Friday, February 24, 2006

Ennui-ui-ui All The Way Home

Ennui-ui-ui All The Way Home: The Boring Simplicity of the Montessori Home Environment

Preamble: I said I would talk about something besides crying. Many parents I meet want to know how to bring up a good "Montessori child". To begin, I don't believe that some children are "Montessori children" and some are not. I believe they are all Montessori kids--but you can ease the transition into a Montessori school environment and improve a child's experience if your parenting style is Montessori-compatible. I guess I could start writing about my Montessori parenting experiment anywhere, but I'll start with interior design, just for fun--and because I like it.

For the record, I mean to judge no one's nursery decor. Creating this environment is something of an academic exercise. Call it "Extreme Montessori Decorating"

Designing the Environment:There is a lot of philosophy out there, and many interpretations. Here's my take on designing a Montessori-appropriate home environment, the crux of which is simplicity. It's harder than I had imagined. There are so many cool and beautiful things for our babies that it's hard for a girl to keep her wits about her. I WANT that adorable little egg-shaped bouncer they have at (go check it out, it is so cute!). I want a slick modernist high chair and an heirloom crib tricked out with the dwellbaby crib set. Those things have been marketed successfully to me and I WANT THEM. However, I will not have them because they are not part of the Montessori infant environment and I want to do this all the way.

The following things are omitted by design:

Swings and bouncing contraptions of any kind. We have no bouncy seat, no wind-up swing, no vibrating chair, no exersaucer,and no high chair. The bumbo seat and the bilibo rocker are waiting, gathering dust. There can be nothing to sit on, other than someone's lap, that the baby cannot get into and out of herself, including the chair she eats in. At two months, it's still early for many of those things to be relevant, but the day of reckoning is coming.

Any and all toys that "do" anything. Toys in the Montessori infant environment may not light up, buzz, spin around or move in any way or for any reason that is not visible to the child's eye. My saddest omission in this category is the cute little caterpillar and the bumblebee Lamaze toys--both of which vibrate when you pull the cords. I LOVE these toys. (snif). Rattles must have all the clattering parts on the outside, visible to the child. The Tiffany silver rattle has to stay in its box for now.

The crib. The Montessori mobile infant should be able to get in and out of bed on her own power. Nuvy has a floor bed, which is basically a mattress on the floor, surrounded by a lovely wooden tray, to make it look a little less like a mattress thrown on the floor. Just now she can't move much and she only naps in it, but I'll bet the floor bed thing is about to get very interesting.

Hanging overhead toys. These must be omitted until the baby can get under them or away from them on her own. The Montessori environment may not impose toys on the baby by hanging them in front of her face. She has to choose to play with them. There is a sort of arty, Calder-esque mobile above her bed, but it is high out of her reach, and I consider it an aesthetic element, like paint or a picture on the wall, rather than a toy.

Other environmental design restrictions I'm following:

Separate play and sleep areas. Lucky for me, this is the only practical arrangement in my house. We have two small areas, rather than one big one. There is nothing to play with in her sleep area but a few board books and a "mouthable" book with family photos in it. Later, if she wants it, she can have a "lovey" to sleep with, but I don't mean a menagerie to play with in bed.

Cartoon images. Images of people, animals, or whatever have to be as realistic as possible. I will make certain allowances for stuffed animals, justifying them by not calling them by real animal names. For example, I do not refer to the cutest stuffed horse in the world by saying "This is a horsey!" It isn't. We'll just call it "springy", which it is, and let her figure out that it looks like a horse after she's seen some photos/real horses. Why? So as to preserve the delight she'll get from discovering the likeness herself.

Montessori eyebrow-raisers in my environment:

Mirrors. Mirrors are a subject of hot debate in Montessori infant culture. Those in favor assert that the mirror allows the child to see her own realistic image, and realistic images of other people present. Those opposed say that the mirror image is complicated and confusing--like the rattle with the moving parts inside and out of view--and should be left out as a deceptive element. Personally, I love mirrors, my house is full of them, they brighten and enlarge small spaces of which I have plenty, and I am including them.

Bright colors. Strict adherence to the Montessori infant-environment-design-code requires that all colors be neutral, so as not to overstimulate the new baby, who's got enough to process as it is without the color riot. I have tried to restrain myself, painting the rooms a rather mellow shade of yellow, but I do have a red rocking chair, red cubby storage, and a bright-stripey rug in her bedroom. It's still pretty austere.

The red rocking chair. Strictly speaking, Montessori gurus do not advocate rocking, bouncing or swinging by human hands any more than by mechanical means. It is said to distract the baby from its chosen work (usually screaming its head off, in my experience). After all that discussion about crying and soothing, I've decided that this is hogwash and I will rock my baby in my own arms to soothe her, but I'll try not to rock her all the way to sleep. That's for another post. The rocker gets in by being my contraption, not hers.

Slings and carriers. Same principle. Baby can't control it, baby can't get in and out of the carrier on her own. I object on the same grounds. It's a device to help me use my own body to soothe the baby. Plus, I love wearing her. (Lalala, I can't hear you, Magda Gerber!)

The co-sleeper. It's not exactly co-bedding, but almost, which is not forbidden, but sort of frowned upon. Well, go ahead and frown. When she stops nursing at night and starts rolling over a lot, I'll put her in the floor bed at night.

The Product:

Nuvy's Sleep Room

Nuvy's Play Room

Results so far: So far what seems to happen is that I am humanly responsible for all the forbidden mechanical activities and entertainments, by virtue of my unwillingness to let her cry (Ok, I almost got through the whole thing without talking about crying). I swing, bounce, carry, lull, and make noises and movements for the purpose of her entertainment. Thusly, I have sort of justified the invention of all the conveniences I shun. Of course today, she finally found her thumb, and has spent much of the day in her spare environment, sucking it with relish while gazing at the muted walls or the patterned bandanna she is given to play with. All in all, a pleasant start.


Stuntmother said...

I found your blog randomly and thought this was a very interesting post -- both my children are in a Montessori preschool and we are currently agonizing about what to do with number one son for first grade. I will come by again, if that's okay, and follow the futher adventures of crusing on the Mommybahn.

Mama C-ta said...

Hey glad you found me, sorry if I give you the wrong link before!

I didn't really have time to thoroughly read this post b/c I have one of those kid-things calling for me but I NEED to come back and read all of this! For one as I've stated before we're interested in Montessori and it's really enlightening to hear how to incorporate the method into everyday living. 2: I've struggled and struggled w/all these modern day convenience contraptions for babies and flashy toys. I hate them, feel guilty about using them but get suckered in, especially when Julian's face lights up. But if it makes you feel any better I have a bouncy, swing, all that garbage and I've still had to hold him almost non-stop, rock, bounce, hold, nurse (allll day) lull him myself, nothing replaces Mama I've learned. all that garbage allowed me maybe 15 minutes out of my day where I could colapse from exhaustion. Not worth cluttering up your home for a measly 15 minutes.

3rd, I love modern/minimalistic interior design. My passion and what you have here is amazing! Exactly what I'd love to have but the pack rat in me hasn't quite mastered it yet and I've learned all that simple stuff is way out of my price range (drool over modern seed daily). I want high quality modernist design w/Ikea pricing. Hard to find.

OK, I'll be back, funny how I have learned to type 300 WPM when a baby is calling me!

testdriver said...

Well Mama c-ta, if it gives you hope, I can tell you that I am not high-end. Almost everything in our house is either a hand-me-down from my architect father-in-law (the really good stuff), from the thrift store (a lot of very cool stuff), or from Ikea (the necessary, practical stuff).

Of course, our thrift-shopping habit makes for a catastrophic clutter problem, which is relegated to copious shelving units (no closet space!) and our packed basement-through which I continually struggle to maintain a carved-out path to the laundry room. Believe me. "Design Within Reach" is a cruel joke.

La Baba said...

Now I know why babies need grandmothers and fortunately she has two, both willing to let her taste of all the forbidden fruit!
We'll make sure she grows up to be as wonderful as we and you!

Anonymous said...

A very interesting post. Not sure I really understand the whole philosophy. I'd be interested to learn of the reasons behind the non-soothing, non-stimulation stuff. I guess it seems to go against all that is instinctual to me. And I'm not one to believe in attachment parenting either! I can't imagine what someone like that would think.

Again, interesting post.


Auntie Shoogs said...

Nuvy, remind me the next time I am there to leave you my cell number so that when the fateful day comes and you want the tickle-me-Elmo that Mommy won't let you have, Auntie Hyster will take care of it. ;)

I love you, Hys.

testdriver said...

Oops! Time for a philosophy post!

Anonymous said...

I have been reading about montessori for a year or so and now that i am having my first child, i am trying to follow it but not down to the last detail. One of the most important things to remember when using montessori ideals is to just do what you feel comfortable with and what makes sense to you. Understanding the reason behind the floor bed, weaning chair and absence of loud senseless toys will help you make better choices that will benifit your child. The whole method is very common sense orienented. Too many parents today design their childs room around what they like and think is cute rather than what is best for the child, and we can all agree that we want whats best for our children and our families.

testdriver said...

I agree completely. You have to have an intuitive, holistic approach, and you have to believe in what you're doing.

I really love the idea of independence and choice for the child from the beginning, and I believe that simplicity and clarity are essential to the child's ability to understand her environment and to be empowered by it. Congratulations on your first baby-I hope it all goes well for you.

If you get a minute, please let me know what Montessori elements you're using and what you're leaving out of your home environment. I'd love to have another Montessori perspective!

Anonymous said...


I also found this blog randomly and interestingly, I share many of your concerns. I am interested in Montessori and AP. My baby is now 6 months and we have begun feeding him solids. I want to buy somewhere for him to eat and I cannot seem to find anything frm Montessori to accommodate this. What have you done in this regard?

karrollea said...

To the parents 6 month old: You need a weaning chair *sturdy design, arms for support, and abay can crawl into it* and small table for Montessori solid introduction. These can be purchased from the Michael Oleaf 0-3 catalog (I think a few other places too but not certain). I couldn't afford one at the time myself, so I ended up feeding her on the floor (kosher in many countries but makes for big messes) Now that she's bigger and walking, I have a simple table and two chair set from Ikea and she feeds herself pretty independantly. My dd is currently 25 months.

Katie said...

The weaning chair...

I'm Montessori trained at the Casa level and trying to raise our first child in line with the Montessori philosophy. I've done some reading for the infant/toddler but have yet to see anything put into practice. I'm struggling with trying to convince my husband (and all our extended family!) to take an 'unconventional' approach rather than stick with the default. Our son is now four months and I'm looking ahead to the introduction of other foods. What has been your experience with the weaning table? I'd love to find an inexpensive way to do this, as my husband is a full-time student and we don't have money to purchase the materials I'd like to use. Any suggestions for a creative way to do this? (I'm a thrift store shopper as well and looking for a suitable "coffee table" or similar to use for the table, but haven't been able to find anything to use for the chair yet.) Any suggestions would be most helpful!


testdriver said...

Hi, Katie--

The best substitute I have found for the weaning table is one of those little lap tables with the folding legs that you're supposed to use to serve your husband breakfast in bed ;)

I used it in combination with a bumbo seat as a weaning table at my parents' house. It worked just fine until she outgrew the bumbo. By then, a regular infant/toddler table and chair (they're really cheap at IKEA) worked out great.

best of luck with the weaning table. Ours continues to serve in many capacities!!


sheryl said...

Love love love your blog! We are in the process of montessorizing ;P our nursery. I really love the rug you have may I ask where you got it?
Thanks, Sheryl

rachel said...

I know I'm reading this years after you wrote it, but I find it very compelling. My husband and I opted out of the typical baby gear (no mechanical seats or toys, no plastic toys, no crib or changing table, etc.). Not because we're following a particular philosophy, but because we see those things as tacky, harmful, or unnecessary. Now that Massimo is 10 months old I'm reading more about Montessori and thinking it would have been so much easier to tell everyone we're following Montessori rather than just saying we don't like x, y, or z! I think most of our friends and family think we're a little off. Sigh.

That said, there are definitely elements of the Montessori philosophy that don't mesh with how we see things. Bouncing is good, important even. Have you read "What's Going On In There?" by Lise Elliot? Chapter 6 is about vestibular stimulation (the result of bouncing, essentially) and why it's so good for babies. We also co-sleep (which we all love). And we wore him quite a bit when he was younger. AND we have a high chair. The nifty Ikea one, since we do baby-led weaning and it would be rather difficult for him to feed himself without it. We also believe it is important for him to eat with us and be part of the family, rather than sit by himself at his own table. Anyway, I'm rambling. Thanks for the thought-provoking post! I'm slowly making my way through your archive...

Gail said...

Like Rachel, we happened upon Montessori after we'd already been leading some of the principals. We didn't use a weaning chair...Lily was in a high chair to eat, so that we could enjoy meals at the same table. As soon as she was comfortable enough climbing up in a "big" chair, we ditched the high chair and opted for a family meal with Lily sitting on a thick cd case (I know, not exactly montessori, BUT cheaper and still child-led and fostering independence). She also has a table in the kitchen for breakfast and lunch.

I love your blog and now remember why we chose a simplistic style for ourselves and our kiddo. I, too, have been tempted by the modern baby bassinet that's way out of our price range and your blog helped me cross a few things off my list for kiddo #2. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I am an AMI (Association Montessori International) Assistant to Infancy trainer in training for the 0-3 year level. I have been involved in Montessori since I was 2! I am so happy to hear many people implementing the methods that Montessori and her colleagues observed to aid the development and self-condidence of children under 3. Even before sitting, the child still needs stimulation visually with mobiles, physically with grasping materials and gross movement possibilities as well as auditory and language materials for the development of language and pitch. There are so many real, everyday experiences the child can glean from that there is no need for fantasy and entertaining. Real communication, nature and life in general is any child's true key to develop his potential. Thanks for your blog!

Anonymous said...

PS Here is a site for more information on Montessori and materials you can buy or use for ideas.