Montessori Infant and Toddler Programs: How Our Approach Meshes with Other Models

Article excerpt

In the mysterious period which follows immediately after birth, the child - who is a psychic entity endowed with a specially refined form of sensitiveness - might be regarded as an ego asleep. But all of a sudden he wakes up and hears delicious music; all his fibers begin to vibrate. The baby might think that no other sound had ever reached his ears, but really it was because his soul was not responsive to other sounds. Only human speech had any power to stir him. (Montessori, 1994, p. 48)

Montessori Foresaw the Personhood and Potential of Infants and Toddlers

In the fall semester of 1965, as a naive 20-year-old education major, I stepped into the anteroom of Baylor University's library, resolved to learn about infants and toddlers. I paused a moment to listen to the hollow echo of footsteps shuffling on gleaming floors and to look up at the high, sunlit ceiling with its carved wooden trim.

I took my place among my fellow students, pulling slim wooden drawers out of wooden cabinets (this was the old days) and riffling through hundreds of Dewey Decimal System cards. I found no title on infants or toddlers. Eventually, in a book on child growth and development, I found a section on infancy. Although I no longer remember the title, one phrase in that book is still in my memory four and a half decades later. I read that newborns stare randomly at anything in their field of vision - as easily at a light bulb as at a mother's face.

Two years later, I watched my first daughter slip into the world. She gasped, wailed, and turned wonderfully pink as the doctor placed her in my arms. By some instinct, I pulled her close to my face and said, "Hello." She stopped crying and thrusting her limbs and opened squinty little eyes. She wrinkled her tiny brows and stared intensely toward my eyes for a few seconds. She clearly had some primal response to my voice and face. I was stunned. I suddenly realized how little I understood about this new human being in my arms.

When I discovered Montessori, I immediately recognized truth in her description of the newborn (see quote above).

Montessori Infant and Toddler Programs

In the 1970s, large numbers of mothers of very young children began entering the workforce. In the late 1970s and early 1980s I worked alongside Marge Ellison and a number of other creative women in Houston, TX, to develop Montessori infant & toddler care and AMS infant & toddler teacher education in our area to meet the needs of children and families. Our mentors, Maria Gravel, Virginia Varga, and Carole Korngold, had already begun providing AMS Montessori infant & toddler care and teacher education on the East Coast.

Because we lacked pat answers in infant and toddler care, we constantly went back to Montessori philosophy. Maria Montessori realized that ordinary people like you and me have the capacity - if we open our hearts and minds and observe diligently - to learn from children what they need. Nature has designed infants and toddlers to be excellent teachers, so long as adults become willing "servants" to the child. The relationship between adult and baby is a dance - and the baby leads. With proper teacher preparation, the adult can deftly follow the baby's developmental movements with grace and skill, while constantly ensuring a safe, healthy setting.

Today, Montessori infant & toddler programs around the country usually have a similar look and feel - low floor beds, floor space for movement, low shelves, natural materials, tiny wooden chairs and tables for eating, and not a highchair or swing in sight. But Montessori toddler programs seem to fall into two paradigms - one model seeming more developmentally oriented while the other has a slightly more academic feel. Some of the more academic programs, or academic transition programs, have class a few hours a day, 9 months of the year designed for older toddlers. On the other hand, programs that provide full-day Montessori care and education 7 days a week, yearround for the infants and toddlers of parents who work, may lean toward a developmental approach. …