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Supporting Your Child’s Budding Independence at Home

 

We just bought a small table and chairs for Sophie’s play room. At the end of the day, I went to the room and I was so surprised and laughed so hard.

Erin I.

I heard some moving around upstairs this morning. I went to check on Hailey and she had gotten out of bed and was brushing her teeth all by herself. She put the cap back on the toothpaste and put her toothbrush back after she was done. (This is not the norm in my house). Hailey started in the toddler program and has been at Le Port for 2 years now. It’s great to see the progress she’s made.

Lori P.

At lunch today, I took the suggestion from the Tuesday folder and put the girls’ dishes and cups in a basket on a low shelf in the kitchen. I already had some cloths stored on a low shelf with tablecloths, and the girls have a small table in the kitchen to eat at. Audrey (3 1/2) set the table for herself and her sister (17 months) and then both of them sat and ate. After they were both done, she cleared the plates and utensils and cups and put them in the sink and then, most stunningly to me, took a cloth and wiped off the table before pushing in all of the chairs. She was so enthusiastic to be able to do it all herself, and smiled broadly when all was clean. Thank you so much for instilling such awesome skills in my little one.

Reba N.

When toddlers and young preschoolers start in Montessori, parents are often amazed at the sudden spurt in independence and skill their children display.

If your child is starting in a Montessori toddler or preschool program, and you want to witness this incredible development in your own child, it helps if you are able to prepare your home environment in ways that support your child’s new skills and desire to be independent.

Here are some ideas to consider:

    1. Provide simple storage spots for belongings right inside the front door.  A small rug to place shoes or a basket to put them into and some hooks to hang jackets are a great start.  This can help your child get out of the house and back in more independently, and maybe prevent some meltdowns!  A little stool to sit on helps, as well.

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    1. Make your kitchen accessible to your child.  Find a low shelf or drawer to store cups, placemats, and utensils within your child’s reach.  Buy glass cups and inexpensive ceramic plates (IKEA is great!) that you don’t mind getting broken.  Invite your child to set his own place at the table.  A bigger step stool, or a learning tower can be a great help to little people who want to join you in the fun cooking activities at counter height.  And, of course, when it comes time to sit down and eat, encourage your child to feed himself:  Even young toddlers can eat finger-foods on their own, and start using a spoon; this is what they do in their Montessori classrooms, too.

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    1. Organize and simplify the play area.  Fewer toys, displayed on open shelves, are preferable over lots of toys in boxes that the children can’t see.

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    1. Small chairs and tables facilitate independent snack time and organized playtime.  Provide some buckets, sponges, rags, and child-sized brooms, and your child can even clean up after himself.

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    1. Facilitate getting dressed independently.  Low open shelves, low racks, a mirror and a bench with brush or comb can enable even 2- or 3-year-olds to begin to dress independently, especially if you pre-select an outfit the night before, or lay out two simple choices for a younger child.

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    1. Consider a floor or other low bed.  Some Montessori parents never have cribs; instead, they baby-proof an entire room and let even infants sleep on a floor bed.  While this may not work for every parent, a low bed or a twin mattress on the floor can be a great step up after a crib, instead of a toddler bed.

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    1. Make books accessible and create cozy reading areas.  The more that books are all over your house, the easier it is for your child to grab a book instead of asking for your iPhone or the TV when you are not available to play.

montessori preschool daycare private school

To see growth in your child’s independence, it’s not necessary to reorganize your entire house (who has the time and energy for that?!).  Just pick one or two ideas and make little changes over time.  You might think your child is too young to take advantage of these kinds of opportunities for independence—but once she starts school, you might be just as surprised and thrilled as the LePort Montessori parents who wrote the Facebook posts above!

Thanks to Bernadette, a LePort parent of three children, ages infant to preschool, for inviting us into her house to take many of these beautiful pictures!

The Dual Purpose of Montessori Preschool Practical Life Activities

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The first essential for the child’s development is concentration. The child who concentrates is immensely happy. Dr. Maria Montessori

Students new to Montessori preschool spend much time in the Practical Life area of the classroom, where shelves are filled with activities for dressing, food preparation, sweeping, polishing, and so on.  In a variety of ways, Practical Life activities provide the preschool child with skills for self-care, caring for the classroom environment, and all-around independence.

This independence is a critical aspect of a Montessori preschool education. As Dr. Montessori wrote:

If teaching is to be effective with young children, it must assist them to advance on the way to independence. It must initiate them into those kinds of activities which they can perform themselves and which keep them from being a burden to others because of their inabilities. We must help them to learn how to walk without assistance, to run, to go up and down stairs, to pick up fallen objects, to dress and undress, to wash themselves, to express their needs in a way that is clearly understood, and to attempt to satisfy their desires through their own efforts. All this is part of an education for independence.

Dr. Maria Montessori

A 3-year-old preschooler, with proper instruction, is able to do many things for himself and can start to contribute meaningfully within the classroom or family community, too. It is in the Practical Life area of the Montessori preschool classroom that your child learns these skills – and you can help him by encouraging him to be independent and helpful at home as well:

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  • Preparing food. 3-year-old preschool children love to do real work they see us do. In class, they often prepare snack for friends: peeling and cutting carrots, cutting and serving bananas, preparing apple and cheese trays.

    At home, your preschool child can become a true helper in the kitchen and participate in real cooking activities. Invest in some good tools, like the ones available from For Small Hands, and you’ll be rewarded as your preschooler begins to peel vegetables, measure ingredients, and clean up small messes. By a child’s 3rd year (age 5 – 6) she might be capable of taking over much of the meal prep:   My 5½ year old daughter recently prepared most of a taco dinner for us, cutting tomatoes, helping sauté the chicken, putting condiments into bowls, and setting the table for the family. She even surprised me by heating the tortillas in the oven, taking the oven mitt out of a drawer before she put the baking tray into the oven. I had never taught her that—I didn’t even realize she knew where the oven mitt was stored!  If you welcome your children into the kitchen while you work and narrate what you do and why, you’ll be surprised by how much they pick up, and how eager to participate they become! 

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  • Cleaning up. Washing a table is a favorite Practical Life activity. It involves many steps and materials, and we build up to it slowly, teaching each component skill: students learn to squeeze sponges by transferring water between small containers; they learn to pour water by first pouring beans, then lentils, then rice, then water with small pitchers; they learn how to operate a faucet, making sure to turn off the water when done; they learn to put on an apron; they learn to fold a cloth; they learn to put materials away after completing their work. The table washing activity puts together all these skills:  It’s amazing to see a 3½- or 4-year-old complete this rather complex, multi-step process.

    At home, you can encourage your child to participate in cleanup after a meal—from bringing dishes into the kitchen, scraping food into the trash, and placing them in the dishwasher, to wiping down the table and sweeping up food crumbs from under it.  

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  • Taking care of plants. All of our Montessori preschool classrooms have plants, and taking care of them is a great Practical Life activity. Students learn to dust leaves, cut off and dispose of dead leaves, and water the plants. They also learn how to arrange flowers to help beautify their classrooms!

    Your child can enjoy similar tasks at home by selecting a few small plants at a garden store with you and then being entrusted with their care.  Observe her pride and attentiveness as she thinks to water her plants and keep them healthy.  And, of course, if you have a garden, by all means invest in some child-sized tools so your preschooler can help you. Planting vegetables and fruits and harvesting them is not only a great Practical Life experience, it’s a great opportunity to awaken an interest in science, too.

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  •  Getting dressed and taking care clothes. The Dressing Frames are a set of Practical Life materials that enable children to learn how to manage common fasteners, such as zippers, buttons, snaps, belt buckles and shoelaces. Within his first year in the Montessori preschool class, your child will round out his dressing skill set. He’ll also refine other skills, such as folding cloths, sorting things by color, and placing things into their proper spots on shelves.

    With these skills, your preschool child will soon be ready to take care of much of his daily clothing needs. A 3½ or 4-year-old is usually able to dress himself from head to toe—if he’s given enough time. He’s also able to place dirty clothes in a hamper, even sorting them by lights and darks, and can put folded clothes back into drawers and shelves. Older preschool children can contribute more to the family’s laundry: try teaching your 5-year-old to load the washing machine, measure pour detergent, and get the load started! She’ll also be able to fold many of her own clothes, and hang up dresses and pants on hangers in her closet.

As we wrote elsewhere, a child who feels capable because he can act in the world, without needing to rely on Mom or Dad for every little thing, is a child who is developing self-confidence. Writes psychologist Madeline Levine:“Self-esteem doesn’t contribute much to success. But success contributes mightily to self-esteem. Kids have to ‘do’ something, and do it well, to get a self-esteem boost.”

Helping the child learn to do things for himself, however important, is just one of the goals of Practical Life.  Like all aspects of a Montessori preschool classroom, Practical Life has many learning objectives. Here are a few:

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  • To facilitate a smooth transition to school by providing familiar activities. Practical life is the part of the classroom where new students feel comfortable because they reflect similar activities to what they see at home.  Peeling a banana, pouring water, cutting with scissors, and cleaning spills are all familiar activities the young child finds comfort in.
  • To develop concentration.  Practical Life is usually where a child first connects with a material and immerses himself fully in a chosen, repeated activity.  A child who previously darted around the room, unable to pause long enough to connect with any particular material, might become fascinated with pouring water back and forth or with drying a table.  In doing so he learns to focus his mind for the purpose of mastering a new skill.  This is the start of a child’s attachment to the many Montessori materials, which build in complexity to help build concentration. 
  • To develop fine- and gross-motor skills.  Practical Life tasks are excellent motor skills activities.  Carrying heavy objects such as classroom chairs or buckets of water builds gross motor strength; pouring from a small pitcher or scrubbing a table increases precision of movement; peeling an egg, using a dropper, or picking up dropped beans all strengthen the three fingers needed for writing with a pencil.
  • To develop problem-solving skills.  Like most Montessori materials, Practical Life activities have a built-in control of error:  They enable the child himself to judge whether an activity has been done satisfactorily or not (water has spilled; a button is left without a whole; the loosely rolled rug won’t stand up in the bin).  With positive guidance from his teacher, the child learns to pay attention to these cues and acquires a habit of self-correction.
  • To develop logical work habits.  Practical Life activities progress in complexity and, in doing so, increase a child’s ability to work through a series of steps in a logical way from beginning to end.  This is vital for success with more abstract language or math work later on.

While many parents are eager to see their child progress to academic lessons in the preschool classroom, we hope you’ll see the hidden value in Practical Life, and wholeheartedly support your child as he explores the many fun and educational activities found in this unique part of the Montessori Primary class.

What’s the big deal with independence in Montessori preschool?

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Montessori preschool and toddler programs place much more emphasis on helping children become independent than other programs do.  Why is that?  Does it really matter whether a 2-year-old can put on his own jacket, or whether a 5-year-old can peel a carrot or tie his shoelaces?

When parents first see the snack routine in one of our Montessori toddler environments—setting the table, serving themselves and each other, and cleaning up after themselves—they are stunned.  Often, parents are concerned that their own 18-month-old won’t ever be able to fit into this group of toddlers who seem so mature and capable!

What is it about a Montessori preschool and toddler environment that enables young children to competently do for themselves things that much older children still can’t do in other settings?

According to Dr. Montessori, educating young children is educating them for independence:

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If teaching is to be effective with young children, it must assist them to advance on the way to independence.  It must initiate them into those kinds of activities which they can perform themselves and which keep them from being a burden to others because of their inabilities.  We must help them to learn how to walk without assistance, to run, to go up and down stairs, to pick up fallen objects, to dress and undress, to wash themselves, to express their needs in a way that is clearly understood, and to attempt to satisfy their desires through their own efforts.  All this is part of an education for independence.

Dr. Maria Montessori

Toddlers are naturally eager to learn these things.  “Do it myself” might well be the refrain for the toddler years!

Unfortunately, our day-to-day lives often make for less than ideal circumstances to help our children achieve the independence they crave.  Our homes are not optimized around a little person with his height of less than 3 feet:  Objects are hard to reach, too heavy, or too big for little hands to use.  Our days are not set up to move at his speed:  We rarely just happen to have 10 spare minutes to wait while our 2-year-old puts on his jacket!

Yet enabling a toddler to become more independent has huge benefits, both near-term and longer-term.

Power struggles decrease when a child feels more in control.  Temper tantrums are less frequent when a toddler is busy doing things for himself rather than resisting his parent’s efforts to do things for him!

A child who feels capable because he can act in the world, without needing to rely on Mom or Dad for every little thing, is a child who is developing self-confidence.  Writes psychologist Madeline Levine: “Self-esteem doesn’t contribute much to success.  But success contributes mightily to self-esteem.  Kids have to “do” something, and do it well, to get a self-esteem boost.”

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Children who start to contribute to the home’s smooth functioning in little ways reap many long-term benefits. A great recent article in Wired Magazine points out many of these benefits, and offers a great quote to the educational benefits of involving children in real daily tasks:

So many educational tasks put before our children serve no purpose other than to instruct.  But when learning is connected to something truly purposeful, it can’t help but kindle motivation.  Children feel honored to be included in real work that includes real challenges.  If we pay attention, we see that’s just what they pretend to do when they play. Article in Wired Magazine

So if independence is vitally important, how do we go about fostering it?

Let’s start by quoting some hard-hitting words from Dr. Montessori:

We wait upon our children; and to serve them in this way is not less fatal than to do something that would tend to suffocate their own useful, spontaneous activities.

We believe that children are like puppets.  We wash them and feed them as if they were dolls.  We never stop to think that a child who does not act does not know how to act, but he should act, and nature has given him all the means for learning how to act.  Our primary duty toward him is to assist him to perform useful acts.  A mother who feeds her child without taking the least effort to teach him how to hold a spoon or to find his mouth, or who, when she is herself eating, does not at least invite him to watch how it is done, is not a good mother.  She offends her son’s human dignity by treating him as a puppet, whereas he is by nature a man that has been entrusted to her care.  Everyone knows that it requires much more time and patience to teach a child how to eat, wash, and clothe himself than it does to feed, bathe and clothes him by oneself.The one who does the former is an educator; the latter performs the lower office of a servant. Dr. Maria Montessori

A goal in our classroom is to act as an educator, in the sense that Dr. Montessori describes above, as someone who guides your child toward independence.  How do we approach this responsibility?

Here are four key principles that help us as we guide our students to independence. These principles hold true in the Montessori preschool and toddler environments, and you can apply them at home, too:

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    • Prepare the environment.  The Montessori preschool and toddler classrooms are optimally prepared to support children’s independence.  All furniture is child sized, as are tools, from small plates to low toilets, from miniature brooms to toddler-sized screwdrivers.  The classroom is entirely organized around the child’s day:  Shelves are filled with materials carefully selected for toddlers or preschoolers to handle successfully, on their own.  We even have dedicated activities to teach specific skills: color-coded trays with pouring activities that start with beans and progress to rice and then water; dressing frames to teach buttoning, zipping and so on; a multi-step set of materials to teach the skills needed to wash a table (sponging, folding cloths, pouring water…).Obviously, this is not an environment you can easily replicate at home!  But there are steps you can take to make your home more supportive of your toddler’s independence.  Here are some starter ideas:

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    • Give your child access in the kitchen.  Arrange plates and silverware for him on a low open shelf, or in a drawer.  Provide a step stool so he can reach the counter to work with you, or place a small table and chair in the kitchen for him to work at.
    • Organize the family room so he can participate.  Toddlers don’t deal well with clutter.  It’s best to offer low shelves with only a few toys out at a time and a place for each item.  That way, he can put his things away, and find them, when he needs them.
    • Set up his room and bathroom to support his growing independence in dressing and washing up.  Look for a high step stool that will enable our child to access the sink.  In his room, display a few (3-4 at most) sets of clothing on a low shelf or in shallow baskets.  Make there’s a clothes hamper for him to place dirty clothes in at the end of the day.
  • Teach individual skills, step-by-step.  Remember those toddlers conducting their own snack routine?  They didn’t learn all that in a day!  In a Montessori classroom, we build skills slowly, one simple step at a time.  This ensures children can succeed, which not only makes them happy, but also keeps them motivated to learn more.  So for the snack routine, we break it down into very small steps (e.g. placing the plates on the table, setting a napkin at each place, scooping one spoonful of raisins, etc.), each to be mastered one at a time, and teach each step separately.A similar, slow approach can help your child gain independent at home and feel like he’s contributing.

    Pick easy things first, and pick things your child wants to do.  They don’t need to be the most obvious things, either:  In our family, one of the first contributions my son made was to help make coffee; he loved scooping the beans into the grinder!  Over time, we added other steps: opening the difficult closure of the coffee bean container, then closing it.   Placing the cover on the grinder (tricky – it only goes on one way, and has to be totally vertical!) Getting the filter paper out of the cupboard, and carefully folding it so it fits in the filter cone.  He can’t quite make the coffee by himself yet (the full can of water is still too heavy for him to pour), but he sure feels like he’s making me coffee, and it’s become a treasured part of our morning routine!

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    Here are some skills your toddler might well be ready for:

    • Setting his place at the table.  You can make him a placemat with outlines of plate, spoon, fork and cup.  Or you can show him one thing at a time.
    • Feeding himself.  Start with finger foods, then introduce spoon and fork.  Allow ample time for your 2-year-old to feed himself—and resist the urge to take over!
    • Drinking out of a small glass or cup, not a sippy cup or other closed cup.
    • Carrying dirty dishes into the kitchen.  An older toddler can scrape his plate into the trash can, and perhaps even place it in the dishwasher with some coaching.
    • Putting on his clothes, especially underwear, pants and skirts.  Even jackets are a possibility, with the Montessori flip (see a video here!)
    • Taking off his clothes (with the exception of tight-fitting t-shirts, which can be a struggle for a while.)
    • Putting dirty laundry in a hamper after undressing.
    • Hanging up a jacket on a peg or even a small hanger.
    • Taking off his shoes and placing them in a designated spot (a basket or low shelf)
    • Washing hands with soap and water and drying them independently.
  • Slow down.  One of the benefits of the Montessori preschool and toddler environment is the abundance of time.  We are careful to preserve an unhurried day for our students, so that we can go at a toddler’s pace.  Teachers plan for snack time to take up to 45 minutes. It’s perfectly all right if it takes 10 minutes to get everything ready, and 15 minutes to clean everything up: that slowness is when learning happens!At home, you won’t always have the time to slow down for your child.  But it helps to think through your day to see if you can make time with those tasks where you’ll encourage your child’s independence. If weekdays are just too crazy (we understand!), then set aside an hour or two on the weekend.  Spend time together in the kitchen, for example, to jointly prepare a meal.
  • Embrace error.  When toddlers and preschoolers learn, it can get messy.  Things can and will get broken; liquids will spill; food will land on the floor.  In Montessori preschool, we view all of this as a natural part of learning, not as mistakes.  Cleanup is therefore a part of every activity, not something separate from it.  For example, when we work with water, there’s always a sponge or cloth handy to wipe up spills.Dr. Montessori called this being friendly with error, and it’s a valuable idea to keep in mind as you help your child become more independent at home.  Buy cheap plates that you won’t be mind seeing broken, for example.  I’ll never forget how I had repeatedly asked my daughter to open our trashcan slowly, as it would fall down hard if opened too energetically.  It didn’t sink in, until the cover one day fell down right onto one of her ceramic plates and broke it. Sure, there were tears and a mess to clean up.  But after that experience, my daughter rarely forgot to handle our temperamental trashcan with care!

Independence is a big deal in Montessori preschool for many reasons, a number of which we haven’t even mentioned in this post (indirect preparation for other tasks, motor skill development, problem solving capabilities: the list is long.  Feel free to ask us for more details any time!).

At a very fundamental level, though, the motivation for independence is clear.  As Dr. Montessori says, “These words reveal the child’s inner needs: ‘Help me to do it alone.’”

Five differences between LePort’s Montessori infant program and traditional daycare

If teaching is to be effective with young children, it must assist them to advance on the way to independence. It must initiate them into those kinds of activities which they can perform themselves and which keep them from being a burden to others because of their inabilities. We must help them to learn how to walk without assistance, to run, to go up and down the stairs, to pick up fallen objects, to dress and undress, to wash themselves, to express their needs in a way that is clearly understood, and to attempt to satisfy their desires through their own efforts. All this is part of an education for independence.

Dr. Maria Montessori

Although Montessori schools serve a daycare market, we do not think of our Montessori infant program as a type of daycare. The difference is just too significant.

If you visit any mass-market daycare chain, and then spend 20 minutes observing in our Montessori infant rooms, you’ll vividly see and feel the difference between the two. If you can’t make that comparison to daycare yourself right now (or are just struggling to find words to capture the difference you experienced!) here are five things that set the LePort Montessori infant program apart from typical daycare:

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  1. A carefully prepared Montessori home-like environment, not a daycare center. At most daycare centers, plastic materials dominate, from toys to furniture, because they happen to be easy and quick to clean. We want more for your child: our infant environments are beautiful by design. They are open, bright spaces, with high-quality, wooden furniture and comfortable chairs for teachers to snuggle with babies. You’ll see soft floor mats, lots of pillows of different shapes and sizes and soft sheepskins to rest on. There’s art on the walls, at baby’s eye level, and mirrors along the floor. On first sight, this room may look more like your living room than a daycare center. And shouldn’t it? LePort’s Montessori program will be your baby’s home way from home, after all!
  2. Love and respect for each individual child and family. Often, daycare centers feel too regimented: strict sleep schedules, mass-feedings in high chair line-ups, and parents not welcome at school. At LePort, we treasure each baby as a unique individual, and do everything we can to tailor the routine of feeding, active time and nap to his needs. We never confine your child to a high chair; instead, we cuddle with him in comfortable seats with a bottle, until he’s ready and excited to transition him to a low table and chair, where he can participate in eating with his own spoon. And, of course, moms are always welcome to join their child for a mid-day breastfeeding break!
  3. Freedom to explore at their own pace: a follow-the-child approach. Walkers, cribs, play pens: in many daycare settings, children spend much time in these and other containers. At LePort, in contrast, our mission is to liberate your child. We recognize that being encouraged to move is critical for infant development. Soft floor mats in front of mirrors encourage tummy time and self-discovery. Low bars mounted to the wall and soft furniture entice children to pull up. Stairs with low steps, a railing and a slide just call for practice climbing up and down.Because of our individualized approach, each child progresses through the stages of movement—rolling over, crawling, cruising, walking—at his or her own pace. In contrast to most typical daycare centers, we never force 12 infants to conform to a group, not for feeding, not for sleeping and not for anything else. As part of our overall follow-the-child approach, we customize your child’s activities to his or her unique needs. Socialization, in our environment, happens naturally; being with other little people thus is a joyful experience for your baby, rather than something that becomes associated with forced group activities for which babies just aren’t developmentally ready.
  4. Nurturing guidance for growing brains. A baby’s brain grows more during the first two years of life than any other subsequent two-year period. Our trained teachers recognize that education starts at birth, and work to provide an environment that will foster the child’s natural process of exploration. From beautiful, captivating mobiles for babies to observe, to immaculate materials on low shelves demonstrating simple cause-effect relationships, our environment and activities are carefully designed to facilitate and encourage self-initiated learning, exploration, and growth.montessori-shelf-supplies-day-care-huntington-beachThe first two years of life are also a “sensitive period” for order. Babies have a natural need to follow routines, to understand sequences, to know where things in their environment belong. As Montessori educators, we actively support your baby’s need for order: there is a special place for each material, and even children as young as 14 months delight in being able to put things back where they belong on the low, open shelves (something they rarely can do in other daycare settings, which often are cluttered, and have toys stored by staff in boxes or out of babies’ reach.)Our teachers are also masters at stimulating your baby’s language development. As Montessori educators, we know that the “sensitive period” for language acquisition starts at birth. Our teachers provide vocabulary at timely opportunities in response to their emerging interests: we observe and identify what your child focuses on (a blue mobile, a wooden chair, a soft, green, furry ball), and give her the language that goes with her interest. This responsive, individualized approach to fostering language skills has been shown to advance toddlers’ language development by up to an astounding six months!
  5. Highly trained teachers, and a ratio that supports lots of individualized attention. Childcare regulations require a 1:4 ratio of daycare staff to babies. We think that 1:4 is too high a ratio to maintain all day long: four awake, active children is too many for a teacher, even a well trained teacher, to consistently provide the level of individualization we think is optimal. That’s why while we always maintain the 1:4 staffing ratio, we aim to have a 1:3 ratio of awake children to staff for most of the day. In part, this is possible because in our mixed-age (3 months to around 18-24 months) infant rooms, children nap on their own schedule, and typically a few are asleep at any given time. mirror-montessori-infant-childcareRegulations also require daycare staff to have 12 ECUs (early childhood education units.) Often, that’s the extent of the education and training you’ll find at daycare facilities. We again do not think that’s enough! Research shows that the education level and intelligence of your baby’s primary care provider has a huge impact on his intellectual, social and physical development. You know from your experience as a parent that you often need to think on your feet; that parenting is easier if you have a clear idea of your goals, and the approaches to childrearing you want to follow. That’s why each LePort infant room is led by a university-educated teacher who has also completed the rigorous one-year, Assistant to Infancy training at an AMI training center, or an equivalent MACTE-accredited training program. In addition to this training for the lead teacher, most of the other infant teachers in your child’s room are also college graduates—and all of them are intelligent, observant, and nurturing individuals whom we’ve handpicked for our program! Click here to read more about the attributes we look for when hiring your baby’s first teacher.

Transitioning to Montessori: Independence (Part 1 of 5)

Every fall, children transition to our Montessori programs from other preschools or elementary schools. What can parents do to help with this transition? In this series of blog posts, we lay out a few Montessori principles that apply at the later preschool and early elementary school level. Our focus is on children who transition into Montessori during their kindergarten through 2nd grade years, but many of the ideas suggested here are helpful for preschool children, too.

“Little children, from the moment they are weaned, are making their way toward independence”

“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.”

— Dr. Maria Montessori

If your child will be transitioning into a Montessori school late into the preschool/kindergarten program, or straight into Montessori elementary school, it is helpful for you as a parent to understand what your child would have experienced had he been in the program in earlier years.

montessori preschool

The goal of the Montessori preschool experience is to help children help themselves. “All by myself” is and ought to be the theme of a toddler’s life, and in the right environment, this motivation to be independent becomes the basis of tremendous learning. Montessori preschools, by satisfying the child’s need to be independent, help him acquire skills of daily living in a careful, step-by-step sequence that sets them up for success and earned self-esteem.

It starts with something as simple as enabling toddlers to manage their own snack routine. They start out by learning to lay out a napkin and a small cup. Before long, they are able to set the full table, serve themselves by scooping raisins and pouring water, and clean up the table, put away dishes and sweep up crumbs. Rather than being a passive recipient of snacks, a child learns to satisfy his own needs.

Preschool children in Montessori have the opportunity to do many tasks that other children are not entrusted with until much later. For example, they peel and cut fruits and vegetables, using real knives. They prepare and serve snack to their peers. They cut and arrange flowers and are in charge of taking care of classroom plants and pets.

As these preschoolers become more capable, they relish taking on more responsibility. At school, they take ownership of cleaning up classroom shelves, without being asked, and also teach these same skills and habits to younger friends. At home, they may be entrusted with preparing their own lunches, or being real contributors to family chores.

If a child transitions to Montessori as a 5-, 6- or 7-year-old (i.e., late in preschool or early in elementary school), he may not have had these same experiences. And, maybe more importantly, his parents may not have received coaching on how to foster this type of independence at home.

The best solution, if your child is in this situation, is to start now! Think about what things you may be doing for your child that he could do alone, if you made some slight adjustments to your routines and gave him some extra initial support.

Here are a few ideas to support independence for kindergarten age or early elementary school children (useful whether or not you enroll them in Montessori for elementary school!)

  • In the kitchen.
    1. Provide your child with a low shelf or drawer with his own utensils, so he can set his table. Make this a daily responsibility.
    2. Set up healthy food choices on low shelves in the pantry and refrigerator: jars with cereal, a basket of fruit, cut-up veggies in a bowl, a small pitcher with milk or juice. Invite your child to help himself to a healthy snack when he is hungry!
    3. Invite your child to help you with food prep. For Small Hands carries a great selection of child-sized implements, from vegetable peelers to cutting boards and aprons. 5- or 6-year-olds can do a lot of food prep, from peeling apples to cutting carrots, from measuring out flour to flipping pancakes!
    4. Enable your child to clean up after himself. Set up a child-sized broom & dust bin, a small bucket, a scrubber and a sponge, and ask your child to clean up around the table after eating.
  • In the bedroom, bathroom and laundry room.
    1. Ensure your child’s closet is child-friendly. Make sure he can access all his clothes easily. Limit choices to those appropriate for the season and day-to-day activities (put away special occasion clothes, unless you are ok if your child wears them every day!)
    2. Organize things so your child can do his own laundry. Get a two-compartment hamper for easy clothes sorting. Show your child how to manage the washer (including pre-treating stains!) Show him how to fold & put away laundry.

montessori preschool

In his Montessori elementary classroom, your child will have an increasing amount of responsibility. He’ll have the opportunity to keep his own work organized, take care of classroom plants and pets, and help keep the general classroom organized. He’ll learn how to be in charge of his own academic activities, planning out his daily and weekly tasks, and taking the initiative to reach out to teachers and friends for help when he needs it.

Giving your child more independence at home will help get him ready for this new environment of freedom within limits (more on that in the next blog post here.)

Read more in our Transitioning to Montessori blog series:

I can do it all by myself!

With the new school year, we have a lot of new little friends who have joined our toddler classrooms. Naturally, this can be an anxious time for children and parents alike. Many of these children may be leaving mom or dad for the first time, and even for experienced daycare children, a Montessori classroom is an entirely new experience. They are taking a step in growing up, in becoming independent young people, and we do our best to make it a great experience for them.

That’s why we are so excited when we receive reports like this from Judi Chimits at our Mission Viejo Campus:

Parent Marcie U. said that her son, Dylan, who just started in Pre-primary (our toddler program) last week, is already starting to do things for himself at home. He’s pushing in chairs, putting things away, and he tried to put his cup in the sink (he’s too short and it spilled everywhere, but he tried to do it himself)!

I particularly love these stories of budding independence with our youngest students; they exemplify what’s at the core of the Montessori preschool philosophy of education. As Dr. Montessori explains:

If teaching is to be effective with young children, it must assist them to advance on the way to independence. It must initiate them to those kinds of activities which they can perform themselves and which keep them from being a burden to others because of their inabilities. We must help them to learn how to … go up and down stairs, to wash themselves, to express their needs in a way that is clearly understood, and to attempt to satisfy their desires through their own efforts. All this is part of an education for independence.

Everyone knows that it requires much more time and patience to teach a child how to eat, wash and clothe himself than it does to feed, bathe and clothe him by oneself.

The one who does the former is an educator…

Tomorrow, I’ll be giving a Parent Education Seminar at our Yorba Linda campus titled: “Help Me Help Myself—Montessori Techniques for Fostering Independence”. It’s all about how we as parents can help toddlers and preschoolers do more for themselves.

It’s truly wonderful to see all these children coming into our school,  eagerly learning these important life skills and even more importantly, developing a confidence in their ability to deal independently with the world that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Welcome, young friends: we love to have you with us!

Heike Larson