3 years old, 3-6 Years, Books, Family life

Do you read chapter books?

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Do you read chapter books with your preschool-aged children?

Around the time that Jasper turned three, we started reading longer “chapter” books at bedtime. The usual routine includes one or two picture books, and then a chapter from the longer book we’ve got on the go. As a (tired) parent, I appreciate the way a chapter or two really mellows out a keyed up kid, and it also moves the concept of books, stories, and reading, beyond the picture book.

We started this routine last fall with Thorton W. Burgess’ “Adventures of” animal series. I (and many other Montessorians) don’t usually delight in the glut of kids’ books featuring talking animals, but hear me out on this one: the animals in Burgess’s books talk to each other, but never become anthropomorphized. They retain all the characteristics of their natural counterparts, and because of that, the books become a really accurate illustration of life in the woods — the predators act like predators, and the beavers and birds are concerned about things that beavers and birds would really be concerned about.

And best of all, the stories are well written and entertaining to read. And there are a lot of them — 170 according to Wikipedia!

We’ve also discovered a love for Bink and Gollie, a series of shorter, semi-illustrated books by the great Kate Dicamillo about two pals with wonderful vocabularies and a silly sense of humour. Next week we are going on a big trip along Canada’s East Coast, so we’ve been reading an abridged version of Anne of Green Gables.

Do you read chapter books? What are your favourites? We’d love some more recommendations!

 

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6-12 months, 6-8 months

Baby’s first bites

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Around these parts, we all love to eat. Well, Jasper is going through a deeply suspicious food, but the foods he likes — blueberry pancakes, roasted chicken, and sliced apples — he really likes. Our dining room table is a gathering place, a place to reconnect, a place to enjoy nourishing our bodies.

Sage has been joining us at the table almost since the very beginning, tucked into a lap. Though she was exclusively breastfeeding, she was still able to be a part of the family circle and take in all the sights and sounds that family dinner-time has to offer.

Now that she’s a little older, she joins us for dinner, sitting in a booster seat on a chair, pulled up to the table.

toddler and baby weaning table

For breakfast and snacks, she and Jasper usually sit together at a smaller weaning table, with a safe and supportive weaning chair just her size. Some Montessorians choose to let a baby eat at the weaning table for every meal, but time spent sharing a meal together is an important part of our family’s culture.

We all use ceramic dishes and real glassware, modelling safe and proper usage, while allowing the kids to learn that things can break (rather than introducing glass for the first time later, and watching a four year old have to learn that he can’t toss glass around the way he’s done for years with his plastic cups). At ten months, Sage drinks from an open glass with a bit of assistance holding it to her mouth.

We use a small bib, which attaches at the front shoulder, so that in the coming months, Sage can remove it herself, to signal that she’s finished eating. For now, we use baby sign language for “more” and “all done.”

With both Jasper and Sage, we’ve followed the self-feeding or baby-led weaning method, meaning that rather than pureeing food and spoon feeding it, food is offered in larger pieces that the baby then feeds to herself. It’s safe, simple and allows the baby to decide when she’s had enough to eat.

At around 8 months, as her dexterity grew, we began offering a spoon (often pre-loaded) for her to use, and currently using cutlery is a big focus of hers at meal times. `

Independence in eating comes with a bunch of benefits, from healthy habits to less time in the kitchen, but there is one big trade off: it’s a messy business. If you’ve got a dog who likes to clean up under the table, they’ll be in heaven. I haven’t got a dog, but a three year old with a Swiffer mop is a pretty good substitute, and I’m counting down the days till summer heralds the season of dining alfresco.

If you’re starting to think about feeding your baby, I recommend checking out this post from How We Montessori, which compares the traditional Montessori method with baby-led weaning. For a full run-down of essentials, check this great post on Midwest Montessori.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3 years old, Family life, Nature

Tracks in the snow

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Our best discovery yet: bobcat tracks!

This winter, one of the outdoor projects our family has added in to our lives is animal tracking — that is paying attention to, asking questions about, and learning from the signs animals leave behind.

My husband David has years of practice and some pretty respectable training in this area, but Jasper and I were starting out from ground zero. Luckily, this wintery season has given us the opportunity to engage with the tracks left in the snow a whole lot of different animals.

Tracking animals with kids is enriching in a number of ways — from language acquisition as we name animals and use descriptive language, to animal classification and developing the inquiry process — all while getting our bodies moving outside and engaging all of our senses in the natural world.

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  • Pay attention. This is the wonderful gift of developing knowledge about the natural world: developing awareness is inherently calming to the mind. It’s like meditation with a mission. The only way to notice signs of the other creatures we share the world with is to be mindful in the moment.
  •  You don’t have to go far. In fact, it’s okay to stay home.  We’ve had great conversations about the tracks we see in our own backyard, and I’ve been able to identify several high traffic, multi-species areas in our little patch of the world. Even learning to recognize what makes my tracks different from yours is useful.
  • Take pictures and follow up with more information. When you notice a set of tracks, talk about what you see — how big are they, how many toes do we see, etc. Was it a bird or a mammal?Ask questions before immediately identifying what animal you assume it is. Take a photo (sometimes placing something beside a print is useful for scale) or make a sketch (a great nature journal exercise).   When you get home, look up the print. iTrack Wildlife is a great app for this.
  • Make tracks, animals and the outdoor world part of your indoor life, too. Some time last year, in the tornado that is the dinner-making hour, I stumbled on a brilliant toddler activity: making animal tracks in playdough with toy animals. The key here is good quality (we have both Schleich and Safari Ltd animals) models, which are made from safe materials and have accurately shaped feet! We also have this wonderful print-out hanging on our fridge, where these local animals and their tracks become part of our everyday life. If your little one is into nomenclature cards, this free, printable set from Montessori For Everyone is a great addition to your selves.

What are you discovering this winter?

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Family life

Family collaboration

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The decision to offer the child space for movement has important implications for both parents and child because it implies the decision to have a family life oriented increasingly toward the collaboration of people living together.

There is really no need to buy objects but only a need to understand the value of free movement and how important it is for children always to feel their bodies free to move and work in a space.

 – Understanding the Human Being, by Silvana Quattrocchi Montanaro

I found this wonderful quote on an old post on the (truly wonderful) how we montessori blog, and I felt like it summed up so much — both how our family is spending our days now that Sage is nearly ten months and crawling, climbing, and discovering cupboards, and very nearly walking; and also the joy and meaning of bringing the Montessori method into our home.

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These shelves in our kitchen hold the kids’ dishes, a Buddha board, a basket with clay and tools, and a few other practical life activities for Jasper. And, in this moment in the life of a three year-old, Jasper himself.  

Our home is a place where real people are living out their lives together, while individually working on separate objectives. There are four of us, and while two of us are kids, and two are adults, we are all whole people, living our days here. It’s often messy, imperfect, and spontaneous; we are also always working to prepare and improve the environment to meet the needs of each person who shares the space — from Sage, to Jasper, who’s interested in jigsaw puzzles and has a need to identify letters right now, to my husband, who also does much of his professional work from home.

We experience moments where everything is moving too fast as we hustle out the door to get Jasper to his casa class, and moments where everything slows, as Jasper slowly and carefully pours the wet ingredients into the mixing bowl, or Sage determinedly stands and claps her hands together, her weight balanced just-so against a stool of the perfect height.

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Each day, in small ways, we are making a decision. We aim to have a family life oriented increasingly toward the collaboration of people living together.

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3 years old, Preschool

Winter stories

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Winter has finally arrived here. Snow blankets the backyard, the evenings are quiet, and the mornings are bright. Birds are at the feeder, while passing cars shush, and the big snowplough rumbles past.

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We’ve been spending time outside — Sage on my back, or in the toboggan, and Jasper in a snowsuit — as often as we can. When we come in, Jasper stirs honey into cocoa powder at the bottom of his mug before we add milk and a little hot water. We’re back into a routine, and we’re (all) trying to get our bodies used to the earlier wake up times and busy mornings. On Wednesday afternoons, Jasper’s been jumping and reaching and kicking through swimming lessons.

We go stir crazy and we get crabby and we get impatient with the many layers required to go outside, but I’m trying to be mindful about the example I set about how we perceive the season. We live in Canada, and winter can be long and cold — but it doesn’t have to be bitter!

Here are a few of the books we’ve been reading lately, to inspire us all to delight in this season. 

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Owl Moon
A child and their father (it’s not gender specific about the child) go for a moonlit walk in search of an owl. This book is quiet and beautiful and about families and nature.

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The Snowy Day
This one’s a classic, a Caldecott winner, and the only one on our short list that takes place in an urban environment (and which features a person of colour as the protagonist). Peter wakes up to a snowy morning and independently explores his neighbourhood, noticing the tracks his own feet leave in the snow and experimenting with bringing a snowball into the house. A real treasure.

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In the Snow: Who’s Been Here?
Lately, with the snowy weather giving us a boost, our family has been learning about and paying attention to tracking animals. This book about a brother and sister discovering signs of animals on a winter walk fits right in to those conversations.

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White Wonderful Winter
A sweet illustrated poem about family life indoors and out during winter time, this book is actually a part of a series that covers all four seasons.

 

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Over and Under the Snow
This, and the first book listed above are like two beautiful book ends — children spending time in nature with their parents. In this one, a girl cross-country skis through a snowy landscape as her father points out animals that live over and under the snow. Part winter adventure, part naturalist lesson, with beautiful and modern illustrations.

We have a mystery that I’ll present to all of you experienced bed-time readers. It’s a mystery that may have answer, or may simply be one of those mysteries that are contained within the mind of a preschooler:  the other day after he came home from casa, Jasper came home talking about a book they’d read, that he said was called “In the Deep Snow,” and which he said is about a mama ruffed grouse and a daddy ruffed grouse. Googling offers me a Robert Munsch book called “Deep Snow,” about a father-daughter snowmobile trip (no ruffed grouse seems to be featured within its pages). Any other ideas?

What are your favourite winter stories?

P.S. This post contains Amazon affiliate links which don’t cost you a penny, but offer me a percentage if you do choose to purchase one of our favourite books. Thanks!
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Christmas, Family life

It’s the holidays: be here now

IMG_4583Last night our neighbours and family gathered here to celebrate the solstice, with a warm fire blazing in the drizzling rain, a sweet solstice mead for the adults and far too many mini-cupcakes for the kids (okay, and the adults too). A four year-old friend did an amazing job sweeping up every possible crumb, and a grown up friend arrived with two cheese dishes, a plate of monster cookies and the afore-mentioned cupcakes. #soblessed

We woke this morning to find that the sun has returned, after all, and from here on out, the days will be longer and brighter. So worth celebrating!

I hope to keep the peaceful feeling I get from a candle-lit evening with beloveds all week long, even through mornings at the grocery store and later-than-usual bedtime stories.  Here are a few thoughts from around the web that are inspiring me through this holiday season:

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Last week we went to visit family on the West Coast of Canada, and while we were there, we also met our friends Beth and Quentin of Our Montessori Life for the first time. It was a really special moment — both to meet friends we already feel we know, and to spend time together in Beth’s beautiful casa classroom. Quentin gathered gifts for us from the peace table, and he and Jasper prepared a snack side by side. Beth wrote a sweet post about the experience

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Because of that trip, Jasper’s going to have a total of four weeks away from his own casa classroom, so though we usually don’t try to replicate school works at home, I wanted to bring some more focused work into our home through this season, but I didn’t want to add more to my own plate during this busy time.  The Merry Montessori Christmas e-book from Montessori Mischief was just the ticket. Filled with holiday-oriented activities for 2.5-6 year olds, it’s laid out in a super-simple style, and it doesn’t require much effort. I was able to flip through, choose a few activities I thought Jasper might like, and put together a few trays from things we had on hand. He ended up coming up with an idea for an extension on one of the activities we found in A Merry Montessori Christmas — pin-punching!

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I’m happy to have interesting materials on hand for my kids to explore and work with, but I know the secret to peaceful living isn’t about the stuff. The Montesssori Notebook has been hosting an online advent calendar, with peaceful parenting quotes each day. It’s helping me to keep my priorities straight.  You can “Like” The Montessori Notebook on Facebook to follow along.

I’m wishing you all a peaceful, warm, and restful holiday. Really take a break. Look after you. Get enough sleep. Eat well. Speak gently. Ignore anything that comes with the words “last minute” attached. Light a fire (or a candle) and watch the flames dance. Be outside.  Write a blog post with words of advice to yourself. 

See you in the New Year, friends! 

 

 

 

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Christmas, Family life

How to avoid rapidly changing holiday priorities: a gift guide

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Last week a budgeting email arrived in my inbox, alongside a whole lot of Black Friday advertisements. It warned to “beware rapidly changing priorities on Black Friday.” Retailers can entice with deals so good that the purchases seem like a great idea. Once you’ve seen the ad, that TV, or that cute sweater, or whatever you had not been thinking of before, suddenly rises to the top of your purchasing priorities.

The advice was to set out priorities ahead of time, and to set them in stone — not to make them on the fly, when you’re sensitive to the pressures of retailers and sales stickers.

As the weekend passed, with December just a few boxes away on the calendar, I found myself thinking of life’s other priorities. The wellbeing of my children, my relationships, myself.

Is it a busy time of year for you? It sure is for us. My freelance work has been turned up this fall, and now I’m trying to cram it in before our vacation starts, with a trip across the country next week. Along with a cookie swap, a baby shower, and a funeral. I’m grateful for this life, but some days it all flows a little faster than I’d like.

In spite of all of that, I’m being mindful of planning my priorities and I’m setting them in stone. I want to get the cooking done ahead of our big solstice party, so that I can relax and be present with our friends and family out at the bonfire. I’d like my children to be nourished deeply and to get enough sleep, so that they can really enjoy the season. I’d like to laugh and play games with my family on Christmas Eve, rather than anxiously waiting for bedtime so that I can get the wrapping done.

During this season, there are some really high pressure salespeople, both in the malls and at the relatives’ homes. There is so much to say “yes” to — gatherings, errands and outings, late nights, platters full of Christmas treats.  We can’t afford to make priorities on the fly. 

Here’s a simple way that we’re keeping the “gifts under the tree for our children” priority simple. Our children are each receiving a darling pair of pajamas, and one fun and thoughtful gift. That’s it.

No struggles to keep track of spending, no loading the cart with “just one more” spur of the moment purchase, no finding un-given gifts stuffed in a sock drawer a month later, no flurry of wrapping.

Twinkling lights on a Fraser fir, songs to sing, brunch in the oven, a couple of really wonderful toys — and time.

I encourage you to think of your priorities ahead of time this December. What would really benefit you or your children through the holidays? What would make it the ideal Christmas? Create a list before hitting the shops (even, or especially, the online shops!), and make your own wishlist of priorities before you head out to that family gathering.

Here’s the short and sweet (and simple!) 2015 Milkweed Montessori gift guide:

baby truck

For our baby on the move, a Moover Baby Truck, like this one.
Fun to push, ride on, play open and close and in and out, take apart and build back up.

wooden train set

And for our creative builder and engineer, what could be better than his own railroad? We haven’t settled on a set yet (any opinions?), but we’re considering this one.

Stockings have always been my favourite part of Christmas, like a mystery bag for all ages! We’ll include a few practical things and a few fun surprises. I’m thinking a great toothbrush, a natural bubble bath, a locally made, hand-carved spoon for Jasper, and for Sage, a little wooden robin, a match for fox I bought for Jasper’s first Christmas.

And, of course, two identical pairs of pajamas with feet. Pictures to follow.

Last year’s “Merry Montessori Christmas” gift guide.

What’s on your wishlist? 

P.S. This post contains some Amazon Associate links, which don’t cost you a penny, but do send me a percentage of any purchases made from the links from my site. Thank you!
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3 years old, Family life

Have your best Montessori parent-teacher meeting

What to expect at a Montessori parent-teach

Earlier today I found myself reminding my husband about our hot date for tomorrow afternoon: a parent-teacher meeting with Jasper’s Montessori casa (age 3-6) teacher. Okay, so not exactly the date of my dreams, but it does give me a thrill.

I found myself saying: “It’s like we’re levelling up. We’re having parent-teacher interviews together!”

As a first-time mom of a first year, three year old casa student, I wanted to get some advice on what to expect tomorrow when the three of us sit down together on miniature wooden chairs to talk about our little guy, so I called in a couple of experts, who I’m also glad to call friends.

Leisse Wilcox (Eat Play Love) is mom to three (including twins!) and a former Montessori teacher. She’s also the firecracker down the street, a fantastically fun friend, and a creative entrepreneur. 

“Parent conferences are the time to really touch base about the overall development of your child. You’re going to hear about how they’ve settled in socially and emotionally to the classroom, as well as how their fine and gross motor skills are developing, and of course the activities that really capture and stimulate their attention. Most likely this will be the extent of your visit; children who are having a harder time with any of these areas will have had the teacher’s concerns addressed with you earlier than the conference, i.e. with respect to how they listen, interact, play independently, engage with others, move through the space.

So much — most, actually — of the 3-6 year old’s work takes place as a process in their brain. It’s all stuff you can’t see. If you aren’t seeing a lot of “product,” or tangible “things” that your child has done, don’t sweat it! That’s completely normal. The early years are all about introducing concepts of wonder to these little people, planting incredible seeds that grow over time. So sit back and enjoy your child’s teacher telling you that she knows, loves, and has a plan for your beloved.”

have your best Montessori parent-teacher meeting

Beth Wood, of Our Montessori Life, is a casa teacher and mother on Vancouver Island, and I highly recommend that everybody follow Beth’s Instagram account, @ourmontessorilife for lovely and peaceful images from a real life Montessori home.

“I have had the incredible privilege to sit on both sides of the table for this. First as an over eager slightly paranoid Mother and then as a patient and slightly paranoid Casa teacher. First, before going to the meeting, think about and then write down your 3 most burning questions. Just 3. Each school sets the times for their meetings differently but one thing is certain. They have not reserved your time spot and the following 3 spots for you to empty out your questions list. Usually meetings last under 20 mins. Be prepared to leave when your time is up and make your time count.

That being said, a good Montessori school will have also properly prepared some very key points that are important to your child’s day. If your child is 3-4 you may hear lots about Practical Life. If your child is 4-5 you may hear lots about the Language or Culture areas and if your child is 5-6 you may hear lots about Math. Or not. The Montessori classroom is a vast one with many options.

What you are listening for is: “Your child loves (this)”. Or “Your child has recently really been interested in (this).” This shows that your teachers are really observing your child. If you don’t hear these statements, make sure they are one of your 3 important questions to ask. You are looking for signs that your child is loving the environment. That they are connecting with the materials. This should be evident regardless of age.

This is a first meeting and you may not get a lot of progression statements unless your child is a returning child. If they are a returning child one of your teachers points should be a progression statement. A statement about how your child has made progress with a particular area of the classroom. This may be as general as “Your child has gained independence in our transition times” (gets ready for home by themselves). It may be specific such as “Your child has made huge strides with the Language area.” Each of these statements are equally important in the eyes of a teacher.

The Parent Teacher meetings can be nerve racking, but they are incredibly insightful. You enter the world of the child. Listen with truly open ears and an open minded heart. Ask your 3 questions that are important to you gaining a better understanding of how your child’s day looks or what is in the future for your child.

More often than not, you will find yourself feeling just like the teacher. Absolutely amazed.

I think this book is a must have for all parents of children in the Casa program.”

Thanks Leisse & Beth! I’m so grateful for this wonderfully supportive online (and local!) Montessori community. I’m more excited than ever to open my heart to hear what’s happening in the casa classroom these days — and I think a lot of this advice would be really useful in other educational models too.

 

 

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4-6 months, 6-8 months, Books, Under 1 year

A Montessori shelf for baby

Montessori baby shelf collageDo a Pinterest search for “Montessori at home” and one thing you’re likely to see repeated in nearly all of the images are shelves. Open access shelving is beloved by Montessorians everywhere because it facilitates some key in the young child’s life like freedom of choice (the options are on view), independence (everything can be easily reached, even by the youngest child), and a sense of order (everything has its place on the shelf). It’s also a way to limit options and avoid overwhelming a child with too much stimulus — fewer items can be displayed brightly on a shelf than can be jammed into a toybox.

Up till this point, Sage has been pretty happy to look at mobiles, look out the big glass doors, or to engage with simple materials handed to her where she was.

When Sage started to really move earlier this month, she made it clear that she was ready to access shelves. Jasper graciously gave up a lower shelf in the main hangout room in our home, and she’s given up reaching for his beloved farm animals. Win-win.

When choosing materials, at any age, I always try to understand what the child’s body and mind are working on right now. (Editorial aside: these things really are a need! Children come with an amazing inner drive to work at their current developmental stage. Have you ever tried to fly on an airplane with a baby who’s just learned to walk or crawl?) From about six months on, the baby is really beginning to notice the world beyond mama; she needs to move and to explore.

This week, at very nearly 7 months, I have a few simple things on view, on a floor level shelf below the one where we keep our nature treasures (pictured above). Currently these are the bottom level of a larger set of shelves that also holds materials for grown ups — records and books and our stereo system.

Sage’s shelf is a beacon that draws her in and encourages her to move towards it.

The wooden spoons are safe, fun and interesting to explore. My husband is a musician, and music-making is a daily part of our family life. Across the same room are two shelves of kid-friendly, accessible instruments, mostly percussion. The spoons are Sage’s intro to playing with sound.

The knit ball rolls slowly when she drops it, and it becomes a slow-motion chase around the room.

“Little You,” by Richard Van Camp, and illustrated by Julie Flett (Canadians!), is a beautiful book with great images. Sage can manipulate the board book pages or we can look through it and read it together. The text is peaceful and loving, and a balm for a weary mama.

The little basket is one of my favourites. Six inches long, with two tiny handles at the edges, it’s the perfect first “tray” for a baby. It’s being used as an exploration or treasure basket, filled with interesting things to look at, grasp, and move. A mirrored ring, a long reflective ribbon, a wooden teething heart.

For more on baby shelves, check out this post from Montessori Mischief, and this one from Nduoma which celebrates one of the best gross motor development materials. What’s on your shelves these days (no matter your childs age)?

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0-2 months, 2-4 months, 4-6 months, 6-8 months, Motor development

She leads the way

baby led

Just about every source of parenting advice out there, from the doctor’s office to your friend’s yoga teacher to the public health unit, will recommend something called “tummy time.” If you’re a parent, you know what it is. If you’re not, go

But here’s a big ol’ secret: Sage has never been put into “tummy time.” She’s spent lots of time on her belly, but I didn’t put her into that position.

Instead, from just a few weeks old, she’s been put onto her back, with plenty of space to move freely, occasionally with a few toys to invite exploration. Her body and brain are developing, and all she needs is time and space. Natural human development will take care of the rest.

We avoided or minimized time in what I call “contraptions” — swings, car seats, Jolly Jumpers, bouncy chairs, etc. They are all used to contain and restrain a baby’s natural freedom of movement. By holding back a baby’s natural way of being, they are holding back development. Even if it is high contrast, or brightly coloured, or play sweet music. Of course, we used a car seat in a car, and I put her in a (non-automated) bouncy chair while I showered. But I worked to be mindful of the time spent using these devices.

At 11 weeks old, she rolled over onto her belly for the first time. A few weeks later, she rolled back from belly to back. Since then she’s been on the move, rolling, stretching, creeping, pulling herself along. A few weeks ago, she started to get up on all fours and rock.

On her six-month birthday, in the middle of Thanksgiving celebrations, she moved from the crawling position to sitting right up. She sat there for about thirty seconds, with family gathered around cheering her on and my jaw on the floor.

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At nearly seven months, this sweet girl is (nearly) all grown up and sitting up with confidence. She gets herself into that position, and she holds herself up as long as she’s interested in sitting. No pillows, no props, no Bumbos. When she’s done sitting, she leans back, she rolls onto her side, she flips onto her belly.

It’s her body, and it’s her choice.

Those words might seem a little intense, conjuring up ideas of consent and women’s rights. But I think it’s okay for my daughter to have the idea that she is in charge of her own body, even from an early age. She leads the way.

I was introduce to ideas about baby’s natural motor development through the idea of RIE and in particular Janet Lansbury’s blog, which is excellent. I’m currently listening to her audiobook No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame and wow, you guys. If you have a toddler or preschooler, that book can really do wonders for the communication around your household. If you will soon have a child that age, get started now!

Here are a few of Janet Lansbury’s posts about sitting and tummy time.

Edited to add: A reader posted a comment noting that focusing on timelines might give the incorrect impression that this method leads to early development. That’s not the case. Letting your baby lead the way allows them to develop at their own pace. There is no rush, and there’s no need to slow down. If your baby seems “late,” don’t despair. I think what this is all about it is giving your baby the respect, the space and also the time he or she needs to use their body and naturally develop. Thanks for your note, Gina! 

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