Montessori Baby

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

Friday, July 21, 2006


Before studying Montessori, I had always imagined that birth must be both a grueling process and a joyous event. Never once, in picturing the hours of excrutiating labor and the supremely divine moment of greeting the pink, wriggling, long-awaited child, did I think of this event as a conquest. But, in fact, it can surely be thought of that way; birth is a child's first conquest of independence.

Thinking of birth as a conquest of independence sets the stage for all of parenting. From that moment on, it is a process of letting go as a child becomes more and more able to depend upon himself. He learns to breath on his own; to feed himself; to sit, crawl, stand, and walk; to care for himself and his environment; to make choices; and to negotiate social groups and navigate the world at large and of information. Eventually, he chooses a path for himself and follows it - out of the home and into the world, on his own.

Perhaps our most important roles as parents, then, is to support and celebrate these conquests. There's no doubt that we do. Who couldn't help but feel enthusiasm for a baby's first steps or proud when a daughter heads off for her first job? At the same time, I think we have a hard time letting go. There's something bittersweet about the child who forgets to turn to wave when he gets on the bus - he is eager and ready for what lies ahead, but has forgotton, at least in that moment, the parent watching him go.

If she were here today, Montessori would be shocked at how little room we create in our lives for the development of independence in our children. A part of this is for our own convenience. The other day, I witnessed a mother pull and tug her child's jacket on as he stood there, unmoving and seemingly helpless. I feel certain he could have done it himself, but probably much more slowly than time allowed at that moment.

Another part of this is a (misguided) effort to be a good parent. We make their lunches or pick up after them or carry their belongings for them because we think they don't want to or shouldn't have to. However, the smile I've seen on the face of a three-year-old eating an apple he sliced himself gives me reason to believe otherwise. I also recall that spaghettios tasted a heck of a lot better the day my aunt taught me how to cook them myself.

I fear that the fact that we so seldom see children doing things for themselves has led us to believe that they cannot. We think they haven't the attention span or the memory to complete a detailed task. I was certainly astounded when I first saw a child of 3 or 4 wash, dry, and wax a table in a Montessori classroom or spend an hour spelling out words on a rug. They are so much more capable than we give them credit for being.

So Alex's birth was his first great conquest. How will we as parents meet the others? I hope we will have faith that he is capable and will communicate that to him through our actions. I hope that we will have the patience to demonstrate skills slowly and repeatedly and then - most importantly -patience to let him practice (and make a mess) as he perfects them. If I continually remind myself that, through his accomplishments, he will develop a sense of pride and self-worth, I feel certain that we will not hold him back.


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