from "The "The Joyful Child"
Michael Olaf's Essential Montessori for Birth to Three

At this link it is now possible to order the The Joyful Child, which is a 70-page Montessori overview and catalogue of appropriate toys, tools, and materials for the home or school that support the Montessori philosophy for educating the child from birth to three years of age.

The first two years of life are the most important. Observation proves that small children are endowed with special psychic powers, and points to new ways of drawing them out—literally "educating by cooperating with nature." So here begins the new path, wherein it will not be the professor who teaches the child, but the child who teaches the professor.

—Maria Montessori, MD

Music and Early Language

In the first year of life the infant is especially interested in the sound of the human voice and in watching the face and lips of a speaking person. We do not think it an accident that the focusing distance of the eyes of a newborn are exactly the space between his face and that of the mother while nursing.

We can feed the child's intense interest in language, and prepare for later spoken language, by speaking clearly, and by not raising our voice to an unnatural pitch or using baby talk. Tell stories of your life, recite your favorite poems, talk about what you are doing, enjoy yourself. Listen: to music, to silence, and to each other.

An adult can engage in a conversation with even the youngest child in the following way: When the child makes a sound, imitate it—the pitch and the length of the sound. After several of these exchanges many children will purposefully begin to make sounds for you to imitate, and eventually will try to imitate the adults sound. This is a very exciting first communication for both parties. We call it "singing."

It is never too early to look at books together and talk about them. Beautiful board books can be stood on edge for a baby who is not yet able to sit up to enjoy looking at them. They introduce a wide array of interesting subjects to children at the age when they want to see and hear about everything.


Imagine what it is like to come from a warm, soft, relatively dark and quiet environment into a completely new place full of lights and sounds and touch, all unfamiliar except the voices of the family.

Sometimes we tend to forget that a baby has already been living actively in this world for months before he is born. It is good for us to imagine ourselves in his place and experience as we prepare to welcome him in our home.

At birth, a baby already knows how to regulate his sleep for optimum physical and mental health. If we respect this intuitive knowledge after birth we are well along the path of preventing the problems of sleeping which often exhaust new parents and babies.

We must be careful not to train a child to be dependent on us to go to sleep. When a parent, quite naturally and out of feelings of love, always holds a baby till she goes to sleep, and then for some reason is unable to do so, the security is taken from the infant and she can become too worried to go to sleep.

It is natural for a new baby to fall asleep while being held, rocked, sung to, nursed, lying next to the parent, or riding in a stroller or car. To prevent the creation of a dependence on any of these situations, however, it is important that the child has a private space, from birth on, where she can go to sleep and wake up many times during the day and night on her own with feelings of security and happiness. Then she can stay in touch with her own natural rhythm and needs for sleeping and being awake.

Somewhere in the home, not too far removed from the daily life, perhaps a baby's room, there should be a place where the baby can go to sleep and wake up many times during the day according to his own need.

Such a place could be prepared near where the family spends most of its time —perhaps a futon with a low mirror and a mobile for a baby to watch and later to hit and grasp. Having this work area in the living room gives the child a chance to watch the family during the day, and also to go to sleep and awaken according to his inner needs.

NOTE WELL: Of course, any room where a baby is on a mattress on the floor must be baby-proofed, because one never knows when the infant will begin to crawl.

If we keep in mind that sleeping is vital for many reasons and should not be interrupted, we will try, as ancient cultures of the past have stated over and over, not to awaken a sleeping baby without a very good reason.

A great deal of mental work goes on during sleeping and dreaming. All daily experiences must be integrated and all personal Programs must be reviewed on the basis of the new information received during the day.

We should not look at newborn infants as small, helpless human beings, but as persons who are small in size, but with an immense mental capacity, and many physical abilities that cannot be witnessed unless the environment assists in the expression of life.

—Silvana Montanaro, MD
AMI Montessori Assistants to Infancy teacher trainer

The Development of Movement and a Child's Trust in Herself

There is definitely a relationship between the child's mastery of movement and the development of a good self-image. Free movement, in a safe and limited space, in the child's room, or a baby-proofed living room, will do more than anything else to help the child develop trust in himself.

Free movement means being able to move one's body without artificial movement aids, to be able to move according to developing abilities, gradually learning to reach and to grasp, to turn over, to crawl, to sit up, and to pull oneself up to a standing position and walk—all on one's own.

Walkers, and helping the baby walk by holding him up with your hands too often, can give the message that we want the child to hurry in his development, and can make him dissatisfied with his own efforts. They also give the child misinformation about where his 'space' or body ends, and how legs really work, confusing messages that have to be relearned later. Here is an important quote from a San Francisco paper:


The American Academy of Pediatrics has concluded that baby walkers are dangerous and should not be sold or distributed in the U.S.A. In 1991, 27,800 children under the age of two years were admitted to a hospital emergency room for injuries associated with a baby walker.

What we must do is to prepare the environment to allow the child, under his own power, to practice his developing abilities whenever he wants to. For example a ball that only rolls a short distance will encourage the child who is learning to crawl to reach it and push it forward over and over. Instead of giving your hands to the child who wants to practice walking, create a way for him to pull up on a low table, or a wagon, so that he may practice this skill whenever he wants to instead of having to wait until the adult has the time and interest.

It is very rewarding to see the confidence, balance, poise, the physical prowess of a child who has been allowed to develop in a natural way according to his own efforts.

Sitting Up

At some point the child will learn on his own to get into a sitting position. This may happen either before or after crawling and is a great step in independence because the hands are freed for more work.

It is important at this stage to give toys and materials with an intelligent purpose, a goal to work toward—rattles that make interesting movements or sounds, toys with different grasps, and spoons and tiny cups containing a little water to practice eating and drinking.

This is the time also to get the child a heavy, safe chair, like the traditional "cube chair," for working and eating in a new position for a short time each day.

As far as weaning goes, we need to observe our child carefully to find out what he really needs. If we offer a secure place to sit, eating utensils and the tastes of food, we will be more in touch with his gradual weaning of himself over the months, and a healthy physical and mental separation from the mother will be supported. With this preparation and respect for the child's individuality, his learning to eat like others will come quite naturally, in a proper way and at the appropriate time for each child.

Toilet Learning

Notice that we do not use the words "toilet training" but "toilet learning." And you may wonder why this is brought up in the First Year.

Contrary to popular opinion, babies kept in natural cotton or soft wool diapers or underpants, in contrast to those in disposable diapers which draw moisture away from the skin, feel the moisture and learn to recognize the result of urinating and they urinate in the socially acceptable place quite early. It is important that the adult be completely neutral about urine and feces (not making ugly faces about the odor), and treat learning to use the toilet just like learning to eat—as a natural function rather than an activity trained by praise, rewards or any other manipulation.

If a child sees a potty seat in the bathroom in this first year, if he is familiarized gradually with the process of sitting on it naked when he is especially interested in new experiences and exploring the environment, he can more easily teach himself to use the toilet independently later.

Having a small, stable potty seat available in the first year, wearing underpants or being naked during part of each day, seeing others use the toilet, all provide an environment in which the child will be able to explore this ability at his own speed and in his own time.

Attachment and Separation

The first year of life is marked by amazing growth in independence. First the baby leaves the security of the womb— because it is time to be able to move and grow as a separate organism. Next she learns to crawl, then to pull up, stand and walk. She takes in a huge amount of language which will be used later. Even the basics for learning to feed herself and go to the bathroom begin during this period of the child's life.

It takes careful observation and wisdom for the parents to see when a child is taking each new step—and the support and encouragement of the adult is the most effective aid to this vital growth in security and independence. We must give our undivided attention to the infant when we are needed, and then step back when we are not, because the stronger the attachment, the more successful will be the separation.

Most parents today realize the importance of breast-feeding. La Leche (the milk) League classes are available in almost every community to support new mothers. The relationship between the mother and child during the times when the infant is nursing is extremely important, as it is a prototype of future relationships throughout life. Think of the difference in the message if we give our undivided attention to the child, looking at her and smiling, instead of offering the breast while reading, watching TV, or chatting with friends.

Just as we value the psychological needs of sleep, we must keep in mind the psychological effects of eating in the first year. Instead of nursing a child in response to every negative feeling— tiredness, pain, frustration—we should offer loving comfort in those situations and encourage the child to eat only when he is hungry for food. This helps a child stay in touch with his own natural and healthful eating needs.

We must remember that mothers give much more than food to the infant! The mother is teaching the child about love, about relationships, about trust, about communication, about respect for one's body. She does this with every touch, with every word. The relationship with the first caregivers teaches the child about bonding with others in the future.

Just as the mother has a built in daily time with the child because of nursing, the father may create special daily times to be with the newborn—in order to develop a strong relationship. He will be building much of the same habits of mutual love and trust as the mother.

The father can create a time when he, too, is caring for, loving, talking with the child—by bathing, changing, dressing the child, or just a special daily time to talk, sing, dance or make music—whatever pleases them both.

The more time and love that goes into bonding in these ways at the beginning of life, the happier and more natural will be the gradual separation from adults as the child grows in security and independence.

As we know, there are many nontraditional kinds of families in the world. The important thing is not with whom the child lives, but that there are people with whom the child can safely and securely bond. It is a sad fact that, because of the lack of understanding of the importance of the beginning of life, day care workers and other people who care for infants today are not valued in our culture as they should be. They are underpaid and under appreciated. As a result, the profession of caring for the very young often has a very high turnover rate. Babies bond, are separated, and feel themselves rejected as a result. This can happen again and again. Think of what the baby learns about trust and security in this situation.

The more thought, planning, time and energy we put into the care of our children in these early days, weeks, months, the better foundation, physically and emotionally, we will be helping them create.

Young people need to think about who will take care of their child as soon as possible in the family planning process.

The Parents' Needs

I can think of several busy, professional men and women desiring also to be good parents, who were extremely pleased to find that it was beneficial for their children to join them in traditional homemaking activities. What a pleasure it has been for them to revive and share cooking, making gifts, holiday baking, sewing and knitting, gardening, making valentines, fixing and oiling furniture, arranging flowers, building and cleaning, and so forth. Life has become richer for these families by carrying out tasks with the children.

We know that these first years are the most important for our child, but only happy adults can give what is needed. We must not be too hard on ourselves as we try to balance our busy lives. No matter how much parents know, or how much time they give, they are not alone in feeling that it is not enough.

We suggest that prospective parents begin to get in touch with the natural intuition of parenting by spending time with families, discussing, and reading— long before starting a family. The first year of the child's life is not the easiest time to begin to learn what it takes to be a parent, and many of us are ill-prepared by movies, TV and lack of contact with real families. We all need each other.

If you would like to see more information on Montessori theory and practice from birth to age 12 and beyond, links to lectures, information on Montessori teacher training, books and other materials for the home and school, and more, go to: The Michael Olaf home page The text on this page is reprinted from several different versions of The Joyful Child, with permission of The Michael Olaf Company.

Copyright 2009, The Michael Olaf Montessori Company
Please E-mail for reprint permission, but feel free to link this page to any site for educational purposes.


Developing Trust in the World

It used to be generally agreed that babies were not aware, or that they had no memories of early life. Now we know that they have the strongest and longest lasting memories of this time. It is common knowledge today that during the first months the child develops his basic attitude toward the world. How can we help the child develop trust from the beginning?

For the last few months in utero, the infant has got used to the voices of his immediate family and is used to the speed of the mother's heartbeat. In the first weeks after birth the child is reassured by hearing those voices which he has heard during pregnancy, and, while nursing, the mother's heartbeat which he has grown very used to. He will now become more aware of family voices as they sound outside the womb, and of the smells and touch of his parents and siblings.

These experiences create security in the child. We recommend a period of bonding time —days or weeks—with just the immediate family, introducing friends later.

Gentle handling from birth on also builds trust in the world. Talk to the child gently, explaining what you are doing as you dress and change him. Provide soft clothing, peace, and soft lights, in the first days as the child is getting used to the world outside the womb. In some homes the "topponcino" is used to hold the baby, to burp her, to easily hand her to another person and move her when she falls asleep. With this special mattress and gentle handling, the baby gains even more security—by this comfort and by recognizing her own smell on the "pillow case" of the topponcino. We have begun to use these originally Italian carriers now in this country.

We can learn to listen to the sounds a baby makes, to watch quietly, observe, see what the child is trying to tell us, and to get to know this unique human, giving the message that the child is cherished and the world is a safe place.


Just as the finest natural cotton is used for the baby's topponcino, it is used whenever possible for other clothing and diapers. During the Assistants to Infancy training, little silk undershirts are hand made, the edges hand-rolled and the seams turned to the side away from the baby's skin. Every consideration is given to the sensitivity of the newborn, whenever possible using fine natural fibers for clothing.

Some babies explore their face with their hands even before birth and certainly as soon as possible after birth. It is far better to keep fingernails and toenails short and to allow this exploration to continue, than to cover them. The child is constantly exploring hands and feet, and it is necessary to have them uncovered in order to learn the skills of turning over, crawling, creeping, pulling up and walking.

The Natural Environment

The most important elements in the baby's environment is not objects, but other humans, their love, knowledge, and wisdom. When considering objects, a natural environment is sometimes distinguished more by what objects are left out, than by which are included.

Among the items which are not usually necessary and sometimes even detrimental are: cribs, swings, jumpers, walkers, play pens, baby bottles (except in an emergency), and pacifiers because all inhibit natural development.

It is natural and comforting for a baby to be carried, held and snuggled, but the adult must respect the needs for the child's choice and her other work—exploring the environment visually, listening to sounds, exercising, sleeping, crawling, walking.

Parents are often amazed to see how focused a child can become when concentration is not interrupted. One mother, while taking a baby for a walk in a stroller noticed that he was staring at a poster on a building. When the mother started to move on the baby cried, so the mother allowed him to continue looking at the poster. Twenty-two minutes (!) that baby looked at the poster— then sighed a satisfied sigh and looked away. What was he thinking? What was he doing? We can't know, but we can learn to watch for and respect these periods of intense interest.

This story is an example of support in a natural environment—no special equipment, rather an awareness that what the baby chooses to look at, to work on, at any moment. A natural environment for a baby is one which provides wise and observant adults or older children, and an interesting and safe space for the infant to rest, explore, and develop abilities.


Cultures vary widely in their response to a crying infant—from a belief that crying strengthens the lungs, to absolute incredulity that anyone would let a baby cry for an instant. We suggest that, rather than choose which intellectual advice to follow, one learn to observe and listen, to follow the child (favorite words of Dr. Montessori).

During a visit to a hospital nursery at the University of Rome during my Assistant to Infancy training, I watched a professor on the course respond to the crying of infants in the following way: First she spoke gently and soothingly to the baby, reassuring him that someone was present. In many cases this was all that was necessary to comfort the child and to stop the crying. However, if this didn't work, the professor made eye contact or laid a hand gently on the child. Often this calmed the infant completely. If not, she checked to see if there was a physical discomfort, a wrinkle of the bedding, a wet diaper, the need to be in a different position. Solving this problem almost always reassured the child and eliminated his need to cry. Only very rarely was a child actually in need of food.

It is common for an attentive parent to think that crying means hunger or pain. But the baby could be worried, having bad memories, wet, cold, hot, afraid, lonely, bored, many reasons for crying. An attentive parent who spends a lot of time watching and listening can learn, even in the early days, what many of the different cries mean. It is no more healthful for an infant than for an adult to equate crying with hunger. Everyone wants to be understood.

The Baby's Work

From birth on, a child studies the environment and the people in it—the sights, sounds, smells, feelings. This is important work. An example of the work of the newborn might be to stare at the members of his family, to figure out which face matches the voice he heard while in the womb. Later, his work will involve specific vocalizations, hand grasps, body movements—exploration of many different kinds.

Sometimes the child will want to work on the same ability—usually verbal or muscular—for several days until he is finished with whatever he is trying to learn, and then not work on this again for several weeks. Each child is different, and only careful observation will reveal what he wants and what he is learning.

A good definition of work is "an activity that involves both the mind and the body, and has some purpose which fulfills the individual." When his concentration is respected, the child will become happier, more peaceful, and more and more involved with his environment and with life.

It is as if nature had safeguarded each child from the influence of adult reasoning, so as to give priority to the inner teacher who animates him. He has the chance to build up a complete psychic structure, before the intelligence of grown-ups can reach his spirit and produce changes in it.

—Dr. Maria Montessori

Mobiles and Hanging Toys

A new baby arrives ready to see and hear and experience all that she can. Carefully chosen mobiles are an important part of a child's first environment. Be sure to look at the mobile from your child's perspective (from underneath) to see if it is soothing and beautiful, interesting and harmonious.

Hanging toys help the child practice the use of the hands while he is still able only to lie down, listen and look. They should be light, moving easily and elegantly in the air currents of the room, simple, uncluttered, and elegant.

First Rattles and Toys
for the Crawling Stage

In every culture and throughout time, adults have noticed the attraction infants have to rattles. With these favorite toys, hung within his reach, sometimes placed nearby on his bed or mattress, the child becomes aware of his ability to create a sound with an object, and to practice the work of grasping and releasing. Look for rattles that provide a variety of shapes, colors, textures, wood tones, hand grasps and sounds, each presenting a new element of the world to the child.

One of the most thrilling achievements in life is learning to move oneself through space to get to a desired object. Infants have many different ways of doing this—backwards, tummy on the ground, sideways, hours of practice lifting the tummy, or legs, or alternating the lifting of one leg and one arm.

Sometimes a child grunts or yells as he works, or falls asleep for a few seconds between "push-ups" The child enjoys the process of experimenting and learning as much as she enjoys the final success of being able to crawl.

We can help the child in this valuable work by not interrupting him as he works and by offering balls and rolling toys that roll at a slow pace, and which are interesting to look at, touch, feel and listen to. If the toy moves too far too quickly the child will give up, and if it does not move at all there will be no challenge.

Pulling Up, Standing, and Walking

Each child has an internal timetable which lets him know just the right time to begin to pull himself up and to stand.

The most important thing we can provide is a low bar attached to the wall, or a heavy and stable piece of furniture for safely pulling up and "cruising" sideways. A heavy wagon with a sturdy vertical handle is the best "walker" for an infant to practice walking whenever they wish.

Natural Materials for Toys

During these very sensorial, and impressionable first days of life, we can enrich the child's experience by providing a variety of interesting textures.

The different weight, texture, and the subtle expressions of natural materials—silk, cotton, wool, wood, metal, is valuable in clothing, bedding, furniture, and toys.

The architect Roland Barthes writes in Myths of Today:

Toys of today are usually produced by technology and not by nature. They are made by the complicated mixing of plastics which is . . . ugly; they take away the pleasure and sweetness of touching.

It is very dangerous that wood is progressively disappearing from our lives. Wood is a material that is familiar and poetic; it gives a child a continuity of contact with a tree, a table, a floor. Wood does not cut, does not spoil, does not break easily, can last for a long time and live with the child. It can modify little by little the relationship between the objects which are timeless. Now toys are chemical and do not give pleasure. These toys break very soon and they do not have any future for the child.


For the first year, the activities of changing, nursing, bathing, picking up, holding, and dressing are the most important and impressionable times. Ask permission or tell the infant that you are going to pick him up when you are about to do so. If there is a choice, ask him if he is ready to be picked up, to get dressed, nurse, have a bath, even before picking him up. Children know when they are being asked a serious question or being given a choice. As you change or bathe an infant, rather than distracting him with a toy, look into his eyes, tell him what you are doing, have a conversation, ask questions, and give choices.

The value of this communication full of love and respect cannot be overemphasized. It makes a baby want to talk to you and the desire to communicate is an important part of the foundation for good language development.

Good language development also depends on the language the child hears going on around him in these early days, months, and years. Being with the parents and overhearing conversations between them and other adults is as valuable as being spoken to. A parent or older sibling who talks and sings to the infant is also teaching him language. It is truly amazing how much language a child takes in in the first three years of life, blossoming into the complete understanding of a total language in a way that an adult can never emulate.

It takes a village to raise a child.

—African proverb

The End of The First Year

You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts.

—Kahlil Gibran, poet

Parents who observe carefully, who listen, and, as they do so, imagine themselves in the place of their infant, will learn that a child is a unique, thoughtful, and creative individual, even before the age of one year. This is truly one of the most joyful discoveries of parenting.

Once this foundation is laid, future learning for children is easier. These children have a positive self-image, and trust that the world is a wonderful place to be. They trust themselves and their ability to function in this world.

—Judi Orion, AMI Montessori Assistants to Infancy Teacher Trainer