Before I became a parent, I was familiar with the Montessori education method, which allows children to direct their education themselves and encourages learning and independence through hands-on activities. But it wasn't until I had three children and was struggling to adjust to the workload that comes with parenting that I learned that some parents were adapting the philosophy for use in their own homes. So I decided to try using Montessori parenting in our home for a week.
My first experience with Montessori parenting was borne of desperation. My son had just begun teething, so he required a great deal of attention and care. My daughters, who are 3 and 4, still relied on me to help them get ready for the day or eat their meals. The stress of having three tiny people who needed me all of the time was really getting to me. SoI began Googling ideas for fostering independence in my kids and I kept finding myself on blogs promoting Montessori parenting.
There are many factors that make up a Montessori approach to parenting: Young children should be given respect just like any other human being, and they should have the freedom to explore their environment independently, which means they are not confined in a playpen or crib, and they are encouraged to do things for themselves.
That all sounded great to me.
Day One: Setting Up The Montessori Bedroom
The very first task I tackled was turning my daughters' shared room into a Montessori-inspired bedroom. Since Maria Montessori was a huge believer in children having freedom of movement and encouraging independence, Montessori parents set up bedrooms in a way that allows children to take care of their needs, get out their toys, and get in and out of bed freely. So I got rid of their super tall dresser and found a cubby organizer that was short and long. I also put in a rod on the bottom half of their closet, moving their clothes to within arm's reach.
At the risk of sounding dramatic, these two little changes were life-changing.
At the risk of sounding dramatic, these two little changes were life-changing. That first day, my oldest was so excited about her new room set-up, I didn't have to even ask her to get dressed in the morning. She rolled out of bed, closed her bedroom door, and quietly got dressed so she could do a big reveal of her outfit choice at breakfast. My 3-year-old needed a little more guidance with things like getting pants on the right way, but I'm sure she'll get more independent with time.
I did really struggle with one aspect of adopting Montessori parenting: I didn't want to move my 9-month-old to a floor bed, which many Montessori parents use as early as a few weeks after birth. I couldn't imagine I would be able to sleep soundly knowing my baby could fall off of his mattress onto the floor, or get up and crawl around without my knowledge.
Day 2: Teaching Independent Self-Care
The next day, I wanted to add a new aspect of Montessori parenting to our days. I wanted to teach my kids to do their own self-care, so I set up my bathroom so they could do it independently.
Setting the bathroom up for independence was easy, but encouraging them to take care of their own needs wasn't as seamless. My youngest basically ran around the house with her toothbrush in her mouth, and I had to chase her down and make sure her teeth actually got clean. My oldest had already mastered brushing her teeth and was excited to get to load up the toothpaste on her own. However, her fine hair gets ratted so easily, we spent a lot of time negotiating getting her hair brushed that morning. I'm sure with time, we'll make progress in this area. The Montessori home wasn't built in a day, right?
Day 3: Letting Toddlers Play With Fire
Can I be honest? Knowing that the next natural step in becoming a Montessori parent was letting my kids help in the kitchen made me all kinds of anxious. Although many Montessori parents encourage their kids to help out, I just wasn't going two preschoolers near a hot stove and sharp knives. It seemed to push the limits of safety.
So on the third day I started slow with a pouring station, which is simply keeping two small cups and a fresh pitcher of water handy all day. This went surprisingly well. There were few spills, and both girls were quick to learn to clean up after any mess they made.
After we got comfortable with that, I started to teach my oldest a few basic cooking skills. She's nearly 5 years old and very rules-oriented, so I knew that when I explained the sharpness of knives and the danger of touching the stove, she would get it. So I taught her to make toast for breakfast and scrambled eggs for lunch (we like to keep lunch way simple).
I wasn't able to wrap my mind around the idea of having my wild 3-year-old up close and personal with the stove, but we spent time learning how to load the dishwasher and wash our plates after they ate. She was totally into that.
Changing our kitchen to allow my kids to be more involved on a regular basis didn't make my life any easier, but I can see how it might in the future if I simply stick with it.
Day 4: Where Montessori Parenting & Attachment Parenting Collide
On the fourth day, I didn't really introduce my big kids to any new Montessori ideas but I did want to learn more about Montessori parenting and infants. I was disappointed to learn that Montessori parenting seemed to contradict a lot of my practices as an attachment parent. I'm not an extreme attachment parent by any means, but Maria Montessori wasn't a fan of any parenting practices that might prohibit independence and free movement. That is why Montessori parents favor the floor bed and don't constrain babies to playpens or walkers.
At first, I thought baby wearing, which is basically my lifeline as a mom of three, was technically against the rules. This turned out to not be true — Montessori parenting doesn't necessarily discourage babywearing — but I tried to put my 9-month-old on the floor more often that day than I usually do. By the end of the day I just felt like it was stupid to give up something that was working so well for me simply because it didn't follow a prescribed set of rules.
Teaching my kids these skills isn't about making my own life easier — it's about contributing to their growth as human beings.
All-in-all, I think following some Montessori philosophies at home as been a positive experience for our family. We have a ways to go before my kids will be self-sufficient, and at times I found it difficult and even frustrating having to find the time in my day to completely halt whatever task I was working on to assist them with something I could do more quickly myself.
But the point of being a good mother isn't efficiency. It's about training my kids to be independent and helpful people who help out in our family, and ultimately, in the world at large. This is what keeps me going when I'd rather rush my toddler by pulling her pants on for her, or when lunch prep takes 45 minutes instead of the normal 15. Teaching my kids these skills isn't about making my own life easier — it's about contributing to their growth as human beings.
My experiment also confirmed what I think I already knew to be true. It is a good idea to learn from wise parenting minds and take to heart what you learn, but it is ultimately my choice as a mother how I will raise my children. So, as much as I liked some aspects of Montessori parenting, I will be quick to let go of what doesn't work for our family in the long run.