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Montessori Philosophy & Practice PRENATAL &FIRST YEAR—The Senses: Looking and Processing

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:

Looking and Processing

What does your child see in the home? In the first year it is good to have soft colors, and not too many objects visible. When a child is visually overstimulated she often closes her eyes and shuts out the world. It is better to inspire and invite the child to visually explore the environment by soft colors and limited objects than to overwhelm her. When the child has taken in all the sights and sounds and sensorial impressions she wants during a particular time she knows, with inborn wisdom, that it is time to go to sleep to process it. Imagine what it is like to come from a warm, soft, relatively dark and quiet environment (a womb) into a completely new place full of lights, sounds, touch, all unfamiliar except the voices of the family. It is very important to respect the child's wisdom as to how much to take in, when to go to sleep to rest and process, when to wake up and take in more. At birth, a baby already knows how to regulate his sleep for optimum physical and mental health and for integrating new experiences. If we respect this intuitive knowledge after birth we are well along the path of preventing the problems of sleeping which often exhaust new parents and babies. If we keep in mind that sleeping is vital for many reasons and should not be interrupted, we will try, as ancient cultures of the past have stated over and over, not to awaken a sleeping baby except in an emergency. We must be careful not to train a child to be dependent on us to go to sleep. When a baby is always held till she goes to sleep a sleeping problem can develop. To avoid creating a dependence on the adult for such a natural activity as going to sleep, it is important to respect, from the first day of life onward, the child's ability to go to sleep on his own. Position for sleep: It is well known now that the safest position for an infant for sleeping is on the back. However, it is important that, from the very first day, the child spends some time on her tummy in order to exercise the muscles of the neck and the arms and legs. Again, observe the child to see what she wants to do. A child is curious and in need of sensorial exploration from the very first days and wants to be with the family, not tucked away in a quiet room all day. To help make this possible, parents can use a special baby floor mat, or flat sleeping or playing mattress, a small futon or special rug, which can be moved to wherever in the home the family is spending time—kitchen, bedroom, living room, family room, etc. In this way the child can be with the family, observe life, and doze off at any time sleep is needed. Then the infant can stay in touch with her unique natural rhythms of sleeping and being awake. He can listen to conversation, laughter, and music, or peaceful silence. On these mats the child can also improve developmental skills such as exercising and stretching muscles, doing push-ups, reaching and pulling up—and still follow the natural rhythms of sleep, and wakefulness. A great deal of mental work goes on during sleeping and dreaming. All daily experiences must be integrated and all personal ‘programs’ must be reviewed on the basis of the new information received during the day. We should not look at newborn infants as small, helpless human beings, but as persons who are small in size, but with an immense mental capacity, and many physical abilities that cannot be witnessed unless the environment assists in the expression of life. —Dr. Silvana Montanaro, MD

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