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.

                                    

        

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the best day in many days

Today was very full but very satisfying. I was able to forget we were moving and focus on the moment. Despite having a sick fevery boy, I got to get on my bike (after wiping the inch of dust off, hm). Since I have been running the past few weeks, biking felt tremendously good. Normally, I am huffing, mentally beating myself up, and turning back at the first real hill. Today, I felt like I was flying and it was so relaxing to be out riding alone, focused only on how nice the river was, how perfect the wind was, and how I felt taking each hill. Lately the focus has not been about how fast or hard I seem to be running/biking, but my own personal goal setting and breaking. That is so much more satisfying and, ultimately, I perform better.

Later, I ran errands, which normally are less than joyful. And some were not all that fun – give up a little blood, off to discuss ‘issues’ at the sweeper store where I got my new vacuum, return an item elsewhere. But deciding to look at mud kitchen supplies was rather uplifting and exciting. I found some sweet scores at the local Goodwill and, perhaps feeling nice toward me because of the blood donation bandage I was sporting, the clerk made the deals even better with some extra discounts. Wonderful!

We have been admiring the mud kitchens at a few blogs (here, here, and here). I told Elliott as soon as we moved we would set it up. But we are putting a lot on hold here for The Move. When we move we will: live on a farm, get chickens, build a banging wall, make a mud kitchen, get out all the toys we have packed away, get out your work table and tools, and so on. And with many things likely to remain in boxes while we face a possible year in an apartment, I felt tired of saying “when we move”. Plus, I got to enjoy myself finding these treasures and seeing the delight in little boy’s faces.
But the best treasure and surprise for my boys was a little wooden pink table. It was marked $9.99, but the senior discount knocked it down to $7. Elliott has been saving free paint samples we got online – a buttery yellow he picked out – to paint an item all his own. Again, this was something I kept saying we would do soon, once we moved, once we found the right piece of furniture.

When I arrived home, Oliver was in a funk, so I allowed him to dig right in to the giant bag of pots, utensils, and baskets. He was delighted and immediately set to transporting some items right to the mud kitchen. His delight makes me so tickled inside.

 

Elliott jumped in too, forming an attachment to the beeswax pot I got. (Finally, a dedicated pot to melting wax and candle making, which was Elliott’s idea after a visit to Conner Prairie.) He also wanted to organize the shelves and remove stickers to get them ready. It was hard to convince him that tomorrow he would feel more like painting shelves and dipping candles. He was ready to set to work today, fever and all.

 

To put the icing on the cake of a day, my food processor and immersion blender arrived early. Whipped cream for our fruit at dinner and cracker making in the near future made for a very satisfying end to the day. And a little boy’s delight in the packaging was just fantastic.

Now, off to a glass of wine and playing Ticket to Ride with Mike!

take a tour… part 2

 

Welcome to our dining room and kitchen. Since we ran out of space in our actual kitchen cabinets, we use a pantry for all dry non-perishables. Our clear glass Ikea cabinet has it good points and bad points… On one hand the boys can see the snacks they want and make a choice. On the other, the boys can see the snacks they want. This has led us to discuss healthy choices and unhealthy choices for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack time… time and time again. It has also led the boys to throw tantrums on occasion when they cannot have whatever their eye desires. (Yes, I realize I could just not stock it with goodies, but then Mommy would not have as many goodies. And sometimes, goodies are just good!)

Our dining table is also from Ikea. The chairs for the boys are both Stokke and we love these high chairs. We opted to use only the baby rail, not the straps. But once they figured out how to pull a leg out to try to get out, we have had to spend many a meal reinforcing staying seated or leaving the chair. It has felt harsh with Oliver at only 13 months to remind him a few times and then remove him for a minute while he screams on the floor, wanting to eat. But in 2-3 weeks the issue no longer seems to be an issue. He understands in some way what has happened. Eventually, the rail is removed and they learn how to get up and down in the chair from a very young age. For the first few months when this first happened for Elliott, it was a confidence boost 4-5 times a day when I could ask him to get himself seated at the table for a bite to eat.

If you notice in the picture we have two trash cans. Here in Muncie, you have a regular trash bag and then a bag for all recyclables. While that makes it easier to explain to Elliott about sorting since there are only two choices, what exactly goes where has been harder. I finally made a sign and taped it inside the lid with web images of all of the recyclables (newspaper, foil, glass bottles, aluminum cans, yogurt cup, and the actual recycle logo). Google image searches gave so many choices. For an older child who has trouble remembering, a written note might be helpful.  

 In our kitchen we use the learning tower to allow Elliott to reach the counter top to help measure, pour, mix, or just observe. He is now able to move it on his own and, since he can reach the dog biscuit jar, is now sole supplier of treats to Addison, our dog. Needless to say, she loves him!

 Soon Oliver will be up with Elliott. It will be a little tight with both in the tower together, but Elliott could easily stand on a stool now if needed.

Our kitchen is not ultra small like our apartment in Boston was, but it is also not grand and full of cabinet space. For that reason, real estate was at a premium and only one low cabinet could be given to the boys. It appears to be a bit cluttered, but Elliott is wonderful at maintaining the order.

Having even one cabinet has been wonderful though. If you do not think you can devote a whole cabinet in your kitchen, please find a drawer or small space somewhere. With access to a plate, a bowl, a cup, napkins, and utensils, the child can set their own place at the table, preparing their own snack even, if water and snacks are available. They are also able to put away their own items when helping with clean dishes. This is an example of the water and food set up we were doing for Elliott a few months back. While we abandoned some of the snack layout, the beverage pitchers are still the same. Many, many, many times I am so busy, I send Elliott to get his own drink and foods. Relief for mommy, independence for Elliott. He has gotten so independent lately that he has taken to setting his breakfast place and selecting his cereal before my husband even makes it to the kitchen. I only wish he could reach our plates and bowls. I feel he would like to help even more without having to wait for a parent. With another inch of growth, he should be able to reach from the learning tower very soon!

Thanks for coming along tonight… I will be back shortly for a tour of our living room and some of the activities currently available on our shelves for little hands.

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.