Always refer to the manufacturer's recommended age range, as specified on product packaging, in determining whether an item is appropriate for use.
Age ranges, anecdotes within product descriptions and images on this website are illustrative only and do not constitute an endorsement or safety recommendation and do not override the recommended age restrictions. Our ranges, descriptions and images simply reflect the personal opinion and personal experience of the retailer and should not be taken as a guarantee.
Safety Suggestions & Risk Management
As we watch our precious little ones explore the world we are filled by the desire to encourage this process but we are also struck by the instinct to protect our little ones. These dual roles - of encouraging growth while providing protection - are the very foundation of what we think of as the task of the parent or the caring adult in a child’s life. Montessori Child hopes to assist you with these roles by helping you source inspirational, engaging materials while also providing information about important health and safety considerations. Please read the following article to help you create balanced, positive and secure learning opportunities for your child.
Let us start by clearly stating that nothing in this world is entirely risk-free and nor should it be! Taking measured, appropriate risks allows us to grow, learn and develop. As conscientious adults it is not our job to wrap children in cotton wool and shield them from every potential risk. It is our job to provide the conditions that best prepare the child to safely and successfully face and master these so-called ‘risky’ experiences so that they might grow and learn.
At Montessori Child we know you are conscientious about your child’s early experiences – that is why you came to find us in the first place – but we are also sure you are eager to deepen your understanding of how to balance your child’s right to be active with your instinct to protect. We advise that the caring adult should engage in...
Handle and use the material yourself first to help you notice potential hazards and so that you understand how to safely supervise and assist your child.
Demonstrate the activity to your child, highlighting specific aspects or strategies that might minimise risk and increase the chances of safety and success.
Supervise your child, especially with a new material, to provide safety and promote bonding.
Find creative ways to adapt, simplify or extend a material to suit your child’s unique needs and abilities.
Provide safety equipment, and an appropriate environment, to ensure that risks are minimised.
To learn more about these steps for risk-minimisation please keep reading!
To think more about how risk is ever-present, and yet not something to avoid entirely, let us consider one of the most exciting early developmental milestones…
A baby’s first steps poses a very high risk of falling and yet we would never dream of holding that little explorer back from the attempt. We do, perhaps, make the experience a little safer by supervising (as we wouldn’t want to miss this moment!) and perhaps customising the environment by removing any sharp furniture or obstacles blocking the path. We have certainly already tested the process for ourselves through our years of walking and we have been demonstrating this to the watchful eyes of our blossoming mover. Most of us have even instinctively provided some special equipment to help promote this process – whether it’s through the very direct help of “walkers” or simply by holding still when we feel the familiar tug of a baby’s strong little fingers wrapping around the fabric on the leg of our pants for support. We offer these external supports, and remove these external obstacles, and then…
We proudly watch, and celebrate the moment (however fleeting!), and when our little one inevitably topples over we smile, offer a guiding hand and feel our hearts burst with joy at this new achievement!
Dr Maria Montessori said “the child does not develop the power to walk by waiting for it, but by walking.,..We know that the child starts walking with an irresistible impetus and courage. He is bold, even rash, he is a soldier who hurls himself to victory regardless of risk.”
(Pg 76, The Secret of Childhood, 1996, Sangam Books Ltd)
We advise all parents, families and generous gift givers to carefully consider the age guides we offer but also perform your own dynamic risk-assessments, based on your knowledge of the young recipient, about whether any given product will be developmentally appropriate and safe. We particularly encourage you to consider and avoid potential choking hazards. We also encourage you to ensure that all materials are used with the following tips in mind to maximise fulfilment and minimise risk:
When you buy or receive any product for a child (from Montessori Child or from any other source) it is always a good idea to start by using your adult hands to explore the material before giving it to the child. Use the resource yourself – even if it is only for a moment or two – so that you are more familiar with its qualities, pieces and potential hazards. This will help you make decisions about when and how to present this new material to your child and it will also guide you about how to provide demonstrations, supervision and support.
Your child is driven by a natural desire to explore, experiment and learn. Our aim is to provide appropriate provocations to engage your child’s mind, hands and body in an enjoyable and positive journey of discovery. In most cases this can happen independently, as your child learns through a process of experimentation, repetition, self-correction and refinement. However, it is important that you do not simply drop an item in front of your child and walk away without a second thought. In most cases it is ideal to provide your child with an initial demonstration of the material. This might mean literally role-modelling its use, or it could involve presenting a specific strategy (such as holding the knob of a puzzle piece when fitting it rather than clasping the edges of the piece itself). It could also mean demonstrating a particular aspect of the material to increase your child’s level of independent risk-management. For instance, if your child is doing something as simple as carrying a glass jug you can point out the value of using the primary hand to grasp the handle and involving the other hand to support the base of the jug as this solid, strong grip will reduce the chances of the jug slipping and breaking. If it does slip and break it is equally important for you to continue your role of demonstrating safe behaviour, such as using a dustpan and brush to collect the pieces rather than collecting them with your fingertips. Demonstrating materials is not only practical and educational but also provides a special bonding experience between you and your child.
The Montessori philosophy certainly encourages the development of the child’s blossoming independence. It also promotes the concept of allowing a child freedom (within limits) to explore, experiment and, yes, to make mistakes and to attempt to self-correct these before we intervene. It is important, however, that you don’t confuse these goals with a license to ignore a child! A good Montessori teacher might be invisibly blending into the background of a classroom as the busy little learners engage in independent discovery but that teacher will be vigilantly observing the activity of the child. This observation allows the teacher to notice where a child might require assistance or a demonstration and also helps to monitor progress, development and special milestones. In extreme circumstances it may also alert the teacher to the fact that a child is not yet able to use a material safely or appropriately and might therefore require some remedial exercises (or even the temporary removal of the activity from the environment). The same principles apply in the home. Your child deserves freedom and independence but still requires some observation and guidance (or “supervision”). This not only allows you to notice when your child might require a demonstration or adult-assistance but also lets you feel more connected to your child’s journey of development. Playing the role of observer not only reduces risk but also increases bonding.
It is universally understood that no two children are exactly alike. It can be said that there are bonds and commonalities that connect all children, and it is true that certain moments and milestones tend to be shared by growing children throughout time and across the globe. Yet each child has a perfectly unique set of experiences, interests and physical abilities. You can be broadly guided by ‘recommended ages’ but it is important to take your child’s own individuality into account. Don’t be afraid to customise a material to suit your child’s unique needs. For instance, if your child is still ‘mouthing’ objects consistently then you will want to think carefully about introducing activities with small pieces – even if it is ‘recommended’ for your child’s age. This doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the activity altogether. A set of building blocks might have pieces of varying sizes, so you could simply withhold the smallest pieces and present only the larger ones until you are confident that your child is going to explore with the hands not the mouth!
Customisation is useful for promoting safety but also helps to inspire success and progressive cognitive development. If you buy a matching activity, but you feel that your child might not yet have the concentration span to match so many pairs, then take half the pairs away! Present the condensed version of the game initially so that your child can experience satisfaction and achievement, then slowly reintroduce the missing sets so that each time your child uses the game it takes a little longer and becomes more complicated.
You can also customise the environment by removing obstacles, limiting interference and choosing the best locations. If your child is using every ounce of strength to carry a half-full watering can then it is likely that there is not much energy or concentration left over to be looking out for tripping hazards. It is therefore best to present this activity after you’ve created a safe, clear path.
Another example of easy customisation is in the process of a child learning to use scissors. This is something which many parents fear and some try to avoid this experience for as long as possible – although most notice that the more they resist the more their child seems drawn towards the forbidden fruit of those shiny blades. While it is understandable that a parent might instinctively try to “protect” a child from the “danger” of scissors the reality is that a child who is forbidden to use scissors in the early years will not magically develop this skill at a later age. When this older child does come to use scissors it will likely be with less coordination, less confidence, more anxiety (and more embarrassment if they are at an age where they are aware of the higher skill level of their peers), sharper scissors and therefore less chance of success and more chance of dangerous mistakes. This doesn’t mean a two year old should be handed a pair of gardening shears and told “go for it!”. It simply means that instead of banning scissors entirely parents can instead choose age-appropriate scissors, test these for effectiveness (as some are so blunt they can not cut, causing frustration and potentially increased danger as a result of misuse), demonstrate them to the child, supervise the attempts and customise the experience.
For instance, a young child learning to use scissors will have more success if you first cut the paper into long, thin strips. This makes it easier for your child’s non-dominant hand to keep control of the paper (as it’s far simpler to hold one long strip rather than a comparatively huge piece of A4 paper). It also increases safety as your child can be shown how to hold the strip at one end and begin cutting at the other end, creating the maximum possible distance between the child’s fingers and the blades of the scissors. The use of ‘strips’ rather than ‘sheets’ of paper also increases your child’s chances of success and satisfaction as the short blades of child-sized scissors will be able to effectively cut through the strip (leaving a small rectangular piece fluttering away) rather than just making a series of random snips in a large piece but never cutting all the way across.
As adults we are so accustomed to using safety equipment that sometimes we barely notice it. We don’t give it a second thought when we instinctively pop our oven gloves on before removing a hot baking tray. We are usually aware of the more obvious forms of safety equipment for our children – such as helmets for bike riding – but there are many more subtle forms of equipment that we can consider. This may be as simple as making sure your child is wearing covered shoes (rather than thongs or sandals) when watering the plants or working in the garden. It could also involve more specific measures, such as insisting that your child puts on safety goggles before doing any woodwork. These sorts of safety equipment create a layer of physical protection for your child but they also act as a symbol of the risk, and therefore importance, of the task at hand. When a young child wriggles little fingers into a gardening glove there is a sense of ceremony to it and this reminds the child of the gravity of the situation and the safety procedures related to the experience. It is surprising how quickly children come to love their safety equipment, and often it will be your little one reminding you to get the goggles or admonishing you for wearing sandals to do the yard-work!
Remember: It is safer to let your child experience and master a wide range of skills in a controlled environment with your support than to avoid these risks entirely and then let your child encounter them unaided. With your help (and your testing, demonstrations, supervision, customisation and introduction of equipment) you can ensure that your child understands risks and has the skills required to safely approach and overcome them.
If you are interested in thinking more about the benefits of risk in childhood you may like to read the following:
No Fear, Tim Gill http://rethinkingchildhood.com/no-fear/
Cottonwool Colin, Jeanne Willis
Don’t Panic!, Cassandra Wilkinson