About a week ago I finished listening to Janet Lansbury’s Elevating Child Care: A guide to respectful parenting on audiobook. Lansbury is a mother and teacher who follows the principles of Resources for Infant Educarers (no, that’s not a typo), or RIE, and her book is an engaging guide to raising your child with respect. While RIE and the Montessori method do vary in some specifics, they are both independence-based practices that can be summed up by the quote by Maria Montessori herself to “follow the child.” They both encourage parents to be active observers of their child, in order to provide an environment that will help the child to help him/herself. Recently, I was humbled by an experience with Darling Daughter that showed the importance of this mantra.
About 3 months ago, I started writing a blogpost about a DIY Object Permanence Box. It was a good post, if I do say so myself. It started with a description of what object permanence means (in short, the idea that people and objects do not cease to exist when out of sight); went on to explain why it is so important to child development according to Maria Montessori; and was going to conclude with step-by-step instructions on how to make your own Object Permanence Box. (It’s basically a box with a hole on top placed on an inclined platform, into which a ball is dropped. The ball disappears for a moment, before rolling down the ramp through another hole in the side of the box, and reappearing on the platform.) Darling Daughter had just turned 10 months old and was fully engrossed in an object permanence sensitive period (a time when a baby’s development and concentration levels are such that they are particularly “ready” to learn a particular skill). I thought this was the perfect time to do this post.
So as I wrote the blogpost, I got an old shoebox and made her one. But as I looked at the process pics I had taken, I didn’t like the aesthetics of it (anyone else a #DIYsnob?), so I went to my local crafts store and bought a pack of plain brown gift boxes, thinking the largest would be the perfect size. But then I realized we didn’t have any balls that were the right size, so I went looking online for some. But since I was buying something new anyway, I tried to find natural rubber balls, in a certain color range, in a certain size, etc., etc…
All the while, DD was happily practicing her object permanence skills on everything she could find: putting bag clips into opaque containers and shaking them out, hiding her homemade maracas in shoes and boots then taking them out again, and playing peekaboo behind any piece of clothing she could find.
Well, I finally found some rubber balls that I was happy with, and proceeded to make the Object Permanence Box, at which point…she barely showed it a passing glance. I was so disappointed! I had failed to notice that all of her object permanence practice had evolved into an interest in tugging and pulling: on the laces of the shoes in which she had hid toys, on the drawstrings of Mama’s hoodie while she was playing peekaboo, and anything else that had loose strings.
Humbled and having finally taken the time to observe my child, I wanted to encourage her exploration into cause and effect (“what happens when I pull this string?”). I researched some DIY projects that focus on pulling. There was a great idea of reusing an empty baby wipe container by filling it with scarves/fabric pieces for your little one to pull out of the opening, but we use cloth wipes, and it seemed counteractive to buy disposable wipes just to “reuse” the box. Then I stumbled across a Ribbon Jar idea, so I had Hubby drill some holes through the lid of a clean peanut butter jar, then threaded ribbon and yarn of various textures and lengths through the holes, tying knots at both ends so they wouldn’t pull all the way out.
This worked well and DD seemed to enjoy pulling on the strings, except her play only lasted as long as it took to pull all the strings through. At this point, Mama had to open the jar and “reset” the strings before DD could continue playing with it. One of the most intriguing facets of Montessori is the benefits of independent play, and therefore Montessori-inspired toys tend to be self-correcting, in order to limit adult interference. So how could I make this toy self-correcting?
Well, the simple answer to me was to drill more holes, then thread the ribbons and strings through two holes opposite each other, so that when a particular ribbon was pulled all the way through one way, DD could turn the toy around and pull it from the other side, thus providing pulling practice for as long as it held her interest.
The peanut butter jar is glass, so I wasn’t going to be drilling through that. But then I remembered that the gift box I had used for the Object Permanence Box had come in a multipack.
So I took the smallest size box in the pack which was a good size for DD to comfortably hold (roughly 2in x 3in x 5in or 5cm x 7cm x 12cm) and punched several holes through the sides and lid. I then threaded the ribbons and yarn through randomly, so that each string went through two holes, and there was slack on both sides to pull. I secured the lid to the box with some twine, and voila! – a DIY pull-through toy.
All in all, this is a great toy for DD. She enjoys the sensory discovery of the different types of ribbons, as well as the difference in resistance she feels between pulling the thick ribbons and the thin yarns. The act of turning the box in her hands and pulling the strings helps develop her hand-eye coordination and pincer grip. I’m glad I finally looked beyond my own needs for aesthetics and for Pinterest-worthy DIY toys, and just followed my child’s lead.
As for the old peanut butter jar – DD has started using it to store the “mini hacky sacks” she stole from her Dada. She’s even putting the lid back on the jar! Do I sense an upcoming need for a DIY posting activity?? ☺