Today’s Butlers Are Trading Silver Trays for iPads

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By Robert Frank for The New York Times

When Graham Lefford started working as a butler in 1989, his daily tasks usually involved planning formal dinners and carefully arranging the daily breakfast tray with coffee and a newspaper.

But on a recent afternoon, Mr. Lefford had to tackle a more modern butler problem: a giant TV screen that had failed to descend from the ceiling. He spent nearly an hour troubleshooting the electrical system, testing the drop-down motors and scrolling through the multimedia TV controller before finally rebooting the home’s universal software interface to get the screen to pop down.

“These homes are so complicated and filled with so much technology,” said Mr. Lefford, who works for a wealthy family in New York. “If you don’t have basic tech skills, you can’t do the job anymore.”

The life of the butler has been transformed by the digital age. As the homes of the rich become filled with new status symbols of technology — such as retinal scanners, iPad-controlled door locks, hidden flat-panel screens and underwater lighting shows — butlers are becoming more like one-man I.T. departments.

Rich homeowners are increasingly looking for house managers and butlers with corporate technology experience or engineering degrees. Butler schools are teaming up with home-software companies to better train students, while home-staffing companies are increasingly recruiting from tech departments at big companies and hotel chains. Butlers themselves — who were transformed into more corporate-style “household managers” in the 1990s and 2000s — are now struggling to balance their core job of pampering their finicky bosses with managing temperamental smart-home systems.

“There is no silver tray anymore,” said David N. Youdovin, chief executive of Hire Society, a household staffing firm based in New York. “If you can’t set up a secure wireless network or sync an iPad or use the Crestron or Savant, it’s hard to be considered for these jobs,” he said, referring to two home-automation brands.

Granted, even the nonrich struggle with increasingly complicated home technologies. But in recent years, the rich have taken smart homes to a new level — and assigned their household staffs to keep them running. Weber Tysvaer, an estate manager and chief of staff to several rich families, said one home he worked in had so many motherboards and servers in the basement, the connecting wires formed giant, multicolored columns along the walls.

“It looked like a cathedral organ,” he said. “It was actually quite beautiful — unless something went wrong.”

Mr. Tysvaer worked in a Manhattan triplex, owned by a Middle Eastern prince, that was loaded with state-of-the-art technology and security. Yet systems were often crashing: The Wi-Fi rarely worked, the home-software system always had to be restarted, and a set of “Star Trek”-like doors designed to open and close with a smooth whoosh at the push of a button that often failed to close. The entire tech system for the home had to be redone, at a cost of about $500,000, a little over a year after it was built.

Mr. Tysvaer has worked in other homes where an iPad can be used to dial up a movie, change the music, set the lights, turn on a waterfall or have special custom-made scents pumped through the ventilation system. But many times the systems don’t work together, he said — and finding the root of the problem can take hours of calls with product manufacturers and software teams.

The buyers may not realize that these systems “are far more powerful and complex for what they really need,” he said.

Mr. Lefford, who travels between his home in Michigan and his employer’s home in New York, said technology had given him more freedom, but also more headaches. He can manage his employer’s New York home remotely with an iPad, setting the heat, shutting the blinds, turning off the lights and locking the doors with the tap of a screen. He even accepted a flower delivery at the home in New York, and selected bouquets for each room, while sitting in Michigan.

But one Sunday night, when Mr. Lefford was off duty, his boss couldn’t turn on the lights on an upper floor of the house. “To fix it, I would have to remove a panel from an electronics cabinet, unplug something else and hit a reset button,” he said. “They just decided to leave them off till I came back the next day.”

Butler training schools and associations are forging closer ties to the companies that make tech gear for high-end homes. The Domestic Estate Management Association says it’s working with Crestron and Savant to create training programs to teach butlers how to run and troubleshoot smart-home systems. Other schools are adding courses in I.T. networking and programming.

“It’s part of the standard training now,” said Matthew Haack, president of the association.

In many homes of the superrich, technology is so complicated that owners are hiring specialized techies to work alongside butlers and household managers. Kevin G. Johnson, founder of Green Baize Door, a London-based placement agency and advisory firm, said he recently placed two I.T. specialists in mega-homes in Britain. One had been the chief engineer for a big London hotel group while the other came from a corporate I.T. department. They are now earning higher salaries, “in the six figures,” according to Mr. Johnson.

Mr. Youdovin of Hire Society also recently helped place two personal I.T. experts. One was for a hedge fund manager in New York who has a sophisticated trading system set up in his home. The other was for a Hamptons homeowner who wanted a searchable video system allowing him to watch certain moments from scores of professional sports games. Both workers are making over $150,000 a year.

Sometimes a butler’s toughest tech task is to get rid of technology. Mr. Lefford said a previous employer got so frustrated with his remote digital thermostat systems that when he started planning a new state-of-the-art home, he requested the old-fashioned Honeywell dials. But the company installing the home’s heating and cooling system kept pushing for a more expensive digital controller.

“My employer insisted on the dial,” Mr. Lefford said. “He said, ‘I want to be able to change the heat in my own damn house.’”

 

TOP PEDIATRICIANS IN BOCA SPILL MUST-HAVE PARENTING SECRETS

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By Modern Boca Mom

Top pediatricians in Boca Raton, Doctors Chad Rudnick and Paul Gilbert, are no strangers to answering the most commonly Googled questions for parenting healthy kids. Every day at their local office, they block out an entire hour for their patients to conduct wellness check-ups and answer parents’ questions the way docs did in the good ‘ole days. They carry black “house call bags” for actual house visits, keep their cell phones on them 24/7 in case parents have questions via text or email, and spend a TON of time focusing on wellness.

More wellness = healthier patients in their book!

Between their ultra-personalized office visits and 24/7 “pediatrician-in-your-pocket” on-call status, it’s no wonder the docs at Boca VIPediatrics have quickly become top pediatricians in Boca. “We want to empower parents by bringing back the old-fashioned relationship young patients had with their doctor. So, we encourage them to reach out anytime. Any questions they forget to ask in the office, they can always email or text directly to us 24/7,” says Chad Rudnick, MD, founder of the nation’s first pediatric smart officeBoca VIPediatrics.

The Johns Hopkins-trained Dr. Gilbert knows that parents of babies and toddlers are not the only ones who rely on their pediatrician for healthy development. As “Camp Physician” at Camp KenMont/KenWood, one of the nation’s premier sleepaway camps in the Berkshires, he’s also accustomed to bonding with school-aged, adolescent, and teenage patients. “The relationship between the pediatrician and a school-aged child or teenager is what allows us to maintain their health. This helps them grow into successful young adults,” says Gilbert.

Read on to see what secrets top pediatricians in Boca, Dr. Rudnick and Dr. Gilbert, are spilling regarding healthy parenting!

The Secret To Just About Every Sleep Question Is…

Consistency. We get asked this question every single day. While our office goes into more detail about methods, products, etc. to help our patients (and parents!) sleep, the bottom line is always: Be consistent.

Human beings (especially babies) are creatures of habit. We tend to want to go to bed at the same time each night, wake up at the same time each morning, and sit at the same spot at the kitchen table for dinner. Once you’ve spoken with your pediatrician and your partner about a routine that works well for your family, stick with it. It sounds easy in theory, but sometimes life gets in the way, which is the difficult part.

You may have to decline plans that interfere with naptime or bedtime, and you’ll likely catch some flack from family or friends who don’t understand why you’re running such a tight ship. Once you get the routine down and have a consistently good sleeper (at least 2 months), then it’s possible to bend the rules for a special occasion like a family dinner or vacation.

Don’t Google; Ask Your Pediatrician

When it comes to your child’s health, we don’t want you guessing or crowdsourcing. Every time you Google your child’s symptoms, chances are your diagnosis will be WRONG. If you ask your other parent friends or post a question to a Facebook group, you may even be given information that is potentially dangerous. You should never have to wonder when it comes to the health of your child or avoid seeking the help of your pediatrician because it’s after-hours or a weekend.

At Boca VIPediatrics, there is no waiting until the next day or Monday morning when you have a concern about your child. All of our families can reach us 24/7 to ask questions if and when they arise. These top pediatricians in Boca Raton also do virtual visits where parents can send photos or videos of coughs, bumps, rashes, and even the inner ear with our otoscope attachment for the iPhone to check for ear infections. We always offer same day sick visits. You should always be able to reach out to your pediatrician or their office 24/7. Googling symptoms usually causes more harm than good.

Fevers Are Not The Enemy

Unless you have a child younger than 3 months, fevers are actually not as bad as you think. A fever is considered anything over 100.4 degrees and remember, forehead thermometers are widely inaccurate! In most cases with toddlers and older children, the level of fever is not concerning, it’s how the child is acting.

We’ve seen children with a fever of 104 who are playing soccer in our office. And, we’ve also seen some pretty miserable 101’ers who can’t get out of bed. A fever is your body’s natural reaction to fighting off infection, so it can actually be a good thing.

We treat based on how the child is feeling, NOT the number on the thermometer (Remember that this does not apply to babies less than 3 months of age). 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, our patients can email or text us to ask about dosing to make sure you are giving your child the proper amount of fever reducer.

Antibiotics Will Not Treat A Cold

The most common illness that a child will get (over and over) is the common cold – which originates from a virus. Antibiotics do not treat colds! Because these top pediatricians in Boca Raton are not fans of over-prescribing or over-medicating, they like to try natural remedies first. In fact, we never guess whether your child has a cold or infection. We’re one of the only offices in South Florida to utilize a simple nasal swab which tests for over 30 different viruses and bacteria. That way, we’re only prescribing an antibiotic when it’s 100% necessary to get your child better, faster.

Trust Your Own, Inner Parental Instincts

Nobody knows their child better than mom or dad. We like to listen intently to parents when they have a concern, because their intuition is usually spot on. That’s why we offer house calls and urgent care 24/7. We received a FaceTime call a few nights ago from a worried mom who heard a concerning cough from her 2-year-old daughter. As it turns out, she was right to be concerned! It was croup and we were able to get medicine called into her 24 hour pharmacy right away. We’ve treated late night ear infections, stomach bugs, coughs and rashes. Our office has even saved patients from ER trips by being available on our cell phones at all times. Every patient has our numbers and when it’s urgent to them, it’s urgent to us.

Every Child Is Unique

It feels like as soon as you have your first child, suddenly everyone comes out of the woodwork to give you advice. Beware of “experts” who are not experts, or professionals who try to put your child “in a box.”

Remember we are all different people with different hobbies, interests, and personality traits. Children develop at their own pace with their own set of likes/dislikes. They will grow up to change the world in their own unique way regardless of when they first start to walk, talk, or ride a bike. It’s important to work with your pediatrician and discuss milestones and development to be sure that your child is tracking as expected.

When an issue does arise, we are able to facilitate further evaluations with pediatric speech, physical, or occupational therapists so our patients are able to get back on track faster. Milestones aren’t just about babies and toddlers. School aged children (teens included)are also tracked to make sure they are reach their potential in the classroom.

Inside the Surprising Innovations of Sustainable Garden Design

Palm Beach Property by Nievea Williams

Palm Beach Property by Nievea Williams

By Meaghan O'Neill at ArchitecturalDigest.com

As in real estate, so in sustainable landscape architecture: Location is everything. A successful coastal Florida garden is going to require some very different elements than one in California's Napa Valley. “Everything really depends on the site,” says Lauren Stimson, principal at Stephen Stimson Landscape Associates in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which is known for its agrarian approach and sensitive use of local materials.

Highly considered landscapes are all unique. However, several common denominators connect sustainable gardens everywhere. Water usage, native plantings, efficient irrigation, managing storm-water runoff, and reducing lawns are key elements to success, regardless of climate or clientele.

“Whether it's in Santa Fe or Annapolis,” says Ron Radziner, design principal at Marmol Radziner, a full-service architectural design-build firm in California known for forging connections between indoor and outdoor spaces, “our goal is to use plantings with the most appropriate use of water. Being drought-tolerant doesn't preclude a beautiful garden,” says Radziner.

From a homeowner's perspective, saving water simply makes economic sense, especially in drought-prone regions like California, where some towns and cities have begun restricting usage and fining for overages. But even in places like coastal Florida, the constant sun means high-maintenance landscapes can be expensive to keep up.

For a project in Palm Beach, Florida, landscape architect Keith Williams' client asked him to keep her water bill almost impossibly low at $500 or less per month. Nevertheless, Williams delivered a lush, romantic design that met the parameters by limiting the use of turf to just the entry and pool surround, and locating water-loving plantings in the shade. An advanced irrigation system also monitors weather and humidity, and uses drip irrigation, rather than a mist, which can quickly evaporate. Williams, partner and vice president of Nievera Williams in Palm Beach, explains that designing for water efficiency is part of the standard service he provides.

Lower-maintenance plants also require less water, so native plants and cultivars, naturally, are part of sustainable garden design. For a project in Maine, SSA used native ground covers harvested from nearby sites. Keeping existing soil on site is also a priority for the firm, which works with scientists to amend its makeup instead of digging it out. “Ultimately, we try to promote areas of plants that form a community, not just plants and trees,” says Stimson. “There's a whole dynamic going on that supports nature and wildlife.”

Exotic plant materials, however, aren't entirely taboo. Williams installed green island ficus around the foundation of a modern minimalist property, also in Palm Beach. “It's one of the most sustainable plants I can think of,” he says. “It's non-native, but it takes drought, salt, and wind well, and, of course, it's non-invasive.”

Reducing grassy areas is also paramount. SSA minimized the amount of lawn on a Massachusetts property by restoring a 20-acre meadow. Likewise, in the Marin Hills of California, Scott Lewis, of San Francisco–based Scott Lewis Landscape Architecture, replaced one property's lawn entirely with native grasses that need no watering at all. The property was completely regraded and replanted; now, the flowering hillside “looks like it was always there,” he says.

A certain amount of lawn may be aesthetically unavoidable in some projects; Williams used it in the minimal Palm Beach project to break up sight lines, for example. “But the days of grassy lawns in California are pretty much done,” says Lewis.

Selecting the appropriate greenery alone doesn't make a garden sustainable. Hardscaping matters, too, especially where it comes to managing water retention and runoff. Stone pavers and gravel, for example—rather than slabs of concrete or pavement—create permeable surfaces that allow storm water to seep back into the ground.

For a project in Napa, Lewis used pavers atop a gravel bed to create pathways. These low-heat index stones reflect heat, keeping the space cooler, and allow any water to return immediately into the ground. Where the previous garden contained fussy privets and turf, drought-tolerant ornamental grasses and rosemary now soften the serene space.

In Palm Beach, Williams used a 12-inch band of loose pebble around the building's foundation to keep the house clean in heavy rains and help the garden absorb water. For Marmol Radziner, the solution lies in breaking up slabs with gravel or planting strips, as it did for a project in Beverly Hills. “As modernists, we tend to use a lot of concrete walls and concrete pads,” says Radziner. “We have to allow for water to get back into the earth.”

Few municipalities require homeowners to collect storm water—yet—though it's an important factor in any considered landscape. At SSA's project in Massachusetts, a storm-water garden even became the organizing principle of the site's design. Now, wetland iris fill a reclaimed granite–framed garden, where the clients' children now play and catch frogs. Whether or not a client asks for it, SSA typically builds storm-water collection or bioswales (drainage courses designed to remove silt and pollution from runoff water) into its designs. “That's driven by our desire to be respectful of a site,” says Stimson.

Whether driven by economics or aesthetics, trends in sustainable gardens are catching on. Top designers are proving they don't have to swap luxury and beauty for environmental responsibility. Of course, any successful garden has to work with the physical world, not against it. But where it comes to sustainable landscapes, as Radziner says succinctly, “we're creating an enhanced version of nature.”

St Pete Beach

Travel Blogger Stephanie Be shares her favorite finds from St Pete on Travel Break.

1. Prime Real Estate – Great Weather, No Crowds

If you can’t stand the madness of South Beach or coldness of a remote cabin in the mountains, consider a warm winter destination such as St Pete Beach. It’s postcard perfect all year long!

2. Chic Luxe Boutique Accommodation

A smart luxury destination, St Pete provides the intimacy and charm of a boutique hotel, so why not stay in one?

Staying right on the water at the boutique Hotel Zamora, St Pete Beach, Saint Petersburg.

3. Farm-to-Table Dining

St Pete offers trendy farm-to-table dining . I suggest the following culinary experiences:

4. Surf, Paddle Boards, Kayaks, and Dolphins

We literally had dolphins swim up to us as we took the boat out in the canals. I also suggest the paddle board, kayak and surfing experiences.

5. Adult Play Time

For a little grown-up meets childhood fun, do a bike pub crawl with Pedal Pub or check out the Make Your Own Bloody Mary Brunch at Castile at Hotel Zamora.

New Study Reveals Moms Need a Full Year for Recovery After Giving Birth

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from Red Tricycle

Growing a baby a beautiful experience, but it’s also demanding on your body. New mothers may be told by books and doctors that they’ll be back to ‘normal’ within six weeks of giving birth, but a new study has found that most women take much longer to recover.

Dr. Julie Wray, a researcher at Salford University in England, interviewed women at different stages of post-partum life. She found that the standard six-week recovery period is a “complete fantasy,” and it can take a full year to recover from childbirth.

It’s not just physical recovery that’s needed, but mental as well. Many feel the pressure to get back on their feet soon after childbirth and feel it may be necessary to head back to work as early as six weeks.

Wray found that recovery should start in the hospital. Back in the day, women spent more time in the maternity ward learning how to take care of their infant and getting breastfeeding advice. Now, some women are discharged as early as six hours after giving birth and expected to just go with it, according to Wray’s research.

“The research shows that more realistic and woman-friendly postnatal services are needed,” Wray concluded. “Women feel that it takes much longer than six weeks to recover and they should be supported beyond the current six to eight weeks after birth.”

Recovery after childbirth is different for everyone, but the general consensus is that a full year to heal the body and mind is much better than a month and a half.

Find expert help for your growing family with British American Newborn Care.

 

From Only to Oldest

By Jessi at The Coffee Mom

When my husband and I found out I was pregnant with our second, we were over the moon! We had wanted a second baby for a while and finally decided that the timing was right to add another bundle of joy into our family.  Our older daughter, Willow, was just about to turn three when we found out I was pregnant. While she did not seem to fully grasp the concept, she seemed to understand that we would be bringing home a new baby and that she would be a big sister. Her excitement was limited at first, in part because of her age and probably in part because I was not showing yet and we did not know a gender yet.

Flash forward a few months and it was finally time to find out if we would be adding a baby brother or baby sister to our house! My mother was the only person who knew the gender at the time of our reveal. My husband and I were taken into our yard, blindfolded, and given squeeze jars of paint which contained either pink or blue paint which we were to attack each other with. The paint was cold and neither one of us could see anything, we could only hear the cheers of our friends and family as they watched us throw paint at each other, even Willow got in the mix and started to quirt us with paint. After what felt like forever, out blindfolds were removed and we realized we were all covered in BLUE paint! It was a boy!

Willow’s excitement began to grow as she knew now that she would have a brother. The larger my belly got the more her excitement grew. I had to explain to her that I did not eat her brother though, that was an awkward conversation with a three year old. She talked about her little brother constantly, to anyone who would listen! Her daycare told me she told them all about him on a daily basis. Because of her excitement I started to think that the transition would be easy. With as excited as she was, I thought there was NO WAY she would have any difficulty adjusting to her baby brother coming home and that life would be simple and smooth (Oh boy was I WRONG)

After returning home from the hospital with our new son, everything seemed to fall into place easily at first. The first week or so was a blur, the lack of sleep from a newborn and still trying to give my daughter equal attention, it was draining to say the least. I knew Willow was not getting the attention she needed or deserved, and she started acting out because of it. Of course I began to scour Pinterest for any advice on the transition from one to two that I could, but nothing seemed to really work for us.  Willow’s behavior got so bad that she was actually asked not to return to her daycare! That was my breaking point. I felt like a failure as a mother because I could not get my child’s attitude in check, I was failing a juggling a new baby and older child, I was stressed to the max and did not see how I was going to handle this one.

Everything I read online, I tried, and none of it seemed to really work. I was giving her extra time and special attention. I was trying my best to include her in the care of her brother (diapering, bathing, and dressing him), which she enjoyed. I would have my husband watch the baby while I tried to spend some one on one time with her doing crafts or playing in her room. We explained how Luca is just a baby and needs extra attention from mommy right now but that he won’t be a baby forever.  While all of the aforementioned tactics seemed to work for periods of time, she would still revert back to crying, throwing, whining, etc. when she did not get her way.

It finally clicked with me one day, no matter how hard my husband and I try; her life will never be the same as it was before. She would never be the center of attention again, never be the only child again, this was her new normal and she was adjusting. Part of the “issue” has honestly been her age. At three (almost four now), her tiny little self has all of these big emotions and isn’t truly sure how to express them yet. This s true of ANY 3 year old, not only one who has recently added a new dibbling to the mix. They test their boundaries and push your buttons, but it is part of their learning process. As my son has gotten a little older, we have been able to devote even more time to doing special things with just Willow, and things seem to be evening out in our house (FINALLY).

The best advice I can give to any parent who is adding a new baby to the family, is simply to be patient! The older child (or children) are going to have an adjustment period, which may be rocky, and that is perfectly normal. I do recommend letting someone else hold the baby while you spend at least a little time one-on-one with your older child. While Willow STILL has her little attitude problem, I have to realize she is almost four and her whole world changed about three and a half months ago so it is going to take time for her to fully adjust to this new family normal. Children crave your time and company, and they have a very hard time dealing with big emotions at a young age, so it is up to us as parents to ensure our children are given the proper emotional tools. Sometimes a child just needs to cry and then be spoken to about why they were, see if we can help them navigate these new feelings they are surely experiencing. Going from one child to two has been an emotional roller coaster, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world!

Things To Do In Florida

Rainbow Springs State Park

Rainbow Springs State Park

By Skye from Real Moms Review

Florida is a state many, many people vacation to. Typical families pay visits to Disney World or Universal, but when the Florida Bucket List below is a complete list of things that my family has researched and added to our ‘must see’ list! If you love food, make sure you check out the Foodie Bucket List for Florida. Enjoy.

1. Three Sisters Springs: This unique and critical natural warm-water refuge for the endangered Florida Manatee has crystal clear water. Plus, if you go during the winter months you get to swim with Manatees. 

2. Weeki Wachee Springs State Park: If seeing mermaids has always been something you wanted to do, Weeki Wachee is a must see. For almost 60 years, the fun, family oriented park has lured in visitors with beautiful mermaids who swim in the cool, clear spring waters with manatees, turtles and bubbles.

3. Florida Caverns State Park: Most of Florida’s caves are underwater, so this one is very special. Dazzling formations of limestone stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, flowstones and draperies fill the entire cave. There are guided tours of that last about 45 minutes.

4. Duval Street: Yeah, yeah, yeah I know it’s a cliche, but Key West honestly has something for everyone. It’s scenic, historic, fun and charming all rolled into one. There are even plenty of things for young kids to do if you look hard enough.

5. Spook Hill: Some believe it’s the haunted site of an epic battle.. Most believe its an optical illusion. No matter what team you are on you have to agree that Spook Hill is a weird spot. Put your car in neutral at the bottom of the hill and it will appear to roll uphill.

6. Rainbow Springs State ParkFlorida’s fourth largest spring is popular for swimming, tubing, canoeing, and kayaking because of its crystal blue waters. It’s nearly impossible to find natural waterfalls in Florida, but the man-made ones at this park are a lovely.

7. Devil’s Den With crystal clear water, year round 72 degree water temperatures, ancient rock formations with stalactites, fossil beds dating back 33 million years, and much more diving or snorkeling in Devil’s Den is something that can’t be replicated. 

8. Washington Oaks Gardens State Park: Most famous for its formal gardens, and gorgeous live oaks, the park holds one of the largest outcroppings of coquina rock on the Atlantic Ocean, creating a picturesque boulder-strewn beach perfect for beach walking.

9.Coral Castle: Built single-handedly in the early 1900’s using reverse magnetism or supernatural abilities to move and carve numerous stones weighing many tons the Coral Castle is a sight unlike any other. It’s monolithic structure made to look like a castle, complete with huge furniture and sculptures.

10. Dry Tortuga: The remote Dry Tortugas National Park is about 70 miles away from Key West and only accessible by boat. The 100-square mile park is mostly open water with seven small islands.  The park is known the world over as the home of magnificent Fort Jefferson, picturesque blue waters, superlative coral reefs and marine life,  and the vast assortment of bird life that frequent the area.

11. Kennedy Space Center“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind..” Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is where rockets launch and inspiration begins. Located one small step from Orlando, arrive early for a full-day experience at the greatest space adventure on Earth!

5 Things Nursery School Taught Me

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By Lexi Mainland from A Cup of Jo

My two-year-old started school this fall and he’s full of surprising new knowledge. “Snails only have one foot, Mommy,” he pointed out when I tried (clumsily) to draw a portrait of the classroom pet. But, true to parenting form, I think I’ve gained as much wisdom as he has. His teachers, who use the Montessori method, have decades of experience with little ones and I’ve picked up so many tips. Here are five that were especially thought-provoking…

On please and thank you. Parents often encourage toddlers to use pleasantries like please and thank you, but the head teacher says that’s less important than teaching them to ask nicely — without shouting, demanding or whining — and directly, with eye contact. In her view, most two-year-olds can’t yet understand the meaning of please or thank you (they’re just words), but they can understand the difference between saying “more crackers” nicely and not.

On self-care. One of Montessori’s tenets is teaching children how do practical things themselves. There are many dimensions to this, but my favorite is the water pitcher. A covered pitcher is always available next to a stack of durable glasses and a small towel. The kids learn to help themselves whenever they need a drink. And if they spill a little, no big deal — a towel is right there so they can clean up. (Jasper loves pouring water for himself and everyone else.)

On referring to classmates. All the kids at school are taught to call their classmates “friends,” which is so sweet. For young children who are still getting their sea legs socially (and might find memorizing a bunch of new names challenging), being able to say, “I played with a friend!” at the end of the day is empowering. Jasper tells me, “I have eight different friends in my class!”

On praising toddlers. There are a ton of different philosophies about how to praise kids, but when Jasper does something great, we tend to overreact. “Great job!” I’ll say. Or “Wow, that’s amazing!” His teachers at school have a more matter-of-fact way of praising that Jasper really responds to. They’ll acknowledge his work (“You made a picture!”) and offer praise that’s specific rather than general. “I like how you drew the tree so tall,” they’ll say. The idea is that this encourages kids to think and talk about their about their own work, and to appreciate its merits on their own, rather than always looking to others for approval.

On diaper duty. Our school leaves potty training (and its timeline) up to parents and kids, but they help support the process and have a specific point of view: Always change toddlers’ diapers in the bathroom, standing up. Anything solid in the diaper gets flushed down the toilet and kids wash their hands after being changed. When we learned this on parents’ night, all of us collectively slapped our foreheads. What a sensible way to start showing little kids what the bathroom is all about. It instantly sets them on the path to potty training.

What has your kids’ school taught you about parenting? Do you do any of these things? I’d love to hear.