Most parents have heard of Montessori schools and might have a basic understanding of how they operate. If you’re like me, however, you haven’t thought about incorporating Montessori practices into your home, especially if your child doesn’t attend a Montessori school.
The Montessori Method of education, developed by Maria Montessori in Italy over a century ago, is based on the idea that children are naturally curious and want to learn. By observing a child’s interests and curating her environment to support those interests, the whole child will flourish — cognitively, socially, physically and emotionally. Montessori learning environments promote calm, reflection and self-awareness, all things that any home could use during the crazy winter season!
So, how can you create a Montessori-like environment at home? It can actually be quite simple. Here are some practical suggestions:
– Simplify. Montessori purports that children naturally take better care of belongings if they have a select few, with the message being that these items are important. Think “less is more” and reduce toys to a manageable number. The rest can be put away for future rotation. Children thrive on order and predictability. The environment will be less overwhelming, and when each toy has a place, children can be reasonably expected to put them away.
– You, too. Simplicity ideally extends to the whole house. Re-home anything that doesn’t bring you pleasure or that you don’t really use. (I think that might be half my closet!)
– Put them to work. Seriously. Participating in work allows children to feel like important contributors to the family. Folding laundry, cooking, cleaning, watering plants and washing windows are all Montessori-suggested tasks and can be modified for any age. With laundry, a toddler can help put clothes into the washing machine, and a preschooler can help sort by colors. A younger elementary-aged child can fold towels, and older children can be expected to handle any part of the process.
– Change your perspective. View your home through your child’s eyes and make adjustments for easier participation in daily life. For example, put a bedroom mirror at child height and place all your child’s clothing within reach, so he can begin to dress himself from a young age. Use light switch extenders and provide stools in the bathrooms and the kitchen to promote independence. Designate an accessible kitchen drawer and fill it with cups, plates and utensils so he can get a drink or plate a simple snack. Provide properly-sized cleaning tools so he can participate in the care of the home.
– Make it a process. Teaching and working with children in a way that honors their development involves a lot of showing, demonstrating and patience. Of course, no child is going to learn how to properly complete a chore overnight, as nice as that might be. The trick is to know when to step away. When parents provide too much help, they send the message that the child is not capable. As a result, she won’t learn to stretch or challenge herself. Too little help can result in a frustrated child.
– Zip it. Stop yourself from commenting on your child’s play to allow him to stay fully immersed and to derive pleasure from his own accomplishments. Imagine a young child building a really tall tower with blocks. His parent comments, “Wow! Look how tall you made that! I’m impressed!” Now the child’s concentration is broken, much like ours is when we feel our cell phone buzz. In addition, the praise was unnecessary, because he was being self-rewarded by doing something that already felt like an accomplishment.
– Give choices. If your child is doing something you don’t like, give options. “I see that you’re bouncing the ball in the house, and I’m afraid some of our belongings are going to get broken. Would you like to bounce the ball outside or choose something different to do?” This type of discourse lets your child feel respected and helps her practice making choices. Bonus: it also reduces power struggles.
– Feelings first. Montessori purports that feelings are never wrong and should be acknowledged first before behavior. How a child expresses his feelings may need a little help and guidance, but the feelings shouldn’t be judged. Parents should also work to model conflict resolution and appropriate ways to express emotions.
When incorporating Montessori practices into your home, choose those that will work best for your child, but also remember to honor yourself in the process. You need to be comfortable with the changes you make, or your kiddo will sniff you out! By choosing what works both for your child and for you, you’ll be fulfilling another Montessori principle: that individuals are unique and thrive best in an individualized environment.
Alison Bogle is an Austin-based freelance writer and mom of three.