As we enter week one million of staying safe inside our homes, I am finding a rhythm that almost feels comfortable. Sure, my children are often in pajamas and all surfaces in my home are now littered with art supplies. But by and large, my family is healthy, with minimal freak-outs, and we are somewhere approximate to sane.
With no end in sight to these long days, I’m here to virtually raise a glass to you, amazing parents, for making it through another day. You deserve a round of applause for keeping little ones feeling safe and loved while also weathering this storm the best way you know how.
None of this is easy, and there are no guidebooks to help us navigate the world we find ourselves in. However, as I’m learning, the Montessori educational method is a pretty good start. Borrowing ideas from this century-old philosophy, moms the world over can find sanity-saving advice for keeping the peace and finding balance within their homes—global health crisis or not.
Here’s what the Montessori method can teach parents who are cooped up at home.
Respect for Your Child
It isn’t often that we hear of adults called to respect the children in their lives—but this is a major tenant of the Montessori approach. At home, showing a genuine respect for your little ones might be as simple as listening intently, choosing kind words, and granting children grace during this hectic, confusing, and scary moment in their lives.
Treating kids with respect is a wonderful way to model the type of behavior you’d like to see—and in turn, it helps kids feel valued and confident in themselves. When we show our children the respect we expect to receive from others, we also nudge our homes toward a more peaceful day-to-day experience. Isn’t that what we all need right now anyway?
Respect for Nature
This educational philosophy teaches children a deep admiration and respect for the natural world. At school, Montessori kids often take their learning out into the neighborhood—exploring and discovering as they go. At home, you can unleash your little one into the wild of your backyard and let them blow off steam, run off extra energy, and engage their natural curiosities.
Young kids can blow bubbles, kick a ball, and play chase. Older children can embark on scientific discoveries, hunting for the first signs of spring or observing birds, bugs, or squirrels in their habitats. Outdoor play can have enormous mental health benefits for children, especially during this stressful time.
A Sense of Order
Montessori classrooms thrive on simplicity and order. All activities—or works, as they’re called in school—are organized and easily accessible on open shelving. Every work has its own place and children know where each item belongs.
While I admire this approach, as a maximalist, it’s not one I have ever rushed to embrace—until now. You see, my children, if left to their own devices, will gleefully empty cabinets and toy boxes onto the floor and then wade around in their own destruction until I have had enough. Well, I’ve had enough.
Now that everyone is home, we need a more streamlined system, and I am looking to Montessori to save the day. Copying the classroom approach, I have packed away nearly half my children’s toys and left them with barely populated shelves. Of course, they have the toys and games that interest and excite them and when they need a change, we have toys aplenty waiting in the wings.
Maria Montessori, the creator behind the school philosophy, believed that young children have what she coined “absorbent minds.” According to her, little ones have the incredible capacity to absorb new concepts and ideas from their daily lives. The good news for you? Formal homeschooling is not required to encourage your child to flex this amazing skill.
With an open, absorbent mind, a child can interpret anything as a moment to learn. Everything is a lesson, and our kids are looking to us to lead by example, teaching them how to grow into the larger world.
Follow the Child
Hang around any Montessori teachers long enough, and you will uncover a common phrase: follow the child. In the classroom, teachers are quiet observers, making room for students to discover and learn at their own pace. Each child, with some guidance, is encouraged to follow their own curiosity—choosing what they would like to work on each day.
At home, you can borrow this approach by giving your kid freedom within reason to choose their activity and execute it their own way. Resist the urge to swoop in and steer their play; instead, allow them the chance to make mistakes and correct them on their own. In this way, you are offering your little one the invaluable opportunity to shore up their self-esteem, letting them know you believe in their abilities and have faith they can work independently.
Believe They Can Do It
Montessori classrooms are big on building practical life skills—which, as a Montessori parent, is pretty amazing to see play out at home. At school, children fix their own snacks, pour themselves water, wash their dishes, clean up their own messes, take out garbage, water plants, and more. Again proving that everything in our daily life can be a lesson, Montessori kids learn responsibility for themselves and the space around them.
There has never been a more pressing moment to have your child help out at home. You need a few moments of your own and your little one can learn to prep a snack safely or put on their own clothes. If giving your kid more responsibility is new to your family, start slow. Do as the Montessori teachers do: demonstrate an activity by breaking it down into simple steps. Then, stand by with reminders as your child seeks to do it on their own.