After becoming a mom, educator Zahra Kassam launched Monti Kids, an at-home Montessori program for kids from 0 – 3. The subscription-based program includes Montessori toys and curriculum, short videos for parents and access to classes and a moderated community. Zahra told us what she loves about Montessori, shared a wise parenting hack and offered sage advice for moms.
Congratulations on being named a 2018 Global Education Influencer and a World Changing Woman! What inspired you to found Monti Kids?
I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was ten years old. After studying child psychology and education and becoming a trained Montessori teacher, I thought I would spend my career in the classroom. Then I became a mother.
When my son Musa was born, the school I was teaching at started at age three, like most preschools around the world. I knew I could not wait that long to give him a rich learning environment, so I hacked together a version of Monti Kids at home and struggled to stay on top of his development. I was also teaching Baby and Me classes and meeting so many parents who were unsure and anxious about how to meet their baby’s developmental needs. Researchers know that 85% of the brain is formed by age three, and this is the foundation for all future learning. And yet, many children start school later and parents are left guessing how to support them. This education gap during the most critical years of development is the problem that drives me and that led me to create Monti Kids.
You were a preschool teacher before becoming a mom. What was the biggest surprise about having your own kids?
When I was growing up, my mom didn’t work outside the home and I imagined that when my own children were born, I might want to stop working to stay home with them. Instead, I jumped into building a demanding startup when my son Musa was just a year old! It was surprising, but it’s also very common for new moms to experience a surge of creativity – this is backed by research! Given all that creative energy and the newfound purpose that motherhood brings, moms can make an incredible impact no matter what they choose to do.
What’s one thing you wish the average parent knew about the development of young children?
Parents often ask me, “When should I start Montessori?” And the answer is: from birth! Parents are amazed by what young children are capable of when provided with the right tools: a three-month-old can concentrate for 30 minutes on a mobile, and a two-year-old can bake bread independently if it’s set up in the right way. Montessori has been proven in schools for over 100 years and is the world’s most popular education method because it sets children up to be curious, confident, creative learners throughout life.
If you could hand off one chore to someone else each day, what would it be?
Emptying the lint tray in the dryer. How has modern technology not eliminated the need for the lint tray?!?
What is your favorite thing to do to relax and unwind?
Dancing is my outlet. I go to a hip-hop studio several times a week and get a lot of my stress out on the dance floor. It feels like equal parts exercise, therapy and joy. If I skip my dance class too often, I can feel the stress building up, so I’ll just turn up the music and have a dance party in our kitchen. This is especially helpful for my kids when they are stuck in an emotional pattern that they need to move through. After I’ve danced, I feel like the most confident, creative and authentic version of myself.
What is your best parenting hack?
A few years ago, a very wise psychologist told me that children need 20 minutes of quality time with their parent every day in order to feel secure and happy. When I stick to this practice, it feels like I’m meeting my kids’ emotional needs as well as my own. Because I’m being very thoughtful and deliberate about this quality time, I’m not always questioning and feeling guilty about whether I’m spending too much time at work. I love this advice because it’s so concrete and so impactful.
What is the best white lie that you’ve told your child?
Musa heard how babies are made from an older child at school. He came home asking lots of questions and I tried to give him age-appropriate but accurate information. By the end of our conversation, he understood what his daddy and I had done to get him and Zayd, but he assumed that we’ve only done it twice. I didn’t correct him. He also asked if we could do it a third time so he could have a baby sister!
If you could describe motherhood/fatherhood in one word, what would it be?
What’s one moment in your motherhood journey that has made you proud?
I’m so proud that my six-year-old Musa treats his one-year-old brother Zayd with staggering kindness and love and that he’s also so sweet with other children who are younger than him. I hope this has something to do with our parenting and the fact that he’s always been in class with both younger and older children because Montessori schools have mixed-age classrooms. I think it’s mostly because Musa just has a beautiful heart.
What is one piece of advice you want to pass along to your children?
Be kind to others and to yourself.
What is one piece of advice you would pass along to other moms?
Be as kind to yourself as you are to your child. As moms, we hold ourselves to such high standards with our families, at work and with our appearance. Next time you’re mentally criticizing yourself, imagine that you’re talking to your daughter and care for yourself with unconditional love, acceptance and compassion.
How do you tackle the work/life balance?
I used to put pressure on myself about keeping things in balance and I would always feel guilty about either spending too much time at work or too much time away from work. Then I realized that constantly striving for balance is just another goal that can make motherhood feel overwhelming. Founding a startup is very demanding and there are periods when I have to travel and work a lot. Because I have young kids in school, I spend extra time with them when they have school vacations or when my husband travels for work. I am grateful to have a support system at home and at the office that allows me to get deeply involved in the different areas of my life when they require it, and this approach makes sense for me.
What was the last book you read?
Stress Less, Accomplish More: Meditation for Extraordinary Performance by Emily Fletcher.
Favorite Beauty Product:
Marc Jacobs Blacquer eyeliner
Favorite Form of Exercise:
What is on your DVR?
Favorite Kids Store: