Freedom to Explore

Getting the toys he wants, himself.

Getting the toys he wants, himself.

Today we parents tend to worry, a lot.  Because of media we hear, it seems so often, of children getting injured or killed by some random thing and so we feel like we have to put our children in a bubble of protection lest the worst should happen.  Thus our infants tend to be confined, a lot.  Confined to a crib, confined to a swing, confined in a playpen, confined in an exersaucer, confined in a bouncy seat, confined in a high chair.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with these things, but restricting a child’s freedom for much of the day isn’t healthy.  A baby needs to move, roll, push, crawl, explore.  They need to exercise.  We also often put them in seats that hold them up in a position that isn’t natural for them at that age and can be detrimental if the child is allowed to sit in that position for hours.  Children who aren’t able to stand should not be left in an exersaucer or jumper for more than 15 mins at a time and they should not be placed in one until they’re able to hold their heads up on their own.

I made this mistake with Pumpkin 1.  Because we have dogs and wood floor, I felt safer with her in her swing or her playpen.  She was in an exersaucer a lot from about 5 months.  She was confined to a playpen for long periods of time.  It wasn’t until she was crawling that I let her explore her world as she didn’t want to be confined any more. I began to realize the importance of movement and the importance of not protecting her every second.  When she started to walk I didn’t hover to keep her from falling or bumping her head.  I let her climb on sturdy chairs herself and go up and down stairs.  She learned quickly to duck near the table, how to fall without hurting herself, and she’s been going up and down stair stand since at least 18 months.  She’s only fallen from the bottom step.

I did things differently with Pumpkin 2.  When he was born we had a playroom finally finished.  From the time he was little I’d let him lie on the floor with toys around him.  He learned to roll over several months sooner than Pumpkin 1.  I was amazed that even as a little baby, 4 months, he could get across the playroom and get a toy he wanted.  Now at almost 9 months he gets into everything.

4 1/2 months

4 1/2 months

He has the freedom to move, grab, mouth, discover and explore his environment.  His favourite thing to do is pull the kid chairs down on himself.  I think it makes him feel strong and powerful 🙂  Yes, he still spends time in is high chair watching me cook.  He spends time in his playpen as the rest of the house isn’t as babyproofed.  But I make sure he gets time every day to have freedom.  With obesity rates what they are today, it’s never too early to let your child get moving and exercising their body.

The Montessori method advocates allowing children to explore their environment, to teach a child how to be safe rather than locking everything up, within reason of course.  Many followers of Montessori don’t even use cribs.  Their babies sleep on a mattress on the floor.  Their room is completely babyproofed and so if the child wakes, he or she is free to roll off the bed and explore.  Floor beds are not something I’ve done as we have baseboard heaters, but I think they can be great in a safe room.

So what about your home?  Is there a space that you can make safe and give your baby the freedom to move and explore in?  A young baby may only need a small space, but a moving and crawling baby will need a bigger space.  Babyproof the area, put out low shelves with toys your baby can get out himself, a low mirror on a wall is a great addition.  If your baby is pulling up then a sturdy low table is excellent, or even one of those activity center tables.  And perhaps a floor bed is right for your baby.

Freedom.  It helps foster independence, curiosity and intelligence as well as build coordination, balance, and improve health.  Give your child a daily dose.

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At Last…Our Playroom/School Room

I finally have our playroom “almost” how I want it.  It’s not a very big room so it’s been a challenge to have everything I want organized yet there still be room to play.  This room doubles as a playroom/daycare room/school room so it’s not an ideal Montessori room.  Also with Pumpkin 2 going to be getting into everything before I know it, I’ve had to arrange things so that materials with small parts are up high.  So, with that in mind, enjoy your tour!

Lots of light from the two windows.

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Looking to the right of the room.  Against the gate is a carrom board, a game from India.  You can’t see them but beside the chair is a pail that holds two carpets for doing our work on.

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Looking to the left of the room.  Do any other mothers have the same problem of their stuff being all disorganized while the kids’ toys are all neat and tidy?

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The drawers on the right have all the craft stuff.  The containers on the top usually have pipe cleaners in them but the kids use them up fast.  The shelf has the metal insets on the top, below is the geometric cabinet and board games, below that is a basket with cards for the cabinet, emotion cards and the land form trays.  Bottom shelf has a toy laptop and the doctor’s kit, playdough and a file with different types of craft paper in it.  The shelf is a 9 cube shelf that I put together without all the dividers so that I’d have more space.

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This white shelf is an end table that I’ve made into a light table.  The world map puzzle is stored on top as there isn’t really anywhere else to put it.  Underneath are puzzles, movable alphabet and in the container is pre-reading card activities.  On the bottom are puzzles and our magna tiles (a favourite with all the kids).

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On the window ledge here you can see the small pieces from the pink tower and the knobless cylinders.  On the shelf I have the knobbed cylinders which have small pieces in them and the sand paper globe which also has the pin that is a choking hazard.  The top row is a shape sorter, our French books and Montessori puzzles.  Below that is board books, Wedgits (another favourite) and a stacking toy and puzzle.  Bottom shelf is toy trucks, object permanence box and Hape peg puzzle.

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This is our reading corner.  I need to make it a little more cozy.  And maybe a mirror on the wall.  You can also see the dressing frames leaning against the shelf.  I need to find a place for them still.

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This is our main Montessori shelf.  The drawers on the top hold the objects for the language sounds.  There is also some cards and a container of cards, some Toob figures I just got and a bingo dabber picture done by Pumpkin 1.  First row is magnetic Mighty Mind, Melissa and Doug spelling puzzle and sandpaper letters.  Next row is some fine motor activities, the knobless cylinders, and the touch boards and Thermic tablets.  Below that is my cloth spindle “box” and number peg boards, the baric tablets and weigh scale and the geometric solids.  New row is the pink tower, Melissa and Dough latch puzzle and the colour box.  The bottom has the brown stairs, screw board and our music instrument box.  To the left of the shelf is the red rods.

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This is our calendar and weather chart and the shelf has our toys in it.  Cars, Jenga blocks, Barbies, animals, connecting toys, tools, peg board, Little People, scarves, Pumpkin 2’s toys, and Duplo.

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This is our new Elves and Angels’ kitchen.  The shelf has a box of dress up clothes, play food and dishes and above that the Leaf cabinet and our music collection.  Above that is materials for Practical life activities (out of reach of Pumpkin 2) and above that is a bunch of stuff for crafts.

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So that is our playroom.  It’s been a long time in the making and will probably still go through changes.  It’s not ideal, lots of things out of reach, but I think it’s more important to be safe.  Most of the Montessori material is too advanced for Pumpkin 1 but she’ll be old enough for it before I know it.  Also I use it with my 3 year old daycare child and sometimes with my after school daycare children.  I think I’ve done a good job with the amount of space we have.  Everything is organized and not too cluttered.  The toys are mostly open ended toys or learning toys.  We have a nice area on the floor to work and a beautiful table to work at, just the right height.  The rocking chair is great for me to watch from and nurse Pumpkin 2 in.  The room is safe enough for Pumpkin 2 to roll around and pull stuff off the shelves at his height and Pumpkin 1 can reach most of the things.  The gate keeps the dogs out and the kids out when need be and keeps them in when I need them in.  The walls are simply decorated and I’m able to display the children’s art work.  I did put things above their eye level but I don’t want things ripped of the wall and the paint ruined.  So, would you like to come and learn with us?

The Playroom

The below pictures are from the web.  If you click on them they’ll take you to the website they’re from.  I’ll post pictures of my playroom soon.  It seems to be ever evolving so I’m never satisfied with it.

The Reggio Emilia approach to education views the environment as the third teacher.  Maria Montessori also emphasized the environment as an important part of learning.

“The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and
invite the child to conduct his own experiences.”

There are several principles I think are important to consider when planning your playroom.

Relaxing:  I don’t like when a playroom or classroom is full of bright, contrasting colours, posters everywhere, colourful mats, etc.  It’s just too over stimulating.  A child can’t focus in such an environment.  The playroom should be soothing, relaxing and appealing.  I believe children have an innate sense of style so decorate in a way you’d decorate other rooms of your home.  Paint the walls in a soft, pale colour.  Pink has been shown to be soothing.  A soft white, neutral beige or a pale blue are good choices.  Decor should be simple too.  You can use colour here, but don’t over due it.  The decor should complement, not distract.  Flooring, the same, not over colourful or stimulating.  You want the materials to be the focus, not the decor.  And don’t forget a comfy corner for reading or resting.

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Accessible yet safe:  The room should be designed for children.  Low shelving and child sized furniture.  The child should be able to reach and take out the majority of the toys, materials, and craft supplies themselves.  You may need to have some things out of reach, but keep as much as you can available to your child.  However, keep safety in mind.  Tall shelves should be braced so they won’t tip, avoid sharp corners, plugs should have covers, and if you have young children, toys and materials that are accessible should be safe.

Simple:  Limit the toys.  Does your child really need 20 Barbies, 50 dinky cars, 100 stuffed animals?  Probably not.  Get rid of the excess and try to limit things to a few, quality toys.  See toys as an investment in your child’s development.  Focus on toys that teach and encourage learning.  Also toys for imaginative play and open ended toys.  Limit noisy, battery operated toys. You can also rotate toys.  This keeps things interesting & leaves more room for organization.

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Organized: And organized environment leads to an organized mind.  A place for everything and everything in it’s place.  Organization allows your child to see what materials are available to them.  Don’t cram the shelves, invest in organization aids such as shelves, baskets and containers.  Teach your child to put away a toy in the right place before taking another out.  Having a clean, organized environment encourages your child to respect their playroom and toys and to absorb these qualities themselves.  It also helps reduce behavior problems due to over stimulation and frustration.

Natural light: Your playroom should be well lit with natural light.  If your playroom is in the basement, for safety reasons there should be windows but you can use mirrors to increase the natural light.  Don’t use florescent lights.  Use indoor lighting that isn’t harsh on the eyes.