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Why We Must Empower Babies To Use Maximum Effort Daily

In her TEDx talk about how parents can best support a baby’s brain development during the most critical years, from birth to age 3, Monti Kids founder Zahra Kassam invokes the idea of Maximum Effort, a concept that Maria Montessori describes in her 1949 book, The Absorbent Mind.

“The child, instead of merely walking, likes to walk far and carry heavy loads,” Montessori noted.

Seventy years later, Zahra explained that parents should aim “to present the appropriate level of challenge to stretch their skills, not so little that they are bored, and not so much that they give up. Research shows that children thrive in this zone.”

“Teachers know that setting children up at this optimal level of challenge, and offering help only when needed, cultivates a child’s perseverance and problem-solving skills.”

Montessori Bedroom
When a baby is trying to grasp a ball that is just out of reach, they are building both their gross motor skills and their perseverance. They might make noises similar to how adults sound when lifting heavy weights at the gym. Just as we would never take weights away from someone who was working hard to lift them unless they really needed help, we don’t want to steal growth opportunities away from our child.
Zahra Kassam
Monti Kids founder + CEO

Maximum Effort at Every Age

Newborn babies may spend a few moments every day using their maximum vocal strength, fussing by waving their fists in the air and turning their heads from side to side. This is normal. At every age, children will experience a full range of moods, ranging from sleeping peacefully to using every muscle in their body.

How you can help: When you hold your newborn baby against your chest, allow them to practice lifting their head up. As the weeks progress, move this activity to “tummy time” on a soft but firm blanket or mat on the floor.

Remember, your baby will grunt and kick, but this is normal and doesn’t mean they are unhappy. It’s a hard workout! Recall the sounds that we adults make when we are working hard and it will be easier to let your baby work at it.

When your baby begins to really fuss or cry, tell them that you hear them and gently roll them from tummy to back and continue to play.

This activity gym, including mobiles and newborn toys to hang from it, is from Monti Kids Level 1 Montessori Box for newborns

Three-to-six-month old babies are using maximum effort to roll over and to improve the accuracy of their reach.

How you can help: When you offer your baby a rattle or grasping toy, place it just out of their reach on the movement mat and allow them to stretch and wriggle to reach it. If they struggle with moving forward, silently place your leg or hands on the floor against the bottoms of their feet to give them something to push against. When they reach the toy, pick it up, and begin to play with it, satisfaction will be written all over your baby’s face.

6 to 12-month-old babies use their effort to change positions.

In the early part of this developmental phase, getting in and out of the sitting position is a big project. Next, they will army crawl or scoot around the room. Eventually, they will begin pulling up to a stand and wanting to creep around any surface that will support them.

How you can help:
Providing a large and safe space for your baby to move and letting them move independently helps their motor skills to the fullest. Your baby will enjoy moving away from you briefly but will often come back to where they last saw you to “check in.” This is normal and your baby’s comfort level moving away from you will increase in the coming months.

Suppress your gasps.

Sitting back and letting your baby move freely can be difficult. For many months we have kept them close and protected. Letting them go on adventures to learn and explore takes practice. Some babies might grunt or vocalize as they work hard to move. Many babies will topple, tip, and fall when moving. Calming your reactions to these minor incidents will help your baby know that you trust them to overcome these little bumps along the path to mobility. We want to portray this attitude of confidence in his abilities so that they feel confident to expand their horizons even further.

Toddlers love to use maximum effort!

There’s nothing a new walker loves more than to add a level of intensity to her walk: carrying heavy objects while walking is a classic observed behavior of this age group. They want to meet and exceed their limits to see what they are capable of!

How you can help:

Walking on two feet gives your child so many opportunities for new activities. The most obvious is simply to walk. When time and safety permit, allow your toddler to walk instead of riding in a stroller or baby carrier. 

At home, offer activities that activate the use of hands and legs at the same time. 

Things toddlers can do while standing:

  • Carrying toys from shelf to table
  • Setting napkins and silverware on the table
  • Throwing toy balls outdoors

Provide your toddler with opportunities to climb and be physical in order to channel that effort in the right direction.

Understanding your child’s need to exert themselves can help you have fun together. It will also help you keep some perspective when facing a tantrum or a challenging moment. Search for a way to turn their need into something positive. “I see you are in the mood for jumping. Let’s go find a safe place to do that.” And, sometimes we simply have to stand back and let this development happen.
The child’s urge in doing anything is to use the maximum effort.
Dr. Maria Montessori
Physician, Educator

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