A bit of Montessori might be the perfect way to keep the kids’ brains active, without breaking out the textbooks. (Has anyone Googled how much extra screen time actually turns the brain to mush?) The Montessori Method is a child-led approach to teaching that focuses on a child’s physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development. With a little research, it can be pretty easy to incorporate many of the Montessori concepts in your own home. The cool thing is, you can introduce as much or as little of the method as works for your child, starting with nature walks, visual math skills, or even etiquette.
Famous Montessori graduates include the founders of Google (Larry Page and Sergey Brin), the founder of Wikipedia (Jimmy Wales, right here in Huntsville!), and the Owner & Editor of the Washington Post (Katherine Graham).
Other famous Montessori students:
- Amazon founder Jeff Bezos
- Anne Frank
- Chef Julia Child
- Helen Keller
- George Clooney
- Yo Yo Ma
- John Cusack
- Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Stepping into a Montessori Classroom
So what is the Montessori Method? And does it actually work in a real-world setting?
I recently became re-intrigued with the Montessori learning concept after attending a free playgroup at the Montessori School of Huntsville. Seeing an actual classroom in action was nothing short of extraordinary. A Montessori father sums it up perfectly in an excerpt from his book:
“I remember setting foot in that Montessori classroom…I had just stepped into someone’s living room. Or was it a science laboratory? Or maybe an office building? I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what was different at first, but this was unlike any classroom I had ever seen. It felt different too. Peaceful. Purposeful… The comings and goings of the children were remarkable. They seemed so assured and confident and decisive. No one was telling them where to go or what to do…It was neither loud nor quiet. I think this is why ‘living room’ and ‘laboratory’ and ‘office building’ came to mind. They are all places where there can be activity and communication without necessarily having distraction.”
So how to introduce this peaceful environment into your daily routines? Is it possible to develop a love of learning at home? I asked these questions to Adriane Castro, the Hampton Cove site director for the Montessori School of Huntsville, and she was extremely helpful in providing facts and resources to help on my own child-led journey.
Here are a few tips I picked up in my research for incorporating Montessori at home:
1. Everything Has a Place
Children love order. Help your kids understand where everything goes, and they’ll enjoy returning toys and clothing to their proper place. If you arrange your home environment properly, your children will succeed.
Re-imagine the layout of your house and you’ll find some simple adjustments, like:
- Mount hooks down low for your children’s coats, hats, etc.
- Stack up a few small rugs, and show your child how to use one for working with blocks, puzzles, or other activities. Toys tend to become strewn all over the room if you don’t help your child contain them.
- Arrange groups of toys like blocks, beads, or flashcards on trays. Teach the kids to clean as they go, returning one tray to its proper place before retrieving another.
2. Encourage Independence & Self-Motivation
Adriane told of a time when she was entertaining guests for dinner. Somewhere in the midst of things, she forgot to hand out silverware to her young (Montessori enrolled) children. Without a word, the kids quietly got up, opened the correct drawer, retrieved forks, and returned to the table. Her guests watched in awe, remarking that their own children typically screamed until Mommy got what they needed.
- Clear out a lower cabinet or shelf for storing the kids’ dinnerware at their level.
- Teach kids how to serve themselves from a platter using tongs, and how to use a napkin.
3. Empower Your Child
Help your kids learn to prepare their own snacks. (Bonus: they’re more likely to eat healthy snacks when they know how to prep them!) Show them how to spread peanut butter on bread, and how to slice a banana with a safe knife (like a cheese knife).
Give your kids the freedom to explore pouring their own water from a child-sized pitcher into a small cup. Let them use glass cups every now and then. Surprisingly, it isn’t as disastrous as it seems – it teaches cause and effect, and how to care for nice things.
- Messes will happen. Keep a stack of clean rags easily accessible for spills, and show them where to put dirty rags.
- At first, practice pouring with dry ingredients like rice or beans. Pour over a tray to catch any spills.
4. Equip Your Children with Tools for Lifelong Success
One of the most striking aspects of a Montessori classroom is the air of mutual respect and courtesy throughout. Teach your children how to warmly greet visitors to their house. Demonstrate how to handle a cough or sneeze, show compassion, and respond politely when someone addresses them. Instruct them on how to push their chair back into the table, how to answer the phone politely, and how to avoid interrupting conversations.
5. “Help Me Do it Myself!”
Children can do more than we realize, and enjoy doing it. Young children can dust, match socks, and even sweep.
Encourage your child to take an active part in caring for his home. Learning these practical living skills shows him that he’s a valued member of the household. Maintain a positive attitude about household chores. Instead of dreaded work, cleaning should be associated with bringing about a sense of completion and order. Young children want to spend time with you. Instead of sending him off to clean his room, try to include him in whatever task you’re completing.
- Children learn by repetition and practice. Perform a cleaning task in the same order each time. In the Montessori classroom, kids love setting up outdoor doll washing stations, complete with water, tub, shampoo, washcloth, towel, and clean clothes. They enjoy the step-by-step aspect of caring for the “baby.”
- Tape off a small square-shaped area on your floor. Using a child-sized broom, teach your child to sweep dirt into the square. After that, the child can sweep the debris into a dustpan.
6. The Absorbent Mind
Children learn by observation, more than being told the way things work. Encourage your child to explore the world through hands-on experiences, like nature walks. As she studies a ladybug, pinecone, or clouds, she’s learning how to learn.
- Set up a small basket for your child to display her nature collection at home.
- Start a garden with your child, and enjoy science together. In the Montessori classroom, children grow blueberries, basil, lettuce, and flowers.
7. Foster Learning
With the Montessori method, your goal is to fuel your child’s natural zeal for learning. Here are a few simple suggestions to get started:
- Read aloud, whenever and wherever you can. Set up a fun reading station with comfy pillows and a basket full of books.
- Introduce the alphabet using multiple senses. Your child can feel sandpaper letters, listen to the sound a letter makes in a word, and visually rearrange magnetic letters to begin making words.
- Introduce number and quantity by counting household items, from oranges to dolls. Move on to addition and subtraction by simply adding or removing a few items and discussing.
Your role in impacting your child’s future is unique, fundamental, and powerful. You are, after all, in charge of nurturing her earliest childhood development. By creating the right environment, and supporting her interests, you can create your own Montessori-inspired home.
• How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way by Tim Seldi
• Montessori Madness! A Parent to Parent Argument for Montessori Education by Trevor Eissler
• American Montessori Society | Montessori at Home
This article was originally published in July 2016 and updated with additional information.
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Kelli Pavlovec writes as a hobby and as a career. She loves running in the rain, old British TV shows, reading fantastic literature, and all things nature. She’s taking a course on Fiction Writing this semester and hopes to finally write and publish some books which she’ll post at kellipav.com.