Monday, April 12, 2010

Learning to live Montessori at home

Does your kindergartener make her bed this neatly?

Although I didn't know squat about Montessori before I had children, I'm a huge advocate for it now. My 5 year old has almost finished her 3-year cycle in Primary, Montessori's term for a mixed age class for 3-6 year olds, and she's graduating with a mastery of reading, basic math, geography (she can identify more countries on a world map than I can) and lots of other skills, academic, practical and social. I'm a passionate supporter of Z's teachers and of her school as a whole. Heck, I'm volunteering as Board Co-President this year, I love it so much.

But while I'm a Montessori preschool mom, I have a ways to go before I can call myself a true Montessori Mom. This became clear to me when I attended the most recent Parent Ed night at Z's school. We watched a video, At Home with Montessori (you can find it here), which featured kids 3-6 accomplishing tasks most American parents would never consider their small children ready to do: loading and unloading the dishwasher, washing dishes by hand, flipping pancakes and cooking an omelet unaided. One father talks about how nice it is that his son has a hot breakfast ready when mom and dad come downstairs in the morning.

We came together after the film to discuss what jobs we let our children do themselves and what we could do to give them more opportunities for responsibility. According to Montessori philosophy, children want to help out the family and do "real work" -- it gives them a sense of contributing to the family welfare. But there's a side benefit as well: mom and dad have less work to do when small children are setting the table, helping fold laundry and cleaning up their own spills.

I'd already installed low hooks and baskets so that my children can hang up their own coats and put their shoes and dirty clothes away, but the day after Parent Ed I cleared out a low drawer and filled it with smaller plates, cups and bowls so that my children can access them with ease. Next up is an accessible snack drawer and a second kitchen step stool. I may even purchase a few light switch toggles so that my 2 year old can turn off lights when she leaves a room.

The teachers gave us a couple of tips on how to teach small children new tasks. Whether its putting on and zipping up a coat, matching and folding socks, sweeping up or making a beds, break the task down into individual steps and demonstrate them, slowly, and without talking. Then let your child try. It's only been a couple of days, but this method really works! We've taught our 5 year old how to squeeze toothpaste onto her toothbrush, brush thoroughly and floss, and our 2 year old has wiped up her own spilled milk and mastered putting on and taking off her own clothes. It's tough to put yourself in their shoes and figure out exactly which steps go into something as natural and mindless as pulling your shirt off over your head, but once you do, you can teach your toddler. And the pride you see in their eyes--it's so worth it.

Originally published to the Chicago Moms Blog.