Intrigued by the Montessori method but unsure what it entails?
Rebecca David is a trained Montessori teacher and founder of Minimess, which she began in 2015. After leaving teaching to have her own family, and running evening classes in ‘Empowered Parenting’, she then created this platform as a bridge between the home and the classroom and paved a way to use both the Montessori method and creativity to engage children in new and inspiring ways.
Here, she explains what the method actually is, and how to use it to get the most out of play time with your own children.
What is the Montessori Method?
The Montessori Method was developed by Maria Montessori in 1907, An Italian Physician and educator. Her primary teaching motivation was to educate through self-directed activity, which fosters independence. This is achieved through creating an environment that provides age appropriate and engaging activities that guides children through the development process. Above all Montessori is philosophy, a way of thinking and a set of values that can provide an approach to life and parenting. You will often see quotes like “Follow the child”, “The hand in the pathway to the brain” and “What the hand does the mind remembers”. In practical terms, this means giving children the freedom within your parental boundaries to ‘move’ and ‘do’ as much as possible, to engage and connect the brain to develop. As parents our role is to celebrate the uniqueness of each child and their potential, and believe they are motivated natural learners. Montessori-led child development is based on trust and respect, and simply requires us to slow down and observe. Our role as adults is to support the child in their active learning state to ‘help me to do it myself’ a process that all begins at birth.
What does Montessori at home look like?
Your house will not look any different from anyone else’s house (mine certainly doesn’t). There is no need to set up a classroom environment or buy any specialist Montessori equipment. It really only means following your child and encouraging their path to independence. How many times have you heard a small child defiantly say "Me do it?” This is because children are driven by a need to be independent, coupled with a very strong will and desire ‘to do’. Give them an everyday chore, a ‘practical life activity’ and their look of triumph when they say “I did it!” is exactly what Montessori is all about: that rush of self-esteem and pride that the child receives having done something for themselves. There are a plethora of activities that we do in our daily lives, that are mundane to us but enriching for those toddlers. Washing up, folding clothes, opening, loading and closing the dishwasher and washing machine, pouring, transferring. Key ideas for both toddlers and preschoolers are: set up a living space to allow mobility and freedom to explore and choose. Make sure that whatever the child needs around the house is accessible, put them at the child’s height, this will foster that need to do things themselves. E.g. cutlery, plates and cups can be reached, a stool to reach the water in the bathroom and kitchen. Think about what you want them to get out of the space and make adjustments accordingly. It will free you to do other things at home and give them a purposeful learning experience.
Top Tip: Treasure Baskets For 6/12-Months
Babies are natural explorers so a ‘Treasure Basket’ is a fantastic way to ignite their curiosity. Simply place a variety of natural everyday objects from around the house that vary in size, weight, material, colour and texture in a basket. Try to use objects that stimulate all the senses. The child can then start to make his/her own choices for the first time. This promotes concentration and periods of complete absorption. As children at this stage are not fully mobile, this is a fantastic way of discovering the world around them, independently. You can sit back and observe your baby’s interests, perhaps for the first time. Once the child becomes more mobile his/her ideas will change from “What is it?” to “What can I do with it”.
Here are some content Ideas for your basket: brush, stone, wooden spoon, metal spoon, cloth, lemon, feather, tin foil, bells, bath plug with chain.
Top Tip: Heuristic Play – 12-months/2-years-old
Once a child is more mobile, crawling, walking, bum shuffling (as one of my sons did) they are less inclined to just sit and feel objects like before. Heuristic play is about collections of lots of the same objects combined with different containers (a bit like junk modelling style). This will provide our toddlers with opportunities to explore different ways of using, connecting, moving and transporting different objects. It is about forming ideas, before language emerges, discovering notions such as ‘round things can roll’ and ‘small things can fit into larger things’. Again, this is extending their knowledge about the world around them, independent of you. As with the treasure baskets you do not need to spend any money just use household objects, sit back and observe and allow the absorption to take place.
Objects: Pom poms, ribbons, keys, empty toilet rolls, corks, shells, pegs, lolly sticks, bangles.
Containers: Ice cube trays, big/small boxes, paper cups, egg cups, cardboard tubes, kitchen roll holders.
Top Tip: Transferring - 18-months/3-years-old
When a child transfers, whether this be walking from one side of the room to another to deposit a toy or pouring water from one cup to another they are activating and engaging the right and left sides of their brain, as well as developing fine motor skills in their wrists and fingers. A prerequisite for reading and writing in the future. There are many activities we can do at home with our children that encompass this, and again no need to buy a thing.
Transfer water/rice/pasta from one to bowl to another using a scoop/spoon/cup.
Sponge water from one bowl to another, activating their wrist strength.
Use tongs both large and small to transfer orange/lemon slices, pom poms or cotton wool. Or use their favourite toy to transfer, developing their tripod grip.
Top Tip: Other Practical Life Activities 2-years-old +
As the growing toddler becomes more and more independent, they often enjoy joining in with daily life activities such as: cooking/baking, sweeping, hoovering, folding, cleaning windows with a squidgy, washing the car, laying the table, mopping, pouring, laundry, cutting, opening and closing assorted boxes and gardening.
The results will rarely be perfect, and they will almost certainly take longer than if you were to do it yourself. However, it will be worth it in the end as they are life skills to learn, and your child will do them with increasing independence in time. It is a win-win situation, self-esteem will grow as they genuinely contribute to the upkeep of the house and garden – more hands on deck so to speak. Remember to keep things at an accessible height so that the child doesn’t need to ask all the time. This interrupts their ‘flow’ of activity and stops them being independent. Try to create order in their space, so that the child can easily see what is available. Place toys in baskets on shelves, with all pieces to the set (hard I know) farm animals/cars/jigsaw all in their own place, rather than all in a box jumbled up together. As with all the other activities I have suggested there is no need to spend money in a Montessori home, use what you have, keep it simple and easy, let your child’s imagination be the focus not the toy.
Top Tip: Arts And Crafts/Messy Play For All
Materials for a first time art area may include:
Play dough and cutters (recipe: 1 x cup flour, 2tbs of veg oil, ½ cup of salt, 2 tbsp of cream of tartar and 1 cup of boiling water: mix. If you do not have cream of tartar, try 3tsp of lemon juice)
Selection of different paper
Markers, crayons, pencils
Real scissors (not plastic) – and supervised
Tape, glue etc
If you have a ‘messy play’ tray then this is fantastic for creating scenes and ideas, and can all be contained in one place. It can be used for inside and outside.
You only need to look up the word ‘mess’ in the dictionary and it gives you words like dirt and untidy, it has negative associations that mess is disorder, clutter, chaos and confusion. It definitely conjures a mix of love and hate between people, however, sometimes we are too focused on the disarray and mess that we may miss a sign of a genius at work! If we used the word material engagement would we feel more inclined to take part? Remember not all children will like messy play, some may find the encounter frustrating or even repulsive, while others find it entirely compelling.
Messy play is a fantastic process of exploration. It offers boundless opportunities, it can be enriching, satisfying, captivating and incredibly calming. It provides a sensory opportunity to mould and manipulate materials while not having a focus on making or producing something.
Children learn about the world around them by using their senses, messy play encompasses all of this. Older children can hugely benefit from this as well, especially if they never got to do it in their formative years. When a child actively embodies the ‘squelch’ and shmeer’ of goo and paint only then can they ask questions like “What can I do with this?”, “What is the material like?” and “What can it become?” - critical thinking can begin here.
Ideas for messy play in a tray or large bowl/box:
Freeze some ice cubes of various sizes (put food dye in them for more appeal)
Corn flour and water (science experiment of a solid and a liquid-my absolute favourite)
Cloud dough (a mix of plain flour and baby oil) such a wonderful texture for the children to explore.
Once you start the world is your oyster!