Lessons from Montessori Any Parent Can Use
“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.”
– Maria Montessori
Montessori style education, developed based on the teachings of an Italian physician who opened her first school in 1907, is often surrounded with both misunderstanding and mystery. While some public Montessori schools exist, many are private, and can be expensive. This has led to the misconception that Montessori education is not applicable on a broad basis, but there is so much that any parent can glean from the teachings of the educational philosophy developed by Maria Montessori.
What are the Montessori Basics?
Montessori schools are set up so that kids can do most things themselves: serve themselves snacks, wash and dry their own dishes, and reach all of the toys themselves. Maria Montessori believed that doing things for themselves increased children’s self-confidence.
Watching kids play, without any preconceived notions, gives Montessori teachers great insight into their learning styles and personalities.
Following the Child
Teachers follow along with children, not directing their play but assisting in it. If the child is climbing a table, the teacher may encourage climbing outdoors. If they are banging two objects together, they might give them some percussion toys.
Correcting the Child
Montessori teachers gently correct in a way that respects the child. If the child spills their snack, they offer the opportunity to clean it up while modeling that behavior. Rather than correct a mispronounced word, they simply continue to say it correctly around the child until they absorb that.
Everything in a Montessori room is safe and child-sized, visually appealing and simplistic. Montessori schools steer clear of branded toys such as Paw Patrol or Thomas & Friends, and opt for simple imaginative toys that can become many things.
Montessori schools believe that no formal lessons are needed for children under age three, and they learn simply by being given opportunity and exposure. Children will learn how to interact from engaging with teachers and peers, and will learn many tasks through play, which they view as the child’s work.
Implementing Montessori Methods in Your Home
For the average parent who isn’t using a Montessori school, how can these well-researched theories help with our day-to-day parenting?
Montessori style teaching is actually very applicable to home life, as well. Maria Montessori developed her theory and opened a school, but her theory applies to all aspects of childhood — not just their education.
While you might not want to swap out all your furniture for child-sized pieces and perch watching them each night on a miniscule couch, you can make sure key things for your child are at their level. Some families set up drink and snack stations that their young children can reach themselves at any time. A water bottle, plate, and bowl that they can reach, use, and wash gives the child independence and autonomy over their food and drink choices. Some parents leave a stool for sink use, while others have set up a dish washing station at their child’s level.
A small comfy chair next to a low bookcase, secured to the wall, full of colorful and creative books creates an environment that encourages the child to pull out books and sit to explore them. (When your child wanders over to read, this is a great time to pick up your book, also.)
Others use floor beds instead of cribs in a child-proofed Montessori style bedroom. It might seem odd to put your infant on a mattress on the floor, but many parents report that this practice has fostered independence in their young children. Creating their room to be a “yes” space where, even if they do get out of bed, they can access a carefully curated collection of toys all at their reach, teaches children confidence in their abilities.
As for that carefully curated collection of toys? Less is more, according to Montessori method. Advertisers are constantly targeting children to get them hooked on brands or characters. Once they like the show, they want the jammies, the cereal, the toys, the books. However, taking a Montessori style approach to your toy collection can encourage your children to play more creatively. Rather than having all the Paw Patrol characters, some basic stuffed dogs could transition from Chase and Rubble to the Super Buddies to the patients for Doc McStuffins. Any generic wooden trains can become Thomas and Percy, or the next day be part of a Chuggington scene. Wooden blocks can become literally anything to a child.
Observation might be the hardest principle for parents to use at home, but it proves to be truly helpful once we take the time for it. So much of American family life is consumed by busyness that it is not in our nature to just sit and watch our children play. However, play truly is the work of children, and we can glean so much about our kids’ personalities and interests from watching them without any expectations. Some parents observe their child’s mechanical talents, others notice a trend towards art and creation. We can often feel we need to steer our children in certain ways, educationally, but Montessori really believes that we should let our children guide us to their areas of talent and strength.
The Bottom Line
The principles of Montessori — gentle, child-led, unfettered education — can benefit any home. These principles will work for different families to varying degrees, as every child and every family is different. For some families, a fully immersive Montessori experience in their home works for them. For others, incorporating a few tactics, or even just being cognizant of the overall themes of the theory, enriches their family life.
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