Is Montessori Really for Infants? How We Built a Curriculum for Our Youngest Students
Many parents express surprise when they find out that many children start their Montessori education as infants. To most people, school is something that only begins at around age five. But there is a lot of critical and foundational learning that starts much earlier than that.
The five-year mark is something we’ve inherited from the traditional schooling model. In the traditional school system, children transition from daycare, where they are looked after during the daytime, to kindergarten, where the educational component and the “real learning” begins.
With Montessori, however, the real learning starts from right at the beginning, and it’s not unusual for children to start attending a Montessori program from infancy. Yes, the children are cared for and, yes, they have fun the entire day, but unlike the care given in the daycare system, it’s all carefully designed and geared toward nurturing their development and giving them the cognitive and physical skills they’ll be using the next stages of their learning.
Why Infants Benefit from Montessori
The Montessori approach to early childhood education takes seriously the sensitive periods we all go through during our childhoods. These are periods during which we develop core skills and abilities and develop them most easily. Once the sensitive period is over, it’s still possible to acquire these abilities, but it becomes much more difficult.
To see why this is so important, think of the differences between a child learning a new language and an adult learning that same language. Children can become fluent in a second language just by being exposed to it regularly. We adults, however, need to struggle through lesson plans no matter how often we’re exposed to it, and we will still have difficulty pronouncing the syllables that aren’t part of our native language no matter how much we practice. That’s the difference a sensitive period makes.
If sensitive periods mean children have absorbent minds, then infants have the most absorbent minds of all. They’re at the point in their development where they need to learn almost every fundamental skill and learn them all at once.
This is the year they learn to:
• Crawl, climb and walk
• Grab, hold, and manipulate
• Speak, understand words, and recognize different sounds
• Discern shapes, patterns, and spatial relations
Montessori preschool programs provide children the activities, environment, and caring, personalized attention they need to nurture this non-stop development. It’s the best way to ensure that they get the most out of their sensitive periods and are given a head start in their education.
In the next section, we’ll go over a few things we do at Apple Montessori Schools to make sure our youngest students reach their fullest potential.
Montessori Infants Curriculum
A Rich Environment
The first thing we’ll talk about isn’t what we do with the children, it’s where we do it. The environment in which children learn can be just as important as what they learn in it, and that’s no different for our infant students.
Infancy is a time of intense sensory development. To encourage this, we provide our students with an environment rich in age-appropriate sensory information for them to absorb. Our classrooms feature beautiful design to captivate their attention and expose them to different shapes, colors, contrasts, and spatial relations.
Our youngest students might not be able to sprint around the classroom or hop around outdoors, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get excited about exploration. In fact, exploring their immediate environment is a very big part of early development. At this age, they’re becoming much more mobile, so figuring out how to interact with the spaces they’re in is a critical step.
For infants who can’t crawl yet, this takes the form of floor time and tummy time. Tummy time is a simple but very effective way to help a child’s natural development. And it’s easy to see why – if you lay an infant on its stomach, you’ll watch them get as busy as they can be. There’s a surprising amount of stuff for them to do in that position, from trying to push themselves up and rolling onto their backs to grabbing for nearby toys and attempting to crawl.
Once they become more advanced movers, they start working their way through our tunnels and climbing areas, where they will gain more confidence in their abilities and learn to navigate their environment.
We know baby yoga sounds a little odd at first. When you picture the kinds of stretches, contortions, and positions done in standard yoga practice, it’s clear that there’s no way for an eight-month-old could take part. But baby yoga is really about is helping our infant students learn what their bodies can do and learn how to control their muscles and movements. It’s also full of imaginative play, which is a great way to develop communication skills and follow patterns of movement.
Infants have a lot to say, they just don’t know how to say it yet! That’s why we teach them easy signs so that they can communicate their needs, their wants, and make themselves heard. It’s a great way to exercise their fine motor skills, help them become a little more independent and self-reliant, and it really cuts down on the frustration of not being understood. It also helps in building stronger bonds between child and caregiver.
We are privileged to have been trusted with the education and care of so many little ones in our community. And if there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that no two babies are the same. They each have their unique personalities, unique abilities, and they all come to different challenges at different times.
That’s why we don’t use a generic learning plan. Instead, we meet each of our students exactly where they are so we can help them build on their strengths and work on the skills and abilities they’re still developing.
We feel one-on-one lessons are so important because infants respond best to close attention from a dedicated and focused teacher who knows her young students’ strengths and potential. Individualized attention also ensures they feel safe and cared for.
Infant development sets the stage for the big leaps and bounds in skills and learning that are to come. With our specialized curriculum, we make sure all of our students develop their abilities to their highest potential all while feeling loved and respected.