Are you interested in empowering your child to become more independent, increasingly confident in their abilities, and, most importantly, kind and caring toward others? Please consider these 10 simple ways to begin implementing Montessori at home
Establish order in your home environment and maintain a simple rhythm to your days.
I am no Marie Kondo, but it feels so refreshing to (1) get rid of stuff that is literally just taking up space in our home and (2) organize items so they can be easily found and put away. At age 2, we tend to limit our daughter’s toys to 8-10 at a time, each of which has its own designated space in her play area. We rotate toys every week or two based upon her interests.
From birth, we have modeled how to clean up, and our daughter began to actively take part in picking up after herself around 18 months, completely unprompted. Now, at age 2, she still routinely cleans up after herself, particularly when it’s an activity transition (e.g. we are getting ready to go outside, and she will remind me that we need to “clean up” the toys).
Are there days when she decides she has no interest in cleaning up? Of course! I’m 32 and there are some days I decide not to do the dishes or the cat litter and instead ask my husband to take care of them. In the cases where she says no to cleaning up, we don’t make a big deal about it. Usually the next day she’s back on track. Clean up only takes 2 minutes, tops, and she knows exactly where everything belongs. More importantly, though, her environment is clean, tidy, and orderly. Maintaining a clutter-free environment is essential for your family’s health.
It was more difficult to establish a rhythm to our days because my husband works a rotating shift. But once my daughter stopped taking naps around 20 months, it was much needed and, honestly, I wish we had implemented it from the beginning. On the days my husband works, my daughter and I have a simple, predictable routine to our days. Once we wake up, we perform our morning chores. Sometimes she chooses to assist and other times she prefers to play or read a book. We then prepare breakfast. After our morning meal, we get dressed and if the weather is nice, head outside. We then prepare lunch around noon and and have quiet time in the early afternoon hours. We enjoy more outdoor time before dinner preparation. Once my husband comes home, we eat dinner and then our daughter takes a bath. She gets one-on-one time with Daddy following her bath, and they either play a little bit or they read books. She chooses. I enjoy about 30 minutes of quiet time where I either read or take a bath or call up a family member to chit-chat on the phone a bit before bedtime (and if someone has found the secret to talking on the phone in front of their toddler, please let me know).
Some may look at these days as boring, but I find them so refreshing, especially following a weekend filled with activities that have had us constantly on the go. Lilly is calm, relaxed, and more in control of her emotions. We spend time baking or painting or playing outside; we watch the birds together and play with our cats; we clean house, walk to the playground, visit the library, or join a nature hike at a nearby park.
It’s these small, everyday, seemingly insignificant moments that make lasting memories.
On the days my husband is home, he handles breakfast with Lilly and this allows me to sleep in a few days a week. I handle lunch, and he usually takes a nap (shift work is terrible). In the afternoon, we either visit a park or go for a hike or, here recently, we have started doing some family woodworking projects. We try to limit running errands to just one day a week now.
PREPARE THE ENVIRONMENT
Make your home accessible to your child, or as Maria Montessori would describe, “Prepare the environment.” But what does this mean exactly?
Place the child’s toys and activities on low shelving units where they may be independently accessed. Provide your child with a small table and chairs as well as appropriately sized eating utensils and kitchenware so they may begin to feed themselves. Allow your child access to real materials that are child-sized so they may engage in purposeful work in your home. By providing tools that are the correct size for your child’s hand, you are setting her up for success, not frustration. Establish a self-care station where your child has access to a hairbrush, toothbrush, a mirror, and perhaps even tissues so they may begin to learn how to care for themselves independently.
Routinely observe your child and follow their interests. Help your child freely explore the world around them.
MODEL GRACE & COURTESY
Be courteous to others, speak kindly, show respect and demonstrate gratitude. Say please, thank you, excuse me. Refrain from interrupting someone who is speaking.
Establish a serene and peaceful environment in your home. Discuss emotions and feelings openly. Read books about mindfulness, small acts of kindness, and peace.
…AND DON’T FORGET TO APOLOGIZE
Let’s face it, we are human and make mistakes. We all have weaknesses. I am a flawed parent, but I am conscious about when I’m not at my best and right wrongs accordingly.
Becoming a parent has made me intimately aware of my own character flaws; being a mom is making me a better person. I’m learning to be more patient and unselfish. I have identified certain triggers that make me angry and am consciously working on controlling my reactions to them.
However, when I let my emotions get the best of me and I lose my temper and speak harshly to my daughter, I apologize. I’ll get down on her level, look her directly in the eye, and say something along the lines of, “L., I am sorry I yelled at you. It upset me when [explain the reason why, e.g. you threw cat food on the floor and it created a mess].” At age 2, L. usually shakes her head and gives me a hug, acknowledging that she understands. Hugs are her form of reconciliation for when she is angry and upset and loses her temper as well.
We are all still working on training our character, as Maria would say. So, when you have a bad day and your emotions get the better of you and you end up speaking to your child unkindly, simply apologize, admit you were wrong, and then move on from the incident. It’s a learning experience for both you and your child: a lesson in both humility and forgiveness.
Invite your children to participate in household activities. Let them help in the kitchen. For children under a year old, allowing them to bang on pots and pans with various spoons and other kitchen utensils is a pleasing activity. Get the Tupperware containers out and watch as your child explores which lid belongs to which container, an early exercise in spatial intelligence. Once your child is confidently standing, invest in a learning tower or a step stool and set it up at the kitchen sink. Children between the ages of 1-2 will enjoy “washing dishes” and pouring water. At 2, my daughter is passionate about washing her hands and scrubbing the pots. She loves the bubbles, she loves the slippery feel of the soap, she loves opening the bottle lid and turning it upside down and squeezing the soap onto her hands, she loves to turn the water off and climb down and grab a towel to dry her hands off. She does all these things while singing a silly jingle we made up about washing hands. And when she’s finished, she looks at me and says “All done” and then runs off to find something else to explore. Allow your child to routinely help with meal preparation, such as cutting up some vegetables or cracking eggs open, and you’ll soon begin to notice the refinement in their fine motor movements, the unwavering focus they have as they concentrate on the task at hand and, best of all, the look of joy and pride on their face when they are finished.
So, how do you choose practical life activities? We simply ask our daughter if she would like to help us in whatever activity we are currently engaged. Yep, it’s as easy as that! You do not need special trays set up each morning or to spend hours crafting items that can be used (…or perhaps ignored).
I do, however, suggest investing in real, child-size tools. Which ones will be entirely dependent upon what practical life activities your family engages in each day. If your family maintains a garden or has indoor plants, invest in small tools for your child: a small hand shovel, a small rake, a wheelbarrow, a watering can, a small plant, a mortar and pestle, a small spray bottle. If your family enjoys woodworking, buy some small child-sized tools: a small screwdriver, a set of small wrenches, a carpenter’s pencil, a triangle, a small hammer. In the kitchen, we’ve invested in several child-friendly knives, a juicer, a small cutting board, a pitcher, and small measuring utensils.
Here are some of our favorite practical life items:
You can read more about how we use each of these items here. NOTE: The IKEA FARGRIK Dinnerware Set is a standard set of plates and bowls. Our daughter uses the salad plates since they are small, and she has always used the large bowls as well. While they are heavy, our daughter actually does better with them because they do not slide around as much when she’s trying to eat. We preferred to buy ourselves a relatively inexpensive set of dinnerware that we could all use (we wanted our daughter’s stuff to match our own) in case of accidental breaks or chips.
You may also wish to purchase a child-size laundry basket. Laundry has always been one of my daughter’s favorite practical life activities. She loves to pour the detergent into the washing machine, press the button to turn the machine on, transfer the clothes to the dryer and then turn the dryer on. She always finds the matching socks and locates all of her own washcloths and folds them.
Lately she’s been helping to put the laundry away as well. If you have items that need to be line dried, by all means allow your child to help hang clothes via clothespins. It’s a great fine motor activity!
TRUST YOUR CHILD
Provide opportunities for your children to learn, practice, refine, and perfect without fear of criticism. Trust your child. Refrain from interrupting them when they are concentrating on an activity. While observing your child, do so in a nondescript manner so as not to interrupt their focus.
I made the mistake of not trusting my child several months ago. I was preparing breakfast and Lilly had been washing her hands when she stepped down from her stool and moved it over by the toaster where I had placed my phone to charge. I immediately jumped to the conclusion that she was going to grab the phone, when in actuality all she was doing was grabbing a towel to dry her hands because I had forgotten to leave one by the sink.
Lesson learned: Wait before reacting. Trust your child. They are full of pleasant surprises.
HAVE AGE-APPROPRIATE EXPECTATIONS
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of comparing your child with others’, especially with the prevalence of social media. Someone may post about their 4-month-old sleeping through the night, and you begin to wonder what is wrong with your 2-year-old who still hasn’t managed to sleep for more than 6 continuous hours, let alone the entire night. Or someone may post a picture of their child working contentedly with a fine motor activity, while your child is seemingly only interested in running and climbing and jumping on everything (including your back any time it’s available…).
But children develop according to their own unique timeline. And, of course, we ALL have different interests. It’s what makes us human! And what a wonderful thing it is to be unique…no two alike in the entire world!
So rather than stressing and worrying the nights away, please if you can do any ONE thing, let it be this:
Cherish your child for who they are currently and who they are in the process of becoming.
More importantly, trust yourself and the work you are doing to raise kind, compassionate, self-assured, and joyful children.
CONCRETE BEFORE ABSTRACT
Maria Montessori developed her lessons to move from simple to complex, concrete to abstract.
Just as a house needs a foundation upon which to stand, so too does a child need a strong foundation of sensory experiences that will enable her to develop an internal classification system based solely upon concrete experiences.
For example, when a child shows an interest in counting, Montessori would refrain from immediately introducing number symbols because they are too abstract. The concept of quantity requires the child to work with real objects – rods, beads, rocks, walnuts, etc. The child is then able to see and feel and explore the quantifiable difference between “3” objects and “6” objects.
Language is approached in the same way. The alphabet is not introduced because it has no meaning to a young child. Instead, sandpaper letters are presented to a child who has shown a strong awareness of phonemic sounds and rhyme. The child is able to trace the letters, the texture helping cement a concrete imprint on their minds.
Advanced mathematical concepts such as algebra and geometry are embedded into some of the earliest sensorial materials. At first, primary students will simply explore the materials; as they move toward more abstract thinking, lower and upper elementary students will be able to use the same materials to derive mathematical equations. Pretty cool, right?
METHOD OVER MATERIALS
The traditional Montessori materials are beautiful. However, they’re also really, really expensive. If you are homeschooling, it’s doubtful your home will ever have all the materials often seen in a classroom setting. And, quite frankly, you shouldn’t need as many since you’ll only be using them for a small number of children compared to several dozen.
So as a budget-conscious homeschooling parent, what do you do?
Maria Montessori supplies us with the incredibly simple answer:
Follow your child.
Allow your child the freedom to naturally progress her learning and development. Encourage her to pursue her interests. Guide her as she works to build her character. Be selective about which materials you feel are most needed by your child and either purchase those or think of some other way in which those concepts can be presented in a simple, yet concrete manner.
Your relationship with your child is more important than any material objects. Embrace their enthusiasm for helping around the house and wanting to be included in your work.
DON’T FORGET TO HAVE FUN
Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun. Do not become so preoccupied with creating the “perfect” homeschool or preschool environment that you forget to laugh and play and talk about silly things with your child. Children are only young for so long, and I personally believe childhood should be a time of magic and adventure and discovery; resist falling prey to the academic rat race that consumes early childhood education.
Play is by far the most developmentally appropriate way for children to learn, so ditch the flashcards and go outside and explore. Take a trip to a local museum or farm, spend some time gardening in your backyard or baking in the kitchen, take an afternoon to go outside and play in the rain — and slowly get to know the person your child is destined by nature to become.
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