Monday, February 27, 2012

The Things Infants Taught Me About Food

I began my journey of Baby Led Weaning with my classroom full of boys over a year ago and now they are all well-rounded and hearty toddler eaters.  I had used this method of offering foods in their more natural state and in a way that an infant is able to feed themselves with my oldest son with much success at home and so I entered into my classroom with enthusiasm.  I learned many things that have now shaped how I will approach it with my next group of infants.  A few things I discovered surprised me, just as these boys do in many wondrous ways throughout the day.

* Less is More
When getting your child's food ready, it works really well to have a dish to serve from and then place a very small amount in front of them at a time.  This plays to their sense of orientation and order at this age and allows them to be able to focus on the 2 or 3 peas and 1 chunk of banana that is available, instead of becoming overwhelmed by a huge pile of food.  As they grow older they will be ready to have more in front of them at a time, but my boys who are now toddlers still benefit from having one small scoop of food from each item we're having at a meal, finishing it, and then getting more.  I've noticed when the high chair tray, plate or table is filled to the brim it becomes much more of a sensory activity, where they smear and manipulate the food, sometimes bringing it to their mouth.  

* Bigger Chunks vs. Small Bites
Every child is different, but I have found that I had the most success when introducing new foods to a child by first offering a larger chunk of food that they are able to bite off themselves.  When I made thinner slices of apples, carrots or potato the infants were able to bite of pieces easily, yet the pieces they bit were often too large to swallow right down, yet were tricky to be mashed on their potentially toothless gums.  A great example of this is when I prepare apples to serve.  My typical procedure is to quarter an apple and remove the core then steam until the fork I insert comes out easily and the apple begins to fall apart a bit. After refrigerating them for a bit they are  easy to grab onto and I found the infants were able to bite off just the amount that worked for them.  The only thing that is important to watch for is the child who wants to put all of their food into their mouth at once and swallow quickly.  While it is helpful for each child to discover their own gag reflex and work through the feeling of swallowing food, some infants still need small pieces cut up for them so that they simply do not try to swallow a quarter of an apple at a time.
* Skins and All  
Another thing that I discovered through my many feedings with the boys, is that when given the opportunity they would at least try to make their way through the skins of anything.  The skin is often where the highest concentration of nutrients are stored, so I always steam any veggie with the skin on, even if I would later peel it off.  Now I give the children anything from carrots, beets, apples and potatoes with the skins intact.  Often they would spit out the skins in the process of eating the food, but I felt that by giving them that experience they draw more nutrition from the food and they are also able to learn more about what this food is all about.  

 *The Double Spoon Method
While using the baby led weaning method, my goal was to support the children experiencing foods in a whole, nutritious and self-led way, so when I got to foods that are impossible to pick up by hand I have developed a method for an infant to learn to feed themselves with a spoon.  This works especially well with sticky foods (oatmeal, hummus, mashed potatoes), but also can work for things like cottage cheese and yogurt.  This is also highly effective for children who are interested in participating with their feeding or are used to feeding themselves.  See the next section for my favorite yogurt method.  Place your serving of oatmeal, or something like that,  in a small bowl and bring it to your eating area along with two spoons.  Dip one spoon into the bowl and gather a bite.  Bring it towards your child and allow them to grab the spoon.   Almost 80% of the time they will immediately grab the spoon and put it in their mouth.  It can be helpful to turn the spoon over so that the bowl is  upside down on their tongue so that when they are sucking on the food laden spoon they are able to easily eat.  While they are enjoying their first bit of oatmeal, prepare the second spoon.  Let them watch you and don't forget to talk to them about what they're eating, what textures or flavors they might be experiencing.  Once they are finished with the first spoon, it often is quickly dropped in a rush to grab at the second spoon that you are getting ready, and this gives you the opportunity to take the first one as they feed themselves again and prepare it for bite number 3. 

* Drinking from a Cup
Try this out with water at every meal to start as soon as your child begins eating solids.   My favorite cups are small espresso cups with handles which are often built fairly sturdily and have a nice handle for grabbing.  Shot glasses, jam jars and juice cups also work well.  There is something special, even at this age, that an infant feels about drinking from something that imitates what we use.  Their powers of observation are keenly aware of everything we do, so they know about your coffee, tea or water cup that is near by as you share a meal.  Drinking from a cup might begin with you holding it up to their mouth for sips, but will slowly evolve into them using it deftly themselves.  I also like to end meals with water, because it is often spilled or spit out and makes clean up that much easier.
Another way cups are useful are for foods that can be drinkable.  Yogurt, whether in smoothie or plain form, is a great food for babies.  It's packed full of probiotics, can be mixed with fruit or veggie purees, or thinned with juice or water and then easily drank from a cup.  I use yogurt with my son when he begins to get curious rashes, especially in the diaper area, and find it helps them clear up quickly. 

The real thing I have learned through my experiences of using baby led weaning as a guide for introducing foods and eating with infants is the true joy of the world of food.  The toddlers I now have in my class are amazing eaters and will try everything at least once, even if they spit it right out again.  Meal times have been a magical moment of learning from each other, practicing kindness as we sit together as a group, and now talking about where food comes from, what we notice and even our favorites!  I look forward to our next steps in food, which will involve them choosing and helping to prepare the meals for themselves and others.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

It's Okay to Say "No!"

We have all heard a child say, yell, and even scream "No!" We talk about what other language the child can use instead, but what we often don't talk about is that sometimes it is okay for a child to say "No." At TPH, we encourage a child to say "No" in some situations, empowering that child to have a voice. 

When a child is using an object and another child comes up and asks to use it, it is okay for the child to say "No! I'm using it!" Also, if a child comes up and takes an object that another child is using, the child can say, "No" or "Stop. I'm still using it!" This gives the child using that object the ability to use the object as long as she wants and to assert herself in a healthy way to keep the object and feel safe doing so.

There are other instances when a child has been hurt by another child or feels worried that another child is going to hurt him. In these instances we encourage the child to say "No! I don't like that" or "Stop!" or "Move back. I need space!" The child has the ability to stand up for himself in a positive, but strong way.

Giving children choices and allowing them to set limits empowers them to say "No," when they feel compelled to assert themselves. It does not mean they are right in every situation, but it is okay and should be encouraged for them to have a voice, to feel empowered, and to feel in control of their bodies.

It's okay for a child to say: "No. I don't want to play."
It's okay for a child to say: "No. I am busy."
It's okay for a child to stand up for herself, to peers and adults at times. Feeling able to and comfortable saying "No" now, helps children make more positive choices in the future and helps prevent them from engaging in high-risk behaviors. It also empowers them to say "No" to strangers and to unwanted touching. Being able to say "No" to outside pressures increases a child's self-esteem, self-awareness, and assertiveness skills. It helps children feel empowered to take control of their own lives, to set their own limits, and to make positive decisions throughout their entire lives!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Red Cabbage Juice - An Experiment Part 1

A few weeks ago, Danielle (SC's mom) told me about an experiment that can be done with red cabbage juice. I perused the internet for more information and found out that red cabbage juice is a pH indicator and one can actually create pH strips using red cabbage juice! The red cabbage juice will change colors depending on how acidic a substance is that is added to it. So, I bought a head of red cabbage and one Monday we began the process of creating cabbage juice for our experiment.

We first needed to boil the cabbage in water to extract the color from the cabbage.

We boiled the cabbage for about an hour to extract as much of the color from the cabbage as possible. We then let it cool and drained the cabbage.

I chose substances that had varying levels of acidity and a couple I was unsure about:
Baking Soda
Cream of Tarter
Lemon Juice
 I put each substance in a separate glass jar and placed them on a canvas. Everyone sat around the canvas as we began talking about red cabbage juice and it's magical and scientific properties.

We talked about the pH scale and about acids and bases. I showed them the red cabbage indicator color chart, which shows what color the red cabbage juice will change depending on the acidity of the substance added to it. We talked about how we can determine the acidity of a substance based off of this chart.

As we began our experiment, the preschoolers guessed whether each substance was a base or an acid and what color the cabbage juice would change to. This is what happened next:

I placed even amounts of cabbage juice and one substance in each jar, and we watched to see what happened. 

We noticed that when the vinegar was mixed with the cabbage juice, the mixture turned red. The lemon juice and cabbage juice mixture was almost pink. We talked about whether these substances were acidic or basic based on the color they turned in the cabbage juice and the preschoolers shouted, "Acidic!"

We noticed that the cabbage juice turned blue when mixed with baking soda. We again looked at our pH chart to find out whether the baking soda is acidic or basic and the preschoolers exclaimed, "Basic!"

The table salt did not change the color of the cabbage juice, so we discovered that it is a neutral substance. Finally, we mixed the cream of tartar in with the cabbage juice and the mixture became slightly lighter purple. It was hard to tell whether it was a neutral solution or an acidic solution, but we finally agreed on slightly "Acidic."

 Each jar of cabbage juice and the various substances were passed around the circle so the preschoolers could take a closer look at the color of each mixture.

Once we were done looking at each individual substance mixed with the cabbage juice, the preschoolers were curious to see what would happen when the substances were mixed together. I began by mixing the lemon juice mixture with the baking soda mixture and it began to fizz, bubble, and rise up and over the top of the jar. 

 The preschoolers laughed and screamed as the bubbles kept rising. We talked about the chemical reaction that was taking place with the acidic substance mixing with the basic substance. I continued to add our other mixtures in, one at a time to see what substances caused the most extreme reaction. The preschoolers watched intensely, hoping for more bubbles to rise up over the top of the jar. When we finished mixing all of the substances together, the preschoolers wanted to try even more substances... So, we began brainstorming what else we could add to our remaining red cabbage juice the following day. 

The next morning we talked about what substances we wanted to mix with the cabbage juice and IO quickly exclaimed "Tooth paste!" To find out what other substances the preschoolers chose and how our second round of red cabbage juice mixtures turned out, stay tuned for a follow-up blog!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Spring Has Sprung!

While we were playing outside this week the first signs of Spring were beginning to raise their heads.  It was very exciting to me, which spread quickly to the boys and we began a tour of the yard in celebration.  Amy had been pruning many of the plants and we have been incorporating them into our play.  Branches stuck into one of our adult sized chairs has become a hiding place for a special garbage truck.  GW carefully parked it under the branches, saying "Hiding in bushes.  Green garbage truck hiding."  As soon as he'd walk away someone would come and pull the truck out, use it for a moment then walk away.  As soon as GW noticed it wasn't under the branches, he would quickly return it.  

We've been enjoying the ever changing weather that our spring gives us.  Everyone was fascinated by the strong wind last week, especially when it began to blow the trucks across the asphalt!

Later that week we noticed the first blossoms opening and the leaf buds on plants opening.  The bright yellow daffodils drew us in and enticed us on a tour of the yard in celebration.  SC and T were especially interested in how the plants were changing.  We began our observation and attention to the plant life from the first day we went outside as infants.  We practiced gentle touches on the flowers and leaves that surrounded us and even used found leaves and flowers as manipulatives as we were outside.  This knowledge of plants now draw the boys into a refinement of focus while noticing the plants.  We came to a tea rose plant that is covered with thorns.  I gave them a warning, pointing out the sharp thorns and T lightly and slowly touched the thorns.  "Owww" he said, even though it didn't poke his skin.  We then noticed the new leaves opening and SC saw the old, dark flowers from last year, waiting to be dead headed.  I showed them how to gently pull off the flowers and we talked about how they had finished their job and it was helpful to the plant to pull of the dead parts.  

I love spring and always have and I look forward to sharing this time of discovery as the yard brings new life and color to our outdoor experiences!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Our Journey to the Preschool House

Today we ventured forth with the stroller to take a walk.  I had suggested this idea a few weeks ago and today when I brought it up again, instantly SW said, "Take a walk to the preschool house?"  I agreed that today was an excellent day to go so, we pulled out the stroller and began the trek.  Everyone took a hold of the stroller and we began to slowly make our way down the street.

We made it with everyone walking for just over 4 blocks and then I invited them to either keep walking or have a ride.  As we went on our journey the vehicles and puddles we saw were of the most interest.  Everyone seemed very excited to see the large puddles that had formed on the corners of the streets.  Someone said "ducks!" which prompted us to sing a few duck songs as we went down the street.
 Once we were at the preschool house we were greeted by all of our friends.  It was so exciting to see everyone, especially after we had talked about who we might see on the ride over.  Everyone either lingered next to me or went right to work, exploring the newly updated PS backyard.  T was very interested in the new play structure and his older brother spotted him as he tried out the ladder.  He made it almost all the way to the top, before being a bit worried by the big kids at the top who were cheering him on.  GW quickly discovered that there were indeed trucks at the preschool house.  "Dump Trucks!" he said as he stacked the smaller one inside of the larger one. 

There was also quite a bit of brotherly love happening, especially between SC and his big brother K.  K was so stoked to see his little brother he ran up to the gate calling his name!  Then they hung out together for the majority of our time at the school as we watched the work that the big kids were doing.  SW and I hung out together, until the preschoolers began stomping to encourage the worms to come up to the top of the ground to be collected.  He then gleefully joined in, especially in watching the worms wriggle around in their hands.

Soon it was time for us to return to our school.  The preschoolers asked why we had to leave over and over, but soon we were all back in the stroller for a ride home.  We rode through many puddles, much to the joy of the boys and soon back at school.  

Monday, February 20, 2012

Check Out Our Play Structure!

Remember a few weeks ago when I wrote about building Basic Trust around our evolving play structure? Well our structure has reached it's final stage of evolution and the preschoolers are LOVING it. I documented the preschoolers first joyous exploration of the structure. Each wall contains cut out shapes:

a tree, a moon, a house

Circles are the perfect size for peeking heads.

This picture demonstrates the addendum to our 3-kid at a time rule. With walls, preschoolers can safely play in large groups on the structure.

Each child eagerly peeked through the cutouts and used them to climb. The front wall also has a doorway:

Each side of the play structure displays a fence made of branches from our yard:
The new additions mean lots of exploration and climbing possibilities. These new possibilities are a little more structured than before but the preschoolers have already re-invented the structure as a space shuttle, a boat, an archeology headquarters and a burning house. Oh the possibilities.

When we first saw our finished structure KO exclaimed: "Our new house!" Our new house indeed. I am excited to see what our structure evolves into next!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Valentine's Day at the Preschool House

Last week, the preschoolers spent Valentine's Day making cards and showing their love for one another through our in-house mailing system! 
Here is what our day looked like:


Making heart-shaped yam biscuits with Elissa after nap:


Shaping play-dough into hearts:

I asked the group of preschoolers sitting at the table, "Why do you think the heart is the symbol of love?"
EB quickly pointed at her heart and then IO said, "Because your heart is a heart."

Near the end of the day, we sat in a circle and the preschoolers got their mailboxes. Everyone opened their mailboxes to find Valentines in them and shared their joy and excitement with each other and Elissa and me!

 When thinking about Valentine's Day and everyday at the Preschool house, the preschoolers are constantly showing love, kindness, thoughtfulness, and empathy toward each other. 
Making a connection between hearts and showing love, IO said it best, 
"Because your heart is a heart."