Thursday, July 29, 2010

Changes at the Casa Kitchen

After reluctantly watching the documentary films "Killer at Large" and "Food, Inc.," I've taken a radical plunge in my thinking about the food I put into my body and the bodies of my family members. I highly recommend the films, and I will be taking the book The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan from the library today to read it for more info.

The changes will include the following:

1. Only eating organic, free-range, grass-fed meat. This means we will be eating much less meat because I am sure it is not cheap to eat the new standard.

2. Eating fresh, organic, locally grown vegetables. We will be shopping weekly at the farmer's market for produce, and supplementing with produce from Whole Foods or Central Market.

3. Decreasing our intake of processed foods. Instead of packaged mixes, I'm going to be packaging my own convenient mixes to keep in the pantry (so long "blueberry muffin" mix that doesn't have blueberries on the ingredient list). Maybe I will post these "recipes" here if I get it worked out to a well-oiled homegrown machine.

4. We will be gardening. I have put this off since we bought our house. I have a few bags of soil in the garage and enough seeds to feed a village. I'm thinking that perfect is a lower priority than I've been making it, so I might just be going into the backyard, pouring the bags of soil on top of our "garden" space that is currently grassy and weed-riddled. Then I will plant the seeds... at this point I think our only crop will be Okra, but I will be looking into a timetable for planting a fall garden as well.

5. This one probably goes without saying, but we will be eating at home. The only person I can trust to care about the food that goes into our mouths is me, so I am going to be cooking more.

So there it is in writing. I will be posting updates, and I will probably not follow through on this stuff 100%. I know it is going to be more expensive, but I'm also confident that it is the right thing to do for my family. If you have some suggestions for "follow-through" on these items, please let me know. If you are in Houston and want to start a veggie co-op so we can buy in bulk and get better prices at the farmer's market, let me know that, too! Happy and healthy eating to you and yours!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Day in the Life of a Busy and Independent Toddler

Yesterday, I watched the film “Eddison’s Day,” and I was absolutely shocked by the capabilities of the 20-month-old “star” of the film, Eddison. The film was made in one day following his activities from waking up to reading a book for bedtime; his mom is an AMI-trained Montessorian for the 0-3 age range. His environment is impeccable. He is happy, confident, independent, and very connected to his family and world. I was so shocked by the film that I watched it 2 more times and furiously scribbled notes (the third viewing I realized I could press the “pause” button). I’d like to share my notes from the film to offer some guidance about appropriate activities for toddlers that may shock you into finding this film at a local Montessori school parent library, so you can “see it to believe it!” I've broken the activities down into a "time of day" format, and within each section I list the activities first and then the considerations a parent should make to facilitate the activities.

Early Morning Activities

· Activities

o Going outside to retrieve the newspaper (with parental supervision).

o Setting the family table for breakfast and eating breakfast independently, even spreading jam or peanut butter on his own toast with a real child-sized knife and pouring a pre-portioned amount of milk out of a small pitcher into a drinking glass.

o Clearing breakfast dishes from table independently.

o Feeding the cat a pre-portioned amount of food, and giving the cat water from an accessible (low) water source.

· Accessibility Considerations

o Dishes should be low enough for the child to reach without adult help, and open shelving is best for young children to see everything they need;

o The child should be allowed to use real dishes and flatware (breakable, beautiful, stainless steel, child-sized);

o The child needs a chair that he can climb into on his own that pulls up to the family (adult-sized) table;

o The parent will have to pre-portion drinks and spreads into small containers that are manageable for the child: a small “sauce bowl” for jam, or a coffee creamer sized pitcher for drinks. There will be slightly more dirty dishes.

o A low, accessible place to put dirty dishes, like a small cart or bin; later the child can help rinse them at the sink. If this seems superfluous, allow the child to wash dishes after each meal in the sink and load dishes into the dishwasher by himself.

o For animal care, the child needs manageable containers with the correct amount already measured out or a built-in control for the correct amount (one cup full, or one small pitcher of water). The child needs access to a low water source, like a glass crock of water on a low shelf. The animal care tray should be as simple as a tray with a cup or pre-portioned container for with an easy-open lid for dry food and a small pitcher for water.

Getting Ready for the Day

· Activities

o Brush teeth, looking into a low accessible mirror, mom squeezes toothpaste.

o Use a small potty independently (managing pulling down and pulling up his own pants)

o Choose own outfit from a limited selection of clothing.

o Undress from PJs and get dressed with some, but very little, adult help. Admire himself in a mirror.

o Carry his own backpack with a change of clothes if leaving for school (toddler community in the film) or going for an outing.

o Walk outside independently, even down steps, and to the car.

· Accessibility Considerations

o Low mirror in the bathroom.

o Small potty-chair with spare/dry changes of underpants and books close at hand in a basket or small cubby.

o An easy-open closet or wardrobe with a low clothing rail with two tops and two bottoms hanging (for a girl maybe a dress and a separates option?). A couple bins or baskets below the rail with staples like socks, accessories, and underwear (yes, they can be potty trained this young, with minimal accidents).

o A hamper in the dressing/undressing area. A simple and small basket is sufficient… they have little clothes!

o Hooks near the door with hats and coats (that can be offered upon leaving) and a backpack with spare clothes or diapering essentials… toss the diaper bag and let the kid carry his own stuff!

o Step-stool to get outside if the drop is too steep.

At School

· Activities

o Enter the school walking with or even ahead of Mom.

o Open the door to his class, and separate from mom without tears or trauma.

o Simplified table-top hand-washing

o Do activities independently and with concentration and repetition.

o Do activities in the company of a small community

· Accessibility Considerations

o Security that parent will be picking him up on time, a cheerful and trusting parents who separate in a matter-of-fact, “see you later, I love you” kind of way.

o Handwashing setup: Terrycloth apron, small bowl (that can fit both toddler hands), small pitcher that can fill the bowl in one go, and a smaller bowl with a small bar of soap. A hand towel for drying. This activity can be set up on a low table at home as well; children LOVE this.

On a “Play Date”

· Activities

o Share outdoor toys and tricycles with a friend (of the same age)

o Harvest fruit from the yard (or veggies from the home garden, or herbs with some help).

o Eat lunch with a friend at a low table; they pass each other the small pitcher with water to pour their own drinks, and have simple (toddler) conversation “you want some?” “thank you” “mmm… pears”

o Attempting a low balance beam (2x4 plank on the ground secured with small supports along the board)

o Share toys indoors with a friend.

o Return toys and musical instruments to their places on the low shelf in the family room.

o Dig in the sand at a beach and use a pail and shovel.

· Accessibility Considerations

o Freedom to play independently with adult supervision (no hovering! They can do it!).

o Accessible dishes (as with breakfast), and a low picnic table outside is a nice variation to eating lunch.

o Clear and orderly toy layout (see below “At Home” for more details)

o Freedom to get dirty (play in sand, pick up insects, and explore).

Out and About

· Activities

o Help pick out flowers, fruits, and vegetables at a farmers market. Place the veggies into bags, smell the fruits and vegetables, use basic language for the items in the market.

o Wash the car in the driveway with dad. Spray water with the hose, wash the car with a soapy sponge, apply wax or polish with a cloth.

· Accessibility Considerations

o Let the child walk as much as possible, holding hands, and let the child take a little detour every now and then to check something out.

o Give language for EVERYTHING and allow the child to have a sensory experience of the things in his world.

o Provide child-sized (real, not toy) activities that are part of home life. Small sponge and cloth for washing the car, for instance. Live with the child, not around him.

At Home

· Activities

o Read books with mom, selecting books from a limited supply on a low shelf.

o Work with modeling clay (or play doh), using simple clay tools and cleaning up independently.

o “washing” windows and play equipment (tricycle, wheelbarrow) outside with a wet sponge.

o Name items in nature and in the home.

o Handling and returning items in nature: snails, leaves, flowers, pears (from the tree in the backyard… sweet!).

o Simplified flower arranging: placing flowers cut by parents into a pre-filled vase.

· Accessibility Considerations

o Low bookshelf with a few books displayed clearly on it; rotate books as interest wanes, but keep the selection to a few books at a time.

o Activities should be self-contained and clear in their setup/use: A tray with a small board for rolling the clay, a small (child fist) sized ball of clay, a couple simple rolling and cutting tools. A tray with a few crayons at a time in a small dish and a fresh piece of paper. A tray with a sponge and a drying cloth for wiping the table. A tray with a watering can and small cloth for watering plants and drying small drips of water.

o The activities should be displayed on low open shelving, within the child’s reach. Each activity, toy, or instrument should have its own clear space on the shelf; “catch-all” bins or baskets are great for “easy” clean-up, but they do not provide the same clear and orderly presentation that the shelf provides. With an orderly and consistent layout, the child is able to choose activities and put things away himself. It would probably be surprising to see that a child this young is EXTREMELY orderly in a well-prepared environment. It is rare a child pulling many things out at a time when things are set up as above, and it is amazing to see the level of concentration and engagement a child can exhibit in working with one carefully selected item at a time.

o Access to the outdoors with purposeful activities such as a balance beam, tricycle, sponge for cleaning, a broom for sweeping.

Cooking Dinner

· Activities

o Pouring pre-portioned ingredients into a mixing bowl, dry and wet ingredients.

o Mixing ingredients with a child-sized spatula, with limited instruction from mom “let’s try to keep it in the bowl.”

o Kneading dough.

o Brushing pizza dough with olive oil.

o Assembling pre-sliced ingredients on a pizza: mozzarella, tomatoes, basil

o Preparing dessert batter as above, and spooning dessert batter over a cobbler, with limited direction from mom, “can you add some over here?” Taking turns and accepting help.

o Washing dishes at the sink using a soapy sponge with dad. Wiping dirty or wet counter tops.

o Distinguishing trash and recyclables and putting them in the appropriate containers.

o Setting the table for the whole family and eating at the family table.

· Accesibility Considerations

o Child-sized aprons (made of two large hand towels sewn together with space for the head are great for absorbency!).

o A kitchen tower that elevates the child to counter height to work with the parents (learning tower, or kitchen helper… I’ve heard there are some platforms available at home depot that may work just as well).

o Small versions of cooking utensils.

o Constant supervision; this is a “doing with” type of situation.

o Child-sized brooms on low hooks for clean-up.

o Small sponge at the sink.

o Low trash and recycling bins, if the child will help take out trash and recyclables, the indoor bins should be small enough for the child to carry (even with some strong effort it is ok, but not so huge that he cannot manage).

Before Bedtime

· Activities

o Take out a small bin of recyclables to the large bin. Climb up on a step stool to put the recyclables into the bin. Walk with dad to help take the garbage bin to the curb.

o Add bubbles to bathwater with a little direction “let’s save some for next time.”

o Choose two bath toys from a low cabinet.

o Undress with a little bit of help from mom.

o Put clothes into hamper.

o Wet his own body with a cup and a washcloth.

o Bathe with a washcloth and some parental help to get the hard to reach places (behind ears, back, etc).

o Asked for help to wash hair, but closed his own eyes to have his hair rinsed.

o Put on robe with some help from mom (after mom dries him off and gives some snuggles). Hang towel on a low hook.

o Remove robe and hang on low hook in his room.

o Dress in PJs with minimal help from mom.

· Accessibility Considerations

o A step stool to reach the outdoor recycling bin, adult help to open and close the large bin.

o Small manageable container with bubbles for the child.

o Expectation of a limit to the number of toys that can be taken into the tub (one per hand makes a lot of sense). The child is then able to return the toys to the shelf without having an overwhelming mess or large number of toys to clean up.

o Freedom to do for himself.

o Low hooks that the child can reach to hang up towels, robes, re-wearable pjs, etc.