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Monday, 24 August 2020

Getting Started With Montessori - How you can get going TODAY.

How you can start incorporating Montessori practices into your family life TODAY.

Never put off 'til tomorrow what you can do today. 

Now, who heard that pretty continuously throughout their childhood? I certainly did! While frustrating as a child, as an adult I have come to realise how very true that saying is. When I first heard about Montessori, I loved the idea so much that I really wanted to get started as soon as possible.There was one problem, however and that was where to begin.

When I began to research the Montessori principles and concepts, I was a little mind boggled! There was just SO much information to take in and I had no idea how I was going to narrow it down into something I could actually implement in my home. After hours and hours of research, I decided to focus only on the areas I could implement right there and then.

Beginning with small steps helped me to see what a real difference Montessori could make to my life and motivated me to keep going until every area of my life reflected the Montessori principles. Let's face it, the life of a Mom (or Dad!) is busy and often downright chaotic! Making small, manageable changes is going to be far more manageable than transforming everything overnight. 

In that spirit, this article is hopefully going to give you the first few steps along the road to a Montessori way of life. Each step is something you can begin to do today without purchasing a thing! 

Step 1 - Play is the work of the child. 


Every day your child gets up and goes to work. Okay, they aren't doing a 9-5 or bringing home the bacon, but in their little world every single task they do is their work. It is important to them and should be to us, too. You may see this referred to as 'the absorbent mind'. It means that young children are constantly absorbing information from the world around them. Every single thing they do is a learning point in their day and should be treated as such. What may appear to an adult as a simple activity, or merely 'messing around' is actually part of their absorbent mind at work. 

I deliberately included this first as I feel it really helps to set the tone for a Montessori way of life. More than anything, it is a mindset or way to approach life with your child and I cannot express how important it is. Whatever the activity is - playing with blocks, feeding their baby doll, trying to put their own shoes on - we must ensure we treat it as the child's crucial work, after all - this is the point in which they are absorbing their learning.

Children learn through play. Play is their work. It is absolutely vital to provide plenty of time for play. If you're looking for some inspiration, check out the label 'Activity' which has many great suggestions. 

Step 2 - Follow the Child



This one is equally important in starting out on your Montessori journey. The founder of Montessori, Maria Montessori, spent many years observing children. One of her conclusions was that forcing children to learn in a certain way at a certain time just did not work. Instead, we must be guided by our children and their needs in that moment.

Is your child showing interest in a particular object or activity? If so, spend some time exploring that - even if it isn't the activity you had planned for the morning. 

Is your child finding it hard to sit still? Are they constantly climbing onto the sofa or furniture? If so, this is an indicator that they want to get moving. So strap on those wellies and head outside. Or set up an obstacle course with pillows and blankets to climb over instead.

The key here is engaging in what the child wants to do in that moment, rather than trying to coerce or force the child into doing what we feel they should be doing. At times, I know this can be a huge challenge, at times I know it can be downright frustrating, but I promise - once you see the results, you will fully understand this principle.

A great example of this happened to me only a few weeks ago. I had spent hours the night before setting up a messy play activity for Arlo. It had everything: bright colours, objects of different sizes, things he could taste and smell. Everything! However, when I showed him the activity the following morning, he gave it one cursory prod and went back to climbing across the throw cushions.

This was a clear indicator that he did not want to sit still and engage in an activity right now, so we went outside and played in the garden instead. We ran, we looked at the different plants and leaves, we threw balls and stones. I knew that by fulfilling this need right now, he would be much more engaged in the activity at a later time than if I had forced him to do it right then and there. 

On this occasion, we came in from the garden, had snack time and Arlo spent the entire remainder of the morning working on that activity, right up until nap time. Seeing that confirmed I had made the right decision in following his needs because not only did we get some time outdoors to burn off some energy, but he was much more focused and engaged in the activity afterwards. 

What we should always have in the back of our minds is that children are simply little adults. How would you feel if you were exhausted and someone kept trying to force you into a physical activity? Or you were brimming with unspent energy and someone suggested a trip the library? Remember to put yourself in your child's shoes and follow their lead. They will always let you know what they need if you take the time to listen. 

Step 4 - Setting up your home to create a 'prepared environment'.

This was the big one for me. I felt so daunted at the thought of reorganising my home into a Montessori style environment that I didn't know where to start. I ended up aimlessly wondering through my house trying to envisage various things in various places. My husband arrived home to find me dumbly staring at one wall. 'That's it, she's finally cracked!' he must have thought. The truth was, I was so confused. It seemed like a gargantuan task that I would never be able to fulfill. I would never have a home as organised as those I had seen on Instagram or Pintrest. 

Finally, I decided to change just one small area in my home and go from there. So, I pulled some books and ornaments off a low, child height shelf and arranged a set of three plastic baskets there instead. In each basket, I selected a Montessori inspired activity and allowed Arlo the opportunity to explore. That very first day, he pulled a basket down from the shelf and started putting the playing cards into the little cardboard box as if he had been doing this his whole life. I was thrilled! 

Gradually, I got myself an Ikea Kallax unit, some under the stairs storage (since I am based in the UK, there are few houses with big walk in cupboards similar to those I had seen on other blogs and videos, so I decided to utilise the space underneath my stairs instead) and a few additional baskets and trays to keep my activities in order. 

I really want to stress, though, that it is absolutely not necessary to purchase anything in order to make Montessori work in your home. All you need is a little bit of space where you can lay out your activities so your child has the freedom to choose for themselves which one they would like to complete. You could use a shoe rack, lower a shelf down to child height, clear off a shelf on your TV unit - any space you have can work. Similarly, if you do not have any boxes or baskets, use what you have to hand. This could be shoe boxes, lunch boxes, cereal boxes with one side removed. Whatever your budget, you can make this work.

I wish I had found a simple guide to getting started when I was first looking into Montessori and I hope that this guide goes a long way to helping make that transition a smooth one, but I would also like to say that if you are reading this and have any queries or problems - no matter how big or how small - feel free to email me (montessoriathomeuk@gmail.com) and I will do my best to support you. Alternatively, you can drop a comment in the comments section below! 

Step 5 - Practical Life Skills 


This is perhaps my favourite element of the Montessori lifestyle. As a primary school teacher, I cannot tell you the amount of times I have met a child who lacks in the most basic self care skills. For example, an intelligent, bubbly ten year old who cannot use a knife correctly. Having observed this for years, I vowed that should I ever be blessed with children of my own, I would ensure they had adequate skills to care for themselves. This doesn't mean, of course, that we force our children to do everything while we sit back and watch - quite the opposite in fact! It is simply about providing opportunities for our children to engage with us in every day tasks. 

Some examples (age dependent):

  • Could your child cut up their own banana? 
  • Could they put the ingredients into the blender to make a smoothie? 
  • Could they brush their own hair? Teeth? 
  • Could they hang their own coat up when you get home and put their shoes on the rack? 
  • Can they stir the pot to help with dinner? 
  • Butter their own toast?
  • Use a dustpan and brush to clean up their crumbs?
  • Pour their own drink? 
  • Wipe up their spills when completing a water based activity.

Involving our children in the everyday tasks of life, not only helps to build their skills in these areas, but many others too. For example, allowing your child to cut their own banana means they develop their fine motor skills, their grip control, their ability to appreciate size and measure as they aim for similar sized pieces. These skills are invaluable and reach into every aspect of their learning. Furthermore, you can begin to include these in your day-to-day life straight away. As you make breakfast in the morning, ask your child to help you butter their toast, or give them a small cup of milk and ask them to pour the milk onto their own cereal. These simple things really do make the world of difference! 

Step 5 - Make it work for you!



I know there will be some practitioners out there who are screaming at their computer screens at the thought of this final step. For them, following the Montessori lifestyle is an 'all or nothing' deal, however I personally view it very differently. I believe the only way to make this work is to adapt it to suit the needs of your family. You know your child better than anyone else and there will be some things that just won't work for you. That's okay. All you can do is give things a go, keep the things that work for you and discard the ones that don't. 

An example of this would be eating in a highchair. Many Montessori parents adopt the idea of a weaning table or independent area to eat food. I tried this in my home, but it just didn't work for us,so I ditched it.

The idea is that your child should be able to get in to and out of their own space to eat their meals, so providing their own table and chair set at their level helps to foster this independence. In principle, I think it is a great idea, but for our family, it just didn't work. Firstly, everything you put on a low table becomes fair game for our family dog, so we had to exclude him from the kitchen at meal times. This in itself became a whole palaver as our dog isn't used to being shut out and therefore spent most of dinner time determined to get into the kitchen. Secondly, I see these beautiful examples of Montessori eating areas for toddlers, but they are typically in large homes where space is ample. In the UK, kitchens are often small or (like ours) long and thin. As a result, I simply do not have the space to accommodate a second table and chair area for Arlo. In the end, after trying this for a fortnight, we decided to go back to the typical highchair set up we had used before. Now, I have taught Arlo a simple gesture of raising his arms in the air to signal he is finished with his meal and wants to get down. I will then lift him onto the floor where he is once again free to explore. 

This is a perfect example of how we have made the Montessori lifestyle fit in with our family and our home. Some things will work for you, others will not. It is important to realise this early on and be flexible. 

Another example is Montessori toys. I am sure you will have seen that most Montessori toys are simple toys usually made out of sustainable materials. You wouldn't find many v-tech remote controls in a Montessori school setting. However, again, we are adapting this lifestyle to fit into our every day home life. If your child receives an electronic toy for their birthday, it is only right to include this as part of their toy options. It is a case of being flexible. I doubt there are many families who would be willing to throw away half of their children's toys simply because they do not conform to the typical 'Montessori' style. That being said, I have tried to stem this problem by creating a wish list on Amazon full of toys I know would suit our needs and directing family and friends to it at birthdays and Christmas. This means we can build our range of Montessori style activities.

Finally...

I want to finish by saying that I know all of these changes can feel daunting at times, but the Montessori lifestyle has genuinely changed my family and I for the better. You will begin to see the changes instantly. No longer will you have a toddler crying behind your heels while you run around making breakfast. No longer will you pick up your hundredth toy of the day, all of which were emptied out of the toy box only to be looked at once before being discarded onto the floor. Instead, you will have a happy, confident toddler who happily pours the milk onto their own cereal, or who cleans up their own activity once they are finished with it. I created this blog, my Instagram and Facebook group purely because I felt so passionately about Montessori that I just had to share it with others. 

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the comment section below or you can contact me directly via InstagramFacebook or at MontessoriAtHomeUK@gmail.com 






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