Taking the Montessori Approach at Home

simple steps to encouraging your child's independence

Janet Krause

What is Montessori? I dread that question; I love that question. And if you ask, I may just talk for half an hour … or more.

Montessori philosophy and methods had their beginnings in Rome. Dr. Maria Montessori, the first female Italian physician, was asked to create a safe place for 3- to 6-year-old children in San Lorenzo, one of Rome’s most desperate slums. Casa dei Bambini (Children’s House) opened on Jan. 6, 1907; “Children’s House” continues to be the label used for this age group in Montessori schools throughout the world.

Prior to the opening of the Casa dei Bambini, Montessori cared for special-needs children who were housed in insane asylums as they were considered to be unteachable. Montessori, however, had great success with them to the point that they were able to pass the standardized tests of the day. This experience, followed by ongoing action research within Casa dei Bambini, were the foundations of Montessori schools as we know them today. She learned even very young children have:

• the ability to concentrate deeply,
• a love of repetition,
• a need for order,
• a desire to choose productive work that satisfies their intellectual development,
• a strong internal motivation, not needing external rewards and punishments,
• a sense of peace in silence, and
• a profound sense of personal dignity.

How might we embrace Montessori’s findings in our children’s daily lives? Environment, along with the mindset “Do not do for children what they can do for themselves,” is the key. We can prepare our home environments (and ourselves) to nurture children’s independence. These preparations include:

• storing children’s clothing, toiletries, dishes, etc., on low shelves,
• providing a stepstool to allow for access to the bathroom vanity and kitchen counter, and
• having supplies that accommodate a child’s hand-size and strength – for example, a small pitcher.

OK, I can read your mind, “Maybe some children can pour from a pitcher, but you haven’t met my child.” I promise, even 3-year-olds can pour from a pitcher – a glass pitcher – given step-by-step instruction/demonstration:

1. Always use two hands.
2. Place one hand on the front of the pitcher.
3. Wrap the fingers of your other hand around the handle with thumb securely on top.
4. Lift the pitcher high enough to hover above the glass.
5. Pour into the center of the glass.
6. Fill the glass half way.
7. Gently set the pitcher on a napkin strategically placed so that an elbow can’t tip the pitcher.

Practice this presentation before involving your child.

If pouring from a pitcher is too big of a stretch for you, summer is the perfect time for your child to learn to use a watering can outdoors as a first step. For each chore you teach, prepare yourself to present the small steps adults do automatically. And remember, two of the most important steps to your child gaining independence are you showing confidence in their abilities and providing the time needed to be successful.