Throughout my nanny career I’ve done a lot of research on various methods for teaching toddlers new skills & engaging their growing minds. One of my favorite things about the toddler age is the constant desire to try & learn new things. New words seem to be learned overnight & new and challenging tasks conquered with amazing determination. A philosophy that caught my eye while my brother was looking for a school for my niece was the Montessori Method. Developed by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori. Before doing any research the only things I’d heard about Montessori were pretty negative. Children were forced to work at tasks without being given the chance to play. Now mind you, the people who were giving me this information were NOT parents of children in Montessori programs. Sometimes I think that people who do not understand the philosophy & science behind certain methods can feel threatened and negative towards them. I went into my research with an open mind & a willingness to learn. As I read more about it, I was drawn to a few different things:
One was the emphasis on working WITH a child’s natural abilities, interests, & tendencies. No forcing a kid to play with a toy they’re clearly not interested or taking over with a task while the child looks on with resignation or wanders off completely.
Second was honestly the simplicity & organization of the environment encouraged by the Montessori method. Loud, ugly, & obnoxious toys are discouraged while simple objects that truly stimulate appropriately children at each stage of their early life. By using these uncomplicated items it also lends itself to maintaining a fairly clutter free environment. Encouraging open access with low shelves & baskets and teaching the concepts of putting away items that they’re finished with makes for a tidy home.
So those are two of my top reasons for being drawn to Montessori, now to actually putting the principles & activities to use. I just got re-interested in using the concepts and decided to try some activities out at work. With a active 21 month old in my care I’m always trying to come up with new ways to help him express his energy & expand his intellectual capabilities. There are a bunch of great blogs about specific Montessori activities, but I want to talk a little bit about the experience of putting this stuff into action. I had some preconceived notions about the process & how things would go and learned very quickly (as with most things to-do with kids) to never have unrealistic expectations. I had visions of long 30 min periods where my charge would happily pour beans from one jar to another and I would practically have to tear him away from his beloved activities. Notsomuch. Certain things could keep his attention for about 10 mins but a few things that I tried were barely started before they were discarded. I was disappointed but have also dealt with toddlers long enough to know that few things keep their attention very long. I have seen him spend 20 mins throwing a basketball in a hoop or running a truck back & forth on the ground. Knowing the areas of great interest I think will be key in determining which activities will be the most popular. I also found myself trying to jump in & show him how it “should be done”. Normally I’m pretty good about hanging back & letting kids figure stuff out for themselves & only stepping in if the child is getting very frustrated. In this case, however, I tend to find myself wanting him to be a model Montessori pupil and that if it’s not done the “right” way that I see in examples then he’s not getting the benefits of the activities. I’m trying to stop myself & just demonstrate the steps & then step back. One thing that will help with this is as I learn what he’s ready to do developmentally I can tailor the activities to his skill level, he won’t be over his head & I won’t feel the need to “save” him.
I’m also learning to see opportunities for Montessori-type learning in everyday activities. One of the largest aspects of the method involves practical life applications. Showing them how to prepare food, get dressed, & take care of their environment. By just adding a few questions to the mix when sorting clothes or encouraging them to participate in cleaning & sweeping we can make an experience that could seem tedious to both us & the child into a fun learning opportunity. I love the efficiency!
I’m going to be revisiting the Montessori method over the next few months as we learn & incorporate the principles into our daily routines but I hope that this has given you an opportunity to learn more about our journey.