I ordered glasses for Annabelle from Montessori Services* before her first introduction to solid foods. It was at about seven months that she began eating complementary foods, and I began to offer a cup of water at mealtimes then as well. At these first introductions, Annabelle generally poured the water out, or just played with the cup, so I opted to put it away and wait a few weeks before trying again. I have offered it once or twice since with the same result, until last Wednesday, when she took the cup with both hands, and eagerly drank down all of the water.
I purchased the stainless steel cup that Annabelle is using in the photo at left for her first attempts at a cup. Once she got the hang of holding it with two hands, and drinking carefully, I had intended to offer an actual glass, which we finally did on Thursday. She did great! She drank all of her water, and wanted more. She absolutely loves it, but after two or three cups switches to pouring the water on the table and playing in it, or just playing with the glass itself. When this happens, I simply sign and say “all done,” then move the glass and take Annabelle out of her high chair. She does not seem upset – instead it’s as though she understands that we’re taking a cue from her by ending the meal on this cue. It seems to work best, then, to offer her water after she has finished her food.
But why the glass?An important feature of Montessori materials and activities is what we refer to as the control of error. The control of error is a built in quality that allows the child to immediately notice if he or she makes a mistake. The idea is essentially to create a feedback loop that allows the child to continuously learn and improve their skill with the material in question, independently. As Montessori put it, “a ‘control of error’ is any kind of indicator which tells us whether we are going toward our goal, or away from it.”
Bottles and sippy cups are generally designed to take abuse. Children can throw them across the room if they want to, and then simply pick them up and begin drinking again. They can hold them upside down, and most are designed so that they won’t even leak. When the child uses a real glass, she has to be careful. She has to focus on what she is doing. She has to hold the glass with two hands and tip it just enough, but not too much. She is improving her coordination, her fine motor skills, and her powers of concentration. In Montessori’s words, the child learns “to command his movements.”
Another goal in Montessori is to aid children, who are just beginning to discover how the world works, in adapting to the time and place in which they live. Being able to sit and enjoy a meal with others can be a valuable thing in our culture. By helping children to become accustomed to this practice from an early age, we are helping them to adapt to their time and place. Most importantly, we are doing so not by direct instruction, and not by correction. Rather than imposing rules on children, we are simply establishing peaceful mealtimes, with respect for the table and the items used at it, as a normal part of life. This is certainly not a primary goal, but it is something to consider.
*While I recommend my affiliate Montessori Services as a great place to find materials for the prepared environment, infant glasses are easy to find. Just after I received Annabelle’s, I found the very same set of glasses at our local Ross store! The best glass at this stage is actually a sturdy, easy to hold shot glass. The stainless steel tumbler sold by Montessori services is simply a condiment cup that can be found in many stores. As children get a bit older and need something larger, a juice glass or a rocks glass works perfectly!