Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Magic of Montessori Movement

There are aspects of the Montessori philosophy that make parenting more difficult. For example, I think it would be much easier to plop Tate into one of those baby exersaucers. 

Instead, I always try to put him on the ground during his awake time. I try not to put him into positions that he couldn't get into himself (e.g., no bumbo seats to support him in a seated position before he is actually sitting). His first activity was lying on his back watching visual mobiles, like the whales and butterflies, or going on his stomach to look at black-and-white books.

Once he started reaching for the mobiles hanging above him, I switched to things he could bat at: a puzzle ball, a bell, etc. hung under an arch toy hanger

Once he started grabbing at the objects dangling in front of him, I switched to a wooden ring and other toys that he can grab and interact with. 

At three months, he started rolling over onto his stomach, so then I started putting out objects that he could reach for, and scoot toward, like the bell and ball cylinders. Once he touches them, they roll slightly and encourage him to scoot toward them again. 

By the end of four months, he was able to army crawl his way toward anything. Now at five months, he is getting up on all fours and giving indication that he is eager to start pulling himself up on things. I look at this little being with utter and complete amazement. 

I've done my best to observe him and prepare the physical environment in a way that supports his development and then I've stepped aside to let him do his thing. What he's taught himself to do in four short months is nothing short of amazing. As I marvel at what he can do, I'm not excited that he's reaching "milestones" early. That's not it at all. Instead, I am excited about what he is learning. By being provided with freedom of movement from day one that allows the full development of his muscles and motion (no swings, no infant seats, etc.), he is learning that he can exert his will within the world toward a specific end. At five months, he is learning that he has control over his own body and he can direct it to accomplish his own ends. 

And that lesson, to me, is the foundation for the healthiest kind of self-esteem. It's a sense of self that doesn't come from others' praise or even their love. It is not dependent upon anything external. And the point of that kind of independence is not separation from those around him. After he moves from dependence to independence, then he can move toward interdependence. The separation then helps him form even healthier attachments.

This blog post over at Janet Lansbury talks about this same idea in a different way. A mother wrote in with her worry about the fact that her child wasn't learning how to sit as early as his friends. But then she realized:
But then as we watched the babies, my boy flipped onto his tummy and proceeded to circle around the floor, grabbing any toys that caught his fancy, exploring and discovering. The other two babies just sat there playing with the toys their mothers handed them. The striking thing was that they didn’t even reach for new toys. Maybe they had learned already that if they tried to reach something they would just fall over. Or perhaps the thought of reaching for something they wanted hadn’t even occurred to them, since their mothers always handed them toys.

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Ashley Sjuts said...

I did the same kind of thing with my daughter although there were times that I did put her in a bouncer to shower but it was rare because I think it impairs their ability to learn and their motivation to move on their own.

This was confirmed when I started taking on other kids during the day to help support our family. I watch a 13 month old who would refuse to roll from back to belly or vise vera. He could not crawl when he first came to me at 12 months. Within 1 week at my house he was crawling. Throwing fits about it the entire time but he could do it. Now 1 month later he is almost pulling up and getting everywhere. I never put him in a bouncer and constantly am encouraging him to move and to motivate himself.

HIs self esteem has sky rocketed. He was so insecure. Babies have to believe they can do something. I have learned so much about Montessori from your blog. I hope you keep sharing!

AliB said...

I did follow Montessori theories with my 10 month old since birth and he is always the last to hit the milestones in our baby group. I'm not sure why and it's never bothered me but I think it's relevant to say that not all children will respond in the same way. I do think it helped him. He is a very happy and secure and oh so awake child but physically advanced? Definitely not.

Kristy said...

We've always adopted the parts of the Montessori philosophy that work best for our family. I think for us, a balanced approach seemed best. Balancing the needs of the entire family sometimes meant that we did use an exersaucer or a swing at times like during dinner preparation or when another child needed tending to. I know you mentioned things like the saucer or the Bumbo not being part of the approach but I know you used a carrier and baby wore a lot. I'd be interested to know more about the Montessori approach which seems heavily focused on independence vs. some of the more attachment parenting philosophies which seem to advocate a more dependant child in the early years.

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, AliB! Henry didn't hit most milestones early, either. He did roll over, army crawl, and pull up to standing more quickly, but he didn't sit up, start walking, or start talking earlier than average. I didn't mean to imply that doing Montessori at home leads to hitting milestones earlier, I was just trying to reflect on the fact that I see freedom of movement making a huge difference in Tate's development. In this case he is meeting milestones earlier, but the coolest part is just realizing what he's learning about himself through the process of interacting with his environment.

Hi, Kristy! I hear you about finding a balanced approach that works for your family. We choose to let Tate have a pacifier, and we put him in the Moby/Ergo for nearly every single nap for the first four months of his life because he slept so much better and we could get more work done. Now that he's so mobile, we try to only carry him when it's absolutely necessary (e.g., at the grocery store). I think there's a lot of overlap between attachment parenting and Montessori in the beginning, but I think they diverge relatively quickly. Montessori tries to help children cultivate self-esteem through developmentally-appropriate independence, whereas attachment parenting focuses more on close attachment as a means to that end (which tends to manifest itself as co-sleeping, baby wearing for extended periods, etc.). That's not to say that attachment parenting doesn't also provide opportunities for "developmentally-appropriate independence," but Montessorians go out of their way to facilitate that kind of independence as early as possible.

Also, there are Montessorians who believe the two philosophies overlap well, but I've read articles from the official Montessori organizations explaining that many of the common practices of attachment parenting undermine the development of independence.

Tammy Chabria said...

The reason I choose Montessori (and REI, which is extremely similar but more has been written on the 0-3 age for REI, than Dr. Montessori wrote. It is as if Magda Gerber took up where Dr. Montessori left off.) is that they are grounded in science and observation and more recent cognitive neuroscience has only confirmed the developmental appropriateness of this. Nothing has been disproven. AP is no basis in science, and the "research" reported on it is more psuedoscience than what is found in the scientific literature. I run a Montessori school, and the AP families we have are the least well-attached (and least happy) children in the classes. They simply cannot function without the primary caregiver (typically mom). In my observations of these families, this meets the mother's need more than the child's need. In Montessori, the independence is not forced, it is simply granted when asked for (both verbally and nonverbally). In AP, the "attachment" is forced by the parent by restricting freedom of movement (in a baby carrier, always being held, etc).

Sara E. Cotner said...

What an interesting way to put it, Tammy! "Granted" makes a lot of sense. I fear that I talk about independence as if it's forced, but it's not.

I wish, wish, wish there were more research on the effects of different child-rearing practices.

I had a Montessori guide explain to me that "attachment without separation is co-dependence." I think about that a lot.

mamaschlick said...

I practice parts of Montessori, REI and AP. I take what fits for me and my family. I need to say that I don't think your comments about AP are fair, Tammy. They may be based on your observations but you don't know that the parent adopted AP because those children were a certain way. High needs kids don't respond to Montessori as other kids might, and AP is sometimes the best way to provide them the confidence to be independent later. I also don't subscribe to the view that all independence is good. An independent child is not necessarily a happy or more advanced child. My son is very attached to me but is thriving and learning and is independent at times but not always. Sometimes he needs extra support and I'm happy to give it. I see it builds his confidence and he appears to be better adjusted emotionally than some of our friends. He thrives on interaction, not always doing things independently though of course we encourage that, but at HIS pace, not ours. There are also so so many variations on AP, you can't really judge. I disagree that there have not been studies-there have been scientific articles about attachment and its affect on confidence and performance later. But alas, ALL studies are inherently faulty as there is no true control group.

mamaschlick said...

Sorry, forgot to mention about that co-dependence quote, Sara. We are, after all, talking about little beings, babies or very young toddlers, not adults. Given that, I think that causal statement is more than overly harsh and judgmental. It's wonderful that Henry and Tate are "independent" and capable kids. But you don't know that it is BECAUSE of Montessori, and while it worked for your kids, it may not have worked for others. I just feel like people should stop with the labeling and focus on treating babies/toddlers with respect, and seeing how capable they are of much more than we can imagine--AND--giving them those chances. Believe me, if a baby feels restricted in a baby carrier, they will let you know! (: They're not duck taped down. Let's have some trust in our kids and not blame parents for their "method." (Not that you are, just saying in general. Ok, thanks for listening! Good discussion.

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