Sow the Seeds
Montessori Homeschooling and Empowered Parenting
Montessori is not a curriculum – not a series of boxes to check off. It’s a guide for understanding how humans grow. It’s a way of supporting how humans learn. It’s a means for finding joy and purpose in life.
Montessori is not dogma – not a script to follow blindly. It’s a conversation about priorities. It’s a toolbox for navigating parenthood with grace. It’s a dance with the imperfect realities of life.
Montessori is not just for the wealthy – not a ticket to career success. It’s for the homeschooling family. It’s for the public school family. It’s for the refugee, the migrant, the orphan, the elderly.
Montessori is a way of seeing and being. It’s a new understanding of the adult’s role and a window into the child’s soul. It’s a path that leads to trust; a path that leads to peace; a path that leads to life.
Few clean-ups seem as overwhelming as that of the Montessori fractions. The halves through sevenths are easy enough for most children, but the 27 hard-to-distinguish red wedges that make up the eighths, ninths, and tenths can leave even Elementary children feeling stuck and discouraged. I’ve inherited Montessori fractions in several of my classrooms, and I’ve often found that a well-meaning predecessor had written the corresponding value on the underside of each fraction piece. At first glance, this might seem helpful. It sure makes cleaning up those pesky fractions a lot quicker!
So, why did Dr. Montessori design the fraction pieces without labels? Did she harbor some evil desire to torment children and their over-worked adult guides? Or did she observe that leaving the fractions unlabeled led to the development of problem-solving skills through creative use of the child’s knowledge?
The answer becomes clear when we consider Dr. Montessori’s advice: “Every unnecessary help is a hindrance to the child’s development.”
Is writing the values on the underside of the fraction pieces really necessary? Or, by doing so, are we preventing the child from developing essential skills? If we don’t want to be a hindrance to their development, but we need them to eventually clean up, what can we do to guide a child who’s feeling discouraged by this overwhelming task?
When a child is faced with sorting a pile of unlabeled slim red wedges, it’s enough to help him recall that two eighths are equivalent to – or take up the same space as – one fourth. Depending on the child’s prior knowledge, you can ask, “What do you know about equivalences?” or “What do you know about the relationship between fourths and eighths?”
If the child is younger and doesn’t know this information, simply guide him in a sensorial exploration. Invite the child to bring out the fourths inset, ask him to remove one fourth, and show how the space within the inset serves as an objective control of error. When fractions other than two eighths are placed within the space vacated by the fourth, you will see a gap. Only two eighths will fit perfectly within the space of the missing fourth.
The monumental clean-up now becomes a fun puzzle that satisfies the child’s love of precision and bolsters his self-confidence. You can back away, returning only if he needs guidance to find the relationship between fifths and tenths, or thirds and ninths (children familiar with equivalences will likely make the connections on their own).Take a moment to observe the child’s concentration, enjoy his smile of accomplishment, and know that you helped him move one step closer towards reaching his full potential as a creative problem-solver.
Zachary, age 7, asked me how Valentine’s Day started. I told him we could research that at the library, but later that night I got curious and went online. I found conflicting information, so I decided to put together a Cosmic Education story to tell him the tale of the origins of Valentine’s day. I shared it with him and it inspired us to make care packages for the people experiencing homelessness in our area. I hope it can inspire acts of kindness, or at least get some conversations started, among the children in your life.
Note: I don’t follow any religion, and I’ve tried to make the story as secular as possible so it can be used widely. I use the lower-case “g” in all instances of the word “god”, but if that bothers you, feel free to copy/paste and edit at will. This story is meant to be told orally, as are all Cosmic Education stories, so you can adapt it to fit your audience and/or beliefs.
The Story of the Origin of Valentine’s Day
Have you ever wondered where people got the idea to celebrate Valentine’s day? Historians don’t have much information to go on, so I’m going to tell you one of their theories. For this story, we’re going to go back in time, almost 2,000 years ago, to a country in Europe called Italy.
Italy was the home of the Ancient Romans. The Roman Empire was very powerful, with a large army and a series of emperors that controlled land from Northern Africa to Western Asia and a large part of Europe. The Ancient Romans believed in many gods. You’ve probably heard of Saturn, Jupiter and Neptune… Before they were the names of planets, they were just three of the hundreds of gods the Romans worshipped! Keeping the gods happy was of utmost importance to the Ancient Romans, and the Emperor would throw in jail anyone who didn’t believe in these gods or who refused to make sacrifices to them.
One of the groups of people at risk of being jailed were the Christians. This small group believed in only one god – a god very different from the Roman gods – and felt their mission in life was to help people who were poor, sick or hurt. After receiving help from the Christians, these people would often convert – they’d stop believing in the Roman gods and start worshipping the Christian god. As you can imagine, this made the Roman Emperor very, very angry!
One of these Christians was a priest named Valentinus. He helped the poor and the sick, and many of those he helped were so grateful that they decided to convert. When the Emperor heard what Valentinus was doing, he locked him in jail to stop him from helping and converting any more Romans to Christianity. However, Valentinus did not forget about those he’d helped. He wrote letters to them from jail and signed them “From your Valentinus.”
Valentinus died in jail on February 14th, which was around the time of the Ancient Roman feast of Lupercalia. This rowdy party celebrated love, and when the Christians became more powerful than the Romans, they replaced this raucous festival with a day to remember the work of St. Valentinus. And thus, Valentine’s day was born! You can research how the holiday evolved to include chocolates and love poems; it’s quite an interesting story that will take you to Medieval England.
I look forward to hearing what you discover. But for now, when we celebrate Valentine’s day, let’s take a moment to think about how we – like Valentinus – can make the world a better place by helping those who are poor, sick or hurt. Because that’s the true spirit of Valentine’s day!
A Montessori learning community is a dynamic village, whose success – defined not in financial terms but by the growth and joy of the children – depends on the collaboration and shared values of all its members. What role do you play?
The Montessori Guide
Each environment (classroom) is steered by a well-trained and experienced Montessori guide. She needs to have a profound love for children and a vision of their immense potential; keep herself immersed in Montessori theory and continuously educate herself on aspects of human development; and be receptive to respectful feedback. But no matter how passionate, qualified and dedicated the Montessori guide be, she cannot fulfill the mission alone.
Administrators are the torchbearers of the school’s Montessori values. They serve as a sounding board for the guide’s ideas and challenges; help parents and guides understand each other; and uphold the practice of Montessori philosophy (to the exclusion of all others) through comprehensive parent education, effective professional development, and consistent observation/feedback in the classroom.
Parents (at home)
Parents who choose a Montessori education for their child need to understand the impact their home life has on the functioning of the classroom community. When the values of the home align with the values of the chosen school, the child transitions smoothly between his two environments. This continuity of values and expectations allows him to feel safe, accepted and successful. Parents who offer clear limits and hold their children (and themselves) accountable; provide a loving home environment rife with opportunities for connection; and model a growth mindset have children who come to school ready to reap the benefits of a truly transformational education.
The Parent Community (at school)
A parent community provides the “village” that allows families to successfully navigate the pressures of modern society and stay true to their core values. The village upholds the school’s values and uses them as a guide for how they treat the children, staff and each other. They volunteer their time and talents towards the upkeep and improvement of the school. Children see their parents’ commitment towards school and begin to understand its value.
In a society that tries to outsource or outwit the most challenging aspects of child-rearing, it takes commitment and vision to be a member of this type of community. Only when we each understand and embrace our role – and find the humility to admit that we need each other – will we begin to be of service to the children. It truly does take a village.
On a brisk and sunny Sunday three weeks ago, prior to heading out to a Christmas concert, I made my family a healthy and tasty lunch. Both of my kids (ages 6 and 3) scoffed at it and my husband had to beg them to take their (mostly full) plates to the kitchen. I cleaned the kitchen by myself while my husband and the kids played, and then we headed out, leaving behind a living room covered in toys and puzzles that I didn’t have the energy to fight about.
On the way to the concert, both kids began to whine that they were hungry and wanted to go to a restaurant. My husband told them that we’d go to one after the concert. We arrived early, so my husband and the kids played on the lawn while I sat in the sunlight, too exhausted from making breakfast, cleaning the kitchen, folding the laundry, doing the groceries, putting them away, cleaning out the fridge, unloading the dishwasher, making lunch and cleaning the kitchen again (plus putting in a 50-hour workweek at school, commuting, and making daily breakfasts, lunches and dinners).
A mixture of anger and sadness welled up inside me. Where had it all gone wrong?! Here I was, Ms. Full Montessori, with all my degrees, certifications, research and experience… And my kids were acting like entitled little brats! Furious thoughts whirled through my mind as we entered the chapel where the concert was being held. I tried to breathe out the negative thoughts and enjoy the music, but then my son began whining because I wouldn’t buy him a cookie from the concession stand and my daughter started melting down (because, no lunch, remember?). Something inside of me snapped, and the tears began streaming down my cheeks.
We left the concert at intermission (see: pre-schooler and mommy meltdowns) and quietly piled back into the car. We drove home in silence, and as soon as we got there I grabbed notebook and pen and fled the scene. I needed to think, to reassess our lives.
I sat at a coffee shop and furiously made a list of all the responsibilities I shouldered in our home. It was two pages long. Then I marked those tasks that could be done by either my husband or my children, and sorted them into lists under their names. As I crossed out chores from my list, I felt a considerable weight lifting off my shoulders. I wrote out a “Who Does What” plan for mornings, evenings and weekends. Then I headed home.
That evening, I called a family meeting and explained that I was feeling overwhelmed by all the responsibilities I had chosen to undertake. I apologized for failing to give them opportunities to contribute to the household, and pointed out how capable they had become in just a few short years. I shared all of the tasks I knew they were capable of doing, and showed them the plan that outlined all the family contributions.
I also talked about lifestyle changes: no eating between meals; restaurant dinners were limited to Friday evenings or special occasions; and my husband and I would leave the kids with the babysitter and go on date nights every other Saturday. At the bottom of the list I wrote: “No moaning/groaning/whining.”
My kids seemed excited by most of the changes. My husband, not so much…
Stay tuned to find out how our lives have evolved in the past three weeks since I set these new boundaries and expectations, and what tools I’ve been using to shift us towards more gratitude and less entitlement!
When I became a mom, I realized that it takes a parent to understand a parent. I have been blessed to have a worldwide community of Montessori-trained friends who are navigating the same beautiful, yet often turbulent, waters of parenthood with me.
One of my wisest friends is Junnifa Uzodike, the founder of the Nduoma Montessori blog. She contacted me through my blog some years ago, when she was beginning her Montessori journey, and we have shared countless conversations about motherhood and Montessori.
What sets Junnifa apart is her adherence to the Montessori philosophy against all odds. Through two international moves, several summers of intense training, and three pregnancies she remains steadfast in her study and application of Montessori. If she can do it, you can too! That’s why I’m proud to share Junnifa’s newest e-course, Understanding and Supporting Your Toddler.
Junnifa has agreed to share some of her deep wisdom in this interview. Enjoy!
My name is Junnifa Uzodike. I live in Nigeria with my husband and we have 3 children: Solu, aged 3.5; Metu, aged 2; and a baby who will be here in a few weeks. Our parenting has been guided by the Montessori philosophy and we have implemented as much as we can, from conception, with each of our children.
Can you share your Montessori journey with us?
I discovered Montessori rather serendipitously. My mother, who is an educator and school owner, was visiting the U.S. and wanted to observe some schools in the area where I lived. One of the schools was a Montessori school and I happened to have accompanied her. Observing the children has such an immense impact on me. I was amazed at the beauty and order of the environment as well as the independence and the concentration of the children. It was literally life-changing for me. I went home and ordered all the Montessori books available in my local library. I also signed up for an “Introduction to Montessori” course which only increased my interest and admiration for the philosophy.
“The senses, being explorers of the world, open the way to knowledge.”
– Dr. Maria Montessori
Baby Nadia, 9 months old
Feeling stressed out about answering your children’s questions? My newest post on MariaMontessori.com might be the answer you’re looking for!