Montessori Homeschooling Q & A, Part 2

Recently, Meredith of the blog Sweetness and Light asked me to participate in a Q & A about Montessori and homeschooling. Here are the questions she asked me:

Q. I am wondering about what time frame it takes for the children to learn how to use their work spaces (mats and trays). By “use” I mean how long should it be before they are taking care of the materials, cleaning up, putting things back, etc before moving on to a new activity? In my house my kids (2 and 4 years old) often drift away from their work.

If I am more consistent in this area, will I see change in a week or month, or longer?

A. That’s a great question. In my mind we expect way too much of kids too soon. Keep in mind that completing the work cycle (which is exactly what you described) is part of what they are learning when they actually do work.

In other words, just as they will need tons of repetition to learn colors, numbers, letters, etc., they will need tons of repetition to learn how to put out a rug, choose a work, complete it, and put it away correctly.

To give you a frame of reference, one of my trainers said that a child should be able to complete the work cycle by 1st grade (age 6, roughly). So at 2 years, or 4? It’s too much to expect. That said, you can give gentle reminders (“Did you forget to put something away?” “Do you need help to finish your work, or can you do it yourself?”) You can model the correct way to roll and unroll a rug, everyday if need be, until those ideas take hold.

Q. What would you say are the main differences between how Montessori education is approached in the home, versus in a school setting?

When we alter the school methods and materials to suit our home setting, what aspects are important to leave largely intact, and which can be relaxed or altered without defeating the whole system?”

A. There are actually many differences. Sometimes I feel like there are two versions of Montessori; the school version and the homeschool version. Both are great, but they are different.

First of all, many times the parent doesn’t have the Montessori training. It’s important that in that case, they read Maria’s books, purchase albums, read blogs, etc. which it seems like all of you do. There are online courses to be certified in Montessori and I highly recommend that if it’s at all possible.

Definitely, one of the biggest differences is socialization. I don’t mean it in the sense of a traditional classroom (20 kids, all the same age, working side by side at desks). But in Montessori, the social interaction of the combined ages has a definite purpose: older kids are supposed to teach the younger, and I would go as far as to say “nurture” the younger ones. That can happen at home to a certain extent. But there may not be enough kids, or the right ages, to really make it work.

What should we keep from traditional Montessori when we homeschool? The idea of respect for the child’s choices, the idea of a beautifully prepared, organized environment with attractive, didactic (self-teaching) materials.

What can we leave behind? Not much, if we want to truly call it Montessori. There are group presentations that will naturally be tailored to one child at a time; there are certain activities we can’t do with only a few kids. Hopefully we are keeping most of the theory, though.

Q. I pull things off the shelf when things are misused, or a level of boredom is achieved. Do you have any other suggestions for rotation – how much do you leave out for your children at once?

A. There are several theories about that. There’s one school of Montessori theory that says everything a child needs for the year should be out from the beginning; not only because all the work should always be accessible, but it keeps the classroom stable in the sense that the same work is always on the same shelves in the same place.

In practice, however, not only is there often not room for everything (especially at home), but as you said, kids become habituated to certain materials and stop using them.

I rotate a lot more for elementary than 3-6. To me, the pink tower, red rods, cylinder blocks, etc. should always be available if at all possible. They can be used in different ways for different ages/stages, and if the child is in the right stage but the material isn’t there, a teachable moment/sensitive period is lost.

But in elementary, the child is now in a different stage of learning. If they’ve mastered Roman Numerals Set 1, you can put out Set 2 in its place and they’re probably not going to need Set 1 again. It’s a different developmental plane. So I rotate out a lot of stuff for that age.

I have a closet in my front hallway that’s filled with shelves and bins – I keep everything there and grab it when I need it. I try to leave out as much as I can at one time – as I said, you’ll never know when you might need it.