Encouraging Play


I can’t think of a parent that doesn’t want their child to play. We know that play is, quite simply, good for kids.


Infants play spontaneously without encouragement, and sometimes despite of many distractions. As they age, our expectations of them tend to change. We encourage them, with the best of intentions, to be more intentional, and we provide opportunities to learn through play.


What happens to children’s intrinsic motivation to  play when they are always provided with play prompts?  Play dates, parks with play structures, and art invitations are all a part of my children’s play, but only a part of it.


How do my plans interrupt or prevent my children’s developing play ideas?


In my more absent-minded or ambitious days, an idea as simple as letting children play can easily fall by the wayside – a victim of my good intentions and life’s obligations.


I’ve developed a few habits that have helped keep unstructured play time a part of our lives.


Schedule Unstructured Time Even life in a small town can be filled quickly with social appointments,  from park dates to running errands. I protect our stay-at-home days, which are typically Mondays and/or Fridays. We may go for a short walk around our neighborhood, but we spend most of our morning at home and do not schedule play dates with friends or go to the park (even though both are places where free play can happen). As my daughters are 3 years and 1 year old, we are lucky that there really are no obligations that we can not schedule to our convenience. I realize a whole day is not easy to come by, especially as children age, but some time each week in these early years contributes to the development of the habit of play.



Have Toys Available that Encourage Independent Play and Let Children Move them as Needed. Open-ended play can be messy. My daughters move furniture and blankets all over the house, lining up all of our chairs to become train cars, and blankets to become beds, blocking the main artery of our home. Designating a space such as a child’s room, bed, or closet (even where play scenes can be left and revisited without changing the flow of the whole house) is one way to let independent play develop.


Be a Willing Play Partner. It seems like right before I end my cleaning routine – say, finishing the dishes – my daughter brings me some variety of empty mugs, forks, and rocks, and asks me to “eat” with her. I have never regretted putting those chores aside and playing instead. She does not ask for my participation frequently (that is where my other daughter, Moon, comes in), so when she does we can always come to some agreement about when that can happen. It is not always right away, but when I say I will do something, I follow through.


Let Children Take the Lead. Infants and toddlers who have sustained the ability to play independently may not need a partner, so holding back may ultimately be more encouraging of play than jumping in.


Play Outside. Nature provides infinite chances to play. We love parks, but have recently been spending more time outside playing in spaces that the girls can run on, hide in, climb over, discover, and marvel at. Heading to the beach? Leave the sand toys at home. Toys can be fun to bring along, but how about leaving all of those things behind so that children can create their own games.


How do you keep play a top priority in your everyday lives?

Parenting Roads


I have written no less than three follow-up posts about how I’m feeling about our hard school experience.  My editor (Mike) has vetoed them all, determining that there is not much to be learned from them. Agreeing that my  “processing” is really of no help to anyone but me, I’ve agreed they are better left in the draft file.


So, instead of talking about all the things I consider Greysen’s school could have done differently, I have decided to put the mirror right here.


Actually, I started thinking about my parenting one night when Greysen asked me what the lyric, “We know these roads because we paved them” meant as we sat together listening to some music before bed.  I took a hard swallow and searched for a simple explanation.


I said something like, “To me, it means that everyone makes decisions, and that we have to live with the consequences of those decisions. We can change our lives, but we need to do something differently than we have been for that to happen.”



Arrogance or Ignorance?

Honestly, I’m not sure whether it was arrogance or naïveté that led me to think that I would experience few, if any, struggles with parenting in the first years. I thought that based on my experiences, knowledge, and years of longing for children, that these first three years would be nothing but joyful.


Before kids, Mike would glance my way, eyebrow raised in question at the sight of a child struggling. Convinced it would be different for us, I would come in close and would explain things we – as parents – would do differently than we were seeing being done. Hypothetical problem solved.
The joy of having children has exceeded my imagination and my heart’s desires; however, there are were far more challenges than blogs, books, and experience could have prepared me for.


Try and try as we might, children are going to act in ways we wish they wouldn’t. This is as I expected. That’s growing. What I didn’t expect was that, try and try as we might, we as parents are going to act in ways we wish we wouldn’t.


We parent deliberately, but not perfectly.


There are no parenting milestones, progress reports, or any other ways to determine whether how we are parenting will develop the skills in our children that will help them be happy adolescents and healthy adults. There are no guarantees that for all the well-intentioned decisions we make, from health to education, that things will work out as we plan. Regardless, we continue to make deliberate efforts to parent in accordance with our heart and our instincts – to trust that the kind, respectful choices we make every day will set our children on a path where they live, love, and laugh.

Our Lives Reflected in Play

Unstructured Play

In education, assessment is the follow-up to any learning activity. Quizzes, tests, and final products are all intended to be evidence of what children are learning. At home, we too have a less intrusive way to get a glimpse into our children’s understanding, by just listening and watching their play.


In play, children can work out feelings and ideas, and perhaps even gain some understanding of their lives. Pieces of our lives are being reflected in my daughter’s play this week.


Our Family

“This is the Mama and Dada. The big sister is sleeping with her own blanket and the mom is angry that the babies want to sleep with her.” -Greysen.

We are moving away from bed-sharing. I was so glad to hear her thoughts as she explained this scenario to me.  I clarified that in real life our decision to transition out of bed sharing is not the result of anger or some other emotion, but rather backaches (more specifically, four tiny kicking feet all through the night).


Fish Tank

We have been trying to establish an aquarium since December, and have been visiting the pet store for much needed advice for the protection of the surviving fish.


I later found this with a cover right next to our real fish tank.


A Bake Sale


This is an invitation to play that I set up after Greysen was walking around baking things for a bake sale – something we participated in recently.  I swapped out our groceries for goodies.



A Cemetery


On her way to visiting the cemetery, my mom stopped by and left us essentials, which the girls immediately incorporated into their play. Between this conversation and one she heard in passing about baby Patrick’s passing (Progressive Parent), Greysen came up with her own ideas.


This is Moon laying down at the cemetery where Greysen instructed her to next to “dog”.


Greysen: “We are laiding [sic] down in a cemetery. We are dead.”
Me: “You are dead?”
Greysen: “No, we are sleeping.”



Do your children regularly talk about your lives in their play? If you are interested in sharing, please leave a link or comment below.

Learning to Use Art Tools

color mixing 4

At first glance this may look like there may have been some learning about what happens when yellow meets blue. I think that might have been going on as well, but the real fascination was with trying to get the water into the pipette.



After some struggle, Greysen is pleased with finally getting some color in there . Although I was kind of thrilled that different greens were coming together, Greysen’s joy came from the accomplishment of filling up the pipette. No conversations about color mixing today, just this scene of competency.



When children encounter a new tool, however seemingly simple, it can be helpful to give them a few minutes to explore the tool on its own. After a brief introduction, such as explaining expectations (e.g., “these sharp sticks need to stay at the table”), allow a few minutes for children to hold and explore the tool itself. With tool in hand, children may imagine the possibilities, exposing a tools potential.  After they have had time to examine the tools, provide the art medium.


In this instance, I gave Greysen a pipette. She squeezed it, turned it around and pretended the pipette was a medicine dispenser for a bit. When I sensed a lull in her ideas, I asked if she was ready for the watercolor.


In most artistic endeavors, it can be challenging for adults to set expectations aside for the entire duration of the experience. This is especially true for art tools. We generally want the paintbrush to be dipped into one color at a time, the pipettes to hold water, the rolling pin to roll rather than stamp into the dough…  We have expectations.


Just as children are learning about the potential and limits of art materials, they are also learning about the tools and deserve time to understand the possibilities of each in their own time. 










Hello Building Area, Good-bye Toy Basket



When the Christmas tree came out, I realized that we had a nice little corner full of potential. Instead of returning our dining table to this corner, I changed this to a play space.


I experimented a bit and moved the girls’ kitchen area here, as well as a small table and chairs for a writing space. It felt crowded. I was finally inspired by some new-to-us plastic spools. I then settled on dedicating this area to be a building space rather having several types of toys here. The girls will use the kitchen things wherever it is moved to, but blocks have been hit or miss. Perhaps a dedicated space would change that!



I added some loose parts on this shelf. I have since replaced the small blocks with a tin full of rocks. All of the things on this shelf, except the people, are re-purposed materials.

Greysen and Moon have been building far more than they did with the blocks tucked away in a clear container. Go figure?


Greysen and Moon both use the spools most often.



As I was setting this up, I also decided to clear out our toy basket. Not just clear out, but get rid of, many things – something I have wanted to do since I read that Kylie from How We Montessori has no toy baskets. I couldn’t imagine not having a catch-all basket for the numerous toys that fit nowhere. Interestingly, the toys I felt guilty about putting away because the girls use them have not been missed.


The girls have been so engaged in building throughout the day! I plan on switching out their other shelf to create a similarly dedicated space. I’m watching their play closely to see what makes the most sense for them.  Do you have any spaces like this? I’d love to see them.




My Child is No Longer Welcome at Her School



We can’t do this parenting thing on our own. My husband and I have come to rely on family, friends, medical professionals, educators and my moms club, as people to turn to for advice, answers, and sometimes just comfort.


I didn’t realize the extent to which I relied on each group until today, when one was taken away from me. Actually, it chose to not be a part of our lives, for now.


One detail of our lives I have kept off the blog is my daughter’s aggressive behaviors. I have chosen not to blog about this before because really the blog has become my refuge, my place to imagine the possibilities of things I can do with my children and to reflect on both their growth and mine as a parent. I needed this place to be free of that one reality.  It is a harsh and difficult reality.


My passionate, kind, intense, inquisitive two year old daughter . . . bites.


Without providing you the detailed history of this long and excruciating challenge, I will say Greysen’s aggressive behaviors started long, long ago. Fast forward to this September after over a year of us reading anything and trying everything, Mike and I were advised that Greysen should participate in a school program – a place where she could have positive experiences with peers, play with interesting things, and be herself without the every watchful eye of  . . . well . . . me. With full disclosure about her biting, Greysen started to attend a Waldorf-inspired preschool twice a week for four hours each day.


To say she loves her school is an understatement. She loves herself more for the person she has become, in part because of what she has learned at school. She calls herself a “good helper” when she assists anyone and pretends to be a  “teacher” with genuine pride.


This morning, we were asked to leave this sanctuary of play due to Greysen’s biting, without warning. I was crushed. CRUSHED.


What does this mean? Does this community not want my 2 year-old in the company of the other children? Do they not believe she will, with assistance and caring guidance, develop the inhibition and skills necessary to communicate frustration in a different way?


I was angry. This school made a commitment to educate the head, hands, and heart – not just the head, hands and heart of those who do not struggle. I believed they were genuine advocates for all children.


Finally, I felt just plain old rotten. I can imagine how the other parents feel. My heart bottoms out when Moon is the object of intense displays of anger. I have had every emotion possible, from anger to helplessness, and do not blame the parents for their instinct to protect their child.


I struggled all morning with whether or not I should tell Greysen what happened. On one hand, I see her as a 2 (and ¾) year-old who is too young to cope with this type of rejection and will not understand the difference between the behavior and the person. On the other hand, I see her as a 2 year-old, nearly 3, who may learn something from this significant change in her life. Children cope with things differently than adults and aren’t devastated by loss (friends that move, teachers that leave) in the same way adults are.


Torn, I decided to tell her the truth as gently as I could.


As I blinked back tears and with swollen eyes – from the tears I could not hold back all morning – I explained to my Greysen that the school that she loves, the children she calls sisters, and the teachers she admire, are no longer going to be a part of her life. I explained that her biting made others feel worried and that her teachers wanted the other children to not get hurt, so that until she was able to only use words and stop biting that she was not going to school. Greysen responded by saying, “ I won’t bite anymore.” I explained that we still needed to wait a while. With the all the innocence of a two year-old she said, “When I’m older I can go to  school.”


And with that, she smiled at me and asked to play. Was it too much to explain? I’m not sure. I am reassured by her confidence that she will stop biting and the hope that seeps from her very being.


Even though I lost this support, my other systems went into overdrive. I spoke to a dozen or so friends who are either moms or educators, and who gave me insight and compassion.


Here she is on her first day at school back in September.



Part of me wants to walk away with a “never let your guard down” kind of attitude. Luckily, I was nudged back over to the hopeful side by understanding and encouraging comments from friends, including many of you who reminded me that


  •                        “not make the issue the center of everything” – Laura Herndon Ling
  •                        “progress, not perfection” – Christi Dean


In the end, I’m the one who chose this school. I chose it for the place it is and the educators within it. While I think there many things that could have been done differently, I also realize that I can not bend the school to meet our needs. I will continue to speak with the director, hope for understanding and work towards partnership. We are welcome to re-evaluate the situation in May.


I’m also sharing my story here, even though it may affect relationships with people within my community, because even though my child may act aggressively, she is part of a family – one that is trying to do what is best for her and one that relies on the expertise and companionship of other families.


I’m not sure when or even if Greysen will start school again. For now, I’m thankful that she can be home where she is surrounded by people who believe that the kind of passion she has has the potential to change the world.

Accessible Diapering


This is definitely in the category of, why didn’t I do this sooner? After seeing a similar diaper-changing space on a Montessori blog (I confess, I can’t remember where) I moved our changing pad to the floor when Moon started to stand on her own, though I think this would have been great to do when she started to crawl.


I prefer this setup to a dresser-height changing area because it is:

  • Accessible – A mobile infant or toddler can move onto the pad without assistance.
  • Supports Participation – Children can pull out their own supplies.
  • Safe – I can’t think of a safer place to change a child who is standing.


Most of Moon’s changes are stand-up now and happen in the bathroom. Since I am not that talented, more “involved” changes happen while lying down in this space.




I place the pad behind the door because the door is kept open throughout the day (I use a doorstop, which isn’t pictured here).



I tried keeping the hairbrush in here, too, but it proved to be one too many things. If you are going to switch to keeping your child’s diaper-changing things at his or her level, I’d start with just a couple until he or she gets used to it.


I am going through an “I love diapering” phase, and I think I will miss it dearly when the girls and I no longer get this time to connect.


Parents Who Are Going to Change the World



I belong to a generation of parents who are going to changed our world.


Even though I “shared” the following quote, “One generation of deeply loving parents would change the brain of the next generation, and with that, the world” the cynic in me thought, ‘This is a bit oversimplified, isn’t it?’ It was such an inspiring thought, though, that I couldn’t help but to keep thinking about it.


So I have been asking myself, can change that significant really happen in one generation? It wasn’t long before I remembered the recent Grammy nominations which surprised me. Music that I like and listen to was now . . . popular? Have I changed? Become milder in my parenting years? Yes, I think so, but I also have noticed a shift in what is popular in rock or alternative music these days.


A Tale of Two Concerts
I could go on and on about the positive messages in popular song lyrics, the decrease in cussing – especially in live shows – or the wider range of instruments (accordions, trumpets, and fiddles!), but instead I’ll share two stories that illustrate the dramatic change in the cultural experience of live shows.


A decade ago, Mike and I went to a music festival hosted by our local rock radio station.  Though we had seats, we were pushed around a bit by fellow (mostly 20-something) revelers. At one point, Mike leans into me, and between gritted teeth confides that the very drunk, flailing fellow next to him had just relieved himself on the floor in front of him – a little bit got on Mike as well.


Fast forward to this past holiday season. Mike and I attend the winter version of the same event, with pretty much the same circumstances. This time we listen with a gentler (also mostly 20-something) crowd. When I was knocked around a little bit, the fellow said “excuse me,’ and parents danced with their tween kids. To top it all off, someone pointed out to me where a drink had been spilled so I would avoid it.


I will entertain the idea that our most recent experience could have been an anomaly, but it didn’t feel like it. I think things have changed.


Music Just Isn’t What it Used to Be
Whether you are a person who likes a particular decade of music, or someone who loves music from different eras, most people can agree that great new music is always coming out. Rock isn’t the same music that it was when it first emerged, nor should it be. It has changed, along with our culture.


Parenting, too, has changed. Whether we attribute it to an evolving definition of the family unit, early childhood education, infant research, personal experience, commercial standards, or childhood advocates, our societal definition of “good parenting” is changing.


We may look to the way parenting has been done and even rely on tried and true strategies for rearing our children, but parenting gurus (i.e., Sears, Gerber, etc.) are becoming referenced more every day.


If we as parents can commit to parenting our children with the same passion that musicians commit to their art, then we too can generate a new standard for what constitutes decent and good parenting.


We parent with deliberateness. We try. We reflect. We make mistakes. We try to do better. We forgive ourselves. We love our children. We accept them for who they are.


We are a generation of parents that are going to change the world.


The Most Memorable Mama Moments of 2012

play scee1

Parenting since 2010.  Feels like this should be a patch of honor indicative of the time spent honing those parenting skills that I spent so much time thinking about.  However, there are just as many days – today included – that I feel like I just started parenting yesterday. I’m in my third year of parenting and each year the joys and challenges change right alongside our children.


Here is my list of 5 ideas/memories that defined my parenting for 2012.


1.  The Best Parenting Advice – Toddler Style. This list of things I cherish most about parenting this last year would be incomplete without sharing the post that has made the biggest impact on my parenting practices of Greysen (2.9 years). The wise, the wonderful, Janet Lansbury offered this advice to “Acknowledge, empathize, model,” and I’ve listened.  More than any other advice I’ve had this past year, this is the word that continues to echo in my mind . . . “acknowledge.”  So much so, that even this morning as I parented through the tantrum of all tantrums and all “superheroness” failed me, I remembered one thing – acknowledge.


2. Most Impactful Parenting Decision – Young Toddler (18 months). If this were New Year’s Eve 2010, I’d confess my hardest parenting challenge – by far – was going screen free while my daughter is awake. This past year I re-evaluated our home life, reconsidered what things keep me from being present in the lives of my daughters, and committed to decreasing the use of audio stimulation (podcasts, Pandora, and just plain old loud rock, alternative, whatever) in addition to having no screen time. I only wish I had done this last year.


3. Most Memorable Art Experiences.  As much as we love art, no one instance stood out as my favorite. Instead of projects, I have memories of painted cheeks, hands covered in clay, and many, many midday baths. I have no “pinnable” projects, but I think in just a couple of years I have a gained a lifetime of memories,  artistic endeavors that have become a way to pass time as we talk and laugh together.



4. My Favorite Way to Spend Time Parenting. My favorite way to pass some time from the past year (and possibly every year since Greysen was born) is our walks. We walk around town, sometimes with a destination in mind, but most often not.



5.The Best Things About Parenting are the little things that I know are only between us, and really aren’t going to happen forever.


Greysen . . .

The thing that has been for my eyes only all year . . . abandoned play scenarios – like this one I found when I walked into the bathroom of a “bear on a throne”.


Moon . . .

the unsolicited help she offers when she hands me anything and everything that is mine (mostly shoes and my cell phone).


What will you remember most from this past year? Have you made any major changes to your parenting style or start new traditions that defined your parenting for 2012?


I’m grateful for your company over this past  year. Your encouraging words and helpful advice have contributed to an overall good parenting experience. Thank you for reading and have a Happy New Year!

- Marisa


Simple New Year’s Eve Hats


This year we will be traveling for the New Year and in wanting to keep in tradition of the girls participating in our festivities we prepped some party gear.


I bought some party hats at the local dollar store and painted them a solid silver (two coats).



The girls painted the hats and added glitter . . .






Moon painted hers with her hands . . .




and now we’re ready to celebrate!