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Montessori Principles Can Be Used in Mainstream Infant Care

by   Phyllis Porter, M.A.
boy & girl infants holding flower The philosophy of Maria Montessori is able to be easily implemented in any infant-care setting. Many infant centers are already incorporating the teachings of Magda Gerber into their practice, and these go hand-in-hand with those of Maria Montessori. Much of our educational system is based on a past prejudice against children. These two women enable us to free our thinking about infants and to respect them as unique individuals who are "in process of becoming" (Gerber, 1993). Civilization has opposed the natural development of children by placing obstacles in their paths and by focusing only on adult needs. Maria Montessori changes these foci and places the infant at the center of the stage. She tells us to "follow the child". We are taught respect for the child and that the child is good. Infants develop naturally in their own way and at their own pace, and therefore, the prepared environment is essential in infant care.

Both the Montessori and Gerber methods stress observation of the infant by the educarer. By means of this observation, the educarer really learns the needs of the individual child - social, emotional, and developmental. This enables him/her to prepare a proper environment for each child's self-growth. As infants change continually, so must their environment change in appropriate ways. It is through careful observation that the caregiver knows how to make these changes.

Respect is fundamental when working with infants. This is the central point of both Maria Montessori's and Magda Gerber's approach to infant care. Educarers need to be reminded that infants are little people learning to be big people. They are not "toys" to be manipulated and moved about at whim. Babies need to be included in everything that concerns their care. This means telling them what is about to happen and inviting them to participate. Even newborns need this kind of inclusion in their care.

We need to respect the natural growth order of infants and give them the proper environment in which to grow. Montessori talks about "sensitive periods" (Montessori,l966) of growth and Dr. T. Berry Brazelton speaks of "touchpoints" (Brazelton, 1992). They are similar references to times in a child's life when the child is open to mastering a new skill. Infants become compulsive about their work and we need to respect these efforts.

Respect for the infant is especially important during feeding. A young infant needs to be held and to feel the warmth and support of his/her caregiver while eating. This is true for both bottle feedings and solids. Once a child is able to sit unsupported, he/she should sit facing the caregiver, preferably at a low table and chair so the feet can touch the floor. As soon as possible, the infant should be encouraged to feed him/herself.

If we truly respect a child, we can truly nurture him/her. Thus, we can give total regard for his/her independence. The old adage says so much: Never do for a child what he/she can do for him/herself.

Montessori believes the child is naturally good and continually works toward perfection (Class discussion, 1994). The attitude of the educarer drives everything we do and can set up barriers which interfere with this basic concept. The focus of all childcare is the child. As Rousseau said, "There can be no efficiency in childcare. (Class discussion, 1994). The caregivers are secondary, the child is primary.

The infant should be allowed to develop according to his/her own nature and have the freedom to create his/her own personality. This development is his/her work. It is extremely important that the educarer is well grounded in the field of infant development so that he/she is able to discern the child's natural growth patterns. The caregiver is not a teacher but a facilitator who enables learning to occur.

The prepared environment is vital in infant care. The educarer, as a constant observer, must know the needs of each infant and prepare carefully so that those needs can be met. By receiving total concentration during the caregiving activities of feeding, diapering, dressing and putting to sleep, the infant is able to work independently on the floor during the rest of the waking hours. The large motor skills will come without help from adults. Infants need to be free from restraints in order to work on these skills. Therefore, there should be no walkers, swings or other such containers * in an infant room. Some skills need to be demonstrated by the adult first and then are learned through independent practice. For example, the educarer might stack three or four blocks and let the infant knock them over. Soon the child will be stacking the blocks.

The most important part of a well-run infant program is a trained educarer. This person needs to be well-adjusted in his/her own life and able to offer the child a calm, consistent and content personal relationship. Empathy is a vital quality for an infant caregiver, the ability to feel with the child and not just for him/her. Flexibility is also necessary. We must be able to meet the immediate needs of the child. Infants must be able to see us as trustworthy. They can recognize insincerity very early in life.

The Montessori philosophy is something that can be carried within us and put into practice without the purchase of gizmos and expensive equipment. In fact, the simplicity of this philosophy enables an infant program to be developed with little monetary output for fixtures. The use of "floor beds" and "weaning tables" (Class discussion, 1994) are ideal but it is possible to follow this philosophy without them. When cribs and highchairs need to be replaced due to normal wear and tear, the Montessori items can then be introduced.

A Montessori professional is an experimenter. He/she is flexible and able to adapt quickly to the changing needs of the child. A working knowledge of child development and a genuine respect of the dignity of the whole child distinguish this special educarer from the rest.

CONTAINERS -  The term "CONTAINER" was coined by Phyllis Porter. This term, and its variations (containerization, containerize, containment etc.), refers to the mobility restriction placed upon the infant. The infant's ability to naturally and freely move about is curtailed by such devices as "swings", "walkers", etc. These devices can actually HARM an infant's natural muscular-skeletal development and should NEVER be utilized. In point of fact, they should NEVER have been invented in the first place.


Berg, K. and Pabst, M. (1994, July). Early Childhood I Program. St. Mary's Campus, Minneapolis, MN.

Brazelton, T. Berry, M.D. (1992). Touchpoints. New York: Addison-Wesley.

Montessori, Maria (1966). The Secret of Childhood. New York: Ballantine Books.

Gerber, M. (1993, August). Intensive Teacher Training. Resources for Infant Educarers, Los Angeles, California.

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