Parents often ask, how do teachers do it? How do they manage 12 toddlers or 20 early childhood students at the same time? Where is the magic? Will I ever be able to do it too?
I will share a few time and experience-tested techniques that Montessori teachers incorporate in the classroom that you can try at home.
1. Ground rules
Montessori teachers establish reasonable ground rules based on respect that helps the community work together. Teachers respect each individual child. Children are taught to respect the teachers, the work materials, the environment and one another. Teachers accomplish this by stating the ground rules in a positive voice and modeling the expected behaviors themselves. For example, “We use inside voices” or “We use walking feet”. As children age and can communicate verbally, it is very powerful to include them in the creation of classroom rules. At home, you can do the same. An example of a positive ground rule at home would be, “We eat dinner together sitting at the table”.
2. Consistent scheduling
Young children thrive in an environment that is predictable. Routines and expectations help children self-regulate. Having a consistent schedule enables children to have the beginning knowledge of telling time. Consistency is important in the home during those times when all family members are getting ready for the day and on their way to school or work. Bedtime routines are also crucial for evenings to flow smoothly. We all need more sleep. Starting with an ideal bedtime of 7:00 or 7:30 and working backwards to include reading together, self-care bathing and brushing teeth, free play time and dinner should help you establish your nighttime routine – and still allow for some alone time with partners.
3. Giving choices
There is a basic tenet of Montessori, “freedom within limits”. What this means is that after the teacher carefully prepare the classroom with appropriate choices of activities, children can choose what they would like to start with and do next. Making choices leads to independence and self-reliance – skills that benefit an individual throughout life. At home a choice maybe, “Would you like cereal or eggs for breakfast?” or “Choose two books for bedtime” or “Do you want to wear this outfit or this one tomorrow?” Just as in the classroom, all of the choices at home need to be appropriate. For instance, summer clothes and flip-flops are not available to wear in the winter.
4. Allowing mistakes to lead to learning
Mistakes and accidents happen daily as children learn how to maneuver their bodies in space and their gross and fine motor skills are developing. We prepare the classrooms with all of the child-size tools necessary for cleaning up dry and wet spills, toileting mishaps, and material repairs. Children who are taught natural consequences and ownership for mistakes are more likely to find a solution the next time all by themselves. Montessori teachers do not hover or “fix” everything for the toddler who is showing signs of frustration over a task. Children are given time to try a variety of solutions to a problem which leads to perseverance and grit. Children are also given the words to use to ask for adult help, “Help, please”.
5. Consistent response
Perhaps the most common error a parent makes is giving in under pressure. Children are excellent interpreters of body language and what behavior parents will respond to immediately or eventually. Parenting partners must present a united front for managing behaviors. It is advisable to have “what if” conversations before the challenging behavior happens.
Are there exceptions? Of course, there are exceptions to all of the points in this essay. Families go on vacation, have relatives visit, have sickness in home, or a new baby. The goal for all of these events is to remain consistent as possible. Parenting is a life-long task and one willingly and anxiously awaited. The skills that your children learn directly from your role modeling, and your household management will last a life time and influence the adults – and parents they will become.