As parents, we are regularly bombarded with the things we should be doing with our children. We should be feeding our children healthy foods. We should be limiting screen time. We should be making sure they get out side...and on and on. Parenting can be stressful as we try to do everything "right". Not to mention all the other things we need to do: work full time, keep the house clean, and manage everyone's busy schedules to name a few.
So what are some simple strategies we can use to be sure we're meeting our child's developmental needs? Even though Maria Montessori established her theories early in the 20th century, her work remains relevant to today's children. If we can keep three key principles of her work in our mind, then we will be ready to support our child's growth over time. They are: observe, prepare, and respect.
Observing and Preparing
Take a moment and recall how you prepared for the arrival of your first child - learning about pregnancy, staying healthy, knowing what to expect, fixing the nursery, reading childcare books, taking classes, researching products, procedures, and possibilities.
Then remember how in the first few weeks at home with the baby, there was little time to focus on anything other than diapering and feeding.But, as you practiced being a parent and perfected new skills like changing diapers, waking in the dark to feed a hungry baby, or fitting your baby into the car seat. It all fell into place and became somewhat predictable - at least for a while.
One day you observed that the clothes no longer fit, so you got the next size up to make your child comfortable. As the baby began to be mobile, you rearranged their room so they could safely explore the toys you carefully placed within their reach. Your child's room was originally organized to make it easy and convenient for you, the adult. Now you, the adult, adjusted the environment to address your young child's needs.
As they grow, we must continue to observe. It is important to notice where their focus
and interests are. If you see they are interested in pouring, prepare some small containers for them to transfer water into. If they intent on putting their socks on and off and on again, prepare a basket of socks for them to practice with. Are they tired and grouchy mid-day now that they've quit napping? Notice how much sleep they need at night to be their best selves and prepare your schedule to accommodate their needs. As much as you can, keep observation and preparation in mind.
The observe/prepare sequence will continue and repeat as your child grows. There are many resources available to help parents understand what children need at different stages such as Montessori Insights for Young Children by Aline Wolf. In a Montessori Home outlines specific ideas for preparing the home environment.
Respecting the Young Child
At this time in your child's life they are learning to complete new tasks and are eager to help out. We can show them respect by adapting household jobs according to their ability. They will feel a great sense of pride when we help them become a contributing member of the household. As you begin to involve them in the work of the home, keep in mind a few things.
Respect your child as an individual member of the family. Do this by observing and putting yourself in their head. Stand back and leave them free to work things out for herself - even if it takes them ten minutes to put the cap back on the toothpaste. Try to understand their unique rhythm.
Continue to show your child how to perform a task until it becomes an internalized routine, as repetition is important in developing a skill. Do not assume a child will memorize how to do a task after one demonstration. As patiently as you can, repeat, repeat, repeat. Once learned, your child will take pleasure in this continued repetition.
Teach by teaching (demonstrating), not by correcting, as children might give up making an effort when they are corrected. If your child makes a mistake, demonstrate the correct way on another day, so they can try again.
Honor their need for independence. Have child-proof spaces where toys are within reach and children are not reliant on adults to get what they want. Allocate a cupboard or drawer in the kitchen for their dishes and healthy snacks. If there is space, add a child-size table and chair for projects and eating. The ability to explore freely is a key to their independence.
Try not interrupt a child who is trying to figure things out or who is concentrating on an activity. However, be realistic and maintain the family schedule - the parents are the keepers of the routines. It's fine to interrupt with a reminder that in five minutes we'll be leaving for school or eat dinner.
Stick to a routine. Talk to your child about your routine and what the day ahead will look like. “First, we will get dressed and then eat breakfast. After that we will brush our teeth and hair. Next, we will get on our shoes and get ready to leave the house…”. Be as consistent as you can - routines give children a sense of security and calm that enable them to learn and adapt to new situations.
So, let your mantra be "observe, prepare, and respect" and you will be well on your way to supporting this important time in your child's life.
"Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is acquired not by listening but by experience in the environment." —Maria Montessori , The Secret of Childhood
Written with inspiration from Jane M. Jacobs, M.A., Montessori Educational Consultant at Montessori Services.