Thursday, August 23, 2012

How a High Chair Builds Independence

Getting Up
And Down
I know I talk a lot about cultivating independence in children (perhaps too much?). And it's funny. Before learning about Montessori, I wouldn't have been one to tout independence as a core value for which to strive (except maybe when I was majorly obsessed with the philosopher Ayn Rand when I was in high school). 

According to my understanding of Montessori philosophy, independence isn't the end goal; it's just the vehicle that drives the child's formation of self. 

In the earliest years of life, Henry is forming his understanding of the world, but he is also building the core of his personality. I want him to have a strong sense of self. I don't want that confidence to stem from being dependent on others for praise. I don't want him to feel good because I tell him he's a good person. I want him to have the experience of self-pride--pride that comes from independently interacting with the environment in order to accomplish his own outcomes. 

When Henry interacts with his environment on a daily basis and does things for himself, he is getting concrete experience that reinforces the following ideas: "I can make things happen for myself. I can trust myself. I can trust my experience in the world."

Trying to create and maintain an environment that helps promote independence and confidence is one of our main focuses (is that a word?) as parents. We've taught Henry how to use the key fab to lock and unlock the car. He knows how to feed the dog all by himself. He picks out his clothes in the morning. He helps make breakfast, etc.

We've also been teaching him to climb into his own high chair. The Tripp Trapp is often recommended for parents who are trying to cultivate independence because children can climb into it and out of it from a very young age. It's expensive, but it converts into a chair that can even be used by adults, so it will be around for a long time. Henry has been able to climb into it for a while now; we recently started teaching him how to get down (I won't lie; it makes me nervous!). When I read on Kylie's blog that she removed the harness for Otis (who is one month younger than Henry), I was inspired to do the same. 

Henry and I got out the tools and took everything apart so we could remove the straps. Now it's just a chair. A chair for a 17 month old. A chair that allows him to climb up and down to join the family at dinner time. 

I like Stephen Covey's explanation of independence. He said that independence was one level higher than dependence but a bridge to interdependence. I love that idea. Feeling good about himself will help Henry better interact with others. 

I'm crossing my fingers! This parenting thing is just a big scientific experiment with no control group and a sample size of one. We're just trying to figure it out as we go along--seeking inspiration and ideas from others--and making sure that we parent in a way that feels good to us and makes us feel proud. I'm thinking that's the best we can do.

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Sarah said...


Thank you for this post, especially the last paragraph. There are so many philosophies and ideas on how to raise children, and everyone thinks they know how to do it best. There have been so many moments already in my short two months of parenting that I've had to take a deep breath, step back, and figure out what among the piles of advice and research works for our family. It's scary because raising a child is such a huge responsibility, but all we can do is do the best that we know how.

And I don't think you talk about independence too much! I have really appreciated your perspective and it's helped me think about what children are capable of achieving in a new way. Seeing what Henry can do, it's obvious that society too often underestimates their capabilities. I think I might put that chair on HP's Christmas wish-list!

Rebecca said...

My Eloise (16 months) just climbed onto her chair for the first time yesterday. She probably would have done it earlier, but we always keep the tray on the chair out of convenience sake. I guess we need to start leaving it off and using it at the table full time. We have the Keekaroo chair which is cheaper but almost identical to the Tripp Trapp.

She helps feed the dogs, throw things in the trash, and she helped me with dinner for the first time this week. They need to make a high chair/learning tower combo - that would be awesome.

Emily said...

Yep - just did the same for my 16-month-old Vicki! A happy coincidence: I leaned too hard on the front bar holding her into her Euro Grow with Me (the cheapest iteration of the Tripp Trapp!), and it broke off! No more infant security systems.

Also, plural of focus = foci.

Anonymous said...

beware, I've seen lots of scary reviews. I don' have this, so no idea if true.

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Anonymous: We've never experienced any sort of instability with the Tripp Trapp (and Henry does sometimes push away from the table with his feet). One reason for the increased stability of our version might be the gliders that we attached to the bottom (provided by the company). They extend beyond what is shown in the video. I'm not sure.

Ms. Loaf said...

So interesting, and it would totally scare me! It does seem that Montessori is really geared toward able-bodied children, though. I'm going to start co-parenting my niece next year (long story), and I'd love to incorporate Montessori, but with a disabled child, there's just some things (like this) they will not be able to do. Do you have any idea about resources for using Montessori with disabled kids?

Autumn Witt Boyd said...

I love hearing how you're implementing Montessori in the home with Henry. We have twin 10-month-olds and I so wholeheartedly agree with the Montessori philosophy. One boy's favorite thing to do is open and close doors, he ignores all of his fancy toys to do this! What a great example of developing independence, figuring out how he affects his own environment, and so on. Please keep these kinds of posts coming.

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Ms. Loaf! I wouldn't say that "Montessori is really geared toward able-bodied children." On this blog, I talk about how we are implementing Montessori for an able-bodied child (hence the high-chair post), but Montessori is really about the principle of independence. How you would help a disabled child cultivate independence might look different than how I do it with Henry, but it would still be Montessori. Does that make sense?

Julia said...

This was a really interesting post! I love all the different ideas you have for implementing independence in Henry's life, at his own pace. And I think you summarized perfectly the reasons that's so important for young children. And thank you for sharing the products like the Tripp Trapp that you use; when we are ready to start a family I will have tons of resources thanks to you! (By the way, Henry is really starting to look like his dad isn't he?? So cute!)

Anonymous said...

Hi Sara - First, let me say that I have enjoyed your blogs for a few years. I like your posts on child independence but I have some issues with them. I think you often attribute Henry doing independent type things to Montessori and sing its praises. However, my little girl is a few months younger than Henry and she does the same things - sans Montessori approaches. I believe if you encourage children to do things and give them space to make mistakes/messes they'll be successful little people. I think my issue comes from folks swearing by the overpriced child items - cups, chairs, toys, etc. and thinking that's the reason why their little one is "so advanced". Meanwhile, if you follow your child intuitively and give them challenges they'll do the same thing. I should say that I am not anti-Montessori but I think childhood needs balance and I find parents get all worked up about following the way.

I don't want this post to be critical or seem negative. I think your readers have children of all ages and I think some other thoughts/opinions on child raising would be helpful. I also don't know tons on Montessori - I skim read a few books and didn't completely agree - so there might be some things I am doing that follow that approach but it's completely by parental instinct and not by the book.

Keep up the good posts - I really do enjoy reading your blogs.

Best, Annalisa

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