Wednesday, July 17, 2019

That's so Montessori: Preparing your house the Montessori way

That's so Montessori: Preparing your house the Montessori Way
As a Montessori trained teacher, I notice things that are "so Montessori" in my every day environment. 

I was a Montessori parent even before I knew what that meant. I'll break down what that looks like in detail in later posts, but for today, I'll give you a little overview of what it means to bring Montessori into your house.

You'll find that it's likely not much different than what you are doing now. The difference is intentionality when setting up a Montessori environment at home. After all, the primary principles of Montessori theory are "follow the child" and "the prepared environment." 

Seems simple enough, right?

The conscious component of creating a Montessori environment at home is about making sure you are providing real life opportunities for your children to practice specific skills. For example, if your child is interested in learning how to use tools, your first thought might be to go and buy a plastic toy tool set or a child-specific set of tools. In Montessori, you skip this and jump right to the real thing -- real nails, a real hammer, and real wood. You show your child how to safely use the tools (sometimes reinforcing safety over and over), and then you give them space to practice. When the activity is over, you don't tuck the materials and tools away in some out of reach place, but rather, you make them available and you ensure that your child -- who know knows how to safely use the tools and materials -- can hammer something in the future.

Another way to look at this concept is to think about learning to cook spaghetti. You don't get out a plastic pot and plastic food to do so. While toy food and toy pots and pans (we have a toy kitchen in our house!) can be fun, they aren't really preparing your children for the real life tasks of actually cooking food. You may be worried about your child burning or cutting themselves or totally screwing up in some way, but in reality, you are teaching them the skills to avoid such problems. Once you've shown them how to safely and properly use their tools (a knife, a stove or oven, etc), you can monitor their progress and help them practice their new skills. 

Sometimes, you have to rein in the chaos and start over when showing your children a new skill.

Sometimes, you have to abort the lesson or plans and say, "We'll try again another day." 

But, you never fully take the reigns completely and take over the task as your own.

You don't learn math by someone else calculating every problem for you, and the same is true of most lessons your children should and will learn. So, how will your kids learn life skills if they aren't allowed to try and allowed to occasionally fail? 

I understand that teaching many life skills can be time consuming and messy, and we can often easily do these tasks faster and much more efficiently ourselves. But, that's not the point. The point is teaching your children the skills they need to be successful in life. In Montessori theory, this is called "Practical Life".

I've allowed my own children to use real knives since they were old enough to sit at the kitchen table with us. Neither thinks of knives as toys or weapons as a result because they've been taught to use them properly and know exactly the purpose of these tools. In fact, today, my son said that he was hungry and got up and made his own quesadilla on the stove. All I had to do was check on him and make sure he had the stove at the right setting, but otherwise I was totally hands off. 

This was my son's rodeo, not mine.

I used to be afraid that my son would burn himself on the stove, but I have also taught him well and I know he is also smart enough to know when a pan is hot and to not put his hand on it. Does that mean we've been totally without little incidents here and there? No, of course not, because these are skills learned through trial and error. 

I'm not a free range parent by any means, but I am also a realist and want my children to be able to learn and grow and to be able to things independently.
If you aren't comfortable with your kids using a stove, never fear! You can still prepare areas of your kitchen where your kids can prepare food for themselves using real kitchen tools and materials. For example, peanut butter (or other "butter") and jelly sandwiches are great starter items! Make sure the ingredients are all in close proximity to one another and within reach of your children and then let them go for it (after you've shown them or guided them through the steps, of course!). 

Really, these principles can be applied to any task anywhere in your house. The keys are to make sure the tools and materials necessary are in reach, preferably grouped together, and that you've given your kids some basic instruction in safely handling the items and completing the tasks at hand.

I have also shown my children how to start the bathtub, where to find towels, and what the bathroom should look like after their baths are done. Now, when they are ready for a bath, I can say, "OK! You know what to do!" I still help wash hair and to pour in fancy bubbles and so on, but overall, they know what to do for themselves! 

Of course, it is important to make sure tasks are age and maturity level appropriate. For example, while her older brother is able to handle the stove, I would not let my six year old daughter make her own quesadilla. That said, she's much better at putting together a snack tray than her brother. He's too timid to take bigger risks, but my daughter will gladly wield a hammer or a saw by herself and go at a construction project!

You know your child best and what they are capable of. 

So, you see none of this is really rocket science, but rather common sense and knowing your children's abilities and maturity levels. And, it's about intentionally providing opportunities and materials for your children to learn to do tasks for themselves.

I'll break down how to set up your house room-by-room with Montessori principles in later posts and also share some my favorite Practical Life jobs that I utilize in my classroom and home year round. 

For now though, I challenge you to set up at least one task that your child can do completely on their own. It could be a small cooking job, laundry, watering the plants, or anything else that fits or that they seem interested in. 

Leave a comment and let us know what tasks your kids do at home and how you support them in growing and learning independently!