That Empty Box is ALSO a Toy!

Articles

What is a toy?

To answer this question, we first need to look at how we (adults) define and view toys versus how children view toys. We have a very specific understanding of what a toy is. A toy is something that a child can play with. But, this ‘something’ comes with a disclaimer. We are comfortable when a child plays with a toy that is manufactured by the toy industry that has made sure it is age and developmentally appropriate. That, that piece of object carries the seal of the toy industry.  So, if a baby wants to play with a mesh sieve from the kitchen or a toddler wants to use the broom, we are not wholly comfortable. We don’t consider these as toys. We redirect them almost instantly and instinctively without much thought, “Why don’t you play with your toys?” 

But, what is a toy for a child? 

For a young child, anything and everything is a toy. If a toy is something to explore and play with, then yes, everything is a toy. We forget that babies come afresh into this world. They are free of our societal and cultural conditioning – they do not look at the hair brush and instantly associate it with combing. They will grow to create such associations. But, they are, in a sense, free of the restrictions that we hold. So, if a baby finds a hairbrush, they will mouth it, roll it, chase it, mouth it again and delight in the texture of the bristles and explore it with fervor. A toddler might not just brush their hair but their feet, their frilly frock, the couch pillow. An older child may run towards a heap of leaves, jump into it, climb out of it, stomp on it, jump into it again and giggle in the rustle and chaos of the scatter. This play, this exploration of the object is their way of understanding and engaging with the world. It is their way of asking “why not?”

But, do we look at these as toys? And, more importantly, do we look at this as play?

If the children are engaging in repeated exploration and manipulation of the objects and if the objects are giving them joy, can we not look at the hairbrush and the heap of leaves also as toys to play with? 

Specific Playthings

The toy industry is a multi-billion dollar establishment whose sole purpose is to design and manufacture toys for children. Think about it, there is an entire industry dedicated to selling playthings for children. This is no small thing! This is a huge deal in giving children the much needed place in society, in giving their developing intelligence and innate curiosity due recognition. With more and more research emerging in the field of early childhood, toys are becoming further refined. There are toys to help children count, learn letters, reason, code, hone their eye-hand coordination and challenge their gross motor skills. In a way, the industry has left no stone unturned.  

But, by purchasing these toys, there is a certain security we derive. Firstly, we believe that ALL the toys that come through the industry are developmentally appropriate – they serve a purpose, a goal. That the toys are essentially what children should be playing with. That the toys with the lofty labels are what shape children in their lives. As goal driven individuals who seek results, we are convinced to buy a toy only when we are assured of its outcomes.

A mock example of how we typically choose toys for play

We know that by purchasing that particular toy, we are offering, essentially, a lesson on logic or the letters. We bask in the safety of these toys because we simply know. We feel secure because we can, in a certain sense, control the kind of early childhood experiences we can give our children. A rich environment filled with age-appropriate toys, each of which promise a skill, a learning! 

The Child’s Play 

But then, this child enters the scene and runs toward the cardboard box in which the toy itself arrived and plays endlessly with it. This is unsettling because we question what skill the child is acquiring through such play. We want them to play with the toy and not the box.

So, we show them to place the ball in the hole and the baby chooses to roll the ball on the floor. We are tempted to redirect them. Because, we know that by dropping the ball in the hole, they are learning a very specific skill. But what if the baby wants to roll the ball elsewhere? Drop it down an inclined slope? Are we willing to let them? Are we willing to let go of knowing ‘what’ they are learning from each exploration, from each play? Can we be comfortable in that space of not knowing? 

We must remember that children do not differentiate between a didactic toy and a non-toy, nor are they result-oriented. In a sense, children make every object a didactic object. They are little scientists who engage through experiment. They also do things for the sake of it.

They jump in the puddle of water because that is calling to them. Just because. What could they be learning from that play? We don’t know. Maybe they are teaching us to be joyful in the moment.

Letting Go | Finding a Balance 

In some ways, we need to let go of this control. We need to let children decide what they want to play with and how. We are going to watch for disrespectful behaviour and redirect those energies but, even that, we need to watch. Remember, young children are free of the layers of conditioning that we have? So, are they intentionally disrespecting the object or just exploring it in yet another way? We need to observe before intervening. 

We also need to strike some balance. Children do need didactic toys, they do need play that meets specific developmental needs. But, they also need time to play without constraints. If they want to roll the ball downhill instead of putting it in the hole, let them. 

We need to take away the notion that children need to learn something from every toy. We need to let go of controlling what they are learning from every experience. We need to be okay with not being able to pin down on what developmental need is being met through each play. 

So, the next time they go for the empty box, refrain from redirecting them to play with their ‘toys’. Instead, mark the joy of sitting inside that empty box, diving into the heap of leaves and jumping on a puddle of water as the mystery of childhood, the child’s world, their own domain and sometimes, at least sometimes, let’s not meddle with it.

“Let the children be free; encourage them; let them run outside when it is raining; let them remove their shoes when they find a puddle of water; and, when the grass of the meadows is damp with dew, let them run on it and trample it with their bare feet; let them rest peacefully when a tree invites them to sleep beneath its shade; let them shout and laugh when the sun wakes them in the morning as it wakes every living creature that divides its day between walking and sleeping.”

Dr. Montessori, The Discovery of the Child

Nurturing a Holistic Relationship with Food : From One Mamma to Another

Hear it from the Mammas!

Hi Janani, thanks for being back to share another story on the blog. Last time was about baby swimming. This time let’s talk about food.

I am happy to be back on Srishti to share yet another story as a mother. Although food and food making are given a lot of importance in our (Indian) culture, I grew up eating food for the sake of it. It was an imposed activity which I never really enjoyed, until I met my husband, Abhinav. He is a food enthusiast and appreciates any food offered to him and this entirely changed my relationship with food. I realised that the food that we eat not only decides our physical health but also the very way we feel and experience life. Therefore, as a mother, it was vital for me to enable my daughter, Agni, to have a positive relationship with food right from the beginning.

When did you start introducing other foods to your daughter and how did you go about this?

When A was about 3-4 months old, just like every other baby, she used to put things in her mouth to explore the environment through her senses. I consider this ‘mouthing’ to also be a natural instinct for babies to explore foods. I initially introduced food by giving her whole carrots, lemons, apples, coriander etc., to play with. From 5 months onwards, she was let to feed herself when she was hungry. She was made to sit on a highchair and was offered finger foods that included a mix of soft-textured fruits, veggies, and some cooked grains. As she grew older, I introduced foods with harder textures, and mixed ingredients. By 8-10 months, her chewing skills, dexterity, hand-eye coordination and even sorting skills (she used to sort a mixed platter of fruits by colour, shape, type) had improved tremendously. This whole process allowed her to be ‘in-charge’ of when, what, and how much she wanted to eat.

Can you describe Agni’s eating area?

We are a small family of three – Agni, my husband and myself living in Germany. When we are at home, we prefer to eat together as a family sitting at the dining table. Agni used to sit on a highchair until 1.5 years, but then shifted to a normal chair with a booster seat that helps her to independently climb up and climb down from it. While we eat, we appreciate the different tastes, and discuss our day’s activities. It is important for us that there is no other parallel activity happening while we are eating. This focus helps Agni to appreciate, enjoy, and be grateful for the food she eats.

How open is she to trying different foods?

Right from the beginning, Agni loved to explore different tastes. I could say, mealtimes are the ‘high points’ in her day. She looks forward to eating every meal with so much joy and excitement. She is always curious and ready to try out new tastes.

How do you and your husband support your daughter’s approach to food?

We support Agni’s approach to food by enabling independence. We introduced her to a spoon by 15 months, and a fork and knife by 18 months. We keep some healthy snacks and fruits that are easily accessible to her throughout the day that allows her to eat something in case she gets hungry. Just like how she is in-charge of eating the food, we also encourage her to be part of the clean-up in whatever way she can. Overall, the whole process over the last 2 years has required tremendous patience from our side especially because – as a baby, it used to be extremely messy when she ate, involving an elaborate clean-up after every meal. But all this effort has been totally worth it.

Does your daughter participate in preparation of food?

We generally prepare two meals at home every day. I try to do most of my household chores along with Agni. So, she is continually involved in the preparation of food as well. She participates in washing, de-stemming, sorting, and clearing of the ingredients used to prepare the meal. She smells and tastes the different flavours while I cook. She understands that preparing a meal takes a long time and effort. She is also part of our visits to the farmers market or supermarket where she chooses the fruits and vegetables.

Is it important to give children the experience of seeing food grow? How do you think this impacts their attitude towards food?

In a world where we are so disconnected with our choices, it’s important that a child knows where the food comes from. In the last few months, we are actively involved in growing plants at home in our small garden. Agni tends to the soil, waters the plants, and experiences the process of growing them. We, in whatever way possible, explain and communicate to Agni the importance of actively contributing to a changing world – a kinder world. So as a family, we are trying to reduce the consumption of animal-based products (dairy, eggs etc.).

Can you share with other parents a few guidelines on approaching food holistically?

Every human baby has an in-built mechanism to feed themselves. As a caregiver, it is important to nurture and give space for this to develop well. Besides, exposure to food need not just be confined to the dining table but can be extended to the kitchen, gardens, or farms.

From No to Yes : How can we shift positively from a NO Environment to a YES Environment?

Articles

The Child in the Adult’s World  

The adult world is filled with objects that serve us a purpose. Our cords and wires, glassware and knives, screens and gadgets, scissors and car keys. These individual objects make up our homes, our lives. These are the objects that serve us a purpose, that bring us joy, that put us in touch with the world. Into this world, enters a baby afresh. This baby sets foot with no prior worldly experience and observes for months, us adults,  engage, manipulate and transform our environments using these objects. This creates in the baby a fascination, an allure, to get their hands on those keys that jingle, on the scissors that magically snip paper into confetti, that glassware which sparkles. This is what holds the baby’s attention for months – our manipulation of the world using the objects that surround us. 

So naturally, when they are finally able to move their tiny bodies, they gravitate towards these objects that they have silently observed from afar for several months – only for us to say the word NO. 

What is this No? 

The word NO is a fascinating one. It has no real existence in this world. An apple tree, my shoe, the neighbours cat, your book all have an existence in this world. Even if I describe my apple tree as large and bearing several green apples, you can visually see the apple tree match my description. But, this word NO fits nowhere in this realm. It really has no concrete existence. A baby who understands the world largely through concrete experiences therefore does not instantly comprehend the word NO. What does it even mean?! 

What actually catches their attention as they are reaching for our shoe and trying to mouth it is the tone which accompanies our NO. That urgent, high pitched, slightly-bordering on anger, NO is far from the tone that we typically use to speak with them. Our facial gestures and body language that accompany the word NO are vastly different from our typical behaviour around them. So, the difference in the way we say this particular word is what holds the baby back initially. 

This intrigues them, and curious as they are, they want to reach for the shoe again to see if we will give them the same response. When they hear the word NO a second time, they begin to see a pattern. “Ah-hah! So every time I touch the shoe, this person makes this peculiar sound.” Some reach for the same object again and again only to see our reaction remain consistent, possibly sterner and slightly impatient. When our tones and hand gestures become louder and firmer, some babies start crying while some others find the whole thing rather amusing and do it repeatedly much to the annoyance of many adults. But, soon enough, all babies begin to understand that more things in their world are NO than YES and begin to grapple with this reality. 

Our Usage of No 

The word NO holds a lot of power. It means “Stop!”  The person who utters the word NO wants what is happening to stop instantly. It implies a non-negotiation of the situation, a complete standstill of what is currently happening. Considering this, we adults use the word NO rather too freely and carelessly without much thought. We also use them very inconsistently. What is NO sometimes, suddenly turns into YES and what has been YES for a long time suddenly becomes a NO. “No, please don’t go and turn on the tap now.” “Fine, you can turn on the tap, just this once.”  “No jumping on the bed.” “Okay, fine jump. As long as you don’t trouble me.” “No chocolate on weeknights.” “Fine, you may have chocolate today.” We also use NO most generously, several times a day without any hesitation. It becomes a habit, a pattern after a while that we rarely ever pause and ask ourselves, Why am I saying NO? 

So, the real problem with our NO stems not from our usage of it to protect our children but from our careless over usage of it to suit our whim and fancy. 

“NO leaves you feeling reactive, making it impossible to listen, make good decisions or connect with and care for another person. A focus on survival and self-defence kicks into gear, leaving you feeling guarded and shut down when it comes to interacting with the world and learning new lessons. Your nervous system initiates its reactive fight – flight, freeze or faint response : fight means lashing out, flight means escape, freeze means temporarily immobilizing yourself and faint means feeling utterly helpless.”

Dan Siegel, Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine

So, what does NO do to the child?

  • NO curbs exploration

The first thing that the word NO does is that it stops exploration. Imagine a young child who is new to this world. How would this child know what is high from low, loud from soft, smooth from rough without concrete experiences? Exploration is the key that unlocks intelligence for this child. Only through  holding, manipulating, mouthing, banging, rolling, falling and engaging to see how the objects respond to their touch, do they learn. This is how they build concepts, judgement and perception. When we repeatedly use the word NO for situations that do not truly demand it, we are indirectly telling the child that the world out there is not for them to explore, effect or transform. 

  • NO interrupts independent thought & action

NO tells the child they are not capable of handling the world. “No, no don’t climb the stairs. You will fall.” “No, don’t touch the jackfruit, it is prickly.” Imagine if someone was following us around, tracking our every move and telling us what to do and what not to do, how would that feel? For starters, it would be a complete robbery of freedom. Secondly, it will be a reminder that we cannot manage on our own in this world.  This leads to self-doubt – “Can I actually climb the stairs? Am I even capable?” and also leads to reliance on others – an unnecessary dependence where independence can blossom – “I will just ask amma to peel the oranges. It is too hard.” Unnecessary use of the word NO leaves children uncertain about themselves, their abilities and potential. 

  • NO instils  a fear of what is out there

NO very clearly scares the child into believing that the world is an unsafe place with threats and dangers. Yes, there are threats, there are dangers and it is our job to protect our children until they are ready. However, most situations where we use NO do not require it. It is an overuse of the word that creates an environment of fear – of an anxiety that something negative will happen whenever they seek exploration and experience. 

How can we shift from NO to YES? 

  • Prepare a YES Environment

The first step is to create a YES environment and surround the child with YES objects and experiences. What I mean by this is that things must evolve to meet changing needs. The space must be flexible.  A baby of 4 months is not mobile and having  glass cutlery on the bottom shelf may not be a problem. But, a toddler of 14 months is mobile and going to want to reach for everything. So, we can either show them how to access and use these objects with care, (“Yes, let me show you how to carry the glass bowl”) or if they are not ready for that, keep them out of reach. We have to continually see how to make our homes a YES space bearing in mind the child’s need to explore, manipulate and belong. 

  • Choose your NO’s thoughtfully  

The key to having a YES environment is to first understand what aspects are YES and what aspects are a NO. Before deciding on what is NO, we must think about it and ask ourselves “Why am I saying NO?” This will vary largely based on individual families, the age and readiness of the child. One child might be ready to eat using glass utensils while another might still not be there. One 2 year old may be using a knife to slice vegetables while many others may not yet be ready. So, we need to first assess what works for our situation and decide as a family on what aspects are NO. Once we have decided, we must stick to it. There is no point in going back and forth – this will only confuse the child and make the NO meaningless.

  • A YES Mindset

Our homes can be thoughtfully prepared and still curb exploration if our  “Yes, you can!” attitudes do not permeate it. When we overuse the word NO, we not only take away its power but create a mindset that holds children back from the world. It creates a fixed mindset – one that limits the child’s growth because of a lack of belief, a lack of faith that comes from constantly hearing the word NO. “I am not capable of climbing.  I will only fall if I try.”

By consciously creating a YES home, we instil in children an attitude of openness that looks at learning as continuous. What’s better, in this home, they begin to trust that they are capable of tackling glitches and treat all experiences with josh, enthusiasm and joy!

“Anything we give attention to, anything we emphasize in our experiences and interactions, creates new linking connections in the brain. Where attention goes, neural firing flows, and neural connection grows. And where neurons fire, they wire or join together. If you’ve been focusing a lot of attention on No! No! No! this is where neural firing flows, a No Brain reactive state.”

Dan Siegel, The Yes Brain : How to Cultivate Courage, Curiosity, and Resilience in Your Child

Let’s talk about Mess!

Articles

Children are messy! This is a common notion that we adults share. Whether they are playing with some blocks or washing their hands, whether they are painting or rolling up a rug, mess always seems to follow children. We instantly know there is evidence of a child’s handiwork wherever things are in disarray. 

Trigger for a Reaction

Mess is something that throws many of us off. It is a cue for an elaborate clean up – no adult with a toddler needs to be told the scrubbing that has to be done following a painting session. Mess is something many of us struggle to look past because it requires effort to rectify, energy to restore and time to reset. Mess is not something we want to have time for because we associate mess with mischief, disrespect and unruly behavior. We think of mess as bad.

But, in early childhood, mess is not a sign of rebellion. It is a sign of learning, a sign of overwhelm, a sign of wanting some 1:1 time. In young children, mess is a reminder for observation. 

Types of Mess 

  • The “ I’m learning” Mess

When a child is learning to do something by themselves, there is going to be a mess. This is a natural part of exploration and learning. We need to train our eyes to look at the mess and see what it symbolises. It is a sign of work. In the process of taking food from the plate to their mouth, their yet-to-be coordinated body, their yet-to-gain finesse hands have spilled some or most of the meal. This type of mess is the remnant of a child at work. 

How to help?

We help by first not saying, “Oh my god! Look at what a mess you have made. This is why I prefer to brush your teeth myself!” Likewise, there is also no need to tell this child that the mess is a sign that they are learning. Instead, what we can actually do is look at this child.

  • Is this child a baby, a toddler or an older child of 4 or 5 years? 
  • Can this child help you in the clean up? If so, is this child actually going to clean up without your prompt?

If they are going to clean up, we just wait. Else, we swoop in and say, “Okay, so you have finished washing your hands. I notice some water here. How about we get that purple sponge and clean it up?” If this is a baby who cannot yet help, we can offer a piece of cloth for them to hold and also model how to clean up. Yes, this is hard work! But we need to remind ourselves that we are setting the tone for future initiatives by this child. When this baby becomes able and ready, they can collaborate in fixing the mess. 

  • The “ I have too much” Mess

Another kind of mess happens often with children who have too much. For this, we need to understand that our level of too much and the child’s level of too much are not the same. If we have a book cabinet with about 30 books, we can look for the title we want from the mix and move on to reading the chosen book. But, even we struggle nowadays, I must say. Everytime we are on Netflix, we take hours just deciding which movie to watch. If this is true for us, then it is even more true for little children. They need limitations. 

When we have all their toys dumped in a tub inside a playpen, there is going to be a mess. This is a kind of mess that is detrimental to progress because it curbs exploration. It leads to a child jumping from one to another, banging, throwing, screaming and creating further mess – signs of the child coping with the mess. 

How to help?

We help by offering this child the much needed limitation. Have a look at what draws the child and choose 3 – 5 toys that support or aid this. Put everything else away in a closet, out of the child’s sight! Now, these chosen toys can be arranged very neatly on a mat on the floor, under the centre table, on a low cabinet or shelf. The toys can be rotated when we feel the child is seeking new challenges. 

  • The “ I need some attention” Mess

This happens to almost all of us several times a day. Adults have a lot of responsibilities around the house – we have to wash the dishes, fold the clothes, take that important call and we cannot give children our full attention all the time. And, we needn’t! But, when the child is creating a mess, it is a sign that they need help. It is not a time to ignore the child or the mess as this child needs help to fix the mess, to fix that feeling of wanting to create the mess. It is  a reminder to stop. 

How to help?

If this is a toddler or an older child and you have to take that important call, talk to them. Tell them, “Amma really needs to talk to this client. I will be with you as soon as I am done. You can bring a nice book over here and read it. We can look at it again after I am done.” They may be able to wait or they may not, depending on the situation and prior experience with waiting. Once you are done, you can go over and give them that 1:1 time to calm their energies.

It is important to stop because we first need to calm the energies, calm the need to make that mess. Children also need bites of 1:1 time with us during the day. This will calm, ground and secure them, readying them for periods of play. 

  • The “ I’m curious” Mess

Young children are learning. They are learning that when they release their hold, that piece of potato will fall splat on the floor, that when they turn the tap fully, water is going to flow at full force. This mess is similar to a child who is learning. However, this mess may happen because of a curiosity to know what happens if? This is a way to understand that their actions impact their world. 

How to help?

We help by showing the child how to fix the mess once the curious exploration comes to an end. This is very similar to the, “I’m learning mess” and requires the same kind of assistance in resolving.

Looking beyond the Chaos 

Understanding where children are in their development, observing their actions and the motives behind them will help us form a bigger picture of their mess.

The child’s order and disorder, the successes he attains, depend often on one’s ability to observe the least particulars, because only through doing will the result be satisfactory.”

Maria Montessori, The Child in the Family

As we have seen, mess is a sign of work, a sign of learning, a sign of exploration, a sign of having waited. Mess is a sign of growth. 

Toilet Independence : Ana’s Story

Making Montessori Your Own : Ana's Story

In Part 5 of Making Montessori Your Own, Ana shares how she introduced the toilet to her daughter, how she transitioned from disposable diapers and guided her daughter towards independence in the toilet.


Hi Ana, share with us how you began introducing the potty to Sia. What was your routine around this?

I think the first step, even before I spoke to her about it, was really to prepare myself. When my daughter was nearing the 1 year mark, I got nudges from grandparents that we should start potty training her. But I didn’t know anything about this. So I did some homework, and discovered the “Oh crap! Potty Training” book by Jamie Glowacki. It resonated with me. Having a resource that speaks to my approach and style is my way of preparing myself, and that’s where I started on this aspect of toddlerhood as well.

For my daughter, there were two ways I helped her prepare for potty training before we even got a potty seat.

First, we spoke about pee and poop freely and often. I was conscious not to just wrap and throw away a diaper, but to (casually) talk to her and even show her what was going on. I was okay with her seeing me on the toilet and again spoke to her casually about what was going on. We tried to make  pee and poop a normal thing for her, and no big deal. 

Secondly, we helped her become independent in taking her diaper/underwear on and off on her own – so she wouldn’t be dependent on us for this when we did start potty training. We practiced lots in the months leading up to the change, and this one helped us a lot.

Some children who have been in disposables for a while become attached to these, making it harder to transition to cloth underwear. Did you experience this with your child? 

No. I think it again comes from the fact that we spoke to her about and treated ‘underwears’ as a normal everyday thing. She saw that we (the adults) wore underwear, and we spoke to her that she’s wearing a diaper because she’s a baby, and she will learn how to wear underwear when the time is right. We didn’t do this in a ‘formal talk’ but as part of normal life – for example when she saw us folding laundry. If she asked, ‘what’s this?’ we didn’t shy from using the word ‘underwear’ and explaining matter-of-factly what its use was.

I’m a big advocate for sportscasting from infant age- explaining to your kids what they’re doing, what they’re seeing, where they are, everything. I think that is what helped us here too. 

These days, we have options to ‘train’ children to use the toilet independently over the weekend, in a few days, etc. Do you feel these are helpful? 

So here’s the nuance on this one – I think it is useful for parents to set aside time and be conscious that this is a big transition for your child. Using a potty is usually the first thing we actively “teach” our children because it’s a social expectation. And so, they need us there with them for this – and so setting time aside to start on this journey is a good thing.

What doesn’t help is setting any expectations on the time it will take your child to learn this. Just as with walking or speaking or any other ability you’ve seen your child build, it takes time and there are messes along the way. Putting any unfair expectations on ourselves or our children just increases stress, and thus, might actually impede the process.

Many working parents find it increasingly difficult to help their children with independence in the toilet. As a working mamma, how did you make this work?

In hindsight, there were three things that helped me handle this one smoothly- first, by not having expectations on ‘the right time’ to potty learn, second, by educating myself on the process and feeling mentally prepared, and third, by allocating time to be at home with my daughter during the initial days.

I actually tried potty training my daughter the first time when she was 14 months old. But I gave up in a few days thinking “she’s not ready.” In hindsight, I think I was the one who wasn’t ready. I didn’t believe she could do it, and so I didn’t support her in the way she needed me to. After this attempt, I began preparing myself more earnestly, and we tried again when my daughter was 19 months old. This time, I had an innate confidence that she was ready and that helped me be more patient and confident as we worked through the zig zags that are inevitable on this journey.

IN “Oh crap!”, Jamie speaks of building blocks of potty training, of how children transition from “I peed” to “I’m peeing” to “I need to pee”. I connected this to how we scaffold skills – breaking them down into small steps – all the dots that need to connect regarding peeing in my child’s brain. So for the first couple of days, all we were looking for was a realization that “I peed” – if there was an accident, it was no big deal. We cleaned it up together. There were no rewards, and no pressure. Sure, we said, “We don’t pee in the underwear, we pee in the potty.” But it was calm and matter-of-fact.

Third, I made it a point to take up potty training when I could be home with my daughter full time. The first time we tried, it was Diwali break. And the second time, I was in between jobs. After the initial few days, she didn’t need me as much, it became a part of her routine – even the accidents and the cleaning up – but I do think setting that time aside to be at home, not going out much in those initial days reduced the pressure and sense of urgency for me and hence, for her.

Lastly, based on your experience, what are some do’s & don’ts wrt toilet independence that you would like to share with other parents? 

  • Prepare yourself, and find an approach that works for you.
  • Have no expectations on timelines and don’t give in to expectations others may have of you.
  • Talk about pee and poop freely, matter-of-factly from an early age.
  • If you can help your child learn how to take their clothes off before you begin potty training, it’ll make things much smoother ‘in the moment.’
  • Lastly, set some time aside to be there with your child as they begin this journey.

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

Why Vocabulary Matters!

Articles

What is Vocabulary?

When a child is born, we surround them with language. We offer words, “Oh, look at that bird, that is a crow.” We move on and name a few other birds – pigeon, myna, sparrow and soon, our repertoire of birds is exhausted. We now look at every other bird and say, “See, that’s a bird!” This happens to almost ALL of us. When we take a walk in our neighbourhood park with our child, how many of us stop and show our child the different trees, shrubs, plants, flowers and birds? Do we ever stop to look around or do we just group all of these into ‘nature’? For most of us, every tree is a ‘tree’ and every flower is a ‘flower.’ But for young children who rely entirely on us to understand what their world has to offer, vocabulary becomes a necessity to connect with it completely.

Vocabulary is a collection of words. It is a list of words that we associate with objects, emotions, people. All of us have a database of words which we use to communicate with one another. For some of us, this vocabulary is rich, while for some others, it is limited. Vocabulary becomes so important when we want to understand something, remember it, explore it further, build abstractions and speak about it. We never stop to think of the limitations of a scarce database of words!

Our Obsession with Letters!

There is a serious concern that haunts each of us when it comes to teaching our children the alphabets. We don’t think as much about words as we do about letters. We start with letters very early. We sing the ABC songs when our babies are barely a few months and we read them a string of alphabet books. The day they identify the letter R or the letter P, we celebrate.

The truth is letters are important. Yes, we want our children to know them because they are the building blocks of words. But, what use are letters for a young child who has no words to build them into? What will the child talk about if she does not have the experience and word association to remind herself of that experience? With young children, we need to worry more about words and less about letters. This is because, without words, letters stand as isolated entities that have no meaning! Letters become important only when our children have a well-stocked repertoire of words that they then want to pen down or read about.

The WHAT child

Children under six are explorers. In their exploration of their home, their garden, their society they come across various objects. This sparks their curiosity and they eagerly ask us, “What is this?” We have all come across that young child, constantly asking us what, what, what! They parrot this as they move from one to another, trying to understand what their world is made up of. If our own repertoire is very limited, what can we feed our children? This unique aspect of human beings – naming everything from objects to emotions is what connects us with others. Without words, without a rich vocabulary, we are limiting the child’s further exploration and understanding. We are taking away from them the joy of communicating their discoveries with others.

Why does Vocabulary Matter?

A Word for Everything 

When we say the word flower, each of us conjure up an image of a flower. The flower in my head is the poisonous oleander. This is probably because in southern India, most of us grew around oleander flowers. Poisonous as they are, oleanders are found in abundance in South India. This is the image that comes to my mind when I hear the word flower. Now, when I say the word flower, each of you reading this has your own image of a flower. The images in our minds may or may not match. This is because we each have different experiences that conjure up an image. When I become more specific and say sunflower, immediately all of us draw up an image of a sunflower. This abstract image of the sunflower in my head may still be different from yours but we are all thinking of sunflowers. We have now narrowed down to the specifics. 

A word for everything is important because every word is a tag on which that whole experience will sit. Without that specific word, a child cannot carry the experience anywhere. If our child comes to us and says, “Amma, today I saw a big flower. It was yellow.” and all we can say is, “Oh you saw a flower. Very nice!” That whole experience stops right there. Instead, we say, “Oh, what colour was it? Was it purple? Was it yellow? Did it have large yellow petals? Did you notice a brown disc in the centre? I think you saw a sunflower. How wonderful.”

Later, we can talk about sunflowers and go back to observe it with more understanding because we have given a word for that particular experience of the child. 

Ability to Notice 

This is a skill that is lacking in most of us as we now spend more time looking at our screens. At the bus stop, we hold our child’s hand and are busily looking at our screens. At the restaurant, each of us is holding a phone and scrolling down. We don’t notice what is happening around us. Let us take the same example of the walk in the park, assuming we know the names of the different trees. When we have named these for the child, we will see ourselves and the child begin to notice more details. It is like getting to know a person. We have taken the effort to learn the name of this tree and the tree then starts to come alive for us. We notice its branches, how they sway differently from the branches of another tree. How the trunk has ridges and how the roots are as thick as the branches and so on. Without that word, we don’t notice further. We just move on with our lives because we know nothing about that object. 

Wonder! 

Oh, the joy of wonder! The ability to wonder should not just be a child’s gift but an adult’s as well. How many of us wonder? Do we ever curiously look at a bird and wonder why it flies so low, why does the hummingbird jump from one flower to another so swiftly? How are big birds able to lift their bodies? Wonder is the birth of all knowledge, without wonder, we are limp! A child can carry the abstraction of the object and the word in her mind and gradually begin to wonder about it. A word is a gate pass into wondering all about an experience. It is the beginning of all the why questions that an older child comes to us with. However, without the what’s the child cannot move onto the why’s.

Fondness & Love  

This is ultimately where we want all these words and experiences to take our children. This love for what they see around them. Let us take the same example of the park. If our child accompanies us every morning and we spot different birds and rest under different trees, these experiences create joyful memories. If someone were to cut that large tree under which you spent every morning with your child, resting, singing and laughing, won’t it be like someone is snatching away a dear friend? Would we not care enough to at least see if that can be stopped? We rarely ever pause and care about these things, not because we don’t have the ability to care but because we don’t know anything about life around us to even notice what is going on. 

A word is so much more than a word. It has the potential to lay the foundation for abstract thinking, imagination and intelligence. This is not to say we invest in a pack of flash cards and just offer ‘names’ to children. With young children, we offer words with experiences so that the word can sit on top the sensory richness of that experience. This way, the child can club all that experience into a single word. So, we need to take the effort to learn the names of words ourselves so that we can pass this on to our children. It is not just about ticking off a list, “bird, tree, car.” We need to invest a little more attention and care into marrying that experience with the word.

Dr. Montessori, in her book To Educate the Human Potential, said “We shall walk together on this path of life, for all things are part of the universe and are connected with each other to form one whole unity.”

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

.     

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.

Play.jpeg

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. 

PL-energy-balls-e1590596841448.jpeg

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.