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Montessori Philosophy & Practice PRENATAL &FIRST YEAR—The Senses: Music and Language

The following is the text from this section of the 2009-2010 edition of The Joyful Child, Montessori from Birth to Three. To see other sections of this publication return to:

Music & Language

In the first days, months, and the first year of life the infant is especially interested in the sound of the human voice and in watching the face and lips of a speaking person. It is not an accident that the focusing distance of the eyes of a newborn are exactly the space between his face and that of the mother while nursing. Perhaps the best first communication experiences are provided while nursing the baby. We can feed the child's intense interest in language, and prepare for later spoken language, by speaking clearly, not using "baby talk", by not raising our voice to an unnatural pitch often reserved for speaking to pets, and not oversimplifying language in the presence of the child. We can tell funny and interesting stories of our lives, recite favorite poems, talk about what we are doing "Now I am washing your feet, rubbing each little toe to get it really clean" and enjoy ourselves in this important communication. And we can listen: to music, to silence, and to each other. An adult can engage in a conversation with even the youngest child in the following way: when the child makes a sound, imitate it—the pitch and the length of the sound: baby "maaaa ga" adult "maaaa ga", etc. One often gets an amazing response from the child the first time this happens, as if she is saying "At last, someone understands and speaks my language!" After several of these exchanges many children will purposefully begin to make sounds for you to imitate, and eventually will try to imitate the adult’s sound. This is a very exciting first communication for both parties. It is not baby talk. We call it “singing.” For the first year, the activities of changing, nursing, bathing, picking up, holding, and dressing are the most important and impressionable times. Ask permission or tell the infant that you are going to pick him up when you are about to do so. If there is a choice, ask him if he is ready to be picked up, to get dressed, nurse, have a bath, even before picking him up. Children know when they are being asked a serious question or being given a choice. As you change or bathe an infant, rather than distracting him with a toy, look into his eyes, tell him what you are doing, ask questions, and give choices. The value of this communication full of love and respect cannot be overemphasized. It makes a baby want to talk to you, and the desire to communicate is the foundation for good language development. Good language development also depends on the language the child hears going on around him in these early days, months, and years. Overhearing conversations between parents and other adults is as valuable as being spoken to. A parent or older sibling who talks and sings to the infant is also teaching him language. It is truly amazing how much language a child takes in during the first three years of life, blossoming into the complete understanding of a total language in a way that an adult can never emulate. It is never too early to look at books together and talk about them. Beautiful board books can be stood on edge for a baby who is not yet able to sit up to enjoy looking at them. They introduce a wide array of interesting subjects to children at the age when they want to see and hear—and talk—about everything.

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