Montessori Philosophy & Practice

Reaching Out, Grasping, Changing the World

The following is the text from this section of the 2009-2010 edition of The Joyful Child, Montessori from Birth to Three
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The Development of Movement
Myelinization is defined as "the development of a myelin sheath around a nerve fiber." This fatty coating serves as insulation protecting the messages from the brain to various muscles in the body, resulting in purposeful or coordinated movement. The newborn is only able to control the muscles of the mouth and the throat, eating and communicating. By the end of the first year a miracle has occurred and the child can control the movements of the whole body; he has learned to grasp and release objects, to kick, to slither and crawl, to sit up freeing the hands for even more development, and is usually well on the way to standing and walking!

This is a two-way process; myelinization creates movement, but movement also increases the formation of myelin, so the more we allow our child to move the more we are supporting optimum development. A child is naturally driven to this important work and is happy carrying it out. Often it is the frustration of not being able to move that causes unhappiness and crying. There are many modern inventions that get in the way of the natural development of movement so we must make sure that our child spends as much time as possible in situations where she can move every part of the body.

When the infant, who has been looking at a toy hanging above him and intuitively reaching for it, finally reaches it and makes it move, this is an exhilarating moment. Instead of just being cared for and acted upon, the infant has reached out and intentionally acted upon her environment. She has literally "changed the world."

Toys that Aid the Natural Development of Movement
In this section on "reaching out, grasping, changing the world" and in the following sections of The Joyful Child you will find toys that call forth a wide variety of movement possibilities for the child. Each rattle, grasping toy, toy, puzzle, and other piece of materials has been chosen for a specific purpose. It is up to the adult to watch carefully to see that the challenge is not too easy as to be boring, and not too difficult to cause frustration and giving up.

Hanging toys will need to be rotated to keep the child interested and happy, or you may want to arrange to have hanging toys in more than one place in the house. When the child is "working" we must be careful to respect the activity and not to interrupt him, just as we would not want to be interrupted if we were engaging in important work.
Observation and respect for concentration begins now, but will continue for many years in our relationship with our children.

Natural Materials for Toys
In our twenty+ years of providing materials for infants and children we have gone through several periods of seeing toys taken off the market, recalled, because of potential danger to children. There are constant arguments between toy manufacturers, government agencies, and environmental and child-safety groups about the use of plastic chemicals which may be toxic to children. We prefer the conservative view.

We recommend giving children toys made of wood or fabric, and as much as possible keeping away from plastic unless it is produced in certain European countries which have been very conservative about what they give children.

During these very early sensorial and impressionable months of life, we can enrich the child’s experience by providing a variety of interesting textures. The difference in weight, texture, and the subtle expressions of natural materials—silk, cotton, wool, wood, metal—is valuable in clothing, bedding, furniture, and toys.

These ideas are not new but have been intuitive for many years. The philosopher Roland Barthes writes in Myths of Today:

Toys of today are usually produced by technology and not by nature. They are made by the complicated mixing of plastics which is . . . ugly; they take away the pleasure and sweetness of touching.

It is very dangerous that wood is progressively disappearing from our lives. Wood is a material that is familiar and poetic; it gives a child a continuity of contact with a tree, a table, a floor. Wood does not cut, does not spoil, does not break easily, can last for a long time and live with the child. It can modify little by little the relationship between the objects which are timeless. Now toys are chemical and do not give pleasure. These toys break very soon and they do not have any future for the child.

First Rattles and Toys

In every culture and throughout time, adults have noticed the attraction infants have to objects to grasp and play with. With these favorite toys, hung within his reach, or placed just within reach on his bed or mattress, the child becomes fully aware of his ability to reach out and touch or grasp, to create sound with rattles, to practice the important work he was meant to do. Provide a wide variety and change them often to keep the child happily busy.
Our role in creating the environment in which the child can fulfill his potential is very, very important.

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© Susan Mayclin Stephenson, 2010 (
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