Saturday, August 1, 2009

Montessori at Home

I am a devout Montessori believer because I've seen what it can do to a child. I know first-hand how I love learning. Up to now, I can't stop picking up a new hobby or skill. My husband keeps pushing me to launch businesses using my different skills but to me it's all about fulfillment. I love learning new things and working hard to excel at them. So when people see one of my balloon sculptures and ask, "how did you do that? Did you enrol in a course?" I always say, "no, I just imagined how it could be done and worked at it."

Easter Bunny and Thanksgiving Turkey

I always felt that a Montessori school was best for children but it was only recently that I realized that Montessori goes beyond school. Many families apply Montessori's teachings even in their homes. I wonder now, "if my Montessori education has touched my life this much, what more if I lived it at home? Imagine if my kids grew up the Montessori way in school and at home? But how?"

To give me an idea how I could apply Montessori at home, I observed my son's preschool classroom and my 7 year-old daughter's elementary classroom. In both classrooms, I noticed that the rooms were well-organized; there seemed to be "proper" places for everything. There was also an area for "practical life" skills. For preschoolers there was an area for buttoning, pouring, sweeping, even watering the plants. For elementary the practical life area was smaller but there was a "mini kitchen" with utensils, plates, pitchers, sink. The rooms were well-thought of, with furniture just right for their sizes.

Then I observed their teachers. Both were very calm and spoke in soft tones. Mostly because Montessori instruction is mostly individualized (or for the elementary, in small groups). They usually present the use of materials to a table of one or 2-3 kids therefore there is no need to modulate. You also will not see them calling out to kids, "don't do that", "quiet please", "face the wall!" Instead they slowly approach children and seemingly suggest a mode of action which the kids usually follow. ("Usually" because my son who is 2 will, more often than not, throw a tantrum.) Teachers are not dictators in the classroom, but merely "guides." They are not feared by the kids but still have a mysterious "power" that encourages children to follow.

Back at home, I looked around and realized that setting up the Montessori way was impossible- there was just not enough space in my condo for multiple low-height shelves to store all my kids toys. But I rearranged the toys so that the ones for the babies would be in the lower drawers and therefore more accessible by the babies themselves. I also told the yayas to allow (in fact, encourage) the kids to do things on their own. If Ton (2 years old) wants to sweep the floor, let him be. If Tessa (1 year old) wants to reach for magnets high up in the fridge door, don't reach the magnets for her without letting her try her best first.

Ton sweeping & Tessa playing with fridge magnets

These, however, are easier said than done. Yayas have this tendency to do things for their wards that eventually handicap the kids. Example, Gabby (7 years old) used to be so independent in the US. After one year of living in the Philippines, when she needs a glass of water she doesn't run to the kitchen instead she asks me to call the yayas on the intercom to get her a glass of water. Simply because she has been so used to ordering them around. Her yayas would rather give in because they don't have the energy (or vocabulary) for an argument with a little girl who speaks English so fast and with an accent.

Gabby: (bossy voice) "Idon'twannadrinkvitaminsyetI'mgonnatellMomyou'reforcingme."
Yaya: Ookee... (then runs to me)...Ate ayaw daw mag-vitamins.

As for me, I've been noticing lately that I've been trying my best to be a Montessori parent, in the true sense. Oh, but MAN is it difficult! At home, Gabby doesn't seem to respond to me the same way that she does to her teacher. I guess it's because the relationship between teacher and Gabby was started with all the Montessori parameters in place and here I am undoing my old ways and trying to be calm (very difficult for hyper and dictatorial ME).

The other day, however, it seemed to work. Montessori teachers do not exercise authoritarian rule to instill discipline. Instead, they give positive options from which children can choose instead of the bad habit. This then develops self-discipline and teaches kids that there is a better choice than the one their urges push them to do. So, one day, there was Gabby, whining again about how she did not like the food.

Gabby: "But I don't like good pancit; i want bad pancit canton (Lucky Me)."

Me: "No, you can't have bad pancit canton again. You already had it this week."

Gabby: "Okay, then I want tofu siomai." (tofu soaked in oyster sauce, wrapped in siomai wrapper then fried)

Me: "No, we will not keep cooking something special for you everytime you don't like the food."

Gabby: (crying-acting voice) "I just want bad pancit canton and tofu siomai."

Me: (sungit voice) "Gabby, ano ba?! Don't be arte!"

Tingining-nginingining (fairy music)....Montessori power!

Me: (calmly as if possessed by Montessori spirit) "Okay, if you want you can look through the fridge for any leftovers that you want but you cannot eat bad pancit canton or tofu siomai."

And they lived happily ever after... she found leftover pizza from the night before.

Of course in reality I know how hard learning this new skill will be. Ever since I started working, when I get home I just want to plop on the bed and rest. The last thing I want is an argument with Gabby or a yaya training seminar on the Montessori method. But I want to try this. I want to see if it will help my children help themselves. Maria Montessori believed in the child's potential and their innate intelligence. Now I know how I, and the yayas, have been stripping my kids of the chance to develop into the "complete" individuals they were meant to be.

So as I try to be a true Montessori parent, I realize that I am merely learning a new skill and (with true Montessori spirit) embrace it with excitement. Soon enough I hope to excel in this new talent that I call.... MONTESSORI POWER!!!


  1. Hi! I saw the blogger in the Newsletter today, so I checked it out. Just like you, I am still learning to be a Montessori parent to Mikko. IT IS SO HARD! be calm, patient and yes I ran out of answers and get so sungit if he doesn't do what i want him to do. I grew up the TRADITIONAL way so kids were programmed to obey....NO BUTS. So it is nice to know someone who can share thoughts and experiences with their Montessori kids. And even nicer because the parent sharing is a product of the Montessori method.

  2. Hi Marem! Nice to see you here. It is a struggle, believe me. After this post I realized I was back to my old ways of getting sungit. I realized, as with any other emotional outburst, I should stop- breathe deeply- then try to address the issue calmly...alam mo, i'm not always successful!