Montessori Baby

The author, trained as a Montessori primary teacher (AMI), documents and analyzes her efforts to raise a "Montessori" baby.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Follow the Child

Bringing Alex home from the hospital was both terrifying and thrilling. We had just spent two hours in our hospital room trying to soothe our screaming newborn. I hadn't slept the entire night before, and breastfeeding was not going well in spite of the advice of well-meaning nurses and hospital lactation consultants. We strapped him into his car seat once he was finally settled, got into the car, and took Alex home.

The entire world had changed while we were gone. Drivers swerved wildly on the roads, stoplights were interminably long, and the cold winter wind was much harsher than we remembered. We were beginning to see everything through a double-lens - that of our newborn child responding to a unfamiliar world and that of parents who were transporting the most precious cargo ever. The world was harsh and our task of protecting him from it monumental; we were overwhelmed.

My only comfort on that day, aside from the friends and family that offered their support, was my faith in the three words that could probably most accurate sum up Montessori philosophy - "Follow the child." We could take our cues from Alex; he would let us know what he needed. The only real challenge, then, would be in interpreting his demands. Fortunately, there were a limited range of options for what those demands might be.

Pediatricians and child development specialists are just now beginning to urge parents to do what Montessori knew was essential so long ago. Handouts from the lactation consultant encouraged us to "nurse on demand" and all of the websites and child development books told us that we should respond when our baby cried. "You cannot spoil an infant," they said. "Crying is communication," another pointed out. I like "follow the child" best.

That night and the following days, we fed Alex when he was hungry and slept when he slept. We enjoyed face-to-face time during the brief periods when he was active, and took him on tours of the house during his more alert, quiet times. When he wasn't satisfied after nursings, we sought help from our pediatrician's office and got our breastfeeding back on track.

This isn't to say that we abandoned our own needs altogether. "Follow the child" doesn't mean "sacrifice everything for your child" or "do everything the way your child wants it done." We helped Alex learn to sleep at night by keeping the lights off during feedings and remaining quiet. He spent time alone each day and braved the February chill with us for walks. In short, he took his place as a member of our family and we welcomed him by responding to his needs as well as making him a part of our lives.

Unlike "you cannot spoil an infant" or "crying is communication," "follow the child" is a positive philosophy that extends far beyond the first year of life. Though his needs will change, our roles as interpreters and providers will not. Whether he exhibits a need for freedom or limits, stimulation or repose, encouragement or compassion, we will do our best to deliver.


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