Montessori Philosophy & Practice

THE FIRST YEAR—Sitting Up, Working

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 Baby’s Work

A good definition of work is "an activity that involves both the mind and the body and has some purpose which fulfills the individual." When his concentration is respected, the child will become active, creative, happier, and more peaceful.

It is as if nature had safeguarded each child from the influence of adult reasoning, so as to give priority to the inner teacher who animates him. He has the chance to build up a complete psychic structure, before the intelligence of grown-ups can reach his spirit and produce changes in it.

—Dr. Maria Montessori, MD

As the child grows, her important work continues. She will work on vocalizations, hand grasps, body movements, etc.. Sometimes the child will want to work on the same ability—usually verbal or muscular—for several days until he is finished with whatever he is trying to learn, and then not work on this again for several weeks. Each child is different, and only careful observation will reveal what he wants and what he is learning.

Eating and Working While Sitting Up
As the child learns to sit on his own, a natural developmental process begins and the relationship to the adult changes to support the child's growth and independence. Gradual, child-led weaning from the breast or bottle to the glass and spoon happens quite naturally if we observe and follow the child—and prepare the environment according to his development. Instead of eating while being held close to the mother's body the child begins to spend some time facing the adult, learning to drink from a little glass and to use a small spoon and fork. This is nothing that is forced upon the child, but over and over we see that children are thrilled to be able to emulate those around them and to feed themselves.

Sometime during the first year the child will sit up on his or her own. Whenever the child is helped to sit up, as at the little table with the first chair, for the first meal, be sure that this is only for a very short time. Yes, the child has an inner teacher that knows exactly when it is best to learn to crawl, sit, stand, walk. They need us to respect this inner guide and trust their efforts. Sitting may happen either before or after crawling and is a great step in independence because the hands are freed for more work, more challenges, more exciting discoveries. When the child has not been artificially helped to sit it is as thrilling to reach this stage as it would be for us to learn to ski or windsurf!

It is important at this stage to give toys and materials with an intelligent purpose—rattles that make interesting movements or sounds, toys with different grasps, and spoons and tiny cups to practice eating and drinking.

As we have said before, the jury is not in on the safety of giving children plastic toys during the age when everything goes into the mouth! The mouth is important not only for eating and communicating but it is a sense organ for young children and they put objects to their mouth to check them out. We do not want to get in the way of this exploration but we DO want to be sure that everything the child handles is safe to explore in this way.

We highly recommend sticking to wood that has been left natural or stained, rather than wood that has been painted in countries where there is no control over the safety of the paint used. There are also lovely toys made of cotton, wool, and metal. These are all more pleasing than plastic and teach the child much more about the natural world, such as weight, texture, sound, and beauty.

Some toys at this age can be left out for the child to use at any time and some will need the adult to sit and work with the child. All of the toys in The Joyful Child have been tested by children and can safely be used either alone or with the adult.

Number of Toys & "Putting Away"
It is necessary to have only a few toys out for the child at this age. If possible have a small bookcase with toys in all of the places in the home where the child spends time with the family. It is quite easy, when there only a few objects, for the adult to constantly put things back on the shelf.

Children at this age are very pleased when we respect their "sense of order" in the environment and put objects in the same place each time we put them away. We are the models and when the child sees us putting toys away, and even more important, enjoying putting away toys, she will naturally imitate us as soon as she is able.

Keep out the favorites, constantly offer all toys to the child, and rotate toys that are not accepted or do not get used by the child. Variety is important when each toy is selected carefully and calls forth a new ability for the child.

Furniture for Sitting Up
The second half of the first year is the time also to get the child a heavy, safe chair for working and eating in a new position for a short time each day.

But we say again: be careful that the child does not become frustrated with her own efforts to learn to sit up by being put into an artificially supported sitting position too often or for too long.

A child who gets to reach the sitting up stage as a result of her own effort and work will get more exercise, and learn to find satisfaction through effort at an early age.

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© Susan Mayclin Stephenson, 2010 (
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