“From small beginnings come great things”
As a new parent I remember feeling confused and overwhelmed. What did I know about raising a child and guiding one? It all seemed like a mystery to me.
I discovered Montessori when Joshua was quite small. As you may know, my husband is a Montessori graduate, he went through Cycle 1 before transferring to mainstream school. Still, that early experience has stayed with him, he remembers the materials, remembers feeling the sandpaper letters beneath his fingers. When I learned of these experiences I was intrigued and started looking into Montessori Method.
Sadly when I started researching it was hard to find reliable information. Google Montessori for beginners or like phrases and you come across just about everything you can think of. But where was the “how to” guide to implementing Montessori at Home? Does it involve a lot of changes and a lot of money? I don’t believe it has to. In preparing to change our spaces we did a lot of reflecting and evaluating our (then) current situation before moving forward. As tempting as it is to make changes immediately in order for success I am a real believer in planning ahead. Here are the things we did in order to implement Montessori successfully into our household:
1. Read up on the Montessori Method
I highly recommend doing a bit of reading prior to commencing changes. These resources will give some great advice on the Montessori philosophy for beginners. It gives information on what the method is about and you can assess whether it is suitable for your family.Recommended reading:
How to Raise An Amazing Child The Montessori Way – Tim Seldin
The Joyful Child – Susan Mayclin Stephenson
Child of the World – Susan Mayclin Stephenson
Teach Me To Do It Myself – Maja Pitamic
Aid to Life
2. Observe your child.
One of the first things that we did before making any changes was to observe Joshua. Impatient as I was to implement changes to our home and to our lives I made myself sit back. This is probably one of the hardest exercises – but also the most cost effective – that I have done to date. I am not a teacher. But something that stuck with me on my reading was about the importance of observation. What should I be looking for? At 6 months old I was looking for developmental milestones, gross motor skills achievements and requirements. Observation is hard. Initially all I could see was Joshua moving around and it seemed randomly doing stuff. Sometimes taking notes helped. As time went on I realised that by simply observing and not interfering I was able to learn a lot about him. He was very intent and interested in colours and stacking and shapes. He was pushing things around a room which indicated to me that he wanted to walk but was not yet able to do so. Observation is a deeper process than just watching. It is also much harder than you would think. After much practice I am able to now observe much more easily and respond to changes in Joshua’s needs and adjust appropriately.
3. Invest in shelves.
Shelves are so important. If possible I would advise to invest in the best quality shelves that you can afford however space and budget are also an important consideration. We use Ikea shelving – affordable and aesthetically pleasing – but if I had to redo this I would choose much more beautiful wooden shelving. At the time we were looking there was very little in the way of affordable Montessori shelving but we have many more options available now. I quite like the shelving from M.A.N. Made creations here. Basic shelves are a must. Anything that gets things into an orderly manner and allows exploration and contributes to the child’s sense of order is a positive change.
4. Invest in the best quality toys and materials you can afford.
There are some things you can get quite cheaply but I would question whether you should. I would rather have one good toy than have 20 cheap quality toys that won’t last or are not visually appealing. This may involve going through your existing stash of toys and evaluating if it should be there. We did this and I ended up selling off things that were not of use and I haven’t missed them at all. The same goes for art supplies – I invested in good quality crayons and paper and Joshua adores his art space. A few good crayons and good quality pencils make the introduction to the world of art a magical one. The first 3 years of a child’s life are his/her introduction to the world. Try and make it the best introduction that it can be.
5. If possible set aside a place in the home that is for the child.
We had a small space for Joshua when he was young but nowhere near to the size that it is now. During our assessment of our space and what we could realistically afford to put aside for Joshua we realised that we wanted him to do his work in an area that was nearby and close to us. Now that Joshua is older and we have had him working nearby to us since he was young it makes so much sense to me. When I read Tim Seldin’s “How to Raise an Amazing Child The Montessori Way” he says:
As your child becomes more independent and busy, try to accommodate his/her activities wherever the family gathers…. left to their own devices, young children may tend to create chaos, but they also have a tremendous need and love for an orderly environment. Try to arrange the rooms where your child spends most of his/her time to make it easy for him/her to maintain a neat, well organised atmosphere. It’s surprising what an impact this can have on his/her developing personality.
Joshua is certainly a reflection of his environment. I have seen this need to know where things belong. He is very good at putting things away as a result. I see how he adores coming to his work area and he knows that everything in it is for him to work with. He is happy to go and work while I am nearby working too.
6. Be prepared to be flexible and to change up the environment if it doesn’t work.
The same goes for all parenting. As Joshua gets older we have adjusted his work spaces significantly. With changes in the child the environment too needs to adjust to support their needs. Sometimes you might set something up and practically it still doesn’t work. We set up Joshua’s arts and crafts area and it has changed since we started. Firstly we had a small shelf to put supplies on but this was very untidy and we had too much stuff. So we moved a small cupboard down to store things in. We then realised that this was not positioned ideally so we moved it again and moved our shoe rack so that it is closer to his little chair so he can sit and put his shoes on and the art supplies cupboard is positioned closer within the art area. With so many changes within such a short space of time it can sometimes feel hard to keep up but if you are observing it should be easier as it does not take as much time to change an already orderly environment (once implemented).
7. Make small changes initially so that you are not overwhelmed.
Small changes here and there are better than none at all. A basket, a few trays, clearing away clutter all contributes to improving the prepared environment.
8. Above all – Follow the child.
If you follow your child’s interests and observe their abilities and needs, I truly believe you can’t go wrong. Truly follow – just because an adult think it would be great for a child to do a pouring activity or tonging, he/she might not be ready for it and need preparation before attempting this. If the child is truly disinterested then put the activity away for a later date. I have put out activities and then put them away for a few weeks and once rotated there has been a lot more interest simply because Joshua was not quite ready. Pay attention to sensitive periods. I have loved this chart from Voila Montessori, it is a beautiful visual representation of the development from birth to 3 years old. There is one here for ages 2.5-6 as well. I pay attention to the charts as a guide, not as rule, and they have been really great to refer to so that I have some idea of what to expect.
Here is our work space today for a little inspiration.
What changes can you make today? I would love to hear from you if you can make even just one change from this post.