2 year old E. squeezes the oranges for freshly squeezed orange juice. Yum!
Category Archives: Food/Feeding
Remember back in January how Christie shared with us that R. and P. had started attending Parent/Infant Class at Aid to Life Education? See how these boys have grown since then! They recently attended their last day in the Infant room.
P. and R. sit down on the bench upon arrival to remove shoes and socks. Dad watches over R. as he uses the Peg Box. Christie/Mom watches P. as he uses the crayons. R. enjoys a snack at the end of class. Time to go home. P. puts on socks and shoes with some assistance.
It is time for R. and P. to move up to the Toddler Room! I’m sure Mom and Dad will continue having fun during these Parent/Toddler classes.
Child sized tools make a huge difference in a child’s ability to do things independently.
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A. is now 17 Months and is still mostly crawling and cruising around. She can definitely be considered a late walker. It was drilled into us during our Montessori training that when a child begins walking s/he will have “hands free to transform the environment”, meaning the child would be ready to take on practical life activities. While A. may not be walking, she is certainly progressing psychologically and cognitively. She’s not the same as an 11 month old who is not yet walking. It was around 12 months that she started exhibiting a stronger will (tantrums!). She has a stronger need to do things independently and become an active part of her home environment. She is ready to take on practical life activities and has been doing so for the past few months.
If you’re new to Montessori you may be asking what I mean by “practical life.” Practical life is everyday life:
- Taking care of ourselves and our children
- Taking care of things in our home environment (including yards, animals)
- Treating each other, and our materials, with care and respect
As a parent I want to create a home that is rich with opportunities for A. to contribute and gain a deep sense of belonging. I want to offer opportunities for her to develop the self-confidence of independently taking care of her personal needs. This isn’t so easy when she is still using her hands for locomotion. In our training we were asked the question “If the child is still crawling, can they participate in practical life?” I feebly answered this question at the time. I’ve had to completely re-think this now that I have child who has yet to reach the milestone of walking.
So many practical life situations require the balance and coordination utilized in walking, and the ability to carry items with two hands while walking. I look forward to introducing those to A. in the future and in the meantime I wanted to share with you some ways in which A. is beginning to do practical life as she crawls and cruises. I don’t think any of these ideas is revolutionary, nor does A. do all of them in one day. I have just been conscious of slowing down and inviting her to participate in everyday life. Having a few child-sized materials has definitely helped. While these are the activities that are a part of our day, depending on where you live, your culture, and your personal circumstances, the practical life activities that you and your child will do will vary.
To start her day she is able to crawl independently out of her floor bed. After nursing we go to her dresser and she opens her small cupboard. She is able to choose an outfit for the day. The night before I place two outfits for her to choose from. Then we go to the bathroom to get ready for the day. It is a collaboration during undressing (I assist in taking out her arms and she pulls her pajama shirt over her head) and during dressing (she gets one leg in the pants and I assist with the second leg. She pulls it up to her knees while sitting on the stool and I assist by pulling them up all the way once she is standing). It is also a collaboration as she has a turn to brush her teeth, wash her face, and brush her hair, and then I have a turn.
We go to the kitchen and she assists in preparing breakfast. She cracks the raw eggs for fried or scrambled eggs. She peels the shell off the hard-boiled egg and uses the egg slicer to cut the egg. She puts the fruit into the colander, I wash and cut, and then she puts the fruit onto the plate. She pours water into her dry oatmeal before I cook it.
During meals she has been learning to use a spoon and fork. She completely self-feeds herself, often choosing to use her hands before using utensils. She likes to be given the opportunity to wipe her face at the end of the meal, and this is a collaboration as I need to wipe her face and hands before she is clean enough to play. She then goes to unlock the dogs from their dog crates (they get locked up for meal times). I love how she develops fine-motor control and unlocks various types of locks in a real, practical manner. She also treats the dogs with respect by petting them gently, hugging them, and respecting that they have limits of how much they will tolerate being crawled over.
After breakfast she often likes to help unload the dishwasher. She hands me the utensils and I put them away. This is a great opportunity for language as I name each utensil she pulls out and she tries to say it after me. For her own utensils, I give them to her to put away in her cupboard. She is learning how to match up the forks to the forks and the spoons to the spoons. A. loves to help do the laundry. She puts the dirty clothes in the washer, puts the wet clothes in the dryer, and puts the dry clothes into the laundry basket. This is a wonderful sensorial experience of dry, damp, and warm. She is tall enough now to reach the buttons, so with guidance, she pushes the power and start buttons.
We also like to bake together. A. loves to put on her apron. She pours, peels the bananas (for banana muffins), stirs, is learning to open containers, mixes things together by hand, and puts liners in the muffin tins.
Lunch time is eaten at her small table and chair. It’s hard to set the table when she is still crawling so currently I’m starting by having her bring over the placemats (while I try to ignore the dog hair that gets picked up as they are dragged across the floor). She then goes to sit down at her table independently when I ask her to do so. She peels the banana peels off her banana slices, peels her mandarin oranges, picks the edamame beans out of the shell and puts the organic waste into her small bucket. She is learning to sign ‘please’ when she would like more of something (she signs ‘more’ quite well). Again, she self-feeds herself and I found it was easier for her to learn self-feeding with utensils at her small table. She is able to pour water into her glass, albeit not from the spout yet. She continues to make little spills and often still attempts to drink out of the pitcher afterwards. She likes to wipe her table at the end of the meal to clean-up. She will bring over the dustpan and brush for me to use to clean the floor. She likes to dump her little bucket of organic waste into the compost bin.
In the afternoon we might do some work outdoors. A. loves to be out in the garden! While she isn’t truly helping in the garden quite yet, she loves to transfer dirt with her own tools while I do the weeding. She enjoys picking the leaves and I take deep breaths as I guide her towards the appropriate leaves to pick (lettuce, spinach, and beet leaves). The vegetable boxes are the perfect cruising height for her. She is having fun harvesting the carrots and beets as she pulls them out of the soil (I loosen them first). She also likes to help clean her toys and chair by scrubbing with a brush or a sponge. I’ll hose down the toys while she continues to enjoy playing with the bubbles or transferring water between two buckets. I really like the sensorial experiences she is gaining by handling soil, vegetable leaves, and soapy water.
Helping to prepare dinner is fun as she then collaborates with both Mommy and Daddy. She transfers the vegetables to the steamer basket. She puts the cut up vegetables into the salad. She puts the organic waste into the compost bin. She pours the dry rice or quinoa into the pot and pours the water into the pot before I cook it. She adds the spices to foods. When we make our own pizza’s she scoops the sauce and spreads it, then adds the meat and cheese, chooses to not add the vegetables, and has a pre-dinner snack (still working on self-control). She puts the ice in Mommy’s glass. She climbs into her Tripp Trapp high chair to eat dinner as a family (we’ve since removed the baby insert seat). Preparing food together offers infinite opportunities for language enrichment.
After dinner it is time to get ready for bed. Throughout the day she has been given multiple opportunities to use the potty and multiple opportunities to pull up underwear and pants. She hasn’t gotten into pulling down underwear and pants yet. Before her bath she crawls over to her laundry basket with her dirty clothes in hand to place them in the basket. During her bath it is collaboration again as she uses the cloth to wash herself and then I wash her. I dry her off and she opens the diaper cream and her face cream containers so I can apply them. She loves to dip her finger into the face cream and put some on her cheeks. She collaborates in putting on her pajamas. Then she’s off to sleep in her floor bed.
My own efficiency has been slowed down to include A. in many of these activities yet the activities become more joyful for me as I watch her developing greater motor control, independent skills, have rich sensorial experiences, a greater vocabulary, and self-esteem that she has contributed and done important work. I find myself pausing and just smiling as she takes on many of these tasks. She is also a happier, more content child, which makes the day more enjoyable for both of us.
Observation of the child shows that normally he has the desire to act independently; he wants to carry things, to dress and undress alone, to feed himself, and it is not by adult suggestion that he tries to do these things. On the contrary, his urge is so strong that our efforts are usually spent in trying to restrain him; but when we do this, we are fighting nature, not the will of the child. ~Maria Montessori, Education for a New World
While we do practical life activities our entire lives, allowing the child to follow their natural instincts to do these activities has a much deeper impact on a child who is under 6 years of age. At this age the child is going through a huge developmental stage of constructing their personality. While you and I prepare a meal and do the laundry to complete a task, the young child does these activities to feed their soul. Children have a deep need for their movement to be connected to an intelligent and purposeful activity. Children have a deep desire to belong to the environment that they are in by participating in the activity that surrounds them.
Children are therefore at an age when they are greatly interested in movements and seem to be anxious to learn how they should move about. They are passing through that epoch of their lives when they must become masters of their own actions. Physiologically we may say that their muscles and nerves are passing through a period when they are learning how to work harmoniously together. Successful passage through this period is of utmost importance for an individual’s ultimate perfection. A good beginning here is most important for a child’s future. ~Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child
Join the conversation! How have you involved your crawling and cruising child in everyday, practical life?
It is time for the six month check-up. We are excited to find out the new ‘measurements’ for our boys and see how much weight they have gained. However, what we felt when we left the doctor’s office was as totally different feeling; one that left me questioning my own knowledge and experience.
“The boys have not gained enough weight.”
“They have dropped to under the 5th percentile.”
“You may not be producing enough milk for the both of them anymore.”
“You should start introducing baby cereal.”
As a new mom I can see how the outside influence of professionals can make you change your ways in a heartbeat, no matter what you believe is the ‘right’ thing to do. Because for an instant, I did just that. In our training, we learned that the child will show us physical and psychological signs for weaning. The child will begin to drool, has cut his/her first tooth, and should be able to sit up with minimal support. The child will show an interest in people eating around him/her and start reaching for food. This was part of my mental checklist and because the boys were a month premature and were not sitting well on their own, had no teeth, etc. I had the right mind to hold off. But here I was, rushing out to Whole Foods to purchase Organic Baby Rice Cereal!
Then, I had to check in with myself (as well as vent and get reassurance from those around me).
Were my boys happy and thriving?
(R sitting with support in nursing pillow, looking at one of his favourite books.)
(First time P ventured off the movement mat.)
Were they sleeping well and through the night?
Did they show signs of distress or lack of food?
NO! (Big sigh of relief.)
I was introduced to Baby Led Weaning after my training, once I started my Parent-Infant classes. At snack time, one parent pulled out a whole apple, took a bite, and then handed it to her 9 month old to eat. I was in awe! I researched it and read the book Baby Led Weaning, which I thought was very interesting and sounded very much on page with the Montessori philosophy.
Some key components include:
- Feed babies food in their natural form (cooked or steamed if needed)
- Teach babies to feed themselves and eat as much (or as little) as they need.
- No need for purees or spoon feeding, babies will learn to break down the food in their mouth.
- Baby may gag a bit in the beginning, but remember that the baby’s gag reflex is not as far back as an adult’s.
- Hold off on grains until baby’s system is producing more amylase, which is a type of ptyalin that helps to break down starches.
So this is what we did.
The boys began with avocado, banana, steamed cauliflower, broccoli, apple, carrots, and pear. Yes, at first I was a bit nervous and so were those around me, especially when the boys gagged on the food! It took us a while to get into a groove and perfect the set-up (at their weaning table with the proper dishware etc.) but now they have all meals at their table (along with complementary milk feeds).
Overall, it is a very lovely experience for all of us. The boys are now enjoying many different types of organic food and I find it easier to prepare food for them as I do not have to do much else than what I already do for my husband and I. Some of their favourites right now include Ezekiel bread with avocado, homemade pancakes, chicken drumsticks, salmon, cod, meatballs, yams, sweet potato, banana, raspberries and blueberries. Unfortunately, the “broccoli loving babies” that I had in the beginning are no longer and this is when the “lovely experience” turns not so lovely as they very purposefully throw what they don’t want on the floor. I am very thankful for our dog on these occasions as she gets invited in to assist with clean up!
Every meal is finished up with a drink of water from a real glass (ours are shot glasses from Ikea) and in the beginning I poured only a little to get them used to holding the glass with two hands and tilting it up to drink. Now they have pretty good control and will hold out their glass for ‘more’, which I pour from a child-size pitcher. At the end of a meal they definitely show signs of being done, by pulling off their bibs, pushing their dish away, or by pushing their chair away from the table.
It is time for us to introduce the use of cutlery, which opens up a few more doors in terms of choice of food. I haven’t purposely held off, but with the boys approaching 11 months it is time! I have also started to encourage them the wipe their own faces, hands, table, etc….basically to help me clean up their mess. Not that they do this as of yet but the language and actions are there for the future. 🙂
So all in all this too has been a learning experience for me as an educator and mom. We are quick to give our opinions about what we feel is ‘right’ by the books, but every child and situation is different and what works for one family may not work for another. That is why Baby Led Weaning works for us, and it may (or may not) work for you!
My daughter is already 22 months old and I’m realizing it’s so much work to prepare her environment at home. I’m not trying to make a perfect environment for her. I make minimum effort otherwise I will be a stressed, fussy mom leaving my every day’s house work behind.
There are some points I always follow in order to make a Montessori environment for her independence and development.
1. Follow your child’s orderly sense
Children in this age group are nourished and made secure by the order of things. Therefore, we need to prepare an environment for the child that demonstrates order and structure in action. Experiences of order assist her in developing her will. “What, when, and where” provide the opportunities for these expectations and the structure and opportunity for limits and discipline. We want to make it clear to the child in her daily life: what to expect, when to expect it, and where to expect it.
2. Share your work at home with your child
When you are cleaning, washing dishes, folding clothes etc…. please share your work with your child as long as she is interested so the child feels that she is involved and she is no longer a baby who needs somebody’s help. Children need to experience work in collaboration with adults for it to have an educational purpose. Once the child has started her work, encourage her to complete her work. The child needs to repeat the process for perfection. Once the child feels that she is capable, she gains self-confidence and self-esteem. Eventually, the child learns concentration, patience, logical sequence, responsibility and independence through work.
3. Organize her environment
Let your child know where her belongings are to help your child develop her orderly sense. All her belongings have to be accessible for her. Toddlers can dress themselves. If she wet her shirt, just ask her to bring a clean shirt and dress herself. Ask her to put her dirty shirt in the laundry basket. When you are going out, the child can go get her jacket and hat and put her shoes on by herself. You just need to tell her directions and help her to do it by herself.
If your child has art materials like drawing and gluing, let the child know where the paper is so she doesn’t need to ask parents to get more paper.
4. Follow the child’s routine
The child needs consistency of schedule and routines for the child to understand what is expected of her. (Schedule of mealtimes, naps, activity, and sleep) This can assist her orderly sense. It is beneficial that parents read to your child every night before bed.
5. Let your child prepare her snack
Yes, your child will make a mess. But everybody loves this activity. If you feed your child apples, bananas, avocados or mandarin oranges, just prepare a set of food materials (a tray, chopping board, butter knife, apron, tongs, small dishes, etc.) Let the child peel the food and slice it. Once she slices it, use the tongs to move the food to the dish)
If she spills, encourage her to wipe it up by herself. If an adult cleans it for her, she doesn’t care when she spills or drops her food. The child needs to be aware that there is cause and effect. If she spills, she needs to wipe it. The child experiences the logical consequence of order. The awareness of herself and her environment is the purpose of accomplishing a task.
For children to develop confidence in their own abilities, they have to be helped to care for themselves independently just as soon as they are able. Try not to look at efficiency or speed, the focus is on process and on the repetition and practice that are required to work toward perfection in all processes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.”
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
During 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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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