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The story of our precious little girl's 17 months of life with Trisomy 18 (July 4, 2010 - December 15, 2011) and of us, re-learning to live "after Lilly."
"I will praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made ...." Psalm 139:14

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Montessori - my latest obsession

My kids and I like to throw the word "obsession" around a lot.  Hunter loves to chat with the check out people at Walmart and tell them that he is "obsessed with nightlights and electricity."  He tells them that "Solomon is obsessed with tractors."  Everyone in the family knows whatever Tabby's latest obsession is. (Her's tend to change every few months, though all things Lord of the Rings has stayed for over a year now.) Tabby recently informed me that I was "obsessed with Montessori things."

I grew up in a family where my mom and my brother S. obsessed over things, so it's all normal to me.  And we come by it honestly - a long line of OCD types.  However, I think Frank thinks we are obsessed with using the word obsessed.  ;)

As I mentioned in a recent blogpost, I kept encountering activities labeled "Montessori" on Pinterest as I searched for ideas for things for Solomon to do.  (You can see my Montessori board here.)  Since he was very young (of course at 22 months he is still young!) Solomon has liked to sit and really focus on activities like pushing shapes into sorters, opening and closing things, stacking rings, stacking blocks, etc.  He likes using his hands and watching cause/effect type things.  He can focus very intently for long periods of time.  He used to love sorting pom poms into a divided tray:

Solomon at 18 months
When Solomon's not sitting and working on something, he zooms around the house on his riding toy at breakneck speed or doing the same outside on his tractor:

Solomon at 22 months
The only thing I knew about Montessori before my research, was that M., my youngest sister, had gone to a Montessori pre-school.  I remember picking her up in the summer to take her to swimming lessons.  But I can not remember anything else about the school.  (That was about 14 years ago I think!)  So I asked my dad and stepmom what their recollections were about M. and the school.  My stepmom recalled that there were a lot of rules and structure, which M. wasn't too fond of, but that she did enjoy the school overall.  Dad said that the school helped teach M. about structure and planning.

Oh, and I also had the vague idea that kids at Montessori schools just wander around and do whatever they want, when they want, if they want.  But as I read about Montessori, I learned that children were not "free to do as they liked" but were free to "work."  That work is productive activities.  That can be anything from cleaning up something to working on skills.  They have a need for freedom, but within limits.  In a carefully prepared environment with access to materials and experiences, a child - through their natural desire to learn - develops intellectually, physically, and emotionally.  An adults job is to teach a child to teach themself.

As I described in my last Book List post, I read the book Montessori from the Start: The Child at Home, from Birth to Age Three by Paula Polk Lillard and Lynn Lillard Jessen.  This book has a good summary of the beginnings of the Montessori education method.  It was started in the early 1900s by Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and professor of anthropology.  She said that education must begin at a child's birth as it helped children's brains to be constructed and mature.  Montessori studied children and then mapped out their characteristics and developmental stages in a way that had never quite been done before.

Most children involved in Montessori education go to special Montessori schools.  However, there is currently an increase of using the Montessori method within the homeschooling community.  I wish I had known about it and understood it earlier, so I could have immersed Solomon in more it it since birth.  But we'll go with it now, as I learn more and more.  I have a nice stack of Montessori books I'm working my way through, and I have subscribed to a number of Montessori blogs, and just joined the Montessori homeschooling community on Facebook (even though I don't get on Facebook all that often).  (I can hear Tabby's voice now "Did you pin much Montessori stuff on Pinterest today?  You're obsessed!")

Here is the first Montessori type activity I made for Solomon.  I put holes in the top of a spice jar and gave him a half dozen toothpicks to push through the holes.  He did it over and over for hours for a few days.  (He was 20 months.  This activity was actually for even younger kids.)

In some ways, I think Montessori's methods are very "modern anti-American."  They teach children that they are not the center of the universe.  Gasp!  Imagine!  ;)  I like this thought.  And something else I'm learning is just how much a child can do at a very young age.  I'm not sure what our problem is here in America, though I think some of it has to do with us being lazy in not wanting to clean up any extra messes from children or wanting to take the time to teach them things.  We seem to be continually lowering our standards as to what we expect from children continually.  The result: kids that grow up feeling entitled to everything and having very few skills and coping ability.

For example, up through the 1960s, children were consistently potty trained around 17 months.  Why did this change?  I think a huge part was because of disposable diapers.  The industry wants us to keep our kids in disposable diapers as long as possible because they get more money.  And it's so easy for parents so they don't feel as much of a push to potty train.  I did infant potty training off and on with Solomon (I was more consistent with Hunter) but earlier this spring I got serious in teaching him to go to the potty.  He still has accidents sometimes, and usually wets overnight, but during the days he most often does a good job in staying dry, wearing his underwear.  (He loves wearing underwear with Lightening McQueen from the Cars movie on them.  Every morning he picks up his underwear and says "Car!")

Another thing that we overuse in abundance here in the U.S. are sippy cups.  It's normal to see kids even at 6 years old still using them.  Why?  Young children actually do very well with drinking from little cups. Several months ago, I followed a suggestion in a Montessori book, and I bought Solomon two little glass votive holders.  (Less than $1 each at Wal-Mart.)  He uses them to drink from and rarely spills anything.  But when he does spill, he knows to get a little rag and wipe up the spill.  He also knows how to dustbust under his highchair after each meal.

Here is a fascinating tidbit from history in case you really like learning about World War II as I do.  Even though Maria Montessori taught the children to comply with society's rules and values, she did not want children to grow up complacent and dependent as adults.  Her own experience with fascism, Nazism, and communism lead her to see that freedom of thought was universally needed.  Because of her "insistence on fostering the ability to think for oneself--and the success of her educational approach in doing so--that both Mussolini and Hitler ordered all Montessori schools in their respective regimes closed in the 1930s.  Montessori schools were the only secular educational institutions so designated."  (from Montessori from the Start, p. 198.)

I know this post has gotten long, so I need to wrap it up.  But I will leave here with one last thought - is the Montessori method right for all children?  Those that deeply believe in it would say "yes" I'm sure.  But I wonder if Tabby would have ever enjoyed the activities.  She was an extremely high energy and demanding baby and little girl.  She wanted nothing more than to be free to run and play outside, preferably catching frogs and lizards.  But who knows, maybe being presented with these activities would have helped her learn to focus.

Tabby at 3 yrs. old holding a little tree frog
"And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." - Romans 12:2


  1. What an adorable pic of Tabby! I guess its probably the first baby picture I've seen of her. So sweet.

  2. Interesting stuff! Tabby was such a cute little baby doll!