Each day as I wander through my own little spot in the world I am swept away by the beautiful variety in all that is growing around me. Each day as I live in my own little spot in the world I am swept away in the ever-changing and very constant variety that surrounds the flurry that is my children. And each day as I spend a few moments in this wonderful community of crafters, mothers, artists, handmade and natural learning enthusiasts I am amazed by the variety in which you each incorporate Montessori principles, and philosophies into your homes and daily rhythms. It is inspiring. Truly.
For a moment or two I would like to invite you to glimpse into our home, our rhythms, and how we incorporate Montessori philosophies into our lives. If I could, I would invite you into my sunny kitchen (doesn’t all the best visiting happen when gathered together in the kitchen?) to chat and sip on something refreshing while something divine bakes. I can picture us laughing and talking, learning and sharing, with and from each other, as if age-old friends. Oh, wouldn’t that be splendid! As it is, I invite you to go grab something delicious from your own kitchen and join me for a little “chat” and a glimpse into our rhythm and how it is affected by the Montessori philosophy.
Each day that I spend with my two dear children I am amazed at their individuality, their spirit, and their sense of being. They know just who they are and love to be! Children are fascinating and wonderful little creatures and a marvel to spend time with. Even at moments of unpleasantness, their learning, progression, and comprehension are developing and refining. In each moment with my children I am guided by the wisdom of dear Maria Montessori. Her teachings have been infinitely instrumental in the development of my own philosophies regarding child development, natural learning, and peaceful parenting. If there is one thing I can say that I have learned from her, it is to carefully, meticulously, instinctively, and continually observe a child. All the cues are there…we just need to see, provide, and guide them on their way. This process, this way of thinking is truly the foundation of our daily rhythm.
Aside from specific methods and materials that we use in the lives and education of our children, there are several philosophies of Maria Montessori that have become so ingrained in our rhythms, so much a part of us that they are indiscernible as an outside influence. I would love to share a few of them with you, along with some of the many ways they have benefited our family, and some tips on how to incorporate them into your own rhythms. (Remember that every idea that interests you can not all be brought into your rhythms without chaotic effects. At least not all at once. Consider your situation carefully when deciding to incorporate something new!)
Do not needlessly do something for your child that they could be doing for themselves. As I type this I realize that this may seem a bit heartless and selfish. But it is not. Not at all. I am not suggesting that Montessori teaches to ignore requests for help, to leave children on their own to figure everything out, or to deny support. Fostering independence and a sure sense of self in young children by encouraging them to master tasks that are within their scope and interest is the opposite of heartless and selfish. Knowing that they can do for themselves is empowering and builds self confidence, and a secure sense of self that benefits all areas of a child’s life.
I hold my breath with anticipation, pride, and love as my child masters a new skill for the first time. Whether it is buttoning a pair of pants, setting the table, putting toys back neatly, tending a plant, or countless other little things each day I am filled with joy, and a sense of accomplishment for them and with them. It is easy to get caught in the trap of (lovingly) doing too much for our children. Though difficult at times, I have found it always is better in the long run to let go of that a bit…it is, after all, fulfilling my needs and not theirs. I will freely admit that fostering independence is at times very messy, much slower, and even sometimes a bit frustrating. But it’s worth it, oh so worth it. I am in awe of my children as they master tasks with confidence. And my cup “runneth’d” over as I recently listened to my daughter comfortably explain to an Amish farmer the process she followed to carefully transplant perennials into her own garden as she watched him prepare trees for shipment in his nursery. A child who knows who they are and what they can do, can truly do anything!
Encouraging independence in children is simple in theory, yet takes constant effort and modification on the part of the parents. Here are a few tips that have helped us.
In the spirit of following a child, train yourself to constantly monitor your child’s growth and interests to begin to encourage them to complete tasks independently.
For instance…children who show an interest in baking with you should be encouraged to join in. They can learn where to find ingredients, how to gather them and return them neatly to their place, how to correctly and carefully measure, how to knead dough, stir without spilling, etc. With such a tangible (and delicious) result, cooking together is one of our favorite ways to encourage independence. An apron made just for them, and a large bowl add to the fun, and to the success of our ventures!
Listen to them! When they assert a desire to work on a task independently allow it as far as it is safe! Try to anticipate an asserted desire (which is sometimes a sign of frustration on their part) by tuning in to signs of interest in tasks you perform for them.
For instance…very young children begin to show an interest in dressing themselves before they are physically able. Begin by verbalizing the process as you dress them, tell them what you are doing as you do it, then, over time, hold their hands and help them pull on a pair of pants, shoes, etc. Soon you’ll be waiting patiently as they work on their own, and before you know it you’ll be seeing five different outfits a day as they proudly dress and redress themselves on their own! Ahh, variety!
Give them something appropriate to have ownership over. Whether a small household chore, a family pet, or a row of plants in the garden, ownership over something specific instills independence, fosters feelings of pride and accomplishment, and builds confidence and skills.
Remind yourself that the goal is healthy, independent, confident children, and not (necessarily) a spotless house, jobs completed quickly and just the way you would do it, or simple and efficient days. Something bigger than all those things is happening when a child is learning and growing with confidence and independence.
Montessori sensorial exercises and sensorial materials are specifically designed to sharpen and refine a child’s senses so that they may better understand and appreciate the many impressions that they receive through them. In the Montessori method, and using the sensorial materials, senses are isolated and refined separately. I find this aspect of Maria Montessori’s work to be genius. Refining the senses and a child’s ability to judge, evaluate, and discern between subtle differences is paramount to further learning. While we use many of Montessori’s sensorial materials in our regular “school work”, we place equal emphasis and focus on refining the senses during our days together in our home.
While a child’s senses are at work all day in each of their adventures, carefully choosing activities that will exercise these senses and enhance them while getting things done and having a lot of fun together is simple and easy to implement.
I’m a hands-on kind of girl so I’m usually up to my elbows in some sort of project or another which lends itself to sensorial experiences for my little ones. Success in our efforts to create meaningful sensory exploration for our children has occurred when they have been included in projects and invited to touch, hold, and explore the materials I am using. Train yourself to be in tune with your children, and on the look out for effective sensory experiences and materials and you will be surprised how quickly it becomes second nature. Here are a few of the things that have worked well for us.
Baking ~ I am often found in the kitchen whipping up this or that in an effort to feed (and indulge) my family. I am sure your home is the same! And if your children are anything like mine they want to be right up there beside you as you bake! Let them! Baking together is wonderful in so many ways and it is nothing short of a sensory party. Textures, smells, and tastes in wide varieties are all there ready to be discovered, experienced, and explored.
Gardening ~ The earth is therapy and education in itself, and is pure magic for children. Provide a spot, no matter how small, where they may sink their fingers in freely! A flower pot on the windowsill that they may tend, a spot in the family garden, anywhere that they may feel the earth, watch the plants, smell the blooms, and taste the bounty.
Sand, Sun, Water ~ If possible provide play time in the sand, water, and out in the dear sun. When weather prohibits it, fill a large bin or bowl with dried beans, rice, seeds, and or buttons, and some measuring cups and allow them to sift, sort, and explore while unconsciously refining their senses.
Toys ~ Evaluate your toy cupboard and stack it heavily with sensorial materials. Blocks, legos, beads, nesting boxes, bean bags, Lincoln logs, pattern blocks, etc. are some of our favorites.
No one does their best in an environment that is riddled with boundaries and inaccessible ways, and while we might never describe our own homes in such a way, they can easily become such for our children. Taking care to ensure your home is a place where children can truly feel at home, in their own world, rather than a guest in an adult world, is central to their growth and development. This can be done quite simply and only requires an adjusted outlook, a bit of rearranging, and a few furniture pieces.
• Provide a means for children to be able to independently take out and return clothes, toys, games, etc. Whether this means acquiring stools, lowering clothing rods, purchasing a smaller scale dresser, or changing the location of things, it will be worth it.
• Acquire furniture pieces that are scaled to your children and set up areas for them in your home. Provide seating in the living areas, provide a table and chair set in the kitchen/dining areas, etc. While incorporating child-sized furniture into your home it is important not to separate it into one room. Do not establish a “your space”, “my space” environment.
• Child-sized (functioning) tools, used along side an adult while working together are extremely beneficial in building confidence and inclusiveness.
Simple? Yes. Effective? Most definitely. These few elements of our daily rhythm, inspired by Maria Montessori’s beautiful philosophies, have made all the difference in our home and the development and education of our children. This is in no way an inclusive collection of the many ways Montessori principles can be incorporated into daily rhythms. Regular review and evaluation of your home and rhythms based on Montessori principles is a very effective way to keep your family on the track you desire, and make changes you feel are necessary. We have found using a Montessori Home Evaluation such as this one to be a very effective way for us to evaluate and adjust our efforts to foster independence, sensory activities, prepared environments, and many other Montessori principles.
It has been truly lovely to chat with you about a few of these ideas today, and to open the doors of our home to you. While very simple and natural, the rhythm of our home is filled with the philosophies of Maria Montessori and we are so thankful. Simple to implement, effective to use, they have truly blessed our lives, centering and grounding the development and education of our children. From our home to yours, thank you for sharing this space with me for a few moments. Let’s do it again!
Hannah Robinson is the mother of two very spirited children, and the wife of a very sensible man, living a very simple life in Western NY. She has a degree in art education and uses it daily as the artist in residence, creativity advocate, and personal tutor for her kidlings. She is the author of the popular blog A Handmade Childhood where she chronicles the adventures of a family life centered on the quest for homemade, creative, tied-to-the earth goodness.