My partner and I have to wait a few more years before we get started on actively preparing the curriculum required for homeschooling, but that doesn't mean I'm not already paying attention to the Maria Montessori lessons that could benefit our child. Our baby is only 9 months, so the sense of urgency has yet to kick in with respect to getting in the first day of school spirit, but many of those lessons are, I've learned, already applicable.
Both of us are eager and excited to embark on the journey of education with our child, and develop a curriculum that incorporates elements of different teaching philosophies that we feel can best prepare our babe for life inside and outside of the classroom. We want to teach our child that the “classroom” can take many forms, and education itself is something that isn’t always confined to a traditional classroom.
Of the many books I’ve been reading to prepare for life as a homeschooling parent, the one text that’s impacted me most deeply is The Montessori Method, by Maria Montessori. In it, Montessori explains the importance of children’s individuality, while detailing how to make sure that a child is able to thrive in learning environments according to their unique emotional, physical, psychological, and intellectual needs.
The Montessori Method hasn't just prepared me for homeschooling; it's given me tools to help better prepare my child in all areas of life. Given different children’s unique needs, and the unique circumstances of their caregivers, some of these lessons may not be applicable to your life, but the overall message can still inspire new ways of thinking about and engaging with children.
1. Discipline Must Come Through Liberty
In her book, Montessori explained that a discipline person is someone who is a “master of himself, and can, therefore, regulate his own conduct when it shall be necessary to follow some rule of life.” She urged caregivers and educators to encourage children to move instead of sit still, to create and explore rather than stay in one place. Through habit and practice, she explained, children learn to “perform easily and correctly the simple acts of social or community life.”
Sometimes, we hinder children from learning new things or having transformative experiences when we limit their ability to explore. By encouraging a sense of freedom and liberty, but responding accordingly when they behave in a way that is inappropriate, you avoid teaching your child to associate “good” behavior with sitting still and “bad” behavior with action and movement. By letting them learn about discipline through freedom and liberty, you’re helping your child associate adventure with learning.
2. The Home Is An Intimate Space Of Learning
Montessori wrote that the home “is the giver of moral life, of blessings; it cares for, it educates and feeds the little ones. Within it, the tired workman shall find rest and newness of life. He shall find there the intimate life of the family, and its happiness.”
A home is more than just four walls and place to rest your head. And, in many cases, it’s important for children to understand that. From deep conversations in the living room to cooking together in the kitchen or playing games in the bedroom, the home can be a learning environment in many respects.
There are countless opportunities for teaching moments, whether we’re conscious of it or not, when we’re at home. According to researchers at Michigan Sate University, children learn most by watching their parents and caregivers. Our homes are microcosms of the sociopolitical world outside of their walls. What we have on the walls, the colors we choose to decorate, the toys we have on the floor, the smells that linger on the air, and the way we interact with our children and with each other, all tell an intimate story to our children about who we are and what we consider to be important.
3. Teach Child About The Cultivation Of Living Things
When a child plants a seed and is able to watch that seed transform through every stage of development, they’re given an opportunity to learn about different processes while also obtaining a new respect for nature. They learn about creation, patience, and observation.
In her book, Montessori described the following scenario to illustrate how her students engaged with nature:
“While the smaller children run freely up and down the paths, or rest in the shade of the trees, the possessors of the earth (children from four years of age up), are sowing, or hoeing, watering or examining, the surface of the soil watching for the sprouting of plants.”
At every stage of development, children can learn to appreciate nature in some way. Not only can this lead to practical applications like gardening for food, it can also give children a way to connect with the world around them and feel inspired.
4. Observe More Than You Teach
When your children have the tools and skills necessary to teach things to themselves, all that’s required of their caregivers and educators is to watch them and make sure they are safe. Self-guided lessons and independent play allows children to learn from trial-and-error, and enjoy uninterrupted moments of concentration and activity.
Dr. Steven Hughes, Ph.D., pediatric neuropsychologist and director of the Center for Research on Developmental Education, recently spoke with the team at Greensboro Montessori School about the importance of uninterrupted play for children. “When the child is actively working and concentrating,” he told them, “they are literally building their brains.”
Hughes went on to add that, “When this is happening, this brain building, there is nothing we can or should do. We need to step back, let the child direct, and let the child be inspired. Never interrupt the concentrated child; it is then when they are constructing.”
This is why it’s important to observe more than we teach. Important biological processes are occurring behind-the-scenes.
5. Mistakes Are Normal Parts Of Learning
If we teach our children that mistakes have a purpose, they won’t automatically associate them with something “bad." Mistakes are a natural part of development and learning, and it’s important for children to embrace that fact.
When I was a child, I would get scolded for making mistakes. Things had to be perfect, and if I didn’t strive for perfection then I was a failure — that’s what was instilled in me as early as kindergarten.
When children understand what a mistake really is, they can learn what not to do and work towards mastering a skill or activity without the added stress of feeling like they did something wrong or bad.
Montessori wrote about the “educational value in [the] idea of preparing oneself before trying, and of perfecting oneself before going on. To go forward correcting his own mistakes, boldly attempting things which he does imperfectly, and of which he is as yet unworthy dulls the sensitiveness of the child’s spirit toward his own error."
Children shouldn’t fear mistakes. Instead, they should see them as normal parts of learning.