In our continuing blog series studying the works of Montessori, we have looked at the first nine chapters of The Absorbent Mind. All over the world, educators and caregivers find common ground in many of Montessori’s ideas– especially so when it comes to the care of infants. Psychologist Laura Berk, like Montessori, states that “knowledge of the world is first gathered through the senses.” Berk notes the physical changes in heart rate and respiration in infants when there is a change in their environment – someone new arrives, there are new pictures on the wall, or mother starts wearing new cologne. (Berk, 2006)
Montessori Values Around the World – Supporting an Infant's Development with Conscious Interaction
Modern child philosophers also discuss the importance of respectful awareness of children, beginning at birth. Magda Gerber’s RIE philosophy calls for “respect for, and trust in the baby to be the initiator, an explorer, and a self learner.” Gerber’s infant environment is very similar to Montessori’s, as she calls for:
- An environment that is “physically safe, cognitively challenging, and emotionally nurturing”
- Time for uninterrupted play
- Freedom to explore and interact
- The child to be an active participant in his own care, rather than passive recipient
- Sensitive and careful observation to understand the child’s individual needs
- Consistency and defined limits (Gerber & Sunbury, 2012)
In the last three paragraphs of chapter 9 of Montessori’s The Absorbent Mind, some of the observations spark interesting discussion. Here, Montessori considers the cultural differences in carrying, feeding, and caring for crying infants that exist around the world.
Montessori points out that different cultures have different ways of carrying and transporting infants. She discusses methods used by various ethnicities, and the ways each of these cultures have for securing the child. Whether tied or held against the back or front, the child is not only in close physical proximity, but views the world at roughly the same height as the mother. Modern baby-wearing in western cultures uses similar methods and variations of this time honored tradition. However, many modern infant carriers keep the baby low-to the ground, encased in hard plastic, with a hooded view of their environment.
Although some American pediatricians recommend weaning at six months, current American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations suggest mothers nurse their infants for one year. The WHO (World Health Organization) and UNICEF recommend at least two years. (Dettwyler, 1994) Montessori suggests that nursing infants over a year old is less about nutrition – they've been able to eat solid food for several months – but rather to keep the child in close proximity to the mother. “This satisfies [the] unconscious need to give her offspring the help of a full social life on which to construct his mind”. (Montessori, page 106) Infant formula allows a child to remain with any adult while the mother goes to work, completes household tasks, or anywhere where she may need to be away from the infant for a period of time. Nursing, she suggests, provides nutrition, but can also strengthen the mother-child bond.
Being carried, or worn, allows the child easy access to food and maternal comfort. Montessori observes that children who are in this close proximity rarely cry; she notes that more often, it is in the Western world where crying is a problem. Physical removal of the child from the mother can be frustrating for an infant. When left alone in cribs, playpens, and other modern devices meant to hold children, there is often no stimulation or conversation, and the child can quickly become bored. In many cases, it is only when he cries that we pick him up and allow him to rejoin us.
As society progresses, we sometimes find ourselves swayed by modern technology which can make tasks easier or provide certain benefits, but may confine movement and restrict interpersonal interaction. We find ourselves looking for baby carriers that play music, speak Spanish, and count to 10, rather than interacting directly with an infant ourselves. However, as Montessorians anywhere in the world, we strive to remember that each time we interact with a child, we must deliberately and consciously think about how it will enhance their mental and spiritual life.
Berk, L. E. (2006). Child Development, 7/4. Boston: Allyn Bacon Longman.
Dettwyler, K. A. (1994, August). A Time to Wean. Retrieved from La Leche League International: https://www.llli.org/ba/aug94.html
Gerber, B., & Sunbury, L. (2012, May 1). Magda Gerber's RIE Philosophy - Basic Principles. Retrieved from Magda Gerber, Seeing Babies with New Eyes: http://www.magdagerber.org/3/post/2012/05/magda-gerbers-rie-philosophy-basic-principles.html
Montessori, M. (1964). The Absorbent Mind. Wheaton, ILL.: Theosophical Press.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Friday, March 28, 2014.