Category Archives: Carrie

We’re Back!  With a Week of Toilet Learning at 1 Year

By Carrie

Umm, where did the past 2 months go?  Obviously not in blogging world.  We’re still finding the groove for this blog but I thought it was time to get back on track by sharing with you some steps I’ve taken with A. towards toilet learning.  Cloth diapers, EC (Elimination Communication), Standing Diaper Changes, Introducing Underwear, and Why Toilet Learning at 1 Year Old.  I hope you find something to connect with this week!

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Oh, You Haven’t Got Your Crib Yet

By Carrie

“Actually we’re not going to use a crib.  We’re just going to use the mattress on the floor.”

Oh the looks I received.  Oh the comments.  Probably the most common was that A. wasn’t going to sleep once she started crawling.  Or that she was going to fall off.  Like many parts of our Montessori training, I had no idea what reality would look like with my daughter but thought I’d give it a try.

For the first few months I had a cestina loaned to me by Montessori Mom Yvonne who had made it for her daughters.  I also had a Moses basket that I used with a topponcino.  While A. slept peacefully during the day in her Moses basket, night time was a completely different story.  She slept in our arms while we slept in the nursing chair.  She never did sleep in the cestina but greatly enjoyed playing in it  and just observing her world during the day.

moses basket with topponcino cestina

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One night my body had enough of sleeping on the chair so I set up a fold-out mattress beside A.’s crib-sized mattress.  It was firm and happened to be exactly the same height.  A. then either slept on me or beside me, laying on her side.  Mostly cuddled in the crook of my arm.  It was a slow transition from beside me, to on her own bed.  Her startle reflex was still quite strong and she woke up if she was on her back but kept sleeping if she was sleeping on her side and “startled” into me. 

Around 3.5 Months we made a few changes as she was crying for 2-3 hours every night before falling asleep.  It was exhausting for both of us.  We introduced the soother, started a solid half-hour bedtime routine, made a firm bedtime, and introduced probiotics.  I think everything helped her but I believe the most dramatic change was introducing her to probiotics.  Within 3 nights of introducing them, it was like I had a different baby.  She didn’t cry every single time she fell asleep for naps and she didn’t cry for hours at bedtime.  She either didn’t cry at all or the crying was very minimal.  During the day for naps she mostly slept in a baby carrier (ring sling, Moby wrap, or Beco carrier).  photo (1)  DSC_0044_crop

floor bed sleeping

Peacefully sleeping. She was rolling over by this time so I felt comfortable putting her on her stomach to sleep.

Up until this time I had been sleeping with her all night long.  Around 4 months she started falling asleep peacefully and I changed to just laying with her until she fell asleep.  As she was already in her own bed, I didn’t have to do the “put the baby down” dance.  Eventually I just took away the mattress that I slept on.  I would lay on the floor until she fell asleep.  For a long time she struggled with “the 45 minute intruder” so my husband or I would go lay with her until she fell asleep again.  During the night she would wake once or twice for a feed and then go back to sleep.  If she was crying in the middle of the night (not for hunger) we would lay on the floor next to her until she fell asleep again.

Within a month she learned to “slither” off her bed in the morning and was able to roll to get to her toys.  She never rolled off her bed either at night time or during daytime naps.  Around 6 months she started army crawling.  Mornings would start with her army crawling off her bed to her toy shelf and she would begin playing her maraca and opening the drawer.  She would do so after naps too. floor bed

What about daytime naps with the crawler?  Did she actually sleep??  She would army crawl around her room and fall asleep on the floor when she got tired.  Sometimes she would use the firm nursing pillow as a pillow.  Often I would check the video monitor and when she fell asleep I would transfer her to her bed as I found she took longer naps on her bed and I also thought it would help her learn that her bed was for sleeping, not the random spot on the floor.  It took a couple of months but she eventually started crawling back onto her bed for naps.  There was a transition of sometimes using the bed as her pillow while sleeping on the floor.  At evening bedtime she would always stay on her bed.

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Soon after she began crawling on all fours (8.5 months) she stopped crawling around her room.  She preferred to sit on her bed after her nap or in the morning.  She would play with her blanket, her soother, or her one book beside her bed.  She would do so happily for at least half an hour (I usually went to get her by then).  It has only been quite recently, around when she turned 12 months and has begun the process of dropping her second nap, that she has started crawling around her room again.  Instead of sleeping she happily plays in her room.  She has started to play with her toys when she wakes up in the mornings again too.

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Sleep hasn’t been an easy part of my motherhood journey.  Those first few months were very difficult.  I feel the floor bed really helped to make a gentle transition for A. sleeping with me to sleeping independently.  Since she was a month old, she has slept on her own bed at night, so strongly associates sleep with her bed.  Throughout her first year it hasn’t always been independently.  We have snuggled her all night long, as she fell asleep, and in the middle of the night when she needed.  We have also given her some time to cry a little as she learned to settle herself to sleep.  She is now able to independently fall asleep for naps and at bedtime.  Very occasionally she still wants some snuggles in the middle of the night, but for the majority of the time she sleeps independently throughout the night.  After a year of using the floor bed it seems so normal to me that I do a second glance when I see a crib.  I have to remind myself that yes, some babies still sleep in cribs.  If you haven’t checked it out already, Aid to Life has a great explanation, photos, and video of the floor bed.   1 year old, sleeping on her floor bed

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Bedroom Tour

By Carrie

The sketches made during our training, the dreams, the room without a purpose – all turned to joy when I became pregnant.  I knew what elements I wanted to have in the baby’s room well before I became pregnant so when it came time to set up the bedroom, I just had to search out where to obtain each item.  My husband (ever the frugal one) made sure I didn’t spend too much.  We ended up getting most of the major elements from IKEA as it was affordable and convenient for us to do one-stop shopping.

 

The Floor Bed  

floor bedNo expensive crib required!  One less decision to make.  I waffled on if we should spring for an organic mattress, but decided to use a simple crib sized mattress from IKEA and use a wool puddle pad.  As I was worried that A. would roll off (she never did), I placed a folded up blanket beside A.’s bed when she was younger.  I removed it when she was confidently able to crawl off.  The pillow is for me when I read her stories or lay down next to her to cuddle her.  I remove the pillow from her bed when she sleeps.  I also keep her book that I read to her at bedtime hidden behind the pillow.  It is the only “toy” that she has beside her bed so that there are minimal distractions for sleep.  Many of my friends use sleep sacks but I couldn’t figure out how they were compatible with providing the floor bed so A. could be mobile around her room.  I was a little worried that she would suffocate under the blankets (yes, new mom worries), which of course never happened.  I put a blanket on her and tuck her in.  Often she wriggles out but is quite warm, even in the middle of the night.  The blanket was lovingly made for A. by a friend.

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The Change Table/Dresser

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We did spend a little more on this item as I wanted something in particular.  I really wanted a dresser with a door that A. could open when she is a bit older.  Currently there are shelves but I hope my husband will be able to install a rod inside so that A. will be able to choose her clothes when she is a little older.  With a low rod at her level I can set out a couple appropriate options for her so she can choose her clothing.  I chose not to have a separate change table and a friend passed on her changing mat (a Cooshee Changer).  I really like it as it is very easy to clean and it is temperature neutral (not cold, just room temperature).  I like that there is no extra laundry if she goes pee or poo on the change mat.  The dresser is quite large so has lots of space inside the top drawer for all the diaper supplies.  With a large dresser and wanting to change her diaper by looking straight at her (meaning by standing at her feet, not at her side), this necessitated where we would place it in the room.  The diaper pail (a plastic garbage bin with a washable pail liner) was beside the dresser until A started pulling up on it, opening it up, and taking out all her dirty diapers.  It quickly got moved into the closet.  Her dirty laundry basket is also in the closet.  There are some clean-up jobs that would be beyond my daily patience level so I keep them out of her reach.

DSC_0041 (2)I chose to keep the changing area quite minimal in decoration so that nothing would distract A. during a diaper change.  I know it is most common to distract a child with mobiles and other toys during a diaper change  but I chose to not distract her but involve her in the diaper/clothing change as I wrote about in “Time for a Diaper Change.”

 

Feeding Chair & Side Table

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My husband really wanted a rocking chair/glider for the nursery.  I insisted upon a stationary chair so that eating would be about eating and comfort activities like rocking would be separate.  Christie did a lovely write-up of why in “Setting up the Home: The Bedroom.”  I wanted to find a chair with a higher back but couldn’t find one that I wanted within my price range.  I settled for this one from IKEA that had a matching ottoman.  A higher back chair would have been nice for those late nights when I slept in the chair.

DSC_0029 (3)I really wanted an ottoman so that when she reached the stage of pulling up and cruising she would be able to do so.  The ottoman provides a different opportunity for cruising than along a couch or the bar as the child needs to go around an object, so learns to move their feet in a different manner.  A. has now begun doing so and I find it fascinating that her first cruising steps have been around objects, not along objects in a lateral movement.  I am also really glad I had an ottoman to rest my feet as this has been a very comfortable position for me to feed A.  When I used a nursing pillow, the ottoman was the perfect place to lean the pillow on so that it was always handy.

A side table has been essential for me.  I always keep at least one water bottle ready on it, her Vitamin D drops, and some snacks inside the drawer.  During the early days of breastfeeding I would pack a special middle of the night snack before I went to bed each night as I was so hungry at 2am.  In the early days I kept meticulous records of her feeds so a side table was essential to have this paper and pen handy.

DSC_0040One of the unique aspects of where I placed my nursing chair was so that it looked outside.  Most often I see nursing chairs stuck in a corner of a room (for good reason, they are rather dominant in a baby’s room) but I wanted mine to face the room and the outdoors.  I have really enjoyed this as I connect to the outdoors and enjoy seeing and listening to children playing at the playground.  I also chose to hang some pictures that were beautiful and inspiring to me.  I have spent many, many hours in this chair so I am glad that I took the time to find something comfortable and created a beautiful space for me to enjoy.

 

The Play Area

play areaWe have our main play area, or movement area (I’ll share in a separate post), in our living room so the bedroom only has a few items.  When A. was a newborn I placed the topponcino on the carpet and as she got older I placed a small quilt on the floor.  Both of these were what I used as a “movement mat” or play mat when we were out and about.  Once A. was crawling around I removed the quilt.  I chose a small toy shelf for her room and have a matching one in the living room.  The toy shelf is low making it easy for her to choose her own toys and low so that she can pull up on it.  The toy shelf only had a few grasping materials for a very long time.  This was convenient for quickly packing a few in the diaper bag when going out.  Now that A. is crawling around and plays in her room a bit more I have more toys on the shelf.  These are different than the toys she has in the living room.  She loved to play her maraca whenever she woke up from a nap and so I just decided to put all her musical instruments in her bedroom.  As I mentioned, the ottoman is part of her play materials.  The side table has also been part of her play area as she loves to open/close the drawer.

DSC_0045  IMG_0925 IMG_0935  IMG_0954Until she was about 5 months I just didn’t get around to putting pictures on the wall at her level.  I finally did so only to have her begin to crawl around and pull them off the walls within a few months.  It has been a struggle to keep the pictures on the wall.  I have rotated the pictures a few times, always choosing a single animal or type of flower on a white background.  I just printed off some photos from the internet to keep it simple for me, although I know there are better quality available. The name sign was a gift, as was the hanging, pull-toy soldier.

 

Pulling it All Together

view from A's bed

A.’s view from her bed

I don’t feel I have one of those gorgeous baby rooms filled with gorgeous little details that I handmade (I really love all those rooms).  I just want to show you the essential elements to consider when setting up your baby’s room.  We really kept her room simple.  We didn’t paint it.  We decorated with a few pictures and items we already had or were given (with the exception of a few IKEA frames for her pictures and my pictures).  We purchased only the furniture we didn’t already have.  I didn’t even have it all together when she arrived.  We did choose a bedroom set  that was gender neutral, soft in colour, had natural elements, and was playful.  We used what we had and we filled it with gifts of love from friends and family.  Our Montessori trainer, ChaCha, always wanted Montessori principles to be accessible to all.  The actual elements are up to you.  Just ensure that the whole room is safe for exploration.  Most importantly, I love it!  It is a calm, beautiful, functional place that both A. and I enjoy.

DSC_0035-cropThe koala was made for me as a child by my grandfather so it is really nice to have a part of his love in A.’s room as he passed away years ago.  We chose to place it at her level so she can enjoy the tactile experience of the yarn and see it clearly.  She loves it!  It is also strategically placed for when she is older and begins to open the door on her dresser not so smoothly and the door handle will hit the soft koala and not damage the wall.

DSC_0031-cropWith low pictures in her play area and pictures up high in the feeding area and changing area, I wanted something to tie it all together from child eye level to adult eye level.  The tree wall clings were perfect!  It fit in with the room theme, were affordable, and easy to put up.  While I had visions of painting natural elements such as the tree, grass, etc. on her wall, my reality is far from that and I am really happy with the wall clings.

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When A. was a newborn my husband and I decided forgo a baby shower and have a “Welcome A. Party” with all our friends.  Everyone wrote a blessing for A. on a tag and hung it on her “blessings tree”  After the party I didn’t know what to do with it as I loved it too much to pack it away, so I stuck it in the corner of her room and I absolutely love it!  I’ll read her some blessings before bedtime or I’ll read them to myself while I nurse her (and to her after she finishes eating).  The blessings bring so much love into the room.

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A special gift for A. was “A New Heartbeat” by Roy Henry Vickers.  She would often look up at it with such intensity after she finished nursing.  I love the accompanying story.DSC_0072

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Time for a Diaper Change

By Carrie

Developing a strong bond with my daughter is very important to me.  While I shared with you the importance of allowing babies to develop independence in this post, time together is also very important.  Rubi’s post on language development stimulated me to share with you an important part of fostering that strong bond: changing her diaper.  Rubi shared that times of caring for your child’s physical needs, such as bathing, can be times for language development.  These can also be strong moments of togetherness for you and your child.

According to Dr. Silvana Montanaro, there are 3 aspects of togetherness that are important in the mother-child bond: holding, handling, and feeding.  By handling she is referring to when we care for the infant’s physical needs such as changing a diaper, dressing, or bathing.  While she specifically refers to maternal care in her book, the same principle applies for all adults who interact with a baby.  Perhaps it seems odd that changing my daughter’s diaper is one of the most important ways I have fostered our bond but it is an important time of togetherness for us.

 Too many parents and adults still miss this point and handle a child solely with the aim of accomplishing, as soon as possible, the more obvious, physical tasks: changing, dressing, bathing, etc.  The parents may be well-trained, efficient and capable of doing good work but they fail to use this time to have an encounter.  To use it as an occasion for meeting and expressing feelings.  There is not much personal involvement, because the idea is solely to accomplish an unemotional routine.  ~Dr. Silvana Montanaro, Understanding the Human Being

Speaking with a friend she boasted about her infant’s bottom never seeing the light of day as she could change a diaper so quickly.  Many adults approach changing a diaper with disdain, they keep “score” between mom & dad, desperately try to distract the infant from what is happening to them, or assign a lack of importance to it saying to their child “you can go back to playing soon” and thinking for themselves what they would rather be doing.

 So we tend to do these routines quickly instead of slowly.  We tend to avoid the movements instead of repeating then in order to let the child try to understand what is happening.  What we should do is to explain our actions to the infant, in a simple and short way, touch the different parts of his body gently, name them and ask him to collaborate with us.  This collaboration can begin from the moment of birth, but it requires a little more time and the basic trust of the child, who is an intelligent human being, eager to interact with us.  Only when we become able to give maternal care with the child’s collaboration are we really doing things “with the child” and not “to the child.” ~Dr. Silvana Montanaro, Understanding the Human Being

When A. finishes one activity and I am not interrupting her (often after she finishes eating), I’ll sing a little ditty “Time for a diaper change, time for a diaper change, time for a diaper, diaper change.”  I wait for her to respond to me.  She gets a smile on her face and I tell her “Up you get” as I pick her up.  (I always try to tell her what I am doing to her, even simple things like picking her up)  Recently she has started stretching out her arms for me.  As I carry her to the change table I might continue singing the ditty or talk to her about what she was just doing.  I tell her, “Down you go” or “Lay down” as I lay her down on the change table so that I am directly facing her and she can properly see me while we connect.  “Let’s take off your pants,” I say as I take off her pants.  This “let’s” begins the routine of doing it together and not doing things to her.  “Undo your onesie,” as I unsnap her fitted bodysuit.  “Let’s see what’s inside,” as I unsnap/undo her diaper.  “Oh it’s a poop” and really try not to make a disgusted face or sound if the smell is bad or the poo is quite large, although I may acknowledge “Oh my, it’s a big one!”  Or I’ll say “Just a pee” depending on what the occasion calls for.  She lifts her bottom for me to wipe.  I take out a wipe and tell her “wipe, wipe, wipe” as I do so.

I put a clean dry cloth under her bottom and pick her up “Time to use the potty.”  I place her on her potty and give her some time.  Sometimes I just let her be, sometimes I sing another ditty “she goes pee pee in the potty, pee pee in the potty, pee pee in the potty: A!”, sometimes I’ll use the toilet to model for her, and sometimes I’ll use the cue sound we used when we started doing EC (Elimination Communcation) with “psssss.”  After a short period of time I’ll give her a pat/wipe dry with the cloth (if she urinated) and carry her back to the change table.
“Down you go” as I lay her down.  “Let’s put on a clean, dry diaper” as I choose which diaper to put on.  (We use cloth diapers but during this photo shoot we had to temporarily switch to disposables)  Sometimes she will lay there watching me and listening to me, and sometimes she will roll over and now sometimes sit up.  I keep a hand gently on her for safety and talk to her about the diaper I’m choosing, “It’s your pretty, pink diaper.  You look so beautiful in this shade of pink.”  If she is on her stomach or sitting up I lay her down again, “You need to lie down so I can put your diaper on.”  Sometimes she is squirmy and sometimes she lays there watching me.  I talk to her as I put on her diaper, “This diaper matches the pink sweater you’re wearing today.  Your great-grandma made that sweater.  Let’s do up the snaps on your diaper: ooonnne, twwooo.”

Usually she watches me as I talk to her and she coos back but sometimes she is very squirmy.  She is often very squirmy if she has just reached a new stage of development, such as now when she often tries to climb off of the change table.  If she is very squirmy I place my hand on her stomach and lean right over to place my face very close to her face to focus on our connection.  “A., I need to put your diaper on now.  I love you very much.”  Sometimes I kiss her tummy and this usually puts a smile on her face and helps to reconnect her to what we’re doing and remind her that this is our time together.  “Time to put your pants back on.”  She sticks out her leg, “One leg.  The other leg.” (or right leg and left leg if I’m really on the ball)  “We’re all done” as I pick her up and give her a cuddle.

“Ah booo” says A., “Ah booo” I respond. I try to mimic the sounds she makes to encourage her language development.

Does this take a long time?  You bet it does!  It is an important relationship to spend time on.  Do I honestly say all this absolutely every time?  No.  Sometimes my mind is elsewhere or I’m so tired, but by talking to her like this for the majority of diaper changes I usually realize when I’ve gone silent and snap out of it.  I certainly wouldn’t want you to think this is an exact script to follow as it is important your bonding come from your heart.  Do I call my husband to change diapers?  Of course.  I really enjoy listening to him interact with our daughter during diaper changes.

Why did I just spend so long writing about changing a diaper?  Changing a diaper, dressing/undressing, and bathing are very important parts of living life together with a baby.  For adults we enjoy spending time together talking, sharing a meal, going for a walk, or reconnecting at the end of our work days.  This is what living life together means for adults.  For a baby these moments of “handling” are often over-looked as important times to bond with a baby and for language development.  In reality, diaper changes is what living life together means for an adult and baby.  I encourage you to re-think how you approach that next diaper change, outfit change, or bath to really connect with your child.

What is a good social life if not the joy of passing the time with others, accepting them in our environment, talking and smiling together and sharing each other’s company and activities?  In a sense, we invited the child to our house when we decided to give it life and he must feel how glad we are to have him with us.  “Handling” in maternal care is the right moment for a happy social interaction that teaches the child the great benefits of social life.  ~Dr. Silvana Montanaro, Understanding the Human Being 

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Topponcino

By Carrie

topponcino

photo courtesy of Eileen Simoneau

If you’ve looked into Montessori for a newborn you’ve probably come across the topponcino, for sale here or here or here.  This was the first material we made in our A to I training, challenging many of us to brush up on or learn how to use the sewing machine.  It was also one of the materials, along with the undershirt, that I was most looking forward to using when my daughter was first born.  I made sure it was packed in the hospital bag, ready to use from birth.  It is also one of the few items for the Assistants to Infancy that Maria Montessori mentioned herself.

The baby should remain as much as possible with the mother directly after birth, and the environment must not present obstacles to his adaptation … The child must be carefully handled and moved, not … rapidly and roughly dressed – roughly in the sense that any handling of a new-born child is rough because he is so exquisitely delicate, psychically as well as physically.  It is best of all if the newborn child is not dressed, but rather kept in a room sufficiently heated and free from draughts, and carried on a soft mattress, so that he remains in a position similar to the prenatal one.  ~Maria Montessori, Education for a New World

The topponcino is exactly that, a soft mattress for the newborn to aid in his/her adaptation to his/her new world (outside of the womb).   Maria Montessori’s thoughts on infancy were greatly influenced by her time spent in India and my understanding is that this is where she first saw this “soft mattress” (and perhaps why she felt the newborn did not need to wear clothing but this is my own interpretation as I opt for a lower heating bill and clothing that allows for freedom of movement).  The topponcino is made from cotton or wool (if you live in a cold climate) batting with a simple cover.  It then has a sham that goes over top.  The sham is typically white with a white eyelet lace ruffle at the top of it.  It is elliptical in shape to simulate the shape of the womb, again to aid the newborn in his/her adaptation.  If you choose to use a coloured sham it should be plain or simple in design with soft colour(s).  In addition to the wool one I had made during my training I was given the gift of a plush, cotton topponcino with a beautiful blue, floral cover made by my friend.  Typically you would have multiple shams (they do get spit-up, etc. on them) and you could also use a rubberized flannel protector or other mattress protector underneath the sham but I was lucky enough to have two topponcinos for washing.  Topponcinos do need to be hand washed and air dried.

I was looking forward to using a topponcino for my daughter as it is a little security pillow for the newborn.  In addition to being soft and comfortable to lie on, it becomes a consistent, known object to the newborn.  When the baby is first born, his/her whole world is brand new with a few exceptions, such as the sound of the mother’s voice and heartbeat.  When the mother consistently uses the topponcino, the pillow absorbs the smell of the mother and provides consistent warmth to the newborn.  Having a consistent smell and warmth will provide a great sense of security to the newborn.  We call it having a “point of reference.”  The topponcino can be used to carry and hold the newborn, including while nursing/feeding, as well as it can be used for sleeping or lying on while awake.  It is a wonderful way for the newborn to be held by others so that cold hands, rough watches/bracelets, or muscle tension does not transfer to the “exquisitely delicate” newborn, as well as the smell of the mother remains with the newborn.  It is a wonderful way to transfer the newborn from your arms to the bed or bassinet so that he/she doesn’t startle and the consistent warmth and smell remains with the newborn.  It also serves as a third layer of warmth/clothing for the newborn.

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From the moment I was able to hold her in my arms I cuddled A. on her topponcino that I had made for her.  She slept on it in the hospital bassinet and comfortably looked about.  One particular nurse raised a concern that it was too plush for a newborn and urged me to watch for her shoulders slumping in that would contribute to her chest being compressed and A. not being able to breathe properly.  I observed for this and could clearly see this was not happening.  When I explained to the nurse the purpose of the topponcino she absolutely loved it and it became a conversation starter to explain many other Montessori principles to the nurses.  I was glad that the nurse had brought this to my attention as when I placed A. on the cestina using the topponcino I realized the cestina mattress was too plush to use with the topponcino.  So when using the cestina I didn’t use the topponcino.  I chose to use the topponcino with the Moses basket instead.

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A. slept so peacefully during the day in her Moses basket on her topponcino (night was a different story).  I loved cuddling her using the topponcino and watching her sleep.  As she got older she didn’t sleep very well independently and we used baby carriers more.  Many people have had great success transferring their newborns to the bed or bassinet using the topponcino but this was not the case for us.  She continued to use the topponcino quite a bit during alert times.  I would place her on the topponcino when she was on her movement mat or place a cushion in the Moses basket so she would be up higher and could see out.  This way I could keep her with me wherever I was in the house or take her outside.

A. on her topponcino being observed by the children at my school, Morgan Creek Montessori

Using it in the home was lovely but what I really enjoyed the topponcino for was when I was taking her out.  I had a c-section with slow healing so was unable to carry heavy items for many months.  So while most people carry their infant in the car-seat carrier, I was unable to carry something that heavy.  I found the topponcino indispensable.  I would carry her out to the car using the topponcino and transfer her to her car seat.  When I took her out of the car seat I used the topponcino to carry her about.  I always felt more secure holding her in her security pillow, especially when my hands were a little full I could easily cradle her in one arm using the topponcino and I knew she was comfortable and secure.  While we waited at many doctors appointments she was able to be comfortable, secure and warm.  When we went to social gatherings I could simply place her on the floor on her topponcino.  If others wanted to hold her I could easily pass her along using the topponcino (although for reasons I will write about another time I did limit my outings and others holding her for the first few months).  When breastfeeding out in public I didn’t have a nursing cover at first but by curling the topponcino up I felt covered.  I really don’t know what I would have done during those challenging first few months without my topponcino.

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Developing Concentration and Independent Play

By Carrie

  • A small toy shelf with a few carefully chosen, good quality toys
  • A place to play where child can do so without interruption and without having to block out other noise or activity going on
  • Time to play

Doesn’t seem too difficult does it?  Except that it is.  Our homes are filled with music, TV, and bustling activity.  We need to get started on the next activity, go to our next appointment, or meet up with a friend.  Which toys should we choose?  If we do know, the desire to offer more amazing toys often grips us.  The list goes on of why simplicity is difficult to achieve.

It starts with being intentional about respecting your child’s developing concentration before your baby arrives.

It’s fun planning for the baby to arrive.  A whole new world of enticing and fun baby products!  Most seasoned parents will tell you that you don’t need half of it.  I encourage you to think about what your child doesn’t need, and to take this further, what harms his/her developing concentration.  What will that brightly coloured play mat or flashing toy bring to your baby’s world?  Bright colours are often marketed to stimulate babies but too many bright colours can be too much stimulation.  A plain, solid coloured play mat will serve the function perfectly (a blanket that you already own will work).  Even a pattern, although beautiful, can be distracting and over stimulating.  With a plain mat the baby will be able to focus on the toy you choose rather than the mat.  We chose to get a solid coloured fitted sheet over a mattress topper.  A flashing toy to give your child feedback of their actions?  A pot with a wooden spoon will also give your child feedback of their actions.  A rattle where the child can see the bell that is making the sound is another example.  The child will be able to see the cause and effect, whereas with a toy with batteries, the child is unable to make the connection as they don’t physically make it happen with their muscles and they are unable to see it.  For a toy hanger we purchased an inexpensive wooden one from Ikea and removed the brightly coloured discs on the sides.

The fun of setting up a place for the baby to play is also important.  Background music or TV is pretty much standard these days that we don’t even think about it, but to a baby it is another activity.  We chose to move the TV to another room (much to my husband’s dislike as it is difficult to change our habits, but our daughter’s developing needs come before our habitual desires).  We chose to not listen to music all day long, only at certain times of the day and sometimes I don’t offer her toys, only music to listen to.  Baby nurseries are often brightly coloured rooms and children’s play spaces are often filled with multiple pictures covering the walls or huge toy shelves.  It is important to keep the colour of the walls a calming colour and to limit the pictures on the walls.  These pictures can be rotated.  Set up a quiet, calm place to play.  A small toy shelf with only a few toys will sustain your child’s attention much longer than a huge toy shelf filled with many, many toys.  Again, these toys can be rotated.  Here is a wonderful article on “Toys for Children: Less is More.”

When your baby is starting to have awake and alert times that last longer than a feeding session and time to gaze into your eyes before falling asleep again, then you can begin to offer time to play.  Offer a place that your baby can do so independently while you do something for yourself (like most new moms it revolves around eating and actually showering).  It is important that you establish playtime for your child to do something on his/her own.  Sometimes your child will want you to be near to him/her and other times you can be in the other room.  When your baby is finished, he/she will let you know.  If you need to remove your baby from this before he/she is ready, it is important to wait until your baby has finished focusing on whatever he/she is doing.  If your baby is busy engaged with a toy or looking intently at something: WAIT.  Although A. can stay engaged with one activity for a long time, when I go over to her she will usually look up at me in a few minutes.  I choose to respect her developing concentration and wait until she stops and looks up at me.  Very rarely will I be in a situation where I simply cannot wait a few moments.  It does happen  though and in those rare situations, I acknowledge and apologize to her: “I know you are focused on looking at the picture but we really have to get going now.  I’m sorry to disturb you.”)

When you place your baby in the play area, offer only one activity.  Offer only one picture (on the wall or in a book) to look at.  Or offer one mobile to gaze at.  Or offer one toy to play with.  Or offer music to listen.  All of these are examples of one activity at a time.  Babies are unable to take things in quickly so they need time to process.  If we offer too much stimulation at one time, the baby cannot distinguish what is important to take in, and takes in all of it.  It ends up not being clear for the child and feels like a jumbled mess.  TV has so many quickly changing images and sounds that a baby simply cannot process it.  The child may become overwhelmed and cry.  Or the child quietly shuts down and doesn’t take it in as there is just too much.  With too much stimulation, the baby is unable to take in the good opportunities to learn and develop.  As A. gained the ability to move towards a toy she wanted, I began offering her a choice between two toys.  She would move to one, explore it briefly, then move to the other toy and explore it briefly.  She would then settle on one toy and contentedly play with it, eventually going back to the other toy and then playing with it contentedly.  Thinking that it would sustain her longer if I offered three toys, I did so but consistently she would bounce between the three toys, not staying with any of them for a decent length of time.  I went back to offering only two toys and watched her determination and concentration increase as she engaged her muscles to reach for and play with the toys, one at a time.

While my experience has only been with A. (who is currently 7.5 months), I think all this preparation and simple steps to carry it through has worked quite well.  A friend recently commented on how independent A. is.   She often likes to be able to see me but doesn’t need me to provide her with new activities.  She will look around for me (and I can be engaged in my own activity) and then she goes back to playing independently, discovering something new about the toy or moving her body in a new way.  Some days she is fussy and wants more of my attention.  I do spend those days reading more stories to her, singing to her, and giving her more cuddles or putting her in a baby carrier if I need to get something done.  As she gets older, these days/moments are less and less.  She will often play independently for at least an hour, concentrating on playing with the toy, the movement of her body, listening to the sounds, or looking at something.  I just let her play.  Another friend whose daughter also has great independent play said it feels like lazy parenting.  Personally I don’t feel lazy.  I feel that I am watching her, delighting in her as she is given the space, time and respect to concentrate and develop at her own pace.

Last words: cleaning up.  Once A. has finished playing with a toy or it is time to move onto the next activity (such as nap time), I put the toy away with her present.  Now that she is moving around and getting into many toys, I let her take out whatever toys she wants and then when it is nap time I let her watch me put away the toys (even if she is cranky and crying).  I hope this helps her learn to put away toys when she is finished with them.

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The Relationship of Feeding

By Carrie

I settle into my nursing chair, breast-feeding pillow comfortably on my lap, feet up on the ottoman and lay A. down on the pillow.  “Would you like some mommy milk?”  She eagerly begins to nurse then looks up at me with her big blue eyes and reaches her hand up for mine.  The love hormones wash over me in this moment.  It is wonderful!   This is what I waited for. 

Prior to A.’s birth I did a lot of preparation, especially when it came to breastfeeding.  My husband and I attended a prenatal class that had a session devoted specifically to breastfeeding, we attended our local community breastfeeding class, I read this book on breastfeeding, and I observed (during  our required hours of observation for our training) many women breastfeeding to know a proper latch.  Having a few friends who were unable to breastfeed (due to different circumstances), I knew that despite the preparation I did, breastfeeding itself might not work out.  So while my preparation helped me to feel ready for the mechanics of breastfeeding, my Montessori training had prepared me to focus on the relationship with my daughter during feeding, breast or bottle. 

http://www.sikorskaia.com/gallery/main/index_2.html

“the child will receive not only the food to satisfy his hunger but also the loving presence of the mother.  He will be offered information as to how to fill an empty stomach and how to enjoy a human relationship with its many sensory inputs (such as a face to observe, a voice to listen to, the warmth of bodily contact), which become food for the mind.”  ~ Dr. Silvana Montanaro, Understanding the Human Being

It was important to me to focus on the relationship with my daughter that would unfold as I fed her.  While I feel that breast milk is the best food for an infant, breastfeeding is not about the food itself.  Feeding her was also about nourishing her psychological needs.  Feeding my daughter provided me an opportunity to bond with her that no other situation would offer us.  It is an intimate time for the two of us to share.

During her first few weeks I fed her skin to skin as we got to know one another.  She was able to get to know my smell, be close to my familiar heartbeat that she heard while in-utero, feel my warmth, and be close to hear my voice.  We were able to examine each other’s faces, staring into the eyes we had been waiting to meet for nine months.  The first couple of months, the symbiotic period, was an essential time in our relationship to bond with each other.  By the end of the symbiotic period, I knew we had a strong, trusting, loving bond together and attribute much to our time spent as I nursed her. 

Holding Quote If the child is deprived of a mother who is fully present while eating, he/she will not be able to gain a full understanding of a relationship with another human being.  The relationship with the mother is the child’s first relationship and it sets the stage for all other relationships.  If all we offer is food and not our full attention, our full love, our desire to get to know this other human being – then relationship will only have empty meaning to a child.  Relationship will be about the mechanics, not the warmth of intimacy. 

“the nursing mother should be comfortably seated in a quiet place and feed the child while looking at it.  Although it is technically possible to offer the breast and read a book, talk to someone or watch television, we must realize that, in this way, we detach psychological nourishment from biological feeding.”  ~Dr. Silvana Montanaro, Understanding the Human Being

Those first few months with A. were so special.  I was so excited to be a new mother that I fully devoted my attention to A. while feeding her. I was present with her in mind, body, and soul.  But then came the book with the information I was craving to get through a challenging part of motherhood and I couldn’t put the book down.  And the text that came flashing in so I continued the conversation while feeding A.  I checked my e-mail in the morning to ensure there were no pressing matters to deal with for my school.  I justified this thinking “she’s so focused on eating, she’s not paying attention to me”, “it’s just for a moment, then I’ll turn my attention back to her”, and thinking that other things were more important than spending quality, uninterrupted time with my daughter while feeding her.  I hesitated to write this post as I don’t want to be hypocritical.  But having the intellectual knowledge, the emotional understanding and desire to do things, and carrying it out in reality can sometimes be very challenging.

A few months ago A.’s weight gain was minimal, not in a concerning manner but in a ‘let’s keep an eye on it’ manner.  I immediately went into protective mommy role: “Am I doing all that I can to provide for my daughter?”  I thought back to the hormones involved in breastfeeding.  I thought that perhaps if I wasn’t fully engaged in the moment with A., how could my body be deeply connecting to this experience?  I took the books away from my nursing side table.  I stopped bringing my phone to the nursing chair.  I remembered to be fully in the moment with A.  I started holding her with both hands to be more engaged with her while she ate.  I let our eyes deeply meet again throughout the entire feed.  I don’t know if this made a difference to her weight gain, but it helped me re-focus on all of A.’s needs: food for physical development and my loving, fully-engaged presence for her psychological development.

While I still sometimes struggle to not bring the phone with me to text or check e-mails, I definitely limit it while I did not a few months ago.  I try to keep in mind how it feels when someone I sit down to share a meal with pulls out their phone and ignores me.  “I thought we had an important date.”  I feel hurt.  I do not want my daughter to feel this way.  No matter how many times a day I feed her, or for long, I need to bring my full attention, full acceptance, full love to that important time with her.  I recently read this article that specifically focuses on the negative effects of texting while breastfeeding.  It reminded me of a correlation I made during my training.  The images of mothers suffering from depression and unable to connect to their baby (who was desperately trying to get the mother’s attention) looked a lot like the mothers who were watching TV, talking to a friend, or on the phone while breastfeeding.  In both cases the mother was not engaged with her infant.  While suffering from depression is not a choice (and I do hope anyone who is suffering from this is able to recognize it and get the help they need), feeding a baby while texting, reading, watching TV, talking to others, etc. is a choice.  I need to make the choice to be fully with my daughter when nursing her.  I can choose to engage with others or read my book afterwards.  I can quickly check my e-mails prior to feeding her so I won’t be mentally distracted.  Our Montessori trainer, Chacha, said “The child does not need the perfect adult, but an adult who is willing to become a better human being.”  I know that I only have one child and those with multiple children have an additional challenge to stay fully engaged with their infant.  A friend with multiple children said to me, “With my third, nursing was the only time I was able to fully focus on her.”

bottle-feeding

A special note regarding bottle feeding.  The question arose during our prenatal class for myself who was worried that I would not be able to breastfeed and for those that were choosing not to breastfeed: Is it possible to have the same psychological connection with your baby using a bottle?  Our instructor was wonderful in encouraging us to simulate many of the same scenarios.  Feed your newborn with skin-to-skin contact.  Have the mother exclusively feed the newborn for the first couple of months (symbiotic period) to establish their relationship (or at least limit others feeding the newborn during this time period).  Hold the baby in a similar manner to breastfeeding, switching sides for each bottle feeding.  Set aside all distractions so you can focus on your newborn.  If the father or other caregivers are feeding then it is important that they too spend uninterrupted, focused time with the baby while feeding.  The relationship of feeding can be deep, wonderful, and intimate if you bottle feed or breastfeed. 

“When we hold a child, we must understand that a special life project is in our arms awaiting our assistance in order to develop fully. … Proper “holding” must convey to the child our joy for this intimacy, in addition to our love, respect and admiration for its being.” ~Dr. Silvana Montanaro, Understanding the Human Being 

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Outdoor Nature Experiences for Your Baby

By Carrie and Rubi

I love having wonderful AtoI friends where we swap ideas to aid the development of our children.  The other day Rubi was telling me about her daughter spending time outdoors exploring moss and then says, “I need outdoor activities.”  What?!  You’ve just been telling me about this fabulous sensorial, nature experience your daughter has been having and you need more ideas?  So I took a moment to reflect on her question as I hadn’t really given this topic too much thought for my own daughter other than going outside daily.  She’s not capable enough to get to many places independently or do the myriad of outdoor practical life activities that an older child might be doing.  Rubi’s question made me wonder how we could provide more opportunities for our babies to experience nature outdoors.  Here’s what Rubi and I came up with.

Daily walks

When A. was younger she went for walks in her bassinet style stroller so she could fully stretch out her body.  A car seat places a child in a propped up position and straps the child in.  In her bassinet stroller , she could stretch her arms above her head and kick her legs around.  She could turn her head to look where she wanted, including looking at me as her point of reference, but mostly she slept.  She also greatly loved being cuddled up close to our bodies, so for many months she went for a walk being carried in the Beco.  Now that she is older she enjoys being awake for most walks and sits up in her stroller to take in all the sights.  We mostly go for walks in our neighbourhood so she can enjoy many flowers but we also go to the woodland park near our house.  I think this bit of daily fresh air is good for all of us as a family.

     

Laying outside

While we don’t always go outside everyday, we definitely do so multiple times a week.  When A. was younger I would place her outdoors in the cestina or on her topponcino in the Moses basket.  By the time she was two months, I mostly placed her on a blanket and she would listen to the birds or listen to me read her stories.  She would also enjoy tummy time outside.  We mostly did this in our backyard.  Rubi did the same with F., often bringing a basket with a few toys outdoors.  Rubi has also provided F. with a wind chime to listen to.  Rubi reminded me that blowing some bubbles for a baby to observe is also a lot of fun.  Having a sprinkler for the baby to experience water would be fun too.  During the summer I would often go for picnics and I would try to place A. in the shade of a tree so that she could watch the movement of the branches and leaves in the wind.  She was also able to observe the clouds, flowers, and whatever is around.  I was thinking that going somewhere with a river or stream would be a lovely experience.  Enjoying food outside (nursing or solid foods) is also a different experience for a baby.

  

Exploring with items from Nature

Rubi provides items from nature for her daughter to play with when outdoors.  Her daughter explores with various items such as grass, sticks, and moss.  F. is developing her pincer grip by picking up small pieces of moss.  I am enthralled with the sensorial experiences F. is receiving as she touches the various textures and, of course as babies do, puts the items in her mouth.  Rubi has also provided a bucket of rocks for F. to place rocks in and out of.

Many mornings A. and I will go for a quick “garden tour” before her morning nap to check out the plants that are growing.  It has been great fun with a vegetable garden as I talk to her about the various plants we have growing and allow her to feel them.  She has had the opportunity to feel smooth pea pods, prickly squash leaves, and bumpy broccoli.  Since my conversation with Rubi, I have been encouraged to let A. have time on the grass.  Often this occurs prior to dinner.  She has greatly been enjoying the opportunity to sit on the grass, pick grass, and experience it by eating it. Outside of the daily experience in the backyard, I think it is great to expose your baby to sandy beaches, swimming in a warm lake, and whatever other natural places happen to be in the area that you live.  As long as your baby is able to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch items of nature!

 

Playground

For an older baby, it is fun to go to the playground.  If you can find a playground built for toddlers this is even better.  Once your baby is able to sit independently, then he/she is ready to enjoy going on the swings.  Carefully observe your baby for signs of enjoyment and distress as sometimes this experience is not enjoyed by babies, or the enjoyment can quickly change into distress.  F. has a lot of fun on the swings and at the playground.  She crawls around on the equipment and on the wood chips, greatly enjoying exploring the wood chips.  She is now pulling up, cruising along, and trying to climb up on much of the equipment.  She also enjoys going down the slide.  While it may seem obvious to go to the playground, often F. is the only baby at the playground!  Rubi commented that it is because other parents don’t want to bring their child who is not yet walking because the child will get all dirty.  Appropriate clothing meant for play is important for children of all ages, including babies.

 

Experiencing Weather

Most of us tend to be fair weather lovers.  Instead, most of us live in places where it gets cold, hot, rainy, snowy, sunny, and windy.  I believe that there is no bad weather, only bad clothing choices.  Both A. and F. were born in the winter.  We bundled up our babies and took them outside.  During the summer A. was too young to wear sunscreen so we sought out shade and covered her up when spending extended periods of time in the sun.  One particular rainy day, F. went outside and played in the rain and puddles.  What a delightful experience!

We hope you have fun outdoors with your baby, cultivating a love of nature right from birth!  Do you have more ideas to share with us?

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Filed under 0-3 Months, 3-6 Months, 6-12 Months, Ages, Carrie, Nature/Outdoors, Rubi

The Celebration of Weaning (Introducing Solid Foods)

By Carrie

Montessori lingo calls the introduction of solid foods “weaning” so I’ll refer to it as weaning.  Confusing as when I mention this to others they think I’m cutting A. off of breast milk.  Definitely not the case.   We’re just starting with foods other than breast milk.  I don’t know when the completion of weaning will take place, but I’ll share with you the start of weaning.

How did you decide when and what to first feed your child?  Or is this decision still ahead of you?  I took a long time to decide what to do.  I love the Montessori approach to first introducing foods!  The pre-weaning was such a success that I wanted to continue following the Montessori philosophy.  I was also attracted to “Baby Led Weaning” (BLW) which seems to be quite popular in Montessori circles.  Kylie has done a comparison that is often referred to as it well written.  After thoroughly reading my albums, “Understanding the Human Being“,  “Baby Led Weaning“, and whatever else I could find on the internet, I decided to do both approaches.

I had prepared A. for both approaches by offering her the pre-weaning juices seated at her weaning chair and table after her morning nap and by offering her the pre-weaning juices and fish pâté seated in her high chair during our family dinner time.  The Montessori approach is to have the weaning chair and table in the child’s room (or wherever your usual location for nursing your baby is) but I skipped this as I figured I’d already helped her make this psychological step by first starting the pre-weaning juices in the nursing chair and changing that to her future eating locations.

I prepared myself for “weaning day” by first really researching it and knowing that it was the right time for A.  Montessori says to look for the Sensitive Period for weaning, usually present around 5-6 months.  Signs to look for include:

  • ability to sit with support
  • ability to grasp things with the hands and coordinate by putting things into the mouth
  • teeth beginning to emerge
  • excessive saliva (due to digestive enzymes now being present to digest starch)
  • a strong interest in the external world, specifically in food and watching other people eating

With the exception of teeth, A. showed all these signs.  Anybody eating around A. in the weeks prior could definitely attest to how interested in eating she was!  By observing her signs I knew when she was ready for it, which helped me fully embrace this new step.  It is an important psychological step away from Mom to embrace solid foods.

I also prepared in practical ways by obtaining small dishes, spoons, and forks.  The dishes are breakable and the flatware is stainless steel, just like what we use.  One of my Montessori trainers (instructors) gave me the tip to try to find clear dishes with sides so the child can stop the spoon at the edge and lift up the spoon instead of scraping the spoon up and off the side of a curved dish.  We went to World Market and this is what we came up with. 

The middle (bamboo pattern) flatware is my favourite as they are lightweight, the scoop of the spoon is shallow, and the tines of the fork pierce well

I already had a special place mat that I made for her during my training and we had many bibs given to us as gifts.  I went out and bought her beautiful flowers and placed them in a special vase.  We waited until Saturday when Daddy was home from work.  I prepared her rice cereal, fish pâté, and puréed apple.  The Montessori approach is to prepare cream of rice (or semolina) cooked in vegetable broth, or rice cereal with a bit of tomato and parmesan for flavour (Stephanie has done a great write-up of how to make the rice dish) but I was unable to find cream of rice or rice cereal so I opted to do the common approach of baby rice cereal mixed with breast milk.  The fish pâté and apple were foods she had already been introduced to so I knew she did not have any allergies.  I was excited that I was able to offer her a full meal for her first weaning meal, not simply bland rice cereal or one puréed food.

Not her first meal as I was so excited to offer it to her that I forgot to take a photo but this is from later in the week. The ramekins are the serving dishes and the small square dishes (stacked up) are the eating dishes. Bib goes on, hands are washed with the cloth and food is offered. First course is rice cereal mixed with breast milk, second course is fish (salmon here but sole was her first meal), and third course is fruit or vegetable purée (here is it peach but apple was for her first meal). We wrap up the meal with some water.

First Rice Cereal

Weaning – a true celebration day!

Weaning Day had arrived!  She was a week shy of 6 months.  After she woke up from her morning nap I dressed her in a pretty dress and approached her first meal as a real celebration!  In honesty, I wasn’t expecting much other than a few tastes of each food.  Instead she completely surprised me and took an hour enjoying it all!  She enjoyed the experience of sitting at her special weaning table and chair and eating food from the spoon.  She enjoyed grabbing the spoon with each bite.  She enjoyed dipping her fingers into each dish of food.  She enjoyed being distracted with the second spoon, covering it in food too.  (For future meals I ditched the second spoon as she was only distracted by it and was self-feeding by grabbing the one spoon for each bite.)  She enjoyed each of the foods I prepared for her.  She enjoyed being introduced to the little glass and drinking water from it.  I couldn’t believe how much she had enjoyed it all and how long it took!  She was so focused on each new part of the whole experience.  I made sure to approach each spoonful as something I was offering and not feeding her.  I started the first few spoonfuls with the tiny pre-weaning spoon and then introduced her to the weaning spoon.  She didn’t eat a lot that day but a decent amount, definitely much more than I was expecting.  Afterwards I offered her breast milk as usual.

Feeding herself mashed banana (with assistance)

We have continued in this manner since then and she has only approached food with more gusto.  She will often feed herself mashed fish using her hands, making a real mess.  For cereals and mashed/puréed fruit or vegetable she will grab the spoon and bring it to her mouth demonstrating keen interest in almost all foods.  She is gaining a greater ability to use the glass independently everyday but really struggled with it at first as her wrists could not make the rotation necessary to tip the glass.  I tipped it for her for the first few weeks.  I often use small pyrex dishes instead of the ramekins as serving dishes as whatever she doesn’t eat one day can easily have a lid put on and saved until tomorrow.  As she is eating more, I will sometimes also use the ramekins as eating dishes.

Feeding herself mashed fishDuring weaning we should always remember to offer food that the child can take by himself, such as little pieces of bread, banana, or vegetable.  Of course, the child can also be given a fork and shown how to use it.  Do not intervene if he uses his hands to help.  The child watches carefully how we do things and, if we eat well, as soon as he is able to manage it, the child will be willing to copy us. ~Dr. Montanaro, “Understanding the Human Being”

So along with her “meal” after her morning nap (which has turned into lunch time) I decided to do some BLW at dinner.  We started with steamed bean and roasted carrot (again she had been introduced to these through pre-weaning juices) and introduced her to steamed broccoli.  These were all vegetables that we had grown in our garden.  The BLW book indicated that babies mostly play with the food for the first few months so I didn’t approach this with such excitement, more in a casual way.  Before we started with food, she was sitting at the table with us in her Tripp Trapp high chair playing with toys.  So instead we gave her food to play with.  Well, it didn’t take long for her to catch onto really eating the food.  She absolutely loved feeling the textures of each food and eating.  She especially loved the salmon and chicken.

   

It hasn’t been easy when she gags on the foods.  I’m poised on the edge of my seat ready to whip her out of her chair and whack her on the back, thankful for my first aid training.  I decided not to use the straps as I figured I wouldn’t want to be fussing with the straps in a state of emergency.  Of course I’ve never had to do that.  I try to be calm and encourage her to keep coughing.  So far she’s always been able to cough it up, no matter how big or small the piece is.  It seems to me the first time she has a food she tends to gag on it a little more.  She has also gagged less and less as she learns to eat.  I decided to use plates and dishes for her at dinner time, along with a fork as this seemed more Montessori to me: treating the baby the same as us.  There have been a couple of broken plates but no broken glasses so far, although I’m sure there will be in the future.  The wrist and hand development that occurs while taking a slice of peach out of a dish or figuring out how to hold the chicken drumstick is amazing!  She finishes each meal with some water, giving her the opportunity to develop this skill twice a day.  She is now able to pick up the glass and drink from it but is definitely still learning as she will miss her mouth sometimes and sometimes tip too much and cough on the water.  I continue to be amazed at her progress in such as short period of time.

Drinking from glass

I’m really happy with how things are going.  It’s been about a month and despite the huge amount of work it has been planning and preparing for all these new meals, A.’s enjoyment of it all makes it completely worthwhile.  There have also been huge changes to sleep (through the night) and poo (in the potty).  When and how to cut back on breast milk was my other dilemma.  A. has done this herself by increasing sleep through the night and taking longer naps.  Each of the meals usually takes at least half an hour, so more time is spent eating in general.  It has all unfolded pretty naturally.  Now, if only it could all be done with a little less mess!

BLW vs. Montessori Mess

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Filed under 3-6 Months, 6-12 Months, Carrie, Food/Feeding

Pre-Weaning

By Carrie

Ah, the introduction of solid foods or weaning.  The questions of when to start and what to start with are very important for many parents, including myself.  As with so many things Montessori, there is preparation before the big day arrives.   We want to help the child to be psychologically and physically prepared so that the experience of food other than mother’s milk or formula will be a pleasurable one and one that is met with great joy.  Also on a practical note, that the transition to solid foods is a smooth one, as it can be a stressful time for many parents.

You can read about the Montessori approach here: “How I Weaned Myself”  and in numerous Montessori books such as “Understanding the Human Being” and “Raising Your Twins“. A very quick summary (but please read the other sources if you don’t know about this approach!): 3rd Month introduce fruit juice, 4th Month introduce mashed egg yolk, 5th Month introduce bread.  All of this is not for nutritional purposes and the juice and protein are given on a very tiny spoon.  It helps the baby to learn that food can come from a spoon (not always the breast or a bottle) and helps to get the digestive enzymes going.  The bread is held by the child so he/she can learn the experience of feeding him/herself.  It exposes the baby to various types of food so you know the baby doesn’t have an allergy to these foods.  I was greatly excited about trying this out with my daughter.  I picked up a few tiny spoons whenever I saw one.  These were often sold as “salt spoons.” Ideally it would be silver as silver allows food to be distinctive in taste and doesn’t change temperature but I didn’t find any silver ones.

Pre-Weaning spoons (left – next to my index finger),
Weaning/Baby spoons (middle – plastic one that I happened to have at my home and a metal one that I am using for A.),
Teaspoon (right – from my regular cutlery set)

But despite my excitement, everything else I read says not to introduce babies to solid foods, including the Canadian Paediatric Society and the WHO.  Doing some internet research there seemed to be many people who disagreed with this Montessori approach to pre-weaning mostly due to this “wait until 6 months” recommendation, the concern of the development of food allergies, and introducing sweet fruit juice.  I couldn’t wrap my mind around how such a tiny amount of food would have a long term negative affect upon A.’s intestinal system (does she not ingest this much dog hair?).  So at A.’s 4 Month check-up I brought the spoons, explained what I wanted to do, and asked both her medical doctor and naturopathic doctor.  Her medical doctor thought it was a great idea, assuring me that the research for development of food allergies was not overwhelmingly strong, and told me to go for it.  Her naturopathic doctor encouraged me to wait until at least 5 months and choose vegetables rather than fruit (“our bodies were designed for vegetables” not about the sweetness factor), as well as talking me through the details of intestinal development, ultimately giving me the ok to go ahead with it.  This greatly helped put my mind at ease and I decided to go for it!

When A. was 4.5 months old, I borrowed my parents juicer (thanks Grandma and Boompa!) and started with organic, locally grown apples (although they are not in season).  I sat down in the nursing chair with her to give her the psychological point of reference that this is where she eats.  With great excitement I offered her the spoon with apple juice on it and touched it to her lips.  I offered her a few spoonfuls and she opened her mouth each time.  She did have a bit of tongue thrusting, not knowing what to do with the spoon or the new taste.  She didn’t really make a disgusted face, more just pondering the taste.

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I continued doing it in the nursing chair for a few days.  On day #2 I offered the spoon to her and she moved her head forward to accept the spoon with juice.  On day #3 she reached out her hand, grabbed the spoon, and brought it to her mouth (with me guiding it).  I couldn’t believe how “textbook” the experience was!  I was super excited by it.

Soon my husband or I started offering it to her while we ate dinner at the dinner table while she was in our arms.

This was a bit of a fussy time for her and she liked to be held in our arms so was sitting with us at the dinner table anyways.  It seemed like a logical thing for us to do as this is where we would be eating dinner together as a family. I hoped it was helping her become accustomed to this new place for eating.  For one week we gave her apple juice.  Following this we gave her freshly squeezed juice of carrot, bean, and peach, each for at least one week.  The peach seemed to be quite sweet for her as she shuddered when she tasted it, but continued to grab the spoon for more.

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“No A., your first food cannot be a burger!”

By this time she was 5.5 months and showing many signs of readiness for solid food such as tons of drool demonstrating the emergence of digestive enzymes in the saliva (had been since about 3.5 months), mimicking us chewing food (she had been observing intently for many weeks prior), reaching out for food, and had developed the ability to sit with support.  We were traveling at the time but had continued with the vegetable or fruit juices (traveling with our juicer!).  When we returned home we introduced her to sitting in her Tripp Trapp at the dinner table, mostly because it was getting difficult to stop her from reaching for our food.

I started giving her mashed fish (sole) with some breast milk on her pre-weaning spoon.  I decided to go with fish rather than egg yolk.  She continued to enjoy the experience of the new taste and now texture.  I gave this to her for one week.

Up until this point in time I had only been giving her the juices once a day, at dinner.  A few days prior to “weaning day” I introduced her to sitting at her weaning table and chair and started giving her the juices at this new place.  I was then giving her the juices twice a day (after her morning nap and continuing at dinner).  I hoped that by introducing her to the weaning table and chair, along with all the juices and fish that she would greet solids with as much excitement as I was feeling.  (Check back to see how solids were greeted!)

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Trying out her weaning chair and table

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Filed under 3-6 Months, Carrie, Food/Feeding