Have you ever felt helpless with your one-month-old baby, unsure of what to do to help her grow and maximize her use of her time awake each day? Or are we so consumed with bathing, feeding and making sure the baby is comfortable and not crying that we totally miss the God given opportunities to make life, a learning process for the child? As a young mother I had my doubts, I now know I was right to doubt, Montessori has opened my eyes to a lot of the missing links. Today let’s look at a few things that can help your baby from birth to 9-months-old.
The job of your child is to learn about all things around him. His environment, the shapes and sounds all around him are of interest. But in order for your baby to learn about his environment he needs to acquire the skills of concentration and then of hand movements, leading to the ability to grasp objects, hold on to them and ultimately put them in the mouth.
‘Why do babies have this thing of putting everything that gets into their hands right into their mouths?’
This is a very basic explanation, and sometimes that is all we need. Neurologist may be able to give you a full blown scientific explanation to the how’s and why’s, but I really do prefer to keep it short and simple. So here is my simple explanation.
Remember that while discussing how children learn the other day, we mentioned that the child is a sensorial learner, this way of learning starts from birth, and this phase usually ends at the age of six. So the child sees an object, reaches out grasps the object, uses the sense of touch to learn some details about the object, the details learned are sent to his brain, he practices his grasp and learns to put the object into his mouth eventually. The mouth is another major sense organ, actually well developed, as this is what the child has used from birth to take in food, be it breast milk, cow milk or water. The child uses the mouth to learn more about the object in his hands.
Our job as parents and carers is to make sure that we are providing opportunities for the babies in our care to learn through their senses about life and their surroundings. This brings me to the question, what toys (objects for exploration) are we providing? Are we providing anything? I have seen babies who have their hands in gloves, wrapped up in cloth, to prevent them from sucking their thumbs. Hand to mouth is a normal progression. A rattle would be a better hand companion. Can you imagine the damage we may be doing by preventing the child from following this natural learning process? Let your children learn the way they are meant to. Hand to mouth is part of the learning process of the child.
You may consider that providing opportunities for a baby to learn about her environment is not your role in the life of the child, as you believe all children learn so why must you intervene? I beg to differ, as I have seen children and some are now adults, who had no help from adults when they were babies, as they were left alone in a playpen for hours on end. The result of this kind of care has been for the now young adults with learning disabilities, have little or no understanding of spatial relationships, neither do they have a well-developed thinking process. Why? Well simply because as babies they had no opportunity to grasp objects, put them in their mouths, move around and explore their surroundings.
So if you want to make your time with children count, find things in the environment to catch and keep their attention, when they are ready, put safe objects near them that they can explore by reaching out, touching and then grasping them. They should be safe enough so that these can be put in the mouth when they are ready for this form of exploration.
Another factor we must consider is that a child needs concentration in order to learn anything. One of the big mistakes we make is using the TV as a means of keeping a child happy, quiet and engaged. We must learn though, that sticking a child in front of the television screen is a very bad practice, life is not a movie, and the TV pictures, at least too much of it will only create addictions to unrealistic expectations in life. The picture frames that make up the video clips, television programs and movies are too fast for the child to process. Things happen so fast on screen, it’s one thing to the next in seconds! Learning does not happen like this, but the child stuck in front of the television screen expects everything in life to be like this, including learning, and when it is not, as your child gets older you hear that common universal cry of the modern child:
‘I am bored.’
Learning to concentrate on television screens or game pads, may keep the child quiet and out of your hair for now, but this will not produce the concentration skills needed for learning, an important skill all children must learn to cultivate in order to go to school when they are much older, and sit in class for 45 to 60 minutes listening to the teacher drill out information they need to assimilate!
So how do you help your baby start developing concentration skills? Use mobiles, rattles and mirrors, these will help a lot. By mobiles, I mean those beautifully crafted shapes hanging from a hook put on top of the baby’s cot, not mobile phones obviously. There are great mobiles and then there are the commercially produced to make a buck, but not so useful for the child. You need to use mobiles, rattles(one at a time), and mirrors to hold the child’s attention. The concentration skills develop as their attention span increases.
Helping your baby concentrate and build intelligence is key to good child development. I wish I knew all this when I had my babies. This is the gift of Montessori to the world. If you are planning to start a Crèche or school find out more information on how to help the children in your care at the online Addlo Montessori Training Center.