Parents often marvel when they see a Montessori classroom for the first time – the calmness, the order, the intention! They often say that they wish that their home could be this calm - but feel that it’s impossible given the hectic pace and demands of modern life.
However, by understanding the ethos behind some key Montessori principles it is entirely possible to bring some Montessori methods into all aspects of your child’s life. In this article, we will step out of the classroom and apply some Montessori methods to your home environment. Maybe they will add a splash of serenity!
What is self care and why is it so important? Firstly, we need to remind ourselves that Montessori takes a holistic approach to child development. In a Montessori classroom, taking care of yourself and of your environment is considered to be as important as academic work.
The Practical Life area of a classroom is often the first place that a child experiences these real-life tasks. Practicing these tasks leads to independence and decision-making ability, and hones fine motor skills. Self care includes getting ready to go outside and being able to dress and undress yourself. Care of your environment includes putting away materials, keeping the room clean and clearing up mess.
There are several easy ways that a parent or child carer can work together with their child to instil some self-care practices. Clothing is a great place to start. Be sure to choose clothing with fasteningsthat your child is able to open and close independently. For younger children, velcro and larger buttons are all perfect. As your child’s fine motor skills develop, you can introduce zippers and laces. Doing this means that your child won’t be frustrated with what they can’t do, but will instead take joy in what they CAN, and do it willingly. Parents will find this particularly helpful on busy mornings!
In a Montessori setting, the children take care of their classroom by cleaning shelves and by putting their materials away. Some parents witness this and complain that their child never helps around the home. This is often because it is seen as a “chore”, rather than a normal part of life. Think about how many times you might complain about having to vacuum or clean. Your child picks up on this. However, give your child a cloth and watch them clean!
You can also ask your toddler child to fold their own clothes, and put their clothes away after laundry. Remember that the object of this is to do the task, rather than pretend to be an adult, so make sure that any brooms, dustpans or other utensils that you give to them are an appropriate size for the child to handle. Try to view your whole house as a “practical life” area, and you will soon see opportunities everywhere!
As adults, we often have a tendency to direct children too much. Self care is a great opportunity to remind yourself to guide rather than teach. Show your child how to put on their jacket, but then step back and let them make mistakes if they have to. Allow your child to master something. Let them practice tying laces or putting on their jacket even if you are not going out at that moment.
Peer Learning and Being a Role Model
A key element of a Montessori environment is mixed age classrooms. Maria Montessori noted that a child learns best from observing their peers. Equally as important, but often undervalued, is that a child also learns, grows and develops from being a role model themselves. Once a child is ready to move to the next class, they will, in turn learn from their new, older peers. As a parent, this is something that you can easily incorporate into daily life, simply by including younger siblings. It’s OK to include younger siblings in activities where they may seem to merely observe. They will be watching, learning and preparing to do it themselves. With activities such as baking, preparing meals or playing with a challenging item, an older sibling can help guide a younger sibling. Both will feel a sense of accomplishment.
Not every child has the same opportunities for peer interaction. An only child might not have the same exposure to other children, so it is a good idea for parents to organise activities with other children. This can range from simple playdates, to pre-arranged activities with other children, and to things such as art, cookery or pottery classes. Interaction with the same children can build and strengthen your child’s relationship with other children.
It’s important that parents and childcarers also consider themselves to be role models. Whilst this might seem implicit, there are moments in every day which might become rushed or stressed. As adults, our reactions to situations might not always be the one that we would want our child to emulate. Taking a moment to observe ourselves is a good strategy. Modern life throws all kinds of curveballs and no-one expects perfection. However, by being more aware of our actions, we can gradually become more aware of how we might be perceived by the children in our care.
- Keep your voice soft (even if internally, you would love to scream!)
- Allow your child time to complete tasks, such as dressing and undressing themselves
- Try to observe rather than to teach. Listen to how many times a day you say “no” or offer direction. It’s probably lots more than you might realise at first. Take a step back from that and let your child be. Let them make a mistake
Keep it Real!
We have already spoken about how vital it is for children to take care of themselves and their environment. But keeping things practical is important in other ways too. Abstract concepts are not always easy for children to comprehend. You will notice in a Montessori classroom that models of animals are always very realistic, for example. But even realistic models are not a substitute for the real thing.
“Keeping it real” is not always possible or practical in a home environment. However, if we think back to the Montessori ethos of “help me to help myself”, we can encourage children to feel things for themselves. Here are some easy ways we can incorporate this into home life:
- Growing vegetables or plants at home, rather than simply reading about the lifecycle of a plant. It’s easy to grow some cress or salad leaves on the windowsill if you lack garden space.
- Going to the zoo or city farm to see animals, rather than simply reading books.
- Nature walks are a great way for children to explore. Children can collect chestnuts, stones or leaves. They can listen to birdsong and observe birds, squirrels and other animals. This doesn’t have to be a trip to the countryside. Even a city park on the way to the store can provide opportunities for your child to discover new plants, trees and animals.
- Activities such as pottery classes can enable your child to become tactile by experiencing the sensation of clay in their hands. Making something that they will use, such as a plate or bowl gives a sense of achievement.
Routine is very important, not only in a Montessori environment, but in pretty much every aspect of life. Routine gives children order, and from order comes calm. If a child knows what is required of them, and their boundaries are clear, they will feel more comfortable, relaxed and productive. You may notice for example, that on vacation, and with a different routine, your child becomes more restless.
In daily life, try to keep the household schedule as stable as possible. Keep the same time for meals, wake-up and bedtimes. Keep things in the same order – for example, always brush teeth after breakfast or before washing your face. Once your child knows what their routine is, it will become second nature and they will relax into it.
The adage “work is its own reward” is an essential part of the Montessori ethos. In the morning rush, or when you are tired, it can be really tempting to offer a “reward” such as TV time, or a sweet snack for “good” behaviour. However, this can result in the reward being the focus, when in fact, the work itself should be the focus.
Don’t worry! As we discussed earlier, younger children will naturally be motivated by work and routine. Once certain things become routine, it will be a natural part of their day, and not a chore that needs doing. A child who has become accustomed to brushing their teeth right after eating dinner, will not expected to be rewarded.
However, older children, especially those who were introduced to Montessori concepts later might not view self-care and care of the environment in the same way.
A really good strategy here, and one that is used in Montessori classrooms, is to establish a weekly contract – with themselves. This contract should be around five things that the child wants to achieve over the next seven days. It’s OK to offer guidance and suggestions here, but most importantly, the child needs to make the list themselves, and know it is achievable.
What kind of things should be in the contract? Well, that depends! Discuss with your child what is important to them. For example, “read for ten minutes a day”, or “lay the table for dinner” might be good starters, depending on your situation. If there is something specific that your child is working towards, you can include a weekly goal relating to it. Your child will feel a sense of completion, and over time, will become more proactive in designing their weekly contract, and know what they are capable of. For many people, such contracts become habitual, and is something that they carry over into adulthood. In fact, as a role model, you may also want to start your own weekly contract.
What happens if your child (or you) fails to achieve any of the things in the contract? Don’t scold them. They will already have a feeling of disappointment. They will adjust their own goalposts, but not their own goals.
It is vital that a child has the opportunity to make their own decisions. In a Montessori classroom for example, a child chooses their own work, and returns it. They can relax when they choose, and even eat when they choose.
You may feel that this conflicts with routine, but it doesn’t. A routine should feel comfortable, not forced. Allowing your child to make his or her own decisions encourages critical thinking, develops empathy and increases confidence.
So, how can you encourage decision making at home? There are several easy ways to implement this. For example, you can let your child chose their own clothes for the day. Let them plan the weekly menu for dinner. However, another, more passive, but just as important, way to encourage their decisions involves simply letting your child “be”. If your child doesn’t want to play with another child, for example, we may instinctively want to encourage our child to play together, but this could make a temporary decision become a much bigger deal than it is. If your child doesn’t want to read today, that’s OK. If they want to play with the same toys again and again, that is also OK. Accept these small decisions in silence as a sign of respect.
However, there will be other times when your child’s decision may not be a comfortable one for you or may have serious consequences. What should we do in such cases? Firstly, listen. Be sure to actively listen, and not just hear. An older child is likely to be able to articulate why or why not they want to do something. Is their reasoning respectful and rational? Are there practical reasons, such as scheduling issues, which make it not possible? Opening up a discussion, and allowing your child to think through their decisions further can quickly lead to a resolution.
I hope you find these ideas helpful and are able to incorporate them into your daily life if you are not doing so already. Don’t feel overwhelmed if they take time. As you become more familiar with Montessori, you will hopefully feel comfortable tailoring such ideas to suit your own family. Every day is a day to learn for all of us!
By Josephine Moysey,
Trained Montessori educator.