Guest Post: Raising a Toddler by Chrissy Lyons

the author, Chrissy Lyons, and her son

Hi there. I’m Chrissy from www.lyonessandcub.com. Today, I’ll tell you about how I am raising a toddler. My Lyons Cub. He’ll be four in two months, so toddlerdom lies behind us now, and I congratulate myself on my preschooler.

All of you who have toddlers will know them—the terrible 2’s and even 3’s. I once had the faintest hope it would get better at the age of three, but no such luck… I had the chillest baby you could possibly imagine: Leander was so laid back; he hardly ever cried (maybe he didn’t have the strength, because he was born a preemie with IUGR, weighing only 3 lbs and spending the first three weeks of his life in the NICU). He didn’t suffer from colic or reflux, slept through the night most of the time, was friendly towards strangers, and smiled and giggled a lot. My friends told me back then that the sweetest babies make the wildest toddlers. They would be right…

Picky Eaters: Baking with Your Toddler to Stimulate Their Appetite

My son needed fortified breast milk to gain extra calories. So, I became an exclusive pumper, feeding him every three hours, including at night, for the first year of his life. This was tough, but we made it (and I rewarded myself with beautiful breast milk jewelry). I even used a pumping app to keep track of my daily output and his daily input. When my son turned five months old, we started with baby food. From the mom forums and blogs I was on, I heard about baby-led weaning and wanted to try it. However, my son mostly just smashed his food and played with it on his high chair. He seemed to enjoy the sensory play, but he also gagged and spat out a lot. So, I often wondered how much really went into his tummy. He gained a little weight, though, and reached the normal growth when he was nine months old.

Eventually, he developed into a picky eater, still loving his milk (we used Holle goat milk after he was one year of age). He preferred fruit and rice puffs to meat and veggies. I soon noticed when he was allowed to help prepare the food, he seemed hungrier and more eager to eat. Specifically, he liked to bake brownies, cookies, and cake. Although it was quite messy, I baked with my toddler whenever I got a chance. We used the floor to have a large space where he couldn’t fall or drop anything (no worries, I cleaned thoroughly before and after!). I remember the fun he had when he baked a Very Hungry Caterpillar cake with a mold I had found at ALDI’s. For Christmas, we build a gingerbread house every year, which is my German family’s tradition. He can hardly wait to pluck the candy off it!

Montessori Education: Child-Centered with Freedom of Choice

Although it was quite expensive, I chose Montessori education for my son. When he was 18 months old, he joined Amare Montessori. The children had “directresses” (you don’t call them “teachers” in Montessori language) who helped him help himself. That means he dressed himself proudly (and sometimes came home wearing his pants back to the front and his shoes on the wrong feet), harvested his own tomatoes, and prepared his own salad. The children flourish in a prepared environment with child-sized shelves full of beautiful Montessori materials they could choose from freely to satisfy their inner teacher. They also had a big garden to grow flowers and vegetables, with outdoor musical instruments hanging on a wooden fence, sticks for building tents, and mud kitchens.

Being outside in nature is emphasized strongly in Montessori education. Some kindergartens even have animals, so the children learn to care for them and cherish them (my son got to experience and to feed his aunt’s chickens). His little tasks were called “work.: Every day I received a short, written report with successes like, “he did the banana cutting work today,” or “he did the orange peeling work.” One day, I read, chuckling, “Leander painted a lot today, including himself.” That was true! I had a “Blue Boy” like the one from Picasso when I went to pick him up. He became very self-efficient as a consequence of this educational philosophy. However, the downside turned out to be that he doesn’t like my explaining and showing things to him; he wants to explore them by himself and doesn’t listen. We are still working on “following directions.”  

Since I had become widowed unexpectedly during the year I was pregnant after our IVF journey, I needed a nanny to have support with my baby while I was working full time. Luckily, I found a great nanny through care.com, who was on board with me to raise Leander the Montessori Way. Her husband helped me build a Montessori house bed for my son, and I got a Pikler triangle, arch, and ramp from Etsy. Initially behind with gross and fine motor skills and needing Early Intervention, my son developed into a fast, sportive, strong boy who loves hiking through the forest and going swimming.

Outdoor Activities for Extremely Active Toddlers

This leads me to the next point—what to do with overactive, never tired toddlers, who seem to have everlasting energy? This is one tired mommy!! (Well, I have as excuse that I am “AMA,” or “advanced maternal age” or a “geriatric mom,” meaning a mommy over 35.) My son is now high maintenance, as he needs constant entertainment. When we are inside, we often play the piano, as I educate my son with classical music (his late daddy was a professional pianist and composer). He also loves to build with LEGOs and Duplos and to create elaborate race tracks for his battery-powered cars.

As nice as it is to play indoors with playdough, clay, marble runs, etc., he cannot stay cooped up for long. He gets cabin fever. I am a little hyperactive myself. The best thing for us is to get out of our four walls, breathe fresh air, run around on a green meadow, and play in the park. We are lucky to have great parks in our neighborhood. One has awesome climbing animals to explore with children, as well as a training parcours (developed for seniors, but enjoyed by the kids of the area) with lots of exercisers like a huge outdoor gym. We spent many summer afternoons there with grandma.  

One of the highlights for my son is the animal park, where he gets to pet and feed alpacas, deer, goats, sheep, and watch otters, porcupines, seagulls, owls, and plenty of other animals. There are vending machines for pelleted animal food, because the visitors are not allowed to bring their own food. My son has lots of fun letting the goats and sheep eat the pellets of his hand. There are educational boards everywhere that talk about the animals, what they eat, how they live, what sounds they make, and other curiosities. When it gets too much for my son, he enjoys the big playground with the tire swings and the climbing tower.  

We also have a zoo close by, where Leander got to admire pelicans, deer pigs, elephants, a brown bear, macaws, penguins, seals, etc. At home, we read up on those animals and answer his questions. We also watch them on YouTube, so he can learn more about them.

Bilingual Education

My son was born in Clarksville, TN. We moved to Germany in 2020 due to the pandemic, to be close to my relatives. If you are a mixed family like ours, use this wonderful opportunity to raise your child bilingually. It will be beneficial to him/her in school and later in the job market. My son speaks German and English, and for an almost four-year-old, he has a great vocabulary and sentence structure. I spoke German to him from the beginning, and his nanny and the directresses and kids in kindergarten spoke English, of course.

Additionally, we read a lot of books together. Reading to your child is so important! Every evening, he goes to bed with one German and one English book. His favorite books at the moment are those that deal with hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanoes, or the solar system, and he also likes The Pout-Pout Fish series, Der Grüffelo (The Gruffalo), Wo die wilden Kerle wohnen (Where the Wild Things Are), Der Tag, an dem Louis gefressen wurde (The Day Louis Got Eaten), and Peter und der Wolf (Peter and the Wolf). Grandma speaks only German. We Skyped with her almost daily, so he got used to talking to her in German even before he met her in person. He grows up with songs and games in both languages. If you feel inclined to learn German from a toddler, check Leander out saying, “Stoffel stolpert über einen Stein.” That’s a tongue twister. Good luck!!!

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