A Peaceful Toddlerhood

RIE Peaceful


The outdoors are immeasurably valuable to young children’s growth and development. Developing a connection and awareness of nature and wildlife is a priority for my daughters’ childhood.


When my daughters and I go outdoors, I have no intentions for “education” to happen, though it always does.


This week the lesson was for me.


As Greysen and Moon (3 and 2 years old) age, I find myself occasionally reviewing the RIE Principles. These tenets were easier for me to see and understand when the girls were infants and toddlers, but now I find myself trying to figure out how I can support the development of an authentic childhood as they get older.


RIE Peaceful_01


Last I looked at the list of characteristics of children who experience an authentic childhood as explained by RIE, the word “peaceful” jumped out at me. As infants, it was much easier for me to see how the children were serene, but now as toddlers? Let’s just say that when I think of my children, it is not in the top 10 list of words that come to mind. My children are great, active, enthusiastic, loving, curious, connected, conversational, and challenging – but peaceful?





Last week I kept asking myself how I could create the circumstances that would allow for my children to feel peaceful. In time, I realized that as we went about our regular days, they experienced this type of engagement regularly.




Just like me, Greysen and Moon were most peaceful when:

  • We were outside. There is something about being surrounded by natural beauty that young children connect with.
  • They have autonomy.  When the girls had the opportunity to direct their own play, games, etc., they were peaceful. Peace in toddlerhood very often happens while children are engrossed.
  • They had regular periods of uninterrupted time to play. When the girls play they need a fair amount of time to get their play going or to just hang out.



In childhood, peace isn’t always serene or calm, though it absolutely can be. Greysen is absolutely joyful here, but I suspect that there could be peaceful feelings teeming underneath.




What does peaceful look like in the life of your toddler or young child?




Writing Area



With a small living space, we need to prioritize what children’s materials we keep out. We keep books on a low shelf and have a building area in one corner, but couldn’t really spare any more space. Greysen has been asking to write and draw, so it seemed time to make a dedicated space that she, and soon her sister, could access as they pleased.


I wanted a space that Greysen could get to but Moon could not – she still needs to be supervised when using scissors, and I wouldn’t want her to get a hold of the stapler either.


First I tried pencil boxes, then a tray, but neither were available enough – nor did they stay organized. I emptied my wrapping paper drawer and arranged a portion of their materials for them. Writing_Area_88


The drawer is at the perfect height so that Greysen may reach it, but Moon can not.




I kept to just a few things so that it would be easier for the girls to keep organized. The main art cabinet is the large one above (top picture).  All of these are familiar materials to Greysen. She knows which markers work on the transparency and which will not.  She can not work the stapler on her own yet, but since she handles it carefully I feel safe leaving it in here.


Ideally, Moon would have access to some crayons and paper at least, but I haven’t figured out where to keep that yet. This table is about three feet across from the girls’ play kitchen, so we keep it clear so that it can serve whatever play they are engaged in.


The girls are writing and drawing on a regular basis now. They’re loving this new space.




Accessible Diapering

This is definitely in the category of, why didn’t I do this sooner? After seeing a similar diaper-changing space on a Montessori blog (I confess, I can’t remember where) I moved our changing pad to the floor when Moon started to stand on her own, though I think this would have been great to do when she started to crawl.


I prefer this setup to a dresser-height changing area because it is:

  • Accessible – A mobile infant or toddler can move onto the pad without assistance.
  • Supports Participation – Children can pull out their own supplies.
  • Safe – I can’t think of a safer place to change a child who is standing.


Most of Moon’s changes are stand-up now and happen in the bathroom. Since I am not that talented, more “involved” changes happen while lying down in this space.




I place the pad behind the door because the door is kept open throughout the day (I use a doorstop, which isn’t pictured here).



I tried keeping the hairbrush in here, too, but it proved to be one too many things. If you are going to switch to keeping your child’s diaper-changing things at his or her level, I’d start with just a couple until he or she gets used to it.


I am going through an “I love diapering” phase, and I think I will miss it dearly when the girls and I no longer get this time to connect.


Encouraging Independence in Consideration of Temperament


I don’t like it when our plans change, and I’m not good with “going with the flow.” Since I know that it is hard for me to adapt to a change of plans, I know that I need to make an effort to be more flexible. It takes time, as well as a husband who understands that I need more than a minute to deal with things not going as I had expected.


I know that this is part of who I am. It is a part of my temperament. I’m trying to develop skills to be more adaptive. Unlike most children, I can tell Mike that how he responds to me affects my ability to adjust.


One Rule for Many Children

As a parent or an educator caring for multiple children, guidance and responses can become homogenized. Some would say that, for the sake of fairness, the same expectations should apply to everyone.  “In this classroom, we put on our own shoes.”  and  “At 2:30, the lights go on in this classroom and it is time to wake up.” are two examples of the kinds of generalized expectations I’ve heard conveyed to children.


Are there moments when we can respond to who the child is rather than who we think they should be based on age norms?


Not everything decision need be customized. I can’t imagine having four children, each with different biological rhythms and thus each with different bedtimes.  However, in times of fostering skills in children, I try to consider whether or not the timing of my expectations is an appropriate challenge for this child in light of his temperament.



Here’s a brief look at temperament:

Temperament is described in terms of the following nine traits. Each trait should be thought of as being placed along a spectrum. Where does your child fall on the spectrum of each trait? Would a teacher or grandparent say the same things about your child’s temperament?


Activity Level

How physical is your child? Is she wiggly and full of energy, or does she prefer to sit and play?



How does your child respond when other things are happening around him? To what extent does your child pay attention while nursing or playing?



How does your child react to situations or stimuli? When she is happy or sad, for example, does she have a strong excited reaction or a mild way of expressing her emotions?



What is the pattern of your child’s biological rhythms? Does he have a regular rhythm such as going to sleep at the same time every night, or a more irregular pattern?



When your child is in an unfamiliar situation how does she react? Does she join right in, or stand by and retreat if possible?


Sensory Threshold

Does light or noise affect your child? Is he distressed/irritated by noise, or does he not seem to notice?



How does your child respond to changes in her routine – with ease, or does he need time and reminders?



Does your child approach challenges? Does she struggle and see it through, or does she change course when frustrated?



How would you describe your child’s overall mood?




To Foster or Not to Foster?

Encouraging children to do all the things that they are capable of despite struggles is important for developing tenacity, but is best done in consideration of their temperament.


If a child refuses to put on her shoes, is it because it’s difficult and she doesn’t often persist through a challenge, in which case some encouragement and waiting may be helpful.  Or is a child feeling challenged more so  by  a sudden change and less by the physical task of putting on shoes. How does your insight of this child’s temperament change the way you approach her?


Greysen has often been told, and usually in relation to her younger sister, “You are a big girl now, you can …”  Even though I think she can do many things for herself and want her to learn to do more, I also want to be considerate who my daughter is – which, when it comes to tasks, has little to nothing to do with her age as it relates to her sister.


Even though it means I am not always consistent with my expectations, there are occasions in which fostering independence and skill building for simple tasks is put aside.  Who my daughter is becomes the basis for my decision making not who I think she can be.


How does your child’s temperament affect his ability to do things for himself?  How often are your expectations of your child grounded in who they are as a person more than how old they are?


For more Tips on Temperament visit Zero to Three’s site.


The Gift of Limiting Toddlers’ Choices


Decisions, decisions. This is as much an issue for young children as it is for adults. Will they or won’t they put on their shoes by themselves? Clear their dishes? Try a new food? Ultimately, it’s up to them to decide.


With so many choices that need to be made on a daily basis, it shouldn’t surprise me that toddlers would prefer that this mass of choices be made manageable by those they trust, but it did.


Despite my intentional parenting, I still find myself unable to see the balance between offering a healthy number of independent experiences and more guided/limited experiences. When my toddler insists on doing something for herself, I generally ask myself, why not?  So, she gets to do many things on her own. However, if she has a hard time doing something that is asked of her, such as getting buckled into her car seat, I wonder if have I created too much freedom and not limited her choices consistently?


I question my choices and often wonder if am I striking a good balance. What I recently realized is that I don’t have to cross my fingers and wait for an answer. I can and should more regularly look to my partner in this process, that person who these decisions are being made for – my daughter.


Last week, I asked my toddler-aged daughter, “What shirt would you like to wear?”


“Mom, can you ask me this one or this one,” referring to the way we typically get dressed in the morning.


I pulled two shirts from the closet and offered her a choice. She smiled and chose one by touching it with her nose.


She could have been asking for the familiarity of our morning routine or just requesting some playful interaction, but my sense was that she was asking me to limit her choices.


Limited choices feel manageable. This is true not just for toddlers, but for me and, I assume, other adults (just try to remember the last time you had to choose an insurance carrier). Toddlers face many decisions in this great big world, so it’s understandable that making the process manageable can be comforting.


Offering choices is one way for toddlers to participate, and to make independent decisions within something that requires their participation, such as getting dressed. What I forgot in this moment, was that limiting choices is also about setting boundaries. It is about creating a context for independence for and with the willing child. It is a manageable circumstance in which children can decide for themselves by being supported and encouraged to do so by the adults who care for them.


As children age, I expect the enticing choices to expand to include some that aren’t as appealing to me as they may be to my daughter. However, I hope that the parenting strategies my daughters are partnering with me to develop will not just set a tone for collective decision making, but also help me remember to take their perspective when it comes to setting limits.

A Park Journal


At the beginning of summer, our county produced a pamphlet designed to get the public to visit all the parks, or at least some, in the area. Children are encouraged to photograph or draw something at each park and share it with the parks’ office.  I decided to use this invitation to more deeply explore the parks already somewhat familiar to us.


Greysen loves to play at parks and has been requesting specific ones, only at 2.4 years of age her references to the park are based on her perspective and not something as convenient as the park’s name. She has, for example, asked to go to the “horsey” park, and then had to cope with incredible disappointment of arriving at the incorrect horsey park with Mike. Oh, Dad.


To document our visits, I wanted to incorporate some long term record keeping. Journals are commonly used in early childhood classrooms as a means for developing language and literacy skills. I liked the customized style of this journal featured at Playful Learning and decided that it could have meaning to us as a record of our park visits.



I chose a mixed media journal so that we can vary our choice of art mediums over time (I bought this on sale for $5 from Michael’s). I labeled it using these clear labels.



I printed all the park names and potential discussion labels that might pertain to our experiences.



After we played at the playground for a bit, we took a walk to other parts of the park and collected things.




After we had found a few things, we sat and I used the following questions as the starting points for discussion:

  • The trees at this park are . . .
  • I see, hear, smell, feel . . .
  • My favorite thing is . . .


I hear . . .


I brought along a few earth-toned colored pencils.



I’m not sure Greysen knows the name of this park after this visit. I did learn, however, that she knows this park even if she can’t recall the name. She mentioned the jackrabbits we see, the banjo player we once heard about (but never saw),  and the tractor she climbs.


I think this journal served more as a prompt for me to see the park through her eyes.


Parks are important places to her.  They are places that allow for independent exploration, physical challenges, and natural discoveries. I hope that spending time talking about what aspects of these wondrous places are important to her will lead to feelings of being heard and of her interests being respected.


What are your children’s favorite places to play and how do you honor that? I’d  be interested in learning other ways to support Greysen’s interests. 




Rooted In The Garden



There is something infinitely healing

in the repeated refrains of nature-

the assurance that dawn comes after night,

and spring after the winter.

                                    – Rachel Carson



Knowing next to nothing about gardening myself, I am so thankful for this community garden planted by our moms’ club.  The play that happens here has connected us not only to the earth but, more deeply, to one another.


When we are here, we are home.

The details of the mud and twigs fascinate Moon, as much as I am by the growing gardens and blue jays dwelling behind the almond trees.


The garden is the only place outside of our home that Greysen has this kind of responsibility. Her purpose is valuable, real, and can be done independently.


The line between work and play is invisible. In the garden, all is as it should be.

Clearing the Dishes – An Act of Interdependence

What are the best times of the day for you and your children to really take each other’s ideas in? For us, its mealtimes. First, because Greysen is there for such a good chunk of time, and secondly because we are all pretty happy getting to eat and relax together.  I think that is why so many of the choices we make or the goals we have for Greysen are practiced around mealtimes.

As I have mentioned before, I try to offer Greysen the experiences she would have in the classroom, were she in one. Clearing your dishes after a meal or snack is fairly common practice in high-quality group care settings.

In school, clearing dishes or tossing your leftovers in the trash is encouraged. Such practices promote independence and personal responsibility.  Encouraging children to take responsibility for themselves in a classroom setting is really essential to its organization and overall success. Teachers can’t pick up after 12 young toddlers all the time, can they? Well, they do, but . . . back to my point.

I think the same is true for the family. As important as it is to offer opportunities for our children to do things on their own, I also think its important for them to do things on their own because of the impact it has on others. At the heart of it, clearing the dishes reflects a level of responsibility, but in time it’s my hope that this routine will evolve to be an act of consideration for others, in addition to the act of just taking on this responsibility.

Beyond Independence
In contrast to the expectation of developing solely independent skills, I am encouraging Greysen to do things on her own, along with a simple explanation of the impact her actions have on us, her family. She is, after all, not necessarily an independent person, but rather an interdependent one.

My explanations are simple, logical, and often tangible. When I ask Greysen to put her dishes in the bin, I ask her to do so that I can wash them and they can be ready for when she, Dad, or I need to eat off of them next time. This unforeseen benefit of Gracie not using “kiddie” dishes, but rather the same dishes that we use, makes this explanation true and meaningful to her.

This type of comment reflects her connection to the rest of her familiar, as opposed to a comment emphasizing independence such as, “Can you put your dishes away so that you can go play?”

In the book, Next Steps Toward Teaching the Reggio Way: Accepting the Challenge to Change, by Joanne Hendrick, she describes the expectation the adult community (teachers, parents) have of the children in the classroom:

“The high level of cooperation is made possible precisely because of such thoughtful organization.”

At home, “thoughtful organization” in this situation for us means Greysen using a bin that she can put her dishes and napkin in when she has finished, and the consistency of being encouraged to do so.

Clearing her place means Greysen has a chance to:
1.  Do things on her own, which is something she can’t get enough of these days.
2. Take responsibility for herself and her actions.
3. Be considerate of her family’s needs. Though this is a concept she may not yet grasp, she is capable of taking the steps that will hopefully one day lead her there.

Unfortunately, I started filming this video after prompting Greysen to clear her dishes. In this instance, she needed a few reminders throughout the process. Sometimes she clears her place without needing any prompts, other days she needs more explanation as to why its important for her to try at all.

Acknowledging  the Interdependent Child
Children simultaneously need help from others sometimes, and absolutely refuse help at other times. Isn’t it the same for us? To respond to the expanding needs of the toddler in our house, we are giving her the time she needs to do the things she wants to do on her own, and also creating opportunities for her to do things that we believe she is capable of doing.  However, we also respond to the dependent being that she is and help her when she asks.

I hope that the connections we talk about while having breakfast will help Greysen understand that picking up after herself is helpful, but more importantly it is a meaningful way for Greysen to contribute to our family’s general well-being. However, I’ll save this level of explanation for somewhere down the road.

Soon, I think she’ll be ready to wash her dishes once in a while. I’m not yet sure how to start going about this.  Anyone out there do this with their toddler on a regular basis?

Lights On By Myself!

Our 12 year-old cat Mia has become increasingly avoidant of Greysen. The cat hides in the dark, leaving Greysen at a disadvantage when she walks into rooms. Greysen has been surprised often enough that she has very recently started to hesitate before going into a room, at which point she shouts, “Be nice, Mia.”  These are very words that we use with the cat.


So, when I came across this light switch extender in the For Small Hands catalog, one of my very favorites, I was very eager to try it out. Generally, I avoid buying things that Greysen will only use for a short while but I decided that its important enough for Greysen now and Moon will be able to use it eventually so it is worth a try.


Mike and I considered buying a couple for a few rooms, but settled on starting with just one for Greysen’s room to see if was helpful to her.


It was very easy to install. Just replace the screws from your existing switch light plate with the extended screws to hold the switch in place. We had previously replaced our flat switch plate with a ribbed one, which did not work with this. Luckily we saved the old switch plate, so we just swapped it back.


There was a very subtle acrylic switch extender but we opted for the glow in the dark moon-handled one.


Though we bought it with the intention of making it a Christmas present, the thought of it possibly helping Greysen feel less cautious was too important to allow any more days to pass.


On, Off, On, Off, On, Off
Ok, so for the first few days Greysen probably flipped the switch a hundred times or so. Well, maybe it just felt like it.

On again.


Now that she has had it a week or so she uses it appropriately, turning it on when she enters the room. I think it will be a while before she gets the hang of turning it off.


Aside from the obvious benefit of encouraging independence in yet another way, the light switch extender helped her rediscover her courage. Her ability to turn on the light herself has eliminated her hesitation when entering not only her room, but other rooms as well.


While we were waiting for the extender to arrive, we tried keeping one of Greysen’s stools at the switch. Though she could reach the switch when she stood on it, the stool inevitably would get pushed around a bit and kept getting in the way of the door.


If you need something to help your “my turn” taking toddler have some control over the dark I’d recommend this switch.

(I am not being compensated for this post. All opinions expressed are my own.)

Serving Up Independence

At 18 months, Greysen is eager to try to do many of the things that I used to do for her for herself.  To make the most of this emerging independence, I am always on the lookout for new ways in which she can assert herself constructively.  In support of her developing skills, I offer Greysen a small pitcher of water or milk at each meal so that she can pour her drink into her cup.

In this video, Greysen is learning to pour her liquids from pitcher to cup. As she is learning, I offer her guidance. After she has poured her water/milk, I generally set the pitcher out of reach to reduce the chance she’ll play with it. In the first part of the video, you’ll notice that she spills, pours back and forth, and drops her glass pitcher. In the second part, a few days later she has become more familiar with the routine and she pours easily.

Foundational to Montessori teachings, the development of “practical life skills,” such as those developed while pouring your own drink, are opportunities for young children to be active participants in their everyday lives and routines. By incorporating the practical life skill of transferring water from pitcher to cup at meals, Greysen is making a genuine contribution to her care. Yes, this practice also hones her hand-eye coordination and strength, but it also contributes to her feelings of personal responsibility.

Any small creamer would make a suitable pitcher. We bought a glass creamer from Montessori Services, but in the classroom I have used stainless steel creamers that worked just as well, if not better.

My 3 Favorite Pitchers for Learning How to Pour:

1. A Small Stainless Steel Creamer
This creamer is small and lightweight, and since many toddlers first pour their drinks from the wrist rather than by lifting their arm and shoulder, this is a great choice for a first pitcher.

2. Faceted Acrylic Creamer
If stainless steel isn’t for you and glass is not an option, this pitcher still offers the visibility I look for in all Greysen’s dishes. The creamer is lightweight and easy for children to handle on their own.

3. Small Glass Creamer
Though this is the pitcher we have, I don’t think its necessarily the easiest to learn from. Though the design of some of the porcelain pitchers would make spills minimal, the tradeoff in lack of visibility isn’t worth it. The pitcher is a little heavy, and Greysen still needs a little help to lift it high enough to get the last drops. However, I like that there is still a little bit of a challenge left in a skill that she has nearly mastered.