Updated: Apr 8, 2022
With the new school year just around the corner (or even started in some areas), I know many of you are curious about homeschooling. I was so excited that Jenna of Instagram account @montessori.homeschool.mama took some time to chat with me. Her home is gorgeous and it's easy to see that her family has embraced the spirit of the Montessori philosophy.
I love that she offers practical advice and gives tips and tricks that any family can easily incorporate into their home. Enjoy!
Tell me about yourself...
My name is Jenna Sielaff and I am currently a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom. I am trained as a marriage and family therapist and decided to take a break to stay at home after my second daughter was born. Within the past year I have discovered homeschooling and fallen in love.
How old are your children?
I have two daughters, Scarlett (5) and Eleanor (2.5).
When did you first learn about Montessori?
I remember learning about Maria Montessori as a historical figure when I was in high school. I believe I actually wrote a paper on her! From then on, I always knew that when I had children one day I would like to incorporate Dr. Montessori's teachings into my parenting or my children's education. When Scarlett turned 3 years old my husband and I decided to send her to Montessori primary school and from there I was able to attend some parent sessions to learn more about the Montessori method. I continued reading and learning as my daughter grew. When her school shut down due to Covid-19, my husband and I decided to transform our home into a "prepared-environment" for our girls. We also decided to create a Montessori-inspired homeschool classroom in our basement. As I began to see the benefits of the Montessori approach and how well my daughters were learning, I decided, with the support of my husband, to continue homeschooling full-time with plans to continue into the elementary years.
What have been your biggest obstacles and successes with homeschooling?
My biggest obstacle has been reminding myself to sit back and observe my daughters, and to trust the process. Oftentimes it is hard for us as parents to give up control when it comes to educating our children, but it is necessary if we want to help our children develop intrinsic motivation and a love for learning. We have to remember that learning comes naturally to a child and cannot be forced.
What tips do you have for families interested in homeschooling?
My number one tip for anyone interested in homeschooling is to first identify the ways in which your child learns best. From there, do a bit of research on the different types of homeschooling to see which style might be a good fit for your child and family.
Homeschooling is an experience you are providing to your child. Think about your personal reasons for choosing homeschooling, and use that as a motivation to get started. Homeschooling is as much about preparing yourself as it is your child. It is important to take some time to reflect on your own ideas and goals before jumping right in and purchasing materials or curriculum.
How have you created a Prepared Environment in your home?
First, I read several blogs, articles, and books about the Montessori method. Next, I took a look around my home to figure out how my husband and I could make our spaces child-friendly and allow our children to have more independence in the home. I also wanted to make their spaces beautiful so they would be inspired and excited to use them. Here are a couple examples of what we have done:
In our main living area, we placed a low shelf where we display all of our children's open-ended play materials. We also added some beautiful indoor plants to the top of the shelf which is low enough for our children to help care for the plants. I did my best to keep clutter in this area to a minimum, so every toy has its own place and it is easy for my children to put things back where they got them.
In the kitchen, I relocated all the serving dishes (that were rarely used) from our buffet, and replaced it with all of our children's cups, dishes, silverware, and napkins. This allows them to easily access these items and retrieve them independently as the buffet has drawers and cabinets that are within their reach. We also purchased a child-sized table with chairs and ditched our high chair, and found a small washing station so they could wash their own dishes. We are still working to incorporate dish washing into our daily routine. I also hope to find a water dispenser so they are able to get drinks of water independently throughout the day. In addition to this, we have two "kitchen helper" towers so my daughters can reach the counter and help with food preparation.
In my daughter's bedrooms, we added wardrobes so they could easily access their clothing each morning. There are also bookshelves which face forward to display their books, and my 2 year old has a floor bed so she can climb in and out independently.
What are your favorite activities to do with your children or to watch your children do?
My favorite activity to do with my girls is to go on nature walks. It is nice to get out of the house to breathe the fresh air and explore. I also enjoy observing my daughters as they learn a new task or skill. It is fascinating to watch their learning unfold.
How do deal with toy/activity/material storage and rotation?
In our main living area we were able to fit all of our building and open ended toys that get played with daily. We also have a collection of non-Montessori toys such as Barbies, LEGO sets, little people sets, and princess figurines. These toys are organized in bins and stay on a shelf in our storage room. Every week or so I will take out one of the bins and my daughters will play with the toys on and off throughout the week. When they don't seem to be playing with them anymore, I take out a new bin.
We also are lucky enough to have a built-in playhouse which holds all of our dramatic play toys such as play kitchen, dress up clothing, and dolls.
In our homeschool area the work is frequently rotated for my 2 year old. Typically every week, I will exchange the activities that I keep on her shelf. I store the unused ones in cabinets and drawers in the basement (where the homeschool room is). My 5 year old's school materials are rotated less frequently and I typically have more of a set schedule for when certain materials will be used.
What is your favorite part of your children’s play/work space?
My favorite part of our space is the homeschool area. I worked so hard on this space and it has been an absolute privilege and joy to see my vision come together.
What benefits have you found in implementing the Montessori philosophy in your home?
I have found that my daughters are more willing to engage in tasks independently. I have also noticed they are confident when engaging in a new activity. Another benefit I have noticed is a deep trust and respect my husband and I seem to hold with our daughters. My favorite benefit has been that I am beginning to see my daughters display an intrinsic motivation for learning new things.
How do you help foster independence in your children?
I help foster independence in my daughters by allowing them many opportunities to try new tasks and complete them on their own.
Do you have a favorite Montessori or parenting quote?
"When children come into contact with nature, they reveal their strength." -Maria Montessori
Wow! Who else is inspired to create a prepared environment in their home?! What a beautiful space. Thank you, Jenna, for opening your home to us and being so gracious.
Follow along on Jenna's journey and stay connected on Instagram @montessori.homeschool.mama
Thanks for reading,