Montessori Method for Moms

montessori-classroomSee what I did with the title here? A little alliteration to parallel yesterday’s post “Pikler’s Principles for Parents.” I don’t like excluding dads but poetic license is at work here.

I thought after linking to the article about Pikler’s Principles it might be helpful to write about Maria Montessori summarizing her theories and pedagogy. Pikler’s methods were written for children birth to two years old and Montessori did not write much about this age group so from that perspective they are mutually exclusive beliefs. However, Montessori did write about the role of children in the family, the importance of free movement and a respectful attitude from adults toward children (in a time when children were seen not heard) and also basic human tendencies which are evident at all ages.

maria young.jpg

 

Maria Montessori was the first female doctor in Italy just before the turn of the last century. She had to obtain special permission from the Pope to attend medical school and then had to view the cadavers separately (and alone) from the men. She was a true scientist with an incredibly mathematical mind. She used the scientific method to observe carefully for long periods before ever espousing a theory. After medical school, she was asked to work in an asylum, which in those days cast a wide net as far as people in residence, from mentally and physically incompetent to just blind or deaf. It was her great success in working with this population to make improvements that we see the beginning of her methods.

Principle 1Human Tendencies are universal human characteristics, the manifestation of which depend upon culture and age but, in all cases, they urge the human being to fulfill their human potential.

  • Primary
    • Exploration
    • Orientation
    • Order
    • Communication
  • Secondary
    • Work
    • Repetition
    • Calculation
    • Exactness

Principle 2: From birth to age 6 the child has an Absorbent Mind and takes from his environment to construct himself and his personality. There are two phases of the absorbent mind which relate to the awareness a child has of what he knows. From birth to 3 is the unconscious absorbent mind where a child takes in an enormous amount of information and stores it. This is the age when vocabulary explodes – did you ever notice that each child finds a way of asking for vocabulary? “Dat?” he might say pointing to an object. “Tell me the word for that,” he seems to be asking. He is said to be in a sensitive period for language. Also, the child takes on all the cultural characteristics of his environment – the food, body movements, color, music, etc. We become like our parents. We take in our surroundings without effort, will or even knowledge we are doing so. And, by the way, the “taking in” is effortless. A child takes in what is in his environment, what he needs to acculturate to. Just as with a camera, taking a picture of 1 or 100 is of equal effort – the child can “absorb” 5 or 1 languages just as easily.

Principle 3: Montessori divided child development into four six-year periods from ages birth to 24 (the age at which she felt humans were mature)  and called these periods Planes of Development which all need very different environments to explore their human tendencies.

  • 0-6
  • 6-12
  • 12-18
  • 18-24

Principle 4: A child comes into the world with one question “How do I fit in here?” From birth to age 6 he uses the process of adaptation to find his place in culture, community and world. A child incarnates the environment he finds around himself and builds his human capabilities there, making it part of himself.

montessori-old-classroom

Principle 5:  Montessori borrowed the term Sensitive Periods from a Dutch biologist working with butterflies who discovered the leaves the young butterflies needed were those furthest away but a special sensitivity to light drew them to just what they needed. Montessori saw the psychic development of humans in the same way. Like the process of adaptation, children come in asking “how do I fit in?” and special sensitivities draw them to just what they need at specific developmental periods. There are times it will  easier for a child to acquire a certain skill or learn a particular knowledge and they become sensitive to this specific learning and have an aptitude for it. To take advantage of a sensitive period, a child must be actively involved in making the acquisition of knowledge or skill. Passing the information on to the child verbally as in traditional schools does not engage the child in the same manner. Montessori teachers observe to see which sensitive periods are activated.

Principles 6: Children have both physical needs and spiritual needs (art, music, dance, spirituality…)

montessori-pic

 

Principle 7: We don’t teach children but give them material to teach themselves. The acquisition of knowledge, real learning, takes place by the child.

Principle 8: Environments that take in mind the human tendencies are important at each age group. Directresses (not called teachers) observe behavior and remove obstacles to a child’s development. If a child is in an environment which does not suit him, his behavior will become deviated (doesn’t translate well from Italian but just think of “off course”). In multi age classrooms a child has the chance to be the youngest, middle child and leader. In these roles, he learns, internalizes, and gives (teaches younger children). Environments should:

  • constantly offer opportunities for independence
  • be orderly (especially under age 6)
  • offer sensory exploration
  • be full of language and communication
  • allow manipulation with hands
  • allow movement of whole body
  • offer opportunities for children to make decisions and live with the consequences

Principles 9: A teacher must awaken something in children that is sleeping. Her primary duty is to help, not judge. Thus we don’t give grades as (bad marks are damaging) nor call on children who may not know an answer as this will not make that student more clever or intelligent.

Principle 10: We don’t fit children to established rules, we fit the environment to fit the child. Observe children; see their needs; find something to suit their needs.

math-work-montessori

Principle 11: Mental work does not exhaust but nourishes the spirit, but learning has to be the student’s own process. “You can’t eat a steak for someone who is hungry but tired.”

Principle 12: Invite, don’t force. Any group activity should be an invitation and we should always remember a child’s individuality. Children are pliable and will go along with the adult’s will but we want them to recognize their individuality and not to think like a group. Especially when children are pre-verbal, before they can tell you what their needs are, it’s up to the adult to honor the will of the child.

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Pikler’s Principles for Parents

emi-pikler

I wanted to repost this great summary of Emi Pikler (forerunner to RIE.org) from an education consultant in New Zealand at ParentingWorkx.co.nz. This article can be found at http://www.parentingworx.co.nz/fantastic-reading/emmi-piklers-8-guiding-principles/

Dr Emmi Pikler lived and found her life’s purpose, working with infants in her homeland of Hungary. Pikler, a paediatrician, took over the running of a Home for Children (known as Loczy) in Budapest in 1946.  One whom she mentored was Magda Gerber who took Pikler’s philosophy to the USA and introduced it to her new homeland.

Emmi Pikler died in 1984 and Magda Gerber in 2007. Their work however lives on in so many ways and places.

Pikler set an example that the world is just beginning to wake up to. She knew that in order for babies to develop perfectly in the way that nature had intended, certain things must be heeded.

These included:

  • The long term impact of free movement on a baby’s spirit, intelligence and physical being.
  • Respect being shown to babies at all times – and clarifying what that entailed.
  • The importance of a way a baby is touched and supported in the important birth to two years period.
  • That no babies needs ‘help’ to reach their milestones in life. We can however support them with patience. Pikler said “As a matter of principle, we refrain from teaching skills and activities which, under suitable conditions, will evolve through the child’s own initiative and independent activity.”

Key Principle No.1
Full Attention – especially when involved in the Caring activity times:

Many Mums these days believe that multi-tasking is a great skill and a necessary one. Pikler realised that, in fact, it does not show respect to our babies when we multi-task, any more than when adults multi-task when we require their attention. 100% full attention focuses us in such a way that babies receive and interpret this as the embodiment of Love. It also brings more stillness to lives which have become overwhelmed with speed and ‘productivity’. It is much wiser for us to divide our time than our attention!

Key Principle No. 2
Slow Down:

In today’s ever increasing speed of life – it may benefit us and our babies if we slowed down a little more often! As we whisk ourselves and our babies through tasks, and jump from activity to activity a sense of turmoil can be created. Over stimulated babies are often fretful, and their mother’s/caregivers stressed. Creating calm around babies is  relaxing, as well as peaceful – and allows them to be in an environment where their sacred ‘unfolding’ can take place respectfully.

Key Principle No. 3
Build Trust, and your Relationship, during the Caring activity times:

Pikler believed that parents and caregivers need to take the time to make nappy changing, feeding, bathing and dressing, an unhurried and pleasant quality time – with the baby being an active partner. With nature’s built-in ‘choreography for growth’, if given security and freedom a baby will then spend their time learning just what they need to be learning at any given stage.

Magda Gerber – a student of Emmi Pikler’s ,and the original ‘transporter of the philosophy to the U.S.A. stated, “When you approach your baby with an attitude of respect, you let him know what you intend to do and give him a chance to respond. You assume he is competent and involve him in his care and let him, as much as possible, solve his own problems. You give him plenty of physical freedom and you don’t push development.”

Key Principle No.4
‘With’ – and not ‘To’:

Building a Cooperative relationship with a baby requires that you work together on things. We tend to radically underestimate a baby’s willingness and capability in this area. Pikler saw babies as active participants rather than passive recipients in their care.

All of this requires us to talk to our babies a lot more about what we would like to work with them on – and being patient, giving them time to respond.

For Example: Chloe was nannying 12 months old Angus. His Mum said to Chloe – “He has a runny nose today Chloe – and he hates having it wiped – just do your best”. Chloe noticed that Angus’s Mum would (gently) hold the back of his head with her left hand whilst she wiped with her right hand. Understandably – Angus struggled to escape this ‘lockdown’.  When Chloe noticed that his nose was running, she held out a tissue in her open hand. She showed it to Angus and quietly said “Angus . . . . Your nose is runny . . . . we’ll have to wipe it together”. And she waited. Angus looked at the tissue – then looked at Chloe. She still waited. He looked at the tissues again . . . . and then placed his little face down into them so that they could wipe his nose together. To be in the presence of a baby who is given the chance to work cooperatively is a beautiful thing!

Key Principle No.5
Babies are never put into a position which they cannot get into by themselves.

The reason for this is that they become trapped – and no longer free in their movement. In essence – a baby becomes a prisoner of his/her own body. Pikler understood the myriad of positive outcomes of Free Movement when she said:
“Whilst learning to turn on the belly, to roll, creep, sit, stand and walk, (the baby) is not only learning those movements but also how to learn. He learns to do something on his own, to be interested, to try out, to experiment. He learns to overcome difficulties. He comes to know the joy and satisfaction which is derived from this success, the result of his patience and persistence.”

Take a look at all the ‘parent bling-bling’ on the market today which restricts a baby’s movement. Prams; walkers; high-chairs; swings; baby propping apparatus; baby hammocks; ‘safety’ sleeping  equipment and car seats are commonly used items. Whilst some of these have valid uses (e.g Car Seat whilst travelling in a car) many are used for extended periods of time allowing a baby no freedom of movement. These items are usually more about convenience for the parent – and not about what is good for a baby’s development.

Key Principle No.6
Allow babies uninterrupted time for play:

Magda Gerber firmly believes that parents don’t need to entertain their babies because given a nurturing environment and freedom to explore,  babies are quite capable of entertaining themselves.

Not only that, but what if our ‘help and support’ that we give (with love and good intentions), was actuallyinterference with a sacred process? The unfolding of who they truly are meant to be.

As they play uninterrupted by our interaction, they are experiencing independence, and mastery of their world. It is here that the early beginnings of self esteem and confidence building is taking place.

Magda Gerber: “Parents believe they treat their babies with respect. But if you watch well-meaning, loving adults, you’ll see that they will often interrupt baby’s play without a thought, and treat them in other ways that could hardly be called respectful.”

Key Principle No.7
Babies send us cues all the time. Tune in respectfully.

When a baby turns her head away when you offer her another mouthful of veggies – she is saying quite clearly,  “I’ve had enough”. Why then do perfectly sensible grown-ups offer another spoonful and say “Just one more for Mummy” or “Open the tunnel for the train – Here it comes!!!”

The message we are sending to our baby is “I know you have a message that you are communicating to me – but I’m ignoring it”. Since children eventually boomerang everything back to parents that they have received from them – you can imagine where this might lead a baby in four or fourteen years time!

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How to “Sleep Train” From Birth

I love this new blog I discovered, especially this article about newborn sleeping and how to avoid bad sleep associations you don’t want and create ones you do.

http://amotherfarfromhome.com/ultimate-newborn-sleep-schedule-week-by-week/

And if you think sleep “training” from birth is inappropriate, read this by the same bloggist. Love it!

http://amotherfarfromhome.com/surprising-reason-your-baby-fights-sleep/

 

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Guest Author

I’ve invited a guest author to, perhaps, help me increase the post frequency here a bit. She’s new Mom Celeste Faulman and she had baby Luca in August and has been providing respectful care with free movement ever since! Here is Luca on his floor bed with lots of freedom to develop the most important relationship he’ll ever have – that with his hand!

luca

Celeste has spoken to a few of my childbirth classes as she had a picture perfect childbirth and she has also shared what was successful in her newborn care and what she might have done differently with regards to sleep, etc. Good stuff!! I’d much rather this information come from someone currently doing it as it remains fresh and vibrant that way! So I’ve asked Celeste to just throw up videos and pictures of Luca doing his thing! This is the real thing guys!

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3 Ways New Parents Can Slay the Sleep Monster

baby-rolling-over-in-sleep

I believe the most important role of a parents is to keep their child healthy and safe. We are their Health and Safety Czars!! The two best ways to ensure good health for your child is to provide healthy nutrition and adequate sleep. So what does that look like for a baby? Clearly, ensure that breastfeeding is going well. With Obama care, you ought to get a free lactation consultant visit, so have her come over and check on you!

Okay, nutrition covered! How about sleep? It’s probably the single most frequent complaint of parents. We just don’t know how to do this. Here is what I recommend trying.

1.Forty Days and Forty Nights in Bed.
Up to 6 weeks or 40 days, baby is home on the floor bed with parents joining baby there for nursing and bonding.  These 40 days together with Mom and baby together in bed is a common, global practice. I like for baby to be in his own room on a floor bed because he is getting acclimated and accustomed to where he is going to be sleeping for years.

heather ellis floor bed

Let him learn the smells and sounds of his own room. Don’t make him get used to your adult room which has very specific sounds and smells (breast milk for one) and then have to put energy into adjusting to a whole new environment.

We have an expression in Montessori, “Open The Door Slowly” meaning a baby starts with a protected relationship with Mom, then Dad and other siblings enter, then extended family, then neighborhood, community, etc. We start small, so as not to over stimulate and we add on from there. As he grows, mom can begin to leave when he’s sleeping. After 40 days or so, Mom can begin to move out to her own bed when baby is asleep. And baby can BEGIN to move toward a routine where he is asleep for at least two hours and awake for no more than two hours. (I’m a big fan of Dr. Weissbluth’s book Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child)

2. Associations, Not Props...
If you write down your baby’s eat and sleep times you will begin to see a pattern. Using that pattern of times, you’re going to move slowly toward a  maximum of 2 hour awake times. Also, if you see that your baby is getting sleepy (having learned the Dunstan baby language of cries) you can begin a routine of changing into a sleep blanket, closing the curtains, turning on the humidifier or diffuser so that baby can associate certain cues with sleep. Sleep your baby on her tummy as she oxygenates better. If you wear a sleep sack and have a firm mattress, your baby will not suffocate.

sleep-sack

Make sure your sleep cues are those you can live with for the long term as What We Give Them, They Come to Expect, and Then They Need so be sure they’re not associating sleep with nursing, rocking, bouncing, sucking, etc.

3. Routines, Not Schedules
So again, while writing down sleep and eat events, we begin to move slowly moving toward a routine. Children like to know what to expect. We give them a routine, an order of events, rather than a schedule. Though we will eventually have a GOAL of awake no more than 2 hours, and naps of at least 2 hours, with 12 hours of sleep at night, we start with a predictable order. It doesn’t have to be complicated.

As part of your routine, remember this acronym: STEP which stands for  Sleep, Toilet, Eat, Play. Repeat. So the day begins to take on a pattern and may move toward looking like the table below. At 5pm you may want to “cluster feed” whereby you feed at five and again before bed at 7 to get ready for a night sleep. Remember this is something you are moving toward slowly. I highly recommend the book 12 Hours by 12 Weeks for more info. Your day might begin to look like this:

7am Awake Toilet, Eat, Play
9am Sleep
11am Awake, Toilet, Eat, Play
1pm Sleep
3pm Awake, Toilet, Eat, Play
5pm Eat, Play, Bath & Massage
7pm Eat, Sleep
*(11pm Dream Feed by Dad while Mom Pumps)
7am Awake

*This is the recommendation of Tracy Hogg in Secrets of the Baby Whisperer but Suzy Giordano in 12 Hours by 12 Weeks suggests something different – weaning off last nighttime sleep first and then the middle and then the first.

 If you think you would like to hire a sleep consultant, I recommend Pam Nease at http://pamneasesleep.com. These are the books from which I take all of my recommendations (in no particular order). You might want to read the reviews on Amazon and see if any one resonates for you. I do think the first one is the one that provided me, personally, with the most helpful and scientific information.

  1. Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Marc Weissbluth
  2. 12 Hours Sleep by 12 Weeks Old by Suzy Giordano
  3. Secrets of the Baby Whisperer by Tracy Hogg
  4. Sleeping Through the Night by Jodi Mindell
  5. On Becoming BabyWise by Gary Ezzo

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10 Beliefs That May Change Your Parenting

Added together, I have spent more than two straight years in Montessori training (0-12 plus Catechesis of the Good Shepherd). I am trained to be a Bradley Childbirth instructed and I completed the RIE Foudations Course in Los Angeles. I studied Infant Development at the Erickson Institute in Chicago. I am trained in Infant CPR, Infant Heimlich, and First Aid.

Because of and in spite of this education, my work with parents cannot be separated from my beliefs about children and sometimes I have difficulty knowing where something I “believe’ came from!

I did some very tangible things in raising my children which made sense to me and worked well for our family. We did a 40 day lie-in where mom stays strictly home with baby; breastfeeding; whole, organic homemade foods; daily fresh air and exercise; cloth diapers; predictable routines, uninterrupted and self directed free play.

Yet despite these philosophies we researched and adopted, underneath was a core set of beliefs and attitudes about and toward children.

Here are are some things I know ring true for me.

  1. I hold a respectful, even reverent, attitude toward babies and children because I believe they are competent, capable and deserving of our highest regard. We should not enter their personal space without asking permission and showing a respectful attitude.
  2. Children benefit from freedom of movement from the beginning in every sense of the term. They are well served by being out of containers and on the floor. There is a school of thought that children should not be put into positions they can’t get in themselves. This includes propping them up to sit, even in car seats. Through free movement, brain development is strengthened. When a child learns to move and tone his body he is better able to gain control and mastery over his body and interact with his environment in ways that are purposeful and purposeful movement is good for the brain.
  3. Children have everything they need and sometimes we can best serve them by staying out of their way. They are directed toward that which they are ready to learn and by “teaching” we take away the opportunity for them to self discover. Our biggest job, our most important role is as an observer. They will tell us when they need us to hug them, feed them, teach them. And we can honor them by learning their language. Otherwise, there is so little we need to guide them toward. They will show us and we can follow while scaffolding (supporting enough to keep them safe).
  4. What we give to children they come to expect and then they need. This includes sleeping on a warm body, television and other screens, 100% attention 100% of the time, a view from a propped up position and much more.
  5. I advocate for parents being 100% there 50% of the time as opposed to the more typical 50% there 100% of the time. This means all attention is on the child during caring times (feeding, changing, bathing) and other than that, the child has “me” time and lets us know when he needs relationship with us.
  6. Some additional things I do in my work with children: allow, observe, narrate (give words to emotions), follow, read to, and sing.
  7. Children benefit from clear expectations. Try not to say no but mean it when you do.
  8. I respect and honor parents’ personal choices for their own family’s lifestyle. I know for a fact that great children come out of all kinds of parenting philosophies!
  9. Toddlers are looking for more understanding and independence. They are hardwired to understand our world and how it works and how they fit in. They want to feel empowered in this world and if they don’t feel this they may begin to act out. I will help you empower your child thus increasing impulse control, cooperation and self esteem.
  10. Sleep is important! There are two important books I recommend for new parents and reading them while pregnant is ideal!

Twelve Hours by Twelve Weeks

Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child

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How to “Open the Door Slowly”

We have a saying in 0-3 Montessori called “open the door slowly.” This refers to allowing a child to slowly acclimate according to his developing sensory system. First a child develops a nursing relationship with his mother first (which Dad protects). Then the baby includes Dad in his knowledge of his family dynamic and this may be the extent of his relationships for a 6 week lying-in period. At the same time he is acclimating to the room, its noises and temperatures and smells, where he will be sleeping.  Then he begins to meet neighbors and extended family. And he ventures out of his room into the rest of his house. Soon he goes out into his community and begins to see how things are done there. He is slowly being introduced to things at a rate which his sensitive system can take in and process new information. For babies for whom this truly happens slowly and thoughtfully, it can be overwhelming to go somewhere with too much noise or light.

When I see a baby who is truly raised in an “open the door slowly” way, it is astounding the difference in their thoughtfulness and capacity to practice self control and self discipline. Why is that?

Yet babies who come into a world where they are being taken everywhere without regard to their developing sense systems it can be very jarring. Do you know what happens after a baby is circumcised? I know this because I worked in a newborn nursery and saw many of them. They cry a cry unlike any you’ve ever heard (it almost disappears, it becomes so shrill) and then they go to sleep. Often when we take newborns out, they go to sleep. What about a new baby attached to a body which is always moving, and taken everywhere that adult goes? He may learn to shut down in the face of all that stimulation. And then he will desensitize to it.

In my experience, these are the children who are not “in their bodies.” This is my own expression for children who “bang” materials loudly or thrown them. Those whose bodies are always moving and tripping and upsetting furniture. Those whose depth perception is so off they start bracing themselves for an encounter with a piece of furniture 4 feet away. They seem not to know where their bodies are in space.

Dr. T. Berry Brazelton has a book called Infants and Mothers “where he describes three different infants and their temperaments so clearly that no matter what kind of a baby you have, you will find your child somewhere in the book. For a first time mother in the newborn stage, when variations of sleeping, eating, and temperaments are so different, it is reassuring to know that the one in your crib is as healthy and normal as the rest.”

So yes, babies have different temperaments and some are more sensitive than others but for all of them, we can be sensitive to the fact that they have come from a quiet, dark place into a bright noise filled world and they need to grow accustomed to this at their own pace. They are benefit from “opening the door slowly.”

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