This time of year if filled with friends and family, vacations and get-togethers, giving and receiving. There is so much changing around us, with routines out of whack and schedules up in the air that I find myself needing to come back to my own sense or order.
A sense of order is one of 11 natural human tendencies that Maria Montessori observed and documented in her research and that drove her philosophy. In simple terms, all humans all around the world, no matter the age, have tendencies that are natural to our development. If we provide experiences that nourish our natural tendencies, our development deepens. For example, our brains want to categorize and organize to better understand the world around us.
Because order and routine are crucial to our development, the more we can provide, the deeper the development. When my children were young, we “Montessoried” at home. What does that mean, you might ask. It doesn’t mean going out and purchasing Montessori materials and lessons from the most expensive companies. Rather, at the infant/toddler level, it means organizing your home so that your child can be as independent as possible. It may require purchasing some things, but more likely calls for moving some things around in order to make them accessible to your child.
Where can we begin? Maybe start with a mental list of all the areas in your home where your child currently spends the most time and needs the most support — bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, living room — then evaluate those areas:
• Does my child have access to the materials they need?
• Can my child complete any of the work/play on their own?
• Does my child have the tools and materials to clean up when they are finished?
• How can I modify aspects of this space in order to provide opportunities for my child to do more independent of my assistance?
Let’s talk about the kitchen. What does your child do in the kitchen? What do they need help with? Everything! Or, so you may think. What do you spend your time doing to help them in the kitchen? And bottom line, what are you comfortable allowing them to do on their own, even if it may get messy before it gets better? In my home, I created an area that contained all the children’s dishes and cups, utensils, scoops, and snacks that was accessible to the children without my help. I gave them breakable dishes and glass due to their sensitive period for fragile objects (a time in their development where, if given the opportunity, they learn more easily about taking care of fragile things) and utensils appropriate for the size of their hands. I also provided a small dustpan and cloths for if (let’s face it — when) a spill or break occurs. I also found small pitchers at second-hand stores and filled them with milk and water so the children could pour a drink for themselves without me.
In the beginning, they will need you to model what to do and how to do it, just like with any new behavior, but soon your child will go to the kitchen and get themselves a glass of water or bowl of pretzels without needing you at all. Imagine the absence of “Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom!” — or decrease in tantrums sparked by you having to say, “I’ll help in just a minute.”
How can this system build? How can your child choose their own clothes? How can they clean up their toys? Provide the tools, materials, and space, and children can do a lot more for themselves and be happy about doing it! Then think toward the future: If they know where things go and learn about personal responsibility, they can empty their own lunch after school as a four year old, put their clothes away after the laundry is done, and help put groceries away after a big shop.
Our toddlers want to be involved with the everyday work of our lives. They are learning what it means to be human, and they want independence and responsibility. Our job is to provide the environment to foster that need and the growth that can occur when supported.
“Help me help myself” is a great Montessori quote to keep in mind as you modify your home space to accommodate the needs of your child.
If you have questions or need suggestions on how to “Montessori” at home, please ask; we would love to help.
Ms. Liz and Ms. Yudis