Educate To Life - Montessori Notes

Montessori is for everyone

Montessori is not about shelves, it’s an attitude. It's not about giving objects but real-life experiences.
More and more, the image of Montessori promoted on social media looks product-dependant. 
It seems impossible to silence the word of mummy bloggers and marketers featuring this or that product labelling it as 'Montessori', which is possible because a trademark on the use of the name was never registered.
Maria Montessori based her work on fifty years of clinical observation and studies, and her science-based approach to education was meant to be applicable to all children as all children all over the world develop in the same way, no matter the culture, place, economical background, time in history they are born in.

Dr. Montessori didn't mean her approach to be some sort of alternative model to mainstream education needing a trademark, it had to mark a new education. It could still do, and become more widespread in state schools around the world as the method is as current as 100 years ago. But there needs to be information and formation of teachers and who leads them.

The way human beings grow hasn't changed. Montessori is for everyone. 
So even if it would be easier, I don't want a trademark. Let's try to counteract misinformation coming from who wants you to believe there is one.
1907 - Children's House in San Lorenzo, Italy

If you are still here reading,  chance is you want the best for your child, so I hope you'll be reading until the end and that you will be leaving with enough information and self-confidence to declutter your feed.

Practical life activities
We hear saying that Montessori educators focus on ‘practical activities’, but what qualifies as ‘practical’?
The answer is: purposeful work.

Is that pom pom sorting kit you saw on Amazon Montessori? No it’s not. Sorting polyester pom poms by colour with a thong serves no purpose, no one would do it in real life. Yes it may contribute to refine fine motor skills and pincer grip, but it can't hold the child's attention for long, because it's not purposeful, meaningful work. It's not open-ended play either. 
The young child has a natural drive towards practical work: he wants to engage in real activities that make him feel he is helpful, that he is contributing to his family life. He wants to do what you do, because if it's important to you it's important  to them. 
So the child deserves to get busy with a type of activity that has the same dignity as adult work. 
So remember to make his activities purposeful, socially valuable, and leave the child free from scheduled activities and his work is finished. That's the time for open-ended play and creative play as we know it. Remember that the young child (3 to 6 years) is always creating something, even when they are opening and closing that drawer over and over again. Let him be.
In order to implement the method at home you don't need a perfect nursery, or that particular wooden toy. I'm talking about Grimm's yes, which crafts beautiful toys but has nothing to do with Montessori! That's Waldorf.
Even if you don't have that pull up bar and that low hanging mirror, that's ok.

I often see on social media wrong replicas of the materials, like the 5-piece knobbed cylinders below, which I also ended up buying when I was a well-meaning first-time mum and that I ended up hiding, when I realised it was pointless. Don't waste your money on those.
When we  introduce one individual item like the one below, we ask the child to figure out something that's not only out of context but incomplete, basically we give him a task without the tools and the scope of it.

Materials are meant to be used in the classroom, each of them is linked to the others and each activity prepares for something else, Maria Montessori designed them to work together. 
All of them are based on the decimal system (so you see how children absorb that without being actually taught). 
The actual cylinders are also made of good quality, solid wood, they are big and heavy! Each cilynder has a different shape, volume AND weight, which allows the child to experience solids in a sensorial way.
One of the 4 knobbed cylinder sets designed by Dr. Montessori

Lastly, even when I see authentic Montessori materials featured on social media in a homeschooling setting, I lose interest as homeschooling is quite incompatible with Montessori for me.  
I'm talking about children 3+ here.
When you school from home you take social skills and community life out of education, which are essential in Montessori, where children essentially learn from each other, from a community of children working in a prepared environment, guided by a teacher (which is in fact called ‘guide’ not teacher, in Montessori schools).

This whole image of Montessori returned by social media is overwhelming.
It makes parents feel either inadequate (especially working parents who lack time and presence in the home to keep everything super organised) or that they need to buy a whole range of props, furniture and objects, offering them all at once to the child, as soon as possible, setting up beautifully tidy activities every day. 

This is not only unrealistic to achieve, but can easily lead parents to forget what their main job is (no matter which pedagogical approach they've chosen) 

So what can parents do at home?

An awful lot. The role of parents is key in Montessori, as Maria Montessori thought the foundation of the adult man was laid in the first six years of life. 
Here we have a type of mind that Maria Montessori called 'absorbent' as it learns unconsciously by absorption from the environment. This will never reoccur in life.

These children can't be taught, that's why school traditionally starts at around 6. Before then, and especially in the first 3 years of life, when the child cannot be instructed, their school is the home environment. 
In those first 1000 days of life, the role of parents is crucial, no matter which type of school your child will attend. 
From the after-birth period to the type of home and freedom we offer, the stories we tell and the behavioural models we give, what is absorbed in those years creates our subconscious and reasoning mind, and cannot be undone. 
As adults we keep growing of course and we can process, acknowledge, manage, but not cancel our early childhood.

Our main responsibility as parents is to:

1. observe our child
2. always follow his lead
3. respond accordingly by preparing a suitable environment in the home that supports his independence
4. offer opportunities for the expansion of language (reading) and purposeful work.

So hang in there mama scrolling down on social media. It’s ok if you spend most of the time ‘just’ cooking with your toddler and the house ends up a mess. It’s ok if your shelf is just the coffee table in the living room.
It’s ok if your child is totally uninterested in those wooden stacking toys or quickly gets bored after a few times playing with the latest ‘sensorial’ material on the market, and only wants to explore pans and spoons next to you or get his fingers into the pizza dough.
You are doing great! That’s 100% Montessori.

It is true that we should be extremely careful to what we put into the child's environment, as young children up to 6 years entirely learn by absorption from the environment they are in, but energy, time and money should be saved to focus on 4 basic things:

1 - keep your home tidy, as children need order and predictability to understand the world.
2 - reduce toys. When you think you've decluttered your home enough, take away something else. 
I would say here that nearly everything can stay in storage, on a daily basis with just 5 items on any surface you have available in your sitting room.
3 - try to make your home you child's home too, set up a child-friendly home, so he can access things independently in the main rooms. Invest money to purchase real kitchen tools and some step stools and coat hangers instead of toys, no matter how beautiful they look.
4 - engage your child in practical work around the house.

My daughters are 4 and 6 and still much of what we do in the home are purposeful practical activities. Swiping, mopping, ironing, folding clothes, dusting, knitting, sewing, woodcrafting (if you are into it) and of course cooking: there’s enough chemistry, fine motor skills work and sensorial stuff in cooking to get them going for years. 
On top of that, they will be able to cook for themselves and yourself a healthy lunch when they’ll be teenagers.What do you get from pom poms?

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