Montessori From The Start: The Child at Home, from Birth to Age Three, by Paula Polk Lillard and Lynn Lillard Jessen
The authors of this book are a mother-daughter team who, along with Jane Linari, co-founded the Forest Bluff Montessori School and have written several other books on the subject. The book opens with an introduction to Maria Montessori’s philosophy and teaching approach concerning education for different stages of development. It provides enough background information to ease the reader into the Montessori approach. I have only just started learning about Montessori education and felt that this gave a good over-view.
The book is PACKED with information and gives you all the basics for establishing a Montessori home for children aged 0-3. I took 20 pages of handwritten (small) notes because I simply could not process all the information without doing so! I’ll just provide some key points from each chapter here.
Chapter One: The Completion of the Human Being introduces the overall development of children through age 24. This includes growing independence, coordinated movement, language, and developing will. The key is that adults must prepare the environment to give the child freedom and responsibility.
Chapter Two: Welcoming the Newborn describes how the environment should be set up, what objects to provide and what types of “activities” to do with the newborn. What stood out to me in this chapter was the development of attention in the first three months. Here, it is made very clear that adults should be careful not to interrupt the infant while he is taking in his environment. This means refraining from shaking different toys in his face and overstimulating the poor thing with plastic toys. The authors encourage the adult to notice when sustained attention is taking place and to allow for this to happen by not distracting him.
Chapter Three: Discovering the World provides guidelines for choosing toys for your baby and toddler. It gets quite specific, going into the types of mobiles that should be used and when they should be used. It sounds a bit rigid, but there are valid reasons behind these recommendations and it all serves to support maximum development. Montessori play things are based in reality, which means the objects must make sense (no baby aliens with glowing, singing heads), ordered, functional, and beautiful.
Chapter Four: The Hand and the Brain delves into detail about the development of the manipulation of objects with the hands. I found this to be incredibly interesting as I have worked with children who have difficulty manipulating things with their hands. Movement is learned and guided by thinking rather than mechanical actions. The chapter brings much needed focus to fine motor development, as gross motor seems to get all the encouragement these days.
Chapter Five: Crawling to Coordination goes through gross motor development and emphasizes not placing restriction on this development. Restriction in this instance refers to placing babies in exersaucer-type devices, walkers, strollers, slings or even helping the baby to sit when he cannot hold himself up. Tummy time is an understatement, as the authors suggest that babies should be on their tummies the majority of their waking time to encourage physical development. Baby-proofing the house is also covered thoroughly.
Chapter Six: Practical Life focuses on what types of activities the 15-month-old should begin doing and carries on through to age three. It takes considerable amount of planning and preparation to carry out the recommended activities. As a non-Montessori parent, I would really struggle to be this organized to teach my toddler how to cut and prepare her own vegetables. But if you are interested in teaching very practical activities to your children, this book breaks down the tasks to teach you how to teach your child. Enough examples are given that they can be adapted and expanded to other tasks.
Chapter Seven: Personal Care shows the reader how to encourage independence in self-care from the young child. Steps for independence are provided in the area of sleep, food, dressing, toilet training, and grooming. The authors explain the “sensitive periods” for learning these tasks to minimize resistance from the toddler for things like brushing teeth and toilet training.
Chapter Eight: Language and Intelligence presents information on the development of spoken (oral) language, written language, music and art, and toys and imaginative play. In alignment with the rest of the book, the authors provide detailed descriptions of the types of activities, books, projects, and play things that one should use for optimal development. Basically, things should be reality-based. No stories of talking animals or flying children for toddlers. Limit-setting is also discussed.
Chapter Nine: The Developing Will discusses how discipline, obedience, and self-control all begin in childhood. The authors go on to talk about how it is developed. Through the prepared environment (one that demonstrates order and structure), the adult must make clear to the child what to expect, when to expect it, and where to expect it. Routine is of utmost importance, as the child’s frontal lobe is not yet fully developed and therefore rely on external structure to define what is going on.
The book closes with a conclusion chapter which illustrates Montessori principles in practice. When I read about these families, I realized that I could not implement many of these things, simply because I am not a super-organized person. It is a pretty incredible thing for the people who can pull this off! I commend them.
My take on the book:
This is probably one the most influential books I have read on parenting to date. I like this particular book so much because it is based on common sense learning. It encourages children to take as much responsibility as early as possible and to build creativity based on the child’s own imagination, rather than the adult’s imagination that is imposed on the child. It may seem as though too much responsibility is placed on the child if you are not used to hearing things such as toilet training starting at 6 months.
One thing that has really changed how I deal with my 2-year-old is understanding that their brains process things so much slower than ours do. They have not yet learned how to filter out things in their environment, so everything receives equal attention. This is why it is so hard to keep them focused! So when it is time to do something else, redirect, or move on from whatever seemingly random thing she has decided to focus on, I repeat my instruction to her calmly 3-5 times. I used to get impatient, but if I stay calm, she listens. It just takes time. I am excited to implement other practices as I see fit for my children’s personalities.
If you are interested in how to give more responsibility to your child or how to develop a Montessori home, this book is a great place to start!