Montessori Philosophy & Practice

THE FIRST YEAR—Crawling, Pulling Up, Standing

The following is the text from this section of the 2009-2010 edition of The Joyful Child, Montessori from Birth to Three
To see other sections of this publication return to:


Children who have freedom of movement feel they can pursue their own ideas and interests. The repeated experience of seeing an object, reaching for it and exploring it with the hands and mouth, produces the reassuring sensation that when we want something we can move and go and get it. This is how a healthy ego develops, a human being capable of dealing successfully with the problems of life.

Self-confidence is an internal feeling of being able to rely on one's own resources, which comes from the experience of active work done in the environment using free movement. It is the sensation of personal power in solving problems, and this feeling of power remains in a person forever. In the future, the aims will change (from reaching an interesting object, such as a colored ball, to doing school homework, and so on) but the psychological situation remains the same; something interests you, you need to do something to satisfy this interest, and you are confident that you have the ability to do so.
Active movements in the first months of life provide the overall mind-body experience from which self-confidence is derived, and with this very valuable instrument, it is possible to face all the challenges of life.

—Dr. Silvana Montanaro, MD, Montessori 0-3 teacher trainer

Looking at and studying the environment visually comes first, then the desire to reach and touch it. Parents are often amazed to see how focused a child can become when concentration is not interrupted. One mother, taking a baby for a walk in a stroller, noticed that he was staring at a poster on a building. When the mother started to leave the baby cried, so the mother allowed him to continue looking at the poster. Twenty-two minutes (!) that baby studied it— then sighed happily and looked away. What was he thinking? What was he doing? It was important.

One of the most thrilling achievements for a child is learning to move himself through space to get to a desired object. Infants have many different ways of doing this—backwards, tummy on the ground, sideways, creeping, crawling, rolling, lifting tummy alternately with arms and legs. This is important work!

Sometimes a child grunts or yells as he works, or falls asleep for a few seconds between “push-ups.” The child enjoys the process of experimenting and learning as much as he enjoys the final success of being able to crawl.
We can help the child in this valuable work by not interrupting him as he works and by offering balls and toys that roll at a slow pace, are interesting to look at, touch, feel and listen to. If the toy moves too far too quickly the child will give up, and if it does not move at all there will be no challenge.


When the child begins to crawl—and one never knows at what moment, this will happen—the most important consideration is the safety of the environment for the child. We must look at the space from the child's perspective and go over it with a fine-toothed comb.

The Natural Environment
When considering objects, a natural, supportive environment is sometimes distinguished more by what objects are left out, than by which are included. Among the items which inhibit natural development are: cribs, swings, jumpers, walkers, play pens, bottles, and pacifiers.

It is comforting for a baby to be carried, held and snuggled, but we must also give the child practice each day in developing movement and other thinking abilities—exploring the environment visually, listening to sounds, exercising, sleeping and waking according to need, crawling, pulling up, cruising by holding on to a piece of furniture, and walking.

A natural environment for a baby is one which provides wise and observant adults or older children, and an interesting and safe space for the infant to rest, explore, and develop abilities.


Pulling Up, Standing, and Walking
Each child has an internal timetable of physical development which guides him in knowing just the right time to begin to pull himself up and to stand, and for how long to practice these abilities each day.

When we hold the child's hands to help him walk ahead of his optimum time we are giving a subtle message that we are not satisfied with his own timetable and abilities, or that we want him to hurry up. This can make a child frustrated at his own attempts. It is better just to wait, to watch, to enjoy the unfolding unique growth of the child as he follows his inner guide.
Carrying a child for too long during the day can make her dependent on an adult, and dissatisfied with her own efforts, to get around and to observe the world.

Walkers, and other commercially available movement aids hinder development in the same way. They make a child mobile so quickly that she sometimes just gives up on her own attempts when outside the walker. They also give the child misinformation about where his "space" or body ends, and how legs really work, confusing messages that have to be relearned later. The following is a quote from a San Francisco paper:

The American Academy of Pediatrics has concluded that baby walkers are dangerous
and should not be sold or distributed in the USA . . .
In 1991, 27,800 children under the age of two years were admitted to a hospital emergency room
for injuries associated with a baby walker.

The most important thing we can provide is a low bar attached to the wall, or a heavy and stable piece of furniture for safely pulling up and “cruising” sideways. A heavy wagon with a sturdy vertical handle is the best "walker" for an infant to practice walking whenever they wish. It is very rewarding to see the confidence, balance, poise, the physical prowess of a child who has been allowed to develop in a natural way according to his own efforts.

Toys and Equipment that Aid Movement Development

Rolling toys and soft balls that only move a short distance give children a challenge to move forward in space.
A bar attached to the wall of the child's room, or a garden wall in warm weather, helps the child to be able to pull up at will, whenever it is the best time for her to practice, and to remain standing until she is ready to sit back down.

A stool or sold low table, or a sofa in the living room, are excellent for enabling the child to "cruise" or practice walking while holding on.

A walker wagon (wooden, not plastic) will provide a opportunity for the child to pull up and practice walking at will, but it will usually require the adult to turn the wagon around when the child reaches the end of the path, and push and pull toys are great fun for the new walker.

None of these things rush the child, but they all help give the opportunity for practice at the perfect time.

Click here to forward this page to friends

© Susan Mayclin Stephenson, 2010 (
Permission to reprint or link to a website is granted if these words are include:
"Shared with permission of The Joyful Child Montessori Company:"