Can you be a non-Pinterest-perfect, Disney-loving parent AND practice Montessori style learning at home? Yes! Read on for more information about Montessori learning, why you might be interested in it and how to find the life balance of it.
Montessori Learning is a style of education that focuses on the child and the child’s interests. It is called a “child-led” education. In comparison to formal education where a child is more passive in being taught, Montessori learning encourages education through an active and natural learning process. Maria Montessori developed this system and it is named after her.
If you join a Montessori group or start Pinteresting “Montesorri,” you might wonder if you’ll ever be able to integrate Montessori learning into your normal home. You can! Just be flexible and know that you don’t have to follow all the “rules” of Montessori. You are not a classroom. You are a family living in your home. You can integrate Montessori-learning into your home in a reasonable way. This is like being “reasonably crunchy” as I call it. I try to be eco-conscious and many of my decisions are based on that. But at the end of the day, I’m also going to do things that make my life easier and more comfortable sometimes. These lifestyles do not need to be all-or-nothing. They can be reasonable, too.
First, a little story about why Montessori education might be important. My mom, a retired teacher, said this to me recently when I told her I was planning on integrating largely Montessori learning for Elodie: “Honestly, most teachers can’t tell who had the Montessori education or not. So enjoy but it probably will be similar results at the end of a few years.” I wasn’t upset, that’s what I generally want for Elodie: for her to have an education that is equal to or greater than average. She also told me I went to Montessori school prior to 1st grade which I hadn’t even realized. It had me thinking a bit. So I asked my husband what he thought about his early schooling, if he remembered. He said he did not enjoy preschool or kindergarten at all. He remembers a witch-like teacher who was angry and rude, only paying attention to you if you did something wrong. He remembers being expected to remember things and being told to learn things. I was shocked! My experience was the exact opposite. I remember Miss Tiffany with her red hair, warm smile and tender hugs. I remember her siting with me doing puzzles and coloring. He remembers being yelled at for not napping. I remember being encouraged to relax when I couldn’t nap (which was every day) and then being able to be the “waker upper fairy.” Our experiences were literally the complete opposite. It played out for the rest of our education. We ended up in almost opposite learning settings again where I had strict nuns and his teachers were more flexible and encouraging. And yet, those early days of learning stayed with us. I continued to enjoy learning and thought of it as a good experience where he continued to feel like learning was more of a task. If I had to guess, our IQs are probably similar and my husband is definitely more clever and excels at things I don’t. Yet I always had really good grades and was motivated. He found tests, homework and grades to be not as important and more of a task than a goal. I truly believe those early days of being introduced to learning mattered, and big time. So I really take my daughter’s early learning seriously. It matters that children feel loved and cared for in their learning settings too. This is one of the most important lessons I used to emphasize as a parent educator.
So what is Montessori at home like? It can look a lot of different ways. For our family, it looks a lot like following Elodie’s lead, finding out what she is interested in and encouraging learning through that. It is about being engaged as parents. We focus on integrating daily tasks that she helps with. We don’t have a strict schedule, but a loose one. They’re not labeled home economics or math, but we are putting away the laundry together and counting while we do it. Elodie loves music and dancing. So we spend time every single day using real, age-appropriate instruments, singing and dancing along. We sing the same songs every day during some structured play time. I focus on her during that time and follow what she’s interested in playing. Today it was playtime at a local play center where she climbed and I guided her with the rules of the playground. Then she splashed water and we talked about her counting cups and their colors in the bath. Then she took my hand, led me outside and pointed to the swing for some nice, relaxing swing time. It can look different on different days, but the general rule of thumb is that she is enjoying it and we are focused on early, age-appropriate learning in the process. It will look different at different stages too.
“Every time we teach a child something, we keep him from inventing it himself. On the other hand, that which we allow him to discover for himself will remain with him visible for the rest of his life.” – John Piaget
A big part of the way we practice Montessori learning has to do with us letting Elodie show us how to play with toys. This helps her develop creativity and have ideas that are her own. We strongly believe that this will help her develop her sense of self, creativity and a joy that comes from within.
Playing with Wooden Peg Doll as She Chose To – by Making Her Walk Along the Bed
A big part of Montessori learning is having everything be truly functional. This means that “play” toys like toy vacuums that don’t work are discouraged. Instead, something like a broom and pan or child-size functioning vacuum would be more appropriate. This is where sometimes rules start to blur a little. For example, in Montessori classrooms, children may use child-sized real glass glasses and pitchers to pour their own drinks. They do this safely and it can be really amazing to watch a one-year-old pour from glass to glass. Yes, it is really possible! In our house though, we have chosen not to do this yet as sometimes I’m distracted by writing or going to the bathroom and do not want to worry about broken glass. We do our best to use child-sized real functional dish ware all the time. She has been offered a spoon and fork at mealtimes since she was offered food for the first time. We also did baby led weaning which in my opinion goes very well with Montessori learning.
Pure Joy Playing the Way She Chooses
Do you still have some questions? Maybe it’s one of these.
When I search Montessori, it’s full of expensive toys and printed Pinterest crafts. That seems overwhelming. Well, yeah! I mean, even if you’re a stay-at-home mom, it can still be difficult to find the time and energy to have the most prepared “curriculum” (which let’s be honest will probably be done within a minute or two especially if your child is young). There certainly may not be extra resources for expensive equipment. I’ve seen absolutely stunning Montessori playrooms that are 100% #goals but we also have other goals too like traveling and me staying home with Elodie during the day. This all means our budget for educational toys can be limited. This is not a problem at all! You can do Montessori at home, the easy way. All toys with Montessori learning are encouraged to be functional and/or creatively open. They usually include wooden toys and puzzles, toys that are visually accurate and toys that encourage active learning like climbing, playing, sorting and more. This is a really wide range of toys. You do not need to have an extensive toy collection with perfectly laid out Montessori shelves if you do not want to. Use a stool and include your child in baking something together. Laundry that has to done anyway can be sorted together, pushed to the right room together and put away together. Take a walk, collect leaves and sort them by color and shape. There are endless ways of letting your child lead education at home that are completely free and don’t require a big plan or a lot of printing.
Why would I choose Montessori? There are many wonderful styles of learning. I also find the Reggio-Emilia and Waldorf ideas similar and interesting. I would say there is no right way. Research a little and find a way that works for your family. For me, Montessori seems very intuitive. Encourage all things to be functional. Creativity should be open-ended. Time is spent together learning and doing. Beautiful wooden toys and fun play equipment fill our birthday and Christmas wish lists and then our home. Most of all, my daughter is learning about her world and also about herself. She’s learning that she is important and her ideas and opinions matter. That’s a lesson that I find the most important and believe will be a lifelong principle for her.
A Montessori bed sounds like a lot of work for me. Is it? For us, we find the Montessori bed to be one of the best parenting decisions. Currently, her bed is set up with the mattress on the floor and a converted crib to toddler bed rail around it. She can get in and out freely and there is a gate on her door preventing her from wandering the home alone at night. Everything in her bedroom is baby proofed: cords are hidden, furniture is mounted to the wall, etc. So she is safe in her room out of her crib. As soon as she stood up, we set up her bed this way for her. She is safe, but has freedom. She does sometimes play quietly with the few Montessori inspired toys but mostly she will read the books on her bookshelf.
But you have a play kitchen and go to Disney a few times a week. Are you really doing Montessori? Okay, you got me! We are not a Montessori classroom. We are a family integrating Montessori learning into our lives. We can still go to Disney, have Mickey Mouse plush everywhere, wear licensed character princess dresses and have a play kitchen that doesn’t really have working water. Because we are a family who is encouraging Montessori at home. It is not a game of perfection. We are living, loving and going on adventures in our own way here!
Still more questions? Leave a comment below!
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All of the Montessori-friendly toys shown in this post are from floraandpeg.com. They also sell beautiful floral headbands and clips. I cannot say enough good things about this company: small shop, everything painted by hand and made naturally with love. Use code ELODIELOVE for 15% off almost everything. Next on Elodie’s wishlist from Flora and Peg is some additional peg dolls and the wooden trees. So beautiful. What’s on your wish list?
Elodie & Montessori Learning at Home with Wooden Toys
I fully support all ways parents feed their babies. This post is on how to navigate breastfeeding while in public and while traveling in general and also specific locations that may be more comfortable at Walt Disney World Parks. More information on bottle feeding and pumping while at Disney can be found on our Baby Care Centers post. Also check out the Rides with Younger Children series for information on breastfeeding on rides at each of the Walt Disney World Parks, start here at Magic Kingdom.
In all 50 states, women have the right to breastfeed anywhere they are legally allowed to be; therefore as long as you are legally able to be where you are anywhere including Walt Disney World, you may breastfeed there. Just recently, Elodie was having a meltdown because she needed to breastfeed and I stood in the monorail line with no cover and breastfed her right there standing up because I had nowhere more comfortable or quiet to go. So if you feel like you can and you want to, you can literally breastfeed anywhere! But here are some tips to make it easier and more comfortable.
Where can I breastfeed and stay cool? Especially in the summer and with babies that can’t regulate their temperature well, it’s imperative to get out of the sun and heat as much as possible. Taking breaks to breastfeed in the Baby Care Centers or other air conditioned places can really help. You can breastfeed when you eat your meals which often have air conditioning and shade. There are a few other spots that are air conditioned and have seats like the lounge area when you exit the Character Spot in Epcot but they can be harder to find especially when you have a hungry (and maybe crying) baby. In the cooler months, any shaded bench will do and there are many little corners that have benches that feel a little more private feel.
Will I miss a lot of time with my family? You can breastfeed on rides and not miss time with your family! Especially when Elodie was little, the Carousel of Progress was on one of my go-to breastfeeding places. It’s air conditioned and about 20 minutes where you can watch a classic show and baby has plenty of time to breastfeed. I’ve breastfed on most rides including People Mover, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean (I always wait until after the drop), Spaceship Earth, and even the Safari, and in many of the shows like The Little Mermaid, Lion King and Nemo. It’s comfortable, I’m able to stay with my family and friends enjoying our time together and there’s usually plenty of time for baby to breastfeed on at least one if not both sides. Some are loud and even though babies can go on any rides without a height restriction, some can still be bumpy or have a drop so it may be best to plan ahead if you are not familiar with the ride already. Check out our Rides and Shows with Younger Children Series for more information on which rides may be more comfortable for breastfeeding.
What should I do if I want to breastfeed in lines and while walking? One option is to breastfeed in a baby carrier. By loosening the straps of a carrier and with some practice, you can breastfeed on the go or in lines. If you have a young baby, it is especially important to make sure you have practiced this and are comfortable doing it because it is not only challenging but it is also important to make sure there is proper support for safety. When I breastfed Elodie in the carrier until she was about 6-8 months, I fully expected to have zero use of my hands but it did help me because the carrier supported the rest of her body while I supported her neck and helped her latch. After she was around 9 months, I could easily breastfeed with either one or both hands free. I am now able to breastfeed while standing and walking too but it took both her having more strength and me having more practice for us to get there. See my on babywearing and join my Facebook group for online help with babywearing and breastfeeding.
What if someone says something to me? This was something I was worried about in the beginning but never happened to me. I was ready to state my legal right to breastfeed if I needed but have never needed to yet. I did get a few looks that were slightly uncomfortable a few times and my mom once stared a woman down until she stopped because she appeared to be trying to take a picture of me breastfeeding during the Beauty and the Beast show. There are many people of many cultures from all over the world at Disney Parks and so it may be unfortunately something someone may encounter: the dreaded negative breastfeeding comments. But I encourage you to know your rights, have friends and family on board to support you and to breastfeed your baby the way you choose because: your baby, your choice and also literally exactly what breasts are intended to do: sustain life through breastfeeding! The Breastfeeding Coalition of Florida has the handy print out of the Florida law and I’ve placed it at the bottom of this post.
What if modesty is important to me? I personally am not extremely modest but I’m also not extremely comfortable showing too much either. I find that either breastfeeding clothing (shirts or dresses that have slits in them) or using the two shirt method (then you can still do matching family shirts too!) both work well for me. You can also carry and use a breastfeeding cover if you feel more comfortable with that or choose to always breastfeed in a private location like the breastfeeding rooms located inside each park at the Baby Care Centers.
Still have questions or want to know more about the two shirt method so you can still wear your matching “Minnie” and “Mini Minnie” shirts? Join our Facebook group Disney Moms and we will help you have a magical time with your little ones!
What if I told you that you could ride rides, hold your toddler’s hand and eat a Dole Whip (with probably none of it spilling on your baby’s head) all while holding your baby? You’d say sign me up, right?! Well I have to say babywearing has been the most magical tool I’ve had. It’s probably my favorite parenting tool overall but definitely while traveling and at Disney. Here are a few tips on babywearing while at an amusement park like Walt Disney World.
1. Find a carrier that works for you and your baby. The best way to do that is to find a local group although they are more difficult to find now that the non-profit Babywearing International closed down earlier in 2018. You may be able to find someone locally who will let you try on a variety of carriers or help you learn how to safely babywear and may even be able to do this through pictures online through Facebook. You can also check at your local baby store or read reviews online to determine what one might be best for your body type and baby’s personality. I personally have been a long time fan of the Tula Coast which is great for all ages and has mesh to keep you cool. Join our Facebook Group – Traveling with Little Kids – and I as well as other babywearing experts can help you there.
Our Family at Toy Story Land in Hollywood Studios
2. Stay cool. Especially with Florida summers it’s important that you and baby stay a good temperature. This may mean bundling up sometimes – during that one week of winter – but more often than not at Disney it’s important to find ways to stay cool. Specifically for babywearing older babies and toddlers I like to use a well insulated cool pack like the one from U-Konserve between our tummies. It makes a huge difference! I also carry the free cups of ice around for me and Elodie.
Our Family Babywearing using a Tula at Walt Disney World’s Pandora
3. Ride the rides. Babies can ride with you on any ride at Walt Disney World except those with height restrictions (ex. roller coasters like Splash Mountain and faster rides like Tomorrowland Speedway). You can also use a baby carrier on any of these rides and do not need to take baby out or pull the carrier down unless you want. This is as long as baby is on the front (babies cannot be worn on the back on rides, assuming for safety but also would be uncomfortable). This means it can be easier to get on and off the rides, have extra hands to grab your bag or another child’s hand and overall it’s more secure and safe for baby. I know there was an age around 9 months where I was super thankful for babywearing on rides because Elodie would occasionally dart around like she wanted to check out London by flying like Tink on Peter Pan’s Flight but babywearing allowed me to feel confident that she would stay safe in the flying pirate ship with me.
4. Protect your back and conserve your energy. Especially on vacation it’s best to take it easy when you can because it’s often a marathon of fun at Disney. That may mean you want to do a few things when you can to protect your back and keep your energy. I personally bring a stroller for long days. Elodie can sit in there for longer walks like walking from Spaceship Earth to the Frozen Ever After Ride (it’s over a mile!) or, as often ends up being the case for us, it can hold stuff while I wear baby. Also take turns holding or wearing with a partner if you can – my husband loves to wear Elodie. If you’re going for a shorter time (like after dinner for a few hours) you may consider just bringing the carrier and a small bag containing only the essentials as it can be easier to get a few rides done quickly without keeping track of your stroller and navigating it through the crowds.
5. Breastfeed, bottle feed, nap in the carrier. You can do a lot of things while babywearing and so can baby! Reach out to a friend, moms group or me if you need tips on doing any of these things. I’ve breastfed and bottle fed many times in my Tula – it’s perfect for long lines as you’ve got more support. Elodie LOVES napping in the carrier, especially on her daddy’s back. You can really make the most of your trip when you use a baby carrier.
6. Enjoy your adventures!! Most of all, having extra hands and support allows you to enjoy your vacation. Whether your playing games with your toddler or are able to connect with your partner while having a quiet moment as baby naps – just enjoy all the places you can go and the things you can do while holding your baby close!
Hope this helps you have a magical time with your little ones! XO, Jess
My Husband Babyearing Elodie in Front of the Castle at Magic Kingdom
My name is Jess. I absolutely love to travel and always have. After having my daughter, I realized that travel is quite different and requires a little extra planning and deliberation in comparison to before kids. I’m here to share more about what I’ve learned along the way about traveling with little kids. Here’s a little more about me personally.
Some of my biggest passions are:
My family and friends
Being ecologically responsible whenever possible & eating plant-based
(Not necessarily in that order but these really are my favorite things)
Some of my favorite things to do at Disney are watch the Happily Ever After Fireworks show, meet Mickey and Minnie with Elodie (you should see her light up!) and go on the Safari ride. I also love Mickey pretzels and the plant-based brat at Magic Kingdom! So good!
My favorite travel destination has always been Italy: the food, the café, the romance, the art, the history – I’m just in love with it all!
Elodie LOVES exploring and running around. Anything in the water like swimming and water tables are always a hit. She loves walking around in nature and at Disney. She says, “Disah” and glows when she is on her favorite rides like Winnie the Pooh and Little Mermaid. Her favorite thing to do at Disney is meet the characters. She also, like a very stereotypical toddler, has started to love (vegan) mac and cheez and dislike green foods.
Elodie and I look forward to getting to know you too! Say “hi”to us on social media or if you see us at Disney! We are very friendly and may even have a surprise for you! ?✨
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Thank you to ChooMee who we partnered with for this post. All opinions are my own.
The very first time I ever handed a baby a pouch, the mushy contents literally hit my ceiling! Baby was sitting in the high chair and he squeezed the pouch (which seems like a natural thing to do) and up went all the contents like a volcano of sweet potato in my dining room. I don’t even have to explain to you how not fun that was to clean up. Shortly after that I discovered ChooMee pouch toppers and I have never looked back! ChooMee pouch toppers can be placed on any pouch – store bought or reusable / homemade. They essentially moderate the flow to the point where the child has to suck to get the contents and it prevents it from spewing literally everywhere like all over your house, baby and your clothing. So this very quickly became a must have baby product for me. I’ve also been told by speech therapists that they like these because it helps develop the appropriate muscles for eating and speaking. I’m not a medical professional but as a mom this makes sense to me – the baby/toddler has to work a little harder to get the food so it develops the muscles. But it must be just the right amount of required effort because every child I’ve seen use them can also get the food out easily.
Beyond the obvious cleanliness, ease and possible muscle benefit, I also just love these because they make traveling with kids so much easier. Using a pouch to feed a baby or toddler on the go is just so easy and less of a choking hazard. Adding the pouch topper equals keeping the outfit and face clean on the go which means less laundry and we are better suited for pictures — those are all wins for me!
And one more positive for me: this is baby led weaning friendly in my opinion. We followed the babyled weaning guidelines and so we offered solid foods immediately when we started offering foods (Elodie’s first food was pancakes and her second was pizza). When we did introduce puréed food/smoothies, this gave her the opportunity to eat them independently (and cleanly). Again, win-win!
Hope this helps make your travel with a baby or a toddler easier!