By MIC Mum, Chris O’Leary
When we think about ‘Montessori at home’ it’s easy to imagine some educational-looking toys on open shelves (which is good) or even having a step to the bathroom sink and clothes hanging at a child’s level so they can get ready independently in the morning (also good).
All of those ‘physical’ aspects of a Montessori home are great and, actually, they’re fundamental.
But today I want to talk about Montessori principles. These are the things you can’t necessarily see – but that guide and define how we go about our lives, moment by moment, day by day.
So what IS a principle anyway?
Dictionary.com tells me it is ‘a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief.’
Some of these words jump out at me: fundamental, foundation, belief
It’s not something we can fake. It’s either a fundamental truth for us – or it’s not.
Montessori is not just a pedagogy. It’s not just how our children learn at school.
It’s a way of life.
The principles embodied in the Montessori philosophy are universal. They can apply to everyone – child or adult. Montessori student or not. At school or at home.
In this age of speed. Of busy. Of anxiety. Living a life based on the core Montessori principles can really help. It helps our children – and it helps us. Because as Montessori parents we set the pace at home, just like the Guides set the pace at school.
So what are the Montessori principles?
Let’s take a look at some of the main ones.
In a Montessori classroom, everyone is treated respectfully. Not just the adults. In a community of learners, it’s about having a group of humans who have chosen to come together to learn and to grow. Everyone wears what they want to wear (not uniforms for the children only). Everyone is called by their first name (not just the children). Maria believed in treating children like the adults they are becoming. If you wouldn’t speak to a fellow adult a certain way, don’t speak to a child that way, either. How we speak to each other reflects our fundamental belief when it comes to demonstrating respect.
Respect also means respecting each person as an individual. Which very much ties into the next principle.
Freedom within limits
As adults, we get pretty good at working out how we are feeling on any given day. And, as adults, we have enough agency over our time to work around that. Got a headache today? Perhaps I’ll just stick to the easier tasks at work today and tackle the challenging things tomorrow. Feeling energetic and clear thinking? Great – today I’m going to take on that thing that’s new and needs my creative energy.
Our children are learning to recognise their own inner feelings and their own inner guidance as to what will work best for them on any given day. Feeling overwhelmed? They don’t have to stay at their desk and keep slogging away. They can take a break, a quick walk around the classroom, gaze out the window for a few moments. Or even head out to the deck for a few minutes of quiet meditation. We humans know our own bodies and minds better than anyone outside of us. Our children are empowered to do what is best for them, at any given moment, provided it doesn’t adversely impact anyone else.
Make sure your child has these freedoms at home as well. They will have jobs to do (I hope). But let them decide when it suits them best to do it. Let them decide if they need a snack before tackling that job, or if it’s better for them the other way around.
Knowing themselves – really knowing themselves. And following their inner guidance – their own fundamental truth – will serve them well in adulthood. Too many people walk around on autopilot, with no clue how they are feeling at any given moment as they are too busy ‘doing what they are told’. No wonder so many people are so disconnected from themselves they turn to substances or behaviours to relieve the pressure. It doesn’t have to be so.
This brings me to the next principle.
This is more than meditating every day (though I highly recommend that). Mindfulness is about living consciously. It’s the opposite of autopilot. It’s being present in the moment. Our children are taught that in class every day. They are familiar with 3-hour uninterrupted work cycles where they can get in the zone and be in the present with whatever they are doing.
It’s also about peacemaking. Maria believed strongly in educating for peace and our children experience that every day. From sorting out a conflict around the peace table, to a restorative chat, to a community meeting where everyone’s voice is heard, mindfulness is also about being connected to others. It’s about acceptance – of ourselves and of other people. And it’s about patience – and delayed gratification.
Our children don’t have to rush. There aren’t bells ringing every 40 minutes (thank goodness, as I work here at the school as well and I couldn’t stand that!). Things take time. It takes time to wait until someone else has finished with a material before it is our turn. It takes time to plant seeds in the kitchen garden and then water and nurture them until it grows into something to be harvested. It takes time to do a piece of ‘Big Work’. And it can take time for a child to learn a new concept. There’s no rushing on to do algebra if you haven’t quite mastered multiplication! How can that possibly work? Time is the variable for children to learn mastery.
In fact, time for reflection and quiet moments is built into every Montessori classroom. From the ‘Walk the Line’ activity in Early Years, to the ‘Silence Game’ – to quiet reading after playtime to recalibrate busy bodies into a quieter space ready for classroom learning, to spending time in our beautiful natural environment to care for our gardens or harvest honey from our hives. Even purposeful work can be done in a mindful way if we allow enough time – consider how that can be carried over to your family life at home.
So give your child time. Time to make their own lunch without your input. To tie their own shoelaces (even if you’re running late). GIVE them the time – create the time and space in your schedule so they can do the task to the best of their ability without rushing. Light a candle at mealtimes. Take the time to set the table and sit together for meals. In an age of instant cash, instant gratification, instant online downloads and instant foods – giving our children the time and space to be mindful is one of the best gifts we can give. And of course, we need to model that for them.
Growth and gratitude
It can be difficult to be grateful for growth! Because growth is uncomfortable, it’s unpredictable and it can even be painful. But the alternative is to stay still! And if you’re a Montessori parent – I know you don’t want that.
You know you are in the right place when your child suggests going around the table listing what we are grateful for over breakfast (my son did that not long ago).
Growth and gratitude go hand in hand. It takes humility to have an open mind and to learn something new. And it takes being comfortable with being wrong. It might sound counterintuitive for a school – but it’s not to us. Maria believed that mistakes are how we learn. They’re great. Keep making mistakes! Our children don’t get big red marks across their page or scores out of 10 that are read out to the whole class. Those shame-based methods have no place in a Montessori school.
We need to be grateful for our mistakes. Because if we are making mistakes – we are learning, and we are growing. And being grateful for growth, and for what we have in our lives now, truly changes our outlook, and our attitude. In fact, it truly changes us.
Gratitude circles are common in Montessori classrooms – they can be common for you at home, too. Each night at dinner – and we do eat dinner together every night – we are each asked, usually by my 10-year old son, ‘What was something good that happened today? What was something not so good?’ We each get to talk about our day, what didn’t go well, what did. And there’s always learning. There’s always growth. And so much gratitude – for ourselves, for each other. And for the wonderful school environment we all get to enjoy every day. We wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Chris O’Leary, MIC Mum