Six mindset you can adopt today to make your home more Montessori friendly.
Many parents believe that Montessori is defined by its materials. We think of Montessori and we think of the Brown Stairs, the Pink Tower, the Hundred Cube however Montessori is about how we do something not what we use to do it. The materials are important but without the correct mentality they are severely limited.
We assume that a Montessori at home is complicated and expensive, preparing the environment is too difficult, there’s no time, we don’t have enough storage. I frequently come across people obsessed with the materials of Montessori and regularly read questions in Montessori Facebook groups asking what item to give infants and children so that a family can say they are ‘doing Montessori’ but it is far more beneficial to be ‘thinking Montessori’.
Montessori starts with a mindset, not with materials, it grows with time, not with toys and it flourishes with space and not with stuff.
1. Children grow at their own pace
Every child develops at their own pace and according to their own agenda, respecting the child’s unique developmental journey is a priority of any Montessori home. Children’s growth and development is their deliberate work not an accident and it deserves to be respected as such. Maria herself recognised children’s individual development timetable and made her classrooms multiage to accommodate it.
To follow Montessori we must follow the child. Don’t ever compare children to one another! Observe not only the interests of our child but also their preferred pace of work. Step back from your child and forget about education standards, percentiles and the kid next door. Where are your child’s passions? What motivates them? What captivates them? That’s where they will grow! It’s your job to feed those curiosities. Also ask yourself are they kind, do they share, can they make others laugh? These are much more important than the time line of their growth.
2. Children are capable
Children are capable of certain aspects of self care. They are individuals separate from us and should be given the dignity and respect of self sufficiency. That means they need the time and space to identify their own needs and the opportunity to meet those needs.
Complete only the parts of a task that a child cannot accomplish without your help e.g. maybe when tying laces they can cross them over each other for you to make the knot, maybe you can shampoo and the can rinse. Every so often stop and assess your child’s abilities and ask if they can take a further step. Occasionally a child will shy away from doing a task themselves because they feel that you can do it better/faster or because they want to feel cared for, identify any barriers to their independence and try to meet in a way and at a time that doesn’t impinge on their autonomy. Oh and leave yourself enough time! This is sllllllowww!
3. We value nature
Many montessori goals on this list will be achieved simply by spend an hour outside every day! Maria Montessori prized any time spent outside. Nature provides everything a child needs for the 5 areas of development (Sensorial, Linguistic, Mathematical, Practical and Cultural). Respect the world around you, teach your children to care for their earth, they will use it for longer than you!
Go bird watching, beetle hunting, berry picking, flower spotting, star gazing, try a listening walk, play eye spy, build a fort, make a stereognostic bag, draw in the dirt, compare native flowers with photos of some from abroad, sponsor a birdhouse in your local park. Go anywhere but a fibreglass playground!
4. We value our time and our things
A tidy well organised space is an important (and appealing) aspect of Montessori, it supports children as they experience their Sensitive Period for Order, they gain responsibility and it allows them to focus on their work more easily without distractions. Valuing our belongings conveys a sense of pride and an appreciation for the financial cost of item. Teaching children to use their time wisely will help them to prioritise important tasks and reach goals as adults. It will also encourage them to recognise themselves as someone important worth the respect of others.
Model good use of time, be punctual, set aside time for work and relaxing, try not to spend spare minutes scrolling on your phone. Repair broken toys, don’t rush to replace those that can’t be fixed, tidy away one activity before moving to a new one. This simple change will cultivate a spirit of gratitude and combat the growing attitude of waste.
5. Dialogue is important
It is surprising how poorly adults communicate with young children, much of our conversation with them is giving instruction or asking questions to which we already know the answer. We tend to wait for difficult times to have meaningful conversations, then we expect to have honest heart-to-hearts with our teenagers only to be surprised by their reluctance, yet they have had no experience of that kind of talk! Our ears need to be open from very early on. Important issues don’t suddenly arise as a child matures, the child has been experiencing important issue since birth but we perhaps have not always recognised their concerns as such. From a relationship and educational point Maria Montessori advocated speaking to a child as one would an adult, simply and with respect. Dialogue is a firm way to extend and enrich learning, it is also a more powerful way than generic congratulations to validate children’s efforts and achievements.
When talking to a child always get down on their level, I read lots of advice about making eye contact but I find that creepy so allow your child to lead. Provide enough silence for a child to talk, sitting on the floor playing quietly or joining a child at their colouring table is often enough to invite meaningful conversation. Thinking time is important too, children think at half the speed of adults, don’t assume a pause means they haven’t understood. Try to avoid asking children questions that can be answered with one word. Instead of “Who won the game today?” ask “How did they win?” or “What was your best moment on the field?”
6. Art is important
Understanding art is not something we have to educate our children towards, it is something they feel instinctively. This to me signals that art forms a part of our very being, that somewhere within us there is a place that only art can reach, Maria Montessori believed it to be a precursor of civilisation itself. By creating a place for art and beauty in our homes we are welcoming and accommodating the entire person of the child and freeing them to communicate through a range of physical, emotional and visual means.
You don’t need to invest in art, you can print it from online, buy postcards at museums, borrow books from the library. You might rotate your artwork on a seasonal or ‘Artist of the Month’ basis. Identify what your child gravitates towards and provide them with appropriate resources; paints, chalks, clay, brushes, droppers, fabric. Visit galleries, meet local artists, talk about art wherever you find it, especially talk about your child’s art.
If we make Montessori solely about the materials then we have missed the point, Maria Montessori reached her final philosophy on education through her attempts to reduce resources and bring education to everyone regardless of their financial situation.