Kitchen Skills with a Food-Allergic Child: Tips From a Montessori Mama

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“Help me to do it myself.”

Guiding the child toward independence is the cornerstone of the Montessori philosophy. And as a Montessori teacher and mother, introducing my child to practical life skills is so important. I want to give Oliver opportunities each day to contribute to our family’s home-life in a meaningful way.

At age 3 (soon-to-be 4), he can help take out recycling, fold washcloths, and even dust-mop the floor. He puts his dishes away and sweeps his crumbs off the floor after his meals.

But what about all those kitchen skills that children need to learn? And what about those special childhood memories—baking cookies for Santa, making breakfast for Dad on Father’s day, making homemade ice cream on a hot summer’s day?

To be honest, I avoided this area of practical life for a long time. Not just because of the obvious dangers—the sharp objects, the hot oven, the boiling pot of water—but because Oliver has severe food allergies to dairy, egg, peanuts, and shellfish. Accidentally giving my child a food with traces of egg or peanut in it could cause anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction.

Food allergies were actually a primary factor in our decision to homeschool this year. Oliver started oral immunotherapy (OIT) about a month ago. It will likely be a long process, and it’s a huge undertaking for our family. It’s a lot to unpack, so I’ll save that post for another day.

When we discovered Oliver’s food allergies, it meant a lifestyle change for our family. Dairy, egg, and peanuts have been staples in my daily diet since my childhood. Fast forward to today, and I haven’t bought a jar of peanut butter or a crate of eggs in over 3 years. Though we are not vegan (or even vegetarian), we eat lots of vegan foods just because we know they are safe. We rarely eat out at restaurants. We take our own treats to birthday parties. And we carry Epi-Pens, antihistamines, hydrocortisone cream, and an inhaler everywhere we go. Whether it’s to a museum, on a hike, or to the beach—these things are always with me. People may wonder why I still wear a backpack on the reg now that I’m in my 30’s. Well, now you know!

Emergency Cackpack

It often seems easiest just to avoid the kitchen all together. Less experimenting with new recipes means less stress and anxiety, right? I’ve seen so many adorable photos on social media of capable little ones scrambling eggs alongside their watchful parents—it’s is the stuff of this mama’s nightmares! Just the thought of doing that with my child gives me the heebie-jeebies.

But dealing with food allergies doesn’t just affect parents and caregivers; it also has a profound impact on the child.

My 3-year-old knows that some foods that most people love to eat are just not safe for him. He’s memorized his list of allergens. Before we have a playdate with other children, I remind him that if someone offers him food, he should always ask me first.

This summer after a day at the beach with friends, my little guy couldn’t wait to tell me what happened: “Those girls wanted to give me some chips, but I told them that my mommy doesn’t know if it’s safe.”

His face was beaming with pride, and of course I was proud of him, too! Our conversations had been successful! But oh, how those words made my heart sink all at the same time.

Oliver also knows to tell me right away if his throat hurts or feels funny, if he is having trouble breathing, or if his body feels itchy. This is a conversation we have daily, especially now that we’ve started OIT.

Food allergies are a huge burden for any child to bear.

And now that we’re homeschooling, I know that Oliver and I need to get into the kitchen more often, and we need to start learning together.

Imagine how empowering it can be for a child with food allergies to learn not only how to make safe and healthy food choices independently, but also how to prepare delicious, allergy-friendly treats and meals to share with others!

I, for sure, want that for Oliver, so we’re diving in head first! And If you are a parent or primary caregiver of a child with food allergies, I want to encourage you to shake the fear, too!

Food-allergic children can and should learn the practical life skills that happen in the kitchen. They should have the opportunity to try new foods, experiment with different ingredients, and enjoy the food that sustains their bodies!

Here are a few tips to help get you going:



Start simple.

Work up to cooking and baking. There’s no need to jump right into experimenting with new recipes.

Oliver has spent the past year doing a lot of peeling and slicing fruits and vegetables. And that’s okay! For me, it felt safe and easy. For Oliver, it’s a fun and delicious activity. And, of course, it’s helped with the development of his fine motor movements, dexterity, and hand-eye coordination.

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Choose the fresh, whole foods that you know are safe for your child. Better yet, take your little one to the farmer’s market or grocery and let her pick them out herself! Buy a crinkle cutter or a set of nylon knives and a small cutting board.

banana slicing

Or spice it up by trying out other fun kitchen tools such as the strawberry slicer, the avocado slicer, or the banana slicer! Seriously, there is a slicer for everything. And don’t forget the trusty citrus juicer! Everyone loves a good old glass of lemonade!

Also, kid’s LOVE to make tea! This is an easy thing they can make for themselves or for friends and family who drop by for a visit.

peeling cucumbers


ALWAYS read labels!

Okay. I know this seems obvious to parents of food-allergic kids, but it’s always worth mentioning. Parents aren’t the only ones who might enjoy spending quality time baking sweet treats with the little ones. In fact, you may be the grandparent, teacher, or daytime caregiver of a child with food allergies reading this right now. If so, good for you for educating yourself for the safety of the children!

I cannot stress the importance of thoroughly reading labels. Vigilance is a necessity.

I once picked up a jar of almond butter to make Oliver an AB&J sandwich since he can’t have peanut butter. Thankfully, I read the label because it was a brand I had never used. While peanuts were NOT listed as an ingredient in this almond butter, the label read “may contain peanuts.” This was written UNDER the list of ingredients! Something like this could easily be overlooked. So get into the habit now.

Let your child see you reading the label, show her the labels and read them aloud. This is how she will learn to do this herself in the future.

Post a list of allergens AND emergency information in the kitchen!

Again, this one is not so much for the parents as for visiting friends, family, babysitters, etc.

I taped ours on the fridge. It’s super visible, but I point it out to anybody who may be taking care of Oliver.

Food Allergy Emergency Information


If there are foods your child should not consume in the kitchen, make sure he knows which ones are not safe.

While we’ve eliminated eggs, peanuts, and shellfish from our home completely, dairy has been the hardest to let go of. We’ve tried the milk alternatives. Oliver loves Ripple plant-based milk, and I’m so thankful to have found this nutritious alternative for him.

But for myself, nothing compares to cow’s milk. So, my husband and I just haven’t made the switch. Thankfully, Oliver’s never had an anaphylactic reaction from milk. But every reaction is different, and we can never be sure that it won’t happen.

So, Oliver knows which milk is for him and which is cow’s milk that he should not touch. The containers look very different, so I’m not afraid that he will accidentally mix them up.

And on the rare occasions we’ve had a babysitter, I’ve been known to take the red tape and mark the cow’s milk “NOT FOR OLIVER!”


Break out of the box and explore new ingredients and recipes!

It’s so easy to fall into the rut of preparing a handful of food options that we know are safe, but there are SO many baking ingredient alternatives and allergy-friendly recipes available.

Check out one of my new favorite resources, Smile Café, for allergy friendly eats for kids. All the recipes they post are completely free of the top 6 food allergens.

And just to get you inspired, here is my recipe for a delicious autumn treat that your kiddo will be excited to bake and to eat!

Vegan Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins.

Allergy-friendly pumpkin muffins
Vegan Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins
vegan pumpkin muffins

Warning: They are filled with all the pumpkin-spice goodness of the season, and you’re going to want to eat the entire batch fresh out of the oven!

Vegan Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins

1 3/4 cup of Birch Benders Pancake & Waffle Mix: Classic Recipe (Contains wheat, so these muffins are NOT gluten-free)

2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon of ground ginger

3/4 cup of granulated sugar

1/2 cup of brown sugar

1 can of pumpkin puree

1/2 cup of vegetable oil

1/4 cup of milk alternative (We use Ripple, a plant-based milk, but check labels to see what’s safe for your situation)

2/3 cup of chocolate chips (We love the Enjoy Life! brand. Really, I can’t say enough great things about it.)


Instructions

Mix the dry ingredients together. Mix the wet ingredients together (including the pumpkin puree). Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Add in the chocolate chips. Bake on 350°F for 25 to 30 minutes.

Let cool and enjoy!

Most Importantly, bring on the fun!

Do your best to give your food-allergic child positive experiences with food. Make your time together in the kitchen memorable and fun. Laugh, be silly, sing. Make a mess. Clean it up. Make up your own recipes. Try new flavors. Enjoy your foods together! Have a candlelit dinner or a tea party. Share your baked goodies with a neighbor. Enjoy the aromas and flavors of the season, and go make those special childhood memories! Build your little one’s confidence and independence all at the same time.

Happy fall, y’all!



















A New Chapter: Montessori Homeschooling

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Montessori homeschooling.

After 5 years in the classroom—doing what I love and loving what I do—we are taking a giant leap of faith and making a huge change for our family. It’s not a change that I saw coming, at least not yet...

Oliver has been in school or daycare consistently since he was 2.5 months old. We were so fortunate that the Montessori school I worked at when he was born had an infant program—“ il nido” meaning “the nest.” He was the smallest baby in the class when he joined, and I remember all to well the emotional struggle that I felt as I dropped him off in the mornings, only to walk just across the hallway to teach in the elementary classroom. Those postpartum days are no joke!

Oliver under the munari mobile. This is one of the earliest photos I have of Oliver in the Montessori nido. He was almost 3.5 months old in this photo.

Oliver under the munari mobile. This is one of the earliest photos I have of Oliver in the Montessori nido. He was almost 3.5 months old in this photo.

And here is Oliver in the nido about 8 months later. He was walking and climbing all over the place by this point!

And here is Oliver in the nido about 8 months later. He was walking and climbing all over the place by this point!

Fast-forward to today, Oliver is 3.5 years old, and he just finished his first year in a Montessori children’s house. It was an amazing experience for him, and—for me—it was an absolute DREAM to be able to watch him in action every single day as he made friends, played outside, and worked with joy in his classroom. I will forever cherish his time in the children’s house. I have abundant gratitude for the patient and thoughtful teachers and guides who cared for him each day.

Oliver’s face when I picked him up from his first half-day in the Montessori children’s house.

Oliver’s face when I picked him up from his first half-day in the Montessori children’s house.

Oliver’s very first visit in the Montessori Children’s house. He looked at and touched everything in the classroom, but was most interested in Lily the Gecko.

Oliver’s very first visit in the Montessori Children’s house. He looked at and touched everything in the classroom, but was most interested in Lily the Gecko.

And still, I’ve been aching to spend more quality time with Oliver. While we revel in our weekend family adventures and I try my best to give Oliver my full attention from the time we get home from school in the evenings to the time he goes to bed 3 hours later, it just doesn’t feel like enough.

When my husband and I talk about the dreams and vision we have for our family, the main themes always seem to be flexibility and time. So when we were faced with making a choice about our next steps in life, we found ourselves considering homeschooling Oliver.

This was a huge decision and one that I wrestled with for most of this past year. Being a Montessori teacher is such fulfilling work. Each day I have the great privilege of guiding these amazing children along the path to becoming lifelong learners. I get to help them find the JOY in learning! When I see that they have an interest, I do my best to keep them curious and engaged. I get to help them bring to life the ideas that have formed in their minds! Montessori education is truly meaningful work. It is my great passion in life…

This crew loved learning about Shakespeare! Not only did they make timelines of his life, but they also performed a short version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

This crew loved learning about Shakespeare! Not only did they make timelines of his life, but they also performed a short version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

The entire class worked together to create this huge diorama showing the layers of the rainforest—complete with a living canopy and a translucent river flowing through the forest floor.

The entire class worked together to create this huge diorama showing the layers of the rainforest—complete with a living canopy and a translucent river flowing through the forest floor.

A book club formed to read Little House in the Big Woods. They made apple pomanders, baked pioneer bread, and even cooked their own beef stew!

A book club formed to read Little House in the Big Woods. They made apple pomanders, baked pioneer bread, and even cooked their own beef stew!

These friends got to spend an afternoon painting outside while experimenting with shadow art and the geometric solids.

These friends got to spend an afternoon painting outside while experimenting with shadow art and the geometric solids.

For follow-up to a circle lesson about measuring the radius and the diameter, this group made a pretty fantastic mobile by creating circles of different sizes.

For follow-up to a circle lesson about measuring the radius and the diameter, this group made a pretty fantastic mobile by creating circles of different sizes.

And these guys baked apple pies on Pi Day after learning how to calculate the circumference of a circle!

And these guys baked apple pies on Pi Day after learning how to calculate the circumference of a circle!

Another book club formed to read The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which was a hit. When they finished reading the book, the group celebrated by making a classic French dessert: crème brûlée!

Another book club formed to read The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which was a hit. When they finished reading the book, the group celebrated by making a classic French dessert: crème brûlée!

I’m absolutely going to miss my time with these incredible humans, and I’m going to miss the big work that happens in the elementary classroom. At least, for now.

Taking the trail less traveled is scary and exciting all at the same time. On one hand, I’m eager to prepare our “classroom” environment (i.e. our living room), and I’m already knee-deep in planning the shelf-works and activities that I think will benefit Oliver most. He will have the space and time that he needs for self-construction—the time to create, to explore, and to experiment. We’ll also have the opportunity to spend a huge portion of our days exploring the great outdoors. Childhood really just doesn’t get any better than that!

big climbing tree
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I’m also ready to embark on a slower lifestyle. I’m tired of rushing. Part of parenting the Montessori way means giving your little one time to do things independently. It’s hard to provide that for my own child when we are rushing out the door every morning so that I can be in the classroom by 7:30 am.  

Homeschooling will free us from life’s hustle and bustle. It will offer a more flexible schedule so that we can sleep when we need to, take time to recover when we are sick, and have the ability to travel more often.

And to guide Oliver along that path of finding joy in his learning—that’s really my “why.” That’s what it’s all about.

watercolor painting with primary colors
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Montessori sensorial

On the other hand, there are also real moments of self-doubt and uncertainty—doubt in my ability to guide Oliver toward concentration and focus; concern that he just isn’t going to get enough opportunities to socialize with other children his age; the list goes on.

As I write this, we’re a week into our homeschooling adventure. And I’ll be honest—so far, it hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. In fact, much of it has been sheer frustration—activities that were met with no interest, nap time refusals, and have I mentioned that Oliver has a seemingly unlimited supply of energy?!

dragon boy

And just when the frustrations, the self-doubt, and the uncertainty were looming heavy over my head, this happened:

We were nearing the end of our morning work time. Oliver was hungry for a snack, so I immediately got out a bowl full of fresh strawberries, a small cutting board, and a crinkle cutter. I showed him how to chop the leafy tops off of the strawberries. After I saw that he could do this successfully on his own, I walked away to let him concentrate on his new work.

Practical life - cutting strawberries

I lit my new eucalyptus & mint candle (thanks, Aarti!) and turned on the new album by Rising Appalachia. Oliver’s hands were busy; his hunger was satisfied; and he was absolutely mesmerized by this music–the harmonies, the rhythms. He loved it as much as I did.

strawberries in the morning

I plopped down onto the sofa, breathed out an exhausted sigh of relief, and basked in this moment—knowing that we are going to be just fine…

Follow along as I document our Montessori homeschooling adventures! Sign up for my newsletter below, and follow me on Instagram @a_montessori_story.

A Hope and a Promise.

Original photo credit to Celeste Noche.

Original photo credit to Celeste Noche.

And this is why I am a Montessori teacher.

Toddler Explorations: Garden Date with Mommy

Today is one of those days where I just feel so fortunate. We live in a special part of the city that has a small community feel to it. This afternoon, Oliver and I strolled around our neighborhood just to get some much needed fresh air. 

The day was overcast and cool. There was a nice breeze in the air, and it was notably quiet outside. We strolled toward the nearby park. There were a few kids swinging, but the playground was otherwise vacant and still. I considered letting Oliver play at the park, but thought better of it. He missed his morning nap, so I knew he was tired. And to be honest–we had a bit of a traumatic experience last time we played at the park. Here's the story: I let Oliver climb his way up the small set of stairs leading to the toddler slide. His hand missed a stair as he crawled up, resulting in a bloody mouth and a chipped tooth!

Needless to say, I'm not quite ready just yet for another park adventure. Oliver is so capable and smart, that I sometimes forget that, at 16 months old, he's just barely a toddler. So today, on this calm and idyllic afternoon, I wanted us to take things slow. We passed by the park and strolled on over to the community garden. 

I've taken Oliver to the visit the garden a few times before, but he's typically been carried around or pushed along in his stroller. This time, I let Oliver lead the way. 

For such a little guy, the garden was like a maze. I let him roam and explore. He touched flowers and plants, stuck his hand in fresh soil, picked up rocks, and even watched the garden chickens peck at the ground. We practiced saying words like plant, flower, dirt, and fence. We practiced our colors: blue, yellow, green, and brown. Oliver wandered around the garden for a good half-an-hour.

And then we strolled back home. Oliver fell asleep, as I knew he would. Our simple playdate at the garden made me appreciate the flow and the slowness of the time we get to spend together, just us. It doesn't happen often enough. 

Today, I'm soaking in the goodness. 

A Review of Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education

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For the month of January, I read Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That's Transforming Education by Sir Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica.

If you don't already know who Sir Ken Robinson is, I highly recommend checking out his TED Talk, Do Schools Kills Creativity? (I'm pretty sure it's the most popular TED talk of all time.) AND the short video, Changing Education Paradigms. Both are a great introduction to his general outlook on education.

For a more in depth look, read this book.

What's the book about?

The basic premise of Creative Schools is about transforming the current education system. Robinson makes it clear that education reform is not enough. We don’t need to reform a system that was not created for the world that we now live in. We need to transform the system. We need a revolution. And all revolutions start from the ground up.

He notes that the current education system was created on the principal of mass production–to meet the labor needs of the Industrial Revolution. But today we have technologies that can aid our students in their learning in innovative ways; we also have an economic need for creative thinkers, whereas information regurgitation is no longer relevant (in the age of Google).

…digital technologies are transforming how we all work, play, think, feel, and relate to each other. That revolution has barely begun. The old systems of education were not designed with this world in mind. Improving them by raising conventional standards will not meet the challenges we now face.
— Sir Ken Robinson, Creative Schools

This book takes a look at the standards movement and its effect in the classroom (on teacher performance and student anxiety levels, for example). It also looks at the implications of the standards movement on a large scale, noting its effect on economic issues such as unemployment, underemployment, and student debt.

Robinson argues that change will not come about from government legislation, but that it must come from within the education system itself. He says that if you are involved in the education of young people in any form or fashion, then YOU are the system and YOU have the ability to be the change that we so desperately need.

Is it worth reading?

Absolutely.

Sir Ken Robinson advocates for personalized, holistic, and creative approaches to learning. As a Montessori educator, this is the kind of education that I am passionate about. Let’s be honest: I kind of knew that I was going to love this book before I read it.

That being said, this book is filled with interesting and inspiring anecdotes describing educators from all over the world who have stepped outside of the box that is defined by the standards movement in order to educate students using more creative methods that have a lasting impact.

Furthermore, it offers practical advice on what changes need to be made and how to make them. He gives insight into what he believes makes a teacher exceptional, what an optimal curriculum looks like, and he even offers examples of alternative forms of assessment.

Did it challenge my views?

Robinson offered me a new perspective in regards to my methods of teaching in the classroom. He suggests that a balance of traditional and progressive approaches to education is essential in all subject areas in order to provide a dynamic education.

He points out that teachers should have a wide repertoire of approaches to education. Direct instruction is sometimes necessary, while at other times, facilitating group projects and exploratory activities are important.

As a Montessori educator, I lean toward progressive education. I see so much benefit from group work and collaboration, from giving students time and space to figure things out on their own, and from projects that engage students’ curiosity.

However, at times direct instruction and memorization are also necessary. It’s my job to know the appropriate times to use the appropriate techniques.

Effective teaching is a constant process of adjustment, judgment, and responding to the energy and engagement of the students.
— Sir Ken Robinson, Creative Schools

How did it inspire my work as an educator?

In Creative Schools, Robinson describes what he believes to be a well-balanced curriculum that would meet the educational needs of students in the 21st century. He says that a good curriculum should be interdisciplinary. It should include a balanced study of the arts, humanities, language arts, mathematics, physical education, and science.

He also expounds the importance of teaching our young people critical thinking skills:

Critical thinking always was important to human flourishing; it is becoming even more so. We are bombarded from every direction with information, opinions, ideas, and pitches for our attention. The Internet alone is the most ubiquitous source of information that humanity has devised, and it is growing exponentially. So too are the risks of confusion and obfuscation…the need has never been greater for [our young people] to separate fact from opinion, sense from nonsense, and honesty from deception.
— Sir Ken Robinson, Creative Schools

If that doesn’t ring true, I don’t know what does.

All of this got me thinking about what I believe to be the most essential and valuable disciplines that should make up a curriculum for 21st century elementary students. It’s a work in progress, but here’s what I’m leaning to at the moment:

Peace Education

I use this term as an umbrella for conflict resolution, social-emotional learning (SEL), and mindfulness. Peace education will ensure the wellbeing of our children now and of humankind in the future.

Geography & Humanities

Humanities education broadens and deepens students’ understanding of the world around us—its diversity, complexity, and traditions.
— Sir Ken Robinson, Creative Schools

As our world becomes evermore connected, this is critical.

Environmental Sciences

If we want our children to grow into adults who take care of our planet–our home– then we must teach them about it first. In addition to biology, botany, biomes, and physical geography studies, I believe this should include practical experience outside in the natural environment (gardening, scouting, bird watching, etc.)

Language

Students need to be well versed in all aspects of literacy. They need to know how to properly, intelligently, and thoroughly communicate their thoughts and ideas to others. They should be fluent readers who are able to learn from others and be inspired just by picking up a good book.

Mathematics

Mathematics is a language that is common to all of humankind.

Computer Science

Computer programming, or “coding” is the language of our future. Our students must learn to be creators of digital technology, not just passive consumers.

The Arts

Learning in and about the arts is essential to intellectual development. The arts illustrate the diversity of intelligence and provide practical ways of promoting it. The arts are among the most vivid expressions of human culture. To understand the experience of other cultures, we need to engage with their music, visual art, dance, and verbal and performing arts…Engaging with the arts of others is the most vibrant way of seeing and feeling the world as they do.
— Sir Ken Robinson, Creative Schools

Final thoughts?

I would definitely recommend Creative Schools: A Grassroots Revolution to Transforming Education to any educator who is interested in doing their part to change the education system and to move away from the standards movement.

Buy it. Read it. Absolutely.

I look forward to reading your thoughts about the book in the comments!