When I was studying at Appalachian State University pursuing my undergraduate degree in Child Development, I was introduced to the Reggio Emilia approach as I observed and spent many hours in the Child Development Center on campus. This is a child-centered approach focused on preschool and primary age groups that utilizes self-guided projects, experiential learning, and focuses on relationships. I was in awe of what I saw with the children during this time. They were so invested in one another, navigating and caring for each other’s feelings, and the sense of working together in community was amazing. This sparked my interest in other methods of education such as Montessori. This approach was developed in Italy by a physician named Maria Montessori. Much like the Reggio Emilia approach, Montessori method is also child directed, offers freedom within limits, and includes a thoughtfully prepared environment.
There is an amazing Montessori school down the road from us where we have been on the waitlist since Thompson was an infant. I am thankful that we have not been selected yet, honestly, because I love being able to observe Thompson exploring the environment I have set up for him. I have seen first hand how Thompson is eager to know more, initiates his own learning, and expresses his free choice from the options provided. In this blog, I will share about how to Gift your Child a Montessori Home. Meaning, a home that is able to be explored, touched, and master common objects that are used in everyday life. I will share how taking a step back and looking at your home through the eyes of a child will empower and benefit you and your child both. Continue reading to see how I took one section of my home at a time and made it more Montessori-like. I will share how it has helped Thompson thrive, become more independent, and created less stress for us both.
At first, Thompson had 4 main areas where his toys were and play would happen. The living room where I had a large wicker basket with plastic toys, stuffed animals, and books. Basically, it was the catch all for whatever came out of his bedroom or playroom. The playroom is a mixed use space in our home as our house is only 960 square feet. It housed a clothes rack for daddy, daddy’s closet, and had several toy shelves with all sorts of toys in them. Thompson’s bedroom had a small basket with toys thrown in it also. Lastly, the kitchen area was a space that Thompson often attempted to reach snacks in the tall hutch or cook with a chair nearby while I cooked. Being a toddler, my son eats, ALL THE TIME! Seriously, there is breakfast, the meal between breakfast and lunch I call snunch, lunch, the snack between lunch and supper I call snupper, supper, then snack before bed. This is why our dear friend Lola bought him a shirt that says, “Here I am standing in front of my mom asking for a snack”. Truth! One day, I thought to myself, why do I spend my whole day feeding this child? I have a background in Child Development, I have training in Montessori and Reggio Emilia, think Marinda, think! I did and it came to me so easily. I had not created an environment that helped Thompson to guide himself, access what he needed, and explore eagerly. His environment was cluttered and overcrowded with plastic things instead of natural materials. Children, just like adults, are drawn to natural materials from the Earth. The more that we can add natural materials to a child’s space, the better. I realized I had a lot of work to do and nearly stressed out for a second. Then, I gave myself permission to take one area at a time and focus on that instead of doing the whole house at once. This became the biggest blessing because I was able to see the fruits of my labor with each space I modified which encouraged me to keep going. It affirmed that I was on to something and was going in the right direction. Let me explain more.
I started with the area that I wanted Thompson to have more independence first. The mudroom. Living on a mini farm, we have a “no shoes in the house past the mudroom” rule. Nobody needs what is out on the farm all up in the house, trust me. So, I cleared out one side of the mudroom shelf system and hung hooks within Thompson’s reach. I placed his bookbag, umbrella, and a few hats. Then, I moved the super sweet stool from my husband Aaron’s childhood that was not being used in front of that mudroom cubby. I cleared out all of everyone’s shoes except the ones Thompson wears regularly and placed them in the very bottom of the cubby. As I was doing this, Thompson literally walked over and said “I put shoes on mommy?” He was ready to put his shoes on himself, sat down, and began to work on doing so. Within a week of changing these simple things in the mudroom, Thompson began putting his slide on shoes and boots on himself. This was a direct observation for me of the Montessori concept that children learn concepts from working with materials rather than direct instruction. They discover and construct on their own when the environment is properly established. I was so excited, I moved on that same day during his nap and redid the kitchen area.
Thompson already had a play kitchen located next to the stove where he could cook and pretend at his leisure. The challenge I saw with his kitchen was that it was overcrowded, had little work space, and was full of plastic items. I cleared out the shelves of the kitchen and left only some wooden, more realistic play foods, utensils, and appliances. In the bottom shelves, I added the bowls, plates, cups, and utensils that Thompson eats with daily. I also placed a small tray inside with self serve snacks that I was fine with him grabbing anytime. I had an apple, banana, cucumber, and a baggie of nuts/seeds. I realized that Thompson did not have many metal utensils or cleaning supplies his own size. I ordered some from Ikea, along with a chef hat and apron. I searched for the wooden ‘Melissa and Doug Cleaning Set’ on Facebook marketplace and found one there. I also installed a light bar that we had sitting around doing nothing under the kitchen so that it would be bright and welcoming. Ya’ll, with the exception of the Ikea items, all of this was done during one naptime. I added a hook to the end of the kitchen. When Thompson woke up from nap and was ready for snack, I showed him where his plates, bowls, cups, and utensils were. I also showed him his self serve snack bin. His face beamed as he thoughtfully selected his own plate and proceeded to place the apple, then the banana, then the cucumber, then the nuts/seeds. LOL. I realized that he had all of the snack options which was very smart on his part but not what I had planned. I did explain that he could choose 1 or 2 snack options at a time and if hungry could come back for more. He looked at the options on his plate and placed back the nuts/seeds, and the apple. He kept the cucumber and the banana and walked to the table, got up in his chair, and said “I got my snack momma!” I celebrated that moment with him and have kicked myself a little since because I should have done this a long time ago. Now, I was not having to hear him say “Snack, Momma, Snack, Momma” 100 times a day. Instead, he could serve himself. I utilize this area for all of his meals. When time for breakfast, he gets his own bowl of choice, his spoon, and his oatmeal packet. I have a small metal creamer pitcher that I put hot water or milk in for him and then he pours it himself and makes his own breakfast. It is fantastic that he can set his own table and we can eat family style together. He also noticed the light bar and pressed it on and off. He uses it each time he plays with his kitchen. When the metal utensils, apron, chef hat, and cleaning station were incorporated, he dressed up and played for long periods of time. Sometimes 20 or more minutes, which is a lot for a toddler.
The living room was the next area of focus. I knew that Thompson was jumping on and off furniture, running and grabbing things and throwing them, and acting out because he was bored and unstructured. Children can have structure and still be free to explore a space and self-regulate more effectively with a thoughtfully planned area. We do not have a traditional TV stand. We have two old ladders that belonged to Aaron’s grandfather. We took pallet and other wood and made shelves to size. This had knickknacks, photo frames, baskets of stuff, remotes, essential oils in a box, and other clutter. I looked around the house and rounded up any containers that I had that were wooden and natural. I found several baskets, some wood boxes that toys or other gifts had come in, and began the transition. I quickly realized I needed more storage options so I got some wicker baskets and placed various items in them. I thought about what I wanted Thompson to learn and what he already enjoys exploring. At Target, I had found some felt goodies that I had given Thompson in his Easter basket. One was about the weather, so I placed it on an open bamboo plate. I used two wooden boxes and placed 2 piece puzzles in one and magnet shapes in the other. I wanted to incorporate musical toys as we do music class together, so one larger box held a variety of instruments. Wood letters with string, shape sorting cube, ice tray with lids from snack pouches were also included in his play area. When Thompson saw the area, I allowed him an uninterrupted block of time to explore. As he went through each box, basket, and plate of new, interesting items, I observed. This is a key focus of many Montessori teachers. They look for the child’s innate abilities, talents, tendencies, preferences, and unique characteristics. I loved to see Thompson delight in so many of these new items. As the days went on, I watched for mastery of the elements in each box or basket as he played independently or with me. When I saw Thompson lose interest in a certain activity, it was for one of two reasons. One, he was frustrated that he could not complete the task or two, he had mastered the task and was ready to move on. I would offer to show him and play together with him to help with the tasks that were more difficult and then I would swap out the ones he had mastered with new, fresh items. Being mindful to exchange items each week or two weeks as I observe his interest has been key to the success of this living room setup. Some items I find he wants left out even after he has mastered it because he just likes it. Others it appears he is happy to see swapped for something else. This has also eliminated the need for a catch all, bottomless toy pit in the living room.
The playroom area I transformed in a similar manner as the living room. I added permanent shelving and then placed all items that Thompson could manipulate within his reach. Here I created areas within the room as far as an art area, reading/quiet area, music station, and then various baskets and boxes with play items. Some items are still plastic but I wanted to be sure that the raw, natural materials were increased. Before, Thompson would come and paint at his easel most. He would not really play very long with his other toys probably because the room was overcrowded and overstimulating. Once I changed out the items and made them simple, spacious, and not crowded, I saw Thompson’s interest level increase. He has rope laced eggs for counting, flashcards for letters, animals, and counting, a box of natural items he collects when playing outside and can bring in to display. He also has a life skills area with a baby doll, clothes, feeding items, and buggy. Now that the floor is not cluttered with so many toys and the shelves have more purposeful play items, Thompson utilizes this space much more.
The bedroom was an area that had another random box for collecting toys. I know, not ideal. I removed that and used a shelf system from the playroom to add clothing items that he can use to dress himself. Some are dress up, dramatic play items like construction or police vests while others are practical items such as socks, hats, and pajamas. This has allowed Thompson the ability to choose what he wants if he wants to dress himself some days.
One area that is not a play area but was critical for me to adjust was our bathroom. Thompson has shown interest in the potty for a while so we have a small toilet for him to use. I added a basket of his cloth underwear, a self care shelf that has a comb and ear swabs, as well as his own tooth brushing station on the counter by the sink. I also got a folding step stool that we can store when not in use but pull out when Thompson is ready to brush his teeth. His teeth brushing station has a small square I cut out of shelf liner. It has a repurposed OUI yogurt glass container, a small shot glass in the shape of a mason jar with handle, a floss stick, his toothbrush and toothpaste. Thompson loves to floss, put toothpaste on his toothbrush, brush, drink water and spit after. It amazes me how independently he combs his hair, cleans his ears, and flosses and brushes his teeth being 2 years old!
Not only have these changes helped Thompson grow and thrive leaps and bounds, they have also created a sense of pride and accomplishment as he is encouraged to do more for himself. They have also taken some of the strain and tedious work away from me as he does more on his own and enjoys it. I know it is hard to see our babies grow up. I often remind my husband to let Thompson put on his own shoes or pull up his own pants. We want them to stay little for a long time, but the empowerment I see in Thompson is so special that I want to continue to encourage that. Giving children a Montessori home will benefit them throughout their lives in more ways than one. Thanks for joining me for this blog and be sure to check out the complimentary video for this blog on my YouTube Channel.