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November 09, 2021

RIE Stool - Ditching Chairs for Babies and Toddlers

For the past nine (almost 10 years) Montessori really has had my heart. But around the time Nora was born, seven-years-ago, I started also diving into the work of Magda Gerber. Magda is the founder of Resources for Infant Educarers, or RIE. Last spring I finally dove more seriously into the world of RIE and took the RIE foundations training course. In so many ways RIE and Montessori are really complementary. In some ways, they are even very similar. And, in others still, they are very different. 

One way that the RIE and Montessori approaches are different is with their choice of young children's seating. In a Montessori environment, babies and toddlers use small chairs for meals and play. For eating these chairs are called "weaning chairs" and are used at a small table from the time a baby can sit supported. In RIE small flat stool. Children use these stools on their own timetable when they are able to climb and sit completely independently. 

I definitely see advantages and disadvantages to both options, and I think either is better than a chair that your child cannot use independently. So I thought I would break it down a little bit and explain why you might want to ditch the little chairs for babies and toddlers and stick to a stool. 

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Weaning Chair

The weaning chair has some advantages to consider:
  • Weaning chairs are easier to source. There are many options, like this one or this great adjustable one
  • Provide support for younger babies that may need it, and for children that have gross motor challenges. Gus is a great example here, his low tone meant that he sat independently far later than most babies but still needed to eat solids. A weaning chair provided enough support for him. 
  • Harder to fall out of while still being easy to move around.  

The weaning chair also has some disadvantages: 
  • Children do not need to engage their whole bodies to sit in the chair. Their core is not as engaged and it could lead to slouching, or leaning as they sit. 
  • Most babies and toddlers learn to climb and sit forward before backwards, so they climb forward into the chair and need to learn how to turn around before they can sit. This can be much more frustrating and require adult intervention.
  • Since it's harder to fall out of, kids can get goofy in them, standing backwards, rocking, or wiggling which can bring challenges to meal times. 

RIE Stool

There are advantage of using a RIE Stool, including:
  • Babies and toddlers can approach from any direction and still be successful in sitting down in the stool. So these are very flexible. 
  • They are super easy to move around, they can be picked up or pushed even by babies and toddlers. 
  • They promote good posture and core strength from the beginning, requiring a child to engage more fully in the sitting process. 
  • You can be assured that your child is ready to sit and use the chair since this is completely left to them. Very independent process. 
  • Extremely stable, these will not flip or fall over, even when being climbed on or stacked. 

There are also some disadvantages to choosing a stool over a chair including: 
  • They don't provide any support for a child that may need it, thereby requiring lap feeding or a high chair for a longer period of time. A child who could be independent with a bit more support may be left without an option. 
  • Fewer options on the market to find them, but this is a great one
  • Allow for a lot of movement, which is great, but can also lead to falls. Natural consequences are an important part of learning (so some would say this is an advantage of the stool) but I do think it causes some more risk when adding food to the mix. 
Honestly, it's hard for me to say that I love one over the other. We have tended to stick with weaning chairs for eating and dressing in our home. For everything else, including older children, we have been moved to stools. I find them to be such a great way to really engage a child's whole body in the task, and so flexible for work and play. But, whatever you choose, RIE stool or Montessori weaning chair, you really can't go wrong. They both provide so many great opportunities for independence. 

Have you used a RIE stool or weaning chair? Which have you preferred?

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