Today we are visiting a family in Denmark. There are a few things that make this family special. One of them is language, as a family, they speak four different languages. But what stands out to me is the respect they show their daughter. I hope you enjoy meeting Magda and taking a look around her Montessori home.
Can you introduce yourself, your family and a little about where you live?
My name is Magda and I come from Poland. My husband Julius comes from Nigeria. Our daughter was born in Denmark in August 2017. 4 months ago we moved into a house in a small, charming town up North of Zealand. Before then we were renting out an apartment around Copenhagen.
What does Montessori look like in your city/town?
In the whole Denmark, for what I know, there are only 3 Montessori schools of which 2 are international. There is also a Facebook group for Montessori enthusiasts - I think there are 4 members in it. And only 2 are Danes.
Ironically, the child development philosophy present in nurseries and daycares I have visited are quite Montessori to me!
First of all, visiting nurses, teachers and caretakers all encourage supporting child’s independence - be it through eating by themselves, cleaning nose or simply learning to wait for their turn.
Secondly, I have often heard nurses and caretakers talking about children’s temperaments. Which gives me hope that in our daughter’s educational journey we will not have to deal with one-size-fits-all believers too often. In the classroom there is a ratio 4-5 children to 1 teacher and you will see both crawling children as well as 2.5 year olds. During my visits I have observed that the caretaker doesn’t really play with the children - she rather describes the environment to them or takes part in the games they make up.Food is always freshly prepared and ecologic. As for playing objects, I mostly appreciate discovery baskets, gross motor equipment like soft stairs inside and a playground outside.
But the most Montessori part of Danish institutions is that most decisions connected to a child upbringing are based on research. In my discussions with the caretakers I have never come across unreasonable, superstitious or sentimental, so to speak, attitude towards children.
Unfortunately, I haven’t come across traditional Montessori materials here. It is also pretty hard to get a variety of wooden toys - especially, at a reasonable price. I get most of our toys on the flea markets or from the internet. I also do a lot of DIY, like my drawings.
What does Montessori look like in your home?
As for the prepared environment: in the entrance hall our daughter has a place on the shelf for 2 pairs of her outside shoes and 1 pair of the soft indoors shoes.
Our living room, dining room and kitchen are connected, so she has plenty of space to run around. Therefore, downstairs is more of an active area. This is where the basket with balls is as well as the Pikler’s triangle and a walker.
In the living room area she has a wicker chair that stands next to the sofa as well as some albums and instruments (harmonica, bells and upright piano for common use).
There is also a row of 6 shelves hang on the wall out of which 2 lowest ones are for her playing objects and the remaining 4 are for our CDs and DVDs.
In the dining room there used to be a small weaning table and chair but we have switched back again to a high chair. She was no more interested to sit lower than us. For now it works really great.
In the kitchen we included a cupboard where we keep her silver spoon and cup, ceramic plate and - during the day - smoothies or a fruit. There is also a dry mop and a brush within her reach.
The living room upstairs is a quiet place. There is no music, no TV. Just books and toys I rotate every week. In the bookshelf the 2 lowest shelves are for her books, the remaining shelves are for books for older people. It is a place which transfers her to a more relaxed mood in the evening and where she can be free to move around in the day time. She has most uninterrupted, spontaneous play times just after waking up in the morning.
There is also a toilet, where she has her sink and where she takes her baths. This is also a place in which we change her diaper. Diapers, a bathing duck and a shampoo are in containers in the cupboard under the toilet sink. This is where our own things are as well but they are kept in dark, covered baskets and are pushed to the back of the cupboard, so they don't attract her attention.
And, finally, the bedroom. There is a shelf with some calming materials like books and some puzzles, IKEA wardrobe (similar to STUVA / FÖLJA) that can be adjusted with time and her low bed with my mattress next to it. Then a chair and an acrylic mirror.
There is also a garden where we built a sandpit from the cut logs and a little slide.
That would be the part of the prepared environment. I would, say, however, that prepared mind is something equally important. And, in my case, it demands constant motivation, education and observation. It needs a lot of wisdom to know when and how to talk, empathy to put yourself in the child’s shoes, perseverance to be modelling the right attitude to other adults, intelligence not to snap.
How did you first find or discover Montessori?
When I became pregnant it hit me that I don’t know what I can be doing with my upcoming baby. I also was hoping that our multicultural life will not turn out to be an innocent person’s burden. And so I started researching and I finally come across the philosophy that spoke to my heart.
What is your greatest or most current parenting struggle and how are you dealing with it?
I am a little bit sleep deprived. So my struggle is to find more time for myself. Fortunately, now that she started daycare I have a bit more time. But I would like to organise myself better in that area.
What is on your daughter’s shelves right now, what are her current interests?
She has recently started to be attracted to math and shapes! She has a counting book as well as a soft activity book about geometry I made for her when I was pregnant. She loves both. She has also figured out the isosceles triangle puzzle as well as thick and thin cylinders (it’s just 2 cylinders). All this progress happened within a week or so!
She also loves music and playing harmonica and other instruments. Which, I’m sure, is supported by the fact that we are both musicians. As it happens, playing wind instruments is a great speech exercise - and she is very focused on language these days. To further support this sensitive period we use a Polish onomatopoeic book entitled “Pucio” by Marta Galewska-Kustra.
Also, on her shelves there is a basket with flashcards, a basket with Schleich animals and colour basket over which we discuss, when opportunity arrives. From time to time we are listening to audiobooks as well. Mostly in Polish and Danish. In the evenings we often watch/ read books.
What are you reading right now?
My favourite parenting books - apart from every book by Maria Montessori - are “Dharma Parenting” by Fred Travis and Robert Keith Wallace and “Child Sense” by Priscilla Dunstan. I read them just after giving birth and they have transformed my understanding of my daughter. I am still checking them from time to time.
Also “Nobody Ever Told Me (Or My Mother) That!” has helped me a lot in getting rid of a pacifier around 4th month and brought awareness to speech development process.
What is your daughter reading right now?
The main audiobook she has been listening to is “Anne of Green Gables”. As for books, she used to like when I was reading - right now she likes flipping pages. Her favourite books are photo books with animals, photo book with faces that show different emotions and her own photo albums. She loves her math books and above mentioned “Pucio”. She also likes watching “Dressing” by Helen Oxenbury, “Autumn” by Gerda Muller and “A New Day” by Ronald Heuninck. These are the favourites. Sometimes, however, we end up watching all her collection.
Does your daughter like to cook or bake? Do you have a favourite recipe you could share?
Right now she is on the way to understand that cooking is a process and that she can be a part of it. During cooking she usually stays in her learning tower and watches while sneaking the ingredients.
Her favourite food would be the breakfast food:
1 cup of oats
2 cups of water
Cook all and blend all.
I’d love to know where you source your Montessori materials from, including furniture, toys and practical life materials? Are there any specialty shops in Denmark/Copenhagen that you can recommend?
I buy a lot from Etsy and eBay. I am also a frequent visitor to flea markets and I DIY a few things myself. Most importantly, I have my eyes opened all the time. When I’m in the supermarket, I always have my Montessori mum eyes on. A great brand that sells many products in Denmark is BRIO. We have a few toys from them. As for shops - I think that Ønskebørn and BabyDan have most interesting variety of playing materials. And if you are looking for some child sized gardening tools - go to Silvan. They have the best choice. And last but not least, Flying Tiger and Panduro. You can always find something interesting there!
Are you raising your daughter bilingual? If so do you have any tips for other parents raising bilingual children?
We are raising our daughter trilingual! Or, hopefully, quadrilingual. Her dad and I speak English together, Danish is outside, Polish she speaks with me and, again, English with some Igbo elements with daddy.
My first tip is that parents shouldn’t take children’s acquisition of all the languages that surround them for granted. Yes, children absorb language naturally but we are a great element in their environment. Everything starts from me as a parent. I have to make sure I speak clearly and correctly. I have to make sure I actually listen to and communicate with my daughter. Surround the house with great books and beautifully read audiobooks.
The tip no. 2 is prioritising your goals. Being 100-lingual doesn’t mean that you will be happy. In case of our daughter, quadrilingualism could get her closer to her extended family and her roots. It could give her a better job. It could give her a better understanding of the world. It could give her opportunity to meet people she otherwise wouldn’t. All this in return could add to her happiness. But if learning those languages would have to happen against her will - then it’s better she speaks just one language. After all, our primary wish for our child is that she will grow to a joyful, confident woman. Languages can help achieving it. But they are also not everything.
Thank you so much to Magda for sharing her home and family with us. I also loved Dharma Parenting, it really resonated with me. Madga's home is so warm, calm and inviting but also with the Montessori touch of beauty and order. Her daughter is considered in every aspect of the home! You can also follow Magda on Instagram (she posts regularly on Montessori and family life) and at her store Danish Nook.