I was recently reading article about Montessori in the home and gentle parenting that left me feeling slightly unorganized, my house suddenly felt a little too messy, life a little too chaotic. After discussing this with a friend and also thinking about it internally, I realized there was something wrong with this idealized picture of how life should or could be. I have no doubt the author was authentic but her life is different from mine in one major way - this family has one child. We have three children including an infant.
I remember how easy it was to 'follow the child' when you have one child, or even two. How easy and simple it is to create a family rhythm or to design cozy but creative spaces. Life gets complicated when you are trying to meet the needs of three children.
So as my youngest is reaching the crawling, climbing, grabbing (hair pulling, putting everything in the mouth) stage I wanted to share with you the frustrations but the joy of Montessori in the home with three children. Here are a few ways that we make it work.
- Safety always comes first. Some Montessori materials have small parts or even some project work has choking hazards, in our home these types of things including Lego stay in the older boys rooms, but even then they are stored on a desk or shelf, not on the floor where they are easily accessed by our crawler. Order is still important, everything has its place.
- Each child has their own retreat area. All three boys have their own rooms and each has a comfy area with cushions and a soft blanket to read, for the older boys to use their iPads, without interruption.
- We have defined communal, shared areas for working, reading and relaxing. This is difficult as we don't have a playroom but is possible using our lounge/living area.
- It's important that children learn to interrupt. This is something my boys have learnt in (Montessori) school and it's something we carry over at home - when the boys want to interrupt they will wait next to me and put their hand on my shoulder. As soon as I'm ready I will then help or address them. Unfortunately, this doesn't work for an infant.
- Accept that it is difficult to follow the natural rhythm of an infant when you have others to tend to, it's not just about waking the baby for school drop-off or pick-up it's about having to prepare food for others, sporting activities, or assist with other children's bedtime. We follow the child's natural rhythm as much as possible but when it comes to a sleeping baby or nap time, we juggle as much as we can, routine helps.
- Keep chores age appropriate. When we have older children I think our expectations on the younger children change, we can start to expect too much of them. It's important to keep our expectations in check and make sure that chores or tasks are always age and developmentally appropriate.
- The more children I have the more I appreciate how important order is, to the child and to the adult. As much as possible we create home environments that have order, everything has a place and within reason is returned to that place.
- We appreciate the opportunity to teach empathy within the home. Of course it's possible to do this if you have one child but having more children in the home provides more opportunity for teaching and experiencing empathy.
- Use the Montessori concept of the Peace Table. The Peace Table looks different for every (Montessori) school and classroom but it's essentially a space or a table where (usually) two children can come together to resolve conflict, this can also work in the home. A Peace Table isn't a constant in our home but was important a couple of years ago when it felt like my children were constantly at each other.
- Finding one-on-one time is difficult when you have an infant, nap times can be unpredictable. I find my children appreciate having time with me with our infant, but without their other brother present. So although our infant is still with us, they are the center of attention or we do something special or more relevant to them. I also stagger bedtime by 10-15 minutes with my older boys so I can usually spend a few minutes with each one to decompress or just chat before bed.
- As best as I can I try to understand the developmental needs of each child. This can be achieved by observing them but also by attending parent education nights when possible and by reading texts relevant to their ages/stages.
- Allow and encourage children to help each other. This is the big advantage in having more than one child. It doesn't necessarily mean the older one helping the younger ones, it's about helping when the opportunity arises, the younger ones can look for those opportunities too.
- Have older children role model for the younger children, in a positive way. This will happen naturally but can be particularly useful if there is something you are working on like grace and courtesy.
- Allow and encourage the older children to assist and guide the younger ones, just as would occur in the Montessori classroom. Often it's easier to learn from a peer. Children's hands are smaller, their language is similar. You can read more about this in my previous article Why Montessori has multi-age classrooms (and why siblings often learn best from each other).
- Allow the children to inspire each other, the younger ones can see what is ahead for them be it going out, school camp, Great Lessons. Although they may not share the same interests (think project work, sports, books), they can learn from each other's interests.
When you are busier, have less time and fewer resources you are required to think about what is important, what is important in your Montessori home, it helps you to focus. It is also possible to take advantage of having more children in the home, they are able to help and assist each other, we know that children learn best from each other!