Today I’d like to share a story with you. A story I haven’t told in a while. It’s about how I came to Montessori and how it has completely changed the way I parent my kids.
And I’m curious if you’ve noticed any of these changes yourself. Or something you are working on.
My introduction to Montessori
Back in the year 2000 as eager parents we went looking for a preschool for our newborn son. I’d heard something about Montessori schools when I lived in London so was curious to attend their open day.
When I walked in, I was stunned by how beautiful everything looked. Everything prepared with care and attention and all the materials laid out ready for the children to choose. If I wanted to touch and work with these materials, I was sure it would appeal to any child too.
It wasn’t long after when I signed up to attend a Montessori parent-toddler class with my son run by Ferne van Zyl. At first I noticed I could give him a lot more independence. I began to see how capable he was. He started drinking from a small glass (yes, real glass), learned where his shoes went within a couple of weeks, and loved to carry his tiny backpack into class with him.
From what I read about Montessori and giving children independence, this was a welcome but not surprising discovery.
The other things did come as a surprise and I hope you get to enjoy these bits too.
1. Guiding the child
Follow their lead
I started to notice how much I lead through the day. My natural tendency is to still do this. To plan the day ahead. But what if we relinquish control, say for 2 hours while we are playing at home, and see what the child is interested in.
It still amazes me to see how long my kids can work at something when they follow their interests. Both my kids were mad on puzzles and would repeat and repeat them. I lost interest long before they did, but I would still ask them, “Would you like to do it again?”
When my daughter was in preschool, she would get fixated on something she was learning to master. For a three month period she worked her way through every sewing project available until she was stitching a simple picture and sewing little cushions. Once mastered, she would move onto the next thing of interest. Always at her own pace and always making me a little bit uncomfortable that she would never move on. But she always did.
Set safe limits
I have to be honest. This bit is difficult. I want my kids to be happy. To give them what they want. To be ever patient.
The problem is you give and give and then – snap – I’d lose my patience because I had let it go too far.
I don’t remember the exact words (or even the author), but when I heard this it began to make sense:
“The role of a parent is not to make a child happy. But to help them deal with all life will throw at them: joy, grief, and anger.”
It’s really when you show up as a parent, when you can set a limit to keep your child safe, to be clear about your values, and to set it firmly but with love. “I can’t let you hit me. My safety is important to me.” “We are gentle with the baby.” “We eat at the table. Are you all done?”
It’s clear to me. It’s clear to the kids. And I don’t often have to explode because I know what the limits are. Kids don’t forget them, but will need to be reminded as they are impulsive creatures. Like I always say, I know I’m meant to eat healthy, but before I realise it I have my hand in the cookie jar. Impulses are strong and I would love someone to remind me of the rules when needed!
2. Let’s find out together
This is the super fun bit. This is making curious learners. Not giving them the answers. But inviting them to find out and make discoveries together.
Hands on learning
In this digital age, there has never been a more important time to go back to learning with your hands. We can access all the information we need at our fingertips so rote learning and memorising have little place in a true education.
How do we learn best? From looking at a digiboard? Or touching and exploring with our hands? Dr Montessori said that the hand was the intellect. A direct link from the hand to the brain. And I don’t think anything has changed all these years later.
I loved watching my children explore in nature, or with beautiful materials at home or at playgroup.
Instead of just telling them the answer, when I remember, I love to invite them to find out. Kids are going to need these skills more than ever. To be able to solve problems creatively. So it’s something I try to practise daily.
Including them in daily life
When I realised I didn’t need to entertain the kids all day, I began to relax and enjoy my time with them more.
While it takes more time, I found it fun to do things around the house with the kids. Sometimes they would join me to cook, sometimes helping me to hang out the washing, sometimes helping me to set the table.
I never forced them. Just invited them to help me.
Not only did we get some of the jobs done, we spent a lot of precious time together nattering about nothing in particular. If you want to get technical it’s probably what some parenting experts would call “connection.” Feels pretty amazing no matter what it is called.
It also builds a culture of “we help each other”. If a guest is coming to stay, we can all work together to get their bed ready; if someone is running late in the morning, we can give them a hand.
I still love these moments.
3. Accept them for who they are
If you’ve ever been in a relationship and thought, “they are perfect, if only they stop doing xxxx”, I can tell you that it’s very unlikely they are ever going to change – the only thing you can do is change your reaction.
The same with kids.
In difficult times
When they are melting down, telling my kids “don’t cry, it doesn’t matter” often makes them shout louder and louder. But when I acknowledge their feelings and not push them away, they continue to rage, then feel heard.
Have you ever just woken up feeling grumpy? A couple of weeks ago, I was exactly that. I told my friend, “I shouldn’t be feeling grumpy, I have so many things I can be grateful for.” She wisely told me to just lean into it. She acknowledged my feeling. I ordered cake, I told my family it’s not them but I just feel grumpy, and when I woke up the next day, these feelings had just gone. Exactly the same as allowing those ugly feelings in our kids. They pass.
And then, once they are calm, I help them make amends if necessary.
It’s not the easy option; it’s the long term choice; one that will pay off as my kids come to feel safe with me and know they can rely on me no matter what the mood.
The end of “good job”
Montessori teachers notice effort. They encourage kids. But they don’t often use subjective validation like “good job” or “good boy”. They don’t use external praise to get kids to behave. Instead they work on building their self discipline. Doing things because it feels good to help. Learning the difference between right and wrong.
I like to say I’ve learned to celebrate with moderation. I’m super excited for my kids when they achieve something they have worked hard at. But I leave the pride for them to experience themselves. And I’ll happily stay on the sidelines and support them.
My parenting has changed so much from applying Montessori principles at home. My kids are my favourite people to spend time with, even on days when we are feeling a bit blue.
So now I’m curious. Have you had any of the same realisations or changes in your parenting style? Do share! Drop me an email. I’d love to hear.
PS – If you want to practise any of these, pop over here to print out an infographic I made to stick on your fridge