If you’re not familiar with Maria Montessori, she was an educational legend of the early 1900s.
At a time in Italian society when women in science was practically laughable, she completed her doctorate, even without her father’s blessing.
In 1906 she was presented with an opportunity to study children and their learning behaviours. And what she came to find was that, in a nutshell, children need freedom, trust and independence.
And so she opened her first children’s school - the “Casa de Bambini” - and the Montessori method was born.
Today, followers of her method stretch world wide with many Montessori schools popping up all over, but many also follow her methods at home, from birth.
Introducing solids to babies alongside Montessori principles is similar to baby led weaning in lots of ways. The set up, however, is what’s different!
No high chair High chairs do not promote freedom of movement, as the child can not get down from the table when they choose. Instead we use a Montessori weaning chair and table which is essentially a very low table and chair that even babies can climb into. A good alternative to this, if you would like a high chair, is the Tripp Trapp high chair with the baby attachment removed. This is a high chair that the baby can climb up onto, and be tucked right up to the table with the rest of the family.
Give them a knife and fork Yes this sounds silly for a 6 month old, but the reason behind this is to promote grace and courtesy as well as independence. It also allows the child to get used to seeing and feeling cutlery, and gives them the opportunity to use them at their own choosing, rather than the adult choosing the best time to introduce them.
Let them use glass and ceramic What?! You mean, give a baby a ceramic bowl?! Yes! Under Montessori’s method, it’s important to allow the child to feel and use real (yes, breakable) materials. It allows the child to feel the weight of the bowl, the smoothness of glass, and, if they drop it, they learn that it will smash. This is an invaluable lesson for the child. To be trusted to use real crockery encourages them to handle it with care.
They choose their own portions Very young children are unable to use their conscious mind for a long time, only relying on their natural instincts, which means they physically do not know how to over eat. Through Montessori’s method, we trust the child to choose the right amount of food for them. This sets healthy eating patterns later on down the line.
Stick to single flavoured foods, even in purées This may sound boring, but to the child that has never tasted anything other than milk, offering one flavour at a time is plenty for them to handle. This isn’t to say that they only eat a dinner of broccoli! Offer a range of foods, but do not mix them. This is so that the child can taste just one flavour at a time. A sensory experience in itself!
So why follow Montessori’s method for weaning?
Promotes independence - the child can choose when to eat, what to eat, to climb the high chair, to feed themselves.
Freedom of movement - when the child is full, they can get down from the table themselves.
Confidence - when children can do something independently, they build a natural sense of confidence. Maria Montessori said “never help a child with work that they feel they can do themselves”
Child can join family meals easily/sit at the same table
Respectful - the child is treated with trust and respect. They learn to respect the eating environment, and use their crockery and cutlery with care.
Facilitates good decision making - the child learns to follow their own hunger cues, even from a very young age!
Happiness and joy - introducing solids should be so much fun! And eating together as a family should be a joyous occasion!
Ultimately, there are no hard and fast rules about the best way to introduce solid food to your baby. Choosing what’s best for your family is what it should come down to.
In our family, we use a mix. We love Montessori’s principles but we don’t follow them 100% of the time. We use a high chair because we have an older child too and we like to be able to sit together at the dining table. We do, though, encourage our baby girl to choose her own foods and watch for her cues to tell us she’s done, and we do encourage the use of real crockery where possible too!
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