Be Friendly with Error

  • Written by Maren Schmidt, M.ED.

Nicholas, a cheerful 3 year old, had cried every day at snack time for a week. Because he had spilt a pitcher of water on the snack table, Nicholas refused to try to pour himself a drink of water. Efforts to encourage Nicholas to pour an eight-ounce pitcher were met with tears. "I can’t. I’ll spill and make a mess and everybody will be mad at me."

Pouring water in a Montessori classroom is a critical skill because so many other lessons involve water or pouring, such as hand washing, table washing, and cloth washing, to name a few. Nicholas had such a fear of failure at pouring, that I didn’t know how to get him over this obstacle.

In the middle of the night, when most inspiration seems to arrive, I had an idea. The next morning, I told my classroom assistant that I was going to give a cloth-washing lesson and in the process "accidentally" spill a large pitcher of water. Could she encourage children to set up away from my presentation area to avoid more chaos than necessary?

During the lesson to an older student, I "tripped" and a half-gallon of water rushed over the hardwood floors. "Oops," I laughed, surveying the water. "It’s okay. It will clean up. It’s just water."

To my surprise, Nicholas arrived, mop in hand, asking if he could help me.

"That would be lovely," I replied.

Nicholas and I mopped and dried the floor, checking that every drop was gone so our friends wouldn’t slip on a wet floor. We laughed and sang, "… down came the rain and washed the spider out. Out came Nicholas to dry up all the rain …"

"When a big person spills, it’s a big spill," I joked with Nicholas.

Mike, a 4 year old, walked up and said, "See, Nicholas, I told you it’s okay to make a mistake at school."

Nicholas broke into a wide grin and turned to put the mop away.

Later that morning, Nicholas came to me. "Ms. Maren, did you spill that water just for me?"

"What do you mean, Nicholas?"

"Did you spill it to make me feel better?"

Now it was my turn to feel as though a bucket of water had just dumped over my head, like in the old 70’s Laugh-In show. Sock-it-to-me.

I thought I was a better actress that that. I imagined myself to be more convincing to a 3 year old.

"Thank you, Ms. Maren. I’m not scared to pour anymore." Nicholas gave me a hug.

"You’re welcome, Nicholas." I took a deep breath.

Thank you, I thought, for helping me remember to be friendly with error.


Kids Talk TM deals with childhood development issues. Maren Schmidt founded a Montessori school and holds a masters of education from Loyola College in Maryland. She has over 25 years experience working with children and holds teaching credentials from the Association Montessori Internationale. She is author of "Building Cathedrals Not Walls: Essays for Parents and Teachers."

Contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit 2011.

Essential Math Skills for Life

  • Written by Maren Schmidt, M.Ed.
As a six-year-old, mom would send me off walking for milk, eggs or bread to the mom-and-pop grocery six blocks away. These shopping errands were big math builders for me. For half a mile I had to keep in mind that a loaf of bread and a carton of eggs were 59 cents and the change would be 41 cents. What a difference 40 years (and change) makes.

As I watch in the stores, our children have few opportunities to see or use money, and to develop the math skills that dealing with money creates. I’ve worked with many savvy six year olds who did not know the difference between a nickel, dime and quarter. To them it was just money. These children had no concrete experience in counting, saving or making purchases with cash, since checks, debit and credit cards handled most family purchases. For many children under the age of nine, $37.62 is an abstract idea with no concrete, hands-on experience.

Fourth grade seems to be the point where lack of math concepts becomes a stumbling block. Having tutored math through college algebra, I can share a few fundamental concepts that struggling students of all ages have lacked. Understanding place value, the decimal system, the four basic math operations, fractions, along with telling time, are common missing math skills.

Place value and the decimal system are concepts that can be easily shown and understood before the age of six. A lot of math frustration can be prevented with the knowledge that our number system is built on groups of 10 items. We count in units, whether the units are pennies, dollars, minutes or eggs. The unit is the building block of any number system. Calling units "ones" can create confusion for some people trying to understand the difference between numerals and how numbers work in place value.

Our number system, the decimal system, is based on groups of 10 starting with the unit. When we have 10 units, we can exchange them for a new group containing ten units called "10s." Ten units make a10. Ten 10s make a hundred. Ten hundreds make a thousand. When we write a 10, it represents an amount that has one group of 10s in the 10s’ place and no units in the unit’s place. 100 represents one hundred, no 10s, and no units. Pennies, dimes and dollars are examples of units, tens and hundreds. Using money with children can help develop a firm understanding of place value. Ten pennies can be exchanged for a dime. Ten dimes make a dollar. Ten dollars make a 10-dollar bill. Using money as a manipulative, children at the ages of five, six and seven, can easily add, subtract, multiply and divide three and four digit numbers, such as $17.59 + $5.97.

Understanding how to use the four basic math operations in story problems and real life circumstances is another math obstacle. Knowing there are only four basic math operations--addition, subtraction, multiplication and division (yes, even in algebra)—ends much confusion. Again, using money for a hands-on teaching tool helps children see how the math operations work.

Fractions can be a challenge. Measuring with a ruler, tape measure, and cooking with measuring cups help give fractions real life meaning. Basic math operations with fractions come easily when the decimal system and place value are understood first by using money.

Telling time on an analog clock (with hands) is an overlooked skill that is important to geometry, the study of angles, and finding direction. A private pilot friend told me the hardest part of learning to fly was getting a quick picture in his mind when the instructor said "Plane at your two o’clock."

Use money to help your preschooler become proficient in the important math concepts of the decimal system and place value. (Please note: Use pennies, dimes and dollars first. Introduce nickels, quarters, half dollars and five dollars later.) Make up money story problems using three and four digit numbers and the four math operations. Use measuring cups, rulers, and measuring tapes. Have a clock with hands in your kitchen. Make math real and hands-on for your child and number work will be fun for life.

Kids Talk TM deals with childhood development issues. Maren Schmidt founded a Montessori school and holds a Masters of Education from Loyola College in Maryland. She has over 25 years experience working with children and holds teaching credentials from the Association Montessori Internationale. She is author of Building Cathedrals Not Walls: Essays for Parents and Teachers. Contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit Copyright 2011.

Get your family involved this summer

  • Written by ARA

When the final school bell rings for summer break this year, many children will plan to come home and spend their three-month vacation in front of the television. However, by providing alternative activities that are still fun and exciting for kids, this summer can be more simulating and beneficial for your children.

Here are some suggestions for exciting activities to get kids away from the television and video games this summer:

* Plan a fun family day each week and let your children be involved in the planning process. Some ideas you might consider are: a trip to a local park; a day at the pool; heading to a roller or ice skating rink; biking along a local trail or even arranging a treasure hunt around your neighborhood. By setting aside just one day every week for a family fun day, you’ll not only be encouraging physical activity, but also family connections.

* Form a local baseball, soccer, swimming or tennis team. If you have a lot of children in your neighborhood of the same age, encourage them to become part of a sports team. They don’t have to be the best team, or the most talented athletes to have fun. It will take a little organization from you to get the team’s practice and competition schedules planned, but the benefits of team playing and outdoor fun will far outweigh the work involved.

* Encourage your children to become active in the community by getting involved in charity projects that you can work on together. A great cause for families to take part in is the Downy Touch of Comfort program, because it helps kids who are unable to go out and enjoy the summer. Through Downy fabric softener and Quilts for Kids Inc., you can create quilts for children who are hospitalized to give them a touch of comfort during their medical treatments. This program has already delivered 20,000 quilts to hospitalized children thanks to all the quilters who put their talent to good use.

To help out and put a smile on the face of a child in the hospital visit, where you can learn more about the program. You and your child can get started on making a quilt from scratch with helpful patterns and tips found at

* Organize a talent show. Give the neighborhood children an opportunity to showcase their talents - whether it’s dancing, singing, playing a musical instrument or even acting. Host the show one evening for the community, and then take it on the road to your neighboring community centers or a nursing home where residents will appreciate the young entertainers.

Don’t just encourage your children to get out and be creative with their activities this summer - make sure you join in the fun. It will be a great bonding experience and you’ll create special memories to look back on many years down the road.

Get ready for a season of outdoor family fun

  • Written by ARA
 It’s only natural to be excited about warm, sunny weather. But it’s not always easy to get the family outside. With work and school schedules, video games and the Web at your fingertips - not to mention the ever-present household chores - sometimes the hours slip away and the opportunity is lost.

To prevent spring and summer weather from getting away from you, a little advance planning goes a long way. Spontaneity, backed up by preparation, is the key, says lifestyle expert Colleen Burns, "The Mom on the Run." Burns is the mother of five boys ages 6 to 16 who regularly offers parenting advice on local and national TV, as well as her website

As part of a partnership with Lance Sandwich Crackers this season, Burns offers tips for how families can spend more fun time together while enjoying the outdoors.

Turn on the "time finder"

Capturing the free moments you have is the most important thing you can do. And if you know how to look for them and plan to create some free time, you’ll be able to fit more fun into the family schedule.

* Add "kid time" to your calendar. Set aside an hour or two when the only focus is an activity with your child.

* Tackle chores together. By involving the kids in the daily chores, they learn responsibility and the value of hard work. You get your lawn mowed, gutters cleaned and flowers planted. It’s a win-win that frees up more quality time to do fun stuff.

* Plan for small windows of time. Make a list of fun activities you can do with your children in an hour, a half-hour or even 20 minutes. It will help you take advantage of unexpected and priceless free time with your children.

* Switch it up. It’s okay to change your routine. Push back dinner or bed time occasionally to do something fun and be present in the moment with your children. Stay up late to look at the stars or have a family game night.

Plan to be spontaneous

One of the best ways to take advantage of even small windows of free time is to place a pre-packed "spontaneity bag" in your car or by the door. Add these items (and any others particularly relevant to your family) to the bag:

* Sunscreen: Make sure it’s waterproof with an SPF of 30 or higher and is broad spectrum (blocks both UVA and UVB).

* Water bottles: Metal bottles take life’s knocks well and cut down on waste.

* Snacks: Think of treats like Lance Sandwich Crackers that are easy to pack, and keep kids satisfied without preservatives, trans fat or high-fructose corn syrup.

* Adhesive bandages and pain reliever: For those unexpected bumps and bruises.

* Small- to medium-sized towel: Perfect to sit on outdoors, wrap up if it’s chilly or dry off if you’re caught in the rain.

* Balls: Depending on the age of your kids, have a variety of shapes and sizes to play with outdoors.

* Bubbles: Have a contest to see who can keep their bubbles from popping the longest.

* Sidewalk chalk: An easy game of hopscotch, Tic-Tac-Toe or Hangman is right at your fingertips.

* Jump rope: Also a great way to stay active together.

* Small kite: Lots of fun on a windy day.

* Whistles/kazoos: The outdoors is the perfect place for noisemakers you usually avoid at home.

You could also pack themed spontaneity bags - such as a picnic-themed bag, a swimming bag or a campfire bag, tailored to your family’s favorite activities.

Regardless of what you choose to put in your spontaneity bag, you’ll need to pack drinks and sensible snacks like Lance Sandwich Crackers.

With a little creativity, you’ll be perfectly prepped for family fun throughout the season.

To access more outdoor fun tips from Colleen Burns, visit

A safe summer starts with proper water safety for children

  • Written by ARA
Kids and water play go together like peanut butter and jelly. Sadly, what is a fun, healthy activity for most children, too often brings tragedy and heartbreak for others. Each year, more than 3,400 people drown in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and more than one in five fatal drowning victims are children younger than 14. Drowning is the second-leading cause of injury-related death among children ages 1 to 14.

For every child who dies from drowning, another four are injured in nonfatal drownings, CDC statistics show. Many of the children who survive will face lifetimes of long-term disabilities. Typically, when a child drowns, the parent or caregiver has been away from the child for less than five minutes according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

"The single most effective thing parents can do to protect their children from drowning is to ensure they know how to swim," says Debbie Hesse, executive director of the USA Swimming Foundation. "Learning how to swim is not only a fun way to encourage exercise, it can save a child’s life."

Unfortunately, lack of swimming knowledge is common among American children, especially among minority populations. In fact, seven out of every 10 African-American and Hispanic children cannot swim, according to a national research study by USA Swimming and the University of Memphis. African-American children drown at a rate nearly three times higher than their Caucasian peers, the CDC reports.

To help combat these statistics, the USA Swimming Foundation has granted more than $1.5 million dollars to communities across the nation to help provide free or discounted lessons so that all children will have the opportunity to learn to swim.

This June, the Foundation will launch its annual cross-country water safety tour, Make a Splash with Cullen Jones, presented by ConocoPhillips. The tour aims to raise awareness about the importance of learning to swim. The USA Swimming Foundation offers parents five tips for keeping children safe in and around water this summer:

1. Teach children to swim. It’s the best way to be safer in the water. Research shows that parents are the most influential factors in whether or not a child learns to swim. Only 13 percent of children from non-swimming households will ever learn to swim, according to national research conducted by the University of Memphis for USA Swimming.

2. Make sure a responsible adult is watching the water at all times. Drowning can be completely silent, and most child drownings occur when the victim has been out of sight for less than five minutes.

3. Remind kids to always obey the rules of the pool, not to jump on or dunk other swimmers, and not to jump or dive unless they know how deep the water is.

4. Require kids to always swim with a buddy.

5. Remember, you don’t have to be at a pool to drown. Lakes, rivers, large puddles and any other bodies of water also require caution. Make sure your child knows how to swim, whether or not they’ll be around a pool this summer.

"Swimming is unique in that there is a lifesaving element to it - it can be fun and competitive, but learning to swim can also save a life," Hesse says. "It’s a skill every child needs, and one that every child should have regardless of their social or economic situation."

As part of its Make a Splash water safety initiative, the USA Swimming Foundation, in partnership with ConocoPhillips, is providing resources for families, including swimming lessons that are low cost or even free, depending on a family’s economic need. To find local learn-to-swim groups in your community, visit