The Bump presents #MomBoss, a series dedicated to showing off all-star moms. We catch up with mompreneurs behind products we love, influencers who get real about motherhood and SAHMs who can multitask in their sleep.
It’s engraved in our minds: The first few years of baby’s life are crucial for development. What this means is, how you interact with your infant kick starts the rest of their life. No pressure…
Lucky for us, Zahra Kassam is already three steps ahead. The long-time educator and mother of two was determined not to let the most important developmental years of her kids’ lives fly under the radar. Not wanting to wait for her firstborn to start preschool, Kassam threw together a Montessori-inspired curriculum for her youngster to experience at home. After speaking with other new parents, she saw a void in the market and decided to transform her home hack into Monti Kids, a full-blown company offering a subscription package for newborns and toddlers.
Learn more about the subscription service, Kassam’s background in Montessori education and how she raises her kids from our chat below.
Tell us about yourself and your Montessori background.
It was always my dream to be a teacher. In the sixth grade, I was assigned a first grade reading buddy, and I’ve been teaching ever since! I studied child psychology at Harvard College, received my Master’s from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and became an internationally-certified Montessori teacher for children from birth to age six. I thought I would spend my career in the classroom, but then I became a mother. When my son Musa was born, the school where I was teaching, like most preschools around the world, started at age three. I knew I couldn’t wait that long to give my baby a rich learning environment, so I hacked together a version of Monti Kids at home and struggled to stay on top of his development at every turn.
While on maternity leave, I was also teaching “Baby and Me” classes at a local parenting center. The parents in my classes were anxious. They understood how important the early years are, but they had so many questions about how to meet their baby’s developmental needs. Research has proven that 85 percent of the brain is formed by age 3, and it serves as the foundation for all future learning. Yet, kids start school later and parents are left guessing how to support their baby’s development. This education gap drove me to create Monti Kids. After three years in development, we launched the business when I was pregnant with my second baby boy. Zayd is now one year old and as a busy mom, I’m so grateful I can meet his developmental needs at every stage. I hope that Monti Kids can bring the same peace of mind to other parents!
Walk us through the Monti Kids program and what parents receive when they subscribe.
Monti Kids is the only Montessori subscription for children from birth to 3 years old that gives parents access to an authentic Montessori education. We’ve redesigned the entire infant to toddler Montessori curriculum to be accessible to parents and safety-certified for babies and toddlers. Families can sign up anytime between pregnancy and age 3, and every three months they’ll receive a delivery of authentic Montessori toys tailored to their child’s stage of development. We also send short weekly videos guiding them through when, how, and why to introduce the materials, as well as how to set up their play area at each stage. Parents also get access to our private community moderated by internationally-certified Montessori experts who offer personalized support.
Any plans for different packages to cater towards a variety of budgets?
We’re a young company and are always thinking of innovative ways to meet the needs of our community. We hope to create more products that will enhance the Montessori curriculum as we grow, but we don’t sell stand-alone products right now because there is so much learning value in the complete program. Our curriculum is designed to thoughtfully develop a range of skills that will serve children for years to come, and we don’t want our families to miss out on any piece of it!
How do you juggle a startup and raising a family?
It's definitely not easy having a startup and two young children at home, but it is an abundance of good things. I absolutely love my work. Beyond the business, helping babies to receive the highest quality education during their most formative years is the purpose of my life. I write in a gratitude journal every night, and when I put Musa to bed, we talk about what we’re grateful for. I believe that maintaining that positive state of mind is the most important ingredient when juggling several hard things.
But in order to stay positive, it’s critical for me to also take care of my physical health. I love to dance, and when I’m dancing regularly, I have more energy and I bring my best self to my work and to my family. I’m more creative and time seems to expand. Other than that, I’m always working on prioritizing, saying no to things that don’t serve those priorities, asking for help, relying on my amazing team at Monti Kids and my superhero husband and also being kind to myself when I drop the ball!
What’s your best advice to parents on setting aside time to play?
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 really does feel like I’m meeting my kids’ emotional needs as well as my own. Because I’m being very thoughtful and deliberate about quality time, I don’t end up feeling as guilty about the number of hours in the week spent working and away from my kids. I love this advice because it’s so concrete and so impactful.
What’s your best parenting hack?
Asking for help. Like so many moms out there, I set very high standards for myself and it’s easy to get caught up in trying to do everything and trying to do it all perfectly. When I was growing up, my mom cooked amazing Indian food every night and it was such a big part of our family culture. I wanted my kids to have that same experience, but when I thought seriously about my priorities, I realized that I’d prefer to come home from work and play with my kids rather than go straight to the kitchen to start cooking. So I asked for help. We now have a beloved nanny who cooks, we order-in a lot and once in a while when we have time, I involve my kids in cooking my mom’s Indian recipes. Musa is my sous chef and Zayd gets to smell and feel all the different spices. I’m still passing down family traditions, but trying to do it in a more manageable way.
What’s a product you wouldn’t have made it through your first year of parenting without?
The Monti Kids infant mobiles were an absolute lifesaver for me. Zayd was born with his eyes wide open, so we started using the mobiles when he was just a few days old. Any time he was awake and had been fed and changed, he would engage with them for long stretches because they were so perfectly suited to his developmental needs. They were incredible for his visual development and for building up his concentration and focus. And they were a huge help to me because I could take half an hour to rest, eat or answer emails!
Have you had any epic #MomFails you laugh at now?
I picked up Musa from school the other day for the first time in a while. I drop him off on the way to work in the morning, but our nanny usually picks him up. The school has two campuses so when I arrived at his classroom, his teacher reminded me that Musa had his drum lesson at the other campus that afternoon—that was strike one. I rushed over to the other campus and because I was now late, he was sitting in the office waiting for me—strike two. As soon as I walked in—strike three. Musa’s drum teacher added that I was supposed to pick up Musa’s drum set two weeks prior so he could start practicing on a full set at home.
I felt like the worst mother ever. In my defense, that was the same week that Monti Kids appeared on Shark Tank, so it was an especially busy time. Now that I have caught up on all of that, I can laugh about it. Musa was incredibly proud to see me on TV, and is always coming up with business ideas he thinks can help people. So perhaps I’m not the worst mom ever!
Any guilty mom pleasures ?
Shopping! My boys can’t stand shopping. It literally makes my husband sick—he complains of a headache or stomach pains as soon as we walk into a clothing store. Musa says he hates it as much as he hates zucchini, and baby Zayd loves going for walks but as soon as his stroller enters a clothing store, he freaks out. So it’s something I get to do by myself once in a while and that might be why I love it.
Published March 2019
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