I've been meaning to write this post for quite a while, but it tends to get backburner-ed. For the past year or so, I've been learning a lot about Montessori and wanted to share a little bit about that and how it's affecting our daily lives.
Before you start, no, Montessori isn't just a private school meant for school aged children. Not at all. It's really a philosophy on education that can begin from birth. You should check out the Montessori nurseries on Pinterest, it's really amazing what people have done under the umbrella of Montessori. The teaching philosophy and model for human development began in 1897 with Dr. Maria Montessori. She observed, studied, and noted the behavior of children in various environments and ultimately developed this method for teaching based on the innate desire for independence that she saw in children. Here's a quick quote:
"The model has two basic principles. First, children and developing adults engage in psychological self-construction by means of interaction with their environments. Second, children, especially under the age of six, have an innate path of psychological development. Based on her observations, Montessori believed that children who are at liberty to choose and act freely within an environment prepared according to her model would act spontaneously for optimal development."
Here's a link if you'd like to read more.
Here are some standouts to me that I personally find appealing about Montessori:
- Individualized learning tailored to the child
- Respect for the child as an autonomous human being
- Safe, prepared environments that encourage learning
- Including the child in all parts of life as much as possible
- Encouraging independence and critical thinking skills
When I was a teacher, I knew that this was how my students needed to be taught. It just literally wasn't possible. I couldn't individually teach 100 students each day. If only. But I can do that for my own child.
A phrase you hear in the Montessori community constantly is to "follow the child" and that means following their interests. Especially at Willow's age, you shouldn't be forcing anything. I give Willow lots of books because she adores books more than any other toy you could give her. I save certain chores and tasks for when Willow is awake and can do them with me because I know she's interested and engaged when we empty the dishwasher, cook, or put away the laundry. When we go outside, I'm not forcing her to play with a particular toy we have, I'm just letting her wander and pick up sticks and smell flowers. That's following the child at this age.
She helps me make my smoothie every morning. Willow is in charge of ice, as you can see.
I don't think anyone means to disrespect their child by NOT doing things in a Montessori way. But I love that part of the goal in arranging your child's environment is a respect for your child's place in the family. Our homes are designed for OUR convenience. Our little ones need our help to do so much. Part of respecting our kids can mean enabling them and our homes so that it's even possible for children to do something for themselves.
I mean think about potty training... how can our kids naturally show us that they're ready to start using a toilet if they aren't even capable of accessing one? That occurred to me one day this Spring and I put out a tiny little potty for Willow and what do you know, she happily chose to start using it herself before she could even walk.
You'll notice in my house that the bottom two shelves in various rooms are allotted for Willow's things, so she can reach them. She has access to her own food and water, so that she doesn't have to depend on me to fulfill her every whim. Including her in my chores makes her feel like a part of the family and the home. She's important and no matter how unhelpful her help may be at this age, who wouldn't want to encourage your kid when she's psyched to wash windows? Montessori is about enabling your kids to have the opportunity to do things like that whenever you can.
We shouldn't "baby proof" just for safety. We should design rooms so that babies and toddlers can be the natural explorers and learners they are. Kids are so curious and if you spend all day telling them "no" or "don't touch that" or "stop doing that" then that curiosity is going to fade. When Willow finds Lily's water dish and turns it over, she's not doing anything wrong. I am because I left out something that Willow was naturally going to investigate.
I also leave out little games and puzzles for Willow to solve, either on her shelves or her table. I rotate her toys every week or two so that she truly has something to discover constantly.
Encouraging Independence and Critical Thinking
This is so important to me. As an 8th grade teacher, it pained me to see how helpless so many of my students were. They were so used to being told what to do and how to do it that these 13 and 14 year olds couldn't solve basic problems like "I'm out of paper" or "My pencil broke." It was crazy to me. So, I want to do everything I can to raise a child who is independent, thinks for herself, and has the confidence to make her own decisions. Involving your child in all the little chores you do does a lot to model that kind of behavior. I can already tell it's working because Willow knows now that if she makes a spill, she should get her dish cloth and clean up the mess, not wait for me to do it. She's little and needs reminding, but it's not a punishment for her, she's happy to do it.
When I see her solving a puzzle and repeatedly putting the wrong piece in, I do nothing. And I think many well-meaning parents like to intervene and show their children the correct way to do things... I know I already have done this plenty of times! But the real joy is when you just wait and watch them figure it out. Sometimes doing nothing is the best thing.
This is all such a brief and cursory glance at Montessori and how we're using it. I'm still a beginner and I'm really picking and choosing what I like and want to do from it. But ultimately, It's just a way of thinking that helps me decide on all sorts of things for Willow. When I chose her high chair, I thought about which one she'd be able to climb up into herself one day. When I make her snacks I show her how I do it and now she brings me the orange peeler when she wants an orange. At this age, we're deep in the practical life skills of just learning how to exist, explore, and take care of ourselves and our environment. When she gets older, we'll incorporate Montessori into all kinds of learning. I'll be sure to keep you updated! I've already got another post in the works with some details on Willow's kitchen. Because obviously, Willow needed her own kitchen ;)