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Updated: Nov 4, 2021

1. Model the behavior.

  • Adults should say please and thank you to children:

“Please pick up your toys.”

  • Adults should say please and thank you to each other in public and at home.

“Can you pick up cat chow on your way home, please?”

  • If all adults are not on board, that’s OK. It’s OK for there to be different expectations for children than there are for adults. For example, You don’t model going to sleep at 7:00 PM to get them to go to sleep.

  • Modeling alone is usually not enough.

2. Correct the right way.

Do you ever have this exchange?

Child: I want a cupcake.

Adult: What do you say?

Child: Pleeeese!

Adult: Here you go!

The problem: The child may think that this back and forth is exactly what’s supposed to happen. After all, they got the cupcake. They may not realize that you want them to say "please" without being prompted.

The Solution: Give them the exact words you want to hear, and make them say the whole thing again. This let’s them know they’re being corrected.

Child: I want a cupcake.

Adult: Say “May I please have a cupcake?”

Child: May I please have a cupcake?

Adult: Here you go!

3. Correct them every single time.

  • Even at home.

  • Even to you.

  • Even when the request is reasonable or routine.

“I want water.” can be “May I please have water.”

4. Meet them at their level.

  • Nonverbal ---> use the sign language for please

  • Just learning to speak:

“Me” can be “Me, please.”

“I want it!” can be “I want, please.”

  • Older children (4 years and up): Give them more ways to ask nicely. Point out exact phrases they can use.

“Can you get me a fizzy water while you’re up?”

Do you mind if I sit in the big chair today?”

If we want polite children, we need to teach our children to be polite. Coaching manners, being explicit, and teaching social tools is a gift we give them.

Updated: Nov 4, 2021

When parents ask me what they can work on at home with their students, I think they usually have academics in mind. I teach my daughter reading and math at home, and I am happy for the parents of my students to take on ABCs and 123s at home as well. But when I hear "What should we be working on?" it's social and behavior skills that always come to mind. I suspect that's true for many teachers, whether they are teaching 3 year olds or 13 year olds. The more our students know how to get along with others, follow directions, and be a part of a group, the more teaching we teachers can do.

Accordingly, my top goals for 3 year olds are mostly social and behavioral. I would put "following directions" or "being a first-time listener" at the top of the list, but these goals are meant to be more granular and approachable. My goal is to help parents know where to set the bar. Three-year-olds were non-verbal toddlers just a minute ago. Their parents think about where they've come from and see so much growth that I think it's hard for them to remember to keep inching the bar up on what they expect their children to be able to do. In fact, I think remembering to move the bar and knowing where to set it is the predominate challenge of contemporary parenthood. With smaller families and more spread out extended families, we just aren't around kids that much until we become parents, and so we're always flying by the seat of our pants.

A final note on my goals is that they include two important hygiene goals, not putting hands and toys in your mouth and coving your coughs and sneezes. The pandemic has made me more painfully aware of the need to teach and enforce hygiene standards, but these goals have always been and will continue to be super important. Kids don't just get sick more because they have weaker immune systems; they get sick more because they encounter more germs. That's why children in childcare get sick more than children at home. And childhood illness should not be viewed positively with an eye towards building up their immune systems. There are so many viruses, like the flu and the common cold, that evolve too fast for natural immunity to fully protect us. That's why childcare workers get sick more than other professionals, even though they've had years to build their immune systems. They just encounter more germs. Teaching your child to keep their hands out of their mouth is like wearing a mask. It benefits everyone around them.

Parents at my Montessori school often ask for gift recommendations. Here's what's been a hit at my house and in my classroom in 2020.

1. Lantern/flashlight with Hand Crank for Charging- Kids love flashlights. The option to switch between flashlight and lantern seems almost empowering to my daughter. A hand crank that charges the device adds entertainment for those who like wheels and gears. This one also also has a solar panel and the ability to charge a phone. The future is here!

2. Melissa and Doug Playdough Tools- My students love using tools with playdough, and its great for their fine motor development. This is actually two sets in one, but the rolling pins and the scissors are both a must for me. Don't cheap out and get a plastic set; its just not as satisfying. P.S. I used to make my own playdough, but I've found its easier to stock up at Dollar Tree.

3. Necklace Making Kit- My students are little necklace making machines. Boys and girls alike enjoy the fine motor challenge of stringing beads and the satisfaction of making something they can wear. My four-year-old daughter is getting this exact kit this year. We usually use basic round beads in the classroom, so I know she's going to flip over these! For two- and three-year-olds, opt for beads with bigger holes.

4. Safari TOOBS- Maria Montessori said children from birth to age six have an absorbent mind. They certainly love learning the names of different types of things which might be one reason they like Safari TOOBS. These true-to-life figurines come in sets like dog breeds and types of butterflies. My students enjoy building block houses for them and carrying them around in containers. Print the corresponding matching cards to help learn the real names.

5. Magna-Tiles- If you haven't played with magna-tiles yet, you are missing out! I try to avoid plastic, but these are a necessary exception. They're expensive but worth it. They're not only years of entertainment, they're a great introduction to how flat shapes combine to make geometric solids. Maria Montessori wishes she invented these!

6. Crayola Twistable Crayons- I'll never buy another type of crayon. These are skinnier than a normal crayon which is better for developing the right handwriting grip and better for precise coloring. The won't dry out like markers. They don't require sharpening like colored pencils. Best of all, they don't break like other crayons, so they last and last!

7. Melissa and Doug 4-in-1 Puzzle Box- This set of four 12-piece wooden puzzles is great. We have the construction edition in my classroom, and its just the right level for my three-year-olds. Its nice that they're wood because jigsaw beginners tend to damage cardboard pieces. Be sure to give them just one puzzle at a time to start. These come in farm animals, pet, safari animals, vehicles, and "fanciful friends,"

8. Nonfiction Books with Photographs of Animals- Books like this might be a slog to read cover to cover during story time, but they're perfect for kids to "read" on their own. Little kids can't get enough animals.


I'm a children's book author, an illustrator, and the founder of a Montessori school.

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