When the pandemic first prompted school closures, my initial instinct was to freshen up my 4-and-2-year old’s at-home space, add or create new learning materials, and prepare to guide them as needed with a bank of activity ideas. While these efforts have empowered a consistent rhyme and reason to our mornings, it didn’t account for nearly as much of our days together as I had hoped. This immediately raised the question, “Why does their ability to stay engaged seem so short-lived when they’ve been engaging in a 3-hour uninterrupted work cycle at school?”
After working with Guidepost’s Parent Concierge Team, I gained insight into how a classroom work cycle functions and why I shouldn’t compare it to the much-shorter work cycle that was shaping up to be our reality at home. Concentration in and of itself is a skill that takes time to acquire and is practiced in increments. Even in a full classroom, it’s not one monotone spree of sedentary activities. A true work cycle entails a lot of buzz and movement! They do independently choose their own work, but they are also walking around and socializing – helping the younger students with work they’ve mastered and observing the older students in work that fascinates them. They go outside to let out their energy, ride a tricycle, water some plants. They help prepare the classroom for morning snack – followed by the opportunity to help with the clean-up. They might gather around for a group lesson or shared story time.
The buzz and movement that was now surrounding my computer at home was not a sign of a problem; it was me getting a valuable reminder on how young children learn: through movement, observation of and collaboration with others, and, by doing!
So, I surrendered what had become an overemphasis on shelf work in one room of our house and shifted my attention to the entirety of our family's natural rhythms, and in doing so, rekindled an appreciation for Practical Life. This is one of the main pillars of Montessori curriculum that elevates life skills as foundational to children's academic education – not separate from it.
Practical life can be taught with shelf work – like preparing trays that encourage children to zoom in on isolated skills of pouring, transferring, polishing – but what makes practical life so effortless for the home is that you don’t need to prep trays if you simply normalize the concept of inclusion. Treat them as capable to join you!
Here’s a humble look at how we are doing Montessori at home with Practical Life:
A Family Kitchen
- My role: Prepare the kitchen to be an accessible space where they are equipped to independently satisfy their own hunger and thirst, and slow down to guide them in the elaborate steps of cooking, cleaning, and baking that they show interest in.
- What is accessible: A low snack shelf in the fridge with small portions of healthy food they can choose throughout the day; a child-sized "working kitchen" instead of a pretend kitchen where they can pour their own water and find needed silverware, cups, plates, bowls, napkins, towels.
- What they do with guidance: Juice oranges to make fresh-squeezed juice; boil eggs and use an egg slicer for serving; use child-sized utensils to practice cutting, chopping, peeling, spiralizing, and grating; and of most fun, work together through the whole process of meal planning, cooking, setting the table, and clearing the table.
Care of self
- My role: Be self-aware of the adult assumptions that make it easier to do things for my children rather than empower them to do for themselves. Practicing respect for their personal space helps shift my mindset away from doing things to them and better honoring their desire and ability to do it themselves.
- What is accessible: Their bedrooms are 100% on their level with low mirrors, dressing stools, brushes, hats, socks, shoes, lotion, and tissues within their reach. Their wardrobes are minimized by quantity before making accessible with low storage in the closet. In the bathroom, step stools light switch extenders and faucet extenders bring soap, water, towels within reach to promote toilet independence from start to finish.
- What they do with guidance: Hand washing, teeth brushing, hair brushing, nail brushing, getting dressed and undressed, taking shoes on and off, and intentionally zooming in on clothes with zippers, buttons and snap closures.
Care of the home
- My role: Maintain our home in a way that does not segregate my work as needing to be done apart from them, but that invites them to join my husband and I in caring for our belongings, our pets, our environment.
- What is accessible: Child-sized broom and dustpan, vacuum, towels, watering can and plants, dog grooming brush and scooper for serving dog food.
- What they do with guidance: Flower-arranging, weed-pulling, porch-and-patio sweeping, and various yard work as the need arises. They are encouraged to sort trash and recycling, load and unload the dishwasher, load and unload the washer and dryer, hang up their shirts and pants, wipe tables, window wash, make their beds, place books and toys away in clearly defined spaces when done.
Participation in the Family
- My role: Define their ability to contribute as not limited to things my husband and I can task, but open to what they can also initiate – especially as they get older.
- What is accessible: A cookbook for ages 4+ for my oldest to contribute to meal planning ideas, and intentional family meetings where we normalize opportunities for them to add input.
- What they do with guidance: Recent examples of this focus include asking them to share ideas for a Summer Family Bucket List, to which they added lunch in the park, camping in a tent, going to a farm, and riding their bikes. I also asked if they could choose pictures and artwork for baby sibling's new nursery space, to which they took great delight helping to beautify the baby's new bedroom.
New ways to join in parent community
This is part of a new Montessori at Home video series that launched here. What is working well for your family right now? We want to showcase more ideas from the families who have implemented Montessori in their homes. To have yours featured, send a short video clip or submit your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also find and share concrete at-home ideas by joining our Montessori at Home platform, Family Framework, moderated by our educators who provide resources, virtual events for children, free webinars for parents, and activity bundles for at-home learning. Family Framework members can also join in community over on our private Montessori parent Facebook groups here: 0-6 Families, Elementary Families, where the conversation continues!