Minimalism and Montessori
Minimalism and the Montessori Method work surprisingly well together as I was able to find out myself over these past three weeks or so. I recently came across this method, although I had heard of it before. I still thought it was mainly reserved for specialist schools and not exactly something I could easily implement in our everyday home life. I was wrong!
In a few easy steps (although I did get very wound up about it at first) and not actually buying anything new (here you go for sustainability, upcycling, resourcefulness and minimalism).
It is also about teaching my child to be resourceful and to learn about something the late French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss would have called “bricolage“, meaning working with what you have already got to create something new.
I set up a corner in her room or her bedroom to be (she still co-sleeps and is about to move into her cot in our bedroom soon) where she can reach her own hairbrush and see her whole body schema in a mirror. The chest of drawers is a bedside table which I had kept in my office room and was hardly ever used. The mirror had come off the wall a long time ago and was originally a charity shop buy. I found the mirror tucked away in my wardrobe. All it needed was a hook down low. I am sure you will find mirrors like this in second-hand shops if you don’t happen to have one lying about (as you do). I rummaged about to see where I could find anything else suitable like the little basket to keep some hankies and a hairbrush in, and there you go – a toddler’s dressing table 🙂
Does it work?
To be fair, at the moment my daughter likes talking to her reflection and then kiss it and wipe her little hands on it, so I’ll have to wipe the mirror A LOT! But she gets her things now and knows where they are when I tell her, so it is working out.
The next step was to have a table and chair at toddler height in the kitchen with accessible snacks and water source. We have already done some pouring activities and she is mastering pouring water from a small jug into a cup herself, but this is really for her so she can help herself and won’t have to resort to crying because she is hungry. It all helped with minimising the daytime feeds. She can go without being breastfed from waking up to naptime now, which in my personal sphere is a success. It always depends on your own situation of course – perhaps you haven’t been breastfeeding that long, but I felt it is a way to do the weaning gently. She is going to be two next February, so it also encourages her independence if it is there and she won’t turn back to her default.
I have also allocated a drawer with her plate and cutlery which she can reach and have put all sharp implements out of reach.
The next step will be a stepladder so she can reach the worktops while I am there to supervise (of course).
Does it work?
To be fair, these items of furniture are sometimes misappropriated as a climbing frame. So, it is not always in the kitchen now. If something is inappropriately used, it needs to stop obviously and preserve in telling her what it is for. I try and do this calmly and gently. We are getting there and she does know what it is for.
Another step was this shelf where I can layout toys she can choose by herself. This shelf was another piece of furniture in which I stored some of my many, many books (one of my husband’s nightmares). I shifted them and have a nice and low shelf to layout different toys and activities. The key is to keep it to just a few toys and not have them all jumbled up in big boxes which will very often lead to a frenzy of emptying them out, throwing them about, only playing with them very briefly and then abandoning them. That was something I wanted to avoid, which is why the “shelf-idea” really appealed to me.
The idea is to let the child take the lead while being their guide. This means: YOU (or another caregiver) set out the activities and decide what is appropriate. YOU (or another caregiver) are there to observe not interfere but offer assistance when needed.
A small table and mats to designate areas for the activities are very helpful too.
Does it work?
It is an ongoing project because putting them back or “Undoing the activity” in Montessori parlance is still an anathema to her – who can blame her? So, as for the tidying up phase, I’ll be very honest and say: we still have a long, long way to go.
Seasonal hats and mitts and scarves are now in a basket on a low table. She has started to try and put on her hat herself. Next to it, we have attached a low hook for her little rucksack.
Does it work?
We haven’t been trying this for very long, so I can’t really report on this. She still needs a lot of help with fiddly mittens and so on and won’t keep them on for long which I don’t think is unusual at that age.
Other things and thoughts
You will also need footstools which can either be bought or more preferably handed down from friends and acquaintances in your community or found in charity shops. I haven’t bought anything at all to achieve this. No unnecessary money or resources spent, phew!
Doing these things you will be amazed how capable your young child is. Toddlers love to assert themselves as psychologists reckon it is around this time they develop their true sense of self. Of course, tantrums are still likely to happen (it is the very essence of their way of saying: that is what you want and this is what I think). To be honest, it is a very steep learning curve, some of it works, other things are, well… it is yet to be seen how we get on.
Another thing I kept telling myself is that my house won’t have to look like an IKEA showroom to make this work. None of this is meant to put anyone under pressure, it is just to see what may or may not work for you in your home. Create these little spaces for your young child which they will begin to recognise as their own space.
The main thing is to enable them to help themselves which will ultimately increase their intellect, self-esteem, independence and, let’s hope, their happiness.
Here are some good resources to get you started and fetch some inspirational ideas:
- Julia Palmarola, Practical Guide to the Montessori Method at Home: With more than 100 activity ideas from 0 to 6 (2018).
- Simone Davies, The Montessori Toddler. A Parent’s Guide to Raising A Curious and Responsible Human Being (2019).
Of course, there are many more books and websites you could read and consult, and they may not all appeal to you or be useful to you in the same way.
Just see what works for you and your child, that is still the most important thing, never mind what anybody else thinks!
Good luck and happy playing and learning!