Activities for Toddlers – Independence in the Dining Room

L is now 15 months old and successfully (and insistently!) feeding herself everything.  Yes, it gets messy.  Fortunately, we have a dog who enjoys eating dropped food.  In addition, we have a toddler who enjoys cleaning up after herself — “Put it back on the plate.”

The first part of enabling independence in the dining room is having materials available for the child to get by herself.  We keep L’s plates on top of a low cupboard in our dining room.  When it is time for a snack or meal, L brings a plate to the kitchen (more on the Montessori kitchen and meal prep later!).  We also keep a stack of washcloths there to use for cleaning her up after a messy meal — L loves wiping her own hands and mouth.  She also uses the washcloths when she spills her drink.

I know many of these posts have been about being Montessori without spending a ton of money, but if there is one thing you’re going to spend lots on, make it this — the amazing Stokke Tripp-Trapp highchair.  Friends, it is not cheap.  However, it can be used from the time your infant is first beginning to eat baby foods through elementary school.  This highchair is not the same as regular highchairs.  First of all, it can be pushed up to the table so your child can have meals with the adults.  This allows adults to model table manners, which the child quickly picks up.  Want your child to eat broccoli?  Have her sit next to you at the table while you’re enjoying your own broccoli — what child doesn’t want to eat what’s on Mommy’s plate instead of her own?  This chair works through multiple ages.  With beginning feeders, there are safety straps and attachments so she doesn’t fall off.  There are adjustable steps, so as your child grows she can eventually climb up onto her seat by herself (when that front attachment is taken off).  As soon as my husband’s end-of-the-fiscal-year bonus comes in, we’re buying another one for L without the attachments so she can climb up by herself, and Baby #2 will use the first chair.

At 15 months old, L’s place setting typically looks like this.  Yes, we put out a fork or a spoon, depending on what the meal calls for.  No, L has not completely mastered this skill yet, but she’s getting pretty good.  We don’t actively work on using utensils, we simply provide them for her to experiment with.  She sees us using utensils every day, and she’s improving every day.  I obviously did not put out utensils when she first began eating.  I started with a spoon in yogurt when she was about 12 months old.  At that point, she would use it for a few bites, then hand it to me to finish feeding her.  Now she finishes a whole container of yogurt all by herself.  I won’t lie, it is a mess.  But she loves wiping herself off afterward.  I only put the fork out a few weeks ago.  Again, I knew to do this through observation.  We were at my mom’s house for a BBQ one day when I noticed her walking around with a plastic fork and paper plate, pretending to eat from it.  The next day I put a child’s fork on her placemat with dinner, and voila!  Sometimes she asks for help, but she is getting quite accomplished at stabbing that fork into her food and putting it in her mouth.  L eats what we eat.  I don’t cook a separate meal for her.  If we’re having something particularly spicy, I might take out her portion before I add the hot ingredients, but other than that, we eat the same meals.

An open cup, made of glass?!  Believe it or not, she has never knocked it over, and it has never broken.  I use a small cup made of glass for several reasons.  It is just her size, and she can see the amount of liquid in it (never more than an inch or so).  The glass is solid and heavy, so it doesn’t get knocked over easily when she carelessly bumps it.  The weight also makes her drink slowly, as it takes some effort to lift and tilt.  L did not start out with an open cup, of course.  She started with a sippy cup designed to be drunk from like an open cup, with no spout or straw, but without any possible spillage (this one!).  She still uses that cup in the car or when we are on the go.  But for all snacks and meals at the table, since she was about 12 months old, L drinks successfully from an open cup.  I keep a small carafe of water at the table (and one of milk in the fridge) to refill her cup when she asks for more.  For now, I pour the water into her cup.  In a few months, I will have to find a small pitcher with a handle for her to refill her own cup.

In addition to the benefit of allowing your child to develop to her full potential — even as a toddler — allowing for independence in all areas of the home means less work for Mommy and Daddy.  In the dining room, it means everyone gets to enjoy a family meal at the same time.