Some days ago, in my local Facebook group, Montessori in the Philippines (join us if you're from the country), someone posted to ask about where to get organic wooden teethers. To which another member commented that she thinks babies prefer something like Sophie the Giraffe (which her son loves), made of natural rubber; instead of hard wood. I then replied that it should be worth offering both for the baby to choose--because really, even the youngest of them, when presented with manageable options, will choose (one or the other or both). That would make for an interesting observation of the child's natural work and a meaningful way for us to communicate that we value their voices and respect them as a person, from the start.
Then I thought about sharing Cara's top 4 choices from when she was 0 until 24 months. Of course these were not the only materials and activities available for her (we've rotated the materials and edited the environment several, several times), but these were her obvious favorites.
I was told, by the directress of a local Montessori training center, to do a little experiment. Get another person whose voice is similar to mine, go behind a blanket (on far ends, left side-right side) with this person, place my baby in front of the blanket cover, take turns talking with the other person, and see if the baby will recognize my voice and look/turn/move towards the side of the blanket behind which I am at. Amazingly, Cara always seem to know Mommy.
This sparked more "little experiments"--I'd hang a mobile on one side above Cara and "hang" myself (sometimes I sing, sometimes I'm silent; but always, I'm smiling) on another side above her and see her choose, much to my delight, her "Mommy Mobile" each time.
It was then that I realized something important: That just as Maria Montessori said that children are naturally equipped to absorb and learn from their environment, mothers are also naturally equipped, especially in those first few months, to be just about every "material" their babies need--a smile to see, a song to hear, a scent to smell, a warmth to feel (and if you breastfeed--taste, too).
So I'm going to claim and cherish that--being my daughter's first favorite "material".
When I needed a quick shower or a hurried meal, other people were her favorites, too. That's (those hands) one of my sisters and Cara who just turned 3 months. (Incidentally, we didn't do tummy time (us putting her on her tummy) precisely because she didn't like it (see, they really have their opinions); but she rolled over from her back to tummy, on her own at 8 weeks and that has been her position of choice since then.)
And we really didn't have any other materials then. Just people--"hanging" over or lying beside or in front of her--faces for her to watch, hands for her to touch, voices for her to hear.
One of my sisters loved reading--because we saw how Cara is intent on hearing--'The Three Little Pigs' from Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes.
Because she always liked to be on her tummy then, I had bottles like these standing near her as sensory work, point of interest, and motivation to grasp and crawl.
We didn't have shelves at this time--only laid out materials on the floor near her so she can choose and reach.
3. Things for Grasping
I remember precisely that first time she was able to control her own hand to bring it to something, a set of keys, she wanted to touch. After doing so, she looked at her hand for half an hour or so, turning it over, exploring it--just fascinated with it and what she discovered she can do!
Another experiment. We had a little ring with different colored ribbons. Whenever I held it above her when she was lying on her back or in front of her when she was on her tummy, she always, always chose to grasp the yellow ribbon. No matter how I position the ring, even when the yellow ribbon was the farthest. Her choice.
And these are some of her favorite grasping things.
A soft ball, a maracas, ribbons and balls of yarn, a wooden block, a walnut we put in a small abaca bag, Sophie the Giraffe (which she loved--just as that baby from our local Facebook group), a yellow knitted ball, a Blabla Kids knitted doll rattle.
But nothing else holds her interest as much and long as books, which are her favorites, still.
I'm amused with these photos because it looks like she's copying the cat.
From Head to Toe by Eric Carle had been such a favorite, frequently requested by the children in my classes who love to copy the actions the animals make in the book. So I'm thrilled to see our 18-month-old enjoying it this way now, too! Here she is arching her back like the cat. #ericcarle #fromheadtotoe #childrensbook #montessori #montessorionmars
She began sitting at 5 months, pulling up at 6, walked around while holding the bar/cruising on furniture at 7 months, took her first independent step at 8, walked at 9, even more confidently so at 10, ran before she was a year old--so a safe space to do just those, to move and explore, was her material. You can see more of our Prepared Environment that time here.
2. Pull-up Bar and Mirror; Stool, Bell, and Painting
I'm special-mentioning these things because these were the things she liked using as she was finding her balance and confidence to walk. I have, on my drafts, a post about how Cara worked on her walking entitled "How We Have A Walker Without A Walker". And without the usual walker, we basically had these things--a DIY pull-up bar (which you also see on that link for our Prepared Environment above), a mirror as point of interest, a stool she can push to get herself around when she still needed that support, and a bell and a painting she likes going to.
When we first had peg work like these out, the pegs and blocks are on the board or dowel and her work was just to pull them out. Eventually, when she was ready, we had the pieces in baskets so she can put them into the holes and dowels. I thought that way, we also isolate difficulty.
We also did levels of difficulty with the puzzles. One-piece, simple shape puzzle. Just one set first so she just focuses on fitting the piece into the frame; then eventually two, three so she can sort.
4. Plunking Work
With the last bottle with the purple cover, we used short sticks (which I can't find in our storage). But do you see how we did levels of difficulty here, too?
I remember when I had one of these kept away for a while because we rotate materials. Our then 11-month-old discovered the basket where I kept materials that were out of rotation and of all the things that were there, she took one these out, brought it over to the shelf, took out what was currently on its original spot, and put this work back. Her choice.
Here's another video of our 10-month-old, happy with a plunking activity. Yes, with a small glass bottle and wooden buttons. The first time I showed this to her, the first time I let her try it herself, her smile, her look--it was as if she knew I was trusting her with something (while I supervise--always, always for this kind of work). This is something we are ready for--otherwise, by all means, wait. 😊 I'll write about some safety tips soon. #montessori #montessoribaby #montessoriathome #montessorionmars
1. Water and Outdoors, Pouring and Scooping
If we could do this all day, she would.
See more of our outdoor prepared environment here.
2. Tools for Practical Practical Life
See some of our practical Practical Life work here.
3. Animals--Miniatures, One-piece Puzzles, and Picture Cards
Miniature animals from the Schleich portable barn and cards from the Baby Einstein Animal Discovery Cards set
One-piece animal puzzles
Then eventually, multi-piece puzzles, starting with this 3-piece set.
Note that this material should be under 18-24 months, but I just put it here to show how we progressed with puzzles.
Two things: Since our 19-month-old has climbed the slide herself, she has been climbing and hanging out up on top a lot; and since she has seen me use a measuring tape on a shelf, she has been laying the measuring tape out along shelves, tables, etc. So here she is--up on top of the slide, "measuring" it. #montessori #montessorichild #montessoritoddler #montessorionmars #slide
1. Crayons and Paper and Magnetic Sketcher
Our box of crayons at home is a small open box (so it's easy to get and pack away) that has dark-colored crayons (so it's easy for the child to see the lines and curves she made), unwrapped (so she can use all sides) and cut into smaller pieces (so it can be held using three-finger grip which is preparation for writing). #montessori #montessorionmars #montessorichild #montessoritoddler #montessorimom #montessorimother #montessoriparent #montessoriathome #montessorienvironment #preparedenvironment #crayons #art
Before, she'd work on the magnetic drawing board (or paper), make strokes and "lines", "circles" (she'd say), and then declare what she made ("Moon." "Apple." "Cat." Etc). While it's easy to see the objects--banana, balloon, etc; I couldn't tell if she thought about what to make before/while drawing or if, after drawing, she was saying what the combination of strokes reminded her of. So this is different for me (glad I witnessed it) because I saw that she was intentional. "Eyes. Nose. Lips," she said as she carefully made them. And there it is--her drawing of a face. :-) Like or put a smiley face in the comments if you see her smiley face at the bottom. 🙂 #toddler #tot #drawing #magneticdrawingboard #sketcher #face
2. Practical Life
I'm putting Practical Life in again because really, these are her favorite things to do.
We were squatting while pulling the weeds out and guess who had the brilliant #idea of getting some rubber mats so we can sit on them! Yes, our 22-month-old. That's what's great about #openendedplay #freeplay #montessoriwork (aside from some getting #chores done)--it provides the child with opportunities to, among other things, problem solve.
Read another one of my posts here, Welcoming the Weeds: A Practical Life and Parenting Lesson.
And watch her prepare dinner here.
3. Building and Pretend Play
Boxes and blocks, pegs and loose parts, clay and soil, toy kitchen, stores, and houses--she's always constructing, concocting, cooking, creating something. One time she slid a ribbon inside a box, leaving a part of the ribbon out; then she walked around the house pulling that creation along, "Walk dog," she said.
[1 of 2] This has been her favorite since we first brought it out months ago (initially, for the older children who come visit). These days, our 23-month-old's work with these, without anyone showing her, is finding the 2's and linking them all together--often matching the colors. When done, she'll take them apart and do it again. #processoverproduct #montessori #montessorionmars #montessorihome #montessoriathome #montessorichild #montessoritoddler #tot #toddler #kbnmoms #finemotorskills #sensorial
[2 of 2] Then she did some color sorting with the pegs and #clay. Later on, she sang happy birthday and blew the candles. Thank you, @littlehuman_co, for the perfect clay! #montessori #montessorionmars #montessorihome #montessoriathome #montessorichild #montessoritoddler #tot #toddler #kbnmoms #finemotorskills #sensorial
Great for nomenclature--which is also one of her favorite work (#SensitivePeriodForLanguage)
And we're back where we started--people. Language, while it has been the work of the child since infancy, becomes all the more obvious as he grows. And Judi Orion, an AMI teacher trainer said, "We must remember we are the most important language material in the environment." So "we need to examine our own language usage and become a better role model from which to absorb language." Here I remember making that conscious effort to use "me" instead of "Mommy" in my sentences when talking to Cara--and soon as I did that, she started to refer to herself as "me", too--correctly using it in her sentences. Then one time I saw her pointing to another person while exclaiming, "Yoo! Yoo! Yoo!" I couldn't understand her at first. Until she said, "Yoo!" Then pointing to herself she said, "Me!" "You! Me! You! Me!"
Another time, our then 20-month-old was eating when our cat came up to her obviously wanting her snack. I told Cara to tell the cat, "Sorry, but this is for people, not for cats." Later on, while we were preparing to sleep she said to me, "People. Mommy people. Cara also people."
These--making logical connections between objects and words, intently choosing words to construct her messages, talking to people she knows--these are her favorite activities as well.
We don't teach her numbers but have mentioned "one" and "two" to her in terms of describing something. For example, I tell her I'm getting one diaper for example. One time, she approaches her Daddy and tells him she has "two cards". She went on to say she has "one juice". So another time, we asked her to please hand over two mats, then one mat. She did.
That's her work. Her choice, her own curriculum. Her drive. Her inner teacher.
So that was quite lengthy since that was two years worth of favorites, but I do hope you got a thing or two from there, our top 4 materials from 0 to 24 months. But really, what I really wanted to say here is, the operative word on that title is "our". That's our list. And because every combination of child/ren + parent/s + home + culture + country is different, we all would have slightly or largely different lists. Another 8-month-old might enjoy the Object Permanence Box for a longer time, while Cara was only interested with it for a bit (good thing I only DIYed ours which you can see here).
So observe and follow the child. They know their way. As Maria Montessori said, "Follow the child, they will show you what they need to do, what they need to develop in themselves and what area they need to be challenged in." And how will children let us know these things? Through the choices they make, the things they gravitate towards, the tasks they repeatedly do. Would your child rather pull up on the sofa than scoop the colored pasta shells you so lovingly prepared? That's a clue, a communication. Their choices, their work--"they are drawn to it by the needs of their inner life."