Montessori at Home: A How-To Guide for Parents
Developed more than 100 years ago by Italian physician Maria Montessori, the Montessori Method of teaching and learning centers around the belief that children are capable of initiating their own learning experiences. If you're in a Montessori School or environment of any kind, you'll find a compelling mixture of materials and activities specifically geared toward developing a well-rounded learner — meaning students are challenged physically, cognitively, emotionally and socially.
Most people have heard of Montessori education programs, but many don't realize that Montessori's theories are also concepts you can successfully incorporate at home. In fact, Dr. Montessori first began developing her ideas about the way children learn when she was working with children who lived in low-income apartments.
Why should a parent consider implementing Montessori principles at home? Many reasons exist, but the biggest is that it's a great way to recognize and develop your child's inherent ability to learn about the world around them through meaningful play. By making a few changes to your home environment, you can actually help encourage your child's natural curiosity and ability to learn for years to come.
- Incorporating Montessori Principles at Home
- Creating a Montessori Environment at Home
- Recommended Montessori Resources
Incorporating Montessori Principles at Home
When it comes to implementing Montessori principles in the home, most parents are intrigued by the idea, but they aren't sure where to start. But, it starts with a change in mindset. As a parent, you have to start by understanding that children — even the littlest ones — are capable of more than you realize. Once you acknowledge this, then you can make some changes around your home to set yourself and your child up for Montessori success.
1. Organize Your Environment
"A place for everything and everything in its place" is one of the critical principles of Montessori at home. When you designate a place for everything, your child will quickly learn where everything goes. This is an essential tool in teaching them to be responsible for their belongings and clean up messes they may make. To effectively order your environment, the most significant change you'll want to make is to make things more accessible for your child.
To do this, we recommend that parents:
- Store clothing in low drawers or baskets, as well as move the rod in the closet down to eye-level so your child can reach their clothing
- Place step stools in both the kitchen and bathroom to enable them to wash their hands and, in the case of the kitchen, help with meal preparation
- Place toys, games and art supplies on low shelves where your child can easily access them, then separate these toys into various baskets and bins so the items stay separate and are easy to find without sifting through piles of other toys
- Store healthy snacks down low in your refrigerator or pantry so your child can help themselves
- Keep beverages in small pitchers located on the lower shelf in the fridge, with child-friendly cups nearby. When your child is thirsty, allow them to help themselves — just be sure to keep a sponge nearby so they can clean up any messes they make, too.
In the Montessori approach, parents are also encouraged to rotate their children's toys and books every few weeks. The goal of this is to keep their curiosity fresh and prevent boredom. This may seem overwhelming to some parents, but the best way to do it is to rotate the items on your shelves based on the seasons and your child's current interests. Do they get excited about dinosaurs? Then include a basket of dinosaurs, as well as a few age-appropriate books on the shelves. Whatever topics interest your children, the key is to encourage exploration and creativity.
2. Emphasize Life Skills
Even young children are capable of pitching in around the house. By teaching them to take care of themselves and the space around them at a young age, you will set your child up to be a considerate, capable adult later on. This will mean that, as a parent, you may have to stop and take the time to teach your child how to properly wipe the table after a meal or which cabinet to place their cups in, but their minds are so absorbent that it won't be long before they can do it independently.
Remember to match their tasks with their age and abilities. For example, younger children are perfectly capable of learning to water plants, feed pets, wipe the table after a meal and pick up their toys. Older children can incorporate more complex tasks into their routine, like taking out the trash, meal preparation and basic home maintenance. You can also have them teach the younger children in your home, as well.
3. Teach Concentration
A lot of adults don't think young children can concentrate, and it's true that children cannot focus on something for the same timespan as adults. But, under the Montessori method of thought, this is a skill you can start cultivating in your child when they are young. You can do this by identifying what they are interested in and setting them up with the materials and space they need to explore it more thoroughly.
When people first start out, many times they incorrectly assume giving their child space means they have to have an isolated area away from the rest of the family. This is not true. While some children do need more solitude than others, it's important to figure out how your child works best and then encourage that. Some children like to work at the kitchen table in the middle of the house. Others prefer the solitude of their bedroom or a quiet corner of a playroom.
4. Focus on Inner Motivation, Not Rewards
The Montessori method isn't big on giving children extrinsic rewards for behavior, such as stickers or candy. Verbal praise is valued, although it's important to make sure it is given in moderation. The key is that you should teach your children to enjoy and seek the feelings of pleasure and pride that come with learning something new or completing a task.
Creating a Montessori Environment for Babies
Creating a Montessori environment doesn't have to wait until your children are older. In fact, even infants respond well to a Montessori environment in the home. This is a great time to begin this transition because you're just starting out with your child and can slowly incorporate ideas and adapt as your baby grows. If you're planning to implement Montessori principles into your infant's home environment, here are four things you can do.
1. Baby-Proof Your House
Cover electrical outlets, place safety latches on doors and remove objects that could hurt your baby — or that your baby could hurt. The goal is to create an environment that allows them to move and explore freely as they begin to be mobile.
2. Use Baby Gates to Create Areas for Exploration
Most people think of gates as ways to restrict their little ones, but you can use them to outline their play spaces and keep them in the areas designed for their learning and exploration.
3. Make Their Bedroom Child-Friendly
Try putting a mattress on the floor and age-appropriate toys within reach. This encourages them to move from sleeping to playing without your assistance once they're able to crawl and eventually walk. You'll want to keep a baby gate across the doorway so they stay in this designated area.
4. Utilize Child-Sized Furniture
Rather than using a high chair, try using a small table and chairs for mealtimes. Place it in the kitchen or dining room — next to the table where the adults eat — and use it for mealtime, snack time and activity time, as well. Once your baby can sit, they'll be able to attempt this with an adult close by to provide stability and assistance.
Once you've created a safe space for your baby to explore, there are a lot of ways you can encourage their curiosity over the world around them. When they're too young to move around by themselves, babies respond well to a low-hung mirror and other small toys. As they develop, choose toys and objects that help them make use of all five of their senses. Give them a box and some objects to practice putting in and taking out of the box. Help develop their sensory skills by playing with sand, water and other textured items.
A hallmark of a Montessori program for younger children is the "Treasure Box." This is something you can make on your own at relatively little cost. Again, the goal is to help your little one develop each of their five senses. The basket can contain items made out of wood, leather, fur, feathers, metal and any other natural materials. Always make sure the objects do not pose a choking hazard or have sharp edges. Also, avoid including plastic items in the box.
Creating a Montessori Environment for Toddlers
As your child grows and becomes more mobile, it's essential to allow them the freedom to move and explore throughout their home. This means all the baby-proofing you did when they were infants will still be important as they grow — but you'll want to modify it as they develop to account for their increased mobility and need for more space.
Since potty training typically comes during the toddler phase, your Montessori efforts will need to extend to the bathroom because your child will be spending more time there. It's important to include a step stool, faucet extenders and a light switch extender — all with the goal of teaching your child to be self-sufficient in the bathroom.
As children grow, their level of play also evolves. To encourage their exploration of the world around them, there are a number of things you can do, including these three.
1. Keep Books and Toys on Low Shelves
Place a small selection of age-appropriate books and toys on low shelves — but no plastic toys. Keeping them on a low shelf will allow your toddler to help themselves to whatever catches their attention. Place each kind of toy in a different basket or bin so they start to learn everything has a rightful place. Rotate their toy and book selection every few weeks to keep things new and fresh.
2. Hang Interesting Artwork at Eye-Level
Whether it's a print from one of the greats or a framed picture your child or an older sibling drew, exposing your toddler to art and beauty is a great way to stimulate their mind.
3. Create Seasonal Nature Trays
Each season, assemble a tray of items you've found outdoors for your child to touch and explore. When you include your child in collecting the items from your yard, this even becomes another moment for learning and exploration. Just remember to make sure the trays don't contain anything that could be a choking hazard or make them sick if it ends up in their mouth.
If you aren't sure where to start with a nature tray, consider some of these seasonal ideas:
- Spring: Green leaves, moss, assorted flowers and plants, seeds, fake eggs
- Summer: Shells, small boats, starfish, flowers, fruit, herbs
- Fall: Gourds, apples, leaves, acorns, dried corn, books about fall, real or artificial mums
- Winter: Paper snowflakes, evergreen branches, snow globe, pictures of winter scenes
Creating a Montessori Environment for School-Aged Children
The idea behind the Montessori method is that you'll expand on what you've already started as your child grows and develops. So, ideally, you would have already begun adapting your home and lifestyle to the Montessori method long before your child enters elementary school. If that's the case, you can build on what you've already begun. If you haven't, don't worry — its never too late to start.
It's important to note that implementing the Montessori method for your child at any age does take some advanced planning, but perhaps even more so with school-aged children. Practical activities such as cooking, cleaning and reading are essential to incorporate into your home. Continue using the low shelves you used when your child was younger, but as they grow, exchange the toddler toys for puzzles, books and other age-appropriate activities. You can incorporate items that reinforce what they've been learning in school — however, the point of your efforts is not to overwhelm them with book knowledge, but to find practical ways to teach them everyday skills.
Note: If your child attends a Montessori School, check with their teacher before reinforcing their classroom learning at home. Some Montessori programs prefer that children take a break from academics and spend their time at home working on more practical skills.
Construct the items you place on the shelves, as well as some of the activities you incorporate, around your child's personality and interests. This way, they will want to make use of them. For example, if you have a child who shows an artistic inclination, your shelves may contain a variety of paper and art supplies. If your child is into nature, you may continue to construct nature trays and incorporate books about the plants and animals in your region. For all children, reading is also highly encouraged. You may also want to create a reading corner — or at least a comfy chair — to be a designated quiet space for your children.
If you have several children of various ages, you'll also want to spend time encouraging the older kids to help the younger ones by reading books and assisting with chores and other activities. Families who homeschool may likely want to incorporate the Montessori method, too. There are many books and resources that go deeper into this topic.
Recommended Montessori Resources
At this point, you likely have a lot of questions about the idea of implementing the Montessori method at home. While it is a simpler way of doing things, it does often go against a lot of the practices today's parents have learned. So, if you're looking for more information about how to incorporate these ideas into your family's environment, we recommend How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way by Tim Seldin and The Absorbent Mind by Maria Montessori. There are also several great blogs out there, including How to Montessori and Living Montessori Now.
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