As easy as a ribbon, a bracelet, and a bell

While Zachary observed his Gobbi mobile recently, I realized that from one day to the next he had started moving his arms. These movements weren’t the reflexive jerks of a newborn; they seemed to have a different energy and trajectory.

I mentioned this to my husband, so he decided to hold out a rattle near Zach’s right arm to see what would happen. Zach flung out his arm repeatedly while keeping his eyes fixed on the rattle, and several times struck the toy, causing it to chime happily.

This discovery prompted me to introduce a Montessori hanging toy designed to support this stage of Zach’s development (which started at 8 weeks). I stitched a wooden bracelet and a metal bell to a bright ribbon and hung these over Zach’s activity area, rattling the bell once to show Zach what the sound was. Then I stepped back to observe.

It took him a few tries, but soon Zach was swatting at the bell with singular glee. At first the arm movements were random, but after several days they have become more purposeful, and he will routinely lay on the floor mat for 20 minutes trying to make contact with the bell. The effort he puts forth is inspiring; his entire body is involved in making his arm move.

This simple material is a powerful tool to aid the development of the will. Dr. Montessori used the word “will” to mean “I want something to happen and I have the power to make it happen”. It is one of the most powerful developmental phenomena, because it is the fore-bearer to resilience, determination, and a healthy self-esteem. Think about it: How powerful is it to know that you have the power to set your mind on something and accomplish it?

With this simple material, Zach is beginning the development of his will; while the first few swats are random and not purposely meant to make the bell chime, he soon realizes that he can control when the noise is produced.

In case you’re thinking “Big deal, I could teach my dog to swat at the bell”, consider that (as often occurs in Montessori) the obvious purpose of the material is often not as important its developmental purpose. Yes, your dog could probably make the bell rattle, but he would want a treat or some praise in exchange. Your dog wouldn’t be driven from within to hit the bell.

For Zachary, the conscious reward is the sound of the chime, but sub-consciously he is being driven to hit the bell by an unavoidable impulse that Dr. Montessori called “the inner teacher”. He’s not doing this for praise (as a matter of fact, young babies are immune to praise!), he’s doing this for his own development.

You can’t speed up the work of the inner teacher; you can only thwart it or support it. Create obstacles for your baby (through excessive swaddling, caging, etc.) and this developmental energy will be deviated into temper tantrums and regressions. Support this creative force and watch your child flourish to the peak of his potential. The choice is yours. And it’s as easy as a ribbon, a bracelet, and a bell.



Zach is born

After many years of dreaming, nine months of gestation, and 12 hours of labor, our beautiful son was born into the hands of our midwife. He was born at home, with no painkillers or medical interventions, just like Nature intended.

From the moment he came into this world, Zach had his eyes open and was intent on looking around. He made every effort to focus on my face, and from that day on the characteristic that has most defined him has been his amazing curiosity for all that surrounds him. I attribute this to his peaceful birth in a dimly lit room, with soft voices and a warm body (mine) waiting to envelop his.

Our first weeks of parenthood have been challenging and rewarding at once. I understand now why some parents would choose to use pacifiers, bottles, formula, and other “band-aids” for issues that arise when dealing with a newborn. I have to keep reminding myself of the developmental importance of breastfeeding on demand, cloth diapering, etc. The choices we make now will have a huge impact later!

We have the privilege of getting to know this little person, who changes and develops at lightning speed. I’ll post as much of our journey as time will allow.

Montessori Materials, Uncategorized

Mobiles, part I

Our baby is due in 4 weeks, so I’ve been working feverishly to create materials that will support his development in the months to come.

One of the first materials a newborn is introduced to (after a couple of weeks of adapting to his surroundings) is the Munari mobile. This black & white mobile hangs close enough to the baby’s face so he can focus on it with his limited range of vision (about 12-14 inches) but far enough so he can’t accidentally swat it with his flailing arms and legs.

Why black & white? Because these two tones provide the most contrast of any two colors. Contrast is an important tool for developmental materials (not just in infancy but throughout development) because it gives the child sensorial boundaries that will allow him to recognize more nuanced differences as his senses sharpen. In other words, they allow the child to make comparisons and organize the impressions he receives from his environment as he begins to experience other colors. Of course, this all happens sub-consciously, but if we waited to provide stimulation until the child was conscious of everything that was happening in his mind, we’d miss the most important years in terms of development!

The next mobile that’s introduced is the Octahedron mobile, composed of the three primary colors. This mobile is introduced around one month of age, around the same height as the Munari, and is also only for the visual sense (the baby shouldn’t accidentally hit it). The three primary colors again provide boundaries that allow for even greater mental organization. Apart from the importance of their colors, these two mobiles are important visual introductions to two- and three-dimensional geometry.

I’ll post more mobile information in the days to come (I’m working on a few more!). It’s important to note that these mobiles are all hand-made at home, with basic materials (paper, scissors, glue, tape, wooden dowels, fishing line). All you need is a little bit of time and creativity, as well as the desire to provide your baby with the right developmental tools at the right time of his life.