Thursday 1 October 2009

Montessori Pearls Of Wisdom

***This has turned out to be a monster of a post, so go and put the kettle on!***

I have been asked a couple of times by moms that are new to Montessori on where to start, there is so much to read and so much equipment and usually so little time it all becomes overwhelming. I admit, I was in exactly the same boat and I did start a post in respose but it ended up as pages of waffle. SO, I have asked some other Montessori moms if they would be willing to share their top tips for Montessori newbies, there are some great ideas, so get yourself comfy and read on.

These are mine....
  1. Read The Absorbent Mind by Maria Montessori and if possibly Discovery of The Child too, I don't think you can grasp the Montessori theory properly without reading them. Then if possible read anything else you can find about the Montessori theory, without understanding the theory you can not understand the reasoning behind the equipment properly.
  2. Before worrying about equipment, set up your home to make it as child friendly as possible, have steps to the child can reach the sink and toilet, have pegs at child height to hang coats, have all their things at an accessible height, a child sized table to work at etc. How To Raise An Amazing Child has some good tips for setting up the home. I have also always used real plates and cups for Ebi-kun, he started off with an espresso cup to drink out of, he has never had kids plastic table wear and we have only ever had one breakage.
  3. Don't stress about getting all the equipment, you are schooling at home, there is no way, unless you live in a massive place and have plenty of money, that you can have a set up like an actual school. Instead set a space in you home as your Montessori space. Set up a couple of low shelves (or have the equipment on low shelves and use the higher ones for storage). Also set some time aside each week so that you can make up new pieces of work. I have almost given up with PL work on the shelf, we do PL around the house, the laundry, cleaning windows, pouring milk etc. PL in a a practical way. It is easier to just get on and do it yourself, getting the child engaged may take you longer to hang the laundry but you also get some quality time together and they learn how to match socks, use pegs, how to hang and fold T-shirts...
  4. Learn to compromise, being at home you might not be able to afford the top notch equipment used in some schools but neither did Maria Montessori, she made or had made all the materials she used, there is no reason why you shouldn't do the same. If you know someone handy with wood working tools, get them busy! I no longer laminate all the cards I make, I make an educated guess on which ones will get used the most and just laminate those. Rope in friends and family too, get them looking out for things that you need or ask them to check their cupboards for anything they are willing to donate.
  5. Which equipment to buy? For me, I started with the pink tower, metal insets, brown stair and knobbled cylinders. I got the pink tower and brown stair because they looked like core pieces of equipment, I would have had them made if I had know anyone in Japan who could do it. The other two I picked because they are both pincer muscle strengthening equipment, Ebi-kun was already showing a strong interest in colouring and could hold a crayon properly from the offset, I thought having equipment that would help these muscles would be a good idea. Later I bought the maps and biology puzzles plus most of the bead material, the decision for these was either I couldn't make it myself or financially it wasn't worth my while making it.
Finally, the obvious piece of advice is to follow the child, that is what it is all about anyway.

Now we move onto to Meg, from Sew Liberated who managed to take time out of her busy schedule to share her tips, she was a Montessori child herself and as an adult a Montessori educator and now she joins the gang as a Montessori mom. Meg was also one of my mentors as I was starting out and I learned a great deal from her.

  1. Keep a parenting journal. I've just started mine, but I think that it's an invaluable tool in parenting, as it gives you the space you need to reflect, in writing, on your questions, observations, ideas, frustrations, solutions, etc. A parenting journal can help to keep your head clear so you can more effectively (and creatively) focus on the needs of your child.
  2. Read Alfie Kohn's Unconditional Parenting and Sharifa Oppenheimer's Heaven on Earth. While Oppenheimer's book is based in the Waldorf methodology, I've found it to be full of ideas on how one might create a home environment that is healthy for the young child. While "Montessori from the Start" is a helpful book for teachers of young children, I find some of the language and ideas to be a bit rigid and overwhelming for mamas new to Montessori. In other words, buy your own copies of Heaven and Earth and Unconditional Parenting, but check out Montessori from the Start from the library!
  3. Involve your child in your daily tasks, such as cleaning, cooking, feeding the animals and watering the plants. This "Practical Life" component is THE foundation of Montessori early childhood education, NOT academics. Here's a post I wrote about Practical Life a while back, when I was still teaching in Mexico.
  4. Make your home child-friendly. Think about how you can make your child's everyday tasks easier - add low hooks for jackets and scarves, place three books in a basket on the living room floor, place a water spigot in the kitchen so your child can serve him/herself water when thirsty.
  5. Take a daily walk in nature, in all kinds of weather (appropriate clothing can make even walking in the rain fun!) Go at your child's pace, and notice all of the animal, insect and plant life.

Next up is Amy from The Wonder Years she is a Montessori educator, mother of a toddler and a pre-schooler, she sent me these tips...
  1. Create A Child Friendly Home Environment. A child friendly environment is: Simple- uncluttered, organized, and appealing. Accessible- anything your child will need is easily accessible. This means clothes, cleaning supplies, activities and toys, bowls, cups... and Consistent- A consistent schedule for the child, consistent behavior and expectations from the parent, and consistency in returning toys and supplies to their designated areas of the home.
  2. Start With Practical Life Lessons. Show your child how to do the things she/he sees you doing on a daily basis and have the materials available for use. Start simply: Folding a cloth, how to squeeze a sponge, etc. You will be surprised at how they will be eager to clean a spill or take extra time wiping the entire table after a meal.
  3. Work With the Senses. Montessori sensorial materials are extremely important for helping to build the base for all areas of future work. Young childhood is a critical time to develop these skills with sight, sound, touch, smell, and even taste. Sensorial and Practical life are the two areas to start with.
  4. Respect the Child. Allow your child to choose what he/she will work with and when you see your child concentrated on any activity in the home, don't interrupt!
  5. "Teach teaching, not correcting" A quote from Dr. Montessori. Before your child is presented with a task, show them how you prefer they do it. (How to clean a spill, close a door, use the paint) Don't wait until they are doing the activity and then interrupt to show them how or even worse see the results and then start correcting it.

N from The Learning Ark doesn't have a toddler anymore and now works with older children but she shared the following ideas:
  1. Observe your child, watch how s/he does things, see what s/he is interested in. Then plan what your child needs according to the observation and their interest. Sometimes this is the biggest teaching tool.
  2. Make your home child friendly enabling them to be independent. Again, watch your child around the house and see what needs changing or adapting to suit them.
  3. When teaching your child a new skill, break it down to small steps and sometimes you'll only need to focus on one step at a time.
And that's not all, Shannon a SAHM to a pre-schooler posted her top tips on her blog, go and have a read here. Shannon also shares lots of great internet resources each week.

Sarah from The Forest Room is a homeschooling mom, she shares her tips here, if you are looking for some outdoor inspired projects, Sarah has some great ones on her blog.

And last but certainly not least, pop over to What DID we do all day? To read what she has to say on the matter and as mom of two young boys that she schools at home, she has plenty to say on the topic.

All these mama's come from different walks of life, some have grown up with Montessori and others, like myself discovered Montessori when a child came into their life, yet many offer the same pieces of advice. The internet has become a great resource for us to share and learn, so take what you like from the advice given and what you don't, just leave it behind.

I know there are many mama's and papa's out there who could also share advice and I only asked a small handful, so if you would like to share your top tips, please put a post on your blog and add it to the comments below (Use the link to the actual post, not just to your blog). If you don't blog but you have some pearls of wisdom to share please pop a comment in the comments section. Thank you!!

I will add this post to the big Montessori links page and if you are ever trying to find it again, click on that button to the left, the one that says Montessori Links.

Finally, a big thank you to all the mama's who took time out of their busy schedules to help with this post. Please take time to look over their blogs too, they all have a lot to offer.


  1. Off to buy books. Thanks to everyone for their advice. I see myself doing some of these things already and see that I also have alot left to do ahead.

  2. Wonderful post! We started doing Montessori at home about 6 months ago, and I can definately relate to the overwhelmed feeling - it truly is a lot to take in. One of my biggest pieces of advice to those starting out would definately be to read blogs! I've gotten so much help by reading about how Montessori is done by "real moms." :)

  3. Can you tell me what pulled you in the direction of montessori?

  4. I am interested as to why you chose montessori. My child is only 11 months old but I am already beginning to think about school and have heard a lot about montessori lately. Can you tell me what else you looked at and what brought your decision to montessori?

  5. Why did I choose Montessori? Good question!
    When I was pregnant I saw a program about a school in Japan, it was all in Japanese so I didn't really understand that much but it looked really cool. later I was talking about it to a friend and she said that it sounded like a Montessori school. At that point I had never heard of Montessori. So, from there I did some reading and the more i read, the more I thought it was for us. The first book I read was The genius Behind The Science, which is quite heavy going but it had me convinced that there was more to this Montessori theory than meets the eye.
    4 years ago, there was not so nearly as much online material available as there is now so I decided to do an online course with NAMC and the rest is history.
    I had a look at Waldorf and Steiner but I felt Montessori was more suited to our family, although , I can see the attraction of the other schooling styles.

  6. thanks so much for sharing! I am still overwhelmed...but I love doing the activities I see others like you show me how to do with my kiddos. Thanks for the great post and great links! I appreciate well as the spelling for Aikido!!! LOL, I am such a dork. I only see it spelled the hungarian way and it isn't the I don't know how it is really spelled. Oh and Eli and I have been putting together our package for Ebi-kun...we had fun picking out some fun Hungarian things he might like...It should be in the mail next week :)

  7. Great post Jo, I'll pop back and read it all more thoroughly when I get a chance!

  8. I totally agree about reading The Science Behind the Genius. I had to read it as part of my training; it's a heavy read, but there is so much valuable information about the Philosophy behind what Montessorians do.


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