What’s the big deal with teaching independence to infants?
Supporting children’s independence is one of the most consistent themes in Montessori education. But why is teaching independence important for infants?
It is clearly easier, and less messy, for an adult to feed a young child, rather than to encourage them to learn to hold a spoon, and feed themselves. So why does Montessori stress the value of independence for children under two?
Doctor Maria Montessori identified that children possess a strong passion to become independent. She determined that independence and the child’s desire to: “Help me to do it myself” was the key driver behind their developmental progress.
According to Montessori theory, the child’s journey towards independence begins from the moment they are born, and progresses as children learn to become fully functioning, empowered individuals in our world.
Nurturing independence is particularly important for infants as they are in the beginning stages of developing the ability to participate, change, and collaborate in their environment.
The Montessori Curriculum supports the development of independence by providing infants with opportunities to do and think for themselves. These opportunities often present themselves through practical life activities that are centred on care of self.
Meal times, for example, provide infants with infinite opportunities to develop the fine motor skills, coordination, and sensory processing skills that are required for feeding and drinking independence. While this may seem like a small step, it is a tremendous achievement for a young child.
There are many transitions that support children’s feeding and drinking independence. To adopt a Montessori approach, use the below guide to assist your child with transitioning from a bottle to a sippy cup, sippy cup to an open cup, and feeding to self-feeding.
Bottle to Sippy Cup
One of the first steps toward feeding and drinking independence is the transition from a bottle to sippy cup. This is often a big step for infants, as they are still in the process of developing the fine motor skills required for holding and moving objects.
As with most development milestones, there is no ‘perfect’ age to transition between the bottle or breast, and the sippy cup. However, there are several signs that your child may be in a sensitive period for developing this new skill.
When your child begins showing an interest in picking up and grabbing objects, grabbing at their own bottle, or reaching for an open cup or water bottle, it is a good time to introduce them to a sippy cup.
Sippy cups are a good transition cup as they encourage children to learn to grasp objects, hold firmly, and coordinate between their hands and mouths. They also allow children to develop confidence when drinking, which is important when you are looking toward introducing an open cup.
Sippy Cup to Open Cup
Once your child has mastered the sippy cup, progressing to the open cup is a natural transition. In fact, many parents choose to skip the intermediate sippy cup step, transitioning directly from bottle or breastfeeding, to using an open cup.
Skipping the sippy cup is a more Montessori approach, as it encourages the child to learn through real-life experiences. When transitioning to an open cup, it is best to begin with a small cup, and only fill it half-way with water.
Using an open cup allows children to learn how clean up after a spill, master the hand-eye coordination to raise a cup to their mouth, and slowly master the skills that will allow them to drink without making a mess. There will be plenty of spills, but in time, your child will learn to drink independently.
Being Fed to Self-Feeding
Introducing solid foods is an exciting step for infants as it opens the door to a whole range of new sensory experiences. It also provides immense opportunities for developing the skills of independence.
When your child is in the sensitive period for learning how to feed themselves, you will see a number of common signs. These often include mimicking your actions as your feed yourself, grabbing for your utensils, or attempting to take food off your plate.
It’s important to encourage this inquisitiveness by offering your child the opportunity to explore their food, and learn to feed themselves. By feeding themselves, children learn a range of important fine motor skills, as they learn to grasp and control utensils.
It is best to begin lessons in self-feeding by providing your child with a small spoon, small bowl, and fruit or vegetable puree. This way your child can learn to move the food around their bowl, feel the texture, and slowly learn to bring it their mouth using the spoon.
By self-feeding, children challenge their sensory processing skills, as they taste, touch, and smell their food. Through sensory exploration, children learn the difference in temperature between cooked and fresh foods, and begin to understand that some foods are better eaten with utensils, while others are best eaten with hands.
Although self-feeding is a messy learning experience, the learning benefits far outweigh the downside associated with cleaning up, as children work towards becoming independent eaters.
An independent learner is not a child who has mastered every skill, but who has been given the freedom and opportunity to engage with their environment. Feeding times are the perfect chance to build confidence in your child as they learn to do things for themselves.
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