Discovering Practical Life : Ana’s Story

Making Montessori Your Own : Ana's Story

In Part 4 of Making Montessori Your Own, Ana shares how discovering practical life has helped her daughter become capable and independent in her home. She shares simple examples of ways they collaborate together in different daily activities and how she prepared herself and their home to achieve this. 


Our Discovery of Practical Life

I discovered Montessori when my daughter (22 months) was 5 months old . At the time, I was amazed by all these posts on social media – of 5 year olds baking a dish from start to end, of a 2 year old unloading the dishwasher and putting the dishes back in their place, of 18 month old children eating using the same cutlery as their parents. It seemed unrealistic, to say the least.Now that my daughter at 22 months, peels garlic and cuts vegetables, and eats from the same cutlery as us, and puts her laundry into the washing machine, I know that it’s quite possible, and what each intermediate step looks like on the way. Infact, practical life skills have been one of the most eye-opening parts and unexpected delights of following the Montessori approach. The amount of time we spend “doing” practical life has only increased during lockdown. 

Practical life skills come in two big categories – care of self and care of environment. While there are shelf activities that come under this category, for example, threading beads or button frames, the revelation for us has been doing practical life activities organically as part of our daily routine.

 How do we involve our daughter?

She’s part of our routine – less time that I have to “think of activities” to engage her.

The confidence she feels as a contributing member of the household – and we know, toddlers crave this.

Practical life has given a rich context for learning so much more: for building language, as she learns names of things she’s working with, their colour, texture, size, shape, etc;  for observing processes – the steps involved in washing laundry and the order in which they must be done, for example; 

Perhaps, most importantly, being involved in daily practical life activities has helped my daughter orient herself to our daily life and home – we clean the house in the morning, and do the laundry in the evening; we eat at the dining table and brush our teeth at the sink; knowing the place and time for everything feeds her sense of order. 

How did we approach Practical Life? 

We started introducing practical life to our daughter in three ways 

By having a place for everything, and everything in its (accessible) place– the prepared environment is a prerequisite for a child to be able to do things on their own. While this is a topic for its own post, I will say – we didn’t “prepare” all environments at first – rather, started with a “yes” space for play, and then built accessibility in other areas as our daughter was ready for it.

By having a routine – this is a way to extend the first principle with respect to time – have a time to do everything in your day, and do everything at its time. Toddlers are going through lots of changes in their bodies, and having a predictable routine – of knowing what comes next – gives them trust and confidence and a sense of control – they know what’s going on.

By sportscasting our activities – here, we’d explain things in words as we were doing them, talking about what we were doing and where things go (e.g. “Now I’m putting your dirty clothes in the laundry basket.”). This helped her understand our routine and gain vocabulary.

None of the above three may feel like “practical life” activities – and they are not specifically – but that’s the point. Practical life isn’t “an activity you set up” – it’s a natural progression of involving your child in your life and in your home.

Gradual Progressions

Adding more challenges : We gradually started adding more steps of the full process: for example, at 6 months, I’d place the changed clothes in my daughter’s grip, carry her to the laundry basket and sportscast ton her what we were doing, requesting her to release her grip and ‘drop’ dirty clothes into the basket. By 10 months, my daughter was able to crawl to the basket on her own, and pull to stand up next to it. So, I let her lead those steps too, only sportscasting what was happening. At 15 months, she was carrying her clothes to the washing machine too. We just let her take the lead on different steps of the whole process. Now, she understands end-to-end of changing-to-laundry basket-to washing- hanging to dry – to folding dried clothes-and keeping in her cupboard. It all started with releasing the grip over the laundry basket, and scaffolded from there.

What else? : Last week, my daughter was so proud when she learnt how to open the pedal dustbin with her foot, and put garbage in it. I wasn’t comfortable with her using the dustbin when she was younger, but now that she isn’t mouthing things, and understands we don’t touch the dustbin, and we wash our hands when we do, we’ve added this net new activity, she can do on her own. It may seem like a small thing, but the coordination required to use a pedal bin is quite amazing for a toddler, and seeing her feel proud of her accomplishment, is an added bonus. 

Showing, speaking about and involving in activities she’s not ready to independently do yet: Even when she’s not ready for a practical life activity (e.g. using the gas stove), we regularly model to her how we use it, use the language as we explain the steps. This builds her understanding and readiness for new activities.

All in all, practical life has been a revelation to me! If somebody had told me a few years ago, that a toddler can meaningfully participate in activities around the house, I’d never have believed it. And yes, it’s messy sometimes. And it’s slower than doing it on my own. We don’t do every activity fully everyday, and life isn’t an Instagram-worthy-highlights-reel. But there’s a joy and harmony in having your toddler involved in everyday life around the house that cannot be put into words. Let them surprise you!”


“Any child who is self-sufficient, who can tie his shoes, dress or undress himself, reflects in his joy and sense of achievement the image of human dignity, which is derived from a sense of independence.”

Dr. Montessori, The Child in the Family

Baby-led-Weaning : Ana’s Story

Making Montessori Your Own : Ana's Story

Hi Ana, share with us your views on the importance of eating together as a family. 

When we start our children on solids, we are not just feeding them for that day, or for that age. We are inculcating food habits and a relationship with food that will last a lifetime. I’ve seen my daughter be very curious about what I’m eating, and eager to try things from my plate. So, eating together gives us a chance to try new foods. She sees me and my husband catch up on our day over breakfast – and has learnt to be a part of our conversations. She has picked up so much vocabulary –names of foods we eat, utensils and even hot/cold/textures. All of this has come from sitting and eating our meal times together.

In your experience, how is Baby-Led- Weaning different from Parent-Led-Weaning? 

I think at the core, baby-led-weaning is built on trust in the child- that they know how much to eat, and in nature- that the child will develop skills to eat more, as and when her body needs more food. BLW is a pull based system, built on division of responsibilities. We as parents are responsible for what foods we offer, and when we offer them. We can make some rules about how the food is consumed such as – food only at the table, or washing hands before and after meals, no food between meals. But the child controls how much they eat of each food.

As a parent, following BLW requires a lot of trust and patience. It also required a lot of homework – of what foods to offer for which age, of size different foods to be cut so she can hold them, even exactly how long each food  needs to be steamed in the pressure cooker so it is at a softness she can chew, but doesn’t collapse in her palmer grip.

Having said that – I think like in all things, the middle path works best. While we followed BLW – in that we offered finger foods that she ate on her own – we didn’t always offer her the same food as what we ate. In the initial months we gave her steamed foods and fruits. Over time, we merged her diet into ours. So, I think you have to adapt the process to make it for your needs and circumstances.

Many parents find baby-led-weaning gives them no control over ‘feeding’ their child. How did you learn to let go and follow your child? 

I think the foundation really comes from having trust in the child’s abilities. Our children are not going to starve themselves. This is what I always remind myself – when a baby is born, they can’t see much, they can’t move, they are completely dependent on us – yet, when they are hungry, they cry, and once fed, they know they are done feeding. I had done 5 months of sole breastfeeding before we started on BLW – and during that time I fed on demand. I never knew how many ml/ounces my daughter drank at a feed – which days or meals she drank more or less. Yet, I’d seen her grow, and meet the growth parameters. 

So, once we start feeding solids, why did I suddenly think she wouldn’t know when she’s hungry, or wouldn’t eat till she was full? So the first thing I let go was this Qs of “has she eaten enough?” Learning to eat was a skill I needed to enable her to learn – as I was to enable her to learn walking or speaking- by providing her with the right environment and tools, and then being patient while she learnt it at her own speed.

Plus, I think you feel a loss of control when you feel there’s nothing you can do about a situation. With BLW, I never felt that. If there was a meal where she rejected a food- especially a food she’d eaten before- I’d go back and try it and check – was it too hard this time? Maybe too much salt by mistake? I was observing, building and testing hypothesis – lets try carrots cut thicker for a better grip next time, or if she is squishing the banana in her fingers, let’s keep the peel on and offer it like an ice cream cone. Following BLW made me more observant and in-tune with my daughter’s needs.

As time went on – and I saw her eating softer foods during teething days, or drink more water during a cold, or gravitating towards dahi/curd during a stomach upset – I could see she was listening to her body, and if I paid attention, I could listen and follow along too. Me double-guessing her judgement as she was learning, didn’t help her learn faster, on the contrary, it slowed her down.

What are some signs of readiness for Baby-led-Weaning that you observed in your daughter?

BLW isn’t a static thing you do once when you start the journey in solids. It’s always evolving.

When we started solids- I observed her being able to sit up (with support) and mouthing everything and being curious about our foods. Then, I observed her grip evolve- when she’d try to pick up crumbs from the table, and give her smaller bites to practice her pincer grip. I observed her try new flavours, and evolved our menu to get her to eat the same foods as us. If I observe her teething, we pivot to a much more liquid-y diet – with porridge, dahi, soups

As I type this, I’m reworking her menu because I think we are too much into fruits now and not offering enough veggies. We are also getting a stokke high chair that she can climb into, because she has recently grown out of her IKEA high chair that we plop her into. So it’s an ongoing process of observing, tweaking and evolving what and where we serve the meals.

Can you share some of the initial foods you offered your daughter and how you offered them? 

We started with finger foods – the size of my index finger roughly. Mixture of fruits (bananas, avocados), steamed fruits (pears, apples) and steamed vegetables (broccoli, carrots, beetroot). From 6-9 period, our menu over indexed on fruits and veggies – and we slowly built in grains into the diet.

How did you balance breast/bottle-feeding and weaning during the transition phase? 

Well, we had about a 6 month transition phase between when we started solids (my daughter was 5mo), and when we weaned from feeding completely. There were many different phases in between. For the first few weeks, we added the solids as a learning food, and kept the feeds as is. I offered solids first, and then topped up with a feed. (Some recommend doing it the other way around, it’s really up to you.)

Next, at about the six month mark, we built solid meals into the menu – breakfast, lunch and dinner – and had the feeds around it. I also shifted to mother’s milk via a bottle at this time. I wanted to give ourselves about a month of practice before I started being out during day time. We followed this routine between 6-10 months.

At 10 months, I dropped the morning feed as well. My daughter got busy playing, and didn’t notice. So the only feed she got from me directly was the night feed- and I knew this was part of her “bedtime routine” – so was nervous about how she’d react when we dropped it.

At 11 month mark, I introduced her to cow’s milk. We first tried it at breakfast, and then offered it 3 times a day. At 11.5 months, I started offering her cow’s milk after bath, before bedtime. And after a few such days, I stopped her bedtime feed. She cried for a couple of days- it was tough, I must admit- but each day she cried less than the previous, and after 4-5 days we were done with that.

The last to go was the middle of the night feed. My daughter used to wake up once in the night, and fall asleep during the feed. I took the nanny’s help to break this habit. For two nights, the nanny slept in my daughter’s room and rocked her back to sleep when she woke up in the middle of the night. After two nights, I rocked her back to sleep. Eventually, she learnt to sleep through the night.

A request to share a few words of inspiration to other parents on Baby-led-weaning. 

‘Love it, like it, learn it’ foods: I’ve picked this concept from Veggies and Virtues on Instagram, and found it works well. At each meal, we try to incorporate a food that my daughter loves, likes, and is learning to eat. This helps us give exposure to new foods, while ensuring there’s enough there to fill her up.

Exposure is what matters: Think of when you tried a new food last time. Did you gobble it up, or did you taste it first, and then get more on your plate? Our kids deserve that time. Get the idea of “my kids don’t like these foods” out of your mind- adopt a “learning to like” approach. 

Build a community: I follow several mother bloggers on Instagram who specialise in foods. It helps me learn, gives me food ideas and just have folks along on the BLW journey – because I don’t have friends who are following this near me. So it has helped me tremendously to find this tribe online

Read and learn- I’ve found the BLW cookbook a great resource that I referred back several times in the first six months of BLW. I’ve also enjoyed BLW videos by hapafamilyvlog on YOUTUBE. You should read up and learn before and as you go along on this journey

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Montessori for a Working Parent : Ana’s Story

Making Montessori Your Own : Ana's Story

Being a parent is a full-time responsibility. It is no simple feat to nurture a child! That said, today’s parents don multiple roles – many hold responsibilities not just at home but outside of home as well. (I say ‘responsibilities outside of home’ because I believe a parent who chooses to stay at home full time with their child is also a working parent!) Ana is a mamma who works both at home as well as outside.

In Part 2 of Making Montessori Your Own, Ana shares with us how she prepares her home for her daughter to help meet her developmental needs. She also talks about the importance of observation and how she makes Montessori work in a joint family where multiple adults interact with the child.


Montessori at home isn’t a mainstream way to bring up children in India – it isn’t the way we were brought up, and it isn’t something our parents (and our children’s grandparents’) are familiar with. I discovered Montessori when my daughter was 5 months old. I had about two months before I joined back at work. While I connected with some aspects of the method  such as giving freedom with limits or protecting concentration, I was concerned as to how we would provide these at home after I resumed work. Our care-taking set-up at home was Nanny who was to be the primary caretaker and grandparents. Neither of them were familiar with Montessori, and there were certain parts such as giving access to cleaning tools, for example, that raised eyebrows.

A year later, I feel we are in a good place. We’ve been able to follow Montessori and Baby -led -Weaning for my daughter – and carry everyone along the way. Here’s the things that worked for us.

Prepare the environment yourself:  The foundation of Montessori is having a prepared environment and this is something you can very much control even while you work. For us the game changer was moving to floor beds – for ourselves and our baby- when she was 6 months old. It gave her freedom of movement, it gave us peace of mind (no constant worrying about her falling off the edge of the bed), and most importantly, confidence to make other changes- because we could instantly see the return of investment that changing the environment made to what she could do and learn. Importantly, if the environment was safe – a “yes” space! –  then our daughter would get freedom of movement at all times – because everyone could see her engage with the environment purposefully, confidently and safely.  Over the next few months, we’ve invested in a DIY learning tower in the kitchen, added Pikler’s * arch to the safe play area, stool to the bathroom sink for brushing teeth and hand wash,practical life tools for the kitchen, only wooden toys (no battery operated toys) and more.

Use the weekends and your time at home in morning and evening to model behaviour – I introduce all new practical life activities and shelf work when I’m at home. We rotate the shelf on Saturdays. I routinely audit different parts of my daughter’s routine, with an eye to identify what schema she’s in, what work she is engaging in and what isn’t appealing to her. In mornings, I often sit near her and observe her playing – without interrupting to protect her concentration. It’s my way of ensuring she gets half an hour of child-led play time during the day, and to model to everyone around, how to interact, and really how she’s capable of entertaining herself when given the opportunity. Over time, I’ve seen others appreciate her independent play, and learnt to observe more, engage when she looks at them and “entertain” less.

Learn schemas – My understanding of schemas has made the time I spend observing my daughter more actionable. It has also given my nanny tools to identify patterns in my daughter. So last week, when my daughter at 16 months, went through a phase of throwing her toys – we guessed that she was entering a trajectory schema, planned how we could give her more time to throw a ball when outside, which activities we could plan safely at home. We added mark making, rolling balls on the floor, throwing feathers and also set limits with respect by correcting verbally at first. We then step in and remove the child if the behaviour persists while telling her, “ I cannot allow you to throw things in the house. We do that outside.”. This gave clarity to the Nanny on why this “troublesome” behaviour was happening, and what I was okay with her to respond to it.  

Be clean on your no-gos, and let go of the little stuff- I don’t tell the grandparents how to interact with my daughter when they are playing with her. So she gets a bigger dose of interactive play when she spends time with her grandparents – and that’s okay, she learns to interact with different styles. At the same time, we have a ground rule of no playing during mealtime or eating only while sitting on the dining table (no running around with food) – and those are shared with everyone and adhered to pretty consistently.

And stuff like protecting concentration or giving feedback instead of generic praising – we model between my husband, and me. It sets the tone, and after some time – your child will also start liking and asking for more independence – it has a positive halo effect, and you’ll see everyone around you pick up on the cues. 


Ana’s story as a working mamma shows us that taking the time to observe and consistently prepare the home makes it a positive, YES space for the child. Her story shows that preparing the environment is helpful not just for the child but also for all the adults who interact with the child.  

*The Pikler’s arch is not a Montessori material. It was created over a 100 years ago by a Hungarian pediatrician, Dr. Emmi Pikler as a climbing structure for young children.

Part 1 : Montessori in Limited Spaces

Making Montessori Your Own : Ana's Story

The moment we hear the word Montessori, many of us have flashes of large, fabulous spaces filled with beautiful shelves holding material that beg to be touched and explored. While these pictures may inspire us, they often remain a dream because of practical constraints that hold many of us back such as limited space, budget and other constraints. 

In Part 1 of the series : Making Montessori Your Own, you can read Ana’s simple solutions on how she has made Montessori work in a Limited Space.


Montessori in Limited spaces

There are 5 of us sharing a 2 Bedroom, Hall, Kitchen (my 21 month old daughter, my husband and his parents) and we’ve been following the Montessori approach since my daughter was 5 months. Living in a limited space hasn’t been a barrier to giving our daughter freedom of movement. Looking back, here are a few things we did that really helped us use the space we have in a way that enabled our daughter to do more.

Foldable yoga mats for play area:  These provide good grip and cushioning while your child is learning to crawl or walk. During naps, or after bedtime, you can stow away the mats and use the space. We’ve actually made rolling mats part of the starting-the-day and clean-up routines that book-end the days.

Foldable Yoga Mats

Use the edge of the mat or breakfast table for shelves: The idea is to have toys accessible to the child in an aesthetically pleasing manner. When my daughter was 6 months old and learning to crawl, we kept her toys in a single line at one edge of the play mat. That was enough to serve the purpose, and we didn’t need any shelves for the limited number of toys (3-5) available to her at the time. Now that we place 6 toys for her, we have repurposed a breakfast table that we’ve had for years. This serves the purpose, and that’s all that matters.

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Embrace practical life: Whenever you are feeling doubtful on how you can be “more” Montessori or how you can “follow the child” better – think of everything that they typically do in a day and ask yourself if there’s something that you don’t need to do for them, which they can do on their own. It doesn’t have to be (and is very unlikely that it will be) an end-to-end task, especially with toddlers. It can be one sub-step of one part of an activity – maybe just the action of transferring clothes from your hands to the laundry basket – but it is a step the child does on their own and this builds confidence in their abilities. 

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Next think of everything that you do in the day – all your tasks – and ask yourself, where can your child help? Think of the simple actions they can do, and where they can possibly fit in your task. For e.g. simple action of pouring pre-measured ingredients into the hand-mixer where they just hold the cup while you guide the action. Anything to make them a contributing member of the family. You’ll find many of these activities do not need extra space – but just some rearrangement of  the existing space, or just look at the same task in a new way. 

Kneel and look at your house from your child’s level:  I learnt this simple trick from themontesorrinotebook and it works wonders. Before you begin setting up an area for your child, get on your knees (to your child’s height), and have a look around. This gives you your child’s world view – do they see underlying cables, sharp edges, bulky furniture? Is the space open and inviting for them? Seeing your house from your child’s height will help you prepare the environment for them. 

Keep books on floors/existing shelves:  We keep a couple of books on the bedroom shelf, and a couple more on the centre table in our living room. We don’t have space for a separate bookshelf, but that hasn’t stopped us from keeping a limited number of books, which are frequently rotated, easily accessible to our daughter. These books are available at multiple spots around the house. You can plan to have 1-3 books each in the bedroom, play area and living room, or any other place  your family spends time together. 

Books

Lastly, if you can make one change, make this one – switch to a floor-bed:  This gives your child control over their sleep and has the added bonus of you not having to worry about them rolling over. For our family, we wanted to co-sleep with the baby in our room, so we chose to move to a floor bed with our mattress on the floor when our daughter turned 7 months old.

Floor Bed

For us, this change required no extra space (other than to store our own bed), but we’ve seen it have a remarkable impact on our child’s freedom of movement. You can make this change when your child starts rolling over and the risk of them falling off their bed begins, and keep it till you feel comfortable. The first night we slept on the floor, I asked my husband, “Remind me why are we doing this to ourselves?” (it was actually my idea), but the next morning, when I saw my daughter practicing getting on and off the mattress on her own, it was all worth it. Now, a year in, I think it has been one of the best modifications we have made to our sleeping set-up and I intend to continue this at least until she is about 2 years old.


Montessori can work in all kinds of spaces & Ana’s story shows us the same. It shows us that Montessori lies in the small things such as looking at the environment from the child’s view, asking ourselves how we can involve the child in our daily lives & making do with what’s available. These simple tweaks, moving to a floor bed or repurposing a breakfast table for a shelf are actually all it takes to help young children explore and thrive.

Peeling Cucumbers

Our Little Kitchen

Peeling is a challenging activity that aids young children’s developing muscle strength. The repetitive action of peeling helps them gain control over their fine motor skills and also draws them into bouts of focus and concentration. Peeling not only engages their tiny fingers but also their mind in a constructive activity whilst building judgement and coordination. 

Who is this for?

I would begin around 2.5 – 3 years depending on the fine motor skill of the child. 

Things Required

  • 1 medium sized cucumber/carrot
  • 1 cutting board
  • 1 sturdy and small peeler (I prefer Y peelers) 
  • 1 medium sized bowl for peels 

Preparation

I have observed that children have a better latch over the peel when the edges of the vegetable are cut. This can be done by the adult while the child watches. I also prefer not to hold and guide the child’s hand while they are peeling. This gives adults complete control but a very false sense of ‘peeling’ to the eager child. If you find that you are anxious, increase the challenge gradually by having them collaborate in the process. Also, refrain from telling them how to peel because this shifts attention from peeling to talking. Instead, just show them how it is done and have them repeat after you. 

As always, you are the best judge of what works well for your child in your kitchen! 

Illustrated Guide 

I like to begin with an invitation, “Let me show you how to peel a cucumber today.” Introduce everything at the table, else tell the child what is required and gather them together. 

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Let the child smell, feel and touch the cucumber. Wash the vegetable at the sink and discard the edges. 

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Show the child the peeler. Point to the blade and mention that it is sharp and used only for peeling the vegetable.

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Hold the cucumber down using your non-dominant hand to give support and hold the peeler using full support of your palm and fingers. This gives children better support when they repeat after. 

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Begin at one end of the cucumber and point to the blade touching the peel.

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Exaggerate applying pressure and glide from end to end, pausing in between to watch the peel come off. 

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Place the peeler down and pick up the peel and place it in the bowl for peels. It is nice to point to the color difference where the peel is removed and touch and feel the cucumber. 

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Rotate around and continue peeling. Let the child peel however they can. You can offer to hold the cucumber for support. 

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Once the cucumber has been peeled, the peels can be put in compost. Guide the child to put the other items away or for wash. 

Short Guide

  • I like to begin with an invitation, “Let me show you how to peel  a cucumber today.” 
  • Introduce everything at the table, else tell the child what is required and gather them together. 
  • Let the child smell, feel and touch the cucumber. 
  • Wash the vegetable at the sink and discard the edges. 
  • Show the child the peeler. Point to the blade and mention that it is sharp and used only for peeling the vegetable. 
  • Hold the cucumber down using your non-dominant hand to give support and hold the peeler using full support of your palm and fingers. This gives children better support when they repeat after. 
  • Begin at one end of the cucumber and point to the blade touching the peel. 
  • Exaggerate applying pressure and glide from end to end, pausing in between to watch the peel come off. 
  • Place the peeler down and pick up the peel and place it in the bowl for peels. 
  • It is nice to point to the color difference where the peel is removed and touch and feel the cucumber. 
  • Rotate around and continue peeling. 
  • Let the child peel however they can. You can offer to hold the cucumber for support. 
  • Once the cucumber has been peeled, the peels can be put in compost. 
  • Guide the child to put the other items away or for wash. 

Note : You can also cut the cucumber in half to prevent it from rolling. I have used Persian Cucumbers. Use whatever is locally available.