Saturday, July 23, 2011

Montessori from the Start, I of III

[This post submitted for Montessori Monday at Living Montessori Now.]

As I discussed in an earlier post, I'm interested in both Waldorf and Montessori approaches to child development, and particularly in how they can affect the parenting of my infant (sixteen weeks today!).  One book that was continually recommended to me by Montessori instructors, blogs, and websites was Montessori from the Start, by Paula Polk Lillard and Lynn Lillard Jessen.  As you might have guessed from their names, they are a mother-daughter pair who have been deeply influenced by Montessori education, founded a Montessori school in Illinois, and are committed to helping others learn about it.

There were some things I really liked about this book, some things I'm questioning and might disagree with, and some changes that I'm going to make in my approach to parenting based on it.  Because I have a lot of reflections, I'm dividing the review into three parts.  Bear with me!

The main point that hit home with me, and seems foundational to the whole Montessori philosophy, is helping the child find appropriate "work" for herself.  No, this doesn't mean suit-and-tie office work.  The concept of work for an infant relates mainly to observing and exploring her environment.  Because she has an "absorbent mind," the environment provides pretty much all the stimulation that she will need.  There's no reason for bright, flashy, fancy toys - in fact, they can be overwhelming and difficult for the baby to assimilate.

Like many babies, my daughter Vicki Jo is sometimes fussy and angry.  Like most parents, I struggle to understand what she needs.  One of the things this book helped me discover is that she could conceivably be bored when she is fussing.  I hadn't yet incorporated boredom into my list of reasons (wet, cold, hot, hungry, uncomfortable, sleepy were pretty much it!).  But the whole point is making a match between her development (which changes practically by the hour) and the challenge provided.  So, for example, I wouldn't have given her a rattle when she was six weeks old - or at least, I wouldn't have expected her to have any idea what to do with it.  But now that she is sixteen weeks, and is grasping things with intent and pulling them to her mouth to inspect them, I will give her rattles and other small toys that she is capable of holding.  This is going to the edge of what challenges her at this point. This will keep her engaged, and hopefully forestall boredom and aid in her hand-brain development.

The next point that hit home had to do with the baby's struggle, and how much to intervene.  Again, as a first-time mom, I'm still finding my way in the whole discipline area.  Part of me says, "How could a three-month-old do anything with intent?  There is no such concept as discipline for her yet."  But then another part of me says, "I'm setting expectations, limitations, and boundaries that will last a lifetime.  She can pick up on my tone and attitude, so she can understand firmness."  So, I've done her a disservice by being inconsistent:  sometimes I pick her up right away when she fusses, because it makes me squirmy.  But sometimes I let her fuss, because I'm busy, or don't think she has a legitimate reason to be upset.  Lillard and Jessen helped me see that sometimes fussing is struggle.  If she is being challenged, she will struggle.  But is the struggle manageable?  She still needs my help in everything that she does.  I have to decide when she has struggled hard enough.  I'm still definitely not in the cry-it-out camp, but I feel like my footing is a little surer now. 

Finally, I appreciated the emphasis on natural materials and real human interaction that the book provided.  Vicki Jo has just begun to be entranced by the television, and this might be the biggest lifestyle change that Jeff and I have to make.  We are those people who just constantly have the tv on in the background.  We have 300 channels, but frequently "nothing is on."  Jeff is also a total video game addict.  But this statement rung true for me:  "Children whose lives are filled with the overstimulation and entertainment of television, computer games, and endless plastic toys inside the home, and an action-packed daily schedule of events outside of it, have trouble developing the concentration required for forming the will and thus a disciplined approach to learning."*  Yes!  I feel the ennui that has grown within me as the television has been my constant companion from young childhood.  But do we get rid of it altogether?  (Jeff would kill me.)  No, that seems a bit Luddite.  It's about discipline, I think.

Stay tuned for Part II . . . my divergences from the book's ideas.

*Montessori from the Start, p. 217.


howwemontessori said...

Great post. I can't wait for parts two and three!

Deb Chitwood said...

Fascinating post! I'll look forward to reading your divergences. I practiced attachment parenting, which many Montessorians do but others are opposed to. We had a television when our kids were little but only used it for videos (pre-DVD era!). If my husband and I wanted to watch something, we watched it after our kids were asleep. I think having very few television experiences really did help our kids' ability to concentrate ... and they never cared about having the "in" toys. Thanks so much for linking up with Montessori Monday. (If you could add the Montessori button or link back, that would be awesome!) I featured your post at the Living Montessori Now Facebook page:

Emily said...

Deb - yes! Sorry! I completely forgot to include the link to the Montessori Monday. I've corrected it now. Since writing this post, we have moved to a new house and no longer have cable, so there goes the constant TV!

Thanks for the feature, again. I have really been enjoying reading the other entries.