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Filtering by Category: Montessori by Age

A Montessori Toddler Easter Basket

Theresa

Easter is only a week and a half away, so I felt compelled to write a short blog post along the theme! I love holidays, especially now that we have a little one, so it’s easy for me to go overboard with things like Easter Baskets. One of my favorite holiday traditions as a child was searching the house with my sisters for our hidden baskets of goodies. Though D doesn’t have the patience to search for a basket (yet), she is definitely old enough to appreciate the basket of goodies part!

Infant and Toddler Easter Basket Ideas - Montessori in Real Life

I had hoped to get this post written last week, but I’ll admit I only just picked out her basket stuffers this week. If you are like me, and heavily rely on Amazon prime, then hopefully this post won’t be too late for you either! :) I’m sharing ideas for a toddler Easter basket, as well as a few books and toys for your littlest ones! Happy egg (and basket) hunting, and Happy Easter!

Toddler Easter Basket Ideas - Montessori in Real Life

Toddler Easter Basket Ideas

Egg shakers - These are a little young for D, but I did have a thought to get two sets and make it a matching sound game! Might also save this one for the summer. Either way, egg shakers are typically a hit with babies and toddlers of all ages.

Layered Puzzle - Though this is still a bit too challenging for D, I saw the rabbit version of this layered wooden puzzle and had to grab it. Love how this teaches the concept of size, shade, and depth. I am interested to see how she uses it now!

Stickers - Stickers continue to be a favorite for D, and though I sometimes buy small sets at the local toy store, these larger sets from Amazon make so much more sense. As I’ve described before, I find it easiest to cut sticker sheets into strips and then fold back an edge to make peeling easier for a young toddler.

Toddler Easter Basket Ideas - Montessori in Real Life

Egg slicing/matching - Melissa and Doug always has fun wooden toys (not super Montessori but great for gifts), and this is no exception. D is big into color matching right now, and of course chopping, so this seemed perfect for her Easter basket.

Nesting chickens - Love this fun twist on the classic Russian nesting dolls. We have been talking a lot about eggs and hatching, so this fits with that theme nicely. I know D will love opening and closing these on repeat. If your child is still mouthing everything, I would wait on these.

Egg crayons - I am probably most excited about these egg crayons. They are big and chunky for toddler hands, and they are a fun and creative way to get D more interested in art this Spring!

Sunflower Grow Kit - This was in the dollar section at Target, and it’s such a fun idea! No guarantees that a sunflower will actually grow. ;) I couldn’t find the exact one I got online, but you might find it (and other Easter goodies) at the front of your local Target store too!

Toddler Easter Basket Ideas - Montessori in Real Life

Board Books

Whose Chick book - This is one of D’s favorite books right now. It’s a cute story about various birds who find an abandoned egg and try to figure out who it belongs to. It’s perfect for toddlers who love to make animal sounds with the bonus of learning about hatching eggs!

Touch & Feel Rabbit book - This was D’s favorite last year (10 months), and she still loves it, especially with that fuzzy tail! We got it to go with the stuffed Jellycat rabbit (mentioned below). Each page has a different texture, and the words are simple for the littlest of babes!

10 Little Chicks song book - One of my favorite Spring songs to sing as a toddler teacher was “10 Little Ducks”, and this is a very cute variation on this. Books that combine as songs are always a hit among babies and toddlers alike, and I’m excited for D to discover this one in her basket.

Little Chick puppet book - These finger puppet books are favorites for babies, and the pages are super thick and durable! D still reads her finger puppet books like this, but now she sticks her own finger in the puppet instead of waiting for me.

Baby Easter Basket Ideas - Montessori in Real Life

Baby Easter Basket Ideas

Duck pull toy - Perfect for your baby who is crawling or just starting to walk. They will love pulling the mama duck around, and nestling baby duck in to go along for the ride.

Rabbit stuffed animal - D has many stuffed animals but this is always a favorite. It is so soft and just the right size for snuggling. I love the Jellycat stuffed animals in general, and the books to go with them!

Egg shakers - These are simple but beautiful egg shakers that make a really nice, soft sound. The small size is perfect for little hands to hold onto and shake.

Teethers - I wish I’d gotten this for D last Easter! This is such a sweet set of themed teethers, and it seems as though you can never have enough when your baby is teething or just mouthing everything.

Lamb teether - Just another cute teether option for babies!

Baby Easter Basket Ideas - Montessori in Real Life

What Are Sensitive Periods?

Theresa

“When a particular sensitiveness is aroused in a child, it is like a light that shines on some objects but not others, making of them his whole world” - Maria Montessori

One of the most discussed phrases in Montessori is “sensitive periods“. In short, a sensitive period is a phase or window in a child’s development when they are most capable of and responsive to absorbing a certain skill.

What Are Sensitive Periods? - Montessori in Real Life

There are a variety of sensitive periods in childhood, but here are some that apply to toddlers. These include but are not limited to:

  • Movement: birth to 2.5

  • Language: birth to 6

  • Toileting: 1 to 3

  • Small objects: 1 to 3

  • Order: 1.5 to 4

  • Refinement of Senses: 2 to 6

  • Grace and Courtesy: 2 to 6

  • Social Skills: 2.5 to 5

What Are Sensitive Periods? - Montessori in Real Life

Before going into some these in more depth, it can help to know how to spot a sensitive period. Though there are general time frames for each of these periods, every child is a bit different in their development. You’ll know when your child is in a sensitive period because they are engaged, passionate, and energized by working on this specific activity or skill, and often return to it again and again. It can help to keep these sensitive periods in mind to better understand your toddler’s “tricky” behaviors too.

When a child isn’t permitted to exercise their sensitive periods, they will likely throw tantrums to demonstrate their unmet needs to fulfill their interests and goals for that period. They may also lose the ease of doing and interest for the activities related to developing that skill. If they miss the sensitive period of window, they will likely still develop those skills, but will take longer and with more effort and less joy. (For example, adults know how much harder it is to learn one new language than it is for toddlers to learn two languages at the same time.)

What Are Sensitive Periods? - Montessori in Real Life

Sensitive Period for Movement: Birth to 2.5 years

From birth to two and a half years, children show a sensitive period for movement. It is easy to see this in the great effort infants put in as they quickly transition from lying to rolling to sitting to crawling to pulling up. They use their hands in different ways to explore their environment and materials with more precision every day. Through the second year, toddlers continue this self-motivated movement but with more refinement, coordination, and control. Toddlers’ need to move and exert energy often seems limitless, and it practically is.

D was a late crawler and walker, so her first year was all about fine motor. Now, as a toddler, she is going through a huge sensitive period for gross motor. Every day includes a combination of a toddler-led walk, sliding at the playground, carrying heavy objects around the house, and climbing up and down the stairs on repeat. Giving her these opportunities to exercise her large movements gives her the ability to focus on her smaller work as well as eat and sleep better.

What Are Sensitive Periods? - Montessori in Real Life

Sensitive Period for Small Objects: 1 to 3 years

Any parent of a toddler has probably noticed this one - they love tiny things. As soon as babies begin to move, they seem to notice every little speck on the floor, and need to pick it up. Toddlers find nothing more fascinating than collecting small rocks and picking every tiny flower. While parents often worry about choking hazards, reacting with panic or ripping small objects out of your toddlers’ hand will only lead to tantrums. We can give our toddlers supervised time to hold and inspect small objects to fulfill this need. Toddlers need this time to tune into the details of everything, and see those smallest features, changes, and qualities up close. They are not only learning about their fascinating environment, but also working on those much-needed fine motor skills and developing their concentration.

Most of D’s favorite works include small objects right now, and at first with reminders (now without), she knows to keep them in her hand. Our rock collection is quite impressive these days. ;) Just the other day she found a tiny lock and key in our drawer, and rather than take it away, I observed her and watched with interest as she used her tiny hands to fit the lock inside and then sigh with huge satisfaction as she went on to repeat this a dozen more times. These little opportunities to work with small objects are huge for her development.

What Are Sensitive Periods? - Montessori in Real Life

Sensitive Period for Toileting: 1 to 2.5 years

This does not mean that toilet learning can’t happen after 2.5 years, but rather that the toddlers are quicker and more interested in the toilet before 2.5 years (usually before 2 years even). Children develop an awareness of their bodily functions around a year and can usually control their bladder and bowels pretty well by 18 months. Toddlers between one and two years also want to imitate everything we do, and this often includes the toilet, so it’s a great time to take advantage of that. If we start toileting during this sensitive period, we can avoid using bribes and rewards.

Though it’s been a longer process, I am really glad we started toilet learning with D before 18 months, because now, at 21 months, she’s in underwear full-time (except for sleep). There are still some accidents and sure to be more regressions (especially once baby 2 arrives), but we’ve avoided any huge struggle over it. You can read more about this process in previous blog posts.

What Are Sensitive Periods? - Montessori in Real Life

Sensitive Period for Order: 1.5 to 4 years

Routine to their day is a big component of toddlers’ need for order. Montessori explains, “It is necessary for the child to have this order and stability in his environment because he is constructing himself out of the elements of the environment.” Toddlers crave routine and order in their environment because it provides a safe base from which they are explore everything else in the constantly changing (and big) world. External order helps toddlers and young children develop internal mental order. This is why Montessori environments have a more minimal look to them, and a specific place for everything.

D is deep in this sensitive period right now. She is very particular about the placement of her things. She actually corrected me when I tried to put one of her materials back in a different spot or when I put her shoes in the “wrong” basket. I also find the days that we stick to her routine are much happier than the days we are in and out of the car or when she isn’t sure what’s coming next. Keeping up with our regular schedule most days, giving her a heads up when we can’t, and always having a consistent bedtime routine helps her tremendously with this need for order.

What Are Sensitive Periods? - 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

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.

























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. ;)

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.

object labeling

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!

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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8 Months Old, and Making (Some) Things Happen

Theresa

Somehow another 2 months have gone by and Dakota is getting closer to 9 months old! The past couple of months have been the best, and Dakota the sweetest, and honestly I haven't thought a lot about blogging. Though in all honesty, another factor in my blog hiatus has been self doubt. Is this blog providing anything original or interesting? Do I come across as a mom snob? Nothing can prepare you for the insecurity you feel as a mom, and the constant worry that you are doing things worse or lesser than other moms! The last thing I want this blog to do is make other moms feel bad about choosing a different path for their child. Because as much as I believe in the Montessori method, I also believe every child needs something different, and every mom does too. I started this blog as a way to journal my motherhood adventure with Dakota in our Montessori-ish way, and I realized this week that worrying about what other moms think shouldn't be what keeps me from continuing that! I hope other moms agree. :) As I always say, you do you. So I'm doing me.

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Back to the topic of the hour...Miss Dakota Mae. While no baby is happy all the time, Dakota comes pretty close lately. And I do know now how phases come and go, so I'm just enjoying this one while it lasts! I can't get enough of her many facial expressions, her hugs, "words", giggles, and how she "waves" at every person who smiles at her. Dakota just seems delighted with her world, meeting new people (and seeing the familiar ones!), exploring her surroundings, but also really concentrating on her "work" at home. You can really see her start to see her understanding, and more impressively, her desire to understand, her little world. 

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Because Dakota isn't crawling yet (lucky me, I know), she spends a lot of her day sitting or stretching out on her tummy playing with her toys. She is perfectly content doing this for up to an hour at a time, with or without me by her side. I try to make sure she has time each day to play uninterrupted, while I do my own work, to get her used to playing independently. This will be harder when she starts to crawl, but just this afternoon I finished the dishes and came back to find Dakota with her book open in her lap, "reading". My heart! While she still very much enjoys her toys from previous blog posts (especially teethers with her top tooth about to poke through!), I wanted to focus this blog post on her new favorites.

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Besides books and knob puzzles (both of which she LOVES), most of her favorite toys involve some kind of cause and effect. In the past month, she has really been figuring out that she can make things happen with her own two hands. When she shakes the eggs, she makes music; when she hits the bell, it rings; when she turns one gear, the other turns. Even if the toy doesn't make a sound, she bangs two toys together to create one. See below for some ideas! 

Montessori Object Permanence Box with Tray and Ball - we started this with me showing her, and now she takes the ball and attempts (occasionally successfully!) to put it back in the hole. She delights in seeing that ball rolling into the tray each time!

Melissa & Doug Farm Animals Jumbo Knob Wooden Puzzle - this puzzle, along with others that have pictures under the pieces, are super fun and easy for her to pick up, and good pincer grasp practice!

Egg Shaker Set - these entertain Dakota to no end. She loves shaking one in each hand and "entertaining" our dog!

Single Shape Puzzles - the more traditional Montessori route to first puzzles, and likely the first that Dakota will get the pieces back into the inset, but for now just exploring.

Sensory Board - Dakota's favorite toy! The noises and sensory experience of this board is amazing. Would be a fun one to make if you are handy like that.

Play Cube Activity Center - My sister had this one, and it's the perfect size for babies to reach on their tummies or sitting. I love how she reaches over and around to get to the different parts of the cube.

HABA Magica Clutching Toy - I kind of want this one as a stress ball for myself! A great one for babies to use two hands in coordination and teeth on too.

Hape Wooden Musical Instrument Set - Dakota is still trying to figure out how to really make noise with these, but she is enjoying trying!

Multi-Color Rhythm Scarves - So many uses! Dakota loves pulling these out of a box, playing peek-a-boo with them, and just runnings her hands through them!

Green Toys Stacker - a new favorite made from recycled milk jugs and oh-so-smooth and fun!

Sitting Pretty, with Confidence

Theresa

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:

Learning by Hands, and Mouth

Theresa

"He does it with his hands, by experience, first in play and then through work. The hands are the instruments of man's intelligence." - Maria Montessori

Dakota is now 14 weeks old! She has grown and changed so much, but one of the biggest developments recently has been her fascination and use of her hands. These past few weeks, Dakota is all about grabbing objects, fabric, or often just her other hand, and bringing everything to her mouth. As a former developmental psych student, it has been so fun for me to geek out and watch her gradually develop this grasping and holding on skill.

Although babies are born with the palmar reflex (when you touch their palm, they close their fingers around your finger), they don't voluntarily grasp until closer to 3 months. In fact, newborns keep their hands clenched in fists for the first couple of months. But around 11 weeks, Dakota began to open her hand in response to seeing an object (or more often my hair) to grab. Once she could hold on to an object, everything just started going to her mouth (that need to suck is so real). There doesn't seem to be a reason for Dakota to touch an object if she can't also get it to her mouth. Let the germs begin...

When I began to notice Dakota's interest in grasping, I started with simple objects for her to grab at, such as ribbons dangling from her wooden play gym. She especially enjoyed this when one of the ribbons had a bell to make noise! As she started opening her hand more, I helped her grasp a wooden rattle and other thin, lightweight toys to hold onto. Over time, she began to grasp the toys on her own when I held them out to her, and bring them to her mouth. She'd often just grab onto her onesie or burp cloth and bring that to her mouth. Now she has "advanced" to occasionally picking up a toy that is next to her, and holding on to the toys for longer stretches of time (we're still talking a couple minutes max). She is also starting to test her balance by grabbing a rattle or cloth in front of her during tummy time. Who knows where those little hands will take her next! In the meantime, I will just enjoy being Dakota's favorite grasping toy. ;) 

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Here are some of the toys we have enjoyed in this early grasping phase:

 

Baby-Led Tummy Time

Theresa

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. ;)

A Baby's Focus

Theresa

The set-up of a child's environment is a key component of Montessori's philosophy. For an infant, a main feature of this environment is the movement area, where they can move freely in their natural position while absorbing their surroundings. Pictures and objects are placed nearby at the baby's eye level and be specifically designed to tap into their visual and cognitive abilities at each developmental stage. For the first couple months of a baby's life, this includes high contrast black and white mobiles, images, and a mirror for self discovery. The idea is that given time and space here, babies will work on concentration, visual tracking, gross motor skills, and develop an appreciation of quiet, alert time.

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Following this, I've set up various movement areas for Dakota around the house. My husband likes to tease me by calling them "cognitive development stations". ;) In these areas, I usually lie her down on a soft blanket, rug, or the Montessori topponcino with plenty of wiggle room, and then provide some kind of visual stimuli appropriate to a newborn's sight and reach. This has been a big success for both me and Dakota. Several times a day, she lies on her own on the floor (up to 30 minutes at a time!), content and focused on the black and white animals, herself in the floor mirror, or the munari mobile. I recently added in a bell on a ribbon that she enjoys kicking and swatting as she wiggles. Each set up is simple, but just interesting enough to capture her attention.

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It has been really fun to see her interest, concentration, and movement develop over the last month or so, as she "plays" on her own. It gives me a chance to really appreciate all those new baby sounds, expressions, and jerky movements. Seeing her happy in these movement areas gives me hope is that the time she spends in these movement areas now will give her an appreciation of independent play as she gets a bit older. It's nice to have that balance of social and independent time. Because it is equally fun to lie down next to her or cuddle with her, and these days, occasionally be rewarded with a smile! In these short spurts of Dakota's alert time, we are finding that balance of quiet time and mama time, both equally sweet.

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