Blending in Montessori

One thing we’ve added to our daily agenda in the past few weeks is some small Montessori exercises. These have been inspired by the book Mommy, Teach Me! by Barbara Curtis.

Montessori’s philosophy has a few things in common with Charlotte Mason, but in practice they look quite different. Certainly Charlotte Mason did not approve of having preschoolers spending their days doing formal, graduated exercises to lead them to the point of reading and writing early. Reading Mason’s letter critiquing Montessori, however, has helped me clarify why and how I believe implementing a few Montessori-inspired ideas will be helpful to us.

One area I don’t think Mason emphasizes adequately, at least not enough to be helpful to me, is in practical life skills–doing chores, caring for themselves. Now, this may be just so simple she doesn’t need to mention it, or it may just be part of the "servant gap" of a different century and social class. If I had a nursemaid and a cook, I wouldn’t care when my children learned to dress themselves or pour their own milk. Lacking a staff, I need the children to be my staff as soon as possible, so we can spend more time in free play out of doors.

Another area that Mason is very strong on is forming good habits. While there are some areas I notice and train more easily, there are some that are very hard for me to do unless there is a specific time to sit down and work on them. Among these are obeying specific instructions (not just general directives), proper care of belongings, and tidiness.

In these areas, I think some Montessori activities–especially ones deliberately adapted for home use, like in Curtis’ books–are helpful to us. Practice with things like spooning, pouring, or handling a sponge–at a time when I am free to focus on instructing one at a time–will help them be better helpers in more stressful situations. I also have appreciated the guidance on teaching chores in manageable steps (in fact, I’d love to see more on this topic–I have a hard time thinking step-by-step).

For each of the ducklings, there’s an additional habit I’m working on. With D1, it is following the specific instructions, rather than insisting on doing things *her* way. With D2, it is staying focused on a task–he is highly distractible, which is an advantage during a temper tantrum, but a problem at other times. During our table time, I gently keep directing him back to finish the thing he started.

The way we are using it is that at a particular time of the day–right before supper is when it is right now, it will probably be morning in the winter–they each get a turn playing alone in their room while the other one gets to sit at the table and work with my guidance. I would like to move to where they can work more independently, but they are really appreciating having some time with just me. They usually get about fifteen minutes each. So far they are still very enthusiastic about this time, and the only trouble I have is squabbles over whose turn it is to do it first.

Reading Mason’s critique of the Montessori method has given me some good thoughts on keeping this in perspective. This is still a very small part of our day–not more than fifteen minutes for each of them–and the rest of the day is devoted to playing freely, helping with chores, reading stories, and going outside. (Our outdoors time is far too short this time of year, though!)

I’m choosing activities with an eye to what will be fun and interesting to them, not trying to get them through a particular sequence. I allow them a reasonable amount of leeway in how they use the materials–we’re still working on a balance there, because I do want them to have some idea that Mama gets the final say in how things are done.

So far, the ducklings have really enjoyed this, and I think it is helpful to them and to me. We’ll see how it works out long-term.

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