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.

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

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.

Homemade Bilingual Books

Finding bilingual materials is a constant challenge in the United States- especially if the language you are learning is not Spanish. With a lack of resources available locally, I can either order them on Amazon Canada, French websites, or the free shipping version is to make my own!

Like all good blog posts, I got a little help from my friend Dolly. Have you ever heard of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library? If you didn’t already love Dolly, here is another reason to love her, her commitment to childhood literacy. We signed up to receive a free book each month. After two months of this we realized that we had been gifted so many books by family and friends, combine this with our weekly trips to the library, we quickly took ourselves off the list. Books are not something we needed more of, but if you are struggling to make it to the library because of the number of children you have, or if your library is far away and you would like to spark joy and literacy in your child by getting a free book in the mail every month (until the age of 5)- please sign up for Imagination Library!

Two of the books we received from Dolly were bilingual books- in Spanish and English! What a great way to introduce children to another language. Speaking French myself, and not Spanish, I decided to take a Sharpie and write in the French. While I could just translate in my head, I want my son to see the words and when I am exhausted at bedtime, language translation does not sound like a fun activity.

trilingual children's book: Spanish, English and my hand written French.

With a sharpie and some time, I added a multilingual book to our collection. Thank you Dolly!

Bilingual Bébé

Before my journey into parenthood, I was a high school French teacher. I didn’t grow up bilingual and always wished that I had. While I love learning languages and cultures, language learning does not come easy to me. I had to work really hard to acquire French skills, especially since I am a very quiet introvert. I studied abroad for six months, spent a year working at a bar in a French monastery, spent a school year working in Senegal and I still try to keep up the language with movies and practice. What better way to practice than to speak to my son in French.

During the first six months of his life when all he did was sleep and gurgle, I read him my French novels, we listened to French podcasts together and I spoke to him with my heavy accent and strange foreign way of speaking. At first I was afraid I would mess up his brain speaking to him in a non-native language, but after reading the limited research available, it didn’t appear that this would be the case. There isn’t a lot of academic research as to what happens when a non-native speaker tries to teach a second language from birth, it appeared that my son might not master the language completely, but just a little exposure to a second language is beneficial.

During my graduate studies, I spent a summer working at a Montessori preschool in Guadeloupe (French speaking island in the lesser French Antilles). I noticed that a lot of parents at this private school tried to introduce their child to English at home. Their parents all had heavy accents and limited vocabularies (like me!) but those that had the most exposure to English at home were the most comfortable and had the best comprehension in English class at school.

So to all you parents out there who are hesitant- go ahead and learn a language with your child! In the U.S. the easiest language to learn together is Spanish- the public library has the largest selection of Spanish children books over other world languages. With language learning apps like Duolingo, you can advance your skills during nap time, and then read books together at bedtime.

It’s easy to not speak to my son in French, especially with a monolingual dad. I like the mental focus it takes. I will follow up this post with resources I use or make in French, and those available in other languages as well. My son isn’t speaking yet, but I have secret hopes that he’ll say Bonjour before Hello.

Rainy Day Blues

There's No Such Thing as Bad Weather Book Cover

After hearing about this book from multiple sources, I decided to check it out from the local public library (the best way to read books: support local libraries and reuse materials). What an important book for me to read! Growing up in Seattle, Washington, I lived in the rain throughout my childhood. I don’t remember the rain, or being bummed if it was cloudy; I just remember being a kid and playing in the woods behind my house. I remember disappearing for hours with my neighborhood best friend, coming back after climbing trees and catching tadpoles.

When I had my son, I realized I had become a fair weather outdoors woman. I loved backpacking, but not if it was too hot or too buggy. I loved hiking, but definitely not in the rain. I enjoyed a bike ride but only if it was a crisp and clear day. The long Tennessee winters, the dreary sky, lack of snow and abundance of cold rain wrought havoc on my spirit. I wanted to be different for my son. I didn’t want to be timid and dreary. This book was exactly the motivation I needed to get off my couch and get us outside. I read this book in January and promptly scoured the local thrift stores for rain gear and boots for my one year old. Apparently going outside isn’t very popular with a one year old who just started walking, I had such a difficult time finding used gear and waterproof boots for my toddler.

I switched from looking at thrift stores and consignment shops and went online. After awhile, I found a waterproof onesie from Mountain Warehouse.

Light Blue Rain Suit

It was on sale for $30 and included a removable fleece liner, so that I could continue to use this through the summer and fall. I purchased a 12-18 month size and it was almost comically too big. He could still walk around and so I was glad it would last so long.

With the rain suit bought I needed waterproof shoes. If his feet gets wet he gets really cranky and wants to be held, but still wants to be outside. How do you keep a newly walking toddler’s feet dry? Rubber rain boots seem too heavy for a new walker. I had heard that Croc makes a lightweight boot but their smallest size is 6 and my son is a 4. I had to sacrifice my pocket book and I found a company in Vancouver that makes boots for the little ones. MyMayu makes boots for the very very young. They are flexible, lightweight and seemed like they would be perfect. I bought a size 5/6 with a liner so that they would fit for a long time. I justified the price with the fact that the next child would be able to wear them too. They were a tad big, but with the liner and heavy socks he learned to walk around just fine. They aren’t 100% waterproof, the liner will feel wet, but his socks never feel wet. His feet stay dry and warm.

My son loves going outside from the minute he wakes up, he likes to find his shoes and then put them in our lap, pointing at the door, “Da da da da”. While I am still not entirely thrilled that I have found myself on more than one occasion standing outside in the 45 degree rain before I have finished my first cup of coffee in the morning, I must admit, I feel better after being outside, even in these conditions. With each cold and wet morning I spend standing in the grass, I know I am learning to love all kinds of weather again. Here’s to hoping that my son will keep his enthusiasm for the rain.