I decided to combine these two last parts of my multi-post series on what makes an activity Montessori for two reasons: I am itching to write about something new and I want to make sure I finish what I started! This doesn’t mean by any means that these two qualities are somehow not worthy of their own posts, for they surely are.
Before I dive into these two important topics, here is a reminder of all the qualities that make an activity Montessori.
have a control of error
activate the senses
aid in independence
In this post, I will start by talking about how you can set up activities to aid independence. This is tied directly to two earlier topics, namely control of error and being close-ended. Montessori activities should allow the child to complete the activity from start to finish with the least amount of input from an adult as possible. Why would you want this? It gives your child a sense of accomplishment. It allows them to control their learning and progress as they develop in their own way. It is a vital building block toward independent, child-driven learning. The control of error in the activity allows the child to check their work and correct anything they may need to work on. The close-ended nature of Montessori activities gives the child a clear start and end to the activity, allowing them to know when they are finished without an adult ending the activity for them. Here are some other ways you can aid your child in independence through Montessori activities:
- Make activities you are comfortable with them completing without you at a level they can reach.
- Model taking the activities from the shelf and returning them before moving on. Your child will see this and eventually do this themselves.
- Make sure the activities are reset on a regular basis by modeling this for your child. If they complete a puzzle, then either directly after or later at a specific time, help them take it apart and ready it for the next time they want to try that activity. Young toddlers may need you to do this a lot, older toddlers will start to do it on their own as part of an activity cycle.
- Make sure the activities are complete. Small pieces can be misplaced easily and an incomplete activity is disappointing and ends up with the child finding an adult to help them fix things.
- Provide activities that scaffold skills your child needs to be independent in daily life, like practicing zippers or buttons, pouring, flipping switches, etc. These activities would be called practical life activities and are a key idea of the Montessori pedagogy. These activities on your shelf should only be in addition to real practical life experiences, like cooking, gardening, dressing, washing, cleaning, etc. Some skills are better practiced over and over again in a shelf work situation than only when they come up in real life.
- In addition to setting up activities in ways to aid independence, set up your home this way too! Providing a low hook for a jacket, a step stool to reach the sink for handwashing, or accessible plates and cups to help set the table can be a great practical life activity for your child. My son’s favorite part of his day is when he uses his step stool to turn on and later off the lights in his playroom. When we get ready for bed, he remembers most days to do this himself with no prompting from us. We just put a wooden box under the light switch that he can safely climb onto and off of. It doesn’t have to be a full-fledged closet or kitchen set up to be effective!
The last quality of Montessori activities is sometimes one that gets forgotten. We want to jump in and help your child when we see them going in the wrong direction with an activity we prepared. We want them to only experience success because well, success feels good! But it is vitally important to protect our children’s natural ability to concentrate and to support it in such a way that it grows. Montessori activities foster concentration which is a great thing! Here are some ways you can foster concentration through Montessori activities:
- Model activities with no words and allow your child to merely observe before inviting them to participate. Talking through what you are doing makes it harder for your child to concentrate on what you are doing.
- Don’t interrupt or correct your child while they are working out an activity. If you notice they haven’t understood, let them use the activity as they wish, so long as they aren’t hurting themselves, others, or the materials. Make a note to repeat your presentation the next time they take out the material.
- Observe without talking, touching, or encouraging. Just sit on your hands and watch. If your child looks to you for reassurance, you can say “You did it!” or “That’s it!” If they hand you items, you can tell them what it is. But otherwise, let them be.
- Choose activities that meet their current needs. They won’t be able to concentrate long on activities that are too easy or too difficult for them, or activities that they aren’t interested in at the moment.
- Limit background noise to a minimum or not at all. A bit of music here and there is ok, but nothing crazy. Also, limit background visuals. Keep your play space neutral and try to avoid loud, colorful decorations. There is absolutely no need for learning posters, posters with many images, bright banners, etc. A few well-chosen pieces of art or photos can bring warmth to your play space without distracting from the real work: play!
Concentration and independence are such vital parts of Montessori that I am sure I will go into more depth on these two topics in the future. It is one of the reasons I felt comfortable combining these last two topics and ending my multi-post series like this.