Montessori toddlers

Montessori Moods: Floor Scrubbing (or How Montessori Makes Me Crazy)

The “work cycle” in a Montessori classroom is approximately three hours. My understanding is that they typically have some kind of group time, but the majority of the time the children are self-directed: choosing their own activities, concentrating and being baby geniuses. I get excited if my children will work on anything for more than 5 minutes.

Part of doing Montessori at home is missing the positive peer pressure that happens in the classroom. I’ve also missed the formal training that apparently turns one into a perfectly patient and sweet Montessori directress. So my children have a 15 minute work cycle and I correct them (and direct them) more often than I probably should and in a not-so-sweet voice.

Some reading I’ve been doing lately suggests that focusing on practical life activities helps to restore (or develop) a lack of concentration. I have been neglecting these lately since my older son turned four and I felt like I needed to push him into more math and language activities. We also do “practical life activities” everyday without really trying.

All to say that today I decided to show the children how to scrub the floor. Montessori tends to do these types of activities in a more old fashioned way, but I don’t think it’s necessary. You just need to make sure everything you use is safe for your kids. I forgot to take a before picture, but in the basket was a roll of painters tape, a pair of scissors, two buckets, a scrub brush, a bottle of dish soap and a sponge. I cut tape and made a square on the floor, had my oldest son get water in the buckets, and put a little dish soap in one of the buckets (should have done this before adding water). I showed them how to scrub with the brush and soapy water in small circles, starting at the top left and working to the right and down. Then we wiped up the soapy water with the sponge wet in clean water.

It all sounds very nice, but it resulted in a very wet floor, since unlike the baby geniuses, my children don't usually get things right after the first presentation. DSC_0776 And transitioned into table scrubbing (another actual Montessori activity that I’d shown my oldest before). DSC_0779 This then devolved into toy truck scrubbing. DSC_0780 All of this is very good and fine and I was “following the child,” but then I ran out of all my sweet, patient, untrained Montessori-ness and decided they just needed to go outside and wash toys.

(I was inspired by this blog post, although I don’t recommend using baking soda unless you’re sure your floor can handle it. You also want to be sure that your child is mature enough not to sprinkle it on her head/face or inhale it or anything.)

Montessori Moods: The "Prepared Environment"

My kids eating lunch at their table. The “prepared environment” is what Maria Montessori called the learning space in her children’s houses (preschools). It was designed to allow the children to respond to their desire to learn and “work”. It included child-sized furniture for working and eating, as well as the specially designed Montessori materials. Everything was designed to allow the children to do things for themselves. It was also designed to be beautiful, orderly and inviting.

Get down at your child’s level in your home and see what it looks like. Can your child wash his own hands? Get his own snack? Get out crayons and a coloring book for himself?

You don’t have to make everything accessible to your child at once, but you can take steps to allow your child to do things for himself. In the original Montessori classrooms, the children served lunch to one another. The older children (5-6 year olds) would carry tureens full of soup to the table and serve the younger children. Other children would carry pitchers of water to refill glasses. Montessori discovered that young children WANT to do things for themselves and can do them if carefully shown and provided the right environment.

You can easily take steps in your home to make it more accessible to your young children and even toddlers. One of the easiest things to do is to have a child-sized table and chairs. My children are truly delighted to be able to eat at their table, color, do puzzles and other activities.  Step stools help a lot. We have one at the bathroom sink and just recently got one for the kitchen sink. The stool allows our children to wash their own hands, brush their teeth, and sometimes they get to play in the sink! Having a cabinet in the kitchen with child-sized kitchen tools is also a great idea. You can put snacks in there and on a low shelf in the refrigerator so they can help themselves.

You can make these types of modifications all over your house to allow your child to do things for himself!

Today’s Activity: Hand Washing

When presenting an activity to your child, practice beforehand and notice all the tiny motions that go into the activity. You will primarily be showing your child what to do, not telling him. Use as few words as possible.

Stand at the sink with your child on a stool next to you so that he can see you. (This is where the prepared environment is important—he can’t see what you’re doing if he doesn’t have a stool!) Show him the whole process of hand-washing being unusually slow and exaggerating all the motions. When you’re finished, ask your child if he would like to wash his hands. If he says no, say okay and move on to something else. If he says yes, show him how to move his stool into place and allow him to wash his hands. Try not to correct him if he doesn’t do something “right” (unless he’s really doing something unacceptable). If it seems like he’s missing some crucial step, plan to present it to him again some other time.

You can also check out this link for official Montessori hand-washing presentation instructions.  In  my opinion, this is more involved than is necessary for me and my kids, but I just want to expose you to the different possibilities.