Montessori Philosophy & Practice

BIRTH TO THREE—Parenting & Teaching

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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Parenting & Teaching
Because of the need for mother and father to both work early in a child's life these days we find it necessary to share the information about Montessori philosophy and practice to both parents and those who nurture young children in a day care setting. The subjects within these pages have been chosen as a result of over twenty years of questions from the customers of Michael Olaf Montessori Company. We hope that they are of value to you in whatever role you are choosing to give to young children.

Becoming Parents
Today, young couples need all the help society can give them in the task of parenting. Geographically removed from family and the wisdom of elders, isolated from neighbors, tantalized by glamorized pictures of "necessary" products in the media, and usually trying to maintain a good standard of living, many couples are just not realistically prepared for parenting.

At the same time it is finally becoming common knowledge that the first two or three years have the greatest influence on the entire life of a person. Great strides have been made in preparing parents for a more natural childbirth, and in alerting them to the importance of breast feeding, but parents need much more information about the first hours, days, months and years of the life of a child.

If you are preparing for parenthood, or are a new parent we hope that the information in The Joyful Child will help you focus on the essentials and not be distracted, and thus to enjoy more than anything else those moments together with each other and with your child.

A Gentle Beginning
Physical safety and a healthy diet are essential in raising healthy children. But just as important is the creation of an environment that will provide love and security, foster physical, mental, emotional, and social development, a positive self-image, and joy.

Our goal is to support adults as they get to know their new baby, and as they discover the unique gifts, needs and patterns of development of the infant. We highly recommend giving parents two weeks alone with their new baby and older siblings — before he or she is introduced to the larger community.

Friends and relatives who want to support this cherished bonding time can bring food and "leave it at the door" knowing that they are helping the young couple in a very important way. There is a natural instinct in the entire mammal community to protect this first time so if you, as parents, desire this precious period of time with your new baby we support you.

As parents get to know their children at a deeper level, they also get to know and understand themselves in a new way. To become a good parent one must first know oneself, and balance one's personal life, primary relationships, and friendships. As we learn to call forth the best in ourselves, we are able to discover ways to call forth the best in our children.

The Father or Second Adult

A child needs more than one permanent adult in her life. Just as the mother has a built in daily time with the child because of nursing, the father should arrange a special time to be with the newborn each day—in order to develop a strong relationship. This can be time spent caring for, loving, talking with the child while bathing, changing, or by scheduling a special daily time to talk, sing, dance or make music—whatever pleases them both. The second adult will be building much of the same habits of mutual love and trust as the mother.

The more time and love that goes into bonding in these ways at the beginning of life, the happier and more natural will be the gradual separation from adults as the child grows in security and independence. As we know, there are many kinds of families in the world. The important thing is not with whom the child lives, but that the child lives with someone who will be there through childhood.

A Sense of Order

In the first three years of life children have a very strong sense of order—of both place and of time. An infant can become very upset over things that we would not notice; for example the child who cried because an umbrella which he had seen many times closed was opened for the first time. A child may become disturbed as a result of being bathed after a meal when she has become accustomed to being bathed before a meal.

Children do not have any other motive than to try to make sense of the world, to create order. When the child figures out where everything belongs and how the day goes, he develops a feeling of security that allows him to go on to the next stage of development.

A child is born with a clear sense of when to go to sleep and when to wake up, when to eat and how much. As much as possible if the parent can take time in the beginning to respect this inner guide, never waking a sleeping child, and nursing until the child wants to stop, life will settle into a routine more quickly.


The Changing Environment
The child needs the security of many objects, rituals, systems, in the environment to remain the same. But at the same time, as the child grows and changes, the environment must change to reflect his needs—not only the physical environment but the intellectual, social, and emotional environments as well. The child constantly grows in independence and responsibility, and it is a challenge to keep up with this growth.

Observation is the key. Parents who learn to observe their children will be able to tell if a toy is still appropriate, or if furniture is still of the correct size for their growing child. They will recognize when the child is ready for the next step toward participation in family life.

Adults who are trying to learn to be good parents are doing so because they care about others. No matter how much we all try to be perfect we must learn to be easy on ourselves, to not waste time wishing we "had only known," to learn to laugh, pick up the pieces, begin again.

The Parents’ Needs

I can think of several busy, professional men and women desiring also to be good parents, who were extremely pleased to find that it was beneficial for their children to join them in traditional homemaking activities. What a pleasure it has been for them to revive and share cooking, making gifts, holiday baking, sewing and knitting, gardening, making valentines, fixing and oiling furniture, arranging flowers, building and cleaning, and so forth. Life has become richer for these families by carrying out tasks with the children. Even the child under three years of age can participate in these activities if we give them a chance.

We know that these first years are the most important for any child, but only happy adults can give what is needed. We must not be too hard on ourselves as we try to balance our busy lives. No matter how much parents know, or how much time they give, they are not alone in feeling that it is not enough.

We suggest that prospective parents begin to get in touch with the natural intuition of parenting by spending time with families, discussing, and reading— long before starting a family. The first year of the child’s life is not the easiest time to begin to learn what it takes to be a parent, and many of us are ill-prepared by movies, TV and lack of contact with real families. We all need each other.

It takes a village to raise a child. —African proverb

Parents who observe carefully, who listen, and, as they do so, imagine themselves in the place of their infant, will learn that a child is a unique, thoughtful, and creative individual, even before the age of one year. This is truly one of the most joyful discoveries of parenting.

You may give them your love
but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
—Kahlil Gibran

Educational Materials for 0-3

A sparse environment of carefully chosen materials calls the child to work, concentration, and joy. A crowded or chaotic environment can cause stress and can dissipate a child's energy. Natural materials are always safer and more pleasing than plastic.

Before the age of six, a child learns from direct contact with the environment, by means of all the senses, and through movement; the child literally absorbs what is in the environment. The toys and materials in the home and school should be of the very best quality to call forth self-respect, respect and care from the child toward the environment, and the development of an appreciation of beauty.

Montessorians are very cautious about allowing children to be guinea pigs for the use of new inventions such as computers and televisions. Recent brain research reveals to us that computers and television may have far more negative influences on our children's development than positive. They affect the child so much more because of the inordinately large amount of time spent in front of them in some situations.

We are finding out that even such relatively simple objects as pacifiers, swings, and walkers get in the way of optimal and healthful development.


Using the ideas in The Joyful Child has been compared to making sure that the soil in an organic garden has everything necessary for the optimum growth of a plant—and then stepping back to see the unfolding of the perfect plant.

The Michael Olaf company has been compared to "a health store for the body and mind." The text in these pages is just a short introduction to the birth to three ideas available to parents and teachers today.
We hope you are inspired to learn more, of course from authors and experienced adults, but most of all from your own child.

Madame Montessori,
You have very truly remarked that if we are to reach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with children and if they will grow up in their natural innocence, we won't have to struggle, we won't have to pass fruitless idle resolutions, but we shall go from love to love and peace to peace, until at last all the corners of the world are covered with that peace and love for which, consciously or unconsciously, the whole world is hungering.

—M. Gandhi, 1943

Dr. Maria Montessori, MD
Maria Montessori was born in Italy in 1870, and in 1896, became the first female doctor in Italy. She based her theories on the direct observation of children, accepting no preconceived opinions or theories about their abilities. She never attempted to manipulate their behavior by reward or punishments toward any end, and constantly experimented and developed materials based on the interests, needs, and developing abilities of children. Educators called Dr. Montessori a miracle worker.

Like others I had believed that it was necessary to encourage a child by means of some exterior reward that would flatter his baser sentiments, such as gluttony, vanity, or self-love, in order to foster in him a spirit of work and peace. And I was astonished when I learned that a child who is permitted to educate himself really gives up these lower instincts. I then urged the teachers to cease handing out the ordinary prizes and punishments, which were no longer suited to our children, and to confine themselves to directing them gently in their work. —Dr. Montessori

The Montessori 0-3 Program

Over fifty years ago Dr. Montessori realized that working with children older than three was too late to have the most beneficial effect on the life of a human, and she initiated what was to become a two-year, full-time, course for adults living or working with children from birth to three years of age.

For more information on the Assistants to Infancy course, please go to

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© Susan Mayclin Stephenson, 2010 (
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