Decide if Montessori Homeschool is Right For You, Post 2: What Does a Montessori Homeschool Look Like?
What does a Montessori homeschool look like?
The “idea” of Montessori really drew me in. I wanted my child to have an inner drive, self discipline, to work on things she loves and needs to become the person God created her to be, to learn at her own pace, to have peace and order, and so on and so on.
But then reality sank in. I set up a little learning shelf. It was May, so it was flowers. And it was super cute. I set up the shelf, and I sat back from my work of preparing the environment, and I was totally stumped. What do I do now? What’s next?
Over the last 3+ years, I’ve learned some valuable lessons about Montessori homeschooling through trial-and-error. It has been very little of “trial-and-success,” to be honest.
So, instead of sending you on the journey of discovery I traversed after that moment of “What now?”, I want to let you peek into our homeschool as it is today. But, before I do that, I need you to understand three things:
- We are not perfect “Montessori.”
- My children are mine and they are unique. Your children are yours and they are unique.
- Our homeschools will look radically different if you are doing what you should be doing, which is following your children’s needs and interests.
I want to give you a peek, because it helped me to know the journey of others. I want to give you a peek, because it may help get you started. And it is my passion to empower other families to be able homeschool using Montessori principles right now, not after years of education and research.
A Montessori homeschool does NOT (and should not) look like a Montessori school.
As a homeschooler, your values will be different from those of a Montessori school. Your motives for education will be different from those of a Montessori school. Your space will be different. Your schedule will be different. Your mornings will look different. Practical life work will look radically different. Your "student relationships" will look different. Your "work time" will look different. And it should. I want you to know, right now, that it is totally okay that your homeschool does not replicate a Montessori school (or another family's Montessori homeschool.)
Instead, your Montessori homeschool should reflect your family's goals for education.
I am a Christian. I believe in Jesus, in His saving grace. I believe what the Bible says is true and follow no other doctrine. My goal in raising my children is to help them become who God has called them to be - as individuals, as followers of Christ. I want them to know God's love and goodness and beauty. I don't want them to follow the world. I want them to follow Jesus. So, my homeschool reflects this. We incorporate many philosophies in our education at home, Montessori being the core for our "mindset" and core academics.
Our Montessori homeschool reflects the importance I place on the Bible, reading, math, and sensorial lessons. I've come to realize that it is easier for our family to do some "Montessori" science, geography, and history, but we follow other "spines/curriculums" for these subjects. Your homeschool will reflect your values and your children's interests.
Thankfully, as homeschoolers, we don't need a full Montessori classroom that is built and stocked to serve 20-30 individual students' interests at one time. We may be serving one child. Or five. Or more. But not 20-30.
We have a homeschool room with Montessori materials on open shelves.
At the time of this article, I have three daughters. They are 4 years 10 months, 2 years 5 months, and 7 months old.
We use our air-conditioned one-car garage as a homeschool room. Most of the room is dedicated to primary work, geared toward my oldest daughter.
Sadie (my middle daughter) has three little shelves with age-appropriate work.
Evelyn (the baby) has a corner of the room with mirrors, a pull-up bar, books, and baby work. She started crawling at 6 months, though, so she’s into everything already.
We have had to make adjustments through six moves and two new additions since starting Montessori homeschooling. We’ve used under-bed boxes, a single shelf, a whole room, part of the living room, and every creative solution in-between! We’ve never lived in more than 1400 square feet since we’ve been Montessori homeschooling. But, we have always used what we have and made it work beautifully!
You do not need a full room to do Montessori homeschool. One shelf will work. One under-bed storage box will work. A corner of your living room will work. A rolling cart will work. Montessori is more about the mindset of following your child's interests, respecting her and her process, and allowing movement and physical manipulation, than it is about the materials.
We aim for a 90 minute work period four times per week.
This has changed countless times, but for now, this is what is working! I also do Morning Basket (Charlotte Mason style) with my girls about five times per week, where we cover our Bible story, read alouds, a short phonics practice, and a short math practice. So, our “school room” time is our Montessori homeschool time.
Honestly, I’m feeling the desire to move to a longer work period, more child-led learning, and a structure that serves my children better. I am telling you, I am constantly tweaking what works for our family!
A work period is a time where we are dedicated to the options on our learning shelves. The children have free reign to choose their work, but they may not go do something completely different. We have enough options that the kids become thoroughly engrossed in their work.
I have a tendency to “require” my children to do something I want them to do. I am working on fixing my mindset! (Implementing a quick phonics activity and quick math activity during our Morning Time has helped me with my control issues during my children’s “work time.” In addition to the traditional Montessori work my children do in our school room, we use Explode the Code for phonics and my Montessori Math Workbook for extra math practice.)
They can choose from any of the materials on our shelves in the school room during our work time from any of the subjects: sensorial, language, math, Bible, handiwork, geography, or science.
I usually present one to two lessons to start our time together. If my oldest daughter is interested in the work, she will finish it or repeat it and then move on to something else. My toddler moves from doing her own thing with her work and helping/destroying older sister’s work. We are continually working on modeling boundaries and respect. If my children are still working peacefully after ninety minutes, I do not interrupt. If they are “done,” we clean up and head to the swimming pool. (We live in Florida, and, to be honest, the kids are usually ready for a break!)
I encourage my children to help with household tasks.
This is not solely a “Montessori” philosophy. I think anyone who homeschools has the tendency to value home care as part of the family’s daily routine. Montessori education for very young children places great emphasis on caring for oneself and caring for one’s environment. As soon as a child is able, let her do it herself. If she isn’t successful, let her keep trying!
My two year old has been dressing herself for over a year. Successfully? Not always.
I’m not perfect in this area, but I remind myself that this part of their education is vitally important if I want to raise independent, capable humans!
Some ways children can help, from toddlerhood are: cooking, cleaning, setting the table, gardening, getting the mail, opening and closing blinds, turning on and off lights, laundry, folding laundry, making beds, brushing their own teeth and hair, tidying, praying for the family, small house and appliance repairs, gardening, raking, washing the car, and caring for younger siblings. Remember, nothing is perfect, but we take the opportunity to involve them.
Don’t do something for the child that the child can do for himself. If you do, you are robbing your child of his independence and confidence. You are basically saying, “I can do it better/faster than you, so why bother trying?”
I follow the natural (Montessori) progression for reading and math, taking cues from my children and not the syllabus.
Thankfully, Dr. Montessori created materials and a system for using them for the core subjects. We all seem to want to teach our children how to read and to calculate. One unique facet of Montessori is that education really begins at birth. Academic material can begin to be presented at age three.
Before direct lessons on reading and math, children are exposed to many practical life exercises to develop their fine and gross motor abilities, as well as the sensorial exercises to train and keenly develop the child’s senses.
We do “practical life” at home from birth. This is when you allow your child to button her own shirt, pour her own milk, drink out of a real cup, cut herbs, sew a pillow, etc. I sometimes set up a “tray” activity that would be considered “Practical Life,” like pouring beans or scooping into a muffin tray or using tweezers or cutting paper, but I don’t overdo it, not because I shouldn’t (or you shouldn’t), but because that is what has worked for our family. We do a lot of practical life, just not a lot on shelves or trays.
Starting around the age of three, I introduce the sensorial materials. The sensorial materials also aid in building a foundation for reading (discrimination of shapes and sizes) and math (the block materials are all groups of ten, the same as the decimal system, as well as discrimination in size and shape.)
As the child shows readiness, I start with direct reading and math lessons, following Montessori albums. I found the Montessori albums so intimidating and massive, that I actually created my own Montessori Christian Homeschool Preschool curriculum, which incorporates: Bible, Sensorial, Reading, and Math, and is laid out in a month-by-month format instead of a “here is everything you might do over three years in six subjects” format.
We value outside time.
Math, science, history, geography, reading, and writing are great. But kids, especially young kids, need exercise and nature. So we value our time playing, running around, and exploring nature.
It’s one thing to know your kids should spend time outside, but it’s another thing altogether to value it. Spending time outside is not a reward for completed work. It is the work of the child. It’s necessary and valued and comes each day whether or not we ticked a single thing off of our “academic” to-do list.
Where else can you truly experience the beauty of God’s Creation?
Do you have a Montessori homeschool? Please tell me about it in the comments!