Sunday, December 30, 2012

First Foods

Preparing food for infants can be an easy process, especially when you prepare ahead of time and take the time to do it right.  I am passionate about offering whole foods to infants and I have realized through my years of practicing it with my own children and then with the infants at Tumbleweed I have come up with a method and list of foods that are nice to pick from when starting out.
The Method
I employ various method depending on the food that I am offering.  Most things I prefer to steam, including apples and squash.  Other times I use the oven to bake whole, larger pieces.  I always prepare foods without seasoning so that the infants can learn about the food in their natural states, before introducing spices or even mixing things together.   Here are a few tricks that might help and inspire you.
* Metal, basket steamers are your best friend.  They can expand to any size of pot.  I like to fill up a big pot at the beginning of the week and use what I have as needed.
* Leave the skin on!  I have talked about this before, but leaving the skin allows all of the nutrients of the food to stay in the foods, even if it removed or spit out later.
*Steaming: Cut fruits and veggies into larger chunks, so they can be easily grasped.  Layering works best, if the things which need to be steamed longer are towards the bottom.  Place food in the steamer basket inside the pot.  Add water so that it comes just below the steamer basket.  Place a lid on, this is very important, and bring water to a boil over medium heat.  I keep an eye on my pot, but it takes between 5 to 10 minutes for softer foods and up to 20 for harder.  Steaming is my favorite method because it is fast (less water to boil), nutrients are kept within the food, and it is easy to make a large batch at a time.
*Save the steamer water!  This is full of any flavors and juices from what you have steamed.  It is great to add into pasta sauces, oatmeal or smoothies!
*Baking: This is the method I use for squashes and potatoes.  Other veggies in the oven good for older infants who have the hang of chewing, as roasted veggies have a chewier texture.   Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
The List
When an infant starts at Tumbleweed I tell the parents the same thing.  We want to follow what works best for their family, so it is up to them whether foods are introduced at home or at school.  We keep a list for each child what foods work for each family. 
I am now starting to realize that I have a list of foods that are our basics and most children react well to starting out with.  We emphasize fruits and veggies to start, then supplementing with proteins and grains once they are feeding themselves successfully and their body is ready to process the more complex foods.  I have found this happens at around 7 months, though it depends on the individual infant, especially taking into consideration certain allergies and family preferences. 
We are vegetarian at Tumbleweed, though many of the children eat meat at home.  I fed my own children chicken, pork and tuna as infants.   

Veg and Fruits: Sweet potato, Squash, Apple, Banana, Avocado, Carrots, Cauliflower, Prunes, Broccoli
Grains: Brown Rice Cakes, Oatmeal
Proteins: Egg, Yogurt, Cheese, Tofu and Beans

The Fun!
Amidst all the planning and prepping and feeding it's important to remember that food is fun!  When we take the time to sit with our children, slow down and eat with them we show them how to enjoy meals, new foods and the importance of nourishing our bodies. 
The important thing to remember when eating are small portions ( you can always have more!), encouraging trying new foods, offering but never forcing foods and watching for cues.  Sometimes it is quite obvious when your infant is finished eating.  When I am with the children in my class our meal is over the first time a child turns his head or pushes food away.  I feel comfortable and confident about this, especially because solid foods are not a primary source of nutrients in their lives yet.  The more positive an experience we both have during meals, the longer positive effects on eating and nutrition are learned.  
I also suggest your goal during meals to be eating.  The less outside distractions and toys available show your child what your intentions are.  Meals for infants are short, and when I am feeding them on the floor in my classroom and they begin to show interest in playing, that is a signal to me that they are finished eating.  Maintaining consistency in our expectations sets a natural limit and gives the child the power to own their meal and play times.  We set these limits, so that when they are ready they realize them in themselves.  

Friday, December 28, 2012

RIE Principle #5: Active Participant rather than Passive Recipient

RIE Principle #5: Involvement of the child in all care activities to allow the child to become an active participant rather than a passive recipient.

We have discussed the idea of active participant versus passive recipient before. We have talked about involving the child in care giving activities. Janet Lansbury has written beautifully on the subject here as she details a diaper change that touched her heart so much she cried. Active participation is a wonderful and respectful way to engage with children, but it is also much more than that. Active participation builds intrinsic motivation. It helps the child become an advocate for themselves. It helps them to develop their authentic self.

When we as caregivers simply tell the children what we are going to do, we discourage their participation in what's happening. In a scenario where a child is a passive recipient, motivation is extrinsic. The child has things done for them or does things for the pleasure of the adult. They are expected to "obey" or to be "in line" with the adults expectations. In short, the child's goals are supposed to somehow align with the adult's goals. There are times that we may need to instruct on the next thing, but we can still do so in a way that encourages a child's participation and gives them a voice in what's happening to them.

Why is this so important though? Why is it so important to encourage active participation in little things?  We know it builds awareness to one's surroundings and body, but it's so much faster to get all four of my toddlers outside if I either help them with their coats or do it for them. At times, even I feel ready to give in and do it in order to get to the next more enjoyable thing quicker. There are a lot of big reasons to slow down, though. First, the journey to getting outside is an experience in and of itself for the children. For me, putting on a coat and heading out seems like a fairly mundane, routine activity. I do it at least ten times a day if not more, so why prolong such a typical activity? For the children, though, it's still something new. Each time they get to have a little more ownership in getting themselves outside it becomes an entirely new experience. First they move to the door themselves rather than being carried out one by one as we did before they could crawl. Next they walk to the door rather than crawl. After this they get their coats on their own rather than having their coats handed to them. Each new step creates a new and exciting adventure for them!

Second, active participation encourages self advocacy. When a child is noticed, listened to, and seen they learn to speak up for themselves. They learn to say no or to express their emotions and opinions. They learn the mysterious art of compromise and start to test limits- not only limits of other people but their own limits, too. This is an important distinction for me. One common thing in our classroom lately is banging our small alphabet blocks on each other. Child A approaches Child B and taps them with the alphabet block. Child B pays little attention to Child A, so Child A taps them again. Child B looks up at Child A with a puzzled expression and I say, "Child B, I wonder if it works for you when Child A taps you with that block...". I try to not express any frustration or concern in my voice and allow Child B to decide for themselves what works and doesn't work instead of taking my cue. Child B nods yes and Child A taps them with the block again, only a little harder this time. Child A continues to tap Child B until they shake their head no, walk away, or make some other indication that it's not working for them. I might then add "I see Child B walking away/saying no. That tells me that Child B does not want to be hit with a block." Child A typically listens to Child B's wishes and moves on to the next thing. This common interaction reminds me that active participation allows children to test themselves, too. Through actively participating in what's happening they are able to learn their own limits and what works or doesn't work for themselves as well as for other people. This is the beginning of self advocacy and it's so exciting to watch it build everyday in my classroom!

The block interaction also highlights another great benefit of active participation: emotional intelligence. Child A begins to build emotional intelligence when they learn that Child B does not want to be hit with the block AND then respect the wishes of Child B. They are able to build on their ability to comprehend the reactions of people around them. By watching Child B's display of emotions and opinions, Child A is also building on their own awareness of self and emotions. Maybe they don't respect Child B's decision to walk away and follow Child B. They tap Child B again with the block to see what happens or because they feel really strongly about tapping the block. Child B lets them know again, with more force this time, that they do not want to be tapped. Perhaps Child B shakes their head vehemently or takes the block from Child A. All of this helps Child A to become more aware of Child B's need to not be tapped, their need to tap or test that limit, and requires them to work to compromise their need with Child B's needs. This is big, big work in the field of emotional intelligence!

There is a lot more behind active participation, though, which will have to be saved for part two of RIE principle #5! Look for a post centering around how active participation plays a role in building intrinsic motivation and meeting the innate needs of individuals!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Snow Babies

Cohort 6 enjoyed the snow for about 5 minutes.  We decided to hurry out into it while we could and they seemed so very interested in both how it felt on their skin and the wind that was also blowing the flakes around.  C was very concerned about why the ground was so cold and wet.  E just looked at around and took in all that was happening!

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Exploring the Snow

It's extremely rare that we see snow in the PNW before Christmas. This year happened to be one of those rare years! We opened up our curtains as open as they would go and watched the big snow flakes fall outside as we hurried through snack that morning. It can take a while to get four toddlers into snow gear and out the door as it's a pretty big transition, but we made it! The infants had headed out before their snack and gotten to glimpse the snow falling first hand but heading out after we had eaten gave us a little more leisure time to explore this white powder. The snow had stopped by the time we were out, but there was still plenty on the ground to investigate.

Much of our time outside consisted of walking around the snow-covered yard and simply observing. The children were very interested in looking at how things were different than when the snow wasn't there. IS pointed to the bike seat where he would normally find a fresh pool of water from the rain. LC was not at all interested in walking and immediately wanted to be held where she could observe the snow without actually touching it. 

QM and VR were the most interested in actually touching the snow. They walked around to get their bearings for a bit then began to reach out and touch the snow. We were without mittens but this did not stop the two of them in the least. After a little bit of touching snow on leaves and on the grass, they decided it was time to deconstruct the snowman Amy and Willa had built that morning. VR found a stick and began to poke at the snowman until its head fell off. QM kicked it to break the head into smaller pieces while VR continued to use the stick to break apart the body. After it was declared completely deconstructed they continued to explore the snowy yard.

 After watching IS, QM, and VR for a while LC decided that it must not be that bad to play in the snow after all. She wiggled to let me know she wanted down from my arms. I turned my head to focus on her and asked "Are you ready to get down?" She nodded emphatically and I helped her to the ground. She immediately went for the green lawn chair that was covered in snow. Climbing is one of LC's favorite past times and the slickness of the snow mixed with the already challenging to climb lawn chair was a perfect natural provocation for her. After a great deal of hard work, LC's determination paid off and she made it up into the chair. She leaned back somewhat awkwardly and basked in her success before sitting upright and reaching to be picked up again.

Though the snow was a wonderful new medium for us to explore, it was also very cold and we headed in shortly after LC's chair climbing. We all look forward to the next time the snow comes to visit us, though!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

This is the way we Eat!

I am often asked, "So how does this baby led weaning thing really work?"  I have posted blogs about certain techniques and tricks that work well for us.  There are also many great resources for information and recipes online.  But the thing that works the best, and that stuck with me when I was first learning about it, was seeing photos and stories of infants feeding themselves and enjoying whole foods in a way that we rarely see.
Today is the story of C, a bowl of oatmeal and a spoon.  Offering an infant a spoon to eat with, or even just to hold as they are eating, gives them the opportunity to use it, feel spoon-ness and for me to help her learn techniques.  The floor of the kitchen is often where we take our meals.  C, 9 months old, has just recently began eating in a seated position.  She has always excelled at feeding her self, so today I prepared some plain oatmeal and offered a spoon while eating.
I began by scooping some oatmeal and holding it out for her to take a bite.  She first reached for the spoon with her hand.  I allowed her to take it from me and she turned it around and up and down.  The oatmeal dropped all around her, so she grabbed it off of her pants and ate it.  We tried again, I scooped a bit more and this time she leaned forward, took a bite and grabbed the spoon as I offered it.  We smiled at the success and she flung the spoon around with joy. 
By the end there was oatmeal ever where.  There was success getting oatmeal in her mouth both by her own self feeding via spoon and hand.  But there was a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction from both of us.   By giving C the opportunity to figure out spoon-ness she felt confident and trusted by me. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


I don't know about you, but I get pretty emotional about beautiful connections between people... especially when these connections represent a huge shift towards acceptance of equality in our society... when those connections reflect Respect, Hope, Love, Empowerment, and Compassion!  And this all got me worked up and thinking:

Children around here have been negotiating their own roles in insanely progressive (and healthy!) ways since we opened... Sometimes two girls want to be the mama; sometimes boys want to nurse the baby doll; sometimes we exclude our friends from pretend birthday parties and have to repair the hurt...

We, as the adults, intervene only in order to support each child in expressing themselves and listening to others.  We don't dictate how many daddies can or should be able to live in one house.  We don't imply that just because someone had something first that they should keep it forever in order for the situation to be "fair."

The children's ideas about what might work shape the solutions in their play.  They get to experiment with what works and what doesn't work--for themselves and their friends.  They get to experience the way it feels to share joy, sadness, frustration, and repair.

And the beauty in the resulting connections is overwhelming to me... I can't help but feel hopeful for the future...

Because what's clear when you watch this community is this:  respect fosters respect, and compassion fosters compassion.

I can't help but be excited about the positive changes that will arise from this generation of children who are experiencing positive, healthy connections from the beginning... and who experience moments like the one I overheard last week:

Willa (4 yrs old) to Briana (teacher) about baby E:  "Briana, is this baby a 'he' or a 'she'?"
Briana:  "Well, he's still too young to decide for himself, but for now, his parents call him a 'he.'"
Willa:  "Ok."

Love. this. community.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Bikes

As my cohort quickly goes from curious infants to wobbling wobblers to confidently moving toddlers, they continually seek new challenges to fit their new skill sets. The most recent challenge has been the bikes. At TIH we have an assortment of tricycles, balance bikes, and traditional two wheelers. All of them have been undergoing investigation by Cohort 5 during our daily outside time.

LC is more content to explore the tricycles. She often walks along with them but also experiments with the technique of lifting her leg over the middle so she can straddle the tricycle. Since the tricycle is much lower than the two wheeler, LC was able to master this rather quickly and has been working on moving the tricycle in this way. Below is a portion of a video I took of her hard at work:

IS mostly enjoys to walk with the bikes or sit by them and move the pedals. He's intrigued by how moving one pedal on the two wheeler causes the other to also move. Often he will sit next to the bike and move the pedal within his reach and watch to see if the other one will indeed move with it. With the continuous rain we have in the winter, IS and WG have also been focused on the water that collects on the seats of the tricycles. They enjoy putting just the tips of the fingers into the pool of water then splashing with their entire hand!

This intensifying interest in the bikes is the newest in the growing focus on movement within Cohort 5. As the weather continues to change and we see more and more rain than clear skies here in the PNW, it will be interesting to see how the children grapple with the struggle of a bicycle in the rain. The slickness of the pedals and the metal of the bike will add great challenges to our biking interest and a whole new area of work for us to explore!

Sunday, December 9, 2012


We are all connected. Although this can be a difficult concept for preschoolers to understand, we still enjoy spending much of our time at TPH exploring identity and our connections to other identities near and far. One of the ways we do this is by our constant interest and exploration of maps at the Preschool House. We look at where we are on the map and where we travel to on the map. We also often look at where Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia is to see how far our package traveled to get to us and to remind us that we are still connected to people across the world. With all of the traveling the preschoolers do, we wanted to have a way to highlight these travels and share them with everyone at the school.

When I got back from my trip to New Mexico, I brought a few items back with me. During group I talked about the items and why I brought them back. I wanted to share a piece of my travels with the preschoolers through talking about them, and also be reminded about all of the adventures I had by leaving these items out on the construction shelf for everyone to explore. These items became the start of an artifact area, where preschoolers added items from their family trips and we got to experience a bit of these trips through the items.

AK went on a trip and brought back something he found. Here is what he told us:
     Briana: "AK, you just went on a trip."
     AK: "I found a sand dollar."
     Briana: "Why did you decide to bring it?"
     AK: "Because it's really special."
     Briana: "Anything else you want to tell us?"
     AK: "About the jellyfish."
     Briana: "Where did you find them?"
     AK: "The beach."
     Briana: "Anything else you want to add?"
     AK: "How about... shells."
This was a short story that evolved from one question and AK's sand dollar that he brought to share with the school.

SM also went on a trip over the same weekend. Here is his story about it:
      Briana: "SM, where did you go?"
      SM: "I found a stick in the river and I didn't bring anything to school."
     Briana: "Yeah, we forgot to bring it."
     After discovering that SM and his  family went to a river:
     Briana: "Where was the river?"
     SM: "We don't have the stick."
     Briana: "Who did we visit?"
     SM: "Grandma and grandpa."

SM talked about what he remembered from his trip. He was reconnecting with the people he saw and the things that he did on his trip. He was also connecting with the rest of us, telling us something new about his experiences.

Over the next couple of weeks, MR and IR brought bones they found on their trip, SC brought a rock from her vacation and EB and TB brought a bracelet back from New York. Each story was different and each adventure was just as special and personal as the other. We got to share in a part of each of these trips and each of the connections that were made.
Not only are connections being made with the preschoolers' travels, but also with explorations done throughout our days in the classroom. We have story workshop, which the preschoolers continuously expand on as they tell of their wondrous travels. We have also been exploring community and when we travel, we get to experience other cultures and explore how other people and/or animals live. We build connections with these other people and places, which can often become a group of communities. We relish in similarities and differences and look forward to the next time a new connection can be made and an old connection can be explored again.