Dr Maria Montessori boldly stated, ‘The child is both a hope and promise for mankind. If we, therefore, mind this embryo as our most precious treasure, we will be working for the greatness of humanity’.
How can you mind your children as your ‘most precious treasure’ and enable them to become resilient, caring, able, empathetic and fulfilled adults? Montessori teachers and parents around New Zealand share some ideas about how you can support your child’s development at each stage from birth to adulthood.
Support your baby to trust in his environment – respond quickly to his cries with a gentle touch, quiet voice and empathy, so he quickly learns that his needs will be met and that his world is safe.
Feed your young baby in a quiet environment, with lots of skin-to-skin contacts. Give the gift of your full attention; focus on the baby and talk while you are taking care of his or her physical needs.
No one likes to be physically moved without warning; be respectful and tell your baby what is going to happen next. Wait, then pick the baby up, he will soon be able to anticipate what is coming next.
Use proper words and sentences with your baby; the richness of your child’s vocabulary will depend on what the baby hears around them.
Read to your baby from a young age – then she will discover words beyond the everyday vocabulary.
Provide a safe, supportive environment that allows your baby to see around the room and the time and space to move freely.
Throw away the jolly jumper and the walking ring, and take your baby OUT of the car seat; leave it in the car, and put him on the floor as often as you can.
Provide your young baby with interesting things to look at and safe objects to hold and explore with hands, feet and mouth; mobiles made of natural materials that she can focus on and rattles to reach for, touch and hold.
Fasten a long mirror on the wall at floor level so your baby can see herself; your baby will see a different view of the room and begin to connect her movements with her reflection.
Try a low bed instead of a cot so that your baby is free to move, access his bed when tired and rejoin the family when ready.
Choose clothing in which your baby is free to slither, crawl, climb and walk, toilet and dress herself. Provide pants with elastic waists, shirts that fit easily over the head and shoes that are easy to put on and off.
When your baby starts on solids, encourage her to gradually feed herself, use a spoon, cut up food with a small butter knife and drink out-of-ordinary cups.
At meal time limit conversations and media distractions so your infant can focus on discovering texture, taste and the eating experience.
Respect your baby when concentrating; give your baby time to explore and play until he has finished. Wait until your baby tells you he is ready for something new.
When your baby is sitting, provide a discovery basket with a few interesting objects made with natural materials; household objects are just perfect and fruit and vegetables in season are fabulous.
Keep a routine, be predictable … this kind of low-key steadiness breeds a sense of safety and security; children who are worrying about home are not primed for learning.
Tell your child what the plan is for the day; explain where you might be going and who they may see. Give your child advance notice of change – ‘After I have finished hanging out the washing, we will put the Lego away and then we will get in the car to go to the supermarket.’
From around three years, provide experiences for your child to have positive contact with other children and adults, so he learns to become part of a social group and discovers how to interact with adults and children outside the family.
Support your child to do everything she can do and just offer a bit of help at the end.
Encourage your child to dress herself, it doesn’t matter if the clothes are backwards, inside out or don’t match.
Let your child help; feed the cat, close the curtains, turn on the lights, clear the table, scrape plates, do dishes, put away toys, peel vegetables, and she will experience the satisfaction of helping her family.
Show your older child how to hang out and fold laundry, how to put the rubbish out, and how to mow lawns. Teach her how to use hammers and screwdrivers and how to paint.
Make sure your child independently opens her school lunch; replace difficult-to-open packaging and plastic wrap with easy-access reusable containers.
Model the manners you expect and provide gentle reminders.
Have firm boundaries and be consistent with your house rules–children will quickly learn the expectations: what is not OK at home might be OK at their grandparents’ house and vice versa.
Help your older child gain the skills to deal with the wider community – car manners, shop manners, telephone manners, email manners, and how to ask for help from other adults or children.
Limit choices to a manageable level for the child at each stage of development. A young child can choose whether to wear a blue t-shirt or a green t-shirt but not what time they want to go to bed!
Encourage older children to help a younger sibling. The message is, ‘The children in this family can take care of each other.’
Develop a sense of self as a ‘giver’; let your child choose something to donate to a charity and keep the discussion alive with your child… what can we do to help?
When your child asks a question, answer with ‘I don’t know. How could we find the answer, do you think?’ Depending on their age, show them how to use books, the internet, and other people to find answers to their questions.
Look around your Montessori preschool – you will see little alcoves for quiet activities and communal areas. Take this concept home and have child-focused spaces for reading, puzzles and activities of the moment, and communal areas so your child can join in all family activities.
Take care how you speak about your children to your partner or other adults; words are a powerful image builder.
Say what you want to happen, not what you don’t want to happen ‘Put your feet on the floor, that’s the only place they go’ rather than ‘Please don’t kick your brother!’
Avoid empty and over-frequent praise and again replace with a description of the actions. For example, replace ‘You are such a good girl’ with ‘I appreciated how you put your book aside to help with the dishes.’
Give a powerful message about the value of reading by creating lots of opportunities to read with your child and have conversations about books.
Ask your Montessori teacher how to use letter sounds, not letter names, when your child is interested in learning letters. When your child is learning to write words, it is crucial to use lowercase rather than capital letters since lowercase is used more frequently.
Read to your child at any time during the day, not just at bedtime. Read books that are slightly above your child’s age level, vary the style/genre, read poetry, tell oral stories, model writing – keep a holiday journal and write down a story/sentence about what you did each day.
Young children are in a sensitive period for order. Use this sensitivity to help them learn where things go in your house: dirty clothes in the hamper, shoes by the door, plates in the cupboard, cups on the shelf, coats on low hooks.
Store your child’s clothes, shoes, toys, and selection of food items down low and in child-friendly, child-sized containers so your child can access items independently from a young age.
Offer only a few toys at a time, storing the others away and rotating what is available so that there is not a large and overwhelming profusion of toys available all the time.
Ensure your child has uninterrupted time to play and explore each day – if his play is constantly interrupted, he will become frustrated and unable to concentrate for long periods.
Help your child develop their concentration span by providing interactive activities with a clear beginning and end and ‘control of error’. Jigsaw puzzles are fantastic. Encourage your child to count everything. Count steps as you go up the stairs, count knives and forks while placing them on the table together, and count letterboxes as you walk by.
Take your child to the local playground to climb, slide, roll, balance, learn to balance on a bike or scooter, kick and catch a ball, run, skip and rollerblade.
Encourage your children to walk and carry their own backpacks into their Montessori centre or school and explore your local neighbourhood by foot: young children can walk further than you would think but at their own pace.
In your busy life, it is easy to become disconnected from your child’s conversation. Take time to reflect on what it is that your child has communicated each day.
Give your children experiences and more experiences; instead of buying them lots of ‘stuff’, go on a road or bus trip, discover a local park or beach, go for a bike ride, fish off the wharf, and share a musical experience.
Make the TV broken for a month – or better yet, get rid of it altogether. If you choose to let your children watch TV or play on the computer monitor or limit the time.
Find open-ended toys for your children to play with: toys that can be used in a variety of ways and encourage exploration and creativity, such as wooden blocks and art materials.
Show an active interest in your child’s school; talk with teachers, and become involved, and your child will know that you are interested in what they do away from the family.
Be aware of the huge physical and emotional changes your adolescent is coping with.
Keep eating dinner around the family table with your teenager as important connections and sharing occur during this family time.
If your adolescent is pushing you away, don’t take it personally.
Be ready for when your teenager wants to re-engage; be open to sharing time and interests.
Involve your teenager in making plans for the family; he can help do research for family purchases or holidays, keep track of family activities on a calendar, and help plan meals and family celebrations.
Listen, listen, listen. Respond but try not to react; your teenager is looking for support without judgmental strings.
Be aware that your teenager may not be ready to connect when you have time – can you alter your schedule? Is the connection time when you are in the car driving her to school? When she is helping to get dinner ready? Or at the dinner table?
Ensure your teenager has good nutrition, more sleep and time for reflection.
Adolescents benefit from adult mentors outside the family circle, such as teachers, sports coaches, or family friends
Teenagers need the comfort of intimate, supportive peer groups: make your home an ‘adolescent friendly’ zone.
Give your teenager an allowance and support them to budget for clothes, entertainment and other negotiated items.
Let your teenager know you are interested in her education; keep going to parent-teacher interviews and discuss feedback with her.
Support your teenagers to find a part-time job – you will be amazed at how competent they will be in the workplace!
If your adolescent lives in your house, she follows your rules -be prepared to negotiate as your teenager becomes older and more responsible.
Adolescents can spot hypocrisy from a million paces, so if you don’t want particular behaviours in your house….you can’t use them either.
Your adolescent may try out many new ‘images’ as he searches for the adult he will ultimately become. Be positive and supportive and resist commenting or joking about the latest look or ‘cool walk’.
Support your teenager but let him take responsibility for meeting his own schoolwork deadlines.
Keep talking with your adolescent. Adolescents still care what a parent says, especially if it is non-judgmental and empathetic.
Your teenager doesn’t need you to fix things but to provide room for her to make her own mistakes and a safe place to figure out the best way to fix it herself.
Further Reading and Resources
Polk Lillard, P., & Lillard Jensen, L. (2003). Montessori from the Start – The Child at Home from Birth to Three. New York, NY:Schoken Books.
Brownlee, P. (2008). Dance with me in the Heart – the adult’s guide to great infant-parent relationships. Wellington, New Zealand: NZ Playcentre Federation.
Thanks to all the Montessori teachers and parents who contributed to this article:
Lisa Hudson, Montessori parent, Tauranga
Niki Rutt, Montessori parent, Whakatane
Tracey Jordan, Montessori parent, Auckland
Ann Barrowclough, City Heights Montessori, Dunedin
Bronwyn Norman, Wa Ora Montessori School, Lower Hutt
Cam Mountsier-Cole, Montessori Children’s House, Wellington
Carol Laubscher, Integrated Learning Therapy, Lower Hutt
Faye Gardiner, Upper Valley Montessori, Upper Hutt
Jan Gaffney, Wa Ora Montessori School, Lower Hutt
Mary Russo, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland
Niluckshi Mark, Richmond Montessori Preschool, Nelson
Pam Shand, Montessori House of Children, Blenheim
Rachel Loo, Little Star Montessori House of Children, Auckland
Sophie Hamilton, Montessori at Kidicorp. Wellington
Staff at Mana Montessori Preschool, Wellington
Staff at New Plymouth Montessori School, New Plymouth
Author: Ana Pickering, Montessori Aotearoa New Zealand
First Published: 12/09/12