What is Montessori?
Maria Montessori created a framework for education which focuses on independence and freedom within boundaries, “following the child” (respecting the child as an individual, with unique personality, strengths, and preferences), and a carefully prepared environment.
Classrooms are mixed-age, so that children can teach and learn from each other, and teaching younger children reinforces more basic skills for the older ones. There is typically a long uninterrupted block of “work time” for children to explore and use the prepared materials/works, so that they can get really in-depth without having to stop. Children learn concepts through hands-on study, accomplish real tasks (i.e., cutting a banana for their own snack instead of just pretending to cut a stuffed banana in play), and take pride in the work they do.
So, why would you want to bring Montessori into your home?
Watch some Montessori videos on YouTube, or visit a Montessori classroom, and you’ll be convinced by the focus, respect, discipline, peace, and pride these children have, and want to bring some of that home with you.
Beyond that, for most kids, the Montessori Method keeps children’s drive and desire to learn alive and well. By default, kids love learning. GRAB ON TO THAT and encourage it. Hey, this video does a great job of saying this better than I could…
So you’re convinced… maybe you won’t use 100% Montessori philosophy in your home… maybe you’ll mix it with some Waldorf play, or throw in some “conventional” toys and games you played and loved when you were a kid. There’s NOTHING wrong with mixing it up. I try to have a few Montessori works out at a time, but mostly just keep the philosophy in mind when interacting with my children on a daily basis. There’s definitely more I want to do to to “Montessorify” my home, but it’s okay to do it bit by bit, so I’m not stressing about it, and neither should you.
Designing Your Montessori Home
A Children’s House — Montessori Casa dei Bambini
Imagine if you spend every day in a house that had 6-foot high counters and tables, chairs someone had to lift you into (I guess you live with giants), and all of your books/computer/cleaning materials/etc. were out of your reach. Every. Single. Day.
How frustrating would that be? How much irritation would you have at having to ask the giants for every little thing you wanted? Now add to that only being able to come up with the right words (or signs) or sentences for what you want to say about 80% of the time (or less). And the giants aren’t very good at playing charades (or mind reading). You’d probably be throwing some major tantrums, right?
So get a note pad and spend a day or two watching your kids and making notes. Ask yourself:
- What frustrates my child, and what can I do about it?
- What do I do for my child, that she could do for herself (with a little bit of instruction)?
- How can I prepare the environment (your home) so that my child has more independence?
You may want to get some small furniture specifically for your child. Low shelves for toys, a small table and chairs for eating or for snacks, a floor bed frame for your baby’s or toddler’s room, and even a tiny coat rack next to your front door.
This can get expensive quickly, if you think you need the best of the best… and you really don’t.
Instead, for your children’s materials, you can use the lower shelves of bookshelves you already have. Or buy inexpensive shelves or cubbies from Target, Wal-Mart, Big Lots, or craigslist.
Small dining tables or end tables can be bought at yard sales, and with a hand saw, you can trim the legs and make it into a child’s table. IKEA has inexpensive children’s chairs, but you can also get wooden chairs at craft stores using a big coupon (Michael’s, with their 40% off one item coupon, for example), wooden step stools which would work fine for sitting at hardware stores, or kid-size aluminum folding chairs at drug stores (usually in the summertime).
No floor bed frame is necessary. A mattress on the floor works just fine.
And hooks from the hardware store can be screwed into a piece of wood or directly onto the wall for hanging coats. A basket will do just fine for shoes.
Just like with the furniture, you can go all out buying fancy and beautiful hand-hewn wooden materials and works, rugs hand-woven in Guatemala, special cabinets and racks to store everything… or you can buy some, make some, invent some, and so forth.
I have a lot of “real” Montessori materials from Adena Montessori, which is a really affordable place to get some of the classic works. But I also make a lot of activities, temporarily repurpose things from around the house, and fly by the seat of my pants a bit.
You don’t NEED a beautiful wooden tray, a tiny silver spoon, two handcrafted ceramic bowls, and some wild rice to make a transfer activity. Two cereal bowls, a soup spoon, and some pinto beans will do just fine.
One thing I highly recommend when it comes to materials is flipping through the For Small Hands catalog. Admire all the beautiful things, and then think of how you can collect your own. The Dollar Tree is full of votive holders, small containers, glass marbles, and other things which can be easily made into works for your children. Visit the Target dollar section and keep an eye out for things you can use there, too.
But you can also raid your own house. A veggie tray (I have one with a center “hole” for dip, and 6 sections around it for different vegetables) just SCREAMS, “Sorting!” Haul out the button jar from your sewing room, and you’re good to go.
A small soft nail brush (you know you have one, and never use it), a little cup of water, and a rag could easily make a shoe-polishing station.
There are SO many ideas out there, and so many of them can be done with things already in your house.
Learn about the method, learn about activities, and set yourself up for success. Montessori, to me, is more than a set of materials. It’s a mindset. When you learn to approach your home and your children with a problem-solving/supporting/scaffolding viewpoint, you will find your home becoming more and more … not child-FRIENDLY… but your children’s. They will take ownership of it, show pride in it, and might surprise you with how much they can do.
Check out my Pinterest board for Montessori materials, blogs, videos, and activities. I’ll be adding to it, so be sure to follow!
Below are some books I have and can recommend… the first two are full of gorgeous photos and specific activities to do, many of which can be made at home. The second two are more “the mind behind the method” and are great if you want to go a bit deeper.
Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook
More Reading on Joyful Abode
Check out my Montessori category for more posts!
Once your baby is sitting up, you can create an exploration basket like Anneliese’s first Easter basket.
Make a peg game to practice fine motor skills, one-to-one correspondence, and color-matching.
Nesting dolls also provide fine-motor practice, matching (matching tops to bottoms when all are out at once), and size differentiation. You can make your own matryoshka dolls from blanks, or buy some.
Check out my Montessori Toddler Room Tour to explore Anneliese’s bedroom (before we rearranged things… I need to do an update).
Read about our transition from the floor bed to the big-girl bed.
And check out this post on helping to make your home more toddler-accessible for some tips you probably haven’t seen before!