Montessori Madness

I believe that all human beings are born with the capacity for focus and attention. We all know that feeling when we are happily absorbed in a task that is not too difficult, yet not too easy: we become relaxed, confident and feel purposeful.  I think human beings crave that feeling and crave those tasks which help us to feel that way, but I think in our society we get farther and farther away from a lifestyle which facilitates those tasks and behaviors in favor of tasks which do not fully require our attention and that do not make us feel purposeful.  It's the difference between the way I feel after a few hours of sewing versus a few hours of internet surfing.  Or the way I feel after reading a good book versus the way I feel after watching junk television (ahem, Jersey Shore).  

I went to Montessori school from preschool through sixth grade, and seeing as I turned out okay, I am a Montessori devotee.  There is a lot of confusion about Montessori philosophy out there, and for anyone interested I would highly recommend reading Montessori from the Start.  In my experience, I've found that people erroneously lump Montessori schools together with other 'alternative' schools, or with Waldorf schools.  Montessori philosophy, in its true form, is about helping the child to become an independent being.  It is not about forcing independence on the child before she is ready, nor is it an indulgent practice where the adult bends to every whim of the child, nor do children not learn reading and math in Montessori schools.  I'm not sure where these ideas about Montessori philosophy came from, but I hear them frequently, and they are untrue.  

Looking at Panda.  Montessori also advocates giving the child things to look at and interact with that represent the real world.  The panda card is an example of what to do, the quilt J is laying on is an example of what not to do.  
One of the things that continues to astound me about Maria Montessori's work is how her ideas just keep getting proven by modern science or reinvented as new ideas.  Montessori believed that the infant has capacity to maintain attention for long periods of time, and that the capacity for attention in humans is formed in infancy.  With the prevalence of ADHD in our society coupled with the prevalence of inane noisemaking, flashing, crinkling toys for infants and children I have to say that I think she was likely on to something.  The more recent book by Gabor Mate, Scattered, makes a similar case.  Montessori philosophy basically advocates for fostering attention in the infant.  There are many components of this, but the first step is through a series of specifically designed mobiles that are introduced to the infant at birth and are rotated through the first four months of life. 

 The first mobile presented to the infant is the Munari mobile (mentioned here).  I got all of my mobiles from etsy and they came with all of the components, but needed to be assembled.  Set aside your entire pregnancy at least a few hours to put them together because the directions for how all the pieces need to hang are very specific and they need to be bealanced.   The Munari consists of black and white geometric forms and a clear sphere.  Juniper started looking at the Munari mobile when she was just a few days old.  At first she was really just interested in the shadows the mobile cast on the wall, but as she got older she became fascinated with the mobile itself.  After two weeks, so when Juniper was three weeks old, I switched the mobiles and introduced the octahedron to Juniper.  
J at about 3 weeks old

At a little older
The octahedron mobile is made of three octahedrons made of blue, yellow, and red metallic paper. Juniper was not as interested in this mobile initially and spent a lot of time mostly looking at her black and white cards, so she only spent about a week with it before I went back to the Munari.  Then after another week or so we went back to the octahedron and she was much more into it. 
At 6 weeks

 At about eight weeks I reintroduced the Munari mobile.  The really cool thing was that she finally noticed the clear sphere in the mobile, and I could see in practice why you are supposed to rotate and reintroduce the mobiles about every two weeks: after some time away from a mobile, Juniper seems to notice new things when she sees it again.

Just last week I tried out the Gobbi mobile, which is five thread wrapped orbs that go in a gradual gradient from light to dark, and she was not into it at all.  Either it wasn't super interesting to her, or she couldn't see it very well, so I took it away for a few days.  I was floored when I tried again just three or four days later.  She loved it.  Like, I've not seen her so into something ever really.  For a solid 30 minutes she just stared at it, babbled at it, breathed excitedly at it, and when I thought she was kind of done and picked her up, she squawked at me until I put her down where she could see it again.  
10 weeks
The mirror that you see in the photos is a pretty key component as well because it enables Juniper to see the mobiles while she is on her belly in addition to allowing her to track her own movements.  

Obviously I have no way of knowing how much the mobiles have impacted her, and I won't ever know if they made a difference in her development, but I do know that she is really alert and will focus on our faces or on her mobiles for a pretty long time.  

In addition to encouraging focus and attention, the mobiles also expose the infant to geometric forms and to aesthetic ideas such as balance and color gradients.  I like that she is looking at things that are beautiful and well-designed as opposed to looking at plastic toys dangling from a play gym.  


  1. Margaret-

    I am SO happy that you posted about Montessori! I work at a Montessori school, expecting my first child, and doing a lot of reeding on the first year of life. My child will also have these beautiful mobiles to be hung....SO IMPORTANT what you are giving your child!!! Thank you for sharing and I too will be sharing my own journey within this beautiful thing called Montessori!

    -Kathy Dunn

  2. That's great, Kathy! We found that it was easier to hang the mobiles off a rod on our counter so we could all be in the living room together since we did not do the child bed. I do sometimes hang them over her crib as well, but less frequently. I am really eager toi introduce the hanging toys, but I don't think she's quite ready yet as she's not really figured out her hands