Montessori Approach to Weaning
The Montessori approach to weaning is based on mutual respect between the baby and parent. You provide the baby with the appropriate food and utensils required for them to feed themselves. When you do this, you provide your baby with the opportunity to learn from their environment and gain pride and satisfaction from their independent achievements.
Babies can survive oﬀ of breast milk or formula milk for the first 12 months of their life, so weaning them onto solid food before this time is not essential for survival. Instead, weaning is advised from 6 months old so that your baby can develop the skills they need to feed themselves and to prepare their bodies for much heavier food. You do not have to replace milk with solid food; you can combine the two for the full benefits.
In traditional weaning methods, babies are placed in a high chair and fed at a different time to the rest of the family. When using Montessori methods, the child is seated around the table and can eat with the rest of the family. Allowing the child to eat alongside other family members shows the child respect and makes them feel a part of their group. Instead of purchasing a high chair for your infant, consider investing in a booster seat so that your child can sit at the table with you. Another option is to provide your child with their own table, a child-sized weaning table that allows your child to move around and learn independence. A table like this is also an excellent opportunity for toddlers to learn how to set the table and clear away their dishes.
Montessori weaning includes a mixture of baby-led weaning and spoon-feeding. When introducing your baby to solid food, you could start by placing a bowl of pureed food in front of them and providing them with a spoon. You will also have a spoon at hand, and you can feed the baby and allow them to observe what you are doing and encourage them to practice feeding themselves. You could also fill the spoon and place it down in the bowl, letting your baby pick it up and feed themself. Eventually, your baby will start to want to take over, so you can observe them while they practice. They may prefer to use their hands rather than utensils—a perfect way to refine those hand-eye coordination skills. You can then introduce finger foods and watch as your baby finds satisfaction from new textures and flavors.
Shallow dishes are best for your baby at first, as they will find it much easier to pick up their food, and it will avoid food falling oﬀ the plate. You should provide your child with practical utensils that fit in their hands, as a normal-sized utensil would fit into yours. Sometimes gadgets such as suction plates can be handy when trying to avoid mess but will hinder the learning process of being careful with food. Placemats can help your child outline where they are supposed to eat and help with learning how to set the table, as they discover where everything belongs on the table.
Your child will learn how to drink from an early age if you start them oﬀ with an open cup. The child will also learn the consequences of what happens when a cup is dropped or spilled. Clear cups are helpful for the child, as they know how much is in the cup and can learn how to steady themselves and avoid spilling their drink. When you first introduce the cup, try holding it in place for the child before allowing them to try it out for themselves. You can then let them practice picking it up and maneuvering it. During this time, expect many spills and refills! Every time your child drinks from their cup, they will learn how to do it better next time. If your child only wants to play, throw it, or put food in the cup, this may be a sign that they are no longer thirsty, and it may be a good idea to take the cup away.
Make sure to always supervise your child when they are eating so that you can ensure that they do not choke or hurt themselves with their utensils. If your child is playing and throwing food, it is usually a sign that they have finished eating. Do not punish your child for playing with their food, as this is part of the learning process and is a perfect opportunity for you to let them know that food stays on the table. Once your child has finished with their food, let them know before you take it away as they may give you an indication that they are still hungry.
If you show your child respect and trust during feeding time, they will show respect for their environment. Practice being patient with your child and always be prepared for mistakes and messes made. Once your child gets used to sitting at the table without throwing food around, you may be able to allow them to eat alone. You may be able to get up and move around so they feel as though they are unattended. It is best not to leave your child unattended. Instead, observe from a short distance and see how they get on when you are not there.
Babies are eager to learn and understand what is going on around them. Communicating with your baby during mealtimes can make them feel included and interested in what you are doing. Talk to your baby throughout each step and tell them what you are doing. For example, tell them it is feeding time and let them know what they are about to eat. Continue to interact with your child as they eat; ask them if they are enjoying their food or want more water. You can use baby signs to communicate and encourage your baby to do the same. Your baby may not respond, but they constantly watch and listen to you and will eventually start to show you signs of what they want. If your baby feels like they can communicate with you, it may prevent tantrums or food throwing as they will be able to tell you if they have finished or if they want something more.