I have recently become aware that in the arena of Montessori parenting, I am quite the old fuddy-duddy. My first child was born in an age before the release of the iPhone 3G. Conversely, by the time my second child entered the Children’s House, I owned an iPhone larger than the size of her head!
In the olden days, circa 2008, I primarily relied on, for my Montessori information, the Prospective Parent classes at the Montessori School to which our daughter awaited admission. I read a handful of articles by Donna Bryant Goertz and a couple of books: Lillard and Jessen’s “Montessori from the Start,” and “The Absorbent Mind” by Maria Montessori. What I find nowadays, as I encounter those embarking on their Montessori journey, is parents who are inundated with “Montessori-inspired” information from blogs and social media. For some, this plethora of knowledge is useful, for others intimidating, but all too often I find it concerningly misleading or just plain inaccurate. It raises the question: How did I get by all those years in preparing a suitable home environment for my Montessori family, with nary a website in sight?
What is important to my Montessori experience, is access to a school that does very well in supporting parents in bridging their children’s lives between school and home. This support has less to do with materials provided the children- the premise of many a Montessori blog – but, rather, those intangible gifts that support and sustain a wholesome existence: adequate sleep, nutrition, time in nature, screen free living and a family culture where parents are present to their children and each other. The school calls this bridge “Partnership”.
For those Montessori families who do not have the benefit of such partnership, how do we cross that bridge? These are the basic lessons my husband and I took away from our children’s school, which helped us foster the culture of our Montessori home:
- In a Montessori home, all obstacles to the child’s struggle for independence and full participation are removed before adding anything. In her book, The Absorbent Mind, Dr. Montessori said that a child’s conquest for independence begins at birth, and that “the child will overcome every obstacle that he finds in his path”. If we believe this to be true, why not just remove obstacles to make a child’s path to independence that much less frustrating, and so much more rewarding? In our home, we have found obstacles to be our own agendas as adults, screens, a propensity to collect belongings that are manageable (or even helpful) for us as adults but are overwhelming and depriving for our children, and expectations of our children that are outside of what is developmentally possible.
- In a Montessori home, adults and children work to co-exist harmoniously. From the moment one enters our home, it is evident that children live here, and alongside them, adults. It’s not bright colors or presence of cartoon characters that indicate the lives of our children. Instead, their things are just things, made of natural materials, even fragile, but child size. Where child-size is not possible, like a sink or kitchen counter, there are stools for independence.
- In a Montessori home, the needs and the natural development of each child is honored. Being almost six years apart in age, our children will be in two different planes of development until adulthood. We respect this by creating individual spaces for each child, but provide opportunities for them to peacefully cohabitate with each other. For example, our 3-year-old has a small selection of books available in a way that makes it manageable for her to use and put away. In the cabinet next to her book sling is housed our 8-year-old’s set of World Book Encyclopedias. They share the comfortable chairs designated for reading.
- In a Montessori home, children are fully participating members of the family. We’ve all experienced those Christmas mornings when the new toys are ignored, but significant time is spent manipulating the boxes in which they were packaged. Certainly toys such as puzzles, blocks, balls, even dolls are enjoyed at our home, but it’s the “wavy chopper” (a child-safe knife) that gets most use. Everyone digs in when there is work to be done, and these are not “chores”; they are just part of our responsibilities as members of a family, and we refer to them as such.
- In a Montessori home, children have freedom of choice within a framework of firm and cheerful boundaries, set by their parents. Although the necessary self-regulation can be hard work for some parents, it is possible to hold our boundaries with our children in a friendly and respectful manner. There are times, for instance, when I am short on time and energy, and I want to cook dinner by myself, much to the consternation of my 3-year-old who wants to help. On those days, I have to check in with myself first, connect with my children, set my expectation of them without any ambiguity, and then get on with my task. Although handing her my mammoth phone for distraction would certainly be easier, what I would sadly lose is my daughter’s interest in working alongside me the next night in favor of a more addictive, albeit purposeless, pastime. These are the times when a home environment that is prepared for our children’s self-directed activity is worth even more than the effort in gold.
- In a Montessori home, and I should perhaps have put this at the top of the list, parents are continually working on being consistent with each other and with their children. When my husband and I married 13 years ago we were of different religious persuasions, and I found myself slightly offended by the writer Paul’s biblical assertion that “believers should be yoked to believers”. After having children, however, my eyes opened to Paul’s analogy of the wooden bar that “yoked” two oxen as they ploughed. Regardless of our beliefs or spiritual practices, the yoke symbolizes to me the constant communication that needs to occur between parents, so that the work they do together is lighter. With parents working as a united team, family life is mutually supported and joyful.
With my somewhat seasoned and old-fashioned experience as a Montessori parent, I am sometimes disheartened that the true essence of the Montessori philosophy is lost in an age of information and a culture of consumerism. Do our children need those toys which are suggested will “Montessori-fy” their lives, when the day goes by so much more pleasantly outside with a ball? And is there really such a thing as a “Montessori-friendly” television show or app, regardless of how steeped it is in reality?
I contend that we need to get back to basics, and provide for our children a home life that is rich in human connection, and one, as Dr. Montessori said, “invites the child to conduct his own experiences”. In a material world, the best we can offer our children is everything they need; and nothing that they don’t.