“The greatness of the human personality begins at the hour of birth.”
(Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, page 4.)
Dr. Montessori believed that education must begin at birth, and she regarded the first two years of life as vital. She noted that without the facility for language, children use an innate sense to learn directly from their environment. They learn to adapt to their surroundings and begin the foundation of their own distinct personalities.
She also observed that children around the world learn language in approximately the same manner and at the same time. They do not learn through formal lessons but by absorbing the vocabulary and speech patterns of those around them.
Because of this, she reasoned that “education is not something which the teacher does, but … a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being. It is not acquired by listening to words, but in virtue of experiences … The teacher’s task is not to talk, but to prepare and arrange a series of motives for cultural activity in a special environment made for the child.” (The Absorbent Mind, page 8.)
So, what kind of activities can Montessori teachers prepare for infants and toddlers to help them learn? Montessori said that since education is preparation for life, we should teach according to the laws of development, providing children with activities that are developmentally appropriate and appealing to the sensitivities of the child.
“It begins with a knowledge of his surroundings.”
(The Absorbent Mind, page 24.)
To the infant, everything is new. Every smell, sound, sight, taste, and touch is new and exciting! We can enhance and heighten the infant’s awareness of his environment by providing materials that engage and strengthen the child’s senses. These traditionally include:
Mirrors hung at Child’s Eye Level
“Movement is another of the child’s great acquisitions.”
(The Absorbent Mind, page 26)
From being completely immobile and relying on adults, the infant begins to move by holding her head up on her own. Progressing to rolling over, sitting, crawling, standing, and finally walking, the infant learns to move and begins to discover her environment. Using her hands to touch and hold objects, she carefully examines and processes information in through her senses. She also learns that through movement she can alter her surroundings. Montessori materials for movement include:
Wooden push toys and walker-type wagons
Object permanent boxes
Imbucare boxes (from the Italian verb meaning to mail or post a letter)
Simple shape puzzles
Discs and cubes on vertical and horizontal dowels
(Also known as infilare puzzles, from the Italian verb meaning to thread)
Infant dressing frames
Wooden child size table and chair
“Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment.” -Dr. Maria Montessori
Enter a serene room with low radiant light emanating from the lamps around the room. Low shelves strategically placed in the room allowing copious room for practicing rolling, scooting, crawling and walking.
A mirror hung to meet the gaze of young infant revelling in tummy-time, feeling his muscles strengthen with each movement of his body. Mesmerized by his own facial expressions and carefully studying them, he unwittingly creates synapses producing brain formation.
A simply carved long wooden bar attached to the wall purposely for the baby who is learning to stand and walk on her own. She concentrates on holding the bar, moving her legs side to side to venture to the end of the bar. Her leg muscles and sense of balance, growing with every movement.
In a sheltered corner a caregiver feeding an infant her bottle. Her kind voice coos to the infant as she rocks and sings tenderly to her. Trust in the world and emotional bonds being formed with each note, each scent, and each moment of meaningful eye contact.
Another caregiver, at the diapering room, explains softly each step of changing the baby’s diaper. The baby, listening to this narrative, utters noises back to the familiar adult. Hearing the rhythm of language and conversations, the baby is learning to communicate with others in her world.
Several small mattresses nestled along a wall. A young child crawls/walks over to his mattress and comforts down. His thoughtful caregiver gently approaches, quietly turns on soothing nature sounds, and sits beside him to tenderly stroke his forehead. Moments later he is sleeping soundly, his brain taking this crucial sleep time to sort through the experiences of the morning, making connections—learning.
Enchanting paintings and photographs are hung on the pale walls at the eye level of a seated baby.
Low shelves hold an array of interesting objects made from a variety of natural materials cradled in its own straw basket or wooden bowl. Each object is carefully chosen for tiny practicing hands and fingers to perfect purposeful hand-eye coordination.
Splendid mobiles hang purposefully around the room. One mobile groups together different nature objects-it is a feast for the eyes.
Above the changing table five whimsical orange stars hang daintily to captivate the babes while getting a fresh diaper.
A girl having been educated and cared for in the Nido and Infant Community since she was very little, she now sits independently at the table eating her snack. She has learned to move her hands purposefully, crawl and walk with confidence, talk and communicate with others; yet most importantly, she has the self-confidence, grounded in trust and size evening dresses safety in her environment to attempt new challenges. Her independence, curiosity, compassion, and intuition have been nurtured as she spent her first year at Nido and the Infant Community and she is ready to graduate to her exciting new class, the Toddler Community.
Most importantly, however, Cheston Montessori provides a feeling of safety and community for your child and you as parents. You can go to work will full confidence that your child is being educated, cared for, snuggled, and loved during the day.