Q&A: Montessori Philosophy and Lessons, with a sprinkling of controversy Part I

Yay!  Another Q&A post!  I don’t know why I love these so much, but I do!  So, bring on your questions!  My friend Erin, after reading this blog recently, e-mailed me a long list of questions.  With her permission for them to be used in the blog, here they are…

At ages 4 and 2, is it too late to start the Montessori life/teaching ways?

Absolutely not!  If you were looking at starting them in a Montessori school, those would be pretty much perfect ages.  The ideal age to start in a Montessori school is 3 years old.  By age 6, most Montessori schools highly restrict which children they allow in.  Children who have not been in a Montessori environment prior to then have missed out on so many of the fundamentals, it’s very difficult for them to catch up.

At home, obviously, you have a different situation entirely.  You can do the whole Montessori set-up with all the specific lessons, but honestly, I think that’s way too much hassle if you don’t have Montessori training.  I personally don’t plan to continue with dedicated Montessori teaching once my children are in elementary school.  I don’t have that training, and the materials can be SO expensive!  I’ll pull in some Montessori lessons here and there, but won’t attempt to do the full Montessori elementary curriculum.

Instead of worrying about doing all the official Montessori lessons, I would focus on incorporating more general aspects of Montessori philosophy.

*Give your children choices.  One example with your two-year-old is to set out two outfits each evening, so that in the morning, she can make the choice of what to wear. Two options is the ideal number for a two-year-old; more than that can be overwhelming.  For my four-year-old, I usually still keep it limited to three choices.

(Mr. BANG’s options for tomorrow.  And, yes, that truly is representative of how neatly I fold.  😉 )

*Allow your children to develop independence.  My two-year-old (almost three) now selects his outfit in the morning, then sits on the potty and puts on his underwear and clothes.  By the time he comes downstairs, he’s dressed and ready for the day!  This can be difficult for moms because we want to be needed and we want our precious babies to stay little.  But it’s so important for the children!

*Really respect your children and see them as real people.  Listen to them and take their words and emotions seriously. When one of my children suddenly gets upset, I stop what I’m doing, get eye-to-eye with the child, and calmly talk to the child: “I hear that you’re crying.  You seem to be upset about something.  I would like to be able to help.  Can you tell me what happened?”  If they continue crying while talking to me, I let them know, “I want to be able to help, but I can’t understand while you’re crying.  Can you stop crying so that I can understand you?”  Their answer usually leads me to the next point…

*Intentionally teach them appropriate words to say and how to do basic skills. A large percentage of the time, the tears are over not knowing how to handle a conflict with Sibling or not being able to do something he wants to do by himself.  I particularly spend a lot of time providing words for them to say to each other.  (In Montessori, these lessons are called Grace and Courtesy.)  It’s encouraging to see that more and more frequently, they are remembering those words and don’t need me to walk them through the conflict.  One that I’ve walked them through many, many times is when one child is playing a game involving the other, when the other doesn’t want to play.  For instance, yesterday during lunch, Drama Queen started playing a favorite game of theirs where they say “boom” and “bang” to each other a lot.  I think she was saying, “I put a boom on your head” or something to that effect.  (Yes, they ARE 2 and 4!)  There have been many times in the past where this kind of thing would happen, and Mr. BANG would start wailing that he didn’t want her to say that.  This time, however, he was able to remember all the times I calmly walked him through how to talk with Drama Queen about it.  He calmly said to her, “I don’t want to play that game right now.”  She responded as I have taught her, and simply said, “Okay.”  Then she asked him about playing a different game.  I think this time he said yes;  other times he answers, “No, thank you.”  They were able to have a peaceful lunch because they had learned what words to use in that situation.

As for basic skills, some early Practical Life lessons in a Montessori class are things like Carrying a Chair and Blowing Your Nose.  Those things seem so easy and obvious to us, but they’re not to a young child.  Children really benefit from someone taking the time to teach them how to properly carry out those basic actions.

I’m probably leaving out some great aspects of Montessori philosophy to incorporate into your home, but those come to the top of my mind.

How do you decide how to eliminate toys and rotate them?

I think I pretty much answered that in my previous Q&A post, but let me know if there’s a detail I didn’t include there.  I will mention that I really prefer toys where the children provide the imagination and creativity to make the toys do things.  Plastic, battery-operated toys pretty much don’t exist in my home.

We currently don’t keep toys in the kids bedrooms.  Only a bed, books, and their lovey for sleeping.  Do you recommend toys in the kids rooms? 

I don’t know if there’s any specific Montessori recommendation on that.  Well, maybe I’ll take that back.  Any Montessori resource I’ve ever read that includes comments on a child’s bedroom specifically talks about having a low shelf with just a few toys.  But I would say that if you JUST want the child’s room to be for sleeping, that’s perfectly fine to not have toys in there.  For us, we don’t have a problem with the kids playing for awhile before falling asleep.  Also, they are required to stay in their rooms until 7am, even if they wake up earlier than then.  So we always keep toys in their rooms (unless we’ve taken them out as a consequence of a misbehavior.)

(Drama Queen surrounded by various toys and books cluttering her bed, nightstand, and floor.  She has informed me that where Belle and Mickey are sticking out is a house – one house – and they are looking out different windows.)

We’ll finish up this Q&A two-part post by dealing with where I get lesson plans, the controversial kids-and-t.v. topic, entertaining a 2YO while teaching a 4YO, naps, and that elusive thing called sanity.  See you tomorrow!

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8 thoughts on “Q&A: Montessori Philosophy and Lessons, with a sprinkling of controversy Part I

  1. Great stuff! I wish I would have known more about this several years ago. I have a seven year old that is almost completely dependent on me. I’m beginning to get frustrated trying to teach her to do some things on her own. Even though she is older, I’m going to incorporate some of this in my home. I have to start somewhere, and it is good timing for my three year old.

    • Wow, Jason, I feel honored that something I wrote is helpful to you! Good luck with those girls! And yes, I think you definitely make a big difference with a 7-year-old. That’s still young enough to adapt to new ways fairly easily.

  2. I am so blessed by your taking time to spend on these posts Jenny, thank you so much. I sure wish my parents had known about Montessori. I’m crazy for the idea of a 3 year old getting themselves ready for the day … however, if I should ever have one, please don’t hold it against me if I write you in tears that I am failing to carry out that ‘giving over’ of power. These concepts give me great hope that having kids doesn’t have to be a complete loss of all order and serenity (well, at least not forever). I hope you will review some of the books/authors you respect on the subjects as you get a chance. Blessings over you and your house.

    • You know what, Laura, as a mom, you WILL collapse in tears at times. You WILL fail at living up the standards you have set for yourself. I know I’ve done it many times, and every mom I’ve talked to has said the same. People always say that there’s no class for parenting. Well, I feel like I did get a degree in parenting – my three-year Montessori training. But that’s all theory. Real life just is not as pretty as theory. You learn from your mistakes as best you can and pray through it all.

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