There is a new (maybe not so new, but new to me) trend in raising babies. If you haven’t already heard of Montessori, you probably will at some point on your child-raising journey. Montessori is a child-centered method of learning. The concept goes like this: children innately want to learn, and they should be encouraged to do that by exploring things they find interesting through self-directed, adult supported discovery.
Traditionally, you see Montessori being implemented for the first time for pre-school age children. You can find Montessori pre-schools across the country by doing a simple Google search. I found 74 Montessori pre-schools (just pre-schools, not daycares or elementary schools) in Chicago. To help put that number into perspective, there are only 27 Domino’s Pizza stores, 18 Target stores, and 3 Chick-Fil-A stores.
There have been studies showing that students enrolled in Montessori programs outperform students who are not. But many Montessori programs come with high price tags since they are privately run, so one could argue that this is a gap between high and low income rather than Montessori and non-Montessori. However, according to U.S. News and World Reports, a 2017 study found students who attended Montessori pre-schools from both low and high-income families outperformed students from the same demographics who did not attend Montessori pre-schools.
So, Montessori is kind of a big deal. It is so much of a big deal, in fact, that the ideals and philosophies of Montessori are now bleeding over into the world of babies. As the mom of a one-year-old, I am always looking for ways to help her learn, grow, and experiment. As a working mom of a one-year-old, I am always looking for ways to get everything done while helping her learn, grow, and experiment, and sometimes that means breaking the Montessori rules.
According to The Montessori Notebook, the three main components of Montessori for babies are communication, movement, and materials. The communication portion is probably one of the easiest pieces to follow. It says talk to your baby and do it respectfully. Describe your surroundings, ask your baby questions, take turns “talking” with one another, and read books together. These things are probably things you’re already doing.
The next part of the Montessori trinity is movement. The guidelines say that babies should be encouraged to move freely by giving them plenty of space and comfortable clothes. As long as you give your baby plenty of playtime throughout the day where they can move and explore, then you’ve met this Montessori requirement. It’s probably alright if when you get home from work you need to drop Baby in the pack n’ play while you get unpacked and start a load of laundry, but don’t leave him in there too long or you’ll be breaking the movement rules. Usually, for us this is not a problem. We try to make sure Baby ASM gets plenty of free movement time, even if it means she’s crawling around the kitchen while I’m getting dinner started.
The last part is where I struggle going all-in on Montessori. When it comes to Montessori materials, the rules say they should be natural, less is more, and use your baby as a guide to tell you what toys she is ready for. This means electronics are out, and wood toys are in. The toys you select should challenge your baby without being too easy or too hard, and there should be only a few carefully selected items placed within easy reach so that she can choose the one she wants to use.
All of this makes sense, except that it is very difficult to accomplish. I would love to spend all of my free time at home guiding Baby ASM as she discovers the world. I would love to spend hours researching the right toys to provide the exact amount of challenge that she needs to develop. And I would love to build child-friendly shelves in my living room, so she has easy access to her learning materials.
Realistically, though, on any given day from the time we walk through the door at 5:15 pm until the time she goes to sleep at 7:00 pm I need to get dinner cooked and all of us fed. We need to get bottles and meals prepared for the next day. Sometimes there is laundry to do. And then the baby needs a bath, a bottle, and a bedtime story. While all of that is going on, I cannot be researching toys, I cannot be sitting with her guiding her through her discovery,
and I need her to be safe, contained, and entertained. Most nights for us that means having her play with her LeapFrog Learn and Groove table in the kitchen while I get dinner going. Sometimes that means putting toddler music on Alexa and having a dinner dance party. Sometimes that means light-up toys and singing stuffed animals.
I understand wanting to make sure your baby is being challenged and is reaching their highest possible potential by exploring things that interest them. I also understand that life is busy and messy, and sometimes we all (baby included) have to roll with the punches and do what it takes to make it through the day with or without natural toys. It’s so important to remember that rolling with the punches does not make us less of a parent, being flexible makes us better parents for being able to take what comes our way, deal with it, and succeed anyway. And we all succeed. Every single day.
When you have a baby, you hear the phrase, “Every baby is different,” nearly 10,000 times before their first birthday, but seriously, Every. Baby. Is. Different. Hopefully, you’re able to challenge and develop your baby in a way that works best for your family. If you haven’t found a balance yet, keep at it. You will.
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