The Joyful Child : Montessori for birth to three

I have just finished reading The Joyful Child: Montessori Global Wisdom for Birth to Three by Susan Stephenson, and I wanted to share a little bit about it with you.

Stephenson gives lots of ideas on how to implement the Montessori philosophy at home, covering the child’s first year, and then moving onto topics including care of self, language, art, music, science and maths, plants and animals, toys and puzzles, preparing a Montessori environment, and parenting.

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There are a couple of elements in the book which I don’t quite agree with – these deserve their own blog post (in fact I have been writing one on and off for some time!) but in brief, they are around parenting during early infancy. I am a firm believer in attachment parenting which, for me, includes mothering through breastfeeding not just when the baby is hungry, but when they are in search of comfort or reassurance. I know many will not share my views but I must admit I find it slightly jarring when I read that babies should not be nursed to sleep as for my daughter, nursing her to sleep is the option which feels most natural and gentle. I also continue to bed share with Frida, so for our family the Montessori floor bed is not yet relevant – however, when she outgrows the family bed then she will certainly have a floor bed. The book does not mention bed sharing which is a shame as I am sure many Montessori families practice this.

Despite these small gripes though this book is fantastic, and lots of it really stood out for me. For example, she describes how important it is to support the development of the infant’s self image through the example of a baby having their nappy (diaper) changed. Reacting negatively to a bad smell can be distressing for an infant as they have no way of knowing the adult is reacting to the nappy, and not to them as a person.

She also encourages parents and caregivers not to talk about children in front of them, but rather include them in the conversation, even babies. I definitely need to work harder on this as I often find myself talking about Frida with my husband or with friends in front of her. It’s easy to do so in a society which does not treat children as equals, but it is very important and this book was a timely reminder – after all, you would not do this to adults!

In fact a lot of Stephenson’s book, as with other Montessori books, focuses on showing respect for the child, through offering choices and empowering children to do things themselves. So much of the Montessori philosophy goes hand in hand with gentle empathic parenting, and in this book Stephenson stresses being child-led with routines and the value of nurturing touch.

“We must remember that nature has given the infant an inner guide that provides the wisdom of when to sleep, to wake up, to eat, and to move… many potential problems can be prevented when the family is careful to observe the infant’s needs and not interrupt the process of development by trying too soon to fit him into our schedule”

– Susan Stephenson

The book is easy to dip in and out of and I will be coming back to it time and again over the next couple of years, for ideas and inspiration. I would certainly recommend it as a good book to read for an overview of the theory and practice behind raising a Montessori infant, or for anyone who is interested in gentle and respectful parenting.

Next on my reading list is classic attachment parenting text The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff which I have been meaning to read for months.

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