Sunday, November 24, 2019

Practical Life at 1-year-old

When we think of practical life for children, I think we often think of children 3 and up. However you can start very early, and in our home we like to start as soon as they can walk. The first practical life activity is usually for them to self-feed and to go pick things up for us such as their diapers, their shoes...

We do practical life to help our children gain control and better coordination of their movement but also to gain independence and adapt to our society. In Maria Montessori's own words:

“The exercises of Practical Life are formative activities, a work of adaptation to the environment. Such adaptation to the environment and efficient functioning therein is the very essence of a useful education.” ~ Maria Montessori

“Any child who is self-sufficient, who can tie his shoes, dress or undress himself, reflects in his joy and sense of achievement the image of human dignity, which is derived from a sense of independence.” ~ Maria Montessori

Here is a more detailed list of what Theo can do at 13 months and how we have prepared the environment to help him to do it himself.
In the bedroom, these are the shelves for Matisse (yellow) and Theo (white). The shelves are accessible for both of the kids and although Theo cannot do much yet, he will grow into it very fast. We are using some IKEA drawers and each drawer is labeled with what is inside with a drawing, in English, and in French. At this point, Theo loves socks and will bring me socks when I ask for them. I am working on him bringing me his diaper but as soon as I remove the dirty diaper he likes to take off running so I am thinking we may skip that I go on to pants next. He cannot grab his shirts yet as he is a bit too short but should be able to in the next few months.
Some days, I will leave for 2 minutes and he will go through everything and it will look like that! And that's ok! I just pick it up and show him how we do it and try to get him to help me! Surprisingly he doesn't make a mess very often!
He loves to go grab a book from the bookshelves in his bedroom and bring it to us to read. We use forward facing low bookshelves so it is easy to grab and they can more easily see the book. He cannot grab the books on the higher shelves yet and they are intended for Matisse.
Utensils, plates and glasses
The utensils, plates, and glasses are housed in a low drawer in the kitchen. All the boys can pull the drawer open and take what they need from it. Theo loves grabbing a fork (even when it is not food time!) and as he grows he will be able to pick up more utensils!
This is part of practical life and developing their independence, and one that you can start very early. Around 6 months he started self-feeding with his fingers on little chunks. Around 8 or 9 months we offered him a spoon however we saw that he had a greater interest in forks so we let him use it while eating. Starting at 1 he started self-feeding with the fork he would pick.

We are still using a high-chair for him, however, soon, we will move him to a booster on a chair with a step stool. This will also help him be more independent! If you can have a Tripp-Trapp chair or something similar, they are amazing, however they were not in our budget.
Wiping the table
After meals we offer him a cloth wipe and show him how to wipe his table. This is clearly a work in progress and will need a lot more practice!
Food from the fridge
We have a fridge with no freezer, which means we have very low shelves. We laid out the lower shelf to be kid friendly so it has mostly snacks they can grab when they want. Here is Theo grabbing the grapes. He is happy to bring them to his learning tower or his high chair. He cannot open the door yet but I will open the door for him and he loves helping himself! 
The learning tower
He loves his learning tower and will go up when he wants a snack during the day, when I'm cooking, or when the older boys are helping me. He also likes using it to "help" me do the dishes. This is one of the best things in our kitchen and we built it for Alex 5 years ago and it has been used daily since then by every one of the children.
The Laundry
All of my kids have always loved helping with the laundry and Theo is no different! He loves helping to put clothes in the washer. The big boys love to do the same and also putting the soap in and turning the machine on.
He loves going outside and loves shoes. So he is very good at bringing me his shoes when I ask him. We have a full mud room and each child and adult has a section for their shoes, coats, bags...
The Vacuum
We have a small handheld vacuum that Alex and Matisse sometimes use after meals. They now enjoy it however when they were little the vacuum scared them. That being said, Theo loves the vacuum! It is impossible to vacuum (even with the big one) without him following us around! So we let him play with the little one and push it around. It is a great introduction to vacuuming and he should soon be able to do it!

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Kids Packing List

We travel a lot and Alex and Matisse have been packing their suitcase for the past year or so. Until now, packing involved me sitting in the center of the room and directing them "take 2 pairs of pants, 3 shirts...". At 6, Alex does not need that anymore and at 4, I think Matisse is ready to move on as well.
To help the boys take more responsibility, I drew a page with each item (drawn, and written in both languages) that we may need to pack and laminated it. Each time we travel I can now write the number of each item they need to take with a dry-erase marker so the packing list can be reused multiple times.

It worked extremely well for Alex. He loved to be in charge of packing and packed his suitcase entirely by himself! Matisse was not in a mood to try so we will try another day.

I know it is travel season for a lot of us so, if you are interested, here is a free download. I've made this list into a PDF that you can download (it's not great as I drew it in 5 minutes but you may find it useful anyway); to get it please sign up for my newsletter and your first email will automatically send you a link to the PDF. Don't worry, you can unsubscribe any time but if you stay on the list, you'll get some updates and ideas from me from time to time.


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Monday, November 18, 2019

Birth Stories

Yesterday, Matisse turned 4; in October, Theo turned 1; in September, Alex turned 6. With all their birthdays I have been looking at baby photos and rethinking about their births. I thought I would write them all down to keep the memories and share (if anyone's interested 😅).

All 3 of my birth stories are very different. From a first traumatic birth, to a second easy healing birth,  and a last medically complicated pregnancy and delivery that still was very empowering. I learned that your birth team, your education and your mindset are all very important to get the delivery you would like.
Alex - Born 9/17/2013 at 8:00 pm - 20 inches and 9 lbs 6 oz

I had a very typical pregnancy, all day morning sickness in the first 15 weeks and then an uneventful pregnancy except for a baby measuring large at the ultrasound. At 39 weeks we agreed with the doctor that we would induce at 41 weeks if he was not born by then. So on week 41, at 6 am, I went to the hospital a nervous wreck as scheduled. There I was right away put on pitocin, no other prep like is usual, nothing. It was pretty slow at first until the doctor broke my water. Then, without telling me what she was doing she placed a fetal monitor on Alex's head (which is kind of screwed on the head of the baby, it fell out 2 times as he had too much hair and he had a screw mark on his head after the delivery).

After the breaking of the water the contractions came in strong and fast and after making it to 6 cm I decided to take the epidural. Then things slowed down until the time to push around 6 pm. I had let the epidural lapse a bit so I could feel my feet a bit but the pain was bearable. Eventually the epidural was gone and I was able to go on my knees, which really helped with my large boy. The doctor was very nervous, pacing back and forth, in and out of the room, and really no use. She had 2 students with her who were much more helpful and supportive.

At the 2 hour mark she decided it was time to get him out. Without really talking to me she had me go back on my back, a flurry of people entered the room and she gave me an episiotomy and pull him out with a vacuum. To this day this is the worse pain I have felt. That gave me a 3rd degree tear that was painful for weeks. I sat on a boopy pillow for a month (yay for nursing pillows!) and I am thankful for the lactation consultant at the hospital who taught me to breastfeed lying down.

After the delivery the doctor told me she was expecting a C-section because he was a large baby. Then when I mentioned that things were not feeling right at the tear she answered "well you had a baby, what were you expecting". From this I learned to carefully pick my birth team.

Matisse - Born 11/17/2015 at 6 am - 19 inches and 9 lbs 3 oz

For Matisse I changed doctor and hospital. I picked one of the only 2 doctors in Las Vegas that did VBAC as he was the most natural friendly doctor. I also hired a doula who was a midwife in training.

I had an even easier pregnancy with Matisse, no morning sickness, nothing! At 41 weeks we agreed to induce again, but with a balloon instead of pitocin. I was told it does not always work but it starts labor in 25% of cases and it it does not involve adding hormones to your body. The balloon was installed on the 16th at 10 am and I was sent home.

I went to bed and woke up at 2 am with some contractions. I went to the bathroom, the balloon fell out which meant at was a 3 or 4 cm already! I tried to go back to bed but couldn't so I started pacing around while everyone slept. After an hour or so I woke up my husband (it took 3 tries!) and started mentioning it may be time to go. I called the doula who said she was already at the hospital and would wait for us.

Now we had a 40 minutes car ride and although the contractions were bearable while standing and moving they were extremely painful while sitting! This was the longest car ride ever! I tried to stand and go on my hands and knees many times, untying my seatbelt while my husband kept telling me we were nearly there and to please buckle back up.

We made it to the hospital around 4:15 am and the doula helped me walk the long way to the maternity floor. Once we got there I was admitted right away, without checking as the balloon had already fallen out. By the time I was in a gown and they measure me I was a 9 cm. I remember thinking "wait, it's not that bad, I can do that" (plus at this point I had no choice anymore). After that everything went very fast and he was born at 5 am, with no intervention, no poke, total freedom of movement, a very calm supportive doctor who just sat there and waited.

It was a beautiful and healing birth. I did have a second degree tear but it was fixed properly and fixed the original tear as well, so it felt normal again.
Theo - Born 10/11/2018 at 10 am - 19 inches and 7 lbs 6 oz

For Theo's birth we had moved state, so I had a new midwife and I also hired a doula since I did not know the area hospitals. Although Theo's pregnancy started very easy, right at the beginning of the second trimester my blood pressure started going up. I was eventually medicated but at my 38 weeks my blood pressure shot up to 176. Of course it was the week my midwife was on vacation so the midwife I saw sent me to the hospital.

After the 5 minute drive to the hospital my blood pressure was at 186 and I was awfully stressed out. I was admitted right away and told I was having a baby now. That being said being early while I had been late for my past 2 pregnancies we were not ready and had no one to take care of Alex and Matisse. At this time they were in school for half days but my husband called the school and they agreed to keep the boys until 5pm.

Since I was now high risk and my midwife was out of town I got a doctor I had never met before. Then we call my doula and she was also out of town so she sent her back up whom I had never met before either. I was really nervous about this whole thing, angry and crying all at the same time as everything I had planned was looking like it was falling apart.

Eventually everyone got together we all sat down (doctor, doula, my husband) and had a long chat about how to move forward. It turns out the doctor was very communicative, patient, went over everything in details with me and was open to a lot of requests. The thing with high blood pressure is that you have to be on Magnesium which gets you stuck to the bed and makes you feel awful and really weak. Also, since I was very scared of the pitocin from my last birth, he agreed to take it very slow and I agreed to the magnesium as it is the safe thing to do.

So things start and I now have a massage cuff on each leg, a blood pressure cuff on my right arm, an oximeter on my finger (that I move around, it's an annoying little thing), a fetal and contraction monitor on my belly and an IV with 3 lines on the left arm, so I'm strapped to that bed.

For the first day nothing really happened, everything is going very slow (which is good). My husband sets up our babysitter to spend the night with the boys, luckily she was available! The night is really slow as well. Then in the morning it finally hits, contractions started coming in regularly, my water broke on its own and I had to move around the bed more (I still can't stand move much as I'm strapped everywhere and the magnesium makes me really weak and light-headed). The doula whom I had just met was doing a fantastic job. At this point I'm considering the epidural and my husband says "you are fine, you have done it before, you can do it". From then it was another hour of contractions and time for pushing. The pushing was really hard, and my blood pressure skyrocketed to 200, even with the magnesium (this is when I am glad I agreed to it!) but eventually I was able to go up on my knees and my little guy was born screaming and healthy.

I have to say that without the great doctor, doula, nurses and 2 previous births I would not have been able to do that.

I had to stay another 2 days in the hospital afterwards for more magnesium and also because my blood pressure never went back down and it had to be controlled with the right mix of medicine.

Eventually 2 weeks later I found a lump in my abdomen and when back to the OBGYN. They did an ultrasound and found my kidney was 3 times the normal size and covered in cysts. 3 months later I had the kidney removed and my blood pressure instantly came back down to normal. To this day we don't really know what happened to my kidney but I am again healthy with one healthy kidney!

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Arts and Crafts Cart Setup

We love arts and crafts! We do a lot of prepared arts and crafts activities that I post on my Instagram. Although, these could be considered special activities: they require supplies that are not readily available on a daily basis because they are generally expensive or require more supervision. For the day to day arts and crafts we have a cart (I believe we got it at Michael's) full of supplies that the boys can use freely.
Sometimes it is used multiple times a day and sometimes it is ignored for weeks. I rotate the supplies regularly, however the setup is generally similar and the changes are in the colors, the loose parts and the play dough. This is the setup for my 3 boys: 6, 4 and 1. At this point, Theo, who still mouths everything, cannot grab what is on the top shelf, so everything considered dangerous is there. The two lower shelves usually contain things I am ok with him exploring (he cannot open the paint nor the play dough yet!).
The top shelf contains 2 large magazine holders: the one on the left contains paper, cardstock of different colors, stickers, empty notebooks (bought and handmade) and a clipboard in case they want to draw somewhere else. These are refilled and rotated periodically. The magazine holder on the right is for finished project that do not go on the wall. As you can see, I have just cleaned it up! I clean it up every time it gets full.

On the right of the magazine holder, we have loose parts (right now googly eyes, pompoms, and gems), glue for the loose parts, markers, crayons, scissors, string, and washi tape (this is a huge favorite!). In addition you can see the foam paintbrushes with the markers... I would typically keep them with the paint below however, Theo loves chewing on them, which is dangerous so they are on the top shelf, away from him until he stops mouthing.
The middle shelf has all the paint supplies: tempera paint, paint brushes and some sponge cubes for painting, a rag for wiping spills, a palette, and an empty container for water. There is also a watercolor set. Then we have modeling beeswax (sometimes we alternate with Wiki Stix, but Alex tends to use them all in half a day so we run out fast and often!), hole punches, and stamps, that rotate with the seasons.
The bottom shelf is for play dough (we have both homemade and Playdoh) and kinetic sand. The tray in the back contains all the play dough tools.
Although I would prefer to have a full art shelf, it is not doable space-wise and this setup has worked well so far. They have their little table and chairs right next to it as well so they have a spot to do their art. We also often take it outside when the weather permits. We have 4 chairs so the 4th chair is often used by Alex as a step stool!

Our Favorite Art Activities

When we are home we have a few to go art activities that we enjoy doing. But first, we always have an art cart with art supplies availabl...