Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times, Maria Montessori dedicated her life to creating an optimum growth environment for children. Montessori began her scientific observations of children after her graduation from the University of Rome as Italy’s first female doctor. Working first with children in asylums in Rome, Montessori discovered that by creating an environment where children were provided with materials suited to their sensitive periods of development they were able to teach themselves.
Montessori looked next to the children of San Lorenzo in Rome and opened a “Casa de Bambini” or Children’s House in 1907. Soon educators and visitors from far and wide arrived to observe this amazing new concept in education. This innovative educational system was founded not on the direct instruction from the teacher, but on the child’s exposure to a carefully crafted environment.
Montessori’s philosophical theories on child development have been proven time and again through current brain research. She was the first person to talk about sensitive periods of development, or “windows of opportunity”. She also emphasized the importance of movement for cognitive development. Maria Montessori believed each child should be treated with respect, given freedom within the limits of a carefully structured environment, and allowed to develop naturally at their own pace.
Dr. Montessori's main objective was to help children everywhere to reach their maximum learning potential, while becoming well balanced individuals able to cope with the pressures of modern day living. Montessori education provides a range of experiences which will stimulate a child's love of learning and discovery.
Montessori at Home
1. PREPARATION of the ENVIRONMENT
A Montessori home really caters for the child’s height, stride, reach and strength. Paintings, hooks and shelves are at the child’s eye height, chairs and tables are in proportion with the child. There is a stool to reach the bathroom sink and the child’s toiletries are accessible. There is a place for everything and everything is in its place. A small selection of toys are displayed invitingly on low shelving. The child knows where to find a jug of water and a glass, a snack and a plate and cleaning equipment to clean up any mess. The need to ask a grown up for assistance is minimised, as is the potential frustration.
2. OBSERVATION of the CHILD
When a child shows that they are trying to roll, we clear a safe area for them. When a child starts pulling to stand we hold out our hands to assist them. Children become ready for a new development many times over and our role is to observe the signs of readiness and provide an environment, toys and experiences which will assist this development. If a child insists on climbing up and down the stairs twenty times before leaving the house, it’s important to remember that he’s not trying to bug you, he’s perfecting a movement, and berating him or whisking him away is to him, unfair and unnecessary and good cause to scream.
3. RHYTHM of the DAY, WEEK & YEAR
Children are busy learning how to exist in this world, physically, socially and intellectually. It gives a child great comfort to have a predictable and consistent home environment. Within the rhythm of the day, week and year, comes ritual, enriching the child’s soul. Many activities can centre around the seasons, picking flowers for the dinner table, collecting firewood and singing seasonal songs.
Contrary to current trends, Montessori parents do not discipline with rewards or punishments. Much more emphasis is placed on the behaviour modeled by the parents and a recognition of the child’s age, surroundings and temperament. A child tantrumming in a shop is obviously stressed and should be removed from the situation, a child who displays inappropriate behaviour should be clearly shown and taught more appropriate behaviour. Always remember that your child is just that, and you must be prepared for them to make mistakes along the way.
ACTIVITIES FOR YOUR CHILD AT HOME
Children do not think of work as something unpleasant. They can find joy in completing what we might consider the most mundane of tasks. Children gain self esteem from knowing that they are contributing to the family whole. One can see the contrast in reaction between the child who is asked if they want to help make dinner or the child who is told to ‘run along and play’. Montessori offered the children ‘Practical Life’ exercises, centred around teaching a child to do things for himself.
These are some examples for the home:
Whenever you do a load of laundry, separate the ‘smalls’ into a child sized basket for your child to hang out. You will need a clothes airer and manageable pegs. You may need to demonstrate the scissor action of the peg to your child. (2 1/2 years)
Prepare a work area for your child with a peeled and halved avocado, a bowl, small masher, a spoon and a small serving dish. Demonstrate how to mash up the avocado, and spoon a small portion of their ‘guacamole’ into a serving dish. Assist your child in clearing the area, then set down a tray with a small bowl of butter, the guacamole, some biscuits on a plate and a small spreading knife. Your child can prepare a small plate of biscuits for himself. Children can also easily: peel and slice a banana, peel and slice a carrot and dice semi-prepared fruit for a fruit salad. (2 years)
Children love to polish: boots, silverware, mirrors. (3 years)
Children love to wash windows. You will need a bucket with soapy water, a sponge to wash, a squeegee and a LOW window or glass door. (2 years)
Children love to wash dishes. (2 1/2 years)
These activities will require guidance until the child has mastered them.
Paint Cards: Match them, play memory, make colour spectrums, match items to colours.
Nature Tray: Collect shells, pine cones, feathers, stones & a magnifying glass. Encourage your child to look for items for the Nature Tray when you’re out and about (from 2 years).
Spoon Transfer: On a tray place two bowls, one filled with lentils, the other empty, and a spoon. You can also use tongs (with pom poms), or a ladle and water (from 2 years).
Money Box: Find a money box which is easy to open. Place a small bowl of coins next to the money box (18 months).
Hammering: Use a child-sized hammer. Start with a golf tee into modelling clay (2 years), then real nails (with large, flat heads) into a styrofoam box and lastly, nails into wood.
Children from 2 years, start to explore play which helps them to build on what they have observed and experienced in the ‘real’ world. Take your child out into the world to experience the diversity of our people, culture, foods and wilderness.
HOW TO RAISE AN AMAZING CHILD THE MONTESSORI WAY by Tim Seldin
TEACHING MONTESSORI IN HOME - THE PRESCHOOL YEARS by Elizabeth Hainstock
THE JOYFUL CHILD & CHILD OF THE WORLD - Susan Stephenson
by C. Gribben
There is no simple definition for a Montessori family. Not everyone has access to a Montessori education for their child and whether you do or don’t has an impact on how you create your Montessori home. The most important thing to remember when creating a Montessori home is that it is not about buying things, it is about how you think about the child.
A Montessori home needs to contain toys, books, art supplies, clothing, etc; suitable for your child's stage of development. One cannot simply set up the home and forget about it, or even reassess it every six months. The focus needs to be taken off the products and onto the child. Does your child have access to the thing she or she might need? Water? A quiet place with books and cushions?
Think about processes. A child wants to do a drawing. First she seeks out Mum and tries to convey her desire to draw. The mother hands the child a pencil. The child asks Mum for paper and the mother shows irritation at being asked for things 'all the time'. The child can't find a place to sit, so takes a nice clear space in the centre of the kitchen floor, only to be chided for getting in the way. The drawing never happens. Alternatively, the child wants to do a drawing so she makes her way over to her drawing area where a desk and chair of suitable height are ready. There is a tray containing scissors, crayons and paper on a low, accessible shelf nearby. She confidently carries the tray to the table and creates her wonderful drawing.
This example was about the environment. The next is about observing the child. After completing her drawing, the child reaches for the scissors and brings them to her paper. She has never attempted to use the scissors before. The mother watches and observes that she is having difficulty getting a result with such a large piece of paper. The mother prepares a tray with strips of paper and brings it over to the child's table. The strips are long and narrow. The mother shows in slow deliberate movements how to cut a small piece off the long strip in one go. As she opens and shuts the scissors, she can use these two words: OPEN, SHUT. She then takes the child's hand and positions the scissors correctly. Using her hand to guide the scissors, she repeats the words, OPEN, SHUT. The child can now have a go on her own. Having been given knowledge on how the process should happen, she will master the process with much more efficiency. Observing each child tells us what their needs are.
by C. Gribben
We'll start by looking at age appropriate activities for the home. The young child is learning their place in the world, and the proper care of themselves and their environment. There is an innate need to learn these skills, but where learning to crawl and walk are inevitable because they require no equipment, some skills may be missed because the types of products which might assist the child are not in their environment.
For example, the desire to master the pincer grip starts at around nine months, when the child is suddenly fascinated with trying to pick up small pieces of fluff and crumbs from the ground. In the increasingly sterile homes of today, if children aren't given access to materials with which to master this skill (even pea sized crumbs of bread on a plate at morning tea are good), they may not master it for some time.
For the infant, mobiles, music and the sound of their mother and father are the basic requirements. Mobiles can be made of anything, and are lovely near a window where the child can watch them shift in the breeze. We have some for sale, but it is also enjoyable to make your own, using photographs, drawings, origami animals or felt.
Babies find their parents' voice very soothing and will adore being spoken to, sung to and read to. It can be very soothing for an unsettled baby to have quiet, calm prose read to them as they drift off to sleep on occasion. As children love continuity, we have always maintained the same rhythm at bed time of pyjamas, teeth, books, songs and bed at which time I would often put on the cd player with classical music. As they've grown, they have become very interested in all styles of music and from around four years old, have chosen their own CD at bed time.
The first major milestone is when the child can sit, because now the world around them can be viewed on a different plane. There are balls, stacking toys, boxes and more, which can be presented to the child for them to explore. At this stage they require a low shelf to house their objects. This is a lovely place to have a mirror and a print of a beautiful painting. At the end of the day, this area should always be restored so that the child wakes to a harmonious work space.
Once the child is walking, they have a new sense of purpose. They can carry things for the first time. This is the time to give them a bucket with a small sponge for wiping tables, a stool to sit on for dressing, a watering can for the garden and a hairbrush and toothbrush for care of the self.
At around eighteen months, they will be ready for preparation of their morning tea, sweeping and cleaning.