18 months, 18-21 months, 22-24 months, 24-28 months, Family life, Montessori philosophy

The toddler question

 

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Life with toddlers: it’s not for the faint of heart.

Toddlers are wonderful humans. They are curious and compassionate, full of energy and emotion. I live with one myself, a little sprite who brings joy to the whole family each day, and who embraces and insists upon independence, choice, and doing it herself!

One of the greatest gifts I received during my Montessori training a few years back was my teacher’s wonderful advice to, in the midst of those inevitable stormy moments with a toddler, step back from the intensity of the storm and ask: what is the child’s developmental need? 

I learned that, contrary to our culture’s comments on tantrums and the “terrible twos,” a toddler isn’t developmentally capable of being willful. Toddlers are naturally without motive — it’s not until around three years-old that a child’s own will actually even develops.

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What drives a toddler is this forward movement into their own development.

Occasionally, there are limits that interrupt that forward motion — whether it’s a parent, who absent-mindedly takes over zipping up a jacket, or needs a child to be buckled into a car seat — or even just the physical limits of the natural world, like when a child wants to fit a large block into a small hole. Encountering these edges can mean that joyful child is suddenly frustrated — more so than seems reasonable to the parent who has their own set of expectations front of mind.

It’s then, in the moment, that we can step back, take a deep breath, and ask: what is the child’s developmental need? It’s a crucial moment, one in which we take ourselves out of the heat of our own emotion about what’s happening, and try to see the world from our toddler’s perspective. Rather than, say, this one:

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Montessori identified that there are certain times in a child’s life when they are overwhelmingly interested in and able to take in certain developmental stages, called sensitive periods. Sometimes parents see their child acting “obsessed,” repeatedly doing the same thing: taking shoes on and off, climbing the stairs, turning lights off. Whenever that repeated activity is happening, you can bet that it’s because some big learning is happening.

As caregivers, understanding sensitive periods can shed light on what is happening for a frustrated toddler. Toddlers are sensitive to order, they have a need for movement, and for language.

A toddler who is sensitive to order — a natural desire that things should be “just so”— might be like the little guy I met at a party a few years ago. People were gathered around the door, some dressing, some going out, and a little toddler stood in the midst of it all, insisting that the open door should be closed. His mother was getting annoyed, it seemed inappropriate — some folks were about to go out. But from his perspective, he saw something that was out of order: an open door should be closed.

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I used to see this chart Maria Montessori created as a sort of report card, to see how my child measured up. Now I understand: it’s a list of needs. What if a child at 15 months NEEDS to walk without help? Game-changing. (Chart from The Absorbent Mind)

I know a sweet little girl who lives in a one-storey home. Get that girl into a house with stairs, and she’s got one focus, every time: up, then down. Up, then down. She’s gotta move! I remember reading somewhere that Maria Montessori suspected that the reason young kids love slides so much isn’t actually about the sliding: it’s all about the stairs.

I’ve faced all kinds of challenges with a child in need of movement: a long flight with a toddler on my lap, a music class for toddlers that expected my 13-month old to stay seated for 30 minutes, or simply a Tuesday afternoon preschool pick-up deadline, with a toddler who didn’t get enough playtime after her nap.

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So what’s to be done when developmental need bumps up against the edges of regular family life?

Sometimes just recognizing what the developmental need is takes the intensity out and gives me compassion for my child in the moment, and that in itself feels like enough.

Sometimes you spend most of a party over on the stairs, letting that eager girl climb.

Sometimes I have to say: “I know you’d like to keep walking, but we need to take the car to get there on time. Do you want to climb in or do you need my help?” And if she keeps on running, I take that as a choice that she needs my help getting into the car (and I make a note: this toddler needs some freedom to move).

This parenting thing is always imperfect, but looking for the developmental need can offer just the type of opportunity I’m always looking for as a mom: to bring a little more space into a stressful moment.

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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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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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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.”

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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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3 years old, Family life, Montessori philosophy

Life begins again

jasper handsThus it happens that at the age of three, life seems to begin again; for now consciousness shines forth in all its fullness and glory…  It is as if the child, having absorbed the world by an unconscious kind of intelligence, now “lays his hand” to it.

— Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

Tomorrow, my little guy will turn three. All of a sudden, it seems, everything that we’ve come through so far together is behind us, and we are moving on, he is levelling up. Everyday is new. He is three.

The quote above is from the chapter “From Unconscious Creator to Conscious Worker,” a whole essay dedicated to this wonderful transition. And the photo is by my wonderful friend Jodi, captured during the tie-dye workshop at a folk festival earlier this summer.

 

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4-6 months, Family life, Travel

Wee road warriors

Summer road trip tips

This morning I received an email alert about a spammy comment left on this site that began by saying “I see you need some fresh posts.” TouchĂ©, spam. If you’re ever left feeling a similar need for some fresh Milkweed, please join me on Instagram, where I update far more frequently (and where there is a whole community of Montessori-minded parents).

Speaking of fresh, about 24 hours ago we rolled in from our old-fashioned family road trip, during which we camped our way to the East Coast of Canada and back. The trip was full of natural beauty, family giggles, noisy singalongs and highway-side potty stops. Some sweet memories were made, and some great lessons were learned along the way. If you’re heading out on a summer road trip before the season ends, here’s a bit of what we gleaned on the open road.

Going off road. At four months and nearly three years old, our kids were amazing passengers (so perhaps tip #1 is “get lucky”?). We tried to drive as comfortably as possible — with snacks on hand, with full bellies, with frequent washroom stops, and for some of us, with a stuffed baby otter in hand. Whatever works. We had a policy of stopping any time the kids needed to, and it turned out they didn’t actually need to stop as often as we’d expected. We only stopped at a fast food restaurant once over 3000 kms and nearly two weeks. The rest of the time, we kept an eye out for farm markets, playgrounds, beaches and riverside parks (or, pictured above, a riverside farm market with playground and tractor to climb on. Thank you, rural New Brunswick). Getting a bit of space, and giving Jasper opportunities to really move his body kept everyone happy.

Staying on the road. The only way to cover a lot of miles is to just keep going. Although we stopped without a second thought when we needed to, we also tried to keep on moving when we could. We tried to keep an eye on the gas tank and the gas prices (the GasBuddy app was handy) during stops, so that we wouldn’t have to stop again unneccesarily. Keeping snacks on hand, within reach, could help to hold off lunch a little longer if we were making good time or wanted to make it to a particular destination.

Be here now. I’d packed an assortment of activities for Jasper — some were left overs from flights we’ve taken, like an etch-a-sketch book, a button snake, and some felt work; a homemade colouring binder; his sticker collection and book. Unfortunately, it seemed obvious pretty early on that Jasper gets some motion sickness, feeling nauseous when he spent time looking at his work instead of out the window. So, most of the trip, he looked out the window. Rather than the sort of educational entertainment I’d planned on, he was engaging with the real world — which was also the real reason we were on the trip. It meant he often needed more of my attention, but playing “I Spy” is as good a way to get through the hill and highways of New Brunswick as any. Looking out the window lead to conversations about naming construction and farm machinery, coming to recognize provincial flags, and speculating about the weather.

Listen up. The car stereo is everybody’s friend. It distracts from the squeak of the windshield wipers, it closes out conversation for a few minutes, it passes the time. We stocked up on audio books from the library and David grabbed a few favourite cds on the way out the door, and we were ready to roll. We took turns choosing what to listen to, and Jasper was usually willing to wait out a grown-up choice before getting back to “Macaroni and Cheese!” (aka Andrew Queen‘s great food-themed children’s album, Grow). Quick audio book review: Olivia and Frog and Toad were both pleasant listens, The Moffats is a family favourite, while Paddington Bear didn’t make it past the first few minutes.

As we settle in, do the laundry and return to life at home, I’m thrilled to know that our time on the road was successful not only in getting us to our destination, but in bringing our family together to meet a challenge, and creating truly lasting memories all along the way.

What are you up to this summer? What will your memories of summer ’15 be? If you have any road trip tips in your back pocket, let me know! 

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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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