By Julia Niego
Our Montessori-Inspired-at-home approach recognizes the importance of creating an environment within the home where your child has freedom to explore within a clear and consistent structure. Rather than overwhelming your child with piles of toys, they are given a limited number of developmentally matched choices and encouraged to engage deeply in purposeful work. Small shifts to the set up at home involve your baby in-care of self and the environment and allow them to learn important practical life skills.
Of course, our homes all come in various shapes, sizes and styles. The beauty of Guidepost at Home’s approach is that instead of adding more, the aim is to simplify, to work within your unique aesthetic and to use what you already have in your home whenever possible. We have an exciting collaboration with Lovevery and MontiKids to provide you with beautiful Montessori-inspired toys matched to your child’s age and development.
This prepared environment represents the structure within which a child is given freedom to work. This balance of freedom within structure is at the heart of the Montessori approach.
How to Set Up Your Home
“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” – Maria Montessori
At the heart of the Montessori approach is an important shift in the way we see our baby or toddler in the home. Maria Montessori showed that by adapting the environment to meet the young child we encourage choice, stretch their growing abilities and foster independence.
The “Montessori at Home” approach sees the entire home as your child’s first classroom! It can be useful as a first step to consider each room in your house and what important work and play happens there. Then create child-sized space where your own child can participate in practicing the skills of this work in a simple and meaningful way. While each home will be different these spaces should be adapted to the child, keeping it simple and orderly.
Rather than allowing your child’s toys to drift out all over the living room, a small shelf in the living room serves as a place for a rotating set of works chosen for your child’s interests and burgeoning developmental skills. Less is more! The shelf need only have enough room to fit a few developmentally appropriate works. It should have an open space large enough for a child to sit comfortably before it. Small framed pieces of art hung at a child’s eye level or low plants can complete the sense that this corner is just for the child.
Your child’s bedroom should be a place for rest and quiet play. Instead of tall shelves stuffed with books and toys, choose only items that are purposeful. A plush rug with a mobile or baby gym and a low mirror invites quiet focus from birth. Set up a reading nook on the floor with a soft rug and a basket of a few favorite books. As your child grows a low table or floor desk can serve as a place for calm seated work with art and sensory materials arranged neatly in child-sized containers or baskets.
Rather than locking all of the kitchen cabinets at baby’s level, keep a low shelf or cabinet available with child friendly pots and pans, cups and utensils. Let them explore alongside you and participate in cleaning up. As your child grows involve them in simple tasks such as setting their place at the table, pouring their own water from a small pitcher, or preparing food for their snack.
How to Engage with Your Child
“To let the child do as he likes when he has not yet developed any powers of control is to betray the idea of freedom.” – Maria Montessori
DO take a moment to get on the floor facing your child, make eye contact and await theirs. Direct their attention to the work shelf and observe. Do they look or motion toward a specific toy? Consider how they used it yesterday and what they might be practicing today!
DON’T let toys pile up! When working with materials from the work shelf show your little one how to bring one item at a time to the mat, and return it to the shelf when finished. This cycle of activity is just as important as the work itself in terms of building a young child’s executive function skills, including initiation, planning, sequencing steps of a task, focus, impulse control and goal-directed persistence.
DO present the activity to your child using clear, simple phrases and slow, purposeful hand movements so that they focus on the activity before them.
DON’T become over-involved in your child’s work. This space is your child’s and as a space needs to be respected. Once your child is set up with a chosen work, busy yourself if possible with your own work. There is no need to jump in when your child is struggling. Let them exert effort and build stamina. If they begin to show frustration by shoving or banging materials, gently suggest that it might be time to make a new choice. When they do complete a task successfully you can of course notice but try not to praise. They should be seeking their own internal satisfaction rather than yours!
“Respect all the reasonable forms of activity in which the child engages and try to understand them.” – Maria Montessori
Anyone with a baby or toddler knows that most often they want to be right where we are, getting into whatever work it is that we are trying to accomplish! The answer to this is to shift from thinking of gates or bars to confine your child, or toys, games or screens to keep them entertained until your return, but rather to involve them meaningfully in the work of the home. This time is especially important for busy working parents as we are spending much of our time with our babies in the middle of busy morning and evening routines!
Invite your child to help with tasks, pulling clothes from the laundry basket while folding, washing veggies in a bowl of water before dinner, cleaning up at the table with a warm, soapy washcloth. By watching and doing along side you they are able to gain rich sensory and language experiences and build skills of independence and self-confidence.
- Lillard, Paula P, and Lynn L. Jessen. Montessori from the Start: The Child at Home from Birth to Age Three. New York: Schocken Books, 2003.
- Davies, Simone (2019). The Montessori Toddler: A Parent’s Guide to Raising a Curious and Responsible Human Being. New York: Workman Publishing.
Julia Niego, MS holds a BA in Behavioral Neuroscience from Colgate University, an MS in Neuroscience and Education from Columbia University/Teacher’s College, and professional certification as an Educational Therapist through University of California Riverside. Over the past decade she has founded and developed curricula for Montessori preschools, directed a local network of Montessori-at-home playgroups, and consults on progressive approaches as the founder of Neuleaph Child & Brain, LLC. She continues to pursue her fascination for the intersection of early learning and the child brain, and draws deeply on the Montessori approach as an early childhood educational therapist with a private neurospychologically-based tutoring organization in NYC.