I first heard about Montessori education through the Hapa Family, a YouTube channel that focuses on tips to create a Montessori environment in the home. It emphasizes independence in children by giving them a well prepared space to do so. Montessori education is self directed which allows for your child to do their own thing while you merely support them. I found the teachings relevant to my own parenting beliefs and therefore was quick to implement what I could with the space I have. Here are 5 Montessori teachings that I have implemented in Yusra’s life:
1. There’s a place for everything and everything is in its place
One of the main practices of Montessori teachings is giving children an open, clutter free environment to learn in. Whether it’s an excessive amount of décor, clothes, or just not having your stuff put away, clutter can take over our lives in an instant. Fortunately, I donated and sold anything and everything I knew we wouldn’t be using and stored away things we would be needing later (ie age appropriate toys, clothes, seasonal items) in labelled boxes even before Yusra was born. I envisioned a minimal home for her even before I knew what Montessori was. Because of this, we kept our living room layout open and purchased as little furniture as possible. designating storage space that is Yusra’s height with toys, blankets, and everyday household items that are safe for her to play with. She has free reign to access each of these spaces and find her independence. After playtime, I make it a habit to pick everything up and put them away in front of her. Keeping large baskets at hand and having a small amount of items in each space makes clean ups a lot easier. It’s a part of our wind down routine and seeing it done so often can hopefully prompt Yusra to join in and help me one day!
2. Encouraging independent play
The Ikea Kallax shelves are very popular in Montessori households. Each shelf has one toy and age appropriate books that Yusra can easily access. The toys are usually wooden as Montessori environments use earthbound materials and open ended toys that encourage imagination and practice of fine and gross motor skills. Yusra spends about two weeks on her set of toys before I do a toy rotation. Her toys are put away in her closet, which she does not have access to yet, and “new” toys are taken out. Either Imad or I will be in the other room or somewhere near her, quietly supervising while she plays and figures out how each toy or household item functions. We ensure there are no distractions when Yusra is busy with something as independent play is very important to a child’s development. It didn’t last very long at first, but now that she’s over a year she can spend almost 20 minutes on a task. That’s more than enough time to drink my coffee while it’s hot.
3. Using a learning tower
Learning towers are a great addition to any household, Montessori or not. A lot of activities happen in the kitchen. Mealtimes, dishes, or even preparing a snack and making coffee can take up a lot of time in there. Yusra uses her tower several times a day and loves to observe and ‘help’ while Imad and I prepare meals and load the dishwasher. After mealtimes, we stand her on the tower and encourage her to wash her own hands. It turns into very messy water play but exposing her to day to day practices such as hand washing and doing dishes is essential to Montessori teaching. Currently, her favourite chores are putting laundry into the machine and dragging the broom around the house. Personally, doing her own chores or helping with unloading the dishwasher is something I’m looking very forward to her learning.
4. Prioritizing baby led weaning over spoon feeding
When I heard about baby led weaning I was in awe of how a six month old baby can possibly feed themselves. Imad and I watched videos on how to encourage self feeding along and brushed up on our CPR before handing Yusra her first solid food — a banana. It was so rewarding to watch Yusra feed herself. Self feeding has worked well for our family because Yusra caught on without any issues and it allowed for Imad and I to join her during mealtimes without giving all our attention on spoon feeding her. We laugh and sing songs while encouraging her to try new foods which doesn’t always work out but she has a few favourites which never fail. She also loves practicing drinking water from a regular cup which made for an easy transition from her sippy cup. Of course, the mess that comes with a baby eating by themselves is always a downside she does oftentimes have to be spoon fed so she has enough in her belly. But introducing her to the idea of self feeding will be easier down the road when she is ready to do so full time. For now, a mixture of both self feeding and spoon feeding is ideal for my family.
5. Limiting and/or discouraging screen time
Imad and I struggle with this one a lot. I think everyone does. But being conscious of our own screen time in front of Yusra as well as the screen time we give her is an ongoing goal. Recently, Yusra has had screen time almost everyday but it is strictly limited to less than half an hour. We pick the same “Zaky Tv” video every time and know whatever task we have at hand needs to be done within 30 minutes. Even so, Yusra is always attracted to our phones and we always happen to be on them while she’s around. Daily video calls from grandma and grandpa are also not helpful when it comes to implementing a no screen time rule. However, thriving for perfection will only lead to disappointment. So, I’ve decided to set boundaries instead. I try not to have my phone on me when I’m engaging in play with her and there is absolutely no screens allowed before bedtime. As long as its used as a form of occasional entertainment and not a method to raise my child, I’m all for it.
Needless to say, there’s a lot more to Montessori education than these five methods. As Yusra grows older, I plan to modify her environment to encourage her development and further her independence. I look forward to things like making her closet accessible to her by moving her clothes to a drawer at her height. Or allowing her to brush her own teeth and make her bathroom truly hers. Because think about it: if children, especially girls, aren’t given the chance to be independent in their own home, how are they going to change the world?