The Perfect Day

Today was what I would class as a perfect or near perfect day.  We had made plans but these fell through. So what to do instead? We decided to brave the park this morning on a whim as the weather was fine and the wind was low. We recently discovered a beautiful large park nearby which we have not visited often as it has a lot of things in it that were too much for a small toddler. It is called an adventure playground and for a good reason: It is an adventure playground paradise for kids!

By nature and personality Joshua has always been a shy child. It often takes a few times for him to get used to something before he warms to it. I remember the first time his Daddy flew him up into the air at a couple of months of age, being lifted gently just above Daddy’s head. Joshua was momentarily quiet, but soon his bottom lip poked out and tears followed. It took a few goes before he started enjoying it and this quickly progressed to his laughing at being launched into the air. I should have known then that the child that we were given is a gentle soul that needs time to adjust to new situations before enjoying them.

Months ago, trips to a park would have involved Joshua being reticent to play and explore independently; rather leading us by his hand to play together.  He was not confident to go down a slide or climb equipment on his own. To be fair to Joshua it has been partly that I have accompanied him as I was concerned for his safety, feeling that he was not steady enough to venture off on his own. Often there are older children and I fear he will be pushed over by them or bullied. In the last few months I have come to the realisation that he needs to learn on his own how to handle himself in situations (within reason) and to come to me if he needs help. He needs opportunities to problem solve, to socialise, to work out if he gets stuck how to get out of it, and to not always rely on me to help him. All of this might seem easy and obvious but it is difficult to brush off an upset and clingy child.

So I decided just to let him go. Today Joshua pulled at me to play with him and I said “I’m following”. And so I followed. Slower and slower. Then finally I was not following at all and this is what happened.

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What have I learned?

  • Trust – Joshua is capable of climbing up and down and sliding without my help. He is very able and probably one of the safest climbers I have ever seen. I say this without exaggeration, he has had so much practice partly because we have stairs at home. I need to trust that I have put in the time and he now has the skills to handle climbing alone (within reason of course). The trust also extends to the other children in the park. They have generally been well behaved and have actually stopped when they see Joshua and waited for him even though he is smaller and slower than they are.
  • Patience – Joshua might not be the most adventurous (he isn’t going to be the kid up the front throwing himself headfirst into an activity) but he will be the child that plans and executes activities with his friends when he is older. He will be the person they look to logistically to get things done.
  • Let go – part of my job is to give Joshua the skills he needs and then step back and let him go.

There will be other days when he doesn’t throw himself into activities and clings to me for comfort. All too soon these days will pass and he will no longer need me so much so I am cherishing this time when he still does.

Thank you for making today the perfect day Joshua. Mama loves you.

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Montessori presentation of activities – does it really matter?

If you ever have the chance to observe a Montessori environment you will see that there is a lot of effort made in the presentation of activities. The rooms are neat and orderly and you will see work mats, trays and baskets are integral in assisting in presentation of activities to children. Why do we do this and is it important?

Montessori theory holds that a child’s most sensitive period for order is between 18-24 months. Montessori classrooms and homes try to appeal to this sense of order and to the child’s innate appreciation for beautiful things by presenting activities in the most beautiful and neat way possible. Neat shelving holds select activities (possibly life activities such pouring, scooping, cleaning, sweeping) and apparatus (such as cylinders, the pink tower, puzzles) and are directed by the child’s developmental needs and interests at their age ranges (Montessori classrooms have different aged children and at home you might have more than one child). These are presented at their height to make it as accessible as possible so that the child can reach for them and put them away on their own (independence). The ordered presentation of the materials forms one of the key principles of the prepared environment that is so important in facilitating learning.

At the moment Joshua’s interest has turned towards arts and crafts, including painting, drawing and pasting. A number of months ago I presented art activities and while he derived some enjoyment his primary interests at the time lay elsewhere. I believe his current interest has grown from a recent fascination with colours, and a natural extension of this has been to draw and explore mixing paint colours. So how have I gone about both supporting this interest and presenting this activity to him? This was the process I went through:

  1. Buy large art paper, crayons, paints, brushes and bowls from local shops. Some interest is taken in the paints with a few hand paintings made but then rejection of painting activities presented. Paint materials put away.
  2. Try introducing crayons and paper. A few dots and lines made. Paper and crayons made available on work table. Materials abandoned for extended period of time so I assume no interest and put these away. Assuming at this point that Joshua is not interested in art. Period.
  3. Go to toddler group. Notice that the setup is different and Joshua sees other children doing artwork. Interest is sparked and suddenly I cannot keep him away from the painting easel! Will not put on smock there but paints madly until paint goes on pants. Go home and present paints and paper on his easel at home in similar fashion to toddler group and also invest in some paint pots. Cannot stop Joshua painting but he still will not put on smock.
  4. Go to toddler group. Joshua sees crayons and paper presented in a tray. Interest is piqued. Joshua carries tray to table and uses crayons and pencils to draw until all the paper is gone and I have to get more. I am surprised as previously I had not tried pencils but Joshua draws so much and with such vigour that a little friend of his at the group comes over to try his own hand at drawing too.
  5. Get on internet and research crayons and pencils. I decided to invest in some good quality crayon and pencil supplies at this point as the crayons that were initially presented were not great and I notice that Joshua is not making much of a mark with them which discourages him. Present these to Joshua on a tray and present pencils and crayons in accessible basket and jar. Success!

Drawing with crayons

Reaching for crayons

So is presentation important? Yes!

Lessons learned:

  1. Keep the presentation simple.
    Just a few small baskets, trays and a little mat is enough for presenting most activities that you wish to encourage your child to work with. I have bought some cheap small baskets from local places here in Australia such as Ikea, Target and Kmart. These are neat as well as thrifty. Also I have seen presentation of materials in jars and boxes and for a younger child this may prove frustrating to access or distracting so detracts from the purpose of the activity. Just a basket and tray is usually sufficient and accessible. If you wish to invest in some lovely presentation materials I love the ones from Montessori Child, they have a beautiful wooden tray with handles, round basket with handles and first basket that are a worthy investment. A more economical option is the white tray which we have to present activities on too.
  2. Don’t be discouraged if your child does not take to an activity straight away.
    You cannot know if your child will be interested in something or not unless you make it available. I was initially discouraged as it seemed Joshua was not interested in arts however on investing in quality materials and changing the presentation – easy and doable at home – it has encouraged Joshua try new things. If there is still no interest after 3 times presented then I put the materials away and try again in another month. At 20 months old this is a busy time for Joshua and we have respected his areas of interest and tried to provide materials to support these.
  3. Try to provide the best materials possible.
    Initially the crayons I provided had a harder composition which requires a high hand and wrist strength to produce a visible mark on the paper, which can be difficult for younger children. Since investing in some better quality crayons I have observed an increased engagement in the activity which has improved his concentration level. It is well worth investigating online to see what materials are available. We currently use Stockmar stick crayons and Lyra triangular pencils as these came highly recommended. The triangular pencils encourage a good grip for early writers and were obtained from a local shop. There are also Stockmar crayon blocks that are available which are wonderful for getting younger children to grip and draw but we chose to go with the sticks as I am watching Joshua’s developing pencil grip to see how it is progressing. There are various stockists for these materials and depending where you live you might need to source them online. Dragonfly Toys is a wonderful stockist if you are in Australia.
  4. Try to model the use of the materials to your child and enjoy time together creating art!

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Toilet learning – the story so far

The hot topic for the last few months here has been toilet learning and as such I decided to write a post on it.

We started introducing the concept of a potty from the time that Joshua was 6 months old. While we did not engage in elimination communication we did start encouraging and introducing the concept of toilet learning from what is generally considered “early” in modern Western society. This has been driven by the desire to allow Joshua the chance to learn about the toileting process without pressure or rewards, as it remains important to us that Joshua learn things from an intrinsic desire to do things himself rather than through extrinsic motivation. It has remained to this day one of the most challenging aspects of parenting in that we have had to really work at refining the process (which you would think would be fairly straightforward, but as we progressed it became obvious that adjustments were needed with a younger child to facilitate the process).  It has also sometimes tested the limits of our patience, but has also become a shining example to us of how we need to trust our child and let him try.

Montessori philosophy holds that toilet learning sensitivity is between 12-18 months. (Please note that if toileting has not commenced during this period it is not to say that toileting cannot be achieved, this is Montessori theory). During this time we noticed that Joshua would be unhappy if he had a bowel movement and it was not cleaned up straight away, and he also displayed increasingly clear indications that he needed to go. We had already introduced the potty at times when we thought he might like to go, such as on awakening from a sleep or before bath. Once Joshua was 14 months old we started to increase the frequency with which we offered the potty as we did not want to miss taking advantage of this period where Joshua seemed more aware of what was happening. We have never forced Joshua onto the toilet or potty; he is offered it on a regular basis and if he chooses not to use it and subsequently wets himself then he is taken to be changed without recrimination.

Joshua has 2 toileting stations in the house, one upstairs and the other downstairs.

Joshua's downstairs toilet station

Joshua’s downstairs toilet station

There are a few important things we have integrated in our toilet learning process which are as follows:

  1. Changes standing up.
    Once Joshua was able to pull to stand we commenced doing all changes standing up. This is a little trickier on the care giver but we found that changes for Joshua on his back resulted in being kicked. A lot. I believe standing up made Joshua feel more involved in the process and respected.  It also presented a great opportunity for Joshua to help dress himself, thus making him a part of the process.
  2. All changes done in the bathroom/toilet.
    This helped to strengthen the association between the toilet/potty being where these things occur. The potty was available from around 6 months old and positioned in the bathroom at all times. We do not have potties lying about the house even though this might be easier as we wanted Joshua to associate toilet/potty with those certain areas of the house and not to just do it in whatever room he was in.
  3. Have an action plan.
    I firmly believe you need to be prepared for success. Our process so far has been well planned and the significant steps we took so far are as follows:
    * Nappy free time – and lots of it. Joshua has never suffered from nappy rash because of the amount of nappy free time he has had, as inconvenient as it has been for me sometimes. Please note that ANY amount of nappy free time is a learning period and should be encouraged so parents should not feel discouraged if they have not been able to give a lot due to time constraints.
    * Cloth nappies – if possible Montessorians encourage parents to cloth nappy their children. While this is more labour intensive for the caregiver, it gives the child lots of time to recognise that they are feeling wet and will want to be changed. For convenience purposes many parents today do not want to use cloth nappies but cloth is definitely recommended and is cheaper than disposables in the long run.
    * Observation – We took some time to observe Joshua’s toileting habits. For us it seems he needs the toilet to urinate far more in the mornings than afternoons and evenings, bowel movements tend to be afternoon or evenings.
    * Slow but eventual removal of nappies – we made it clear that there were no more nappies at certain periods of the day and then finally removed them altogether. Joshua no longer wears nappies during the day and mostly stays dry. There are still occasional misses but for 20 months old we feel that Joshua is progressing well and is achieving good control.
    * Trainers – we decided to invest in some quality trainers to facilitate the process. We have several different pairs, some are organic cotton and others are Bright Bots trainers which are perfect for little learners.  These allow the child to feel the wetness but without having the urine simply go straight through and onto the floor/carpet so gives the caregiver time to get the child to the bathroom to be changed.
    * Underpants – these are currently being worn at home and substituted with trainers while out and about. Eventually Joshua will wear underpants everywhere and we will then start on night learning.
  4. Requesting but not forcing child to use potty/toilet.
    It has remained important to us to remain as emotionally detached from the process as possible. If Joshua does not use the potty and wets himself we simply clean it up and move on. There have been periods where he has refused to use the toilet and has seen and felt the natural consequence of his choice. While frustrating and annoying he is definitely learning.
  5. Working on toileting out and about in your routine.
    This has definitely presented challenges as there was a stage when Joshua refused to use the potty elsewhere so there were misses. He seems to get it now and we have had several successful days out and about without any misses at all. There has been resistance to using the toilet elsewhere but I guess this should come as no surprise as most people prefer to use their own toilet at home.
  6. Positive language.
    We do not refer to misses as “accidents”. This might seem trivial but even the word carries a negative connotation. We also do not tell him “oooh that stinks” or “yuck” for the same reasons. Yes it smells, but it would still be the same smell if you had to clean it out of a nappy. Toilet learning is about learning the process and remaining positive about the whole process is a key factor in getting Joshua motivated to continue the process and want to master it. If he has wet himself I will say Joshua you are wet, we need to get you changed. We also ensure we use the proper language to describe what is happening and body parts. If it is not something we would use in everyday conversation then we don’t refer to it in that manner.
  7. The prepared environment.
    Be prepared for success. We set up the toileting stations and made modifications as needed to ensure that the process would be smooth once the process was underway. As you can see all of Joshua’s things are available at every toilet station in the house, we have one upstairs and one downstairs. We have trainers nearby and available for Joshua to get if he is wet, somewhere for him to sit to get changed, a bucket for soiled items to be placed into for laundering. At home he tends to prefer sitting straight on the toilet but out and about he will use a toilet or a potty which means we are able to get out and about without too many problems.
  8. Modelling appropriate behaviour.
    We have an open door policy on toileting in our house at the moment in order to model the correct behaviour. Children learn best when led by example! This includes wiping, flushing the toilet, washing hands after going to the toilet and drying them. Every time.
Toilet learning toddler

Toilet learning toddler

Things to note:

Yes, it takes a longer time to get the process done – but all forms of learning take time. Just as we have had to teach Joshua how to prepare a snack for himself, how to eat and how to use a spoon, so does this area require the same love and patience and the time to master them.

Yes it is frustrating – all forms of toilet learning are. Believe it or not your child is also frustrated if they can’t get to the toilet on time and have a miss.

Yes there are still misses to clean up – but toileting results in misses at all ages.

Yes it requires a lot of patience – but all forms of toileting requires patience, whether or not you start when we did or later.

Yes Joshua still needs a lot of help at this stage – but there will come a time when he is able to do most things for himself. All children need help with toileting such as wiping when they are trained too, and still need it until they are much older.

Yes we have to keep reminding him at this busy stage – but how many people do you know that you still have to remind to use the toilet (e.g. partner, older child?) You may even find yourself forgetting to use the toilet in the rush of reminding everyone else before you pile out the door!

We aren’t finished yet and have not yet tackled night learning. Joshua no longer wears nappies during the day and has made significant strides in his toileting which is partly because he is ready and also because he has been an active participant in this process.

If you are considering taking the toilet learning journey I encourage you to read and draw from the variety of resources available – kindle and e-readers are wonderful for immediate download and access to the information and online resources allow parents access like never before both local and international. A few useful resources are listed below.

  • Diaper free before 3 by Jill M Lekovic. This is a good read for those interested in the background behind toileting and how disposable nappies have changed the toileting landscape.
  • Aid to Life – this is simple but doable information which I have found invaluable and I keep referring back to it throughout this process.
  • Toilet Awareness by Sarah Moudry. I have not read this book myself but this comes highly recommended by Montessorians around the world.

There are several books that you can read to your child. We prefer those that have real pictures in them but you can also have those that are fun and make the process something to enjoy. Joshua has enjoyed Potty by Leslie Patricelli as it is a quick fun book to flip through and we read it to him while he is using the potty. We tend to keep some books in a basket nearby to read to keep things casual while on the toilet. The idea is to try and enjoy being on the toilet and Potty was amused by the story when it was read to him and clearly has understood the message of the story which has assisted with the process! There is debate for and against having books while on the toilet but we found that having some books helped Joshua relax and this in turn helps him go, especially for bowel movements. Things that I hope Joshua remembers from his toilet learning is having fun with Daddy and Mummy while on the toilet and enjoying one on one time with us. Things that I will take from this process are patience, love, understanding and happy memories of seeing Joshua’s achievements and strides forward in this area all done in his own time and achieved through our love and support of his independence.

Please remember that toileting is a process that each child needs to learn and misses are a part of this. A little understanding and kindness to parents going through the toileting process is appreciated.

Why we Montessori

For my first post I felt torn. Should I dive into a “Montessori” activity straight up? Should I talk about Montessori philosophy in detail?  After much thought I felt that I should explain why we do what we do. The easiest place to start is at the beginning.

The essential philosophy and catch-cry you will hear from Montessorians worldwide is “help me to do it myself”.  This encapsulates the foremost thoughts in Montessori thinking of independence and what is referred to as “The Absorbent Mind”, something that Maria Montessori derived from observing that children under the age of 3 learned language and other things without needing lessons and simply learn through being a part of the environment and absorbing what they need to know or what they are exposed to. My beliefs prior to having a child was that parenting was something to be gotten through (especially the early years) and that it would be years of doing things for your kids before they could contribute themselves. How wrong I was!

My attention was drawn to Montessori pedagogy through my husband who is himself a Montessori early learner and attended a small, local kindergarten. I have questioned him closely on his memories of kindergarten so that I can compare them to mine. Sadly my memories of kindergarten (I attended a local public kindergarten) are fragmented and hazy.

On the other hand, my husband has very little recollection of life that early, however he has a very good memory of his early experiences at Montessori kindergarten. It is fascinating to question him and show him apparatus that trigger that “light bulb” moment for him. When questioned “what does it feel like to be a Montessori kid” his answer is “I don’t know, it just is” but the fact that he clearly remembers things from that early in his life says to me that it had such a positive effect and impact that it imprinted itself in his memory.

That’s the Absorbent Mind for you.

And that’s what we want for Joshua.