Now that Small + Bright has been up and running for a few weeks, I thought it was about time I sat down and actually explained what we are all about. Montessori is a recurring theme throughout all of our boxes and I've mentioned it more than a few times on social media but, how does this traditional educational approach apply to babies and toddlers? Surely Montessori is all about pre-schoolers sitting down at tables, working on their numbers and letters?
I had this kind of perception about Montessori too. Despite the fact that I have been teaching for many years, it was only when I went back to studying and qualified as a Montessori teacher a few years ago, that I began to understand that Montessori education is not just an educational method used in exclusive nurseries; it is actually a whole different way of looking at how people learn and applies from birth to the age of twenty four (that's years, not months!). This is when the first tiny seeds of an idea began for me and, five years later (I like to plan!) I produced my first box.
What exactly is "Montessori"?
When people talk about "doing Montessori", they are referring to an educational theory developed by Dr Maria Montessori , an Italian physician who began her work with young children over a hundred years ago, she came up with several theories about how children learn after observing them playing. Her starting point was always based on what children do naturally without adult intervention and she discovered that they have a natural instinct to explore and seemed driven by a need to challenge themselves. Respecting this inner motivation, she suggested that children will, in fact, teach themselves providing they are provided with the right conditions, which are:
1. TIME to explore and experiment;
2. FREEDOM to move and make choices;
3. RESPECT from others who acknowledge they are strong and capable;
4. MATERIALS to learn from which address a specific skill or piece of knowledge;
5. ADULTS who can direct learning but then let the child try for themselves without interference;
6. AGE/STAGE APPROPRIATE EXPERIENCES which naturally appeal to children at different stages of development;
7. PRACTICAL, REAL EXPERIENCES which make play meaningful.
So .... how does all this work with babies and toddlers?
I began applying these principles in my work with little ones a few years ago and was amazed how changing my approach made such a huge difference to what children are able to achieve at a really young age. I found that, when I raised my expectations of a child's capabilities and gave them time to explore on their own, they were more likely to master a new skill than when when I had kept muscling in! It is really, really hard to stop yourself showing a child the 'right' way to do something but, believe me, if you show them once and then leave them to it, they will get there in the end.
For older children, from around the age of two and a half, Maria Montessori developed a set of 'learning materials'. However, for younger children, it is easy to apply the Montessori principles with carefully chosen, good quality toys and objects which should have a specific learning outcome and match the child's age and stage of development. For example, transferring water from one container to another helps babies to develop hand-eye coordination, or examining a set of farm animals helps toddlers to sort and compare.
My top tips for applying Montessori principles with your baby or toddler at home ...
Try not to jump in when they are not doing something the 'right' way;
Only introduce a new activity when you know they will have a long time for uninterrupted exploration
Give them a choice about what to play with (but not huge, up to 3 choices is enough);
Ensure there is plenty of space to play which is free from distractions;
Think about what each toy is going to teach your little one before you introduce it to them;
As long as it is safe, let them have a go at doing what you are doing;
Believe that they are capable of amazing things!
I hope that this little snapshot has helped you to understand a little about why our boxes are inspired by Montessori's unique style of encouraging independent, capable learners. I will be covering more of this in future blog posts so keep a look out!