Concentration, problem-solving skills, resilience and creativity.
It can be hard not to get caught up in the milestones baby should be achieving. I try to ignore these largely arbitrary markers though, as I have no real concerns that my son won’t be sitting or walking when he goes off to college.
I’m not saying these indicators of healthy development should be totally ignored, as there are of course instances where there may be a developmental delay that needs to be addressed. I’m talking more about the semi-competitive “my child rolled over at two and a half months” type of thing, where people obsess about achieving these markers by a certain date.
Instead, I try to focus on the life skills that I believe will help him be successful in whatever he decides to do. I watch for the development of these skills as he plays, and I try to provide opportunities to help these skills grow.
For me, the following are much more important milestones of development than those found in most baby books:
Protecting children’s growing concentration is a huge part of any Montessori classroom. I believe it is equally important to do this at home. Sometimes my son floats from toy to toy, activity to activity, busy as the little bee he likes to carry around with him all day.
But sometimes, time stops, all is quiet, and the beautiful look of concentration takes over his little face. This happened recently as he tried to put the purple ring on his new wooden ring stacker toy. He usually just takes the rings off, which he enjoys very much, but this time he was determined to get that purple ring back on. He tried and tried, not making a sound, not looking at me, not paying attention to anything else. I sat very still and watched him.
Though I was tempted to take a video to capture this moment, I refrained because the smallest of distractions, even just seeing me moving out of the corner of his eye, could easily break the newly developing concentration.
Was he successful? No. Does that matter? Not at all. He concentrated on the task for several minutes before moving on, which is something I love to see.
I watch for this so that I can provide opportunities to expand this skill. Observing the types of things that captivate him allows me to provide toys and experiences that may spark this type of concentration in the same way in the future.
2. Problem-solving skills
This is another area we always watched for in the classroom, and I try to foster problem-solving skills at home. In the classroom, it would be things like, does the child immediately ask a teacher if he can’t find paper, or does he look around first? Does he always ask for help as soon as he gets stuck on a math problem, or does he try different things before asking an adult?
When working on problem-solving skills with children, we would ask them leading questions instead of giving an answer right away: “Hmm, you need paper to write your equation on. I wonder where you could find that.”
I try to do the same thing at home. Lately, this has looked like my son reaching across the coffee table for a coaster which was out of reach. Of course I could just hand him the coaster, problem solved. But is that what he really wants? No, I don’t believe so. I think he wants to be able to get it himself.
So I muse aloud, “Hmm, that coaster is too far away to reach. I wonder what else you could try to get to it.” I get out of his way so that there’s a clear path for him to edge around the table to get to it himself, which he is totally capable of. I try to help him see that just because he doesn’t see how to do something right away, doesn’t mean he can’t figure it out.
Babies and children are constantly trying to do things that are just out of reach of their current capabilities. This is how they stretch and grow and reach the next level. When my son is trying something new and challenging, I watch to see if he gets frustrated and gives up right away, or if he keeps trying even though something is difficult.
I think babies naturally have a lot of resilience—they almost have to, as everything starts out hard for them and they have to keep trying or they’ll never get anywhere.
There are things we as parents can do help encourage this skill:
- Don’t help too soon—I think it’s important to allow the child to try on his own, but not to the point of having a meltdown. The goal is for the child to push himself, but not so far that it’s a negative experience and he won’t want to try again in the future.
- Timing—Everyone’s resilience is lower when they’re tired, and anyone, especially a child, may need more help at the end of the day. He may be able to crawl across the room by himself in the morning but then need to be carried late in the afternoon, and that’s fine.
- Balance—No one wants to feel like everything around them is hard. I try to balance my son’s toys so that there is something challenging available, but also some easy things that he’s familiar with. I try to do this with his food, too. Sure, he loves picking up peas, but he also wants something big and easy to hold so that not every bite is a challenge.
Creativity often brings to mind art and music, but people can be creative in everything they do. For babies, I think this means letting them safely explore in ways you may not have intended.
This may mean letting them combine different toys or build with their shakers instead of their blocks. I think this gets trickier as they become toddlers, and it can be too easy to say no before really considering if something is harmful or unsafe.
I try to take a moment to see if my son really needs to be stopped, or if he’s just exploring creatively. Can he play in the grass? Sure. Am I going to let him eat a bunch of it? No, probably not. But I can redirect him to our basil plant or rosemary bush if he wants to explore what eating leaves is like.
I try to think about what it is he’s trying to do and how can I meet that need in a way that is safe and acceptable.