from "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.

If you can walk, you can dance.
If you can talk, you can sing.

—Zimbabwe Proverb

Early Experience

Music and spoken language begin to be learned by the child even before birth. A child's artistic tastes and abilities begin to be formed extremely early in life. It follows that we should provide an environment rich in beautiful language, beautiful music, and tasteful decoration and provide the best musical instruments and art materials.

A child has a strong drive to sing, dance, make music, create with art materials, and to speak. If shown how to use musical instruments, art materials, and books he will know by instinct when, and for how long, to use them to further his development.

Including the Child

I learned a beautiful lesson about respecting children:

One day I was in an intensive care nursery for infants, observing a six-month-old boy who was lying on a floor mat next to three doctors who were seated on chairs discussing his case.

The head nurse asked the doctors to remember their policy—not to ignore a child, but to include him in a conversation.

The doctors knew instinctively that she was right.

They did not simplify their vocabulary or artificially raise their voices to address the child. They changed their visual focus so that the child was included, as any adult would have been, whether or not he was contributing verbally to the conversation. They continued their discussion, including the child.

The self-respect of the child was immediately evident by the happy expression on his face and in the way he kept glancing from face to face as though he knew that he was part of this important conversation.

There is nothing in the intellect which was not first in the senses.



Sometimes a child will want a book read over and over as he studies language. At other times he will just want to hear about the pictures and talk. A child also loves to be shown how to turn pages carefully, to pick up, hold, carry and put away a book.

At this age the subjects in books should be based on reality because the child wants to learn about the real world. Animals that talk and wear clothes, and other fantasy, is important but at a later stage of development.

We should check that they [books] present reality, since at this age children are trying to make sense of the environment and the life around them. There is nothing more extraordinary and interesting than our own daily life. Fantasy can come later - after reality has been experienced and absorbed.

- Dr. Silvana Montanaro

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.


The movements the child acquires are not chosen haphazardly, but are fixed, in the sense that each proceeds out of a particular period of development. . . . If you watch a child you will see that he is always playing with something. This means that he is working out, and making conscious, something that his unconscious mind has earlier absorbed. Through this outward experience, in the guise of a game, he examines those things and impressions that he has taken in unconsciously. . . . He is directed by a mysterious power, great and wonderful, that he incarnates little by little. In this way, he becomes a man. He does this with his hands, by experience, first in play and then through work. The hands are the instruments of man's intelligence.

—Maria Montessori, MD


A child wants to learn the name of every object in his environment, and the meanings of the words he hears others using. He wants so much to be able to communicate about daily life with his family! Give him the names of kitchen objects, toys, food, vehicles, dogs, etc. - anything found in the home and the community.

There is a 'sensitive period' for naming things (age 14-24 months) and if adults respond to the hunger for words in an appropriate way, they can give their children a richness and precision of language that will last a lifetime.

—Silvana Montanaro, MD and Montessori teacher trainer

The Experience of real objects should come before pictures or names of these objects whenever possible.

If you have a new book with pictures of fruits and vegetables, for example, take the child to the kitchen and handle, smell, cut up, and taste a piece of fruit, then go look at a picture of it, and other fruits, in the book. Then the intelligence is built upon a wealth of experience.

A Second Language

The acquisition of language begins in the womb before the child is born, and continues to be an important part of the child's experience in the first months and years. Hearing comes long before speaking, and the quality of spoken language is determined by the quality of the language listened to and absorbed during this time.

At this age children show an uncanny ability to absorb language in all its complexities, and not just one language! Here is some advice which supports the learning of more than one language at a time:

The language must be used in the child's environment in the first years of her life, in the sense that one or more persons should speak the "extra" language to the child and in her presence.

If we could have two, three, four or five different persons speaking different languages around the child, she could easily absorb all of them without any particular effort, provided that each person speaks to her ALWAYS AND ONLY in their language. But this is possible only in the first years of life.

In Japan, a course was recently developed, consisting of playing English-language cassettes three times a day to infants from birth to the age of six months. When, at the age of three, four or five years, these children come into contact with an English teacher, they learn the foreign language much more easily than other children.

—Dr. Silvana Montanaro

This is the "taking in" time, the most powerful absorbent stage, of language development. This is the time, rather than in elementary, high school, or university time, when humans really learn language. Let's help them.