At some desperate point in my 10 weeks at home with my newborn, I finally read a book about Montessori principles at home. I’d known about Montessori primarily from Sara Cotner – a dedicated Montessorian if there ever was one – but still thought it was kind of, well, cult-ish until I finally sat down to read about it.
And then I was a believer.
Maria Montessori was an Italian educator and physician in the first part of last century. Her mind-blowing contribution to education was that little kids were more than just not-yet-big people, but people with the ability to learn and do far more than they were given credit for. Here’s a blurb from Wikipedia:
In this first classroom, Montessori observed behaviors in these young children which formed the foundation of her educational method. She noted episodes of deep attention and concentration, multiple repetitions of activity, and a sensitivity to order in the environment. Given free choice of activity, the children showed more interest in practical activities and Montessori’s materials than in toys provided for them, and were surprisingly unmotivated by sweets and other rewards. Over time, she saw a spontaneous self-discipline emerge.
Based on her observations, Montessori implemented a number of practices that became hallmarks of her educational philosophy and method. She replaced the heavy furniture with child-sized tables and chairs light enough for the children to move, and placed child-sized materials on low, accessible shelves. She expanded the range of practical activities such as sweeping and personal care to include a wide variety of exercises for care of the environment and the self, including flower arranging, hand washing, gymnastics, care of pets, and cooking. She continued to adapt and refine the materials she had developed earlier, altering or removing exercises which were chosen less frequently by the children. Also based on her observations, Montessori experimented with allowing children free choice of the materials, uninterrupted work, and freedom of movement and activity within the limits set by the environment. She began to see independence as the aim of education, and the role of the teacher as an observer and director of children’s innate psychological development.
Back in those newborn days, I loved her philosophy because it brought me to the idea of a baby’s “work.” Just like I have work that I do, work that makes me feel useful and contributory and proud, so did he, even at 8 weeks old. His work might be laying on his back and looking at a mobile, or watching the leaves rustle, or listening to music, but it was useful and contributory and worth being proud about, and it was his. Whew! The pressure to do something with him all the darned time abated.
Since then, I’ve incorporated a few of the tools and many of the philosophies. The following is a brief rundown, details to follow in later posts:
- Floor bed. Oh, Floor Bed, how we love thee. We love thee so we give you your own name: Floor Bed!
- Kids can do things – carefully and well – if you just let them try. Put another way: he might poke himself in the face with a fork, but he’ll only do it once!
- Weaning table and chair. We made our own out of oak stair treads (brilliant if I do say so myself- and I do!) and let me say, few things are cuter than a little dude sitting himself in his little chair to eat his lunch all by himself at his little table.
- Comfy clothes and comfy shoes, all with the potential that he can dress himself. Last week I remembered to let him help rather than just dress him, and da-amn, he put his legs into his own pants and then into his own shoes!
- In fact, everything is done with the plan that he’ll be able to do it himself soon. He helps feed the dogs, helps me make dinner, helps clean up his room (the last with minimal success). He can climb onto the couch himself, off the porch himself, and soon, out of his car seat himself. Sense a trend? Also nice: fewer back aches for mama and daddy.
Sometime this fall he’ll start an accredited Montessori toddler program. In fact, tomorrow is his assessment. I’ll admit to nerves and some I-can’t-put-my-finger-on-it stress, but deep down I really am excited for him.
So, is this interesting? Want to know more? There are a handful of blogs by mamas who were Montessorians from the beginning, but as in all other things, I’m a dabbler. We didn’t start on a floor bed; we used a crib. We didn’t cloth diaper. We use a high chair. We’re not always as thoughtful or diligent as more dedicated Montessori parents, but we do make a few key principles work, so maybe this is interesting. (Maybe not.) What questions do you have? What are you most interested in?