Over the past year or so, our family has taken deliberate steps to adapt our home environment to incorporate the ideas and philosophies of the great physician and educator, Maria Montessori. Having studied her work throughout my educational and professional careers, I have always felt drawn to this thoughtful approach to learning. But, since I have had my own children, my interest has grown and led me to furthering my understanding of the Montessori method. The more I learn about it, the more I feel it is not only beneficial for our family, but I also believe that it aids me in raising respectful, capable and bright (in many ways) children.
As a parent, it is my priority to fully understand the individual needs of my children and family and to adapt our lifestyle to fit those needs. Using the principles of the Montessori Method allows me to do that. Being flexible and maintaining balance while being open-minded and accepting imperfection are all things that also allow me to do that (although the slightly obsessive, control-freak in me definitely needs to work on practicing all of the above more consistently). The most important thing that I have taken away from Montessori and other experts on the method is that, when you follow these values, instead of teaching your child what to learn, you teach them how to learn. You show them how to use their own unique talents and how to utilize their inborn traits; you show them that being an individual, being unique, is a good thing.
Without a good understanding of how the human brain develops (especially during the first three years of life), it’s easy to dismiss the importance of early childhood education. And, without a good understanding of the Montessori Method, it’s easy to mistake it as a strange or unconventional approach to learning. “Just let kids be kids,” is something critics may say in regards to this type of early childhood parenting. I agree that it is important not to push a child into learning certain things at an early age. However, Montessori learning is actually quite a relaxed approach to education, and a very practical approach to child-rearing. It is all about observing your children, getting to know them and their needs, and not only accepting them for who they are, but embracing their individuality. This enables parents to provide their children with the tools they need to become successful in whichever path they choose.
All “educational” activities that I do with my children are child led. For the most part, there is no “plan” when it comes to learning in our home. Nothing is forced. If we start an activity and they lose interest (even if it was something I had really hoped or thought they would enjoy – which happens sometimes), then we move on to something more engaging. I try my best to remove limits and not to set too many “rules.” As long as they are engaged and playing safely, I consider whatever they are doing to be beneficial and “educational,” and I do what I can to expand upon it by providing opportunities to explore it further. Whether it is a toy, song, animal, subject, person, sound, smell, taste, place or anything else they are naturally intrigued by, I feel it is my job to supervise their discovery and to help them learn how to find answers to the questions it brings.
Having professionally taught young children for years, education has always been at the forefront of my mind, so a lot of this comes naturally to me. But, really, this type of approach to parenting and education is something that comes naturally to most parents because of it’s practical nature. In combination with our wonderful Kindermusik program, a bit of mother’s intuition and a lot of love, I’m working hard to make the most of the time I have with my little ones while they’re still little, and I’m excited to share some ideas, activities, hopes, musings and even blunders with all of you!