I keep hearing from so many of you who want to know exactly where to begin with Montessori in the home. You are overwhelmed with the myriad Montessori-inspired activities available online. You are inspired by the Montessori classroom, but then you look at your home and your happy, playful children playing with duplos and wonder what it is exactly you are supposed to be doing to make it Montessori. This post is for you.
1. Follow your child. This is pretty much up there above all others. Learning new skills will not occur without your child's interest. Following your child means seriously observing your child's stage of development. What toys does your child keep coming back to over and over? What is he/she trying to do? Learning to crawl? Pouring and spilling water everywhere? Spending hours turning the pages of a book? Going to the potty to (ahem) play in it? Catching bugs constantly? Picking out a shirt to wear, discarding it, only to put on another shirt?
I can't tell you what activities to focus on in your Montessori home because that's your child's job. Many classroom teachers will tell you that they can't truly design the shelves without meeting the children and observing them. This is even more important for you, Montessori parent, because unlike a classroom filled with child centered, ready made curricula, you are incorporating your child into a family-centric environment. You most likely have limited resources and space, so focus on your child's interests. You can (and will!) change the environment as your child grows older and has different needs. I encourage you to write down a list of your child's current obsessions, whether it be banging pots, throwing blocks, or matching colors, and ask yourself, "What is he/she trying to learn from this behavior?"
2. Invest in shelves and baskets. You are going to use these to make your Montessori environment organized and peaceful. It will also help to keep your house from becoming too cluttered with random kid stuff because you can't stuff EVERYTHING on a few shelves like you can in, say, a toy chest or some bins. Shelves are cheaply found at stores like IKEA, Target, garage sales, and thrift stores. The last time I was at a Goodwill I spent 99 cents per basket. If you can afford it, invest in several shelves and LOTS of baskets and trays. I made a Montessori shopping list for you earlier for you to know what you're looking for exactly when you go to a thrift store, but you don't have to get everything at once. Start with baskets and shelves. You won't be disappointed.
3. Choose some of your child's nicest toys. Toys that your child loves. Toys that inspire and nurture. If at all possible, toys that are beautiful and made of natural materials. Steer clear of flashy, noisy, battery-operated toys and as much as possible and focus on toys that spark your child's imagination.
And the toys that you aren't choosing to put on your beautiful shelves today? You don't have to throw the rest away, although if you are acquiring a massive amount of toys, it's a great idea to donate them in batches regularly. Keep the extras away from your child's shelves, though, hidden wherever you have available. A closet? The basement? The laundry room? Giant plastic storage tubs are great for this, as are heavy-duty black garbage bags, as long as you have them labled "not trash"!
4. Limit quantity. If you have a toddler, you probably won't be needing all 286 blocks that came with the set. You might need about 20. Just enough to stack into towers and topple down. Put those in a basket and store the rest. You also don't want to crowd your shelves. Space the baskets on the shelves so that it is obvious where the work should be returned.
Are you wondering how many toys to put out at a time? I can't tell you that, but your child will. If you have a toddler who is into "dumping" making a big awful mess for you to clean up every time, or if you have a four year old who is having a hard time putting things away, you probably have too many toys. You also might want to select one type of toy and rotate within the category. For example, if you have a lot of puzzles or different sets of building blocks, consider displaying one or two and put the rest away for now.
And there you have it. Don't worry about whether you should invest in a pink tower. You can scour Pinterest for Montessori activities later. Just get get the toys you have in easy-to-put-away baskets. Even ONE shelf and FIVE baskets will bring you enormously closer to having that Montessori environment you have been thinking of creating for your child.
Now go for it. I believe in you!