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As I focus more fully on my pivot into nutrition for Montessori kids, I want to give an overview, a Montessori 101 of sorts. I also want to explain how we went from a very traditional home to a Montessori-inspired home.
Montessori is a style of education created in Italy by Dr. Maria Montessori. She was a physician in the early 1900s who created this curriculum out of necessity. She developed her method to educate children in Roman slums. Her work details many aspects of childcare including nutrition and these rules were used to run her Casa dei Bambini. Dr. Montessori found that by educating children based on their natural desires for learning and meeting each child where they were at developmentally, the children were self-disciplined and enthusiastic learners.
For many the idea of a self-directed learner in the toddler years can feel like an impossible joke. I mean have you ever tried to get a toddler to do anything quickly or that you really want them to do?? That’s the beauty of Montessori, honestly. It’s a whole way of living that helps both the child and the parent to shift into this dynamic of opportunity and trust. The Montessori classroom, or home, is set up with a few options of tasks to do from various domains. In the early years, these domains include cultural, sensorial, language, math, and practical living. The child picks a work from one of the domains, brings the work nicely to their work area and completes the work, then returns the work back to the shelf and cleans up their space. The child decides which of the items they have already been taught they’d like to practice. If I’m being honest, it’s bizarre to see a 2–3-year-old doing this the first time. It’s like they’re shrunken big kids, but it’s also really inspiring to see their natural curiosity and desire to learn.
Montessori was something I was always intrigued by, mostly because it was like a buzz word in the parenting space. My neighbor and former educator had fueled that curiosity by telling me about some of the activities the children did when she worked there. I had even gotten him on a waitlist for a Montessori elementary school when he was 2. When I found myself staying home with Charlie after his daycare shut down, I started to explore Montessori in more detail. Both out of curiosity and out of a need to keep his learning going. I started with the book The Montessori Toddler by Simone Davies. The more I read, the more I felt like it was a good fit for our family and really for Charlie. He’s such an active and curious boy, and both his parents are very kinesthetic so I thought the hands on nature of Montessori would let him thrive. I started by using some of the toys I had or less expensive ones I could find online and gave Charlie small lessons. The biggest shift is from the parenting perspective, honestly. I am a type-A, people pleasing, overachiever so I was very unsure that some of the activities I was doing ‘counted as learning’. But what I found was that he was absorbing the lessons and extrapolating to other topics or activities. We ended up getting a spot at that Montessori school that had a yearlong waitlist (free Montessori school from 3 years – 8th grade, of course it’s a long wait!), and so all my time implementing in the months prior felt worth it.
Now that we are distance learning (at the time of writing we have been home since March 2020 and it’s currently February 2021), I had to really double down on our environment and learning space. I’ve converted our guest bedroom into a workspace for the boys. While I can’t fully mimic the classroom environment, we have made changes that help them. We placed materials on low open shelving. We ask more open-ended questions, like having them explain the steps they’re taking or describe what they drew instead of assuming. We rotate toys and materials so that there are fewer to choose from which is less overwhelming. We encourage activities that build focus and build independence. We also read and build A LOT.
When you look up Montessori on Instagram or pinterest or other search engines, all you see are light bright spaces with wooden materials or play kitchens that have been rigged to have running water. While that is indeed Montessori, there are so many ways to implement Dr. Montessori’s principles with your family in your home. It’s more about your approach to your child’s learning opportunities and making the space accessible for your child. Don’t be discouraged or overwhelmed thinking you have to spend thousands of dollars to buy all the wooden materials and make everything perfect. Start small, and really focus on how you can honor your child’s natural curiosity and allow them to build independence.