The Montessori method of education has been around for almost 100 years without much change, and there’s a good reason why—it focuses on nurturing the inherent gifts of children and sees them as capable, sufficient, and curious beings.
Lately, though, the method has caught fire as educational researchers confirm more and more that children learn best through exploration and discovery, rather than traditional, adult-directed education. There are many more resources now on how to utilize the Montessori method in your home – from setting up a child-centered space to implementing the philosophy in your parenting to setting up and selecting toys that promote open-ended play.
If you are interested in implementing the Montessori philosophy in your home, there are a few things you might need to best promote independence with your tiniest tot. Here are a few tips to get you started.
The kitchen is a great place to create opportunities for independence and self-suffiency. The Montessori method encourages learning towers and stools to get kids on level where all the excitement is happening–when they feel involved and can see what’s going on, they’re better able to learn things like how food is prepped and made, and how work goes into making meals. They’re also able to help out, which little kids just love to do.
The Montessori method also encourages using “real” silverware, plates, bowls, and cups–typically glass. The idea behind this is that children learn to respect and care for the items in the manner in which they deserve; if they’re given unbreakables all the time, they won’t learn the natural consequence of throwing a real plate or cup. Using “real” vehicles for their food also respects them as a part of the family.
Keeping snack containers on lower shelves and reachable for small hands allows children to help themselves when it comes to food. And having tiny pitchers available with small glasses can let kids pour themselves a drink when thirst hits (keep a stack of cloth napkins closeby for easy cleanup–and teach them how to use them!).
The Bedroom/Play Areas
Montessori-inspired bedrooms and play areas typically involve a few key components. Floor beds are encouraged to get kids accustomed to climbing in and out of bed on their own. Child-height closets and clothes drawers let children choose their own clothes and get dressed on their own. Accessible bins and baskets corral everything from socks, stuffed animals, winter accessories, bathing suits, and pajamas. The idea here is ease for children and an emphasis on ability over things like cute, put-together outfits. If you want them to be independent, you have to let them be independent.
Play areas usually have low open-shelving for toys and activities and bookshelves with outward-facing books so kids can see what they are choosing. Fewer is better in these regards, as too much stuff will clutter and overwhelm young children, especially when it comes to cleaning up.
Opportunities for independence should follow kids into the bathroom, where things like faucet and lightswitch extenders will help them manage small tasks on their own. Stools, of course, are typically needed everywhere too.
Toilet learning, in the Montessori method, starts early–where babies as young as 12-14 months begin learning how to sit on the toilet. Of course, this doesn’t mean they’ll be toilet-trained this early. It’s a longer process in the Montessori system than the typical three-day method that is popular in modern parenting. Children are gradually introduced to toileting and given space and practice to learn the method on their own as they grow older and abler. Beginning a routine where you pop your toddler on the potty seat at a young age to familiarize them with the seat can go a long way in being emotionally ready at the same time as their bodies are physically ready.