I must confess every time there is a great change in my daughter's life I seem to fail to recognize it at once. I wonder whether I am the only mother who, despite knowing her own child very well, is taken aback by changes and is kind of slow in her reaction.
I don't mean to sound pretentious when I say I know my daughter very well. What I mean is that after having been with her night and day for nearly 14 months (outside // 9 inside) -having never been apart for more than 4 hours in a row- and having observed her closely, I feel I can say I know her. I have observed her a good deal. I try to attend to her cues and follow her lead. And, however, to my surprise some changes seem to skip my observation.
When she started crawling, for instance, I didn't understand that she no longer needed me to carry her everywhere right away. I was so used to having her in my arms that I sort of felt this was going to be so forever... I failed to connect her new ability and her sudden dislike for the baby carrier. Since she didn't like strollers either and absolutely hated the car, we spent some weeks rarely going outside. I have already mentioned this in another post. Babies grow so fast...
I guess the root of my "mistake" is an inner feeling of stability that is challenged by the natural passing of time. When we are pregnant and imagine the future baby, it seems difficult to figure out life with the baby. It feels as if we were going to be pregnant forever. I've felt this way. Inside-outside. There is such a difference. Then, the baby comes to the world and it is nearly impossible to remember how things were before. We "naturally" adapt.
Something similar has happened concerning activities. I used to prepare an environment trying to follow M's current interests and intended it to last for a fortnight or so. Now I see the error. In intending them to last I was actually sort of ignoring her lead. I took her motivations into account in general terms but acted as if I knew how long they would last.
Some weeks ago I started noticing she was dumping objects. At first I thought it could be a non-directed way of trying to find out the use of a certain material. I guess I was wrong, for some days afterwards she spent much time focused on another activity. Then I realized she had only been bored.
Here I esteem it appropriate to bring up one of the basis of Montessori education, the balance of support and challenge. This is in my opinion an interesting idea regardless of your interest in Montessori. I will quote from Paula Pol Lillard and Lynn Lillard Jessen's book Montessori from the start: "Chidren need challenges but they also need to live in a positive and secure environment" (...) "when parents become rigid and too goal-oriented, there is an imbalance between challenge and support: support is too low, challenge too high. (...) In homes where there is high support and low challenge, children do not develop focused attention".
I have been trying to put this idea into practice for a long time but I must confess I feel I am not quite successful at it. I keep observing M to see what engages her in order to provide materials and activities that in my opinion may lead to moments of focused attention. There have been weeks when she spent some minutes concentrated on one activity -mainly "thing in a slot" sort of activities, but there are many days when she wanders about picking now a book, then something else, moving to and fro... I have had to stop and ask myself: Am I asking too much too soon? Is free education incompatible with the Montessori approach and the emphasis on focused attention? Have I missed a chapter and all this concentration issue applies only to older children? Should we spend much more time outside?
Up to now I have been able to answer that last question and guessed the third one. And I change the main environment at least every couple of days. I set up a sand area in our garden last week and M had a great time playing in it, feeling the sand, getting handfuls of sand, transferring it to a pot, and so on. We have also spent some time in different settings outside our home this week. On one of our outings we went to our local library where apart from books there is a cozy soft area with little couches and construction cushions. M enjoys climbing into the tiny couches.
If you relate to my experience anyhow I would love to hear yours. If you have an answer to my questions, please write to me!