Transcript: Montessori Parenting – Encouraging Babies to Learn and Explore Through Self-Discovery

This is a text transcript from The First Time Mum’s Chat podcast. The episode is called Montessori Parenting – Encouraging Babies to Learn and Explore Through Self-Discovery and you can click on the link to view the full episode page, listen to the episode and view the show notes.

Helen Thompson: If you’ve been a listener of First Time Mum’s Chat for some time, then you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of encouraging babies and infants to develop their own imagination and fun activities. Earlier this year, I put together an episode focusing on the Montessori method, which very much encourages this approach.

I received a lot of feedback following this episode, so I’ve been on the look for someone qualified. I was delighted to recently meet Daniela Hoyle, who is currently a head teacher for the toddlers program at a Montessori School in California. Daniela is a certified infant and toddler Montessori guide, and in this episode we have a chat about the Montessori method and particularly it’s application to infants during their first 12 months.

I’m sure you’ll find Daniela’s pearls of wisdom as interesting and as inspiring as I did, and you’ll hear us talk about the importance of talking to your baby to encourage their development and imagination and curiosity, connecting with your child as much as you can during their first year and letting them participate in activities.

Hi Daniela, welcome to First Time Mum’s Chat. It’s a pleasure to have you here and I’m looking forward to discussing the Montessori method with you. Can you start by telling us about you and your background?

Daniela Hoyle: Great, thank you Helen. My name is Daniela Hoyle. I’m originally from Peru, but I have been in America for 25 years. I have a degree in child development and my certification with Montessori, with AMI, the Association of Montessori Institute. I have been working close to 15 years with children and for the past several years, my specialization with the kids have been from 0 to 3 years old.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, I’ve always been very passionate about Montessori . I said to you that when I did my childcare qualification, I wanted to do Montessori , but never actually ventured into it so that’s why I’m so keen to talk to you. I feel that it would be beneficial for more and more moms to know more about Montessori and you mentioned you work with babies, so how do we involve babies in Montessori from an early age?

Daniela Hoyle: Yeah, absolutely. I have been working with children for many years and I always had the idea of doing Montessori. The philosophy intrigued me. Later I study and then I went to put it in practice at the school and I realized how important it is to actually do it and one thing is like with everything, when you have the the philosophy and then you are trying to put it in practice, you’re trying to apply it and then once you study and then you know behind the scenes all the reasons why it’s so important, and then you apply it, you really see the difference on the children when they’re actually doing it and following it. So you mean babies, we’re talking about the first year of life?

Helen Thompson: Yeah, the first year. Before we get into the podcast too much, what’s a brief introduction of what the philosophy is for mums that maybe aren’t aware of Montessori and what the philosophy is.

Daniela Hoyle: So basically Montessori, it’s a child led philosophy and what we do is we work with the children where they are and we take them where they need to be. There’s a lot of respect to the child. We understand that they’re going through the observant mind period, which is they’re absorbing everything they see, they experience and so these first few years of their life are crucial.

So we know where we need to take them to have them explore and develop and get to their optimal development, their optimal wellbeing. So we wanna see where they are and take them where they need to be. So that’s what is called child led. There’s a lot of observation and seeing all the areas where the child stands and then we work with what we have.

In Montessori there are three main phases. First we have the very first one, from a newborn to the first 12 to 18 months old and then we have the second one, which is the infants, then we have the toddlers from 18 months old to three years old and then we have the primary three years old to six years old. So it depends on where they are. We help them on their development and I think right now we’re gonna talk mainly about how to apply this philosophy and how to apply this absorbent mind and how to observe and lead the child to where he wants to be in the first phase, the first 12 to 18 months of their lives.

Helen Thompson: Absolutely, thank you for that. People often say to me, well, babies can’t communicate, I’m always telling them there are so many different ways you can communicate. So from the Montessori side, how do we implement Montessori for babies?

Daniela Hoyle: Right, so yeah, it’s very interesting. I came across the same question and Maria Montessori too, when she started, she started at an orphanage with toddlers and she started working with them, and then she realized that actually the development started way before. She was late, she was late already! This child has been already observing everything and exploring and just the mind is like a sponge and she waited so long for the child to be 18 months old, or two years old, or three years old, to start teaching them how to develop. So she took the second phase and she was like, no, we need to start way before since the baby is born pretty much and do that.

Now I understand that it’s hard and we think that it’s just a baby, he’s not communicating much. Maybe he’s not communicating verbally but he’s definitely absorbing everything that he experiences and all the emotions and everything that’s happening in his atmosphere. So for example, if we have a baby that it’s crying because he’s hungry or his diaper is wet or he’s uncomfortable and we ignore that, he will take that as a negative emotion, right. So there’s a lot of little things that we take for granted, but we need to provide a safe environment to the child for them to feel safe and to explore and develop in an optimal way. So going back to like what kind of activities, what would we help and apply on a baby?

So what kind of activities we can do with a child? Talk to them, narrate everything that we do it’s very important. Inclusion to the baby. He’s there observing and he wants to participate and he wants to be close to mom and dad, so a lot of narrating and letting the child participate as much as he or she can, even when we are changing diapers, the whole talk about the body parts and what is it that we are doing and all of it, they need that, that vocabulary, it’s huge. If we’re in the kitchen, we can have the baby with us and we can prepare the meals, talk about it, talk about texture, talk about feelings, talk about taste, those are some of the things that we can do with a child. Take them outside. One of the activities that I tell the parents, I know that we’re busy with a lot of things and there’s a lot of things we can do at the house, but when we take a baby outside and just put a blanket and we sit down or lay down underneath a tree and have them look and observe everything, the leaves, the birds chirping, the wind, feel the grass around them. So we can narrate and help them understand the environment but also if we see that the child is intrigued or already engaged into something, just be quiet and let them be, let them take it and that is huge, huge on a baby.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, because everything for a baby is new. Everything for a baby is a new experience and I think developing that and communicating with them is so important, as you say, because you are giving them the vocabulary or letting them see different things, you’re letting them feel the air or the water or whatever it is on their face, you’re letting them see the leaves drop, whatever it is, it’s so, so valuable.

Daniela Hoyle: It develops all the senses from their sight, their hearing, everything that they can hear around them, the smell, they can smell the grass, the air and you know what it’s also really good for the parents. I will suggest the parent to lay down next to the baby too and see what is that the baby’s looking at. Maybe we’ve taken it for granted, but it’s very important for us to reconnect as well with nature and it happened to me that I actually do lay down and see, and I was like, wow, I missed this. Simplicity right for us. But it’s just so big on the child, on the baby.

Helen Thompson: And it’s a texture too, isn’t it that they’re feeling by lying on the grass and in the hands as they pick up a leaf and squeeze it. It’s all that sort of texture, which is also to do with the senses as well because it’s this sense of feel and touch and as we both know, babies feel things through their hands and through their mouths.

Daniela Hoyle: Yeah, texture, for sure. So another thing we were talking about that I wanted to talk is how important the safe environment is, right? So when we are at the house, we can provide a safe environment for the child to explore. When we are outside, obviously there is just so much we can do. You give them the leaves or a piece of rock or whatnot, and some parents don’t do it cuz they’re afraid that they’re gonna cut something or they’re gonna put it in their mouth but if you’re there and you just guide your child to do it, let them, because it’s very important for the child to touch this different texture.

Just the grass, the piece of rock, the difference of the leaf between a dry one and a green one, or even a wet one. A wet one. Yeah, exactly and tell them what is wet and what is dry and the sounds and everything else that they can see. It’s a great time for tummy time too and put them in their blanket and have them look at the grass and whatever’s going on. But yeah, as safe as you can, obviously protect them, but also let them explore, let them touch and feel, and smell, and explore the environment.

Helen Thompson: I definitely agree with that. I think that’s so important to let kids be outside, cause a lot of the time they’re not, and I think it’s great even in rain or shine, if it’s sunny, if it’s cold, if it’s snowy, obviously you make sure, as you mentioned, the safety. You make sure if they’re outside and it’s cold they’re wrapped up warmly or if it’s sunny that they’ve got sunscreen on and hats on.

Daniela Hoyle: Right, safety number one but don’t let, oh, it’s too sunny, I’m not gonna take them out or it’s too cold I’m not gonna take him out. I’ve seen parents do that, and it’s a shame because the child needs to explore and feel all of this. It’s huge, huge for them, for their development to actually feel the rain, feel the sunshine, feel being sitting on the sidewalk, feel the dirt. It’s really big. So that’s one of the main activities I will suggest the parents to reconnect and get them out.

Helen Thompson: I don’t know how true this is, but I’ve always heard that the Montessori toys can be very expensive.

Daniela Hoyle: Right, yeah, taking them out outside is not gonna cost them anything. Unfortunately, yeah the Montessori schools tend to be expensive, and I think that mainly it’s because the ratio is lower than the regular school, the equipment that we use are with better materials like wood or glass, so they do break more often. So there’s a lot of things that makes the Montessori school more expensive. But following a Montessori education and philosophy, it doesn’t have to be expensive. When Maria Montessori started, she started with poor kids at an orphanage, and all she did is just grab stuff from the house and from the orphanage and the idea was that, that you just grab whatever you have at the house and you work with that. Now the schools take that and remake it with safe material so that’s why it’s expensive. But at the house, we don’t have to buy expensive Montessori materials especially for a baby. We can use most of the things we have at the house.

There are some manipulative toys or puzzles or books that we can get. It doesn’t have to be expensive. You can get them cheap too. But there are a lot of other activities that we can use from the household. The child, the first year, the main goal for them, what they care the most is to be close to mom or dad and in order for them to develop, once they’re with the parents, just give them stuff with texture. Give them materials and activities with texture. They’re still developing their hands, their eye hand coordination, developing all the senses and all of that.

You don’t need flashy, expensive materials to do that. Use whatever you have, even the wooden spoon from the kitchen. If you’re at the kitchen and you have the child in a safe chair or something looking at you and trying to imitate you or just watching what you’re doing, give them something, give them the plastic spoon and help them spread butter on a cracker or on a bread. Give them the wooden spoon, give them something for them to touch and experience with materials. Be at the house and let them crawl on the floor and go through your drawers and get all your clothes out of the drawers. That’s what they wanna do. They wanna look and explore and touch and feel it. So that’s another thing they can do. You’re doing laundry have them help you pair the laundry. All the socks, pair them, pair the socks. Try to have them find the socks that match and have them pair them.

Have them help you sort the clothes with colors. That’s another thing, we teach while we are doing and practicing the activities. Most of our kids learn colors and numbers and the vocabulary, through doing. We don’t have a lesson where we see it and we’re like 1, 2, 3. We’re constantly counting, we’re constantly saying the colors. So if you’re doing laundry, just have them yellow, red, and have them, you know, show you what it is and there are almost all the activities that we are doing as an adult we can do it with our baby next to us, if he’s not fussy, if he’s entertained, obviously. Just try to keep them entertained and narrating what we’re doing and give them something to touch and feel while we’re doing it.

Helen Thompson: It’s interesting you say about the colors, because I think a lot of people think, well, how can I say to a baby, this is red, yellow, because a baby won’t respond but you can still pick up a red sock and talk to the baby and say, right, well I’m picking up this red sock. I’m now putting it in a basket, or I’m putting it in the washing machine or whatever I’m doing. Cause you are teaching them those colors even though they don’t know that they are teaching them those colors, they’re seeing the red, they’re seeing the yellow while you are picking it up, so they’re learning that vocabulary whilst you’re doing it. So the communication is so important.

Daniela Hoyle: Yeah, it’s definitely absorbing. They’re absorbing it all and by around 18 to 24 months, they’re going through this explosion of vocabulary. You get a child that that talks only a few words and all of a sudden, boom, you know, he opens up and just like talks so much. It’s like, where’d that come from? Well, for the past 18, 20 months, he has been hearing people talk around him. If you do not do that to the child, then it’s going to take longer for the child to have this explosion of vocabulary but if you’re constantly teaching them, and you will see that the kids that have older siblings, they’re constantly hearing the yapping, yapping, yapping, so it’s easier for them but if it’s an only child, the only way for them to observe all of this vocabulary, is from the parents constantly talking to them. So they are absorbing, they’re absorbing, they’re absorbing. Maybe they don’t have the development on their mouth yet to say it out loud, but it’s definitely working inside and developing inside and eventually will come out between 18 months to two years old.

Helen Thompson: And you are also encouraging their imagination as well, aren’t you by communicating and talking to them because if you are, if you’re talking to them all the time, you are encouraging them rather than saying, no, don’t do this, don’t do that, or, my baby can’t do this, or my baby can’t do that. By giving them the vocabulary and talking to them all the time, you are encouraging them to use their imagination, to discover things for themselves.

Daniela Hoyle: Yeah, absolutely and talking about imagination too, it’s very important to let the child concentrate and let them think and process, right. So I know that I say a lot about talking, and I used to say this to my parents, narrate, narrate, talk, talk, talk, but also observe the child, because if we already have a child and a baby engaged into something, learn when to be quiet. Don’t interrupt that because we want them to develop that concentration that is very important. That’s where the brain patterns are forming. So we don’t wanna interrupt that to take them somewhere else or to break that concentration, to show them something else, or to keep talking, talking because then it becomes like da da all day. He is there we step back and we let them and hopefully that can last for several minutes and the parent can do something else, or you can just observe your child and be mesmerized by what the child is learning. But our goal is to keep them entertained or engaged into something. So this whole talking and narrating is when the child is looking for the attention and it needs to be engaged into something. Once we engage them, we step back and we let them.

Helen Thompson: And we let them learn and give them that time cause it’s teaching them to have that quiet time. It’s teaching them to know that they are allowed to have quiet time as well. Just like parents want to have quiet time, so do babies, so do children. They like to have that quiet time and encouraging them to do that and allowing them the space to do that, I think is important .

Daniela Hoyle: Definitely that one is gonna pay off a lot when they start growing. You’re gonna need the child to be on their own for a little bit. So it’s good to teach them since the very beginning that it’s okay to to be by yourself. You don’t need to have the attention of mommy and daddy 24×7, you can be okay and at peace and that comes with a safe environment. Once the child feels that his needs have been met, he feels safe in the environment, he feels he can communicate with his parents. So yeah, he will engage into something and he’ll be a child, baby, infant that will just take his time to develop his imagination.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, I agree with you there. You mentioned glass and wood and things like that. To me, I think it’s great to have that around, but I guess for a mum that’s just learning this Montessori and learning how to implement it with babies they may think that glass is not safe or help they’re gonna break the glass or hurt their fingers or cut themselves. How would you approach that?

Daniela Hoyle: Well, again, for one, the prepare environment so he’s not gonna cut his fingers with an unbroken glass. So if you are there guiding them it’s gonna be completely safe. If he’s just touching the glass and experiencing and drinking from the cup, he’s not gonna cut himself. The glass is gonna have to fall and break, and that’s when you are there to guide them and to have the child walk away and step away so he doesn’t get hurt, right but then the important thing of this is that it’s cause and effect and the child will learn that now these things break. I’ve seen it in my classroom. The children are so careful, so careful with the glasses because somebody already broke something and the noise was so loud and the chaos was so dramatic, and all the teachers were like, oh, everybody has to move and there’s glass everywhere and now we have to sweep and oh, we make such a big deal that It’s a big impact on them, and they get even a little bit afraid so they will take care next time because they don’t want this to happen. Now, if they have a plastic cup and every time it falls and nothing happens, they’re not gonna be careful. They’re gonna grab it with two fingers and they’re gonna do whatever and it’s gonna fall because nothing happens. We actually don’t see as many accidents with glasses as you will think. A child may break one or two and that’s it. Most of the year he will be very careful. You teach them how to hold the glass and how to be careful, and usually they learn pretty quick.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, I like the cause and effect. I’ve learnt that from my childcare experience. As you say, if something breaks and smashes, it’s a noise sometimes, or your reaction as well that makes a child sort of think, oh my gosh, what was that and they’ll learn to be respectful and understanding of that.

Daniela Hoyle: So at the house, even more so the parents can approach that because the child is not gonna be there with several children. The parent can have the glass and be next to the child, make sure that the child handles it and if it breaks, you know, make a big deal out of it. Now, you don’t have to use the expensive China on the child. Buy some cheap glass or plate or something made of glass or ceramic. Even the used stores have it, so you don’t have to use the expensive one just buy a cheap one and make sure this one is for the child and he can use that one. So if it breaks, it’s not gonna hurt you as much, right, as a parent. Same thing with the stuff at the house. Don’t keep all those expensive things around when you have a baby crawling or a toddler walking, because then you don’t have an environment for the child where the child can freely explore. The child doesn’t understand yet, and the parent is going to be stressed that, oh, he may break this. So you are like, don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t go there, don’t do this but the child doesn’t really understand that and it’s taking it a lot more personal. So just take those things away for a year or so until the child grows and you can have it, and, and make sure the child can explore freely. Once the child explores and touches everything and looks through everything around, that curiosity is going to be met. So he’s not gonna be so willing to be mischievous in the future. If you’re constantly telling the child, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t. One day, the minute you turn around the child, his curiosity is going to be eating him, but he’s gonna be like, I have to go there. I have to do it and they can’t help themselves. They don’t have that ability to control their emotions yet, so they’re gonna do it.

But if you leave everything open and have them touch it with you. You talk to them, you explain why this is important, why this is not safe, or this or that, and you let them be curious and be free and he’s going to be a much more calm child, much more in control with his emotions.

Helen Thompson: And it’s also gonna help him in later life as well. He’s gonna be more curious and ask more questions and understand things a lot more because he’s been allowed to do that at a young age.

Daniela Hoyle: Yeah, absolutely.

Helen Thompson: Is there anything else that you would like to add on Montessori that you haven’t already mentioned?

Daniela Hoyle: Yeah. So like we were saying about the observant mind and following the child. Right now, we’re talking about very basics. The very basics for the first year of this child’s life. It’s pretty much to experience, to be around mom, to feel safe, understand that their mind is absorbing everything their brain patterns are developing are being formed.

So, It is much more simple than what people think, the parents think. If you just be in close contact with your child, and if you are constantly trying to see it as an addition instead of just an obstacle or this child doesn’t understand, or I have a baby and I have to do, try to have the child, the baby inclusion and have him be part of your mainly activities and then the second part, cuz this is mainly right the first year, but then the second part, when the child starts walking and talking and understanding more, there’s a lot more activities that we can do to implement and have the child be part of it. But this is very important at the very beginning. Don’t think it’s too stressful, don’t think you have to buy all of these things, try to connect with your child and have them be very close to you. Narrate everything and just do your activities with the child.

Helen Thompson: And be present with the child is an important one.

Daniela Hoyle: Understand that the child is observing everything so this is an investment on your child and on you. So if you try to do all of these things, then the development of this child it’s going to be in a better path for the future, a more calm child, more in control with their emotions, more feeling, trust with the environment and save more in contact and in touch with their parents. So all of this is an investment for the future. So yeah, the first year, connect with your child as much as you can, have them be very close to you and participate in all of your activities, and you’ll see that as an investment for the future.

Thank you. I, I look forward to parents listening to this because I’m hoping that it will spark their imagination to be more in communication and bonding with their child so that they can help the child to develop.

So thank you, Danielle. If anybody wanted to get in touch with you how would they go about doing that?

So I am also a health coach and I do have my health coach business on the side and you can follow me or just send me a message and my Instagram is Health Coach Daniela.

Helen Thompson: Daniela shared some great tips and insights during our chat, and it reaffirmed my belief that introducing the principles of the Montessori method to your little one as early as possible is a great way to encourage a healthy development and a strong connection. I’ve included links to Daniela’s Instagram and Facebook pages in the show notes which can be accessed at