Peeking around the corner, I saw my little girl carry a small pitcher of milk to the kitchen table and pour herself a cup. When it was about half full, she accidentally tipped the cup over. White milk instantly flooded the tabletop. My mommy instinct urged me to rush toward this small emergency with urgency and a roll of paper towels.
My inner Montessori voice, however, begged me to stay where I was, out of sight, and just see what happened.
You’re probably expecting me to say that my sweet young daughter calmly and independently cleaned up the mess by herself and that that’s why I love Montessori principles in the home.
Well, no. That’s not what happened!
She jumped her body back to avoid getting wet, but when a dozen white, milky bubbles caught her eye, she was mesmerized! She completely forgot any family rules about cleaning up our own messes. She just sat there and marveled at those bubbles.
To be fair, to my little girl, this was not a “mess” — it was a wondrous artistic and scientific phenomenon!
She put her cute little face down close to the table and watched with fascination as the bubbles glided slowly across the top of the milk-whitened table. She blew on them to see if she could make them move. She poked them with her finger to see if they would pop.
I had to shake my head in delight for a moment at her sense of wonder. That distinct expression of fascination and concentration on a small child’s face! That thrill of discovery made her completely oblivious to the threat of milk gushing down to the floor or what Mommy might say about it.
I Love Montessori Principles Because They Instill Wonder
In another parenting style, my thirsty child would have sought her parent, and an adult would have taken down a cup from a high shelf, poured the milk, and promptly lidded it to ensure that this sort of inconvenient bubbly flood would never happen.
With Montessori principles, small children are set up for developing their independence. Sometimes this means spills.
Other times it means tiny, dimple-kneed babies toddling into the bathroom, using all four limbs to heave themselves onto a stepping stool, grunting for Mommy to come turn on the water so that a small human can stretch out her arm, wet her toothbrush, and brush her four teeth all by herself. Over, and over, and over.
Practicing Montessori at home means giving children the tools — and especially the time — to make discoveries. To observe. To try, err, and try again. To experience the pure, natural joy of learning.
Because Mundane Tasks Become Learning Treasures
Applying Montessori at home means recognizing that every seemingly mundane task of the day is a potential learning treasure for a small child.
A Montessori tradition of providing a stepping stool enables your small one to “help” wash the dishes, to experience the sensation of warm water and soapy suds, to watch how the drain swallows up the crumbs. That’s pure gold!
Providing a child-sized entryway bench sets children up to try again and again until they experience the success of getting shoes on independently… to marvel over early math concepts when they inevitably put on Mommy’s shoes and discover they’re enormous on baby’s little feet… to grasp ideas like match and mismatch and pair.
In today’s world, even the youngest children are often ushered from daycare to the Chick-fil-A drive-thru to ballet or piano lessons or karate class. Well-meaning parents, eager to provide every opportunity for their little ones, rush children from one structured activity to the next.
Where, in this scenario, is there extra time to allow for spilled milk and miraculous bubbles?
In traditional schools, children sit quietly while a teacher reads them a textbook that informs them how the world works. They’re told when to take out their math books and when to put them away. Exactly 40 minutes are allotted for studying the plant cycle. Then – fascination aside – an adult abruptly instructs children to close their science books and take out their spelling words.
When, in this start-stop-start-stop schedule of a day, do children get to wonder, marvel, carry out their experiments, and arrive at that joy that comes with discoveries and “ah-ha” moments?
And Because Natural Learning Becomes a Delight
Montessori extends a refreshing offer to preserve children’s natural delight in learning.
The science books aren’t slammed closed because a 40-minute timer goes off. If a child is still admiring the movement and roundness and iridescence of those milk bubbles, then it’s still time to examine milk bubbles.
To me, traditional parenting and teaching feel a bit like a guided city tour. Children file in and sit quietly while a tour guide recites interesting facts and the bus drives past the city’s most appealing landmarks.
In Montessori, parents, and teachers are more like chauffeurs. We lead children to an intriguing learning environment. We open the door. And then we step aside so that our children can hop out and explore. So that they can take in the sights, sounds, textures, and smells for themselves. So that they can really experience their learning.
I love the way Montessori respects and trusts that children are driven by a strong, natural eagerness to understand the world around them. Montessori recognizes that children who may look like they’re “not doing anything” may, in fact, be making profound observations, experimenting, or wondering. I love that in Montessori, adults don’t interrupt an interested child because the clock says to change books.
And, most of all, I love Montessori because my children do.
Brandi Faith is a freelance writer who holds a Master of Education degree. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Northwestern University in Psychology and Spanish. Brandi passionately applies Montessori principles to her parenting and teaching at home. She loves the way Montessori philosophy encourages children to take charge of their learning and pursue their interests. Her favorite thing about Montessori is watching her kids’ eyes light up with joy and interest as they explore and experiment, and seeing their smiles light the room when they master a new skill.