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Reflecting | Atomic Bee Ranch

Category Archives: Reflecting

Montessori Infant: Nine Months

Gross Motor: Malin is so close to walking. Soclose. She constantly pulls herself up to standing and cruises along the furniture. If you’ll let her, she grabs your hands and takes steps across the room. Tom built her a Pikler Triangle, which is a triangular frame with bars that allow the infant to pull to standing and cruise along them. Eventually she will be able to climb up the bars, over the top, and down the other side. For now she likes to use it for standing and walking sideways as well as watching Camille climb to the top and stand up. 

Fine Motor: Now that she’s become a lot more adept at eating and feeding herself (it’s a mess, but she loves it) she’s starting to develop the pincer grasp. I try to give her foods she can practice that grip with and as I follow the materials designed by Montessori for infants they will begin to give her the opportunity to practice it as well. 

Communication: There was a distinct increase in babbling this month as well as conversational babbling. She now says something back to you if you ask a question or address her directly and waits for your response before saying more. I think she may have also said “dada” a few times in reference to Tom, but it isn’t consistent yet by any means. 

Food: This baby eats everything and so much of it. She rarely turns down the opportunity to nurse or eat solids and I have yet to find a food she outright rejects. She is starting to nurse a lot less and we’re offering her a full meal at each meal we eat. I think this is helping to transition her away from breastmilk, which I’m grateful for. 

Work: Since play is the work of children here are some of the shelves and baskets I have out for Malin this month and a few upcoming materials that are good for nine month old babies. 

Single Shape Puzzles Grain Shakers Puzzle Ball and Palmer House Book Christmas Basket

Montessori Infant: Eight Months

Eight MonthsThis month saw a continuation of Malin’s development. Her crawling improved, she began pulling to standing and now she cruises along the furniture.She babbles constantly. She started to become much more adept at feeding herself so we’ve been putting out more finger foods. 

I did want to talk a little bit about feeding babies. There are a lot of methods out there and Montessori stresses giving the infant real flatware, cups, and plates or bowls. The methodology also stresses allowing the baby to feed themselves. If you follow exactly there should be a small table and chair for the infant to sit and eat at. This is, however, not the most practical solution for all families. If you have enough space in your home, a weaning table (as they are called) might be a good choice. It also presumes you are starting feeding solids once your baby can sit up unassisted well enough to sit in a chair, at a table. All great things if this works for you, but don’t feel you have to be so dogmatic in following any parenting method. 

Here’s why a weaning table doesn’t work for our family. Our house does not have a good spot for one. We’re not super heavy on furniture in our house, but we still don’t have space to squeeze one in. Our dining room is attached to the kitchen and is small, plus it already has a dinning table and chairs in it. Our kitchen is long and narrow and does not have extra space. It’s been a challenge having a step stool large enough for our kids let alone an extra table and chair. Another reason we haven’t gone for the weaning table is that I have really struggled with nursing- repeatedly blocked ducts, repeat cases of mastitis, poor latch despite so much effort to correct this. I am happy to breastfeed, but we need to be supplementing with solids sooner rather than later and for my own health we need to wean around a year. Finally, I feel very strongly that we don’t eat alone at a table off in the corner. If we are home we almost always sit at our dining room table and eat our meals. When we’re not home we’re sitting at restaurant table together talking (no screens at the table in our family). We eat nearly every dinner together at the table and since I’m home with the girls during the day, we sit to eat lunch together too (and often breakfast, but that one we’re more loosey-goosey about). I don’t want to relegate the baby to a different meal time or space to eat while the rest of us sit at the table together. And because of space constraints I’m not going to have a special table for her snacks. 

In other news the past month, my husband and dad have been building the baby a Pikler triangle. This baby is so physical. She lifted herself up early, she rolled over early, she crawled early and I suspect she will walk (the run!) early too. She wants to move much more than her sister did. A Pikler triangle should give her something to climb on and interact with in the house this winter (although we live in a mild winter climate and do get out) and will hopefully satisfy her need to move. 

I’ve also rotated out some of her treasure baskets. This is one of the most fun parts of baby toys. You don’t have to have fancy toys or even things that are designated as toys at this age. I grab things out of my kitchen cabinets and toss three or four in a basket and set it out on the floor. Obviously they should be safe things for babies, no chokable parts that might come off, safe to be chewed or sucked on. I’ve grabbed out a handful of lids from various jars and containers. I made another that had a spoon, a spatula, and an egg timer. For more ideas see my Instagram feed to the right- click over to my account so you can flip through them. 

We did get out the puzzle balls I made her and I’ve set out the stacking rings in her room. She’s not quite ready to actually put them on the post, but she can pull them off and hold them. We talk about colors and sizes while she does that. I have also set out some books for her in her room and she likes to pull them off the rack and chew on them and flip through them. 

Montessori Infant: Seven Months

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I missed six months. It’s been busy, in large part because Malin is now crawling and has been for nearly four weeks. She also pulls herself up to standing. We’re doomed. So while I’ve been following along with the Montessori materials, she’s jumped through a few of them because she sat up, started crawling and began pulling herself up so quickly.

We’re now at the fun part where I can assemble little treasure baskets for her with three or four items. She’s very quickly gaining control over her hands, passing objects between hands, manipulating them, turning them over, and banging them together. I remember really enjoying this stage with Cam and it was relatively easy to entertain her with a few new items rummaged from our kitchen or bathroom drawers.

Malin is really into blocks. Cam got into them, but not until much later. Malin likes to pull them out of the basket one by one, flip them around in her hands and look at every side, then set it down next to her and grab the next one. It’s interesting to watch and can entertain her for upwards of 15 minutes.

Ball Basket

I am always so amazed at what a different kid Malin is from Camille. While I knew she would be I had no idea we would be able to tell so early. Here’s to our last few months before she’s up and running.

Montessori Infant: Five Months

Moo Five MonthsAnd just like that she was five months. I have to admit this time around I’m enjoying the baby stage a lot more. I wonder if in part I was set up better with my prenatal and postpartum care having used a midwife. I know being older and wiser, having done this once before, is helping too. 

This baby is a little further along than my first was at this age. She’s been rolling over for a month or more now and she has also become quite proficient at scooting around in circles on her tummy to look at things, follow people, and get to toys on different places on her play mat. She has also been working on core strength that allows her to sit up unassisted. While she still flops a bit, she is getting stronger and stronger by the day. She sometimes folds in half and can’t get back up, but she’s also figured out how to put her hands out in front of her to stop herself from falling too far forward. 

A lot of her materials have stayed the same from four months. We still have the Dancers Mobile up over her bed and she loves to watch that. I place her topponcino on the floor bed under the mobil and place her there to nap. I think the topponcino still helps her feel comfortable and familiar and the mobile keeps her entertained when she wakes up. She’ll often spend five or so minutes watching it and cooing/babbling at it after waking and before she fusses to let me know she’s ready for me to come join her. I know this is part of the Montessori approach to infants, leaving them alone (not necessarily physically) to engage with their environment. As she gets better at sitting up we can start introducing baskets with interesting things for her to sift through in them. 

I think the biggest advance Malin has made this month, though, is around food. She loves to eat and was showing all the signs of being ready to start solids. Between those cues and the fact that nursing has been difficult, we started her on some purees. Now this is a place I diverged from Montessori infant methods with my first and am continuing to with my second. In the Montessori way you have a small table and chair for the infant to sit at and eat called a weaning table. But that is just not practical in our house both for reasons of space and added complexity. There is no room to have another table and chair, no matter how small, in our dining room/kitchen. And with two kids and myself to feed I’m not about ready to set up three separate meals. Instead we modified the youth chair we had for Camille by adding straps and a buckle and we simply have the baby sit at the dining room table with us. She gets a little puree at each meal we eat (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) which is exactly how we did it with Camille. She nurses both before or after eating the solids and also between meals as well as early in the morning and later in the evening. 

I am struck this time around by how fast it’s all happening and while it’s been a long five months (this baby doesn’t sleep all the way through the night yet), I also feel like it’s flown by. 

Our Breastfeeding Journey

I’m a little late to the party (I blame the kids), but I wanted to share some of my experience breastfeeding two babies for World Breastfeeding Week. 

My first baby was born in the hospital. In light of my second birth at home with a midwife it wasn’t a great experience, but it is what it is. On the second day she was struggling to latch and they didn’t want to release us until she did. After a long, uncomfortable night slammed into a tiny room with a baby who kept coughing up fluid and not having slept in 24 hours we were desperate to just go home. The hospital sent in a lactation consultant who simply threw a nipple shield at me and told me that I would be able to just stop using it at some point. I didn’t get any advice on how to position the baby, no advice on how to stop using the nipple shield, no way of getting follow up care, no real support. They sent us home a few hours later and I spent the next eleven months nursing with that damn shield. 

Now, I know without support I needed that shield and I know other women need them too, but in our situation I think it caused more problems than not. Cam gained weight, but was always thin. It never took less than 45 minutes to feed her. I felt revolted by the sensation of nursing her. My period came back six weeks postpartum. It was always a production to feed her between the shield filling with milk and spilling, popping off, and needing to be kept track of. It was just kind of a mess. I was so grateful when she weaned herself. The idea of needing to breastfeed another baby really put me off the idea of a second child for years.

When I got pregnant with Malin and started care with my midwife we discussed the breastfeeding woes I had with Cam and my apprehension of going through it all again. She confidently told me we would simply work hard to ensure I didn’t use the shield this time around and she got me in touch with a lactation consultant before I gave birth. We got all our ducks in a row so that when I needed support it was already there. 

Once Malin was born we struggled. There was a lot of pain. She latched poorly. My nipples cracked and bled and scabbed over and cracked again. There were nights of wanting to just give up. I cried and cried and cried- partly from hormones, but also because I physically wanted to give up but mentally wasn’t ready to. We sank a lot of money into the lactation consultant, who was incredibly helpful but still didn’t fix the problem. I had to use the shield at various points to protect my healing nipples. We had Malin’s posterior tongue tie clipped. I have had five blocked ducts and run a fever three of those times. And we’re only four and a half months in. But you know what? It was trial by fire and, despite her seeming to forget how to latch properly every three or four weeks and the occasional bleeding crack, I feel confident in feeding her. 

Malin is much bigger than Cam was. She’s longer and two whole pounds heavier. It only takes her 10 minutes to feed and we’re rarely soaked in milk after feeding. And I love feeding her. I look at her little baby body and the rolls on her thighs and feel proud that I’ve sustained her. 

I am really disheartened that the US did not support the WHO resolution for breastfeeding. While feeding babies can be accomplished many, many ways, breastfeeding is natural, healthy, and people who can breastfeed and choose to may need a lot of support. The opposition is both misogynistic, but also deeply entwined with the ills of capitalism. I hope by sharing stories about successfully breastfeeding healthy babies we can stress the importance of having that choice promoted and celebrated. 

Montessori Infant: Four Months

A lot has changed in the past month with Malin, both in terms of her development and in her space. I’m also running a couple weeks late with this post, but that’s fine.

Malin's RoomWe still have three spaces designed specifically for her, but one of those spaces has morphed into an actual room all for her. The room we called the classroom was never that useful and we rarely spent time in it. If Cam and I wanted to work on any homeschool activities we would bring them out to the dining room table. It’s bigger and the room is better lit during the day. So instead of wasting the space we decided to convert it into Malin’s room. So we moved some furniture out, some in and voila! Malin’s room. We’re all very happy with how it turned out. 

She was outgrowing the side car crib she had and we needed a new, safe space for her to sleep. With Cam we threw a mattress on the floor, much like you see in many a Montessori infant space and I wanted to do the same with Malin. Part of her growth this month has been a increase in movement. Floor BedNot only does she constantly roll herself onto her tummy, but she kicks and pushes and wiggles herself all around her mats and blankets as she looks at things and follows us around the room. This development really convinced me it was time for her to be in a floor bed. 

I put out the octahedron mobile that I made for her and that’s hanging above the little pad she has in Cam’s room. She hasn’t been all that interested in it. But in her new room I hung out the Dancers mobile and wow does she LOVE that. She watches it move in the breeze from the ceiling fan. You can see it here in the picture of the floor bed.

Bell on a StringAlso part of the Montessori infant materials suggested for this age is a bell on a ribbon. You hang it so the baby can grab or kick it and it gives them instant feedback with the sound. Malin is doing a lot of intentional grabbing, so I thought this would be a good addition to her environment. When Cam was the same age it was December. One of our Christmas tree ornaments was a large silver bell, shaped like a jingle bell, and Cam was captivated by it. She spent hours touching it and playing with it. I got out the ornament to hang for Malin and she has been equally entranced by it. The poor thing will need some polishing after being manhandled by our two babies, but it’s perfect for this age.  

Just to plug it again, if you want a chart with the various Montessori materials in the infant/toddler years see this post where you can download it. 

Parenting for Revolution: World Pizza and Subtle Messages

Parenting for Revolution

We recently came into possession of a book titled World Pizza. It came as a part of a book subscription service we use. My daughter was excited to read it and we sat down one evening to do that. The book is about a misheard wish for world peace that becomes world pizza. It’s silly and sweet and on a level that young children can grasp the meaning of world peace. 

And yet as we were reading I came across this illustration:

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As you may notice the text that accompanies this spot illustration doesn’t specifically call for this depiction. I immediately stopped reading and told my daughter, “I don’t like this picture.”

She asked why and I explained that it was showing a stereotyped image of people in Africa that was neither culturally accurate, flattering, nor historically accurate. My daughter said she thought some people in Africa might look like that. I was kind of horrified by the response, but figured she was extrapolating from images of various indigenous people in Africa she’s seen in books and on TV shows. 

I told her that it was true some people still dress in their traditional clothing and live in ways that reflect their traditional cultures. I then explained that the picture was not showing any of those people, or if it was it was not identifying them. Either way the illustration was wrong. It would have been better if it had showed someone in a specified African country living in a modern city or if it had specified which culture they were from and depicted their dress accurately. 

Frustratingly she has asked to read the book again several times. Or at least I was frustrated at first. But during each reading I have taken the opportunity to stop there and have a shortened version of the same conversation again. Certainly her thought that it could be accurate was a call to me to ensure that she sees more images of people across the African continent living much as we do. And to draw attention to that to counteract the stereotyped images she has clearly absorbed. 

IMG_4844The bigger issue here is that these kinds of subtly incorrect depictions turn up everywhere in children’s books. Sometimes it’s the fact that an older book has been republished or reprinted again and again so those images are still with us. Sometimes it’s just plain ignorance on the part of the author or illustrator. Whatever the case maybe for the appearance of problematic content, it’s how children quietly internalize these ideas and that’s why it’s so important to call them out when we see them. To name them and make it explicit that they are not okay.  

Why the idea of curriculum is absurd

Okay, that is a deliberately provocative title.

The thing about curriculum (particularly in schools), and even more so standardized tests, is that some one has arbitrarily chosen the content in or on them and said that, in our vast sea of knowledge out there, this is all you need to know or be interested in. Rarely do educators or students ask, who decided this was important and why? And even more importantly, do I agree?

Parents and educators are often up in arms about how hard it is for children to discern what is good information and what is bad, what is useful and what is not They also work themselves up into a tizzy over the amounts of information that are at all of our fingertips in the form of the Internet. The solution, curriculum and standardized testing. In worrying over the information ocean and overload, they decide not to give them the skills to navigate that sea or evaluate it or even how to be efficient. Instead curriculums tell the children what they need to know so they never have to dip their toes in those information waters.

But this sets kids up in a Catch-22. They are told what to learn, are given an arbitrary set of information (that often is not particularly useful nor relevant to them or their interests), and then are berated for not knowing how to go out and find and evaluate other information when they discover how useless and miniscule their “well-rounded” education has been.

This for me is a large part of why I want to unschool. Instead of dedicating money and hours and hours of my child’s life to a set of information that someone else had deemed interesting and important I would infinitely prefer to give my daughter the skills to create that set of information for herself. Her time will be infinitely better served in doing that. Plus, in having those skills, instead of a collection of facts, she will know how to learn on her own and follow her interests.

The thing is, children will learn to read, will learn basic arithmetic and science through their own natural curiosity and through their need for those skills.* Saying I want Cam to form her own curriculum does not preclude my stepping in to help her learn skills or explicitly teaching them to her. I just need to tread lightly and at the right time. Many of the skills we hyper obsess over in school, in curriculums, and on tests are not the end goal. Reading is a skill to be put into service of learning, not the other way around. And for that reason children will be motivated to learn to read.

So, using a one-size-fits-all arbitrarily curated curriculum doesn’t serve the majority of children well and I would like to opt out of that for my children. 

*I am well aware that there are children who will not come to those skills easily or at all because of learning disabilities and I know how important early diagnosis is for those children. I also know that the reason for curriculum and forcing skills on kids is NOT to ensure that kids with learning disabilities get the help they need as early as possible. Learning disabilities in schools is a whole other thorny issue that is often not addressed correctly or appropriately.

Unschool Update: I Walk the Line

Money MaterialsFor anyone that knows about unschooling or practices it with their children, they are probably also aware of how different it is from the traditional model of schooling. I know for me, the traditional model of school (think desks in rows or pods, teacher at the front, set curriculum, benchmarks, etc.) is both what I went through for my education and was also the setting I taught in when I was in the classroom. Unschooling is much freer, following the child’s interests, introducing skills when they are useful to the child, and trusting the child to know what they need when they need it. I’ll be the first to admit it’s been incredibly difficult to break away from that traditional style of instruction when working with Cam over the past school year. 

It’s a fine line to walk, at least in our home, between offering Object Boxesdirect skills instruction to Cam while also following her lead. This year has been the year she has been both ready and willing to start the process of learning to read. I know from experience that she’s a decoder by nature. Basically she relies on phonics to read. She breaks words up into phonemes and is very focused on letter sounds and combinations. This makes for a slow progress and also does require some hands-on and planned instruction by me. It will ultimately make her a stronger reader over the next few years as grows into more and more complex books, but in the meantime it could really feel like we had veered off into a more traditional model of schooling. That was really a sign to me to back off. Reassess. Check in with Cam and stop anything that wasn’t working for her. Did I manage unschooling perfectly this year? Absolutely not. I’m unlearning how I was taught and also trying to find the best way to use the knowledge I have to help Cam master skills and learn things that she wants. But it wasn’t a complete failure either. 

Hundreds BoardSome other things we worked on or studied this year, prompted by Cam’s expressed interest, were taking nature classes at our local nature center, learning about pregnancy and birth as she watched my belly grow and then saw the birth of her sister, and a little bit of numeracy (counting up to 100 and learning about money). 

This year also saw the addition of Cam’s sister. That basically tanked the last couple months, which was fine. A new baby and being a big sister is a learning experience in and of itself. Cam has grown incredibly over the past three months and I couldn’t be more proud of that emotional and developmental growth. It’s far more important than any academic skill she might work on or any subject she might study. 

Pregnancy MaterialsThis coming year I want to work in some social-emotional learning and mindfulness practices to our daily schedule. I know, though, that this is going to be another area where she needs the skills (we’re working on taming anxiety in her that has reared its head), but I don’t want to push too far or become the driving force behind offering them to her. I am new to these practices too, so maybe that will mitigate some of that. I can frame it as we’re learning together and instead of planning ahead we can plan together. That’s the line I’ll try to walk next year. 

Confessions from a picky eater

My husband and I have this running joke. We’re both finicky eaters and always have been, but we’re not picky about the same things. Our joke is that, if push comes to shove, I’m the kind of picky eater that will starve before eating something I don’t like. Of course this stems from never having been truly hungry in my life, but when we go to places and the only option is a cold sandwich (or a hot one for that matter) he will eat it and dislike it. I will go without lunch. 

My poor, long suffering parents. They didn’t exactly cater to my every whim, but I was seriously limited in what I would eat and try and they still fed me with little coercion. My mom never ceased to be amazed that my strict grandmother would make me different foods to be sure I ate when we went to her house. That was not the norm when my mom was growing up. Bless my parents for letting me give up meat for Lent one year. I am still not sure how I didn’t starve or get some deficiency-related illness. I still remember being forced to eat mayo covered bologna in preschool. To this day I can remember the taste and texture in my mouth and it makes me want to hurl. 

The funny thing was I loved thinking about eating a variety of foods. Pretend kitchen play was one of my favorite things as a kid. When my grandmother taught me to cook, I loved planning meals and cooking a lot of the foods. But beware the advice that getting kids involved will make them more adventurous eaters, to this day I will gladly cook things that I would never let cross my lips. I still refuse to taste things before I completely cook them. I can’t even bring myself to think about trying foods mid-cook. 

I had to laugh when a close friend of mine told me she was pregnant and began texting me about the food aversions she was experiencing in her first trimester. Nearly all the things she described were things I experience on any given weeknight making dinner. Some things sound good, what I had planned doesn’t, and just thinking about certain foods makes me gag. Sometimes nothing sounds good and I wait too long to eat and then feel nauseous. I make our menu out a week in advance and frequently I ask myself what I was thinking about planning a certain food or ingredient. I have a fairly short list of things to choose from to begin with and I have to coordinate it with my husband’s food preferences. At least once a week we give up and go out.  

I wanted to promise you, your picky eater isn’t (usually) doing it to spite you or make your life more difficult. This from the perspective of a person who was very picky as a child and is still discerning. As an adult I have figured out what makes me picky or turn a food down. Usually it’s a texture, either confirmed or suspected. Sometimes it is strong smells or tastes. I still despise cold food. Sandwiches are the perfect storm of disgusting foods for me, hence I will go hungry. If you have a picky eater I highly recommend helping them figure out what it is that is turning them off to various foods. My palette has also changed over the years and gotten better about allowing me to eat and try foods. So know that this too shall pass or at least they move out and have to cook for themselves. 

Both my parents and in-laws were hoping our daughter would be a picky eater. Just for karma’s sake. She isn’t. She is one of the more adventurous eaters I know, actually. But even she has her limits and times when certain foods she usually likes don’t sound good to her. She’ll even go through phases of disliking foods that she normally loves. I don’t push it when that happens, because I know what it’s like to be willing to starve before eating something that you don’t like.