Thursday, March 8, 2012

Our Monstessori Home

Did that title make you cringe?  A year or two ago I would have definitely cringed!  I would have pictured Sprite making messes and me trying to let her learn through messes while I was hanging on to my sanity.  Things like accepting paint spills and having a toddler "helper" for everything I do would drive me more than a little crazy.
Two things have changed since then.  First, Sprite goes a Montessori school and I think I have learned as much as she has, and second, I am trying (and occasionally succeeding) at getting our lives more organized and less stressful.  We have made huge improvements, but we still have a way to go.  I would like to share  our journey this past year, and hopefully you will find some of my ideas helpful.

First, a little background on the Montessori Method of learning. 

- Children are in mixed age classrooms. Sprite's class is 3-6 year olds, which is very common.  This allows the older children to help the younger ones, and the younger children can learn by example.  Sprite is 3.5, and loves being helped by the older kids.  She also can't wait until she is a 4 year old, and can stay at school for lunch and hold hands with the little kids :-)

- DIY DIY DIY! (This is my favorite part). If a kid is capable of doing something, they are expected to do it.  From dressing to potty to cooking to opening heavy doors.  This was a big battle for Sprite at first, because she suffers from what I call Only Child Syndrome, where she gets too many things done for her.  During the first week of school, the teacher taught her how to open the heavy door of the classroom by pulling it enough to stick her foot in, and then pushing it open from the inside. Sprite also learned how to put her coat on by laying it down on the floor and putting her arms in, then flipping it over her head.  Now she would have a fit if I attempted to do either of those things for her!

- Order! Kids actually love order, although when you look at their messes this can be difficult to believe.  When each item has a special place, they are much more likely to be put back.  Only taking out one item at a time helps with this.

- Montessori teachers serve as guides rather than traditional teachers.  Childrenwork at their own pace.  They can choose which activity to work on and for how long.  Teachers guide them by helping them choose an appropriate activity for their development, and may demonstrate how a new activity works.  The children then work on their own or with a partner if they want to.  The teacher makes rounds to see if a child needs help, but the children largely work uninterrupted.

- Children learn through the 5 senses.  For example, they don't just learn about composting, they actually crunch up eggshells and save vegetable scraps, and when it is ready shovel it into a garden.  Montessori kids spend a good amount of time outdoors.

That's an overview of the aspects of Montessori that impact our home life the most.  Here's how we use them to our advantage, and make our house child (and Montessori) friendly.

I went sticky hook crazy and put them all around the house.  Now Sprite can reach things AND they have a designated "home".  Clean up is much easier if you know where to put things.

Sprite's bathroom has a stepstool and her robe within reach.

Her clothes are organized in baskets.  The bottom shelves contain the in-season clothes: underwear, socks, short sleeves, dresses, and long pants.  When it's time to choose tomorrow's clothes, I tell her which basket to choose from based on the weather.  Out of season clothes and special items (like tights and gymnastic leotards) are stored on the higher shelves.

Sprite just started making her own breakfast about a month ago.  She has this tray set up with just about everything she needs.  Cereal, in easy to open containers (Target) with scoops inside, small bowls, silverware, fruit, and a potholder.  I provide bread for toasting and milk for cereal (served in a cup, so she can pour it in the bowl). She operates the toaster, and uses the little potholder to take the toast out.  She LOVES making her own breakfast so much, sometimes she asks to make her own dinner too! It really gets her moving in the morning, and she is a SNAIL so that says something!

I label things so Sprite can use them.  Our pet food containers have little drawings on them, so the cats aren't stuck with rabbit food for breakfast :-)

Shoes have their spot in this bench, and the center basket has hats, mittens, and rain boots.  Coats, lunch boxes, and umbrellas hang on the hooks.

In the laundry room, there's a miniature broom and dustpan (Toys R Us), and bags for organizing recycling (Ikea).  Sprite has turned into the recycling police.  I nearly got arrested for accidently telling her to throw out a recyclable the other day.

There's a dirty laundry basket within reach, and a few towels on the bottom, so if she spills something she can clean it up herself.  When it's laundry time, she carries her own basket to the laundry room, and I let her sit on the dryer to add clothes to the washer.  I measure the detergent and she pours it in and hits the start button.  Sometimes if her basket is full (or if her favorite dress is dirty), she will ask to do laundry!

My sewing room has a sections so Sprite can work while I sew. Her play kitchen is in there, along with her art supplies.

The art supplies are in the chest and hanging on the door in shoe organizers.  Paint, playdoh, and messy things on top (out of reach), and paper, crayons, markers, stickers, popsicle sticks, glue sticks, watercolors, pom poms, and less messy things on the bottom.  When she feels artsy, she can help herself.  Less work on my part, and self confidence for her!

I made Sprite a mini firewood carrier so she could help carry wood too.

A spray bottle and water provides a lot of entertainment and I end up with a somewhat cleanish window.

You've probably noticed that one of our big goals is to have everything within reach.  Sometimes we improvise.  She wanted to watch the ice cream maker spinning, so I had to pull over a chair so it was lower.  Then she pulled up another chair to sit on!

Notice the Learning Tower Sprite uses to help in the kitchen. It's a bit pricey at $200, but worth it if you have the space!

Helping in the kitchen is a lot easier with the Learning Tower, because she can just climb up and down whenever she wants to, and she's not in the way.  I just slide things across the counter to her.  She takes food from the cutting board to a bowl, stirs things, and if I have a few minutes to help, does some measuring.  She is rewarded with taste-tests before the food is done, which gets her trying new things, like green spinach pasta.

For these cornbread muffins, all I did was measure out the milk and give her an egg.  She cut open the package, poured it in the bowl, cracked the egg, added the milk, stirred, chose muffin liners, and filled the cups, all with only a little verbal help from me.

Sure the muffin pan was a little messy.  But she was busy and working alone for about 15 minutes while I cooked the rest of dinner, and SO proud of herself!  Totally worth a few drips!

While art, cooking, self-esteem, and responsibility are great things, the even greater element we are trying to teach is a love of learning.  We try new things, practice old ones, explore places, taste new foods, meet new people, and learn together along the way.  

If you love to learn, you can do anything!

And THAT is why we do the things we do :-)


Morgan Liddell said...

Kelly-I agree about the helper tower! Its awesome. However, you dont have to pay $200 for them! i couldnt bring myself to spend that, so I found free plans to make one from Ana White. Great option for those who dont want to (or cant) spend $200. Here is the link

Jennifer Hogue-McCarty said...

I love it! I have always wondered about the Montessori schools, and how it was working for you! I hope if Tom and I ever have kids we can raise them as well as you guys are Raina!

Fran Harding said...

Hi Kelly, I loved your post and I miss seeing you two! That cutie pie is getting so big and what a big helper! It looks like you twoare having losts of fun!

Jeanne said...

Great post! I should read your blog more often! It was fun seeing all the life changes occuring in your new place!

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