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.