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Our Childcare Blog

The Problem with Labels

Written By: pod

By: RB Fast

All parents share a primary goal: we want our children to be successful and lead fulfilling lives. As a society we have a very precise definition of what success looks like: Successful people are smart, attractive, friendly, strong, and creative. Since we want our children to be successful, we are inclined to attribute these desirable attributes to them in the form of labels. However, labels can be detrimental to both your child’s success and their self-esteem.

Parenting in North America

The 1970s marked a turning point for parenting in North America. Parents began to become more concerned about their children’s self-esteem. As a response to that anxiety parents began to teach their children how to feel good about themselves and encourage them to see the infinite number of ways they could lead successful lives.

Though the goals of this shift were admirable this practice resulted in parents working to assign their children positive labels and encouraging them to live up to them.

Good self-esteem is an important part of any child’s development, but it needs to be built up in a way that is intentional and approaches children as a whole being.

How Labels are Problematic

When children are given labels, either positive or negative, they begin to define themselves based on that label. Most children who have been given labels will work hard to live up to those labels and make sure their efforts are noticed. To avoid losing labels children may shy away from activities and situations that challenge that label.

For example, the class “bad boy” is likely going to be the last child to volunteer for a school improvement activity, even if the activity is something that interests him. That is because doing so could compromise his social niche at school, which is a scary thought for a child.

Similar situations can arise when we give children problematic labels. As a society, we place a lot of emphasis on physical beauty, especially for girls. Girls who are told they are “pretty” or “beautiful” probably are, but they also begin to believe that being “pretty” is incredibly important to their identities and self-worth. This label can become so all-consuming that girls may shy away from any activity or situation that could make them look unattractive such as not wearing makeup, eating in front of boys, or participating in sports. Though these girls may, in fact, be attractive they become paralyzed by their need to maintain this constant perception of flawless beauty and that need can cause them to struggle in other areas of their lives.

Another label that can hurt a child’s long-term success is the “smart” label. We all want our children to be smart, and all kids are. Children are inquisitive and creative by nature, and their ability to absorb the knowledge around them. Unfortunately, since their critical thinking skills are not yet fully developed they often accept the information, we offer to them as truth and do not question it.

Supporting Studies

One study looked at how the “smart” label affected a group of grade 4 children. The class was split up into two groups and given a simple puzzle to complete. The first group of children was told that the reason they were able to complete the puzzle was because they were smart, and the other group was told they were successful because they worked hard.

The two groups were then given a much harder puzzle to solve. The majority of the children in the “smart” group refused to even attempt to solve the puzzle, while the group whose hard work was emphasized attacked the problem with gusto.

The study concluded that the “smart” label appeared to cause the children to be afraid and that if they were unable to solve the difficult puzzle the researchers, their parents, and their peers might not think they were smart anymore. If the children attempted to solve the puzzle and failed, they could compromise their “smart” labels, so it was safer to simply not try at all.

Conclusion

We all want our children to be happy, well-rounded, and successful members of society. However, as parents, it isn’t our job to box our children in with labels, but instead to let them know that we believe in them and let them define themselves and their place in the world. Like any parent I want my daughter to face the world with enthusiasm, and I hope she never stops herself from trying something new because she is afraid of how it will alter someone else’s definition of who she is.

As parents and as members of society we need to work together to emphasize hard work, good choices, and respect for ourselves, others and the environment over labels like “pretty” or “smart.” By doing that we can rest assured that our children will be the creators of their own destinies and craft their identities using genuine self-esteem.

“The word education must not be understood in the sense of taching, but of assisting the psychological development of the child.” – Dr. Maria Montessori

The Hazards of Screentime

Written By: pod

By: Mauren Stark Schmidt

TV and computers changed how we interact with one another and the world around us. Now, in the age of smartphones and tablets, our children have constant access to knowledge and an endless flow of entertainment at their fingertips. Unfortunately, with so many devices at our children’s disposal, they have lost something incredibly valuable: Silence, and the ability to listen to themselves.

My college professor once told me that as soon as TVs became commonplace, his students began to change. Whereas before he could ask them a question and they would attempt to answer it now, they just sat there, waiting patiently. They expected the answer to be given to them.

Children today are constantly busy, with every moment scheduled or filled. This means that they don’t have time to think their own thoughts or reflect on their own lives. A twenty-year study looked at the qualities associated with success and determined that certain personal attributes contribute to an individual’s sense of achievement. In the study, success was defined as having positive family relationships and good friends, feeling loved, having self-approval, being satisfied at work, having good physical and mental health, being financially comfortable, feeling spiritually content, and having an overall sense of meaning in one’s life.

The qualities that most contributed to the richness of life were self-awareness, a proactive attitude, perseverance, goal setting, having effective support systems, and having emotional coping strategies.

When our children are constantly plugged in, they aren’t building these qualities. A parents part of our job is to help our children unplug from other people’s voices and dramas, and learn how to listen to their own inner voices. Here are a few methods you can use at home to help your child unplug:

Set Limits

A study by The Kaiser Family Foundation found that children and adolescents spend an average of seven hours and thirty-eight minutes each day using entertainment. That is more than 53 hours a week. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children over the age of two spend no more than two hours each day on screens and that children under two should have no screen time.

To limit the amount of screen time your children are exposed to it is best to keep computers and TVs in common areas. This allows you to easily monitor how much screen time your child has each day. When it comes to tablets and smartphones, you should also be sure to set rules that limit the amount of time your children are allowed to spend on these devices.

Go Low Tech

Families were able to have fun before smartphones and tablets came along. Low tech activities are a great way to bond as a family and teach your child new skills. Here are some activities you might like to try at home as a family:

  • Reading books aloud
  • Cooking meals
  • Going for evening walks
  • Building models
  • Doing crossword puzzles or other word games
  • Solving sudoku puzzles

All of these activities are great ways to help your child unplug and engage in interpersonal and intrapersonal communication.

Schedule a Power Outage

Schedule one evening per month to have a “power outage.” Put away all your electronic devices and have a firepit, play cards or board games, look at the stars, or play parlour games like charades. Make the evening extra special by fixing a special snack and spend a few hours simply enjoying each other’s company.

You can also use unplugging as an excuse to bond with friends and neighbours. Reach out to other families you know and organize some group activities that don’t involve watching TV, using computers, or playing video games.

Children need peace and quiet so they can think their own thoughts and learn to enjoy being with the person they will spend the rest of their lives with – themselves. They need time to build relationships with their friends and family members. As tempting as technology can be we need to make sure our children are gaining the skills they need to love their lives and themselves.

Author Biography: Mauren Stark Schmit has been working with children for over twenty-five years. She holds a Masters in Education from Loyola College and holds teaching credentials from Montessori Internationale. She has founded her own Montessori school, and writes a weekly syndicated news column called Kids Talk. She is also the author of Understanding Montessori: A Guide for Parents and Building Cathedrals Not Walls.

The Importance of Infant Education

Written By: Shefun Jiwani-Ali

Children are truly astonishing. Their minds are constantly growing and expanding, fuelled by their boundless curiosity and wonder. Though most parents believe that childhood education should begin at pre-school it really should begin much sooner, starting shortly after birth. What they often find even more surprising is the idea that education is much more than just ABC and 123.

The Montessori Method aims to provide your child with a wealth of knowledge and will teach them valuable learning skills that they will use for the rest of their life. The type of education your child receives will shape their entire life, so why wait until preschool or Kindergarten to decide what sort of education you want for your child?

The Montessori Method

Dr. Maria Montessori, the creator of the Montessori Method, understood that a young child’s mind was like a sponge. She referred to this idea as the Absorbent Mind. Children, especially infants, are able to effortlessly absorb information and feedback from their environments, and use the knowledge they gain to understand the world around them and bring out their spirit.

It is never too early to begin your child’s Montessori education. Your decision to educate your child using the Montessori Method, either by enrolling them in a Montessori infant program or implementing Montessori methods at home, will benefit your child’s overall development for the rest of their life.

Educating Your Child as a Whole

It is critical that you aim to use education to develop your child as a whole, but what exactly does that mean? First, let’s discuss what we mean by education. What is the purpose of education? Most parents would agree that the reason they educate their children is to ensure they have the skills and knowledge they need to thrive in our society.

It is because of this idea that many parents don’t see the point of educating a baby, and underestimate their infant’s capabilities. When infants are provided with the right environment, materials and support, they are able to develop an acute understanding of how the world works while nurturing their confidence and independence.

Learning at Their Own Pace

The Montessori approach towards educating children encompasses their physical, social, emotional, and cognitive growth. Our method recognizes that not all children learn and develop at the same pace, and need to be respected and treated as individuals.

To do this, we employ the idea of “Following the Child”, during which we allow and encourage children to express themselves and follow their own interests and curiosities. By letting your child take the lead you can help support them as they grow as a while. The earlier your child receives this support, the bigger the difference it will make.

Incorporating the Montessori Method at Home

While you may choose to enroll your child in a Montessori program, there are also many ways you can incorporate the Montessori Method into your child’s life at home. We have included a few here:

Rescue Is Robbery

It is okay for your child to make mistakes. In fact, making mistakes is an essential part of the learning process. Parents often have the urge to do things for their child rather than allow them the time and space to practice and develop mastery.

If your child is trying to feed himself, you should let him. Yes, he will likely miss his mouth and spill food on his clothes and the floor, but if you give him enough time to practice he will eventually get the spoon into his mouth.

Let Them Touch Things

Infants, in particular, learn about their environment by using their senses: sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing. To help your child learn and grow give them things that they can explore using their senses, and provide them with objects that they can use to interact with their environment.

It’s Never To Early For Some Responsibilities

Children, even very young ones, develop a better sense of independence and confidence when they feel like they are contributing to the community using their practical life skills. To help them develop this confidence and independence give them small jobs that are important, such as watering the plants.

While your child waters the plants make sure to talk to them about how they are helping the plants grow and adding beauty to your home. Children love to feel like they are helping, and by encouraging them to do so, you help them learn to do more things for themselves.

Education for Life

Montessori education extends beyond the classroom, setting your child up for a lifetime of success. Infants and toddlers are more capable than we often give them credit for, and if we provide them with the right environment, their curiosity and ingenuity will surprise you.

Balancing “Setting Limits” with “Following the Child”: A Q&A with Cathie Perolman

Written By: Shefun Jiwani-Ali

On the surface the ides of “Following the Child” and “Setting Limits” might seem to be at odds, but in reality they go hand-in-hand when it comes to your child’s development. We sat down with Cathie Perolman, an experienced Montessori guide at the 3-6 level, to discuss how to balance these seemingly contradictory ideas.

Question: What Does “Following The Child” Actually Mean?

Answer: “Following the child” means letting your child take the lead regarding what they want to study and learn about. As parents and teachers it is our responsibility to allow and encourage our children to pursue their interests in ways they construct themselves.

Question: So What Might “Following The Child” Look Like?

Answer: It really depends on the age of the child in question. Young children tend to have interests that are fleeting, so “Following the Child” could be a simple as a trip to the library to get some books on a particular topic or a visit to the zoo to see a specific animal. As your child matures “Following the Child” might take the form of a class (such as a knitting class at a craft store), a week of summer camp that focuses on the topic or area they are interested in, or helping them acquire materials for a particular science experiment.

Question: How Does This Relate To Setting Limits?

Answer: Children not only need limits, they also crave them. Limits help children learn what is and is not appropriate as they grow and learn how to behave. Limits help children develop self-control, control their impulses, and create positive life habits. However, limits need to be flexible and change as the child grows so that you avoid stifling them.

What “Following the Child” does not mean is letting your child run the show and decide what you are going to do and when. If your child asks you for a toy, or some time on the iPad, it is within your parenting rights to say “no”. Giving your child what they want, whenever they want it, is not healthy for the child or for you.

Question: Can you give me an example of setting limits without stifling my child?

Answer: One example I like to use is the grocery store. When your child is young you might offer them the choice of riding in the cart or holding onto it. If the child opts to hold onto the cart but lets go and wanders off then you simply pick them up and put them in the cart, where they have to remain until the shopping is done.

A slightly older child might be responsible enough to wander a bit farther away, but you might specify that they need to stay within your view while shopping. If the child leaves your view they have to spend the rest of the shopping trip holding onto the cart, and no longer have the option to wander within your view.

For a still older child, you may feel they are responsible enough to shop wherever they please, provided they agree to either meet you at a prearranged time or contact you periodically. If the child does not follow your conditions they lose the privilege of wandering freely and will have to stay within viewing distance until you feel they are ready to try again.

Question: So “Following The Child” Actually Depends On Setting Limits?

Answer: Exactly. You allow the child to decide what interests they want to pursue, but you structure how they pursue those interests so that their activities are safe, age-appropriate, and enriching.

One thing to remember though is that while it is fine for you to share the things you love with your child in the hopes that they find those activities interesting as well it is not appropriate to force your interests upon your child.

“Following the Child” is definitely not at odds with setting limits, and in fact depends on limits to succeed. When you follow your child’s lead you let them determine their own interests, and help decide how they would like to pursue those interests to learn and grow. Setting limits not only offers children the structure they crave, but also helps them learn how to control their impulses, create positive life habits, and learn what sort of behaviour is and isn’t appropriate.

Biography:

Cathie Perolman is a Montessori educator, teacher, and publisher of educational materials. She lives in Columbia, Maryland.

The Montessori Grandparent Way: Enjoy Some Science Inquiry Time Together

Written By: Shefun Jiwani-Ali

My annual weekend visit with my oldest granddaughter Blakely Jayne is one of the highlights of my year. At almost four she is cheerful, smart and highly inquisitive, and delights in learning about the world around her. Each year my son-in-law makes the long journey from Rochester, New York to Sarasota, Florida where I live. As he plays golf with his grandfather Blakely and I enjoy our special time together. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Whenever Blakely comes to visit I invite her to participate in experiences that will both build on our collective memories and stay with her as she grows. She still talks enthusiastically about our trip to the Jungle Gardens, and the parade we had where we were followed by hundreds of flamingos. She looks forward to our visits. Now that she is a bit older a lot of the fun activities we share can be found right in our own kitchen.

It was easy for me to decide what to do with Blakely this year. The Kitchen Science Experiments I chose for our time together were presented to me at the Montessori Foundation’s 16th Annual International Conference last November, right here in Sarasota. Each year hundreds of Montessori guides, teachers, administrators, heads of schools, board members, parents and grandparents gather to experience a weekend of workshops and listen to inspiring keynotes.

One of our regular presenters is Dr. Ann Epstein, the Early Childhood/Middle Childhood Program Coordinator for the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse. As soon as Ann submitted her proposals for this year’s conference I knew that the science experiments she would be discussing would be the perfect thing for my weekend with Blakely. I chose a few age appropriate ones and gathered the necessary ingredients from my kitchen. Most of the items needed were things I already had at home, making these experiments both fun and relatively inexpensive.

I may not have had a dedicated early childhood environment in my house, but I did have a large, covered lanai which acted as the perfect outdoor alternative. In order to set your child up for success you need to make sure that you provide them with a prepared environment, regardless of what activities you have planned for them.

Once Blakely had arrived we took our ingredients to the table and we worked through Dr. Epstein’s suggested questions. These questions are not only designed to encourage your child to think beyond their own personal space, but also help them to engage in conversation while learning new words and ideas. This multifaceted approach helps your child develop multiple skills at once in a fun and easily accessible way. As an aside, make sure you conclude any activity before your child gets too tired. Ending on a high note leaves a positive lasting impression.

I have included some of the activities we did together in this article so you can enjoy them with your own children. Some of the activities required precise measuring, a skill Blakely is still acquiring, so I pre-measured some of the ingredients before we began. I did, however, let her do all of the mixing, pouring and transferring.

We had a wonderful time conducting our experiments, and we hope that you and your children do as well.

Experiment 1: Baking Soda and Vinegar

Materials

  • 1 Mixing bowl
  • 1 Large metal or plastic spoon
  • 1 Cup measuring cup
  • 1 Tablespoon measuring spoon
  • 1 Box of baking soda
  • 1 Bottle of white vinegar
  • Food colouring (optional)

Process

  1. Measure out 1 tablespoon of baking soda into the mixing bowl
  2. Measure 1 cup of vinegar
  3. Add the vinegar one tablespoon at a time until the reaction occurs
  4. Discuss the reaction with your child, and observe how the bubbles are formed. The bubbles form because gas is released when baking soda and vinegar are mixed together.

Experiment 2: Dish Detergent and Whole Milk

Materials

  • 1 Small dish for mixing
  • Several Q-tips
  • Food colouring
  • ½ Cup of dish detergent
  • ¼ Cup of whole milk

Process

  1. Pour the ¼ cup of whole milk into the small dish.
  2. Add several drops of food colouring to the milk. You may choose to use one colour or several.
  3. Dip one of the Q-tips in the dish detergent.
  4. Gently lower the Q-tip until it is touching the surface of the milk and food colouring mixture.
  5. Discuss how the milk and food colouring mixture reacts to the detergent covered Q-tip, and why the Q-Tip causes the milk mixture to swirl. The detergent is attracted to the fat in the milk.

Experiment 3: Black Pepper and Bar Soap

Materials

  • 1 Flat pan or plate with raised edges, such as a glass pie plate
  • 1 Bar of soap (a “hard” soap like Dial works better than a “soft” soap like Ivory)
  • Black pepper in a shaker
  • 2 Cups of water

Process

  1. Pour the 2 cups of water into the pan or plate.
  2. Sprinkle pepper across the entire surface of the water.
  3. Gently touch one corner of the bar of soap to the surface of the water.
  4. Discuss how the pepper quickly disperses to the edge of the glass container. This happens because the surface tension of the water has been broken by the soap.
  5. Gently touch the soap to the water for a second time and observe what happens. Discuss why the pepper won’t move again. This happens because the surface tension of the water has already been broken, so it is unable to “hold” the pepper in place.

Experiment 4: Oobleck (Cornstarch and Water)

Materials

  • 1 Large mixing bowl (glass works best)
  • 1 ½ Cups of cornstarch
  • 1 Pitcher of water
  • Newspaper or tablecloth to cover the table, or a tray that is large enough to hold the bowl
  • 1 Wooden mixing spoon

Process

  1. Pour the cornstarch into the mixing bowl
  2. Slowly add the water, stirring as you pour. Continue to add water until you achieve a honey-like consistency.
  3. Gather a small amount of the oobleck mixture in the palm of your hand and form it into a soft ball.
  4. Clench your fist. As you do this the oobleck mixture will turn into a liquid and drip through your fingers.
  5. Release your grip and watch the oobleck mixture return to its solid state.
  6. Discuss why the oobleck transitioned from a solid into a liquid, and back to a solid again. This occurs because of surface tension, which holds the particles in place. The pressure disturbs the surface tension, changing the solid oobleck mixture into a liquid.

Additional Kindergarten-Age Science Activities You Can Do At Home

  • Simple circuits. These can be created using a large batter, some wire, several alligator clips and a small light bulb with a holder.
  • Sink and float experiments
  • Magnetic vs non magnetic experiments
  • Colour mixing with shaving cream
  • Sprouting seeds. Lima beans work particularly well for this experiment because they are large and will sprout in individual sandwich bags. To prepare the beans wrap each one in a ½ sheet of damp paper towel and place it in the baggie, making sure not to close the top all the way so the bean can get enough oxygen.
  • How plants drink. Stand a freshly cut stalk of celery up in a pitcher of coloured water (red works well) and leave it for two to three days. Watch as the water creeps up the celery veins.
  • Wind experiments
  • Bubble experiments

Blakely and I ended up expanding on the baking soda and vinegar experiment. We took all the mixed ingredients and scooped them onto a plate. Then we patted them down and felt the mixture with our fingers. We observed that it was wet, but did not seem to leave any liquid on our hands. Next we set the flattened mixture in the sun to dry for several hours. Once the vinegar was evaporated by the sun it hardened. This whole extension gave Blakely more things to think about.

Once we had completed our experiments I gave Blakely a pail of warm water and a small sponge so she could clean the table. The cleaning up portion of our time together kept her almost as engaged as the experiments had and let her practice a valuable skill in the process.

Guiding your grandchildren and teaching them how to maintain their environment from start to finish is an extension of the ideas they are learning in their Montessori classrooms. As grandparents it is important for us to try and support, encourage, and foster the same values while we enjoy our time with them.

Author Biography

Margot Garfield-Anderson is the IMC Membership Director and Conference Coordinator for the Montessori Foundation’s Annual Conferences in Sarasota, Florida and San Jose, California. She has three grandchildren, and while Blakely isn’t able to attend a Montessori school she does her best to enrich Blakely’s life with as many Montessori moments as she can. By creating traditions and memorable experiences Margot is able to give Blakely a foundation steeped in Montessori principles and practices, something which is very important to her. We hope that you share these experiments with your children’s grandparents so they too can create special and memorable times with your children.

Montessori Infant And Toddler Programs Are Based On The Concepts Of “Home And Family”

Written By: Shefun Jiwani-Ali

Being a baby is confusing. A baby must constantly navigate a world that is unknown to them and interact with large creatures that act in unpredictable ways. These large creatures (adults) make strange garbled sounds, and act as if the baby is supposed to understand what they are saying. Adults have the power to change the environment, and even as you try to learn from them you are held back by the fact that they move too quickly for you to follow. They do each task differently each time, making it nearly impossible for you to determine what the correct procedure is. To make matters more difficult babies possess almost no physical strength and limited communication skills, making it difficult for them to exert their will on the world around them.

To help them navigate this confusing world babies are like little sponges. They explore their environment and the objects within it so they can gather valuable information. They do their best to determine what is edible and what is not, and test the limits of themselves, their surroundings, and the people they interact with.

The prevailing attitude for centuries was that babies are egocentric and irrational, and that they can only understand the world in concrete and limited ways. Modern advances in technology have determined that this limited and rigid view is false. In her book The Philosophical Baby (2009) Alison Gopnik wrote “Psychologists and neuroscientists have discovered that babies not only learn more, but imagine more, care more, and experience more than we would have thought possible. In some ways, young children are actually smarter, more imaginative, more caring and even more conscious than adults are.” These findings may appear revolutionary, but they would have come as no surprise to Dr. Maria Montessori.

Honoring the Process of Development

Dr. Montessori believed that “If the human personality is one at all stages of its development, we must conceive of a principle of education that has regard for all stages.” Rather than rely on the preconceived notions that dominated the field of early childhood learning Dr. Montessori combined her medical knowledge about anatomy and neurology with her observations on childhood. This led her to conclude that many of the previously held assumptions and prescribed responses to children and their behaviour was actually in direct conflict with human biology. When children are provided with environments that are in harmony with the process of their development what adults had previously labelled “misbehaviour” became a part of the learning process instead.

Montessori was one of the first philosophies that understood that a child’s mind and body continue to develop in the years after they are born. Who we become is largely dependant on how those first few formative years are spent, and what sort of physical encounters and experiences we have during that critical time.

Applied Sciences

A child that is suddenly too quiet tends to set off alarm bells in every parent’s head. By the time children are becoming mobile most parents have learned that a quiet child is likely doing something their caregivers will disapprove of. Dr. Montessori was fascinated by what children did when they were allowed to take the lead and interact with their surroundings free from adult interference.

By observing what children did when allowed to roam freely she discovered many sensitive periods of brain development. During these periods millions of neurons are being programmed so they can best perceive the stimulus found in their immediate surroundings, and the cognitive architecture for thought and action is being formed.

That is why she believed that a child’s drives should be encouraged, not thwarted, and that it was essential that parents, teachers and caregivers provide appropriate means for children to express those drives in a healthy way. She observed that industrialization had radically changed the childhood experiences that had developed naturally over the proceeding millennia. She made it her goal to restore and synthesize vital experiences full of physiological benefits and implicit information.

Sally Goddard Blythe, the director of the Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology echoed this sentiment in 2011 when she warned “One of the greatest threats to modern society comes not from diseases of the past (which medicine and hygiene have largely controlled), but illnesses, learning disorders and social problems, which are the direct consequence of modern living conditions, lifestyle, and ignorance of children’s biological needs.”

In her article Assessing Neuromotor Readiness for Learning Blythe laments that too many young children, toddlers and infants find themselves relegated to “containers” such as swings, infant seats, high chairs and playpens. These containers drastically limit their ability to move and explore their environments, and expose children to increasing hours of sedentary screen time. Children are both bombarded with noise and deprived of appropriate sensory experiences. Her research suggests that these modern cultural practices fail to support the maturation of the nervous, limbic and vestibular systems and also fail to inhibit primitive reflexes in accordance with optimal developmental timetables.

Dr. Montessori advocated passionately for children on these same topics, though she was limited by the language of her day. Her research linked freedom of movement to overall health. She observed that children loved to challenge themselves, and advocated for children to be provided with opportunities to struggle, develop their emotional strength, and improve their stamina. Children were able to better learn to categorize objects and concepts when provided with order and proximity, and that these exercises helped them learn skills related to memory and retrieval. An ordered environment also helped children better predict cause and effect – and pay attention to details for prolonged periods of time.

Children are better able to learn to make choices, and follow procedures and directions if events and objects are presented to them in a predictable order. This predictability also reduces anxiety and allows children to relax into the joys of childhood.

While Dr. Montessori could have left her observations at that she instead chose to develop an entire field of applied science to respond to the needs of human development. That is why materials and activities present in a Montessori environment follow a sequence that proceeds in order of use and complexity, much in the same way an artisan would order their tools. This allows children to proceed at their own pace, and explore their individual talents and interests.

Modern Research

When Darcia Narvaez addressed a 2012 symposium at Notre Dame she asked if today’s societies are “violating evolved expectations of care”, and compared cultures of the past to modern practices. One element of pre-modern caregiving that has recently received increased attention is the system of alloparenting, in which individuals other than the actual parents adopt a parental role. Human beings are unique because unlike most species we raise our children in communities. It is not uncommon for adults and children alike to ask if they can “hold the baby” at the first opportunity, and infants are often passed around to extended family members and friends in a way that reinforces a sense of social embeddedness and belonging.

The parent-child bond is undoubtedly essential, but the “It takes a village” axiom also holds true. Many researchers believe that the willingness of others to help care for a child makes it possible for mothers to eat and maintain their own strength. This sharing of caregiver duties allows not only for the mother’s children to benefit, but also helps ensure the survival of the species by extension. This idea does not imply that group sessions are suitable for all children, but instead speaks to the need for us to provide care and support to parents and families. The isolated nuclear family is a relatively new invention, which supplanted the large family systems of the past. In the past large extended families often shared childcare responsibilities amongst themselves, and children and adults often played and worked alongside one another.

In 1940 Maria Montessori said “The greatest mistake ever made is to isolate the child from the society of the adult, as has happened in modern times.” That is why in Montessori the first step in every stage of development is to allow the child to take in their environment holistically. The second part the child is encouraged to isolate and refine particular observed skills. Children learn through mimicry, and use their observations to internalize the rhythms of a successful and healthy daily life. The observation of adult work is critical as it allows them to overhear productive problem solving, learn how to collaborate and negotiate, and develop a nuanced “inner-speech”  through example and mentoring.

We cannot turn back time, but we can modify our current child-rearing practices. Quality Montessori Infant/Toddler programs are founded on the concept of “home and family” in the very best sense of the terms. The goal of Montessori is to elevate the “natural mother”, who instead of scolding her children for getting into the clean laundry offers them a few washcloths of their own to work with. This spirit is at odds with the “watered down” Primary classrooms of mainstream education. Infant and toddlers who are taught using the Montessori method instead find themselves engaging in cleaning, cooking, handicrafts, gardening, reading, exercising and the general art of daily living. Montessori caregivers perform their actions with the utmost care, and are always aware of how their actions affect the children in their care.

In a Montessori environment you will find all manner of child-sized tools, provided so that the curious young minds may either work alongside the adults or continue the activity alone. This in turn satisfies the children’s need for repetition and the practice of basic skills.

All toys and activities placed within a child’s reach in a Montessori school are carefully chosen to support their developmental needs. Objects are placed logically within the child’s environment, a choice that allows the child to gradually gain both experience and independence. Teachers always speak slowly, and are sure to articulate carefully as they describe shared activities and inform the children under their care about what they can expect to happen next.

Special Insight

When neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor experienced a stroke she underwent a life-changing event. During her ordeal she was returned to the world of infancy, and during her recovery she had to relearn everything she knew for a second time. Unlike babies, however, she was able to critically observe her experience and record her findings. As she recovered Taylor wrote a list of things that improved her recovery process. One of her requests was for “activities to be broken down into smaller steps of action” and to be told what the next step in the process was so she could adequately prepare herself for it.

She requested that caregivers “protect her energy”, and “be aware of what their body language and facial expressions were communicating to her.” She despised the intrusion of tv and talk radio, and asked for all activities be presented to her kinesthetically. She also requested that others be mindful that she would need to master one step before she could move on to the next one.

Above all else, she wanted to be treated like a person despite her diminished capacity. She asked others to be as patient with her during the twentieth try as they were with the first and to understand that if she was capable of learning faster she would.

It appears that all human beings, no matter how old or young, have an unshakable sense of dignity and personhood that suffers greatly when they are ignored or disrespected.

We should dedicate ourselves to helping those who are just beginning their lives to develop in ways that are optimal by responding to each child’s uniqueness as well as their neurological and biological needs. This idea is at the heart of Montessori philosophy, and is reflected in each prepared level of development.

The Montessori System for Infants & Toddlers

Written By: Shefun Jiwani-Ali

New parents struggle with the idea of letting their baby be raised by others. Whether it’s a daycare program, a nanny, or even family members. This decision is a big one, as infants are sponges to the world around them. Baby brains and bodies are still developing and these formative years are vital to proper development.

Insight Into Learning as a Baby

In 1996 at the age of 37, neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor suffered a stroke. She lost her ability to speak, read, walk, write, or remember anything from her life. Basically, she was reduced to a baby again. She spent 8 years recovering these skills, a venture that culminated in a book entitled “My Stroke of Insight, A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey.” From this experience, we have gained a deeper look into how babies learn.

She explains that her environment could easily overwhelm her. The energy people brought into the room and their body language had a huge effect on her. The blaring TV or radio bombarded her senses. She wanted activities to be broken down into smaller steps of action and for others to realize that she wanted to be proficient at one level before moving on to the next. Essentially, she explained the world as it affects babies and toddlers.

Babies Need to Explore Their World

All too often, babies are put into “containers” such as swings, high chairs, floor seats, and playpens. These may help to put a parent’s mind at ease, but they limit the ability to explore. This behaviour also begins a sedentary approach to life – a habit that they may take with them to adulthood.

Baby Montessori

Babies who are immersed in the Montessori lifestyle are allowed more freedom to explore the world at their fingertips. The classroom is outfitted with appropriate sensory stimuli in a safe environment, giving infants a chance to explore movement, touch, and sound in a manner that suits their natural learning thirst for learning.

The Mimicry of Children is Learning Out Loud

Toddlers are just beginning to internalize the rhythms of the world around them. They begin to mimic adult work and eavesdrop on adult conversations. It is this stage of life that these children begin to care for themselves through simple tasks such as tidying their space or putting on their own shoes and jacket.

Toddler Montessori

Montessori teachers facilitate this stage of life by speaking at an appropriate speed with proper articulation. They inform the children about what they can expect to happen later and discuss shared activities. They help children with basic tasks so they can learn to do them on their own. This helps toddlers experience independence within suitable parameters.

Start with Montessori

The Montessori method has been widely used across the globe. It has been proven as an extremely successful way to help children develop into strong, rational, independent adults. For those seeking childcare in the infant and toddler stages, we feel the Montessori philosophy is beneficial to their beginning.

If you feel like this method suits your child and family, start by contacting us at Mosaic Montessori.

5 Ways to Maximize Montessori: When Montessori Works Best

Written By: Shefun Jiwani-Ali

Montessori schools were developed in the early 1900s in Italy. Since then, these schools have been sprouting up around the world, teaching in a manner that suits the natural inquisitiveness of children. This method works best if certain conditions are met. (more…)

Bullying in Montessori

Written By: Shefun Jiwani-Ali

Bullying has become a subject of much discussion regarding schools in the modern age. While a few examples have made national headlines, it is unfortunately a far more common occurrence than many want to admit. It would be unjust to suggest that Montessori classrooms are bully free, yet the way that the Montessori classroom deals with bullying, is unique among all the school systems available to today’s children. (more…)

The Negative Impact of Time-Outs

Written By: Shefun Jiwani-Ali

In many traditional classrooms, a teacher or assistant may take a disruptive or unruly child aside from the group and put them in a “time out.” Sometimes, that child is required to sit on a chair, or at a desk, facing away from the group, and is encouraged to “think about what you’ve done.” There are a thousand and one variations on the method, yet they all reduce to the same basic concept, that of being removed from participation for behaving badly. (more…)

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