Being a parent is a full-time responsibility. It is no simple feat to nurture a child! That said, today’s parents don multiple roles – many hold responsibilities not just at home but outside of home as well. (I say ‘responsibilities outside of home’ because I believe a parent who chooses to stay at home full time with their child is also a working parent!) Ana is a mamma who works both at home as well as outside.
In Part 2 of Making Montessori Your Own, Ana shares with us how she prepares her home for her daughter to help meet her developmental needs. She also talks about the importance of observation and how she makes Montessori work in a joint family where multiple adults interact with the child.
Montessori at home isn’t a mainstream way to bring up children in India – it isn’t the way we were brought up, and it isn’t something our parents (and our children’s grandparents’) are familiar with. I discovered Montessori when my daughter was 5 months old. I had about two months before I joined back at work. While I connected with some aspects of the method such as giving freedom with limits or protecting concentration, I was concerned as to how we would provide these at home after I resumed work. Our care-taking set-up at home was Nanny who was to be the primary caretaker and grandparents. Neither of them were familiar with Montessori, and there were certain parts such as giving access to cleaning tools, for example, that raised eyebrows.
A year later, I feel we are in a good place. We’ve been able to follow Montessori and Baby -led -Weaning for my daughter – and carry everyone along the way. Here’s the things that worked for us.
Prepare the environment yourself: The foundation of Montessori is having a prepared environment and this is something you can very much control even while you work. For us the game changer was moving to floor beds – for ourselves and our baby- when she was 6 months old. It gave her freedom of movement, it gave us peace of mind (no constant worrying about her falling off the edge of the bed), and most importantly, confidence to make other changes- because we could instantly see the return of investment that changing the environment made to what she could do and learn. Importantly, if the environment was safe – a “yes” space! – then our daughter would get freedom of movement at all times – because everyone could see her engage with the environment purposefully, confidently and safely. Over the next few months, we’ve invested in a DIY learning tower in the kitchen, added Pikler’s * arch to the safe play area, stool to the bathroom sink for brushing teeth and hand wash,practical life tools for the kitchen, only wooden toys (no battery operated toys) and more.
Use the weekends and your time at home in morning and evening to model behaviour – I introduce all new practical life activities and shelf work when I’m at home. We rotate the shelf on Saturdays. I routinely audit different parts of my daughter’s routine, with an eye to identify what schema she’s in, what work she is engaging in and what isn’t appealing to her. In mornings, I often sit near her and observe her playing – without interrupting to protect her concentration. It’s my way of ensuring she gets half an hour of child-led play time during the day, and to model to everyone around, how to interact, and really how she’s capable of entertaining herself when given the opportunity. Over time, I’ve seen others appreciate her independent play, and learnt to observe more, engage when she looks at them and “entertain” less.
Learn schemas – My understanding of schemas has made the time I spend observing my daughter more actionable. It has also given my nanny tools to identify patterns in my daughter. So last week, when my daughter at 16 months, went through a phase of throwing her toys – we guessed that she was entering a trajectory schema, planned how we could give her more time to throw a ball when outside, which activities we could plan safely at home. We added mark making, rolling balls on the floor, throwing feathers and also set limits with respect by correcting verbally at first. We then step in and remove the child if the behaviour persists while telling her, “ I cannot allow you to throw things in the house. We do that outside.”. This gave clarity to the Nanny on why this “troublesome” behaviour was happening, and what I was okay with her to respond to it.
Be clean on your no-gos, and let go of the little stuff- I don’t tell the grandparents how to interact with my daughter when they are playing with her. So she gets a bigger dose of interactive play when she spends time with her grandparents – and that’s okay, she learns to interact with different styles. At the same time, we have a ground rule of no playing during mealtime or eating only while sitting on the dining table (no running around with food) – and those are shared with everyone and adhered to pretty consistently.
And stuff like protecting concentration or giving feedback instead of generic praising – we model between my husband, and me. It sets the tone, and after some time – your child will also start liking and asking for more independence – it has a positive halo effect, and you’ll see everyone around you pick up on the cues.
Ana’s story as a working mamma shows us that taking the time to observe and consistently prepare the home makes it a positive, YES space for the child. Her story shows that preparing the environment is helpful not just for the child but also for all the adults who interact with the child.
*The Pikler’s arch is not a Montessori material. It was created over a 100 years ago by a Hungarian pediatrician, Dr. Emmi Pikler as a climbing structure for young children.