Saturday, May 15, 2010

Our Home Environment

I thought I'd make a post for my family with some information about why I do some "weird" things. (They aren't really weird, just not the norm for most families.)

One of the biggest things about Montessori, which is more than just a teaching philosophy, is that it also describes ways to prepare your home for a little one and make the entire environment welcoming to him.

I'll start with the crib vs. floor bed thing. I used a crib for Link up until he was able to stand, then became so frustrated with nap time and bed time that I took his mattress out of the crib and put it on the floor. It really helped with getting him to sleep and Link always woke up happier. Take a look at this quote:
A bed should be one which the baby can get in and out of on his own as soon as he is ready to crawl. The first choice is an adult twin bed mattress on the floor. Besides being an aid to development, this arrangement does a lot to prevent the common problem of crying because of boredom or exhaustion. 
It helps to think of this as a whole-room playpen with a baby gate at the doorway and to examine every nook and cranny for interest and safety. If the newborn is going to share a room with parents or siblings we can still provide a large, safe, and interesting environment.
We put a baby gate on his door and it worked pretty well. So, with the new baby coming in June, we've decided to start out with the floor bed and see how it goes. Well, for the first few months he'll be in the cradle by the bed; we'll move him to the floor bed when he outgrows the cradle. I really like the idea of his room being a 'play-pen' so that he's free to move about. Again, we'll see how it goes :) Especially since we're not sure we'll be out of this 2 bedroom apartment by then...

The next thing that stands out a bit was our use of child-sized glasses instead of sippy-cups. Link took very well to his glasses (which were a mixture of shot glasses and small juice glasses). He went straight from nursing to using a glass. He did (and still does) spill things, but he is also very careful. I think he has an awareness of the liquid in his cup much more than kids who use sippy cups. As a matter of fact, we run into the most problems with bottles that have tops. He knows that when the lid is on, he can do whatever he wants with the container, and tends to play. This does not go well when the lid is not on, as he still wants to play. That is why I always try to stress to others not to let him play with things he drinks out of :) 

Link also has a set of plates and bowls and flatware, just like ours. He is two years old and has only ever broken one dish. He helps me take them to the kitchen when he is finished eating and is very careful with them. Eventually, I'll have them in a cabinet that he can reach so that he can also help me set the table. It takes a little more effort on my part to make sure he isn't breaking his plates or drinking glasses, but I think it was worth the effort to see him treat his things so well. Here's a good quote:
Whenever it is possible and safe, we give beautiful, breakable materials to the child, respectfully sharing with him what the rest of the family uses—pottery, glass, metal, real tools. There is a great increase in the self-respect of the child when she is allowed to use our things, instead of being given plastic substitutes. There is also a corresponding respect for, and caring for, the materials when they are beautiful and breakable. 
Speaking of setting the table, we don't follow the Montessori rule about not strapping your child down in a high chair. I just didn't have the patience for this one. We do have a child sized table, which my dad cut the legs off of so that it is at just the right height for Link. We eat snacks here and do lots of activities. For dinner, Link sits with us at the table in his highchair and is not allowed down until dinner is over. During snacks, I do a lot of reminding Link that once he gets up from his table, he is all done and mommy will help him put his food away. It takes so much patience for both of us, that we don't do it a whole lot. But we do it enough (I think) that eventually he'll understand and as he gets older will know that we don't eat and run around the house.

One of my favorite Montessori ideas is 'letting' your little one help with household tasks. Link loves this!! I actually feel guilty when I unload the dishwasher without him! And I have to say, it is pretty stinkin cute to see him getting his little vacuum cleaner or sweeper out to clean under his little table. He'll vacuum right beside me, or sometimes just get it out to clean up; he's the best! He also likes to help cook, though I'll admit I don't do this one as much as I should. He helps with things like muffins and fruit smoothies. Again, it takes a lot of patience, but it is worth it. He also of course helps water the plants. Some things I'd like to get him helping with is hanging his diapers to dry, though I'm not sure how well he'll be able to use the clothes pins, and sweeping. He has a broom, but can't use it correctly. I really need to work on teaching him how, but he has so far been a little resistant to taking lessons in that area. This is a long quote, but here it is:
A child learns self-control, and develops a healthy self-image if the work is real—washing fruits and vegetables, setting or clearing a table, washing dishes, watering plants, watering the garden, sorting, folding, and putting away laundry, sweeping, dusting, helping in the garden, any of the daily work of her family.
Family work, known as Practical Life in Montessori schools, is the single most important area of a Montessori education at any age. Allowing the child to participate in the life he sees going on around him is an act of great respect for, and confidence in, the child. It helps him to feel important to himself and to those around him. He is needed. We can empathize if we think of the difference in our feelings for a dinner guest in our home who is completely served and waited on, or for one who is welcomed in our kitchen to talk and to laugh while we prepare the meal together. In the first instance the guest is separate, the relationship formal. In the second we share our life and the relationship is intimate—a true friendship.
A good bit of the Montessori 'education' at Link's age (under 3) falls in this Practical Life category. I wish I did more of it with Link. I think once the new baby comes, he'll be a great helper, so we'll get to improve in this area.

I should mention that all of my quotes come from the Michael Olaf website, which is a great resource for understanding (and buying) Montessori stuff. (Though its pretty expensive)

Reading back through my post I realize that I didn't make it clear that there is a big difference between preparing the environment and baby-proofing the entire house. I am NOT into turning my entire home into one big play area dominated by toys, padding, child locks, etc. When I say 'welcome' I mean that I have taken his needs into account and made adjustments (especially for safety), but I have not given my home over to him :) Does that make sense? His things are included with ours, in non-obtrusive ways... 

Another thing I'd really like to work on his making Link's environment more beautiful. We have always moved so much that I never decorate and it has become a habit to not hang anything on the walls. Since we'll be here for a while, I'd really like to hang some photos at Link's level for him to enjoy. (Well, I'd like to hang some at my level for us to enjoy too). Here comes another quote:
Pictures on the wall, hung at the eye-level of the child, can be beautiful, framed art prints, or simple posters. All of us have been influenced by our first environment, and nothing helps create beauty in the world as much as giving beauty to the very young. 
I'll work on this one some when I have a chance.... or when we move the next time :)

I hope this post helps to shine some light on why we do some things the way we do. If you have questions about anything else, feel free to ask :)

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