Tag Archives: independence

Crawling towards Practical Life

By Carriecrawling towards practical life
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.

morningTo 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.

preparing breakfast2We 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.

breakfastDuring 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.

inside houseworkAfter 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.

baking3We 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.

PL lunctimeLunch 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.

outdoor workIn 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.

preparing dinner2Helping 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.

bedtimeAfter 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?

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Filed under 12-18 Months, Carrie, Food/Feeding, Independence

Foto Friday – Peeling Tangerines

In an effort to keep this blog updated regularly we’re starting a new series: Foto Fridays!  As busy moms we don’t always have time to write but we’re always taking photos!  I hope you enjoy today’s first instalment of Foto Friday with 18 Month old F peeling tangerines.

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Filed under 18-24 Months, Foto Friday, Rubi

Why Toilet Learning at 1 Year

By Carrie

I hope you’ve enjoyed following our journey of toilet learning this week from Cloth Diapers and EC, to Standing Diaper Changes and Underwear.  To wrap up the week I wanted to share some of the reasons why I chose this route for toilet learning.

Avoid Power StrugglesDSC_0022 (4)_crop

Power struggles are more common when toilet learning/training occurs at age 2-3.  Ever heard of the “terrible two’s?”  It’s common that two year olds have an increased desire to make their own choices and assert themselves.  I want to take toileting out of the equation while A. goes through this.  There will be more than enough other ways for her to assert herself and things to tantrum about.  I hope that toileting is just a natural part of the day and that by age 2/3 A. will be ready for more responsibility and control of her own toileting.

Sensitive Period for Toileting

“The myelination of neurons necessary to ready the body for control of the bowels and bladder is completed by the time children are approximately twelve months old.” ~Montessori From the Start.   

Between 12-18 Months children go through a Sensitive Period for toileting.  This means that a child is gaining an awareness of their toileting needs during this time and if we take the steps to accommodate this developing awareness, then a child will more naturally learn to use the toilet than if we take efforts at a later stage.  From my experience working with children at my preschool and seeing various Sensitive Periods in action, when children are in a Sensitive Period they have intense interest and learn the concept quite quickly.  I want to devote my time to aiding my daughter during this Sensitive Period for toileting.  I believe it will be more of a natural, gradual development towards toileting independence.

Decreased Constipation and UTIs

Many children who have joined my preschool and have recently been toilet trained experience constipation.  While I’m not a medical doctor, I wonder if holding in poo (or pee) is related to the psychological development of asserting control which is typically stronger at age 2/3.  (I also know it is important to keep up fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, and whole-grains in a child’s diet to decrease constipation at any age)  Dr. Jill Lekovic in Diaper Free Before 3 indicates that earlier toilet learning decreases the risks for urinary tract infections and constipation.  So does Gwen Dewar at Parenting Science.

Get out of Diapers SoonerDSC_0066 (3)

Wiping a poopy bottom is not fun.  Wiping a bottom that has pooped in the potty, not so bad.  While the process may take longer than 3 days, typically the child who begins earlier is out of diapers at a younger age.  Decreased time and money spent on (washing) diapers sounds good to me.  There are also many who believe the increased use of disposable diapers has led to a later age for toilet training, when historically, and currently internationally, many children stop using diapers before age 2.  I think that wearing underwear and eliminating in a toilet is more comfortable than diapers and I want to help my daughter experience greater comfort by being in underwear sooner.

Because a Child is Capable of it 

I want to demonstrate to my daughter that I have faith in her abilities.  I have heard from so many friends that their children, and many Montessori toddler teachers that the children in their programs, are successful wearing underwear by age 2.  My early EC joys lead me to believe that my daughter does have the capacity to connect to her elimination and I want to support her in this.

“If parents remember that their mission is not a child in “dry pants” but a child successful in her formation of independence, coordinated movement, language, and will, they will know that their hard work on their child’s behalf is worth the effort.” ~Montessori From the Start  

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Nature furnishes special protection for the young.  For instance, the child is born amidst love; his very origin is by love, and once born he is surrounded by the love of father and mother, a love which is not artificial or enforced by reason.  ~Maria Montessori, Education For a New World  

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Filed under 12-18 Months, 18-24 Months, Carrie, Diapers/Toileting

Prepare the Environment for Your Toddler’s Independence

By Tomoko

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.

e slicing avocados

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.

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Filed under 12-18 Months, 18-24 Months, 2 years +, Food/Feeding, Independence, Tomoko

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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Filed under 0-3 Months, 3-6 Months, 6-12 Months, Carrie, Independence, Play Area/Toys, Relationships