Montessori in the Home: Toddler Edition

by Anne Prowant

One of the most common questions that Montessori teachers hear from parents is, “What can we do at home to support what you do here at school?” The answer is, “A lot!” But it’s not what you might think. Instead of recommending flash cards or purchasing your own set of Montessori materials, the activities that you can do at home with your child seem simple, but make a big impact.

Lesson 1: Allow for Independence

Toddlers love to do things independently, so allow for this whenever you can. Maria Montessori once said, “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” While it’s much faster to do things for your child, not allowing him to take ownership over his own care robs him of a chance to practice for himself and develop his independence. Give your child the time to get himself dressed, brush his own hair, and put on his shoes. It’s OK to let him struggle a little bit. When he finally succeeds, think of the pride he’ll feel in his accomplishment!

Lesson 2: Meal Time

Preparing a meal for your family is something that your toddler would love to help with. Give her a small, toddler-appropriate utensil (see the resources list for suggestions) and let her chop up vegetables. Fill a medium-sized bowl with a little water and let her wash fruit. Measure out flour and allow her to pour it into the mixing bowl. Even letting her carry the cups or silverware to the table is a fantastic way to involve your toddler in mealtime prep.

Lesson 3: Clean

Toddlers love to mimic everything that they see you do, so why not put them to work? Give your child a small microfiber cloth (cut a large one into quarters so it’s a manageable size), and show her how to wipe off tables and shelves. Give her a scrub brush and a little water in a bucket and let her scrub the floor with you; then show her how to clean up afterwards with a sponge or towel. Let her clean windows with a small squeegee and some water. The job won’t be done perfectly, but the point is to involve your child in the everyday work in the home and allow her to feel like she is contributing to the family.

Lesson 4: Read

Reading every day with your child is the number one thing that many Montessori teachers (as well as pediatricians) recommend to parents. In fact, studies have shown that toddlers who are read to are more academically successful once they reach school age. Let your child pick the books, and use the time to cuddle and bond with him. Let him see that you love reading, and that it can be fun.

Choose beautiful books with illustrations that appeal to you. Rhymes are great for this age group, and books with real pictures are a plus. If you need some recommendations, check out Susan Boynton, Eric Carle, Cheryl Willis Hudson, and Dr. Seuss’ shortened versions (usually found in the board books).

Lesson 5: Take a Walk

Children need to spend time outdoors every day, no matter the weather, and a walk is a wonderful way to accomplish this with a toddler. Remember that at this age it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. Let your child walk at his own pace and give him plenty of time to explore, pick up sticks and acorns, and point out the interesting things that he sees.

Resources

For more ideas, pick up a copy of Montessori From the Start by Paula Polk Lillard.

For Small Hands is a company that makes Montessori materials for both teachers and parents. Check out their website to purchase child-sized items mentioned in this article.

What Makes up a Montessori Parent?

A common question Montessori educators often hear from families is, “Is Montessori is right for my child?” The answer is a resounding: yes! Montessorians take great pride in asserting that a Montessori education is absolutely right for every child. The method can be adapted to many different learning styles, and children thrive in a Montessori environment. There is a caveat, however.

While Montessori is right for every child, it may not be right for every parent.

  • How can this be?
  • And what do parents have to do with their child’s success in a Montessori environment?

The truth is that the understanding and involvement of parents in a child’s education is vitally important to his success. As we’re sure you understand, Montessori parents are very interested in their child’s classroom and school as a whole. We feel lucky to have a parent body that participates in school events, attends conferences, and helps out the teachers when they are able. Our parents also do an excellent job of seeking out more information about Montessori philosophy, and taking the principles to heart. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned over the years, it’s that Montessori philosophy, while wonderful in a school environment, isn’t just for the classroom. It can also be applied at home.

Montessori parents bring the principles into their home in several ways, and they start by observing their child. To a Montessori teacher, observation is one of the most important things she can do in the classroom. The same is true of parents at home! Our society can be so busy these days that we may not take the time to appreciate the smaller moments. So, participate in the Montessori experience: take the time to watch your child. Think about what he is doing and the deeper desires and motivations behind those actions. You may notice that he’s not just throwing cheerios on the floor; he’s working on his pincer grip and exploring cause and effect. You may have a budding Isaac Newton on your hands!

Another way Montessori parents integrate the philosophy into their home is by allowing the child time and space to practice being independent. Give your child the opportunity to dress herself, brush her own teeth, and make her own snack. Set up your home to facilitate this independence - keep a small pitcher of milk, a little container of cereal, bowls and spoons in a low cupboard that your child can reach, for example. This will allow her to be independent in making her own breakfast. Make sure to have stools available around the house so she can wash her hands at the sink. You could even invest in little light switch extenders so your child can turn the lights on and off herself. Walk around your home and think about it from your child’s point of view. Brainstorm ways that you can facilitate her independence in your home.

Montessori parents like ours also include their child in their everyday life. They let their child help bake, fold laundry, and dust the house. They quiet those fears of something spilling and let their child help to put away the groceries. And if something does spill? It’s an opportunity to practice cleaning up! Help your child mop up the mess with a towel or a sponge. Reinforce independence by assuring your child that making a mistake isn’t bad or something to be feared, because we always have the opportunity to try again.

Montessori is an educational method that can be adapted to fit many different learning styles, but it cannot be adapted to fit every different type of parent. Montessori parents, like our Suzuki parents, are engaged, committed, and constantly looking inward to see how they can best help their child achieve his highest potential.

Montessori: Education for Peace

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “If we are to teach real peace in this world… we shall have to begin with the children.” Maria Montessori, a great admirer and personal friend of Gandhi, certainly agreed. Montessori asserted throughout her life that children were the redeeming hope of civilization, and that education was the method through which world peace would spread. If children were allowed to develop according to their own inner guides, Montessori believed, their tendency would be to exhibit joy, understanding and acceptance, and would lead to a more peaceful society.

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