by Joan Dietrich
The goal of raising an independent, capable child without encountering endless power struggles on the way is an age-old dilemma for parents.
One of the prime goals in a Montessori education is to foster independence and critical thinking skills in each child. Sometimes, though, successes teachers see at school don’t necessarily translate in the home.
One of the most frequently raised concerns in my own years as a Montessori guide have centered around the goal of fostering greater independence in the home. A recent talk led by our wonderful consultant, Jonathan Wolff, opened up a great dialogue on the topic. I’d like to share some practical ideas for helping your child to develop those great skills at home.
1.) To strategize getting out the door, try selecting clothes the night before.
I know very well how difficult it can be, for example, to get out the door on time in the morning, and how tempting it can be to do things for your child in order to be on time. My daughter and I commuted together every day for seven years, and I remember, red-faced, grabbing all of her items to just get in the car and go, darn it! Her seven years of Montessori education, fortunately, were enough to overcome some of those tough moments and I am happy to report that she is an independent and capable person today.
Check the weather forecast together, and have some practical clothing suggestions at hand (ideally, a choice of two or three items) when the selected clothes are, say, a tutu and water shoes for a cold, rainy day! Lay out the clothes with the agreement that this is what will be worn tomorrow. If your child changes their mind in the morning, try having a set agreement that the second preferred outfit can be worn tomorrow instead.
Jackets hung on hooks at your child’s height will help them to remember to grab them before you leave. When you’re shopping for a winter coat, try, if you can, to test out the zipper. Not all zippers are made alike, and some can be challenging for small children to fasten. See whether your child can zip themselves, if you help them to place the pin in the channel first. Until they have learned to tie their own shoes, Velcro-strapped shoes are ideal for small hands to master.
2.) In the kitchen, try providing a cupboard or shelf space that is at your child’s height.
Stock it with cups and bowls that are just their size. In the refrigerator, a shelf or drawer that is stocked with snacks that they can access whenever “hangry” moments loom can allow them to tend to their own needs. Fruit, vegetables, and something protein-rich like hummus or cheese all stave off cravings well without taking an appetite for dinner away completely.
You could take the snack preparation a step further by having your child help to prepare snacks. Food preparation is a familiar activity in just about any classroom. Keep a small pitcher of water in your refrigerator from which your child can pour their own drinks. When it’s possible, have your child help to prepare meals by washing produce, tearing greens, or setting the table.
3.) Show them how to clear the dishes from the table, and have them assist in the process whenever possible.
Montessori children learn to care for their classroom, taking ownership in a place that is theirs. Introducing the language of caring for your home together, because it is theirs as much as yours, will help them to invest in chores like sorting laundry, tidying their toys, or putting away their clothes.
None of these suggestions are a magical fix, and mastery of any skill by your child is often accompanied by an apparent backsliding in some other skill that they once had. Parenting is never a linear process! However, the more ways you can involve your child in the day-to-day tasks of running your home, the more invested they become in caring for it themselves, and the more independence you will gradually foster in your child.
Joan Dietrich is MCH's Early Childhood Curriculum Coordinator. You can reach her here.