Montessori Basics Principle #4 – Education of the Whole Child

Principle #4

 

While Maria Montessori wasn’t the first to understand the importance of Educating the Whole Child, she was, in my opinion the first to develop this understanding of seeing the child as “a whole” most deeply.

Montessori’s philosophy of educating the whole child stems from the understanding that a child and his/her development is more than teaching them and expecting them to embrace a rote kind of learning. It is the understanding that children are naturally curious and eager to learn.They can engage in self-directed learning through a supportive and intentionally prepared learning environment where they can grow with guidance in all areas of their existence! 

Unfortunately, rote learning and sitting still in classrooms is the kind of learning that we see in most mainstream education today, but for Montessori children, there is so much more! Montessori learners are given opportunities to inquire about the “how” and “why” instead of just memorizing information. When we teach beyond rote learning, we are making the primary goal of education for our children to develop the skills necessary to lead a productive, joyful and fulfilling life.

“The essential thing is to arouse such an interest that it engates the child’s whole personality.”

– Maria Montessori

Because the Montessori approach to learning is founded in peace, Maria Montessori strongly felt that for us to encompass a peaceful society, the whole child had to be considered.  The “whole child” is in reference to the child’s physical, spiritual, emotional, and intellectual being. This means that a child is respected and seen as a fully developed human who with time, will learn so much by being placed in environments or spaces that encourage joyful, intentional and purposeful learning.  Since children learn in many different ways, accounting for a child’s physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual development, helps to foster growth in ways that encourage a more well rounded child.  When we give children opportunities to engage their intellect through “whole life learning activities,” we allow the child to become a problem solver who thinks for themselves and is stimulated creatively.

We have listed some important things to remember as you are contemplating your role as your child’s guide and how you can best honor the education of the “whole child.”

When we Educate the Whole Child:

 

  • We see the child as INTERCONNECTED to the people, places and things in their world

Whole child education appeals to a child’s natural curiosity and shows him/her the purpose behind the learning. Things like exploration in cultural subject areas such as science and social studies as related to their family or community brings value, understanding and excitement to an area of study.

Since children are connected to their families, homes, schools, culture, and community, learning about the people and places that create these connections can bring a sense of belonging, understanding and respect for others. When we strive to give our children opportunities for growth and learning in areas of cultural awareness, we are appealing to whole child education. 

  • We understand that learning actually takes place through MOVEMENT

Children need to move! In Montessori environments, we understand and encourage purposeful movement and do not expect a child to sit still or work at a desk without being able to move for long periods of time. Whole body learning comes through movement! From the very beginning of life, children learn from making connections between their mind and body which means that opportunities in brain development through the activities they experience are paramount! 

From the time infants are born they have an innate need to move. They stretch, turn over, crawl, walk and then run all without being coaxed. I know as parents we feel we teach them these things, but truly they do it all themselves.  By providing opportunities in a safe learning environment, growth is inevitable! Montessori even believed that infants shouldn’t be swaddled but free to move their arms and legs. She suggested toddlers should have a floor bed which allows for them to be able to get up and move about just as adults do. By doing these things, it actually aids in developing good sleep patterns for your little ones as well as giving them opportunities to develop through movement and independence. 

I know this can be difficult to understand especially since we have been taught to swaddle babies, hold them all the time and keep toddlers in cribs. But allowing for them to move freely and safely in their environments is where the learning magic happens! :) Keep in mind that as we provide opportunities for children to move they are developing important patterning connections between their left and right brain and bodies which are essential for proper growth.

Not only do children need to be able to move around their homes and in their classrooms with purpose, they need time outside to develop gross motor skills, too. We live in a time where children are placed in front of screens a lot and probably more so since experiencing a pandemic, which means children of all ages are spending way too much time indoors. Being outside is a child’s happy place and a huge playground for development and learning!

  • We put the EMOTIONAL HEALTH OF THE CHILD at the forefront of learning

Celebrating the uniqueness of each child is at the forefront of Montessori whole child education.  We guide softly, encourage calmly and appreciate a child’s individual nature, worth, talents and gifts.  By putting a child’s emotional health first, we are helping to raise children who are driven, passionate, convicted, sure footed and aware of their own personal value.

In a Montessori environment, we incorporate positive discipline into daily living and promote emotional health through practices of love, kindness and boundaries. Instead of emphasizing “no”, we focus on acknowledging the correct way to do something. For example, if your child is climbing on the kitchen table you can say, “I think you will be much safer if you keep your feet on your chair.” Rather than resorting to “No, get off the table”. We also recognize a child’s feelings and value their opinions as members of our family and classrooms. Becoming well versed in positive discipline techniques is a win win. We will talk more about this in another principle so stay tuned for that.

As we recognize the child as a fully formed human being, we place value on their efforts instead of  predisposed answers to educational questions. Children in Montessori environments gain confidence and a sense of independence as they meet their own needs through work and play. This also motivates the children and helps them develop decision making skills. As we grow to understand the true purpose behind learning, not only do our children feel joy but we can experience that as well.

  • We create a HEALTHY LIVING LIFESTYLE for the child

I think we all can agree that a healthy lifestyle is paramount for our children. But a healthy living lifestyle is more than just eating right and exercising although both are very important. As we nurture the whole child as it pertains to health, we also focus attention in areas such as emotional safety, mindfulness, and character development.  

In schools and home classrooms, focusing on an active lifestyle through regular exercise and teaching our children about nutrition and involving them in that process is key. Mindfulness and character development are achieved through the part of the curriculum referred to as “Grace and Courtesy” where children are taught how to be polite, kind, understanding of others and how to effectively communicate their feelings.

  • We know that children learn through all of their SENSES

Children learn best when given opportunities to learn through their senses. This kind of learning engages the whole body. Maria Montessori developed specific materials for the classroom that helped refine the senses through work with things such as the Pink Tower, Broad Stair, Knobbed Cylinders, Color Tablets, Smelling Jars, Sound Cylinders and the Geometric Cabinet to name a few.  She showed students that by isolating one of our senses we could heighten and develop that sense for learning different things.

While the materials Montessori developed are beautiful and I have loved using them in the classroom, there are so many activities that can be done to help develop and allow children as they participate in sensory learning in the home without purchasing and using formal Montessori materials. Our homes are a natural classroom and playground. The opportunities for growth and learning are optimal there:) 

 

The essential thing is to arouse such an interest that it engages the child’s whole personality. 

Maria Montessori –  The Absorbent Mind

I have spent many years of my life learning about what it truly means to educate the whole child and then many more years putting that learning into practice. I’ve done this mainly simultaneously, so that means I have been growing right along with my children, my students and now my grandchildren. It is as much a process for the adult as it is for the child. Which honestly, I take a lot of comfort in. If our goal is growth and learning while on this Earth, I’m pretty sure when it comes to educating the whole child, I’ve been learning a lot!  

My growth and learning as a parent and guide never seems to end and that is ok! I’m guessing because you are reading this post that you are growing and learning right alongside your children and students, too. Maria Montessori reminds us that, “learning is not something that ends at grade 12 or at age 18; it is a lifelong quest for personal fulfillment.” 

Reaching all areas of a child’s development may feel a little overwhelming but always try to keep in mind that our journey is just as it should be. Don’t get discouraged or worry about the outcome, just keep educating yourselves and trusting in the process of being a teacher guide as you lead your children in whole learning education. I have no doubt that your child and students will flourish under your guidance and encouragement!

Education of even a very small child….does not aim at preparing him for school but for life.

Maria Montessori

 

Montessori Basics Principle #3 Part 2 – The Preparation of the Environment

Principle #3 Part 2

Let’s Get a Space Ready

Today we are listing a few easy steps to getting your children’s work and play spaces ready. Based on observations of your child and his/her needs, start creating a space or maybe a few spaces that will help maximize your child’s Montessori learning experiences.

  • Designate a space for your child’s toys or specific learning materials such as a shelf or low counter space where you can keep your child’s materials. 

 

  • Clear out the clutter to make room for organizing! We use this beautiful shelf found on our website.

 

  • Add a few simple trays and baskets to create an open and clean look where you can keep each work or activity.  See our recommendations here about baskets, trays and containers that we love.  

 

  • Pick 4 to 6 of your child’s toys that have a learning purpose to display on your shelf. You may want to head over to our website and look for a few printables that you can add to your child’s work as well.  We have several free ones and many thematic units for purchase.

 

  • Add some artwork or photos of animals or maybe something that your child has expressed interest in to study.

 

  • You can easily print off a few pictures of famous artwork, animals, sealife, etc. from the internet and put them in an inexpensive ($Tree) frame and place them on your child’s workshelf.

 

  • A handwashing area would be optimal but if you don’t have room you can easily have a tall step stool or a tower (we love the one from Sproutkids)  near the bathroom or kitchen sink so your child can easily access soap and water.  Remember, independence is the goal!

    Handwashing Station

 

  • Prepare a little Practical Life area in your kitchen where your child can get snacks and even pour a glass of water for himself/herself!

Pouring Setup

  • Add a few objects next to the pictures and some books both on the shelf and in a basket for reading time.  You could even include a little reading chair or a bean bag if you wanted.  Anything that says, “Reading Corner”!

 

  • Don’t forget a plant or a few objects from nature!

 

  • Finally, you might want to consider creating an outdoor space. If you’re able, have a mini garden or an outside work shelf so your child can work outside, which is especially great for messy play.

Gather Your Materials

Practical Life

This is the fun part! Once you know where you will have your child’s work spaces, it’s time to find things to display the work in. I’ll bet you have several things at home already that you can use for this.

In your Practical life area, you will want to have some of the following child sized things:
•Plates
•Cups
•Bowls
•Silverware
•Maybe some napkins (we like to use cloth ones)
•A few cooking utensils
•An apron to use when preparing food
•Pitcher for pouring water or another source for water
•Cutting board and a vegetable cutter
•Few cleaning supplies (broom, duster, towels and sponges for cleaning up)

Remember to just keep a few of each thing in your cupboard or display space. This makes it simple for remembering where things go as well as helps your child to not feel overwhelmed with a lot of stuff. Think Simplicity!

Displaying Work For All Areas

  • A few small lightweight trays that are easy for your child to carry
  • A few sizes of baskets
  • Small containers for little parts and pieces
  • A few small jars for pencils/markers or crayons

You can go here to see some of the things that we use in our studio, in our homes and in our school in California. Don’t forget to shop for bargains at Target, Homegoods and $Tree.  Finding things at thrift stores and garage sales are a favorite too!

We found that we don’t need a lot of things because we just rotate them out  each month. So if you have a few basic trays and baskets you can reuse them each time you trade out the work so you don’t have to have a lot of expense involved.  If you do purchase things, we do really encourage good quality and things that you really like. Creating a work space for your child can be a lot like decorating your home.  And as your children get older, it’s really fun to allow them to help you with this part. 

Maria Montessori loved to use mostly basic colors when setting up learning spaces.  Things like natural wood and white wall space, allowing for the color to come mainly from pieces of artwork and from materials on the shelves.  She felt that the materials should speak to the child and draw them in, but if we have too many colors around the room, the materials may get overlooked.  We’ve tried to follow this theory in our studio as well as in our school because we see the value of bringing color in a natural way and using as many natural materials as we can.  

Of course, everybody’s homes are going to be different so that might not be possible, but if you can, find a white shelf and more wood colored trays and maybe splashes of color for containers.  We think by doing this that the simplicity of your space will shine through.  If you are local and live in Utah County, you can check out our “Poppy Shelf” which we love!  These are handmade with lots of love by our Poppy (E, E, and L’s Grandpa).  And they are super cool!  They are great to use for displaying your children’s work and fit right in with the Montessori philosophy of using natural colors.

iML Montessori Shelf

Once you have your shelf, containers, trays and baskets, you can start to arrange some of the work for your children.  Remember to keep this simple.  I have a habit of over planning and over preparing which can be great since I never run out of materials for my classes or grandchildren but honestly, you just need to stick with the basics.

Toddler Shelves: (18 months-3years) The younger your child is, the less he/she needs on their shelf.  Most toddlers are mainly interested in learning about their environment through play so just a few activities on the shelf such as:

  • Picture and vocabulary cards
  • Books 
  • Building objects
  • Animal figurines or things that go
  • Sensorial materials
  • Colors and shapes 

Any of the above mentioned materials would be perfect for a Toddler’s developmental needs.

Toddlers also love to spend time in the kitchen with you and doing all the things that you are doing in your daily practical living, so set them up to help as much as you can.

Primary Shelves: (3 – 6 years) This is a large age span, but for the most part children are beginning to be more aware of other more detailed fine motor skill activities and interested in moving towards more academic learning.  So for these shelves, we will have more of a variety of activities.  Because this is such a broad and large scope to cover, we will need to have many more writings about the specific kinds of activities you can put on these shelves and we encourage you to follow our postings as well as go through our blog for more detailed examples, but we have compiled a very general list below:

Concrete and Hands on activities based in academic areas of learning:

  • Language/Literacy Work
    • Matching work
    • Object/picture and vocabulary cards
    • 3 part learning cards
    • Story and learning books
    • Pre-literacy and literacy activities
    • Pre-writing and writing practice activities
  • Math/Numeracy Work
    • Number recognition
    • Number to object correspondence
    • Sorting & counting objects
    • Colors and shapes
  • Cultural Subjects (science, geography, botany, zoology, art and music)
    • Science
    • Geography
    • Botony
    • Zoology
    • Art
    • Music
  • Practical Life Activities
    • Individual and family cooking projects
    • Setting the table, cleaning up or restoring work to its place
    • Chores or work that contributes to the family

There are so many other things to share but we will stop here and let you begin to absorb all of the ideas and possibilities for your homes and classrooms.  We are here for your questions and would love to give you our thoughts about your own personal situations so feel free to reach out and DM us.  

Don’t forget to check out our guide of a few basic items that will get you started in preparing practical life areas for toddlers and primary children.

Happy Prepping!! 

Montessori Basics Principle #3 Part 1 – The Preparation of the Environment

Montessori Basics Principle #3 Part 1

What is the Prepared Environment?

The Montessori classroom by design is beautiful and carefully curated to bring children into an environment that is rich in learning opportunities. It is a place where independent work is encouraged and celebrated. Beautiful materials are displayed on low shelves and spaces are set up that fit little hands and bodies perfectly. The materials in these learning spaces have a specific purpose and are presented to children in a way that allows them to learn independently and at their own pace. It is by nature child-centered, child sized and promotes independence and freedom of movement.

Can you picture it? Have you seen a space like this? Do you have one already? Whether you are new to the ‘Montessori Prepared Environment’ or a seasoned veteran, we are talking specifically in this post about how to create these spaces in your own homes. It is our hope that there will be something for everyone in here. :)

As discussed in Principle #2, there are several things that make up a prepared environment. As a quick reminder, I will review some of the most important key things here.

    • Allowing for Independence: Creating an environment with activities that promote a child’s ability to be independent is the cornerstone to a Montessori environment. This means making sure children have access to their learning materials and that things are arranged in homes and classrooms so that children can reach them and use them with little to no adult help.
    • Indirect Preparation for Learning: While we prepare activities with a certain goal in mind which is called direct preparation, many activities have what we call an indirect preparation. This is an activity that will prepare a child for something else in the future. A lot of times, we isolate activities so later down the road we can combine them into one larger activity. A great example of this is cooking. Having a work that practices grating will be used down the road with other cooking skills so a child can make a complete recipe.
    • Creating Order: This is very important in a Montessori environment. Because a small child is trying to make sense out of his/her environment, it is crucial to have a place for everything which allows them to be able to process and organize in their minds. This also holds true for order and consistency of the adult in their lives and how they approach daily living. It can also refer to the order of presenting materials as well as the process for cleaning up materials and activities.
    • Choice: The Montessori environment is set up so that children can make choices from a range of activities that interests them.
    • Freedom: It is essential for children to not only be able to freely choose their work but to also have freedom to work as long as he/she wants to or not to work if he/she doesn’t want to. Children also need the freedom to work without interruptions. This of course works beautifully as long as a child’s choices don’t interfere with other children’s rights to work freely.
    • Movement: Allowing children the freedom to move about in their environment, so that he/she can come into contact with the things and people that are crucial or important to his/her personal development.
    • Control of Error/Self Correction: The Montessori environment and materials or activities should be prepared in a way that allows your child to be aware of mistakes that are made while working with a material so they can correct the error themselves. Several of our printables have a control of error built in so that children can check themselves to see if they are putting the materials together correctly. This is true of all of Maria Montessori formal works as well.

Where to Start

Trying to figure out how to get started with a Montessori home lifestyle can be daunting. There are so many people out there giving great advice on what to do and how to do it and I’m sure it can get a little confusing at times.  If you haven’t had formal Montessori training and you are a parent that wants to get started with it,  you might feel overwhelmed.  But that’s ok! And that’s why we are here to help! I want to share with you some of the things that I’ve learned and used over the past almost 30 years in my classrooms, at my school and in my home.

In a classroom or school setting, there’s lots of space for all of the Montessori shelves, learning areas and materials.  In our California School, we have shelves for each of our subjects or areas of focus and then more shelves and spaces within those that we develop for our student’s learning.  We also have several work spaces such as child sized tables/chairs and floor space for individual and group learning inside. Outdoor spaces for learning are just through a door and we have gardens as well as an outdoor classroom that encourages and promotes self discovery, learning and independence.

It would be awesome to have our homes set up as a whole Montessori learning environment and it would be an awesome goal to incorporate a full home Montessori lifestyle, but at first, it might be that you need to start out slowly.   If you are more of a veteran to Montessori, you may be ready to add several Montessori learning spaces to your home or beef up what you already have.  Wherever you are starting, here is a list of areas or learning spaces that we recommend in your homes.  Start with one of these and as you grow and learn more about the Montessori way along your Montessori journey, add more spaces.

Mostly I want you to remember here that it isn’t necessary to have a Montessori School in your home, your home is the perfect learning environment for your child.  But setting up a Montessori learning environment, one that follows Montessori philosophies is the goal.  A few inspirational words from Maria Montessori on this subject……

“We might then say that school life and family life are but two pages of the same book.  Yet in family life there is something special which the school cannot copy, which the school cannot offer.” –The Creative Development of the Child: Vol 2

Recommended Montessori Home Learning Areas and Where to Put Them!

 

      • Shelf Work………this could be in a family room or bedroom.
        In this area, you would have a shelf that would house learning materials in sensorial development or more academic areas of literacy, numeracy, cultural subjects, etc. In this photo, we show two shelves but you can just have one. I suggest about 6 different works on each shelf that are all individually held by a basket or on a tray. The key is to make sure that everything has a place so that you can initially show your child where each piece of work goes and then he/she can work independently at cleaning up and returning work to it’s home. A lot of times, we like to do shelves that have more of a thematic unit emphasis but it is not necessary at all.

Typically in our classrooms, I would have academic shelves that housed all of the subject areas and Montessori materials. Then, I would also have a thematic shelf of study that was based on students interests at the time. I have found, though, that children become pretty interested in what you put out regardless of the theme if they are developmentally ready for that particular material and it has been created with that development in mind. But make sure that you are always following the child and seeing what his/her interests are and incorporating them daily into your work, play and learning cycles.

      • Practical Life Work Area….this should be near the kitchen.
        I like the idea of using a space near the kitchen especially because in Montessori practical life work, it’s important to be able to have a space for your child where he/she can get water easily for dishwashing, cleaning or cooking, etc. and since we know that as children are learning, spills are inevitable, it’s best to be in a space that is easier to clean up.
        This would also be a space where your child can get their own drinking water and make/assemble their own snacks. This is also a great place to have materials for setting a table and utensils used for cooking or food preparation work. Here are a few examples of what that might look like.
      • Entryway or MudRoom Area…..this area is usually found by the front door or any door where you enter your house. In this area you would have a:
        • Low bench or chair for your child to sit on while putting on or taking off his/her shoes
        • Basket or place where they put their shoe
        • Low coat rack or hook to hang their jacket and
        • Place for mittens, hats or umbrellas if necessary
          If you live in a really sunny area, maybe you would have sunscreen and sunglasses in this space as well. Make it relevant to your needs of course.
      • Dressing Area…..this is usually in the bedroom. It is optimal to have a place where your child can reach his own clothes. A place to house socks, underwear, t-shirts, shorts, pants and hanging clothes. We love this beautiful wardrobe by Sprout kids. You can easily copy this idea by putting a hanging bar in a bookshelf and taking out a few shelves. We suggest only having a few choices out for your child to pick from each day. A place for one or two pairs of shoes, a few pairs of socks, underwear, 2-3 shirts and pants or shorts, etc. Keep all of the rest of your child’s clothing in a larger closet or up higher so the choices are limited. By limiting the choices, your child can more easily make decisions and the process of independence is still in tack. A win win for everyone!
      • Toilet Learning/Self Care…….this would be in a space in your bathroom. If you have a child that is at this stage in his or her development you can set up a little area where they have their potty learning toilet, toilet paper, some books and anything else they might need. If they are independently using the toilet already, the bathroom is a great place to have an area where your child can reach the sink easily on a stool to brush their teeth, comb their hair and wash their hands. You can easily set up an area where their brush, toothbrush and kleenex are accessible and easy to get to during the day as well.

We love this Self Care setup from Monti Kids.

This is a wonderful self care area from Monti Kids. We loved this so much we are creating something similar in our homes right now.

 

      • Outdoor work and play space……this would be outside of course:) Maybe you have a sunroom or an area that is right off one of your learning spaces, a door that opens up to your outdoor space or a deck, etc. where you can set up more messy play learning like sensory tubs or a mud kitchen. Any and all work is perfect for doing outdoors. You can bring your indoor work outside or just work in the garden with your children and go for walks to explore. I think the key though is to spend as much time outdoors as you can.

Organize your outdoor spaces just as you would your indoor spaces. Find ways to make your child’s outdoor tools accessible such as:
• hanging up their child sized rakes and brooms at their level
•having a shelf that has a place for their buckets, aprons and hand trowels
•designating an area for their riding toys, balls and other outdoor play equipment.

As a side note here, In addition to these areas, you can add in a shelf space for sensorial work, language, math and cultural subject activities, too. We will discuss in upcoming posts about each of the areas of Montessori but for now, just having a space where we can begin to add work is enough!

Find the Right Place
After reading through the list above, where does starting your Montessori space make sense? I actually have several learning spaces around my home for my grandchildren. One on every floor of our 3 story house. I definitely like to have a space in the kitchen for Practical Life work and I also prefer to have a space in a room where we can lay work out on the floor and then of course I have a studio that is geared towards 3-6 year olds. Honestly, I’ve seen many different ways and spaces used for Montessori shelf work so you will need to decide what works best for your family. There is no right or wrong. Remember, Montessori is a way of life, a lifestyle that is inclusive of many different ways. Once we understand the foundational premise of it, we will build from them so you are well on your way!

Montessori Workroom

Montessori Basics Guiding Principles – Structure, Organization and Simplicity in a Montessori Environment

Principle #2

Structure, Organization and Simplicity in a Montessori Environment

Step into any Montessori environment and you will see right away a few key things that stick out and are pretty universal.  You will notice the…

  • Organization
  • Order
  • Simplicity
  • Beauty and
  • Structure

Let’s Talk Organization
When small children are developing their understanding of how things work and move in their world, the Montessori environment is very grounding and directly assists with this important process.  Montessori environments are set up so that everything has a specific place and a definite purpose which is very calming to a busy mind.  Everything is child sized or has been modified so that children have access to the things they need. They can help themselves as they easily move into an independent way of thinking and doing.  Maria Montessori taught us that this independent stage, even at an early age (think as young as one years old), is normal for the child and crucial for the adult to recognize and accommodate in order for the child to properly grow and develop.  In reference to her school in Italy, Maria Montessori wrote,

“When a child is given a little leeway, he will at once shout, ’I want to do it!’ But in our schools, which have an environment adapted to children’s needs, they say, ‘Help me to do it alone.’”—Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood

Finding the Flow
Montessori children are shown early on how to organize and keep their environment. They quickly feel at home and at peace because of the organization.  It reminds me of Feng Shui….are you familiar with this? On the blog, “the Spruce,” they give a definition for Fung Shui that resonates with us. They say, Montessori Shelf“it is a practice of arranging the pieces in living spaces in order to create balance with the natural world. The goal is to harness energy forces and establish harmony between an individual and their environment.” Makes sense doesn’t it? Think on it a bit.

By creating an orderly, inviting play and work space for your child you will help them to establish harmony between ‘themselves and their environment.’  Wouldn’t this bring you peace and harmony as well?  I know it does for me.  My energy flows so much better and deeper when I’m working in an organized space and children are no different.  When children’s toys and work are all over the floor with no real defined place for them to go, our children miss the “flow” that  comes from defined and organized spaces.  It has been my experience over the years that organization can help bring about a peaceful and calm learning space.  If you have ever observed a Montessori classroom or home environment in session you have seen evidence of this structure and flow.

Experiences in Their Environment
Montessori EnvironmentMontessori children are naturally drawn to the materials in their environment and how to use them, as well as the organization. They begin early on emulating what they see a parent or older siblings do as members of a household or students in a classroom. They are eager to learn how things work and how to purposely use them. Presenting a material to a child, then allowing them to work with the material is very satisfying for them. Modeling daily living such as cleaning, cooking, and care of self makes the child want to do what you are doing. It is up to us as the adult to provide the opportunities for children to practice these skills. There is no better place than in the home to make this happen.

“Children acquire knowledge through experience in the environment.” –Maria Montessori, The 1946 London Lectures

Simplicity and Structure
One of the things that drew me to Montessori was the peaceful, mindful, organized and structured environment. I loved the idea of preparing an environment based on a child’s needs and simplifying the content in a way that would ring true for each individual child in the environment.

The structure is not about control, but providing an environment where the child is free to move about and make choices within limits.  The order of it all has a purpose and the simplicity of the Montessori way of life brings peace.

Montessori environments are simple in the decor. While they are colorful, the colors mainly come from the materials which are made from natural earth elements such as wood, glass, metal, rocks, porcelain, paper, etc. You will notice the use of artwork: maps and photos of things representing cultural studies and things that have been brought in from nature like seashells, rocks, stones, flowers, etc. You will not notice a lot of plastic toys, if any at all. This is because Maria Montessori believed that children, especially who are young and trying to make sense of their world, need real objects to gather their information from. While I personally feel that ‘toys’ have their purpose, I also feel that they will best serve our children if they are more realistic in scope and made from natural materials.

We try to keep Montessori environments free of clutter especially for younger children who are in their early formative years. Montessori recognized that there is no need for massive amounts of work or toys. If there are too many things in general or too many fantasy type things it can be very overwhelming for a child to navigate so we keep things a little more simplistic and realistic and add more to the environment as children get older and have different needs based on our observations of them.

How Much Stuff is Enough?
Do you have too many things in your child’s environment? If you are finding toys and work all over the floor each day, and children resistant to cleaning up, you might have too many choices. Helping children to focus on 4-6 works or activities is really enough. Of course this number changes if you are in a classroom setting, but for the purposes here I will be addressing more of the one on one home environment. During a daily work cycle, 4-6 activities will allow a child to spend more time on one thing, which helps them in developing their sense of concentration. The development of a child’s ability to concentrate is important for learning academically. When a child has a room full of baskets of toys and shelves of playthings, it can be very overwhelming, which can cause a child to become over stimulated. This can lead to undesired behaviors, meltdowns and of course this means less time practicing important concentration skills.

“At some given moment it happens that the child becomes deeply interested in a piece of work; we see it in the expression on his face, his intense concentration, the devotion to the exercise.”—Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child

In our next segment on “The Prepared Environment”, we will dive deeper into how to get started on preparing your home and school environment and how to store, rotate and organize your child’s materials and toys.

Montessori Materials
Maria Montessori is known for the beautiful, didactic materials that she developed for her classrooms.  Montessori classrooms around the world are filled with these materials and they are not only beautifully made, but they were created to offer order to children while engaging in important foundational academic, social and mental work.

Geometric Solids Shapes Geometric Shapes Montessori

It’s important to note that in a homeschool environment it isn’t always feasible to have these materials (they can be very expensive) and honestly, they aren’t completely necessary.  There are so many ways that you can provide a more Montessori inspired work to your children and in return still provide them with much of the same foundational growth! But if you can afford or want to add any of the formal Montessori materials to your child’s work studio, you can find them at places such as these: Nienhuis Montessori or Gonzagarredi Montessori. For a less expensive sourcing you can use one of these places. Alison’s Montessori, Montessori Outlet, or Kid Advance.

We have used all of these companies while curating materials for our homes and schools and we will talk about the pros and cons of both the more expensive versus the less expensive materials in a future post, so stay tuned for that.

You can also read more about Montessori Materials and Toys in a previous post about gift giving here.

In Montessori, learning is characterized by joyful work and purposeful play. A few well made materials and containers that can be used for a wide range of learning activities and reused to house new materials, is really all that is needed. Your supply of materials will grow over time because that is human nature but honestly, you will be happy to know that “less is more” in a Montessori Environment. I think the main thing to take away is the kinds of things you keep in your child’s work or play space is the key…..not how much you keep.

Bring Nature Inside But Go Outside Too
Having live plants and trinkets collected by your children on walks or hikes adds so much to our indoor spaces. For those of you that can, we suggest pets in your learning spaces as well. Having pieces of nature inside just adds so much to that peaceful feng shui feeling and it offers other learning opportunities for your children, too. So when you can, bring the outdoors…..well in!

Do your children bang on the back patio window from the time they can barely walk and say over and over again, “outside, outside”? I can almost bet they do and mine did as well. While we always had a full classroom environment set up in our home and our children loved working there, their absolute favorite place to be was outside!  We notice such a sense of concentration while children are outside.  They are free to move from activity to activity and explore their natural environment.  My favorite seasons of the year have always been fall and spring when the weather is perfect and doors to classrooms and homes can be left open connecting the indoor environment to the outdoor spaces, allowing children to free flow between both. Seriously……..Heaven on earth!

Have you heard of the 1000 hours Outside Challenge? As stated on their website, “The entire purpose of 1000 Hours Outside is to attempt to match nature time with screen time. If kids can consume media through screens 1200 hours a year on average, then the time is there and at least some of it can and should be shifted towards a more productive and healthy outcome!” You can find great resources at 1000 Hours Outside.

“When children come into contact with nature they reveal their strength”-Maria Montessori

I will be honest, our outside spaces at our California school are some of my favorites.  While we are in the city limits, we have several large outdoor play spaces, a large garden and an outdoor classroom.  The garden and outdoor classroom are the sweet spot for me.  I love to watch our students absorb all that nature has to offer outside and work in our outdoor classroom (which is set up like an indoor class) but children get the added benefit of working out in nature. It really is unique and special!

Time outside ignites student curiosity and engagement with their learning. Nature-based education uses a hands-on approach to experiencing the natural world. Nature-based education is learning about nature, and also learning through nature. Through active work and learning play in natural environments, children learn about themselves, their peers, and the world in which they live.

Getting children outside and into nature is a daily MUST! This was so important to Maria Montessori that she made sure that her schools were equipped with a lot of outside space, and she allowed the children ample amounts of time for daily work in the gardens.

Rhythms for Families and Classrooms
Creating a “home or family rhythm” is important for harmony and balance and it can be similar in scope to a routine that we would set at school.  Children of all ages, especially Toddlers and Preschool children, thrive on consistency and routine.  I realize that it might seem difficult to set up a home routine that complements a school routine, but just keep in mind that the “what” of the routine isn’t as important as the “consistency” of the routine.

A family routine will look different for each family.  And honestly there is no right or wrong.  It’s just about figuring out and working through what is best for your crew.

We have a whole post that talks about how to establish a daily family or classroom rhythm that you can access here. We will give you ideas on how to do it and we list resources as well.  We are also including our favorite Routine cards for FREE that can be used in classrooms and homes alike.  If you haven’t tried using Routine Cards in your classrooms and homes, you really should.  Children love knowing what the “plan is for the day” and when they can see it listed by pictures (as ours are) or in writing, it becomes a big part of creating a place of order and organization.

Because of this organization, simplicity and structure, you will find that most Montessori environments are very beautiful and refreshing.  Montessori Practical LifeIt takes a little bit to get these spaces ready and it may take time to see the difference or understand why we suggest such simplicity and so few activities available, but once you do, it is such a joy to be in that space for both children and adults.  The care of the environment both inside and outside which we will discuss in a later article becomes important to the child.  They can see how beautiful the space is and I believe it drives them to want to respect their place of living.

Stay tuned for next week where we will explain how to get your spaces ready for learning in “The Prepared Environment” segment.

We covered a lot this week! There is so much to absorb, digest and think on.  We are here if you have questions and we will continue all week long to break down each area that we covered with more details so hopefully it will be helpful.  We are excited for you as you start along or recenter your Montessori journeys!  And don’t forget your self-care this week!

Montessori Basics Guiding Principles- Personal & Spiritual Preparation

A Montessori Journey

Starting out on a Montessori teaching journey can be a little overwhelming. It probably feels like there is a lot to learn and begin to understand. Even veteran teachers continue to study and learn about the many facets of Maria Montessori’s Method for teaching and guiding children well into their own Montessori teaching careers. With that said, your own personal journey of learning when broken down into smaller sections is very obtainable. We’ve heard from several of you that you don’t know where to start and you might need some help so we wanted to let you know that we have got you covered! We are happy to say that as promised, our Montessori Basics series is here! We will be spending the next 8 weeks sharing with you several principles that we have collated from the many principles of Montessori that we think will help guide you as you start or even continue your personal Montessori journeys. So without further ado, let’s get started!

As a quick reminder, these are the areas that we will be covering over the next several weeks.

•Personal & Spiritual Preparation
•Structure, Organization, & Simplicity
•Preparation of the Environment
•Seeing the Child and Learning as a Whole
•Following the Child through Observation
•Positive Discipline & Freedom of Movement
•Encouraging Independence

Today, we start at the beginning……“The Spiritual and Personal Preparation of the parent or guide”

Principle #1

Spiritual & Personal Preparation
Probably the most important principle of Montessori Education to embrace is that of the “Preparation of the Teacher.” This is not just for teachers in formal school settings but for parents and caregivers as well since we all are here to guide and assist our children and students in their various learning settings.
Before we even worry about the curriculum and preparation of the learning environment, we must prepare ourselves personally and spiritually so that we can provide the most effective ways to guide our children in all areas of their development.

“The real preparation for education is a study of one’s self. The training of the teacher who is to help life is something far more than the learning of ideas. It includes the training of character, it is a preparation of the spirit.” —Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

You might be wondering what that means. How does one prepare themselves personally and spiritually to teach and why is it important? Let me explain:

Maria Montessori felt that before we can start our time as teachers, first we need to carefully consider our thought patterns and beliefs about children and their behaviors, recognize in ourselves our own limitations and prejudices and also be keenly aware of our negativities.

What is Your Parenting Style?
Most of us parent and teach how we were parented and taught. Sometimes this is a great thing. Many times it isn’t. Ask yourself what type of style did your parents or caregivers have when guiding you in your formative years? Was it authoritarian or disciplinarian, permissive or indulgent, uninvolved or maybe even authoritative? Anyone of these styles are common. Maybe you were really lucky and you were governed by a more “Montessori inspired” plan, but for most people, we fall into one of the above four categories. If this pertains to you and even if it doesn’t, we still need to take the time to examine how our beliefs and thought patterns for raising and disciplining children were formed and how that aligns with our thought patterns now.

Because Montessori is rooted deeply in ideas such as freedom of movement (which will be discussed in a later post), respect for the child and peaceful modeling of behaviors, it is important to be aware of how we work with children, prejudices that we might have towards children that might affect the way that we guide and teach and that might in the end be problematic for our children and students.

We all want the same things for our kids. We want them to be happy, to feel loved, to have security and safety and grow to be adults who are peaceful, love others and contribute to society. So when we take the time to examine our feelings, our beliefs, our own faults and imperfections then set out to change those for the benefit of our children, we truly give them power to grow in amazing ways!

Now don’t get me wrong! I understand that we are all imperfect! We cannot and will not be a perfect parent to our children or students everyday, but I promise with a little introspection and desire to do our best, we can have perfect moments with our children as we learn together how to become the best versions of ourselves! As we are awakened to our limiting beliefs and how it affects our children, we can open new doors of possibility for growth and development for the child and adult!

Becoming Less Controlling and More Controlled in our Approach
Maria Montessori also taught that we need to learn to give up our own need to control and learn ways to support children along their own individual learning path.

Again, ask yourself, “Am I controlling in my ways with my children? Do I seek perfection in the process? Do I allow my child or student to do things on his or her own even if it’s messy or done in a way that I think is not correct?” If you answer yes to any or all of these, it would be important to stop and figure out a way that you can learn to be a presence that allows children more gentle guidance and less control. As we recognize that the process of the activity a child is doing is far more important than the result, we truly empower our children. Allowing the process to take center stage will do more for your child’s or students’ growth as far as building confidence and independence than they could ever reach if we control every aspect of their learning.

“Free the child’s potential and you will transform him into the world.”
Maria Montessori

Respect
Another key component in working with children is the understanding and importance of treating the child with humility and even reverence. It is important to note that the relationship we have with our children and students depends upon the way we approach and treat them. (we will learn about this more in another segment) but think on this idea a little. When we recognize the child as a human spirit equal to us in value, we will tend to see the importance of being a better example in our actions.

When I was a new teacher many years ago, I witnessed another teacher get frustrated with a child because he was not using a material correctly. To be fair, the child was acting out quite a bit. But the teacher’s reaction kind of surprised me. Quickly and unexpectedly, the teacher grabbed the material out of the child’s hands and he began to cry. I thought about the injustice of that experience a lot and when a few years later I had opened my own school, I used it as an example of what not to do with a child. I actually did a little experiment during one of my staff workshops where out of the blue I snatched a teacher’s pencil from her hand. You can imagine everyone’s shock and confusion wondering what I was doing. I went on to apologize of course and asked how this made the teacher feel. She said, “I felt shocked and embarrassed. I couldn’t figure out what I had done wrong.” I used this abrupt action to show what it might feel like to a child when we take things from them because they are being unruly or maybe they are using a material inappropriately or maybe because we are in a hurry and want to change directions, etc.

We should always ask a child’s permission before acting upon a child. Unfortunately, we forget this sometimes. Things as simple as, “May I touch your work?” or “May I help you with your shoes?”, shows our respect and in turn teaches the child how to respect us and others as well.

“Children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their innocence and of the greater possibilities of their future… Let us treat them with all the kindness which we would wish to help to develop in them.” – Maria Montessori

Using a soft voice and creating an environment of peace are other ways we can show reverence and respect for our children. I know, I know, this is in a perfect world but I truly believe that if we take the time to nurture ourselves and prepare ourselves for the big task of teaching/guiding, we will be better equipped to handle different situations as they come along with patience, kindness, understanding and love. This will take practice, but “practice makes perfect,” right?

Spiritual Preparation
Preparing yourself spiritually to be the best version of yourself might sound a little overwhelming but it can be done in so many simple ways. Honestly, most of us work on this often because it’s human nature to want to progress, to want to do better and to have the desire to be better each day. Don’t worry about spending hours and days ahead of time trying to figure things out. Instead, be aware that you are going on a journey with your child and you may have preconceived thoughts or notions of what it all should look like, but in truth you are going to grow together as you take time to nurture yourself along the way so that you are prepared to honor and nurture your child too.

What things do you find deeply meaningful? What things do you do that connects with your heart and grounds you to earth? When we are grounded and connected, we will naturally bring peace to our learning environments and we will be able to nurture our students and children in a way that is meaningful and supportive of them as well.

Here is a little list that we’ve compiled of things that we use that allows us to prepare for our roles as our children’s teaching guides. While I’m sure there are so many other ways, we hope this list might get you started thinking about what brings you peace.

•Spending time in Nature
•Meditation/Prayer
•Yoga, Tai Chi, Pilates, Dance
•Journaling
•Reading Poetry
•Creating
•Walking or Running
•Listening to or Playing Peaceful Music
•Being Silent (listen to your inner spirit)
•Reflecting (what do you know about yourself? What do you want to learn?)
•Deep Breathing

It’s all about the Breathing!
I have often shared with our staff at Children’s House the importance of arriving to work a few minutes early each day so they can take some time to ground themselves through some simple deep breathing exercises or simple meditation moments. Before I started our school, I taught public school for a few years. During these important learning years in my early career, I quickly found the value of grounding myself daily with simple breathing. Deep cleansing breaths can make a huge difference in how we approach our day. It’s a great idea to take these breaths throughout the day as well.

Takes moments each day to do breathing exercises. Teach your children to do the same. It can be used for calming down, regulating behavior, or just to reinvigorate oneself during the day.

In the classroom and with our children, we like to do regular breathing breaks. The children always remind us when it is time to take a breathing break and some even enjoy leading the class and their siblings in doing so. Don’t underestimate the power of breathing! :)

Material & Technical Preparation
Another important aspect of preparation is being prepared with the work or materials that you will be placing on shelves and presenting to your child or students. If you are like me, you have a lot of fun creating work and putting learning activities together, but before we put the material out, we should spend some time working and practicing with it so that we are sure it has all the necessary components needed. We should know the intricacies of the work and the potential interest that our child might have for it.

Technical preparation is in reference to the Montessori Materials developed by Maria Montessori in particular although it also can refer to any materials that you or someone else prepares for your child. It is important to have a sound understanding and knowledge of and the aim of each material. Through this understanding and your observations of your child, it will be clear on what material to present and when. A few important things to learn about presenting Montessori lessons are: how to present a three-period lesson; the importance of using controls of error; using minimal words when giving lessons; and how to maintain your child’s interest. We will be discussing all of these things in further posts so stay tuned for that information soon.

It is Most Important!
While all of this preparation might not seem super important or even necessary to some because, let’s face it, you are just excited to delve into the more social and academic areas of your child’s learning, I promise you it is the MOST important aspect of your teaching/homeschooling journey that you will do. I encourage you to find the time to nurture yourself while reflecting on your thought patterns regarding children and their learning. If needed, make some positive changes in yourself so you are free to allow your child to guide you and themselves along their learning journey as well! This kind of teaching, the Montessori way of guiding a child’s learning, is really rewarding!

We have included a set of FREE Yoga Cards that you can practice first yourself and then introduce to your child. We have also provided a set of FREE Positive Affirmation Cards. Again, use these yourself and share with your children. They are a step in the right direction when preparing yourself daily! Let us know how the journey goes! We welcome all of your questions and look forward to dialoguing with you as we continue to grow ourselves!