Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Montessori Movement: Birth to Crawling

Even though I'm a certified Montessori teacher for grades 1st through 3rd, I had a hard time wrapping my brain around how to implement Montessori principles for an infant. I read this book and this book, as well as several different blogs. But still, the sequence of which materials to use and when wasn't very clear to me.

That's why I'm so excited to share this guest post by Carrie of Beginning Montessori. She's a certified Montessori teacher and owns a Montessori school. Today's post is about how to nurture children's movement from birth to crawling, and tomorrow's post will be about crawling to walking. Although I prefer to use plural pronouns to avoid the she/he dilemma, Carrie prefers the singular pronoun. Today's post will use "he" and tomorrow's will use "she."

Without further ado, here's Carrie!

As a parent of a newborn, your mind races as you think about what the next year will bring. Often thinking about the present moment is more than enough! As adults we have so much impact on a child's development and it is for this reason that we must become active participants in this role. While there is so much to consider when it comes to the development of a child (sleeping, eating, attachment, and much, much more), today’s focus will be on nurturing the development of voluntary movement from birth to crawling from a Montessori perspective.

When we look at children's physical ability at birth, his movement is involuntary and guided by reflexes. The neck muscles are not yet developed and we are careful to support his head as we hold him. Much of this early time is spent in the arms of the adults who love him. This helps him develop trust in the world as the sounds and smells are familiar to him from his experiences in the womb.

As the newborn adjust to life outside the womb and we observe that he begins to show interest in people and objects apart from his parents, we begin to offer opportunities for movement. We lay him on his movement mat or blanket in order to provide a safe place where he can look around while gaining a sense of comfort within his surroundings. When laid on his back, we offer mobiles to look at such as the Munari and Gobbi. As his eyes become focused and his coordination increases, we then offer grasping mobiles such as the Bell or Ring or Primary Colours. With these, his hand-eye coordination develops so that he is able to intentionally grasp at the mobiles. When laid on his stomach, we offer interesting things to look at such as himself in the mirror, an accordion book stretched out, and ourselves as we talk and sing to him. This helps strengthen his neck and back muscles, and as a result he will gain the ability to hold up his head, as he strains to look at the interesting world that you have safely set up for him. To ensure that his world on this vertical plain remains interesting, we lay down beside him and experience it ourselves.

The neck and back muscles will not be strengthened if these opportunities are not given by an adult. By using infant seats or dressing him in clothing that impedes his ability to fully stretch out his body or use his hands, he will not be able to learn to bring his movements under his own control. In fact, Dr. Silvana Montanaro cautions that "any obstruction to free movement, especially in the first year of life, can have serious psychological consequences that may compromise the harmonious development of the personality" (Understanding the Human Being). It is important that we place infant in situations where he will have the opportunity to move freely and be successful in his self-motivated movements. It is also important that we provide the infant with uninterrupted time to do so. We need to become aware of his ability to concentrate and not interrupt his deep interest in an object or repetition of movement as he masters it.

When the infant is about two months, we utilize the grasping reflex by placing small grasping toys in his tiny hand, ensuring he can easily hold it. As the infant loses this reflex and instead begins to reach out, we begin offering toys in which he is interested and chooses to take. When the movement is self-motivated and the object is the correct size he will feel great self-confidence, “I did it!” As he begins to be able to have intentional grasping of objects, we place them just out of his reach to encourage him to begin rolling or creeping to obtain them. These toys have a variety of natural textures to impart real knowledge of the world such as soft woolen balls, silver rings, dried gourds, bamboo rattles, cotton cloths, or wooden toys. He loves to bring items such as these to his mouth to explore them. Once these objects become familiar to him, place a few of them in a basket with a low edge. He loves to explore with this basket of treasures and gains a sense of order that toys need to be replaced where they are found.

We carefully choose toys that will only roll away slightly when nudged so the infant will be successful at moving to reach them. Balls made of fabric such as puzzle balls and the Montessori interlocking discs are perfect for the infant who is creeping further away but not yet crawling. He will begin creeping faster and lifting himself to semi-sitting positions. Over the course of a few months, you will notice that he will be able to get up on his knees, rocking back and forth and before you know it, he will be crawling! Begin offering balls and cylinders that roll further away and spinning tops that twirl around to encourage the movement. Be sure to double-check all that you thought was safety proofed for your child as his world has now expanded well beyond his movement mat.

Be sure to check back tomorrow as Sara has invited me to continue with Part II: Crawling to Walking.

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Jill said...

I read that children around 6 months old are supposed to be working on developing the ability to think through cause and effect. Do you have any special recommendations for toys that are suited for this purpose? Thanks!

Jill said...

Ooh, I thought of something else I'd like to ask. My child is happiest in my arms or in motion (classic "high-needs" velcro baby). As a consequence, I wear him in the sling or hold him most of the day. He often cries if I put him down on the floor and is not happy if I leave him to play independently. Since a big part of Montessori seems to be encouraging independence, do you have any suggestions for working with babies who do not want to be left alone to explore their surroundings? Is there any variation in the teaching method for children with different temperaments?

Kristy said...

Love this idea, Sara! Thanks for the post, Carrie! I think a lot of people do not know how to implement Montessori in the home. Our older child attends a Montessori school and through talking with other parents, I have found that the majority do not practice Montessori in the home even though they feel strongly about the method in the school environment.

Kylie D'Alton said...

Thank you Sara and Carrie. This is an excellent post such useful and practical information at just the right time for us. Because we live busy lives it is wonderful to have reminders too, suitable clothing, not to interrupt these cost nothing but are so, so important. I cannot wait for part two.

Sara, I loved your last post too, Creating an Environment of Yes's. It was great to see Henry standing and I guess cruising. Well done Henry and well done Sara!!

Sara, I hope you continue to share Henry's development and how you assist with this. You (and Carrie!) have become an important part of our lives.

Kelsey said...

I love these posts that outline specific approaches to Montessori, definitely will look to these when we have a baby!

Thanks for the guest post Carrie!

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Kylie and Kelsey! You both are very kind. I just want to state for the record that I read every single post on both of your blogs. I would comment nearly every day except that I'm usually reading them through my reader on my phone while I'm breast feeding Henry. Not conducive to reflecting in the comments section! So sorry! Your blogs are awesome, and I feel very fortunate to be connected to you through the little ol' internet!

Kelsey said...

Haha, no worries Sara, I know you're there, you are so sweet! You have a lot going on, I just love that you read my blog! hugs!

Sara E. Cotner said...

But I have so much to comment on, Kelsey! I made the red pepper jelly you recommended. It was a big hit. I need to figure out how to comment while on my iPhone.

Carrie said...

Thank you all for your wonderful support and appreciation! And thank you most to Sara for inviting me. I'm so glad they have helped you.
Jill - I'm not aware that babies become more conscious of cause and effect around 6 months. A lot of what I learned in my training indicates that babies are always aware of this and the more they use toys that allows them to experience this, the more self-assured they become. "I shook this rattle and I made the noise." "I batted my arm and the mobile moved." My friend said she loved the toys we make as her child could see the bell and therefore see where the sound was coming from. I think any toy that responds to the child's movements, and the child is able to experience the difference, would help him/her to become aware of cause and effect. I think our actions as adults often hinder this development. For instance by providing plastic dishes instead of breakable ceramic and glass the child is unable to learn that by not treating objects carefully and respectfully things break.

Jill, in response to your other question about how to encourage independence for your baby I could give the standard response of doing so little by little and not responding to his cries right away and instead taking the time to observe the different intensities and sounds of his cries, but I don't think this is the appropriate response in this situation. I think it is important for anyone giving advice to get to know you, your son, and a little bit of your history. Montessori is about observing each child, as every child is different and has their own process of development. This is a huge reason why often Montessori writings are vague on ages. Sorry that I'm unable to give you the response you might be looking for. Perhaps there is a local Montessori school with a Parent/Child class close to where you live.

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