We are Montessorians, and we're ready to make mobiles and more in the tradition of gathering together with grandparents, friends and parents-to-be, to make things to welcome the newborn and to support families with information, local and online resources, and ideas.


About Us -

Gio Bellonci is an AMI Assistant to Infancy. She trained in Rome with Dr Silvana Montanaro in 1998/9. Before training she worked for many years as a Montessori classroom assistant with 3-6 year olds and, for 4 years, with 6-9 year olds.
She is also a Licensed Massage Therapist who works with pregnant women. Also trained in infant massage she had daily opportunity to engage in it with 2 infants that were in her care (1997 and 2000) during their first year. She has also worked as a doula attending both home and hospital births.

Janice Kearley is an AMI Children's House (3-6) guide. After years as a Montessori student, followed by work as a Montessori classroom assistant at both the 3-6 and the 6-9 levels, Janice took her training with Joen Bettmann in Cleveland, Ohio graduating in 1998.
Janice recently left her Children's House classroom after 10 years to be with her now 10 month old daughter.
Janice has a strong interest and talent in various handcrafts including knitting, sewing, needle felting.

Why Hang a Mobile

Dr Montessori says, “ the training of the senses is … of the utmost importance” because “the higher development of the senses actually precedes that of the higher intellectual faculties.”

Mobiles are an aid to the visual sense. Babies of 2-3 days have been observed in concentration of 20-25 minutes watching the black and white images of the Munari mobile. The mobile moves by itself in response to movement of the air, slowly and gently around a central axis.

Mobiles are important for the education of the visual sense, and newborns get great pleasure from them! The aspects of balance and geometry imprint on the baby.

Characteristics of the mobiles we offer are: essentiality of form, simplicity, objectivity, and correct information about the world.

The aim of mobiles in the infant’s environment is to:

encourage focus and concentration
offer a visual experience
give kinetic information
educate the aesthetic sense

More About Our Mobile Making Gatherings

There are several mobiles from which to choose. They include the Munari (named for designer Bruno Munari), and the Gobbi (named for the late Gianna Gobbi, a Montessorian).
The Dancers (a favorite!), the octahedron and the Leaf mobiles are all made using holographic paper to catch the light.
We'll be following patterns that are used in the Assistants to Infancy training course offered through AMI (Association Montessori Internationale)
Each mobile is made to meet the aims previously mentioned AND in response to what Dr Montessori termed "the human tendencies." One, the "mathematical mind," is addressed by the precise measurements of the pieces of each mobile and the relationship between them.
They are simple in appearance and speak to a deep understanding of the newborn's capacity to absorb and concentrate.
In our 3 scheduled sessions we will finish 2, or possibly 3 mobiles as we enjoy warm and supportive conversation about a range of topics.

The Human Tendencies - Exploration

The Human Tendencies are what motivate us as human beings throughout our lifetimes. These include Exploration, Work, Group Orientation, Mathematical Thinking, Spirituality.
Within the category of Exploration come orientation, order and communication.

Exploration is achieved through the senses.
It is essential first to survival and then to development.
It is through our exploration that we become oriented and then, by recognizing various points of reference, we start to map out the territory and become confident in our position.
The tendencies of exploration and orientation lead, over time, to the internal sphere of the abstract as well as the external sphere of the tangible.
Exploration and orientation work together with order as the groundwork for development.

External order supports orderly thought processing (internal order), and that leads to better and more successful communication. Information is communicated first for survival (ie the location of the grocery store) and then come ideas communicated through touch, movement, dance, art, music and laughter, all for the attainment of the higher goals of spirituality.

As adult students of Montessori education in Rome, we experienced all this even as we discussed it in our course work. We explored the city, orienting ourselves to points of reference (landmarks), and when we successfully navigated ourselves through Rome, (usually to some fantastic meal somewhere) oh, how the spirit soared!

I could reminisce and write about it at length if I let myself, but will stop myself for now.
Next up, the tendency to work!

The Human Tendencies - Work

Within the human tendency of Work we find manipulation, repetition, exactness and self-perfection.

Anyone who has spent time with young children has seen and experienced their love of manipulation and repetition. It is amazing to watch .. and sometimes very tiring for adults to experience.

Work comes directly from the knowledge gained through exploration. It is the body and the mind involved together towards some purpose that fulfills the individual.
It is through work that the child constructs himself, and through continued work that he influences his environment. Work with the hands is crucial to self-development and sensorial input.

It is through repetition of a movement, or exercise, that a level of exactness is reached; this is the refinement of a skill until the correct way to execute a task is internalized (ie using a spoon etc). It is this repetition of a task, and the reaching of an internalized understanding that defines the tendency to strive for self perfection (ie spooning food into the mouth with no spills!).

Self-perfection is life-long learning; we are "a work in progress" - always reaching for the next higher level of skill.

Perhaps if I rededicate myself to learning Italian I'll finally conquer those conjugations!

So, what do I do with my child's "human tendencies?"


We understand that throughout life we tend to explore and to work, now we need to know how that informs us, in a practical way, about what objects to offer the child, and how, to prepare her environment using that information. How do we assist in the first explorations and the first work of the youngest among us?

Starting with exploration (what's out there?) orientation (where am I?) order (helps me get back to my starting point) and communication (helps me have what I need), let's look at some practical suggestions.

Knowing that the newborn comes into the world with (at least) 100 billion neurons that will organize themselves through movement and experience in the environment, we are called on to assist in that development by providing an ordered environment. Very early on the child will begin to recognize the areas for nursing, movement, sleep, diapering and bathing with these spaces prepared with objects to meet their purpose, as well as support the development of the child.

Mobiles can be hung at an appropriate distance for the visual sense, and then raised as grasping begins. Hanging rings for grasping in the movement area for the supine child, especially with a bell attached to attract attention when hit involuntarily, provides interest for the work of the hand as it develops from instinctive to intentional grasping.

Communication and language - We all know that a baby communicates quite effectively long before she speaks the language of her environment. She is born with the ability to cry - no practicing required! The tendency we have to communicate with language is strong, and practicing is required! To learn new words and their meanings we use dictionaries; what tools does the infant have? She has us! To be the best possible help to the infant and young child we must speak clearly and with precision - "cardinal" gives more than does "birdie" for instance, and is equally well absorbed by her. One day when we hear spoken that which we have offered, we are amazed. Keeping the mouth free from pacifiers is a great help allowing her to practice using her mouth to imitate us (which she'll do right from birth).

There is SO much to think about as we prepare an environment for infants, and such different things to consider as we support older children, and each other!
For instance, an older child who is welcoming a new sibling will, of course, want to explore the new child; how can we assist a safe involvement that satisfies that need? The "topponcino" helps! (More on that later but for more info immediately check out www.michaelolaf.net - and go to The Joyful Child catalog) Preparing ways for the older child to assist with diapering, etc in an age appropriate way is also a way to satisfy both the tendency to explore and to work! What satisfaction he'll get at perfecting his ability to assist in caring for the baby.

... The tendencies are a part of everyone and our responses to supporting them to work for us are as varied as we are.

For more information and ideas we suggest the book Montessori from the Start by Paula Polk Lillard and Lynn Lillard Jessen.

The Thousand Days that Count - The Spiritual Embryo

Dr Montessori called the years from 0-3 the years of the "spiritual embryo." This is the time of the construction of the "self" before moving into the years of 3-6, the years of the "conscious worker." It is in these latter years that the child works on what has been created in the first 3. Having done the work of self construction, now comes the time of working to master his environment.

But what of those years of the spiritual embryo? What does that even mean?
A required project during our training involved excerpting quotations on specific topics from Dr Montessori's writings into a list. During my work as a doula, when, after a birth, I would write the birth story, I would choose one that spoke perfectly to the specific family and use that as my starting point. Here are some examples from the Secret of Childhood that speak to this topic:
"The child's psychic life is independent of, precedes, and vitalizes every exterior activity."
"...the image of a child as a spiritual being becoming incarnate not only stirs us but imposes upon us new responsibilities"
"A child's incarnation is effected through hidden toil, and there is a drama about his creative efforts that has yet to be written."
"A delicate and uncertain life that is barely conscious makes contact with its environment through its senses and reaches out to it through its muscles in an unending attempt at self realization."
She goes on to say, "A child's psychic personality is far different from our own, and it is different in kind and not simply degree."
During the first three years there are, beside the human tendencies, sensitive periods, that assist in building the foundations of intelligence. These periods are temporary and short lived. They are "insights and impulses that lay the foundation for consciousness."

They last for a certain period in order to establish a certain function. These periods, she says, are like "a light that shines on some objects and not on others, making of them his whole world."
I think back to spending daily time with infants and can easily remember the intensity of the "sensitive period for small things" ... going for a walk with a new toddler and having to stop for every little stone or leaf - each one looking the same to me, but each holding some special attraction for the child. I also love the sensitive period for language and the intensity with which a child looks at the moving mouth and mimics it.
It is all so fascinating and fun! Knowing about the sensitive periods and the human tendencies really helps us as adults to appreciate what is going on for our little "spiritual embryos" ... If we think of the physical embryo developing and then as a fetus growing further, we can easily have a parallel image of the spirit developing in these "1000 days that count" and then watch in wonder as it grows in the years of the "conscious worker" from 3-6.



Sensitive Periods: Language

The years of the “psychic embryo,” from 0-3, when psychological development is being assisted by “sensitive periods,” is an extraordinary time. About the sensitive period for language Dr Montessori says, “Every child, at a particular period of his life, bursts out with a number of words all perfectly pronounced. Within a space of three months, the child who was almost dumb, learns to use easily all the varied forms of the noun, suffixes, prefixes and verbs and, in every child, all this occurs at the end of the second year of his life.” The Absorbent Mind chap 10

While the sensitive period for language begins in pre-natal life and continues throughout the time of the “psychic embryo” language skills, usage and enrichment continue on for a lifetime.

In the Montessori environments for children from 0-6 we support the sensitive period for language in multiple ways.

While most muscle control comes over the course of the first year, infants are born with control of the muscles of the throat and mouth in order to be able to suck, swallow and cry – three essential capabilities for survival. Even shortly after birth a newborn is able to imitate an adult who, slowly, opens her mouth wide. It is a first “conversation” and it just keeps getting better from there. The baby whose mouth is unencumbered by pacifiers will imitate an adult’s mouth movements and “practice” making sounds. Language is spoken slowly and clearly while making eye contact during the routines of diaper changing, eating together, infant massage, and one-on-one playtime. In this way, the baby sees mouth movement and hears correctly spoken language while picking up the rhythms of everyday conversation.

Using the same terms in our daily routines helps our young listeners feel the consistency and order of the day. New words can easily be introduced in these routine moments. For instance, with a young child who is close by during laundry we can fist name each article of clothing; shirt, dress, pants etc. Adjectives can be added later; blue shirt, striped dress, brown pants. Then the possessives! Your striped dress, John’s blue shirt, my brown pants.

The continued use of real words spoken clearly assists children to develop a vocabulary that will serve him as he organizes his world. I’ve had the lovely experience of sitting with young children watching birds at a bird feeder where, rather than calling them “birdies,” each visitor to the feeder was accurately identified as cardinal, tit mouse, chickadee, etc; words that are as easily learned by a young child as the nondescript “birdie” and that offer greater accuracy and richness.

Receptive language - the understanding of the spoken word before being able to actually say it is what we have to respect as we speak to our youngest children. I can remember a pre-independent-walking, non-verbal child who, when asked if he’d like his massage, took my finger and dragged me off my chair and to the massage table! Question asked and answered!

For the older children, Dr Montessori developed amazing hands-on materials that allow them to “write” even before they have the ability to write with a pencil. The moveable alphabet, used by children in the Children’s House classroom (3-6), gives young children who have learned the letter sounds (using the sandpaper letters) the power to make at first simple, phonetic words and then with mastery of that, to express more complex stories.

Stories, rhymes, poems, and word games like I Spy all engage the child eager to learn the words of his language or languages. Clearly spoken language helps children organize the world so that they can successfully work in it.

During the time that early talkers ask for names of things with their unique versions of what’s that? can be challenging. It’s not always as easy as one might think to answer this simple question. For instance, there is a large abstract painting hanging in our home and when asked by a young child what it was I was momentarily stumped, unable to identify anything in the painting. Finally I said, “ Peter’s painting” and that's how it was identified for a time. I could ask, "where's Peter's painting? and the little one would point to it. Spoken language heard and understood! Art is another area where early impressions become later unique expressions. Impressions of light, color, shadow etc will, with developed capabilities, one day be expressed as artwork, just as the impressions of sound and rhythm experienced in infancy will one day be expressed as language.

It’s like magic –these hidden powers at work that one day reveal their fruits – and we find ourselves in conversation!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Following the Child Through the First Plane of Development


“Follow the child” is a phrase often heard both in and out of the Montessori realm.  To follow the child we must first know something about development.  Dr Montessori identified what she called the four planes of development.  
From Birth to Six is the period of The Absorbent Mind and is divided into two sub phases.  The first of these is the period from 0-3.  The importance of this phase is the building of the foundation on which everything to come must stand. Just as the physical embryo develops hidden within the mother during pregnancy, the “psychic embryo” develops all the human characteristics of strength, intelligence, language, and independent human movement (walking) in the first three years.  Through the acquisition of    these characteristics the child adapts to his environment. 
This “psychic embryonic period,” the thousand days that count, is the period of the “unconscious creator”.  Paralleling the physical embryonic period, the child forms what will later be developed. Dr Montessori said, “It may be said that we acquire knowledge by using our minds, but the child absorbs  knowledge directly into his psychic life.”  The child actualizes coordinated movement and acquires language skills. 
As adults we follow and support the development of the child by offering him good food, a safe space for movement, appropriate objects to touch and feel, undisturbed activity, and the freedom to explore the environment that has been so carefully prepared for him. 
The second sub phase is from 3-6 years.  This is the time of the “conscious worker.”   While the child from 0-3 has absorbed his environment, the child from 3-6 wants to make sense of it.  Before 3 the functions are being created; after 3 they develop.  What he wants to do is master his environment. Dr Montessori said, “It is as if the child, having absorbed the world by an unconscious kind of intelligence, now ‘lays his hands’ to it.”   Now it is the hand as a ‘prehensile organ of the mind,’ not just the senses, which move the child through a period of constructive ‘perfectionment’ – refining the acquisitions already made. 
As adults we follow and support this phase by providing an environment that ensures freedom of choice, care of self and the environment.  We act as positive models offering physical and emotional consistency as well as concrete materials and clear language. 

From an article on the Four Planes by the late Margaret Stephenson, I include this:
The responsibility of the adults (parents, caregivers and teachers or guides) includes many factors:
·      the preparation of the environment of the home for the activity of the “unconscious absorbent mind”
·      the preparation of the classroom for the activities of the “conscious absorbent mind”
·      to understand the difference between liberty and license and to recognize that liberty is a point of arrival not of departure which depends on the development of will, the power to choose.
·      to learn how to observe to better serve the child’s development
·      to recognize the child’s need to develop inner discipline in order to control his own acts and behavior.
·      to rid oneself of pride and anger
·      to cultivate humility and to become one who serves a process, that of the construction of Man.

She concludes by saying that “our responsibility in the first plane of development (0-6) is to ensure that the child builds the foundation for … that greater thinking individual of the Second Plane, where our responsibility will be to furnish the child the means to continue developing that (uniquely human) power. 

We offer the children from the Nido through Children’s House environments in which they have freedom of movement (low beds, bars to pull up on, mats and mirrors, low tables, child sized toilets and sinks etc. 
There are mobiles for the visual sense and manipulatives for the developing hand that support the development of finer and finer control. 
There are available child sized tools for children to use in the care of their environment, themselves and each other. Everything, from the Montessori designed materials for sensorial exploration through to the materials for math, language, geography and science to the carefully chosen books on the shelf; the principles of the First Plane of Development are evident. 
Children feel supported and respected when the capabilities they are developing are acknowledged and invited to become active.   Each unique child will follow a unique path.. We follow them down the path responding to their development, and then they use their developed capabilities to follow us to become a strong, contributing member of their families, schools, and our society. 
Follow the leader and lead the follower! and, Happy New Year!





No comments: