There is a funny little cabinet in our kitchen. It sits on the dining room side of our peninsula counter. There is duct work inside the peninsula and a large cabinet on the kitchen side, so this cabinet is all of 7.25 inches deep. It is long, and only has the bottom shelf. It is right where the kids can reach it. So, the possibilities of what to keep in this cabinet have been rather daunting for the past year. For a while, we kept Beanie’s craft supplies in it. There was a child lock on it that she could work but the Bug couldn’t. So that worked out for a while, but the craft supplies were always all over the table, with shredded paper all over the floor. It was a situation that made me crazy often. We finally got our basement all cleaned up and set up the way I want, and we have a great craft area down there now. We took all of the craft supplies but paper and crayons to the basement. Then the funny cabinet sat empty for a month or so again. And then, inspiration struck!
The kids are ecstatic about it! I’ve always believed that the kids should have their own real dishes. If they are old enough to eat, they are old enough to have the tools, I believe. The tools vary with age, but I have always tried to give them appropriate tools.
When they are first starting out with purees, they get baby spoons. For the Bug, he got one and I got one. He would often try to take mine and so he would end up with two while I had one. The Bean, being my true lover of food, figured out that it went in faster if I was working the spoon, so she was happy to leave it alone and let me poke it in over and over again. We find quaint little demitasse spoons at estate sales, garage sales, flea markets, thrift stores and the like. All metal and the correct size and shape for little mouths. Plus, they tend to be smaller renditions of real spoons which makes them a little more functional than the ones made for children that don’t have deep enough bowls to hold the food in well.
When they move on to finger foods, a good high chair tray with green peas, lima beans, or maybe some diced steamed carrots spread over it. All they need is a pincer grasp and they are off! The Bug did not actually start eating until he could feed himself. He refused to condescend to letting me poke spoonfuls of blended foods into his mouth. He actually did not progress to the spoons until he discovered applesauce, a few months into his eating experience. This is exactly why he required two spoons to my one. He didn’t want me to be feeding him, but he REALLY wanted that applesauce!
Once they get a little more control, they are ready for a bowl and a spoon of their own. The wooden bowls we find at estate sales very easily. Again, no plastic. They are heavy enough to not tip at the slightest bang, yet light enough for the kids to lift themselves. They don’t break easily if dropped. Care is very easy; just wipe out under running water. Use minimal soap and never soak them. Do not put them in the dishwasher. Hand over the demitasse spoon and let the little one figure out how to aim for the mouth. Or perhaps place the bowl on the high chair tray and both of you have a spoon – take turns aiming for the little mouth.
A bit after they’ve got the spoon down, they are ready for a fork. After all, you can’t scoop everything! We get pickle or olive forks from, you may have guessed, estate sales, thrift shops, garage sales, and places like that. They are little narrow forks with actual tines that are sharp enough to spear a piece of food. The wide ones with the plastic handles that are marketed for children tend to have dull, wide tines that can’t actually spear, and are typically too wide to fit in our children’s mouths. The pickle forks work fabulously!
And when they are handy enough to need a fork, they probably need a plate to go with it! Nothing like marking up the high chair tray or table with a fork, eh? We got the enamel coated metal ones that you can see in the picture from Nova Natural a few years back. They have held up well, but when the Bug dropped the matching cup on the floor about a year ago, it chipped the finish and I’ve worried about the plates ever since. Our other favorites are some pottery ones made by Bybee Pottery in Middletown, KY. We prefer the 6 inch dessert plates. They are in the dishwasher right now, so not in the picture. They are a nice, heavy weight pottery plate. The kids don’t lift them often. They don’t chip easily. They don’t scoot around like a thinner plate would, so the kids have a little more control over them. And they have a delightful little rim that holds the food in instead of letting it pop over onto the table.
They do like to have a drink of their own, too. We start out with Born Free training cups and have loved them for years. The plastic is BPA free. The design is easy to handle. The kids have gone from using the handles to being able to hold the cup without them. They last for years, with the exception of the spouts. The spouts have to be replaced periodically. But, the benefits of these cups are worth reading about on their website. We have recently retired all of our Born Free cups in favor of the Bybee mugs you can see in the picture.
Most recently, we have added in the butter knife or the cheese spreader (a less sharp, more kid sized option) for spreading butter (or buttery spread if you are off dairy as we are) or cutting up pancakes.
I think it is so important for them to have the right tools, and get to have the experience themselves. It is so empowering to them to be able to take care of their most basic bodily needs themselves. Every time that we take power away from children, we tell them that they can’t handle it themselves. Every time that we tell children they can’t handle things themselves, they lose a bit of their ability to believe that they are effective beings. Take a deep breath, decide that cleaning up the mess won’t be that big of a deal, and let them get into it! I taught the dog the command, “Come clean up my floor.”
And the newest development, in their independence; I gave them their dishes. I put them where they could reach them. I allowed them to have charge of those precious pottery plates and mugs. I gave up my ideas about orderliness to allow them to have access to their own tools. And they couldn’t be happier about it! We’ve gone through several mugs each day instead of 2. We’ve used a few extra sets of silverware. They have to rearrange the cabinet a few times a day. There are both spoons and forks in the slots of the silverware sorter. But their joy in being able to get out a bowl by themselves is unsurpassed. Again, I will deal with the mess so that they can have the experience. Without the experience, they can’t grow and bloom.