Healthy Mommy

Healthy Mommy

Confessions of a Wannabe Montessori Mom

November 20, 2019
Montessori Mom

This is a piece I wrote for Mother.ly about 7 months ago that never got published. But I found it the other day and thought it sad that it never saw the light of day. Then I remembered, I have my own blog. Duh. So, here it is…

The Montessori life. Loving, respectful children, capable of playing independently, cleaning up after themselves, drinking out of a cup, and climbing on to their floor mattress at bedtime all on their own. Ah. Sounds lovely. I want that for my little girl. I really do. But I have my doubts. Not in the philosophy, but in my abilities to be a Montessori mom. You see, it takes a very special person to do this job. You have to be clean, organized, routine-oriented, and patient. Very, very patient.

I am none of these things.

When I walk in the door, I pull off my shoes using my feet and foot-toss them as close as possible to the shoe area. I pull off my daughter’s shoes and toss them with the same effort.

I walk past the powder room, forgetting that we should make it a habit to wash her hands as soon as she walks in the door. I will remember this important self-care task seconds after I put her down at her appopriately-sized dining table, scurrying her to the bathroom while she kicks and screams because she’s “HUNGY!”

Once that's finished, I begin to say, “Charley, get a plate from your…” Oh wait. I didn’t replenish her dish-setting drawer. There are no plates, no forks, just a lonely bib and a cup that she never uses because every time I try to get her to drink from an open-mouthed cup, she pours it all over herself.

We sit down to eat, and per usual, any attempts to eat with a fork are futile. It typically ends up on the floor or in my face because she wants me to see that she has “FOKE.” I don’t teach her how to use it (again) because I’m more worried about her losing interest in her food than her fork-using abilities.

“All done!” she says. “Okay,” I say. “Let me wipe your hands (yes, I wipe them for her), then you push your chair in.” She pushes it in! Yay! I needed a win. Then, without being asked, she picks up her plate and brings it towards the sink. Yay! Another wi…whoops. She drops the food all over the floor. That’s okay! Learning lesson, right? “Let’s clean it up together,” I say. She stops, looks at me, looks at the plate, then books it to the other side of the room. I don’t push because I know it will take ten times longer for her to help.

She checks out her extremely stale play area while I clean up in the kitchen. There are no trays. No rugs. No wooden shelf. Just a fireplace with six (usually untouched) toys atop, and one pink plastic (yes, I said it) desk and chair next to them. She throws my latest Pinterest attempt across the room (golf tees hammered into the bottom of an egg carton) and circles back around to the kitchen where she can do some real damage (i.e. throw my Pyrex lids like frisbees).

It’s nap time. Thank God. We read three books, sing a song, and I put her in her crib, wondering if she is capable of using an open bed where she would be able to roam freely if she so chooses. Nah. She’s…ahem, I’m not ready. I spend nap time poring over a Montessori book…

Oh, that’s good. I’ll write that down.

I can’t see that ever happening.

Is this author serious? That’s not realistic.

Or maybe it is for other kids, just not mine.

Or worse. Maybe it is for other moms, just not me.

She’s up!! Crap. I forgot to set up a new activity for her. Oh well. I’ll just wing it. We go downstairs and I set her up with a few empty containers and jars with lids. She loves them! Independent-play win. YUSSS.

“Charley, can you set the table for dinner? “I say. I get down to her level and explain to her to put the placemats on the table. Then, the plates, then the forks. Ugh. That was probably too much information at once. And now I’m wondering, have I ever taken the time to explain exactly how to do that?

She gets the placemats out. All eight of them. I explain to her that we only need two, and to put the others back in the drawer. Next, the plates. This time, I have a pile of clean plates for her ready in her drawer. Of course, that means she takes all three plates out, puts her feet in two of them, and throws the other on the floor. I calmly explain to her that the plates are for eating, not stepping in. I wash the plates, then leave them in the drying rack so she can’t try to use them as footwear again.

I pick her up to her chair at the kitchen table. We sit, we eat, she plays with her food, and turns her fork into a scraping device for our table. I try not to comment on her eating habits, how good the food is, and if she is going to eat those delicious parsnips I spent so much time cutting up into small pieces. I want to make sure she doesn’t feel any pressure, and that she’ll eat if she’s hungry, stop when she’s full.

“All done!” she says and signs. We’re in the home stretch. From here, I set her up with a big bottle of milk (yes, bottle, not cup, not glass) and start cleaning the kitchen. She “helps me” sweep with her adorable Melissa & Doug broom and dustpan. But it’s more of a matter of keeping her busy rather than actually accomplishing any sweeping.

We play a little longer, then it’s time for bed. After our usual power struggle, I get her to her stool at the sink for teeth-brushing time. To keep her there, I turn on Boo, our stuffed toy elephant — an unrealistic portrayal of an animal and one that sings, making it a passive toy. Ugh, the shame.

We change into her PJs. I try to let her help, but honestly, at this point, I just want to get this show on the road. She picks out her books (hey, there’s some independence), we snuggle up, and read. Lights out, a song and a slow dance, and in to the bed she goes. “Nigh Nigh!” she says, followed by a kiss-blow. My heart melts.

Another day in the books of a thousand failures and about three and a half wins. I think I can do better tomorrow. I just have to try harder. And remember — there was a time when she refused to push in her chair, insisted on throwing food during meals, and wouldn’t touch anything that implied the word “clean up.” So I must be doing something right. Right?

Much Love,

HealthyStaceySignature

Healthy Mommy

Crunchy Parenting Philosophies 101: Montessori

April 11, 2019
MontessoriTableChairs

My first exposure to Montessori was through a friend who was trying to help me through my toddler-food-throwing woes. She told me how her daughter doesn't use a high chair, and instead sits at a child-size table and chair for all her meals. She had found that her daughter fought a lot less at meal times when she was in control of sitting down and getting up. The idea sounded so simple, yet profound. Her own table? At 14 months? Isn't that too early? I thought. But I decided it was worth a try. 

So glad I did because it made all the difference. You should've seen the look on Charley's face when she set eyes on her very own Charley-sized table, and her very own Charley-sized chair. She inspected it, she sat on it, she got up, she sat again. And come meal time, she was actually excited to sit at her table. I'm happy to say that the food throwing has significantly decreased (she still has her shining moments every once in awhile), and overall, we enjoy meal time. We've even added a plant she named "Ned" that serves as decor, but also her responsiblity to water (with my help). This concept, in my opinon, is the cornerstone of the Montessori philosophy: independence for the child (as much as they and you are able). 

Over the next few months, I couldn't help but learn more. I got books, read blogs, found online courses, and talked to other Montessori moms. They were on to something. And maybe you'll think so too. If you don't already know about the Italian-inspired education philosophy, today I'm going to shine a little light on Montessori parenting.

Montessori Parenting

In a nutshell:

Education with a child-centered environment where children have freedom within limits. Freedom to choose their work (i.e. play) based on their age/developmental level and interests. But limits for their safety and their comfort level.

Known for:

It’s specialty schools and wooden toys.

Founder:

Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and educator who used observational research to create an educational method based on the way children learn naturally. Her first school was founded in Rome in 1907. Today, it is estimated that there are about 4,500 Montessori schools in the US and about 20,000 worldwide (source).

Popular Resources:

Organizations:

Blogs:

Books:

Products:

The Basic Principles:

  1. Independence
  2. Observation
  3. Following the child
  4. Correcting the child
  5. Prepared environment
  6. Absorbent mind

Independence

The first step to incorporating Montessori-style parenting into your house is to provide your child with as much autonomy as possible at their current stage of development. As old Maria says, “never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” How do you provide your toddler or even a baby with independence, you ask? Opportunities. Keep your eyes open throughout the day of any opportunities that allow your child to do things on their own, or with little assistance. When you do this, it increases their self-confidence, and according to Montessori, this confidence will carry on with them as they become an adult.

In practice:

In our house, Charley can do the following things by herself:

  • set the table (i.e. bring her plate, fork, and placemat to the table)
  • bring her plate back to me at the sink when she’s finished eating
  • push in her chair when she’s finished eating
  • bring me her shoes and help me put them on
  • hang her coat on the chair by the door
  • turn our lights on and off
  • help me unload the dishwasher (after all the knives have been removed)
  • peel a banana
  • mash a banana
  • stir eggs (we’re not quite to whisking)
  • “sweep” with her broom and dust pan (actually collecting the dirt off the floor is another story)
  • “wash” her table with a sponge (I typically go over it after her)
  • and water her plant.

All seemingly menial tasks, but for a 1-and-a-half-year-old, these are huge. When I first started practicing independent tasks with Charley, I almost threw in the towel (literally, the sopping wet towel from all of the mess she was creating). About three months later, however, I’ve seen how much she’s accomplished and I’m amazed at what she’s able to do if I give her the tools to do it (more on tools later).

Observation

Sitting, watching, observing. This is how Maria Montessori started all of her research. In her opinion, this is the best way adults can learn about the child — their needs, their likes, their dislikes.

In practice:

Charley is fascinated with shoes, and really all things feet. I don’t know where she got it from because as somebody with very flat, size 12 feet, shoes have never been something I enjoy. After noticing this, I decided to give her a “shoe playground” by laying out a variety of shoe options — my yellow converse shoes, her dad’s blue running shoes, flip flops, and her orange boots. To see the look on her face when she came down from her nap. Ah. It was pure bliss. She spent the rest of the afternoon traipsing around in shoes that were way too big for her feet. I also capitalize on this when it’s time to get ready. When she’s dragging her feet, all I have to say is “Charley, get your shoes!” and she’s on top of it. Because I observed, I understood what fulfills her.

Following the Child

Now that you have observed your child, follow their lead. I don’t mean this when it comes to dangerous, destructive, or untimely undertakings. But when it’s play time, let them be the leader. If they want to climb, let them climb (on a safe-to-climb surface). If they want to play with their boat upside-down, let them do so without telling them or showing them the “right” way to do it. Present them with options, and then let them choose what they want to do. After all, the whole point of playing is so they can discover, learn, and enjoy themselves; not so you can tell them how to.

In practice:

Charley and I attend an activity called Tumblebugs every Friday. It’s a real-deal gymnastics gym, complete with all of the bells and whistles — uneven bars, vaults, balance beams, rings, a giant trampoline, a jumping pad, tunnels and ramps made of cushy mats, a thick hanging rope that leads into a and a humongous foam ball pit that will make your inner child want to do a cannonball. When we arrived, I couldn’t wait to see what Charley would do with all of it. You know what she spent the majority of her time on the first three sessions? A red plastic rocking boat. I was annoyed. I remember trying to pull her off it and show her how cool all of the other apparatuses were. She would kick and scream and inevitably, run right back to that stupid boat. Right around the same time, I was reading all about Montessori. And so, the next Tumblebugs session, I let it go. She rocked and rocked that boat for what felt like forever with a big grin on her face the whole time. But you know what? Eventually, she got off. And she went to explore on her own. First, the mat made to act as a slide, then the trampoline, the balance beam, and back to that boat. I guarantee she had much more fun that day, and guess what? So did I.

Correcting the Child

We all make mistakes. But children make them more than anyone. Not surprising considering their brains are not fully developed yet and this world is still pretty new to them. All this to say, give them a break. Montessori doesn’t believe there is any reason to correct your child or scold them if they spilled milk or accidentally broke a plate. Instead, recognize it as an opportunity to do some practical work and let them help you clean it up (unless it’s broken glass or ceramic obviously). The theory goes that constantly correcting your child will make them more hesitant to attempt anything on their own for fear of making a mistake.

In practice:

Just like many kids Charley’s age, she has her own special way of saying words. “Wawa” is water, “Bee” is bib, “Kock” is sock (yes, I realize what that sounds like), and “Woof” is dog, and “Deeg” covers a wide range of animals. Instead of correcting her on any of these, I just repeat the word back to her in context in the correct form. Honestly, I’m just happy she’s talking and not worried in the least that she won’t learn the correct way to say "sock" (otherwise, she may end up in the principal’s office on the first day of school).

Prepared Environment

Montessori believes the development of the child is dependent on the environment that he or she is in. They emphasize beauty (wooden toys versus noisy plastic ones), simplicity (less is more — when it comes to toys and clutter), and activities that are intended to challenge the child at the age and/or development level they are at. If you want to visualize what I’m talking about, just Google image “Montessori shelves,” “Montessori kitchen” or “Montessori bedroom.” You’ll get the idea. Here’s a short list of some things that make a “Prepared Environment”:

  • A low shelf that displays 5-7 toys at a time, with the intention of rotating these toys every 2 weeks or so to keep things fresh and exciting (and no overflowing toy box in sight).
  • A self-care area complete with mirror, brush and comb, tissues, and maybe a seat so your child can start to explore what it means to take care of their body.
  • A play kitchen turned “real kitchen” stocked with real plates, silverware, a place mat, cups, and maybe a few kitchen supplies that your child can use to set his or her table before meal time.
  • A small table and chairs, easy enough for your child to get in and out of by themselves. This is to be used for meals instead of a high chair, empowering them to set the table, sit down, and get up independently.
  • Low hooks for their coat and bag by the entrance, along with a small basket for their shoes.

In practice:

I find this principle to be the most off-putting and intimidating of all the Montessori tactics. It’s not that I don’t believe it could be beneficial. I would to have some Montessori consultant come redesign my home to be more accessible to Charley. Or go to town on Amazon and buy all new beautiful wooden toys that keep her occupied for half-hours at a time. But that’s not going to happen anytime soon. I think it’s really easy to get caught up in the Montessori toys and tools or write it off all together because you can’t afford such an investment. I try to implement some of these ideas in little ways throughout the house, spending little to no money to do it. For example, I keep a low drawer stocked with plastic plates (not ceramic because I am just not that brave), 1-2 forks, and a place mat so she can set her table when I say lunch or dinner is ready. I use our fireplace as our “low shelf” to display 5-6 toys on. And I rarely rotate the toys because we just don’t have that many toys. Especially fancy wooden ones. And any effort to give her a self-care station has resulted in torn tissues all over the floor and a brush tangled up in her thick curly hair.

Absorbent Mind

This one is actually pretty cool. Through her research, Maria discovered that children under the age of three do not need to be taught in order to learn. Learning is achieved through absorbing their environment. In fact, research shows that children develop 85% of their core brain structure by the time they are five years old (source). Much of this, as you can imagine, is just by taking it all in — the way mom walks, how brother jumps, the way Dad’s lips move when he speaks. Keep in mind, though, every time you say Sh#*, or tell them “No!” soon enough, they will be spitting the words right back at you.

Montessori Tip: instead of constantly saying “No,” try to replace it with the thing you want them to do or try “Stop”.

In practice:

That’s the beauty of this one. You don’t really have to “do” anything. At least not intentionally. A few months back, I got really caught up in the idea of making Charley a lesson plan. I felt that she wasn’t getting the “education” she could be getting if she attended daycare. It took me poring hours into this three-ring binder (complete with activity list and inspirational quotes) to realize that she doesn’t need a lesson plan. Waking up is a lesson. Spilling water is a lesson. Listening to me talk is a lesson.  

Stay tuned for the next philosophy breakdown: RIE. Thank you so much for reading. 

Much Love,

HealthyStaceySignature

p.s. If you live in the Denver west suburbs, and all this Montessori talk piqued your interest, I've got something for you. I'm running a workshop with this incredible Montessori teacher from Longomont. It's happening May 20th, 7-9 pm at the Golden Community Center. Here is the link to get tickets. Would LOVE to see you there. 

proposal (2)

Healthy Mommy

Crunchy Parenting Philosophies 101

April 2, 2019
CrunchyParentingPhilosophies

When my daughter was born, I made a promise to myself to stay away from the parenting books and blogs so that I would be sure I was using my intuition to raise my child and not somebody else's ideals. I know my tendency to be dogmatic and follow rules to an extreme level.

I'm proud to say I (pretty much) followed this "no-rules" rule for the first year of Charley's life. I truly believed that this time was about loving and caring for my baby, first and foremost. I did that. And I did that well. 

That said, when toddlerhood hit, I felt like my sweet rainbows and butterflies philosophy got knocked on its (earmuffs…) ass. I had no idea how to handle her tantrums (complete with body-flailing and head-banging) or how to transition from doing everything for her to allowing her to do some things for herself. It was time for me to face the music:

I needed help.

So I consulted the Google Gods and found more parenting philosophies than one could ever need. To start with, by psychology's standards, there's authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and uninvolved. But within those styles, there are nuances, and what you could call "schools of thought."  So far, I've come accross:

  • Positive parenting
  • Attachment parenting
  • Conscious parenting
  • Spiritual parenting
  • Slow parenting
  • Waldorf parenting
  • Reggio Emilia parenting
  • Montessori parenting
  • RIE parenting
  • Hand-in-Hand parenting

Those last three really spoke to me. They're all a bit crunchy because, let's face it, I encapsulated my placenta, I breastfed until Charley was 18 months old, and the girl drinks homemade bone broth out of a sippy cup. I'm crunchy. And if you're more of a traditionalist, it's totally cool. Stick around and maybe you'll learn something or skip these posts all together.

Though different, all three of these philosophies have one thing in common: respect for the child. Through them, I've learnd the best thing I can do for my daughter is to treat her like a human being. Try to understand where she's coming from, what she's going through. Get down to her level as much as I can. But still remember that I am the authority. And she needs me to be that. 

Amen to all of that.

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to share with you a summary of them here in hopes that you can come accross them faster than I did, and decide for yourself if any of them will work for you (or maybe a little bit of all three).

Warning: This stuff is nuanced and complicated. I still struggle with it all daily. I'm not pretending to be an expert. Quite the contrary, I'm telling it like it is — the good, the bad, and the very ugly.

Stay tuned!

Much Love,

HealthyStaceySignature

Healthy Mommy

The 10 Things That Make Me a ‘Bad Mom’

March 8, 2019
BadMompost

This may be a health food blog, but my new full-time Mommy life doesn’t allow for pretty pictures of colorful salads and hours of research on the benefits of turmeric or bone broth. I’ve been wracking my brain wondering what I could possibly write about right now on Healthy Stacey that’s of any help to anybody. But recently, I came to the conclusion that I’m just not in that head space right now.

Then I thought, maybe I can offer parenting advice? HAHAHAHA (that’s me laughing at myself). Because I have no idea what the heck I am doing and in no position to offer advice to others. So then I decided, instead of offering advice, why not offer the truth?

Mom life is HARD. And about 75% of the time, I don’t think I’m doing it right.  In fact, on a daily basis, I think about all of the things I do that are most likely going to turn my child into a needy, selfish, messy, maladjusted human being. I've never said it out loud, but that terrible nagging voice inside is constantly calling me a bad mom. Instead of quelling the negative thoughts and reminding myself how great a mom I am (or asking my husband to remind me), I decided to embrace it. Shout it from the rooftops!

That’s why I’m giving you my list — The Ten Things That Make Me a "Bad Mom," in hopes that you share yours too so we can all remember that we’re not alone and we all have a little Bad Mom in us.

  1. I dread hearing her sweet cries for “Mama!” in the morning, knowing that either my sleep or my short-lived alone time is over even faster than I expected.
  2. My feeling of dread equally matches my feeling of excitement when I close that door to her room at 7:05 pm and head downstairs for three blissful hours of alone time.
  3. I’ve already been on two different elementary school tours, and she’s only 16 months…preschool doesn’t start until they’re three. Yes, I am that eager for the day she goes to school and I got (some of) my freedom back.
  4. As much as I tried to avoid screen time before two (per the American Academy of Pediatrics), there are days when I just can’t entertain her any longer and resort to Kid Zone On Demand (an assortment of children’s shows all in one place on Comcast). When she actually sits to pay attention (read: stare mindlessly at the screen), I get so relieved for a moment of peace — even when peace means watching Caillou whine for the 32nd time about how hard his life is (this little boy has a serious hate following, which of course means Charley LOVES him).
  5. I secretly hate when I meet another toddler close in age to Charley who seems totally capable of cleaning up, playing independently, and/or sharing, leading me to wonder why my child is so averse to all of these things.
  6. I’ve read many times about the importance of routine and not overloading your kids with activities. Something about them being overwhelmed and needing consistency while they’re trying to make sense of the world, yada, yada, yada. But every time I try to stay home to give her “safety” and “routine,” I end up wanting to climb the walls because it’s all on me to entertain her. Inevitably, I give in, and we end up at the library, or gymnastics, or dance, or music, or her other music class, or the neighbor's house, becuase I NEED CONTACT WITH THE OUTSIDE WORLD. Oh, sorry. Was I yelling?
  7. I only brush her teeth once a day. And when I do brush them, the only thing she’ll give me is her tongue so who knows how much cleaning her actual teeth are getting. Incidentally, I just wrote a post for Mama Natural on bottle rot, which made me feel even worse about putting her at risk for early tooth decay.
  8. On long car rides, I give her bags of snacks — totally ruining her appetite for lunch or dinner — because I know it’s the only thing that will keep her from throwing a fit for at least half the ride.
  9. When she throws temper tantrums, she bangs her head on the floor (or the closest hard surface she can find). Though I stop her most of the time because I don’t want her to get a concussion, sometimes, when I’m really over it, I just let her go and hope she’ll learn her lesson by how much it hurts. I know. I’m terrible.
  10. I once gave her a huge orange slice while at the airport and didn’t pay attention at all while she was eating it, until the moment I saw her put the entire thing in her mouth — peel and all — and swallow it.

Phew. That felt good. Exhilarating even. You know why? Because once I wrote them all down, I realized they weren’t THAT bad (right?). And it reminded me of all the things I am doing right (I'll save that for another day). Or at least with good intention, because what is right really when it comes to parenting?

We're all killing ourselves every day trying to do the best we can. But then we read the parenting books and the parenting blogs and second guess our choices; we go on Pinterest and Instagram and think, I could be doing more; we see other moms at the children's museum who looked like they just stepped out of a J. Crew catalog complete well-behaved and equally well-dressed child and suddenly become convinced that you ARE doing it wrong and just aren't cut out for this kind of work.

It should go without saying that I love my daughter dearly. She is the most incredible creature I've ever laid eyes on and I'm so proud to be her mother. I often remind myself that the more spunk she has (i.e. I'll-do-what-I-want-ness), the more likely she is to turn out the confident, defiant woman I want her to be. I just didn't realize — until I was knee-deep in motherhood — how hard the job would be to get her there.

Alright, now, it’s your turn. Seriously, write ‘em down. Comment below. Or on Facebook. Or email me. Just get it out. You’ll feel better. I promise.

Much Love,

HealthyStaceySignature