Tag Archives: implementation

Sweating the Small Stuff – Things Heat Up in the Infant Room

It’s funny how The More Things Change – The More Things Stay the Same. Each Spring over the past 10+ years or so, we’ve come to anticipate the season bringing temperamental conditions in the form of runny noses, growth spurts, limit testing- even the weather may fluctuate from one extreme to the other.

If you’ve been around a few years, you learn to stay just slightly ahead of the tide. You’ll find our faculty meetings packed with reminders for health and sanitation best practices, if/when/how to apply bug spray or sunscreen, and curriculum enhancements to address growing needs. We’ve even come up with a plan on how to set the thermostat, when to open or close windows, and a communications protocol so that the entire school is able to respond to the center’s HVAC needs during days which begin in the upper 50s (10 C) and end in the mid 80s (27 C).

And each year we know where to go when making that call – the Infant Room.

While social cohesion, collaboration, self-regulation (a strong indicator for academic success) and free movement are integral components comprising our school value system- the child’s capability across the varying planes of development from infancy to Kindergarden age varies widely. Our obligation as a center lies in meeting these varying needs at the weakest- or rather- most fragile level providing the necessary infrastructure to allow the child to feel supported and competent as she works towards independence and mastery. In regards to being able to regulate body temperature- we look to our babies in determining if/when/how to close up the doors and set the thermostat.

You might think it strange that we spend so much time and energy contemplating turning on the AC – it would be much easier just to set the thermostat and move on.

While we recognize that being in the Deep South of the United States we will ultimately be relegated to the climate controlled indoors with internmittant access to the outside, we also recognize that once so, our children will break connections with each other, with their self motivation, and with nature. Once we plug into the AC the doors shut- children lose their ability to connect visually, verbally and physically with adjacent communities involving older friends and siblings. Prior to door closing movement and cognition intertwined- now free movement is more restricted usually resulting in the outdoors being a place for gross motor activity while the indoors one for controlled movements in sensitivity to the group. Reluctantly, a bird’s song, the smell of approaching rain, and soft Spring breeze is replaced with the hum of an air conditioner switching on and off.

This time of year- we’re sweating it as we balance the needs of our entire school community with that of our youngest members. When things heat up in the infant room, it’s no small matter. Overheating an infant may increase the risk for SIDS.

Revisiting our school procedures, I asked Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) Board President, Polly Elam for input. Ms. Elam has 35 years experience in the early childhood field as a ECE Center Director, Regional Program Administrator and a Community College Instructor. While State License agencies may have differing requirements regarding temperature (South Carolina lies somewhere between 68 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit) many stipulate the room temperature to be “as appropriate to the season” leaving a vague interpretation. Even parental guidance provided on the SIDS website is open to interpretation: “Do not over-clothe the infant while she sleeps. Just use enough clothes to keep the baby warm without having to use cover. Keep the room at a temperature that is comfortable for you.”

Polly interjects-

“Keep a room at a temperature that is comfortable for you” can be debatable in a child care center where we all have varying opinions on what is comfortable. You would have to keep the temperature set at 80 for me and I would still need a sweatshirt because I am always cold. The various websites all give somewhat conflicting recommendations. It appears you are already doing what most recommend and as I recall from my visit, the children sleep with very light clothing.

Of course, it’s nice when your policies are within recommended guidelines- however, being with babies means that we have to surpass stated standards, constantly evaluating center practice and the well-bing of each child keeping in mind that an infant’s needs can often be quite different than the adult’s- even with something as basic and temperature control.  Anna Tardos, Director of the Pikler Institute (an orphanage in Budapest), reminds us that when you are assessing your practice- first and foremost- look at the child.
How IS the child.  
On that particular day, we were also taking a moment for photographic documentation- here is what we saw the children doing.  The thermostat hung between 78-80 while a breeze blew through the open solarium door.
Several times during my observation of the Infant Environment between 2:15pm-4:00pm that day I was able to reach out in gesture or smile- at times, I connected physically with the babies. What was I looking for? An infant’s skin should feel cool to the touch (not clammy), appear content and peaceful, and should be actively exploring the environment. Without looking at a control panel, I was able to assess if the temperature was comfortable and safe for the babies in our care.   Still, the relationship of a baby being overheated in question of an increase risk to SIDS lingered, so we dug a little deeper.
In regards to SIDS, fellow RIE Associate Lisa Sunburry of REGARDING BABY remarks, “…everything I’ve ever read about SIDS and room temperature seems the problems aren’t so much caused by the room temp., but by over -bundling of babies. ”  Lisa pointed us to: 
So what is our balance at Little Learners Lodge? Currently, we’re checking our thermostat for accuracy…. and in the meantime, it’s set to a cozy 78 Fahrenheit. Until the AC kicks on we’ll all enjoy our outdoor access the sights, sounds and smells of nature and our school community. We’ll remind ourselves to dress children for the weather – teachers, too- offering refreshing water breaks periodically. During sleep, we’ll keep our rest items minimal- a light blanket at most and make sure the fans are on to assist with air circulation.
We’re also on the hunt for vinyl strips (like they use in warehouses) for doorways in order that the children can pass through to the outdoors while keep the cool air in. Seen any?

Care of the Environment – the RIE way

Recently my husband and I hosted an 8 year old birthday party at our house for our middle son, Valin.  Keeping with tradition, every other year he is invited to include as many friends as he would like- surprisingly many considering his tender age.  Reaching back, Valin drew up a list of names bringing together children and families from his Sunday school, current public elementary class, past Montessori preschool friends,  even children from his RIE Parent Infant group.  As the group of more than twenty+ kiddos converged, we stood prepared.

Midway through the festivities, my husband organized the games while I took a moment to tidy up by gathering forgotten half- eaten lunch plates, wayward cups, or bits of trash which missed reaching garbage containers.  My travels brought me to the bubble blowing contest and as I bent down to begin picking up the wrappers that had been tossed aside in the eagerness, I remarked out loud, “If anyone has any trash, I can take that for you.”

A section of the bubble blowing group separated and formed around me.  Gum wrappers appeared from closed hands or withdrawn from pockets causing me to stop.  As I looked up, I was taken aback by the faces which met me- they were all Montessori kids.

As a Montessori parent and educator, I often take for granted the “care of the environment” part of our curriculum, it’s long term effects however, now stood before me a testament to the foundation laid early on. Wrappers properly disposed of, the children turned back to the task at hand while I set off chasing a few remaining ones caught by the wind.

Of course I had to share the story with our Head of School, Megan Nordoff, sparking our contemplation: when do children absorb and demonstrate the desire and ability to Care for the Environment and why?  Is this strictly a Montessori thing?

 We find ourselves reaching beyond our observations of the primary environment discovering at Little Learners Lodge INFANTS seemingly driven to and spontaneously taking on this care of the environment as the child develops a sense of self and desire to become a contributing member to her community- think Maslov and Sense of Belonging.

All along the RIE Baby is respected and valued as a member of the family community.  When following Magda Gerber’s RIE Approach, Parents and Educarer collaborate in providing for the child and in doing so, develop an enduring relationship.  Dr. Emmi Pikler, Gerber’s pediatrician, recognized infants absorb the care they receive and assimilate that care as part of her individual psyche remaining throughout her life.

A child who is respected gives it back.

We see it first with CARE OF THE ENVIRONMENT.

When CARE OF THE ENVIRONMENT is modeled in an infant’s daily life, we have observed at Little Learners Lodge that somewhere around 13 to 18 months a  RIE baby will initiate becoming a member of our community by participating in CARE OF THE ENVIRONMENT.  With Sensitive Guidance,  a RIE baby will build upon his self esteem via the contributions he feels he makes to the group.

It All Starts Here.

Playing Favorites in the Montessori Environment

We might not admit it, but it’s true- we teachers have our favorites- be it a child or something in the environment that speaks to us directly.

Yes, a child often touches our soul in a special way over the years and long after she may have graduated from our school.  And yes- I have a favorite Montessori material that I can’t help getting my own hands on.  One  I wish I had access to during my early childhood experiences.

One of my teacher trainers, Pat Pope, recognized the special bond Montessori Guides may form with a child or work in her environment.  While these feelings may exist, while in the classroom Pat advised “checking it” at the door and focus on the unique gifts and beauty of each child and material comprising the environment.  How would you know if you were getting it right?  I remember Pat saying, “The child should feel safe emotionally and respected by the guide at all times.  You should remember something special that he did during the week and share it with the parent.  When getting together one mom might say to another, ‘You know Sue is Ms. Nicole’s favorite.’ while the other will remark, ‘That can’t be for it’s certainly Mark.’  With the materials, Guides should visit each throughout the week working with the material yourself, deepening your own understanding and appreciation for the genius of Dr. Montessori’s understanding of connecting the environment with the child’s sensitive periods of learning.”

I often share Pat Pope’s words with our faculty members and issue a challenge of sorts.  While not allowing them to advise me of their favorite child or material, I’ll make a guess.  While they have yet to inform me of their favorites- I’ll tell you one of mine.

The Montessori chains.

I stand at wonder that Dr. Maria Montessori conceived that such a material is of importance to the Primary Aged child of 2.5 – 6 yours.  Really?  The square and cube of each number one through ten-  color coded and often memorized at completion of the Kindergarten year- a material that can be adapted to meet the needs of a child who has yet to recognize the symbolic representation for the numeral 5, while at the same time be absorbed seemingly without effort by some at the completion of the Kindergarten year.

Yes, I love the Montessori Bead Cabinet the most .  What a gift that some will avoid that tedious memorization at the dinner table of square and cube of 1 – 10.  But shhhh….. don’t tell anyone.

The Empathetic Roots of Flower Arranging

Montessori Practical Life 101 invariably includes the outline for FLOWER ARRANGING.  This pivotal work links all cornerstones of the Montessori environment from toddlerhood through elementary- first as a sensorial experience and, later as an in-depth research into the functions and parts of flowers themselves.

The appeal of the arranging and the giving of flowers is universal- for centuries flowers have marked important milestones in our daily lives;  expressed feelings of love, gratitude or sadness; or been admired as an appreciation for natural beauty.

In the classroom, a vaseful of fragrant flowers provided an open invitation from which Dr. Maria Montessori took full advantage:

The process of flower arranging is predictably sequenced with precision and care- as are all of the practical life activities- to best support the development of coordination, concentration, order and independence. The child puts on an apron, selects a vase, fills it with water and chooses the perfect flower to cut and place inside the vase.  He then carries the vase and a small doily to a table in the room and lays down the vase carefully on the top corner of the table.  There is often another child at work sitting there at the table who looks up.  The two make eye contact and exchange a moment of silence.

Montessori Guides revel in the work’s ability to assist the child in control of movement, eye-hand coordination, and strengthening hand muscles.  The lesson also opens the door for extensions: labeling parts, estimating days of survival, dissecting ovaries, or integrating composting.

Flowers are a fragrant, colorful, and fragile enticement to insects and birds.  After all, this is how the process of pollination continues.  It’s easy to see how flowers lure children of all temperaments to come near and investigate their beauty by looking, touching and smelling.

But the flower arranging work has a more important indirect aim than simply admiring nature’s work of art.  It is an opportunity for little hands to contribute to the beautification of the environment.  It is a tender moment when a young heart lays down a symbol of friendship, love and peace on a table for someone else to enjoy. It is a brief yet integral step outside of oneself and one’s own needs.

Flower Arranging provides the mechanism from which the children in the classroom express their empathy and love for their community and its members.

I smelt the violets in her hand and asked, half in words,half in signs, a question which meant “Is love the sweetness of flowers?

–   Helen Keller

Magda Gerber’s RIE Approach Compliments the Montessori Experience

I’m a 3-6 Montessori certified Early Childhood specialist and, yet, I continue to be drawn  to the work of Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) and the methods in infant care first introduced by its founder, Magda Gerber.

I’d like to say the interest results from our school beginning at infancy and continuing through the first developmental plane ending with Kindergarten graduation.  Knowing about infant care in addition to my Montessori 3-6 education allows me to more fully support the mission of our entire school program.

Which is true- but it’s not the whole story.

What I’ve found is that in integrating the key components of RIE at the 3-6 level, I am better able to implement the principles of the Montessori educational approach.

And I’m not alone in this discovery.

As interest in RIE grows within our own school community and as more certified Montessori faculty members at the 0-3 and 3-6 level choose to undertake RIE training in Theory and Observation, we find ourselves agreeing-  KNOWING RIE MAKES FOR A BETTER MONTESSORI GUIDE.

Upon re-reading Magda Gerber’s Your Self-Confident Baby: How to Encourage Your Child’s Natural Abilities- From the Very Start I am reminded of the approach’s basic principles and its congruency with my Montessori learning.

1. Basic trust in the child to be an initiator, an explorer, and a self-learner

I personally love the story as told via The Clio Montessori Series Volume 7 entitled The Child, Society and the World: Unpublished Speeches and Writings when Dr. Maria Montessori spoke directly to parents in 1930.  Montessori writes:

If a foolish mother frog said to her little tadpoles in the pool, ‘Come out of the water, breath the fresh air, enjoy yourselves in the young grass, and you will all grow into healthy little frogs.  Come along now, mother knows best!’ and the little tadpoles tried to obey, it would certainly mean the end of the tadpoles.

Angeline Lillard’s research in Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius supports that people learn better when they are interested in what they are learning.  Furthermore, rewarding children based on their activity can negatively impact motivation.

How important is BASIC TRUST?

Magda advises that basic trust is essential in the infant developing good judgement, trust and security.

2.  A physically safe, cognitively challenging, and emotionally nurturing environment and Consistency and clearly defined limits and expectations to develop discipline

Many programs acknowledge the importance of physical safety when preparing child environments.  Few, however, can speak clearly on the implementation of cognitive and emotional safety to the extent of the RIE Approach.

Although Montessorians pay particular attention to order in the environment and its relationship to the child’s learning, (in her teachings, Dr. Montessori points out that for the child to be free to initiate, the environment’s physical order and that provided by the warm- yet authoritative adult’s consistency regarding discipline must remain intact) the individual nature of cognitive and emotional needs of each child in our care challenge the adult in the role of environment prep.

I find RIE’s approach in assessing, evaluating and implementing tools in providing not only a safe physical environment, but one that is emotionally and cognitively challenging critical in first establishing an intimate relationship with each of the children under my care and then in providing interesting objects to speak to his/her temperament, interest and development.

3.  Time for uninterrupted play

When telling the frog story, Montessori addressed the question, “shall we leave our children to do as they like?  How can they know what is best for them when they have had no experience?” with “Have you ever given your children a chance even for one day of doing what they like without interference?” In doing so, Montessori believed that the child would fall into concentration, develop perseverance, and teach himself the valuable lessons of life to his satisfaction.  Adult interference would result in dissatisfaction, disappointment and possible deliberate mischief.

Magda Gerber agreed that adults do not teach play, but rather allow for it to unfold.  During this “wants nothing time” the adult observes, smiles upon eye contact, or when graciously invited- participates in the child’s exploration and discovery.

4.  Freedom to explore and interact with other infants

Both RIE and Montessori believe that children learn not only from adults and the environment, but also from other children.  Socialization is multi-dimensional and works best when it involves relationships with individuals from infants through elders on a regular basis and throughout the child’s very first interactions with others.  Both, also, point out that this freedom comes under the guidance and expectation of certain “rules” respecting the needs and rights of others.

My understanding of RIE has enabled me professionally to raise my expectations at an earlier level regarding the infant’s ability to learn from each other.  This deepened understanding, respect and opportunity for both child and adult enables the children at Little Learner’s Lodge and Montessori of Mount Pleasant to engage earlier and form cohesion sooner- continually amazing us not only in their abilities as a group, but also at the onset of collaborative efforts.

5.  Involvement of the child in activities allowing for her to be an active participant rather than a passive recipient

This RIE principle is congruent with Angeline Lillard’s findings that learning and well-being are improved when people have a sense of control over their lives. Learning best takes place with the involvement and cooperation of the child.

Through my RIE training, I became more sensitized to my verbal and non-verbal cuing when engaging a child and to the TIME given for the child to process, internalize and respond to our relationship.  Over time, these engagements became emotionally refueling and pleasurable encounters for both me and my partner.  And I’ve found that my lesson for the child would reveal a more profound lesson for myself.


6.  Sensitive observation of the child in order to understand her needs

Both Gerber and Montessori relied on the information received during the adult observation of the environment when developing their approaches.  Observation continues to be an integral tool in assessing personal and child success on a daily basis within a Montessori or RIE program.  Parents, likewise, benefit from allocating a protected window of uninterrupted observation time to deepening their understanding of their child’s abilities, needs, interests and also in preventing problems before they develop.

Our school success depends so heavily on the information received during sensitive observations that we have developed monthly interactions to continue to develop these skills.  Each month, parents and caregivers meet before school opening with our babies, to socialize, discuss child development and what is going on in the classroom.  A ten minute window is built in during our gathering to silently observe the children which is followed by discussion.  It is an amazing tool with each morning ending in a new discovery!

7.  Consistency and clearly defined limits and expectations to develop discipline

With so much trust and freedom going on, it’s easy to overlook the underlying fabric of clearly defined limits and expectations which provides the means for RIE and Montessori children to develop discipline.

Through role playing, group lessons, and individual reminders I was able to manage my 3-6 environment. But I have to say- developing the skill set to support discipline at the infant level through consistency and routine has enabled me to arrive at a normalized 3-6 classroom almost effortlessly.  And well before my six week goal.

Think about it… if we were able to take what we know as a best practice in Montessori and develop the skill set to better integrate our knowledge and apply it an infant ability- how could we not become better guides regardless of the child’s age or ability?