I have chosen to become a practitioner in the field of the Montessori method specifically for the age range of birth to three. Who would willingly choose to work with babies and toddlers outside of “pediatrician”, “dentist” or “OT”? Me, apparently, LOL. Even though I barely get paid, still have to wipe butts, and work harder than you guys could possibly imagine at work every day (or maybe you can imagine if you have raised your own toddler) somehow, I have embarked on this multi-year journey using the Montessori Method with babies and toddlers as their classroom teacher. Yes, there are classrooms for babies and toddlers. And yes, I lead one here in Oahu, Hawaii.
A lot of people relate “Montessori” to “school” and to “preschool”, specifically (3-6 year olds). But Montessori is so much more than just a “type of school”. It’s a way of doing life with kids; and that’s why I personally consider Montessori to be a life hack for raising and educating children. It doesn’t have to only exist in a classroom; and to be honest the longer I work in the classroom the less I believe 0-3 Montessori is appropriate for the classroom setting. Which is why I’m so passionate about getting it beyond the walls of the classroom. I think it works amazingly at home and with the ohana (family).
After working with these little guys for many years in the classroom, here is what I believe makes the phase from birth to three years old, and using the Montessori approach during birth to three years old, so unique and so worth it. Here are six reasons why everyone should care about birth to three; and why everyone should jump at the chance to receive Montessori information for free, via this blog:
1) Infants and toddlers are not like any other population of people. I think you could poll any of the aforementioned health professionals, and they too, would agree. Babies and toddlers simply do not behave like more mature human beings do. They really are their own special kind of human.
They move super fast, yet they are very uncoordinated. They’re curious, imitate everything they see, and want to learn things. They’re a paradox in many ways: joyful, yet emotionally labile (upset at the drop of a hat, then right back to happy). Lovable, yet very frustrating sometimes (favorite word: no). Irrational, yet very observant. Incapable in many ways, yet so much more capable than people assume they are. They seem so “ignorant” (which make sense because they’re under 3), but their brains are actually learning more in these three years than at any other point in the human lifespan. And that last point alone one reason everyone should care about their child’s first three years of life.
2. You can never know what’s beyond the horizon of each child’s birth; and first three years are this critical window of human development that baby will never get back. So here’s a crazy part about the 0-3 phase of human growth: the brain grows the most in the first 3 years. Everything they learn in this stage of life will become the foundation for the rest of their life; because their brain is forming the rest of itself after birth. The body itself will grow a ton, obviously, sexual maturation and some emotional finalization will kick in during adolescence, but the brain is 90% complete within the early years of life.
What’s also unique about the 0-3 brain is that they won’t consciously remember anything they’ve experienced in those first three years. And yet, everything they experience in those first three years is literally the primary foundation for their skills and awareness of life’s basic realities. Isn’t that crazy to consider?
Dr. Maria Montessori said something to the effect that the young child transforms from “nothing into something” in the first 3 years (I need to brush up on my Montessori reading for direct quotes 😅). There is no telling who your little baby or little toddler (or your students, if you’re a teacher reading this) are going to grow up to become. But they will for sure transform from a helpless baby into a fully functional little person by around age 3. So those first three years matter.
To give another very important example, those first three years is when signs of developmental delays, speech delays, Autism, and other learning disabilities start to reveal themselves. And after age three, children no longer qualify for early intervention support services. I have literally watched this happen, you guys. Where I know something is off with a child and they are not behaving like everyone else their age. But the parents didn’t see what I saw, their pediatrician and psychologist brushed them off and refused to come observe in the classroom, insisting that the child was fine. But what I was seeing in my classroom was not fine. That child’s behavior was not normal behavior for a child that age. I’ve worked with enough children to know when there’s an outlier even if I’m not a qualified specialist who can diagnose things. Then they pass age three, and can’t or aren’t doing things other children their age all do. I will have a separate post on learning delays later.
But basically, if you “piss away” your child’s first three years and if you don’t put too much stock in optimizing them, you may unknowingly rob your kid of limited time opportunities. Not taking full advantage of 0-3 stage could rob your child of the chance to a) reach their full potential as a person. It would amaze you what very young children can become capable of doing and how lovely they can be as a person if they have the chance to work on being their best self. And b) you can protect them from from the impacts of unknown developmental delays and other kinds of learning differences that you didn’t know were on your horizon, because you upgraded their development with Montessori stuff.
Every parent and educator must be paying attention to those first three years of a child’s life; and should care about giving every child every possible optimized shot at succeeding and learning as best as they possibly can in those years. Because that is when their little brain is locking it in, folks.
3. During these years, the brain works in a unique way that it will never work again. This website I found said that the infant brain is making a million neural connections per second. According to Dr. Montessori, she believed that the very young child has what she called an “absorbent mind”– a mind that can indiscriminately take everything in, exactly as it is, for what it is. That’s why little babies can develop the accent of their native tongue so perfectly, for example. Or how they can all memorize a song that they hear often even if they never heard it in their life before then. Or how they know where to find things left in predictable places, even though they haven’t even been a walking being for longer than a year. A baby can naturally become a trilingual speaker within its first three years of life. That’s how amazing the baby brain is.
4. The body is being prepared for a lifetime of potential activity. This will blow your mind if you consider it deeply– a baby starts off as completely immobile with basically no control over their jerking, wobbly body. By age 2 1/2, they can become able to sew with needle and thread, climb like a monkey, and outrun most adults. That dramatic transformation of the human body should scare any parent straight when it comes to mindfully considering how you choose to enrich your child’s life in those first three years.
The Montessori method puts a huuuuuge emphasis on development of human movement for babies and toddlers because we know how important it is. This also comes into play around not knowing what that child will end up developing passions for educationally and professionally once they grow up. I don’t know who the next Ussain Bolt is going to be, or who the next world class neurosurgeon is going to be. But they might be one of my student right now. We can’t ever know. The Montessori method is a preparation for life. A life each child has yet to live.
5. The very young child is uncontrollably and indiscriminately absorbing all of the culture they’re surrounded by. They do this so well that they fully become a member of that culture. This is something that always amazes me. I can’t go visit Iceland and within a year, fully pass as Icelandic through and through. But a baby can because their very survival depends upon it.
If the baby is born in Italy in 1929 it will become an Italian baby of the 1920s. If the baby is born in Hawai’i in 2020 it becomes a modern Hawaiian baby with Hawaiian nuances. Go back and listen to any very old school Disney movies (Bambi, Snow White), and you will notice these people sing and talk with a funny accent that no longer exists. Why? Because they came from a time and place unique in the intersection of American cultural evolution. Every child that ever walks the earth comes from their own slice in the timeline and geography of human evolution. If your culture matters to you, 0-3 and then adolescence-to-adulthood are the periods of time that will culturally shape that person the most.
6. They will learn more skills in these first three years than during any other time in their life. To put this point into perspective, the entirety of any international Montessori practitioner’s knowledge is (laboriously) captured within 7 huge binders of information– just for the age range of 0-3. Like, what can a helpless baby possibly learn that would land in seven huge ass binders? A ton of shit. The Montessori Method for 0-3 encompasses physical and emotional development, along with all the foundations for the skills we can offer to that child for them to learn. And those seven giant binders are not an exhaustive list– their the foundation for teaching anything else so long as it’s a possibility for a 0-3 year old to safely encounter. I’m bringing the world to the children in my classroom.
Another great comparison… if an adult sustains a traumatic brain injury and has to re-learn how to walk, talk, and function all over again, everyone is utterly amazed at their rehabilitation. But every human baby has to learn how to walk, talk, feed themselves, dress themselves, and function, within about a three year timespan, from scratch. With no former baseline for their brain to reconnect to. It’s truly miraculous.
So that is why I believe the Montessori for 0-3 is so important and so unique. The Montessori Method is used to support and enhance the formation of a human being immediately postpartum, for their first three years on earth. And that is a special privilege to be a part of (: