Parachute clip dressing frame (tutorial)

N has a new obsession these days: parachute clips. They’re on every highchair, carseat, and stroller; they’re even on K’s backpack, which N has adopted as his own for the purpose of practicing. He’ll crouch down, intently focused on inserting one side of the clip into the other. As soon as both clips are done he’ll come barreling towards me, thrust the backpack into my hands, and order, “puhn-ih,” which as far as I can tell means “open it.”

This would all be very entertaining except for the fact that K’s backpack is now MIA because N drags it around everywhere. Yesterday I decided that it was time to make N a dressing frame.

A what?

Dressing frames are found in every primary Montessori classroom. The children use them to practice opening and closing all kinds of buttons, snaps, clips, velcro, and zippers so that they will have the skills to dress and undress themselves. Typically, dressing frames look something like this:

I made my dressing frame out of an old IKEA picture frame, some ribbons from my sewing stash, and three parachute clips that I bought at Fabricland. It’s extremely simple.

Step one: remove the backing, picture, mat, and glass from the picture frame. Push the little metal tabs back so that they don’t stick out.

Step two: cut six lengths of ribbon, each about 3/4 as wide as the frame. Singe the ends of the ribbon by passing them close to a candle flame (this will stop the ribbons from fraying.) Note that I made the ribbons extra long because N doesn’t yet have the strength and coordination to pull on the ribbons while connecting the clips – if the ribbons are too short for him to clip them comfortably, he’ll just give up. Feel free to experiment with the best ribbon length for your child.

Step three: separate the parts of the three parachute clips. attach each piece to the end of one ribbon by looping the ribbon through the slot in the clip and then gluing down the end. I used fabric glue, but you can use whatever works for you.

Step four: Connect the clips to each other (so that you don’t accidentally glue the ribbons to the wrong sides) and glue the loose ends of the ribbons to the inside of the picture frame.

At this point, you may want to further secure the ribbon ends. I used a piece of wood trim for each side of the frame. Using wood glue, I glued the trim down over the ends of the ribbon and clamped it. After an hour, there was no way the wood trim – or the ribbon – was coming off.

And that’s it. Trim the ribbon ends, double check that all the glue has dried and is holding well, and your dressing frame is ready for action:

Any questions?

Why physical milestones matter

Yes, I’m guilty of blog neglect. I apologize. I’m also guilty of hating to read post after post about how “I’d like to post more often but life got in the way,” so I’m just going to launch into the topic now:

Sometime last week I commented on a friend’s link on Facebook. It was about babies not getting much tummy time and consequently not meeting physical development milestones “on time.” I enthused about the rate of R’s development compared to that of my other two children and attributed it to her spending all of her playtime (most of her waking hours, in fact) on the floor.

Apparently these days talking about how some parenting decision has worked out really, really well for you is similar to wearing no panties to a bar notorious for its hookup culture. Ill advised, perhaps. Inviting abuse? Surely not. And I didn’t get abused; it was more like a light slap on the wrist.

“Who cares when your kid crawled or rolled over?” One woman commented, “I am so tired of this line of thinking. They’re not going to university not knowing how to sit up! We don’t need to push our children to achieve. They’ll do it in their own time.”

She’s right and wrong at the same time. Montessori philosophy agrees with her that children will learn and develop at their own pace, but there’s a caveat: they have to be given the right environment and the right tools at the right time. In the case of developing physical milestones, if we don’t give them enough spaces and opportunities for free movement, they won’t develop the normal milestones until much, much later.

Which brings me back to the question of why we should care that our children aren’t meeting milestones as early as they used to. In short, it matters because strengthening the muscles takes a lot of time and practice (as anyone who does resistance training can tell you,) and complete proficiency and strength in the basic exercises are a necessary foundation for the activities that come next, at which we do care if our children excel: paying attention, sitting at a desk, writing, reading.

I’ve been reading a blog called Pediatric OT, written by an occupational therapist who works with children who are having difficulty in school. I’ve learned a lot from her blog. One of the more unexpected points she has made is that in the absence of strong neck and spinal muscles, the eye muscles’ fine motor functioning is compromised and as a result, the child will have difficulties with visual perception that may present as difficulty reading, writing, and participating in team sports. And why would a child have weak neck and spinal muscles? It comes, says this therapist, from children being less active as babies and toddlers: when they are constantly supported in a swing, bouncy chair, bumbo, exersaucer, or carseat they don’t have to strengthen their core muscles – they already have a stable base from which to work. When we take that base away, though, their body is not strong enough to remain steady and support the neck and head.

And once again we circle around to the question, “why does it matter whether they crawl/roll over/sit up as young babies?” The answer, finally, is that it matters because rolling over, crawling, and sitting up earlier are indicators that a child has had plenty of time for free movement, and has spent that time strengthening her core muscles… and since she can crawl, she does, thus increasing her strength and endurance. Can you imagine all the hours and hours of exercise and strengthening our children are missing if their physical milestones are delayed by even a couple of months?

You may be thinking that a delay of a couple of months is fine, that it just pushes everything up by a couple of months – but it doesn’t. Our children’s physical strength isn’t developing as soon as it used to, but they’re expected to go to school and learn to read and write at increasingly younger ages. See the problem?

What does this have to do with Montessori, anyway?

A lot, actually. The Montessori curriculum involves a series of exercises, each building on the last, both physically and intellectually. Long before they learn to write, two- and three-year-olds are using a three-fingered grip to manipulate pegged puzzle pieces, use eye droppers and tweezers, and polish metal with a q-tip. This grip is practiced (and the hands and wrists strengthened) in increasingly challenging ways, for many months, before the child holds a pencil to begin writing. Montessori educators understand that in order to be able to write a literary essay in grade seven, the child must first have developed his visual discrimination (identifying different shapes and colours,) visual tracking (being able to move the eyes smoothly so as to keep focusing on a moving object or on text,) pencil grip, wrist strength and control, and so on. Children require a great deal of practice to develop the fundamental skills they need, and Montessori ensures that they get it.

Attacking the other end of the problem, that of children being expected to do academic work before their bodies are physically ready, well, Montessori solves that quite neatly as well: a child simply does not move onto harder work until she has the required knowledge and physical ability to handle it. This means that some (very few) children will learn to write and read at age three, and others will learn it at age five, or maybe even six… just as some babies will learn to crawl at six months, and others at eleven months. They simply need the time and opportunity to develop their muscles in a natural progression.

Neither of her siblings crawled at six months, but then they both spent much more time in "baby containment devices." The plural of anecdote is not data, I know, but it's a fascinating contrast nonetheless.

 

Aside

What does a Montessori mom do all day?

I’ve written a lot about the physical aspects of Montessori at home – what equipment you do and don’t need for children. It occurred to me today, as I ran errands with N and R, that you might want to hear a bit more about how Montessori philosophy affects our daily activities. Montessori parents have to run errands as all parents do; how different could it be?

Come on a virtual ride-along, and let’s see.

There were four items on our list this morning:

  1. Drop off purged clothing in a donation box
  2. Take expired medications and some old sharps (relics of IVF gone by) to the pharmacy for disposal
  3. Drop off Montessori Dad’s shirts at the dry cleaners (Pesach is coming, you know. Are your clothes ready for the holiday?); at the same time, return wire hangers for reuse/recycling
  4. Buy fruit and vegetables

With so many stops (all within a 1 kM radius of our home) and some sunny weather, I decided to take the bike. N helped me to put the bags into the bakfiets, and soon he and R were snuggled in among bales of clothing:

I biked over to the pharmacy first, where N carried the little bag of stuff to the pharmacy counter while I carried R. Then we hopped back on (and in) the bike and went looking for the clothing donation box, which wasn’t where I thought it was.

We have a great dry cleaner here who, in addition to using non-toxic chemicals in the dry-cleaning process, also has a covered drive-through area. You still have to get out of your car (or off your bike,) but it’s a few short steps to the back counter – totally safe (and dry) for leaving little ones in their seats, if that’s your style. It’s not mine (and not for safety reasons.) After parking the bike I gave N the wire hangers and showed him the bin for hanger recycling. He promptly dropped all but one hanger on the floor near the bike, so while I discussed stains and pickup times with the man at the desk, he went back and forth from the bike to the desk, carrying one or two hangers at a time. Finally they were all in the bin – no more to carry… so N took two out and started over again! That’s the Montessori toddler right there: repeating a task over and over to attain mastery.

But let’s move on. We needed some produce and so headed to the small supermarket up the street. Since I was wearing R, I gave N the task of pulling the basket:

You can see that most of the produce is way too high for him to reach. The bananas were sufficiently low, though, and he helped me choose a bunch and place it in the basket. N has a tendency to throw things, so first I modeled putting something in gently, then asked him to copy me. I did that with each item – I put in one apple, he put in the next:

An elderly gentleman took one look at the three of us and said kindly, “It might be easier to get one of those carts with the seat and put him in it.” I thanked him and said, “He’s learning how to grocery shop.” I know that we could be done a lot faster if I just put them both in the cart and did all the shopping myself, but that would transform N into a passive observer rather than an active participant in our daily activities.

(Lest I sound like a saint here, know this: I take the kids along on short shopping trips to small stores. When I go with a long list  to the huge, crowded supermarket, I go alone.)

We rode home and I gave N a small cookie to snack on (he had chosen his own cookie at the store.) R was still sleeping in the bike, so we wandered around the front yard and inspected the budding trees, the tiny baby daffodils, and the pebbles in the path. We picked and smelled some of the herbs (our parsley came back this year, the thyme never died, and I think even the rosemary is somewhat alive.) After a while, N sat down on the path and took in his surroundings, pointing and naming as many objects as he could identify:

When he was good and ready, N came up the steps and into the house. I was “good and ready” a full half hour before he was, but I refrained from picking him up and carrying him inside. “Follow the child. Follow the child.” I muttered, and rememinded myself that N needs time to concentrate on things that interest him without being interrupted (who likes being interrupted in the middle of something fascinating? Not me.)

And that was our morning. Four errands, three of which allowed for N to take an active part in their completion. When not in the bike, N walked under his own steam (and without hand-holding) and R was carried on my hip in the sling, which forces her to use her arms and legs to grip my body and her back and neck muscles to stay upright when I bend or lean over. Both children were included in the social niceties at each stop, and at the end N had a chance to spend time outside on his own terms. Life as a Montessori child isn’t just about all the pretty wooden toys and tiny tools; it’s about learning to take your place as a productive member of society – even when you’re just a toddler.