Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Montessori Discovery Basket

I'm so excited about something I read in How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way. They call it a "Basket of Treasures," but I've taken to calling it a "Discovery Basket."

The concept is so simple. Once a baby is able to sit and hold things, you can prepare a basket for them that contains 50-100 real-world objects for them to touch and explore (yes, even by putting the objects in their mouths).

The objects should incorporate a variety of shapes, colors, textures, weight, and smell. It is best to use objects made of natural materials and not plastic. Plastic things tend to feel all the same.

It takes a while to collect the objects in a budget-friendly (i.e., "free") way, so I started this process early. The first thing I added was a pine cone. I used fingernail clippers to snip off the pointy tips. Since then, I've added a wooden spoon we never use, an extra metal measuring cup from my mom's house, a seashell, a rock, bean bags filled with popcorn kernels, a spice jar filled with cinnamon sticks, a nail brush, and a coaster made from glass beads. (Of course you want to ensure that none of the objects are choking hazards, and you will supervise your baby while s/he interacts with the basket.)

I just love the simplicity of this activity/game. So often, you hear parents say that their babies are more interested in the cardboard box than the present inside. We have to remember that a baby's world is completely stimulating. Maria Montessori talks about the "absorbent mind" of 0-3 year-olds; they are taking in everything around them. They already get plenty of stimulation! That's why toys that make lots of noise, have lots of colors, and include lots of buttons/options can actually be over-stimulating. We have to remember that our babies are taking in everything around them, as they teach themselves how to talk and walk during those first three years. We should still provide them with toys during that time, but most often, simpler is better.

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freespiritfarm said...

Love it!

Carrie Dee said...

What a great idea! I love putting in pine cones and rocks. It seems like everything in the natural world becomes forbidden to kids for fear of it being dirty, but there are so many great textures and smells to experience out there.

Can I suggest different types of rocks if you can find? Granite feels very different from slate or jasper. Maybe a rock shop would have some non-choking hazard rocks that provide different textures if you can't find them in nature?

Rosalie said...

I have a treasure basket too as part of Heuristic Play. It's very popular with my little one. I make sure it's not out all the time but brought out once a day or a couple of times a week. Ribbons are popular and also a whisk, all babies seem to love whisks! Here's a link that I used to compile mine: http://www.littleacornstomightyoaks.co.uk/Articles/Treasure%20basket.php

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful idea Sara! Babies get bored with the same thing and I have never felt like spending tons of money on toys was a good idea. Thanks for this simple idea!

fresh365 said...

Sara, I have been meaning to write for weeks & say THANK YOU for all these awesome ideas! I am afew months behind you (due in May) and started the 2nd trimester the day you posted your tips- great timing! Planning a natural birth at a birting center, cloth diapering, etc & love checking in to see what someone with similar views for pregnancy & birthing is up to. Hope you have a great last month! (I am totally borrowing this basket idea). xo

Anonymous said...

Sara, love this idea. Have you researched Waldorf at all? I don't know much about it, and less about Montessori, but I see similarities in what I do know about the two. I like the idea of exploration of natural items and not overstimulating a child. Two blogs I think you may be interested in: http://theparentingpassageway.com/ and http://bendingbirches2010.blogspot.com/. Whether you dig the Waldorf style or not as much I have a feeling you may find some of the posts inspiring. :)

Sara E. Cotner said...

@ fresh365: Congratulations! I am so happy for you! I'm glad we can be pregnancy and parenting partners!

@ spiritandseed: I'm pretty familiar with Waldorf. I read one of the seminal texts, and one of the families in my class came from a Waldorf school, so I have lots of conversations with them. You're right that there are lots of similarities. There are definitely some big differences (like Waldorf's emphasis on fantasy and Montessori's avoidance of it) and some other differences about how the learning environments are structured, but I think they are both great alternatives to mainstream educational and parenting practices. I look forward to checking out the blogs you recommended!

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