Montessori-ing my home (the principles)

As I was saying, I’ve decided to Montessori my home (and as I was saying, yes, that’s a verb now). Here are the Montessori principles I’m trying to apply. Keep in mind, I’m picking and choosing. There are many Montessori principles not represented here. This is my own quirky interpretation.

1. Children have an innate need for order. In practice, this means that every toy, activity, or tool must have its own clearly defined space. In the classroom each activity is in the appropriate section of the room, always on the same shelf, and arranged neatly on a tray or in a box.

This is probably the most difficult principle for me to adopt, seeing as I’m on the messy end of the spectrum. But we do have some cubby shelves that practically scream out for a single activity each… that will likely be my saving grace. Well, that and reducing the number of toys in here by about 90%.

2. Children have an innate sense of beauty. Children need to experience beauty, and they are drawn to attractive objects. Toys and apparatus should be attractive, clean, and in good repair. They should also be made of aesthetically pleasing materials whenever possible. In practice, this means that wood, ceramic, metal, and glass are more common than plastic in most Montessori classrooms.

I love this. I hate the gaudy plastic toys, especially the ones that play tinny electronic sounds. We all deserve so much better – the warmth of wood, the smoothness of stone, the coolness of ceramic (no, I wasn’t trying for alliteration. It just kind of happened.) Also, broken toys frustrate both me and the kids, and make the whole place look shabbier. The need for beauty is actually the driving force behind my desire to re-work our living space.

3. Children want to do meaningful work. If you provide properly sized tools and teach correct technique, children will happily work to maintain and beautify their home. Child-sized furniture, cleaning supplies, cutlery, and tools are necessary for a child’s success in this domain.

I am all for child labour. Seriously, if you spill a glass of water, you soak it up with a towel. And I truly believe that if I teach K  basic cooking skills now, I’ll be able to offload cooking dinner that much sooner (shh… please allow me my fantasies. They get me through the day.) There’s that, and the fact that if I teach her how to do certain types of work properly and safely, she won’t hurt herself by trying to reach tools and materials that she shouldn’t be touching.

4. Children can be taught to be graceful and courteous. Part of the Montessori curriculum is titled “grace and courtesy”. Children can (and do) learn that certain materials are fragile and must be cared for accordingly. They learn to walk carefully around others, use breakable objects responsibly, and leave things where others can find and use them.

Again, I’m not so good at the leaving things in the places I found them. But I do allow my kids to handle breakable objects gently. I also think that most children only need to see the consequences of dropping a glass once to know that it’s not something you should do on purpose (and no, I don’t mean the consequence of getting glass in your foot. I’m referring to the sudden, loud noise, the explosion of glass everywhere, and the seemingly endless cleanup).

5. Children need freedom to explore their space and choose their work. I think this one is self-explanatory. For parents of babies, this can mean not using playpens and exersaucers, as they restrict the child’s freedom.With slightly bigger kids (and with babies, come to think of it), it means that anything in reach is something the child is permitted and able to touch and use.

We’ve got this covered, sort of. We have baby gates at both entrances of our living room, giving the kids a 17×12-foot space in which to roam freely. Everything below a 3-foot height is available for their use.

6. Children want independence. The best way to foster this is by making their basic needs readily available to them. In K’s classroom the kids have easy access to a water cooler, containers of healthy snacks, a sink for cleanup, and so on. They very quickly get used to doing things for themselves.

When I worked with special needs kids, my policy was “don’t do anything for them that they can do for themselves”. I’ve created a grooming area (mirror and brushes) for K so that she’s not dependent on me to get ready, we have stepstools in all the right places, and K’s glasses and plates are in a place where she can reach them. To my surprise, she knows how to use the stepstool to access our fridge (freezer is on the bottom), take out some juice, pour it into a little glass, and put everything away again. This kind of independence is mostly beneficial to everyone.

I think that’s enough theory. Stick with me – soon I’ll post some pictures of how our house has turned out. In the meantime, do any montessori-oriented readers out there have anything to add?

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