Encouraging children to be who they truly are



When my daughter was 3 months old I have read Maria Montessori’s book « Absorbent Mind » and it had a big impact on me.

Firstly, I understood some of the happy moments of my childhood, when I was allowed to freely explore the environment around our home and secondly I understood why I was so unhappy in school.

Now putting aside my own story that I don’t want to project on my daughter I have asked myself what I can do to encourage her develop an inner freedom that will allow her to be « just be herself »

Only through freedom and environmental experience is it practically possible for human development to occur.” - Maria Montessori

In the last year I have observed her a lot and saw how she explores the world. Because of an unusual environment (severe pollution in China) and our constant travelling and moving, I have spent almost every minute of her life with her. I know many people consider spending time with an infant as dull and uninteresting. For me it was inspiring and full of new learnings.

Here is what I have learned from her:

1/ It's not about "playing", it's about exploring the world. Replacing the words « play » by « discovery » and « toy «  by « real object » can change our whole perspective of how we see the relation children have with the world.

I hear so many times « you can’t play with this ». It’s an automatic sentence. But I try to stay mindful and when I hear myself saying it, I rephrase it « you can’t explore this ». And then if it's safe, I ask myself « Why not? » Children never « play » with objects, they « explore, discover, experience » the world around them. If we understand that, our whole relationship with our children and with the environment changes

2/ « Less is more ». A minimalistic environment with less toys and plenty of real life exploration is what they need. Because we traveled so much and moved in so many times (9 times in 18 months) we didn’t have so much space in our luggage. This was beneficial for all of us. I had to be more creative (find around me real objects that were safe and interesting to be explored) and she got to experience things from the day to day life and not reproductions of the reality. For example, I gave her some things from the kitchen (a frying pan, an wooden bawl, real spoons …) that were not breakable and preferably not of plastic

3/ We don’t need to rush a baby (or a child). They just naturally go through different milestones: rolling, crawling, walking, talking. We don’t need to make them sit if they are not interested in yet, we don ’t need to put them on their tummy if they don’t like it yet, we don’t need to rush them stand up and walk. Babies are self-learners. All we need to do as parents is to be there and tenderly SEE them. Just like they are, at the development stage where they are. 

4/ We can trust babies and therefore encourage their independence. When we can start encourage independence? Very very early I believe. Based on my observation and my experience a 7 months older baby (an actually a 6 months old too) can be capable of eating independently, without being fed with a spoon. He or she can eat regular food (our food) without being mashed. A 10 months old (probably even younger) can drink directly from a small mug. My daughter was so happy to use the objects we use (mugs, glasses, plates…), eat the same food we ate (if it was healthy) and skip all the « baby stuff ».

When they become toddlers we need to resist to the urge to help them when they want to do things by themselves.

5/ Children come with an innate personality and we need to treasure it. They have their own potential an our job as respectful parents is to identify it and cherish it. Just like a gardner treasures a plant without knowing its color.

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” 

― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

So these were some of my « Aha! » moments in the first year of my life as a new parent. I know each baby is unique and each parent experience is different. I’m curious to learn more about yours.