In general, I would consider myself a “reader.” I’ve always possessed a deep love of books and even worked in a public library for seven years while in high school and college. That being said, I’m not a fast reader. So I try to be pretty deliberate about which books I choose to spend my time on. As the moms reading this already know, there are tons of books written for parents. And it can be difficult to discern which ones are a hidden treasure and which are just kind of “OK.” One book that drew me in—and has since changed my parenting journey for the better—is The Montessori Toddler: A Guide to Raising a Curious and Responsible Human Being by Simone Davies.
I first picked the book up around the time my son (my first child) was a year old. I’d heard the term “terrible twos” enough to know that I was about to enter a world of child development I was wholly unprepared for. I was hoping the book would put me in a healthy and productive state of mind as my son grew into his toddlerhood. And it did!
What is the Montessori Method?
As a teaching method, Montessori relies heavily on hands-on learning, collaborative play, and the instruction and training of real-world skills. The methodology was created by Italian educator and physician Dr. Maria Montessori over 100 ago in 1906 and is still very popular today. After learning a bit about the practices encouraged through Montessori (ie: encourage your kid to be independent) and the projected outcome (a child who is curious, confident, and self-sufficient) I was personally hooked.
While the Montessori education philosophy has numerous facets that weave together to make it a holistic lifestyle, the American Montessori Society boils down the purpose of this methodology to the following: The Montessori Method fosters rigorous, self-motivated growth for children and adolescents in all areas of their development—cognitive, emotional, social, and physical.
The Montessori Method fosters rigorous, self-motivated growth for children and adolescents in all areas of their development—cognitive, emotional, social, and physical.
I’m far from a strict follower (I am only human) but here’s how The Montessori Toddler shaped my parenting and how we’re following the Montessori Method this summer.
Montessori Summer Activities
I’m thankful that both of my children go to daycare. However, between daycare having limited hours over the summer, and a number of long weekends and family trips on our warm-weather agenda, I know I’ll be spending a bit more time than usual with my toddler and baby during the months ahead. But having my children home during the workweek can also be incredibly challenging (I swear I can feel my cortisol levels rising every time I think about trying to do my work-from-home job while my two-and-a-half-year-old is trying to live his best life alongside me).
While I’ve been a fan of the Montessori Method since having first read the book a year and a half ago, I’ve decided that leaning into the book’s methodologies and teachings is what’s going to help me survive the next few months and also help my toddler have the best summer possible. I want to help him continue developing in the absence of his daycare peers, have a joyful time at home, and make the most of the limited sunshine that we’re graced with in Central New York. So, here’s how I’m leaning into Montessori teachings this summer.
Getting the Family Outside as Much as Possible
As Davies writes in the book, “Nature has the ability to calm us, to connect us with beauty, and to reconnect to the earth and environment.” This summer our family’s plan is to spend as much time as humanly possible outdoors. My husband and I talk often about how different (aka: improved) our son’s behavior is when he can spend time outside.
On the weekends, our plan is to take our kids to parks and playgrounds, teach our son to swim in an outdoor pool, and enjoy the simple pleasure that is spending time in our backyard. On the days that my son is home while I’m also working, I’m planning to take my laptop outdoors so that he can play while I work.
Inviting My Son to Help in the Kitchen
The Montessori Method is big on teaching life skills. My son (probably like most children) adores helping in the kitchen. As he’s home more often than usual during the next few months, I’m planning on doing a number of cooking and baking projects with him.
One toddler gear item that has made helping in the kitchen much more feasible is our learning tower. It allows him to safely be at counter-level, mixing and scooping to his heart’s desire. I see a lot of quick breads, flatbread pizzas, and pasta salads in our future.
Setting Up Montessori-Style Spaces Indoors
One thing I learned from reading The Montessori Toddler is the importance of order. Believe it or not, toddlers don’t enjoy chaos any more than we adults do and making spaces more inviting for their tiny frames and hands. The idea is that children will have more success playing independently if their play areas are well-organized and inviting.
Adding a toy shelf to our primary living space
After realizing that trying to keep all toys in our children’s bedrooms was a futile effort, my husband and I decided to put a small toy shelf in our living room where we spend the majority of our time as a family. The toy shelf we landed on is small, and I try my best to curate it in a Montessori style with each cubby displaying only one toy or activity on it. When possible, I put each individual toy in a tray, as advised by the book (To be honest, I use recycled shoe boxes and it works great).
This summer, my goal is to keep the Montessori toy shelf well-organized and do a weekly or bi-weekly analysis of which toys are not being touched. I myself can’t stand chaos and am committed to donating and passing on toys that are going unused.
Creating a low-mess craft station
In addition to the toy shelf, I recently set up a small craft station for my son so that he has access to art supplies around the clock. Crayola Color Wonder markers and paper have been game changers, as I no longer have to fret about drawings unexpectedly popping up on my furniture or walls. The table and chair are also toddler-sized, making it accessible and inviting. Going back to the shoe box trays mentioned above, I noticed my son started coloring longer once I organized the paper and makers into their own separate containers.
One principle of the Montessori Method is nurturing responsibility. The idea is that children are naturally care-giving and thrive when given responsibilities related to taking care of themselves, their objects, and their environments. Ever since he was very small (my mom-brain memory can’t recall his exact age), we’ve sought to find ways to involve my son in taking care of our home, both inside and out.
Now that he’s a little older, he’s able to carry a little bit more of that responsibility. Here are some Montessori activities we’re having him do this summer:
- Feed the dogs and let them out each morning.
- Put his dirty clothes in his own hamper (a favorite activity).
- Help load the washing machine.
- Using the Swiffer WetJet on our kitchen floor.
- Watering the flowers, using a toddler-sized watering can.
All of these activities teach responsibility just as much as they keep him entertained.
Encouraging Independence Whenever Possible
Beyond asking him to help with various “chores” around the house, I also encourage my son’s independence by allowing him to be self-sufficient in daily life activities. For example, I let him brush his own teeth for a few minutes before stepping in and ensuring a job well done. He loves pulling his step stool out and giving it a go while looking in the mirror. I also let him choose which shirt he would like to wear each day and my husband and I encourage him to put on his own sneakers whenever we leave the house.
Providing Enriching Experiences
Another principle the Montessori Method teaches is the value that enriching experiences can provide. In other words, breaking away from the normal routine to visit new places and try new things can help children expand their thinking and encourage their sense of exploration. Some of the activities my husband and I have planned for the summer include trips to the zoo, library visits, a New England beach vacation, and time spent at my in-laws lavender farm (where my son has a special bond with one of their “Babydoll” sheep).
When In Doubt, Progress Above Perfection
I’m far from a Montessori Method expert. Nor am I trying to be. But The Montessori Toddler has helped me immensely in my toddler parenting journey so far and I’m looking forward to re-reading the book and recommitting myself to some of its principals this summer.
I tend to believe that being aware of and manifesting a desired outcome is half the battle. Sure, my home may be far from the beautiful, Scandi-style Montessori spaces that pop up on my Instagram feed, but I’m putting my best foot forward. I’m making an effort to help my son thrive this summer by experiencing joy through the practice of life skills and exploration—and that counts for something.