the new outdoor kitchenette

After painting the table we originally intended to be the outdoor kitchenette, we declared it was too nice for water and dirt. It is now residing in Elliott’s room, to hold his stereo and books. So we needed a new table, but one that looked just as spiffy. We spent most of the afternoon constructing and painting, while watching over the boys. Sadly, Elliott was in such a funk, we had to ban him from any participation. Lately, he totally disregards instructions and suggestions, yells back at us, and breaks things when angry. Sensing how that could impact a quick construction project or a tidy paint job to get to the actual play, we sent him off to play elsewhere (a few times to his room too).

Mike cut and built, I painted. Oliver created mischief. But by 3:00, we had an outdoor kitchenette.

I decided since we have no intention of introducing dirt to it, at least while we are residing here for the next two months, I cannot really call it a mud kitchen. So with sand, water, and vegetation, it is our outdoor kitchenette. The boys needed no instruction!  Oliver had a cup he filled with water, which he repeatedly had me ‘drink’ from. Elliott set to work on muffins, a cake, and soup. While I missed a photo of it, the boys collecting leaves in their baskets was so sweet. This short time playing refreshed everyone’s attitude. Amazing what a little sand and water in pans can do.

                                    

        

consequences of the storm

After Hurricane Elliott (and his playdate friend) rolled through the house, they left in their paths three rooms covered with stuff – kitchenette items here, silkies there, baskets of toys dumped, more mess than I have ever seen. While playing, I had suggested a few times that clean up after said friend left would be hard but his responsibility. But on the storm rolled.

Once his friend left, he was suddenly too tired to clean up and the tears started up. I offered music to aid the clean up process and to help some after I finished my work. But the picking up did not start. Calmly (but pulling out all the tactics), I stated that if he was too tired to clean up, he was too tired for gymnastics with friends tonight, too tired to stay up tonight, and he would no longer have friends over if he could not follow up a playdate with clean up. Then, I see Oliver with beads in mouth as he slipped on a kitchen baking pan. At that point, I lost it and yelled, well, a lot. As I rattled off all the consequences to him again in my loud mama voice, I realized it would not work. Elliott is strong-willed and will drag out something until I go nuts. But I wanted the house picked up NOW. So I decided I could still enforce consequences, but I would keep Oliver safe by picking the items up into boxes. So now four boxes sit in the laundry room and Elliott is starting to realize that not being able to play with any other toys until the mess is cleaned up stinks. He can be stubborn, but at least I have the house picked up and I am not going to go (as) nuts.

In the midst of situations like this, all ideas of how to act or suggestions I have heard seem to go out the window. I am left not knowing if my reaction was the best reaction. If I had not made so many of the toys or liked some of these gifts from friends, I would be inclined to box them up and say good-bye at Goodwill. Not sure that would be an appropriate reaction either.  But at least if I can find a plan that stops me from yelling, it has to be a decent one. I think. Any thoughts?

(To give you an idea of what this near five-year old is like: Just before I cleaned up into the boxes, I said in anger, “You’re not doing ANYTHING else until this mess is cleaned up.” He followed up with “Can I turn on a light? Can I sit down?” … Now, as I write this, he is asking me to pack up more of his stuff and asking if he can just touch his toys… I just might go nuts! Daily, I miss the window for clear calm communications and it is all downhill from there…. But, after posting, I asked him (calmly) to tell me what has happened and why. It is clear he understands and he can detail it out. And the internal screaming starts.)

take a tour… part 3

In our house we have two rooms that for us serve a very similar purpose, but I suppose could have been very distinct. We have two living  rooms, both available for child’s work and play with only one with chairs for adults. Because our house is small, our office had to move into the space as well when Oliver was born.

While I like the idea of children having space in each room for some items of their own, part of me does wish we had a more open play space (but with a door) so adults could have some peace while imaginative (loud) play occurred. I feel I often have to hush Elliott while Oliver sleeps or try very hard to tune the boys out while I get some of my work done. I love the stories and interesting games, but it can be overwhelming in a small house.

This is our front room, with our fishbowl windows we opted not to cover with curtains. We love to see out and have lots of natural light. So what if everyone sees us at night!   

In this space we have the computer desk, piano, and adult furniture. This left less space for children’s stuff… but we still have a book basket and child’s chair for reading, two open cabinets with baskets of activities, a closed cabinet with many puzzles and games, and a large play table for playing house/farm (or trains if the mood suits us to switch it).

 

The activities on the shelves these days: a basket of small toddler mouth-friendly toys, a musical piano, musical bells, a big bin of musical instruments, and children’s CDs on a low shelf (available for Elliott only, behind a cabinet door).

We also have out a wooden animal memory game (or picture cards for Oliver), a natural items basket (with shells, household items, pinecones, rocks, various fabrics), plastic art sculpture making toy, a race car track, a musical peacock, soft blocks, play silks, and a jack in the box. Oh, and a cabinet with puzzles and games. So as you can see, there was only a little space for children’s stuff in this room!

Truthfully, this amount feels overwhelming to me some days. I have found one thing though to help keep my children’s interest in books, toys and games high, but the clutter to a minimum for me. I have a large storage closet. As Elliott out grows something, I save it for Oliver. If Oliver is bored with the alligator pull toy, I bring out the rabbit pull toy from Grandma. If Elliott mastered the 8 sets of sequencing puzzles on the shelf, I add a few new ones in to the mix. If we have too much out, some items go up. And sometimes, we donate. I have a constant rotation of items or pieces to add to make something more interesting or more challenging. For this age, having less out but in an organized manner allows them to have engaging periods of play because all the pieces of an item are there, ready to use and the amount is not overwhelming. They are also able to be successful cleaning it up because the toy has a clear space on the shelf. The biggest challenge to this system is bringing out new seasonally appropriate books and engaging toys. It takes time to change what is out on the shelves, especially when I have an eager helper. Elliott is very capable at helping by bringing items we agree to remove and selecting new ones to put out, but it does take that much longer. He needs time to mull over the choices and suggest/debate with me about what he thinks Oliver would like!

Tomorrow I will follow-up with our other living room space, an area where we keep more of the Montessori materials and nature items.

what I hate more than diapering

Can you guess what I hate more than trying to diaper my little Oliver, little squirmy, screaming, thrashing little Oliver?

Allow me to illustrate with a story, a lesson for me and anyone with wee ones.

With about 1 hour until I have guests arriving, as solo parent (this whole week!), I should be:

– finishing my supper, well actually starting my supper

– bathe my boys

– do the dishes

– bake a dessert

– clean off the table

– pick up toys

– PUT A DIAPER ON OLIVER (I just changed a poop, but a little naked freedom seemed in order)

Where am I instead? What is so pressing I am doing none of these things? I am on facebook. Still feeling that I have everything in order with plenty of time to spare, I realize Oliver is surprisingly quiet. Parents, you all know this troublesome lack of sound. I pry myself away from the computer and round the corner to the horror of not putting a diaper on.

The baby who poops about 5 loose poops a day had of course pooped and peed and was stomping and sliding in it, nearly falling over. I grabbed him and called for Elliott. Elliott was quick, getting me cloths. But in these few seconds, Oliver managed to squirm and wriggle more, spreading the mess, getting it up his legs, on my arms (don’t ask how!)…

So I explained to Elliott where not to step and scooped Oliver up. At least I was going to knock the first thing off the list since he now required a bath.

After the bath, I considered yet again a little naked time. And then I put a diaper on a screamy and thrashing little boy. Lesson learned.

And do I tackle what is next on the list? No.

I headed right back to the computer.

apples and pears, oh my!

Every year we check my parent’s fruit trees, hoping for a good year for apples and pears. This year was a bit scraggly, but enough was found to be turned into delicious apple-pear sauce. And an extra bonus of getting apples from them: they do not spray their trees. So if I can overlook the worms, wait, not overlook… If I can commit the extra time to cutting out the worm holes, it yields a very tasty sauce.

My blend came about because that is what my parents had a few years ago. What we harvested of each was not enough to process all by itself. Now, I think I prefer them together. My parents gifted me a Victorio Strainer and it works like a dream for something like pears, which I hate skinning and do not work on a traditional apple peeler/corer. You wash the fruit, quarter it, steam it, and process it. Then you just heat on the stove until hot and add spices. Because of the strainer, you can get to the canning much faster.

On this nice Fall night, we unfortunately were not gathered around our fire pit with smores, but inside, just a bit too hot with all the burners going. But we had wine so I guess it is all okay.

washing the pears…

cutting the apples…

steaming the fruit…

processing…

look at it go…

the big vat of sauce, which yielded 12 quarts, plus some breakfast sauce for the wee boys…

clean up time (see that stack of pans and bowls, ugh!, but, see who is washing!)…

and time for steam facials with the leftover canning water (I went first, and then, hehe, snuck a picture when Mike tried it)…

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!

food with the wee one

This post will actually be a two part post. As I was arranging big E’s snacks for the next few days, a new system we will test starting tomorrow, I was thinking over the steps we took to get him to this point. Which brings me back to the beginning, where little O just happens to be.

Little O has been on the mushy, sloppy food and some finger foods diet for about 2 1/2 months now. He knows how to have a bite, can pick up some items with that wonderful pincer grasp, goes after the spoon to do it himself, and is tickled that he can slurp water. With big E, we followed the Montessori method and used a small chair and a weaning table (the white table pictured in this post). It was wonderful for snacks and meals. I found it easy to clean up, easy to keep him seated. And it kept him near the ground so he could crawl/walk to the table when hungry or leave when done (after a hasty clean up by Mama). But with little O, he is just not interested in the weaning table because the first few times he came to the big table in his high chair, he had so much fun watching big brother eat. So now, we exclusively give him solids at the big table and will just reserve the weaning table for crafting and activities as he grows.

There are a few elements that I have found to make meal time more conducive to our children’s sense of independence:

– the table and seat/high chair

– the bowls

– the utensils

– the cup

– the language and attitude

While a weaning table and low chair would be my first choice, it just is not always easy to fit in another piece of furniture or, like the case with our #2 child, baby just does not want to be left out of all the fun! Since we do snacks with big E too, little O is never alone at the table. For a high chair, I chose the Stokke Tripp Trapp high chair because it fit right up to the table we owned. We did not want a tray that forced him to sit farther from the table or a chair that was taller or shorter than the table. We wanted him to be right in there with the rest of us. With the Tripp Trapp, there is a nice baby rail that comes off to allow easy clean up or fully remove when the child is ready. When big E was around 18 months or so, we removed it and gave him a lesson on getting up and down safely. With many reminders, he learned how to be independent getting up and down from the table. (And when he got down, he was down. The meal was over!)

The bowls we use are child-sized, about the size of a small 1-cup storage bowl, similar to these or these. They are clear so little O can see the food he is being served. And they are glass. Contrary to popular belief that you should give a child plastic since they might break glass, Montessori principles encourage the use of glass, porcelain, and metal in the classroom to show a young child they can be trusted, they are worthy of that trust, and they must learn to take care of these items. Plastic feels cheap and is thus treated cheaply – tossed on the floor or beaten on. And if one feels an item is indestructible, one is also less likely to intervene and stop abusive, inappropriate behaviors immediately. I am not suggesting that I let little O have at them and break one though! Through language and gentle actions, I hold the bowls while he investigates them. I stop him from throwing them overboard and demonstrate how to place them on the table. And this is not accomplished in one day, or two days, even in a month. But we reap the rewards later, much later, when a child cares for the dishes – they can help set and clear a table, empty the dishwasher, and serve themself a snack – with an inner satisfaction that they are trusted and a responsible part of the family. And, another perk – we no longer have oodles of cruddy plastic bowls taking up space in the cabinets. (But we do occasionally break this plastic ‘rule’ – for on the go car snacks, we actually opt for plastic dishes or cloth snack bags or *gasp* plastic baggies)

For utensils, I loved the idea of a simple, all metal baby spoon and even own a few. But while my babes have cut teeth, these spoons have not been easy on their gums. For this reason, we did purchase coated spoons. They hold a small manageable bite, they are easy for a baby to take hold of and try to feed him or herself, and they are so simple they do not detract from the learning process of eating.

Since we chose glassware for bowls, we also chose a clear glass for a drinking cup. So many people laugh at the idea of the ‘baby shot glass’ but then after a moment, they realize that a baby can go from breast to cup and totally skip a bottle. Or, if bottle fed, they can be transitioned much earlier to a cup without the sippy cup transition. To some people, this is just shocking news. Not a sippy cup, but a real cup. From the moment we offered solid foods, we offered water in the cup. At first it was only 1/4 of the way full and I offered the water up to his mouth. Eventually little O learned how to hold it with two hands, but not tilt it back to drink (so I took over for that part). Now, he can hold it and tip it (but I have to slow him down if he gets too happy and pours it on himself). To get to this point was 2 months of skill development, and I know there are still more things to learn: controlling the cup to only sip the amount he wants, setting the cup down on the table, asking for more, transitioning to a larger cup (but not an adult juice glass yet!), learning how to drink with control on the go with straw cups, and learning how to drink from different sized cups while out and about. But look at the satisfaction!

If you are venturing to try this approach with a child, you must have patience. I still am frustrated the day carrots get dribbled down my leg, but I try to recognize each day what little O is learning at the table and when he ‘masters’ a step, oh, I feel his happiness at HIS victory! If it is overwhelming, start slow with one new change and observe how it goes over several days. That will be better for your baby too. You cannot totally mix up their routine in one day and expect an easy transition. We also have found sign language to be extremely helpful for meal times and eases a baby’s frustration since they eventually learn to express they want more or that they are full and done. Eventually you could move beyond those two basics and add done, drink, milk, water, even please. It tickled me to no end to see big E at such a young age sign ‘please’ ‘more’. Start early, as soon as you start with solids even. Results may take some time, but communication early on is so helpful and rewarding. And don’t worry: signing does not hinder verbal language development. In fact, it often allows them to speak sooner along with many other benefits.

And since all these skills revolve around food, feed your baby what you grow, shop for good foods at a local farmer’s market, or buy the yummiest foods you can find! What they are fed now sets their eating behavior and tastes as they grow. Let them try new tastes ‘straight up’ – no need to hide veggies in anything! Let them eat what you are eating when possible, grinding it up if needed. We love the Kidco grinder. Meal time is full of valuable life-long lessons in behavior, nutrition, socialization, and care of self and personal belongings. 

Just remember, with wee ones, independence is slowly, s l o w l y, learned. With each new opportunity you offer, there are a lot of restrictions until they can be trusted. Observe them and how they are mastering something before adding more challenge than they can handle. I will be back tomorrow to show what we are now trying with big E to give him more independence.

creativity and the little one

My oldest little one, big E, well, he loves to craft. Markers, glue, scissors, and lots of paper make for a happy boy. And I encouraged it from the start. I left out the paints and crayons and all the needed tools – a choice he could make anytime of day. And it was going great until about the age of 3. With being older and more skilled, I noticed more messes that resulted from bigger projects. So materials started disappearing off the shelves, I began encouraging him to choose other works, even getting angry and stressed over the mess (ultimately, he gets in so deep, he needs rescuing and help cleaning up – not cool when  we had a newborn). The other day on the verge of losing it yet again, I was finishing up my Facebook time. A friend found a link to a YouTube video of Sir Ken Robinson, who I had actually had the pleasure of hearing speak at the AMI Refresher Course back on February 14, 2009. Here is the video I got to hear yesterday. It is long, but worth the listen in my opinion. While I listened, I ignored the crafting table. Twenty minutes later, this is what he brought over to me:

Lesson learned. When I keep my nose out of it, he is a happy creative boy. And the paper pieces, open scissors, glue stick on its side, pencil rolling on the floor? He was also very willing to clean up the resulting mess after he was done working. And when I had to pick little scraps off the floor that night that he overlooked, I was just fine with it.

Some tips for crafting with young children:

– There is no need to make every project a parent-child project. While it is great to make a project you have seen in a magazine or do a big one together, this does not and should not be the bulk of your child’s crafting. They are creative thinkers and need time to work on their own ideas, not someone else’s.

– After showing a child how to carefully write and draw with crayons/marker/pencils, put an age appropriate amount out on an accessible shelf. Make sure to include a mat to protect your table and paper that fits onto the mat. If you have a low table for them to work at, this is even better. They need a place to work at that fits their body and is always there when they want to work. If your kitchen table is your craft table, a lot of struggles may ensue when it is time to set the table for dinner and the crafting materials are still in use!  At first, you may have to remind the child where they can write (on the paper). But what happens when they do not? Well, without a lot of fuss, have them clean up the mess they made with you and then put them up, out of sight, for one day, two days… Later, give them a chance again, demonstrating again where they can write. For a young toddler or young child, it is important to state where they CAN draw, not where they CANNOT draw.

– As a child is able to be trusted with one medium, make more room on the shelf for a second, or rotate in new choices. Crayons, colored pencils, markers, oil pastels, chalk, clay, watercolors. Introduce them and make sure they have everything handy to use them. For instance, to do watercolors, they need high quality paper, a mat, a brush, a bowl for water, a pitcher to get more water, and a bucket to put dirty water in. You do not want them emptying that tiny rinse cup in the bathroom if they have to cross two white rugs to get there! And don’t forget the sponge or rag to wipe up drips and spills. They will happen and there is no quicker way to kill creativity and discourage working with art materials than to yell over the mess. Trust me, I know.

– When crafting together is happening, make each project your own. Your work and your child’s work. You choose your colors, design, and medium. Allow your child the same freedoms. It may not be what you would choose, but what a sense of independence and satisfaction with their own work at the end! And if they do not like their work at the end? Well, they are then able to reflect on their own choices, not a parent’s choice.

– And if you absolutely cannot tolerate the idea of crayons and markers at first, start with sticker and paper. Put something in their hands. Trust them and you may be happily surprised.

Here are two setups we are using for our boys.

I put out coloring for the very young child at one, watercolors for the older child at the other. Notice that the crayon set up has only three chunky crayons and only white paper for the youngest artist. This helps to focus the toddler on how crayons work and what they are making. Chunky beeswax crayons write well and are easy to hold. The white table and low chair are from Michael Olaf. They served big E from sitting age to about 3. For the watercolor set up, since the older child has more concentration, they are able to set up the materials, use them, and clean them up. It is a bigger work, more responsibility. The green table and blue chair were garage sale finds (with dings to show it). The table is from Ikea. The chairs are old school chairs my mother passed along to us. With two chairs it is great for snacks with friends or crafting with friends. There are lots of options out there. Just find one that fits your child, cutting down table legs if you must.