How to teach Kids Problem-solving

Today Leon and Peter had a disagreement about a rake. The boys had new plastic buckets and corresponding plastic shovels and rakes. I watched the three of them play in a tight circle, raking and scooping dirt into their buckets.

Suddenly, Leon began glaring at Peter, and Peter slowly backed away and sat alone behind the park structure. Leon kept saying that Peter had broken his rake.  Carlos and I didn’t really see what had happened. Carlos thought maybe Leon had taken Peter’s rake and remembered where another rake was. He went to get it and gave it to Peter.

Peter revived, but now Leon was very upset. He began to cry and said “Peter broke my rake”. He clearly wanted the nice rake that Carlos had just given to Peter and felt he deserved it since Peter had broken his rake.

Peter was sitting on my lap at this point, and Leon approached us, furiously glaring at Peter. He stared at Peter, with one hand clenched tightly in a fist.

I knew I had to intervene because Leon looked like he about to attack Peter. I put into action the skills I’ve been learning from How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen: A Survival Guide to Life with Children Ages 2-7 (affiliate link, at no extra cost to you).

“Leon, you look upset”.

Leon: [silently glaring at Peter, gives no response]

Me: “Are you mad because Peter broke your rake?”

Leon: [nods his head]

Me: “You want Peter to give you his nice new rake because he broke your rake?”

Leon: [nods his head, still glaring]

Me: “Peter, Leon wants you to give him your rake because he’s mad you broke his. Do you want to give him your rake?”

Peter: [shakes his head no]

Me: “Can you think of another way to make him happy since you broke his rake?”

Peter: [shakes his head no]

I keep repeating variations on the same questions. Observing (“Leon, you look upset”). Brainstorming (“Hmm, what can we do?”) I’m trying to give them the words so that one day they can resolve conflict on their own. How many times have you seen kids that immediately run to the nearest adult whenever a disagreement arises?

I’m purposely not judging or making the decision for them. I could just demand, “Peter, give him your rake” or “Leon, this is Peter’s rake, leave him alone”, but I want them to learn how to do this.

We’re at an impasse, and I’m running out of different ways to say the same thing. I’m totally out of ideas and wondering how long I can keep this up. Suddenly, with no warning, Leon runs off and grabs a shovel. He presents it to Peter, and Peter hands him the rake.

Wow! Problem-solved! Good work boys! They immediately ran off together and finished the important work of scratching in the dirt.

Preparing for homeschooling, Montessori-style: teaching my kids to work in their own space

Now that I’ve decided I’m going to homeschool, I need to think about how we’ll homeschool. I’ve always been drawn to Montessori. When I was a teacher in a conventional primary school, I incorporated as much Montessori philosophy as I was able to within the constrains of the environment.

In a Montessori school, kids work independently. They choose what they want to work on. They get materials out of storage on their own, work, and put the materials back when they’re finished.

We have a storage cupboard where things are easily accessible to the boys. But we were missing one crucial element: a way to teach the boys not to interrupt each others’ work.

Enter Montessori! They use mats. Each student rolls out a mat on the floor and does their work on their mat. The mat forms a clear boundary that keeps the working student in their space and other students out of their space.

This is huge! They actually worked quietly and independently in their own space. There was no whining because someone grabbed someone else’s piece. They were are all able to focus and do deep work. Even the baby!

This gives me hope that we’ll be able to pull this off. I’m looking forward to gathering materials, creating our environment that’s child-accessible, and creating the culture that will allow everyone to work side-by-side without frustration.


Disclaimer: both before AND after this idyllic Montessori-inspired work-time, I had major mom tantrums. It’s a work in progress.

Child-led learning lets kids learn what they want to learn

As a teacher, and now a mother, and now a mother considering homeschooling, I try to let my kids explore learning on their terms. Since I’ve started considering homeschooling, I’ve been pondering how to support my kids as they explore their passions.

kids learn through imitation

Since their dad is a mason, they’re fascinated by all things masonry: block, cement, building. They spend a lot of time around construction sites and construction materials.

child walking on house in construction

They see the albañiles breaking block with a hammer to fit into a specific space. So naturally they wanted to try it.

child playing with block and making pretend cement

They see the crew adding water to gravel, sand, and cement to make a mezcla, so naturally they wanted to try that.

child playing with block and making pretend cement

And they see the men laying cement on block and pegando block, so they explored that.

child playing with block and making pretend cement

child playing with block and making pretend cement

child playing with block and making pretend cement

child playing with block and making pretend cement

Just fyi, that’s ash on his hands, not cement dust. I wouldn’t let him touch cement dust with his hands.

child playing with block and making pretend cement

I’m convinced people learn best when they’re focused. And I know from my own life that I focus on what I’m interested in. It can’t come from outside of me. I either learn a technique as a tool to get to a desired end, or I’m fascinated by something and I want to figure out how it works.

I don’t know what my kids will learn over the course of their life. But I can help feed their passions right now.

Child-led learning. Encouraging your kids' passions.

Considering homeschooling my preschoolers

I think I’m failing at spending time with my kids at home. I yell way too much. I’m upset and angry too much. I spend too much time resisting my kids and mentally checking-out.

And so I’m considering homeschooling.  I feel called to throw myself into motherhood 100% to be better and really conquer this stage, rather than just letting it slip by and waiting for it to be over.

Now I know we’re not supposed to conquer motherhood. It’s a relationship, not a job. But I feel called to do so much better. Is it just because I’m a product of the times, where a million blogs are promising the secrets to be a better fill-in-the-blank? Continue reading

Extreme Frugality: 8 Lessons in I learned in Mexico

  1. You don’t need need a bathroom mirror.

We are building our house little by little, which means we’re starting from scratch in every single room, and we have to practice extreme frugality to get anywhere.  It’s been 5 years since we moved in, and we still haven’t installed a bathroom mirror. We’ve gotten by just using a little 5-inch mirror that stands up on its own for all these years.

Most women probably couldn’t pull this off. The only reason I can is because I don’t wear makeup or do much of anything to my hair. Not necessarily a goal to shoot for, but the truth is I don’t need a mirror. Continue reading

Too busy? How to slow down and start living: Take time to Make Time

Anyone else out there feel like they have too much to do and not nearly enough time to do it? And when you start feeling like that, do you buckle down and eliminate fun-stuff or less urgent tasks, and try to get all the important stuff done, right now?

I do. When I’m overwhelmed, I tend to want to cut out all the self-care practices that keep my brain-wheel well greased. Making time for friends, exercise, meditation, fun kid crafts, and keeping the home tidy are always out the window when I feel like I need to get ahead.

(ok, truth: the reason I don’t have a meditation practice to cut is because it’s always the first to go, even before it ever gets started).

It’s so funny, what exactly am I getting ahead of? What do I think will happen when my to-do list is crossed off?

(Cue God, descending from the clouds, with a glass of champagne, “You did it Caroline! You’re the best human! NOW you can have some fun!”) Continue reading

Translating in Todos Santos

I’m launching a translation service!

Has it ever happened to you that everyone’s being polite and generous and as a result no one gets what they want? It could be something simple, like you just want to stay home and eat in, but you think the other person wants to go out, and because you don’t want to impose your desire on the other person, you both say you want to go out when really you both want to stay in, and so no one gets what they want, which all along was the same thing: staying in!

This could be a polite Midwestern thing, so maybe it hasn’t happened to you. If not, kudos to you for being so bossy. Just kidding, we all wish we were as self-actualized as you.

Random photo of Carlos prepping banana leaves to make tamales.

Continue reading

Why I stayed in Baja and launched my own business

In Part One, we saw I came to Baja and connected with Dominique, who is a farming aikido teacher. She welcomed me into her home and taught me everything she knows. We worked on the farm, practiced aikido, and made a ruckus in our off-time…

how i moved to baja mexico and launched a brand new business

There are two reasons why I stayed in Todos Santos, Baja Mexico instead of continuing my farming tour of Latin America: Business & Love.

The expat Community in Todos Santos

Todos Santos has a really special expat community. I imagine most expat communities are a little bit special because they are made up of seekers trying to find their little piece of utopia.  Since everyone who arrives is looking for something special, they put their best foot forward.  They imbue the place with the qualities they are looking for.  Here, Todos Santos is known for Continue reading

How I’m fighting my smart phone addiction

how to fight your smart phone addiction

I love my phone.  And I hate my phone so much.  Sometimes I just want to throw it across the room.  But, my precious, my precious, I would never hurt you, no.

I shared a photo on Facebook. It was really sweet. Ryan and I, with his big toothy mouth. I took the shot, noticed my finger was in it, took another shot, and then took the time to post it to Facebook right then and there.

In that moment, I was connecting and sharing with all sorts of people, friends and family all around the world. Lovely.

In that same moment, I was taking a picture of myself connecting with my son, except that in the act of taking the shot (and re-taking the shot) and sharing the shot I had to disconnect from my son. I had to mentally leave his space.

After I posted it, we re-connected; we laughed and giggled. Did that moment in time when I mentally checked out really matter? Continue reading

What’s wrong with Millennials anyway?

I came across this quote from Danielle LaPorte yesterday: “You’ll know you’ve found the goals that are aligned with your core desired feelings when the path to your intentions makes you feel more alive, not less.”

It resonated so deeply and underscored a struggle that I think is not only personal, but also generational.

I know hard-work gets you places…but what if the place it gets you is not where you meant to go? Continue reading