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Blog

Filtering by Category: Gross Motor

Cruising through a year, with some bumps

Theresa Heiden

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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Sitting Pretty, with Confidence

Theresa Heiden

Time just keeps flying by, and our Dakota Mae is almost 7 months old! Six months has been my favorite age so far. Although not yet crawling, she is observing and exploring everything and everyone around her, and clearly fascinated by it all. Up until 6 months, I had just been giving Dakota time on her tummy and back on the floor to roll and play in whichever way she was interested. She has been quite content playing with her feet, gnawing on a teether, or batting at a mobile. In the past month,  she's also become a pro at rolling onto her tummy to grab a toy and rotating like a clock on her tummy. But since the 6-month mark, she's also been showing signs of wanting to explore, see, and do just a bit more. 

Which leads me to supported sitting. Traditional Montessorians usually advocate against supported sitting. They encourage parents to wait until their baby learns how to push up from their tummy into a sitting position on their own, which can happen as early as 7 months, but often later. In theory, I like this idea, but just as I placed Dakota on her tummy before she could roll on her own, I also helped Dakota sit up before she could get into that position by herself. I did this because she really enjoyed the different perspective, and getting to explore her toys and materials with both her hands in a sitting position. Sitting gives her a way to be closer to my level, and that in and of itself she loves.

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There are various forms and ways to start "supported sitting". I chose to wait until she showed signs of readiness to sit independently (holding her head back up fairly straight) to help her sit up, which for her was 6 months. Rather than Bumbo chairs or bouncers/walkers, I simply helped her figure out how to balance upright by sitting her between my legs on the floor, or with the Boppy around her. It really only took a week or so until she could sit up on her own without support - balancing her weight, albeit a bit wobbly. She toppled sometimes, and still does, but she's always on a soft surface and always on the floor to begin with, so never falls far. And this is how she learns her own body's abilities and limits!

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Though I can definitely see the appeal of the bumbo chair, walkers, bouncers, etc, the reason we haven't used these goes back to my Montessori training too. My issues with them (besides the noise!) is that they don't typically allow for free movement once the babies are placed inside. Babies don't get to learn how to balance if they are fully supported, and they can't reach in whatever direction they please. Instead, babies are essentially "stuck" which can lessen their motivation to sit and move on their own. I've also heard child PT's say that things like the bumbo chair put babies in an unnatural sitting position much earlier than they are ready. Lastly, some of these "supports" can lead to falls, more dangerous than from a sitting position on the floor. But to each his own, and if motherhood has taught me anything, it's "you do you" and what works for one family isn't what works for another.

So now that Dakota is sitting on her own on the floor, I typically place a small basket of toys in front of her, allowing her to explore freely. I try to keep just 3 or 4 toys in the basket at a time, to not overwhelm, and then rotate them every week or so. While playing in a sitting position, she gets practice using both of her hands, and transferring toys from one to another. She is also learning how to throw toys to her side, and then reach around to grab them. Sometimes she goes from sitting to lying down on her side, and unless she fusses about it, I just let her explore from there. With this independent sitting, she will eventually learn how to get into a crawling position from sitting, or down to her tummy and back up again! It is really fun to watch how she explores both her body and environment from this new perspective. It makes her so proud and happy! 

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Here are some of Dakota's favorite toys right now:

Baby-Led Tummy Time

Theresa Heiden

All parents have heard the "back to sleep/tummy to play" advice on based on the AAP on repeat. Now that babies must be put to sleep on their back (Dakota's swaddle even reminds me in case I missed the million memos), pediatricians recommend tummy time to strengthen the neck muscles and prevent the dreaded "flat head syndrome".

Unfortunately, now that we put babies on their backs from birth, they often hate tummy time. In addition, some Montessorians and RIE proponents argue that we should skip tummy time until our babies can roll onto their own tummy from their back on their own. They argue that the back is the only natural (unaided) position for baby. I think they have valid arguments, however, I also appreciated my husband's point that young babies don't really put themselves in any positions on their own, even their back.

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I fall somewhere in the middle in my view of tummy time. While I do not think it is crucial in the first few months, I think it can be helpful in gross motor development, and also provides an interesting new perspective for baby. I like the idea of following Dakota's lead, and only placing her in tummy time when she is content to do so, and only as long as she indicates is enough. If Dakota really disliked it after a few tries, we'd probably skip it until she could roll over, but for now she enjoys it and sometimes even cozily rests on her tummy.

I think it's important to note that tummy time doesn't have to be on the floor, or without comforts. While Dakota probably spends a few minutes once or twice a day in tummy time on a rug or pillow, she also spends much more "tummy time" while resting on my chest after nursing, allowing her to look at my face. While sometimes this quickly turns into a boob snooze, more and more she is now lifting that big head of hers to take a look around.

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Here are some of the other ways we've made tummy time more enjoyable for Dakota these first 2 months:

  1. Place baby on a super soft surface (her favorite is the sheepskin rug)
  2. Use a boppy or small pillow to elevate her head and hands
  3. Lie down next to her on the ground so she can see us
  4. Place a mirror or pictures in front of her or to the side
  5. Try different areas of house, to vary light and scenery
  6. Let her rest or suck on her fingers on her tummy
  7. Give her a chance to struggle a bit (but end when she's clearly getting upset)
  8. Talk to her and encourage her (note our dog helping with this!) 

And that is how we are doing baby-led tummy time. For now at least. ;)