Toilet learning – the next stage?

Night learning items collage

Since my last post we have made significant strides with regard to toilet learning. The days are mostly dry, even after nap time and going out and about.  Joshua still needs to be offered the toilet but is generally making it known that he needs to go – more often than not now he is indicating he needs to go rather than us asking. Learning out and about is going smoothly; he holds on very well, and we generally offer the potty when we arrive at our destinations. Initially when we commenced the process I would offer it whenever we arrived somewhere, but after observation of Joshua’s toileting habits, I generally go by feel now rather than stringently offering the potty when we get somewhere as he might have gone prior to leaving the house. We use his potty out and about with ease: at friend’s houses, in the back of the car (benefits of having a hatchback!), in public restrooms (potty on hand) and at the park. We even did a day trip to the zoo and had no misses and we were gone from the house most of the day. Joshua’s Nonno has been caring for Joshua too, he helps him to the toilet at his house. Joshua is getting more comfortable using a toilet as we have transitioned him to using one at home. When we are at other people’s houses he is starting to want to use those instead of the potty, as long as he is able to climb onto the toilet comfortably, or is helped up to sit (we have a toilet insert that I bring along and Joshua is mostly happy being there as long as he can hold onto me for support). Nonno found Joshua trying to climb up on their toilet to go which is a good sign that he is feeling comfortable about using the toilet elsewhere. At parent-toddler class he also uses the toilets. At the moment he still needs help to get onto it but is quite happy to use it.

Practically Joshua can now pull down his trainers and pants. He still needs help pulling them up but makes a good effort at it. He is able to hold for a lot longer so the control is there so if there is a need to wait (e.g. stuck in traffic, just not able to stop) he is able to control this long enough to be offered. Often he still requires a bit of assistance to get pants down and up as he might really need to go but he is practicing. Often he likes to completely remove his shoes, pants and trainers/underwear to sit on the toilet (especially at home) and still wants me to go with him. He still needs reminding to wash his hands thoroughly and often wants me with him to help him, especially when we are out and about.

With this in mind we have commenced our transition from trainers to underwear during the day.  Joshua’s toileting confidence is increasing by the day; I see the rare misses we have these days as practice – that I have missed an opportunity to identify that he needs to use the potty or distraction by Joshua being preoccupied, and we just clean up and move on. At almost 23 months old it is still my job to assist him until he is able to completely do it himself. In this process I do not have the expectation that Joshua will be taking himself to the toilet all the time on his own, he will continue to need prompts to go. Overall I feel that this stage has been progressing well. We attended a housewarming party and Joshua indicated his need to use the toilet so I hurried him there. Luckily there were toilet steps and a seat insert available, much like the one we have at home, so it made the experience a good one for him. He needed more help here as he did not know where the toilet was. (Mental note: let your child know where the toilet is when you arrive at an unfamiliar destination.)

After his night sleep Joshua sometimes wakes up dry, other times wet. He is now able to open the door and come into us in the morning. I suspect that he might be coming to me because he needs to go to the toilet, but then again it could be hunger. In the evenings he is starting to resist putting on a nappy and sits down to put on his underwear or trainers. In any case we will be ready to try night learning shortly. I’m expecting disrupted sleep, changes of clothing and sheets that will be required and tweaking and adjustments to the current plan to commence the learning process. So at the moment these are the items that I believe will be required:

  • Waterproof cover for the bed.
    Initially we were not going to use anything but the mattress protector but as time has gone on I have changed my mind. In the middle of the night I do not want to be pulling up the bed sheets! I have considered a few options, these include Brolly Sheets (and other similar products), possibly lanolised woollen blankets or just putting down a small waterproof circle pad that I have from giving Joshua nappy free time when he was little. If we use woollen blankets I would need to lanolise them however from a comfort point of view Joshua often sleeps face down these days so I am not sure he would find putting his face on wool very nice to sleep on. It is however a good option as it is a natural fibre, breathes, and is not expensive.
  • Potty.
    We have some high back potties from Joshua’s earlier toilet learning for the house. We used Ikea high back potties and for out and about the Ikea smaller portable potty. I do love the Baby Bjorn potty chair as it is nice and stable but as we needed 2 of these – we have upstairs and downstairs toilet stations – it was a little pricey so decided on Ikea as the more thrifty option. I thought putting a potty in his bedroom would make it more accessible for him rather than leaving his room at night to go to the toilet. If we did this we might need to put on a light in his room so he can see what he is doing and sit on the potty. Otherwise we would leave it in the bathroom which might necessitate leaving his door open while he sleeps rather than closing it which is what he is used to.
  • Changes of clothes.
    These should be kept on hand right near the bed to ensure that all changes are done quickly in the night if needed without needing to disturb Joshua by trying to find new clothes and turning on the lights etc.
  • New bedding.
    Bedding should be on hand nearby to change if needed (Joshua currently sleeps with a few bamboo blankets on him).
  • Bucket.
    For soiled clothing/bedding to throw into quickly if required.

I have heard people talk a lot of about a “dream wee” when they are toilet training their child which means you take them to the toilet when they are half asleep at the same time every night so that they can urinate and head straight back to bed on an empty bladder so they can hold the rest until morning. I don’t believe that the introduction of a “dream wee” will be beneficial at this stage as I think Joshua will not appreciate being disturbed while he is sleeping. That is my thought at the moment – I might change my mind throughout the process as 12 hours is a long time to go without using the toilet. This may result in early morning disruptions as Joshua is very aware of wetness these days and I am sure will wake from discomfort and call for me but I am prepared to do that rather than wake him fully to put him on the toilet. I am sure I would not be very happy to be woken to go to the toilet and then put back into bed in the middle of the night while in deep sleep – we trialled this during the day which resulted in Joshua waking and being extremely grumpy. Part of toilet learning is learning to wake because your body alerts you to the fact that you need to go to the toilet. An alternative to this is to have a potty in Joshua’s room however I am uncertain about this as I do not want to weaken the association of toileting in the bathroom so I am as yet not decided on how we will proceed on this front. Should we decide leave it in the bathroom then we might need to ensure there is adequate lighting for him to make his way to the toilet. My husband is talking about putting in some night lights which flick on when there is movement which is a power saver as compared to having overhead lights on all night.

As you may have guessed from my posts I am an advocate for having a plan and being prepared for the toilet learning process. Having everything on hand and being prepared for as many eventualities and problems that might be encountered is a must, especially as this is night time learning and it is best to deal with issues promptly to cause minimal disruption to the child at night. We planned our daytime learning very meticulously so that to date we have never actually been caught out having run out of supplies or not having a potty available to use. Our process is robust and we have not had any misses that have gone into the bath or into the car seat. Part of that might be luck but mostly I think the planning and consistency we put into this has seen the process be relatively smooth.

Yes this has been a long process, one we commenced some time ago. We are seeing many benefits of having a toilet learning toddler who is I would say most of the way to completing the process. No nappies. No nappy rash. A strong awareness and want by Joshua to complete this function on his own (but my company is welcome!). As with the first part of this process it is daunting. Taking off the nappy for night sleeps is a very long period of time to not have a nappy on. Trust is required. Trust that Joshua will call me if he needs me. Trust that with practice he will learn to wake and take himself to the toilet in the night and will learn to hold until morning.

Jill Lekovic, the author of “Diaper Free Before 3”, has this to say and it sums up for me why we are persisting to do what we do here. 

“I often hear parents in the office express concerns that it will ‘take too long’ if they begin training earlier. People have developed a sense that if their child is not toileting without much reminding or help then they are wasting their time and should leave him in diapers until he is older. Many parents have proudly told me that their child one day ‘asked for underwear’ and then ‘trained himself’ with almost no accidents at all. No child should have to reach the stage of development where he can recognise underwear at the store and tell you he would want to wear it instead of diapers before you even introduce him to the potty.

Parents should not measure how successful they were at potty training by how little time and effort they invested in it. If there are benefits to the child who has delayed toilet training, then they have not been reflected in any of the {many} studies done on this topic. The problems with delayed training are discussed at length in this book, and I think there are more than enough reasons to make an extra time commitment to this task.”

It is not for savings in nappy washing or costs or to prove anything to anyone. We are doing this at Joshua’s pace and I anticipate not too many posts on toilet learning as we are almost complete.

Do you have experiences with night toilet learning? If you have any suggestions on the issues I have raised above I would love to hear them.

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Activity of the Day – Sweeping and using dustpan and brush

Our recent reorganisation of Joshua’s cleaning area has had some tangible benefits. Having the tools visible has meant that Joshua is now aware of where they belong and the fact that they serve a functional purpose. We are still working on the correct action of sweeping (using both hands to sweep, you can see in this picture Joshua is trying to use the broom one handed) and dusting up the crumbs into the pan (control over use of the brush and holding the pan to collect it all up which essentially requires both hands to perform a different task) but he is getting the idea.

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Of course once he is finished sweeping up we put the crumbs into the bin and put the equipment away.

As we have had so much success recently with practical life activities I am looking at revamping the cleaning area and in fact many areas of the kitchen so that Joshua is able to spontaneously clean and work when he chooses to. I will post an update in the new year on our work space changes to support Joshua’s learning.

Me Do It – Independence and high chairs

We did not implement Montessori into our home until Joshua was around 6 months old. We were blessed to have a wonderful gentle birth but the lead up to Joshua’s birth was stressful and I found it overwhelming to be a new parent, mainly the basics in learning how to care for Joshua and meet his day to day needs, including snatching much needed sleep. We followed the modern route of purchasing a high chair for Joshua that admittedly has been very easy to clean and a wonderful chair to use but ultimately after implementing Montessori into our home I became unhappy with it. Joshua became dissatisfied with it too. He was unable to climb into it, unable to get out of it. This limited his independence and this started to make mealtimes unpleasant.

So what does Montessori thought say about high chairs?

This is not a traditional high chair that a child must be put into and taken out of by the adult. We must keep in mind the child’s strong need to be independent and use a chair that the child will be able to get into and out of without our help as soon as he is able to walk and climb.
– Susan Mayclin Stephenson, The Joyful Child, Montessori Global Wisdom for Birth to Three

So with this in mind I decided to take Joshua out of the old high chair (he had tried to climb out of his chair which poses obvious safety risks) and put him on a normal chair with a phone book to boost him up closer to the table. We put a step stool at the base of the chair so that he could get up onto the chair and sit himself at the table which seemed to satisfy his independence in getting in and out of his seat himself however I wasn’t happy. We have a booster seat by the way. I wasn’t particularly pleased with the booster seat as it never really seemed to sit properly on the chair. Joshua didn’t seem to enjoy sitting on it either. So we used the phone book as a booster for a short while as Joshua was too short to sit on the chair properly and I don’t think that kneeling at the table is very comfortable or very good for posture. (Just to note – I would never allow Joshua to sit somewhere without being properly supervised.)

I did some research to see what else was available to meet this need. One of the first suggestions that came up (and the best from what I could find) was the Stokke Tripp Trapp high chair. I had been against getting one as I felt that they were not needful but as time goes on things change and we have to keep adapting the environment to accommodate these needs. The importance of the prepared environment has become more obvious to me as time goes on and this is one of his needs. I was also convinced by a friend who loves hers and they came very highly recommended from her as well as great reviews online.

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So I sourced a chair online and we put it together and this shows how Joshua gets up and down from his chair himself. This epitomises independence, freedom of movement and exercising of the will.

Getting up to his chair:

Joshua getting up on chair

Getting down from his chair:

Joshua getting down from chair

The first few times Joshua realised he could do it on his own he looked at me quite excitedly. Mama me do it!

This chair promotes great posture and independence. The foot rest allows Joshua to place his feet firmly and can be adjusted to whatever his needs are. The old high chair did not promote the best posture, I noticed that Joshua used to put his arm up on the side and lean a little as well as have his feet dangling. This is a solidly build, structurally sound chair (my husband is an engineer and is fanatical about safety) and beautiful. Joshua can get up and down it easily. He will not fall off it as he is quite a confident climber at 22 months.  No safety strap is required as he is old enough now to get in and out of his chair. The chair itself is beautiful, the colour is a contrast to our other furniture but that’s fine with me, it makes the chair obviously his and a special addition to the dining area. This chair can be used for years and is a wonderful addition to the kitchen table. I would recommend buying it second hand as we did, it is much cheaper and you can get a good number of years use out of it. I am a convert to this chair and would definitely get it again. It can be used into adulthood and I would recommend it to anyone.

Activity of the Day – Christmas Baking

We are enjoying the festive season this year. Having a toddler motivates me to bake so that we have lots of little edible presents to give to family and friends and to put out for Father Christmas as well. When looking for toddler recipes I look for recipes that require minimal intervention by me that Joshua can do himself as he follows instructions really well. Joshua gets to do just about all of it except put it in the oven and take it out. Depending on the age of your child they may be able to do more things like measure out ingredients, use electric beaters or chop up more things independently. At the moment I prepare all the utensils and measurements for the ingredients and tell Joshua what we need to do to complete the recipe. He loves cooking – particularly being able to do the entire process himself – and this morning came to me with his red mixing bowl in hand to request a baking session.

The following recipes tick all the boxes as great recipes for toddler hands and developing skills.

Kids Cookie Stars

In my search for toddler friendly recipes I stumbled across this fantastic recipe from Lesson Learnt Journal for Kids Cookie Stars.

Kids Cookies Dough Ingredients:

  • 100g softened butter
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence (or more/less as per taste preference)

For Decorating the Star Kids Cookies:

  • Silver cake decorating balls

Method:

  1. Turn on oven to 150°C to heat. Line a tray with baking paper.
  2. Combine all the Kids Cookies Dough ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix until the dough is ready. (I found you might need to use hands to rub the butter into the mixture if required).
  3. Roll out the dough onto a lightly floured surface using a rolling pin; or pat down the dough with the palms of your hands.
  4. Cut out star shapes with star shaped cookie cutters. Place the biscuits onto the tray and decorate with silver cake decorating balls.
  5. Bake at 150°C for 15 minutes.
  6. Let the biscuits cool on the tray.

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These are easy to make, toddler gets to do all of the work (after having the activity set up) and these are all ingredients that we had on hand in the pantry. Best of all the cookies are tasty! This recipe is going onto our list of kid friendly recipes. The original recipe called for 1 tablespoon of water and vanilla paste. I substituted the water for an egg which is more binding and great for a cookie dough (just need to use a bit of flour to dry the dough a bit when rolling it out) and used vanilla essence instead of vanilla paste (either is fine, vanilla paste is more concentrated so you would not use as much in the recipe.)

4 ingredient shortbread cookies

This recipe I came across a little while ago from Sixtine et Victoire’s Deb who made these lovely cookies with her daughters. I didn’t have the cookie stamps but we made the shortbread anyway and it was delicious. On my wish list are the cookie stamps!

You will need four ingredients (or five depending on the type of butter you use):

Ingredients

  • Butter: 1 cup (226 grams) the recipe called for unsalted butter but If you do use unsalted, then add 1/4 tsp of salt (2g)
  • Flour: 2 cups (260g)
  • Sugar: 1/2 cup (60g)
  • Pure Vanilla Extract: 1tsp (4g)

Method:

  • Beat butter until smooth, add sugar, beat until smooth and then add the vanilla extract.
  • Gently stir in flour until incorporated. Flatten the dough into a disk shape, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill the dough for at least an hour or until firm.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177°C, we put it on 180°C) with the rack in the middle of the oven.
  • Line two baking sheets with baking paper.
  • Flatten the dough into a disk shape, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill the dough for at least an hour or until firm. On a lightly floured surface roll out the dough into a 1/4 inch (0.6cm) thick circle. Cut into rounds or other shapes using lightly floured cookie cutter.
  • Place on the prepared baking sheets and place in refrigerator for about 15 minutes (do this step if using cookie stamps).
  • Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until very lightly browned. (We put it on for 10 minutes)
  • Cool on a wire rack.

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We had a little help from Daddy for the shortbread recipe. I think Joshua enjoyed it a lot, especially as Daddy has just returned from a stint of work travel. The J cookie is Daddy’s handy work.

The recipes are remarkably similar however the shortbread ends up being a bit lighter, more buttery and crumbly than the Kids Cookie Stars cookies. Both are delicious though. I’d be happy to do either of these again with Joshua, they are both on my list of toddler recipes. Joshua really enjoyed our stars theme, his favourite song at the moment is “Twinkle, Twinkle little star”.

We shared these cookies with friends today, they were gobbled down. Delicious!

Me Do It – Independence and beds

Recently I was doing some cleaning upstairs and while I was cleaning Joshua was moving about and entertaining himself by playing with a few things in his upstairs work space and also just following me around and watching what I was doing. Vacuuming the floor, cleaning the sinks, until he moved off into his own bedroom. I thought nothing of it until I noticed it was all quiet and when I went in to check on him he had gotten into bed himself and had put himself to sleep. This is the first time that he has done this and I started thinking back over how much our home has changed since we implemented Montessori into our lives, specifically the spaces we have tailored for Joshua’s accessibility.

Montessori advocates strongly for the child’s freedom of movement. This was something that I did not understand before becoming a parent and before following Montessori. Opportunities for the child to move need to be provided and in all areas of life.

Joshua’s bedroom was a major focus of our changes. Prior to this we had what would be considered a traditional set up. A book shelf, a cot, a chair for reading, nursing and sitting on. We became serious about making changes after we realised that Joshua was unhappy with his bed setup. He could not get in or out of his cot without assistance. Bedtime which had previously been quite easy and was now a struggle, all coinciding with his ability to walk. 

After consideration of our set up we decided we could go a few options:

  1. Cot – we did not do Montessori from the start so putting Joshua into a floor bed would have been disruptive as he was already used to sleeping in a cot. Go through the usual adjustments at some point to change him over to a big bed.
  2. Floor bed – we could put a large mattress down onto the floor or put the current mattress in Joshua’s cot onto the floor to serve as a floor bed. Alternatively there are several suppliers of special beautiful floor beds that I am aware of so this would have also been an option and Joshua would sleep in the bed for many years.
  3. Toddler bed – either adjustment to current cot or buy a toddler bed.

So why do this?

There are many reasons that floor beds are preferable to cots. A wonderful summary is in this post by The Full Montessori. The three essential pillars of Montessori Philosophy are independence, freedom of movement and the development of the will. The floor bed allows all of these things.

For us the changeover was an adaptive process to bridge the gap between floor bed and use of the cot as we had already purchased a cot and did not want to feel that this had been wasted. A few other considerations came to mind as well:

  • If we went from a cot to a floor bed we would still face needing to transition to a bed in a short while. We intend on keeping the same arrangement for the first three years of Joshua’s life as per Montessori advice but were keen to, if possible, keep the idea of having his own little bed as a transition to a bigger bed (he loves climbing on our bed so is aware that bigger people sleep on bigger beds).
  • Joshua was already used to sleeping in the cot. We were reluctant to move him from the bed he has always known and loved.
  • Joshua was already on the move so suddenly providing such freedom for sleeps could pose sleep disturbances, especially at night.

We decided on a compromise and took the side rail of the cot off. This allowed Joshua to get in and out of the cot with ease. It also allowed him the freedom to choose to get into bed when he wanted to nap and when he was finished with nap time he could get out of bed and head to the door to come out of his room.

Getting off bed

The difference in Joshua has been interesting to watch. We have noticed he wants to do things himself more. He wants to get in and out of bed on his own. Go to the potty and get on by himself (and dictate when he goes rather than being offered every 40 minutes or an hour). Put himself to bed when he is ready. (Yes. Put himself to bed when he is tired and identify that he is tired, to feel that he needs to go to sleep, not have his sleep time determined by me, me do it Mama). Get his drinks and snacks on his own. Not sleep in a sleeping bag or be wrapped or have anything limiting his ability to move while asleep. To this day he still moves about his bed but has learned where the boundaries are – with a little help from some rolled up towels – and sleeps with a blanket and some cherished toys.

So practically how did it work when we changed over?

  1. Transitioned initially using the side off for a day sleep so that Joshua would become familiar with the changed bed and be able to adjust to it.
  2. Continued with use of usual bedding for some time and introduced changes slowly to change over to just blankets during the day then at night.
  3. After a week we then put in some rolled up towels when it became obvious that Joshua was struggling to know where the edge of the bed was. As it is a bit higher we did not want him falling out of bed and hurting himself.

Issues we encountered:

  1. Freedom of the child
    Yes he got out of bed. Frequently. For about a month we found him sleeping wherever he fell asleep, the floor near the chair, leafing through books, near the door, near his stuffed toys. We persisted in putting him back into bed if we found him on the floor.  He now understands that the bed is to sleep. Now if he is having trouble falling asleep he will play with his toys a little, read a book in bed and will go to sleep there. This took some persistence, patience and time but no matter what stage you are at with your child – whether it be putting them on a floor bed from day one or what we are doing, at some stage your child will need to transition to a bigger bed so these issues will come up. The will of the child is expected and desirable! Making the choice to sleep in his bed is so satisfying for us to see.
  2. Falling out of bed
    Joshua fell out of bed a few times. A few times a massive thud and then silence, other times he would wake and cry and try to get back into bed himself. He grew out of it with some help from placing rolled up towels under the fitted sheet to mark the edge of the bed. We could have put a child rail on the bed but we decided against this as it inhibits a child’s freedom to move in and out of bed at will. The idea is to mark the edge of the bed, not inhibit the child from getting in and out easily. I have seen other people put a pool noodle under there which does the same job, that would be suitable for a proper floor bed as it is larger, we might consider doing this for when Joshua moves into a proper bed.
  3. Coming out of his bedroom
    Joshua has had a growth spurt recently and can now pull the handle on his bedroom door and open it to come out (our door handles are higher than average so to get out of his room requires some skill). After several early morning wake ups from our little visitor we encouraged him to either go to the toilet first before seeing us or to stay in his room and call for us if he needs/wants us rather than come to our room. He has his favourite toys and books available so he seems happy to entertain himself in the mornings if he wakes early. He can open the door and come out but he chooses not to now that he knows we prefer him to wait and call for us if he needs us.

We chose to do this to support Joshua’s independence and growth. At some point all children need to sleep in a bed and we feel that we will continue as we mean to go on. Seeing Joshua so happily getting in and out of his bed was a light bulb moment for me – when I first heard about floor beds I was skeptical, I have heard so many people talk about keeping their child in their cot as long as possible as a physical barrier to freedom when in fact everyone is so much happier now that we have demonstrated our support of  Joshua’s independence, freedom of movement and development of will.

Was it a difficult process? Moderately. There were disturbances and tweaking of the environment was required as well as patience and love to help Joshua through the transition. But we got there. Freedom within limits is achievable, it may require adjustments to support this but we feel it was totally worth it.

There are some beautiful floor beds available on the market (I would prefer handmade) however if we were going to go the floor bed option we would probably just go the larger mattress option with sheets as I feel that the simpler option is desirable.

If you are interested in reading a bit more about floor beds some great resources that I think are worth a read if you are interested in further reading about floor beds are here and here.

Activity of the day – Unit blocks at 22 months

It was raining this afternoon so out came the blocks. I love watching Joshua building things, and sat back to observe how his skills have developed in the last few months.

Unit blocks are wonderful. They help a child learn in so many different ways and most educators agree as to the many benefits that unit blocks have on development, here are just a few things:

Socially
Block play can provide an ideal situation to solve problems and to cooperate in a group (if in a larger situation). Sharing and trading different blocks and joining up structures are a great way to foster cooperation. Sharing ideas for how to build different structures can also share knowledge between older children which is a great way for children to learn to respect a viewpoint that is different to their own (and not coming from an adult). There are social benefits if an adult is involved too, the same concepts can be applied.

Physically
Stacking and building, fitting blocks together all exercise strength in hands and fingers and increase hand-eye coordination.

Intellectually
This assists in developing the vocabulary as a child describes the block, size, position. Child can experiment with how blocks fit together and gravity, balance and geometry. Blocks also give a child a chance to create representations of their experiences in a concrete form. It promotes an understanding of concepts that are essential to logical thinking, such as size, shape, order, number, area, length, patterns and weight.

Creatively
Child is encouraged to build and design their structures. Blocks can be used as a part of pretend play such as building a railway track and running little trains across it or make little landscapes for little figurines to play in.

Montessori supports the use of unit blocks as a part of a child’s curriculum. The open-ended nature of blocks allows for all of the above points to be fulfilled. I was pleased to read what Montessori had to say about the fulfillment for the need for movement in a child and how this exercises the mind:

This system, in which a child is constantly moving objects with his hands and actively exercising his sense, also takes into account a child’s special aptitude for mathematics.
If men had only used speech to communicate their thought, if their wisdom had been expressed in words aloe, no traces would remain of the past generations. It is thanks to the hand, the companion of the mind, that civilization has arisen. The hand has been the organ of this great gift that we inherit.
– Maria Montessori

So where is Joshua at with his block building development?

There are different stages of block play. Joshua is in the discovery stage at the moment, he is piling up his blocks, making roads and learning how these fit together.

Fine motor skills have improved. Joshua can balance things on top of each other and is judging when something seems like it will not stay up and will take it off quickly before it falls over.

Gross motor skills are also improving. Hefting a few blocks at a time now to his work space and back again. I observed Joshua trying to lift a part of the structures he was building.

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Joshua seems to be expressing his imagination now. He is putting things in different places and seeing if it looks “good” to him and is not afraid to take something down and change it if it does not meeting his vision. I see him assessing the “goodness” of his placement of blocks and moving them around if he doesn’t feel it should be there. He also seems to be making the stretch to try and build things not just upwards but out sideways.

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Unit blocks are cut specifically to fit together in different patterns and ways. Joshua has worked out the lengths that fit together and spent time fitting rectangular posts and cylinders under a “floor” of part of his building – cognitive development.

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As Joshua loves his unit blocks so much we have invested in some different unit blocks which will be available after Christmas for him to use. It will be wonderful to see what he does with them, watch this space for updates. I would also love to take this a little further and find out more about the blocks themselves so that I can name them properly for Joshua. Joshua’s Daddy has been showing him different building techniques and building alongside him but I would love to show him different pictures of different architectural structures to give Joshua his own ideas and really start to set his imagination free.

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I recently read a wonderful post by Racheous – Lovable Learning. Rachel referenced a wonderful diagram on the benefits of unit block play in early education and her experiences with her children. I would have loved to have gone with Joshua to the exhibit they attended.

Block play diagram

Activity of the Day – Baking muffins

We decided to do a little baking today as we had not done much in the way of practical life lately; life gets busy this time of the year and it becomes more important to make the time to continue with our usual practical life activities. Baking together is something we have been enjoying for quite a while but I have been putting a lot of thought into how to prepare our environment to support Joshua’s budding cooking skills and to encourage independence in the kitchen.

I love cooking – when I’m prepared! We have made our kitchen accessible to Joshua, he has a step stool that is nice and sturdy enough for him to stand up and work on or to stand on to watch while I cook and he snacks. More often than not lately he wants to join in, sample the carrots, drag over the chopping board to see what I am chopping up and sample it or just feel the texture, look at the meat, see when I put things in to cook. All of these observations I feel are helping Joshua toward a natural love of food – he LOVES his food, especially a lovely home cooked meal – and is giving him a real desire to want to participate in the preparation of it. We are lucky enough that both sides of our family have grandparents that are wonderful cooks. Joshua’s Grandpa cooks wonderful traditional Malaysian staples that I grew up on (congee, curries, salads, stir fries, soups, stews) and Joshua’s Nanna and Nonno make wonderful traditional English and European dishes (Turkey, ham, salads, pasta, lasagnes, sweets and desserts). This has given our family a wonderfully diverse range of foods which we have been exposed to and fortunately my husband and I both enjoy both these ranges of food and have exposed Joshua to these from an early age.

Joshua is currently 22 months old. This is a lovely age to start introducing cooking for a variety of reasons:

  • Participating in family life – the child has pride in feeling he is contributing toward the family meal.
  • Independence – helping build life skills and letting the child do it themselves from an early age.
  • Practicing and refining fine motor skills – grating, peeling, chopping, pouring, stirring. What better way to practice than through doing something productive?
  • Intrinsic motivation – preparing something for yourself to enjoy and eat and knowing that you are able to do it for yourself.
  • Focus and concentration – starting a task, following through and completing a job. A continuance of the non-practical life activities that we do with Joshua at the moment, getting out an activity, preparing it, using it then putting it away after it is finished.
  • Exposure to food preparation instils an appreciation for healthy plant foods at a young age which helps to shape healthy eating habits. This is a lifelong appreciation that a child will have for how food is prepared.
  • Encourages child to enjoy a wide variety of foods – the best time to encourage this is from a very young age. As Joshua is half Caucasian and half Asian it is very important to me to encourage him to eat and enjoy foods that come from both sides of his heritage.

Today I decided it would be nice to utilise all the little cooking tools I have accumulated for Joshua and let him really do a recipe on his own. We decided to do some banana and strawberry muffins, an easy recipe if we get everything prepared first. I adapted this as a smaller version of a French Yoghurt cake that I make that is smaller portions of it. It is super easy for even the littlest cooks to make and very tasty.

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Before commencing I set up the kitchen bench with all of our ingredients and measured them out, talked Joshua through step-by-step what needs to happen and what we are making. And so we began.

Chop up the strawberries. Mash the banana. Stir all the ingredients into the mixing bowl.

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Interestingly, in the process there were some parts that Joshua balked at – particularly pouring the flour into the large mixing bowl. I suspect this had little to do with lack of ability and everything to do with his not being able to eat the mashed up banana and strawberries after the flour was poured on top. Joshua enjoys sampling while I am preparing food and today was no exception. It was interesting to observe as I know Joshua loves food and has a deep appreciation for all the ingredients. He also showed a lot of enthusiasm for the finished product!

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Once the ingredients were all in and being mixed together, Joshua enjoyed one of the greatest joys of baking – tasting the batter.

We plan on doing a fair bit of baking with the festive season upon us. Next on the cards is gingerbread and shortbread for the family.

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We actually made this one again but with mango and strawberries and it was delicious!