Home Care · Ones and Twos · Threes to Sixes

Following the Child

When I have someone over to my house who knows a bit about Montessori, they often observe my elder child and comment something like, “Oh, he’s clearly a Montessori kid!” He doesn’t go to Montessori school, and we don’t have any of the classic Montessori materials out, so what brings guests to this conclusion?

For the last six plus months, I’ve been exhausted caring for my new little one in addition to the old little one, and I’ve felt like I haven’t really been doing Montessori at home. For the most part, I haven’t been creating materials, putting together special works, or carefully presenting how to do things with my 2.5-year-old. I still carry him up the stairs and put his shoes on. So what exactly are people noticing?

Thinking about this question has made me remember that Montessori is as much a way-of-being as it is a set of materials. My Montessori training drilled into me the idea of “following the child.” Montessori found through research that when left to themselves, children tend to seek out the work that meets their ´┐╝needs. And when children are allowed to choose their own work, they will focus deeply on it, gaining great satisfaction and furthering their natural development. These are some of the really beautiful ideas of Montessori, and they are easy to incorporate into the home by simply expecting your child to choose their own activity.

It takes real thoughtful effort, but I try to never suggest activities to my children (excepting eating, sleeping…). Sometimes I announce to them that there is a new material available, but I try not to suggest that they do it. And when they are doing something, I try really really really hard to not interrupt them. My (big) little one has no expectation of me suggesting an activity, which really frees him to make his own choices that meet his needs. His choice does often include me, which I’m ok with, but I think that letting him do the choosing is very powerful. After all I make no claim to understand what is going on inside his crazy little toddler brain; he’s really the only one with the knowledge to pick an activity that meets his needs of the moment.

So what makes my kid “look Montessori,” I think it’s our simple but strict way of playing:

  1. We choose our own work (also known as play)
  2. We use the materials in a safe, non-damaging manner
  3. We clean-up when we’re done

Now that I’ve reflected on it, it’s pretty much a slightly less strict version of how children are expected to act in a Montessori classroom. And I find it is also beautiful and rewarding at home!

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