Deciding to homeschool my rising kindergartener a few months ago, I’ve spent every week since then oscillating between vastly different plans for my initial homeschool setup. Should there be a set time that we do specific subjects? Should we have no curriculum plans at all, and just follow interests? Should we focus on learning skills that are a struggle? Or should we focus just on strengths?
During all this questioning, I made another decision: to homeschool my three-year-old as well. This led me to realize (a bit slow) that my educational training includes three-year-olds, and that I already have an educational style: Montessori! I have a small house, so I previously thought we just didn’t have the space for Montessori materials. Traditionally, Montessori materials are organized on open trays, spaces out liberally on a dozen low wooden shelves. Students are able to easily see all the materials, and thus enabled to choose their own work independently. We have room for only one shelf at my house — how could we do that?!?
First, I realized that although there are one hundred different “works” in a Montessori classroom, only half a dozen of those are the right level and of interest to any individual student. Since there is just a 2:1 student:adult ratio in my classroom, I can observe all my students work, and know exactly what work is meeting their needs at any given time. Thus, I setup five works for each student that fit their skills right now with the plan of switching out a work as soon as I observe it’s not meeting their needs.
Second, I bought a lot of plastic. Not beautiful, I know, but plastic bins contain the materials in the chaos of a home environment, and they are easy to stack, which means I can fit all ten works on a tiny shelf (actually, a repurposed shoe rack!).
The contents of our work bins are about half Montessori work, and half work that I have made up to meet current needs. I’m an eclectic homeschooler. Since every person is so different, I believe pulling from multiple sources is the easiest way to find materials that work for particular individuals. But we keep Montessori-style at the heart of our setup by 1) allowing the children the freedom to choose their own work, and 2) setting up an environment that enables them to meet their needs.