When Zach was around 4 months old, we started noticing that he was extremely interested in watching us eat. He would follow our fork from plate to mouth, opening his mouth in imitation of our actions and salivating madly! We knew the time had come to begin the weaning process.
The word “weaning” strikes fear in the heart of many parents. It is associated with the end of breastfeeding and connotes depriving the child of the nourishment and affection he has come to know and love. However, Montessori weaning is done with respect, always following the initiative and drive of the child. It starts around the age of 5 months (but takes several months to complete) because that’s when the child shows physical and psychological signs of readiness:
- His iron reserves are decreasing;
- Digestive enzymes are present in his saliva;
- Teething starts;
- The child can move in his environment (rolling, creeping, etc.);
- He controls his hands well and uses them with purpose;
- The child is able to sit with some help;
- He shows a strong interest in the eating habits of those around him.
My husband and his sister made Zach a beautiful weaning table and chair when I was still pregnant, but any LOW table and chair will do for weaning (you can even buy an IKEA-style kids’ table and chair and cut the legs to make them lower to the ground). We placed a pillow on the chair to support Zach’s back because he still tipped sideways a little bit on occasion.
I pureed steamed zucchini and placed it in a ceramic bowl (if it were to fall it would have real consequences and would provide an important lesson to Zach, which plastic would fail to do). My husband sat across the table from him and slowly began to feed him with a small spoon. As recommended in the A to I training, we gave Zach another spoon to hold, but he was not at all interested in it. He wanted to grab his daddy’s spoon and from the first bite was very active in his own feeding process.
The video below shows how excited and focused he was. Note how the food is brought close to his mouth, but the spoon is not inserted until Zach willingly opens his mouth. Eating should be a pleasurable experience, and nothing ruins this for a child more than an obsessive parent who forcibly shovels food into a child’s mouth against his will.
Zach was delighted with his newfound abilities; we were thrilled at his development. For us, nothing is more important than helping Zach in the road towards functional and psychological independence. I love nursing him, but I also love knowing that I am satisfying his developmental needs.
My husband asked me if I was proud of our son. Actually, every normal child is capable of doing what my child is doing, so I don’t believe he’s achieved anything mind-blowing. Those who I am proud of are my husband and myself, because we put his developmental needs before our emotional attachments, which can be challenging for any parent.
As Dr. Montanaro says in her book, “The road to independence is both biological and psychological and as one helps the other we must never separate the two.” If we miss the opportunity to wean (or support any other milestone) when the child shows signs of readiness, “physically and psychologically we are preparing a difficult future.”