food with the bigger wee one

All the trust we have given to big E in regards to meal time and eating have turned out to be wonderful preparation for caring for himself and his family. This has been extremely helpful on days when I have my hands full with little O or I am preparing meal items big E is not able to participate in.

 Some things we have gradually allowed big E to do on his own:

  • access his own dishes and cups in a low cabinet
  • putting away dishes, either handing some to us for high shelves or placing his own in his cabinet
  • setting the table with plates, cups, napkins, utensils, and condiments
  • serving himself a drink of water or milk from the refrigerator

 All of these steps occurred when we noticed big E accomplishing a new skill and needing more trust and responsibility. For instance, when he finally discovered he could open the refrigerator and repeatedly he seemed to get into mischief in there, I gave him something he was allowed to do – serve himself water. Once trustworthy with getting a glass, serving himself water, shutting the refrigerator, and walking to the table, we then placed a child-sized pitcher of milk in the fridge for him. With mastery of one skill he got to move on to a new challenge.

From serving himself drinks, he then decided he could serve himself an apple or a cheese stick from the refrigerator. From there, he thought he could self-serve from our pantry. The trouble is, I did not want him always climbing up to get food items or choosing unhealthy snacks (yes, we have just a few in our pantry!). So after reflecting that telling him “No, wait for me” in an angry voice was not the solution, I made a plan. But this was something that took me a while to see the pattern in and it was only by about the twentieth time I said it that I realized it was not working. He was ready for more independence and showing me.

I placed a small bowl in the refrigerator. In it is a yogurt, a dish with washed and ready-to-eat fruit, a few dishes of washed and cut veggies, and a few cheese sticks. I also prepared small plastic baby food containers for the pantry with various yummy and healthy snacks: raisins, pretzels, nuts, crackers, and cereals. I realized any container for either place would work as long as he could know what he was choosing without opening every container – either by being clear or labeled with a picture or writing. I opted for clear to save myself the work of labeling each one. I also wanted to make sure the container had an easy to open lid so he could be independent in opening it without spills. I placed them on a low shelf in the pantry. Because I know my son’s skill level, I knew he could already open and close the fridge carefully, open a yogurt on his own, get a spoon to eat it, open a cheese stick, carry a bowl of food carefully without spilling, open the plastic containers easily, make a choice from the ones offered, and clean up afterwards. All of this is important when giving a new level of trust or a new challenge so they can succed – they have to have mastered all the other skills to take on some new challenge without frustration.

Today I showed him his choices and explained what he was allowed to do: get a snack on his own if I was unable to assist him when he was hungry, choose one from the cabinet and one from the refrigerator, and how to clean up afterwards, replacing any large uneaten portion to the proper place and placing dishes by the sink. If he needed help with a different snack or cutting something, he would be expected to wait. If I was engaged in preparing a meal, he might hear me tell him “No”. He was receptive to those limitations. He may be less so when we have to enforce them, but that is another day!

The extra time it may take me to help him towards independence is important to me in the long run. By showing him how to care for himself, he becomes more capable and frees me from some of those tasks he can do for himself. And it boosts his confidence in himself, one small step at a time. Unfortunately, I did not have the camera ready to capture his satisfaction at serving himself his entire snack, but it was great!

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5 Comments

  1. Noelle Allison said,

    May 18, 2010 at 2:57 am

    cool! I was curious about the new snack system you mentioned. I think this would work great for my munch-kins too 🙂

  2. Molly said,

    May 18, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    I love reading about your organization and all of E’s success! Thanks for starting the blog. It gives me great ideas for even my older children!

  3. montessorimama said,

    May 18, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    Thanks. We may be modifying as we go. For older children, I am sure there is alot of opportunity, perhaps even for serving themselves breakfast while Mom and Dad sleep! 🙂

  4. Nichole said,

    May 23, 2010 at 1:46 am

    I’ll have to remember some of these ideas when Bea gets learns to open the refrigerator. I’m sure it won’t be long. She sure does enjoy exploring it whenever possible (which is anytime it’s left open for a millisecond)!

    • montessorimama said,

      May 23, 2010 at 2:32 am

      Oh, it took so many frustrating times for the ideas to sink in, that maybe there is a way for him to be in control and working towards something. Everyday we are figuring it out. And for Oliver it will be different since his access to toys and the volume of toys and materials is so much greater. I am glad you are finding it helpful!


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