Navigating the First Stages of Development


Maria Montessori said, “The greatness of the human personality begins at the hour of birth.  From this almost mystic affirmation there comes, what may seem a strange conclusion, that education must start at birth.”

She was a genius. The concept so simple but complex in nature: as each of us is unique and thus requires assistance in different ways.

From the moment of conception, inside that dark, warm, and nurturing environment of the womb, a new life begins.  In one moment, a life that no one can imagine and then, at the moment of birth, with that first touch, sound, kiss, and smell, a life, that no one can imagine living without.

We know that creation starts at conception, from this point, the developing personality of fetus can be aided.  As practitioners at the Assistants to Infancy (or A to I level), we aid in the development of the human personality.

  1. We know that Mother Nature first plays a hand by mixing the genetic materials from the mother and father. It is here that dominant and recessive genes mix together to create a unique being.  Knowing this, we offer unconditional love and acceptance.
  2. We believe that personality dispositions are established in utero. We refer to them as the three constitutional types:

The first constitutional type is known as:

The Ectomorph:  This baby tends to look physically weak, undernourished, and has weak muscles. It needs to eat more frequently, as s/he has less muscle strength in the jaw and needs more time to nurse. This baby has a weak cry and tends to self-sooth. To assist this quiet and undemanding child, who can easily slip from our notice we must acknowledge his/her presence and offer developmental aids/presentations.  We constantly work with this child to let him/her know s/he is valued, welcomed and needed.

The second constitutional type is known as:

The Endomorph:  This is the classic Gerber baby who is very food and people orientated.  S/he will eat and eat.  This baby is given lots of positive attention and love. We need to be careful not to overfeed this child and to offer other activities that require him/her to be more active.

The third constitutional type is known as:

The Mesomorph:  This baby is neither thin nor chunky but is nice and solid.  This baby’s cry will increase until his/her need are meet and comes to know that in order to get those needs meet, much energy will need to be exerted.  We need to know how to help this child channel his/her energy in ways that are both positive and productive.

Understanding these constitutional types is invaluable as it helps us better understand and serve the individual needs of this person from birth to young adulthood, always knowing that balance is the key to life.

We know that during pregnancy, a mother’s emotions, stress, and other environmental factors affect the developing personality of the unborn child.  From the moment of conception, the fetus is exposed to elements that begin to affect his/her personality.  Mother and child are dependent upon one another for optimal development.  To help the mother and fetus during this time it’s important to offer information that offers support for mother and child.

Non-judgmental and supportive birthing/parenting classes are offered where topics might include:

  • The natural phases of development for mother and fetus.
  • Signs of labor.
  • Good health care practices.
  • Birthing options and or practices that promote and encourage both gentle and respectful birth experiences for both mother and child.
  • Expectant mothers can be introduced to breathing exercises that encourage relaxation to better assist her during labor and delivery.
  • The importance of bonding with your unborn child and establishing verbal memories and connections for mother, father or partner, with the fetus. Examples for this include reading/talking/singing to your unborn child.
  • The importance of touch and bonding during those first moments after birth.
  • Setting up the home environment to support both child and family.
  • The postpartum period.o  Mother’s health & care.
  • Baby’s health & care.
  • The role of the father/partner.

After the birth and the postpartum period, our role to assist does not change but the time and place of that support differs depending on the needs of the family. Sometimes we find ourselves offering parent/infant classes and other times it’s not until families join our school communities that our assistance is given to the child and their family.

There are two such communities that serve children between the ages of eight weeks and three years of age.  The first is the Nido: this environment serves children as young as eight weeks to approximately fifteen months of age or until the child is walking well.  After a child is walking well, he or she is welcomed into the Infant Community where he or she will stay until ready to join a primary community, usually sometime between two and a half and three years of age.

Reflecting on our conference’s theme of navigating, my thoughts went nautical.

Did you know that some four thousand years ago Phoenician sailors navigated the seas without the use of map or compass but instead were guided by nature?  They used primitive charts and their observations of the sun and stars as their guide when going from one place to another.

Like those earlier Phoenicians, Maria Montessori used her medical background and her observations of children from around the world to chart the natural stages of development for children from birth to young adulthood.

What she discovered was that although every child is unique there lies in nature’s vast wisdom a universal timeline of development that each child must navigate, with or without the guidance and or support of those around him.

Maria Montessori understood that each child’s potential/personality/gifts were unique and that the individual journey that each child must undertake and accomplish was their own journey to navigate and accomplish in order to fully follow nature’s intended path.

Maria Montessori challenges all those at the Assistants to Infancy level to use our developmental timelines as our map when assisting children less than three years of age.  By using the developmental timeline and our powers of observation we can eliminate or limit those things that interfere or obstruct this journey.

Those early Phoenician sailors made many observations and revelations about their journeys over the seas.  It was from these observations that new maps/charts were created which allowed other sailors to travel across the world and make unbelievable discoveries about the world around them.

Although we do not need to recreate our developmental timeline, our map for development, we do need to use whatever information we gain through our observations of the children we assist, to better support our work as guides; always remembering that some journeys do not always find fair weather or follow their intended course.

Maria Montessori said, “Education cannot be effective unless it helps a child to open himself to life.”

As guides for Assistants to Infancy: we gently and carefully open the door of the child’s life by:

  • Knowing and respecting the stages of development as this is only way we can truly respect the child and help him/her to help themselves.
  • Preparing an Environment (physically, emotionally, and physiologically) so that it best serves the changing needs of the child.
  • Serving as a link to the many materials and activities that offer true mental work that serves to nourish the soul.
  • Guiding with an attitude of love and acceptance knowing that we are there to serve the needs of the child and not our own needs.
  • Expressing to the child a natural range of emotions, so the child will be better equipped to express their own emotions.
  • Using our observations of the child to guide our work, we assist the child, so that the child can best navigate his/her own journey.
  • Trusting in the child and knowing that s/he will find his/her own way.

By doing these things, the child’s personality is allowed to naturally develop and s/he can be whom nature intended and not a mask of their true self.

I leave you with this final thought:

The word Personality comes from the Latin word, persona: meaning mask. Tonight, I wear a mask that allows me to play the part of speaker but as Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.”

So as players, my hope is that by playing our role as guides, all children will have the opportunity to find their part in this play we call “Life” and that each child will not only be able to play their part but will be able to embrace it and share it with the world so that today, tomorrow, and our future is better for it.