Montessori teachers are adamant about drop-offs at the door. It creates a peaceful environment where children can focus on their work. Parents, of course, have the best intentions. They love to hear about how Jenny arranges her grapes in a perfect circle around the edge of her plate every day and eats them carefully, one at a time. These anecdotes give them a glimpse into what their child does all day at school and builds trust. We are spending all day with the most important thing in their universe, after all.Read More
Every time I’m in a yoga class, slowly unrolling or carefully rolling up my mat - I have immediate deja vu to earlier in the day when I showed one of my 3 year-olds how to gently roll up their rug after completing a lesson. Each time I practice, I cannot help being reminded that the parallels between yoga and Montessori do not end there. Yoga has tremendous benefits for any person - young or old - but it can be especially transformative for children, especially when coupled with a Montessori education where the philosophies complement each other so well.Read More
Montessori teachers are often surrounded by parents who are eager to get involved and participate in their child’s education. Parents love that their child comes home and wants to dress himself, set the table, write numbers, and point out letter sounds in books they read together, but they have no idea how the magic happens. They are thrilled by their child’s progress and want to know “what lessons can I do at home to reiterate what they learn at school?”
For me, this is a trickier question than you might think. I love and appreciate having parents that are supportive and hands-on when it comes to their child’s education, but when you are at work from 9-5 and get home, even if your job is something you have a passion for, the last thing you want to do is more work. You may read. But most people don’t read Biochemistry or Economics books in their spare time. They pick up a novel. Instead of “meetings,” you have dinner with friends or family. Home is different for you and it should be for your child as well.
I wish the answer to “What can I do at home?” were as simple as buy this Montessori material and have your child practice it at home; however, it is more complex and in some ways more simple than that. That being said, there are ways to make your environment at home more “Montessori” and encourage the independence and confidence your child is working on at school.
What Makes a Lesson “Montessori?”
Montessori Lessons Involve the Senses and Purposeful Movement. The brain develops by categorizing and absorbing information provided by the senses. Montessori lessons are purposely hands-on and allow the child to repeat the movement or lesson many times to create neural pathways.
Montessori Incorporates Necessary Life Skills. Activities such as getting dressed, preparing food, setting the table, and cleaning are tasks with real purpose and help the child figure out how the world works and their place as an independent person in it.
Montessori Materials and Lessons are Self-Correcting. When approaching something as a lesson or “teachable moment” at home, ensure the child has an opportunity to correct himself without you stepping in to affirm or regulate. Allowing the child the chance to correct himself, whether it is immediately after being unsuccessful or making a mistake or later on, will help them build confidence and self-reliance.
Montessori Lessons Isolate a Concept or Skill. Don’t try to tackle all the steps the first time! Preliminary Montessori activities provide a foundation and prepare your child for more advanced work. When you are trying to teach your child a skill at home, break it down into smaller steps so the child can feel successful with these, rather than become overwhelmed trying to do it all at once the first time.
The Environment is Thoughtfully Designed for Independence.
In the Kitchen - Provide a stool if the sink is too high for them to rinse their dish after dinner. Designate an area for their “cleaning supplies” to be kept. Place a hook on the wall at your child’s height where a broom their size can be stored. Keep a wash cloth and spray bottle in this corner for them to help clean with as well. (Be sure to set limits with the spray bottle as they tend to get “spray-happy” if left to their own devices. At school we typically allow three sprays per table when cleaning up after lunch.) For mealtimes, buy a plastic place-mat that indicates with the outline of shapes where the plate, cup, fork, spoon, etc. should go. These can easily be made or bought on Amazon.
In the Playroom/Bedroom - Provide artwork at your child’s level, while resisting the temptation to over-clutter the room with too many decorations, which can be distracting stimuli for the child. Buy furniture their size. A hand-washing station is a nice addition that encourages self-care, and builds autonomy. You can easily create this by having a table your child’s size with a large bowl, a pitcher to carry the water to and from the bowl, a bar of soap, and a towel. If this is not a lesson they have had at school, simply show them how they should complete it one step at a time. Provide a system for being tidy and organized at home. One way to get your child interested in cleaning up and organizing, is if you buy and assemble the shelves together. The more you can involve your child in the process, the more interested they will be in the outcome and purpose. Have them pick which shelf or drawer the trucks should go in, and where the balls should be kept.
Keeping the above cornerstones of Montessori in mind, provide opportunities for your child to “work” at home in ways that don’t necessarily feel like work. For example, have them help you cook dinner. Show them how to slice a cucumber, being sure to point out the dangers of using a (child-size) vegetable cutter and the importance of using careful movements. Model the careful movements for them before giving them a turn. Invite your child to help you garden and give them specific jobs with tools their size for them to work with.
Below are some links to materials that will allow your child to help with daily tasks at home and continue working on some skills he has learned at school:
- Apple Cutter
- Small Cutting Board
- Child Size Table and Chairs
- Hooks (perfect for hanging child size brooms or towels at their height)
- Step Stool
- Child Size Pitcher to Pour Her Own Milk or Water
The beauty of a Montessori education lies in developing the child as a whole person; complete with reading, writing, and arithmetic skills, as well as independence, autonomy, confidence, and essential life skills. With the exception of when your child is struggling with a certain concept and could benefit, according to a Montessori-trained teacher, from practice at home, try not to push the more formal lessons at home. Of course if they show an interest in reading or writing numbers, this is a different scenario! Follow the child and use your time with your little one to do activities together and approach them with a “Montessori-mindset,” rather than overwhelming them with more formal “work” after a long work day.
Have you ever had the chance to do something amazing, but were too afraid of failing to try? Imagine if, from the age of 2 or 3 years old, you were taught it's not only ok to make mistakes, but encouraged because it often leads to exciting independent discoveries. This could completely reshape the way you see and experience the world.
I’ve been a Montessori teacher for almost 5 years and one of the things I love most about this method are the underlying benefits that are so ingrained in the curriculum you may miss them. It is undoubtedly exciting to see a 4 year old completing Addition work, or to hear a 3 year old reading her first words, but what really makes a Montessori education special is how the freedom, the materials, and the guides allow the child to make mistakes.
When you embark on a career as a Montessori guide and take the certification training, one of the most shocking and difficult things to put into practice at first is allowing the child to explore the materials and sometimes be unsuccessful with them! Montessori lessons are scientifically designed to be self-correcting. This means when a child is completing the Spindle Game and puts an incorrect number of spindles in a numeral box you do not step in and say, “no, that's not right… let me show you.” Instead you let the child complete the lesson, and practice it again another day until he gets it. And amazingly, he does get it, almost every time on his own. Usually the child will come to the natural conclusion he has run out of spindles at the end, realize he made a mistake somewhere and will go back and fix it. You may have to present the lesson another time on another day; as you observe the child faltering, you will notice how proud he is when he corrects himself without you telling him. Whereas if you step in and correct him, he may get discouraged and choose to forgo the lesson entirely. Instead of you being an all-knowing, righteous higher being, you gift the child with the power of exploring for himself. The concept is clearer to him and more meaningful because he came to the conclusion independently by being the little scientific explorer the child so naturally is.
We recently had a group of children move up to Primary from a Pre-Primary room. They are just beginning to be shown new lessons. I presented the quintessential Montessori lesson, the Pink Tower, to a little boy we’ll call Peter. The Pink Tower is a Sensorial lesson with 10 pink cubes that get progressively larger with each one. I presented the lesson slowly, bringing one piece at a time to the rug and placing it gently down to encourage care of the material and graceful, refined movements. After I had brought all the pieces to the rug and laid them out in random order, I built the tower from largest to smallest. We took some time walking around the rug to marvel at our creation and then I disassembled the tower one piece at a time, brought it back to the shelf, and invited Peter to have a turn.
At first, Peter recapitulated my movements precisely. He brought each cube one at a time to the rug and carefully placed it down. When it came time to build the tower, an interesting thing happened. He was able to build the first few in order, largest to smallest, but before he would choose which one he thought was the next largest, he'd look to me every time and ask “is it this one?” And I would say “try it and let's see...” And he would place it on top of the previous cube. If it seemed like a perfect fit, his face would light up and he'd say “it fits!” And sometimes he would choose one just a bit too small and I wouldn't say anything. I didn't need to... because he would place it on, realize it was a bit too small, place it back down and retrieve the correct cube. We continued on in this way and I continued to let Peter make his mistakes, because I knew he would correct himself. When he completed his tower, it looked exactly like mine had, in perfect order and we took a trip around the rug as Peter beamed down at his creation he did “all by himself.”
As I was working with Peter and he continued looking back at me to double check before selecting a cube to see if I would give him the answer, I wondered to myself if we are all born unsure of our intuition. Observing young children, you begin to realize, we are each born a blank slate and our experiences, especially early on in life, shape how much faith we have in ourselves and where we look for answers later on.
The fact that Montessori education and materials are self-correcting, and we as guides are taught to empower the child to make mistakes and later correct himself, leads to young people who hopefully grow into adults that are not constantly looking for guidance or approval outside of themselves. These foundational experiences will teach them that making mistakes is proof that you are trying, and is sometimes the best, most powerful way to learn. They will become confident, strong people who don't back down when a challenge is presented, because they trust their intuition and know they have the answers and resilience within themselves. I believe this is one of the most powerful gifts we as Montessori teachers can give our children - the power to enter the world fearless and believe in themselves.
We’re rounding out our series on Montessori-approved activities to complement your child’s classroom experience with our third and final age group- the primary years, which include ages three to six. Children at this age, like the others, have a strong desire for independence, but now have the capacity to take on much more complex tasks. They have moved from an unconscious absorbent mind to a conscious absorbent mind, meaning that they are consciously seeking out and learning new skills. Giving your child opportunities at home to follow his or her interests will only enrich their time at school. Read on for ideas on how you can incorporate learning into your child’s time at home.
Baking is a wonderful activity at any age, but when your child enters the primary years it can be a great opportunity to practice reading as well as a little math. Show your child a simple recipe, and help him read it. Talk about quantities (like tablespoon, cup, etc), and show your child measuring cups so they can see the difference between a whole cup, a half cup, and so on. Let them measure out the ingredients, mix up the batter, and prepare the treat to go into the oven. Then set a timer, and when it rings help your child take your creation out of the oven, cut it up, and serve it to the family.
After you are all finished, make sure you have your child help you clean up. The clean up process is part of the work cycle in the classroom, meaning your work isn’t done until you’ve put it back on the shelf like you found it. The same is true at home! Have your child help you wash the dishes, load the dishwasher, and put things back in order.
There are many language games that you can play at home. A favorite for all ages is “I Spy” using sounds instead of describing the object. For example, “I spy with my little eye something that starts with the sound ‘t’. A tree!” If your child needs a clue then you can add in some extra hints. “It’s tall and it has green leaves.” At school your child will be learning the sounds letters make, not their names, so it’s important to stick with the sounds, and keep them as short and pure as possible. “T”, not “tuh”. If you need a quick tutorial, talk to your child’s teacher.
Another language activity to try at home is keeping a journal. This can be a journal of pictures, or pictures and words- let your child decide. If something occurs during the day that your child would like to write about, or if there’s a story that your child enjoys telling, get out her journal and suggest she write it down. Encourage her to sound out words for herself, and don’t correct her spelling. If your child is not a storyteller, you could keep a journal of all the animals you see out your kitchen window, or interesting things you saw on your way to school. Follow your child’s lead.
It’s also important to have books available for reading. Make a little reading nook with a comfortable chair and a selection of books that your child is free to pick up and read at any time. Switch out the books occasionally to keep things fresh. You could even choose topics for books based on the time of the year- holiday books in the winter, books about flowers or frogs in the spring- it’s really about what captures your child’s imagination.
Focus and Observation Games
Concentration is an extremely important skill at this age, so why not work on it at home as well as at school?
Pick three objects, cover them with a cloth, then take one away and ask your child, “What’s missing?” Repeat as long as it holds her interest. Beyond increasing her attention span, this is also a good opportunity to expand your child’s vocabulary. In the classroom, for example, this game is often used to teach the names of the geometric solids (which include a cube, cylinder, sphere, etc). Choose objects that your child might not readily know the name for (kitchen tools would be a great place to start), and then teach her the names through the game.
Another fun game to play is the Secret Number Game. To start, have your child hide a basket of small objects like pebbles or little shaped erasers somewhere in the house. Then write a number (typically one through ten) on a little slip of paper and give it to your child. Have them retrieve that number of pebbles and bring them back to you. This requires your child to focus their attention, keep the number in their mind, and ignore the distractions that may be present as they walk to the hidden basket and back.
Simple science experiments are a great activity at this age, since your child is becoming more and more curious about the world around him. Drops of water on a penny- give your child a penny, an eye dropper and a small bowl of water. Before he begins, have him guess how many drops of water he will be able to fit on the penny and have him write his answer down. Then show him how to slowly drip water from the eyedropper onto the penny and count the number of drops. Body control and focus are very important for this activity! After he has finished, follow his lead for extensions- you could try drops of water on a quarter or dime, try salt water, compare a dirty penny with a clean penny- there are so many variations!
Another fun activity at this age is growing a plant from a lima bean. Place a couple of lima beans on a damp paper towel and seal them in a plastic bag. Tape the plastic bag to a window where your child can easily see it. Keep the paper towel damp, and in a week or so you should see a plant begin to sprout. Once the plant has sprouted, plant it in a pot. This is a wonderful activity for the spring, and seeing the bean sprout into a plant is very exciting!
We hope that this series of articles has inspired you to extend your child’s learning from the classroom into your home. The important thing to remember is that you should observe your child and see what interests them, then find ways to capitalize on those interests. As Maria Montessori once said, “The goal of early childhood education should be to activate the child’s own natural desire to learn.” When parents work hand in hand with teachers to allow children to pursue their own individual interests, the possibilities for what your child can achieve are endless.