If you’re anything like me, you may look at all the “Montessori at Home” blogs with their gorgeous sensory bins, child-size kitchen setups, and perfectly manicured play shelves with deep envy. With a 2 year-old and 4 year-old at home full-time, baby #3 on the way, and both my husband and I working from home thanks to COVID, my house generally looks like a sensory bin gone wrong 99% of the time.
So instead of diving into a big bowl of shame and accepting that I’ll never be that perfectly put together “Insta-mom”, I’ve identified some ways that I’m giving Montessori-style experiences to my kids in the natural flow of our family life. I’m sure there are plenty of ways you are too, without even realizing!
1. House cleaning is a family affair.
Pre-COVID, we had someone help with house cleaning. Since our income took a hard hit in March and our workload tanked with live events shut down, I took the cleaning back on. The kids decided they were my “team” and since the first week of quarantine, we’ve done a weekly bathroom, vacuum, window, and mirror cleaning morning together. Sometimes they don’t last very long, but my kids know the basics of cleaning their own bathroom which their future spouses will be grateful for, and I’ll be cashing in in no time when I no longer have to clean any bathrooms in my house. I call that a win/win!
2. The sink is a sensory bin.
Both of my kids went through an obsession with washing dishes. They would stand at the sink forever with whatever dirty utensils they could reach, some soap, and a sponge and “clean” the dishes. I showed them how I used the soap and sponge to clean the dishes, but they usually just splashed and played until they (and the floor) were soaked. But you know what? That’s a no-setup required sensory activity. A change of clothes and a quick wipe-up of the floor, and I can say we did something developmentally beneficial. Bam.
3. Cooking together.
I harp regularly on every kid being different. My 4 year-old has only recently decided to willingly dress himself, but he is an avid helper in the kitchen, as is my 2 year-old. Instead of fighting to teach my kids to do what the experts tell me they should be able to do at their developmental stage, I’ve started jumping on their bandwagon of interests and teaching them as many related skills as possible. So since my 4 year-old loves to cook, he’s learning knife and peeler skills, scrambling eggs (inspired by Jennifer at Kids Eat in Color), applying spreads on bread, measuring and pouring, and the names of all the ingredients we regularly use. It won’t be long before he’s making us breakfast each morning. I’m also pretty confident he won’t start kindergarten without knowing how to put his socks on… so I’ll let that battle go for the moment.
4. Letting them create their own fun.
It seems there’s a strong emphasis on adult-assembled activities right now in the preschool Instagram world, which sometimes makes me feel like I’m failing if I haven’t assembled some sort of learning activity each day with the kids. However, that doesn’t seem to be at the heart of the Montessori approach. Truly, it’s about child-led learning and giving them space to be independent and learn their own way. So I’ve created an artsy “Montessori at Home” space with minimal effort where the kids can make an art disaster with scissors, glue, paper, and coloring supplies all within reach. We’re still working on child-led clean-up, but the stuff they create by themselves is always fascinating, and I can see their coordination and fine motors improving through it.
5. Letting nature be its own sensory bin.
Thanks to Susie at Busy Toddler giving me permission to have a disaster for a backyard, my kids now have a virtual Mecca of sensory experiences outside. They “cook” with old pans – mixing sand, mulch, basil, and tomatoes. They recently transferred a mix of who knows what that they deemed “asphalt” into our water table and created a “pond”, topped off with a “bridge” made of dead sunflower stalks. They enjoy watering plants and digging up weeds and smooshing the caterpillars that decided to consume all of my kale. They are being curious and imagining, and that’s what life as a preschooler is all about.
So, give yourself a break from the hamster wheel of prep-intensive “Montessori at Home” activities and keeping up with the Montessori Joneses.
What are some experiences that your kids are already engaging in, or what could you easily tweak to involve them in ways that benefit you AND them?