Friday, December 07, 2007

The Stage 6 Montessori Environment

Jack-O-Lantern Days for the Stage 6 Pumpkin

As those who have almost-two toddlers can attest, the Stage 6 emergent big-kid has a sometimes-maddening taste for making changes. She can make a big plate into lots of little plate bits, or a tastefully fresh-painted wall in a flat (and highly un-scrubbable) shade of barely-there slate grey into a Timothy Leary nightmare in crayon. What follows is the Stage 6 developmental snapshot and environmental supports according to my own Montessori gurus.

As always, I look forward to hearing the opinions of differing gurus, or the disciples of differing gurus, as it lightens the tedium of all these rules. At the time of writing, I have been recently delivered of Subject Two, my second child (three weeks ago) which is a story in itself--but more on that later. on to the Experimental Toddler's raucous romp through Stage 6.

Stage 6 Neurological and Physical Development

At eighteen to twenty-four months, the brain is twice its size at birth. The specialized functional areas of the cerebral cortex are established, and cross-patterning and hand/foot/eye dominance are usually expressed. The Stage 6 child is now capable of carrying out experiments entirely in his head. He is able to imagine an activity and decide its likely outcome without actually carrying it out. As you can imagine, this increases his processing speed tremendously.

He has twenty teeth. The bones are hardening and the fontanelles (soft places on the head) close. Just in time, too, to protect him in his now well-developed mobility. This child can walk steadily, run, hop on one foot, and climb stairs with alternating feet.

Hand-eye coordination is quite good now, and the child can begin to regulate the force of his movements. He can begin to manipulate small or fragile objects, including turning the pages of a book or using a spoon.

He can eat independently, and should practice that independence. He is aware of his body functions, though control of the elimination-regulating muscles may not be fully developed. In some cases, he may begin to express interest in toileting.

Cognitive Development

An eighteen to twenty-four month old child is capable of deductive reasoning. She can examine strategies intellectually, without the necessity of trying each one. Experience and memory—from all her practice with trial and error in the past six months—can be called upon to help with decision making.

She has a strong sense of object permanence, and looks for objects that have been put away, even if some time has passed since she last saw or used the object. She is capable of thinking in symbolic terms, equating a representation of an object with the object itself in processing strategies.

Relating to the developing capacity for symbolic imagination is the development of ludic play—imagining herself in another social role. For example, she may pretend to cook, care for dolls as if they were babies, write letters, use a computer keyboard, or any other “real” aspect of life that she sees as part of an adult role.

Her ability to remember things, symbols, people and conversations is expanding. She will remember the things you tell her now, and hold you accountable for them later.

Emotional and Social Development

A child of eighteen to twenty-four months has a well established sense of self, and an investment in protect that self. He begins to feel fear. He may be afraid of disappearing, of the dark, of loud noises. Related to self-preservation is a strong separation anxiety with regard to significant adults. He remembers dreams and talks about them.

He is beginning to be aware of how he is perceived by others. Emotionally, he feels trust and mistrust, anger, and embarrassment. He understands rules, but will test their rigidity. His play contains elements of abstraction of roles. In play he is not “Daddy” but “the daddy”. He can wait his turn at play.

At this time there is an explosion in language. His expressions change from gestures and nouns to sentences. He learns “I do, I want, I will”. He continues to show interest in the names of things, and begins to make up his own names.

Stage 6 Environmental Supports

Puppets, Dolls and Pets: A toddler approaching two years of age begins to be aware of her role in the family, and to compare it to the roles of other members. She imagines herself in different roles, especially nurturing or caretaking roles. The environment should support these sensitivities by providing opportunities to explore role playing. Puppets and dolls help to create imaginary scenarios and the child can gain experience in nurturing and gentleness from helping to care for a pet. (A baby brother is sort of like the ultimate pet. More on that later.)

Child-size Household Tools: child-size versions of practical tools encourage ludic play. We are talking about kitchen sets, little mops and brooms (Michael Olaf has a great miniature carpet sweeper that is actually useful, in a toddler kind of way), and the old dishwashing station. Nuvy's fancy-schmancy dishwashing station is on her list for Santa, at which time she'll be a week shy of two years old. If you're brave enough to hand this over to an eighteen-month-old (and I know some who are!!) please let me know how that works out for you. We have enough water hazards around with handwashing and sponge-transferring! You can get the officially-sanctioned one from or, or you could have your carpenter (or handy self/husband) copy it and buy your own dish tubs at Target for significantly less.

Transferring Activities:
Fine motor control is sufficiently developed that the child can benefit from transferring activities such as pouring water, and spooning sand or beans (watch those beans-in-the-nose, and stay away from Red-Hots!). You can provide these in a structured way, or you could sit back and watch as your child develops her own transferring activities. Of particular interest to Nuvy have been such activities as transferring cheerios from the bowl to her placemat, transferring pieces of pasta or small bites of sandwiches from her plate to her glass full of milk, and transferring her water or milk from her glass to mine, and back to hers again, or from her glass onto the table or floor, if no second vessel is available.

In setting up formal transferring activities, the orthodox way is to present the activity with the full vessel on the left, and the empty one on the right. This way the child moves matter left to right, reinforcing the left-to-right orientation of written material.

Table Setting: One-to-one correspondence continues to be of interest in Stage 6, and the child can handle more involved tasks in this area, such as setting a table for four, or placing many objects in compartments.

Squishy, Goopy, Messy Activities: The Stage 6 child continues to be fascinated by transformation, so that crushing, dough rolling and artistic activities such as water painting or fingerpainting hold his attention.

Manipulatives: His ability to mentally experiment allows the development of spatial reasoning. Manipulatives and simple puzzles support this development. This is a wonderful time to introduce board books and picture books both to read to him and for him to enjoy on his own by flipping pages and naming the objects in the pictures.


NOLA mom said...

Dear Santa,

What would be the best present--from a developmental viewpoint--for a toddler who wants to expand on his imaginative play and increase his independence? A dollhouse with a family and furniture? A play kitchen? Something very, very Montessori, such as the dishwashing get-up?? What should we leave under our little guy's Christmas tree to help him develop over the new year (and have fun of course). He is 3.5 but a bit behind in pretend play and independent skills due to a speech delay and some motor delays. Mom is new to the world of Montessori.


testdriver said...

NOLA Mom--

I owe you two...

To add to your man's environment, all of the things you suggest sound good. I would really follow his interest. If he's developing language and relationships now (which sounds like it might be something you want to encourage if he's possibly falling somewhere high on the aspberger's/autism spectrum) I love the dollhouse idea. Alternatively, if that's not really his bag, but he's into water, and handwashing's going okay for you, try the dishwashing setup. Play kitchens are fun and beautiful if you have the space, but for my money, with a guy who really needs more interactive play, I would go for a learning tower (I found one at and rearrange your real kitchen so that the pots and pans and things that are safe for him to use are low and accessible to him. Then get (or make) him an apron and let him "help" with cooking.

From the previous post...

We did have several children in our school, from time to time, who either had diagnoses that were in the high-functioning category, or had no diagnoses and were just a little different, as you say. It was not a problem for us or for the children, who were quite kind and nurturing, used as they are to a variety of ages and skill levels in the classrom. When you find a supportive Montessori program, I would recommend that you get him in it whenever you can. All that social stimulation can only help, and the mixed age classroom is a great environment, as a wide variety of social/academic skill levels is the norm.

I would say, though, that it is important for you to interview the teacher in your child's class (not just the school director) before signing him up, just to make sure the placement is solid. Environments vary from room to room, depending on the expectations of the teacher, and some classroom cultures are better than others for a child who has special needs. It may help to avoid any "false starts".

Good luck, and let me know what you decide!

Adam & Melissa said...

I found your blog when my little guy was a few months old, and we check it religiously.

I'm a recently "retired" Primary teacher (AMS trained, but spent most of my years with an AMI co who kept our environment lovely and spare and I REALLY wish I had done AMI training!) who is utterly baffled by how you make Montessori work as well at home as at it did in my classroom. Our child has chronic sleep issues-- he did OK the first three months-- pretty much what you would expect, sleeping in a co-sleeper next to the bed. I went back to work briefly when he was 3 months old and the problems began-- he refused the bottle and stayed up all night nursing and then when we tried to break that habit he developed some REAL issues-- the closest thing I can relate it to is colic--hours of nighttime screaming no matter where he slept or what we did, except nurse, which I know is a huge no-no, and in our bed, no less.

He went to a floor bed in his room at 5 months and now at 10 months the only way he goes to sleep is if we lie down with him. Oh, and did I mention he wakes every 1-2 hours all night long unless he is in our bed? Even in our bed he still wakes every 2-3 hours and cries and cries. He is mostly night-weaned, down to one nursing a night, and we have been bad Montessori parents and bring him into the bed after midnight just so we can function the next day. I am so tempted to break out a crib and let him howl it out, but you have had such insight into how infants work I wondered if you have had any parents who have ever encountered anything like this? We cannot keep him on the floor bed unless we are in there. He is not a real self-soother-- never sucked his thumb and we even tried a paci and he hated that, too.

The rest of our home and his life are close to what you would see in an infant community, although I did use a swing briefly for about 2 months-- not surprisingly, he hated that. He hates confinement of any kind, and was a very early mover. I'm sad for him, and frustrated because I don't feel like I know what to do with a baby the way I did in Children's House. We just want our child to be healthy, happy and well-rested. Any advice?


P.S.-- The Experimental Toddler is beyond cute, and congrats on the second Test Subject!

testdriver said...

Hi, Melissa--

Oh, the sleep problem! This is a really tough one. It's true that in an infant community, things move much more smoothly--just because of the momentum of lots of children working in the environment, and not to mention the very different relationship the teacher has with the child, compared with the parent-child relationship.

We have had all the same problems, as have many floor-bed parents I've heard from. Nuvy gets up a few times a night, and we usually relent and let her get in our bed when she comes very early in the morning.

You know, to be honest, we have kind of embraced the nocturnal traffic as normal. Of course you don't get it in the infant community because you aren't asking the child to sleep for more than two hours at a stretch. In my experience, it's those long, wee hours of the night and morning that become a problem for just about everyone.

My husband did say "hey, do you want to consider a crib this time?" with Van, but I'm sticking it out. Lately, we have been letting her spend the whole night in our bed, since we have the new baby there, and she's really loathe to go into her own room with everyone else in ours. I hope to get her back to her old bedtime routine soon, but I'm not rushing her.

Really, though, I think you have to consider your own sanity. If your goal is to get your child out of your room, I have heard of people who gate the child's bedroom, which works like an extended crib, but gives him access to all his things if he chooses to get out of bed. However, it seems likely to me that you'll just have him crying at the gate rather than at the crib bars. Anyway, it's something to try...

If, however, your goal (like mine, usually) is for everyone to get some sleep, I think you should let yourself off the hook for co-bedding. (I also have to lie down next to the floor bed to get Nuvy to go to sleep in it) He will eventually sleep in his own bed, and as long as you can have enough personal space in your bedroom between the time he goes down in his floor bed, and the time he comes in to your room in the middle of the night to be healthy for your marriage, I would really try to be OK with letting it go--unless you want to go with a crib, which I think you should also see as an acceptable alternative. What I'm learning about floor beds and weaning tables is that we have to adapt somewhat to the real lifestyles of families, which are necessarily different from the real lifestyles of infant communities. Dig?

Anybody else got advice/experience with floor beds?

Adam & Melissa said...

Thanks so much for the advice, and for taking the time out of new-Mommy-ville to dispense it. I'm humbled every day by this experience-- and now I get why parents were so amazed at what their kids did in the classroom that they never did at home. We will soldier on-- mostly it is good to hear that other people have these problems, too-- those pictures in Montessori From the Start of the little babies happily enjoying their hours of solitary time on their beds were really making me start to wonder...

NOLA mom said...

Hey there testdriver! Thanks for the replies. I had never heard of a learning tower, and immediately fell in love when I saw it. My husband was not so enamored though--something about another big thing taking up space and so forth, and he immediately ordered a play kitchen (also space eating but not in the center of the action). I'm still dreaming of (and scheming for) the learning tower, but the play kitchen is super cool, or will be when it's assembled.

As for children on the autism spectrum in a Montessori school, I have heard one criticism: that children who get stuck on an activity in the Montessori setting are allowed to perseverate as long as they like, not always a good thing for kids who might spend half the day lining up blocks. Is this inevitable in the Montessori environment, or would failure to redirect a child who required it be due to the short-comings of a particular teacher?

I actually found a Montessori school for autism in Canada that uses a blend of ABA (basically a behavior modification program that rewards desired behaviors) and Montessori, very curious because I know Maria Montessori did not approve of using rewards. I emailed the director to find out how she remedied this conflict and she said they used the Montessori CURICULUM not the Montessori philosophy. I don’t think I understand the distinction. Any ideas?

I hope you don’t mind my autism-related questions. I know it’s outside the scope of what you are dealing with (and perhaps everyone else’s interest) but I am trying to find some creative approaches to helping my son, in addition to the standard therapies. Sometimes it feels like I’m flying without radar.


Anonymous said...

One more question! (Well, for now anyway). Is it too late to get my 5 month old a cool mobile? I saw some very nice ones in the Michael Olaf catalogue, but I'm not sure if they are really more appropriate for newborns. My little guy isn't sitting up yet, but I guess soon will be. Have I missed the boat?

testdriver said...

My gurus would never let you hang a mobile in anyone's crib, or otherwise in a child's face...especially one who can't roll away from it if he gets tired of looking at it. (It sounds like your baby may be turning over now, which would be why you might be too late?)

However, they have no objection to mobiles hung at a respecful distance for a child of any age. A respectful distance is one that presents the mobile as a competetive visual stimulus, but not a dominant one. A ceiling fan is a good example of this. It's visually interesting, but just another thing. By contrast, there is the crib mobile, which dominates the visual field by its proximity (in you face) as well as by movement or lights or color or whatever.

That said, they have placed some restrictions on "representative" mobiles, that is mobiles that look like something--birds, butterflies, elephants or whatever. The restriction is that whatever is represented must be something that is appropriate to the mobile's position in the air. In short, birds, clouds and butterflies are OK, fish and elephants are not. Don't get me started on stars. We had a big discussion about "stars" and "hearts" not being realistic representations of their namesakes, but I found it silly and joyless. I mean, really. These are cultural icons as well as astronomical or anatomical ones, are they not? But I digress.

According to my sources, you are not too late, provided you put your mobile in the visual background of your child's environment, and that you make sure it's either Calder-esque in its nonrepresentative modern arty-ness, or that its inhabitants actually belong in the sky!

Happy shopping!


NOLA mom said...

It's amazing how much thought goes into these things, isn't it? For my first baby, I concerned myself with the mobile matching the bedding, and here I am on baby no. 2 making certain I haven't been too aggressive with my mobile placement and that the critters suspended overhead logically belong there! Thanks for the info. I started this whole fascination with Montessori reading Montessori from the Start, and the authors actually suggest placing a new baby under "visual" mobiles, progressing to mobiles they can grab and pull on as they get older, so I hadn't considered the problem of the child not being able to move away from the mobile if he so desired. By the way, in regard to the weaning table, those authors also suggest seating the child with his chair back against a wall and pushing the weaning table up to the child, thereby preventing him from leaving before mealtime is over (but also defeating the whole independence aspect of the weaning table, it would seem). Are there competing schools of thought here, or just multiple interpretations? And here's a completely unrelated question, if you don't use praise, rewards or punishment, how do you get the little buggers to listen to you? What magic compels them to do what they should and not do what they shouldn't (e.g., destroy things, put themselves in mortal peril, hound mom relentlessly for cookies/cake/chips...)?

testdriver said...

It's amazing how many different opinions you can get about this stuff if you start poking around a little.

I did read a lot of suggestions about grasping toys in several Montessori infant books, and they provoked a lot of discussion in our class, since our RIE-oriented instructors were opposed to them. (Another good baby-environment book is "trees make the best mobiles". I can remember neither the author's name nor what her stand on actual mobiles was).

I CAN tell you that you needn't worry about your child losing his independence when you push the back of the weaning chair against the wall. Since the table and the chair are both of very light weight, unless you are going to put bricks on the table next to your kid's food, he'll do what mine did--which is just push the table away and crawl out from behind it. Believe me. I would have loved to bolt the table and chair both to the floor, and strap the child to the chair until I was satisfied that she'd eaten enough--but then that's what the high chair is for, right??

Regarding the praise-reward-punishment game, I love that question so much that I'm going to make a post out of it. :-)