The fundamental concept for the educator [and the parent] is not to become an obstacle in the development of the child.
-Maria Montessori, The Child In the Family
One reason I love to blog is because it gives me the opportunity to connect with many amazing parents. After I wrote the post about Zach’s experiences with the Jaramillo soup, I began an e-mail correspondence with a reader (let’s call her Adriana) who felt the soup was right for her three-month old son (let’s call him Charlie). We e-mailed almost daily while she learned the tricks to making a great soup. Her baby was soon thriving, and fortunately we’ve remained in touch.
She recently e-mailed me to ask my thoughts on Charlie’s development, since he’s 5 months old and she’s concerned because he’s not yet rolling. I told her that each baby has his own timetable and that if the pediatrician doesn’t feel there’s anything physically or mentally wrong with him, the best thing to do to encourage rolling is to place a favorite toy just out of the baby’s reach and let him make the effort of reaching it.
This exchange led her to open up a bit more about her experiences with Charlie. She wrote:
I’ve invested in so many toys and activity centers for Charlie, to keep him entertained and alert. However, I feel like he is so bored by everything. He has a bouncy chair. A piano kick thing with hanging toys, a walker car thingy, a door frame jumper, not to mention tons of teething toys and other dangly colorful stroller toys. Nothing seems to hold his attention for long and he gets cranky and I have to continuously rotate him from toy to toy… I wonder if perhaps I have given him too much and therefore overwhelmed him and he just can’t deal with so much. I’m interested in the Montessori things you have talked about. Charlie is very determined, he hates when he can’t do something and gets frustrated when I help him. He tries to sit on his own but topples over and then pushes my hands away when I try to help him. His favorite thing is to stick things in his mouth or play with his hands.
Each parent has to trust that their baby is an active being who can learn on his own without the constant stimulation of parents or loud flashy electronic toys. The best way to come to terms with this is by observing your baby and giving him the opportunity to engage with open-ended objects.
Perhaps the reason he’s not rolling is because he doesn’t feel he needs to. Place an interesting object – a metal mixing bowl or a shiny spoon or a pinecone – near him and go sit nearby. Perhaps at first he’ll cry trying to get your attention because he’s used to being entertained, but when he realizes you are busy (pretend to be busy!!) he’ll eventually try to move towards the interesting object and interact with it. This might take two minutes, two hours, or two days, but I guarantee you that it will happen!
You can also hang something like a couple of metal bracelets from a ribbon so that he can grab at them if he seems to be having too much trouble rolling and becomes too frustrated. However, a little frustration and effort is a good thing! Life is full of frustrations, and it’s important to let them experience a little bit of this so that they can also feel empowered when they overcome adversity.
…Today I did an experiment. I took away almost everything away from Charlie’s play area except for his colorful mat and one teething ring. I put up a long mirror going along the mat and just put him down. He was so happy. Wiggled and talked. Very interesting to see him and understand that I didn’t have to entertain him. I look forward to understanding more and learning how I can help him be more interactive with his environment!
Today I was playing with Charlie and he saw a toy he like that was a little off to his side around head level. He kept looking at it and trying to reach for it but unless he moved he could not get it. So I encouraged him to roll over and when he did, the toy was still a bit away. I just told him that he could get it and that he should. He reached out for it and got it himself!!! At that moment I almost cried because I knew that he just learned something. He eventually got frustrated because he couldn’t get it in his mouth properly and he got tired of keeping his head up, so I just showed him what he needed to do to get back on his back. He cried a bit after that, but eventually chilled out. It was just so neat to see that.
Today, I took Charlie outside to the yard and set up a blanket. I took two toys: a ball and a dangly bracelet that he likes. I could not believe it, we spent over 40 minutes together without one whine or cry. In fact, he laughed, like giggled, all by himself. We laughed together without me having to do anything. When the wind blew over the trees, he got so excited and started kicking and wiggling and talking. Today, he sat for a few seconds and actually grabbed a toy and played with it. He also reached for a toy by his side and with some help rolled over and extended his hand to grab it. In two days, his mobility and his eagerness to be mobile has changed so dramatically. I feel like crying when I think that I was completely keeping him from achieving these things.