Thursday, March 6, 2008

Bringing Montessori Home from School

I recently lead a Parent Education night at school. When the evening came to an end, I said that I would include the information presented on my blog should anyone want to refer to it. So today I am feeling a bit better and Little One is napping so I thought I would keep my promise and post the material I presented.

As I've said before and I am sure I will say again, you are your child's first teacher. It is important to say also that you are your child's most important and influential teacher. You set the tone for your child's love of learning from the very start and it is you who bridges (or widens) the gap between school and home. [For those of you homeschooling you ARE both school and home, and my hat is off to you!]. I know this can sound overwhelming but it need not BE overwhelming. I hope I will make it a little easier to accomplish with the following suggestions.

The list below, I read recently in M magazine.
Nine things the Montessori parent can do to bridge the gap between school and home:

1.) Encourage Independence 2.) Establish Order 3.) Help children to be helpful 4.) Develop concentration 5.) Introduce Nature 6.) Provide Opportunities 7.) Enable Self Discovery 8.) Encourage choice 9.) Use appropriate language

As I read the list I interpreted it Montessori Mama style:

1.) I like to call this first one, "Caring For".
I remember being asked by my very wise Nana once (when my now 15 year old was three years old & long before I had discovered Montessori),
"Do you take care of your child or do you care for your child?"
The distinction wasn't as obvious to me at 22, as it is now. As a young mother I took care of children, now I care for children. And as a Montessori Parent I do this by teaching my children to care for themselves, their belongings, our home, pets and plants and each other.
Young children welcome the opportunity to be independent and to care for others. Sometimes we Moms and Dads can gum up the works by trying to DO for them what they can do for themselves.
"Caring For" Examples:
Blowing one's own nose
creating a center peace
setting the table for dinner
clearing the table after dinner
washing hands, drying hands
cleaning up after a spill (using a sponge/using a dust pan & broom)

dressing, undressing
using the toilet
feeding self & using spoon-fork-knife
preparing and serving snacks to self and others
Manners: "Please" and "Thank you"
putting away belongings
hanging up coat
getting dressed for outside play
watering plants
feeding pets, showing affection and playing with them also
(of course within realistic age appropriate expectations)
2.) Making Your Life Easier!
Spoken like a truly organized person (which I am not by the way).
I talked about this at length in past posts here and here, so I won't spend too much time here now. Minimize your clutter and you minimize your stress. If you want to encourage Independence and you want your children to be successful at cleaning up, give them less "stuff" to work around and with.
3.) Building Self Esteem
In the Montessori classroom there is allot of focus on the classroom community, building a sense of family. At home there already is family and shining a light on that is important. Some families have "Family Game Night" others have Sunday night dinner together as a rule because the rest of the week is hectic and everyone has a different schedule. Whatever works for your family, do it. Make it happen that you are all together regularly, celebrate what makes you a family and reflect on who does what and what you appreciate about one another. We all like to be appreciated, even the youngest of us.
As a Montessori Parent your job is to observe and to create an environment that supports your children's learning and personal development. By making observations, out-loud, when your child does something you appreciate, that supports the home and family you honor them. For example simply stating, "When you tuck your boots under the bench it makes it easier for the next person who comes in, thank you." You draw attention to the desired behavior and shine a light on your child for being a considerate member of the family.
4.) Minimizing Distractions:
This one relates closely to number 2, but also more importantly to "screen time". Limit the TV, limit the computer, turn off the radio. [This is a strong personal opinion of mine, however I personally spend allot of time in front of this computer's a fine line we parents walk. Do as I say...not as I do? This one is my biggest challenge as a Montessori parent.]
When nurturing your child's natural ability to concentrate you can also minimize the number of times you interrupt them when they are engaged. This allows them time to focus and to develop a longer attention span. I have suggested to parents that providing a carpet square at home for their child to use can be helpful. In the classroom if a child is doing a work and it is time for a transition (ex: lunch) the child places their name tag on their work rug and returns to it later. At home a carpet square can be used in the same way. No name tags are needed but it is understood that the child's belongings will all be put away in time for dinner, with the exception of the particular item they are playing with on the carpet square. They can return to it after dinner or even the next day if it is bed time. Giving our children "exceptions" is loving and shows them respect. Allowing them the time to come back to the puzzle they are three pieces away from finishing, is kind and will help them follow through and complete future tasks. Most importantly it sends the message that you value what is important to them.
5.) Slowing Down/Appreciating the World Around Us!
Go for nature walks, draw pictures or take photos of your observations, pause and ponder TOGETHER. Plant seeds indoors, tend to a family garden, look for animal tracks and listen for bird calls. Research your observations, start a sea shell collection, reserve a place to appreciate nature in your home.
6.) Let them DO it
Provide your children with real life opportunities. Aid the process by giving your child her own little broom or sweeper; hang a feather duster on a hook and provide a hamper for her dirty clothes. Show her how to wipe round the sink in the bathroom with a small scrub sponge. Folding towels and napkins is another activity to teach a young child. Use a bottom drawer to hold cutlery and a low shelf for crockery so your child can help to lay the table and put things away.

Here are some of my kids favorite kitchen activities:
Using an old fashioned egg beater or whisk
Sifting flour
Scooping flour, sugar, salt, etc. with large and small scoopers
washing vegetables and fruit, peeling with a vegetable peeler
Spreading (like peanut butter on a cracker)
Stirring mixture
Basting with a large turkey baster
Using a ladle
Opening and closing lids
Screwing and unscrewing lids on jars
Dish washing (okay, not my 15 year old) and washing table with a sponge.
As you can see the list can be endless. Anything your child wants to learn to do, encourage him or her by breaking everything down into small steps and slowly and patiently teaching your child using actions and very few words.

7.) Allow for Mistakes
Prepare the environment and step back.
Give your child time for reflection, problem solving and coming to their own conclusions. Don't swoop in! Ask leading questions that encourage your children to be part of the solution making process. Ex:"You spilled your milk, oops, that some times happens when we are learning how to pour; what can you use to clean up the spill?" Encourage the desired behavior but understand and accept that your children may have spills, break things and not always want to do it the way you suggest.

8.) Know Your Child
Learn about child development. Read a book, take an adult ed. class even, I can't stress this enough. Learn if your expectations are too high? School is not home, I'll say it again, school is NOT home. Bringing Montessori home does not mean creating a Montessori classroom in your home (unless you are home schooling of course). And I will write this in bold: Montessori parenting is about understanding the Montessori philosophy and believing in it; it's not about the materials. Understanding child development and the children you are caring for by following their lead and providing them with a safe and loving environment, is your responsibility as a Montessori parent.
As a Montessori teacher I speak from experience when I tell you that the most valuable thing I can do in my classroom, is to observe. I learn so much from paying attention and getting to know the children I am working with. Only after doing this can I make an estimation about what they would be challenged by, need more time to practice, and what it is they really enjoy learning about.
How often do we spend time observing our own children?
Walk around on your knees and ask yourself, "What can I reach?" Change your perspective and make observations from this different point of view.

Also, not every kid likes attention, your children may not want to "show Grandma" how they do something. These everyday living skills and responsibilities are not for show. Refrain from asking your children to demonstrate for your in-laws (however tempting that may be). Let them feel proud of their own successes and share them if they desire to do so.

9.) It IS what you say AND how you say it
Use Appreciative Praise. (see #3)
For example, "Good Job!" is a classic response to a child who has just done something their parent wanted them to, but what does it really tell them? That's right, not much. If you change your wording, to state what it is that you observed, you give them something more and you show them your appreciation.
"Pretty picture!" becomes,
"I see you made orange when you mixed red and yellow, good for you."
"Nice job!" becomes,
"When you swept up, you collected every last piece. Now the floor is clean."
"Good boy!" becomes,
"When you got your sister's doll down from the shelf, you were being kind, thank you for helping her."
Phew~~~I might not be able to talk well, but I sure can write! Thanks for reading this very LONG post! My 100th one by the way. WOW!


paul maurice martin said...

Good advice - I was an elementary school counselor for 23 years -

Melissa said...

Great post!!! It answered some questions I had and gave me a lot to think about. Thanks!

Mama J said...

You are such a treasure. Thank you for spending all of that time in front of the computer.

greenemother said...

OH, Thank you for such great information.

plaidshoes said...

So well said. When my kids started Montessori, I really struggled as a parent as to what was expected of me and the home. But you are exactly right in that it is not creating a classroom at home, but believing in the philosophy. I sometimes really marvel at how independent my children are and their love a learning. As you read over at my blog, I have been really sick and my kids have done an amazing job a taking care of themselves (with supervision, of course) and the house. I really believe in letting children do things for themselves, not having them done for them (age appropriately). I once witnessed my father's wife make a sandwich for her teenage son because he didn't know how. That just seems so sad - what kind of adult will he be? It is frustrating, though, when people misunderstand striving to give your children independence does not mean that they are not in a nurturing environment. Just the opposite. Anyway - I babble too much and you said it all beautifully!

writinggb said...

Great post! Your school is lucky to have someone like you helping parents to bridge that gap.

This week I attended my first sub-committee meeting at our new Montessori school (new to us, that is). We are planning Earth Week activities, and I found the other parents to be so awesome. They understand how important it is to follow the sort of guidelines you suggest.

village mama said...

Much to strive for, for life. Thank you!

Adrian said...

Thank you for sharing your insight.

Amanda G. said...

I love this. Great advice. I plan to enroll my youngest in Montessori when he's older, but I want to implement Montessori principles in our home. Not only will the baby benefit, but also my oldest!

Courtney Corey said...

Thanks for this great post! I spent the day re-organizing my son's room. Post Christmas/post birthday - it seemed to be straying from the neat and tidy room it once was. It was not feeling very "Montessori, "that's for sure. He is a big boy now (6) and it is high time to give him some more independence. (ie, placing his clothes rod lower, so he can actually reach his shirts when he gets dressed...) I really enjoy your blog!

Ewa said...

Wow I have recently found your blog and I am so happy about it. Although I'm at the beginning of my Montessorian Journey I feel the deep rooted drive to pursue this miraculous WAY OF LIFE. Your posts are great they gave me strenght and directed me properly more than you can ecpect. Thank you so much for your delightful writing. You are a bright star in the Montessorian Sky. Hugs from Poland.
Ewa. ( A Montessori Mummy in training)

Sarah Scherrer said...

Just found your blog--love this post!

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Unknown said...

This is a terrific article! My husband and I just started a business called Montessori By Mom, where we provide Montessori resources to parents. I shared this article on our Facebook page. Our website is:
Thank you for all your fantastic tips!

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