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.
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.
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!
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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?