Cerebral Palsy, Motherhood, , ,

Why I Chose Montessori

Montessori gets a bad rap. It’s often associated with entitlement and rich families who can afford to send their children to a private Montessori school. You will also find it on all of the latest trends on places like Pinterest and Instagram. You’ve seen it. The brown and beige walls, wooden trays, and toys.

Example of what Montessori is THOUGHT to be- still beautiful

You see kids just running around the teachers sitting back like they have nothing else they could be doing. The kids play with things that are way too dangerous for their age, yet participating in tasks that older children don’t even like to do. Screen time is a big no-no.

There is no structure. No authority. No real learning. Right?

Wrong. The Montessori Method is actually none of these things.

If Montessori Education or Theory had a slogan it would be “Follow the child.” All that means is to make learning based on what your child is interested in. It means giving them the freedom to explore in a safe, well-prepared environment and giving them the opportunity to establish independence. Children are naturally curious and Montessori is all about establishing a foundation of inquisitive and problem-solving behaviors.

One of our Montessori Shelves at home
Our Montessori “classroom” at home

Toddlers love structure. They love order. I think I’ve mentioned before, I am a 5’1″ toddler with stretch marks. As a stay-at-home mom with a child who has many appointments, our schedule needs to be as routine as possible. So I try to schedule the same appointments on their respective days around the same time.

According to the American Montessori Society, “The Montessori Method fosters rigorous, self-motivated growth for children and adolescents in all areas of their development—cognitive, emotional, social, and physical.” What they fail to mention is that a lot of this can be done at home… and with furniture, materials, and toys you already have.

Dr. Maria Montessori (the creator of the Montessori Method) once said “The work of a child is play.” What does this mean? A child learns by playing! We all know that children, especially toddlers will play with just about anything… especially the things we really don’t want them to.

For that reason, I would like to be clear about something: There is no need to go out and buy a $50 toy because it’s wooden. I repeat. DO NOT GO BUY A SMALL $50 RACECAR JUST BECAUSE IT IS MADE OF WOOD. Sure, natural materials and neutral colors are ideal but that isn’t always feasible for everyone. Use the toy cars you have. Buy a small step stool (learning towers are expensive even if you make one on your own). Focus on making activities that are practical life skills like sweeping, helping with dishes, or watering plants. Simplicity is best.

With Mark having Cerebral Palsy, the Montessori approach to education seemed to be a great fit for a number of reasons. If I were to give you every reason why I believe Montessori is the best approach for Mark, we’d be here all day. I tried to limit it although, I am not sure I was super successful because there are still so many other reasons why I chose to implement this method in our home.

The first of many being it gave him freedom and a sense of independence. When he really wants something, a juice box from the fridge, for instance, he will just go grab his step stool and get it. If he wants a snack, he will get it from his snack drawer. He has the ability to color and express his creativity when he chooses. He will start his laundry and switch it from the washer to the dryer (when instructed… let’s not kid ourselves here).

Another reason the Montessori approach is a good fit for Mark is that it allows him to learn at his own pace. As I mentioned previously, Mark has PVL and PVL is a “wait and see” kind of injury. The damage itself may be mild (now moderate), but it is difficult to determine the true severity of the symptoms and effects of the injury until Mark is older. This may mean there could be a cognitive impairment (or delay). There may be physical limitations in the future. As Mark continues to learn, grow, and gain new skills the PVL will reveal itself in time. By giving Mark the ability to learn at his own pace, it prevents him from being left behind or overlooked in a classroom setting. It gives him the opportunity to explore new topics and ideas as well as master new skills that he may have needed to work on previously.

The Montessori approach is also specifically designed for children with special needs. A Montessori classroom or learning area at home is multi-sensory and very hands-on. This allows Mark to work on his Occupational Therapy goals, giving him the opportunity to perfect his fine motor skills. In a classroom setting, when he does go to school, Mark will be exposed to children of different ages. A Montessori classroom encourages students to learn from one another so children as young as 3 years of age are paired with children as old as 6 years old. This helps with developing social skills, classroom etiquette, problem-solving skills, teamwork, and even sharing (which is surprisingly enough… NOT really promoted by Montessori teachings).

You can use plastic. You can colors. You can use what you have at home to make a learning environment or a “yes” space for your child. Montessori is about introducing your child to the real world while allowing them to explore their interests. It’s saying more “yes” and less “no” while keeping them safe (Freedom within limits). It is giving them the opportunity to venture out of their comfort zone and establish their own form of independence. It’s cheering them on for their efforts, specific efforts, and sparking curiosity in the process. It is more than money and a fancy shelf or toys and its something you can start at home if you really wanted to.