Whenever people ask me what parenting books I recommend, I send them the link of my list. But, I always tell my friends that if they can, I feel nothing beats reading Maria Montessori herself.
You can start with all the books with practical suggestions and applications, but I feel that for me, the only way I can truly grasp her philosophy is by actually reading her work. When she explains something (that’s very simple but not something my common sense thought of), it’s often a lightbulb moment for me, and really allows me to work my way around things, even if our circumstances are different.
Take for example hiking. I only truly understood the need to allow them to walk (without feeling like I’m overworking Pablo’s body) when I read what Maria Montessori said in The Absorbent Mind (Chapter 15: Development and Imitation)
“The child of two is well able to walk for a mile or two, and also to climb, if he is in the mood for it. The most difficult parts of the walk appeal to him the most. We must remember that the child’s idea of walking is quite different from ours. Our belief that a long walk is beyond him comes from making him walk at our pace. This is as stupid as it would be for us to go out on foot with a horse, and expect to keep up with it. The latter, seeing we were out of breath, would then say (as we do to the child): “This is no good. Jump on my back and we will both get there together.” But the child is not trying to “get there”. All he wants is to walk. And because his legs are shorter than ours, we must not try to make him keep up with us. It is WE who must go at his pace.”
She continued (and let me add photos to illustrate her point):
“The child does not only walk with his legs, he also walks with his eyes. What urges him are the interesting things he sees. Here is a sheep grazing. He sits down near it to watch. Presently, he gets up and goes a fair distance – sees a flower, smells it, sees a tree – goes up to it, walks around it several times, then sits down to look at it.”
“In this way, he may wander for miles. His walks are broken by periods of rest and at the same time full of interesting discoveries. If some obstacle lies across his path, for example, some fallen rocks, or a tree trunk, then his happiness is complete. His grown-up companion, wanting to get somewhere as soon as possible, has quite different ideas on the subject of what walking is for.”
“The child’s way is like that of the first tribesmen to wander over the Earth. No one said, “Let’s go to Paris!”, for there was no Paris. Men walked till they found something useful or interesting; a forest where wood could be gathered; an open plain for fodder. Children are like this. The instinct to move about, to pass from one discovery to another, is a part of their nature. All children should be able to go for walks like this, guided by what appeals to them.”
See, before I had a baby, we talked about hiking with Pablo as early as possible. We aren’t mountain climbers, but we love nature and would do hikes with friends. Initially, my idea of hiking with a toddler/child is actually having to buy those backpacks where you can put the child and carry him/her with you, then enjoy the view on top.
After reading this Maria Montessori’s take on this, I knew our hikes would never be the same (and also began to understand why our hikes during our birdwatching trips was a lot more pleasurable for me – because although we had a goal – which was to spot birds, we were also taking our time to just enjoy nature and the view).
I talked to my sister and brother-in-law and opened up the idea of hiking with our children – but not with the goal of reaching the peak. Instead, I told them, we would let our children lead, and if they reach the peak, then it’s their achievement, not ours. Even in the aspect, I told them, I want us to follow our child.
They were so game with the thought of it that we planned a quick trip to Baguio City, Benguet, where we stayed for 3 days and 2 nights.
We did strawberry picking in the morning of day 2 (another post for this), and when we realized they still had a lot of energy that afternoon (they had several naps in the car), we did the hiking that same day.
We parked near the entrance of Baguio Ecotrail, carried Pablo from the entrance until the small stream crossing, found a stable area where they could explore – then let him loose.
From the time we put him down, we only got to carry him again on two occasions: one, when I wanted a photo with him (though he was quick to push himself down to say “I don’t want to be carried!”), and at the last part, before heading home, when we had to cross the small stream again.
For maybe two or two and a half hours, he and his cousin were just roaming around, leading us, and making their own discoveries.
We didn’t get far, but we covered a lot, if you get what I mean.
I’ll let the photos do the talking from here on, but just a note: Baguio Ecotrail is child-friendly, in the sense that there are spaces wide enough where you can just let them roam on their own. Because of the uneven grounds though (roots, branches, etc), plus lots of pine needles (that made the grounds slippery in many parts), it was a bit challenging for Pablo as he kept getting off-balanced, but he really liked it. He loved the challenge that he kept doing it again. At the end of the hike, he was much better than when we started. Just thought I need to tell you what to expect in case you’re thinking of bringing your child, too! Oh, and he was 1 year and 2 months old when we did this hike. His cousin Philip who is 4 years old did not have a hard time balancing on the grounds at all.
Okay, more photos coming:
For those wondering, there are no guides for the Ecotrail. There are no fees, too. Just please make sure to clean up after your trash.
Also, while we did bring a nature basket, we returned everything we got back to nature at the end of the trip. As cliche as it sounds, we do follow this when we go outdoors: “Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints. Kill nothing but time.”
And lastly, since we are always asked, “What’s in Pablo’s backpack?” Not much. Thin wipes, light snacks, and an insect repellant. We weren’t planning on making him wear one, actually. But a few days prior this trip, he’s been giving us his backpack so we could help him wear it, and he would wear it at home all day. So it just coincided for this trip and there was absolutely no forcing just so it would look cute for photos. He still loves and wears his backpack everyday as of writing.
Hope this post was helpful for you! We are excited to do more hikes with Pablo soon! I really love the fact that this hiking trip was not only an achievement for us parents, but that it was an achievement for both Philip and Pablo. They were not carried just to be able to reach the inner parts of the forest and we the parents can say “Hey! We went hiking with our children.”, but they really hiked, and they explored and made discoveries they otherwise wouldn’t have discovered had we stayed home. It wasn’t about joining a “contest” for hiker parents and counting how many mountains our children have been to, but offering an opportunity for our children to discover more of this world and make sense of it.
Ultimately, with no pressure to reach the peak/end of the trail, get to the summit at a certain time, check this and that off the list, it was nothing but a pleasant experience for all of us. After all, Maria Montessori said it best: Walking is an exercise complete in itself. Getting to the peak is fun, but it’s not the only goal you can have when you hike.