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Montessori Baby: how we use Montessori at home

Six months old - eek!

Six months old – eek!  (I love his furrowed brow)

That gorgeous fella in the picture above is hitting the six month mark.  Wow, has that whizzed by!  From the moment he was born, Chip’s motto seems to be GO SPEEDRACER GO!!!!  He’s already got some teeth, rolled really early and can crawl backwards.  Looking to the future when he’s a toddler I can foresee some very tired parents… 🙂

He’s a very different character to his easy-going, book-reading, people-loving sister.  Chip is a friendly wee chap, but he is far too interested in the world around him to be bothered too much by cooing adults or books.  His favourite person is his sister, and his favourite things to do are to watch big kids playing and to look at light fixtures (he is the grandson of an electrical engineer after all).

I use a mix of approaches, philosophies and most importantly, my common sense when it comes to wrangling my kids.  The philosophies I relate to the most are Steiner, Reggio Emilia, RIE and Montessori.

I use Montessori quite a bit with both my children, mostly due to reading the wonderful book The Joyful Child: Montessori, Global Wisdom from Birth to Three.  If you are interested at all in the Montessori approach I highly recommend this book, which is filled with realistic and practical advice for parents.  There are many easy ways to add a little bit of Montessori wisdom into your routine and your home.

Here’s a snapshot of some of the things we’ve done with Chip so far:

  • The mirror.  Having a mirror down on the floor where your baby can see themselves is classic Montessori, and Chip loved it.  He found the baby in the mirrorto be extremely friendly and interesting.  He started to get bored with it at around four months, but mostly because he’s determined to get on the move and kept pushing himself into it.
    Chip and Sausage

    Chip and Sausage

     

  • Natural materials:  Not that our house is a plastic-free zone or I turn up my nose at plastic toys.  Not at all.  But I have made a concerted effort to give Chip toys that feel interesting in his mouth or his hands, like wood, metal and different fabrics.  He’s like a magpie when it comes to shiny metal objects and loves nothing better than a wet cloth to suck on.  Our families have given Chip some wonderful wooden toys which I’m sure will withstand many years of use – and they are perfect for my teething guy to munch on right now.
  • Natural objects: As most parents discover often the best ‘toys’ for children are not toys at all.  It’s often stuff you have lying around the house already, like boxes, jars, pots and pans and cutlery.  Chip has whiled away the time playing with things like our metal whisk, pastry brush and lemon squeezer, and currently he is desperate to grab my fork whenever I’m eating dinner.
  • Lots of floor time.  We had to wear Chip in a front-pack quite a bit in the early days due to his reflux, but even then I tried to give him as much time on the floor as possible.  Floor time is extremely important.  It’s when babies really get to work so give them every opportunity to move, move, move.  They may fuss and even cry (often due to frustration) but give babies a chance to figure things out before you swoop in to the rescue.
    Hanging out on the floor has its advantages

    Hanging out on the floor has its advantages

     

  • A few things out at a time: This one is rather hard to police because, well, I have a toddler who is currently going through a kleptomaniac stage and loves to gather up as many toys and household objects as she can and then shed them all at once.  Anyway, the theory is that babies and children feel safe and trust in an environment that is ordered and uncluttered.  Yeah, good luck with that one.  I do try not to bedazzle Chip with toys or objects, but rather give him two or three things at one time to choose from.
    Sausage strikes again!

    Sausage strikes again!

     

  • Comfortable clothing: It’s so tempting to dress up my babies as if they were a doll, in things like hoodies and baby Nikes because baby clothes are ridiculously cute, but I do try to ensure they wear clothes that fit well and do not impede their movements in any way.  Remember that as adorable as some clothes are, you might want to take bulky things off when your baby goes down for a nap.  Would you want to wear your jeans and a hoodie to sleep?  And be wary of putting your baby in clothes that are too big.  I once saw a baby wearing an oversized all-in-one bodysuit, and its too-big feet were definitely stopping him from furniture-surfing about the room.
  • Lots of time with his ‘village’.  Chip is one lucky baby.  Not only does his Dad work from home so he gets to see his Dad a lot, but we have many family members in town, some really great friends and a supportive, caring bunch of church-folk.  I want my kidsto be widelysocialised and I do believe that love begets love.  I want Chip to know that heaps of people love him, and that other people besides Mum and Dad are able to take care of him well.  I  never freak out when Chip is handed from one cooing elderly lady to the next at church because I know he is in good hands, and I trust that they will come and get me if he becomes unhappy.  Sausage has  really close relationships with herlocally-based family who she normally sees several times a week,and sheis cared for regularly by her Oma and Nana who take her toplaygroup, out and about or babysit.  Chip gets the same amount of face-time with our family and friends and has recently started to have some one-on-one Oma time (Nana is away on holiday).  My hope is that Chip’s formative years will be happy ones,and due to his socialisation with trusted loved ones he will grow up with a secure knowledge that the world is basically a safe place.  And go on to invent a cure for cancer, discover unicorns existing on some unchartered isle and bring about world peace.  Or something like that 😉

    Chip with his favourite villager

    Chip with his favourite villager

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Toys: Dealing with all that kiddie clutter!

While I was at University studying Criminology and Psychology I somehow picked up Education as well.  I specialised in Child/Human development and it was in one of these classes I first learnt about the Montessori approach to education and kid-wrangling.  It resonated with me then – mostly because I thought about how much I would have loved to have gone to a Montessori school when I was a kid!

One of Sausage's 'trays'

One of Sausage’s ‘trays’

You can click on the link above for more information, but here’s what good ol’ wikipedia has to say about Montessori education:

Montessori’s education method called for free activity within a “prepared environment”, meaning an educational environment tailored to basic human characteristics, to the specific characteristics of children at different ages, and to the individual personalities of each child. The function of the environment is to allow the child to develop independence in all areas according to his or her inner psychological directives. In addition to offering access to the Montessori materials appropriate to the age of the children, the environment should exhibit the following characteristics:

  • An arrangement that facilitates movement and activity
  • Beauty and harmony, cleanliness of environment
  • Construction in proportion to the child and his/her needs
  • Limitation of materials, so that only material that supports the child’s development is included
  • Order

Sounds pretty awesome, right?  I mean, imagine how different your educational outcomes might have been if you’d had your education specifically tailored to YOU.

Now I am not a Flashcard Mum who is trying to get my little Munchkin a competitive edge over all the other toddlers out there.  I don’t think raising my kids using the Montessori approach is going to mean I end up with a couple of Albert Einsteins on my hands.  I am not any ‘approach/method’ purist.  As the field of child psychology and development interested me long before I had any kids of my own to experiment on observe, I read widely on the subject and take what nuggets I like, and discard the rest.

There are some great things about the Montessori approach that I really like and am happy to incorporate into our home here in Tawhero.  Particularly Limitation of Materials and Order.  Oh yeah.  LOVE those.  (In case you can’t tell, I am a J on the Myers-Briggs scale.) 

If, like most parents, you have been inundated with ten tonnes of toys there is relief at hand.  Believe me when I say: You don’t need most of them.  

At our previous house, which was a rental, we had a serious lack of storage.  It forced me to have most of Sausage’s toys and books out in her play space ALL. THE. TIME.  You can imagine the mess*.  Now we have lots of storage, most of her toys are relegated to that wonderful invention – the plastic storage box.  I pay attention to what toys she likes, what she ignores, what she has outgrown, and what she finds too challenging to use yet and swap her toys out regularly.  Okay, so maybe not regularly (I’m not an extreme J), but reasonably often.

Kids are actually overwhelmed and overstimulated by having too many options, and Montessori advocates limiting how many you have out at a time.  Just because you have a box of 100 lego pieces doesn’t mean your 12 month old needs to have all of the pieces out at once when just a few will serve their purpose.  Having a bit of calm and order around them means that children feel secure and trust their environment.  Montessori  recommends putting a few trays/baskets of toys or objects onto shelves at the child’s height.  Here’s what I do:

Easy Peasy

Easy Peasy

 

As you can see in the picture, there are some boxes with books (my kid is CRAAAAZY about books), a box with several different balls in it, a couple of soft toys, a puzzle, a tray with a jug and cups so she can practice pouring water, and at the moment there is another tray with a few items that she can try to open and close (zips, screw top bottle, box lid etc).  In another room we have the metal tray and farm animal tray, not to mention the random toys and books scattered about the rest of the house, just in case you thought I was hard core.  So far the farm animals and the water tray are the biggest winners.  Sausage hasn’t yet learnt that the cup needs to be properly UNDER the water jug, but my word, she has great fun pouring it sort of into the cup (and the floor).  She’s simply one step closer to her being able to pour herself a drink one day, which is pretty cool if you’re a toddler.  *Now just in case you thought one of those total neat-freak-my-house-is-a-museum type people, I don’t care that the water makes a mess.  Messy play is awesome and something I actively encourage.  Picking up dozens and dozens of barely-used toys EVERY damn day isn’t.  You see how Montessori can work in your favour?

By limiting the number of toys available, and by having a place for each item, not only is it faster for parents to clean up, it seriously helps with the task of getting kids to put things away.  I make a game of it with Sausage – who has now taken to clapping at herself whenever she puts an item back on a tray.

Sausage's 'metal things' tray

Sausage’s ‘metal things’ tray

You don’t have to spend a fortune to go Montessori.  My trays cost about 50 cents from my local Op-Shop.  You could probably find some storage boxes for the other toys while you’re at it.