Monday, July 18, 2011

Montessori Toys

The expression "follow the child" is at the center of the Montessori approach to education. It comes to mind as I sit down to reflect on the new toys I bought for Henry.

For the first two months of Henry's life, his main "play time" or work revolved around mobiles. Since he was working on developing his eyesight, focus, concentration, and ability to track objects, I would place him on his back on his movement mat next to a mirror beneath one of his mobiles. We started with a black and white whale mobile, then progressed to a color butterfly mobile, and then switched to an abstract mobile. During that period, we would also put him under his wooden arch to give him different experiences. We started by hanging black and white clipart cards.

To "follow the child" means to observe the child's development and prepare the environment in a way that helps challenge the child in just the right way. So, for example, when Henry started raising his arms to bat at his mobiles (even though they were beyond his reach), we then traded the clipart cards for a Gobbi mobile (in a pure Montessori approach, the Gobbi is not for batting; bells and balls are used for that). Then when we noticed Henry starting to grab at the balls, we had to switch out that mobile with a toy for him to grasp.

Once he could easily grab at the toy hanging from his wooden arch, we decided it was time to provide Henry with more toys, so he could continue to work on grasping and pulling to his mouth (which is now his primary way of exploring his world).

First I went to the bins in his closet where I store extra toys. Because I try to keep his Montessori nursery as orderly, beautiful, and simple as possible, we don't put out all of his toys at once. Instead, we rotate them in and out. I pulled out his Sophie toy for the first time, which my dear internet friend Valerie sent to him. It seemed like the perfect toy for him to grasp and chew on. He loves it!

I also went online and ordered the following toys:
  1. Magic Clutching Toy
  2. Triangle Clutching Toy
  3. Kringerling Clutching Toy
  4. Skwish Rattle

When selecting toys, I tried to pick items that Henry could easily grasp. Everything but the Magic Clutching Toy is perfect for him right now. I also sought out toys that were simple, beautiful, and made of natural materials.

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L said...

That sqwish rattle is one of my favorites to give as a gift. We had very few children at our wedding reception, so we bought a small gift for each that we hoped might keep them entertained long enough for their parents to have time to converse. A few in the right age bracket got taht sqwish rattle. Based on our wedding pictures, I'm not sure if the kids liked it, but I know it was a hit with the adults!

At Home with Montessori said...

Sara, I was hoping you would be able to clarify something for the readers of your blog. It is a common misconception that the Gobbi Mobile is for touching. It is in fact only for visual interaction and should be hung out of reach of the child. The Bell on a Ribbon is offered the child who is reaching out to bat at objects, as is the puzzle ball, which can be hung above the baby. The mobiles are all designed to correspond to the infant's developing visual abilities, and are therefore not offered to the baby who is trying to reach, bat and grasp at objects.

Sara E. Cotner said...

Yes, Meg! I should have clarified that I didn't follow the Montessori method accurately with regard to the Gobbi mobile.

First, I read an AMS album that said it was for batting. Then I read the description in Montessori from the Start, which seemed vague to me. When I hung it for Henry to bat at, he loved it!

When I finally got around to asking Henry's Montessori teacher about it, she said exactly what you're saying: The Gobbi is not for batting.

Please continue to chime in to share your expertise. I appreciate it so, so much!

P.S. I have not forgotten about your e-mail!.

Have a great day, Meg!

Anonymous said...

Oh for crying out loud. If he bats at the mobile and likes it, and can't hurt himself, what does it matter? There is no correct way to play with toys. Talk about stifling imagination!

Sara E. Cotner said...

@ Anonymous: I feel like your tone is unnecessarily harsh. If we were having a conversation with each other face to face, would you talk to me in the same way? Perhaps you would. I'm totally fine with you expressing your opinion, but I feel like it would be much more productive to communicate with each other in respectful rather than disdainful ways.

As you will see in my comment, I did let Henry play with the Gobbi mobile in a way that was different from how it was designed. I followed your logic exactly: he likes it, it's not hurting him, (as well as it's developmental appropriate) so have at it!

But I am still very thankful that Meg chimed in to share her Montessori expertise. I am trained and certified to work with 6-9 year olds, not with infants. Over the past four years, I have very much come to appreciate the logic behind the sequence of Montessori materials. Whenever I find myself questioning the method or pushing to change it, it's often because I don't understand it.

(Don't get me wrong; there are still things I want to change about what we do in 6-9, but I have immense respect for the intentionality behind nearly everything.)

I worry that the meanness in your comment will discourage Meg from sharing her expertise and experience in the future. I very much want to hear about the "right way" to do Montessori with infants. Once I know the proper way, then I can make choices about whether to adhere to the method or deviate from it.

At Home with Montessori said...

Thanks for understanding where I am coming from when I posted that comment.
Anonymous (although I personally believe that if you want to comment on people's blogs, you should have the courage of your convictions and share your name!), I would like to set the record straight...
Maria Montessori gifted us with her life's work. In return for that gift, I think it is only fair to expect that her work is represented accurately where possible.
I believe that Sara is one of the most conscious parents I have ever come across, and enjoy reading her blog and share her enthusiasm for parenting.
I am not the Montessori police, and really only wanted to share what I know about the Montessori mobiles. They are not toys - they are aids for visual development. In fact, none of the Montessori materials are toys - they are motives for spontaneous activity in the environment. Too often folks take a little of this and a little of that and mix it all together, and that approach may work just fine for them, but when that patchwork of choices is shared with others it is important to distinguish between choices made by individual families, and core philosophy of an approach. I believe that Sara is trying to share information about her family and the choices she makes for her son, to help other families who want to use the Montessori approach to parenting and perhaps do not have access to a prepared environment and a trained directress. I was only suggesting that she clarify the purpose of the Gobbi - which is not offered to the child for batting. Part of the Montessori approach is about offering activities to the child based on your observations of their actions and choices which give insight into their underlying needs. The baby who is batting and grasping at the Gobbi mobile is indicating to the observant parent, that he is ready for other work, namely the materials designed for batting and grasping.
That said, every child is unique and so is every family, so if people choose to use the Gobbi for batting and grasping that's entirely up to them! I was only hoping to encourage Sara to distinguish between her choices, and the original intention behind the mobiles.
Also, I don't believe that there is any one "right way" to do Montessori. (or anything at all for that matter) my experience there are very pertinent and appropriate reasons for much of what we do in Montessori environments, but there is always room to accommodate individual needs and differences, if your observations of the child indicate that a different approach is needed.
I hope that you can better understand where I am coming from, as my intention was neither to offend, nor to appear judgemental.

Anonymous said...

I'm not the anonymous from above, but I want to remind you that people use anonymous for all kinds of reasons having nothing to do with "conviction" or "courage." Not least of the reasons are safety of all sorts, whether it be from ID theft or domestic violence abusers. Second, I am jumping in to add my view that I didn't feel that the comment was harsh at all. It was direct and blunt, yes, but probably was an honest reaction from a reader. Big deal. I can understand if it hurt people's feelings and am not invalidating, but I just don't find it harsh. I find it interesting that the Montessori mantra is freedom, creativity and exploration and yet the products are very explicit in a multitude of rules and rights/wrongs. Yes, there is much to benefit from, but using Montessori as some kind of written manual for a child seems to me strange and ineffective. Children from deprived villages grow to be some of the most educated, creative and talented adults. I think your consciousness is great. I also think most kids will be amazing adults despite not having a $50 black and white mobile that must be swapped for a $50 colored mobile in a month or two. I'm not trying to be a smart @#& but ultimately I feel like some of this stuff is the exact type of consumer culture I despise: buy this, buy that for a perfect baby. The philosophy is one thing, the focus on products-quite another. That said, I do love your posts, the info and the food for thought. Please take my comments in context.

little monkey said...

Hi all! I too am struggling with the rules and costs of all the expensive Montessori materials. I'm really wanting to incorporate more Montessori into my child's life (I am not a purist at all; don't want to be) but I am finding it cost prohibitive. Any DIY blogs or other ideas out there on how to do it without buying so much expensive stuff? I purchased the expensive Montesorri at Home curriculum but did not find much help in terms of DIY info.

Chayah said...

Hi, Sara,
I am moments from having our first, and trying to get some things in order at home. I was wondering if you felt that having mobiles over a baby's sleep space (a bedside co-sleeper) was appropriate, or if it is best in a separate location. Second, besides the animal cards, what other early materials did you use on Henry's play arch? I've considered crystals, large, dangly geometric jewelry (obviously not a pure Montessorian of any sort here!), but haven't come up with much.

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Chayah! Congratulations! I'm wishing you the best!

The post details everything I ever hung from the wooden arch. Henry started rolling over both ways at 3 months, so he didn't spend much time under his arch anymore.

As for the mobiles, the best thing to do is set up a movement mat in the room you expect to spend the most time in. The movement mat should have a large mirror next to it, so that the child can see him/herself and has a wider view of the room. The mobile should be hung above this mat.

You can also put them in other places where the baby will spend a lot of time. We put one above our bed.

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