I am lucky to have discovered Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) from Janet Lansbury's blog
while I was still expecting my first child (and even before I discovered Montessori). What I read on her blog absolutely resonated with me and I believe it strongly aligns with the Montessori philosophy especially in regards to language and communication.
Both Montessori and RIE have similar basic principles: respect of the child, trust in the child's competence and drive to learn, a safe prepared environment (or "yes space") and free uninterrupted play.
When it comes to language during the first year of life, both Montessori and RIE advocate for respectful communication with the child, and communicating with the child as a whole person and not an object. Here are a few things you can do to respectfully communicate with your child:
- Talk kindly with correct language and in a normal tone of voice (no baby talk), using the correct words for things.
- Explain what you are doing or about to do such as "I'm going to pick you up now", "I am changing your diaper".... When we do this the baby knows he is respected and also assimilates a lot of new language. With time they will understand and start helping you like putting their hands through the sleeves.
- Do not interrupt a child who looks content and is not in danger. Ideally prepare a "yes space" so that there are minimal interruptions. They are developing their concentration.
- Listen to them, and after talking to them give them a chance to respond. This gives them the basis for making conversation later on.
- Be present during daily care activities such as diaper changes and feedings. Do not rush through them, they are a great time to bond and connect. As they grow, they can be more and more involved. For example: let them go grab a diaper to help you.
You can also do some simple activities with them to increase their exposure to language. The first one of course is reading simple reality based books to them. See below for more information on books. Other activities are:
- Listen to songs and nursery rhymes.
- Sportscast when they are trying something new and having a hard time such as "I see you are trying hard to roll over" or "you are so close". Then when they reach their goal, as with older kids you can state "you did it, you rolled over". You can sportscast often or little. Personally I do not sportscast too often as I feel it may be distracting (I am one of these people who can not concentrate with music or noise in the background) but I like to do it when they show they are trying hard or having a hard time achieving something.
- Offer very simple choices "do you want this blue ball or this red ball?", it offers some freedom, at this age though, mine likes grabbing both
- Show them things and use descriptive language "it's a red truck with a long ladder"
- Repeat the sounds they make. This may not be RIE nor Montessori but a "cooing" conversation is one of the sweetest thing I have done!
- Treasure baskets: some simple treasure baskets with similar elements such as a basket of common animals, a lot of items of the same color, balls of different textures, the same shaped Duplos of different colors. When the child picks it up sportscast and describe the item, the color, what it is, how it feels. I should note: at this age we are only doing this for language purposes, not for actually learning colors and textures.
At first start with black and white or high contrast books, then add simple word books with realistic pictures (we love animals and baby books with real photos) and then move on to rhyming books.
Above are some of our favorite books:
In addition to this, we are a bilingual family. We have been doing the One Face, One Language method and both my 5 and 3 year old children are bilingual. I do not speak English to them (although I speak English to my husband) and they do not speak English to me. We have used the same methods highlighted above just in a different language and with a lot of French books!
We use shelves that separate books into English for dad and French for mom to avoid confusion for older children. These shelves have worked great for us and we starting using them around 18 months.
I also strongly believe that any amount of foreign language is beneficial. Even if the parent is not fully bilingual, has an accent (I sure have an accent when I speak English and some French people say I have an accent when I speak French now!) or if it's only CD's, songs or books. You can even learn together!