13 June 2013

Taking a break

So, I've decided to put things on hold for a while. I will no longer be taking orders for Montessori Infant and Toddler materials.
You can find the occasional ready-to-ship materials at my Etsy shop.

You can also sign up for my Parenting Support Program at the shop. Please note though, that I only support a limited number of families at any one time. So if you don't see a Support Program for sale it means that I am currently full. You could always drop me a line via email and I will pop you onto my waiting list.

Currently, I am working on an exciting collaboration with Kylie from How We Montessori - details to follow...

18 March 2013

A comeback...and a giveaway

Wow, it has been AGES since I posted here...
Sorry to those of you who have been patiently waiting...crickets chirping in response...

I will be back in a few days with a great new post on how to create a Montessori playspace for babies, and a few days after that, one for toddlers. So stay tuned :)

But until then, lets see how many supporters we can get for the lovely Marie-Claire and her fantastically AWESOME kid-safe card sets.


Marie-Claire has kindly offered 4 lucky winners one set of cards each! You can enter by visiting her Kickstarter campaign page, backing her new project to create these AWESOME new decks, and then leaving a comment to say what you have pledged and which set of cards you would like to receive if you win, and then you can be in line to win a set of these beauties when they are released in August 2013. Winners will be contacted by email, so make sure that I can access your profile to get your email address, or include it in your comment.


16 August 2012

Making Music a part of your Montessori Home


1. The Mother Tongue Approach
I'll be the first to admit that I have a bias towards the Suzuki Method. My first child completed three years of Suzuki Early Childhood Education, did a year of Twinkling Stars (a bridging program for children who have graduated from the ECE class and are waiting to start instrumental instruction), and started learning Suzuki Guitar at age 4. He's almost 7 now and still going strong. My second child, 21 months is halfway through the same Early Childhood Education Class. Also, the Infant Toddler Community I run is a unique blend of the Montessori Approach and the Suzuki Method. Oh, I forgot to mention that I learned to play the violin (starting at age 3 in the Suzuki Method) and the piano (by traditional means, in middle childhood). Needless to say, I think this approach is unequalled in providing musical experiences for your child from birth. The Suzuki Method came about when Dr Shinichi Suzuki, a Japanese violinist, realised that the way in which children all over the world learn to speak their mother tongue was through exposure to spoken language. By listening alone, the child absorbs the most intricate nuances of the language of their native land. He developed the Method by applying the principles of listening and repetition to the learning of Music. Suzuki and Montessori are remarkably similar in their emphasis on the role of the environment and their recognition of the importance of the first years of life in developing later abilities. Even if you cannot attend a Suzuki ECE class with your child, you can still provide a musical environment from birth by listening to and singing a selection of music, songs and nursery rhymes every day. Your voice is immensely attractive to your baby, even if you think you can't sing!

2. Unborn Babies can Hear
The inner ear of the baby is completely developed by mid-pregnancy and the baby responds to a wide variety of sounds. Studies have shown that babies learn to recognise the sound of their mother's voice, music played every day during pregnancy and even develop preferences for the music they heard in utero versus music they hear after birth for the first time. Montessori mothers often use a hypnotherapy technique known as RAT (Respiratory Autogenic Training) during birth, and practice throughout their pregnancy to a single piece of classical music - something slow and beautiful like Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings is recommended. Also, watch this TED talk by Annie Murphy Paul on What We Learn Before We Are Born.

3. Musical Ability Develops Sequentially
Children move through a sequence of musical skills from birth. Hearing - Singing - Playing - Writing - Reading. By providing musical experiences in this sequence you are ensuring that learning takes place at a developmentally appropriate pace. Of course, every child is different, so never forget that observation is very important when deciding when to introduce a new skill. Also, some skill areas overlap so your child may start on a new skill before completely mastering the previous one. At every stage your child will also be creating music of their own - this usually starts with them singing the falling third (so - mi, or the notes you hear in Rain Rain Go Away), and progressing to rhythmical compositions on percussion instruments, followed by the ability to compose melodic phrases on tuned instruments.

4. Learning by Example
If you play a musical instrument yourself (or if you learned to do so in childhood and never followed through) haul that instrument out and start playing! As with learning to speak - your child will learn to play music by being immersed in it from day one! We have all our instruments out all the time - even with crawling babies and toddlers. It was scary to leave my precious first 16th size violin out, but seeing my children's interest grow and blossom has made the initial stress worth it. I just make sure I offer lots of guided play on the instruments whenever an interest is shown and then I find it doesn't become an issue  - it's no longer forbidden fruit. If you don't play an instrument, consider taking lessons or teaching yourself to play something...John Holt (famous educator and reform advocate) wrote a great book called Never Too Late about learning to play the cello as an adult. An amazing read!

5. Listening...
Choose some beautiful music and listen to it! Every day. Not in the background (although we do have background music when we are doing jobs like building with blocks or drawing), but actual purposeful listening. I have created a small box of individual cd's for our listening station. Each cd has only one piece of music on it, and has a distinctive cover so that even the littlest non-reader can choose what he wants to listen to. Both my children were able to indicate definite preferences for music at around 6 months of age by using this way of organising and presenting our music. This also means our master cd's don't get scratched. Our children have both been taught how to use a portable cd player as soon as they could walk - the period when motor development switches from gross to fine in focus and the hand becomes predominant in the child's work. The headphones are special volume limited ones, designed for children with a master switch to ensure that even if they get turned on to maximum volume by the child, it would still not be too loud for their sensitive ears.

6. Purchase Quality Musical Instruments
Don't be tempted to buy budget musical instruments...you get what you pay for. Not only do cheap instruments not last the distance - they don't sound beautiful. Your baby or toddler is blessed with acute hearing and sensitivity to sound, as well as an Unconscious Absorbent Mind. Everything that is in their environment becomes a part of who they are. Would you want to build yourself on cheap imitations, or the real deal? If money is a factor, buying one quality musical instrument is better than a houseful of cheap, second rate, pretend ones.
Three of our favourites include...

Remo Kids Floor Tom


Rohema Studio Shakers in Beech, Bubinga and Rosewood


and
Auris Pentatonic Glockenspiel






12 August 2012

New Kid on the Block

Marie-Claire Camp, former Montessori child and daughter of a Montessori teacher, has an innovative project running on Kick Starter. A set of alphabet cards for small children to work and play with. The cards are made of food-grade, non-toxic, BPA free plastic and printed with food grade inks in the USA. They offer 26 original illustrations by Australian artist Marc Martin. There are only 8 days left to pre-order your set of cards for $20, or a variety of other options including a poster of all 26 letters and artworks - and if this set goes ahead, Marie-Claire has other sets planned for future release.
Safe for babies, and useful through the toddler years and early childhood, they would be a great addition to any home environment and families keen to create a language area that calls to the child.

Take a look at the Kick Starter project here...and do leave a comment if you have ordered a set. As a happy bonus, anyone ordering a set will also get a free literacy based download from me!




Update: Marie-Claire's project has reached its funding total!!! Hooray!!! Can't wait to get my set of cards, and the poster I ordered! Can't wait!

08 July 2012

Things are a-changing round 'ere...

I have been wanting to change things around on the blog for quite a while but somehow have been thwarted at every chance to sit down at the computer for what seems like months and months!
Some of the changes include separating out the blog part of At Home with Montessori from the shop part of it.
Also really getting into my Parenting Support program now. For those of you that don't already know, in addition to At Home with Montessori material making, homeschooling my boys (aged almost 2 and almost 7), and holding mobile making workshops for mothers groups and prenatal classes, and writing a book about Montessori at Home with a very special friend of mine, I also run an Infant Toddler Community. You can check out more about that here...

In running this community, I spend a lot of time helping member families to create Montessori-inspired spaces in their homes, and offering individual advice to them with regards to applying the Montessori principles of living in their family environments. The Parenting Support program is now available to parents everywhere and not just those lucky enough to be in the Child'space Community! The program is still under development, and extra services will be added as it grows (like a forum for asking questions and meeting other like-minded parents, and a weekly Montessori Inspiration program which offers parents a focus topic and some useful information for implementing Montessori principles at home with a minimum of fuss, stress and money)

Gradually, as I get time, I will be moving all the items for sale over to my new shop blog, and I will be organising the information resources on this blog in a more manageable way. I hope you will bear with me during the process, and forgive any broken links and other odd things...

So...if you want to purchase any Montessori Materials from At Home with Montessori please do so here from now on! And check back at this original site too, for more family friendly information about using the Montessori Approach at home with your baby or toddler.


04 January 2012

5 Things...the tenth month


1. A favourite activity at this age seems to be standing. Granted some babies pull to standing sooner than the 9 month point, but by the same token, others only start much later than this. My own two children were at opposite ends of the spectrum when it came to this skill but for both, we provided a place for them to safely pull up to standing. A wooden rail mounted securely to the wall, with a mirror behind it so that they can see themselves performing all the actions necessary to get from sitting to standing. The bar is mounted 45cm off the ground for optimum reachability and should be narrow enough for your baby to grip the diameter of the rod all the way around.

2. Another favourite activity is stair climbing. Our house has two flights of stairs so we have lots of opportunity to learn this important skill - but if your home is all on one level, look for stairs wherever you go and give your baby time to climb up and down them as many times as your sanity can handle! Just "spot" them until they can do this safely without your immediate presence. In this video you can see Luke climbing the stairs independently after about 3 weeks of constant practice!

3. Ever had a whole box of tissues emptied by your baby? Well your 9 month old is sure to spring this one on you shortly! Whilst I allowed the very first box of tissues to be emptied when my kids first discovered the joys of pulling them out, I was careful to place boxes out of reach for a while after that - it's important to reintroduce the tissues at some point since we want our toddlers to learn how to wipe their noses eventually! But this mostly begins to happen at a later stage when they have a bit more self-awareness and a bit more self-control! Try offering a substitute experience by filling a nappy wipe container with colourful cloth squares. We have also covered a pringles tube with fabric and punched a small hole in the lid. We put a length of ribbon through the hole and sewed a bead onto each end of the ribbon to stop the ribbon from pulling through. You stuff the ribbon into the tin, put the lid on and then let your baby loose on it!

4. Your baby might start pointing at things. Things they want, things they see, things they want named. This is because they are right at that point in their language development where they have made the connection between sounds and meanings. Every time I point to this, she says that! A real aha moment! Help this stage of language learning by playing naming games. Familiarise yourself with the Three Period Lesson technique which is used in Montessori classrooms to introduce new vocabulary to children. This lesson is what you can  base your informal naming games on. Bear in mind though that at first you will only be completing the First Period. When you are both familiar with the game you can extend to include the Second Period, but we don't really ever use the Third Period (except in the case of an exceptionally verbally gifted child) with children under the age of three. So don't be tempted to coax your baby into saying words - that is a completely different brain process from acquiring the names of things - which is what your baby is really interested in at the moment. Receptive language is always more prominent than Expressive language in the Infant Toddler Period.

5. Object permanence is becoming an internalised concept now, with your baby understanding that things do exist even when they can't be seen. In this vein, hiding games are well-received by the 9 month old. Simple things like hiding a teddy under a cloth in plain view of your baby and then saying "where's the teddy?" will delight your baby. You can progress to hiding a single object inside a box with a lid. You can try a modified version of the old sleight of hand trick using a small ball and three upturned cups. Hide the ball in front your baby at first, then try moving the cups slowly after hiding the ball, even try hiding the ball out of view! Your baby's interest in this game stems from their developing sense of external order. In Chapter 3 of "The Secret of Childhood" in the section entitled "Orientation Through Order", Maria Montessori tells of playing Hide and Seek with a group of 2 year olds. The children each took turns to hide in exactly the same place and all screamed with delight when "finding" their playmates in the predicted spot!

25 August 2011

5 things...the ninth month


1. Your baby is now starting to understand how things fit together, and their level of spatial awareness is growing. Try offering a palmer grasp cylinder and demonstrate how the cylinder is taken out and put back it before offering your baby a turn. They may also like to try the egg and cup.

2. The sensitive period for language starts at birth, and is very active during your baby's entire first year. It's a good reminder to you when showing your baby a new activity, or trying to demonstrate a new skill, that they are very tuned in to your voice, and will be automatically drawn to watching your mouth move when you speak. Try to "show" things without speaking at first, allowing them to focus on your hands. Once they start to copy your movements, bring the language component in.

3. The pincer grasp is just beginning. Your baby will be very attracted to knobbed puzzles which will meet the need for 'fitting things together' and the pincer grasp practice. Try offering puzzles with only one shape to start with. A circle is the easiest shape to start with as there are no sides to fit into the frame, so your baby doesn't have to hold it the right way. You can also offer a single knobbed cylinder, which has a slightly smaller knob than the puzzle. And of course, lots of finger foods will also develop this skill.

4. Your baby is starting to understand the concept of object permanence. They are realising that an object still exists even if they can't see it. This period also heralds the beginning of their conscious short term memory and working memory development - both very necessary for independent work. You can offer an object permanence box to help them in internalising this understanding.

5. Your baby is very interested in tactile experiences - but they are not yet ready to feel things without seeing them (which requires the ability to visualise something abstractly - a skill that needs the foundation of object permanence and a more developed long term memory). They might enjoy using this very clever mystery box, which has a clear side which allows them to see what they are touching, and can later be turned over to hide the object from view. In the same vein, this see through music box offers an auditory experience with a visual link to what they are hearing.

See here for the first post in this series


19 August 2011

5 things...the eighth month



1.    If your baby is crawling, or trying to crawl, offer incentives for movement. The puzzle ball is great because it rolls only a short distance, which presents just the right level of challenge for a beginner

2.    A basket of balls will always be a big hit with a baby of this age. Choose balls for their colours, textures, shapes and other sensory features

3.    Collect some little glass jars and make some sound and colour jars for your baby to explore. If you use glass be sure to supervise while your baby plays with these. Don't be tempted to make this into a matching activity - this is really just an intro to sensory elements, and the use of clear jars for the 'sound cylinders' means your baby can see what is making the sound

4.    Your baby will love to play some simple musical instruments at this age. Try a floor drum with a soft mallet to start with. Remember that the infant absorbs everything in their environment and uses all that is absorbed to construct their framework of knowledge – for this reason it is really important to use the best quality musical instruments you can afford

Make a basket of different textured fabric squares for your baby to explore. Keep to one solid colour so that your baby can focus on the texture, rather than being distracted by patterns and different colours


first post in this series
next post in this series

18 August 2011

5 things...the seventh month


1.    Toys that offer the chance to put things in and out of containers will intrigue your baby. Even something simple like a small bucket and a ball will offer purposeful activity

2.    Treasure baskets are a lovely way to offer independent exploration of safe objects. Choose no more than 8 objects that are safe to mouth, and place them in a basket. Allow your baby to scoot over and pull the objects from the basket and explore the variety of textures

3.    Your baby will begin to enjoy games with you – offer them the chance to knock down a tower of soft blocks that you build up for them, and watch their anticipation grow as you build the tower, and the satisfaction as they knock it down

4.    Now is the time to begin the introduction to solid food. Your baby might have a tooth or two and is showing signs of interest in your food and drink. Find a small weaning table and chair, and offer food and drink in real bowls and cups. More information on the Montessori approach to weaning here

Your baby might be starting to crawl, or getting themselves up on hands and knees in preparation for crawling. Choosing appropriate clothing is especially important at this stage to make this important work easier to master. Little dresses and cute jeans may look great but can make the work of learning to crawl and move about very frustrating




first post in this series 
next post in this series

16 August 2011

5 things...the sixth month



1.    Your baby will enjoy nursery rhymes, finger plays and other shared games. If you can find a Suzuki ECE class nearby, try it out. The Suzuki and Montessori Philosophies are very compatible

2.    Anticipation and surprise are something new for your baby. Peek-a-Boo games, and toys that offer surprises will begin to provide amusement for your baby and some shared laughter

3.    Your baby’s interest in books is growing and they will want to start turning the pages and holding on to the book themselves. Make a homemade book with several blank pages, and then including one surprise page with a pattern on it, somewhere in the book.

4.    Family and friends you see regularly will soon become favourite people as your baby’s social awareness develops. Make a book of favourite people using a soft photo album, or a custom board book

Your baby might begin teething at this age – offering toys that they can chew and bite will help ease uncomfortable sensations. The wooden ring from the Ring on a Ribbon set makes a great teether when removed from its hanging ribbon





first post in this series
next post in this series

14 August 2011

5 things...the fifth month



1.    
Your baby is developing their hand skills from simple grasping to manipulating the objects that they hold. You can offer the Interlocking Discs to provide an opportunity to use two hands together – a new skill which needs practice

2.    Your baby has a natural attraction to faces and will love a simple doll figure at this age. Waldorf dolls make a lovely addition to your baby’s toys at this age, with their simple facial features and use of natural fibres in construction

3.    Sewing some interesting objects onto the toes of socks and popping them on your baby’s feet will provide an incentive to explore their feet, which they may have just begun to notice 

4. Your baby is starting to develop the ability to choose. Offering a low shelf with three toys to choose from will help them to practice this skill. When rotating toys out, only change one of the toys at any time. Your baby has a strong sense of order and a need for sameness - change needs to happen slowly 


5. Try offering three books at a time for your baby to choose from. Little choices translate into big leaps forward in independence, and feelings of self-confidence. Try for one favourite, one already read, and one new, to provide a good mix of familiar and novelty.



first post in this series

next post in this series

12 August 2011

5 things...the fourth month





1.    By now you may have noticed your baby reaching out towards their mobiles and waving their arms about trying to bat at things. Offer your baby the Bell on a Ribbon for practising their batting skills

2.    Your baby’s sense of hearing is almost as acute as that of an adult. They will be highly motivated by sound and the opportunity to control the making of sounds. Offer your baby a variety of rattles and noise making toys to practice batting with. You might like to make a toy hanger to hang the batting toys from.

3.    Your baby’s reflexive grasping is being replaced by conscious control of their hand, even though their attempts at grasping are still crude. Provide lots of chances to grasp objects by choosing a selection of grasping toys that are light, small, interesting to look at and made of natural materials. Rotate the toys as your baby loses interest, keeping no more than 3 out at a time

4.    Up till now, your baby’s main form of communication has been through crying. They are more regularly starting to make cooing noises when happy, relaxed and engaged. Try imitating your baby’s noises in conversation style – taking turns and waiting for your baby to respond

Your baby might be starting to roll and become more mobile. Resist the temptation to 'help' them along. Physical development is something that the child can conquer all on their own - and they need the chance to do it for themselves! Movement is a sensitive period in infancy, that is incredibly powerful. Help your baby by acknowledging their beginning attempts at mobility as being real work





first post in this series
next post in this series


11 August 2011

5 things...the third month





1.    Your baby is developing their sense of vision and visual tracking abilities during this time. The Octahedron Mobile will provide something to focus on with its reflective, metallic finish and primary colours

2.    The Gobbi Mobile offers further visual information with its subtle gradations of colour, corresponding to your baby’s newly developed ability to see shades of colours

3.    Your baby has almost fully developed colour vision, but is now working on depth perception and dynamic visual focusing skills (focusing on moving objects). Offering a mobile that moves freely and gracefully (like the Dancers Mobile, or the alternative Harmony Wings Mobile) will meet this need

4.    Your baby might be interested in holding something. While their grasp is still reflexive (not consciously controlled), offering sensory stimulating in the form of the grasping beads will help this reflex to develop into a controlled movement

Your baby’s pineal gland has started to produce higher levels of melatonin, which regulates sleep/wake cycles. This highlights the place of routine and rhythm in the structure of your child’s day – and helps them to synchronise what is happening on the inside, with what’s happening in their environment. If you want to assist them in developing a good sleep/wake rhythm, try keeping daytime naps in a light environment, and night time sleep in a darkened room 


first post in this series
next post in this series

09 August 2011

5 things...the second month

  1. Learn the art of infant massage – this will help you to calm an unsettled baby, and will provide valuable opportunities to connect on a physical level. It also answers your baby’s need for face to face time, which is essential for their beginning language development
  2. Your baby will be ready to transition into their floor bed sometime in these four weeks. A floor bed will allow your baby to see and move freely – both important conditions needed in the sensitive period for the development of internal order
  3. A mirror at floor level will give your little one a view of themselves and will help them to become more aware of themselves, and their body movements
  4. Place art work at eye level for your baby, and rather than having many pieces, avoid visual clutter by choosing and placing one piece and changing it out when your baby loses interest
  5. The Visual Mobile Series can be started during this month. Begin with the Munari Mobile which is designed to capture your child’s limited visual capabilities and stimulate their inherently mathematical mind
first post in this series
next post in this series

08 August 2011

5 things...



Inspired by Kylie's 5 things series and a question from Sara in her online community forum, I am about to start a series of posts about 5 things you can create, do or provide for your baby in each month of their first year of life.

To kick things off, here are 5 things your newborn may need...

  1. Your newborn’s consciousness revolves around their immediate physical experiences. Prepare a womb-like sleeping environment by making a Cestina (a traditional Montessori sleeping basket used during the symbiotic period)
  2. Your baby needs to get used to being carried and held. Help them to feel secure by making a Topponcino (a small, soft, flexible mattress useful for carrying baby, holding baby and transferring a sleeping baby from place to place). You can buy a Topponcino from Maria, in Greece.
  3. Your greatest opportunity to connect with your new baby is through your caregiving routines. Prepare the area for physical care (nappy changes, dressing) so that you can offer unhurried quality connection time
  4. The transition from the womb to the outside world is dramatic. Ensure that your baby has continued access to the points of reference they established in utero, to help ease into their new environment (Maternal points of reference include the mother’s heartbeat and voice, Infant points of reference are the ability to move, the ability to touch the face and mouth, the ability to move the hands)
  5. Your baby began preparing for a new rhythm of living in the final weeks of pregnancy. These biological rhythms need to be respected so that the newborn can complete their adaptation to the outside world. Babies naturally sleep when they are tired, and eat when they are hungry. Be a sensitive observer of their signals to facilitate this natural development



this the first post in a series of twelve
next post in this series

10 June 2011

Free Download

Spreading some love...

Here is a free download to make a set of Inside Outside Fruit Cards.




Simply print, laminate, cut and round the corners for a fun toddler activity.

Toddlers do not learn from looking at pictures! They learn about their world by experiencing it through taste, touch, sight, hearing and smell. Please, please, please use these cards in the way they were designed to be presented...

Choose one card, and then go out and buy that fruit from your grocer...
Spend some time with your toddler looking at the fruit, touching it, smelling it...cut it open and taste it, tell her what it is called...
When she has had enough, bring out the pictures and say "outside" and "inside".

When you have presented more than one fruit in this way...you can play the card game...

Try simple matching at first - print out two sets
Then try matching the inside pictures to the outside pictures
Then try playing a simple memory game with only two or three pairs...

If you have enjoyed using this little gift from me, please send me a photo of your baby enjoying this learning experience. Everyone who sends in a pic - gets another free download!

09 June 2011

Montessori and Attachment Parenting

As a mother to two boys, and a Montessori educator, I am often asked by parents whether the Montessori approach is compatible with other child rearing philosophies. The most common query is about Attachment Parenting. I must admit that when I was first asked this question almost 10 years ago, I didn’t really know what Attachment Parenting was! After a bit of research, it became clear to me that Attachment Parenting was very compatible with my idea of parenting (my children had not yet been born, but my own parents parented me in this way with great results!). However as I progressed further into my training as a Montessori teacher at the infant toddler level, I realised that not every Montessori theorist would promote the principles of Attachment Parenting for use in the Montessori Home. However, the foundations of Attachment Parenting seemed, to me, to be very much in line with Dr Montessori’s vision for a peaceful childhood.

·         The first principle: Preparation for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting
Become emotionally and physically prepared for pregnancy and birth. Research available options for healthcare providers and birthing environments, and become informed about routine newborn care. Continuously educate yourself about developmental stages of childhood, setting realistic expectations and remaining flexible. 

The Montessori approach to parenting is also focused on preparing for the arrival of a new child in a thoughtful and careful manner. Assistants to Infancy work with families to prepare a welcoming home environment for their newborn; they help mother to prepare for a childbirth that is as close to the ideal as possible (a natural, drug-free, non-intrusive and peaceful labour and birth); they offer support during the symbiotic period (the first six weeks after birth) to help establish rhythms and routines for living; they work to protect the important emotional bonding that takes place between parents and infant in the hours, days and weeks after birth.

·         The second principle: Feeding with Love and Respect
Breastfeeding is the optimal way to satisfy an infant's nutritional and emotional needs. "Bottle Nursing" adapts breastfeeding behaviours to bottle-feeding to help initiate a secure attachment. Follow the feeding cues for both infants and children, encouraging them to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. Offer healthy food choices and model healthy eating behaviours. 

Montessori too, recognises that breastfeeding on demand, particularly during the symbiotic period, is an important part of helping the infant to develop a fundamental trust in the world. The sensitive period for weaning begins between 5 and 6 months of age. As always, the sensitive period is marked by several signs of readiness which may be different for each child. Montessori practitioners recognise the need to be attuned to each child’s individual needs when weaning, and the physiological and psychological importance of the weaning process. Weaning marks the beginning of a process of separation from the mother, as the child becomes aware of his independence and of his self as a separate entity. When the infant is able to sit up, shows an interest in eating the food of the family, and has begun teething, he is ready to begin the process of weaning. If care is taken to introduce solid food in a positive manner and to encourage the child’s independence, she will take the natural step of decreasing and eventually stopping milk feeds without the need for this process to be arbitrarily determined by the adult. The need for the mother will naturally be replaced with the child’s desire for independence, if care is taken to support and nurture the child first steps towards autonomy. Anne McNamara, in an article written for the NAMTA journal puts it plainly...”Montessorians need to guard against being influenced by our society’s preoccupation with freeing the mother from the baby instead of allowing the baby to free himself from the mother. Mothers need to be supported in letting their babies determine when and how long they need to nurse.

·         The third principle: Respond with Sensitivity
Build the foundation of trust and empathy beginning in infancy. Tune in to what your child is communicating to you, then respond consistently and appropriately. Babies cannot be expected to self-soothe, they need calm, loving, empathetic parents to help them learn to regulate their emotions. Respond sensitively to a child who is hurting or expressing strong emotion, and share in their joy.

The importance of this sensitive parenting is highlighted in Montessori’s emphasis on the earliest weeks of life. Assistants to Infancy help parents to become astute observers of their babies and in turn, to be able to respond to their babies’ communications of need in appropriate ways. Sensitive parenting in a Montessori Home requires that the parent learn to negotiate the fine line between offering assistance and becoming the child’s servant. Parents learn to watch their child first, before hastily stepping in, so that they can determine exactly what kind of help to offer the child so that his needs can be met, without undermining his belief in himself as a competent, and capable person in his own right. Dr Montessori spoke of the adult as acting as a ”necessary support for the child who, having lost control of himself momentarily, needs a strong support to which he can cling.” Rebeca Wild, author of Raising Curious, Creative, Confident Kids, affirms the need for empathy saying “To the same extent that they themselves feel loved and respected, they gain the ability to pass on this respect and this love to others, and to feel and fulfil the needs of others.”

·         The fourth principle: Use Nurturing Touch
Touch meets a baby's needs for physical contact, affection, security, stimulation, and movement. Skin-to-skin contact is especially effective, such as during breastfeeding, bathing, or massage. Carrying or babywearing also meets this need while on the go. Hugs, snuggling, back rubs, massage, and physical play help meet this need in older children.

Dr Silvana Montanaro writes about the importance of touch in her book, Understanding the Human Being. She says of the symbiotic period (the first 6 to 8 weeks after birth) “the body contact in holding tells the child about the mother’s acceptance and attitude, and can provide great reassurance which will facilitate the passage to the new environment.” “A child can understand, through repeated, direct experiences with a loving parent, that the external world responds promptly to his needs for contact, stimulation and food. There is always an answer to his call and he can trust the environment, as represented by the mother.”
And of the importance of holding the child, “proper holding must convey to the child our joy for this intimacy, in addition to our love, respect and admiration for its being.” She cautions against making the decision to restrict a child’s movements though, stressing that children who have freedom of movement develop a basic faith in oneself, have self-confidence, a sense of independence and autonomy, as well as persistence and high self-esteem. So it follows that Montessori parents must recognise that the child’s need for touch must be balanced with their need for freedom of movement. This requires sensitive parenting and a desire to follow the child, not placing the needs of the adult above those of the developing baby. Carrying a baby and giving her time in her own space should never outweigh one another, but should be balanced and offered in accordance with her needs which she will communicate readily. The key lies in understanding and responding appropriately to her communications.

·         The fifth principle: Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally
Babies and children have needs at night just as they do during the day; from hunger, loneliness, and fear, to feeling too hot or too cold. They rely on parents to soothe them and help them regulate their intense emotions. Sleep training techniques can have detrimental physiological and psychological effects. Safe co-sleeping has benefits to both babies and parents.

Maria Montessori was clear about the need to provide the infant with “a low couch resting practically upon the floor, where he can lie down and get up as he wishes”. Her thoughts on co-sleeping were not explicitly articulated.
Mary Matthews, a Montessori Assistant to Infancy, writes in an article for the NAMTA journal that, “a mattress on the floor permits the baby to move freely on the bed and between the bed and the floor. Should the child need to, she can call her parents or seek them. The child who has enjoyed symbiosis is confident that her parents will respond if she needs them.” Mary goes on to say though, “The child who sleeps in the family bed needs the presence of a parent to sleep comfortably. This created dependence cannot assist her.”
My opinion is that if the child is given the freedom of movement provided by a floor bed, and then chooses to leave that bed to sleep in a shared bed, that this is in fact reinforcing the autonomy and freedom of choice that we wish to cultivate in him through the provision of the floor bed. Anne McNamara (who writes in an article of response) shows us that our focus should not be on whether the child sleeps in his floor bed, or in a family bed, but rather that it should be on respect for the child’s freedom of choice. She points out that shared sleep might be considered by some to be “created dependence. But conversely, the separate child’s bed is created independence.

·         The sixth principle: Provide Consistent and Loving Care
Babies and young children have an intense need for the physical presence of a consistent, loving, responsive caregiver: ideally a parent. If it becomes necessary, choose an alternate caregiver who has formed a bond with the child and who cares for him in a way that strengthens the attachment relationship. Keep schedules flexible, and minimize stress and fear during short separations. 

The Montessori approach is about developing the “whole” child. Montessori parents need to create environments that nurture every aspect of their child’s development. It is often easier to focus on intellectual development, since this involves things we can see and touch – learning objects. But creating safe spaces in which your child’s emotional needs are met, is vital to the development of healthy future relationships. Dr Jill Stamm, in Bright from the Start, says that “your baby depends biologically on your responsiveness. Though he was born with the capabilities for joy, sadness, fear and many other feelings, he needs help regulating these emotional states so that they don’t overwhelm his system.”

We should also take care in recognizing that the process of separation is precisely that, a process. It does not happen instantaneously on the first day that the child spends away from his parents. Separation viewed through Montessori philosophy takes place on a number of levels, beginning with birth, in which the child separates from the protected environment of the womb, and attaches to the world of life; weaning, in which he separates from the breast as a source of food and attaches to the food of the family and self-feeding; movement, in which the child slithers, rolls, crawls, cruises and walks in incremental steps away from the mother, and attaches to the immediate environment of the home; and the period of self-affirmation in which the child declares himself autonomous and capable of independent living.

The seventh principle: Practice Positive Discipline
Judi Orion, a Montessori Assistant to Infancy Trainer says, “What we have to be careful about here is not to confuse this need for independence, and our desire for them to be independent, with their simultaneous need to be nurtured. Just because they can do things doesn’t mean they don’t need nurturing. Sometimes we push independence at the expense of nurturing. I think we always need to keep that in balance.

Positive discipline helps a child develop a conscience guided by his own internal discipline and compassion for others. Discipline that is empathetic, loving, and respectful strengthens the connection between parent and child. Rather than reacting to behaviour, discover the needs leading to the behaviour. Communicate and craft solutions together while keeping everyone's dignity intact.


Dr Montessori spoke very eloquently on the topic of discipline. Her idea of discipline was not that of an external condition imposed on the child from outside, but that it is a natural state which grows and develops from within the child, just like any other conquest of development in childhood. According to Montessori theory there are three stages in the development of self-discipline. Stage one is when the child is only able to obey the internal impulses that drive him, even they put him at odds with those around him. (think of a baby who continues to reach out and touch something even when he has been told not to a number of times. The baby is not being deliberate in his ‘disobedience’, he is simply doing what he instincts are driving him to do – explore his environment – even if those drives don’t match up with the requests of his parents). Stage two is when the child is able to suppress his inner drive in order to comply with an external request – that is, he is mostly able to do what is asked of him since his desire to be part of the social group overrides his instinctual drives.

The third stage is when the child obeys joyfully. He has transcended the state of development where he obeys because of an external request – he does the right thing because it is right, not because someone has told him to do it. This stage of discipline is only reached under a specific set of circumstances – where the child is given the freedom to develop his will. Too often parents believe that in order to raise an obedient child, they must ‘break’ his will. But Montessori believed that in order to reach the third stage of self-discipline, the child’s ability to choose must be fostered – and this can only happen in a loving and supportive environment, where children are given freedom to act within clearly defined boundaries.

Discipline and freedom are so co-related that, if there is some lack of discipline, the cause is to be found in some lack of freedom. To obtain discipline, it is quite useless to count on reprimands or spoken exhortations. Such means might perhaps at the beginning have an appearance of efficacy, but after a while cease to have any effect.” – Maria Montessori

Essentially, misbehavior is the expression of the lack of freedom to meet one’s needs. Authoritarian behaviour on the part of the parents is not likely to create a situation in which a child’s natural state of true self-discipline can be established. Children need loving guidance and a nurturing environment in which to develop their will – which will allow them to be in control of themselves.

The eighth principle: Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life
It is easier to be emotionally responsive when you feel in balance. Create a support network, set realistic goals, put people before things, and don't be afraid to say "no". Recognize individual needs within the family and meet them to the greatest extent possible without compromising your physical and emotional health. Be creative, have fun with parenting, and take time to care for yourself. 

I guess this one speaks for itself. Montessori theory has three essential components as it were: the child, the prepared environment and the prepared adult. She says that “The starting preparation demanded of a Montessori adult is that he or she should examine himself, and become humble, and to ask in what manner does he consider the child?” – The Secret of Childhood.
Dr. Montessori says that the child ‘must be protected by an external environment animated by the warmth of love, and the richness of value, where he is wholly accepted’ – The Child in the Family.
P. Donohue Shortridge says, “If it is the child's job to construct the adult he is to uniquely become, then it is incumbent upon the adult to facilitate that growth rather than to impose her own will on him. The Montessori adult willingly relinquishes her own agenda for the child and instead learns from him what he needs next from the adult and from the environment and faithfully provides it. Fundamentally, the adult removes external obstacles to the child's learning which are ironically often precipitated by the adults themselves.
And in Maria Montessori’s words once again, “The truly great authority and dignity of parents rests solely upon the help they are able to give their children in building themselves. The child can only build well if this help is given in a suitable way.” – The Absorbent Mind

It stands to reason that parents can only offer suitable help to their children, and can only relinquish their own agenda, whilst maintaining a loving and wholly accepting environment when they themselves are nurtured, respected and part of a support network. I would encourage Montessori parents to spend time within their Montessori circles, building relationships with like-minded families so that they might have assistance in the important task of parenting. It takes courage to allow your child’s voice to be heard and to answer its call in a manner that can only feel right for you. A strong attachment between parent and child is very necessary and undoubtedly this is the aim of proponents of Attachment Parenting, but the potential that the Montessori philosophy has for nurturing those connections for life is untold.

25 May 2011

New article coming...

I have recently read an interesting post on attachment parenting and Montessori and this got me thinking...are these theories of childhood compatible? I am a die-hard Montessori believer through and through, yet also find myself strongly drawn to attachment parenting and its tenets. I have been working on an article to this effect and will be posting it in the next few days...so keep your eyes peeled!