18 Month old A. is back in the garden & the kitchen!
Pick the peas from the garden
Shell the peas and enjoy!
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.
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:
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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