Parenting is a daily learning experience. We learn more about our children and about ourselves everyday. We have a lot to learn. And so do our children.
“The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide adequate substitute” (CCC 2221).
What an awesome responsibility to have. But also just wow – that is a lot. Often when I read homeschool books it talks about how parents are equipped to be teachers because we are capable of teaching our kids to talk and talk. And while this is true, it also isn’t! I don’t just naturally notice, oh my child is ready to work on walking today. I’m usually thinking more like this: hmm what are we going to make for lunch. Has anything been left out that the babies could break or hurt themselves with? Do I need to get anything ready for going out later today?
So you can see that I have a problem with thinking rather than living in the moment. And this means I need to make observing my children a task to accomplish. (This isn’t a bad thing, it just means that this part of parenting doesn’t come as naturally to me as other parts. So it is something I have to work on).
Finding Maria Montessori
So we know for homeschooling we want to use the classical method. And classical education is the education of the great Saints. However, there really is not a lot about what to do for a classical education in the preschool years. And this is where the Montessori method comes in.
“Dr. Maria Montessori, the inventor of the Method, was a devout Catholic, but it is not just that. The Method is Catholicism as applied to education, in the way that you might say that the spirit of St. Francis is Catholicism as applied to the Beatitudes.” – Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry
Even in the first week of bringing Montessori ideas into our home, I have seen great results. My favourite thing so far is the concept of playmats. This means my two year old puts a blanket on the floor and plays with one basket of toys on that blanket at a time. Then she puts away the basket and switches it out for different toys. This really helps her not get overwhelmed and understand the one toy set out a time concept.
Basically, Maria Montessori expresses the need for us to observe our children. It is only by watching them (how they play, what they want to play with), that we can teach them respectfully. Not all two year old are the same. Some toddlers may be great at wood puzzles. But another toddler may not be ready and find puzzles frustrating. In the Montessori method we learn to observe our child and see what is working and what is not working for them. By watching our child we will notice when they are ready to work on skills like jumping and putting toys away themselves. Children don’t learn skills on our schedule. So we need to be aware of where they are at so we can teach them the skills they need. When they are ready to learn them.
Key Points About the Montessori Method
The Montessori method helps a child develop concentration skills. This happens by being aware of your child’s interests and setting out a small number of toys at a time. These toys should be related to the child’s current interests.
This method is a lot of work (but makes some things easier too)! It requires parents to be attentive to their child’s development. You have to spend time each day/week noticing trends in your child’s behaviour and interests. And then you adapt what skills are being worked on accordingly. So this attentiveness is a lot of work. But, this also saves you energy trying to teach your child a skill they are not ready for. Instead of spending hours in frustration, the skill can be taught when the child shows readiness.
Maria Montessori talks about sensitive periods. These periods occur in different children at different times. But overall they represent what types of skills children in certain age groups might be ready to learn. During the sensitive period, a child can learn related skills more naturally than outside of the sensitive period. (Like how it is easier to learn a second language as an infant, but difficult if left to adulthood).
Montessori Sensitive Periods
Movement – (birth to 5)
Grasping. Passing objects between hands. Clapping. Sitting. Crawling. Standing. Climbing. Walking. Running. Jumping. Dancing. Skipping. (Gross motor skills)
Language – (birth to 3, and 3 to 7)
Birth to three is the time to learn new languages easily (words). From 3 and up a child learns more about how to speak properly (extra vocabulary and structure of sentences).
Math – (birth to 10)
Distance: Far vs near. Patterns. Colours. Shapes. Counting. One to one recognition. (Younger stage is all practical math – not abstract!)
Love of God (1 to 6)
Through imitation of parents, learning to love God.
Small objects – (1 to 4)
Fine motor skills.
Emotional Control (1 to 3)
Feelings. Calming down. Empathy.
Toileting (18m to 3)
Hygiene. Bladder control. Use of sink. Use of the toilet.
Order (2 to 4)
Routine. Putting things away. Cleaning/tidying up. Sorting.
Music (2 to 6)
Rhythm. Tone. Melody.
Character (2 to 7+)
Saying please and thank you. Courtesy. How to act in social situations. Honesty. Being sincere. Obedience.
Reading (3 to 5)
Letter recognition. Sounds. Sight Words.
Writing (3 to 7)
Letter shapes/tracing. Writing matures with fine motor skills, so girls may be ready sooner than boys.
So first of all, Maria Montessori notes a key sensitive period for children learning to love God. This doesn’t mean it is the only time a child can learn to love God. It just means it is the easiest time to teach them. (Or at least, the time they learn most naturally).
In the Byzantine context, that means we should try and use this sensitive period to encourage our children to grow in love for God. In previous articles I have talked about ways to encourage faith in babies and toddlers. As well as an article about encouraging faith in children of all ages by making it visible to them.
One aspect of the Montessori method is about giving young children the tools to do things for themselves. So in the Byzantine life, this would mean giving children their own icons, and prayer rope or rosary. Check out https://chewslife.com/ for some baby safe ones! When children are in the sensitive stage for music, repeat lyrical prayers such as the Trisagion with them often. Little Fox likes to sing “Rejoice, Virgin Mary” (just the first line) over and over again. Which is a great start!
The Byzantine Life
If you enjoyed this week’s article, you might also be interested in reading 5 Simple Ways to Teach the Faith to Young Children, or Home Educating a 2 Year Old.
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