You may have heard of Montessori but — unless you’ve had a child in a Montessori school or learning environment or know someone who does — you may not know how useful the principles of Montessori can be in raising children. We all want our children to be happy, independent and safe, but those things can sometimes seem mutually exclusive when it comes to toddlers. Using the principles of Montessori can make the whole process much easier. Keen to find out how? Let’s go.
What is Montessori?
Developed by Dr Maria Montessori in the early 19th century, the Montessori Method is the result of her years of observation and work with children. It’s founded upon a few basic principles:
- Respect for the child: Understanding that each child is different and will learn and progress according to their own schedule.
- Sensitive periods: The specific times when children are able to learn things better or more quickly.
- The absorbent mind: In their first 6 years of life, children are primed to learn. The Montessori Method provides “learning experiences that promote their sense of belonging, confidence, independence and agency.”
- Teaching roles: Montessori is child-led and teachers — or parents — are observers and facilitators.
- Montessori materials: These offer hands-on learning and focus on honing one skill or concept.
- The prepared environment: This is designed to optimise learning by making things accessible to the one using it, the child. Think freedom of movement, child-sized shelves, seats and materials, nothing that is off-limits.
- Three-hour work cycle: This is a natural inclination of children to ‘work’ in three-hour cycles. The idea is to work up to that and encourage sustained concentration without interruption.
- Five curriculum areas: Divided up into Practical Life, Sensorial, Mathematics, Language and Culture. Each area has a dedicated space.
- Normalisation: The process whereby children learn to focus and concentrate on a task for a sustained period. It’s another thing they work towards.
Obviously, some of these are easier to replicate at home than others, and some are more conceptual than practical. For example, respect for the child and sensitive periods really just speak to an attitude of observation and attention, as does teaching roles and the absorbent mind. Others, such as preparing the environment, and respecting the three-hour work cycle are easier to implement at home.
Using the Montessori Method: The Prepared Environment
One of the easiest is the prepared environment. You can do this from the very earliest days with your baby, by creating a space that is designed for them. For a newborn, this might be a series of mobiles, or propping board books up around a play mat for them to look at during tummy time. It means observing what stimulates their interest and tailoring the environment to work for them.
For a toddler, you might prepare your home with low shelves containing open-ended toys and provide ways in which they can exercise their independence in safe ways. This might include a small kitchen space, with real cups, glasses and plates, as well as water and snacks for them to help themselves to. Yes, there will be messes and spills — it’s part of the learning process — but you can also provide materials for them to clean up the mess. It’s genuinely amazing to see what children can learn if you give them the chance to be independent, and you’ll reap the rewards far sooner than you might think.
Using the Montessori Method: The Three-Hour Work Cycle
The three-hour work cycle is another important one. As adults in our computer/social media/email/push notification world struggle with concentration. The Montessori three-hour work cycle aims to foster a desire to concentrate, a love of focus from very early on. At home, you can work with that by having a routine that takes into account these work cycles. Sure, small kids might not be able to do so at first, but with consistency and stability, it’s something they’ll grow into.
Are there any other ways to use these?
The Montessori Method is about creating what some people refer to as ‘yes spaces’ but throughout the house. The idea is to ensure that your child sees themselves as a valuable and contributing member of the family. But that’s only possible if they can reach and contribute. Things like covering plug points, removing delicate breakables, gating unsafe areas, and creating ways for toddlers to help themselves rather than ask for help.
It can be a bit of a transition if you’re not used to it, and you need to be prepared for messes (and have a bit of patience). But the rewards are worth it. By allowing your child the opportunity to practice, repeat, mess, clean up and help themselves, you are fostering a spirit of independence, intrinsic reward and so much more. The principles of Montessori don’t have to come from the school environment; they can come from home and be enormously helpful.
- Principles of Montessori Education: https://montessoriacademy.com.au/montessori-education/montessori-principles-education/
- What is Montessori for Babies and Toddlers?: https://www.montessoriinreallife.com/home/2018/8/11/montessori-for-infants-and-toddlers
- How To Set Up Your Home For An Infant By Using Montessori Principles: https://livingmontessorinow.com/how-to-set-up-your-home-for-an-infant-using-montessori-principles/
- Our Toddler’s Daily Routine, Montessori Style: https://www.montessoriinreallife.com/home/2019/1/15/our-daily-routine
- A Respectful Intro to Toddlerhood: https://www.montessoriinreallife.com/home/2018/8/13/respectful-intro-to-toddlerhood