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KISS Montessori

So, you started getting into Montessori. You saw photos online of beautiful home environments with orderly shelves and busy children. You saw babies and toddlers doing chores and arranging vases of flowers. You saw the ultimate childhood of learning and peace and figured it was time to prepare your own home. Back then, you were sure all you needed was a laminator, a pink tower, a couple of wooden trays and two low sets of shelves.

After a couple of years of printing, laminating and carefully rounding the corners of your beautiful three part cards you realised your little one isn’t into them. The ones he likes have dog ears and the other 2000 have cobwebs. Whenever you tell him its time to work he comes to you saying he’s bored. So you get him a jar of beans to sort and set about finding another set of printables online. Surely there’s something that he will want to do on his own!

You got tired of changing out the shelves so you bought several other bookcases. Oh, and a larger house…with a seperate shed….for you all to sleep in.

Time went by and you made and bought several materials. There were some your child just wasn’t interested in so you have to put them aside in one of your newly-allocated cupboards. One day he came to you and said he wants the pink tower. “But son, you used it so many times then you stopped so I put it away. Don’t you want to use your lovely new fractions stacker?” In your mind you tried to navigate the deepest cupboards to where you put the pink tower.  Hours later, “here it is, son”. “No thanks,” he shrugs, “I’m doing the fractions.” [Sigh].

Eventually baby number two came. The pink tower lost it’s smallest cube (Which you found later during a daiper change). Beads went all over the floor several times. So you got back to one shelf and a few trays. Your older child wanted to do the housework with you. You went for long walks in the park with the baby. And you were all breathing normally again.

Obviously this is a tongue in cheek version of what could happen in an over zealous Montessori household. I know first hand the expectation vs reality of what Montessori at home looks like. When my daughter was 16 months old I heard about the philosophy from a friend and, after reading more into it I had certain expectations. Four years and three house moves later, I have honed my skills (and altered expectations) somewhat. Behold, my top five tips for keeping your sanity if looking at this as a long term lifestyle.

1.Use shelves with wheels

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Shelves with wheels enable you to move things when needed without too much disruption.

I got these from a local furniture store – nice and deep, durable timber with decent height and depth. This might take a little extra trouble to source but so worth it to be able to have any kinds of materials out – from the pink tower to the large movable alphabet. We had the shelves in the spare room, which we could move when we had guests.

2. Don’t bother laminating things

When my daughter was a toddler I used to laminate all her three part cards or home made puzzles. This kept them durable, but since they are only used a few times each it’s not necessary. Classroom durability is not essential at home.

3. Have a healthy view of independence.

Maria Montessori expressed the importance of developing independence in children:

Any child who is self-sufficient, who can tie his shoes, dress or undress himself, reflects in his joy and sense of achievement the image of human dignity which is derived from a sense of independence.

After doing Montessori lessons at home for a year I expected my daughter should be able to choose an activity by herself, quietly focus on it for a considerable time or even finish something before moving onto something else. But it seemed no matter what I showed her she wouldn’t go to a material without me beside her. And she loves to talk, wanting conversation while working. I used to think there was something wrong but now I see the missing piece of the puzzle.

In a Montessori classroom children are working alongside other children. This companionship is motivation for them. The older kids are modeling behaviour, and when they see their friends moving on to the next level they are also keen to try. At home your child might seem clingy, when in fact they may just be wanting your presence whilst they work, at least until they build confidence in trying things on their own. Some children also are aural learners or just like conversation.

I am not at all bothered that DD sometimes follows me around the house or wants to join in what I’m doing. She often works on her own activities independently but I also acknowledge she’s a people person and just wants to share her experiences with me.

4. Presentation is Important

I’ll never forget this video I saw of a toddler opening a gift-wrapped paperclip. . Hard to tell whether her excitement came from being told she had a gift, or whether it was in a beautiful box, or the fact that her parents filmed her like it was Christmas morning. Anyway, her reaction showed how enthusiastic children can be by even the most seemingly insignificant things. Therefore, when you present a lesson to your child, make it like a discovery of something new and exciting, something special, valuable and fun.  Look at it from different angles. Explore with them by asking questions “I wonder what happens if I move this?” “Is there a pattern here, I wonder?”. Taking this approach will get their interest, develop a sense of exploration and make the most with less.

5. Have a Storage System and Change Regularly

My DD was not at all interested in the moveable alphabet when I first presented it to her at four years. It sat on the bottom of the language shelf practically untouched for months so I put it away, dismayed at the thought I had wasted money on it. On the empty shelf I placed grammar activities.  A year later I noticed her wanting to write.  So I got the moveable alphabet straight out of the cupboard and demonstrated how to use it to sound out words.  I pretended I was struggling to spell, but that I wasn’t worried as long as I could place letters that made the right sounds in the words. Any difficult words I got out blank name cards as a placemarker, then went back to them at the end.  Then DD had a turn and got me to read her sentence. She was excited that I had been able to read her writing. I noticed then one of the advantages of Montessori – being prepared and able to respond immediately to any spark of interest. In a home environment a challenge is space. Fortunately, as parents or caregivers we can keep close observation on the child’s interests and abilities and, if we are organised, get to what they need in a moment’s notice.

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DD showed interest in the moveable alphabet when I showed her that spelling correctly was not important at this stage.

I believe it’s so important to focus on simplicity if you’re doing Montessori at home. Limited time, space and finances mean that we need to be adaptable and practical. I’m learning how to improve this every day, so I’ll update you on any hacks as I come across them. Oh, I can add one more right now:

6. Keep Blog Posts Short and Sweet

At that, I’m signing off,

Crystal