are teaching them more than just how to tidy up or leave the house on time. We are teaching them to organize their thoughts and actions. They are learning to sort and organize, manage their time, anticipate and predict, and plan ahead.

A Montessori classroom is nothing without Orderliness. Every material, every tray, and every rug, has a home. This orderliness means that materials seldom get lost or broken. A teacher can look at any shelf in her classroom and immediately see that something is out of place.

A place for everything! The Montessori classroom is neat and organized.

The children take responsibility for alerting teachers to missing or lost pieces, and the classroom stays cleaner and more organized. “A place for everything and everything in it’s place!” Whoever said that, must’ve been a Montessorian at heart!

This could be the topic for a whole other blog post, but for now, here are some examples of what it sounds like to talk about Orderliness, draw attention to it, and ask for it in certain circumstances.

Acknowledgement: “Look at how we’re using Orderliness to straighten up the playroom: the Legos are in the Lego bin, the books are on the bookshelf… everything is where it belongs!” 

Guidance: “We need to leave for school on time tomorrow. Let’s use Orderliness and get your clothes set out now, so you are ready to go in the morning.”

Correction: “Yes, it’s sad when we lose our things and can’t find them. We need to use Orderliness when we clean up, so we put things in the correct place. Did you put your baby doll in the doll basket? Oh, look! I found her under the couch! That’s not where she belongs!”

Using Helpfulness and Orderliness at Home

Helpfulness and Orderliness go hand in hand. We use helpfulness to restore orderliness, and using orderliness is helpful! When you see these virtues in action, draw your child’s attention to them. You will reinforce one, which will help with the other.

Talk about Helpfulness and Orderliness as positive things! As parents, we oftentimes feel under-appreciated and taken for granted. Rather than point out how much you’re doing to take care of your family in a begrudging or sarcastic kind of way, show them that it makes you happy to help and that you value orderliness, because it helps your family function better.

Let’s go from this: “No, here… I’ll do it, since apparently I’m the only one who knows how to fold laundry in this house!”

To this: “I am happy to help you fold the laundry… can you please put it away? It will go so much faster, if we work together!”

For more information and lots more examples you can use at home, remember to download our mini guide — Virtues 101: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the Virtues at CHMS. Next month we’ll talk about Perseverance and Cleanliness, so be sure to subscribe to our blog  to stay in the loop!

Additional Resources:

You Might Also Like These Posts from Children’s House Montessori School of Reston:

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Five Key Elements to Creating a Natural Play Space for Children

Creating a natural play space for your children is one of the best ways to encourage them to spend time connecting with nature and less time inside, watching TV or playing on their devices. Children love to be outside and the benefits of outdoor play are numerous.

Children who spend time outside connecting with nature learn to problem solve in creative ways, develop responsibility and self-confidence, and have reduced levels of stress and fatigue. There’s a great article linked at the bottom of this post, so be sure to check it out, if you need more convincing that children and nature go together like peanut butter and jelly or mud pies and a summer day.

Children watering the plants in the natural play space
Watering the plants outside the entrance to our playground

Here at Children’s House Montessori School of Reston we LOVE nature. We have a beautiful outdoor space and over the years we have expanded our playground, included more natural elements, and encouraged exploration, discovery, and respect for the natural world. We work on our gardens regularly, and our students spend time outside almost every day, digging, climbing, balancing, creating, and quietly reflecting.

Our space is a combination of traditional play structures with natural exploration spaces. As a result, our children get the best of both worlds: a playground that looks like a playground and a playground that is, in actual fact, a woodland discovery zone.

Developing a Dirt-Friendly Mindset

Kids that play outside will get dirty. As parents and teachers, we need to be okay with that and have a plan in place to deal with the messes as they happen. A positive attitude towards dirt, and a proactive plan for dealing with it, will keep everyone relaxed. Don’t stress over mess!

  • If your child is going to be outside getting wet or muddy, have an old towel handy by the back door to wipe off muddy hands and feet. At our school we have a hand-washing bucket near the hose for rinsing off sandy or muddy hands before going inside and washing up with soap at the sink.
  • Have a change of clothes handy, so your child doesn’t have walk through the house with dirt on the seat of their pants, and save the nice clothes and new shoes for going out in public.
  • Keep the conversation going so that your child knows what is and what isn’t allowed. For example, at our school it’s okay to get dirty and we expect that clothes will get wet. But it’s not okay to purposefully cover oneself in mud or dump water over ones head. We want to encourage play and exploration, but supervision and boundaries are key.
Children playing a natural play space
Getting dirty is half the fun!

Getting Started

So how do we do it? How do we encourage outdoor exploration, and what are some of the key elements to creating a natural play space that is fun and safe? Here are our five key elements to creating a natural play space for children:

Key Element for a Natural Play Space #1: Water

Providing safe access to water is the most impactful way to encourage exploration and connection with nature. Children will play in the water all day long, if given the opportunity, so make sure that adding a water source to your outdoor space is at the top of your list.

Safety first: Never leave your child unsupervised around water. If there is water in a bucket, there should always be an adult present to monitor its use.

How can you add a water source to your play space?

  • Fill a tub or bucket with a hose or bring the water outside from an inside faucet.
  • Add plastic pitchers, jugs, cups, and containers to allow your child to carry the water around the play space.
  • Set your limit — tell your child you’ll fill the container two times or three times and then the water is done for the morning. At CHMS we want the children to have fun and play, but we also want to instill a respect for the source of their fun, and simply dumping water out onto the ground is wasteful.

What will they do with it?

  • Pour it on the ground and watch the water flow down the hill or create puddles
  • Water the plants
  • Mix it with soil, sticks, and bits of leaves to make “soup”
  • Splash in it
  • Get wet
  • Ask for more — they always want more!
child watering plants in a natural play space

Key Element for a Natural Play Space #2: Feed the Senses

Consider your child’s five senses when setting up your natural play space. Nature is full of opportunities to use our senses and sometimes, just drawing your child’s attention to what is around is all it takes.

  • Sight: plant a variety of colorful flowers, take a nature walk and look for the natural items in all the color of the rainbow, or “adopt a tree” in your neighborhood and observe it in all four season.
  • Sound: It can be as simple as adding a wind chime to your outdoor space. Got rhythm instruments, like sticks, shakers, and drums? Bring them outside and play them in the open air!
  • Touch: water, mud, dry sand, wet sand, rough bark, smooth stones, waxy leaves, delicate flower petals — the opportunities are all around you.
  • Taste: Got lots of space? Plant a small vegetable garden! Limited space? Grow some strawberries in a pot. No green thumbs in your family? Bring snack outside or indulge in more picnics. Food tastes better outside anyway!
  • Smell: Take time to stop and smell the roses. Literally. Did you ever notice the seasons have distinct smells? Go for a walk around your neighborhood or in a park and smell the freshly mowed grass, the fallen leaves, the snow in the air, and the earth after a spring shower.

Key Element for a Natural Play Space #3: Access to Tools

Kids gotta dig! Let them dig! And not with those cheap plastic sand toys, please. Real tools that really work are best. Go to your local gardening center and pick up some hand tools: shovels, forks, and trowels a couple of lightweight buckets and you’re in business. At our school we have shelves set up with containers and storage tubs where we store our outside tools. At the end of the day, the tools and toys are brought back to the storage area and made ready for the next day.

As with water play, tools should be monitored and proper instruction given first. We do not throw tools, dig in areas that we are not allowed to dig in, or use tools in an unsafe manner.

Encourage your child to help with yard work, when possible. A small shrub rake makes a perfect child-sized leaf rake and a broom with a wooden handle can easily be cut shorter to make it more manageable for little ones. Children want to help and they want to feel like they are contributing, so get creative and find ways to include them in working in your outdoor space.

sweeping and raking in the a natural play space

Key Element for a Natural Play Space #4: Gross Motor Opportunities

Think about the many ways your child can use your outdoor space. Outside of the obvious (running), consider adding elements that encourage different types of gross motor activities and add them when you can. If space is limited, be on the lookout at nearby parks or natural areas and keep these in mind:

  • Climbing — trees with low branches, fences or low walls, fallen trees in the woods, over rocks. Children love to climb and it is only through climbing (and sometimes falling) that they learn their limitations and how to overcome them. Always supervise climbing play, but trust that your child will figure it out, get stronger, and learn to assess risk. You can’t become a strong climber, if you don’t climb. So, let them climb!
  • Balancing — fallen logs, rocks, low retaining walls, and stepping stones. Activities that require balancing improve a child’s core strength and control, resulting in fewer falls and less injuries. For children who are engaged in sports and other group activities, balancing builds confidence and improves skill.
  • Carrying, Pulling, Pushing — rocks, logs, buckets filled with dirt and water, and wagons or wheelbarrows. The best way to build strength is to use your muscles and this is especially important to young, growing bodies. Give your child heavy things to carry and let them help pull that wagon filled with mulch. Their muscles will thank you.
children climbing over trees in a natural play space
We love climbing over fallen trees when we take nature hikes!

Key Element for a Natural Play Space #5: Quiet Spaces

Ultimately, creating a natural play space for children is about giving children the opportunity to connect with nature. And one of the best ways to do that is to be still; to listen, breathe, and just be. Whether it’s a small bench in a flower garden, a tree stump in the woods, or a rocking chair on your porch, providing spaces that invite quiet is an important element to creating a natural play space.

Being still gives children the opportunity to:

  • Listen to the sound of birdsong, the chattering of squirrels, and the rustling of leaves
  • Notice a hardworking ant, the changing color of a leaf, and the breeze in their hair
  • Catch their breath
  • Rest their muscles
natural play setting
Children often find themselves at the bottom of the playground, enjoying the peace and quiet.

Get Outside

The best way to start is just to start! Turn off the TV, put down your phone, and get your kids outside! Whether you have a huge backyard with ample space to create amazing opportunities for your child to explore and create, or you live in an apartment with a single flower pot on your balcony, children need to connect with nature. Get them outside, find natural space, and let them be kids!

You’re Invited to Play with Us!

If you’re local to Northern Virginia and the Reston-Herndon area, we’d like to invite you to come and play with us! Join us for open playground time on the first Friday of every month (except for January — that’s the second Friday)! Playtime is from 10:00 am to 11:00 am. Bring your toddler or preschooler and let them explore our playground: dig in the dirt, walk through the gardens, and sit on a bench and enjoy the fresh air. Drop us a message, give us a call at 703-481-6678, or just show up and say “hi!” We have an amazing playground and we want to share it with our community.

Our Open Play sessions start on Friday, September 6 and will run through the school year. We hope to see you soon!

Additional Resources:

You Might Also Like These Posts from Children’s House Montessori School of Reston:

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Motivate Children Without Praise and Rewards

Did you know that it’s possible to motivate children without praise and reward systems, like sticker charts, prizes, or treats? Have you heard that rewards and praise work immediately, but lose their effectiveness over time? What if there was a better way to build confidence, motivation, and cooperation? Good news — there is!

We’re very quick to praise our children and the words “Good job!” are meant to encourage and motivate. But, what if, instead of motivating our children to do better, continue to improve, master a task, or learn new skills, we are actually doing the opposite? What if we’re teaching them to give minimal effort, behave “properly,” but only when someone is watching, and avoid risking failure and making mistakes?

There are a million resources out there telling us that “positive reinforcement” is the way to go. The idea is that, by catching a child exhibiting “positive” behavior and praising that behavior, we are giving our child immediate feedback that his behavior is desirable. He connects the reward with the behavior and will want to repeat that behavior again to receive the reward.

Easy-peasy, right? Yes… but, there’s more to it than that.

A child prepares to do the monkey bars. Motivating children without praise and rewards
Focus and determination as these girls prepare to conquer the monkey bars.

Why praise and rewards don’t work (in the long run)

Praise and rewards do work, which is why we keep using them! But, as any parent who’s had a child turn their nose up at the offer of a reward can tell you, eventually the effects wear off. Sticker charts work at first — what kids doesn’t like stickers?! — and then they don’t — “I only like shiny sparkle stickers!”. The promise of dessert will get them to finish their broccoli — “Yay!! Ice-cream!!” — and then it won’t — “I don’t even like ice-cream.”

Before you know it, the stakes get higher, the promises go up in value, and we’ve gone from stickers on a chart for good behavior, to money in the piggy bank for good grades. And, eventually, that will wear out as well.

When we motivate with praise and rewards, and other types of external motivators, children are not learning more about themselves when they accomplish a new task, they are simply learning what it takes to please adults. They lose interest over time, because they figure it out: Do this and get that. The end. That was easy.

On the other hand, a child who learns to listen to his own voice, develops internal motivation, and learns to push himself to try harder, celebrate his victories, and acknowledge his shortcomings.

He learns that perseverance pays off — not because he gets applause or a cookie — but because he becomes a faster runner or a better reader. He figures out that cooperating with others helps get more done, feels good, and makes it easier to make friends and have fun. A child who listens to his own voice learns that it’s okay to mess up, make mistakes, and try again.

Children are in a constant state of growth and change and their number one, most important project is themselves. In learning more about themselves, they become better equipped to learn more about others and the world around them.

Why do we continue to use praise and rewards?

So, if praise and rewards don’t work in the long term, why do we continue to use them?

  • They’re a quick and easy way to provide positive reinforcement
  • We really are proud of our child’s accomplishments and want them to know it
  • We want our child to repeat their actions or behavior, so we want them to know that we approve of what they just did
  • It usually just slips out – it is almost a reflex

Whether we mean to or not, when we use simple praise we are teaching children that every accomplishment, from scribbling a quick picture (easy) to crossing the monkey bars for the first time (challenging), is worthy of the same degree of enthusiasm or acknowledgement: Good job!

Let’s be honest… that scribbled picture wasn’t that amazing. Your kid knows it and you know it. So don’t gush over hasty artwork with the same enthusiasm as an accomplishment that actually required effort, patience, practice, and skill.

When every little thing gets a, “good job,” “I’m so proud of you,” or “way to go,” we are inadvertently teaching our children that giving their best effort is not really necessary, because someone will probably give them a verbal pat on the back anyway. Why try any harder than you have to?  

Children know when they’ve worked hard.

So, what should you do instead?

First, cut yourself some slack. Saying “good job” is not the end of the world and you haven’t done permanent damage to your child’s self-esteem.

Second, start paying attention to how and when you use praise and ask yourself these questions:

  1. What action or behavior am I trying to reinforce?
  2. What additional information can I give my child about this action or behavior?
  3. How can I help my child learn more about himself in this situation?

It sounds like this:

Situation: Your child is helping clean up the playroom and put toys away.

Automatic response: “Good job, buddy! Thanks for helping!”

What action or behavior am I trying to reinforce? Helpfulness, cooperation, and orderliness. I want him to help more often with less arguing.

What additional information can I give my child about this action or behavior? When we clean up together we have more time for stories, or when we put things away in the right place we can find it easily the next time.

How can I help my child learn more about himself in this situation? By sharing how it makes me feel to have his help with this activity.

So — instead of, “Good job, buddy! Thanks for helping!” — we could, instead, say something like, “Thanks for helping put everything away in the right place! Next time we play we’ll be able to find stuff quickly,” or “I really appreciate your helpfulness! Now we have time for an extra story, because we worked together!” or “That was so easy, because we worked together!”

By simply pausing before we praise, and giving a little extra thought to what we are about to say, we can expand on that positive reinforcement and make it more meaningful. We can help our children learn something about themselves and connect them with that internal voice that grows through experience and feedback.

A child paints at the easel. Motivating children without praise and rewards
Next time your child presents you with her artwork, try saying, “Tell me about your painting,” instead of, “So pretty” or “Nice!”

Next Steps

Here, at Children’s House, we have a program we use called The Virtues Project. Rather than motivate children with praise and rewards, the Virtues have helped us move from empty praise to more impactful language when we engage with our students about their actions, accomplishments, and behavior. You can download your own copy of Virtues 101: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the Virtues at CHMS and start using the Virtues language at home today and subscribe to our blog for additional parenting tips and suggestions.

Additional Resources:

You Might Also Like These Posts from Children’s House Montessori School of Reston:

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Teaching Character Development in Early Childhood: Part 1

Teaching character development is part of any good early childhood program. Children need a safe space in which to express and regulate their emotions and an early childhood classroom provides ongoing opportunity for learning. Cooperation, kindness, consideration, responsibility and trustworthiness are all part of having fun and making friends.

There are many things that set Children’s House Montessori School of Reston apart from other preschools and Montessori schools in the northern Virginia area. One of those – and one that we are quite proud of – is our character development program and our implementation of The Virtues Project™ at our school.

Two children building a puzzle demonstrates character development in early childhood classrooms.
Two friends use the Virtues cooperation and perseverance to get the job done!

This post is the first in a monthly series that will be devoted to practical tips for using the Virtues language. We’ll explain how we use this program in our classrooms, what it sounds like in conversation, and how you can use it at home in a variety of examples. We’ll be highlighting two Virtues each month, so be sure to subscribe to our blog for monthly Virtues tips that you can use at home!

Before we go any further — trust us, you’ll be lost — take a minute to download our mini guide — Virtues 101: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the Virtues at CHMS. It will answer your basic questions about this program and give you a solid understanding of what the Virtue are, how we use this program at our school, and how you can bring the Virtues home.

Let’s dive in!

The Virtues Project™: Patience

Patience is quiet hope and trust that things will turn out right. You wait without complaining. You are tolerant and accepting of difficulties and mistakes. You picture the end in the beginning and persevere to meet your goals. Patience is a commitment to the future.

— The Virtues Project™
A child threading beads onto a necklace demonstrates character development in early childhood classrooms.
It takes a great deal of patience and determination to make your necklace turn out just right!

It’s safe to say that patience is not what preschoolers are known for. They typically want what they want when they want it, so teaching patience takes, well, patience. Naming patience when you see it, giving an example of what it looks like, modeling it in front of your child (and naming it), and expecting it under certain circumstances are all ways that patience becomes part of life.

Acknowledgement: “You are waiting quietly and keeping your hands to yourself. Thank you for your patience.”

Guidance: “We will read the story after everyone finishes cleaning up their work. Let’s practice patience and wait calmly until we are all ready.”

Correction: “When you see me talking to someone, please practice patience and wait until I am finished before asking for what you need.”

The Virtues Project™: Gentleness

Gentleness is moving wisely, touching softly, holding carefully, speaking quietly and thinking kindly. When you feel mad or hurt, use your self-control. Instead of harming someone, talk things out peacefully. You are making the world a safer, gentler place.

— The Virtues Project™
Children watching a small frog demonstrates character development in early childhood classrooms.
Watching a little toad we found on the playground. It takes gentleness to make sure none of the animal visitors we discover get hurt by our enthusiasm.

Children learn so much through observation. They are always watching us, picking up on our habits and mannerisms, so pay attention to how you practice and model gentleness at home; your child is taking in everything you do. In our classrooms we emphasize gentleness by modeling control of our hands, bodies, and voices. We draw attention to small movements and name gentleness when we see it in action, need it to be present, or notice it’s absence.

Acknowledgement: “Thank you for using gentleness and choosing to use your inside voice.”

Guidance: “We’ll need to use gentleness when we pass this special item around the circle, so that it doesn’t break.”

Correction: “We need to remember to use gentleness next time we get upset, so that our friends don’t get hurt.”

Using Patience and Gentleness at Home

Think about the many ways that you can draw attention to patience and gentleness at home. Model them yourself and acknowledge your child’s efforts to use these Virtues as well. By naming them when we use them ourselves, we show our children what they look like, sound like, and feel like.

When you see your child using patience and gentleness, acknowledge them for it. You don’t need to use praise (“You were so patient today! Good job!”), just name the Virtue and give them a little extra information about what it means. Through practice and many, many small experiences, we can help our children shape their understanding of themselves and others.

For more information and lots more examples you can use at home, remember to download our mini guide — Virtues 101: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the Virtues at CHMS. Next month we’ll talk about Helpfulness and Orderliness, so be sure to subscribe to our blog  to stay in the loop!

Additional Resources:

Like what you’re reading? Leave us a comment, share this article on Facebook or with a friend, and subscribe to our blog for weekly updates!

Dinosaur Summer Camp Adventures!

We’ve been having so much fun at dinosaur summer camp this past month! Kids LOVE dinosaurs and we always have fun with this theme!

Weather permitting, we still spend our mornings outside on our beautiful playground, but the materials on our classroom shelves have changed to reflect our love of these awesome extinct reptiles.

The children have been building dinosaur puzzles, identifying different dinosaur species, and matching, sorting, and identifying dinosaurs with all of the new classroom materials. We’ve been reading books about dinosaurs, playing games about dinosaurs, and, in general, having a dino-saurific time!

Child doing a puzzle at dinosaur summer camp

Last week we enjoyed making our own “fossils” out of salt dough. The children rolled out various bone shapes and used small clay tools to create their own fossilized footprints and other shapes. Those fossils are now available for use during our morning work period and are getting a lot of use.

We also made a tasty dino-themed treat using pretzel sticks and mini marshmallows. “What did you have for snack today, sweetheart?” BONES!

And let’s not forget our dino dig! Cloud dough makes a great sensory substitute for sand when it comes to excavating for dinosaurs!

Dinosaur Summer Camp sure has been fun, but summer’s not over yet! It’s time to cool off with a trip to the OCEAN for our last few weeks of summer camp fun!

We hope you are having a fun summer! What have you and your family been up to since school ended?

Potty Training Facts to Put Your Mind at Ease

Going to the bathroom part of life, but learning how to do it doesn’t have to be stressful, drawn out, or complicated. Sometimes, just knowing a few potty training facts can put parents’ minds at ease when it comes time to toilet train. So, before you stress out and start to question whether your child will ever ditch the diapers, take some advice from us and expert and author, Elizabeth Pantley, on this topic.

In our experience, many parents sign the enrollment papers for their child’s first preschool experience several months in advance. At the time the decision is made, the first day of school may seem far off in the future.

“We haven’t started potty training yet, but we still have plenty of time.”

Sound familiar?

Well, the day is looming and, most preschools, including Children’s House, have expectations for a certain level of independence in the bathroom. Our formal policy is that children be toilet-trained before they start school, but the reality is unique for each family.

Different Needs

Some children are almost independent in the bathroom, they just need to be reminded and taken to the bathroom at regular intervals to ensure success in the first few weeks. They are learning a new routine and there’s so many fun things to do in the classroom that they are distracted and not aware of their body’s needs.

Other children are overwhelmed by their new schedule, new classmates, new teachers, and school and might regress in their behaviors. Accidents are common in the first few days of school as we adjust. Our teachers handle bathroom accidents calmly. There is no shame in accidents. We help the child change into clean clothes, wash their hands, and return to the classroom as quickly as possible.

There are also children who are still in the transition phase from diapers to underwear. Perhaps they had a busy summer with travel and lots of excitement. It was easier for their parents to rely on diapers rather than create a whole new routine around multiple trips to the bathroom. The first day of school is around the corner and suddenly, the pressure to complete the process is upon them.

Whatever the reason, these quick facts about potty training will help you put this process into perspective.

potty training facts
Sometimes making new friends is more fun than going to the bathroom!

Quick Facts About Potty Training

by Elizabeth Pantley, Author of The No-Cry Potty Training Solution

Potty training can be natural, easy, and peaceful. The first step is to know the facts.

  • The perfect age to begin potty training is different for every child. Your child’s best starting age could be anywhere from eighteen to thirty-two months. Pre-potty training preparation can begin when a child is as young as ten months.
  • You can begin training at any age, but your child’s biology, skills, and readiness will determine when he can take over his own toileting.
  • Teaching your child how to use the toilet can, and should, be as natural as teaching him to build a block tower or use a spoon.
  • No matter the age that toilet training begins, most children become physically capable of independent toileting between ages two and a half and four.
  • It takes three to twelve months from the start of training to daytime toilet independence. The more readiness skills that a child possesses, the quicker the process will be.
  • The age that a child masters toileting has absolutely no correlation to future abilities or intelligence.
  • There isn’t only one right way to potty train – any approach you use can work – if you are pleasant, positive and patient. 
  • Nighttime dryness is achieved only when a child’s physiology supports this–you can’t rush it.
  • A parent’s readiness to train is just as important as a child’s readiness to learn.
  • Potty training need not be expensive. A potty chair, a dozen pairs of training pants and a relaxed and pleasant attitude are all that you really need. Anything else is truly optional. 
  • Most toddlers urinate four to eight times each day, usually about every two hours or so.
  • Most toddlers have one or two bowel movements each day, some have three, and others skip a day or two in between movements. In general, each child has a regular pattern.
  • More than 80 percent of children experience setbacks in toilet training. This means that what we call “setbacks” are really just the usual path to mastery of toileting.
  • Ninety-eight percent of children are completely daytime independent by age four.

This article is an excerpt from The No-Cry Potty Training Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Child Say Good-Bye to Diapers by Elizabeth Pantley. (McGraw-Hill, 2006)  

Open Communication

Wherever you are in the potty training process, communication with your child’s teachers is of utmost importance. We are a team, working together to create a positive school experience for your child and your family. Open communication about your child’s bathroom needs is a big part of that.

So let us know what to expect and how we can help. We’ll get through this process — together!

potty training facts
A quick potty break means we can get back to enjoying our favorite activities!

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Limited Choices Lead to Cooperation

Children want their opinions known! Here’s a Montessori parenting tip to make things go a little smoother at home, especially when your children are still very young. This concept aligns with the Montessori philosophy, in that it emphasizes independent choice while still adhering to logical boundaries. This is something we manage in the classroom all the time! When 20 children (and their opinions) come together, we know that limited choices lead to cooperation.

This concept works at home and at school: by helping our children make positive choices within boundaries, we allow them a sense of control over their environment. Over time, this leads to cooperation, but it takes practice.

Learning to Reason

Until the age of five, children are still learning how to reason. Your rationale for why they need to choose X over Y doesn’t always make sense to them, because they are still learning to weigh the options and come to a rationale conclusion.  If Y is available, why can’t they have it? If shorts and a bathing suit are still in their closet in December, why can’t they wear them?! If they see it, they want it. Period. Cue tears and a tantrum when Mommy or Daddy says “no.”

Too many choices can make for frustration and conflict, when a younger child thinks he can have it all, but then learns he can not. When you limit the number of choices you offer, you give your child a sense of control and allow him to make decisions within the boundaries you choose. This is especially helpful when your child is learning to cooperate and makes it much easier to do things that create routines. 

montessori parenting tips

This or That? instead of Yes or No?

Something we have learned from many years of working with young children: never ask a yes/no question, if you’re not prepared for the answer to be NO!

“Should we go to the library?” NO! 

“Can you put on your shoes?” NO! 

“Do you want to get in your carseat?” NO!

If your child doesn’t want to put on his shoes before leaving the house, consider how many choices he has in the process and think about how you can create more opportunities for him to choose, while still sticking to the fact that putting on shoes is not a choice. Make it clear that some things are non-negotiable (ie. putting on his shoes and leaving the house) and other things are negotiable (ie. which shoes he wears and where he chooses to put them on).

“We’re going to the library, time to put on shoes!” (non-negotiable)

“Do you want your brown shoes or your blue shoes?” (negotiable)

“Where do you want to sit to put on your shoes? Over here (on the bottom step) or over there (on a stool or bench)?” (negotiable)

“Let’s go to the car!” (non-negotiable)

If something is non-negotiable, don’t give your child the opportunity to express his opinion on whether or not it happens, but give him lots of opportunity to control other aspects of the event:

“Do you want to take the blue bag or the red bag?” The blue bag!

“Should we get 3 books or 5 books?” Five books!

“Should we walk slow like turtles to the front door or tiptoe like mice?” Mice!

montessori parenting tips

What to Avoid

Be careful to avoid these common mistakes when it comes to offering choices. They can lead to frustration for both parent and child and are often the cause of stress, tears, and tantrums.

Avoid giving too many choices:

  • “Do you want the blue shoes?” NO
  • “How about the red shoes? Flip flops? Do you want your flip flops?” NO shoes!
  • “What about your sandals? Let’s put your sandals on!” No shoes!
  • Boots?” No!
  • “Well, what do you want to wear? We have to leave!” (Child runs around not putting on any shoes.)

Avoid using good / bad choices in an attempt to manipulate the outcome:

  • “You can put on your shoes or you can stay home and miss the library!” Miss the library!
  • “If you don’t put your shoes on, your feet are going to get cold.” I like cold feet.

Avoid going back on your choices:

  • “Blue bag or red bag?” Blue bag!
  • “Actually, no let’s take the red bag, it’s bigger.” Waaaahhh!

It’s okay, parents! We’ve all been there!

It takes some practice, but choices can be fun! Always make sure that you’re okay with both choices, limit the number of choices you offer, make sure you’re okay with the outcome before offering options, and then follow through with what your child decides. 

By giving him a little control over his choices, you’ll show him that you trust his opinion and value his input, and he’ll learn that when we cooperate, we can participate in the decision-making. That’s win for all involved!

What are some ways that you can see using these strategies at home with your child?

montessori parenting tips

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Summer Fun has Begun!

Summer Camp at CHMS is underway! We have six weeks of camp scheduled and are looking forward to a fun change of pace in the coming days.

Playing in the sand never gets old!

Mornings are spent outside, beating the Virginia heat and enjoying the shade on our beautiful natural playground. The children enjoy playing with water toys, painting on the easel (outside!), and just enjoying a long, leisurely play time. We head inside for snack and to cool off a little later in the morning and then it’s time for indoor fun.

Summer means a smaller group size, new friends, and different things to do. We’ll be studying dinosaurs this summer, a favorite topic for all, and will have lots of new activities on the shelves to explore! The children will also participate in some fun food activities (popsicles and smoothies, anyone?), indoor games, and get creative with a variety of arts and crafts. We accumulate a lot of leftover creative supplies during the course of the year and summertime is the perfect time to use them up!

We think President Lincoln would approve!

Our summer program is open to CHMS students and it is a great way for new students to acclimate to our program before school starts again in August and make some new friends.

What do you have planned for the summer? Will your child be spending some time with us? Hope to see you soon!

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Make this Summer Memorable, the Montessori Way

Summer is here! This much-anticipated season has the potential to be the “best summer ever,” but before you get overwhelmed by the seemingly endless possibilities that await you and your family between now and the first day of school, take a few minutes to think back on what some of your most cherished moments were from your childhood summers.

Oftentimes, it’s the simplest pleasures that stick the most: staying up late and playing outside as the sun sets, listening for the ice-cream truck to drive through the neighborhood (always just before dinner time!), going to the pool, and days on end without an agenda. Young children, however, still need structure and consistency to help them navigate the days. When you can’t tell time or read a calendar, the days and weeks can be very long and overwhelming, especially when you throw in travel for vacations, summer camps, and changes in their routine.

montessori summer activities for kids
A popsicle makes every summer activity sweeter!

In the Montessori classroom there are a number of concepts that we use to create the framework that holds everything together. We are organized to lessen chaos and provide structure, we limit choices to avoid overwhelming children with too many options, and we always try to end on a high note, so that we move into the next activity of the day with positive energy.

With these in mind, look ahead to your summer days and consider what it could look like, if you took a Montessori approach to summer fun:


  • Planning ahead, gathering your supplies ahead of time, and having some structure to new activities will go a long way when it comes to avoiding mid-summer meltdowns. Make sure you have what you need before you start making popsicles or tell the kids it’s time to go the pool or announce that it’s picnic time. Taking a few minutes to prep for an activity will ensure that the initial excitement doesn’t disappear before you leave the house.
  • Have a designated tote bag for summer, and make sure it’s always stocked with drinks, snacks, sunscreen, hats, and some toys or books. That bag will save your sanity when your little guy is hot, thirsty, and D.O.N.E. with the fun.

Limiting Choices

  • One or two fun new activities are great! Running around to the pool, the ice-cream shop, the outdoor festival, and grandma’s house for a cook-out all in one day, however, is just plain exhausting for little ones. Avoid the overwhelm and limit the casual chaos until your kids are a little older and can keep up with a faster pace. No one enjoys a crash and burn kind of day!
  • If your children will be home with you all summer, plan one or two excursions per week and leave the rest of the days open to whatever summer brings. By not overbooking your days with activities, you’ll leave plenty of room for spontaneity, which is half of the fun of summer in the first place!

Know Your Start and Finish

  • Ask any Montessori teacher and she’ll tell you: one of the best ways to guarantee a fun experience for all is to know when to call it a day. Children’s moods can turn on a dime and, what started out as a fun excursion, can suddenly turn into a hot, sweaty, tear-stained mess. Make a plan, communicate your plan, and leave when spirits are high.
  • Know what’s happening next. Kids don’t want to leave the pool? They might, if they knew that they’re going home to have popsicles on the front porch! Having too much fun at the playground? Let’s go home and cool off with the hose, a sprinkler, and some water toys! Leave on a high note, always knowing what’s next.
montessori summer activities for kids
The simplest things can make long lasting memories.

Summer can be fun, fun, fun… but, it’s a loooonng couple of months, so plan ahead! A little organization and forethought goes a long way when it comes to kids: plan ahead and be proactive to avoid summer meltdowns. Make this summer memorable for them and for you!

What’s your family’s favorite summer activity? Share in the comments and give us your top tips and tricks to making it extra fun!

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A Visit from a Former Student… and an Igloo??

When your school has been open for 16 years, visits from former students can be eye-opening. Those three year olds who joined us at circle time our first year are now college students!  We’ve seen friendships established at CHMS that continue to thrive many years later, and we receive holiday cards each December with updated family photos, which we proudly display in our office. It’s amazing to see children you nurtured as three, four, and five year olds turn into elementary children who stop by to sell cookies, teenagers who are driving, and young adults heading off to college!

Over the years we have had former students come back to CHMS to get volunteer hours for school, assist the teachers with our summer camp program, and to read to the current students. They love reconnecting with an environment that holds a special place in their hearts and we love reconnecting with them! It’s a win-win situation.

This past week, we had another visit from a former family, but this visit was unlike any other we have experienced! This visit included 397 plastic milk jugs and a structure called the “Jugloo” being built on our playground!

Creativity in Action

Carla Brown is a former CHMS parent who runs a blog and podcast called Trashmagination, which focus on the creative reuse of items that people usually throw away. Plastic milk jugs are one of Carla’s favorite materials to creatively reuse. Together with her husband, Bob Welland, her son (and former CHMS student) Russell, and his boy scout troop (1577), Carla designed and built an igloo structure made of milk jugs and zip ties. The Jugloo was entered in the 6th annual Maker Faire at George Mason University on June 2, 2019.

“The Faire showcases amazing collection of tech enthusiasts, engineers, woodworkers, metal workers, auto hackers, artists, teachers, and craftspeople from all over the DC Metro area and beyond. There are tons of hands on activities where you can learn how to make this stuff on your own!”  

Russell and his fellow scouts helped collect and clean the milk jugs, test out the construction process, and assembled the finished Jugloo at the Maker Faire. Russell also used the Jugloo as the focus for his “Passion Project” presentation at school. After all that effort, he didn’t want it to “go to waste” and so offered it to Children’s House for a day.  We’re so glad he did!!

Igloo Adventure

Russell, Carla, and Bob came by after hours and assembled the Jugloo on our deck. The next day, much to the children’s surprise, there was a Jugloo on our playground and it was a sight to see! It was big enough for several children to get in and the younger ones could actually stand up.  The children had a fabulous time trying it on for size!

We love that they had they opportunity to see creative reuse in action. We regularly use toilet paper rolls, applesauce and yogurt cups, shoe boxes, tissue boxes, and more in our annual craft events and for special projects at school. Ms. Karen recently helped the children make kazoos out of toilet paper rolls and wax paper and “guitars” out of yogurt cups and rubber bands! Reusing items can be fun – whether you’re climbing in them or making noise with them!

Thanks for sharing!

A HUGE thank you to Russell, Carla, and Bob for sharing the Jugloo with us! They took a couple of hours out of their day to transport the jugs and assemble the structure just so our students could play and experience a little Arctic adventure on the playground. We really appreciate your creativity and enthusiasm and look forward to following your future projects and creations!

For the complete story behind the Jugloo, be sure to visit the Trashmagination blog and listen to the podcast. For more creative ways to reuse milk jugs, check out Carla’s Pinterest board on the topic!

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