Monday, November 28, 2011

Montessori-at-Home Realities: Answers to a Reader's Questions

Don't Let This Photo Fool You
The other day, a fellow Montessori-inspired reader sent me a personal email with some comments and questions.  I thought I would answer it here in case anyone has similar things on their minds:

“I envy you when I see photos of your kids working in the school room.  Do you have another space for their toys?  Do you keep them in their bedrooms?”

Oh dear!  Don’t let select photos fool you.  The toys may not be in the pictures, but they are there.  Truly, traditional toys constantly creep into our learning room.  Likewise, learning materials get carried to other rooms, sometimes one purpose – such as when we plan to work at the kitchen tables – and sometimes just because I am not paying attention when one of the children has an impulse to use “Montessori materials” as toys.  It’s not how I planned it and it isn’t ideal, but it is real life and the way our days flow…

 As far as where we keep “regular” toys:  We rotate them from our basement storage area to our living room.  From there, they often end up all throughout the house.

 Also, please be aware that my children do not just work in our classroom.  In fact, they often play and create there.  Sometimes this is purposeful and okay by me.  At other times, they Our Work Room Agreement, which we drew up and signed on the first day of school this year, end up making extraordinary messes.  These, of course, don’t end up on the blog because I am often too exasperated or too busy helping to clean them to photograph and upload them.  So, as is the case with most blogs, what you see on this one is but a small portion of what happens on a daily basis.
“I don't have space for individual rooms for each child, so since they sleep together.  They are a bit cramped in one room and I choose to only put books for them help them settle easy to bed.”

I do similarly.
 All three of my children sleep in one literal bed-room.  It is not yet decorated the way I envision it, but it sticks pretty closely to Montessori principles.  Besides their mattresses, which are on platforms or not, depending on their age, to allow for them to get in and out of bed on their own, there is: 

  • one small bureau that houses their jammies, socks and tees in a way each of them can access them, and which is topped with a CD player, bedtime CD’s and light
  • a closet with clothes on rods at child-height and extra linens stored at Mama-height
  • a hanging shelf with some framed prayers and our paper-paged bedtime chapter books (out of the baby’s hand-and-mouth reach)
  •  a bucket of stuffed toys for quiet play
    Oh, those stuffed toys and how they like to be let loose multiple times a day!  I really need to simplify the selection.

    “Legos , Duplos , puzzles, doll house , games, cars, playdough…cannot they all be in the school area on separate shelves?  Would this create distraction?”
    I had our learning shelves set up in our living room before, and I often had “toys” and “work” side-by-side in separate cubbies.  My thought was that so long as all the toys were developmentally-appropriate ones, why not have them out there?  (I am not a Montessori purist.)  Now, I simply choose to keep mostly learning materials on the shelves in a room where the door can be closed because it not only helps my older children differentiate between which things can be used in personally creative ways and which may have guidelines, but it also allows me to keep my youngest away from materials he is not ready for when need be.
    “Yesterday I visited a small private preschool with my three years old , I observed him moving around from digging dinosaur in the sand, to play on the mat with cars to play kitchen , to making puzzle, to ten minutes playdough play, to reading corner nicely and on his own.  How can this be accomplished when you are homeschooling an older sibling when she is needing one-on-one ...Where will your tiny tot be when you are working with your boys one-on-one?”
    Well, every time I think I have this quandary figured out, my children go and change things up on me.  Different things work on different days and, on some days, nothing works at all.
    My nearly 18-month-old does not move from one activity to another happily and independently for long periods of time, but he does sometimes.  At other times, I ask my preschooler or kindergartner to play with him while I work with a sibling, but I don’t force them to do so.  Thus, I find I sometimes have to just “give up” one-on-one time until the little one is napping or thoroughly immersed in something.  At such times, I remind myself that in a traditional Montessori school, the infants and toddlers are in one room and the 3-6’s in another.  I do not have this luxury, and, thus, manage as I can.
    More and more, I see that Montessori-inspired homeschooling can look a lot like traditional Montessori learning.  However, it can also look very different as the realities home weave together with Montessori-essence.

    “I cannot believe a tot can go through her workbox or shelf on her own moving from one activity to the other.  Mine will do the transfer once or twice than he needs something else and all this is more fun and nice when played with mama… we can be done with our trays in half an hour, then what?”

    My youngest does not really have shelves and workboxes that he uses exclusively nor independently for long spurts of time.  Rather, he has several items on shelves that he explores as he wishes and, when his big siblings and I need some time without his little hands and curious mind about, we relegate him to the hallway with a few toys and, often, one of us to accompany him.

    My preschooler moves through her shelves and boxes when we have learning room time okay, as does my kindergartener, but both seek my attention often just like their little brother does.  Every day is a new day and the “normalization” one would see in a traditional Montessori school, as well as the picture-perfect ideal we often imagine unfolding in one another’s homes as we browse blogs, is not a reality here.  What is there is the reality that life, learning and love are happening and that is enough for me!

    “You don't want your tot to wonder on his own…so…we…just follow him and play with him and use his naps and time when his dad is around to do school with his five years old sister… not much can be achieved then because she wants to play with papa, too, and, after playing with little bro all morning, I am finding she needs a nap, too.”

    I don’t mind when my little one wanders about by himself for a bit in the house, so long as I know he is safe.  Frankly I think it is good for his sense of independence.  However, we, too, often play with him (and each other!) instead of concentrating on learning.  Then, we use his naptime for some learning or cleaning.  When Daddy is home, we rarely “school” because all the kids want to play with Daddy or we are attending to home, outside activities or regular daily routines, such as bedtime.
    I am okay with all this because: 

    • my children are still young and I do not believe a pre-k or kindergarten program needs to be that rigorous.
    • do my best to follow my children’s interests and needs.
    • I am confident that in a loving home with thoughtful parents, learning happens regardless of the amount of time spent on formal lessons.
    Again, I am not a Montessori-purist, but a Mama who  is drawn to Maria’s philosophy’s in combination with some others, as well as a huge dose of what my heart and head tell me and the Spirit inspires me to pursue.
    “Mama is exhausted too and her break used to be when kiddos are napping.  Now, no rest for mama.”
    Oh, I feel for this one!  My eldest gave up naps at 18 months, so I have rarely had time for rest/nap myself.  Instituting a quiet time has been an ongoing struggle for years here.  Sometimes we manage.  Other times, I just pray for grace and enough energy to make it until my kids finally crash at night.
    When I am frustrated, tired or feeling defeated, I try to remind myself that this is a stage in our lives and will pass.  I also try to think about what I want to remember and what I want my children to remember when we look back at this stage:  JOY.
    I am the first to admit that joy is not something I share enough of with my children as I try to figure out how to balance home, work, homeschooling and life.  Like many moms, I get frustrated, tired, hyperfocused…  A host of less-important human mom-stuff sometimes seems to take precedence over the responsibility and gift of training my children up.  Moreover, I recognize that being a teacher or guide at a school comes with an entirely different set of parameters than being a mom at home who also takes on the role as teacher/guide.  Discovering how best to fulfill my roles and to do it with grace and joy is something I am working on.  I pray the Spirit will illuminate the way.

    Messes Are Part of Learning
    I pray, as well, that through being honest about all this here I offer the reader who took the time to email some perspective, solidarity and a few helpful ideas.  I also hope that I might encourage others that have heard similar calls similar to mine and that if what I have written here sparks a thought from a Montessori parent who is more experienced or balanced than I am that person would be willing to share in a comment.

    Guiding our children in our own homes is a rewarding experience.  It can also feel solitary and wearisome at times.  Through the blogging community, perhaps we can inspire a sense of harmony and togetherness.  I hope so at least.

    This post is being shared at Montessori Monday hosted by One Hook Wonder and Living Montessori Now, where you'll find both practical ideas and perspective on bringing Montessori-inspired learning to children.


    Mommy to the Princesses said...

    Thanks for taking the time to post this! It helps knowing not all homeschools are picture perfect!

    Beth ( said...

    I loved the Q&A =-) We rotate our toys too!! I am your newest follower, I'd love it if you followed me back =-) I also wanted to invite you to link up at mY TGIF linky party -
    Beth =-)

    Deb Chitwood said...

    Great post, Martianne! I love your statement "More and more, I see that Montessori-inspired homeschooling can look a lot like traditional Montessori learning. However, it can also look very different as the realities home weave together with Montessori-essence." I really love the way you use Montessori principles yet allow yourself to be relaxed if things aren't perfect. Thanks for linking up with Montessori Monday. I featured your post at the Living Montessori Now Facebook page:

    Holly Gomez said...

    Martianne, You just took a photo still of our famiy homeschooling journey into Montessori and back and then replanted really is evolving and the past four years has taught me more than I could have expected. Happy Advent

    martianne said...

    Mommy to Princesses - Indeed, it is. Anytime you need that reminder, just think of us.

    Beth, your blog is great. We enjoy linking there some F's.

    Deb, thank you for all the encouragement you always offer.

    Holly, so glad to know others journeys parallel mine.

    Thanks, all, for sharing.

    Epic Childhood said...

    Thanks for the blog comment. I re-did my label sewction to be in list form instead of cloud. Its under the posts towards the bottom of the page. Look for the ones that say light table, light panel, light box, fun with light, light table manipulatives, etc. Id love to talk anytime about light table play and anything else montessori, waldorf, or reggio! feel free to email me anytime off list. I can be found on facebook too! Kristen Stehli

    viv said...

    thank you so much for this wonderful post , i get back to it and reread it whenever i feel things are not going smoothly in our house . I love the photo of your kids in their big bed . I have no log but maybe i can share with you privatly how things are done in our house . blessings . viv


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