Everything I (and maybe you) need to know….Part 2: The first half of The First Plane

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“The greatness of the human personality begins at the hour of birth.” Maria Montessori “The Secret of Childhood”

So what exactly does that mean? Maria Montessori confirmed that children don’t learn the same way, at the same pace their whole life. The First Plane of Development (birth-6) is an amazing surge of growth. Not just physically but mentally as well. This is where children simply seem to “soak up” information about the world around them. Children begin to acquire language, develop cognitive and motor skills, begin to imitate the adults around them, and develop expectations of the world around them. Montessori described this period of learning as the Absorbent Mind.

From a Montessori perspective there are many experiences that a parent can offer, beginning in infancy that will help their child develop a life long love of learning (and I’m definitely not referring to flash cards here). It is also misunderstood that a parent needs to “buy all the expensive gear”.

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The Munari Moblie is the first in a series that can be offered to infants. We didn’t start with this one. We started with the Gobbi. I made it myself easily and cheaply. It was the first time I had made a material and I got hooked. Something beautiful to look at, a wall mirror and a soft blanket to lay on, is all that is needed to begin to build concentration: the foundation of learning.

I could go on forever about all the materials you could make/buy or all the activities you can do with your “under 3”, but that is not what this is about.

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These are what this is about.

These charts taken from “The Absorbent Mind” outline what’s going on at every month between birth and 2 1/2. Knowing that every child’s body and brain go through these same milestones at roughly the same time can help a parent understand the often “strange” behaviour of “under 3’s”. A child has a fundamental need to exert maximum effort (throwing things). A child needs to imitate activities (gets in the way while making dinner).

So. What’s to be done with all this knowledge? Well, if you’re a Montessori family, you provide that prepared environment that allows the child to safely and constructively fulfill that need. This perhaps means looking at your space. Are the materials/toys beautiful, natural and realistic? Are they presented neatly (or spread all over the floor to trip over & curse). Is there time in the day for the child to move their body freely no matter what age they are? Do you slow your pace so the child has a chance to work along side you around the home experiencing all the sensorial world has to offer? Most importantly, do you respect your child as a human being. Capable of understanding real speech (not baby talk). Able to actually do real and meaningful work given the right size tools.

I guess the take away message is that a child starts learning at birth. You don’t need to worry about all “the materials”. If you’re going to worry about anything, worry about the experiences. Provide lots right from birth. Language, Sensorial, Mathematical, Cultural and Practical Life (Montessori language for life skills). These are the 5 that will build a lifetime love and curiosity for all the world has to offer.

Isn’t it funny that these 5 just happen to be the 5 areas of a Montessori classroom.

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Everything I (and maybe you) need to know about Montessori: Part 1

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When you hear the word Montessori what comes to mind? Most would say schools. Those that have little or no idea might say “That’s where the kids get to do whatever they want.” How many would correctly identify it as a pedagogy. A science or way of teaching. This pedagogy just happens to be directed at children, but not just “preschoolers”, and most certainly not just in a classroom.

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Maria Montessori used her medical background to study children of all ages, and walks of life. Over the years of studying how children learn, she set up “Children’s Houses”. A school unlike any other where children would be surrounded with natural, realistic beautiful materials. Montessori discovered that all people, right from birth are naturally curious about their environment.

Once the years of studying children and then designing the materials were complete, the rest flowed naturally. Invite a child (of any age) into a beautiful space (in Montessori language we call that a prepared environment). Give him/her an opportunity to freely move about that environment and choose freely from any prepared material they are intrigued by. Design the materials so that everything is accessible, easily manipulated, and has a built in control of error, so the child learns naturally from their own mistakes. Allow that child to work uninterrupted with that material for as long as they choose. Most importantly provide a Guide (in Montessori language we call her a Directress not a teacher), that will always speak quietly, respectfully and lovingly to the children. A guide that will assist the child in gaining new information, not telling the child what he should learn. A guide that will foster independence, without burdening the child with ego building praise. A guide that will demonstrate Grace and Courtesy (important words in the Montessori world) and Peace so that even the smallest child is able to show compassion. Over 100 years later, in over 100 countries, and 22,000 schools Montessori is changing the face of educating our children.

All this pedagogy or “way of teaching” is not limited to a school setting. That’s why many families all over the globe classify themselves (we are one of them) as Montessorians. We use the same fundamental principles described above in our own lives beginning at the birth of our children. Many would not agree with our practices that may include children self feeding, toilet learning and contributing to household chores at an earlier age than is readily accepted in most cultures. However I think all parents would agree that they love their children. Montessorians look at that love as a gift and a powerful one. Maria Montessori said “Within the child, lies the fate of the future.” I believe that was never more true than it is in todays world.

I will include this link for anyone wanting some ideas of materials. I would also encourage anyone to read Maria Montessori’s books. Especially the “Absorbent Mind”. You can find a link in a previous post. I will continue this series by going into greater detail on the different stages of a child’s development beginning from birth. I hope it will bring better clarity. Both to myself and others.

A Summer Bike Ride: Physical Activity & Sensory Work

Father’s Day fell on a beautifully sunny Sunday. We decided to seek adventure (on the small obtainable scale) and went for a bike ride and a picnic at the local lake.

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We took our time and stopped to observe our trail view.

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Lush green everywhere. What can I say, we live in a rainforest.

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The water was too cold for even the bravest swimmers.

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I love the fact that nature provides all the toys necessary for basic outdoor play. Sticks become shovels/scrapers/writing tools. Leaves and stones become everything from cars to castle windows and flags.

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Quentin mostly just used the small stones to practice his pincer grasp which now includes the movement of his thumb and finger knuckles. He also showed his sensitivity for repetition and touch sensorial experiences by picking up handfuls of sand and letting it fall back to the beach through his fingers.

It was a good reminder that we can easily add a little physical activity to our day, but more importantly we can give the boys lasting memories of family adventures without spending a gob. We brought a blanket for the beach, $5 of healthy snack food and wore layers for the weather. We already owned the bikes but we could have just walked.

I am a big believer in Montessori Materials, and their obvious and significant impact on the Absorbent Mind. However I’m also a huge advocate of the fact that the entire world of a child is sensorial. A few handfuls of sand on a beach and the right stick also do wonders.

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Out in the Garden (Our Botany Lesson)

It was sunny and warm today. It could only mean one thing: Quentin’s first real experience in the garden.

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There was a lot of sensory exploring. Running his fingers through the dirt. Investigating small sticks and things.

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Surprisingly he only experimented with eating it once. A small clump. He decided it definitely wasn’t food. I love being able to share the joy of growing your own food (on a very small scale) with my boys. I also love that botany is what you make it, but that it can be easy to do with even very young children.

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Working in the Kitchen

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Practical Life Activities 12 months: washing dishes in his kitchen. Providing a child with the right child size materials allows them to do meaningful work independently. Even at a very young age. Kitchen & stool Ikea ($99.00)

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Independent Child

Does your child “play” by themselves?

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It’s something that many parents struggle with.
“Why are they so clingy?!”
“I’m so fed up! She won’t even play by herself for a few minutes so I can make dinner!”

Montessori spoke of this: “The environment itself will teach the child, if every error he makes is manifest to him, without the intervention of a parent or teacher, who should remain a quiet observer of all that happens.—Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood.

But how does this happen? Not over night, and certainly not if the child has become accustomed to the constant presence and attention of their parent during their every waking hour.
Gradually there must be a trust instilled in the child. Ideally this happens in infancy. Placing the unmoving baby safely on a comfortable movement mat with a mirror and mobile they can be left for a few minutes at a time in a safe room while we busy ourselves in the next room. The time expands as the child gets older until eventually they feel secure exploring in their own room or a child proofed room of the house. Sometimes up to 30 minutes or more.

If this has not been done in infancy, it’s still possible to get there. It just takes a little longer and a little more work. The path to getting there is the same. Start with letting the child be in a room independently working with something. If they are unable to be in the room alone, this stage may require you to sit somewhere near by for the first few times. It helps if you can set these times at the same time every day. Ideally when the house is calm. Perhaps it’s just after lunch. You can talk to the child about what you’re going to do before hand but keep it light and straightforward. For example: “I would like you to play with your toys while I finish cleaning the table.” Or: “I’m going to sit on the couch and watch you use your cars”. It will go more smoothly the more consistent you are. Three times is usually the magic number but it can take longer for your child to gain enough confidence in one stage before moving to a longer time. Sometimes it’s helpful to have a timer so the child knows that when their “alone time” is up. An hourglass works beautifully in this case as well.

No matter the resistance your child puts up, if you gently stand your ground they will eventually come to trust that you will not leave them and that they are a capable person able to do things for them self. And isn’t that what we want for them (and ourselves) anyway?

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Working independently: the 5 minute mark

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The 10 minute mark

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15 minutes

Following the Child

“The things he sees are not just remembered; they form a part of his soul.” – Maria Montessori.

Of all the Montessori quotes it’s this one that strikes at my core. It guides me through my days and unfortunately occasionally keeps me up at night.

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What has he seen today?

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Did he see beauty (not the superficial Hollywood kind)? Did he see patience and kindness?

Allowing the child to move at their own pace is often difficult if not extremely frustrating. This is made worse for us when we are in a rush. I tend to just want to do the thing he’s taking so long to do. It’s these times that this quote rattles around in my brain and I have to take a step back.
Other times it makes me stop and think carefully about our day. Did I rush him? Did I make time for him to watch the little family of sparrows that have made a nest in our maple tree? He loves them so much.

There have been many books written (most of Montessori’s own works) that touch on the act of “Following the Child”. Much of this is done by first observing (thats for another post) the child. I would encourage anyone who is interested to find a copy of “The Absorbent Mind” for more information on the subject, or speak with a Montessori teacher.

Today was a great day. Beautifully warm and sunny. Quentin completed a new work independently for the first time, worked on puzzles and woke up dry from his afternoon nap. We also stopped to watch the sparrows.

There is another Montessori quote that keeps me up at night:

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“It is the child who makes the man, and no man exists who was not made by the child he once was.”

A very happy Unbirthday?

Today is April 22nd. It’s Earth Day. Today is Quentin’s 1st Birthday.

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It was a wonderful day: presents, a picnic lunch in the park, an introduction to goats and of course birthday cake. A warm sunny spring day. No one could ask for better.

But this day also had a twinge of sadness.

You see, Quentin is a preemie.

Born 2 months early his birthday was supposed to be in June. A summer baby like his brother. Not a spring one. A baby that would not be here without serious medical intervention.

I’m not yet ready to tell you the whole story of Quentin beginning to end. It is still too painful and raw. I can tell you that he was conceived with the help of fertility treatments. I can tell you that we fought like hell for years to have him, that we fought again to keep him, and that even though we cried and waited for the worst (which eventually never came) we loved him from the start. Or to be more precise, we loved him from the minute we saw the first confirming ultrasound at 7 weeks.

We have agreed with medical recommendation that Quentin is to be our last. Perhaps the sadness comes from that. Perhaps it comes from the fact that we missed so much with him.

We missed the joy of telling family and friends early, as no one was sure if it was “going to stick”.
We missed the happy glowing second trimester. Instead it was wrought with fetal medicine specialist appointments, bed rest and close calls.
We missed those first days home after delivery when everything is quiet and surreal coupled with chaotic and overwhelming.
We never got to say to anyone “He’s ___ days old.” We didn’t even get weeks. By the time our NICU stay was done those had all passed by, and we were left with odd glances from people when we told them how many months old he was and then fumbling quickly, blurted out something about him being a preemie.

We aren’t going to celebrate the “shoulda been” day in June. That was for something that was never meant to be. And really the sadness only bites when we look back on the year. When we look at Quentin all I can do is smile. And laugh at his weird personality. And hug him. Tight. Because deep down I know that there very easily could have been nothing to hug at all.

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Our Montessori Home: In the kitchen

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Our Montessori infant weaning table & hand washing station: At 11 months Quentin can push back his chair from the table when he’s finished, and open the kitchen cupboards. He still needs help to get out a table setting. The little vase is empty; needing its flower replaced. The “fine art” hung at child’s height above the table is a simple post card in a frame.
In Montessori infant communities children eat at small tables sitting on small chairs as soon as they can sit comfortably. Everything a child uses (similar to the rest of the classroom) is designed to be as realistic as possible. This means real silverware (sized for a small child) and a real place setting including drinking cup.
We use porcelain plates and bowls and glass drinking cups. Although many Montessori material companies sell infant drinking glasses such as these we just have heavy shot glasses for now.
The worry of course is a young child and broken glass. I think what’s important to us is that there is always close supervision of Quentin while he is eating. We also have a linoleum kitchen floor. It may be why we haven’t had a broken piece yet.

Maria Montessori anticipated negativity around using real and fragile dining ware:

…they place more importance on the glass than on the child; an object worth a few cents seems more precious than the physical training of their children. – Maria Montessori. The Child in the Family.

We store everything in Quentin’s hand washing station.

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This has worked really well for us. It fits the Montessori principles of being beautiful, functional, and real looking. Quentin has just started washing his hands in the tiny sink.

Our Montessori Home: the play/work space

I suppose the difference in our Montessori home is that not every room is set up in a Montessori way. We have a big house. I need part of it to be just for me. So although the boys have access to and are welcome in the living room there are no materials here. Instead they have their own space. A space entirely dedicated to them and them using materials at their own pace. Their bedrooms, the bathroom and the kitchen all have Practical Life and/or Care of Self aspects in them as well, (that’s another post) so I don’t feel too guilty when I say the living room is just for me.

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This is how the space began. Quentin was 4 months old. It has concrete floors so it needed carpet. The wall mirror and movement mat were where we hung the Montessori Mobiles. But the shelf didn’t have a natural flow.

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It got better. Quentin got older. This was the space when Quentin was 9 months. The movement mat was gone and so were the mobiles. The all important mirror remained with the new addition of a pull up bar. 

His shelves at 9 months: 

  
The pull up bar helped Quentin incredibly with his “pre-walking” phase. Anthony’s shelves are better organized. We also added this:
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Quentin’s gross movement area and a reading corner at both boys could easily access.

At 11 months this is the space now.

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The pull up bar is gone. A work table that Quentin can independently get up from is key in an infant Montessori space. There are many on the market, but we were lucky enough to have one made out of locally logged cedar by a friend.

So that’s where we are. It’s not perfect, but the boys enjoy it. The big window above Anthony’s work table lets in a huge amount of light and there is a large maple tree right outside where we watch the birds come and go from the feeder. As with all Montessori environments, it will continue to evolve to meet their ever changing needs.