Hello again all you staying at homers!! This has been quite a ride for us all. Whether you live in a city or in a rural community all around the world this has been a time of challenge for families. I have had the gift of being able to talk with my mentor teacher and have long and deep conversations about Montessori principles and practice. This time has been such a gift. One of the things we seem to come back to is the environment. How do we as Montessori guides connect the child to the environment? How does the guide connect to the environment? As an intern teacher this past year I was focused on giving lessons and trying to keep the peace. I was successful for the most part but deep down I knew there was something not settled. I couldn’t put my finger on it until my mentor and I began our 4 to 6 to 8 hour discussions since we were in a stay at home order state. I can’t express my gratitude for this gift of time time and space to share with each other. Of course our discussions got me to thinking, when I home schooled my own children how did they connect to the environment of home? Was the environment of our home prepared to welcome them as individuals with in that space? Was the atmosphere peaceful with plenty of opportunities to connect with each other? Well all I can say is if I had the understanding I have now things would have been much better. Parenting isn’t an easy task and when unexpected things are thrown in the mix it can be daunting. So let’s begin to think about this in context of the home environment, the child(ren) and the parent. I want to begin by explaining you don’t have to have a dedicated space to do this work. In fact when the work is woven with in the daily routine of living it is easier to connect the child and the parent to the environment and to each other. The home is the very first place children learn and the parents are the first and best teachers. (Yes I really did say you as the parents are the best teachers) So how are you going to live up to that!?
The environment is more than the physical space we call home. That is the last thing you need to think about just now. Think about how you may or may not interact with your child(ren) in any given situation. Your child reaches for the hot handle of a pot while you are cooking. Yes you should take the precaution of not having the handle forward on the stove but turned toward the back. Still little hands are curious to see what is in there. It smells so yummy! And she sees you working so diligently with concentration stirring. What is the response? Well years ago parents would have scolded the child and sent them out of the way. Instead a good way of handling this would be to gently take hand away and ask the child what she thinks may be in the pot. Begin a conversation. Or play a rhyming game with her answer. So if she answers soup, you may go on rhyming loop, coop, poop(?). Which could lead to interesting places. You the cook could lift him up to see into the pot and help you stir or go over the things you put into the pot. In a home where parents are comfortable with children taking a very active role in the kitchen, a learning tower may be brought over to the counter and child can use a simple tool to chop veggies or other fruit. I was in a home once where the children ages 3 and 5 chopped all the veggies and helped cook the dinner almost entirely. The 5 year old even lit the gas burners on the stove. No one was cut or burned because they had been taught and had enough confidence in themselves and their skills to do this. Even though I subscribed to Montessori principals this gave me pause and reflect on how much would I be willing to trust children with this level of responsibility. If we as adults take the time to prepare an environment of confidence in our children because we have trained them to do tasks the prepared environment which we will talk about later will come together with out much trouble.
The next thing we can look at is that of speech and inter-relational actions. So lets say you child(ren) is having a very bad, no good, awful day. This happens for various reasons. I noticed when one of my children was about to take a cognitive leap, usually around their birthday a week or two before that day they became rather emotional, everything was wrong and they danced on my last nerve too! How we speak to this child makes all the difference in how well or not we both transition through this time of inner upheaval. So when said child has a difficult moment, you may be able to deflect a real disaster by saying “come sit with me” at the first hint of upset. Then tell them you noticed they seem to need to tell you something. Then listen, attentively, this is not a time to fix what is wrong but to ascertain if the child needs your help to fix it or just to voice a concern. These interactions may take place during bed time routine, or in the middle of the day when they may need some space or something to eat. If you have younger children who need to interrupt have a pad of paper and pencil ready for them to use to draw with in eyesight and continue the conversation. Once the concern has been voiced if indeed this child has a way to tell you what is going on inside ask if you need to help or just have a moment of cuddles. Now understand children don’t always have the words to explain feelings especially big feelings. It may take a few tries for him to get it all out. If we as parents can prepare an environment of trust we can also have a peaceful environment in our home.
Remember the entire world has been turned upside down by something, it could be the necessity of staying at home due to a disease or a new event such as a new baby in the home, or a death of a beloved family member. How we as adults respond to all this will set the tone for your children to process it more positively.
We Montessorians are big on peace. But what does that look like? Can we even have peace in the home much less on earth? What does a peaceful environment even look like? Well this is the part where we can come to the physical space element of the prepared environment. One thing you may notice in a Montessori classroom is that there is a lack of bright colors and bulletin boards on the wall. Montessori believed any thing that broke the concentration of the child at work was unnecessary, that included visual stimulation. So in your home you may want to consider having a space in your home that is not so visually stimulating. There are colors that are more calming than others, the greens and blues specifically. Not everything has to beige. You may incorporate some shelving to keep work or toys on. A toy box is a big draw but it helps create chaos so shelving with no more than three things on them to start. When my oldest son came along I put a small shelving unit in his room we picked out three toys he especially liked. We put them on the shelf and I showed him how to take them off the shelf one at a time and then replace them when he was done with it. The rest of the toys stayed in a box in his closet. When he was ready to switch out we did, about every two weeks. This set the tone for him to be an organized child and now grown man for the rest of his life. It wasn’t so easy when all five of my kids were little but I did try to keep the distractions to a minimum. Sounds, sights, smells, tastes and tactile experiences are important to a child. Incorporate these things into your environment. A fuzzy pillow, a bottle of a favorite or seasonal smell on the shelf, give your child(ren) different things to taste as you cook. Hang one beautiful art print on the wall. There are so many ways to incorporate sensorial experience into the home environment.
But what about the “learning” ? What is learning really? It is doing. For centuries humans have been learning by doing. But I know what you as a parent are really thinking. I had those thoughts when I was home schooling my own children. Yes the 3 R’s have to be attended to. Let me give you just a few ideas. After all this blog isn’t about teaching you how to teach, as a parent you do already know how. What we do need to learn is to pay attention. Children around 3 – 3.5 want to begin counting everything. So when you go for a walk or even the grocery store you can count steps you are taking from one point to another. In the kitchen the child can count plastic containers you have in that bottom drawer. Then you can sort lids and bottoms, and match them. How many big pots and how many little ones? How many pairs of socks in her drawer or dresses and tops in the closet. There are lots of things to count and your child will find it fun to discover things to count on her own as well.
I am going to stop here with counting and address writing and reading (yes in that order) in the next blog. I want to encourage all you parents to see yourselves as your child’s greatest asset during this time and to embrace the chaos and take care of yourself in the process…
Stay safe, be well, be peaceful.