(Fair warning: This is a pretty long post!)
Montessori education focuses on preparing the child for life. One area that I always found very interesting is the one Dr. Montessori termed “Practical Life.” It’s exactly as it sounds: learning how to adapt to everyday life. This includes Care of Self (personal grooming, dress, and care) and Care of the Environment (cleaning and looking after their surroundings). Basic stuff that all children need to learn!
To foster their independence, it is important that a Montessori classroom (or, in this case, the home) accomodates the child’s size and development. In a Montessori classroom, you will notice that everything is child-sized: low shelves, small tables and chairs, low sinks, child-sized toilets, etc. There will not even be a teacher’s desk as in traditional classrooms. The Montessori classroom is truly the “Children’s House.” It is their place of work and learning and they help to take care of the environment by cleaning up, learning how to appropriately handle materials, taking care of the plants, etc.
In the house, it doesn’t always seem as easy to make all these accomodations. I don’t think I’ve gone out of my way to make major changes to our house, but we have made adjustments so that Freestyle can get around and be more independent of us.
My attempts to make my house a Montessori environment:
– Stool (sink): Freestyle can get up and down to wash her hands and brush her teeth.
– Freestyle’s toiletries stored in that little wooden box on the sink…along with a few of Biker’s things. Most of the time, I like having her things with ours (as opposed to a special spot just for her) because she is one of us! She also has a small brush to brush her hair.
– Stool (toilet): Freestyle uses it to help her get up onto the toilet, and recently she has begun to climb up and onto the toilet herself! I found her one day just sitting there doing her business! Good thing we practiced pulling up and down underwear and pants!
– Child’s potty seat: Obvious reason- so she doesn’t fall in! This was a big fear when I had to hold her over a disgustingly full porta-potty in a park one day! Shudder.
– Towel hung low: So she can wipe her hands with ease after washing them.
– Also in the bathroom: her small tub (we are switching to the shower soon!), cloth wipes folded and stored in that green container on the toilet & a bucket behind the toilet for soiled cloth diapers (she is still wearing diapers overnight and during nap time).
– Booster seat: Freestyle’s never had a high chair. She has always sat at the table in her booster seat (seen in the background) so that she is part of the action!When she first started eating, we would use the tray that came with it so she could spread her food on it. Later, when she was a little neater, we would just leave the tray off and she would eat from the table with us. Right from the get-go Freestyle attempted to use her spoon so we just let her. It was pretty messy but I do think it helped her learn to feed herself using utensils quicker. We also gave her a glass for her to drink from and she will use glass/ceramic plates and bowls. Yes, there have been a few broken glasses, but soon enough Free was able to control her movement and today drinks very well out of a glass!
– Cleaning supplies: These are kept where she can reach them. There is a cloth that she uses to wipe up spills and other messes. This is not ideal, but I end up wetting the cloth for her because we don’t have a stool tall enough for the kitchen sink. I’ll probably look for one soon. In the meantime, I’m going to add a spray bottle and teach her to use it (meaning to spray sparingly!). There is also a little broom and dustpan which she is still learning to use (before she liked to use the bigger one that I use- of course!- and is still welcome to because it’s also reachable). Freestyle will see me sweeping and then grab her little broom and follow me around saying, “Dirty, dirty.” Ahh, like father, like daughter! 🙂
– Freestyle’s own cupboard: Free used to go through all the cupboards and take everything out, which was fine because I moved the sharp or potentially harmful objects higher than her reach. Now she’s pretty good at not going through everything (or if she takes out the marinade brush from a drawer to play with, I’m okay with that).
This is her own cupboard. On the top shelf is usually her tupperware, cups, and cutting board. We don’t really use those plastic cups anymore (we used to use them for going out but now she has a stainless steel water bottle), but sometimes she will use them when she wants to have a drink while playing. I will eventually teach her to pour water from a pitcher and then keep the pitcher and a glass in a spot where she can pour herself a drink whenever she wants. I don’t think she is ready just yet but maybe when she is closer to 2. I’ll also eventually place one table setting in the cupboard so Freestyle can set her own place setting with a real glass, ceramic bowl/plate, and her stainless steel utensils.
I will usually keep some of her snacks on the 2nd shelf and she just helps herself. For example, today she was having a squeezable pouch of fruit/veg puree (it’s for babies, but I love them because they’re a portable, instant smoothie! Plus it’s organic and you can put the cap back on for later.) and wanted “more!” I told her to go to her cupboard and get another one (we were upstairs), and she did!
If it’s something loose like crackers, I’ll portion it out into a container (it’s on the 2nd shelf to the left) because if I left the entire box there, she’d probably just eat them all!
The bottom shelf is really just random stuff. The black bag is her lunch bag for when we go out or when she goes to the babysitter. You can also see the red stainless steel water bottle she uses when we go out.
3. Living Area
– Child-sized table and chair (pictured above): Freestyle can easily sit herself down there to play, have a snack, or make a picture.
– Art supplies and toys readily available and in reach: As mentioned, we keep some art supplies on the little table. I haven’t made art supplies like paint readily available to her right now, so I will bring it out when we want to make a painting, like this one she did for her grandpa.
Her toys are also kept in the living room, tucked into a corner (well, it starts off there anyway!). I’m always trying to cull her toy collection. I remember how embarassed I felt when a friend came over and said, “Wow, it’s like a daycare in here!” We don’t buy her a lot of toys (I can maybe count on one hand the toys we bought her ourselves), but we were lucky to have a lot of hand-me-downs and gifts, and also my neighbour and I will trade and borrow.
Anyway, after that comment I did realize that it was getting a little out of control– Free does not need so many toys and also I didn’t want to overstimulate her with such a large amount. My plastic purge earlier this year helped to cut down the amount of toys. I think she only has 2 or 3 plastic toys left (which we made sure were BPA- and phthalate-free). The rest are cloth, stuffed animals, or wood. A lot of the time Freestyle makes herself busy with other things around the house too, so I know she doesn’t miss them.
4. Front Hall
– Basket for Freestyle’s coats and hats: Kept on the ground so she can choose and reach them on her own. She likes to choose her own hat but I’ll usually choose which jacket based on the weather. She can put on and take off her own hat. With a little help with the sleeves, Free can put on and zip up her coat and unzip and take off the coat again. I’m going to teach her a new way to put on her coat on her own (and post about it) very soon. Eventually, it’d be nice if we put up some low hooks on one of the walls there for her to hang up her coats and hats, but we’ll see how Biker feels about that!
You can see her little shoes on the shoe tray next to ours. She likes to bring us our shoes when we go out.
That’s all I’ll do for now. If anyone has any tips on making a home “more Montessori,” please share!