Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Creating an Environment of Yes's

I am not a perpetual furniture re-arranger. I am not someone who takes pleasure in trying out new positions and arrangements "just for a change." Sometimes I wish I were, but I'm not.

Yes, I move these around from time to time to get them just right, but once things are in a position that feels tuned to my aesthetic preferences, I am perfectly happy to leave them alone and occupy myself with other pursuits.

However, to authentically implement Montessori in the home, I absolutely have to rearrange things to keep up with Henry's developmental needs.

Here are some examples of elements of the environment that I've had to change for Henry:
  • When Henry was first born, he needed to spend time looking at mobiles. I had one hanging above the movement mat in his room and one hanging above our bed, since he spent a lot of time there, as well. I changed these mobiles every couple weeks to keep Henry interested (we bought the whales, the butterflies, the Gobbi, an abstract one, and I made one from black and white cards).
  • When Henry started accidentally batting at things, we hung a bell, so he could hit it and make the connection that his movements could impact the environment.
  • To encourage him to grasp at things, we started hanging a wooden ring and other beautiful toys.
  • To encourage crawling, I had to change out the low shelf in his room. Originally, it had storage baskets. I removed two of them to make space for Henry's toys to inspire him to reach and grasp for the objects.
  • Once he started army-crawling all over the house, I had to put plastic plugs in the outlets and completely de-clutter. We could no longer keep Hoss's basket of disgusting, hairy toys on the floor. We couldn't have any cords showing.
  • Then Henry started pulling up on things. I had to rearrange things on his shelf again to make sure he could find things when he pulled up.
  • Most recently, Henry started pulling up on our bookshelves and pulling out all the books. Argh! I was hoping that wouldn't happen until we moved. Oh well. I should be celebrating his development! In fact, I celebrated by spending an hour rearranging the environment some more. I had to move the plant off his weaning table, since he was starting to reach it and pull on it. I had to move another plant that he was also reaching for. Come to think of it, I had to move another plant he was reaching for. I moved some of the books off our bookshelf and replaced them with Henry's toys. I also turned a basket into a ball pit (but one that can be put away at a moment's notice, since we are trying to sell our house!).
I could have easily decided that I didn't want to keep changing the environment to meet Henry's needs. I could have left cords visible and instead tried to keep Henry away from them. As annoying as it is to change the environment, it would be more annoying for me to constantly have to chase Henry around to keep him away from things.

Instead, I try to create an environment of yes's.

Not only does an environment of yes's keep my stress level down, it also helps Henry develop one of the primary things he's working on in the first year of life: his movement. Even more significantly, the environment impacts Henry's sense of self. I imagine that he is developing more confidence, independence, and self-worth because he is learning that he can interact with the world in the way he wants to.

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Kristy said...

Great idea! Our older son loved pulling DVD's off the shelf. He would spend so long taking them all off the shelf - it was worth it to spend a few minutes cleaning them all up for all the time he spent engaged in taking them back off! We also gated off certain areas of the house i.e. dining room

Raquel.Somatra said...

That's a really great philosophy. I've noticed that friends' children are so attracted to exactly what will grant them that "NO!"-- so keeping it from being visible is a great solution. I love the title, too, "Environment of Yes's".

And I totally have that bookshelf! We're using it as a room divider for our studio apt, though my husband had to build some reinforcements so it doesn't topple on us while we're sleeping during an earthquake.

lisa said...

It is useful to teach NO at this age, though, because your baby will not always be in a perfect environment and that NO can get you the split second you need to grab him away.

Put something non-precious and non-breakable in his reach. When he reaches for it, say NO. When he looks away---cause he will, if you use a definite tone of voice---praise him and give him something he can have. Lather, rinse, repeat. It is so nice to have a civilized child, one that you can take out in public, and teaching NO doesn't involve trauma. Merely a lesson that the world has some limits.

Rachel said...

We are living in a 'no' environment and there's nothing I can do about it (except cry because my child's first word was 'no'). Due to financial circumstances, we are living with my parents for the time being...but it's looking like it could be a long time. They don't hold to the same positive/gentle/montessori-type child rearing that we do so the house is only moderately child-proof and I do spend my day chasing an almost toddler around the house saying 'no' and I HATE that! I'm trying to focus on the positives because they are really a loving family and dote over their grandson but it is hard. Children have the rest of their lives to learn no. They don't need to hear it over and over again as a baby. I'd rather start discussing no when he's old enough to understand why.

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Rachel! As parents, we each have to do our very best and then forgive the difference between what we're doing and what we wish we could do.

With that said, I'm wondering if there are any ways to make your temporary environment more friendly. For example, are you able to make one room completely child-friendly and then spend a lot of time there? Or are you able to take daily trips to a nearby park?

Just some thoughts. Take them for what they're worth!

Wishing you all the best,


Andrew Wilson said...

My wife and I are about to have our first child, and, as nerds, we are always looking for bright ideas we can implement to keep things interesting and safe. I actually study skilled movement and development, and your post caught our eye because of the emphasis on paying attention to what the environment affords your child, not what it affords you.

The concept of affordances comes from James Gibson, a psychologist studying perception and action in the 50s-70s. His 'ecological' psychology emphasised that what we perceive are affordances: the opportunities for behaviour the environment presents. These, of course,vary with your abilities, and as you note, as Henry got bigger and more mobile his relationship to the environment changed.

Anyway, for what it's worth, this is exactly the right way to think about this and something we've been spending time on too. Creating a space that affords safe active exploration to an infant solves all kinds of safety problems and provides an engaging space. Easier said than done, of course!

Sara E. Cotner said...

Thanks for sharing your professional insight, Andrew! I find that so much of the new thinking in behavioral and neuroscience supports ideas that Montessori pontificated more than a hundred years ago. Some of it is explained in the book _The Science Behind the Genius_.

Nice to "meet" you! Wishing you and your expanding family all the best.

Kate said...

I love this, it reminds me of the unconditional parenting approach. I really try and feel excited instead of overwhelmed and frustrated that my daughter is getting into things. I am so happy she is so curious!

Anonymous said...

If I can teach NO to a 9 week old pup without punishment, then I think I can safely and easily teach NO to a 9 or 10 month old child without breaking their spirit. Learning that there are constraints on their movement is as essential as learning that they can move. A child who understands NO, for example, is freer than the child who does not because they need not be watched quite so closely or hovered over so much. I can take my baby anywhere without requiring someone to alter the environment for her...whereas less disciplined children are often not welcome until they are in elementary school, if then.

Ell said...

What's your plan for when you visit a friend or family member's home that isn't baby-proofed? I know of people who simply removed problem areas for their young children, and then ran into trouble with things like curtains; their children wouldn't leave the curtains alone in homes they visited. This is a great method ideally, and I try to keep our own home this way as well; however, when visiting relatives, I spend most of my time chasing after my 8 month old daughter to keep her out of trouble.

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