One Stop Guide to Introducing a Weaning Table
I loved the idea of a weaning table! Teaching my child to use real dishes from an early age sounded great, but then doubt crept in. How exactly do you keep a baby from throwing all of that glass around? Isn't everything made from plastic for a reason? How exactly do you teach a baby to not throw glassware? Is that even possible? But then I saw this lovely quote from Maria Montessori:
Now adults will surely exclaim: "How come? Put glasses in the hands of three and four year old children? They will surely break them! By this comment they place more importance on the glass than on the child; an object worth a few cents seems more precious than the physical training of their children. - Maria Montessori. The Child in the Family
Good point, Maria. So there and then I committed to the weaning table. As someone who was new to Montessori, it was hard to know what was most the effective way to present the table. It was a learning experience for us both, so I have put together a one stop guide to introducing your child to a weaning table. I have included the materials and methods- including the RIE phrasing I used to help him learn how to properly use the materials.
We use handmade placemats that have the outline of the plate, fork, spoon and cup embroidered onto the terry cloth. These outlines help guide the child once they are able to set the table independently. Having a very adsorbent placemat has also been very helpful, since using an open cup with a young child can be a very wet experience.
In order to avoid introducing choices into the dishes we use, all of the dishes and utensils are exactly the same. We use these creme brûlée dishes as his plates. They are a nice size and it has walled sides that the child can push the food against in order to pick it up. For the cup, I chose a narrow shot glass that Camden was able to hold in one hand. Glasses that are larger than the child can hold in one hand require more coordination to pick up and put down and should be avoided. Cocktail forks and spoons are excellent child sized silverware, but we also have this set . I also always set the table with a small ceramic cream pitcher full of water. I love the way his table looks when it is set!
When we first started using the weaning table, I would set Camden in the chair and place a few pieces of food on his plate. We mostly used baby led weaning, with a few purees at the very beginning to help him get used to thicker textures. At the beginning, he really wanted to explore the plate. He would try to pick up the plate and I would place it back on the table and say "You can leave the plate on the table." After about a week he hardly tried to pick up the plate, but he sometimes needs a reminder even now.
One struggle that we faced early on, was that Camden constantly would push away from the table and crawl out of his chair after only a few bites. I knew he was still hungry, so after much trial and error I found that the most simple solution was to place his chair up against the wall and my foot in front of the table to block him from pushing it away. He started to learn that he needed to sit through meals. Now that he is older, if he stands up from his meal I say "You are standing up. If you stand up one more time that means that lunch is over and I will put your food away. You can sit down if you would like to eat some more." Then if he stands up again, I say "I see you are standing up again. I am going to put away your food, lunch is over." I have found that if he is repeatedly standing, he is not very interested in eating anyway. When he does get upset, I acknowledge his feelings and say "You are upset. We will be eating again soon."
Any time he would attempt to use the silverware, I would let him use it in anyway he wanted. He has seen me use my silverware since he was born and that modeling was all he needed to figure it out on his own. (Honestly, I had to sit on my hands sometimes to avoid helping him. He was just so close, but my urge to flip the spoon over the right way wasn't actually going to help him figure it out any faster.) Now at 15 months, he is pretty good with both a fork and spoon but still uses his hands quite a bit.
Using his cup has been a very wet adventure. He has been able to drink out of the cup independently since he was around 8 months old, but putting it down correctly took him quite a long time to figure out. Many times he would just pour the unfinished water over his food, which didn't seem to bother him. Once I saw this behavior I started pouring less water into his glass so that there was less to spill. We definitely had more broken glasses than plates, he accidentally knocked a few onto the floor and we did have a week when he was just over a year when he threw three of them. The broken dishes are a natural consequence and it certainly taught him to be more respectful with his dishes.
Using the water pitcher was an excellent introduction to pouring. When I pour water into his cup, I do my best to model it the way I want him to pour (with one hand supporting the neck and the other on the handle to give him more control.) It was also practical because I wasn't constantly running to the sink to refill his tiny glass.
We store his dishes on a low shelf that is accessible to him. When we first made this shelf, he explored it quite a bit. I would take the dish from him and say "This is not available to you right now" and gently set it back on the shelf. Sometimes I would have to repeat myself a few times, but he would mostly lose interest and play with something else. There were some days where he repeatedly tested my limits with the shelf and would not leave the dishes alone (mostly when he was grumpy from teething). I learned to put the dishes out of his reach before I started getting too frustrated with him. The shelf is in his main play space in the house and I probably only have had to do this 4 or 5 times in the past six months.
Since introducing the weaning table, I have always integrated Camden into helping me set the table. I set the table in the same way every time, by carrying one item to the table at a time and placing it in the correct position. Modeling the exact way you want your child to perform the task is very important! When he was crawling, I would carry him and help him hold the dishes. Once he started walking but was still wobbly, I would hold the dishes and he would walk next to me. Now he is able to hold the dishes on his own and walk, but our challenge is making it to the table before he loses interest!
There have been many benefits of using the weaning table. As he got older, he would go to the shelf and pick up a glass to tell me that he was thirsty. He would also go sit at his table to tell me that he was hungry in the days before he could sign or talk. From 8-12 months he would eat most of a his meals at the weaning table, but we would occasionally put him in a high chair to eat with the family. I noticed that he would throw a lot more food in his high chair than at his table. I think he liked watching it fall further to the ground from his high chair. He is using silverware, can use a glass on his own with out spilling and can pour his own water- all before 15 months!
Once he was able to independently climb in and out of his high chair, we ditched the tray and started using the family table for most of his meals so that we can all eat together. He still usually eats lunch and snacks at his weaning table, but we are certainly using it less than we used to. One thing I still like better about the weaning table is that he can set it independently without needing me to lift him. We will certainly be using a combination of both tables for years to come!