If you are interested in our approach all of my posts on weaning can be found here.
In Australia it can be really difficult to find Montessori materials. Most of the questions I recieve are about where we source our materials and for weaining it's no different. I have paraphrased here to cover multiple questions about the same topic.
Where did you get the weaning table and chair?
Our weaning table and chair (as pictured above) were thoroughly researched and carefully chosen. As Otis used this from six months size and comfort was really important. The table is a soild wood child's table that I cut the legs down. The chair is a Me-Do-It Chair which I purchased from Wonderland Rehab & Child Care Products. I could not find an online supplier and needed to call to obtain a quotation and proceed from there.
Please note this weaning table is now in his room and he is using the Cube Chair in the kitchen.
What other equipment did you use and where did you source it from?
I purchased not one but two weaning sets from At Home with Montessori. There are all sorts of spoons available in stores but I cannot recommend highly enough using a very small spoon for a young child. Otis started eating solids at six months and the first spoon from this set was the right size. Have a look around, a teaspoon is too large. Of course you know Montessori would recommend using real utensils not plastic.
In the picture below Caspar (four years) uses the first size glass, perfect for little hands. The other two glasses are examples of glasses that Otis uses. Caspar's glasses were found at a thrift shop. The middle glass is an espresso glass from Wheel and Barrow and the last glass is from At Home with Montessori. At the beginning we also used shot glasses from Wheel and Barrow.
I made the placemats, napkins and bibs myself.
How do you introduce and encourage the use of utensils?
Firstly by role modelling. Montessori said it and I confirm it. Before your child is introduced to solids ensure they are around you and siblings using utensils. They will observe exactly what is going on. Caspar has been the best role model, even now he will sit next to Otis and Otis will observe him closely.
When I first introduced solids to Otis I used puree served with a spoon. I also gave him a spoon in his hand. As I would feed him he would start to scoop the food, sometimes splash it and eventually it made it's way into his mouth. It's only now at around twelve months that he mainly feeds himself with the spoon until this point I was mostly feeding him.
Introducing a fork and knife came really naturally. When eating foods that require a fork and knife I would set these at the table. I would cut Otis's food (especially meat) into small bit sized pieces and he will pretend to cut (no doubt imitating us) and literally picked up the fork and began to use it. Initially Otis didn't have the coordination to get the food onto the fork. I would let him try for a while and then hold and guide his hand to pick up the food. At this time he had the coordination to get the food to his mouth. Naturally over time he needed my help less and again now at twelve months he mostly feeds himself.
We recognise that on many occasions it's easier for a child to feed themselves using their hands. Otis will do this becuase he gets more food in his mouth. We still provide utensils and will often say "Otis here is your fork" to encourage him to use it. With wet foods if he stops using the spoon and begins to use his hands, I will say "Otis here is your spoon" and sometimes even give him the spoon. If he continues to use his hands I will usually take the food away. I have found that at this age he usually starts playing with his food when he has had enough.
Does he throw food and his bowl and what do you do?
Otis rarely throws food but does drop it and his utensils on the floor. This is a sign that he has finished his meal. First he drops his knife and we leave it on the floor. If he drops a utensil he is using we will pick it up once or twice. If he drops a couple pieces of food we let it go. If he continues dropping food we get him down from his highchair and consider the meal over.
Since this post we haven't broken a glass. Otis never threw a glass or intentionally broke one. But with a young child breakages will happen and overall I think we have broken two glasses and no plates or bowls. When Otis started eating independently I would sit close and sometimes hold the bowl in place. I only needed to do this for a short time. I don't leave Otis at the table for long periods of time because I know once he gets bored and has finished he starts to drop things and I'm sure he would drop or throw his glass, bowl and probably placemat too. We don't leave Otis at the table unattended.
However for snacks when Otis is accessing the table himself, we do leave him unattended (I am still in the room just not sitting next to him). When he is eating snacks we will sometimes give him a real plate and fork and sometimes will put his snack in a wooden bowl.
What about BLW (Baby Led Weaning)?
I used BLW 100% with my first son Caspar. Having seen the different approaches I favour the Montessori approach. Babies are eating solids sooner (but still breastfeeding) and for us at least eating is much more civilised. You can see the table where I compare the two approaches here. I honestly feel the approaches are compatible and there is something to learn from both.
Book/resource recommendations on weaning?
For BLW I found Baby-led Weaning: Helping Your Baby to Love Good Food a great book. Information on the Montessori approach is a little more difficult to source. If you know anyone who has completed the Assistants to Infancy Training they will be your best guide.
Understanding the Human Being was the best book I found and I really loved the section on weaning, the description of using the table and chair and making it a special event. Please note that we did not introduce juice as a first food as suggested by this book, we started with puree at six months. "Now we have in front of us the most important guest we can have at our table, the human being we conceived and are helping to progress in human relationships and towards independence.". Ok, I've said it before - I love this book.
What about weaning from the breast, what is the Montessori approach?
Montessori and Montanaro suggest to completely wean from the breast at 8-9 months. Oh, so much debate on this. Many people suggest if Montessori knew the nutritional benefits of breast milk and had the information we have now, she wouldn't suggest weaning so young. On this I follow my heart and my intincts first. I breastfed Caspar well through his second year and will probably do the same with Otis. I feel weaning from the breast should be a natural process, as the child eats more solids they have less breastmilk. We will take our time.
Eek. What a lot of information. The purpose of this site, this blog is to share experiences. Please feel free to ask questions, especially if I need to clarfiy something or if I haven't covered your question. Also please feel free to provide suggestions or information sources of your own.