The following is the text from this section of the 2009-2010 edition of The Joyful Child, Montessori from Birth to Three
To see other sections of this publication return to: http://www.michaelolaf.com/JCcontents.html
THE FIRST YEAR - RESPECT FOR UNIQUE DEVELOPMENT, THE
Natural Development & A Childs Self-respect
There is definitely a relationship between the childs mastery of
communication and movement and the development of a good self-image and
self respect. How many of us would be better at "loving ourselves
exactly the way we are" if our own attempts at self-construction
had been respected early in life? There is a connection.
The first two years of life are the most important. Observation proves
that small children are endowed with special psychic powers, and points
to new ways of drawing them outliterally "educating by cooperating
with nature." So here begins the new path, wherein it will not be
the professor who teaches the child, but the child who teaches the professor.
Maria Montessori, MD
Paying attention to communication attempts, and providing for free movement
in a safe and limited space, in the childs room, or a baby-proofed
living room, will do more than anything else to help the child develop
trust in himself.
Each child has his or her unique blueprint for development. One child
may work on eye-hand coordination while another of the same age will be
concentrating on making sounds, another on push-ups or trying to move
her whole body through space. One child will be interested in sitting
up an eating at a table sometime during the first year and another content
to breastfeed. One child will enjoy sitting on a potty to urinate and
another will just not be interested. The best we can do to support this
individuality is to watch, listen, respect, and get out of the way.
Free movement means being able to move ones body without artificial
movement aids, to be able to move according to developing abilities, gradually
learning to reach and to grasp, to turn over, to crawl, to sit up, and
to pull oneself up to a standing position and walkall on one's own.
Developmentally appropriate toys help development. For example when a
child is first beginning to crawl and needs an incentive to move forward
she is aided by using a rolling toy or a ball that only moves a short
distance when being pushed. Intellectual recipes on helping in this way
are abundant and contradictory. The most important advice is to learn
to follow the child. Each child is unique, and there can be no simple
answer for how to treat her.
Preparing the Home to Welcome the Newborn
As you go through the process of preparing baby's room before birth, lie
down on the floor in the middle of the room and look around, listen. Will
it be safe? interesting? beautiful? calming? Will it allow for as much
freedom of movement possible?
Because of the young child's strong sense of order it is ideal if the
room can stay the same for the first year. Thus it is very important to
put a lot of thought into just how to arrange this first environment.
One day as I was watching the joyful, exuberant actions of a new kitten
in our house, I couldn't help comparing it to the curiosity and needs
of the young child. The kitten tested itself against the challenges of
moving in every possible way around the living room, carefully examining
each object and the best way for its body to move over, under, and around
it. I was reminded of watching babies when they are allowed to move freely
in a prepared environment.
Imagine how the natural development of kittens would be affected if they
were confined to such things as kitten cribs with covers, kitten slings,
swings, walkers, and pacifiers. I am continually thinking about how we
can help babies to explore with their bodies and to develop grace and
confidence in movement. The newborn has a lot of important developmental
work to do, and we can help this work by providing the most naturally
While in the womb a child has already been exercising muscles and listening
to sounds. After birth she will gradually learn to move on her own and
to explore, with every sensory and motor ability at her command. She will
study the room in detail with her eyes and listen carefully to every single
sound with her ears. After strengthening arms and legs with baby push-ups,
she will head for objects to explore further.
Every child follows a unique timetable of learning to crawl to those things
he has been looking at, so that he may finally handle them. This visual,
followed by tactile, exploration is very important for many aspects of
human development. If we provide a floor bed or mattress on the floor
in a completely safe roomrather than a crib or playpen with barsthe
child has a clear view of the surroundings and freedom to explore.
A bed should be one which the baby can get in and out of on his own as
soon as he is ready to crawl. The first choice is an adult twin bed mattress
on the floor. Besides being an aid to development, this arrangement does
a lot to prevent the common problem of crying because of boredom or exhaustion.
It helps to think of this as a whole-room playpen with a baby gate at
the doorway and to examine every nook and cranny for interest and safety.
If the newborn is going to share a room with parents or siblings we can
still provide a large, safe, and interesting environment.
Eventually he will explore the whole room with a gate at the door and
then gradually move out into the baby-proofed and baby-interesting remainder
of the house.
These are the beginning stages of independence, concentration, movement,
self-esteem, decision-making, and balanced, healthful development of body,
mind, and spirit.
Clothing that Supports Free Movement and Development
It is quite natural for a baby's hands and feet to be a little cooler
than the rest of the body. Even temperature is importantbut so is
When the child begins to creep (which can happen much earlier than we
thought when the environment supports it) children also need to be able
to create friction with their knees. I remember well the day I put the
first dress on my first daughter, and put her on the floor. She was just
learning to crawl and the bottom of the dress fell just under knees and
completely prevented crawling! Well, that was the last dress for awhile
because it was much more important for her to be able to crawl than to
let everyone know she was a girl!
Attachment and Separation, Preparation for Weaning, and Toilet Learning
Children who wear cotton pants in the infant community learn to use the
potty at the same time as they learn to stand and begin to walk. The Assistant
to Infancy keeps careful record of when the infant urinates and then simply
offers the potty at these predictable timeswith no coercion of any
kind. Children love to learn to sit on a little stool next to the potty,
to remove panties, and to use the potty, just as they love to learn to
imitate all of the other activities going on around them.
The first year of life is marked by an amazing growth in independence.
First the baby leaves the security of the womb because it is time
to be able to move and grow as a separate organism. Next she learns to
crawl, then to pull up, stand and walk. She takes in a huge amount of
language which will be used later. Weaning and learning to use the toilet
can be natural and enjoyable transitions when the process is prepared
for when the child is very young.
It takes careful observation and wisdom for the parents to see when a
child is taking each new stepand the support and encouragement of
the adult is the most effective aid to this vital growth in security and
independence. We must be there for the infant but step back when we are
not needed. The stronger the attachment in the beginning, the more successful
will be the separation later.
Breast feeding is an example of a strong attachment. The relationship
between the mother and child during the times when the infant is nursing
is extremely important, as it becomes a standard for future relationships.
Think of the message of love the mother gives to the child when she gives
her undivided attention, eye-contact, smiles, singing. The message is
very different if the child is fed while the adult is reading, watching
TV, or talking to someone else. This period will pass soon enough that
we should support the parent in the bonding that occurs during feeding.
We must also keep in mind the psychological effects of too much oral satisfaction
in the first year. Instead of nursing a child in response to every negative
feelingtiredness, pain, frustrationwe should offer loving
comfort in those situations and encourage the child to eat only when he
is hungry for food. This helps a child stay in touch with his own natural
and healthful eating needs, growing into an adult who eats for nutrition
and not out of psychological needs.
Materials that Support Natural Development and Self-esteem
A small table and chair kept in the environment in the first year will
provide a familiar space for the child who wants to try feeding herself
with a bowl and spoonand these first attempts happen earlier than
we previously thought.
Likewise, a potty seat with which the infant is familiar will invite child
to use it as soon as she is ready. Children love to remove their own cotton
pants while sitting on a little wooden bench next to the potty. They can
start doing this soon after they learn to walk.
There should be no pressure, no reward or punishment, no adult deciding
when the child should learn to feed herself or use the potty. The environment
is prepared and the child is free to explore and to imitate in these natural
A young child develops trust in herself, the basis of self-esteem, as
she interacts with the environment. She learns to move out into the world,
to touch and grasp through her own effort, those things she has been longing
to reach. With the loving support of adults and older children, and in
an environment that meets her changing needs, she will learn that she
is capable, that her choices are wise, that she is indeed a fine person.
The End of The First Year
Once this foundation is laid, future learning for children is easier.
These children have a positive self-image, and trust that the world is
a wonderful place to be. They trust themselves and their ability to function
in this world.
Judi Orion, Montessori Assistants to Infancy Teacher Trainer
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