The “HOW”

Materials at about 4 months
Materials at about 4 months

“Children are the constructors of men whom they build, taking from the environment language, religions, customs, and the peculiarities not only of race, not only of nation, but even of a special district in which they develop.”

How do you decide on what toys/materials and activities to set up or make available to your child? Do you have a method? Here’s how I decide.

I consider three major things


“The child, as we have seen, passes through successive phases of development, and in each of these his surroundings have an important – though different – part to play.”

I think about his development and what is needed to support it. There are two ways in which I consider his development. The first is using development timelines from my training and also from books like What’s going on in there by Lise Eliot. These tell me what to expect at each age. As each child is different, they really only serve as a guide to help me anticipate what might be going on or coming soon.

The other way, which I consider more important, is observation. I spend a lot of time observing him. Observation was ingrained into me during my training and also because this is my line of work and I really want to understand the child. While the timelines let me know what might be happening, Observation lets me know what IS happening.

There are several areas of development I think about and try to support including:

  • Gross motor skills: These are the skills that require large muscles e.g. slithering, crawling, standing, walking, running, jumping, climbing etc.
  • Fine motor skills: These are skills involving the hand. Montessori said that the hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence and I agree. In this area for this stage, I think about ways to allow the discovery of the hand’s capacities and improving it’s dexterity
  • Eye hand coordination: This involves fine motor skills and they are usually grouped together but I look at it in it’s own category. For me it is improving the precision of the hand and also considering vision
  • Language: Listening, speaking, “reading”, vocabulary
  • Independence: This includes independence in eating, sleeping, toileting, getting around and meeting some of his basic needs
  • Sensorial: Materials that cause him to use and sharpen all his senses: sight, taste, touch, smell, hearing, stereognostic, proprioceptive.
  • Cognitive: Materials that cause him to think.
  • Music, Art, Spiritual: Things that feed the spirit

I love materials that address multiple of these areas.

 I just had a thought… please indulge me:

In my Montessori training, we were told that “Love is not enough, you also need knowledge.” I think it’s vice versa too. “Knowledge is not enough, you also need love.“

So here’s my thought. I think that in choosing and setting up materials for your child(ren), knowledge of developmental milestones and timelines is the knowledge that is needed, and observation is the love. Observation requires a trust (in the abilities of the child and the process), preparation, patience, humility… does this sound like love to you already? I looked up the characteristics of love in 1st Corinthians chapter 13 and they really all do apply to observation. I especially liked “Love does not keep record of wrong”. Every time I observe, I try to look with new eyes. I don’t have expectations based on previous incidents. “Love never gives up faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance… “ When I observe, I am hopeful for a new revelation, a new understanding.

Does it make sense? What do you think? Ok, back to the post.


“The child has a mind able to absorb knowledge. He has the power to teach himself”

After determining what he needs developmentally, I consider his interests. What kind of things is he drawn to? What colors? Etc. When I have multiple options of materials to support his development, his interests guide me on which one to choose. Determining his interests requires observation and offering choices.

8 to 9 months
8 to 9 months

“Childhood constructs with what it finds. If the material is poor, the construction is also poor.”

I also consider aesthetics. I realize that everything he sees, touches, works with is being absorbed. I want him to absorb beauty so I consider this in selecting materials. I choose materials made of natural materials, attractive but simple. I also consider aesthetics in laying them out. I want them to be beautifully laid out so that they call to him.

A lot of his materials are in our living room and so I also want them to look nice and fit in with the decor. Finally I want items that can be used by multiple children and then passed on so I consider quality and workmanship too.


I am writing this post because I see a lot of posts about WHAT is on the shelf but not a lot of HOWs or WHYs. I plan to write about the what’s and why’s next week but wanted to start off with the how. Also, I would love to share my favorite (and in my experience most accurate timeline) from my training with you. It includes gross and fine motor milestones as well as some suggestions for the environment. If you would like this, please leave a comment and I will email it to you. Note that your email is not visible to others when you leave a comment. In this way, you will have some additional knowledge and then you can just add the love 🙂

As always I would love to hear your comments, questions and experiences so don’t hesitate to join the conversation.

Thank you to all the new subscribers from around the world. Your encouragement is very appreciated!

Live a Good Life!

*All quotes are by Maria Montessori and from the book “The Absorbent Mind”

9 thoughts on “The “HOW”

  1. I agree completely with observation being the love. I think you learn a lot from observing your child. You get to notice what they like, what they can do, what’s difficult for them and then hopefully you can help them in each area.

    Thank you nduoma

  2. I am so excited to find your blog! And I love this post. I try to explain the “how” of things to parents when I talk to them, rather than just the “what” – you do a much better job than I do!

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