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Filtering by Tag: toddler 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 Toddler's Daily Routine, Montessori Style

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?

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?