Montessori Materials, Montessori Theory, Practical Life

Spooning & Point of Interest

This is the first installment in a joint effort between The Full Montessori and Voila Montessori. Every week, we’ll share with you a video (by Jeanne-Marie) and a blog post (by me) highlighting one presentation from the Primary curriculum and explaining one aspect of Montessori theory. It’s bite-sized Montessori training that you can immediately put to good use at home!  If you enjoy this, please share with others so our efforts can reach many families!


When little children participate in Practical Life activities, you’ll often see them spooningcompletely absorbed in their work, oblivious to what’s going on around them. Why is this? And, more importantly, how can you encourage your child to develop that same type of focus?

Watch the video and continue reading here!



Pom-Poms vs. Broccoli

Practical Life activities should be, above all else, practical: real activities that have a purpose and a goal. Practical Life IMG_0309should never, EVER be busy work. Busy work is insulting to the child’s intelligence and developmental drives.

So, let’s say you want to introduce transferring with tongs. Instead of the ubiquitous pom-poms you see all over Pinterest, how about using broccoli?

Here’s what I did with Zach (who just turned 3), when he asked if he could help in the kitchen:

I had already chopped some broccoli (before he asked to help), so I put it in a bowl and had him transfer it piece by piece from the bowl to the hot buttered pan with a pair of long tongs (he has small ones but I didn’t want him to burn himself by getting his hand too close to the pan).

Then, I showed him how to use the tongs to toss the broccoli so it would cook evenly. When the it was ready, I invited him to transfer it back to the IMG_0306bowl.

He’s been cooking over a hot stove for over a year now, so I only had to remind him at the beginning to work carefully and not touch the pan or the heat source. When he was transferring the cooked broccoli back to the bowl, he dropped one stalk.  He picked it up with his hand, and immediately dropped it again.  It was hot!  Good learning experience…

He was so proud of his contribution to our meal, and he learned so much in that short amount of time.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll take broccoli over pom-poms any day.


How to Get Your Toddler to Make Dinner

It was a grey and rainy afternoon. Zach had just woken up from his nap and my husband wouldn’t be home for two more hours. I had a sinus infection and had no desire to move, but explain that to a toddler…

I had to make something for dinner, so while Zach trashed explored the kitchen cabinets I pulled out a bean curry I had made the night before. It needed some greens, so I quickly chopped up some kale. I was about to toss it into the pot (hello, automatic pilot) when I realized something:

bored toddler + chopped kale = practical life heaven!

I told him I needed his help, put him in the tower and helped him to wash his hands. Then I put the kale in a bowl and showed him how to transfer it to the pot. I stood back and let my little chef get to work. Pure bliss for both of us!

PS: I know I should make him an apron. It’s on my to-do list entitled “Things to make at 3am when I can’t sleep because I’m thinking of everything I have to do“.


What’s the Rush? (a rant of sorts…)

Our daily rhythm involves spending an hour at the park between morning and noon naps.  Before Zach was mobile, I would lay out a blanket on the grass and he would be content rolling, playing with toys, and watching the other children.  I would push him on the swing for a few minutes, which he loves, but for the most part we would just hang out on the grass and Zach would do his thing happily while I chatted with other care givers (i.e. nannies and grandparents).

Zach has recently started wanting to pull up to a standing position and crawl up steps, and the best place to do this (outside of his movement area at home) is the toddler play structure at our local park.  I put him down on the sand near the structure and get out of the way so he can crawl, explore, pull up, tumble (safely, of course) and yes, even cry when he’s frustrated.  His concentration and determination are a joy for me to witness, and his occasional tumbles and ensuing complaints are an opportunity for me to “sportscast” what happened, let him know that I’m standing by him as he works, and offer vocabulary so he can eventually identify his feelings.

Sadly, this fascinating experience has been marred by three other caretakers, who seem to not understand my hands-off approach.  There’s a nanny who tells me I should do what she did with her charge: “teach” him to climb up the structure by holding and guiding his body until he’s able to do so on his own.  Another nanny seems to think children do well with constant noise and chatter, so she screeches and blathers to all the babies on the playground, and in so doing messes up Zach’s concentration.  But the one who drives me nuts is the grandfather who can’t bear to hear Zach cry.  If my son cries out from frustration or in response to a harmless tumble in the sand, he’ll immediately run over and give him a toy to make him stop crying.  One time, he even half-jokingly asked if I was Zach’s step-mom instead of his real mom, because I didn’t go into panic mode every time my baby took a tumble in the sand.

I’m pretty sure most parents at one time or another have formed opinions on the way other parents educate their kids.  I do it in my head all the time, I must admit, but I don’t go around voicing my opinion (unless someone asks what I would do from a Montessori perspective).  I would love to give a piece of my mind to the mom who threatens to hit her two-year old or the nanny who keeps telling her charge that he’s going to fall and break a leg.  But I don’t…

I have a dear friend who has sworn off going to playgrounds because she couldn’t deal with other parents helicoptering over her well-behaved and independent little girls.  I’m not at that point – yet – but I am starting to feel her pain.   I try to point out to the caretakers that I believe in letting the child develop at his own pace and take ownership of his successes and failures.  I try to explain that when Zach cries, it’s not because he’s in pain but because he’s expressing his frustration, which he has every right to do.  I ask them: What’s the rush?  They never seem to have an answer to that one…

Dear readers, have you had similar experiences?  If so, how do you handle them?


Montessori Nuggets: When Your Child Knows Better Than You

This morning, while browsing through my Montessori books, I came across a short speech that Dr. Montessori gave in England, ca. 1930.  I have taken the liberty of transcribing it to this blog from the book “The Child, Society, and the World”.  As you read this speech, it’s important to remember that the Montessori approach is an entire philosophy, with each principle dependent on the presence of many others to function properly.  Therefore, when Dr. Montessori talks about giving children freedom, keep in mind that supporting concepts such as limits,  consequences, and a prepared environment are implied.  People who choose to apply only parts of the Montessori philosophy and ignore those that they find cumbersome very quickly run into problems and then erroneously conclude that the method doesn’t work.

It’s also important to note that if a child has been “helicoptered” his entire life, then it is all he knows.  When suddenly given freedom, we cannot expect the child to be capable of following developmental drives that have been forced into dormancy for years.  In a Montessori environment, we often receive children who are incapable of handling freedom because they have never experienced it.  They have a hard time making productive choices and are unwilling to work independently, preferring instead to be told what to do and insisting that the teacher stay by their side.  A wise teacher will not abandon this child in unfamiliar territory; she will give him appropriate choices based on his needs and interests and will provide clear limits he can understand.  She will observe the child objectively and will recede into the background as his Nature-given drives reawaken and take over, remaining a steadfast beacon of security he can turn to in times of need.  A parent who wants to support a child’s development might consider doing the same.


When Your Child Knows Better Than You

 Dr. Maria Montessori

If a foolish mother frog said to her tadpoles in the pool, “Come out of the water, breathe the fresh air, enjoy yourselves in the young grass, and you will all grow into strong healthy little frogs.  Come along now, mother knows best!” and the little tadpoles tried to obey, it would certainly mean the end of tadpoles.

And yet, that is how so many of us are trying to bring up our children.  We are anxious that they shall grow into intelligent, useful citizens, with fine characters and good manners.  And so we spend our time and patience correcting them, telling them to do this, not to do that, and when they want to know, “Why Mummy?”, we don’t stop to find out why we interfere, but put them off with “Mother knows best.”

We are in exactly the same position as the foolish frog if only we could see it.  This little life that we are trying to mould needs no forcing and squeezing, no correcting or fault-finding to develop its intelligence and character.  Nature looks after children in the same way as she sees that the tadpole grows into a frog, when the time is ready.

“But,” I can hear you say, “shall we leave our children to do as they like?  How can they know what is best for them when they have had no experience?  And think what little savages they would grow up to be if we did not teach them manners…”

And I would answer, “Have you given your children a chance even for one day of doing what they like without interference?”

Try it and you will be astonished.  Watch and see how something catches their interest.  Perhaps they see you turn a key in the lock and want to do it too, or help you sweep, or just make some funny little pattern with pebbles on your tidy floor and on any ordinary day you would say, “Don’t get in the way, play with your toys.” 

But today give them the key, try to find a little brush for them to sweep with, leave the pattern on the floor and see how absorbed they become.  It is often not enough for children to do a thing once or twice, but they will perform the same simple action over and over again until they seem to have satisfied some inner urge.  You will be surprised how they keep out of mischief when they are allowed to busy themselves with something that really interests them.

But if you interfere impatiently and stop some absorbing occupation, you will destroy your child’s concentration and perseverance – valuable lessons he is teaching himself.  He will be dissatisfied, and filled with a sense of disappointment and restlessness, and will very likely find an outlet in deliberate mischief.

And what is this troublesomeness that we are so afraid of if we do not correct little children?  We say that we correct them for their own good, and a great deal of the time we honestly believe it.  But it is strange how often what we feel to be their good amounts to the same thing as our own comfort.  We are all so busy with our grown-up, froggy work that we forget that the little tadpoles have work of their own to do – the work of growing into men and women.

And this work which only they can do.  The greatest help we can give them is to stand by and see that they are free to develop in their own way.  We can on the other hand make their work very hard.  Iff we persist in saying “Mother knows best” and try to form their growing intellects and characters by our own standards, we shall succeed only in destroying self-discipline, we shall break the child’s power of concentration by trying to fix his attention on matters which he is not yet interested in, and he will grow deceitful if we insist too harshly.

But if we change our whole attitude and say to ourselves, “Baby knows what is best for him.  Let us of course watch that he comes to no harm, but instead of trying to teach him our ways let us give him freedom to live his own little life in his own way,” then perhaps we shall learn something about the ways of childhood if we are observant.

… Children live in a world of their own interests, and the work they do there must be respected, for though many childish activities may seem pointless to grown-ups, nature is using them for her own ends.  She is building mind and character as well as bone and muscle.

The greatest help you can give your children is freedom to go about their own work in their own way, for in this matter your child knows better than you.