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!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Repeat... and repeat again

Fin at 9 months, helping to unpack our new materials when they arrived last December

Finlay is lucky to have a daddy who is a professional musician. Not only is he constantly surrounded by beautiful live music, but for a role model he has a man who is dedicated to his practice. If he is absorbing Brent's self-discipline, Fin will be a very lucky boy. (Try to ignore mummy's tendency toward procrastination, Fin....)

"It takes 10,000 hours of practice to become really good at anything", Brent tells me. I thought he was exaggerating, but then I found an article which also claims truth to the statement!

I can't imagine dedicating that much of my time to any one thing. And then I look at Finlay, doing just that, right before my eyes. In the past year I have observed Fin working tirelessly, repeating over and over the movements and sounds which are his work of self-creation. Maria Montessori claimed that the entire foundation of a child's personality will be formed by the time they are 3 years old. I was amazed to discover that 10,000 hours equals roughly 3 years of waking hours for an infant. Co-incidence?!

'By repeating simple routine acts... children could acquire a sense of self as agent, able to independently carry out useful, meaningful actions in the world.'
Angeline Stoll Lillard, 'Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius'

Repetition is one of those things we look for in the Montessori classroom which indicate interest, concentration, and a connection between the child and the material, all of which are integral to true learning. It is absolutely magical to watch a child repeat an activity again and again, not for the sake of a particular outcome, but simply for the inner satisfaction gained in the 'doing'.

Ever since he was born, I have marveled at Fin's ability to repeat tirelessly, whether it be batting, reaching, grasping, pushing, rolling, creeping, crawling, pulling up, standing, walking, babbling (and countless other milestones). Whatever was the flavour of the day would be repeated and repeated from waking through to sleeping. It was as if he was simply unable to resist the inner drive to master himself. And of course, every human being begins their life in this way - what an amazing plan Mother Nature has installed in us!

I bring up this topic now because Finlay seems to have moved into a new phase of repetition; one that is more conscious and deliberate. He is also involving me more in his repetitive activities, whereas before he would most often disappear into a private place of contemplation (though he still spends much of his time in this state).

As an example, here are a few videos:
(Each of these is quite long - as repetition tends to be - so bear with me!)

The first is a video of Finlay at 3 months. Though subtle, there are many repetitive movements occurring - focusing visually on the hanging bells, pushing up with the arms, kicking the legs and trying to move forward. In this moment, his entire world is made up of those bells and the effort it takes to get to them. (Please excuse the less-than-perfect 'Prepared Environment' in the background... I don't know how my baby-brain ignored those ugly power cords for as long as I did! Maybe this explains Finlay's current passion for all things electrical and dangerous...?)

The second video is Finlay at 9 months, working with the Object Permanence Box (or Ball Game). The material itself calls for repetition through it's design - placing the ball in the hole and having it reappear down the ramp seems to be irresistible to children at this age (and adults too!). I love how the video reminds me that in this moment, Fin's exploration of the box itself is just as important as placing the ball in the hole. Only once he is finished maneuvering the box does he return to the 'intended' activity. Just another reminder to sit on my hands when I think Finlay isn't working with a material 'properly'!

The third video was taken just last week and shows Finlay's shift of focus from motor skills toward communication. Suddenly I'm part of the fun! He is so thrilled to have made himself understood, to be able to understand and follow directions, and to repeat the whole cycle over and over. Very soon, the aim is not to hold and touch the Buddha, it is simply the 'doing' that satisfies his inner need.

So if we know and accept that repetition is important to a young child's development, then how can we best assist them?

1. Providing rich motives of activity. Creating a beautiful, orderly environment filled with interesting objects intended for exploration is one of the most precious gifts you can give your child. You certainly don't need specially designed Montessori materials to encourage repetition (though they are designed to do so and are wonderful!). Simple everyday objects are fascinating to young children. For example: Fitting lids onto pots and pans, jars and containers; Opening and closing cupboards and drawers; Switching lights on and off; Turning pages in a book; Sweeping, mopping, scrubbing and wiping... to name just a few.
2. Allowing it to happen! It is so easy to overlook these precious moments, to storm in and interrupt. Though I'm sure I have unknowingly interrupted Finlay's moments of repetition from time to time, I try to make it a rule that before approaching him I always stand back for a moment to watch and see if he is busy with something. This can be really hard! We are so used to living our lives on our own timetables that it is difficult to slow down and allow these moments to reach their own conclusions (especially when we're running late for something and need to get out the door!).
Even applauding or congratulating a child will break them out of the spell. I try to behave as if I'm in some sacred place (museum, war memorial, church etc) where I would act with respect, dignity and reverence... not always easy to do in your own home :)
3. Having patience. This is especially important when the child includes you in the activity. Picking up the spoon when the child has dropped it for the hundredth time can be boring, even infuriating, but remembering how important it is from a developmental point of view helps give you the stamina to soldier on. I really had to force myself to continue being a part of Finlay's 'Buddha game' in the third video. I was fighting the part of my brain which wanted to plan dinner, another part that was wishing I could go make a cup of tea... but as far as Finlay was concerned, he had to feel like my entire focus was on him. Seeing his joy unfolding gave me all the incentive I needed.

All this repetition leads me to another of my favorite topics... concentration! But that's a post for another day :)

' "This repetition," says Montessori, "is a spontaneous phenomenon due to the child's interior energy - powerful and irresistible... we must respect this energy; help it; and give it the necessary direction to unfold itself." '
E. M. Standing, quoting Maria Montessori in 'Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work'


  1. I love your videos

    What is the table on the right side of your son on the 2nd video? There is the 3 drawer box on it.


  2. Hi Neptune,
    Thank you. It's so nice to have a record of all the many milestones to look back on... they seem to change and grow so fast!
    The table is actually a toddler-sized hand-washing table. This video was taken when we had just moved into the house so I have changed the layout quite a bit since then. Now that Finlay is firmly on his feet I'm planning to set up the hand-washing activity - I just have to prepare myself for lots of water on the floor! :)
    Perhaps I should start with a sponge-squeezing activity first?...
    So many things yet to prepare and make!

  3. LOL
    when I posted I didn't have time to watch the 3rd video. That one really made me laugh.

    Now, you see this is the difference between somebody like me who has not formal training, and somebody who is train, you have the words! The way to say it. I really could learn a lot more in that departement. Thanks for your video! This really helps people like me :)

    I might have missed this info, but how old is Findlay in this video? I love that he already is really good at sitting when being asked.

  4. Fin had just turned 1 in that last video. He was so proud that he could understand and respond to my directions!

    Of course, he was happy to sit when asked during the game.... He doesn't always respond like that, especially when he has his mind set on doing something else, but this is a normal developmental stage.

    I have been planning to write a post on the 'emerging will'... hmmmm so many topics on my mind and so little time to write! I promise I'm getting to the floor-bed topic soon :)