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Welcoming Spring!

Theresa

We got our first taste of Spring this week, and it was glorious! It’s amazing what a little vitamin D and hours of outdoor play can do you for the soul. I can’t help but smile at the pure joy this girl gets from the slide, even when it’s her 30th round. The sun also peeked out just in time for the Spring-themed activities I had planned for D!

Welcoming Spring - Montessori in Real Life

The best way to introduce many of the foundations of these activities (flowers, insects, vegetables) to toddlers is to first experience them in real life. So I’ve been pointing out all the things we see on our walks or at the grocery store, to get D familiar with the living things/objects we read about or see pictures/replicas of at home. It is much easier to grasp the abstract of a picture once they’ve felt, touched, and smelled the real thing. And It doesn’t hurt to have another excuse to play in the dirt and stop to smell the roses!

Welcoming Spring - Montessori in Real Life

Gardening - I do not have a green thumb but D has given me the motivation I need to try a little gardening this spring. I got her this gardening tool set (recommended by my friend at www.montessorinmotion.com) so we can work out in the yard together, and so far she loves toting it around anywhere. ;) We started by planting a few pea seeds to water and watch grow together over the next few weeks. Fingers crossed we are rewarded with at least a sprout! Because D couldn’t get enough of the watering part, I also showed her other flowers and plants she could water around the house and yard, and she has been very busy!

Welcoming Spring - Montessori in Real Life

Insect Grabbing - This is something we set up in the toddler classroom a couple of years ago, so I was excited to introduce it at home! Since D no longer needs this bottle dryer, we’ve repurposed it as grass. In the grass, I hid several of these Toob insects for her to find, grasp/pinch, and collect in a basket. She isn’t yet able to use the tongs so much prefers to use her fingers. She has definitely hit a language explosion and it’s fun to hear her say the names for the insects (“cede!”), and connect them to the ones we read about in her books!

Welcoming Spring - Montessori in Real Life

Fruit & Vegetable Matching - Toob is just the best for language and matching activities. Realistic, but small, and easy to find or make corresponding cards for. I found some inexpensive matching cards here, but it’s easy enough to take photos of each fruit/vegetable and make your own. These Toob fruits and vegetables are perfect for Spring, and learning about the various types we see and taste. As I mentioned, it is best to first introduce objects in “real life”, so before introducing these replicas and cards, I made sure D had experienced feeling and (hopefully) tasting each of these foods to get her more familiar with them. While matching the real fruits and vegetables is ideal, it isn’t always realistic when the work is sitting out on the shelf for days on end!

Welcoming Spring - Montessori in Real LIfe

Flower Arranging - This is such a simple, but lovely and meaningful, activity. Just as we enjoy having beautiful flowers on the table, so do toddlers. As the flowers begin to bloom here in the Northwest, I’ve noticed D spotting them and wanting to look at/touch/smell them too. Instead of saying ‘no’ every time she wanted to touch the beautiful arrangements, it made sense to give her her own flowers to explore and enjoy. Giving her the opportunity to pour a bit of water in a vase, place a few flowers in it, and bring to her own table gives her a piece of that beauty indoors, and makes her feel respected and important too. Older toddlers can expand on this by trimming the stems and creating more elaborate arrangements!

Welcoming Spring - Montessori in Real LIfe

Springtime Books - As always, D loves her books! Here are her favorites this season:

Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert - This board book complements our vegetable & fruit matching activity well, and D enjoys mimicking all the different vegetables and fruits on each page. Maybe this spring at the Farmer’s Market, D will know more about the produce than me!

Spring Babies by Kathryn O. Galbraith - This is a very cute board book series, with a book for every season. With simple words and actions, D loves to “play” along and look at the friendly, diverse faces on each page.

The Little Gardener by Jen Gerardi - This is a sweet story about how to tend to a garden with nice, simple rhymes. Dakota loves opening the peek-a-boo flaps on each page too!

Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert - As always, this board book by Lois Ehlert is both beautiful and educational. We learn the process of planting a seed and watching it grow, and are rewarded with a rainbow of flowers and pages at the end!

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner - After getting her winter book, Over and Under the Snow, we had to check out the Spring one too. Though it’s not a board book, it’s D’s favorite, and she’s pretty careful with the pages. It features beautiful pictures and details about the various forms of insects, plants, and other creatures under and over the dirt.

Welcome Spring - Montessori in Real Life

Happy Spring!


A Montessori Toddler Dressing Area

Theresa

Who else did some re-organizing and purging after watching Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix this year? I’m pretty sure most moms I know have “Marie Kondo’d” some part of their home in the past couple of months. She is so inspiring! My latest project has been D’s closet, which was more challenging than organizing my own, but also a lot more fun. It has also been the perfect chance to create a space for her clothes that is accessible to her.

A Montessori Toddler Dressing Area - Montessori in Real Life

I’ve been wanting to give D more opportunities to pick out clothes and dress herself, and creating this space in her closet is one of the best ways to do so. Because her room doesn’t have a lot of extra space, I designed this dressing area to fit all in her small closet. It’s nice for a young toddler too because although she can access her clothes when it’s time to dress or put clothes away, I can close the closet doors when she’s sleeping or playing in her room. (If I stored her clothing rack in her room outside her closet, I would have minimized her options even more, and stored the rest in the closet.)

A Montessori Toddler Dressing Area - Montessori in Real Life

Here is our current set-up:

Clothing Rack - I have yet to find the perfect option for this, but for now, this will do. She can’t quite reach the hangers but is getting close, and can still point to what shirt or dress she wants. I like that it is quite affordable, compact, and has adjustable shelves.

Step stool - I set this up for her to sit on and practice dressing. She can access her socks and shoes on the bottom shelf to practice putting on/taking off. (We also keep a pair of socks and outdoor shoes by the front door.)

A Montessori Toddler Dressing Area - Montessori in Real Life

Mirror - This is D’s favorite part of her dressing area. I positioned it right next to the step stool so she can watch herself practice dressing or helping me get her dressed. The mirror also helps her develop body awareness and recognition.

A Montessori Toddler Dressing Area - Montessori in Real Life

Small storage bins - This pack of three fabric bins are perfect for storing her pants and pajamas. I try not to keep too many options in these bins at once, because it is that much more to clean up if she wants to pull them out! I encourage her to choose one at a time, but toddlers love to explore their options. ;)

Laundry Bin - Placing this next to her clothing racks gives her a place to put away her own dirty clothes. It also helps her understand the full sequence of getting dressed, and of how laundry works!

A Montessori Toddler Dressing Area - Montessori in Real Life

Overall, giving her this opportunity to play a bigger role in dressing boosts her confidence and sense of accomplishment. For many toddlers, transitions (e.g. getting ready for the day, starting naptime routines…) can be tough, and letting them help get dressed or put clothes away makes it much calmer and more satisfying for them. This is definitely true for D! My hope is that having this dressing area gives her the sense of autonomy, order, and satisfaction she needs, and helps her develop the fine motor and coordination skills to dress herself independently in the coming months!

PS. You can see the rest of her room in this blog post about our floor bed. :)

A Montessori Toddler Dressing Area - Montessori in Real Life



Introducing New Materials to a Toddler

Theresa

Just as important as the materials in the Montessori environment is the way in which we present those materials to the child. In an early childhood classroom (age 3-6), Montessori guides use a more formal method for teaching, called the Three Period Lesson. Simone Davies has a great explanation of that in her blog post here. As she explains, we often modify the three period lesson to a two period lesson for toddlers. In introducing new objects and vocabulary to D, I first label each object clearly and slowly. I then ask her (in various ways) to find each object (e.g. Can you put the eagle in the basket?” or “Where is the eagle’s beak?”) Unless I’m sure she knows the word, I do not ask her “What is this?” because it is often difficult and intimidating for newly verbal toddlers to answer, and makes the activity less enjoyable for her. I discuss other language activities in my previous blog post as well.

Giving Lessons - Montessori in Real Life

The three (or two) part lesson works well for some types of materials, such as labeling these forest animal figurines, but not others. With a toddler, lessons often aren’t formal, because they aren’t sitting still for long, and are usually eager to jump into trying it themselves. That being said, there are some general steps I take in introducing a new material, that seem to be fairly consistent across type of activity…

Giving Lessons - Montessori in Real Life
  1. Set up the new material on a tray or in a basket so that it’s inviting and “incomplete”, e.g. puzzle pieces are out of puzzle or nesting cups are unstacked. (Or, if practical life, set up at her small kitchen or weaning table).

  2. Bring D’s attention to the material. If she’s interested, I slowly model how it works/how it is to be used. (If she’s not interested, I wait for another time.) I use minimal words, so that the focus is on my hands, not my voice. It is difficult for toddlers to process both at the same time. For example, with the shape/color sorter above, I might point to the cylinder in my hand, label it “cylinder”, point to the cylinder inset, trace my hand around the circle of the cylinder and inset, and then slowly place the cylinder in the inset. I might say “The cylinder fits!” I would repeat with the remaining shapes and colors. Now that she can match the shapes, I might point out the size/color difference as well, but there’s no rush on this!

  3. I “undo” my work, again slowly, placing each piece back on the tray or in the bakset. I might label with minimal words again, such as noting the color, shape, or a simple action “I put the triangular prism back in the basket!”

  4. Once the material is set-up on the tray or in the basket, I give it to D to use and explore. At this point, I don’t interrupt. Sometimes she imitates my actions and is engrossed in the activity, and other times she uses the material in her own way, which is just fine. I let her play with it as she wishes to.

  5. If she attempts to imitate the actions she saw me do, but struggles, I wait, and often she self-corrects (see note below regarding control of error). Or, if she signals that she wants help, I do show her again, or help guide her. I only intervene if she asks for me to though. I try to encourage her to figure things out for herself, so that she doesn’t come to rely on me doing things for her. Sometimes this means keeping a little distance while she works. This provides her the opportunity to feel confident and capable in her own abilities.

  6. If she completes the work, but mixes pieces up or does it in the wrong order, I don’t fix it for her (unless she asks, as noted above). I let her “complete” the work as she sees fit. When she’s done playing with it, I might model it again correctly another time.

Giving Lessons - Montessori in Real Life

Note: many traditional Montessori materials include a built-in control of error. This means that the materials allow the child to self-correct because they provide instant feedback about whether it is completed correctly or not. A classic example is the knobbed cylinders. If a child places one cylinder in the incorrect place, he will not be able to fit all the cylinders into the block. This will allow him to re-arrange the cylinders in the block to ensure they all fit. This opportunity for self-correction provides toddlers (and older children) independence, curiosity, satisfaction, and confidence in their work.

Giving Lessons - Montessori in Real Life

The Ups and Downs of Potty Learning

Theresa

Spoiler alert: If you are hoping for how to potty train in 2 days, this is not the post for you! ;) We began “potty learning” when D was about 14 months old. You can read about how we began in this previous blog post, which helps explain the why’s and how’s of our method. Since then, I’ve been getting questions about how it’s going now, especially given that she is wearing underwear in many of our photos! Here is our potty learning update, at 19 months.

Potty Learning - Montessori in Real Life

Though we have a potty set up for her in two bathrooms (one upstairs and one downstairs), she primarily uses the one downstairs, because that’s where she plays and we spend most of our time. It is a small half bath, but we’ve made it work! It’s worth it to squeeze the potty in this bathroom rather than just place it in the hallway, because it helps to familiarize her with the bathroom as the appropriate place to go. The potty we use is this one by Joovy Loo but many love the Baby Bjorn one, which is a little lower to the ground and is narrower.

Toilet Learning - Montessori in Real Life

Since we began 5 months ago, we’ve had many ups and downs, especially during sickness, travel, or developmental leaps. Luckily, having spent countless hours in the bathroom with toddlers as a teacher, this didn’t come as a surprise to me. Especially when starting at a young age, getting familiar with using the potty takes time, practice, and backwards steps (hopefully along with a few more forward steps). Despite what potty training books say, it doesn’t usually happen over the course of a weekend. The good news is it also doesn’t have to require bribes, punishments, or being stuck in the house for three days.

Potty Learning - Montessori in Real Life

Over the past few months, D has been wearing underwear more and more. She exclusively wears underwear at home, except when she sleeps. Now that she’s able to control her bladder more, she also wears underwear for short outings. We skipped pull-ups all together, because I find they are a confusing mix of diapers and underwear. The big benefit of underwear over diapers/pull-ups is that toddlers can feel that they are wet, and typically, they don’t want to be. Our favorite underwear are these ones made by Kickee Pants. They are pricey but hold up well, even being washed over and over again! We also have a set of these thicker undies, but they don’t fit as well and are possibly too absorbent. At home, she often wears these without pants because it makes it easier for her to help take them off and sit independently/quickly.

Potty Learning - Montessori in Real Life

While we started off by inviting D to use the potty, we’ve now moved on to posing it as a statement. “It’s time to sit on the potty now”. This works best once it becomes a routine. She knows that after mealtimes, before bed, and before outings, she sits on the potty. She doesn’t typically resist those times. However, if I ask her to sit on the potty before eating, or right after nap, she resists, because it’s not part of her routine (yet). She doesn’t have to sit for long, but she knows she has to try. Other times, she’ll tell me she has to go, or walk to the bathroom herself. I can’t count on that consistently yet though!

Potty Learning - Montessori in Real Life

Our best friend in all this is books. D gets to pick her book of choice before walking to the bathroom. We also keep a few books for her to choose from in a basket there. It’s a good excuse for me to stop what I’m doing and simply read with her. She always points out when she’s made a pee or poo on the potty and then we dump it into the toilet. She gets to pick out a pair of underwear (I keep 2 or 3 choices out at a time), and I help her get them back on. Then we wash our hands together. She is getting more independent in this process each week.

Potty Learning - Montessori in Real Life

When she does have an accident, we go to the bathroom, take off her wet underwear, and if just a little wet, she puts them in a small laundry bin. Then she sits and we start the process of sitting/re-dressing. I don’t make a big deal of it if she is wet, and I definitely don’t make her feel bad about it. I say “It looks like you are wet. Let’s go to the bathroom and get dry.” She usually points out that she’s peeing or she’s wet before I say anything, and wants to get dry underwear on.

Next up is tackling our longer adventures away from home. Though she currently still wears diapers for those outings, I am finding recently that she can stay dry longer. To transition away from diapers, I’m planning to buy a few of these underwear covers, so that she can still feel wet, while not soaking through her clothes. I also plan to keep a potty in the back of our car. Updates to come, hopefully before this next baby arrives, and we will most definitely hit another regression! ;)

Potty Learning - Montessori in Real Life

Our Montessori Shelf at 19 Months

Theresa

How has D already crossed over the one and a half year mark? I had been doing a post each month with her favorite materials, but with such a focus on practical life these past few months, it’s been a little while. Though Dakota still spends a lot of time with practical life, art, and sensory activities, she has also been very engaged at her shelf, with her language and fine motor activities. Without further ado, here are her favorite materials on her shelf right now:

Baby and Body Part Matching - Another mom blogger, Angela of Momtessori Life, created these lovely diverse body part cards that you can download for free online. Dakota loves pointing to and naming both her matching body part, and her little baby’s parts too.

Our Shelf at 19 Months - Montessori in Real Life

Baby Care Basket - As D is big into her baby dolls right now, this is another activity along that theme. I was inspired by fellow blogger Nicole’s post here. It is perfect for preparing for baby brother on the way! It also helps with her new interest in getting dressed. With the baby doll, I’ve included a newborn baby hat, socks, a small cloth, a brush, and a swaddle blanket in the basket.

Our Shelf at 19 Months - Montessori in Real Life

Mama and Baby Animal Matching - Now that D has mastered matching identical objects, she is having fun matching similar objects. Here she can match adult and baby farm animals. For these, I used various Schleich animals (love their detail), but you can use any type of animal figurines. You can read more about how we began language like this in my previous blog post.

Our Shelf at 19 Months

Palette of Pegs - This is one of my favorite materials to grow with D. We started with just the pegs, and have now added on the rings. There is something so satisfying about putting the pegs in the holes, and the rings on the pegs. In a few months, she’ll likely start matching colors, and eventually, creating patterns with this palette!

Our Shelf at 19 Months - Montessori in Real Life

Twist & Turn Blocks - This is a fun and colorful version of nuts and bolts. They can be used in various ways, but since Dakota is just getting the hang of it, I leave the blocks barely twisted on the bolt, so that she can master untwisting and separating. Once she masters that, I can make it more challenging by keeping the pieces separate for her to twist together.

Our Shelf at 19 Months - Montessori in Real Life

Valentine’s Activities - She is still really enjoying her Valentine’s day themed activities, which are pictured on the shelf. You can read more about those in my last blog post!

Our Shelf at 19 Months - Montessori in Real Life

Monti Kids - These next three materials are a few from our Monti Kids subscription box. Each of the six beautiful materials in this box provide D with the opportunity for intentional play and concentration. As a former teacher, I so appreciate the quality and authenticity of these Montessori materials. Each box comes with detailed video tutorials and step-by-step instructions, so you can be your own child's Montessori guide. For $30 off your first order, go to their website and use code REALLIFE at checkout.

Object to Card matching - This language set includes 6 wooden figurines of community helpers, with wooden cards to match. The figurines are not an exact match (e.g. one firefighter has a yellow suit and the other is black), so it makes it an extra challenge for toddlers! Monti Kids provides detailed instructions on how to first present the figurines, and then add in the cards.

Our Shelf at 19 Months - Montessori in Real Life

Motor Planning Box - This is both a gross and fine motor effort work! D has to squeeze the large knit ball with both hands to get it to fit into the hole. For now, she still needs my help squeezing it in. Then she opens up the drawer, finds the ball, shuts the drawer (needs my reminding), and repeats. It takes planning, understanding sequences, and quite a bit of effort! Love the challenge here.

Our Shelf at 19 Months - Montessori in Real Life

Shapes on Pegs - D really enjoys this one on repeat. For now, she mostly puts the shapes on in a random order, but eventually she will be sorting by shape! I appreciate how the color and number are constants, so she can isolate shape as the variable.

























A Montessori Toddler Valentine's Day

Theresa

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner! It’s funny how Valentine’s Day changes through the decades. It starts as trading valentines with friends, then becomes date nights out with champagne, and now we’re at date nights in with a child and a bump. ;) I wouldn’t have it any other way though. I get to celebrate love x3 this year.

A new tradition I’m happy to start this year is Valentine’s themed activities for D. With a busy toddler, there is always a need for some DIY on my part to keep her entertained! This holiday just gives me an excuse to make these activity trays a little extra sweet. I hope one or two of these inspire you to spread the love too!

Toddler Valentine's Day - Montessori in Real LIfe

PS. If you are looking for small trays such as the ones displayed here, my go-to site is Montessori Services. Check out the options here. I find most of my larger wooden Trays on Amazon, such as these.

Valentine “mailbox”

This is D’s favorite of her new trays. I found this Valentine’s gift box for $1 at Target last year, and I’m repurposing it as a mailbox. Using an exacto-knife, I cut a small slit in the top of the box. After searching around the house for something to put in the “maibox” I found the letter tiles from Bananagrams (Scrabble tiles would also work). They fit perfectly and D loves the feel of them. They are just the right level of challenge for her to fit into the small slot in her box. When she’s done inserting her “mail”, she can then open up the box and start again.

Toddler Valentine's Day - Montessori in Real Life

Heart stickers

D, like many toddlers, is big into stickers right now. I was excited to find this giant roll of heart stickers on Amazon so she can stick to her heart’s content. To set this up, I place about 6-8 stickers on the tray at once, with a small piece of paper. If your toddler is just starting out with stickers, I find it easiest to fold back the paper backing a bit so that the sticker is easier to peel off. She loves filling the page, and beyond!

Toddler Valentine's Day - Montessori in Real Life

Pom-pom transferring

I found these adorable ceramic heart bowls at the grocery store (you could probably find similar ones at Target!) and bought them before I knew how I’d use them. Then I found these assorted pom poms on Amazon and decided to make a little transferring tray. I introduced these little tongs for D, and she is starting to get the hang of how to pinch them to pick something up. Sometimes she just pours the pompoms back and forth or uses her pincer grasp - all good options!

Toddler Valentine's Day - Montessori in Real Life

Play dough stamping

My go-to play dough recipe is this one, though you can definitely find hundreds of others on Pinterest. I can make it in less than 5 minutes and it makes a large amount that saves well in a ziplock bag. Though D enjoys play dough on its own, she is especially enjoying a couple of tools to use with it, such as these mini rolling pins and heart cookie cutters (well technically my favorite is a heart ravioli stamp!).

Toddler Valentine's Day - Montessori in Real Life

Books

We also have a few favorite “Valentine’s Day” themed books right now. Each of these is simple and sweet enough for your toddler to sit through, and (most) are based in reality. My favorite right now is How do You Say I Love You, which is a story of how to say “I love you” in many different languages! Counting Kisses is D’s favorite because I get to kiss her toes up to her head. :)

Toddler Valentine's Day - Montessori in Real LIfe

You are My Heart by Marianne Richmond

Love by Emma Dodd

How Do You Say I Love You? by Hannah Eliot

Counting Kisses by Karen Katz

Snuggle Puppy! by Sandra Boynton

A Functional Toddler Kitchen

Theresa

There are mixed opinions on whether or not a play kitchen belongs in a Montessori environment, though most lean towards no. In most traditional Montessori classrooms, play kitchens are replaced with purposeful work, e.g. preparing and cooking real food, and cleaning up real dishes. Children not only get more out of this experience, but they typically prefer it. I know that Dakota, at 18 months, prefers practical life work more than anything else. Her favorite activities are the ones she sees us doing every day: putting dishes away, washing hands (D could do this all day), pouring water, helping prepare food, and cleaning up (sometimes making a mess just to do so). I can clearly see D’s focus, satisfaction, and pride as she does these tasks.

A Functional Toddler Kitchen - www.montessoriinreallife.com

To best serve D’s toddler needs, I been making the IKEA play kitchen more and more functional for her. I started by removing the parts that weren’t serving any purpose: the microwave, the faucet that didn’t produce water, and the light-up stovetop. This past weekend, I replaced the faucet with this glass water dispenser that is easy to turn on and off, and can produce a very slow flow of water. She can fill the sink with water, pump a little soap from this soap dispenser, and wash her hands or dishes. It took a few tries to find a water dispenser that fit this kitchen and didn’t arrive broken(!), but we are so happy with the final result. Though she still needs some assistance turning the water on and pumping out soap, she’s not far from doing all this on her own.

A Functional Toddler Kitchen - www.montessoriinreallife.com

I also replaced the stovetop with a cutting board where she can practice chopping real fruit or vegetables. After snacks or meals, I lay out a towel over it for her to place her dishes. For now, this cutting board is most often used to set out snack for her to serve herself. I place a pre-portioned amount for her to scoop or transfer to her plate. Though she likes to fill her water glass from the water dispenser now, she also still pours water and milk from a small pitcher into her glass. She can then carry her plate and glass to her small table to eat. Dakota loves this simple act of independence!

A Functional Toddler Kitchen - www.montessoriinreallife.com

The other big difference between this functional kitchen and a play kitchen is the cupboard. Instead of pretend food and pots/pans, I filled the cupboards with utensils, dishes, and cleaning supplies she uses on a daily basis. On the left she has her spoons and forks, glasses, pitchers, plates, and bowls. I only put a couple of each item out, so that if she wants to “reorganize”, it’s not so overwhelming and doesn’t create a big mess. She likes to help unload the dishwasher each morning and put her dishes back in their place, or at least in the vicinity. ;)

A Functional Toddler Kitchen - www.montessoriinreallife.com

On the right she has larger utensils for helping to bake or prepare snack, towels for wiping up spills, and a small dustpan for cleaning up crumbs and small pieces of food. Each one of these items doesn’t get used every day, but they all serve a function and have been used with purpose. To the left of the kitchen she has a dustpan and brush, a laundry bin for dirty/wet towels, and a compost bin to put her scraps after eating. (The compost we only put out at mealtimes thanks to our always-hungry vizsla!) Lastly, above the kitchen I keep a little wall art for her to look at, and now practice labeling.

A Functional Toddler Kitchen - www.montessoriinreallife.com

Note on the water: Though not strictly “practical”, I do let D play at the kitchen sink, even when it’s not to wash or drink water. She is clearly getting a positive sensory experience by running her hands through water, and concentration from pouring water back and forth from her pitchers. Although I can’t let her stand at the sink with running water for too long due to wastefulness, I do give her time for this each day! One day very soon, it will lose it's magic, and she will simply use water for its intended purpose, so I’m embracing her love of water for now. :)

Our Daily Routine

Theresa

I often get asked about our daily routine, or rhythm. As a new parent, when D was nursing around the clock, I found it difficult to fall into a routine. But now, with an 18-month-old, I find we are all happier when we have consistency throughout our day, and know what’s (generally) coming next. Though we never stick to the exact same schedule each day, we definitely follow similar patterns.

Here is a sneak peek into our typical weekday:

Daily Montessori Routine at 18 Months - Montessori in Real Life

6:30 - 7:00am - This is when D wakes up. I typically get up around 6am and try to sneak in a shower and make some coffee before the day begins. Upon waking, she grabs a book from beside her bed and “reads” on her own until I greet her. We read a book together in her bed, do a diaper change, and head downstairs.

7:00 - 8:30am - D is always hungry right away, so we either eat what I’ve already prepped or she helps me make something simple, like cereal or oatmeal. We eat breakfast together at the kitchen table. She loves to drink her milk out of a cup with handles that looks like my coffee. “Cheers!” ;)

Our Daily Routine - Montessori in Real Life

After breakfast, I have her use the potty, and I do dishes/tidy/get our bag packed while she plays for a bit. By the time we are ready to go, she usually already needs a snack/breakfast #2! Assuming we have time, she sets her place at her small table and eats it there.

8:30 - 11:30am - Almost every morning we leave the house for some kind of outing, usually lasting an hour or two. A few mornings a week she has a class. Right now she’s part of a Montessori parent-child class, dance class, and swim class (with dad) once a week. The other mornings we typically go on a walk, to the park/library/grocery store, or have a playdate. Some days we venture out to the kids museum or aquarium!

With her friend Marley ( Montessori in Motion )

With her friend Marley (Montessori in Motion)

When we get back home (or before, depending on activity), she has at least an hour of free time to play/work. I let her take the lead here, choosing her own activities. We do a mix of playing together (she often wants to read books) and playing on her own, but I encourage independent play, even if that means she’s packing and  unpacking tupperware. :) Sometimes I can get some of my own work done during this time.

Note: When we are home in the morning, she wears underwear. She isn’t completely consistent in using the potty but is getting there. We still put diapers on when we go out. We are also working on her putting on and taking off her own shoes before and after outings!

Our Daily Routine - Montessori in Real Life

11:30am - 12:00pm - This is typically when we eat lunch together. . I’ve noticed she doesn’t eat as much at lunch as other meals, so I find it easier to give her small healthy meals throughout the day. She’s usually just ready for nap by this time.

12:00 - 3:00pm - Before nap time, she sits on the potty, and then we go to her room and read a book and sing a couple of songs together. I put her down with a couple of books and she happily puts herself to sleep. She usually sleeps about 2.5 hours, but every day is a little different!

I get most of my work done when she naps. That’s when I blog, respond to emails, switch out materials on her shelf, and craft. It’s also when I can do a little meal prep and cleaning. I’ll admit now that I’m pregnant I occasionally nap too. ;)

Our Daily Routine - Montessori in Real Life

3:00 - 5:00pm - Once she wakes up, it’s snack time (often her making avocado toast) and then it’s another hour or more of free time for D. She’s especially focused on her work if I’ve switched out a few things on her shelves during nap. Often this is when she wants to do some sensory or art play too. If the weather is decent, she likes to lead a little walk around the neighborhood, stopping at every puddle along the way. I’m also starting to find ways for her to help me prep dinner.

5:30 - 6:00pm - This is typically D’s dinnertime. I sit with her at the kitchen table and eat something small too. If my husband is home in time, he joins us. D is quite a slow eater, so we usually sit together for a good amount of time. It’s such a good opportunity to spend quality family time together, without distractions.

6:30 - 7:00pm - We start our bedtime routine around 6:30, sometimes later depending on her nap. This usually starts with potty and then a bath. Then we brush her teeth, change into PJs, read a few books, sing a song, and kiss goodnight. She is usually pretty wiped and asleep by 7:30pm at the latest.

Our Daily Routine - Montessori in Real Life

7:00 - 10:00pm -  My husband and I usually eat our real dinner together after D goes to sleep. As she gets older and stays up a little later we’ll probably change this and all eat together. But for now, it’s nice to eat one meal in peace and catch up on our day sans toddler. Then it’s time to relax, often with an episode of the Great British Baking Show before bed. ;)

Some days are quite different, but that is our typical weekday routine. What does your routine look like?

Introducing Themes - Arctic/Antarctic Animals

Theresa

One of my favorite parts of being a preschool teacher was coming up with activities for our monthly themes. In our Montessori school, we didn’t go overboard with themes, but we’d incorporate a few special activities to fit with the seasons or holidays. Now that Dakota is 18 months, and given that it’s the start of a new year, it’s something I’m going to try to incorporate. We are starting with identifying animals that live in the icy polar regions. Since Dakota is still so young, we aren’t yet going into specifics of Arctic vs. Antarctic. ;)

Arctic animal matching

Dakota’s favorite activity is her Arctic animal matching. Now that she’s mastered exact object to picture matching, here I introduced similar object to picture matching. As you can see the figurine isn’t a perfect match to the animal photo. You can read more on this type of language work in my previous blog post on language learning. The arctic animals are a Safari Ltd TOOB set and I purchased these arctic animal photo cards for $1 from Teachers Pay Teachers. (To print, I scaled each photo flash card down to 30%, printed on cardstock, and laminated.) Dakota not only matches the animals to these photo cards but also likes to bring them over to her winter animal books to find matches. TOOB animals have so many uses!

Another Antarctic-themed activity we’ve incorporated at home is our snow sensory play. I filled our sensory bin with white kinetic sand, snowflake confetti, and large penguin figurines. She loves to scoop the “snow” with her hands or small spoons, fill her wooden molds, and move the penguins around the bin. (Unfortunately I do not have link to wooden molds - they have been discontinued on Amazon.) If you haven’t tried kinetic sand before, it’s such a great sensory experience for toddlers, lasts a long time, and is easy to clean up. I would avoid using this around carpet though!

Snow sensory play

Lastly, we of course relied heavily on books for this theme, and winter season in general. She and I have started going to the local library every other week which has definitely helped us with our winter collection! Below you’ll see a list of our favorites. Dakota has been very excited to move onto some larger and lengthier books, though we save the library and hardback books for reading together, and board books for her baskets and shelves.

Winter reading

Winter Books:

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats - a classic, award-winning story about the simple joys of a first snowfall

Arctic Animals by Tad Carpenter - a fun guessing game of who’s hiding, and a few fun facts about each animal!

Over and Under by Kate Messner - this is my favorite new winter book, with a beautiful story of skiing over the snow and thinking about which animals are hiding beneath

Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson - a sweet fictional story about little animals throwing a party in bear’s den while he hibernates

The Mitten by Jan Brett - another classic that probably doesn’t need explaining!

Sweetest Kulu by Celina Kalluk - a beautiful poem about the gifts this new baby will receive from each arctic animal

Brrr! Brr! by Sebastien Braun - another lift the flap board book, with animal noises!

Winter Babies by Kathryn Galbraith - simple but lovely, featuring diverse faces and actions to repeat

Under my Hood I Have a Hat by Karla Kuskin - perfect for discussing the many layers we wear when we step outside in wintertime!

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Tricky Toddler Behaviors

Theresa

I put some feelers out on Instagram to get an idea of what you all would like to read about, and many of you mentioned tricky toddler issues. I feel ya! We are definitely dealing with toddler ‘tude these days, and I know there’s only more to come. I wish I had all the answers myself, but I think everyone struggles with this one. I know it’s much more difficult for me to deal with D’s tantrums than it was with other people’s toddlers as a teacher! But I do appreciate having the Montessori background to reference during these times.

When D was just entering toddlerhood, I wrote this post, so you may find some helpful tips there, as well as our general positive discipline approach. Six months later, some issues have resolved and mostly they have just changed. So I’ll address a few of the tricky behaviors we are seeing at home, and how we are approaching them. In addition to my Montessori education, my husband and I try to follow ideas from the book Positive Discipline: The First Three Years, as well as Janet Lansbury’s work, especially No Bad Kids.

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Clinginess and Separation Anxiety

D has always been a mama’s girl and loves physical contact, but starting around 15 months, she developed major separation anxiety and clinginess, even sometimes at home. While I know this is developmentally normal (it typically peaks between 14-20 months), and I’ll miss these snuggly days when she’s older, it can still be difficult to deal with. I know I need my own space sometimes for me to stay sane as a stay-at-home mom, and I’m sure many of you do too! I also think it’s important for her to have confidence in her own abilities, without always holding my hand.

At home, I find the best way to encourage her independence is to set up her environment in a way that promotes autonomy. For example, her toys organized and accessible, her dishes in her small kitchen, and water for her to pour and drink independently. That way, she learns she can take care of (some) of her needs without my help. Even so, sometimes she wants to cling to me at home. When she does this, and I’m available, I give her the one-on-one time she craves. We spend 15 minutes or so reading and snuggling or prepping food together. Then I transition to separate time.

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Often after that, she’s more open to playing by herself for a bit (sometimes that means stacking tupperware from the kitchen drawer rather than using toys from her shelf which is fine by me!). I make it clear that I have to work/tidy/sweep for a few minutes and that I’m not available to play right now. She isn’t always happy about this at first, but usually once I start the task I’m doing, and she can still see me, she finds something to occupy herself. (Note: sitting on the couch on my phone does not count!) I don’t stop her from standing close to me and observing, or standing at the kitchen helper when I’m cooking, but I do set limits on picking her up or her being on me during these moments, because sometimes I just can’t! I think it’s important for her to learn this boundary, and that sometimes we have to wait a little bit for what we really want.

As for separation anxiety when we are out or when I am leaving, this is just a part of who she is right now. I know D is usually going to have a hard time going somewhere new and/or watching me leave, and that’s okay. I accept her feelings and let her know I see them. I try to make her more comfortable with new people and situations by talking her through it and staying together as she eases in. But when it’s time for me to leave or step away, I confidently and concisely tell her so, and that I’ll be back soon and that I love her. Although it may seem better to sneak away when they are distracted, I know from working with toddlers in a classroom that it only confuses and upsets them more more. So I always say goodbye and kiss her and she often cries out, but stops once I’m out the door. Most importantly she sees over and over that I always come back. That is what really matters! This phase won’t last forever.

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Throwing at Mealtimes

This is an issue that seems to come and go throughout the infant and toddler years. Over the past month, D has gotten in a habit of throwing her glass (or similar) off the table. It started on vacation, when her routine and environment were all mixed up, and unfortunately it’s continued since we’ve been home. My knee-jerk reaction is often to react with emotion, but it helps me to remember that it’s that exact reaction she’s hoping for, and isn’t helpful right now.

The best way I’ve found to stop the throwing is to catch it before it happens. Sitting down with her at meals helps me to pay attention to signs that she’s all done, not hungry, and possibly ready to throw. Sometimes just giving her that focused attention can prevent attention-seeking behavior, sometimes not. When I see signs she’s done eating I ask her if she’s all done and often she signs it back to me. If she says or signs “more”, I give it a little more time but keep an eye on it because sometimes she still throws. If I can, I stop the throw with my hand and say “I can’t let you throw your glass” before it happens, but I’m not always fast enough.

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If she does throw her glass, I tell her “It looks like you’re all done. You can tell me “all done”. We don’t throw glasses. Let’s clean it up”. I take her out of her chair and have her help me wipe up the water or pick up the glass. I try to keep my reaction neutral rather than scolding. I want her to simply understand that there are natural consequences to throwing, e.g. mealtime is over and she will need to clean it up, I tell her we can try again later. Sometimes she gets pretty upset when I remove her from the chair, but this passes fairly quickly too. I let her snuggle if she needs comfort and we usually are able to move on without too much drama. The more consistent we are, the better. Toddlers thrive on us being firm, consistent, and loving. Not that it’s always easy!

Note: throwing is a normal toddler behavior, and throwing can be useful for getting out pent up energy. It can help to redirect throwing to things like balls in a basket at home!

Big Emotions & Tantrums

We all know that toddlers have big emotions and strong opinions. I like the quote from Positive Discipline (linked above): “The very same qualities we want for our children as adults can make life challenging when they’re young.” So true! The irony is depicted well in the cartoon below. We don’t need to take the passion out of the toddler, we just have to help them learn how to work through it in an appropriate way. I myself feel big emotions sometimes, and I want D to be able to feel all her feels too, from the high highs to low lows.

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The low lows can be really hard though. I know Dakota often melts down when she’s overtired, hungry, or hasn’t had a chance to exert her independence in a while. There is almost no way I will budge her nap or bedtime because of this. Yet even in seemingly perfect circumstances, even when choices have been offered and tummies have been fed, tantrums happen. Often when she doesn’t get something she wants. When they happen at our house, I first give D a chance to feel the feels. (If this is out of the house, I would probably remove her from public situation first). I stay close by and help her identify her emotions, e.g. “I see you are frustrated/sad/angry because….” Sometimes we don’t know why they are upset and we don’t have to make up a reason for them. I don’t say much while she’s upset, but I offer her a hug when she’s ready for it.

Once she’s calmed down, we might read a book or play together for a bit. Importantly, I don’t give in to whatever it was she wanted when the tantrum began. Limits are important for toddlers. When she’s a bit older, I’ll discuss more with her, but at this age, too many words can be confusing, especially after the event has passed. I do try to teach her strategies to deal with feeling upset. One of my favorite board books for toddlers is called Calm Down Time, so we read that together sometimes. Yoga is another great way to provide calm-down strategies for toddlers! It has also helped to give her words/signs to use when she needs something such as “help”, “eat”, “up”, and “please”.

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Those are some of our tricky toddler behaviors and strategies for dealing with them! I am sure some of you have similar issues and others of you have entirely different ones. Feel free to reach out! I’d love to do a part II. ;)

What is Montessori for Babies and Toddlers?

Theresa

When people ask me to briefly describe Montessori and why it’s different, I usually stumble over my words. My husband says I need an “elevator pitch”, and I’ve yet to make one. If anyone has a great one, let me know! What I can do is try to describe Montessori in bullet points. I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the Montessori philosophy in general, and suggestions for further reading on the topic. I hope that by describing a few of the key elements of Montessori and including some resources below, I can provide parents new to Montessori a little more insight. And please let me know what else you’d like to know in the comments section! I also always like to add that while I am obviously a big proponent of Montessori, do what works for your family, and remember that there is no perfect way, or perfect parent!

6 Key Elements of Montessori Philosophy for infants and toddlers:

Respect for the child: This is the most important element of Montessori, and parenting in general. Respect for infants and toddlers comes in many forms in a Montessori environment. It includes a beautiful and inviting space for our child to play in. It also includes making children feel like important and contributing members of our family or community. Respecting the child means speaking and interacting with our child in a gentle and loving way, and in words they can relate to. Lastly, this includes respecting each child’s individual development and pace/style of learning, whether at home or at school.

Montessori in Real Life

Observation: Taking the time to observe each child allows us to assess their individual needs and interests - social, emotional, and developmental. These observations give us the information we need to prepare a proper environment for each child's development, and to rotate materials and activities as they grow and their interests change. We might notice that our baby is constantly making animal sounds, especially the dog and cat. To take advantage and expand this interest, we can find materials such as wooden puzzles, books, and animal figurines of pets for our baby to explore. Observation can especially come in handy when our child is “acting out”. For example, if our toddler is throwing all their toys off their shelf, that tells us that 1. we might want to simplify their shelf or reduce the number of materials and 2. give them other opportunities to throw, such as balls into a laundry basket.

Montessori in Real Life

Preparation of environment: Maria Montessori said, “the greatest sign of success for a teacher... is to be able to say, 'The children are now working as if I did not exist”. Instead of the teacher or parent at the center, Montessori describes a triangular interaction among the adult, child, and environment. The adult is the connection between the child and their environment, inviting them in. This is in part why teachers are called guides in Montessori. With a prepared environment and carefully chosen materials, the child can explore their environment (at home or school) and use their materials with minimal assistance. This kind of environment promotes curiosity, concentration, and independence early on. 

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Order: In a world that is so big and often overwhelming, infants and toddlers are usually happiest when they have order and structure to their day. This includes organization of their environment and routines. In Montessori classrooms and homes, all of the children’s materials have a specific place in their environment, and there is a consistent daily schedule. The idea is that infants and children come to know what to expect and feel more secure with that knowledge. With that security, the child has the confidence to seek out independent play and take on new challenges. Of course we can’t always keep our environment perfectly organized or our days structured (nor should we), but the more we can do, the more calm and confident our child will feel.

Montessori Home

Independence and Choice: Whenever possible, children are given a chance to do things for themselves before the adult steps in. A common quote in Montessori communities is “help me to do it by myself”. We, as adults, are there to model and guide, but not to take over our child’s work. Giving infants and toddlers time and opportunities to exert their independence promotes their self-confidence and self-reliance. You can see the delight and pride on a toddler’s face when they put their own shoes on for the first time. One simple way to give your child more independence is to give them choices rather than directions. For example, “Would you like to get in your pajamas or brush your teeth first?” rather than “It’s time to get ready for bed”.

Montessori in Real Life

Intrinsic Motivation: In a Montessori environment, adults try to acknowledge accomplishments rather than praise or offer rewards for doing something “good”. For example, an adult might say “You stacked those blocks really high!” or “I see you worked really hard at putting on your coat” rather than “Good job!” or “I’m so proud of you!” The idea is for children to learn how to take pride in their own accomplishments, rather than only put in effort for adult praise or external rewards. Acknowledging the effort they put into something rather than the end result also encourages children to seek out challenges more often, and to do activities because it feels good rather than because they want praise.

Montessori at Home
What is Montessori for infants and toddlers?

Holiday Gifting

Theresa

It’s that time of year again…and I will admit I’m someone who listens to Christmas music nonstop and gets WAY into the spirit. Shopping for presents, especially for the little ones, is one of the best parts. Though I used to browse through stores while slowly sipping my peppermint latte, shopping has become a bit more expedited these days. ;) If I can’t find it online, it probably won’t make it under the tree. Now I understand why my mom had so many catalogs… With so many options online now though, it can be quite overwhelming. For me, following (or mostly) the Montessori philosophy helps to narrow things down a bit. Here are a few things I consider when picking Montessori gifts for Dakota or her friends. If you are also hoping for a Montessori-themed holiday, these might help you too!

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Interest

The first consideration before buying or making a new toy/material for Dakota is what she is interested in or wanting to do right now. For example lately I’ve noticed she has been wanting to push furniture around, so I am looking for toys that she can push or pull around the house. I’ve also noticed that she has been taking my pens and pretending to scribble, so I’m starting to put together coloring and art supplies for her. It helps to observe your child when you are out and about, playing, or when they are digging through your own things, and think about what they are trying to tell you.

Purpose

One of the things that first appealed to me in the Montessori classroom was the sense of purpose the toddlers showed as they busied around the room. Each material in a Montessori classroom serves a specific purpose, whether it’s learning about size discrimination, practicing the pincer grasp for writing, catering to toddlers’ need for order, or learning first sounds. Before I purchase something new for Dakota, I try to ask “what need or skill is this serving?” and if I can’t find a good answer, I skip it. If the answer is just “pure enjoyment!” that’s ok too! Especially for the holidays.

Christmas shelf

Simplicity & Beauty

Often when I’m shopping in a toy store for a new toy or a gift, I’m overwhelmed by the blast of color, noise, and action. A lot of the toys marketed to babies and toddlers are incredibly overstimulating for their small hands and minds. Montessori materials tend to look simple, but beautiful, and that’s on purpose. The simplicity allows children to use the toy independently, more easily knowing how they are supposed to use it. The Montessori materials also try to teach just one or two concepts at a time, e.g. color, shape, or number, rather than throwing too many concepts in together. Lastly, providing toys that are beautiful and made of high quality materials invite the child in and are much more likely to last and be re-used as your toddler gets older.

Age Appropriateness

Sometimes as parents we want our child to be ready for a toy or activity before they actually are. It’s important to provide toys for our toddlers that are challenging, but not too challenging. If they are only given materials beyond their capability, they will feel frustrated and lack confidence to try again. If we give them toys that are too easy, they’ll grow bored and either ignore or throw things from their shelf. Sometimes we have to do a bit of trial and error with new toys to see what a good fit is. The more practice, the better you’ll be at picking something out at the right level. It’s still a work in progress for me!

With those considerations, here are the items on Dakota’s wish list (18 months at Christmas)…we’ll see which ones Santa brings!

Holiday Toy List
Winter Books

Introducing Language Work

Theresa

D is 16 months, and soaking up language like a sponge. She points to everything, wants a name for it, and often tries to say it back to us. We’ve used baby sign since 9 months, and that is still her primary way to communicate her needs. (In video below, she is signing “help please”). But she also has so many more words in her head than she can say out loud (and that I know the sign for), so this month has been all about activities to help her expand her receptive and expressive language.

Montessori or not, some of the best ways to expand babies and toddlers’ vocabulary are books, songs, and simply talking through your day with them. While I try not to use too many words while Dakota is playing/concentrating on her own, I talk to her a lot throughout the day, whether it’s about what we are having for dinner, dressing after using the potty, or what we see while we’re out on a walk. She soaks it all in. There are board books for her throughout the house, and she loves to sit in her little chair and read to herself or have me read to her. Books are a favorite part of both our days. Her favorite language activity lately is her book of fingerplay songs. She opens the book and points to a song/rhyme and I do the fingerplay for it. It’s super sweet to see her start to mimic the movements on her own. Her other favorites are action songs that of course involve spinning and dancing.

fingerplays for toddlers

While books and stories are a very important component of language learning, Montessori also believed in starting with the concrete: “What the hand does the mind remembers”. Toddlers learn best through all their senses, especially their hands. When toddlers are first learning language, they get so much more out of holding an object than they do from a photo or picture of an object. Since D was just a baby, and still today, I’ve given her lots of real objects to touch and explore, such as fruit and vegetables, kitchen utensils, household items and containers, and animal replicas. The more realistic, the better.

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Labeling/Asking

D’s favorite items to explore now are any small replica objects (made by Toob), such as vehicles, animals, community helpers, and tools. I usually have at least one basket of objects (that fits in one category) on her shelf. To introduce this material, I start by taking one object out at a time and labeling it, for example, “delivery truck”. I repeat this with all the objects. Then I invite her to find each object to put back in the basket. If she doesn’t want to, that is fine! I also just let her explore the objects on her own, and provide labels if she asks for it. Below is an example of her exploring, and me labeling, real fruit.

Matching Object to Object

The next level up in Montessori language materials is object to object matching. Again, this involves tangible items for her to explore, but this time, pair together. When starting out, it’s easiest for toddlers to do this with identical sets of objects, rather than similar items. So I found a some inexpensive sets of animals at the local toy store to set up a “wild animal” matching activity. You can also use two sets of these Toob wild animals. When I first introduce the material, I take out one animal and label it, e.g. “elephant”. Then I find the other elephant in the basket, label it, and set it down right next to the first elephant. I repeat with the rest of the animal pairs in the basket (5-6 pairs max). Then I let her explore. Though she doesn’t line the animals up as I do yet, she has started to pick out two of the same animal from the basket, noticing the sameness. No matter how she plays with this material, she’s learning!

Object to Object Matching

Matching Object to Picture

Just this week I introduced object to picture matching, which is still quite a challenge for D, but a favorite of hers to explore and have me help with. Instead of matching the animal/fruit/vehicle to an identical object, she has to match it to a picture of that object. For toddlers, the more identical the picture is to the object the better, so I created my own laminated cards using photos I took of the objects at home. You can find pre-made language cards or photos online but they it’s harder to match the objects in size and details. In the examples below, I used the Schleich farm animals (large replicas), and Toob vehicles (small replicas). I’m sure I will be making many more sets of these in the near future!

object to picture matching

As with all labeling, when I present this, I do so slowly and with few words, so she focuses on what my hands are doing and the names of the objects. I lay out all the cards first, naming each one as I set it down. Then I pick up an object from the basket, e.g. fire engine, label it, and put the object over the matching card, covering the picture, then repeat the word. I repeat this sequence with each object. I find 4 matches to be the maximum for young toddlers. D enjoys covering up the pictures with the objects, even if she doesn’t always match perfectly! Again, it’s about the learning process rather than the product!

object to picture matching

Our Montessori Shelf at 15 Months

Theresa

Dakota is such a busy bee lately, it’s hard to keep up! She zooms around the house, exploring and working on one thing after another, with such purpose and determination. It is a joy to watch her discover new materials and master old ones. She now does the “I did it” clap and smile when she completes something, showing me how proud she is of herself. That is all I can ask for! :)

Montessori Shelf at 15 Months

With so much energy to work on both gross and fine motor, I’ve been having to rotate her shelves more often than I used to. This month I’ve been switching out toys about once a week. I always rotate only a few toys at a time, so as not to overwhelm her. Sometimes just moving a material from one shelf to another makes it new and interesting again! In total, I only have about 8 materials out at a time for her, not including books, her wagon, and practical life activities.

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Because we don’t have a designated playroom, I have placed her materials in various areas of the house, so she can get her gross motor practice in, moving from one station to another. She has two shelves on our main floor (one mostly books), across the room from each other. And in the dining/kitchen area, she has her sensory table and mini kitchen. This way she can be working wherever I’m working, though sometimes not!

Fall Sensory Play at 15 Months

The kitchen is one of her favorite places to be, and you can find her latest practical life activities in my last blog post. But today, I’ll focus on her shelves in our living room. I tried to find a theme to link these toys together, but her interests are pretty varied right now! Which is probably for the best. :) From car trackers to animal noises to hammering, here are her favorite materials at 15 months. You can find previous posts like this on the home page.

Montessori Shelf at 15 Months

Hammer and Roll Tower - she can hammer with her hands or the hammer and watch (and hear) the balls roll down the tower. This is good gross motor for her too, because she has to go chase the balls to put them back on the tower!

Rings on Dowel - this is a simple toy, but so great for fine motor and hand-eye coordination. Dakota has also been experimenting with putting other blocks on the dowel and realizing it only works with the rings! She gets a lot of satisfaction from doing and undoing this one.

Imbucare Box with Slot - this is great multi-step activity because she has to put the chip in the slot, flip the lid, repeat, and then flip the lid the other way. It comes with just one big chip but I added a few other chips from the color sort bowls below.

Drum Set - we brought this back out after many months because she has been so into her music class! She is much more coordinated now, and dances” along with her drum.

Grimms Stacking Cups - nesting/stacking cups never get old. Dakota loves to nest the small cups in the bigger ones, and lately has been pretending she’s pouring water from one to the other. A simple and beautiful material!

Color Sort Bowls - thought Dakota isn’t yet sorting by color, she loves to use these color chips in various ways. Lately her favorite thing to do on repeat is to pour the chips from one bowl to another. This entertains her for so long!

Schleich Farm Animals - we have various sets of these animals, and they are so wonderfully realistic and sturdy. She loves making farm animal noises with these ones. Soon I am going to get another set of the same animals for her to match.

Car Tracker - this is always a huge hit with toddlers of all ages. It takes some practice for them to get the wheels facing the right way, but then they get to watch the cars zoom down the track. It definitely fulfills their need for repetition!

Shape Puzzle - we were actually supposed to get a circle sorter puzzle, but this one arrived in the mail instead! I decided to keep it because it’s a nice variation to the shape sorter, and nice sturdy knobbed pieces. She is still figuring this one out so it’ll be a good one to rotate in and out as she gets a bit older!

Vehicle Puzzle - Dakota has shown a strong interest in vehicles and things that go this past month. She enjoys making the vehicle noises when she plays with this simple 3 knob puzzle.

Dakota also has several toys in rotation (shape sorter, pull toy, stacking, and hammering) that came from Elfbox. This is an awesome toy subscription box where you can RENT the toys for a month and then send them back for new ones! If you really love one of the toys you can keep it for a discounted price. They also don’t charge at all for missing or broken pieces! If you’re interested check them out HERE and use code ELFFRIEND20 for $20 off your first box!

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Next up: our intro to art and sensory exploration!

Our Little Sous Chef

Theresa

Dakota has always been a big fan of food and all things related. Now that she is 14 months, we’ve expanded on this “passion” by finding ways for her to be involved in the food making and clean-up process. She LOVES it. Dakota isn’t alone in this. A core element and toddler favorite in a Montessori toddler classroom is practical life, which are the activities of everyday life. This includes tasks such as setting the table, preparing meals, wiping the table, washing hands, dusting, watering plants, etc. Often the things we find monotonous toddlers find energizing. ;) Toddlers are natural imitators, and these types of activities give them the satisfaction of repetition, purpose, sensory experiences, concentration, and belonging in their family or community.

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Since Dakota is still a young toddler and not yet walking, I found it challenging at first to come up with appropriate activities for her. But when I introduced activities such as banana peeling and water pouring and watched her handle these tasks with such precision and care, I was reminded of just how capable toddlers can be. Not every activity has been so successful, and it’s important to remind myself that the important part for toddlers is the process rather than the product. Even if she isn’t successfully scrubbing dirt off of a carrot, she is concentrating and figuring out how things work together each time she practices or explores with her hands. And she is more interested in trying new foods. With practice comes precision!

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We have a few areas of the kitchen/dining area for her to work. One is the kitchen helper my husband made. He made a simplified version of this one I saw on Etsy. Dakota loves to stand up at the counter with me and both watch and participate in her food preparation. She also sits at her small weaning table to do precise work such as water pouring and peeling at meals. Lastly, she can work at her modified IKEA kitchen, where I fill a sink with soapy water for her to practice doing the dishes, and have a cutting board for her to practice chopping. Variety keeps it interesting!

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Here are a few of the practical life activities we have enjoyed in the kitchen:

Spreading - I found this pack of 3 tiny spreaders that are perfect for little toddler hands. She practices spreading mashed avocado, hummus, or nut butter on toast. Often the spreader ends up in her mouth! ;) You can also purchase spreaders from Amazon here.

Water pouring - These small creamer pitchers are perfect for the tiniest of hands! She loves to pour water into her glass or just pour rice or liquid between two pitchers.

Transferring - Sometimes the simplest tasks have a purpose for toddlers. She always enjoys having two little plates on the table, and we practice moving the food from the “serving” plate to her plate before eating.

Mashing - This little masher is perfect for mashing avocado, banana, or even mashed potatoes!

Scrubbing - Dakota uses this scrubber to scrub vegetables such as carrots in her Ikea kitchen sink. She loves the feel of the bristles.

Chopping - This wavy chopper is the easiest way to start. Dakota has had some success with the banana, and next we’ll try cucumber.

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Washing - We have a set of these swedish dishcloths for Dakota to wash her dishes with. She especially likes to wring it out in the sink!

Sweeping - Dakota loves to sweep the floor with this little broom and dust pan!

Washing hands - This soap dispenser is simple and easy for little hands to push to get soap out. She still needs our help with this, but we keep it accessible at the Ikea kitchen sink.

Peeling - We started with banana slices with the skin on for her to peel off, and are now trying satsumas. It helps to cut slits in the peel to help them get started.

And there are endless more to come! What are your toddler's favorite practical life activities?

Montessori in the Kitchen @ 15 Months

Potty Learning

Theresa

Fourteen months old and on the potty! Pre-Montessori I would have thought this was crazy, but I now know this is a great time to start. Babies start to develop bladder & bowel control and awareness of their bodily functions around a year. Around that same time, they often begin to show interest in the toilet and how we use it. As with all things toddler, they want to imitate! So why not let them? Potty learning* at this age is a gradual process, but if we have the time, it's a pleasant one, without bribes or tantrums. For young toddlers, it's about learning their rhythm, letting them experience wet vs. dry vs. going on the toilet, and giving them opportunities for independence. 

Potty Learning - Montessori in Real Life

* I call it potty learning rather than training because the toddler is just as involved in the process as we are. We, the adults, are not training, just guiding and helping. Some people prefer to call it toilet learning but I like to differentiate the small potty from the big toilet. 

We started D's potty learning process last week, just after she turned 14 months. I had been waiting for her to walk, but she's taking her sweet time, so we just dove in! To encourage body awareness during potty learning, I let her wear underwear or be bare-bummed at home. We aren't strict about it, but having just a couple hours a day without a diaper is useful for her to learn the feeling of being wet vs. dry. It's hard to feel anything in a diaper! By allowing D to be pantless/diaperless, I am also better able to learn her rhythm and patterns. When we are home, I aim to let her sit on the potty every 45 min or so. 

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Sitting on the potty is always an invitation, never forced. As I invite her and show her the potty (which she usually does), I make the sign for potty. We start by pulling down her underwear or diaper while she stands and then she sits down. She likes to look at books or dig through her "supplies" while she sits, and I let her. This week she started trying to put on her own underwear! This is too tricky for her now, but the more we do it together, the more confidence she'll have to do it by herself. I let her sit for a while and then if she goes pee or poop, I make the sign for pee or poop as well as potty. She can feel it when it's happening and proudly points to what she's made. :) Then I show her how I dump it in the big toilet and clean it out. We get her underpants or diaper back on and then wash our hands together. When she's walking, she'll participate more in this process (and hopefully have a hand washing station)! 

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After only a week, D is already peeing and pooping on the toilet fairly consistently at home. She doesn't yet sign for it or go there herself, but when I routinely sit her on the potty throughout the morning or afternoon, she goes. She has also started to touch her underwear or diaper if she's going. If she starts to go pee or poop in her underwear, I just take her straight to the potty and she finishes there. Of course there are accidents but less than I'd imagined. When she gets tired or cranky, or we're headed out, we just switch to diapers. With no expectations or a set schedule, this slow potty learning is pretty pleasant for all. 

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A big part of this early potty learning is creating a bathroom space that is inviting for her to be part of stand-up diaper/undie changes and sitting on the potty. I found it easiest to set up two spaces; one downstairs and one upstairs, so we don't have to travel far. As you can see from the photos, the set-up can work no matter how small the bathroom! Here are our essential supplies: 

  • Small Potty - We like the simplicity of the Joovy Loo and the price is low enough to get one for each bathroom!

  • Diapers or training underwear - we are using both. She wears training underwear around the house and diapers for sleep and when we are out and about. As she gets more consistent, we'll switch to undies full time, but we aren't in a rush.

  • Wipes - these water wipes are just the best for sensitive little skin!

  • Laundry bin - a small basket or box for Dakota to help toss her wet or dirty clothes into.

  • Books - Potty and Once Upon a Potty are fun and great for starting the communication about the potty. We are actually getting a lot of reading in together these days, on the potty. ;)

  • Water - I find it helps her to go pee on the potty when she drinks a little water right before. We keep a cup in the bathroom. It also helps to model peeing or even have the faucet dripping.

  • Low mirror - This isn't a necessity but we have one in our upstairs bathroom and D likes to look at herself when she's on the potty, and it is helpful for body awareness.

As with all things, I am sure this is not going to be easy forever, and there will be plenty of bumps along the way. But it's nice to know what 14-month-olds are capable of, and that the potty can be a bonding time too! 

A Respectful Intro to Toddlerhood

Theresa

Despite my wishes for Dakota to stay a baby forever, she has other plans in mind. The toddler is emerging. It turns out you can have toddler 'tude without toddler steps. ;) The most recent "tricky" toddler behaviors we've been seeing are: throwing food off the table, pinching or hitting us, tantrums when something isn't available (like our dog's water bowl), or not getting what she wants (like being picked up right away).  

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Unsurprisingly, I've found that the easiest and best way to deal with difficult behaviors is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Providing a predictable schedule, making sure she's slept enough, eating frequently and nutritiously, and giving her plenty of one-on-one time to help her overall happiness. I also find she gets less frustrated when she is in a "yes" space (we've tried to make most of our home that way), meaning minimal dangers or off-limits, giving us little reason to say "no" to her. The more toddlers hear the word no, the more they say it right back. ;) 

Dakota is also more content when she is able to participate in our activities. Little things like giving her opportunities to pick out her diaper before changing, hold onto the grocery list in the shopping cart, or help unload the spoons from the dishwasher often (not always) prevent a meltdown. Limited options (just 2 at this age) also give her a small sense of autonomy which can be really helpful for both of us. Examples: "Do you want to read the truck book or the color book?", "Do you want to drink your water or start with your zucchini?", "Do you want me to pick you up or crawl over to me?" At this point she can usually point or nod to indicate preferences. 

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Of course even if all her needs have been met and we've given her opportunities for autonomy, she is still entering toddlerhood, where emotions are high, impulse control is low, and the need to exert her will is just beginning. She is at the age where she is learning to be her own independent person, and tantrums and testing are part of the process! And after working in a classroom of toddlers, I know this is just the beginning of a wild ride. She just needs to know I love her through it all. 

Most of my reading on this topic has been Janet Lansbury's respectful parenting philosophy and Positive discipline techniques we used in the Montessori classroom. No Bad Kids and Positive Discipline are both useful books if you're going this route. Based on these ideas, when Dakota does exert her toddler will, these are some of the steps we take at home. 

  1. Remain calm. I've found this is one of the most important (but difficult) components. I have to remember not to take Dakota's behavior personally. She is trying out behaviors with me because she trusts and loves me, and therefore feels safe to experiment. When I remember that, it's easier to stay calm and let the storm pass. We try to avoid reacting with "ow!" or "no!" unless she's in danger (or when she hurts us and it's instinctive!), because those give her the reactions she's hoping for.

  2. If throwing/hitting/etc, stop the behavior with my hand or remove her from the unsafe situation gently. Let her feel her feels.

  3. Acknowledge, accept, and respect her feelings and frustrations without trying to fix or distract. Keeping the wording simple seems to be best when she's worked up. We try not to focus too much attention on the negative behavior. I usually say something like "I know you really want to ______ and I couldn't let you _______ because _____. I see you are very upset/sad/frustrated about that."

  4. Once she has (hopefully) calmed down a bit, provide comfort and offer safe/acceptable alternatives. See specific examples below.

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Respectful Ways to deal with Specific Tricky Toddler Issues:

Pinching/hitting: Again, I have to remember not to take this personally, because she is simply testing and looking for reactions. Toddlers want attention, good or bad. She often pinches when she's overtired and I'm holding her. When she does, I take her hand away and hold it. I say "I won't let you pinch me because that hurts", and leave it at that as to not draw too much attention to the negative behavior. I might demonstrate a nice pat or hug. If she keeps trying to pinch/hit, I'll ignore the behavior and place her down on the floor for a minute so she can't keep going. Of course this makes her upset but she soon gets the point. 

Throwing Food: This requires sitting with Dakota throughout mealtimes. When Dakota begins to throw food, I stop her hand and say "I can't let you throw that food. Food stays on the table." I then show her how to put her food in a different small bowl on the table, or let her hand it to me. She usually wants to throw food she doesn't want to eat, so offering an alternative place to put it can be helpful. If she throws and I don't catch it, I just try to ignore it. If she keeps trying to toss her food on the floor, it shows me she isn't that hungry so we sign "all done" and end mealtime. Additionally, we give her other throwing opportunities with balls, etc during playtime. 

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Tantrum over not getting to play with something: The most recent example of this is a large box fan we had in our living room. She really wanted to play with it, but it wasn't safe for her little fingers. When she started to touch it, I picked her up and took her away from it, saying "I can't let you play with the fan, it's not safe." She arched her back and squirmed and cried. I acknowledged that it made her upset when I removed her from the fan and let her be upset for a few minutes. I offered snuggles and a book. Then I showed her a couple of other toys to choose between. (I also relocated the fan so it wouldn't be an issue again. With objects that can't be removed, it might take quite a few reminders before they are able to stop trying to touch it, but it will eventually happen.)

Tantrum over wanting to be held: This is a really common one for us while I'm trying to prep food for Dakota. I start to cook or simply put food on her plate, and she throws herself on the floor at my feet, wanting to be held or eat the food immediately. I can sometimes prevent this by wearing her on my back so she can see the food being made. Better yet, my husband is going to build her a learning tower so she can watch and participate more, which will likely help a lot. In the meantime, when she starts to melt down, I let her feel the feels and explain that I need a few more minutes to finish prepping her food. (I hurry) and when I'm ready to pick her up or give her the food, I then remind her of the signs for "help", "up", or "eat", so she can at least learn to communicate in a more effective way than screaming. 

Who knows what the next phase of toddlerhood will bring! Luckily I love this one to the moon and back. 

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What strategies do you find helpful (or not) with the toddler 'tude? 

In & Out / Open & Close

Theresa

Dakota's first month of her second year has been all about in and out, up and down, open and close. So of course most of her toys are in line with this theme (see below). While last month she was constantly on the go, she is now back to work at her shelf. She has a few materials that she really loves to play with over and over, which has slowed down toy rotation, making my life a little easier. She also really enjoys combining her materials in different ways, especially when there are peg people to be moved from one box to another!

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In addition to new materials, I have also introduced trays for a few of her materials. Trays are a staple of a Montessori classroom, and now that we are nearing the toddler years, they are useful for home too. Toddlers LOVE order, and trays provide a sense of order for their materials. They can take the tray off the shelf, use the materials, then put it all back in one piece. It also allows for you to set up the activity "incomplete" for your toddler to complete it themselves. As a teacher, we noticed that if puzzles were set out completed, the toddlers didn't engage, whereas if the pieces were in a basket beside the wooden puzzle base on a tray, they would use it more often.

I am hoping that my husband can build a new shelf soon that doesn't have cubes so that we can fit trays more easily! Here is a great resource for Montessori Trays if you are looking to purchase some for your Montessori environment.

Without further ado, here are Dakota's favorite materials on the theme of in/out & open/close:

Pop-up Men - This is by far Dakota's favorite toy. Even when she's not pushing the men to pop out, or carefully putting them back in, she's toting these little guys around the house with her. I find them everywhere! 

Box with Bins - Dakota's aunt gave her this one and she loves to open the drawers and discover little surprises inside! My sister filled them with these button shapes. Often the pop-up men end up in here too. ;)

Imbucare Box - We have a couple versions of this one, and they are great for learning sequences (drop, open, close, repeat).

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Object Permanence Baby Box - This little box comes with a large wooden ball but you can also get little peg people from this shop, both of which Dakota loves to put in and take out of this cute little box. Perfect size for her small hands.

Hide & Seek Wooden Board - Another fun peek-a-boo game. I wish there were fewer doors than this, but it's still a fun one, and definitely one to grow with her in the toddler years as she begins matching.

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MontiKids Peg Board, Rings on Post, and Basic Shape Puzzles - These three (of six total) toys came from the Level 4 MontiKids subscription box. If you haven't heard of it yet, MontiKids is a Montessori quarterly subscription box that sends high quality Montessori toys perfectly suited to your child's development and age. In addition, each box comes with detailed video tutorials, lesson plans, and developmental info. This is a great opportunity for parents who want to provide a Montessori education for their baby or toddler at home! Use the code REALLIFE to receive $30 off your first order!

In addition to her many wooden toys, Dakota loves any simple box or container that she can open, fill, and empty! Look for ones in your bathroom or kitchen that you can clean and repurpose. Patterned duct tape can really come in handy. :)

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Cruising through a year, with some bumps

Theresa

How is my baby 1 year old?! The phrase "the days are long but the years are short" has never rung more true. What an amazing journey it's been! Our bond gets stronger each day. The way she says "mama", rests her head on my shoulder as I sing to her, blows me kisses, brings me books to read, and cautiously checks with me as she starts to climb the stairs just make my heart melt. I also love watching her interact with the rest of the world - not only is she a social butterfly who can charm the grumpiest of TSA agents - but she is observant, focused, and open to adventure. 

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While Dakota continues to get sweeter, mom life never stops challenging me. Over the past few days, with cross-country travel, Dakota getting sick, sleep loss, and house renovations underway, life with baby has been exhausting. It's reminded me of why I started this blog "Montessori in real life", because real life isn't always Instagram perfect, and Montessori-at-home can become Montessori-ish. And that's okay. Sometimes it's pack-n-play or carrier over floor bed, stuffed animals over object permanence box, and squeeze pack over spoon. Sometimes it's crawling all over tired mama lying on a floor without furniture in the house. ;) It always helps to remind myself that phases are called phases because they don't last forever! And in the meantime, I enjoyed the extra snuggles that the past few weeks brought me.

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Besides her beloved books, the one consistent interest that Dakota has shown through all these "routine disruptions" is gross motor. (Available anywhere!) In the past few weeks, she is busier than ever. She's pulling up on just about any surface, climbing stairs, and trying to wedge herself in any small space she finds. While sometimes I wished she would focus more on the beautiful new ball tracker, it has been a good reminder to follow her interests and stop pushing mine. Setting up spaces for her involved simple things like moving cushions to the ground for her to climb over, filling a couple of drawers in the kitchen with things for her to unpack, and exploring the outdoors. I also purchased this tunnel she loves to crawl through and a pool to splash around in. Dakota's grandma also gifted her this beautiful wagon which just began to "walk" through the house!

This week when we returned back from our vacation, and despite still being sick, she surprised me by returning to her shelf to play with her wooden toys. What's more, even with weeks of not using these materials, she all of a sudden knew how to use them, just from my demonstrations a few weeks ago. For example, she put the pop-up men back in the holes, and opened the drawer to find her hidden ball in her imbucare box. It just amazes me how much babies' brains are processing and working through all the time, even when we can't see it happening. Sometimes I miss it, but when I do follow her cues and give her time and space to work through a new skill or phase, we are both happier for it.  

Lesson of this month: Practice patience and enjoy the present, because even the hard days are so sweet, and so short.

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Cups, Straws, and Spoons, Oh My!

Theresa

This past month has been a huge leap in independence for 11-mo-old Dakota. Now that she can navigate our house quickly and efficiently, she wants to do everything on her own! Namely, eating and drinking. Whether it's the bottle or the spoon, she wants control. And while messes are made and patience (mine) is tested, I'm all for giving her this independence. By giving Dakota her own table, or a place at our table, and the same tools we use to eat and drink, she feels respected, trusted, and like an equal member of our family! 

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When we introduced the weaning cup around 8 months, Dakota enjoyed drinking from it but not holding it. Around 10 months, she began to show interest in using it independently - reaching for it on the table or whining when I tried to do it for her. I modeled how we use two hands to bring it to our mouth and set it back down. Gradually, she figured it out herself. While she still struggles with setting it back down upright, she has really gotten the hang of bringing it to her mouth and drinking from it. We just put water in the cup for now, but eventually she'll drink milk from it too. When she starts dipping her fingers or food in the cup, or tosses it, we just take a break from the cup and try again later. While she can play with her food on her plate, the cup is for drinking.

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Around the same time Dakota showed interest in drinking from the cup herself (10 months), she began to figure out how to use the spoon. Puree or not, she likes to hold the spoon and "dip" it in her food. When she does have a puree, yogurt, or chia pudding, she has actually figured out the sequence of dipping the spoon, bringing it to her mouth, and slurping - repeat. Video below. As you can see, it's not always a smooth sequence, or super effective. ;) The important thing is to let her practice, because she gets better every time. And it is obvious how much she enjoys feeding herself! There is nothing that makes me happier than her feeling proud of herself for something she has really worked hard on.

Side note: Though Dakota consumes most of her liquids via breastfeeding or bottles, I also give her a water cup with a straw when we are on the go. We have avoided sippy cups based on recommendations from feeding and speech therapists. (For a good article about straw cups vs. sippy cups, check this out: http://noahsdad.com/cup/.) I was also surprised how easy it was for Dakota to learn how to drink from a straw. I introduced the straw at 9 months with these take and toss cups. These simple, inexpensive cups were great because they allowed me to squeeze the cup, causing water to come out, showing her how the straw works. We recently graduated to this water bottle that we can take on the go. That being said, we mostly focus on the weaning cup for water at home, because it gives her a chance to learn how to drink with care, like we do! 

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Lastly, at 11 months, we introduced the placemat, so that she would have a place to set her cup back down. I expected her to toss this off the table, but she actually does quite well with leaving it be. These handmade Montessori placemats are great because they have outlines for where to put the silverware, cup, and plate. When I worked in the toddler class, a favorite part of the day was setting their place for lunch! All she's missing is the fork, but to be continued...