Why Should The Child Attend School Before Age Six?
The first step in a Montessori education addresses itself to early childhood education and lays a foundation for how a child will learn throughout his/her life. A Montessori preschool is neither a baby-sitting service nor a regimented place where children are forced to achieve. We offer the child the opportunity to develop individually within a carefully defined structure. School is a natural and enjoyable experience.
Furthermore, the Montessori philosophy regards the years from birth to six as crucial in a child’s development. It is during this time that children have sensitive periods. This differs from a critical period. A sensitive period is one in which a child has a natural desire to acquire a particular trait or skill. He/she will occupy himself/herself with particular activities with an interest and concentration he/she will never again display for that particular activity. Unlike a critical period in which he/she must acquire the skill during that time or she will never acquire it, a sensitive period is one in which a child desires to accomplish a particular task. He/she could learn how to master that same task at a later time, but not with the same fervor, zeal and ease of the sensitive period.
Some examples of sensitive periods: Two-and-one-half and three-year-old children are usually in a sensitive period for order. If certain objects are not in their usual places, a young child will rearrange them until they are. It is also speculated that humor originates from this sensitivity. For example, if an adult put a vase on his head and called it a hat, a young child might be confused. She has recently learned in the order of our universe that vases are for flowers and hats are for heads. However, a four or five-year-old might find it amusing because the adult has deviated from the order the child knows well.
Four and five-year-old are in a sensitive period for writing. Parents also have reported that at a particular time their child will go through reams of paper printing numbers and letters. Their child really wants to perfect that skill. The length of this period varies and it is a transitory one. Once it is over, the child will still want to print numbers and letters, but not with the same fervor of the original period. Teachers have also observed children who were in a sensitive period for learning the sounds of letters. Each day some children would come to school and want to work on the letter sounds to the exclusion of other activities.
There are various sensitive periods. A parent or teacher cannot create a sensitive period in a child; however, the adult can follow and help the child to develop his/her interests. The Montessori school aids the child by providing opportunities for his/her to accomplish the tasks that are important to his/her at a given time. A traditional school, with time blocks for subjects and a curriculum into which each child must fit is not always able to help a child develop his/her interests and sensitivities.
So you want to do Montessori in the home but aren’t sure where to start. Perhaps you’ve toured a Montessori classroom, beautifully prepared with neat shelves of learning materials and thought, “if they can do it with 17 kids, certainly I can do it with just one!”
Well, I have some bad news and some good news. The bad news is you can’t replicate the Photoshopped fantasy nor the carefully managed classroom. The good news is you aren’t supposed to. Montessori is much more a philosophy of child development than a set of things to do. Plus, you’re doing it in your home — under real world conditions. Expect the mess.
So where does that leave the aspiring Montessorian?
Mastering the philosophy can be a life’s pursuit, but there are a few tips you can incorporate right away to help you along the way.
#1. Follow your child
This is number one for a reason. Learning new skills will not occur without your child’s interest. Following your child means seriously observing your child’s stage of development.
What toys does your child keep coming back to over and over? What is he/she trying to do? Learning to crawl? Pouring and spilling water everywhere? Spending hours turning the pages of a book? Going to the potty to (ahem) play in it? Catching bugs constantly? Picking out a shirt to wear, discarding it, only to put on another shirt?
I can’t tell you what activities to focus on in your Montessori home because that’s your child’s job. Many classroom teachers will tell you that they can’t truly design the shelves without meeting the children and observing them. This is even more important for you, Montessori parent, because unlike a classroom filled with child centered, ready made curricula, you are incorporating your child into a family-centric environment.
You most likely have limited resources and space, so focus on your child’s interests. You can (and will!) change the environment as your child grows older and has different needs. Write down a list of your child’s current obsessions, whether it be banging pots, throwing blocks, or matching colors, and ask yourself, “What is he/she trying to learn from this behavior?”
#2. Invest in shelves and baskets
While you’re not likely to achieve immaculate, you do want to make your Montessori environment as organized and peaceful as reasonable. It also keeps your house from becoming too cluttered with random kid stuff because you can’t stuff everything on a few shelves like you can in, say, a toy chest or some bins.
“Unlike toy chests, shelves naturally encourage you to limit quantity.”
Remember, you don’t have to get everything at once. Start with baskets and shelves. You won’t be disappointed.
#3. Choose some of your child’s nicest toys
Toys are fine when the quality and quantity is appropriate. If adding toys, pick ones your child loves; that inspire and nurture; and (if at all possible) are beautiful and made of natural materials. Likewise, steer clear of flashy, noisy, battery-operated toys as much as possible and focus on toys that spark your child’s imagination.
And the toys that you aren’t choosing to put on your beautiful shelves? You don’t have to throw the rest away, but do keep them away from your child’s shelves, hidden wherever you have available.
And if you find yourself acquiring a massive amount of toys, it’s a great idea to donate them.
#4. Limit quantity
If you have a toddler, you probably won’t be needing all 286 blocks that came with the set. You might need about 20. Just enough to stack into towers and topple down. You also don’t want to crowd your shelves.
Are you wondering how many toys to put out at a time? I can’t tell you that, but your child will.
You also might want to select one type of toy and rotate within the category. For example, if you have a lot of puzzle or different sets of building blocks, consider displaying one or two and put the rest away for now.
#5. Get Support
You can’t make this journey alone. You need help! Start with spouses, partners, or others who are actively participating in raising your child, such as grandparents. The goal is to have a shared vision for what Montessori in your home looks like.
Go further, though, and reach out to friends and other parents. Talk to them about what you’re doing, even if you aren’t completely confident in it. In fact, talking about it will help you better understand your own perspective and dissolve the feeling of isolation so common in parenting.