The usual question parents wonder about is -- what kind of activities or toys do we get to maximize learning?
How do I make my child smart?
I for one, don't believe that you can "make" someone smart, and second - I also believe in Multiple Intelligences and each person -- each child has her own strengths.
And what can parents do? OBSERVE and understand what your child is interested in. Maximize those Sensitive Periods (windows of opportunity) -- a phase when a child channels all her concentration and efforts until she achieves mastery of a particular skill.
Moreover, in order to achieve the full development potential of a child, it is important that they are placed in a simple, orderly environment - one that is proportionate to their strengths and interests, free of dangers (safety being a top priority) and equipped with activities and materials that allow them to experiment with their capabilities; an environment from which they can draw the greatest number of positive experiences to increase their confidence and further encourage their innate love of learning.
I will focus on the Sensitive Period for Movement. This is one of the most intense for the first 3 years of life.
Quoting from the book, The Joyful Child (page 13, unless on Kindle):
"Children who have freedom of movement feel they can pursue their own ideas and interests. The repeated experience of seeing an object, reaching for it and exploring it with the hands and mouth, produces the reassuring sensation that when we want something we can move and go and get it. This is how a healthy ego develops, a human being capable of dealing successfully with the problems of life.
Active movements in the first months of life provide the overall mind-body experience from which self-confidence is derived, and with this very valuable instrument, it is possible to face all the challenges of life."
—Dr. Silvana Montanaro, MD, Montessori 0-3 teacher trainer
It's important to remember that we should not rush and try to push a child to try skills for which she is not yet prepared, especially if she doesn't show any interest in them. This will just lead to tears and frustration.
We all have our unique timetables on when we are ready and besides, WE CANNOT teach a child to crawl, stand or climb - they just learn these things.
What we can do is is set-up a space for the child to be able to crawl, pull-up, climb, and more. If a baby spent the whole day lying down in a crib, or a playpen where her movements are limited and there is nothing interesting for her to grab (not just look at), development will be held back. We can also provide materials that will encourage them to MOVE.
When Kara started pulling up around 9 months old, one of our family friends gave us the Walking Wings. It made me remember these excerpts from the book, The Joyful Child:
"When we hold the child's hands to help him walk ahead of his optimum time we are giving a subtle message that we are not satisfied with his own timetable and abilities, or that we want him to hurry up. This can make a child frustrated at his own attempts. It is better just to wait, to watch, to enjoy the unfolding unique growth of the child as he follows his inner guide.
Walkers, and other commercially available movement aids hinder development in the same way. They make a child mobile so quickly that she sometimes just gives up on her own attempts when outside the Walker."
What the book recommended aside from the Pull-up bar with Mirror, was a Walker Wagon.
"A walker wagon (wooden, not plastic) will provide a opportunity for the child to pull up and practice walking at will, but it will usually require the adult to turn the wagon around when the child reaches the end of the path, and push and pull toys are great fun for the new walker.
None of these things rush the child, but they all help give the opportunity for practice at the perfect time."
When Kara was a year old, one of the things we added in her birthday registry was a wooden walker wagon (and we didn't really specify what qualities it needed).
We got gifted with one and it was actually a huge disappointment. Why?
We had to put a lot of blocks or books on the cart just so it doesn't tip over. It moved too fast! There is no way to make it more stable especially for babies who are just starting to pull-up. It cannot support a lot of weight and back when Kara was only 20 months and weighing 10 kg, she attempted to sit on it then asked Yaya Kim to push it. The wheels came off and good thing was that Kara didn't get hurt. However, she was so upset because her wagon was broken. We knew it wasn't meant to hold her weight but... kids. =) At least we learned how else Kara wanted to use the wagon.
Luckily, we discovered Happy Story & Co. recently. The designer for all their materials is a dad-engineer and you can just imagine how many questions I asked before we got this walker wagon from them (it's the one on the right).
The first thing I noticed when it arrived was that the handle was forward-leaning -- this is one of the many ways it ensures that the wagon doesn't tip over.
The second thing I noticed was that it was heavy (which is perfect for babies who are just pulling up!) The wagon's base is also wide and we know that a wide base is very important for stability (hence, pyramids are one of the most stable structures in the world).
The front wheels are equipped with adjustable brakes (+ 50,000 points for that). The brakes are a safety feature to control forward movement as needed by children who are just starting to walk. You can easily tighten the breaks to increase the resistance and loosen it should the child be ready to move faster.
It comes with a tool kit and an instruction sheet so you can adjust on your own.
The best way for you to know if the child is READY to move faster is if they are already exerting "Maximum Effort." It's that stage when a child repeatedly tests their abilities to see what more they can do.
Sample: when you see the child continually trying to push the wagon a bit further or if she is trying to move faster.
The walker wagon by Happy Story & Co can easily hold 50 kg (yes, we tried sitting on it and my husband pushed it around with me in it... we'll share more videos during the Montessori playgroup since we will let other kids and parents play with this too).
Kara uses this wagon to transport her materials (she is free to move around the house but she asks permission first before she plays at certain areas) including the fruits and vegetables we buy from the Friday Market near our village.
She also uses this for pretend play (according to Simone Davies in The Montessori Toddler, children begin to do this around 2.5 years old).
Earlier, Kara was telling Minnie Mouse that they will race using their trucks. The second she started pulling the smaller wagon while she moves her bigger one with her feet, the wheels of the smaller wagon came off again.
She tried to put it back but she realized she needs someone else to hold the wheel as she turned the screws. This was another reminder for me to really ensure that we only get toys that meet the needs and interests of our child, while ensuring that it is built with safety in mind.
Hope you enjoyed reading my "short" review.
As a final note -- the prepared environment shouldn't be limited to the school -- learning should not start or end from school doors, it should start at home. After all, parents are the first guides and no one is more capable of loving, respecting, and understanding our child than us.
You can check the Walker wagon by following Happy Story & Co in Instagram or Facebook.
Love, Mommy K