Better Habits in 2020: Sleep!

It’s a new year and a new opportunity to check in with our family routines, to assess what is working and what might need a little work. In this series, Better Habits in 2020, we’ll take a look at the kinds of things we can do to improve our and our children’s lives. Today we’ll start with what I personally believe is the mother of all good habits: sleep!

Put simply, our brains and bodies just cannot do all they are supposed to do without adequate sleep—we depend on good, quality sleep for growth, memory, appetite regulation, physical fitness, heart health, emotional regulation, mental health, alert awareness, good performance at work or school, a working immune system and the ability to learn.

photo credit: Samantha Clarke

While we might think of sleep as a time when everything shuts down, the truth is our bodies and brains, freed from the daily tasks of being awake, turn inward and get to work. Our physiological functions, like breathing, body temperature and heart rate, rest and slow down, conserving energy while the body generates and regenerates cells, heals damage and recovers from stress. And the brain works on organizing all of the data that came at it during the day. We lock in new information; consolidate and categorize that information with what we already know; build memories; carve out neural pathways for movement and speech; regulate emotions… the list goes on and on.

This big work is happening in all of us, at every age, but in children this work is even bigger. They are physically growing and learning new things all the time. And the younger they are, the more growing and learning they are doing. From 0 to 6, children are absorbing, taking in everything—every single thing—around them, while also learning to walk, talk, eat, read and write. The right amount of sleep is absolutely essential for our children to be able to get this information settled into their brains and bodies. It is essential for them to be able to function happily and healthily.

So what is the right amount of sleep? It’s a lot more than many of us think. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations for hours of sleep, by age group, are:

  • Infants 4 months to 12 months should sleep 12 to 16 hours per 24 hours (including naps).
  • Children 1 to 2 years of age should sleep 11 to 14 hours per 24 hours (including naps).
  • Children 3 to 5 years of age should sleep 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours (including naps).
  • Children 6 to 12 years of age should sleep 9 to 12 hours per 24 hours.
  • Teenagers 13 to 18 years of age should sleep 8 to 10 hours per 24 hours.


photo credit: Robyn Milos

The immediate effects of a lack of sleep are familiar to any of us: irritability, fatigue, foggy thinking and just a general feeling of blech—things that might be helped with a nap. But the long term effects of a deficiency of sleep can be much more severe, including trouble focusing and concentrating, reduced immune system function, extreme stress, slower reflexes, impulsivity, anger and depression. So how do we do better? How do we help our children get the sleep they need?

Jessie Braud, Guide in our P2 Children’s House, explains, “Routine, routine, routine! It cannot be overstated.” Indeed, routine is consistently touted by the experts as essential to creating the habit of good sleep. Nighttime routines can involve baths, stories, soothing music, sing-alongs, a walk around the block, whatever works for your family.

Jessie adds, “Your child can contribute greatly to crafting an ideal bedtime routine for your family, so don’t be afraid to let them help plan! Children need far more sleep than we do to be truly healthy. It can be hard, especially when parents are working late and wanting to spend time with their children. Winding down after dinnertime is important. Tone down the noise, tone down the lights in the house and allow your child the space and time to actually get sleepy. Incorporate family time into the process; memories created over bath time and bedtime stories last for years.”

Tone down the noise, tone down the lights in the house and allow your child the space and time to actually get sleepy. Incorporate family time into the process; memories created over bath time and bedtime stories last for years.Jessie Braud

For more ideas about how to cultivate good sleep habits for yourself and your family, here’s a list of sources for this post and other suggested reading:


Parent-Child Course

photo credit: Melinda Smith

It has been two and a half years since Guide Cab Yau first introduced her Parent-Child Course in the Villa di Maria fireplace room, and we are happy to report the next session is starting next week! Parents and caregivers around St. Louis bring their very young children (eight weeks to two years old) to Cab’s course once or twice per week during the morning hours. The course offers a nurturing environment prepared especially to support their early development in movement and language.

photo credit: Lauren Knight

As their children explore, parents and caregivers freely discuss their questions or concerns with Cab and each other. They learn how to foster independence in their children and how to model behaviors and language and how to implement Montessori principles in the home. And they have an opportunity to connect with a community of other parents and caregivers.

Yes, the environment is set up for the children, but it’s also set up for the adults in their lives. Adults are given the chance to observe, reflect, ask questions and fundamentally enter into more conscientious parenting. Parenting is no small feat, and it is best done in community.Cab Yau

photo credit: Lauren Knight

If you would like to join this session of our Parent-Child Class, please visit this website to complete an application. We hope to see you there!

113 Years Ago Today

photo credit: Flavia Filippi

Welcome back from a long and rejuvenating Winter Break! Today we are back at school, ready to kick off 2020 with curiosity, imagination, hard work and a true love of learning. Today is an extra special first day back because it also the anniversary of the opening of Dr. Maria Montessori’s Casa dei Bambini (Children’s House) in the San Lorenzo neighborhood of Rome on January 6, 1907.

Casa dei Bambini was the culmination of a decade of Dr. Montessori’s work in educational reform, as well as the beginning of what would become known as the Montessori School.

At the turn of the 20th century, Dr. Montessori was a pioneer of women in the medical field, a respected scientist, educator and advocate for children. Through her work in a children’s hospital, researching developmental and cognitive disabilities, Dr. Montessori observed what she believed to be an intrinsic intelligence and drive to learn in the children—an intelligence and drive to learn that were not being nurtured.

As a member of what was then called the National League for the Protection of Retarded Children, she spoke publicly about the need for education and support, rather than hospitalization, for children with cognitive disabilities. She and her colleagues led a wave of education reform in Italy, as they began to develop ways to meet the needs of children who were otherwise neglected or seen as unteachable.

Dr. Montessori pursued further studies in anthropology, psychology and philosophy as she worked to develop what she called her “scientific pedagogy,” a method of teaching, borne of her observations, research and first-hand work with children, that she believed would apply to all children.

Soon she was invited to San Lorenzo, an impoverished, industrial neighborhood of Rome, to supervise the children who were left alone during the days as their parents worked in nearby factories. There were between 50 and 70 children, ages 3 to 7, and Dr. Montessori created for them, Casa dei Bambini.

Dr. Montessori provided the children in Casa dei Bambini practical activities that allowed them to care for themselves and their environment. She furnished the classroom with lessons she had designed and allowed the children to direct themselves, to follow their own interests. The children in Casa dei Bambini absorbed the order and language in their surroundings, began to concentrate, to learn from each other and to work independently. They were succeeding in their school.

It is not true that I invented what is called the Montessori Method… I have studied the child; I have taken what the child has given me and expressed it, and that is what is called the Montessori Method.Maria Montessori

Dr. Montessori continued to hone her methods in Casa dei Bambini over the next few years and more schools opened throughout Italy and Switzerland. News of these innovative schools spread quickly, and Dr. Montessori was invited to lecture in Europe, the UK, and eventually the United States on her pedagogy. She held training courses for educators and authored several books, and over the next four decades Montessori schools opened throughout much of the world.

Which brings us to today, 113 years after the first Casa dei Bambini opened its doors. It is estimated that there are 20,000 Montessori schools throughout the world today—school’s based on the observations, hard work and principles of Dr. Maria Montessori. Villa di Maria is proud and honored to be one of them. Happy anniversary, Casa dei Bambini.

Sources and suggested reading

The Montessori Method by Maria Montessori

The 1946 London Lectures by Maria Montessori

The First Casa dei Bambini

First Montessori school opens in Rome



Giving Fewer Gifts (and More Experiences)

Gifts are a natural part of the winter holidays, and with good reason—a thoughtful gift is a lovely way to show appreciation and affection for someone you love. In fact, research shows that the process of giving or receiving thoughtful and intentional gifts decreases stress and boosts serotonin; giving makes us feel good.

But too much of any good thing can be… well, not such a good thing. Too many gifts can easily turn into an overwhelming experience burdened with waste and clutter.

One way to ease this burden is to choose experiences, rather than things, as gifts. Memberships, subscriptions, events… these all make wonderful gifts. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Cooking classes for adults, children or families.
  • Memberships to museums, aquariums, zoos or science centers.
  • Parent-child art or pottery classes.
  • Road trips, complete with audio books.
  • Tickets to an amusement park.
  • Tickets to a concert.
  • A kid-in-charge day.

And then there are the best kinds of experiences, the ones we create throughout the holiday season. Gifts are nice, but it’s how we spend our time during the holidays that really matters.

Whether it’s frying latkes, stringing popcorn and hanging ornaments, heading to the ice rink, creating a family tree, or watching the same holiday movie each year, building traditions (and starting new ones!) is the best way to connect with friends and family and make long-lasting memories.

Happy Holidays from Villa di Maria!