Sep 17, 2007

the questioning

Montessori books

I've had these two books on my bedside table for the past several weeks. Each has something important to offer to parents of young children.

Tim Seldin's How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way is an inviting introduction to Montessori, providing parents with an overview of Montessori philosophy in addition to many practical suggestions for daily life with a child. Tim offers tips for "disciplining" the Montessori way, ideas for a peace table in the home, advice on encouraging independence in personal care, and lots more. Plus, the book reads like one of those yummy craft books we all adore - interspersing great photos within the text. I highly recommend it for any parent, even if you aren't familiar with or interested in Montessori as an educational philosophy.

Montessori From the Start is a bit more "hard core." The book focuses intensely on the child at home, from birth to three years-old. As a prospective mother (hehe!) I've found many ideas within its pages. This is a book that you will underline. Although its layout is bland and it contains only a few black and white photos, it is a gold mine of information on child development and on how best to assist your child through these first years of life.

But I have a confession to make. I have a few strong doubts about some of the advice given in Montessori From the Start. For the most part, I agree with it. Here are my hang-ups:
  • The suggestion that weaning should begin at around six months. I believe we have to look to research which encourages breastfeeding for at least the first year of life. Breastfeeding once a day even after the child has been introduced to solid food should be encouraged, I think. I don't know where this early weaning idea originated, but I think that we do the baby a disservice if we encourage independence over what is natural and healthy. To me, "early weaning" seems like a vestige of an uber-western idea of "educating" a child. Early weaning would never happen here amongst the indigenous population of northern Mexico. I feel that since nature designed functioning mammary glands and willing babies way past the six month mark, then we shouldn't meddle.
  • The general sense the book imparts that, as parents, we need to be perfect. Calm. Always one step ahead. Ahem. We ain't perfect. I just want throw in my two cents for all of you parents out there, doing your best with what every day throws at you. You don't need to be perfect! If anything, the child learns a wonderful lesson from all of your "imperfections." He learns that love transcends imperfections. And that is one valuable lesson!
Sometimes I feel guilty for differing with my "chosen" educational philosophy. Then I hearken back to my own Montessori roots, which instilled in me an independence of thought and encouraged me to always ask "why?" And I feel better. It's so important, within any group, to have a healthy debate on controversial issues. I encourage you to respond with your feelings on the subject, so we can hear many different points of view.

On a different note, I just ordered Joelle's new book, Last-Minute Patchwork + Quilted Gifts!
The impetus for me?
A Puzzle Ball pattern! The Puzzle Ball is a wonderful developmental toy for a baby who is just beginning to grasp with both hands. The many "handles" of the ball help the child build wrist strength and coordination. Plus, it rolls a very short distance if dropped, thus eliminating frustration of a bouncy ball that rolls hopelessly out of reach. It does roll a bit, however, encouraging the not-yet-crawling child to scoot over and grasp it again. I would give this toy an A+ if I believed in grades and academic competition. But I don't. So I'll give it three thumbs up instead. This would make a GREAT baby gift! I'll be making them for the many (prospective) children in my life!

Wishing you all a pleasant Monday eve,


marit said...

What you write about the Montessoribooks, is very interesting. There is a Montessori-school an hour away from us,and I have considered sending my children there, as I believe it would have been a better choice than the public school here, which is the only other alternative...
But one hour each way is just too much.

ab said...

I just stumbled upon your blog & couldn't be more delighted. You write beautifully & simply. I'm appreciative of your thoughtful contributions. I'm a montessori teacher as well. Anyhow--great blog.

Joyful Abode said...

I definitely agree with your 2 "exceptions".
Also, I tagged you! I can't wait to see what your 7 things are.

Your blog has become a favorite of mine lately, and I look forward to your beautiful and inspiring posts. I also can't get "Una gatita" out of my head!

Bridget said...

Right on with your exceptions! I'm a mother, sometime quilter/crafter, and teaching my 4 yo at home with Montessori inspiration.

Babies weren't meant for early weaning - if they have to be weaned to formula, they're clearly not done yet, nature didn't make formula. And a breastfeeding toddler is not "dependent" - they use the security of a home base to help them be confident to go out and explore the world.

Love your blog on so many levels!

Bean said...

In the UK, the term "baby led weaning" means the introduction of solids at 6 months, not the cessation of breastfeeding. I hope that's the market this book was originally written for, and they didn't mean complete weaning! The WHO recommends a minimum of 2 years (with complimentary foods after six months) - you can read their policy here:

I don't think any parent could be calm & patient all the time, either... when I lose it, I explain to my daughter that I lost control of my temper, that it's normal for all people to do that from time to time - and we understand each other better :)

Bean said...

I'm not sure why the link to the WHO won't post... I'm trying it again! :)

here it is!

Bethany Hissong said...

I agree with you too. I'm not sure what Maria Montessori would say... not all that is written is necessarily her ideas. Anyways, you're going to be a great mom!!! You already have a good grasp of what it takes. My daughter has always reminded me that I could never be "perfect" because people aren't, but I'm "perfect" for her! She is so wise ;))

Bean said...

Thanks for your comment on my blog, too! Those magnets are so fun to make, so sorry about your cat though, hehe!

We've only been in Reno for a year now, but before that we spent a decade in North Tahoe - small world, indeed! I was just in Nevada City last month for a blessing way! It's one of my favorite small towns to visit ;)

Amy said...

I think Tim Seldin's book also could be called 'How to Raise a child while shopping at Ikea' I noticed many many of the items used were from Ikea. Nothing wrong with Ikea at all - I just thought it was interesting he didn't branch out a bit while shopping - or rather while his stylist shopped.

Gina said...

Hi, I've been reading your blog for a while now. I completely agree with your exceptions. It's impossible to be perfect--and thinking you can only leads to a lot of guilt, which isn't good for anyone.

There are so many biological markers of when the "natural" and "right" time to wean is, and NONE of them occur before two years of age. From the loss of the "milk teeth" (when most mammals wean) to the development of the immune system (between ages 2-5), to my own experiences as a breastfeeding counselor that most babies make the transition from the breast between the ages of 2-3 with a little loving guidance from Mom, there are lots of reasons to continue to breastfeed. Why replace perfect nutrition that comes with a loving "container" with something imperfect and/or synthesized?

patti said...

I also agree with you on the weaning. I breastfed my second child for 2 years- and I totally let him lead the way on weaning. It was perfect and natural.

No parent can be perfect- although you will get that impression from some families!

Love your blog!

Marcy said...

I'm currently making my way through "Montessori From The Start" and was surprised also by the weaning suggestion. I agree with you,that this is one instance where dependence on Mom for food might not be a terrible thing, especially when looking at all the added benefits you get from it. I did not understand their reasoning for early weaning. As for dissenting from the Montessori philosophy, a Montessorian that I regard extremely highly and to me seems very knowledgable in Montessori and children, allowed her daughter to wean herself when she was good and ready (I think between 2 and 3 yrs). So there. ; )

I also felt that in our teacher training there was this emphasis on always being calm, cool, collected, balanced, careful with movements, etc. I felt guilty sometimes working in a classroom and being clumsy. But in this case, as with motherhood in general, we are all human, after all, and I do think it's good for the children to see us make mistakes and lose our cool from time to time. It helps them see that they don't have to be perfect, either.

Ok, end to long comment, I swear-- if I'm reading Mont. From the Start, do you recommend me also grabbing Tim Seldin's book, or do you think most of his points are covered in the other book? Thanks!

Wendy said...

I just put that first book on hold at the library. Sounds great.

Also, I definitely agree with you on the breastfeeding thing. Although, my daughter weened herself at about 9 months (sad) when we started giving her formula only when others watched her. We were too broke to afford a decent breast pump, but it so would have come in handy.

I've learned a lot in the last 8 years. And never once have I had a 'perfect' day as a parent.

Anonymous said...

Another WONDERFUL Montessori resource is the Michael Olaf Catalog.

They have a paper entitled "how weaning happens" that is interesting.

We also need to keep in mind that weaning starts as soon as another food is introduced, but it does not have to end for a long, long time. It can take years.

Also, Montessori from the start was written over a decade ago, and thoughts on weaning were very different then.

This is turning long (sorry). I do not think this type of Montessori approach of complete early weaning is "wrong," as long as the Montessori approach of being child directed is also left in place.

Amy Lu said...

What I was going to say has already been said. So I'll say "ditto" on the looooooong process of weaning. Sometimes it can be wearying to always swim against the flow of the world. But long term, it's worth it.

Sarita said...

Like Amy Lu, I won't repeat what everyone else said but as someone who is breastfeeding a 21 month old - you can imagine how I feel!

I had picked up another book about Montessori in the home during the preschool years and some of the ideas were interesting. I am definitely interested in getting the Seldin book. Sounds right up my alley!

Thanks again...

Anonymous said...

In regards to Montessori from the Start, and Michael Olaf's Joyful Child for that matter; is it just me or does anyone else find putting your newborn on a full/twin mattress a little disconcerting?

Tracy said...

I remember being a "conscientious objector" to the weaning issue in that book when I first read it, along with a few other things!

Both of my girls nursed far longer than considered "average" here (3 years for one, 4 for the other when she's going to bed)and they're both healthy, independent little self-starters who have a gift for forming caring relationships with others.

I found wonderful support for my instincts in the book Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent. Fascinating reading.

Meg, you're a gift to the blogging community. Keep it up!

Laura said...

Hi Meg,

I've been lurking about your blog for a while and thought this post was so timely for me. I just pulled those two books from my library shelves for an exploration of the Montessori method and for some inspiration into incorporating the method into my storytimes. So it was great to read your thoughts on these titles. Thanks!

Erica said...

The only ideas that are viable past their conception are those which allow for critique and her book "Methods," Montessori suggested children eat primarily bread broths, and never fresh vegetables, but we have applied the knowledge of today, and must do the same with all of our workings within her philosophy, taking into consideration ecology, world issues, etc..thank you for sharing- I think you're exactly what an educator should be.

manitos a la obra........ said...

hello Meg..very beautiful blog..
I am a chilean teacher too.
Soy una admiradora y seguidora de María Montessori y me interesa todo lo referido a ella y su método.
Deseo invitarte a visitar mi blog y el de mi hermanita.
aquí están las direcciones
saludos de CHILE

marina12 said...

Meg, this post could not have come at a better time. Just a couple of days ago I was pondering how best to use the ideas and philosophies that my daughter was learning and enjoying at her new Montessori preschool in our home life. I was wondering if there were books out there like that and before I could google it you gave me some great suggestions- almost like you read my mind! Thanks so much and I look forward to reading them.

Shandy said...

Thank you for the book recs. I just bought Amazing Child and I've loved the ideas. My wee one is only a year but I am so inspired by the Montressori philosophy. One of my other questions about the ideas in the book (besides breast feeding and perfection parenting) is the idea to promote completely independent sleeping. We've shared sleep with our babe since she was born. Then again, I always tend to pick and choose what sits the best with my gut when I read education and parenting book. Thanks again for yor fabulous site and the super-helpful yahoo group.

Allegra said...

Hi Meg,
I just stumbled upon your blog via Anna Maria Horner's and I am so glad I did. I just had my first baby 12 days ago and we are definitely interested in raising her in the Montessori style. You are an enabler, I am ordering both Montessori AND Joelle's books after I finish this comment!!

Teesa said...

I like your blog and I also happened to be a fan of Montessori teaching method. We sent our three-year old daughter to a Montessori based childcare called Modern Montessori International in Singapore and she has been there since she was 20 months old. Since going to the childcare, she has gained so much confidence and independence and also intellectually. Although the fees are more expensive than the usual ones (usual kindy school around $200, MMI is around $550 after goverment subsidy) but both my husband and myself felt that it is definitely worth every single dollar.

Stella said...

I took exception to a few other points made in the Montessori From The STart book, as well. The notion that a child should not be carried much, if at all, once they can walk did not sit well with me, as a mother of 5 high-needs kids. I've had 3 little ones who needed close touch with deep pressure so that they could keep their minds organized enough to not dissolve into tantrums all the time. To deny them a ride in the baby carrier would have been ignoring their needs, and stunting independence. We used our Mei Tai carrier for the first 2 and a half years!
The other point I disagreed with was having the baby sleep in their own room, all alone. All of the benefits of a floor bed can be realized in a FAMILY bed. Putting our mattress on the floor was one of the first things we did as new parents. Some babies simply cannot tolerate solitude, and that is not a flaw in their upbringing. It's a temperment thing - one of those things that makes child-rearing something that is not one-size-fits-all!

Oh, and YES, the authors were indeed intending TOTAL weaning beginning at 6 months, to be completely weaned by 9 months. I cannot even imagine.

mwcgirlsrp said...

Your blog is amazing and inspirational. As a Montessori trained guide for children 0-3, I want to comment on the weaning issue. Despite what others may think, the idea is to BEGIN weaning around 6 months, when a child is in the sensitive period for it. This does NOT mean the cessation of breastfeeding, only the very gradual introduction over the next 6 months of various solid foods. You can find the complete "ideal" process in Dr. Montanaro's book Understanding the Human Being. Of course, real life rarely runs ideally, but Dr. Montessori's protege in the 0-3 world, Dr. Montanaro, lays out the theory and some great recipes for beginning the weaning process.