Wednesday, December 27, 2006

And the winner is...

The Montessori Christmas Sweepstakes
Maria Montessori's life's work was to understand and promote the development of the whole child. She emphasized spiritual growth, grace and courtesy, independence, and the mind-body connection as pillars of the formation of the self. Her philosophy has lately come to be "method", and as such, occasionally comes nose to nose with the philosophy itself. As you all know, I'm here with the Experimental Infant (fast becoming the Experimental Toddler)trying to sort it all out.
And so, I return to the whole child and her first Christmas. (Some of you remember that this was to be her second Christmas--had she deigned to be born when due...) This Christmas, Montessori had some big wins, some big losses, some laughs and some spins in her grave. To relate just a few:

The Big Loser: The Weaning Table.
Christmas (and Hannukkah, and Kwanzaa, and Eid, and Diwali and your birthday, and every other celebration I can think of) is largely expressed as dinner, and the weaning table simply misses out. It's independent, true, but it excludes her. She's a "kid's table" of one, and she seems as aware of it as I am. She just has to participate in the celebration, the passing of food, the conversation, everything. I think that her sitting at the table, eye to eye with all the important people in her life, is an invaluable social experience, and Montessori is as much about social integration of the child as it is about independence. At dinnertime, independence loses to grace-and-courtesy by a nose.

The Big Winner: Getting Outside with The Grandpa Set
Nuvy spent Christmas in Lake City, FL (we were not damaged by tornadoes, but several others were) where the highlight of her trip was pushing a plastic mower up and down the driveway until she was out of breath, dragging her bare toes on the pavement until they bled, then putting on shoes and heading out for more. No, the mower is not strictly traditional (the Radio Flyer Walker Wagon is the traditional choice--but was not available at our local Wal-Mart store) but it doesn't have bells and buzzers, and it is perfectly functional as a push toy. She's just that close to walking, and she literally came in with her tongue hanging out. There wasn't anything under the Christmas tree better than that time outside with Daddy and Gramps and the beautiful day.

For Christmas in Philadelphia, it was a walk in the sling with Opa, over a muddy path in Fairmount Park by the Wissahickon. It's a riverside walk we take often, as it's close to home. Here again, independence loses--this time to enrichment. Sure, she might have pushed her wagon through the mud without much damage to either of them, but she would never have made it down to the rapids, or have seen the little trickle coming out of a wall, or have looked over the stone bridge. These are all of debatable developmental value compared to her independent effort in getting around in nature, and there's a big part of me that wishes I'd let her push the wagon, but the community joy was the best part.
The Big Cringe: Another Round of Applause.
Now, I am a tremendous advocate of modeling social graces, and I want my daughter to feel loved and appreciated, but I often feel a sort of crushing guilt when I see her delightedly working the crowd.
Nuvy is an only child, and the only grandchild (until July, right, Auntie Shoogs?) of all four of her grandparents, which means that her every move is watched and recorded (yes, blogged) and cooed about and applauded. The Montessori gurus have a big bone to pick with excessively praising children, and I am right there with them. I try really, really hard to quietly beam with pride when she does something amazing, or just to share her joy in her accomplishment with a "Wasn't that great?" but it is so, so hard at family gatherings. I feel like the world's biggest stick-in-the-mud when everyone's applauding her and she's lit up like the Christmas tree. It's hard to walk the line between sharing her joy and egging her on, or trying to get her to "do it again for Uncle Mack" or whoever missed it the first time, and I can begin to see the people-pleaser in her. It's hard to resist enticing her to perform when it's so much fun for all of us, but I still get a little queasy when I remember that this is my first, best chance to let her do it just for herself.
I'll bet you want to know what was under the Montessori Baby's Christmas tree, right?
Of course you do, and it was probably a lot like Christmas morning for lots of other little American boys and girls. After all, it's not about the stuff. However, honorable mentions follow:
Best restraint in purchasing: The "baby doll that doesn't do anything". It doesn't cry, wet, sing, or play music. Its eyes do close when you lay it down. Nuvy loves it.
Best excuse for a non-Montessori toy: The battery-operated cell phone and keys. I have to paraphrase, because I can't remember the exact quote, but it goes something like this:
A: The real keys and cell phone are some of her favorite toys. B: They are not the best toys because they are (choking hazards, fragile, electronic, dirty, will-put-your-eye-out...) but she totally loves them. C: Real keys and cell phones make noises and have batteries inside. Ergo: A toy phone that beeps when you press the buttons (never mind the animal sounds) and a set of toy keys that has buttons that make car-unlocking sounds, engine starting sounds, etc. is completely within bounds as a realistic toy.
I could argue, but I won't, since it's pretty close to my audubon birds argument. Nuvy, of course, loves them.
Best toy I hid under the sofa: Leapfrog Lily. It speaks english and spanish and teaches numbers and colors in both languages. It sings a pathologically catchy song. Nuvy loves it. Please don't tell her where I hid it.
Best gift overall: I know, this one gets the corny award. She'll never remember anything anyone gave her, but I'll bet next year she'll be looking forward to Christmas. Like most of us, she won't really be able to put her finger on why, but it'll be because somewhere deep inside her is planted a memory of love and laughing and general festivity. What could be better than that?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Weanie, Whiny, Whoa!

Weanie, Whiny, Whoa: The Weaning Table Bites Back!
So, when I started this, there were dichotomous responses to my decision that Nuvy would have a weaning table instead of a high chair at home.
Column "A" included those who asked probing questions, such as "How is that going to affect your family mealtimes?" or, "How are you going to keep her sitting at the table?" or perhaps, "Isn't that going to be kind of hard?" To these, I responded confidently that I saw these kids in an infant program using the weaning table and they were all quite successful and I was sure we would be quite successful, too.
Column "B" included those who looked, blinked slowly, smiled knowingly, and said something like, "Oh, how interesting. Let me know how that works out for you." To these I say I'd like to order a good single malt, neat, to wash down my crow.
Yes, neighbors, we have had some challenges with the weaning table. Nuvy does come to the table when I put food on it, but she WILL NOT stay seated there. A typical meal goes like this:
-I say, "Lunch is ready! Come to the table, Nuvy!"
-Nuvy comes barrelling across the room saying "MMM! MMM!" and slapping her little hands along the floor the whole way.
-Nuvy sits down and digs in.
-Nuvy has one bite of whatever she's having--two if she's very hungry--then gets up from the table and takes off.
-She looks behind her. I'm still sitting at the table.
-She comes back. "MMM! MMM!"
-She stands up beside the table and takes a few carrots off her plate.
-I say, "We sit down to eat, Nuvy." and guide her over to her chair to sit, but if she sits on the floor next to the table, I pull the table in front of her and consider this good enough.
-She takes another bite, maybe two, then throws the plate onto the floor and takes off.
-I clean up the table and race her to reach the pieces on the floor. End of meal.
I am grateful to both my mother and my mother-in-law for never, EVER suggesting to me that I just get a high chair like other people do. They have both been respectfully, supportively silent on the matter.
So, I bought a high chair. It's a lovely high chair. Now we can all sit together at the table, and Nuvy can enjoy family meals like the rest of us. And I can put her in the chair, and I can take her out. She's fine with this in restaurants. In fact, she seems to love sitting at the table with everyone. She does not squirm or cry to get out. She seems quite happy, and I take her out immediately if she isn't.
But it still bothers me.
So, as luck would have it, IMMEDIATELY after I bought the lovely high chair that grows into a teenager's desk chair looks great with the dining room furniture, here is what Nuvy did.
Dinner time came around, I went to the kitchen to prepare her food. She crawled over to the table, sat down in the little chair, put both her hands on the table and said "YUM! YUM! YUM!". Then proceeded to eat an entire plate of spinach with raisins, green peas, sweet potato, about 15 cheerios, and half a pint of blueberries. Then she drank a glass of water, pushed the chair back from the table, and crawled off to the living room to play.
What do you think of that?

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Unprepared Environment

The Unprepared Environment: Montessori and Your In-Laws

FULL DISCLOSURE: My own in-laws are completely supportive of my Montessori tendencies and habits and would never, ever laugh at or scorn me in any way. Neither would they behave toward my child in any way contrary to my wishes, which I have painstakingly laid out. I uphold them as the very pinnacle of in-law existence, exempt them from any and all oblique or direct criticism, and sincerely hope that you should be so lucky.--A

When you tour a Montessori school, it all looks so easy. All the kids are perfectly normalized in their perfectly prepared environment at their most perfectly photogenic hour of the day--sometime between 9:00am and 11:00am. Over and over, parents like you and me (well, let me not speak for you...) say the same thing.

"My kid is not going to act like that."

And of course, the clever Montessorian who is leading your tour is ready with a reassuring, truthful response. Mine was always, "Almost all children do behave this way here, because the environment is carefully and minutely prepared to encourage them in this kind of work."

This often precipitates a discussion about the very real and intractable differences between the Montessori-school "prepared environment" and the rest of your often un-prepared, un-didactically-controlled life. There are just so damned many other people in your life, right? And doesn't each one come with her own confounded ideas?

One of the things that invariably intrudes upon a parenting strategy is the degree of license grandparents take with it as their god-given right to spoil. Call it a generation gap, call it amnesia, call it indulgence or call it grandparenthood--it's all in good fun. You can compound it with interest if you make them paternal grandparents because of the Daddy Factor (see post "The Daddy Factor"). The fact is, all these rules about "aids-to-independence" can be a tough sell for the grands, but it's not an impossible sell!

Can you feel me prepping you for Thanksgiving and everything else until January? Good.

Here are a few plays from my book, in case you're interested, to keep your family time in line with your Montessori home environment--especially when you are in someone else's home.

1. Go outside!
Take your child outside. If your in-laws are outdoorsy, they'll enjoy and enhance this experience for the baby, and if they aren't, they're likely to follow your lead (or at worst, be absent, which is OK in a pinch, right?). Taking a fussy child outside is, above all, calming to the child. Incidentally, it diminishes the temptation to do all kinds of invasive, distracting things to try to make the child stop fussing. Birdsong instead of knee-bouncing! Who can argue with that? Oh, and bundle up for the weather! It's good for you!

By the way, you don't need to live in a park to enjoy the outdoors. Why just today, due to an unplanned automotive event, Nuvy and I had a lovely nature walk around the perimeter of an Exxon station near the DC beltway, with rush-hour traffic going by. (The gas-station-people had planted marigolds, morning glories, and petunias, and had a delightful population of crickets and sparrows.)

2. Let them see you enjoying it.
Oh, you know it sells itself. Do it just like that tour guide did. Point out your child's independent activities in front of your in-laws. Engage them in following and observing the child by saying "Watch her _______!" and "Look! She can _____". Use hushed tones to heighten the effect. Really do it, and with feeling. They will all be charmed, and many of them will get right into it.

3. Hang out in a room where there's no TV--or don't be the one to turn it on.
I'm sure I don't have to map out for you how this is exponentially easier than asking your father-in-law to turn off The O'Reilly Factor.

4. Try not to be a toy-snob.
Let me be the first to tell you that Montessori-toy-snobbery will get you some measure of civil disobedience from the rest of your family. Trust me when I further tell you it is SO not worth it. Yes you can get Montessori-appropriate toys at Wal-Mart, you just have to be careful, as you would anywhere else. Plastic toys can be aids to independence, like the old-fashioned wooden ones, and for every Tickle-Me-Curious-George, or whatever, there is a plastic rainbow stacker, a xylophone piano, a bouncy ball, a baby-doll that doesn't do anything, a board book, or a string of plastic teething beads that will satisfy the gift-giving urge without compromising your principles.

5. So, what do I do with the singing-dancing-vibrating toy my mother-in-law couldn't resist?
It's so easy you'll laugh. Give it to your child, but don't turn it on or demonstrate it--or let anyone else do so. Tell your mother-in-law that you want the child to discover all the features of the toy on her own. With no direction, your child will play with the toy in a natural, constructive way--perhaps figuring out how to get a rise out of it--or not. Let this happen and let no one interfere. This is much more peaceful than refusal, and we're all about peaceful living.

6. I'm doing the weaning table/floor bed routine. What do I tell the grandparents who want to buy a high chair and a crib for their house?
Of course they do! They're as excited about your baby as you are, right? A corollary issue would concern the high chair and crib they already have for all their other grandchildren, but Nuvy is the first grandchild, so that's where we were. Improvising with readily available stuff is easier for everyone, and you'll get less eye-rolling. I discovered that a Bumbo seat (the thing you get at Target-- and not until your child can get out of it on her own) combined with one of those collapsible bed trays, the one with the white formica top you got as a bridal shower gift, (also available at in case no one gave you one) makes a fine weaning table. Throw a bath towel under it and let 'er rip!

Also, if throwing the crib mattress on the floor makes your in-laws squeamish, or if you sleep in hotels often, One Step Ahead ( has an inflatable sleepover bed designed for older children that looks like a little blue raft. I find that it makes a great traveling floor bed. I got it when Nuvy outgrew those little newborn travel bed/boxes. (to state the obvious: One Step Ahead does not advertise its inflatable bed for this use, and I am not an infant-safety authority. Use common sense. If it doesn't feel safe to you--don't do it.)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Stage 4 Montessori Environment

How Did We Already Get Here?: The Stage 4 Montessori Environment

So I can't believe I'm saying this, but at eight months (September) we move into the Stage 4 environment. For those of you who are just joining us, there is a brief recap of the previous stages in my post on the Stage 3 environment. For all the rest of us, time does march on, doesn't it? Apologies in advance if this is way more information than you want or need. If you just want to hear about the stuff (but it's not about the stuff!) I'm adding to her playroom, skip to "environmental supports".

The Stage 4 Montessori environment is appropriate for babies between eight and 12 months. So, who are these babies, anyway? I will consult my Montessori papers:

Stage 4 Neurological Development:
The Stage 4 baby is having a tremendous growth spurt in the cerebellum--which is the back part of the brain that controls muscle coordination, sirection, sense of gravity, and coordination of muscle movement. In essence, the part of the brain that controls the body is starting to "catch up" with the part that sets goals and plans movement. This means she can execute her plans with greater sophistication--and all of a sudden, it seems.

As a result of her rapidly improving sense of gravity and a finer grasp of balance, the Stage 4 child will pivot, squat and stoop on her feet, pull up and cruise along walls and furniture, and maybe even begin walking during this stage.

The Stage 4 child plays with a purpose. She pulls and drags toys, is interested in dumping, throwing, and dropping objects for effect, and picks things up with the intent to play with them. She can put one object inside another (nesting) or on top of another (stacking). If given a bottle, she can find the business end of it all by herself.

Stage 4 Cognitive Development:
The Stage 4 baby develops the ability to make and execute plans with smooth, coordinated actions during this stage. Her experiments are dramatically more purposeful and better organized now.

Since most of the dramatic growth is in the motor centers, you may notice that the nature of your baby's independent activities will remain largely the same for a few months, but they will be executed with rapidly increasing fluidity. The ability to cruise or take a few steps will dramatically increase her range of movement and physical strength. The hands are increasingly free to explore, as she needs them less and less for locomotion and balance.

She begins to respond to her own name, and can follow simple commands, but the nature of a command is still fuzzy for her, so don't be surprised if the baby's own will easily wins out over your command. It's not defiance (yet!), just an incomplete understanding of the relationship between her own desires and your commands.

Stage 4 Emotional and Social Development:
The Stage 4 baby's emotions are quite sophisticated now. She's no longer just happy or unhappy, frightened or delighted, but shades of emotion are evident. You will see shyness and anger, and an attachment to routine emerging. At this stage, she can follow a pattern or sequence of events, anticipate what should come next, and get extremely pissed off if her anticipations prove unreliable.

She's developing social references. She's comfortable with people she knows, and uncomfortable with strangers. Her interactive play is more advanced and her comprehension better. If you leave her, she can anticipate your return.

The sounds she makes will start to have meaning. Her imitations of speech are more refined and she vocalizes a lot more. Her gestures are getting more subtle in meaning--many people introduce sign language during this stage--and her passive vocabulary is growing like crazy. Be sure to call everything by it's name. The Stage 4 baby will pick up on this long before she can talk back.

Stage 4 Environmental Supports:
This is the part you've been waiting for.

The walking curriculum: For her eight months birthday, Nuvy gets a ballet barre, mounted 18" off the floor of her playroom for cruising (I found it at I did not buy, but I do like, the balance boards and some of the other walking materials from Lord Company ( Of course, a lot of the walking materials are only necessary if your house is completely devoid of low tables and windowsills to pull up on, or if you are trying to fill a huge playroom. Neither of these is the case for me.

Really, now, the weaning table: I am really, really ready now to start her at the weaning table. She is sitting up much better now than two days ago when I wrote about the Bumbo chair (use it for feeding, and forget the lap thing. Really, it's better.) AND she is seriously into playing with her food now, so I think she needs her own table, and I might just give her a plate too, and let her go at it. A friend of mine hooked me up with for some seriously beautiful tableware for children--and a completely different Montessori perspective--one much less restrictive than mine.

Baskets: Nuvy is really into dumping things out of containers, so I have put her toys in little baskets that are within her reach. Montessori folks call this a "treasure basket" and fill it with beautiful things for the child to admire. I have one for little scarves for her to pull out, and one for rattles and other toy-size objects. I also put all the board books on the lowest shelf so she can pull them down.

Nesting blocks: I think I will introduce these early, like the vinyl stacking blocks, and see what she does with them. has cute rainbow wooden stackers, but lots of companies make them. Rosie Hippo recommends them for age 2+, so follow me at your own risk. This site is a great resource for all kinds of wooden toys. Check them out.

We'll keep you posted!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Seven Months Review

How's That Working Out For You?: The Seven-Months Review.

Summer camp's over and the Montessori Baby is back! If you can believe it, we've been doing this now for seven--almost eight months.

In that time, as you can imagine, we've made a few minor adjustments to the academic rigor of the Montessori Baby Experiment. Let's review:

What Nuvy's up to now: Nuvy is doing all the things seven and eight-month-old babies are doing everywhere. She sits up, crawls, pulls up on furniture (if she's motivated to see over it), dumps things onto the floor, eats a variety of foods, vocalizes a lot, saying "mamamama", "dadadadada", and "bababababa", none of which seem to have any specific meaning attached to them, and says "aynaynaynaynay" when she's annoyed, tired, or otherwise unhappy. Just now, she's taught us how to play peek-a-boo.

Principles we're still sticking to: No bouncers, swings, exersaucers or other strap-in contraptions, no buzzers and light-up toys, no TV (unless I catch her watching "Deadwood" with Daddy--then watch out!), no crib, and no high chair. She doesn't have any bottles or sippy-cups. She drinks water from a regular glass with no lid, and gets her milk from the breast. The sippy-cup restriction is Montessori, the bottle thing is just me, as I never get around to pumping, and I'd rather not give her formula.

All her play is still Nuvy-initiated, except for walks and other outings. She's a real people-person, I suspect because of spending lots of time in the sling, at grown-up eye level. I still don't demonstrate for her how to use any toy. I let her try to self-feed, and I still put her in her bed awake. She sleeps in her floor bed, usually from about 9:00pm to about 5:30am, at which time I usually put her in bed with us.

We don't use baby-talk with her (much--but everyone else does), and we haven't tried to sign. Anybody have any experience with that? The Montessori people were a little conflicted about it, as they weren't sure how it would affect oral language development. I'd appreciate any wisdom any of you have on baby sign language.

Things I've found it useful to modify: These are things that still feel Montessori to me, but are a little tweaked because they just weren't working for us.

The Floor Bed: She rolled out of the floor bed every night for the first week I put her in it. To keep her in bed without confining her with a crib, I rolled up blankets under the sheet and made little bolsters all around the floor bed. It seems to keep her in the bed, unless she means to get out and actively climbs over them--which she does infrequently. She usually just makes a little noise early in the morning, and I come and get her.

The Noisy-Toys Rule: I am giving her rattles with invisible beads, Lamaze butterflies with crinkly plastic inside, and the Audubon Society birds. I did this because she became very interested in rattles, and I wanted her to experience some sounds and textures other than wood-against-wood. The birds got in by being reasonably authentic representations of actual local birds, and by making the actual accompanying birdsong when you squeeze them. And anyway, they're really cool. You should get some. Follow the link below.

Things I Have Totally Bagged: There are a few Montessori recommendations that I have completely given up on. If you manage to make these work, please let me know how you did it so I can try it out on my next child.

Lap Feeding: Oh, how I have come to hate lap feeding. Nuvy sits up now, but unsteadily, so she still can't really use the weaning chair yet. Lap feeding became a hurricane of food, a writhing, whining baby, and a glass of scotch for me when it was all over. I caved and used what I must now endorse as a really great baby product--the Bumbo seat. Props to Aunt Hyster for that. The bumbo seat sits on the floor, and I sit on the floor in front of it. It supports Nuvy very securely while she eats, and allows me to interact with her without having to restrain her with my arms. The idea behind lap feeding is that there is bodily contact (the only kind of restraint theoretically allowed) and the physical closeness allows the parent to be well-attuned to the baby's body language, ending the feeding session immediately when the child loses interest. Problem: Nuvy lost interest in being held on my lap WAY before she lost interest in her food, which amounted to tremendous frustration for both of us. The Bumbo seat (available at, among other places), while somewhat confining, represents a pretty good compromise. It is situated on the floor, where the weaning table and chair will go, but is pretty hard for her to worm her way out of--though let me say not impossible. Now, Nuvy's dinner is much more pleasant, AND she uses her cloth napkin for peekaboo--which is beyond entertaining!

The Six-Months "Sensitive Period for Weaning": Sorry, folks. The attachment parent in me is just not ready to give up nursing. The American Association for Pediatrics is backing me up, and giving me a year. Here's why. 1) Breastmilk is better for Nuvy than formula. 2) I hate, HATE pumping. It makes me feel even sorrier for dairy cows than I already did. 3) She has begun to cut herself back now that she's eating solids, so I don't feel any real need to rush her. 4) We both still love it. So there.

However, I am trying to give her the opportunity to wean herself, and she seems to be doing it to a certain degree. She no longer needs to nurse for comfort if she's hurt or scared. Hugging and rocking while she sucks her thumb is enough. She takes less and less milk at mealtimes, and I've begun nursing her after she eats, rather than before. I never got into the habit of nursing her to sleep, but I do wake her up that way. When she gets up at 5:30am, she's like a sleepy little baby bird, chasing my breast with her mouth. That one's going to be tough to let go.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


Heigh-Ho!: The Montessori Baby Goes to Work

Ever thought of taking your baby to work? Ever thought of doing it every day? The Montessori Baby is here to de-mystify the world of the working infant. Right after we finish sweeping away the cobwebs from our blog.

After three months of maternity leave (on April 3 of this year), I went back to work as the director of a small Montessori preschool. Before the baby, I loved my full-time job, the children, the parents, the environment. It was a beautiful thing. It had been my plan from the start to return to work with the baby in tow, but as my maternity leave ran short, I began to understand (and share) my employers' apprehensions. It was decided that part-time was best.

So, Nuvy and I went back to work part time in our Montessori school. Does going to work with your baby sound like a dream come true? It is! Sound like your worst nightmare? Yep, that too.

Are you crazy?
I don't think so. The Montessori environment is meant to mimic a family dynamic by integrating children of different ages in the same class. This allows a kind of social development seldom found in single-age-group environments. Older children seek new challenges, but they also enjoy nurturing and caring for the younger ones. Their perspective tends to make them precociously empathetic. Nuvy has been wonderful for our community in that way. Even the youngest children had someone to care for, and I found their intuitive gentleness remarkable.

Don't you worry that she'll get sick?
No again. She has been a very robust baby, and I made a few common sense rules, mostly those I heard from teachers with children and other parents. Wash your hands before touching the baby, and don't touch her face or hands. The second was harder to enforce, as holding her hands is irresistable. In the time between April 3rd and June 15th, which was the last day of school, she had one cold. If she had an older brother or sister in school, the exposure to school germs would be about the same.

But can you get anything done?
Depends what you need to do. I was able to operate pretty well with my three-to-five-month-old baby in the sling. She could ride with me to bring the children in from their cars and take them out again, to make snack or coffee, and to supervise the playground or lunch time. If I needed to be in the classroom, she was the star attraction. In mobile, child-oriented parts of the job, she was fine.

There were times, however, when I needed to hand her off. Any kind of computer work, meetings or long phone calls, more office/adult-oriented tasks were harder, and everything got done a little more slowly. Time out for feeding and changing added up, and long jobs had to be saved for nap times or taken home. I delegated shopping and other in-and-out errands to other people, and I was lucky to have very supportive colleagues, children and parents in my school, who welcomed us both back in as loving and uplifting a way as I could have imagined. Colleagues frequently stepped up to have baby visits in their classrooms or to take her out to the playground with the rest of the children.

Will you keep doing it?
For the summer, yes. A wonderful partner and I are operating a summer program at the school, and I have an on-site babysitter. It's an absolute dream.

In the fall, no, but it could be done. My school is not equipped for infant care, and both liability and productivity issues loom large (less so for summer, as the program is small and I am self-employed). If I ruled the world, I would make on-site infant care the norm for Montessori teaching staff.

Picture this: a nursery area, just for the infant children of teachers, with a small staff and limited access to the primary Montessori classroom, plus separate space for naps and the ups and downs of baby life. Imagine the relief for young mothers who teach. Imagine the enrichment of life for the infants and the preschool children. Imagine being able to go to work AND be with your child.

But you don't rule the world, so what now?
It's true. I don't (yet) rule the world. After summer, I'll join the ranks of SAHM's with pride and delight. We'll be on the playgroup circuit and among the park-walkers and weekly bloggers again, and we'll continue our Montessori baby adventures until it's time for school.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Montessori Shopping Links

Look! Montessori Shopping Links!

I have received lots and lots of questions about where to get obscure Montessori furnishings and materials. For everyone who has ever asked "where did you get your weaning table and chair?" To everyone who can't quite visualize a floor bed, and to everyone who has a hard time finding simple, affordable, quality things for little people, check it out. To your right, you'll see some new links to Montessori stuff. So there you go. Shop away, but...


1. Read "The Joyful Child" at The Montessori home environment is a state of mind, and the things are just things--tools to help you. Even if you never buy a single piece of Montessori furniture or equipment, there's a lot you can learn from reading.

2. Really look at what you already have first--especially in the activities department. A lot of this stuff is easy to make at home. It's about order and an absence of extraneous stuff. You can make a cluttered confusing environment that is chock-full of Montessori equipment and you will still not have a Montessori environment. I fight this battle every day. Ask my packrat husband.

3. Remember that your baby will still be a baby, even if you fill your house with dishwashing stations and watering cans. It's all about respecting your child for the person she is. Did I mention that it's really not about the stuff?

One more caveat:

There is no one Montessori bible upon which everyone agrees. You will find things in these catalogs that I have excluded from my environment, and you will not find everything I am using at any one site. Some of the best things I have in Nuvy's environment are improvised. It's not about the stuff.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Mares eat oats and does eat oats

Mares Eat Oats and Does Eat Oats and the Little Lamb Eats Oatmeal: The Montessori Baby Eats Up!

So it's finally happened. One day, I was happily nursing, and the next day, I was covered in oatmeal. One of the teachers at our Montessori school had banana oatmeal for lunch and Nuvy gave her that lip-smacking look, and there was no denying it. So I got some baby oatmeal on my way home, and that's where we started.

As you all know, the Montessori baby cannot be strapped into any contraption except her car seat. She can't sit up on her own yet, so we can't use the weaning table, and that means lap feeding. I was sure Kent would suggest that we break out some sort of baby seat for feeding, but I was surprised to find that I didn't even have to show him how to do it. He just sat right down with her on his lap, held the food in the left hand and the spoon in the right, and chirped "I've always seen people feed their babies this way, and now I finally get to do it!"

I could not have been more proud as I watched them shovel away.

The Montessori lap feeding rules are these:

1. No propping up in a seat. The child is held on your knees and is supported by the non-spoon arm. There should really be a corollary rule that you must cover yourself, the baby, and all the surrounding upholstery with a dropcloth before beginning.

2. The food must be served in a colorless glass or plastic container. The container is transparent so that the child can see where the food is. A four-and-a-half-month-old is still working on object permanence, and so could not comprehend that the food exists in a place where she can't see it, so it's important that the child see the spoon going into the food and coming out with some food on it, into her mouth. The container is colorless so as not to give an unrealistic appearance to the food.

3. The spoon is offered, and the baby chooses to eat or not. That means no airplane games to get the baby's mouth open, and no slipping the spoon in while she's crying, even if I think it will make her quiet. We just hold the spoon up and wait for her to take it. So far, she always grabs it with both hands and pulls it into her mouth. Oh, it's messy, but so cute! If she gets distracted, I just wait there and hold the spoon. Eventually, she either comes around to eating again, or she's just not interested, and I stop feeding her. So far, I'm happy with the results.

4. Water is offered in a clear, colorless glass. The reason it is clear and colorless is the same as above for food. The reason it is water and not some other drink is obvious. You are both going to be wearing the better part of it. I have to say that I was a little skeptical about this at first, but I figured, "Hey, it's just water after all." Well, Nuvy totally digs the water glass. She has more or less success getting water into her mouth depending on the type of glass. The best kind I've found is the one the Montessori people all recommend, one of those little flared glass votive candle holders. It is the perfect size, and the little lip really helps her guide the water in. She seems so proud of herself!

Here she is with her glass of water. I held it up in front of her so she could get a good look at it. She naturally puts everything she can find in her mouth right now anyway, so she just grabbed it with both hands and brought it to her lips. I was amazed to see that, after a couple of tries, she was gulping water from the glass, pretty much as anyone else would.

5. No mixing food. Each type of food is served in its own little clear glass container. If she has just oatmeal, she just needs one little glass bowl. If she has oatmeal and peas, she needs two. Add carrots? Add a third dish. Later, when she sits at the weaning table, and can have all her food laid out before her, this will be unnecessary. But for now, it is thought to help her understand the whole concept of eating different things. Like many other experts, the Montessori folks suggest feeding just one thing per container (just peas, not peas mixed with applesauce) so we can both learn about her food preferences. So far, she likes everything, including sucking on corn cobs and apple cores.

What she's eating.
Probably because I have never had any real food allergy, I have been sort of haphazard about introducing things to her. We started out in a very organized way, with oatmeal, then oatmeal and peas, etc. And then I just started letting her try things. I haven't given her any big no-nos like peanut butter or honey, but she has had a taste of raspberry yogurt, a sip of strawberry juice, a drop of red wine from my finger, and a taste of vanilla ice cream, in addition the baby standby foods. Yeah, I know. She's too young for dairy and way underage for alcohol. I'll try to be better. So far, she has not had any reaction to anything, but I have to admit feeling a little guilty about being so carefree in feeding her things.

I just enjoy her interest so much. I was really sort of dreading having to give her food, but my friend Brianne was right. It's actually kind of fun.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Stage 3 Montessori Environment

Overhaulin'!: The Stage 3 Montessori Environment

As Nuvy, the experimental Montessori baby, approaches four months of age, she's moving into stage 3 of her Montessori infancy. This leads inevitably to the question, "What did you do with stages 1 and 2?" I have in fact failed to note stages in this blog up to now, so lets recap.

Stage 1: Birth to 4 Weeks
During stage 1, her environment was basically me. We kept the colors quiet (more or less--my taste doesn't run to pastels), the noises quiet, and the lights quiet. The idea was that an environment of low sensory stimulation would ease her transition into the world outside her womb (er, my womb), and allow her to get her bearings without sensory overload. She was allowed to sleep as much as possible (!), was held for most of her waking time, and started spending lots of time in the sling from about 2 weeks--the sling being my unorthodox addition to the environment, and one I'm glad I added.

As far as I can tell, she behaved during that time like a rather quiet, perfectly normal newborn, except that people did remark a lot that she seemed never to cry. It was the sling. I know it.

Stage 2: One to Four Months
During stage 2, we introduced her to her floor bed for nap time (we are still using the co-sleeper at night) and her playroom. Her toys were simple: a red bandanna--now referred to as her "buddy"-- and a few grasping objects, both soft toys and rattles, with not more than three out at a time. She plays on a blanket on the floor, and does not sit in any contraption that she can't get in and out of on her own (except the sling, which I consider holding her, so I don't count it).

Cognitively, she started regarding her hands at about 4 or 5 weeks, followed things with her eyes from about 3 weeks, seemed interested in particular things, such as her buddy from about 5 weeks, and started grabbing things and putting them in her mouth from about 11 weeks.

I played a kind of peek-a-boo game with her starting at around 8 or 9 weeks, in which I covered her face with the bandanna, then uncovered it and smiled at her. She never seemed afraid or cried at all, but at first she would suck in her breath and move in a rather agitated way when she was under the bandanna. Pretty soon that stopped, and for about a month, she would just lie very still under the buddy and wait for me to remove it--presumably watching the spot where she last saw me. Just during the past week or so, she has begun to try to move the bandanna out of the way, and I have started varying the game by moving to a different spot while she's under there, so I don't show up in the same place where I disappeared. She appears to enjoy the surprise.

At 12 weeks, we went back to work part time. She comes to school with me, hangs out in the sling during carpool or if she's fussy, and plays on the floor during the day. So far it's working out pretty well. The children love her and give her their colds, and she seems to enjoy them, too. More on that as events develop.

She's also rolling around like a little buckeye these days, and starting to try to get her knees under her. I'm introducing gates this week.

Stage 3: Four to Eight Months
So here we are, coming up on four months and it's time to introduce a bunch of new stuff to our Montessori baby. The idea is to support the tremendous growth spurt her brain has during this time. Here are some of the new cool things she gets to play with!

Dolls: She's able to appreciate toys that look like people now, so she's getting a little soft dolly. Mostly, I expect her to eat it.

Things to stack: During the next four months, she's supposed to get interested in building, so I'm introducing some soft stacking blocks in easy to clean vinyl, since she'll probably lick them a lot.

Things to name: Representative toys, like fruits and vegetables, animals (I'm giving her some stuffed bird toys from the Audubon society. They come in different local species.), tools, people's pictures, whatever. You put them in a basket and take them out, saying their names as you touch them. We're supposed to start this before she can talk, to add to the words in her environment.

Different textures: We already do this, with soft, hard, cold, warm, smooth, rough, to give her tactile experiences. The trick is to keep the objects simple so that the tactile difference is the point of interest. Hence, they shouldn't make noise when you squeeze them.

Something to climb on: I'm still looking for the perfect infant climbing structure. It's got to be very low and small, for someone who's just crawling.

Surprises: For example, a closed box with something inside, a bag that reverses to have a doll inside. Stuff like that.

The weaning table: This one brings tears to my eyes. I can't believe I'm already thinking about giving her food. The weaning table is Montessori's answer to the high chair. It's on the floor, and the child gets into and out of the chair herself. I expect to have to deal with this in the next few months when she can crawl and sit up. I hope she'll continue to nurse exclusively for another month or so, but she's already into drinking her bath water, so I have started giving her water in a little glass. She just dribbles it all over, but I'm telling you. She loves it.

Wow. A new era already.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


Motomontessori!: The Montessori Infant Gets Rolling

Let's check in on the three-month-old Montessori Infant in her gloriously subdued environment!

More Montessori Rules: Tummy Time

The Montessori Infant does not get "tummy time". Why not, you ask? According to theory, the infant is more free to move and explore from her back, and is an imposition by me on her. Putting her on her tummy restricts her field of vision and the mobility of her arms and legs. Since I am minimizing restrictions to her movement by not swaddling her, etc. (don't mess with me about the sling, ok? I know it's restrictive. See previous posts for my sling exception) I place her only on her back. The thinking is that, rather than my imposing the tummy position on her, and my deciding when she should turn back over, I place her on her back and provide incentives for her to turn herself over. This "providing incentives" involves

1) not hanging toys above her head, which would make just lying on her back way too easy.

2) placing objects of interest where she can see them from her back-lying position, but where she has to stretch to reach them. Her current objects of interest are a patterned red bandanna propped up in a little peak, a clear plastic ring rattle with colored beads inside that I got by destroying the cute little Lamaze bee toy it was hanging from, a bright blue translucent back massaging thingy, a rolly wooden foot massaging thingy, and an upside-down bilibo--a big yellow bowl-seat-thing with two holes in it. Do you remember that guy on Fat Albert with the yellow helmet head? It looks like him.

3) Not using any movement-restricting apparatus, such as a swing or bouncer, but always placing her flat on her back when I'm not holding her.

Wonder of wonders, she rolled over!

Nuvy rolled over from back to front on March 25, five days before her three-months birthday. The object that most consistently gets her to roll over is the red bandanna. She loves that thing. I'm loathe to wash her drool off of it, as I think that might be part of its appeal. Maybe in tomorrow's wash.

I received considerable flak from my pediatrician for following this wacky-sounding no-tummy-time rule, but so far I'm happy with the results. The good doctor remarked about her very good head control, arm strength and trunk strength at our two-month visit, and I quote "Whatever you're doing, just keep doing it!". Then I told him what I was doing. He gave me a stern look and told me I really must give her some tummy time. I smiled and nodded and ignored him. It seems to have worked out much better for me than that time I ignored everyone who said "feed your newborn every two hours, whether she is hungry or not", see my previous post, The First Big Goof.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Damn the Dodots!

Damn the Dodots!: Eurostyle, Good. Eurodiapers, Bad.

With all the sightseeing and gullet-stuffing, I hardly had time for shopping, but you can bet that anywhere I go, two things get bought. Baby gear and diapers.

In Barcelona, a cosmopolitan city which takes pride in offering the best of everything, I found two kinds of disposable diapers. Dodots (crappy and crunchy) and Suavinex ("new!" crappy and slightly less crunchy). This is a great case for why people all over the world marvel at American supermarkets. Brand competition ain't all bad, and friends, if I were a spanish--sorry, catalan--woman there is no way in hell I would use disposable diapers on my little button's tushie. Not only are they pinchy, tape-y/sticky, and crunchy, they are no match for my Noodle in a poop fight. She routed them over and over, once right nicely on the herring-packed train back to Barcelona from Montserrat (about an hour) which left me sitting in a steaming puddle of baby crap and fumigating all the neighboring grumpy commuters. Nice. Especially lovely for the clammy, smelly, humiliatingly stained walk home from the station.

I have been up to now a sideline fan of the alternative diaper scene, and I bought my g-diapers but I'm not using cloth--and there is exactly one reason I have not yet fully embraced the diaper revolution: Pampers New Baby Swaddlers. They are the most seductive of diaper devils. They're soft, smooth, stretchy, silent, have a lean profile, and are almost entirely leakproof. They are also still choking landfills, no matter how small a ball I roll them into for disposal.

I think the Eurodiaper Experience gave me some diaper perspective. It seems disposable engineering is not at such a premium in other parts of the world. So now I'm home, and after a happy reunion with American disposable diaper perfection, I sheepishly admit that I have been a spoiled-brat-environment-destroying-natural-resource-squandering-big-loud-American diaper consumer. I want ideal performance, and then I want to throw it in the trash and forget about where it goes after that. As a result of some light self-flagellation on that point, I'm now a part-time g-diaper user. ( We are using them at home, and so far I'm pretty happy with them, though the routine and technique take a little getting used to.

Of course, Barcelona is not known so much for its high-performing disposable diapers as for its cool modernist style, and there they live up to their billing. For as bad as the Barcelona disposable diaper scene was, I ran across one of the cutest baby/mommy stores I've yet encountered (dig the hat!). Check out, and to see some truly funky needlecraft.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Second Big Goof

The Second Big Goof: The Montessori Baby at Palau de la Music, Barcelona

Kent, Nuvy and I spent the past ten days in Barcelona on vacation with my parents. It was the second trip for me, the first for Nuvy and my parents, and Kent's parents live there in the winter. I probably have several posts in me about the trip...

Boys and girls, I would say, "let this be a lesson to you," but no parent in her right mind needs this lesson. You will all rightly say of me, "that lady is out of her mind," which precisely sums up the looks on the faces of the music devotees of the fair city of Barcelona, when they saw me saunter past the ticket counter of the Palau de la Music, the spectacularly beautiful Art Nouveau concert hall, with my two-and-a-half-month-old angel.

Now, before you send the butterfly nets and white coats (wait, no, don't click away!) let me just say that Nuvy is a very VERY mellow chick. Since she fell in love with her left thumb two significant things have happened:

1) Her right hand has struck up a feverish affair with the right ear, and deserves every happiness I think, jilted as it was.

2) Nuvy has stopped crying.

Seriously. This child now cries maybe once every other day, or whines for the 15 seconds it takes her to find the thumb. When alert, she coos and gurgles and charms the socks off of everybody--including any nearby bevy of flight attendants-- she can reach. When hungry, she sucks the thumb loudly, pulls her right ear, and closes her eyes tight. When sleepy, she moves the thumb from side to side in her mouth and tries to stick her fingers in her eyes. The child can communicate all her needs through the conduit of the thumb. Frankly, this is starting to freak me out a little, but my point is that I thought I had a pretty good chance of getting through a short concert.

The people at the concert could be, loosely, visually divided into three categories: middle-aged locals, elderly locals, and tourists. The middle-aged locals were fur-collar clad forty and fifty-somethings with careful coiffure and snappy-looking shoes. They usually appeared in couples or fours and were openly hostile to me, an obvious tourist and obvious lunatic for bringing a baby to a concert.

The tourists looked dirty, wore comfortable walking shoes, khakis and fanny or backpacks, and looked self conscious and a little alarmed that I was about to give them all a bad rap for being rude, loud, and marginally insane.

The little-old-ladies and gentlemen were pulling for me. They were dressed as if they were going to the market, came in threes, twos, or alone, and were visibly and actively delighted to see Nuvy, and seemed to enjoy my confidence and pluck in having brought this potentially dramatic little inconvenience out, just so we could all enjoy some good music. Perhaps there was a glimmer of the bullfight in their gleeful grins, but they were unfailingly encouraging. After each number, several of them would look back at me--in my aisle seat by the door--with silent applause and encouraging nods.

She made it all the way through the Mozart, the snoring of sleeping adults was louder, and was the belle of the intermission, drawing crowds of little old ladies who tested the limits of my spanish (Si, gracias. Si, una nena. Dos meses y media. Si, se gusta la musica) telling me how guapa she is (oh, and she is!) and asking about her vital statistics. The second act was a Hayden mass, a glorious chorale. She started to squirm at around the sixth of the seven pieces, so I took her out into the side aisle, not quite ready to leave, and thinking my swaying might keep her quiet. The piece, a solemn, quiet appeal for forgiveness, ended. She wound up for a whine and I took her out into the lobby. There, she let fly the single most piercing wail I have ever heard from her, and no amount of anything would bring an end to her solo performance. I spent the last 15 minutes or so (last number and encore) nursing her in the high-design, marbly bathroom. What I had envisioned as my moment of triumph, all the old ladies cheering, all the middle-aged scowlers and tourists grudgingly acknowledging the superiority of my fantasy child, became a scramble to duck out of the music hall quietly (there was nothing quiet about us!) and avoid the judging eyes that knew it was a bad idea from the start.

This exercise was the very antithesis of "follow the child". Maria Montessori would give me a good talking-to for having taken Nuvy there with the express intent of keeping her quiet, relying on my ability to predict and control her behavior to allow her to succeed in a wildly inappropriate setting. She really did almost make it, and if she had, I would have missed that lesson. To follow the child is to decline to burden her with your expectations. The "better" her behavior is, the harder it is to do. It was so easy for me to expect my tiny baby to behave appropriately in an adult-oriented setting. She had done it so many times before! I think this is a dangerous cycle for "good" kids. Adults just kind of forget what it's appropriate to expect--forget the reality of the child. I think this probably gets even worse as the child gets older, as adults have more direct influence over the child's behavior (through praise, punishment, scheduling, etc.) The well-behaved, obedient child finds herself in a pressure cooker of rising expectations. I hope this experience will help me remember that.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Diary of a Thumbsucker: Day 72

Diary of a Thumbsucker: Day 72

6:20am. I wake my mother with a big slurping noise in the right ear. By this method, I procure the morning milk without letting go of my thumb to cry.

6:32am. Mother thoughtlessly chucks me over her left shoulder for a refreshing burp between courses. What a clod! She knows that I'm a left thumb sucker! The oaf has my left thumb over her right shoulder--which might as well be in Cleveland as much as I can get it into my mouth. In the language of my people, I express this as "Waaaaaauugh!" She is not too dumb to get the message.

6:36am. What is it with this woman and the boobs? She tries to replace my thumb with breast number two. The unmitigated gall! She persists and I relent. My thumb twitches restlessly.

7:00am. Thirst slaked, it's time for "Monkey in the Middle" where the bigs lie around on either side of me and tell me how perfectly and uniquely beautiful I am. It's sweet, but I have to be "on" all the time for them--smiling and gurgling and the like. The audience is going wild, but the thumb calls to me softly with her music sweet and sublime. No time now, lovely digit, for he carries me away to the changing table, where I'm expected to deliver sparkling conversation while he tends my nethers. The morning passes.

8:00am. Have we been apart so short a time? I return to you, thumb, as if from six months' journey at sea. I take you in my right hand and crush you to my lips--in my convuslive rapture, you slip away across my cheek--but I will have you. I trap you between my head and right hand and press you, sweet protrusion of the left hand, between my waiting gums. Ah, rapture! Thumb, I will kiss you into dreamland.

1:00pm. She has it in for us. She is against our love, I know it. Now it's to be a walk, eh? Sleeping in the sling? She can tear us asunder, thumb, but she can never erase your sweet, wrinkly memory.

10:00pm. So in love... so in love... so in love with you, my thumb, am I! But soft! Is that a tiny pang of hunger? Just a twinge? I'll cry for milk--but no! Hush me! Here she comes to pry us apart again with food and sleep. A thousand times goodnight, thumb! Parting is such sweet sorrow that I would say goodnight 'til it be morrow...

Friday, March 10, 2006

A Walk Without Hats

A Walk Without Hats

Today we walked out without hats into a warm breeze, up hills, around corners and past a small playground where nobody was. A beautiful woman with broken teeth said her eight-year-old daughter had been shot, with a gun, in daycare. She had received a call from the hospital. She stopped us on the sidewalk; pronounced my baby beautiful. I had not read about it in the Post.

The Rock Creek Church cemetery is charming. The one for soldiers across the street is soul crushing, with its regiments of white crosses and stars. We wandered past the church, past gatherings of monuments, past a white truck surrounded by workmen and absurdly outfitted with a snowplow.

We came to a sort-of ornamental retention pond full of broken reeds and winter's refuse. Beside it was a low, rounded stone under which one Josiah Neuman Perry had lain now eighty-five years and death, it was written, had no more dominion over him. The same might not be said of his father, Rev. Josiah Bedon Perry, D.D., Rector of St. Andrews for 23 years, whose dominion over him was evident in the cool shadow of a looming monument. I sat on Josiah Neuman's marker and adjusted the buckle of my shoe, adjusted my sleeping baby, and looked out over the reed-choked pond. I wondered what diminutive name Josiah Neuman must have endured from his mother, Frances, to distinguish him from Father Perry.

Among the bread bags and leaf litter in the pond there was a flash of orange, then another and another. The pond was alive with carp of every color--orange, white, black, mottled, hundreds and hundreds. Many more than any sensible person would have stocked. I had to guess that these were generation upon generation of fish, surely as many as that little bit of water could sustain. I looked at my Nuria, with her mouth open in sleep and her grandmothers' names, and laughed at how life just kind of goes on like that. We threaded our way down the little lane, through the graves, out through an open iron gate and onto our street. The sun shone pink through her tiny ears all the way home.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

My Dad, Unsung Parenting Guru

My Dad, Unsung Parenting Guru: or How I Came to Disregard My Bellybutton Lint Just Now

"There are some things you just don't need to have."
--My Dad, as quoted by my Mom, regarding my brother's desire and mine to upgrade our beloved Atari to a Nintendo, sometime in the late 20th century.

He was totally right about that, and it occurs to me that I have a great tool, right here in my hands, for stepping outside the Montessori books and refining my parenting strategy by listening to real human beings instead of people selling books. So how about an interactive post!

Given my stated commitment to minimalism in the infant environment, and the impending necessity of actually giving my child things to use/play with, readers, bloggers, and lurkers, I'd love for you to tell me--

If you are the parent of a baby or young child:

Tell me about something you decided not to use with or give to your child, and why you made that decision. (Feel free to post anonymously, so whoever gave it to you as a shower/birthday gift won't recognize you.)


Tell me about an element that is/was unexpectedly essential to your infant environment, and why you couldn't have done without it.

If you are the parent of an adult or older child:

Tell me about something your children lobbied hard for, that you might have given them (meaning you could have afforded it/ had room for it/ it wasn't illegal...) but didn't, and how you feel about that decision now.

If you don't have any kids, or if you do but can still remember being one:

Tell me about something you really wanted (and really could have had if your parents had been willing to give it to you--see above restrictions) when you were a kid, but didn't get. Do you still feel the lack? Are you better off for having missed it?

Monday, March 06, 2006

Philosenpfeffer 201

Philosenpfeffer 201: Now Quit Trying to Spin your Bellybutton Lint Into Gold and Tell Us Why Your Kid Can't Have An Exersaucer!

Ok. So you all went to college and even if you were totally baked all through freshman year, you still came away knowing what a philosophy is. If you were so baked that you can't remember what a philosophy is, or you think maybe I can't, or you just have some time on your hands, read my previous "Philosenpfeffer" post. That other post addresses why I decided to follow all these rules, but not why the rules are what they are. This second question is addressed right here.

Why Montessori-types don't do "infant stim"

Life is already stimulating enough. Like all the Montessori people I keep telling you about, I do not believe that the real world is boring for babies unless we make it that way. Singing crib mobiles, swings and bouncers and Baby Einstein all work to distract the baby from reality, and if you slow down and look at it, reality itself is plenty stimulating for someone who has lived up to now in a tiny, soft, quiet, dark ninety-eight-point-six-degree womb. There is a book I love called Trees Make the Best Mobiles. It says all this better than I can.

The hand is the chief teacher of the child. One of the primary tenets of the whole Montessori philosophy is that children first learn with their hands. For that reason, a Montessori classroom is full of beads and pegs and sticks and sandpaper to count, sort, touch and examine. None of these things "do" anything at all without the child's manipulating them. These materials are very powerful learning tools, but try putting a computer with a math game on it in a Montessori classroom and see how fast the kids drop their geometric solids to go play with it. The point is, reality sometimes has a hard time competing for attention with special effects, and I think a lot of valuable things get missed because of this, especially when you're young and it's hard to tell what's real and what's special effects.

Desensitization. We have become desensitized to too many things. The evening news and movies have desensitized us to all kinds of violent horrors. We are able to watch real people killed and maimed over our dinner plates, and we hardly give any thought at all to all the pretend people we see killed and maimed in movies. We have seen so many buildings blown up and people mown down with machine guns that it hardly registers when somebody sets a fire or throws a punch. This goes along with the previous point that too much artificial stimulation causes people to lose the ability to see and respond to real things, and I think that's kind of a shame.

Why I don't think I'm overreacting.

ADD. I see a lot of little kids in my line of work, and even though I totally believe in ADD as a real psychiatric disorder (though I do think three years old is a little early to tag a kid with a diagnosis), parents who suspect their kids of having ADD have--to a man--reported that the kid is totally content and focused while watching educational TV, and is successful in learning through computer games. Now I still remember the one about the chicken and the egg, and I know correlation does not constitute cause, but I have a theory that overstimulation desensitizes kids and can cause focus and behavior problems in a low-key environment like a Montessori classroom.

Sensorial Acuity. A primary tool in Montessori teaching is heightening the child's sensorial perception, so why not try to keep my kid's senses "sensitive" to lower-levels of stimulation by cutting out some background noise?

Why I don't believe my baby is bored.

So far, she doesn't look bored. She talks to me a lot, she looks at the bumblebees embroidered on the curtain, she smiles and coos when her arty, Calder-esque, totally quiet, too-high-to-bat mobile gets blown around by the ceiling fan, she sleeps well, and she stares and reaches for toys that don't do anything but sit there. She doesn't watch commercials yet, so she doesn't know what she's missing.

How long do you think she will let me get away with this?

Sunday, March 05, 2006


Philosenpfeffer!: Answers to the Persistent Question of "What's Your Point?"

I have heard various manifestations of this question from family, friends, bloggers, and my own husband, and I think it bears examination. Why would a sensible parent want to follow such a strict code in her interactions with her own natural, beautiful child? Why follow all these rules? Why don't you just follow your instincts? The answer to that question is admittedly more complicated the more I think about it. Please indulge my dissecting it in print.

Philosophy and Conduct

You can dichotomize people into oblivion, so I'll see how far this gets me. You can live according to philosophies or you can live according to instinct. I think most people do a bit of both, and both extremes are uncomfortable to those of us in the middle. People who live on the extreme philosophy end we call zealots, and those on the extreme instinct end we call anarchists (or out of respect for the zealously philosophical anarchists out there, we should call these people Ferris Beullerists, "A person shouldn't believe in an 'ism', a person should believe in himself"--benign lawlessness, no?). Most of us acknowledge rules, if not whole philosophies. We follow rules we find beneficial and dismiss rules that don't suit our purposes. The degree to which we do this defines us in more ways than we'd like to admit.


If you agree to follow a rule, you are agreeing to an assumption that the best course of action in a given situation has already been decided, and as such is not negotiable. Rules are usually at least strategic, if not philosophical. Sometimes the strategy is for keeping things fair, sometimes it's for keeping things unfair in the same direction all the time. Observable trends in rule-making can turn into philosophies (or the other way around, I suppose). A philosophy is a system of broad intellectual rules that gives us a framework for thinking about things, and helps us make all the little rules. So putting aside the chicken and the egg, that brings me around to...


Strategy is what develops by trial and error when you do something a lot of times: like playing chess or cards, or driving to work or investing money. You learn from your mistakes. A person who plays chess or bridge follows either a strategy she's developed through experience or one she's read about in chess/bridge books. I will now follow the chess analogy a little farther than many people care to go. The easily bored should skip this next part.

Tortured Chess/Parenting Analogy: One thing's certain about chess. If you play chess a lot, you will be better at it than you were the first time you played by virtue of avoiding first-timer mistakes. If you really play a lot and you have a talent, you might develop a good strategy through learning from your mistakes. Possibly, you could get so good at chess that people would want to hear and follow your strategy, and you might be able to sell your chess book or give lessons.

Of course, any bonehead can learn the rules of chess and write a strategy book but if your strategy isn't any good, or is good but already widely known, people are going to stop listening to you pretty fast. Further, different people who are experienced at playing chess will come up with different strategies. People who are interested in chess strategy will read the various strategies and pick and choose what they think will help them.

It's often better for inexperienced chess players to follow one strategy to its logical conclusion, rather than to try to cobble something new together from a lot of different strategies because in the cobbling, the strategies lose their integrity and the inexperienced chess player, while perhaps better off for having picked up a few good tips, has not gained as much insight as he might have. This is because his choices about good advice and bad advice are informed by the same ignorance that previously informed his trial-and-error decisions.

Most of the very best chess players have a combination of experience and broad knowledge of the strategies in chess books, plus a little talent, and are able to innovate based on these elements. There is no question that practical playing experience is a key factor here. The very best chess players all have one thing in common. They play a lot of chess.

So how is parenting strategy like chess strategy? I think you can get better at both parenting and chess by experience and by reading. However, the number of children you can raise is a lot more limited than the number of chess games you can play, so it stands to reason that you'll have to rely on the wisdom of others. There are a couple of ways to do this. You can canvass lots of parents, or you can listen to smart people who deal with a lot more children than they could actually parent (like teachers or pediatricians), and extrapolate from what they say works for them. You could just listen to your mother (I do that a lot), but strategically speaking, unless she is VERY prolific, she is not much more experienced than you are.

But wait! Instinct is a kind of strategy! Yes, instinct is nature's strategy, which develops when death is the result of bad decisions and continued life is the result of good ones. However, a few things bother me about it. For one, learned behaviors can override good instinct (witness the average American diet). For another, I am not always able to distinguish sound reason from gross rationalizing from moment to moment. I don't trust my instincts in the face of stress or marketing, which are demonstrably powerful influences. That's why I have decided ahead of time to stand on principle.


The conclusion I draw is that I would do well to follow a known strategy that appeals to me (within the Montessori philosophy, which appeals to me) all the way to its logical conclusion rather than to follow my instinct through trial and error, or cobble together pieces of strategies in my inexperience. I don't see this as blind zealotry, but measure-within-blindness. I have exactly no experience in parenting, and some experience with the Montessori philosophy (enough, I think, to choose a strategy within it), So I have chosen a strategy--to which even now I have made certain modifications, evident in previous posts--and I plan to stick to it. With a little luck, my humble experience in this regard will be a useful addition to the common wisdom.

Anyone buying that?