7 AM to 7 PM: How USP’s Jennie Monness Balances 'Daniel Tiger' With Sensory Play

Jennie Monness and family

Verywell / Jennie Monnes

Parents don’t work 9 to 5—we work 7 to 7, from the moment our kids wake up until they go to sleep. This is an unfiltered look at a day in the life of Union Square Play co-founder, Mo'Mommies founder, and early childhood educator, Jennie Monness.

If you’re a parent, chances are you went to Instagram for ideas on activities to do with your kids during the pandemic. If that sounds familiar, you may already be following early childhood educator and Union Square Play co-founder, Jennie Monness.

Thanks to her master’s degree in psychology, she is able to explain how and why children act the way that they do, and offers real-life solutions to "bad" behavior on her platforms. She has over 34,000 followers under her name @MoMommies on Instagram (at publish date), as well as a blog of the same name. Monness is also the proud mama of two children with her husband Matt: Tess, who will be four in November, and 20-month-old, Nell.

Through detailed, engaging captions, and videos, she explains how to avoid tears during daycare or school drop-off (for both you and your child), how to get siblings to share, and how to create easy summer fun by utilizing items from your kitchen. She’s a mom that’s truly “in it” and is incredibly relatable, in addition to being an expert.

“I have been working in early childhood with infants and toddlers as a teacher and educator and director of programs for 15 years now,” she says. “But that wasn't always what I thought I would do.” Monness went to school for psychology but after getting her master's, she realized that working with adults wasn’t what she wanted for her career.

Monness started applying for jobs and got a gig working with young, Mandarin-speaking children in Chinatown, New York City. Though they didn’t speak the same language, Monness says she learned an immense amount from the experience.

“I ended up getting a second master's in early childhood,” she shares. “But I say that they were my PhD program because we connected through play, and we connected through creating a relationship. Everything that I preach now is how you can connect with children, and that's really how I learned it. By living and breathing with them every day.”

As years passed, Monness excelled in her career and became a director of programs at several different schools—Red Apple Child Development Center, Preschool of America, and Explore + Discover. Working with children was rewarding, but she wanted a family of her own.

After a year and a half of trying to get pregnant, naturally, then with two IUI's and a failed FET, she got pregnant via IVF with daughter Tess. "Nell was a miracle accident," Monness notes.

While she was trying to conceive and in the midst of her IVF treatments, she took the time to reflect again on her path, asking herself, what will make me want to leave my children every day? By October of 2017, Monness was eight months pregnant.

Jennie Monness

I really wanted to connect with parents, so I started an Instagram account that showed what we do in the classroom with infants and toddlers.

— Jennie Monness

“I was dealing with putting out fires and teacher turnover, and I just didn't want to be an administrator anymore,” Monness says. “I really wanted to connect with parents, so I started an Instagram account that showed what we do in the classroom with infants and toddlers.”

She created content for other parents about items she was buying for her own baby, and how she planned to raise her child. “I just started becoming really open and honest about how isolating and hard it was to become a mom, even for me, who thought I knew at all, you know?” Monness says. “I was sharing this in my emotional, hormonal state, and then getting support from people I didn't even know. It made me realize that no one is immune to needing community.”

From there, she started small in-person mom meet-ups, until she met someone who worked in hospitality. The woman showed her a space where she was planning to hold children’s classes. That space is now known as Union Square Play, and Monness is a partner in the business. The brand has a devoted following among NYC parents; and now, because of the pandemic, families from all over the globe can connect on their online platform, Parenting+.

“When the pandemic hit, when we thought we'd only be closed for a week, we started offering our classes virtually," Monness says. In the beginning, it was donation only, and Monness confesses that they didn't have any idea what the future would hold. "The community just kept growing and growing. Moms groups expanded. We hired more facilitators—it used to just be me—and people were coming to us for ideas on how to play." They even created play kits to send to people's homes.

Monness explains that the mom forums are positive and encouraging spaces. "The forums—everything starts with empathy," she adds. "That's what sets us apart from a Facebook group. Everyone is there in order to support, and parents will respond [if you ask a question]." They also have vetted experts to respond to parents looking for advice on things like hitting, tantrums, or sleep problems.

Jennie Monness

That's what sets us apart from a Facebook group. Everyone is there in order to support, and parents will respond [if you ask a question].

— Jennie Monness

Monness follows the RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) methodology. “It’s really about respecting babies as confident human beings and not as helpless objects the way we often believe them to be,” she explains.

Monness and her family have a home in New York City, but are currently staying at their beach house in Atlantic Beach, on Long Island. "During COVID, we came out to our beach house," Monness says. "It's like 25 miles outside the city. It's where we've been for the majority of the last year and a half, and now that it's summer, we're staying out here."

Follow along as Monness balances her booming business, plans sensory play for her two girls, and even sneaks in a few extra minutes of shut-eye thanks to “Daniel Tiger.”

Jennie Monness

Verywell / Jennie Monness

Wednesday

7 a.m. During the week, I never plan to wake up before the kids because it's always a gamble. They wake up anywhere between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. On days that it’s 7 a.m., I absolutely want the extra sleep. On days when it's 5 a.m., there's no shot of anything happening before they get up.

Whenever they wake up, they come into our bed before the other one wakes up. My husband gets their milk and we either give whoever it is—Tess or Nell—some books while we snooze or we turn on “Daniel Tiger.” The most that would be is for 45 minutes. Nell, our younger daughter, won't watch anything for that long. So she'll just play in our room.

Matt leaves for work around 6:15 a.m.—he drives to [New York] city. At that point, we go downstairs and I make my coffee. The girls play while I make breakfast. Play involves either just seeing if they can play on their own. Or I’ll have one of them at the table with crayons and paper, or with some toys from the kitchen—like a salad spinner or some little bowls of water. Anything to keep them occupied, because at this point, they are hungry and they know it’s getting close to when I go to work.

Breakfast is often oatmeal, fruit, and either pancakes, waffles, or scrambled eggs. They finish eating at 6:45 a.m. and we brush our teeth and pick out clothes.

Our nanny starts at 7 a.m. on most days. So when she starts, I work out for an hour.

8 a.m. I get ready for the day. If I have in-person meetings and I want to do my hair, I usually skip my workout and start getting ready at 7 a.m. I like to do my hair fresh in the morning.

8:30 a.m. My day starts with our Zoom staff meeting. I jump into [Parenting+] mom groups as an expert even though I don't lead them anymore. I have scheduled consult calls via Zoom with parents.

In between all of that, I'm working on projects. We’re working on creating a Playbook guide for parents, and working on travel kits with a company. So, I always have stuff to do in between meetings.

11 a.m. There is often somewhere to drive the kids—during the year, it’s driving Tess to school. Now, it might be driving them to a class or to a park. From 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., I'm working, and at 11, I'm mom-ing until noon. I drop them off at a playground and make their lunch, so it's ready when they get home.

1 p.m. I work while my two girls nap, until 3 p.m.

3 p.m. I am still working when the girls are up, but they'll come into my room. At this point, I'm sort of doing half and half—working and mom-ing.

Today, I’m taking photos and videos of something that I set up for them for Instagram. I really try to make the afternoons more flexible while I'm working from home, so I can reap the benefits of doing both. I often don't have as much going on in the afternoon for work.

5 p.m. Now that it's nice out, we walk to the beach, which is a few steps away. We run around a little bit there before dinner.

5:45 p.m. We have dinner. My fast and easy "go-to" is salmon in the oven. I mix miso paste, olive oil, lemon juice, and some garlic. Then I take a piece of wild salmon and brush the sauce on. I bake it in the oven at 350 for 12 minutes and serve it with Thrive Market rice and beans, which take 60 seconds in the microwave!

6:15 p.m. We do bath time for 30 minutes and then we watch TV from 6:45 p.m. to 7 p.m. I put Nell to sleep at 7:15 p.m. and Tess to sleep at 7:30 p.m.

Tonight, I’m doing all of the bedtime routine. My husband does come home from work around 5:30 p.m. on days when he doesn't have work dinners. I'd say three days a week, it's me doing it alone; and two days during the week, he and I are sort of tag-teaming.

After the girls go to bed at 7:15/7:30 p.m., if Matt is home, we eat dinner together. We often cook tacos. Then we watch TV in bed, which means he watches TV, and I get work done. But at least three times a week, we don’t do anything work-related once we are in bed. We just watch a movie or talk and catch up. It’s necessary for me, otherwise, I never unplug. He's the one that makes sure that we do that.

Once he goes to sleep, I may stay up and do some work or do a longer skincare routine. We try to go to sleep around 10:30 p.m. every night that we’re home together; otherwise, I'm up until about midnight.

Jennie Monness and her daughters

Verywell / Jennie Monness

Saturday 

7 a.m. On the weekends, our mornings start out the same. By this time, we’ve been downstairs since 6:15 a.m. and Matt makes the breakfast while I’m playing with them. Sometimes, I’ll make the breakfast while he's hanging out and watching TV on the couch.

We tag-team in that way—one gets to do what they would want to do and we switch off. One of us gets Saturday and one of us gets Sunday. We don't plan it. It’s just, like, who pops out of bed first. It's often him. I think it's because during the week he wishes he could be doing that stuff.

Some weekends, we will go to pick up bagels or go to the diner when neither of us are in the mood to deal with breakfast. I’d say that's often the case for at least one of the weekend days now that things are open again.

10 a.m. We head out the door to the beach and plan to stay for a few hours. We eat lunch there. We play, we swim. Matt plays volleyball.

1 p.m. We’re back home for nap time.

3 p.m. We do some messy, sensory play in the backyard. I set up the baby pool with some water and bubble bath. After the girls get tired of the water, they go on the swings.

4:30 p.m. We involve them in what we're making for their dinner. We all cook as a family. Tess loves to wash the vegetables and Nell pretends to be doing something—she’s usually just playing with her little water sink. We put on some music.

We love making cauliflower pizzas. They love sweet potatoes. I just put them in the oven for an hour, not even in foil, nothing. We also love making scrambled eggs with beans. We will do that for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and that’s what we’re doing tonight.

7 p.m. We do bath time, and both girls are in bed by 7:30 p.m. Matt and I go out for dinner once they go to sleep. Every week, on either Friday or Saturday, we try to do a date night. Matt likes to be here for bedtime because he doesn't get to see them as often as me during the week.

When we get home, I do some self-care. My nighttime routine is a shower, washing my face with iS Clinical Cleansing Complex in the shower, exfoliating with a Dr. Brandt [peel] every other day, then using Alastin Regenerating Skin Nectar Moisturizer and Revision DEJ Eye Cream. I turn off the light at 10:45 p.m. Goodnight!

 

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