The title of this post also happens to be the subtitle of the blog. While I hope the sentiment is an undercurrent to all of my posts I decided I could be a bit more direct with what “practical” means to me and my family. The intention of this post is to capture parents like myself who love Montessori ideals and perhaps have children in Montessori school but are overwhelmed by where to start. This post is dedicated to those of us that have no desire to homeschool or those who may feel inadequate when a google search returns magazine quality photos of toddlers concentrating deeply in well-appointed and calming environments.
So where to start? How do I create a Montessori home environment and implement a Montessori-inspired parenting style without spending thousands of dollars and needing Montessori certification? To help answer that question we have to boil down some big picture stuff into practical chunks.
Big Picture One: Montessori is a way of being with children.
In a school environment Montessori is a curriculum, but more importantly it is a way to interact with children. Montessori is not pink towers and red rods. Montessori in the home, especially, is not “works”. It is the understanding and desire to treat your child with respect and work within his/her developmental limits. I love Merry Montessori’s document on the four planes of development. As a parent I focus in on the “Needs of the …Plane”. I have read and reread the description of each plane in order to gain a better understanding of my children. Armed with this information I can adjust my parenting to meet my child’s needs based in developmental science and not my guesswork. So how might I take this information and use it in a practical way? Practical example: My first plane son, 5 years old, has a developmental need for opportunities to communicate. As a parent I can make sure that when I have a conversation with him it is during a calm time of day with limited distractions so he can focus on both the listening and speaking components of communication. This means that I cannot be distracted with my phone or the needs of my other child. Time and space is all you need to fulfill this need. Other examples about how I have adjusted my parenting with my new 2nd plane kid can be found here and here.
Big Picture Two: A properly prepared environment is more important than what we tell a child when directing his/her behavior.
Montessori is all about structure and order. It may look chaotic but that is because we are used to seeing overt adult direction when it comes to children, particularly verbal direction (“Don’t touch that. Do this.”). The prepared environment is one set-up by adults with development and limits taken into consideration. Practical example: Your child is taking too much at snack time? Reduce the amount offered. They maintain the freedom to help themselves, but within the adult set environment.
Big Picture Three: Fostering developmentally appropriate independence is the primary responsibility of a parent.
When it comes to Montessori in the home one of the best and easiest ways to foster independence is through every day tasks. This also goes hand in hand with the prepared environment as the environment will allow for the independence. Practical Example: Think about your child’s day from the time they wake up to the time they go to bed. Make a list, in your head or on paper, about everything your child needs to do throughout the day. Travel from room to room as you make your list. For every action that your child needs to accomplish, can they do it themselves with no adult intervention? The goal here is to answer “Yes!” to as many tasks as possible.
Example of a morning for my 5 year old:
1. Wake up and get out of bed- yes, bed is appropriate height for him to get in and out of without help. Also appropriate size (twin) for him to make his bed every day without adult help.
2. Turn on his lights in his room- yes, he can reach his lamp, but no he could not turn on his overhead or closet light, so we added a longer chain to his closet light and we added a light extender to his overhead light. Small inexpensive way to build independence.
A simple tool that has made a difference in my son’s independence.
3. Get dressed-yes, all of his clothes are in low baskets that he can reach. A place for his dirty clothes is also accessible.
4. Eat breakfast-yes, plates, cups, and pitcher of milk are all in low cabinets, drawers, and fridge shelves. On days when my husband or I don’t cook breakfast, he can access a bowl of cereal all on his own.
5. Pack his lunch for school-yes, explained in detail in this post.
6. Brush his teeth-yes, a sturdy stool helps him gain access to a tall pedestal sink, toothbrush and paste are all within reach.
7. Grab his backpack and out the door-yes, we keep our backpacks on low hooks.
My son can go an entire morning routine taking care of himself and his needs without adult intervention. This leaves time for conversation at breakfast and me feeling less like a task master.
Montessori is not all or nothing. Practical Montessori is about incorporating big ideas in simple and effective ways that create a calmer, happier child and parent.