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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0-2 months, 2-4 months, 4-6 months, 6-12 months, Montessori philosophy

Put your baby on the floor. Like, a lot.


Montessori movement area
If I were to travel back in time to when Jasper was a wee baby, I might just give myself a seemingly crazy piece of advice. “Put your baby on the floor.”

He’s a September baby, and I have these memories of that first winter spent sitting there holding my baby. If he was awake, I was sitting there holding him, wondering what to do next. If I needed to do something that required the use of my arms, there was a stressful moment of tension as I tried to figure out “what to do” with him. I knew I didn’t want to rely on devices like the swing. But it never really occurred to me to put him on the floor unless he was having what I thought of as “floor-” or “tummy-” time. Ahh the little compartments we make of life…

With Sage, I still make sure to spend plenty of time holding, cuddling and carrying her while she’s so sweet and small. But I also give her plenty of time and space to explore and get to know her body and how it moves.

This work is best done on the floor. Here’s why:

  • her view is unobstructed. No crib bars, no pack and play mesh. Just a wide open view of the room and everyone in it.
  • she is free to move. With a lots of space to move, she does.
  • it doesn’t require putting baby into any position that she can’t get herself into or out of. It doesn’t give her an unnatural sense of her own capabilities. It doesn’t prop her up to sit before she can get there herself, it doesn’t dangle her into a false standing position. She is simply on her back until she rolls on to her tummy. She is reaching and stretching and eventually moving.

In the Montessori world, the environment for this kind of “floor-time” is called a movement area. A movement area might look something like this:

The key ingredient is lots of comfortable space. There will be a mat, a blanket, or something soft but supportive for baby to be on.  A few yoga mats side-by-side can work. I’ve found quilts are better for movement than other types of blankets (they lie flat while being crawled and squirmed on!).

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There may be a mobile suspended above a young baby to look at, or a bell, ring, rattle or grasping toy for babies who are ready to use their hands. At five months, Sage is rolling and creeping to move around, and I sometimes place an object (a skwish, or a open book with beautiful images) just out of reach for her to stretch towards.

Traditionally in the Montessori method, there is a wall mirror from the very beginning, which draws baby’s attention and allows her to watch her own body move. Our family chooses to incorporate the mirror later.

Montessori floor time and movement area

As baby begins to be able to move, there is a low shelf or basket offering a few objects to explore.

Also: if you start to worry about your babe, or feel he is not getting enough people time, or that she’s all alone on a big empty floor — hang out with your baby! Sit on the floor. Talk to your baby. Pick her up for a cuddle. Do some made-up yoga poses to stretch out that breastfeeding back. Sit with him lying between your legs. Read a novel while she rolls around. Talk some more.

It’s all about living life together, while giving your baby space and time to move freely. That’s it.

For more inspiring movement area images, check out this comprehensive post from Nduoma and this great round up post from How We Montessori.

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0-2 months, Family life, Under 1 year

Learning to love cloth diapers

Learning to love cloth diapers

Get this: not only do I find myself loving cloth diapers, I am loving changing diapers. And no, I don’t think I’m any crazier than your average mom of an infant and a toddler (which, okay…).

Cloth diapers have a whole lot of good going for them: they’re a more environmentally-friendly waste-solution, they don’t mask wetness and they are associated with more effective toilet learning. But lots of people have cloth diaper fears that mainly boil down to this: it’s too much icky work. I figured out pretty quickly that it’s not actually that much extra effort — diaper changes are just as quick, and people with kids do lots of laundry anyway. No problem.

Flashback two years, however, and you’d find me avoiding the cloth diapers piling up in a corner of my baby’s room, lonely and unused. I wanted to use them, I’d make efforts to use them, and somehow I’d find myself buying, using and throwing out disposable diapers.

I felt overwhelmed. We’d moved shortly after Jasper was born and were still in the process of setting up a home. I tried keeping diaper supplies on both floors of the house, and eventually settled on a changing him on the floor of his bedroom, a location that didn’t work for either my husband or my mom (and therefore, didn’t work). It all just seemed like a lot to manage, one more thing to worry about. Where are the covers? Where are the clean diapers? Why are there so many clean diapers piling up? Do we have wipes? Where are the wipes? Does the diaper pail stink? And on, and on. The pack of Pampers seemed like an easy way out. 

This time around, I promised myself it would be different. And it has been.  Changing diapers has an element of fun to it — choosing a colour, fastening the snaps (weak, I know, but I promise, there is not even that much joy in disposables). It’s a time to spend making eye-contact with my babe, talk through what we’re doing and giving her my full attention. 

So what’s the difference? Ladies and gentlemen, prepare yourselves for the wonders of the prepared environment.

I got it together by getting a changing station together. Absurdly simple, but amazingly effective. It’s got it all: a soft place for baby girl, a stack of clean diapers & a basket of covers, and another basket holding diaper liners, wipes and cream. And we really use it. It’s the only place in the home that we change Sage’s diaper, and the environment there is becoming a signal to her, so that she knows what to expect. I have no questions, and neither does she. We’re loving it.

For more on the joy of diaper changes, check out this great post from Janet Lansbury. 

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0-2 months, DIY

Toppon-what? My essential piece of baby gear

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Becoming parents for the second time meant both that we had acquired a lot of baby “stuff,” and we were acquainted with the way that stuff accumulates when a new baby shows up — with much gratitude to our friends’ baby-feverish parents — so we didn’t need much this time around.

And we’ve gained some wisdom along the way: very soon after a baby is born, it turns out the stuff really doesn’t matter.

That said, there are of course useful pieces of gear and thoughtful ways of setting up the environment. We upgraded to a double stroller that rolls better than one we bought while was in labour the last time around (live and learn!) and I spent some late-pregnancy evenings cutting and gluing Montessori mobiles. We rearranged Jasper’s bedroom to include space for a change table and baby clothing.

All of that has helped to make life easier along the way. But the number one, must have, absolute baby essential in our house is the topponcino.

I know. “Cappuccino?”

A topponcino is a small, thin mattress which is just the perfect size and shape for a baby to rest on in the first few months. It’s a great tool for gently moving an easily-startled newborn and helps to keep them warm while snuggled into someone’s arms.  It’s a perfect vehicle for being carried around the house on; it allows for big siblings to have a good, safe hold while “holding” baby on their lap; and it’s a godsend during those big family gatherings when your pure little babe is being passed between heavily-scented bosoms (love you, family!).  No worries about poking watches or nervous brothers-in-law. Beyond preventing your newborn returning to you smelling of No. 5, the topponcino also holds the familiar smell of mama, providing the comfort of a familiar point of reference. I actually slept with the topponcino in our bed for the last few weeks of pregnancy.

The topponicino is also a magical solution to the age-old problem of putting down a sleeping baby. If you’ve ever been trapped into holding a sleeping baby who’s suddenly wide-eyed when she’s set down, you know the struggle is real.

After a health scare soon after she was born, we spent a few days in the hospital with Sage, and the topponcino was something that we used constantly, providing a safe, comforting relatively germ-free place for her to be, which smelled of Mom and Dad.

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Ultimately, the topponcino helps to ease the transition from the womb to the world, by keeping baby warm and comfortable.

A few practical notes: we have two topponcinos, one which is entirely washable (that snazzy popcorn number you see above), and one with a removable muslin sham. They need to be washed about once a week in our case, so it hasn’t really added any extra work. My mom made them both, because my sewing skills are abysmal and potentially hazardous to sewing machines, but it was a fairly straightforward job. We mainly used this pattern from Voila Montessori, and if you’re in Canada, we have really been happy with Simplifi’s bamboo muslin.

Spring 2018 edit: Here’s another link to a DIY method from Furawico (they also sell a topponcino kit).

 

 

 

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0-2 months, Family life

A life together

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“Our commitment must start
where life begins.”
— Silvana Quattrocchi Montanaro

After what’s felt like a long break — a whole lifetime in our new daughter’s case — I’m so very happy to return to this space, and to introduce our new baby, Sage.

Sage and I, along with big brother and her dad, have been both enjoying these first few weeks of her life, and also working through the inherent challenges together.

Montessori philosophy refers to this time as “symbiotic life,” or “life together.” The mother and the newborn are partners in a way of living that is mutually beneficial as they move together beyond the intense change that takes place at birth. We are able to do this through gentleness, respect and intention while holding and physically being with the baby, handling — dressing, bathing and caring for the baby with our hands, and feeding (in our case, breastfeeding).

For a modern mom with a busy schedule, a social life, and other commitments, the symbiotic life means a serious step back from the life before baby was born, and a certain degree of acceptance that life in the home, with the baby, is the centre — at least for now. For me, that acceptance is often easily surpassed by a blissful embracing of this life’s pace, and also sometimes comes begrudgingly (cut to the scene where my husband meets our friends at the well-appointed tequila bar down the street for a well-deserved break).

The pay off is huge, though: what’s happening during this relatively short time is that Sage is learning deep truths about the world, truths that she’ll carry with her for the rest of her life. As we observe her and respond to her needs, she learns that she is loved, that she can trust her environment, that when needed, help will come. Important stuff.

We did so much reading and talking together to prepare Jasper for life as a big brother, and he’s done wonderfully. At two and a half, he very loving toward his sister, he’s able to patiently wait (most of the time) for her needs to be met before the next game of hide and seek can begin, he’s become even more connected with his dad, and he’s made huge leaps in independence in lots of areas (and at times of high need, taken a few steps back, too).

He’s also been very patient with a mom who’s sometimes short on it. The adjustment to being mama to two children has been harder than I expected, and coupled with the usual hormonal highs and lows of the post-partum period, it’s been a roller coaster. We’re starting to find our new rhythms and ways together though, and as we begin to venture out into the world, I’m so grateful to find myself among this party of four.

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