If you look in a Montessori family’s kitchen, you might notice something missing: the high chair. For these families, weaning is more than just going from breast or bottle to solid food; it’s also about the children learning to take charge of their everyday activities, including eating. That’s why many Montessori parents opt to give their children a weaning table.
Weaning tables allow children who have started eating solid food to practice eating like the grown-ups and big children, which helps them develop a sense of independence from a very early age. The confidence, drive, and exploration that comes from this is an important basis for all learning. By teaching children to take pride in their accomplishments and directing their own activities, the weaning table prepares them for the Montessori approach to learning.
What Exactly Is a Weaning Table?
A weaning table is essentially just a table and chair that are a comfortable size and height for your little one. You don’t need anything fancy; any small table and chair will do, as long as they’re sturdy. It should be easy to access, so that the child can sit at or leave the table without assistance.
We encourage using small-scale versions of adult dishes. That means a ceramic plate or bowl, metallic spoon or fork, and a sturdy glass cup. Because the table is so short, the cup isn’t likely to break if it’s dropped, but if this is still a worry, a stainless steel or even bamboo cup can do the trick. For many parents, it feels more natural to give their children plastic plates, spoons, and cups when they’re first learning to eat, but that won’t get children used to the weight of real cutlery or allow them to feel quite as grown-up.
And don’t forget a large bib. Children manage to make a mess when they’re being spoon-fed, so when they’re in the driver’s seat and feeding themselves, food is bound to get everywhere!
When to Introduce the Weaning Table
Every kid is different, and it’s a good idea to respect their individual pace and development. Not every child will be ready for solid food or to sit comfortably on their own at the same age. But most children are ready to sit unassisted and start experimenting with solid food once they’re eight months old.
Benefits of Using a Weaning Table
The main benefit of a weaning table is learning to become independent and self-directed. Allowing children to leave the table as they please, without needing someone to help them get down, is a good way to practice autonomy and discover how good it feels to be able to do things for themselves.
Feeling Grown Up
Children are very imitative, even at an early age. It means a lot to them when they get to do something just like mommy and daddy do it. And meal and snack times are no exception. It helps make them feel like they’re a part of the household, and not set apart in their little world of high chairs and plastic plates.
Of course, the weaning table isn’t just for food. It’s a convenient little spot for your kid to play independently. Don’t be surprised if that little table becomes a busy spot for crafts, coloring, and flipping through picture books.
High chairs are really confining, and while it can sometimes be convenient for the parents to have the child at an adult level, it’s never fun feeling trapped (just imagine how it might feel to be strapped into a chair with a tray locked over your lap every time you wanted to eat).
High chairs are ideal for spoon-feeding children. But the weaning table allows children to eat at their own pace, direct their own feeding, and learn the fine motor skills required to manipulate and hold their food or utensils.
It also allows children to eat with the family. As anyone who has fed a child knows, spooning the food into their mouths isn’t as easy as it looks. It takes patience, encouragement, and you have to stay vigilant for all the times the food simply doesn’t stay in their mouths. That usually means having to feed the child before or after mealtime, or only getting to eat after everyone else is finished. With a weaning table, no one has to dote over the little ones, and they can eat alongside the rest of the family.
Doesn’t It Get Lonely?
You might worry that your child will be lonely eating at a little table all by themselves. But what they’re really doing is practicing to eat at the table with everyone.
Children also eat more often than adults (new parents are often surprised at how many times they have to serve snacks throughout the day), so they routinely eat on their own. But you can still keep them company by staying in the room (and someone should be present any time they eat due to choking risks).
The Montessori approach is all about finding little ways to help children make big progress in their development. The weaning table is a very simple tool that can make all the difference for your child and help him or her get a head start on the Montessori style of learning.