Nourishing Hearts and MindsParenting

Montessori at Home: Toddlers at the Table

Transitioning from high chair to the dinner table was simply something I’d never considered as Paisley grew and graduated from milkies to solids and purees to full-blown meals. One recent morning we sat Paisley down to breakfast in her high chair in the kitchen, set to preparing our coffee and meals to take along to work, and turned around to her squatting on her high chair tray, crouched over her food Gollum-style. Um, no, Child!

After this incident, mealtimes became increasingly more difficult until we realized that the high chair itself was the source of our mealtime drama. Apparently as children grow and become more independent, the restraint can cause more trouble than help. And because there was no real reason for us to use the high chair, other than its convenience and the built-in tray, we decided to forego the dramatic high chair mess and stick Paisley in a regular chair at the dining room table for her next meal.

That was a lovely meal. No thrown food. No refused water cup or food pickiness. Everything eaten in relative peace with far less mess afterward than the typical smeary, encrusted high chair tray. Winning.

Blueberries

Though I’d consider us a Monetessori-lite family, I hadn’t planned well for our transition to the table. Many proponents of the Montessori method advocate for bringing high chairs directly to the table or placing seated children at child-sized table and chair sets. And while these are awesome ideas, neither our space nor our budget could accommodate these methods. (Hello, $15 IKEA Antilop high chair that totally doesn’t fit at our table.)

Other aspects of Montessori mealtime DO work incredibly well in our setting and with our highly independent toddler. One of these is the use of real dishes and silverware at mealtimes.

We have an assortment of plastic snack bowls, which we use for easy finger foods. Other than that, we don’t really do much plastic so Paisley only has one kid-oriented plate, which obviously doesn’t go very far with three meals a day, each day of the week. Without the high chair tray to throw meals on, we had to get into the habit of incorporating real dishes into Paisley’s mealtimes. (Read: my one-year-old is now using my cherished Fiestaware dishes. Hold me!)

Blueberries (2)

Additionally, we’ve begun offering Paisley real silverware with her meals, which been the very best tool that we could give her to help her reach independence and dexterity with manipulating her dining utensils. Prior to our table transition, we would generally offer her a plastic spoon or spork so that she could choose whether she wanted to give it a test run on her fruit, rice, whatever. We found, though, that these utensils, while bright and easy-to-grip, are very stupidly designed to not scoop or pierce food very well. Obviously this design makes them safe for little people, as it would be really darn hard to poke one’s eyeball out with a blunted spork. But for the purpose of actual mealtimes with real foods, these are simply tools of frustration. Hence why my child refused to use them.

When we began to offer solid teaspoons and salad forks, we noticed that Paisley was actually getting the hang of using them during her mealtimes. What a concept! What a new world of culinary opportunity now open to my toddler! We’ve graduated to messier foods like Greek yogurt and cereal with milk, without fear of bare fingers plunged into the bowl and smeary food windshield wipered across the dining surface. This is a really big deal for Paisley. I still don’t have the confidence to offer her soups, but hopefully by this winter we’ll be able to cross that bridge

Eating

Eating

Many families make the transition to table by employing a booster seat. I really did not feel like trying to find place in the budget for a plastic crumb catcher that I’d have to clean continually. Perhaps if we were transitioning a younger child to the table, the booster would be an essential however, with an 18-month-old it seems a little superfluous. The regular chair positioned her a little too low at the table so we upcycled an old cookbook to prop her up. It’s the perfect height for her to easily reach the table and if she does something unthinkable to it, we won’t miss it. Plus no booster = no restraint-related drama. Now that Paisley can come and go as she pleases, she’s typically much more pleasant during mealtimes and remains seated throughout.

Paisley

Another transition that we’re working on with the toddler at the table is the move from sippy cup to lidless vessel. Paisley has always been fond of open cups and has only ever accepted 360-style sippy cups because Mommy likes lids and not having water or milk dumped all over the place. Even though she can technically drink from an open cup, one out of every four sips inevitably turns into a dump that soaks her clothes and anything in a nearby vicinity. So again: work in progress. But really, is there anything cuter than a tiny person drinking from a grown-up cup? I don’t think so.

Drinking

Cup

Until next time, Friends!

Disclaimer: My child does eat things other than blueberries. I promise!

Montessori

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Gabrielle Rystedt
Gabrielle Rystedt
Gabrielle Rystedt is a writer by day and a writer by night (because writers never sleep), who spends time balancing client orders, a couple of books and her blog at Raising Rystedts. She’s a business school grad who’s dabbled in management, both at the project and company level. She loves coffee and crafting, and enjoys settling down with a good book. Though as mom to three kiddos in three years, she realistically spends most of her time reheating her coffee and typing away like a crazy person on a laptop keyboard while surrounded by (clean) cloth diapers and cheddar bunnies.

What are your thoughts?