As part of our ongoing Montessori Education series, here’s a re-post of an article written in Fall 2011 by Jill Baxter, Parenting Learning Co-Coordinator of Inly’s Parent Steering Committee:
Practical life skills and Montessori principles—for preschool and beyond
At last week’s Parent Insight Event, Children’s House preschool and kindergarten teacher and Inly parent Lauren Vitali and Assistant Head of School and Inly alumni parent Julie Kelly-Detweiler led a conversation about implementing Montessori principles in the home. Parents from many different grade levels participated in a discussion that related topics including lunch choices, tantrums and chores to Montessori principles such as independence, responsibility, and the “prepared environment.”
Changing our mindset in connection with independence and responsibility is a tough one—whether it is setting the table, making a bed, or preparing part of a meal. Often, it is easiest and most expedient for a parent to get it done alone. It takes time and thought to decide when it is appropriate and, then, allow children to undertake tasks, prepare the environment to help ensure their success (allowing for imperfection). Building extra time into your day to allow children to take on meaningful, age-appropriate tasks will pay dividends, however.
Montessori principles at home and at school
Many parents will be happy to learn that chores such as setting the table, emptying the dishwasher, or doing laundry actually bolster Montessori principles! As students in a Montessori classroom, all Inly students have weekly jobs they perform at school to help keep their community environment neat, safe, and healthy. Cutting fruit, cleaning tables, feeding classroom pets, recording attendance, or organizing snack are all jobs which encourage independence and help build and maintain a sense of community in the classroom. As Julie pointed out, giving children meaningful responsibility in their home also encourages them to think of themselves as part of a whole, and, in turn, identify the work they are doing as meaningful for themselves and others.
The link between independence and the Montessori “prepared environment”
Lauren offered sage advice on the link between independence and a prepared environment. While it may involve some extra time and thought in the short-term, a prepared environment can make giving your child responsibility and independence easier in the long run. Making your home a “prepared environment” can be as easy as moving the cereal bowls within reach, having a snack basket, or designating a work area with materials available for homework or book projects. Organizing clothes in a way your child understands can ease battles before school and allow you to more easily set boundaries for what is appropriate and what is not.
Of course, many of us know that encouraging our kids to take on additional responsibilities (even with a prepared environment) doesn’t rule out conflict. When there is conflict, using language that children are familiar with from school may help. Talk to your child’s teachers about language used in the classroom that you could implement at home, and ask about the jobs your child performs in the classroom to get ideas for age appropriate tasks your Montessori kid can take on at home.
I left that morning meeting resolved to figure out ways my boys can help around the house more and also with an “Independence Guide” handout that gave concrete examples of responsibility and independence at each stage of development. I think I can sort out some new responsibilities for my Montessori kids. I also walked away with a greater sense of community, happy my kids are in a school with a profound respect for children and family.
Recommended resources on Montessori education and Montessori in the home:
Montessori Terminology: AMS Guide
All the Montessori terms you need to know—from Prepared Environment and Practical Life to Sensorial Exercises and Sensitive Periods