If there was an affordable, well-run, Montessori school close to our house, I would send my kids there in a heart-beat. There isn’t.
I realize that the teachers in the Montessori schools have undergone lengthy training, but the bottom line is that Montessori is not rocket-science. It’s much more of an art, and any mom who spends her days with her children and knows them well can easily learn this art. Maybe her experiences at home would not prepare her completely to run a class of 30 diverse, multi-age children, but certainly a mom can be the expert teacher of her own brood.
By the time a child is 2 1/2 or 3, major changes in behavior are noticed. The child is physically and intellectually ready to learn many, many new skills at this age, and will understandably rebel if these instincts are not permitted. When you think a child is ready for something new, your first tasks are to choose a presentation and then prepare everything needed. The presentation can come from an album you own (recommended) or an online album, which is fine (but may have fewer details or extensions.)
You will also need a tray or container to hold the materials, and a specific location to keep them. If you have children younger than age 3 also in the home, this location will need to be out of the sight and reach of that child (for safety and developmental reasons), and that’s likely the single biggest challenge to incorporating Montessori into your home. (To the left is a picture from several years ago showing presented materials on shelves, with a baby-gate to keep out the toddling younger brother. I have re-arranged many times over the years as needed.)
When everything is ready, you wait until the child is in a receptive mode – okay, not in the middle of something else, obviously, but in that transition time between activities, when the child is neither tired, sick, nor hungry! Invite the child. (I love this part!) It’s that twinkle-in-the-eye question, “Hey, would you like to see something new?” In 6 years of doing this, I’ve yet to be turned down to that question. The next line is, “Mommy does it first.” My job is to show the child exactly how to do the activity perfectly, with absolutely as few words as possible. The goal is to imprint upon the child’s mind an image of how the activity is to be done. My demonstration begins with retrieving the material, then using it, then putting it away. After all that is done, I say, “You may try this if you want.” (The 3-year-olds have trouble containing themselves while waiting for their turn, and will wiggle in their seats.)
Once a child has been presented a certain material, then he or she is free to use it as often as they like, for as long as they like, so long as they are using it as demonstrated. The parent’s job is to observe the child, and you will easily be able to tell if the activity was presented too early, too late, or in that sweet spot, just right. And with each passing week and month and child, you get better at finding just what the child is ready for.
Instead of little hands “getting into trouble,” you will instead have little hands working hard, learning skills of independence, and growing in self-assured peacefulness. When they finish a satisfying activity, the children sigh deeply with a smile and a glow on their faces, with bodies calm from head-to-toe and spirits peaceful. Every child in the world needs this – if not in this exact form, in some way similar – to grow up at peace with themselves and their world. I finally understand what Maria (as I call her) meant when, later in life, she decided the Montessori motto would be: Educating For Peace. No system is perfect “this side of heaven,” but when it comes to simply identifying the needs of young children, I think Maria hit the nail on the head…