Montessori at Home -- The Basics
"Living this way, freely in a prepared environment, the child enters into vital communication with this environment, and comes to love it. This love for the environment does not exclude his love for the adult; it excludes dependence.” Maria Montessori, Her Life and Work
I am often asked by parents from our classroom the same question – “how do we do this at home?” While the answer will always vary, this question normally stems from how to support their child with a specific interest, behaviour, expression, movement, and language, (the list goes on!) while also ensuring that they are encouraging the growth of a happy, confident individual.
Maria Montessori founded a pedagogical system that is based on the child’s independence and freedom within limits. Her basic principle was to respect each child as an individual whilst also keeping in mind their potentials and interests as well as focusing on providing the child with a prepared environment (and adult!). Therefore, before I provide you with some tips of how you can best support your child at home, I would firstly like to briefly describe the average characteristics of a Montessori classroom.
An established Montessori class consists prepared adults whose responsibility is to observe each child in the environment and guide them to refine their strengths and work towards further skills, while also understanding each child’s level and ability. By doing this, we ensure that the child’s unique personality is fully supported by being guided into all the correct directions. Children of mixed ages are within the environment, meaning that the class in vertically grouped. Through this the children are able to teach and learn from one another as well as from us adults who have the responsibility to role model what its expected from them. This in turns helps support the child’s overall development. Additionally a Montessori class consists of a very well prepared environment that allows the children the freedom of movement that is always based on the child’s strengths and interests.
Looking at the above-mentioned characteristics, does it not remind you of a family environment? That being an environment consisting of different children of different ages, adults responsible for them and an environment that provides them with love, care and support? Therefore, you’re halfway there! If you would also like to adapt your family environment into a Montessori environment, below you will find some simple yet effective suggestions you can apply in order to create a unique and ideal environment in your house, while always keeping in mind your own individual child.
Not an entirely unusual suggestion as before the arrival of a child, both parents start by preparing their house appropriately so as to everything is ready and prepared when the child arrives and is welcomed home. This continues on as the child grows. Over their early life, so many milestones are met. They will talk, will put things in their mouths, will touch everything, will crawl, will walk, will run, etc. The environment will allow the most affective way for these skills to be used, refined, and thus grow. Therefore, it is a good idea to adjust the items in the house based on the child’s individual needs, abilities and interests as they grow older.
Preparing is a good start, now let’s take it one step further and organise those preparations. At approximately the age of two years, the child is most probably able to sit on a chair without support. Therefore, encourage that independence by acquiring some child sized furniture? It doesn’t have to be complicated, something simple such as a table and chair. This little area can be used for your child’s different activities such as, painting, drawing, playing with play-dough, or even for enjoying his/her snack. The joy that comes from this independence allows your child emotionally and psychological security while also refining their independence and confidence.
Now that you’ve encouraged a small injection of independence, time to be a little more open-minded about letting your child have access to shelves. “What if they fall and hurt themselves?” “What if they take something and it breaks?” Rather than removing, let’s go in a holistic direction by adding. Begin perhaps by placing low shelves in practical parts of your living room where toys are kept, and in the kitchen where their food items can be stored. Simple. Through this you are providing your child with easy access to them. Furthermore, it is a great idea to have a stepping stool both in the kitchen and the bathroom areas of your house. Small additions allow big changes that provide enormous potential for growth, independence and happiness! By doing this allowing life skills to develop (washing plates, cups, cutlery, therefore responsibility), personal hygiene skills (washing hands, teeth, face, soap machine, soap bar, tooth brush, nail brush) and also problem solving – maybe even without an argument!
Inclusion is something that is often overlooked. Include your child in your daily tasks such as cooking or cleaning -- children love this. With appropriate, positive support and guidance you will be surprised to see that a child can slice vegetables for their lunch in a much better way that most of us adults can! You may also be surprised to see that a child repeating a specific recipe can remember all of the ingredients and quantities his favourite dish comprises of, whilst you still need to open your recipe book in order to double check.
GUIDANCE AND TIME
All the skills we have as adults have come from observing and doing. Putting your watch on with one hand; feeling for a needle behind material while sewing; tying your shoelaces without looking; all of these skills have come from watching somebody else do it, and them allowing you to try. That does not necessarily mean that the way you tie your shoelaces is the most effective! Perhaps it is actually rather complicated, and you have a memory of it being a very stressful thing for you to do when you were little. Therefore, provide your child with the thoughtful guidance and time to allow them to put on a pair of socks, shoes, coat, etc, independently. Show your child that you trust and believe that they have the ability to attain and use these skills. Remember, this takes time and patience. Therefore, when referring to time, bear in mind that children under five years old cannot fully grasp the concept of it nor can they really make sense of it. A great idea would be to place a clock in your house in an area that the child can easily access and study. Prepare a paper hand that can be placed on the top of the clock with the help of some blue tack, and adjust times according to your own schedule. You may use this paper hand to highlight a specific time to your child, such as the time you need to leave home in the morning in order to be at school in time. By doing this you are allowing your child to not only understand the concept of time but to also be able to visually see the amount of time remaining for them to get ready before its time to go. So while we in the classroom can spend an indefinite amount of time to practice shoelaces or spooning or pouring without interruption, it comes from you to be the adult and understand that you are the leader of the schedule and if you want to allow this independence to grow, perhaps start the process a little bit earlier!
Children love – and crave – routine. Children who have steady routines tend to adapt and enjoy their everyday life and activities better due to the internal and instinctual understanding what comes next. Consistency is key by keeping some things like breakfast, lunch, dinner and bedtime the same everyday. All extra and additional activities or events can we prepared for by perhaps preparing a daily calendar with pictures showing the daily routine. For example you can use a picture of going to school to represent school time and a picture of an afternoon activity to represent them accordingly. In this way the child is able to associate their days with all the relevant activities.
ROTATE THE TOYS
No matter how organised your environment is, when you have children: you will have toys. Therefore it is important to mention that when purchasing toys for your children, it is best to always keep in in mind their interests, needs and abilities. Family members and birthdays do not always allow this to happen, but there is no need to stress about that My First Sewing Kit that your older brother bought for your 18-month-old baby! Therefore keep those toys to one side or in a cupboard, and over time begin to rotate the toys, maybe adding, maybe taking some away.
In conclusion, we feel it is important to remind you that you are the expert of your child. You know them the most and understand what they are capable of. Therefore, by tweaking your home environment to match the one that you have selected as an educational one, you are bridging two worlds together. This seamless transition will allow all those important skills and milestones to happen without too much distress.
Elena Savva is the Deputy Manager of Little Gems Montessori Nicosia & Lead Teacher of the Topaz classroom. While maintaining and encouraging Montessori practice and philosophy across the school, she is also responsible for developing the Greek Curriculum in order to fulfil and meet out Ministry of Education requirements. This allows Little Gems Montessori to continue guiding our children until the age of six, rather than sending them on at the age of 4 1/2 to 5. If you'd like to know more, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org