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By: Niki Anconetani   (1/12/12)

When my daughter, Layla, was learning to walk my husband and I decided not to hold her hand to help her practice unless her safety was in question.  When we would see other relatives holding her hands to keep her from wobbling we would kindly tell them that we didn’t want her to be too dependent on us while she learned, so please let her do it by herself.  We’re getting used to letting them think we’re weird so we didn’t mind the blank stares!

One thing that stands out about my Montessori Assistants to Infancy training for children age 0-3 is that the role of the adult is to help the child do things independently and one way to do this is to help remove obstacles they may encounter.   How do we know if an obstacle exists?  Through observation.  The present moment lies in the little things that make up the whole…watch objectively…set your own feelings and judgment aside and just take a look at what you see.  How do we know what is best for our children?  Sometimes our own agenda and expectations for them is not what they need in order for them to be their best.  Observe yourself and them.

If we’re able to decipher the difference between what causes our children to truly suffer and what is just a challenge for them, then we’ll know when to intervene.  My husband and I decided that if we were to constantly hold Layla’s hands while she was learning to walk then she might not realize her own power and ability.   We knew she could learn on her own and we wanted her to believe in herself,  so we removed her first obstacle – us.  Instead we placed materials in her environment that helped her to do it by herself…and she did!  I’ll never know if it boosted her confidence for sure, but I believe it did.

Here are examples of some of the common obstacles our children face and what we can do to help them become more independent:

Age 0-12 months

Think about all of the movement milestones that typically occur within the first year…voluntary movement of the eyes, development of various grasps, rolling over, sitting, crawling, standing, and walking.  So much practice is required to do all of this.  We want them to develop voluntary movement and many times adults will stifle the child’s movement by constantly perfecting, interfering, controlling and inhibiting it.

– One of the first things your baby moves intentionally will be her eyes.  What does she see?  Everything is brand new to her and just a clear view of the room is interesting to her.  Remove obstacles that obstruct her view.  Take into consideration things like the sides of a bassinet or a crib.   What she sees will motivate her to want to turn her head.  As she realizes that she can adjust her body to get a better view then she will try other ways to get her body closer to what she wants to experience.

-Equipment like car seats, bouncy seats, exersaucers, swings, bumbo seats, walkers, and even swaddling blankets will inhibit the baby’s full range of movement.  Modern day marketing will have us believe that all of these items either help our baby be safe or that they help them  learn a skill better and faster.  We might need some of these things sometimes.  We just need to find a happy medium by asking ourselves what purpose does it actually serve for the baby’s needs in conjunction with the needs of the rest of the family.  Limit using containers as much as possible.

Age 1-3 years

– A small table and chair is helpful even at this age for snacks and activities.  The standard toddler set is too tall at first.  A few inches can be cut off of the legs of the table and chair to fit the 1-2 year old.  (The Michael Olaf catalogue sells an even smaller table and chair for babies when they first start eating solid food.)  The child won’t have to depend on an adult to place them in a highchair for every meal (even if it’s just for snack.)  What freedom!

– What clothing can your child manage independently?  We all know that young babies can remove their own socks and shoes!  We can involve them very early on when it comes to dressing and undressing.   Choose simple clothing like elastic pants/shorts instead of bottoms with buttons and zippers.  Choose shoes that are easy for your child to slip on by himself.  Eventually he will learn to tie – and probably not yet…so avoid shoes with shoestrings.  Children have to rely on us for almost everything so any opportunity we can give them to do something by themselves will encourage them to believe that “I can.”

Age 3-6 years

– This age group is now capable of taking on more responsibility.  It can be challenging to keep up with your child’s abilities.  They  change so quickly that we sometimes  forget to meet our children where they are.  Sometimes, for example,  we get so used to opening a container for them or cutting their food because they couldn’t do it before.  We have to allow them the opportunity to try it again the next day by  offering  time, tools, and encouragement during each task.   The other extreme is to expect them to do more than they can actually do.  A happy medium can only be found when we step back to observe.

– The film “Race to Nowhere” made a good point that kids need to be allowed to be bored.  “Bored” might be a little extreme, maybe kids just need to be allowed to be creative.  We can direct them to find their own activities without doing it with them every time or taking them here there and everywhere for entertainment.  Beware of using the TV to entertain them.  “The primary danger of the television screen lies not so much in the behavior it produces as the behavior it prevents…”- (Urie Brofenbrenner, Professor of Human Development, Cornell University.)  A good way to help your children become more creative is to model the way lessons are given in the classroom.  Link them to an activity by first showing them how to do it and then step back and let them practice it until they are done.  Do this with multiple activities throughout the day.  Soon they will need less and less direction from you.

– Do more with less.  Instead of placing all 50 books on the bookshelf, try rotating 5 of them at a time.  Do the same with toys and clothes.  We don’t want the child to be overloaded with choices.

Age 6-12 years

– One obstacle that commonly occurs in this age group is a lack of down time.  Constant involvement in organized activities with little idle time may be the fast path to the stress and dis-ease that comes with being over-scheduled.  Down time is not to sit in front of a TV or computer…it is a time to spark some creativity.  Encourage activities like  reading, cooking, and exploring the outdoors.

– Encourage them to make decisions and experience consequences.  Discomfort and unease does not equal lack of safety or care.

– Beware of solving problems for them instead of presenting ways in which problems can be solved.  Many young adults are now entering the work force with poor critical thinking skills.  Elementary age children are capable of problem solving and  need every opportunity to  practice.

(Thank you to Sra. Anna and Miss April for their input on the 3-12 age groups)
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You are invited to join me…
What:  A discussion:  Removing obstacles and increasing independence in children age 0-3
Where:  The NAM (nap and multipurpose room) next to Judy’s office
When:  Saturday, February 25, 2012 @ 10:00-11:30
This is an open invitation for adults.  Feel free to invite your friends and family.
RSVP to niki@oakhavenmontessori.net by Feb. 18

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