Montessori from the Start: The Child at Home, from Birth to Age Three (Anglais) Broché – 22 juillet 2003
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The Completion of the Human Being
Before we begin the chapters of practical detail that form the body of this book, it is important to visit two more areas of thought about the formation of human beings. If we are going
to help the human infant in the monumental task of self-completion, we need to understand where the energy for self-construction and positive response to life comes from in human beings. How do we encourage enthusiasm and interaction with the environment? How are they discouraged? Secondly, if we are going to define the human infant as incomplete at birth, we need to outline the specific formation that is necessary for the child to become a complete human being. Both of these topics come to light through an awareness of the differences between human beings and all other species.
We have said that the human infant is incomplete at birth. It is our role as adults to assist our children in the formidable task of finishing their own formation as human beings. Only in this way can our children become fully formed adults and reach the potential which they are capable of from birth. The degree of this challenge for both the adult human being and the human child sets humans apart from all other species. It is true that the young of some animals, specifically mammals, are born in an immature state. However, their task is largely pre-programmed by their genes, and their instincts follow a narrowly limited path of development. Given the care required by creation's plan for their species, they only need time to grow bigger and mature into adulthood. They pay a price for the predetermined nature of their existence, however. They have limited versatility in their adaptation to their environment. For example, the foal and calf are destined to eat grasses and grains; the tiger and lion cub, small mammals. The ways in which they meet other challenges of existence are programmed as well: their fur keeps them warm, horns and sharp teeth defend them, swift legs carry them from danger, and so forth.
The human child, on the other hand, is born with no set pattern of instinctive behavior to meet its fundamental needs for survival; its options are limitless. No predetermined response limits our possibilities in devising the means for meeting our fundamental needs for food, shelter, clothing, transportation, and defense. Instead of the specific instructions of instincts, we are given propensities to certain actions. Although we are born naked and defenseless without a means for shelter and with no instinctual knowledge of what is safe for us to eat, through these propensities we have more than survived; our behavioral tendencies account for the development of all the varied civilizations throughout the ages from prehistoric peoples to the modern era of telecommunications. Montessori offered a description of these propensities to help us understand how children respond to the environment in which they are born. She did not intend for any list of behaviors to be limited or necessarily definitive. Each of us could no doubt come up with a different list of our own. Nevertheless, the following ideas can serve as a general guide. For better comprehension and recall, we have combined them into four groupings.
The first grouping involves answering the question, what is out there? It includes exploration, orientation, and order. Human beings set out to explore the surrounding environment and discover its possibilities. When we do this, however, we have to be able to find the way back to our starting place. Hence the human action of orientation and order is necessary. We need to build a mental map of our surroundings and an internal sense of direction, distance, time, and sequence. Our expression in language and organization in thought are based on this ability to recognize and use order in our lives. When these tendencies toward orientation and order are disrupted-as in changing geographic or emotional environments-we experience disorientation and stress. Similarly, if we are restrained from exploring our world either physically or intellectually, we tend to become bored, even depressed.
A second grouping helps us deal with the results of our explorations: what might I do with what is there? Our propensity to abstract thought and our imaginations allow us to make new creations from what we find and see around us. Everything that we have in our modern lives of comfort and ease, and every vision of nobility, courage, and love, came from our innate tendency to imagine what is not yet before us. Hence, early humans watched animals use their hooves to dig and their horns to protect, and they devised tools and weapons of defense for human use. Through the ages, acts of human bravery and sacrifice were recounted to the young, and new generations dreamed of the heroic deeds and accomplishments that they in turn would contribute to society.
The third grouping is the largest and involves the crucial transition from dream to reality: how can I carry out my abstract ideas? To make this leap, human beings are given five key behaviors: manipulation, exactness, repetition, control of error, and perfection. To make the clothing fit, the house shelter, the boat sail, and the space shuttle soar required every one of these human tendencies during its development. In the world of ideas, communism and fascism were tried through these behaviors, and their results found wanting, even as democracies with dreams of liberty and justice for all became the goal in many parts of the world, and are now continually reevaluated.
The last grouping consists of a single tendency. However, it can fairly be called the key to all the rest, for it involves a spiritual gift: the gift of ourselves freely given to others. This behavior answers the question, how can I tell others about what I have done? We call it communication. Without it, each new generation would have to rediscover all knowledge and wisdom of the past. With it, we stand on the shoulders of giants and can go forward in each decade to new heights in every field of human endeavor.
Because of the new global world of telecommunications, the thoughts and accomplishments of all human beings, past and present, are accessible to a degree that no one could have envisioned in times past. The opportunities are vast. Yet, the challenges are exponentially greater as well. How can we still the constant prattle and noise that surround us in our technological world, and find time and opportunity for the most meaningful communication of all: the intimacy of love, understanding and respect of one human being for another in the home, the school, the workplace, in nature, our places of worship, and in our marriages.
All of these behavioral tendencies-exploration, orientation, order, abstraction, imagination, manipulation, exactness, repetition, control of error, perfection, and communication-operate throughout our lives. However, they manifest themselves differently as we grow older. Exploration for a seven-month-old baby, a seven-year-old child, a seventeen-year-old adolescent, and a seventy-year-old senior citizen is demonstrated through different expressions. The phenomenon of exploration itself, however, remains a constant human behavior if we live fully from birth to death. Because our behavioral tendencies operate throughout our lives, to the extent that they are valid and universal to the human experience, each of us will recognize them in ourselves. We need only to look for them in our daily behavior.
Human infants use the stages of their development referred to in the Introduction to help them in their task of self-formation. Specifically, in the first plane of development, they make use of their absorbent minds to incorporate the environment around them and of the Sensitive Periods to develop specific abilities such as walking and talking. In later developmental stages, they respond based on certain psychological characteristics that help them to develop their capacities.
It is these behavioral tendencies-operative from birth and continuing into the later planes of formation, and forming a constant connection with the environment-that will enable the child to finally become a fully functioning adult human being. They supply the energy and enthusiasm for the essential, continuous relationship with the environment throughout our lives. When they are fully operative in our everyday activities, whatever our age, we experience joy and a sense of being fully alive. To the extent that they are missing from our daily lives, we feel listless and unenthusiastic.
The energy of our response to life is directly related, then, to how our environment encourages and allows for the human tendencies in our everyday life. It follows that children need more than opportunity to respond to the environment; they will need encouragement. In the following chapters, we discuss ways to design the home environment for the child so that the human tendencies are actively encouraged. You will note that our suggestions are often at odds with the current fad or media hype. For example, psychologists today discuss the need for "stimulation" in the child's environment. The problem with this term is that it is vague. With the best of intentions, parents respond in excess and children are harmed more than they are helped. As you will see in later chapters, a simple but well-thought-out plan, geared to specific formation of the child at designated age levels, is the most helpful approach.
Nor should we forget that the mission of human development is also the basis for creating homes for adults, too. In order to develop our humanity, we must nurture the human tendencies in all of us. Our homes also should reflect adult needs for exploration, orientation, order, imagination, exactness, repetition, control of error, manipulation, perfection, and communication. All of these behavioral tendencies are clearly visible through, for example, music, art, and other forms of spiritual expression, which indicate that their rightful place is in our homes. The mission of developing the home environment has belonged primarily to women in past civilizations. Whoever may now assume this responsibility, the role of homemaker remains essential to human destiny. Today, althuogh some of us enjoy the greatest affluence the world has ever known, we find that developing a home environment that serves the human spirit, a home of beauty, order, and simplicity, remains a very challenging task.
We now turn to the child we have referred to as "incomplete" at birth. In some ways, this lack of completion is shared with other mammals when they are born. In varying degrees, they also require adult-nurturing for a period of time before they become fully functioning adults. None, however, need the assistance of adults in their group for nearly a quarter of a century. This is the span of time Montessori identified as necessary for complete adult formation in the human being. Her conclusion is supported by recent scientific research demonstrating that the foundational neural structures in the frontal lobes of the human brain are not completed until approximately age twenty-four. It is in the frontal lobes that our most advanced reasoning and knowledge reside, including wisdom.
What must the human child achieve in order to become a complete human being? The development of the brain through sensorial awareness and interaction with the immediate envir-onment is the beginning of the child's journey. This development is individual to each child; no two brains are alike. In this sense, we are all "originals." In fact, the brain that each human being builds is so different, it is amazing that we can understand and communicate with each other at all. We do, however-against huge statistical odds.*
The outward manifestations of brain development are the child's self-formation as an individual of growing independence, coordinated movement, language, and a developed will. In order to become a complete human being, the child has to advance in all of these areas beginning with the first days of life.
For the young of the animal species, independence as soon as possible is essential as a matter of physical survival. For the human child, independence, the ability to do things on one's own, is most important for its psychological component; it is the path to confidence and self-assurance. The infant is born as one who must be served. Gradually, the child is helped to take care of basic actions independently and, finally, to serve others. To grow in confidence in this process of forming independence, the adult has to prepare just the right amount of challenge for the child to face. Even adults lose confidence when they find themselves overwhelmed by situations where they have no chance of success. Yet, we routinely put children in this position by not thinking through simple acts of everyday life and then finding the best means for a child of that age to do them independently.
Everything we will describe to you in subsequent chapters will help the child to ever-increasing independence of action and therefore to the ability to help others who are less capable because they are either younger or otherwise less developed. Montessori outlined environments leading to the child's independent functioning at school as well as at home, thereby preparing the child for growing intellectual independence as well. The comfortable self-possession of students from a quality Montessori school is the attribute most often remarked upon in their assessment by other educators and professionals.
The significance of independence for the human child then is the view that it gives of the self. In Montessori education, self-evaluation is a function of realistic achievement through in-dependent action. Adults cannot give children confidence and self-regard through external praise and evaluation; those come as the result of the child's own efforts. An infant first explores an object, perhaps a carrot, with the senses of touch, sight, and smell. If the environment is properly prepared for her, at fifteen months of age, she can wash it with a small vegetable brush. By eighteen months, a child can use a vegetable peeler to peel one slice of carrot skin at a time and then discard it in a dish. She can use a small cleaver, with a filed blade so that it is not overly sharp, to cut pieces of the peeled carrot for eating or serving at family dinner. By five years old, a child can prepare her own lunch for school from preselected items and with a minimum of adult assistance. From such independent accomplishments come the child's sense of self-mastery and resulting self-confidence. (Cautionary note: Adults must always be in constant attendance or monitor closely when such objects are used.)
This independence in the child is not to help make life easier for the adult. In fact, at least initially, helping children to establish independence requires a great deal of effort and thought on the adults' part. Montessori encourages us to go to this trouble for children so that they will experience the confidence that comes from not having to wait for someone else to do what is needed. It is not to help adults, then, that we help children to become independent in daily acts; it is to help children.
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Before we begin the chapters of practical detail that form the body of this book, it is important to visit two more areas of thought about the formation of human beings. Lire la première page
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1. The authors do a great job at explaining how the Montessori principles can be applied to newborns. There are NO other books that do so, and the authors are very explicit in stating that the principles are what counts - the application is up to the parent. (But this can be very hard for parents in our "how-to-manual"-driven culture). The most important concept is that of observing the child closely and paying attention to all his cues so you know what works for your child. I take this to mean that I am the final judge of how I implement Montessori methods for my child, and that suits me just fine.
2. The authors recommend the child bed - basically a twin/full mattress on the floor. When I read about this, I thought painfully about the $$$ spent on the crib, co-sleeper, and pack'n play, all of which my child has refused to sleep on in favor of a twin-size daybed we already had. When I discovered that he only wanted to sleep in a big boy bed, I researched a bit on the safety of doing so and other sleep-issues, and found that these authors are not the only ones to suggest a bed on the floor. Dr. Sears (The Baby Sleep Book: The Complete Guide to a Good Night's Rest for the Whole Family (Sears Parenting Library)) and Elizabeth Pantley (The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night) make the same suggestion. And yes, I can co-sleep with my baby, which I could not do in his crib.
3. About the breastfeeding/weaning issue: the authors do not suggest early weaning. They suggest following the child but at around 6 months you can start introducing solids to experiment with taste. I looked hard for this because I am a firm believer in breastfeeding for as long as the child wants to - I didn't find anything to offend this belief. In fact, the book advocates breastfeeding as the best nourishment, and suggests retiring to a quiet environment and focusing on the process, playing with the baby while doing so, instead of watching TV and surfing the net (guilty as charged:).
4. About the early potty training: in my culture babies get potty trained by the age of 12-18 months. There is no pressure of any kind - by the time the baby can sit upright, he is put on the potty at certain times in the day when he is more likely to go. In many cultures (e.g. India, China) infant potty training is the norm. In the US, elimination communication (EC) has been gaining ground, and the proponents of this method start potty training from birth (Infant Potty Training: A Gentle and Primeval Method Adapted to Modern Living). This method requires a lot of patience and also a lot of attention to the baby to find out when they eliminate and what their cues are. Sign language is used to communicate the need to go potty since the baby may not be speaking yet. In light of this, the authors are not extreme (in fact quite tame) in their position of suggesting potty training before the AAP recommendation of 2 years old. If the baby can sit upright, that means that myelination of the nerves in the lower part of the body has occurred, which means they can feel when they are wet/dirty and even control that part of their body.
5. About letting children explore on their own: it is invaluable advice. I had no idea how much I was interfering with my baby's independent play and development of focus. For example, I put toys into his hands, offered a bunch of toys all at once without allowing him to fully explore each one, yanked him from his focused play just so I could kiss him or throw him in the air, etc...- basically, whenever I personally thought he needed a change of pace, I did so. Since letting him be and paying closer attention, I have become more sensitive to his need to explore one thing at a time and at length, uninterrupted. I still kiss and throw him in the air when he is done playing, of course :) One reviewer read this to mean "leave the child unattended", which could not have been more wrong. The authors explicitly advise to observe the child closely as they play to see what interests them and how they are exploring so you can tailor activities to their interests and motor skills. The point is the child should feel like he is on his own, without a parent constantly hovering, interfering, and driving the choice of activity. Sit back, read a book and keep a distant eye on the kid. Also, childproofing an entire room as suggested, allows you to safely leave the child on his own for short periods of time. Since reading this book, I refrain from drawing attention to myself (by cheering and clapping) when the baby does something new. Instead I encourage him, help him along if necessary, and observe his contentment when he manages something on his own. After all, he should achieve things for his own self not to please me. (BTW, this is along the lines of Alfie Kohn's philosophy representing a recent departure from behaviorism that has turned many of today's toddlers into praise junkies Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason).
6. About the condescending tone: there is some of that in the book, but I found it to be correctly addressed. I found myself among those parents who deserved the criticsm and decided to change my ways instead of taking offense. I now think harder about everything I do - what toys I buy (few, simple wooden toys and other natural materials instead of colorful plastic with beeping sounds and lights, no more educational than a TV, regardless of clever marketing pitches). Also, I have de-cluttered my day and do not drag my kid all over town for activities at the cost of his feeding/sleeping/play routine. A child under 3 does not need dance classes, gymnastics, etc. Up to this age, children ignore the presence of other children. In fact, a child of any age, does not need over-scheduling at the cost of feeding/sleeping routine (more on this Nurtureshock Your Self-Confident Baby: How to Encourage Your Child's Natural Abilities -- From the Very Start).
7. About the cost of the materials: the nursery alone will save you hundreds of dollars if you go with the spartan bare style suggested in the book, rather than the unneccessarily elaborate "must have" styles pushed by baby stores and fellow mothers. Think minimalism. The Montessori materials can get expensive, but no more than the cost of useless blinky blinky noisemaker toys. EVERYONE buys their children stuff, the question is what is the effect of that stuff on the child? The natural toys suggested by the book (many of which you can find on Amazon and Etsy) have no fancy electronic functions or batteries, so are cheap. (e.g. Flapsi - by HABA). Natural materials are also safer than plastic (lead is legally allowed to be present in plastics. Also, latex allergies can develop from early exposure to latex). Finally, to save costs and avoid plastic junk from making it into your home, give grandparents the Michael Olaf catalog or create a wishlist in Amazon so you get help with the Montessori materials (although I must admit this has not worked for me). I have created a couple of lists on Amazon with related books and materials.
8. Complaints abound regarding cloth diapering. I cloth diaper, do not use a diaper service, and find the whole thing not a bit more complicated than disposables. Today's cloth diapers have come a long way. All-in-one diapers involve the same amount of work as disposables, and just a load of laundry every other day (see, for, e.g. Gro Baby Shell Set Snap, Vanilla, Dream-Eze AIO. My baby has never had a rash, and it is all due to cloth diapers. (When we use disposables on travel he did develop minor irritations).
9. Finally, to those who suggest that this book is recommending a distant parenting style, you couldn't be more wrong. I practice attachment parenting and find no conflict in this book's recommendations and my beliefs. The book suggests treating the baby as a human being not a pet (would you pick up your husband any time you felt like it???). It advocates respect for the child and for, as Maria Montessori put it, the noble work he is doing in creating man.
Now that my kid is 15 months, I re-read the book and have been following it quite closely with some amazing results.
First, letting the child be is invaluable advice - my son can play, "read" books on his own for a good 20-30+ minutes before he wants our attention. This will be very useful later in school, but already helps - he can focus and entertain himself without constantly needing attention/stimulation from the adults. At a dinner party we had over the holidays, people remarked how my boy was the only one of the four kids of similar ages that was not acting up, screaming, throwing food, etc., to seek parents' attention. Don't get me wrong, my goal is not to make my job easier, but I want my child to feel self-content in his activities and not needy to the point of overacting to get attention.
Second, establishing a routine for feeding in the weaning table/chair is very useful (see e.g. KidKraft Farmhouse Table and Chair Set Espresso. My child eats with a fork and drinks out of a glass cup (check for Duralex tempered glass dishes - unbreakable!). He knows that food is only served on the table, so doesn't eat all over the house. He knows that food will disappear from the table once he gets up, so he doesn't get up until he is full. However, when he does leave the table, I don't chase him with a spoon - I trust he is done.
Third, the book suggests getting the child involved in housework early - not as child labor, but because they are really interested in being part of the family. Couldn't agree more - my boy LOVES to help empty the dishwasher, and helps juice fruit (drops pieces of fruit down a juicer). No toy is good enough for him when we are in the kitchen cooking/cleaning. However, our initial instincts were to shoo him away ("go play with your toys") when we were working around the house - instead we now slow down and give him simple tasks to do to help us in the process.
Fourth, the book suggests having a little space/nook in each area of the house dedicated to the child, so they feel like they are part of the family - also, excellent advice. I re-purposed the bottom shelves in existing book shelves, so I have a few toys and books in each room. He knows where his spot is every time he is in a room and is happy to proceed there and pick up his activities.
Fifth, when it comes to personal care, the book suggests letting the child help dressing/undressing, washing himself, etc. My boy giggles uncontrollably when he manages to take off his own shoes and socks. I give him a hotel-size soap bar and let him lather his own hands and feet in the bathtub - he also likes this since the squishy feeling is entertaining. He now "brushes" his own teeth (i.e. sucking on the brush). Of course, it takes me forever to wash and dress him when he gets involved, but I HAVE to, if I want him to gain a healthy image of himself as a human being capable of taking care of himself.
I still wish I had purchased this book when I was pregnant so I could have prepared the environment more adequately.
Finally, one reviewer noted that having kids do things early is just for parents' bragging rights. The point is not to have a self-sufficient toddler. Despite all the above, the kid will still be unable to do many things for himself, or do them adequately. The point is to time the activities to the kids interests and settle the questions of "what, where, when" about the daily routine during the sensitive period for order before the kid rebels and talks back. My boy was too young to refuse sitting on the potty, for e.g., when I started that, so now he just accepts it as part of the routine. Same thing with eating, self-care, etc. In addition, if the toddler is interested in helping around the house, but you turn him away repeatedly, it will not be pleasant when you ask him to do chores 10 years down the road. Overall, it takes monumental patience to take a step back and observe, and let the child try (clumsily of course) to participate in the life of the adults but it is necessary for their feeling of self-worth and belonging.
Since my kid turned 3 recently, I figured I'd jot down a few reflections on how this book influenced my parenting for this age group. This book prompted me to question every mainstream idea regarding child-rearing, nutrition, education, etc. We probably appear quite odd to the average parent out there, but we have a child we're already proud of. He is very calm, cheerful, sociable, bright, and well-behaved, in part because he came that way, but also in part because our parenting was highly influenced by this book and the others I linked above. We don't live a rushed life (made hard choices to get to that) - so everyone is less stressed and less hurried. If a fun-activity turns into a scheduling nightmare we don't do it. There are set rules about the daily routine and we stick to the routine as best possible. Regarding discipline, we never do time-outs, do not rely on punishment, do not reward either ("good boy", as if he were a dog). We treat him as a fellow human being, who needs guidance because he is very unexperienced, protection because he is too young, but just as much respect and understanding as an adult.
In terms of self sufficiency: Don't sweat it if your 18-month old cannot put on his shoes like the child pictured in this book. Some shoes are harder than others to put on. When choosing shoes, I look at comfort, flexibility, and materials first, then ease of wearing. So my boy can put on boots and clogs, and helps fasten the sneakers. I'm happy with that. The point is made that he is expected to help with cladding.
Regarding feeding: I put the child's utensils and dishes in a low cupboard. Over time he got used to seeing me set his table by taking dishes from his cupboard, so he gradually joined me in setting his own table and carrying his dish of food to the table to eat. Does he always set the table and sit through an entire meal? No, but again point is made - set your table and eat there, not everywhere in the house. He knows the rules, knows how to follow them, and over time he will mature enough for this to happen all the time.
About potty training: It happened over a very long period of time, but it was very smooth, no struggles of any kind. He was night-trained by 18 months, without me doing anything other than sitting him on the potty since he was 6 months old. I am convinced that 18 months is the sensitive period for potty training, because he did show a willingness to go potty and hated getting wet. Due to busyness at work, we ignored this somewhat, so we had a big setback. The child got used to the wet diaper and stopped telling. It took until 2.5 years to be completely trained. The book was not lying.....
About Montessori materials: buy some, make others, and improvise. Being somewhat of a minimalist, I think some of the Montessori materials have very limited use or are meant for classrooms. For e.g. the boxes where you fit a coin or square peg, can be fashioned out of an old coffee can, with a square cut on the cover. Look at the activity, see the point of it, and figure out what you have around the house to teach the same concept. If you see any Montessori materials that can have an extended use, buy them. Don't fall into the trap of buying more and more Montessori materials because that will somehow make the kid smart. It is you and what you do that matters more than the stuff. (I grew up in a different country where all we had was chalk and chalkboard and I went on to get a PhD. Many of my classmates did get pretty far in life too. Not that this is evidence, but really, stuff does not matter that much). In fact, the child gains more from using real tools than child-sized specially-made, sometimes out-of-context materials. I did grow up in a very Montessori way without any of the specially made materials - for e.g. I learned how to clean, cook, embroider, knit, help paint the house, and take care of my siblings from a very early age.
The biggest gain for me was that of integrating my child into my daily life. No need to rush through cooking so I can spend time with my kid - we just cook together (ok, takes a lot longer, but is more fun). If I am cleaning, same deal - here's a rag, help me out. I've taught him how to start the washer and dryer with supervision - so we do laundry together. This way I don't feel upset that housework is costing me time away from my child. He gets the idea that in this house we all do chores together, that we all are responsible for keeping the environment clean (not the cleaning lady), and he learns how things are done, thus developing motor skills, and life-long skills of taking care of himself.
Parenting is hard, and don't get me wrong, we struggle just as much as the next guy, and our kid knows how to throw tantrums. But in the grand scheme of things, I am convinced following this book has contributed to a much better outcome than if we had followed the "everybody does this" path we had initially embarked upon.
I also strongly object to some of the authors' suggestions in the chapter entitled "Personal Care". They recommend intensive toilet training beginning at 12-15 months, and weaning from breastfeeding at 9 months, arguing that this will foster the child's feelings of independence. Both of these suggestions are contrary to the latest advice given by childcare experts. Few children show any signs of being ready for toilet training at such a young age -- most are still learning to walk, or have recently learned to do so, and for the parent to begin intensive toilet training at this time interferes with the child's natural instincts to be on the move. Furthermore it is much easier and faster to toilet train when the child is actually ready to do so, which in the vast majority of cases is not before the age of two.
The authors' advice to wean from the breast at 9 months is contrary to that of the American Association of Pediatrics, which recommends that breastmilk be the primary source of nutrition for all of the first year. This advice can also be dangerous. On the advice of a (misguided) health professional, I limited my own child's breastfeeds when he was 9 months old to 3 times per day for a period of several weeks, which resulted in a rapid and frightening weight loss, and frequent night wakings due to hunger. The authors actually state that if your child is showing no signs of being ready for weaning, you should go ahead and wean him anyway, because you know best! This is completely contrary to the Montessori principles of respecting the child's natural intelligence.
Furthermore, I think there is too much emphasis in the book on the child learning to do things at an early age. They state that if you follow their principles, the child should be crawling by six months, walking by 10 or 11 months, talking by 14 months -- this seems to imply that Montessori education results in children who are superior simply because they can do things at an earlier age than other children.
There were only a few good suggestions for activities for toddlers, which do not merit buying the book. I am still looking for a better book which will enable me to put Montessori principles into practice in my home.
I've learned much more about child psychological development and age-appropriate ideas from "The New First Three Years of Life" by Burton White. It is chronologically ordered, then each chapter is subcatagorized.
There's a few other Montessori books on Amazon I'm going to try instead, such as "Basic Montessori, Learning Activities for Under Fives", "Teaching Montessori in the Home, the Pre-School Years", and "Montessori Play and Learn."
While we implement Montessori in our home, it is tailored to what we think is most appropriate for all of us. So while my son has learned to use the potty/toilet at nineteen months, he still nurses, and we sleep in a low family bed. I would not recommend this book; instead parents might like Patricia Oriti's At Home with Montessori, Angeline Stoll Lillard's Montessori: the Science behind the Genius, and of course Maria Montessori's The Secret of Childhood to get a better idea for how to bring Montessori into the home.
In terms of practical advice the book has very little - it describes loosely the things it proposes, but I found myself always waiting for them to actually set out what they were suggesting. For example, you can glean from the chapter roughly how they suggest you should set up a childs nursery based on the stories they tell about how the example couple set theirs up, but I never felt I had a full and clear understanding of what was ideal. Other Monessori books not only clearly describe recommended tools and the skill they foster but also give you templates so you can make the tools at home.
I'm not sure what world the authors live in but some of the suggestions are plain funny - they talk about having someone stay in your babies room each night for the first couple of months to give the new mother time to recover - as an example they have a woman quietly knitting in the babies room all night so that she can resettle the baby and only wake the mother up when the child really, truly needs feeding... sounds great - where do I get one of those? They also talk about setting out a shelf in the kitchen for the childs kitchen tools, and another for their baking tools, another for their lunch time place settings - again - where do I get a kitchen with that many spare shelves? One of my favourites describes how a child should only need 4-6 pairs of pants (plus a couple of dress outfits). Sure if I wanted to wash their clothes EVERY night...
Then there are the ideas that are plain dangerous - such as giving 18 month olds knives to chop their own apples, or glasses because they should learn the very real consequences of mishandling their cups. I dont want my my 6 month old to learn the hard way that glass can cut his finger! (Yes - they give glasses to 6 month olds who are forced to sit in a wooden chair to eat, which must be a strain on their back). Of course after my child has shattered their glass I should encourage them to sweep up the mess with their own dustpan (from yet another shelf in my imaginary giant kitchen). Just in case they didnt cut themselves already.
I should also (from the age of 6 months) carry my childs table settings: bowl, pitcher etc to the table ONE AT A TIME and using two hands because this is how the child will have to do it when it is eventually able to set the table itself (in a year or so...). The next part of the book says that you should NOT eat with your child as that is lazy, you should just help your child to feed itself and you eat later or earlier (and of course the child wont be trying to climb onto my lap to get a taste of what Mummy has for dinner because it is a Montessori child and will be busy cleaning up the broken glass). Aside from those two priciples being directly opposite each other (on the one hand demonstrate carrying but on the other dont let them watch you eat), it also seems to go against other Montessori books that I have read where they talk about children learning from the calm example of their peers ie they will want to use their spoon when they see you using yours, they will learn table manners from watching how you behave etc.
This book also left me with the idea that everything should be moving along at the pace they have outlined or else I'm holding my child back. This is totally contrary to the other Montessori books I have read which have talked about allowing each child to develop at their own pace. The book pays lipservice to this idea (eg it says that the idea is not to get the child to do things for itself but rather to give it the sense of independance), but it re-inforces all the time that if you do this your child will be independant earlier than other children, and that feels like the goal and the measuring stick.
Regarding breastfeeding - the authors just plain tell you that you should stop breastfeeding them at 9 months because you know best and that will help them feel independant. Thats totally contrary to health advice, and on the other end of the spectrum makes no allowance for women who can't breastfeed that long. Either way you'll get a guilt trip if you dont stop at 9 months.
Which is typical of this book - the entire thing sounds like you are getting a lecture from an old fashioned catholic school teacher and if you arent doing everything exactly as they say then you are a bad mother, if your children arent the perfectly independant angels described you have ruined them. As a confident mother of 2 I got a pleasant buzz of indignation at most of the diatribe, but I shudder to think how I would have felt reading it as an overwhlemed, sleep deprived, hormonal first time Mum. I think this book would have totally shattered my self confidence and made me feel guilty at every turn. It says things like 'Everyone knows it is easier to do for the child rather than teach it to do for itself, but to do that is just being a lazy mother'. New mothers are so vulnerable and there are ways to give advice that bolsters their self confidence and their enjoyment of their new role. This book does the opposite of supporting parents - it gives them ultimatums, guilt trips and unrealistic yet vague expectations, and I think that can be dangerous to a new Mum.
Don't buy this book - it doesnt provide real Montessori principles, has little practical advice and is so negative and lecturing that anything good in it is lost guilt trips.