Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Setting Up a Montessori Bathroom

You may have noticed that we did not have a changing table in L's bedroom.  In fact, we do not have a changing table at all.  We do have an area set aside for changing diapers, but it is in the bathroom, not the bedroom -- because the bathroom is where toileting activity should occur, and we want to instill that from the start.

Our bathroom is currently set up like this:

We have a changing pad set up on the floor.  When L began crawling, she could climb onto the changing pad by herself -- and yes, she could also crawl off it by herself.  We never had any problems with her crawling off in the middle of a changing.  She knew the procedure that must take place before she could crawl off, and she waited until her pants were on before making her move.  Part of the reason for that is probably because we talk to her when we're changing her diaper about the process, rather than distracting her with a mobile or toy.

Now that L is able to stand, we change most of her diapers with her standing up.  This allows her to be part of the diapering process -- she first gets a diaper from the cupboard, opens it and hands it to us, then stands beside the toilet.  Soon she can start helping to pull her pants down and take off her own diaper, and then pull her pants back up when we are finished.  She wears clothes that make this process easier for her to do by herself:  no onesies, no overalls, no buttons on pants.  There is a step stool at the toilet so she can sit on it when we take her diaper off.  She is by no means toilet-trained -- this is just the first step, getting her comfortable with sitting on the toilet.  She has never actually produced anything while sitting on it, and she doesn't even sit for very long, and that's fine -- she's only 16 months old.

We do not currently have a step stool that will reach to the sink for her to wash her hands, so that is our next step.  I can't find exactly what I want in stores, so I'll probably have my husband modify some cheap step stools to place around the house as needed.  I'll post pics once that is finished.


Friday, June 26, 2015


I absolutely LOATHE painting with young children.  Everything about it drives me nuts:  it takes so much time to set up, there is a mess everywhere, L never wants to be finished, and cleaning up might be more of a mess than actually painting is.  L, of course, LOVES painting.  So I try to force myself to let her paint at least once a month -- I know I should do it more, but, hey, I'm not a saint.

Things I try to keep in mind when I would rather do anything other than let L paint:
1.  Painting is a great sensorial experience!  Young infants can paint independently from the time they are able to sit up in a high chair -- finger painting, of course.  Squishing cold, slimy paint between your fingers is highly satisfying when you're too young to worry about the mess, and it's not something you get to feel everyday.  Colors mix together to form new colors -- often brown, if you put too many colors on the paper.
2.  Painting allows children to work on their gross motor skills.  Sweeping your hands in large circles or lines as you finger paint teaches control of your body.
3.  Painting allows children to work on their fine motor skills and prepares the child for writing.  When L was about 13 months old, I began offering a paintbrush for use while painting.  A paintbrush requires more controlled movement of the hand, and the child begins to see how to use an instrument to create.
4.  Painting is fun and allows the child to express creativity.  Your child is proud of what she has created.  We hang a few pieces of L's up at a time on our staircase.  About once a week she walks by, stops, and points at one of her paintings.

Most recently, L finished her Father's Day salt dough hand print by painting it.  She chose green paint.  She didn't paint all the way to the edges, and it didn't look like it was professionally done, but that was the point:  L made that salt dough hand print for her daddy by herself from start to finish.
Although L has been painting since she was very young, there have been surprisingly few times when she's tried to eat paint.  Always make sure you are using washable paint that is safe for children to use.  There are all kinds of recipes for do-it-yourself paint on Pinterest, but many of them include food coloring, which seems like it would be pretty permanent on the skin (at least for a few days).  I use non-toxic paint from the craft store.  We paint naked in our house because of my mess issues -- it's much easier to clean L up that way.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Montessori in the Kitchen

I am frequently working at the counter in the kitchen throughout the day -- doing dishes, preparing snacks and meals, etc.  L, of course, wants to be exactly where I am.  At all moments of the day.  So she used to spend that time hanging onto my legs while whining.  She didn't know what I was doing up there, but she wanted to be part of it.  So I had my husband build a helper tower (using these plans he found online) -- you can buy a helper tower for well over $100 dollars online, or you can find someone handy to build it for just the cost of materials.

This tower has steps like a ladder on all four sides, so the child can get into it by herself.  The platform allows the child to be able to reach the counter (and it's adjustable to three heights!), while the guardrails ensure that she won't fall off.  L loves this thing, and we use it at least 3 or 4 times a day -- even more when we are baking something in addition to preparing meals.

Toddlers have eyes like a hawk.  L has been especially blessed with hawk-like eyes, and I frequently find her imitating things that she must have seen us doing but that I have no recollection of doing in front of her.  So let them imitate!  Your toddler is perfectly capable of helping you stir cookie dough or pour in the oil for brownie batter -- with your help, of course!  Just keep in mind that baking is a science, and you may not have the correct proportions still in the bowl by the time it's ready to bake.  I've ended up with some wonky cookies that way, but the learning is all in the process, anyway, and not in the results.

L recently used the tower to help make some salt dough for a Father's Day present.  She loves stirring in all of the recipes we use, and she is pretty good at doing it without making too much of a mess.  Then again, making a mess provides an opportunity for her to clean up her mess -- I hand her a wet paper towel and she wipes as much of the counter as she can reach, as well as her arms, hands, face, legs, and feet, whether they're dirty or not.  Another favorite activity of hers is lining muffin tins with paper muffin liners -- she doesn't need any help with that, and it satisfies her to fill each cup.

Finally, the tower is a great place for L to taste new foods while I'm preparing them for the family.  Sometimes I put new foods on L's plate and she takes one bite and then refuses to eat more.  When I try the same food in the tower, after she watches me wash and peel a cucumber, for example, she eats it!

L is only 16 months old, and what I've described above is about all that she is capable of in the kitchen for now.  In a few months, I'll have to get her a dull knife (like an apple crinkle cutter knife) so she can help me cut fruits and veggies and take even more ownership in the kitchen.


Friday, June 19, 2015

Pom-Poms and Dutt-Dutts

L is currently obsessed with putting objects into things.  The more objects available, the better, because then she can repeat the process.  One evening, when L was being a little crabby and was clearly bored, I ran upstairs for some toilet paper rolls I've been saving -- is my family the only one that calls those things dutt-dutts?  Because of the sound it makes when you whack somebody on the head with it?  Yes?  Anyway....

So I found a couple toilet paper rolls and cut them into different sizes.  I paired them with a bowl of pom-poms, and showed L how to put the pom-poms in.  This is a variation on some of the other works that allow L to place objects in containers, as these objects also come out the other side.  L was absolutely delighted when I pushed the first pom-pom through.

Easy, free, and it killed the boredom right away.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Modifying Works Based on Observation

When L was about 12 months old, she discovered an unattended tissue box within reach at my mom's house.  She quickly took advantage of the situation, and when we found her she was in the middle of emptying the box tissue by tissue.  Needless to say, she was very pleased with herself.  I thought it was adorable -- mostly because we were not at my house and I didn't have to clean up the mess.  But when we got home, L tried her hardest to reach every tissue box she could see.  Recognizing her interest in this activity but unwilling to let her destroy all of my tissues, I quickly put together this work:

 I found some old handkerchiefs that the previous homeowners had left behind, and stuffed them into an empty wipe container.  I took the very top off the container -- because I didn't want her to learn how to really open a wipe container! -- and cut out the rubbery center so she could see the handkerchiefs inside.  The result was very much like emptying a tissue box, but with two key differences:  1.  it didn't make Mommy mad, and 2.  it was free!

L enjoyed using the handkerchief pulling work for a couple months, but then I found that it was often left neglected on the shelf.  I decided to re-purpose the wipe container to fulfill a new interest of L's.

We take our dog for a walk as a family every day after dinner.  We frequently pass a church with a few unfinished sign-posts.  Every time we get there, L bends down, picks up tiny pebbles, and drops them into an open sign-post.  She will do this for so long that we finally have to pick her up and go home.  So I decided to replicate that activity inside, with this:

I used some decorative glass pebbles that I had and put them in a bowl beside the empty wipe container.  L can pick up the pebbles one by one and drop them into the container.  If I was still in a classroom environment, I would be restricted to using larger materials that don't fit in a choke tube.  However, I'm home with just one child, and I know she won't try to eat these pebbles.  Young children are drawn to tiny objects, and I am happy to provide them in a supervised setting.  If your child still puts a lot of things in her mouth and you're not sure she won't choke on them, use larger objects to drop into the wipe container.


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Independence in the Dining Room

L is now 15 months old and successfully (and insistently!) feeding herself everything.  Yes, it gets messy.  Fortunately, we have a dog who enjoys eating dropped food.  In addition, we have a toddler who enjoys cleaning up after herself -- "Put it back on the plate."

The first part of enabling independence in the dining room is having materials available for the child to get by herself.  We keep L's plates on top of a low cupboard in our dining room.  When it is time for a snack or meal, L brings a plate to the kitchen (more on the Montessori kitchen and meal prep later!).  We also keep a stack of washcloths there to use for cleaning her up after a messy meal -- L loves wiping her own hands and mouth.  She also uses the washcloths when she spills her drink.

I know many of these posts have been about being Montessori without spending a ton of money, but if there is one thing you're going to spend lots on, make it this -- the amazing Stokke Tripp-Trapp highchair.  Friends, it is not cheap.  However, it can be used from the time your infant is first beginning to eat baby foods through elementary school.  This highchair is not the same as regular highchairs.  First of all, it can be pushed up to the table so your child can have meals with the adults.  This allows adults to model table manners, which the child quickly picks up.  Want your child to eat broccoli?  Have her sit next to you at the table while you're enjoying your own broccoli -- what child doesn't want to eat what's on Mommy's plate instead of her own?  This chair works through multiple ages.  With beginning feeders, there are safety straps and attachments so she doesn't fall off.  There are adjustable steps, so as your child grows she can eventually climb up onto her seat by herself (when that front attachment is taken off).  As soon as my husband's end-of-the-fiscal-year bonus comes in, we're buying another one for L without the attachments so she can climb up by herself, and Baby #2 will use the first chair.

At 15 months old, L's place setting typically looks like this.  Yes, we put out a fork or a spoon, depending on what the meal calls for.  No, L has not completely mastered this skill yet, but she's getting pretty good.  We don't actively work on using utensils, we simply provide them for her to experiment with.  She sees us using utensils every day, and she's improving every day.  I obviously did not put out utensils when she first began eating.  I started with a spoon in yogurt when she was about 12 months old.  At that point, she would use it for a few bites, then hand it to me to finish feeding her.  Now she finishes a whole container of yogurt all by herself.  I won't lie, it is a mess.  But she loves wiping herself off afterward.  I only put the fork out a few weeks ago.  Again, I knew to do this through observation.  We were at my mom's house for a BBQ one day when I noticed her walking around with a plastic fork and paper plate, pretending to eat from it.  The next day I put a child's fork on her placemat with dinner, and voila!  Sometimes she asks for help, but she is getting quite accomplished at stabbing that fork into her food and putting it in her mouth.  L eats what we eat.  I don't cook a separate meal for her.  If we're having something particularly spicy, I might take out her portion before I add the hot ingredients, but other than that, we eat the same meals.

An open cup, made of glass?!  Believe it or not, she has never knocked it over, and it has never broken.  I use a small cup made of glass for several reasons.  It is just her size, and she can see the amount of liquid in it (never more than an inch or so).  The glass is solid and heavy, so it doesn't get knocked over easily when she carelessly bumps it.  The weight also makes her drink slowly, as it takes some effort to lift and tilt.  L did not start out with an open cup, of course.  She started with a sippy cup designed to be drunk from like an open cup, with no spout or straw, but without any possible spillage (this one!).  She still uses that cup in the car or when we are on the go.  But for all snacks and meals at the table, since she was about 12 months old, L drinks successfully from an open cup.  I keep a small carafe of water at the table (and one of milk in the fridge) to refill her cup when she asks for more.  For now, I pour the water into her cup.  In a few months, I will have to find a small pitcher with a handle for her to refill her own cup.

In addition to the benefit of allowing your child to develop to her full potential -- even as a toddler -- allowing for independence in all areas of the home means less work for Mommy and Daddy.  In the dining room, it means everyone gets to enjoy a family meal at the same time.


Friday, June 12, 2015

Grasping/Transfer Work

So much of Montessori is about observation, but this is not something that only needs to happen in the classroom.  As parents, you are observing your child all the time!  Who knows your child better than you do?  Many of the works I have put out for L are based on my observations of what she is interested at a particular phase of development.  Some of these are traditional Montessori works, while others have been adapted to fit L's individual needs.  This grasping/transfer work is one that is tried and true in the Montessori classroom.

When L was younger and first beginning with finger food, I would put her food on sectioned plates.  This seemed to make it easier for her to choose pieces to pick up.  As she grew older (around 12 months old), I noticed that when she was finished eating, she would begin moving pieces of food from one section to the other, piece by piece.  So I made some transfer works for her, and she loved them!

A transfer work needs a tray with two containers and a set of objects to move from one container to the other.  For toddlers just starting out, begin with large objects that are easy to grasp with a whole hand, such as pom-poms.  As your child's fine motor skills continue to develop, you can use smaller objects that require the pincer grip or even utensils to transfer from one container to the other.

This picture is of a transfer work that I currently have on the shelf because L enjoys putting each object in its place.  I used wooden eggs in a bowl, which are then transferred to the separate cups of a muffin tin.  The best part is, it's made entirely from materials I already had in my house!  Much cheaper than buying toys, and it helps L to develop her fine motor skills as well as focus and concentration through the repetitive motion of transferring each object.


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Setting Up Your Toddler's Work/Play Area

We spend much of our day in the living room, so a large section of it is devoted to L's workspace.  In the Montessori classroom, the materials that children use are called "works."  This is because, just like with the choices we made for L's bedroom, each material has a specific purpose.  The child works with each material to develop a specific skill.  Some of the works are trays I designed based on Montessori principles and L's interests (I'll show some later!), similar to what you would see in a classroom, and some are simply toys that you can buy at any store.

The most important thing to consider when designing a workspace for your toddler is size.  Children need to be able to reach their materials, and to work with them in a safe space!  This is why Montessori materials are placed on shelves that young children can reach.  Each work is placed on its own tray or container  -- no toy boxes filled with multiple materials! -- as each is meant to be used by itself.  When a child "completes the work cycle," she is able to choose a material from the shelf, bring it to the table or work rug, use the material, and then return it to the shelf where it belongs.  L is only 15 months old, but she already has a handle on bringing her work to the table.  She will usually "take it back" -- the language we use in our home, because for some reason L recognizes it's meaning -- after a simple reminder.  In a few months, she will be able to complete the work cycle by herself.

L's table and chair are just her size, providing the optimal place for her to do her work comfortably.  In a few months, I will introduce the work rug for larger floor works, but for now she is doing great at the table.  L enjoys having a space that she can use all by herself, without needing any help to get in her chair.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Montessori Infant Bedroom

L is currently still in her infant bedroom, although she will be upgraded to a new toddler room soon (hopefully in August, if I can get organized by then) to make room for Baby #2.  That being said, the things in L's infant room are still great for a 15-month-old and even older.  So let's talk a little about Montessori environmental design, in this case regarding setting up a bedroom for an infant.

Maria Montessori set up numerous guidelines in her writings for how to design the optimal environment for a child to naturally develop independence.  Many of these guidelines can be applied to even the youngest infant.  Here is what L's room has looked like from birth on:

L slept in this room beginning three nights after we brought her home from the hospital.  This was simply a personal choice that I made based on my own needs -- when she was in our room, I woke up every time she made the slightest little noise or movement, sure that something was wrong.  But she was fine!  Our bedroom door is literally 5 feet away from hers, so we moved her next door and turned on the monitor.  We all slept better from then on.

No, L has never slept in a crib.  From day three, she has slept on a twin-sized mattress on the floor.  Even for newborns, this allows for greater space for freedom of movement during the night.  We have two pool noodles under the fitted sheet -- one on the side against the wall and one on the open side -- because L rolls.  They keep her in the bed while she's asleep, but don't prevent her from getting out when she's awake.  Once L began to crawl, she could get into and out of bed by herself.  After that, there was never a morning or naptime that she would wake up and just sit there screaming until I came in.  She crawled out of bed and entertained herself. Or she crawled over to the door and knocked on it until I came in -- a much nicer sound than screaming.

Because a floor bed enables freedom of movement, there are times when L is up and unsupervised in her room.  This means that everything in the room needs to be completely safe and secured to the walls -- all furniture, wall hangings, etc.  I am completely confident that she cannot get severely injured while she's alone in there.

One of the few pieces of furniture we have in L's room is a bookcase.  This minimizes distractions so she isn't tempted to get out of bed in the middle of night or naptime to play, but it also provides something for her to do when I'm not ready to come get her yet.  L's books are set out face-up so she can see what each one is before she takes it.  You can buy expensive bookcases that provide this feature in an up-right position, but I wanted to save money, so I used a bookcase that I painted when I was a little girl.  The books are all currently board books that she cannot damage, not that she tries to anymore.

Saving money again, I opted not to buy an expensive rocking chair or glider in favor of reusing an old chair that didn't really fit in my living room.  This has the added benefit of being safer for L when she's moving about while unsupervised -- no pinched fingers!

This is L's clothes station in her room.  Each night, we hang L's outfit for the next day on the hooks on her closet door.  When I come to get her in the morning, she knows to walk over and bring her clothes to the bathroom.  After she's changed, she takes her pajamas to the hamper and puts them in.  These are not activities we forced on her by any means -- she simply watched us do them so many times and, entering that well-known phase of toddlerhood, now wants to do things "BY MYSELF!"  Placing the hooks and the hamper at her level allow her to exercise that independence in a safe and appropriate manner, one of the core tenets of the Montessori philosophy.  When L is a little older (probably when she moves into her toddler bedroom), we will lay out two different outfits for L to choose from each day -- just two.  It is too difficult for a toddler to make a decision when there are more than two options to choose from.

Decoration in L's room is kept to a minimum -- this is, after all, primarily a place for sleep.  We have a few framed pictures hung securely on the wall at her level, so she doesn't have to look up a mile to see them.  There is also a long, low mirror alongside L's bed.  She enjoys looking at herself while she's falling asleep, and it also provides a self-entertainment factor for when she wakes up -- I can't tell you how many times I would walk in after nap to find L quietly licking her own reflection.  When L was younger and still slept on her back, I had a mobile hung over the bed.

As you can see, everything in L's room was chosen for a specific purpose and with an infant's developmental needs in mind.  In August, L will be moving next door to a toddler room, and I'll be sure to post pics of that.  When Baby #2 comes this fall, she will move right into this room as-is.


About MOMtessori

I received my AMS certification and taught in Montessori infant and toddler programs for six years before leaving to become a Stay-At-Home-MOMtessorian.  I currently have one toddler (we'll call her L) and an infant (we'll call her N), and my days are filled with following [my own] children and creating the optimal Montessori environment for them in our home.  I enjoy creating works based on their individual needs and interests, and love sharing them with other parents.