Mar 272012

[NOTE: I originally posted this review 3 years ago, but a recent movement in my community to start a public Montessori school reminded me that the Montessori method continues to be of interest to parents, so I'm re-posting this today.]

How To Raise An Amazing Child the Montessori Way is written by Tim Seldin, who happens to be the president of the Montessori Foundation.  So, I suppose it should not be surprising that the book is essentially an infomercial on Montessori schools. But does that mean it’s not worth reading?

In fact, the book does have value, even for (or maybe especially for) parents who don’t intend to send their children to Montessori schools.  Many Montessori activities can be replicated in your own home and can supplement whatever type of primary education your child might be receiving.

  • Games and Activities: Seldin provides numerous examples of at-home educational activities and games you can play with your infant, toddler, and child up to age six. The book is replete with photographs of the activities Seldin describes, making it a visually enjoyable read. The activities listed are probably the single biggest reason I will keep this book instead of swapping it at a used bookstore- as my daughter gets older, I can see that it will be useful to refer back to it to get some fresh ideas.  However, I would have liked to see activities for children over 6 years old- Montessori schools can go up to grade 8, or even through high school, so there’s probably no shortage of interesting activities for older children.  Unfortunately, Seldin doesn’t cover those.
  • Ideas for Child’s room: Seldin describes ways in which parents can “evolve” a child’s room, and the whole house, to fit the child’s needs as they grow. I am fairly new to the the Montessori philosophy, but I can tell you that I immediately saw a difference in my daughter’s fussiness and tantrums when I started making the house more accessible to her.  For instance, when she was two years old I put her bowls, plates and cups into a low kitchen cabinet- she was able to get a bowl by herself and fill it with some crackers and raisins when she was hungry.  She LOVED the independence this gave her.
  • Discipline Advice: One chapter in a book probably isn’t enough to overhaul a parent’s disciplinary practices, but Seldin does provide a few useful tips on minimizing tantrums and teaching care and compassion.
  • Appendix of Montessori Resources: This alone isn’t enough to buy the book, but I did appreciate that Seldin devoted one page at the end of the book to compiling a list of various Montessori organizations, books, and suppliers of Montessori educational materials. (If you’re curious, my favorite supplier currently is Montessori Services – they have lots of useful games, puzzles, furniture, housewares and other stuff for kids.)


Mar 162012

Ever wish you had a trusted friend who could help you figure out how to improve your financial situation and teach you all the great money-saving secrets?  You may never meet Crystal Paine, but after listening to her audio book you’ll probably feel like she’s become that person to you.   Most of us realize that we would benefit from an overhaul of our spending and savings habits, but we lack the knowledge and/or motivation to do so.  In The Money Saving Mom’s Budget, Crystal Paine comes armed with both, ready to inspire us and teach us money-saving strategies that will allow us to reach our financial goals.

With her upbeat and friendly attitude, Paine explains how you can greatly improve your financial situation by following seven rules:

  1. Set goals
  2. Cut down on clutter
  3. Set up a budget
  4. Use only cash
  5. Use coupons
  6. Never pay retail
  7. Choose contentment

Some of these rules are not self-explanatory (see if you can answer this: how does a cluttered house relate to losing money?), but Paine does a great job breaking down each rule and giving lots of concrete, real-life examples to make her points (answer to the question above: house clutter causes you to lose track of all sorts of things, including that pesky bill buried under the clutter).  I personally wouldn’t follow all seven rules (I love my credit card rewards too much to follow Rule# 4: Use only cash) but she makes a compelling argument as to how following the seven rules can drastically improve your financial situation.

Even if you’re not inclined to follow her budget advice, she offers a treasure trove of money-saving resources that anyone can use, regardless of their budget philosophy, including websites that specialize in listing coupon codes for online shopping, websites that track businesses who offer birthday freebies, tips on where to buy the cheapest prescription sunglasses, and detailed advice on how to save money on planes tickets, hotels, and other travel expenses.

Keep in mind this is not a book on “sophisticated” personal finance strategies like investing and tax sheltering, so readers looking for ways to beat the stock market or reduce their tax payments will be left empty-handed.  What Paine does offer is simple, straightforward advice that any person, regardless of their financial situation, can use to make significant, positive change in their financial outlook.  Some of the principles might seem obvious (“write down rules and break them into bite-sized pieces”) but they’re worth being reminded of.  And keep in mind this is coming from a reputable source- Crystal Paine is a self-made success story, a busy mom who built from scratch a money management blog that is now read by millions, and she did it in between diaper changes and homeschooling her kids.

If you want to get down to the “nitty gritty” of grocery savings, Paine doesn’t disappoint: she provides a tutorial on using coupons (where to get coupons, how to match them with store sales) and then launches into “extreme couponing” techniques (how to obtain multiple copies of the same coupon, how to stack coupons at the register, how to play the “Drugstore Game,” etc).  And for those too squeamish to use coupons, she provides a list of 25 ways to save money on groceries without using coupons.

I recommend the Money Saving Mom’s Budget for anyone looking for reliable advice on how to improve their financial situation, whether they’re looking to fine-tune or want a complete overhaul.  Crystal Paine deftly combines back-to-basics budget advice with brand new Groupon-generation savings strategies, and the combination is a winner.

The Money Saving Mom’s Budget is available in audio book as well as traditional book format.  The audio book comes with a 35-page PDF of worksheets and additional money-saving tips.  I can say quite honestly that Crystal Paine should consider a second career in book narration, because she is as good as any professional narrator.  When I used to commute two hours a day I listened to my fair share of audio books, and there is no question that Paine holds her own in book narration.  Her delivery is upbeat and friendly, with clear diction and good pacing.

I love comments- let me know what you think of The Money Saving Mom’s Budget!

The Daily Citron is all about managing money, ideas for living green, adventures in parenting, and most of all my attempts to make lemonade out of lemons, limes, citrons, and any other sour fruit life throws my way. All written by someone who hasn’t even come close to figuring life out, but wants to share what they’ve found useful so far.

Disclosure Notice: I was permitted to listen to a copy of this audio book for review purposes.  I was not otherwise compensated for the review.  My reviews are always unbiased, and I only write positive reviews of books that I genuinely believe are great books.

Feb 092012

Any book that promises to divulge the secrets of “uncluttering your home and taking control of your life” is one that will catch my attention.  Thankfully, the author of Confessions of an Organized Homemakerprovides enough concrete tips, and inspirational pep talk, to warrant that attention.
The author, Deniece Schofield, uses a friendly and conversational style to walk us chronically disorganized readers through the steps of organizing both home and life.
She provides detailed and concrete tips in the areas of:

  • Keeping your house clean
  • Basic organizing principles, including how to organize your kitchen for maximum efficiency and how to organize your kids’ toys
  • How to make plans so that you accomplish what you need to accomplish
  • How to manage a calendar and schedule
  • Meal planning
  • Managing paperwork (bills, magazines, kids’ art, receipts, etc)
  • Basic storage principles

She also includes some excellent advice on how to inspire your spouse and children become organized.  Some of the advice is dated, as this book was published in 2000, before smartphone calendars became widely used.  So those of you who are already proficient at managing your calendar via your smart phone, or want to learn how to do so, should just skip the chapter on paper calendaring.  But most of her advice stands the test of time.  For instance, here are some tips that I found really helpful:

  • Group dirty dishes in the dishwasher according to where they’ll be put away- it cuts the unloading time in half, as you don’t have to hunt-and-pick to find all the glasses for the glass shelf.
  • Hole-punch Ziploc bags and put them in a binder, and use it for organizing sandpaper (my husband has mounds of half-used sandpaper that clog up his garage workbench, so he liked this tip).
  • Go nuts installing drawer dividers.  The more your drawers are divided, with a compartment for each item, the less likely they are to get messy.

This book is probably most helpful for those who are fundamentally disorganized and need a basic framework for getting things in order; however, it’s still a worthwhile read for those of us who are somewhat organized but still have “trouble spots” (my trouble spots?  My laundry routine, my desk area, the garage…).  It wasn’t a mind-blowing book, but certainly one I’d recommend to a friend.  I’d say I gleaned about 10 pieces of good advice that I hadn’t heard before.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to leave comments!