Parent as the Montessori Guide
In the Montessori classroom, the Montessori Guide acts as custodian of the prepared environment. They facilitate an atmosphere of learning, present brief and precise lessons, and keenly observe their students in order to help them progress to the next level of activity. They stand back, allow children to make independent discoveries, and only step in when needed. Educators are specifically trained to develop these skills and perfect them through years of experience.
For many, taking on a Montessori approach at home is quite foreign. As such, the first thing to remember about taking on the role of the Montessori Guide is to set realistic expectations. Remember that you were not trained as a Montessori educator, and that you don’t need to be the perfect Montessori home school parent.
Do the best that you can, take each day as it comes, and give yourself and your child grace as you progress together. The important things to focus on are staying connected, spending quality time together when you can, and establishing good ground rules that enable you to achieve what you need to, when you need to. To take on the role of the Montessori Guide follow the tips below.
Set Consistent Expectations & Limits
Establish consistent expectations with clear limits for behaviour from the beginning. These expectations should be consistent, agreed upon by all adults in the house, and regularly reinforced through gentle reminders. Examples of expectations may be:
- Pack away when you are finished – your child needs to pack away to create a clean and safe workspace to return to later
- One activity at a time – your child can choose to do many things, but can only do one thing at a time
- Move carefully – there is not no need to rush, ‘feet are for walking inside’
- No loud voices inside – assist your child in recognising when they are speaking loudly and that quiet voices are to be used inside
- Defined workspaces – Defined by a rug, cushion or activity basket, which outlines your child ‘yes space’ where they are welcome to work alongside you or independently
- Taking turns – It’s important to take turns so that it is fair for everyone
It is also important to reinforce limits, so your child understands that when you say something, you mean it. Limits are the natural consequence when a negative behaviour is continued. If your child’s behaviour does not meet the established expectations it is important to stop the behaviour. To reinforce a limit:
- The first step is to gently reinforce the expectation as a positive. For example, if your child is splashing in the bathtub, you may say: “Water stays in the bath”, instead of “Don’t splash.”
- If your child continues to splash after a gentle reminder, you should proceed to the second step, and explain the expectation to reinforce why it is in place. For example, you may choose to say: “If you continue splashing, you will slip when you get out of the bath.”
- The third step is to stop the behaviour and show your child that you mean it by demonstrating the natural consequence to their behaviour. For example, if your child continues splashing after two reminders, you may choose to say: “You haven’t kept the water in the bathtub. You spilled water and the floor which makes it unsafe. Bath time is now over.” Then offer a controlled choice such as “Can you get out of the bathroom, or do you need me to help you?” You may then choose to remove your child from the situation entirely or have them assist with cleaning up the spill.
Remember to be proactive and look for ways to prevent a behaviour from happening. For example, if your child is walking with a plate and you see it slip, step in and assist before they drop it.
Establish a Routine
Observe the typical routines of everyone is your home and use this as a base to create a consistent daily routine. This routine should provide a general flow for your day and include mealtimes, learning time, play time, outside time, and rest or quiet time.
Offer your child a controlled choice of “this or that” to apply freedom within limits at home. Controlled choice be applied to most decision throughout the day, such as “Do you want a sandwich for lunch, or pasta for lunch?” or “Would you like to wash your body yourself, or would you like me to help you?”
Use the Resources You Have
Use the provided resources for infants, toddlers and preschoolers when you’re planning activities for the day or week. You should also look around your home for items and activities that you can use to create Montessori based activities.
Create a sense of order in your home by clearly defining workspaces for adults and children. In an adult’s workspace you may wish to include a ‘yes space’ such as rug and a basket of activities so that your child can work alongside you. You should also establish a defined Montessori space for your child where they work independently.
Encourage your child’s independence by engaging them in age-appropriate practical life activities throughout the home.
Show Don’t Tell
When speaking to your child, speak in a way that they will understand, and drop down to their level. When presenting a lesson, follow the Montessori at Home Lesson Presentations supplied with each activity for infants, toddlers and preschoolers. Remember to present the activity to your child slowly and then invite your child to take a turn. Use minimal words so your child is focused on your hands and not your mouth. It’s also important to present from left to right, and top to bottom, to help your child develop a sense of order, as well as preparing them for writing and reading.
Follow the Child
Observe your child’s interests and build on them. If you notice your child is particularly interested in pouring activities, extend with dry and wet pouring, and experiment with different sized jugs. Scaffold your child’s learning by providing relevant and engaging activities to practice and master new skills.
When your child asks a question, answer it as simply as possible, or answer with another question. For example, if your child asks: “Where are my shoes?” you may choose to answer with: “Where did you last see your shoes?” Encourage your child to problem solve on their own and use prompting questions to assist them with activities.
One of the greatest gifts you can give your children is the gift of reading. If you don’t have time to do anything else, simply sit down with your child, and read with them. Reading is a great way to connect, wind down, and develop language skills.
There will be times throughout the day when you will need to achieve your own to do list. During this time your child needs to engage in independent play that does not require your direct help or participation. Independent play may take place in your child’s Montessori space where they can focus on an activity or project. It can also take place anywhere in the house with a ‘yes space.’ You may choose to set up sensory tubs, an activity basket with books or colouring, or a practical life activity. For activity ideas take a look at our resources or Pinterest Board.
Bursts of Complete Attention
Don’t feel guilty if you need to work. Communicate with your child that you will be free to be with them later, but that you need to work now. Remember that children need love and support, not constant, undivided attention. Carve out regular bursts of time throughout the day to be present with your child. This might be reading a book together, presenting a lesson, or going for a walk.
The Montessori philosophy focuses on intrinsic motivation and encouraging process over progress. Praise inhibits a child’s ability to develop independence and critical thinking because the child becomes dependent on external praise. Encouragement, on the other hand, empowers the child to develop the skills of critical thinking, creativity, communication, and independence through intrinsic motivation and an inner sense of self-worth. Try to use alternatives to “good job” that encourage your child’s efforts whilst also fostering skills of self-reflection, concentration, and their willingness to learn. Examples include:
- “What do you think about your work?”
- “That was very helpful.”
- “You look like you are really enjoying your work.”
- “You are making great progress.”
- “You have worked on that for a long time.”
- “I can see you are working really hard on that.”
Parent as Montessori Guide
- Prepare the environment
- Define workspaces and ‘yes spaces’
- Establish a routine
- Encourage independence
- Offer opportunities to develop age-appropriate practical life skills
- Answer questions with prompting questions
- Read with your child
- Establish opportunities for independent play
- Give your child bursts of complete attention regularly throughout the day
- Use phrases that encourage process over progress
- Create defined workspaces
- Get down to your child’s level
- Speak simply in a way that your child can understand
- Present lessons from left to right and top to bottom
- Start from largest to smallest
- Use minimal words and show don’t tell
- Present activities slowly then invite your child to have a turn
- Follow your child’s interests
- Scaffold skills and extend on activities
- If it’s hard work, stop, and try again another time
Establishing Expectations and Limits
- Establish clear and consistent expectations for behaviours
- Be proactive and remind children of expectations
- Explain why expectations are in place in a simple way
- Limits are natural consequences to behaviours that do not meet expectations
- Establishing a limit means taking appropriate actions to stop the behaviour i.e. removing your child from the situation while acknowledging their frustration or wants, offering a controlled choice, or removing the object