Hiking with a toddler

Hiking and camping was always our favorite activity before we had our son. When he came around, hiking was really easy when he was a baby. As a colicky baby, we spent many nights walking our neighborhood- walking was always an activity that calmed him down. He screamed at home and in cars, but if we were walking outside, he was always so peaceful. My husband would normally carry him in the ergo while I would carry diapers and our supplies in a small backpack. Long hikes were easy until he was about 9 months old as I was his only source of nutrition.

When he was a crawling baby, but still not walking, we switched from the ergo to the Osprey backpack. He loved having a higher vantage point, and found it easier than a stroller at times, so we would use it for trips around town even. It carries a lot, so diapers, water and food were easy to pack along. It has a removable backpack, so I could unzip it and carry it if the weight was too much for one person.

Always napped great outside: ergo, stroller, backpack, as long as we kept moving!

While I have carried my son in the backpack, since he has gotten heavier, I find it hard on my back. I am also seven months pregnant and don’t feel comfortable carrying that weight. Luckily, we go as a family most of the time, but I will take the Bob stroller if I am alone. Our son is now 21 months old, around 28 lbs, and my husband still finds the backpack comfortable.

The current issue is that our son loves to walk and run and explore (this is great it just means we can’t hike long distances). He doesn’t want to sit in the backpack for long, so since he started walking we have been confined to shorter 1-2 mile hikes. He will walk about half of it and he will ride periodically. Since we want him to develop his walking, running and strength skills we haven’t pushed him to stay in the backpack for longer hikes. Our son loves stopping to pick up pine cones, sticks and rocks, so we take 3 steps forward and 2 steps back. The key to toddler hikes is bringing all of the snacks. I normally bring 2 snacks per hour we are going to be out, and then throw in an extra just in case (which normally gets eaten).

Key stages of hiking with young babies and toddlers:

  • 0 months- 7 months: ergo carrier
  • 7-9 months: ergo for sleeping hikes and backpack for awake hikes (when he was younger, it wasn’t great on his neck to fall asleep in the backpack so we carried both so we could use the ergo for napping and nursing)
  • 10 months- 14 months: long backpack hikes (3-8 miles were pretty easy)
  • 15 months- 21 months (currently): short backpack hikes. If the hike is 1/2 mile or less, we won’t even take the backpack, he’ll just walk on his own

Since our son was colicky and the nights were very, very rough for 5 months, we never attempted to take him backpacking. I think that backpacking would be very easy in the beginning, especially if you are breastfeeding and don’t have to worry about mixing formula, and bringing water and bottles for this. You just have to carry out all the diapers and manage to carry all the camping supplies you need; more difficult with a baby but much less difficult than having a crawling or walking child.

We have done a lot of front country camping with him which is a lot of fun. It just depends on his developmental stage, mood and health level that has made the trips fun or difficult. We have found that as long as he is healthy, front country camping isn’t any more work than being at home. If your child won’t nap in a backpack though, this could make nap time a little difficult.

Overall, nature and kids go together so well. Being outside makes our whole family happier and healthier, so we make an effort to go for urban or nature hikes everyday.

Patience and Montessori

I haven’t published a story in awhile, and by awhile it’s been since July. If you have children, which is highly likely if you are reading this, you’ll know why. Toddlers have energetic bodies and minds that don’t leave a lot of time for blog writing. My 20 month old son can run all day, play all day, but sitting down and doing a quiet activity isn’t an option. Keeping him engaged means there is zero time for picture taking, let alone blog writing!

Instead of fighting this stage of development, I’ve decided to meet him where is is. This means we are outside all day, going to parks, on hikes, in the backyard, and neighborhood walks. Time inside is spent reading, playing with trucks, eating and sleeping. I feel like I spend most of my time redirecting his behavior if we are inside, as he is constantly climbing on tables or the dog, throwing books and/or toys. It takes a lot of patience to work through this with him. I told a friend recently that toddlers require more patience than a patient person has.

I have a lot of patience. Before becoming a mom, I taught high school and wrote a dissertation. They were both difficult jobs that tested my patience, but nothing compares with being a parent. Part of having patience means knowing what types of activities our little ones are interested in, rather than fighting against their desires. For my son, if we are running, playing, jumping, or exploring outside he is thrilled. Finding inside activities that engage his mind is more of a challenge. Yet by observing him, I have found some things that he likes to do. He loves to help cook and do specific chores (while he hates other chores).

Things that are working for us:

  • Outside play
  • Cooking (cutting bananas, peeling bananas, cracking eggs, sprinkling salt and pepper, stirring pans, pouring water)
  • Cleaning activities (sweeping up, putting laundry in the washer, taking down laundry from the line, putting clothes in the hamper, wiping up spills)
  • Reading books (all books, truck books, board books with lots of objects, animal books)
  • Playing with cars and trains

Things that are not working for us:

  • Toilet training (doesn’t mind being wet in cloth diapers, hates changes, scared of potty)
  • changing clothes
  • Throwing and biting

“Our care of the child should be governed, not by the desire to make him learn things, but by the endeavor always to keep burning within him that light which is called intelligence.”
― Maria Montessori

It can be hard not to focus on the final product that you want a child to learn. In order to learn how to pour from a pitcher to a glass, there will be many spills cleaned up before it is done perfectly. It is easy to feel tired with the process as a mother, as you are constantly with your child, redirecting, teaching, and observing. I have found that it is easier if I focus on tasks that my son is engaged in and interested in, rather than those he dislikes. I still have to change his clothes, but I have found ways to make it easier for him. If we do it before we go outside, he sees it as a step to outside and is happy to change. If I give him two shirt options, one with animals he likes, then he is more likely to appreciate taking his dirty shirt off. The process of learning can be longer than my patience. This is when as a parent, I need to step back and realize that the process is important for him. It is much easier to hold our child’s hand to understanding than to pick up screaming to take him there.

“Our work is not to teach, but to help the absorbent mind in its work of development. How marvelous it would be if by our help, if by an intelligent treatment of the child, if by understanding the needs of his physical life and by feeding his intellect, we could prolong the period of functioning of the absorbent mind!”
― Maria Montessori

So if you are wondering where my crafty ideas have been, I have been busy cultivating patience and learning how to parent my son. Thankfully nature does most of the work for me when we’re outside.

Homemade Wooden Imbucare Box

Do you remember those plastic toys that had five holes of different shapes? Perhaps a star, square, circle, triangle and rectangle? Have you seen a one year old get frustrated by the amount of holes and find it overwhelming? My child has one of these plastic toys, acquired as a hand-me-down or a gift, and absolutely hates it. This was before I new about Montessori materials for the toddler age (I always thought that 3 years old was the magic age). When I learned about object permanent boxes that only have one shape I thought that my son would appreciate and enjoy this activity. When I looked up buying them, I was surprised by the cost.

If you were to buy an Imbucare Box new these are the prices you are looking at:

When you think that you will be buying 2-4 different single shape boxes, the price adds up quickly! I am not very good at woodworking projects but knew that if I wanted something like this for my son, I would need to make it myself. After a failed attempt at making a box from birch wood bought from home depot (I said I wasn’t good at woodworking), I found an easier way. It is not the exact form of the Imbucare box, and I would improve this in the future, but for a first attempt it has worked rather well (and cheaply!).

At a local craft store that always provides coupons, I found these unfinished wooden boxes for 50% off. They already have a hinged lid and a small magnet that keeps the lid on. Using a circular drill bit, I cut a circle hole that fits the sphere and cone shape, so all I have to do is switch the pieces and it is a new toy. The shapes are the same brand as the box, as if I remember correctly was only $3 (plus 40% coupon of course). The shape bag comes with three each of squares, cones, spheres, and cylinder. I painted the cones blue with craft paint I had at my house.

The green tab you see in the above photo is because that tiny magnet works so well! I used a glue gun and a piece of ribbon to make a tab that my son could use to open the box; holding the bottom and pulling on the top is too much coordination for him at the moment. When I make a box for the square pieces, I would like to buy a square, instead of circular, box in order to cut out a whole for easy access as you see in the traditional boxes that are sold.

I was trying to make a wooden, and more permanent (pun intended), version of my previous homemade coin slot box. I would say my son currently prefers the plastic-took-me-two-minutes version; I am wondering if it is because he prefers the cards to the shapes, or doesn’t like the box itself. I’ll keep you updated!

Cost Savings: $3 for box at 50% off; $1.80 for shapes at 40% off = $4.80 versus $21-57 Multiply this by 3 boxes and watch your savings increase!

Not picking flowers and the garden plants

toddler walking a gravel path through a garden with an applesauce pouch in his hand
Can’t pick flowers if his hands are full of food!

Parents are always on edge when a flower picking toddler is in a beautiful botanical garden with other plant enthusiasts watching. There is nothing worse that watching the disgust on a photographer’s face as your toddler picks a giant hibiscus flower. Thankfully this didn’t happen, but was I pretty on edge.

We all want our children to be able to explore their environment, especially when in nature, so how do we draw the limits? To a toddler mind it makes no sense that he can pick a dandelion but he can’t pick a rose. Why can he pick a flower in our yard but not in the neighbor’s yard that is 10 feet away?

vegetable garden with a fence around it
fenced off the garden to keep out rabbits and dog (but mainly toddler)

It is important that our toddler learns that some behaviors are socially unacceptable, for if they don’t, we risk leaving them and us alienated from society. So unless we all live on 10 acres to roam, we probably need to teach boundaries.

The Beauty of a Fence

Unfortunately boundaries have been hard for our son to learn, but the one method that has been effective and painless for everyone is to make physical boundaries.

  • We have a fence around our vegetable garden already, to keep out the dog and rabbits, so this was an easy one.
  • We built a fence around our blueberry bushes to keep little hands from picking and eating not ripe berries.
  • We put netting around our blackberry and raspberry vines that line our property fence, which keeps his hands out and the birds out.

I don’t like struggling with my son over things his little mind can’t process, so this way everyone is less frustrated.

When we go to the botanical gardens, I tell him that he can touch the plants with one finger but he can’t pick them. This only works for about 10 seconds before the urge to pick takes over, so I normally just try to distract his hands with food, rocks, sticks and other items that are acceptable for picking up.

As for my neighbor, I hope they don’t get too mad about the missing pansy…

toddler picking basil from garden and placing it in wicker basket
Letting the toddler into the garden to pick some basil for dinner

Learning how to take care for the family dog

As it happens more and more these days, I am learning not to be surprised when my son shows me he is ready to help with a new chore or activity rather than me introducing it first. This is how we stumbled upon helping him learn how to care for our family dog. These two are inseparable when we’re at home, and while our pup does seem slightly irritated by our son most of the time, she also seems pretty attached and secretly in love. We’re grateful that she is so patient with his learning curve. The following activities are what he has been learning to be apart of:

  1. Feeding breakfast and dinner
  2. Dehydrating (to our dismay)
  3. Brushing
  4. Walking and hiking
  5. Petting gently (not hitting)
  1. Feeding the dog

I have tried to get our son to practice scooping by giving him Cheerios or Rice Krispies, but he normally just throws it around (or at the dog), which is why we only eat cereal with milk and not dry. My son is obsessed with our dog’s meal time. The minute he hears the utility door open up, I think he runs to the food bowl faster than the pup. While we used to grab him and take him out of the room kicking and screaming, we started letting him scoop the food and place it in the bowl. What intention and focus on this little toddler’s face! He is so proud to scoop and pour. The tricky part is that when he is done, he immediately wants to grab the food. Occasionally we will use a tiny scoop so that he can scoop many times, but have found that his attention span isn’t that long. This task definitely requires supervision by a parent. He is slowly getting better about not grabbing Walden’s food while she is eating (we’re trying to prepare him for a world that is not as passive his dog thankfully is).

2. Dehydrating the dog

While our child loves to feed the dog, any attempt to give water results in our son immediately dumping the container over. His curiosity with water overrides any introduction on our part to leave water bowls alone. Other than making sure our dog gets water when the little one is sleeping, we haven’t found a solution to this problem yet. Let me know if you have any ideas!

3. Brushing

Brushing our dog is probably our son’s second favorite dog activity behind feeding. He loves to come over when we our brushing our long-haired pup, sometimes kindly and sometimes unkindly asking to take the brush from us so he can have a go. We hadn’t yet gotten him a brush for his hair, so this prompted us to start giving him a brush to groom himself.

4. Going for walks

Hiking together

As our son started to have shorter attention spans with going for stroller walks, we started handing him our dog’s leash to hold onto. He loves holding the leash now. When we go for hikes or walks, he will ask to hold the leash. We make sure to hold halfway down to make sure our pup doesn’t get excited and knock the baby down. Hopefully this will help to keep his interest in hiking and maybe one day we’ll make it farther than a quarter mile!

5. Learning to have gentle hands

tug a war

We have been lucky to have a dog that has always played so gently and age appropriately with our son. She knows not to pull to hard or get too aggressive. Unfortunately, our son is not this attuned to gentle play and had to be taught to pet gently rather than hit aggressively. He learned this pretty quickly but still needs constant reminders. Now that he is much more active, he can get too handsy and think that our pup is his personal jungle gym. While our dog is extremely patient, all animals have limits, so we sometimes separate the two if our son is not able to calm down. Most of the time, he responds to our requests to treat her with care.

All of these activities helping to care for our dog are a wonderful way for our son to be involved. He already adores the dog, and now he can help take care of her. As an only child, his relationship with our dog is helping to teach him empathy and care. I am grateful that he has her to play with and learn from. Now if we could only teach our golden retriever that she is supposed to bring the ball back… but for now we’ll let our child chase her around.

Cost: No more than the dog already cost

Advanced Learning: Take your child to the vet with you when your dog goes for their check-up, this is a great learning experience to see what veterinarians do and to help them understand that we all go to the doctor; get a book on pet anatomy and learn about their body structure; teach your dog tricks and let your child learn the commands; watch dog shows together or go to a local dog show; volunteer at the humane society; get your dog trained to be a therapy dog and visit local hospitals together.

Pouring Milk and Scooping Cereal

My son used to like Cheerios but for some reason will only throw them on the ground now if we give him dry cereal- put milk in it and it’s another story! He cherishes his cereal with milk, I can’t argue with him there. If my husband or myself pour a bowl of cereal he runs to us with glee excited to get some cheerios soaked in milk. I thought that he would enjoy learning how to pour his own bowls.

First lesson in pouring milk from a pitcher and scooping cereal with a spoon: while it was a success in that he didn’t become frustrated and he remained concentrated, it was not a success in actually eating cereal. Maybe Lesson #2 will result in more caloric intake.

He has only poured one time (see blog post here on homemade pouring kit)- a fault in my not having a real location in my kitchen for his glass pitcher and cups and giving him exposure. The lack of experience showed when he went to pour the milk and I couldn’t resist the urge to keep the pitcher from spilling all over him by guiding it to the bowl. I would recommend having lots of practice with pouring water before introducing milk. I believe with education it is important to realize when children need to take a step back, or where you jumped too far ahead as a parent or educator.

The next and more complicated task comes with using a spoon to scoop, stabilize the spoon and bring it up to the mouth.

Attempt #2 and 3 with eating cereal went much better. I suppose I can’t expect him to not spill the first time. It is easy to forget how difficult new tasks are to small humans.

I have noticed a big difference in his ability to properly eat cereal depending on the spoon that I provide him. All of the spoons we own were hand me downs, so I don’t know all the brands. Shown in the picture below, the easiest spoon for our toddler is a plastic one with a loop handle. The loop makes it harder to dump out, meaning he is more likely to get it to his mouth with the cereal still on it! The munchkin spoon is the hardest because it is so long, he has trouble maneuvering it around; the shorter the handle the better.

Fun fact: The two spoons on the left that are the easiest for my son were hand-me-downs from my husband’s grandmother.

The two on the left are the easiest for my 16 month to wield

Letting your toddler do things by themselves is an act of iron will. It is very hard to watch someone use a spoon upside down and not intervene, or bring a spoon to their mouth and dump it one inch too soon. Teaching a toddler is a messy experience, but without this experience, we don’t give them room to grow. So get your sponges and cloths ready, because they are going to make a mess! Next lesson up? Cleaning up after ourselves!

Cost: Price of one small bowl of cereal

Advanced Learning: As my son grows, we can add steps to this: getting cereal out of cabinet and pouring it ourselves (baby step: providing a small tupperware of cereal to pour into bowl, big boy step: pouring from the box!), wiping up spills, cleaning dishes, shopping for cereal, learning where wheat and milk comes from.

Nature Basket: Matching Nomenclature Cards to Object

My son is fascinated with everything outdoors. He loves being outside; if there was a refrigerator with food outside, I don’t think he would come inside at all. Twigs, rocks, dirt clumps, puddles, leaves, flowers, rocks, did I mention rocks? He is already a pro collector. I thought that a nature basket would be a good first matching activity for him.

I started by collecting four nature objects from our yard. We don’t have a pine tree, but luckily a neighbor does and the pine cones were laying in the street. While I may have been able to find a more durable leaf elsewhere, I wanted one that I had access to so I could replace it when he rips it up (I was right- day one with basket- ripped up leaf).

To make the cards, I took pictures on a white background hoping that it would blend in when I printed them out (not exactly but doable).

I then pasted these onto a word document, writing the name on top in English and on bottom in French. I really loved Three Minute Montessori’s post on the importance of choosing the right font. Since I was feeling a little lazy last night, I decided that font wasn’t too important since my son would probably destroy the cards before the writing meant much to him, and went with the print Comic Sans.

Here is the file I printed out to create the cards:

After printing, I used glossy laminate sheets that I had left over from my teaching days to laminate the cards. It is not a great laminate, definitely won’t last more than a month is my guess, but I already had them and don’t plan on buying a laminator… yet (they really aren’t that expensive these days).

Not professional grade but good enough for us!

First morning lesson went much better than I expected! He sat and watched as I brought each individual item out and matched it to the item. I made the first introduction short and then had him put the basket away on his shelf. We had a second lesson in the afternoon and he did well with handing me the object from the basket when I took out a specific card. The cards did get a lot of wear on them already so the next time around I will have to work at making the laminate stick better. I think I need to use two sheets of laminate stuck together instead of one sheet of laminate stuck to a piece of overlapping paper.

Side note: I forgot how spiky pine cones are and was worried that he would hurt himself, but he is very careful in holding it and seems to know not to squeeze.

Cost: $0.50 (for basket)

Advanced Learning: Three-Part Cards (one additional card with the label detached), Four-Part Cards (adding a definition), rotating and adding more objects to the basket, have the child make their own cards

Toddler’s First Community Service

With parenthood also comes an awareness of how much trash is left on sidewalks, parks, and nature trails. Kids love finding trash treasures, picking up a sticky bottle cap with glee as you rush towards them before they put it in their mouth. While we all know that being exposed to germs can help the little ones’ immune systems, we all have limits, and unknown sticky items left on a sidewalk is one of those limits.

As we celebrated Earth Day last week, it has me reflecting not only on my own practices, but on how I can help to instill environmental knowledge in my son. Hanging out at a playground with an abundance of trash items, I wondered if I could combine my son’s love of picking up trash with intentional teaching on recycling and litter clean up. Instead of ripping bottle caps and candy wrappers out of his hand as he screams with frustration that I am taking his treasure away, I decided to let him gather these items. I keep a clear gallon plastic bag in my purse and have him place his items in the bag. If he wants to hang on to them, he can view the trash through the bag. Allowing him to collect his trash treasures in a productive way has helped to decrease his frustration. Toddlers hate being told not do something, but if you teach them how to do it in a healthy way they are thankful and appreciative (well, not all of the time, but it sure does help!). I will say that there are some items (like glass shards and other unmentionables) that I make sure to keep him far away from.

When we get home from our outing, I place the items in the trash or recycling. In the future, I will let him sort the items into the proper containers. As he grows up, I look forward to extending this activity to community clean-up events.

Toddler picking up a piece of trash on a playground
My little guy finding a trash treasure on the playground

Talking and explaining to children the importance of recycling at a young age is important- repetition and consistency with our practice will help to instill this environmental standard in the next generation. What Earth Day traditions do you have with your children? What ways have you found helpful in teaching children about recycling?

If only I could get over the irony of using a plastic bag…

Cost: $0

Advanced Learning: Incorporate talks on minimizing the trash we create, the importance of reduce, reuse and recycle, look up community cleanups to participate in together.

Toddler Pouring Kit

When you walk through any baby aisle all you see are plastic cups, plastic spoons, plastic bowls and plates. Children are destructive we are told- don’t trust them with anything breakable. This all seems logical and all the non-destructible and non-spill items made sense to me. It does seem counter intuitive to give a 15 month old a glass pitcher. I handed my toddler a glass cup with trepidation. I held my breath as he looked at the new prize sitting on his table. I knew he was going to pick it up and throw it across the room. After it shattered into many pieces my golden retriever and my son would injure their feet on the shards of glass. As this went through my mind in excruciating detail, my son was unfazed. I am grateful that thoughts can’t be heard, for low and behold, he didn’t bang it, he didn’t break it; in fact, he held the glass in his hands with care. He picked it up with both hands and then set it back down on his table- then he repeated- pick it up, set it down, pick it up, set it down. Several of these practices and he took a sip.


Day one of giving him a glass cup and I made sure to stand right next to him. I did limit his time with the glass, as soon as he had taken a few sips, I praised his efforts and told him we would put the glass away until he was thirsty again. I made sure to not fill it too high in order to minimize spilling (for we did dribble some during drinking).

tiny hexagonal glass and glass pitcher sitting on a cloth napkin
$0.99 for glass $1.99 for the pitcher

Today made me think that the glass pitcher was not a mistake. He wasn’t ready for the pitcher today, but after giving him the next week to work on using his cup, I look forward to introducing him (with supervision) to pouring with the pitcher.

I found the hexagonal glass (better for gripping) and the pitcher at a local thrift store. I love buying from thrift stores for it keeps used items out of landfills. In addition, this particular thrift store runs the local homeless shelter- supporting the community and the environment through my consumerism. Who doesn’t like an excuse to feel good about shopping?

Costing a mere $3 for the the two items, here is a sample of what you would be paying if you were to buy this product new on amazon:

montessori pouring kit on amazon $15.95 + 10.95 shipping
Glassware is abundant at thrift stores- I highly recommend checking there first

Glassware is a very common item at thrift stores and a great place to save some money, especially on shipping! For a child size sponge, simply cut one a regular sponges in half.

Future Improvements: I still need to find some trays- one downside of thrifting, it does require some patience to find what you are looking for (or is learning patience a positive??)

Money Savings: $20-40

Homemade Toddler Slot Box

An Imbucare Object Permanence Box is meant to allow the child to practice seeing an object disappear and understand that it is still there, while at the same time working on muscle coordination. I won’t go as far to say that my homemade version is an Imbucare Object Permanence Box because mine is see-through and does not easily allow for retrieving the objects out of the box. I could work on improving my homemade version- mine is more focusing on coordination and muscle control over object permanence.

Purchasing an Imbucare Box from Neinhuis, one of the leading brands of Montessori materials, is not cheap on the pocket book.

Even buying this from Montessori Outlet is more than I am able to spend:

More than 50% off is still very expensive!

I had a restless child who needed a toy to concentrate on so I took an Indian food takeout container (those tall thick ones for liquids) and cut a rectangular hole in the top. I then got some old playing cards and taught my son how to place the card through the hole. He loved this activity! It engaged his brain and his body.

Careful cutting the hole not to create any sharp edges

I quickly learned that playing cards lose their shape in the hands of a toddler. After the cards became bent he would have a difficult time getting them through the slot. I tried to find a sturdier object so that he would not get frustrated. Finding a stash of old bank, grocery and university cards we were back in business! A much needed upgrade as credit cards don’t lose shape and they are thick enough that he can pick them up when they are flat on the floor.

The second issue with this activity is that I have to supervise him because he can’t open the lid by himself, these containers seal so well they are hard to peel open. So I have to stand close by to open and close the container as he goes through all the cards (watching a toddler slowly pick up and place cards in the slot is difficult to to intervene but he does well… just takes much longer than it would us!) Since he has a short attention span for activities these days, I don’t mind sitting with him but I wonder if I created a more Object Permanence-Like box if it will increase his attention span since he would have more independence.

While I wanted a quick and cheap activity on the go, there are ways that I plan on improving this DIY version to create a more permanent (pun intended) material to add to our collection.

Toddler Hack: $0, 5 minutes

Future Improvements: Add Object-Permanence element, use a non-plastic item

Money Saved*: $30-60

*Saved for college fund since I can’t DIY Diploma