Welcome to 'A Montessori Home'.
With so many of our friends and family living in far-off lands, I hope that this blog might help our loved-ones get to know our gorgeous Finlay as he grows up. I also hope that these posts may provide inspiration, provoke thought and conversation about creating beautiful Montessori environments for infants and toddlers at home. I'm always happy to hear your comments, thoughts and suggestions. Feel free to pop in now and then to see what we're up to!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Tour - Part 1

I thought it might be nice to give a bit of a tour of our home and explain the many ways we've been able to incorporate Montessori principles within a tiny space. I had quite a hard time finding inspiration from real homes while I was pregnant and setting up our house, so hopefully this will add to what little resources are available online to inspire new (and seasoned) parents in better preparing their homes for little people.

Before beginning, I think it's worth mentioning that we have purchased very few things new. Most of the furniture and objects which you'll see here were bought second-hand and it really is possible to set all these things up on a limited budget. Of course, if you do want to spend a bit more money there are some wonderful online sources for Montessori furniture and materials which I'll mention as well.

The bedroom

This is our cosy little bedroom in our 2-brm flat. If we had a spare room (the other room is basically storage right now!) we probably would have made up a separate bedroom for Finlay, but since space is tight, it just made sense to have him sleep with us. This has worked out really well because as all mothers know, getting up in the middle of the night is exhausting and it's much easier if baby is right there. Also, for the first few weeks, Finlay actually slept with us in our bed. This is a big Montessori no-no (because the aim is to help babies sleep independently), but we all loved it, bonding was enhanced and I truly believe that this time in our bed helped build his sense of safety so that after three weeks he was happy to sleep in his own bed (and has done ever since, except our afternoon naps which we still often share together. Bliss!). When we did move him to his own bed, the ambience of the room remained the same and he seemed to sense that he was in a safe, familiar place.

Here's a better view of Fin's corner (he's just woken up from a nap!). Maria Montessori recommended letting the child sleep on a floor-bed so that when he or she is able to crawl they can get in and out of their bed independently. This might seem like a huge nightmare to many parents (there's a reason why cots have bars, right?!) and when Fin starts crawling I may indeed regret the whole thing, but I do love the fact that he will feel trusted to follow his natural sleep rhythms. If he wants to, he can get out and play with his toys on the shelf, then return to bed on his own when he's tired. We'll keep the door closed during nap times so he can't come out into the rest of the house and he knows it's quiet, resting time.

Ideally, the floor-bed would be single-sized futon to allow plenty of space for when the child starts rolling and crawling. It is recommended that the mattress be placed directly on the floor so it is easy to crawl out of, but since we are living in Auckland (famous for it's dampness and mildew issues) I wanted ours to have some sort of base lifting it a few centimeters off the floor. Also, I tried every configuration possible but simply could not fit a single-sized mattress in our room along with our queen bed, so we decided upon a cot-sized bed. I found a second-hand cot which could be transformed into a toddler bed by taking the sides off and adding a smaller bed-end. When Brent's parents were over visiting his dad cut off the legs for us and we were left with a perfect little floor-bed. Beautiful floor-bed frames can also be bought at Michael Olaf or the Lord Company. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a single manufacturer in Australia or NZ. (If you know of one, please do let me know!)

Another reason for the floor-bed is that it affords the child a much better view of the room than a cot would allow. I have already noticed the benefit of this - from very early on, Finlay would explore the room visually and you could almost see him creating his 'mind-map' of the room. Hopefully this will act as an incentive for him to develop his moving abilities so that he can finally get to the things he has been looking at for all this time. At the moment we have a folded-up yoga mat next to the bed just in case he rolls out (which he has, twice!) but we might need to get a nice thick rug for when he really gets moving.

“The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences.” - Maria Montessori

This view is enhanced by the mirror attached to the wall by his bed. The mirror is one of the few things that we bought new, from Every Educaid. To be honest, the reflection isn't perfect, but I guess that's what to expect from a shatter-proof acrylic mirror. Finlay absolutely loves to look at himself in this mirror. He smiles and 'talks' to his reflection endlessly. It's pretty amazing to see him look at his mobile, then at it's reflection, and back again - you can almost see the cogs turning in his brain! The mirror helps encourage the child's development of movement. At nine weeks, I first noticed Fin watching his arm movements in the mirror:

Above the bed hangs a mobile. I have so much to say about the Montessori mobiles that I think I'll save that for a post all of it's own!

Next to his bed is a little frame (from an op-shop) with a beautiful print inside (cut from an old calendar). I had intended to rotate this with others I have in storage, but I love this one so much that I haven't changed it yet. Maria Montessori believed we should create an environment filled with beauty for the young child and that artwork should be hung at their level.

On the shelf (again, second-hand) we have placed a few little baskets with objects for Finlay to explore when he ventures out into the room. The idea here is that the physical space is as orderly as possible in order to help the child create an inner sense of order. When everything has a place, it is easy to restore order, resulting in independence and a sense of satisfaction in the child. We have a box full of objects in storage from which we can rotate onto the shelf when Finlay loses interest in these ones, re-introducing them later on for further exploration. A few books are placed on the next shelf (again, more are in storage waiting for rotation). To top it all off we have a beautiful maidenhair fern which reminds us of my mum (Oma) and a salt lamp which gives of a lovely glow for nighttime feeding.

We also have a change table tucked into the corner at the end of our bed. As soon as he is walking comfortably we'll aim to change him standing up and have his clothes available within his reach. I'll be sure to revisit this topic when the time comes.

On a side note, the painting of Buddha hanging above our bed has become an unexpected favorite of Finlay's. From his very first weeks, he would look for that painting and smile at Buddha like he was an old friend. When I think of Montessori's descriptions of the Absorbent Mind (the unique mind-state of the child which absorbs everything in his/her environment in the process of self-creation) I can't help but marvel at Fin's obsession with Buddha and celebrate the fact that he's imprinting such a beautiful, smiling face into his personality!

“The things he sees are not just remembered; they form a part of his soul.” - Maria Montessori

Well, I think I've rambled on enough for today so I'll have to break this up into bite-sized pieces. Don't want to overwhelm! I'm so grateful for the support I've received since starting this blog. I have so much more to write about and hope you'll all bear with me while I empty my brain out here :)

Ciao for now x

Monday, July 26, 2010

Real Life

I always dreamed that when the time came for me to have children of my own, I would be living in a house with lovely large spaces in which to create the 'perfect' infant environment. I would follow Montessori practices to the letter, never be overtired or stressed and never let other people's opinions cloud my beliefs. I would keep the house beautifully clean, tidy and minimalist for the sake of nurturing my child's inner sense of order...

The trouble is, when you're living life, real life, it's very difficult to keep all these ideals alive. Lack of space and lack of sleep have changed my perspective somewhat. I constantly have to remind myself that the home environment is quite different from that of the classroom, and rightly so. Rigidity and over-zealous orderliness probably won't do any of us any favours in the long run.

Fin watching Daddy serve up breakfast

So how do we strike a balance? It's something I'm still working on and probably will be for the rest of my child-rearing days. Our kitchen, for example, leaves absolutely no room for me to place Fin on the floor on a mat - and in any case, he can't see what we're doing from down there. I tried cooking with him in a sling but I was paranoid about bumping/burning/cutting him so I compromised and put him in a bumbo seat on the counter. Now, I know this goes against Montessori ideals for a few reasons. Firstly, by propping him up artificially in the bumbo I am restricting his freedom of movement and taking away the incentive for him to sit up on his own power. To add to my guilt, Marianne Hermsen-Van Wanrooy in her book Baby Moves, compels parents never to sit their babies up until they do so themselves, to avoid interfering with the development of muscle balance. I've weighed up these factors and I actually believe that the benefits outweigh the potential negatives. For very short periods of time (10 mins or so), Fin is able to experience us cook, clean, sing and chat. He watches with deep concentration every move we make, checks out the fruit on the bench, looks out the window or sings along with me. I love it when I look over and see his little hand resting on an apple or banana.

I also fret about our lack of space in this apartment. This has been our first Auckland winter and let me tell you, it's not only the cold that gets to you here - it's the dampness. And since we don't have a clothes dryer, our living room seems always to be filled to the brim with nappies hanging to dry. Everywhere I look - nappies. Every chair, table and door frame is covered. What happened to my minimalist, orderly infant environment? But does it really matter? It might drive me crazy, but he seems quite content and takes it all in his stride, watching me constantly hanging them out and folding them when they are (finally) dry. My only hope is that somewhere he is storing away the process of getting the laundry done, and when the time comes for him to help me folding he will have a deep interest in this part of Practical Life :)

So perhaps it's not the end of the world that things aren't 'perfect' and in fact, maybe it's better that they aren't. I hope that Fin will grow up able to make a beautiful home wherever he goes, no matter how big or small. One day, hopefully in the near future, we'll move into a bigger place where we can grow our own veggies and stretch out a little. But for now, we'll be grateful for the wonderful things we do have and make the very best of them.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Beginning

'The greatness of the human personality begins at the hour of birth' - Maria Montessori

I suppose any discussion about Montessori and how we've applied the philosophy in our home should begin with Finlay's birth. Of course, it is a huge mystery to us how much impact the birth experience has on our future personalities and attitudes to life, but I do believe that by creating an ideal birthing environment we can help ease the transition of our babies into the world, and therefore start them off on a positive note.

Most of my attitudes to child birth were formed long before I discovered Montessori. When my sister had a drug-free home water birth 12 years ago I, a teenager at the time, decided then and there that that's how I'd like to do it too. It just seemed to make sense. Happily, when we touched on child birth in my Montessori training, all of those ideas aligned with my own. Dim lighting, gentle handling, soft voices, few visitors, drug-free, early nursing... what a lovely way to start life.

I went into real labour at around 4pm on Friday 26th Feb. By 4pm the next day I was still only 2cm dilated and feeling utterly devastated. I had so convinced myself that mine would be a short and (relatively) easy labour that at no point had I considered that I might 'fail to progress'. Despite our best efforts to turn him during the final months, Finlay was posterior and this was causing terrible back pain. I remember thinking a few times, "Maybe an epidural wouldn't be so bad after all..."

Though of course it seemed like the worst thing I'd ever experienced in my life (and it was!), now when I look back I can see how beneficial this struggle was for my relationship with Brent. While I sang through each contraction, Brent was there singing along in harmony, giving me something to focus on and a place to direct my breath. He squeezed my back muscles together to interrupt the pain-messages flowing to my brain, offered me sips of water and spoonfuls of peanut butter, filled the birth pool, cleaned up my vomit, ensured my favorite songs were playing on the stereo, and countless other things that told me (consciously and sub-consciously) that he would be there to protect and nurture me (and this baby) for the rest of our lives. I think this aspect of birthing can often be overlooked. Not only is this the birth of a new baby into the world, but it is also the transformation of a relationship that had been alive before, but would from now on be something entirely different. A Mummy and a Daddy.

A dose of homeopathics, some acupuncture and a long-anticipated soak in the birth pool finally got things moving and within 1 and 1/2 hours I was feeling ready to push. With this song by Kurt Elling playing in the background and the early evening light filtering through the blinds, Finlay was born into the water at 7:27pm, Feb 27th 2010.

Our midwife stood back and allowed me to lift him to the surface and bring him straight to my chest. There were no cries or screams - he just calmly opened his eyes and drank us in. Candles were lit and we enjoyed our first half-hour together in the pool. Just before we got out I took the opportunity to float him in the water and watch his arms and legs unfold for the first time.

For the following days and weeks we kept the house as quiet as possible (difficult with a trumpet-playing daddy!), dressed him in simple clothes and avoided items such as mittens and dummies which inhibit the development of movement and language. I fed him on demand and put him to sleep when he seemed tired. We spoke and sang to him as much as possible, and when he wasn't being held we lay him on his back, un-swaddled and free to move. Admittedly, after a few weeks I discovered that he actually quite liked to be swaddled so I compromised by wrapping his lower body and leaving his hands free.

When I think of Fin's personality now, so happy, calm and alert, I can't help but wonder whether this birth experience had anything to do with it. Maybe those traits are just who he is and would have been like this no matter how he came into the world? Either way, I'm incredibly grateful that we were able to stay at home as planned and that I wasn't in an environment where drug relief would have been an option. I'm not sure I would have been able to refuse! Whether or not it has impacted him positively I'll never know, but I do know for sure that experiencing the pain and thrill of childbirth at it's fullest has made me feel more powerful than ever before, and has awakened in me fierce mothering instincts that have carried me through these past months.

'All our handling of the child will bear fruit, not only at the moment, but in the adult they are destined to become' - Maria Montessori

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Four Months

A few days ago my osteopath took a long look at me and said, "You look completely different." I commented on how I was wearing my hair differently, but he insisted, "No, it's your face. It's... matured," and then he quickly added, "But not in a bad way. It's like you're coming into yourself."

Maybe it's the sleep deprivation. Whatever it is, I'll take it as a compliment, thanks.

I definitely feel different. That's something they don't tell you when you're pregnant. They don't tell you how different you'll feel after having a baby, or much depth your life will take on when you have another precious being to nurture and protect. Actually, maybe people did tell me these things but I was too busy being pregnant to notice.

As Finlay grows into his gorgeous personality it seems that time is both standing still and rushing forward simultaneously. In four short months, he has gone from being that fragile, mewling newborn to this determined, charming little boy with a wicked sense of humour. Where did all this come from? And how did we get here so fast?

That's where this blog comes in. The Montessorian in me desperately needs to write down my observations before all of Fin's early developmental stages rush by un-checked. Also, as a 3-6 trained Montessori teacher, creating an infant environment is new to me and I look forward to sharing the adventure with you.

So many things to write about! So without further ado, I present 'A Montessori Home'. Enjoy!