Jo recently made a seemingly-innocent request:
I have recently been asked by a new-to-Montessori mom of a toddler, where to start? She is overwhelmed by the amount of equipment and information available...as you are a Montessori mother I would love it if you could share your top tips too.
I’m not sure she knew what she was in for. Not only did I write it in Microsoft Word first and have it turn out formatted strangely when I made the transfer, but I am a terribly long-winded person and my response ballooned into the following post:
Congratulations! You’ve decided you want to become a “Montessori Mom!” Now what !?! Go online and order a deluxe package of materials that covers the Montessori curriculum through age five and a set of albums? Start up an in-home sweat shop in the basement and crank out your own materials? Build an addition onto your home and order the complete line of furniture from Neinhuis?
All of the above might work for you, or it might be more money, time and stress than you bargained for. What happens if you change your mind a year from now? Drape some playsilks over your bead cabinet, put in a nature table, and burn the rest in a Waldorf harvest celebration bonfire?
My family’s transition to a Montessori home was low-stress, fun, and (at first) free because we did it in stages. Just as Maria Montessori referred to “stages” of the child’s development, I think it would be fair to say there are “stages” in the development of the Montessori Mom.
In the classical education model the child studies the complete timeline of history three times from first grade to graduation. Each pass through the timeline of world history builds scaffolding for the next time they pass through. Each time they approach their studies from a different perspective and add another layer of detail. I try to approach most new things in my life in this way. I start simply and as the new changes I implement don’t seem new anymore I know I am ready for a new challenge.
I have laid out the path that I traveled in the following paragraphs. The great thing about this path is that there is no mandate that you follow the path all the way to the end. If I were sending my boys to preschool I would have worked my way through “stage one” and stopped. I enjoyed my journey so much that I have continued and am working on “stage four.” If I had know then what I know now, it would have been nice to order that full-classroom set and save some time on cutting and laminating the cards for my geometric cabinet (and cutting, and laminating, and cutting and laminating...). The good news is that even if you only go as far as stage one, you have still changed your relationship with your child for the better and changed your family’s approach to learning.
For each “stage” that I have completely invented I will recommend a book (or two), let you know why I chose them, and give you some examples of some of the things you might do in that stage. There is a lot more I could say, but then this post would become unreadably long (if it hasn't already).
What you will find yourself doing: The first thing you are going to do will involve just starting to parent the “Montessori way.”
Here is how to start:
- Start with your environment
- your everyday activities and chores
- your toys/games/activities
- how you approach your child (showing more, talking less, teaching them to concentrate, leaving them alone)
You’ll probably approach your home environment first. You might move some furniture around, and change your child’s toy set up. You are going to change the way you do everyday things to that the child can participate equally with you such as: grocery shopping, cooking, housework, dressing, and yard work. All that stuff you have to get done everyday will get easier for you. Why?...because your child will be doing it with you instead of you trying to find something to “entertain them” while you do it. When you have time to sit down and play with your child, you might find yourself choosing some easy activities suggested in a good Montessori book (such as the ones I'll mention in a bit). You might change your mind about the type and amount of toys you have in your home. Melissa and Doug are going to become very hard to resist. You may start rotating your toys and notice that your child is playing with fewer toys for longer periods of time with less interference from you.
Maja Pitamic Teach Me to Do It Myself
Why I like them: Both of these books have a lot of big, gorgeous inspiring pictures that make it easy to flip through and find what you need. There are nice summaries of Montessori philosophy and what this means for a parent at home.
What you will find yourself doing: Now you’ve decided you actually want to set up some “works” for your child. This doesn’t mean that you’ve set aside time everyday for “school” (in fact, some people never do that). The works might just be a natural part of the activities your child does during the day.
Books: At this stage I would recommend just following a blog of someone who has a child the same age as yours (or whose child is older now, but whose blog started when they WERE that age) and do some of what they do.
Why I like it: You can pick and chose activities that appeal to you, that you are interested in making, or have the materials for already in your house.
What you will find yourself doing: You will be making (or buying) things like your own sandpaper letters, number rods, and touch tablets and executing a slightly simplified Montessori “curriculum.”
John Bowman Montessori at Home!
Why I like it: Great modern, easy to follow book that includes three years of activities.
Why I like it:
homeschooled her children using the Montessori Method and never bought any materials. The book gives you a casual sequence to follow and DIY instructions. I don’t think she did every activity in the standard Montessori sequence, but she made it work. If you are keeping it casual and inexpensive, I would recommend Elizabeth Hainstock’s book. Elizabeth
If you have an extra $5 to spend, I would recommend the “Comprehensive List of materials & Concepts for a Toddler Montessori Child 18 months to 3 years.” This will provide you with something to “check off” as you go. Be careful, that list puts the activities in each category in progressive order but the categories themselves are not in order. The standard Montessori “activities” won’t begin until 2.5 or even 3 years of age. You pretty much only need the “practical life” section until then.
What you might be doing: You have decided you are not sending your child to preschool and want to give them as close to a Montessori primary experience at home as you can (except different, because they get to do it at home and with you).
David Gettman Basic Montessori
Why I like it: I like this book because it can be used much in the same way as a set of Montessori albums. It is also valuable because he lists all of the primary Montessori activities but groups them by subject and by period. They periods give you some indication of how to coordinate the activities across subjects. This is important because often times certain activities in one subject (such as sensorial) are preparation for activities in another (such as math). It also makes it easier to group your purchases (or materials you make). When I placed my first order, I only ordered the things I would need for the first two periods. I didn’t know if I would still want to do this after a year had passed and didn’t want to get too far ahead of myself.
A lot of Montessori moms I know online have reached this stage a little bit before their child was officially “ready” to begin the Montessori primary sequence. There is a post about this titled “Between Infancy and Toddlerhood: Choosing Curriculum Material” over at the Infancy and Toddlerhood blog at My Montessori House. A specific album for Infants and Toddlers is available for sale at that blog.
What you might be doing: You have decided you just can’t get enough of this! Sign up for an online certification program and have at it!
Book: You will have written your own by the time you are done!
If you would like to see what wiser and more concise moms thought about this topic, you can see Jo's post with the responses of six other moms here. I learned a lot from the tips there myself. I added several books to my reading list based on what I read there. Even if you've been doing this for a while, it was a good reminder of some of the basic things that are most important. I should have included the following disclaimer: The author of this blog does not really know what she is doing!