0-2 months, DIY

Toppon-what? My essential piece of baby gear


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.


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).




Family life, Montessori philosophy

Watch and learn


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about observation. Observing the child was a large part of Maria Montessori’s work — it’s what lead to the development of her whole educational paradigm. It’s an important aspect of the Montessori classroom teacher’s role, so it must also be important for those of us who are using Montessori principles in the home.

But it’s not a big part of the online discussion and it even takes a back seat to action in otherwise brilliant books like Montessori From the Start . Unlike a sensory bin or a mathematical provocation, observing is tough to “pin”. It doesn’t require a lot of action, it doesn’t fill time, and it doesn’t keep our child entertained. But Montessori knew it was worth it.

And I think observation can be just as tough to understand, and even harder to implement.

I’m far from an expert, but here’s my simple, two-step program for better observing your child:

  • Quiet. Stop encouraging, stop instructing, stop directing. Everything you say can potentially distract a concentrating child and redirect their hard-won attention back to you.
  • Try to watch without judgement. Early childhood is all about experimentation, and it’s not about outcomes. It’s not about what you can “get” your child to do. It’s about letting them the freedom to try and to learn. My very, very favourite online example of what this looks like is little Elise pouring herself a drink in this video on Itty Bitty Love. (And kudos to Anne for posting such a perfectly-imperfect video!)

Something else that helps me to really understand observation is to observe myself. I try to be aware of when I feel like I need to direct what should be happening, or the need to “help”. I notice when I feel that familiar old fear creeping in that has to do with expectations and plans and shoulds and shouldn’ts. And then I just sit with those feelings and I observe where they come from and what happens if I don’t immediately act.

When I do manage to be still and observe, the rewards are huge. I feel amazed by my child, and grateful for his inner light. I feel relieved to see that he doesn’t need me to be some kind of super-mom-teacher, he just needs the space and the time to learn to do it himself.

What have you observed?