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!