Montessori Minute ~ Great Questions

Montessori Minute Great Questions
This is a guest post written by John Bowman, author of Montessori at Home!

I received some great questions from an enthusiastic parent, and since they are questions many parents have, it seemed like a good time for a post. Dee writes:

Hello John, Thank you for your eBook. I am enjoying reading it and getting set up to do Montessori at home with my toddler and 4 year old! I had a few questions I hope you could answer…

How many materials to set out and how rapidly to introduce? I know you suggest preparing a few materials and introducing them to get started, but I am wondering how quickly to do this (eg. 1 new presentation a day?) and how much material to set out in a small home?

I know in a Montessori school almost all the materials would be out, but in a home, that sounds like it might be chaos. I can see from some of the blogs that people have a variety of set ups from 1 to 3+ bookshelves. Is there a rule of thumb for how many materials?

How long to leave a material out and remove it if it’s not touched? How do you decide if your child has “finished” with a material?

What do you do when a child wants to mix up materials from more than one activity? Or just play with the materials in a way that is not part of the demonstration (eg. my daughter wanted to “cook” with the beans from the pouring tray).

Thanks so much. I am looking forward to adopting more Montessori but want to do it in the best way possible! Look forward to your advice.

Thanks for the great questions and your sincere interest in doing the best for your kids, Dee, let’s get right into it.

Many parents write about what to do with a toddler and an older child in the house. It’s a challenge, patience is key. The older child needs a place to display his materials where the toddler can’t reach them. A separate space, like separate rooms if possible, really helps so he can concentrate on what he’s doing. Toddler nap time is always an opportunity! Getting the toddler occupied is important, because otherwise he will dive right into what’s going on. Group projects, like cooking, where both children can have their own contributions to make, can help the kids learn to cooperate. If you are blessed, you will have a few precious moments occasionally when you and the toddler can be busy while your 4 year old works on an activity independently! Things probably won’t be ideal until the toddler is at least 2 1/2 or so and can have similar activities, so you do the best you can.

It is better at home to start slow and find materials your kids are really interested in, rather than put a lot of things out at once. This is how I started with new Montessori preschools, also. Look for activities that attract and hold their interest and attention. Leave these out on the shelves. Add new materials slowly. 1-2 new items every week or so seems about right. Follow your child’s interests. If your child is working with what he has, great. If he is looking for something to do, put something from the book together. Start with Practical Life and Sensorial activities, these have a universal appeal to young children. Introduce new materials at a pace that works for your child.

There are no firm rules about how many materials to have out. Make the best use of your space and do your own thing. Focus on materials that truly help your child focus attention. Try to keep your shelves from becoming cluttered, jam-packed storage areas. Displaying materials with a little space between them adds to their aura as special items. Follow your children’s interests – that is the key to Montessori. You will see when a material has outlived its time of interest.

As long as your kids don’t abuse the materials (involving them in making them really helps here), and as long as they put them back together properly and back on the shelf when they are done, I believe in letting them do their own thing with them. Children need a mix of skills-based, pretend / imaginative, and creative play. It’s all important to their development. To truly follow the child – the Montessori prime directive – we need to make room for all of it and go with the flow. If your child shows more interest in cooking, for example, as your child did when doing an activity, switch to a cooking activity. If she wants to pretend play, let her. If he would rather do some art, let him. Go with the flow, and use the book to support your child’s interests.

Your home will never be a Montessori school, that’s not what you’re aiming for. If you do activities regularly – usually imperfectly – things will click often enough for your kids to get major benefits from them. Montessori materials are largely designed to auto-educate, meaning a child can use them independently. It takes awhile to get things started, but keep at it and you will see your kids respond and get the hang of it. It will always be a little messy, and that’s fine.

Montessori schools take awhile to get running well with a new group of kids each year, so don’t ever feel bad if things don’t go as planned or your kids don’t respond as you thought they would. Keep at it, be consistent, and have fun.

Hope those ideas help. If any readers have ideas to add, please share, thanks!

John Bowman’s eBook, Montessori At Home!, a big eBook showing parents how to do Montessori early learning activities at home.

© 2013 John Bowman


My thanks to John for writing this extensive article for us here at 1+1+1=1! I invite you to ask him any questions you may have in the comments below and he can hopefully answer them for you. If you have an article you hope he will write for us in the future, please let us know in the comments also! Be sure to let him know if this article was helpful-we all love encouragement, right?


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