January 14, 2019
If you’ve looked into early childhood education, chances are you’ve come across Montessori. But did you know it can also be a great learning tool for babies as young as newborns?
While most people think of it for preschool-age children and older, the Montessori practices and ideas can be really useful for babies’ development, as well. Here’s a primer on how and why babies and Montessori can be great together.
What is Montessori?
Montessori education is developmental education. It involves a curriculum of materials (the Montessori word for toys) that meet a child’s developmental needs at every stage of their development.
The role of the adult in Montessori is to prepare a child’s environment, introduce the materials and then allow the child to learn for themselves through hands-on play and exploration.
Beyond the materials, Montessori is a respectful approach to guiding children. The parent or teacher observes the child’s needs, trusts their abilities and allows independence (within limits) so the child can follow their own unique path of development steered by their natural drive to learn and grow.
A popular early-education approach, Montessori was developed by Maria Montessori in 1907 and now has over 20,000 schools around the world. The founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergei Brin, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Warriors basketball star Steph Curry and famed cookbook author Julia Child are among the people who credit some of their success to their Montessori education.
Why begin Montessori at birth?
85% of the brain is formed by age 3. Education is often thought to begin in preschool, but Dr. Montessori observed (and modern research has confirmed) that learning begins at birth. Early brain development is the foundation for all future learning as babies establish pathways and patterns of discovery that they will use throughout life.
The quality of your child’s environment influences their development. Research shows that children who grow up in stimulating environments have greater opportunities to develop. Your child’s skills are not predetermined. Take visual development, for example. Your baby is born with some basic visual wiring, but what they see in the first months of life impacts key visual skills such as depth perception and the ability to switch focus quickly between objects. With this in mind, the first Montessori material for newborns is a series of mobiles designed to support the development of visual skills.
In addition to developing their senses and foundational skills, babies are learning how to learn! A major goal of Montessori is to help infants develop habits of concentration, perseverance when confronted with challenges, independent problem solving and other skills that will serve them well throughout childhood and adulthood no matter what type of work they choose.
How to begin using Montessori with your baby
In addition to reading, singing and talking with your child from birth, you can help promote learning at a young age by preparing their environment. Here are some things to consider when setting up a playspace for baby:
- A sense of order. For adults, a messy office with papers everywhere can be a source of stress and confusion. The same is true for your little one and their play area. Children function best in an organized playspace that is not over-stimulating. A favorite Montessori teacher saying is, “A place for everything and everything in its place.”
- A simple playspace promotes focus and independence. One way to keep things orderly is to not put all of your child’s toys out at once. Choose 6-8 toys and a few books at a time and put the rest away for later use. Displaying toys on a low shelf, as opposed to in a toy bin, allows your child to access them independently and become the master of their space. As you observe that your baby’s interest in certain toys is waning, you can rotate them with some of the new ones you have stored away. This can help reignite your child’s curiosity and allows them to continue learning even more from their toys as their skills improve.
- Passive toys make for active babies. Simple or “passive” toys require your child to be engaged in order to activate them. More “active” toys with lights and sounds (screens are the most active) can put your child into a passive mode, where they push a button and wait to be entertained. Choose toys that are exciting because of the engagement they require, not because of their bells and whistles.
- Present just the right amount of challenge. There is an understanding in Montessori that if you give your child a material and they use it “correctly” right away, you waited too long to introduce it. The best learning happens as children make mistakes while they try to figure something out and eventually achieve mastery on their own. When you look for toys for babies, try to choose ones that provide an appropriate level of challenge: not so easy that your child gets bored or so complicated that they get frustrated.