Updated: Apr 7, 2022
I know, I know...I always say I am excited about my home tours...but this time I REALLY am!
One of the most common questions (or concerns) I get from families is "how can I have a Montessori-inspired home in a small space?"... the next is "how do I do it when I am working full time?" ...and finally the third is "what if my child doesn't attend Montessori school?" Well all of those topics are addressed here!
Today's tour and interview is with Cristiana of the Instagram account @from.c_to.z
One thing I really love about Cristiana's feed is that each post is inspiring...but in a totally down to earth way. She makes the activities that she does with her daughter seem so doable. Cristiana is knowledgeable and oh so modest.
I can not wait for you to read this interview. Enjoy!
Tell me about yourself...
My name is Cristiana. I live in Romania together with my partner and our 3yo daughter Z. I am an economist by formation, with an MSc in International Hospitality, but unfortunately (or fortunately, if you take the pandemic into consideration) I do not work in the hospitality field at the moment.
We live in a small apartment in one of the most beautiful cities in Romania, surrounded by mountains. My daughter goes to a regular kindergarten, but at home, we are strongly influenced by Montessori, with a dose of forest schooling and RIE thrown in our parenting mix.
When did you first learn about Montessori?
I had heard about it before I had my daughter, but started actually studying it once she was born. Two things naturally guided me towards Montessori.
First, I knew there had to be an alternative to the color and plastic "explosions" I was seeing in the homes of people with children. I am a minimalist at heart, and I wanted our home to continue feeling calm and airy.
Second, I hated most of the "contraptions" made to restrict the movements of babies - bouncers, chairs, playpens, fences.
At some point during Z's first 3 months, my mother gifted me Tim Seldin's book - How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way, and that's when it all clicked. I was actually doing some of the things mentioned in the book without even knowing they were "Montessori". So we started doing more.
Then we really delved deep once we started feeding solids to our daughter, following all the Montessori principles - the glass cups, the kitchen helper, independence to choose what and how much she will eat, the weaning chair. We just continued from there.
How have you created a Prepared Environment in your home?
I did not decide one day to start preparing the environment. We did small changes according to Z's needs and are still updating our spaces as she grows. So I cannot say we started with a certain thing on one day. We do not homeschool, so we do not have a full setup of Montessori materials. Instead, we use what I call "stations" - for art, for imaginative play, for her self care items. They just developed organically, once she started showing interest. Probably because we started when Z was still a baby, we have never "Montessoried" our home, it just evolved like this over time.
What are your favorite activities to do with your child or to watch your child do?
We love to read together. I also love when she helps with cooking. but I feel like once she got better at using a knife, a peeler, and beating eggs, she lost interest in that a bit. Now she is very into arts & crafts, gluing and using the scissors. My favorite is when I am cooking or doing some other chore, and she brings some work next to me and announces "I am going to prepare a gift for you". She is very into giving gifts to everyone, things she makes! Attention! Not sharing! Gifting! :) Very big difference.
Z at work
How do you deal with toy/activity/material storage and rotation?
I rotate on a regular basis, but just a few things at a time. I very rarely do a full rotation of materials. Instead, I change a couple of things here and there every few days.
We do not have that many materials in storage. When Z was a baby or a toddler, we had a lot of materials and toys that were focused on one skill, so I just left it out until she mastered it, and then sold it or gave it away once she did. I also look for toys and games that have multiple purpose. For example, we had a permanence box with multiple lids, that you could change once one of them was mastered; I use some of the pieces from our games in other activities and free play; then a lot of our activities just employ real things around the house (like kitchen tools), so I do not need a special space for them. That being said, we store whatever is out of rotation in different spaces around the house - outdoor toys on the balcony; open ended toys under her bed (because most of the open ended play takes place in her room), craft supplies on a couple of shelves in our TV stand. Usually close to where they are actually being used. Now she knows where this things are, and she can actually ask for them or get them herself.
Mud Kitchen on Balcony, used during warmer months
What is your favourite part of your child’s play/work space?
I wouldn't know how to answer this. I think it changes according to what she is interested in, and where we most like to spend our time in the respective period. But we all love her room, which feels very inviting, calm and warm , and gets the best light in the morning.
What benefits have you found in implementing the Montessori philosophy in your home?
It brought peace to us. Our home continues to be airy and calm, we all enjoy our space! Our daughter rarely "acts out", and when she does, we have clear and effective ways of dealing with it. I have earned the time that I would have wasted doing FOR her the things that she can do herself, and doing WITH her things that I hear many parents only do while their child is asleep or away.
Z's Bathroom Drawer
How do you help foster independence in your child?
I think one of the first things that we did and which helped immensely, was that we decided that we would not completely change our home for her, and we would not be yelling "no" at her the entire day.
Let me explain! We never moved away any plants, never moved our decorative objects, never completely closed her off from a space. Instead, we decided we would teach her how to use all these things and places safely and respectfully from a very young age. When she was interested in plants, I taught her that they need the soil to "feed" so if she took any out she would have to put it back. I taught her to wipe the leaves, and water them, I let her trim basil and parsley. When she was interested in kitchen utensils, we started collecting her own, smaller, safer versions, and set up her kitchen cupboard. If she wanted to climb on things, I made sure we spent a lot of time outside so she could practice her climbing skills and learn to do so safely and independently. So I guess it's these small steps that you take since they are babies, that teaches them to have confidence in themselves, but also know that there are limits to what she is allowed to do, like for the rest of the society.
Z's Montessori shelf on the side of the kitchen island, and her cupboard.
You are very open about your experiences of living in a smaller space. What tips do you have for families that are worried they don’t have enough room?
That you do not need much! A lot of Z's spaces are just set up with what we already had: a cupboard in our already existing kitchen, the lowest shelf in our shoe closet, the lowest drawer in the bathroom, the bottom part of our closet, and then quite a few stools and chairs. :)
I think a small space is actually conducive to Montessori - everything is in reach! She can safely go alone wherever she wants. There are no stairs to climb, no spaces that she is not allowed in. She can hear me from anywhere in the house, so I believe that gave her a bit more confidence to do things all alone, because I am never out of sight. I guess you need to learn to work with your environment to your advantage. Of course, I have also given up buying many of the Montessori traditional materials, specifically because they are bulky and cater to only one skill. No matter how beautiful and ingenious I find them, we simply do not have the space for them! But I also believe that they come maybe fourth in what constitutes a Montessori upbringing, after respect for your child, your natural environment and practical life, so I do not feel like we're missing out on much.
Toy and Book Area in Z's Bedroom
How do you navigate working full time and providing fun, engaging activities at home?
First of all, I think there is this wrong assumption that you should rotate shelves and offer activities every day. Which I most definitely do not do. I rotate materials very gradually - one today, a couple after 1 week, sometimes I add something to an activity that is already on the shelf, to give it a new twist. Overall, I think it takes about 6 weeks for the activities on our shelf to change completely. Some of the toys we have have never been moved - like the basket of stuffed animals in her room, or the lego box under our coffee table in the living room.
And then, exactly because we work full time and she goes to kindergarten, I feel the need to do something together first thing when we get home. Just to make sure our reunion is calm, happy and engaged. If I wouldn't do this very intentionally, I feel we would completely lose this half hour when our attention is fully on each other. It works for us, but I doesn't mean the same thing will work for everybody.
And in terms of finding the time to prepare activities for her, honestly, there is no magic solution: I prioritize it. I like to set up activities for her, I like to enjoy these activities with her, so I prioritize this thing we share, like you would with any other thing you like. And our play setups are quite simple most of the time - preparing a play invitation with things that are already on the shelf, so she can see them in a new light; introducing a new art material or technique; or making things that are actually useful.
Finally, I am very well aware of the drawbacks the Romanian education has and the people's general approach towards kids, and I am not happy about most of it, so I feel like I want to get involved and make sure she at least knows that there are other ways of doing things.
Do you have a favorite Montessori or parenting quote?
It changes a lot with what I am reading and experiencing, or my latest "a-ha" moment. But currently, I am resonating with the following words by Maria Montessori: “Imagination does not become great until human beings, given the courage and the strength, use it to create.”
Toy Kitchen used for Practical Life Items and the Entrance
Anything else you’d like to add?
Yes! I can find a lot of information about kids who go to Montessori schools but whose parents do not necessarily follow the Montessori principles at home. So I wanted to bring some balance to this topic, and say that the other way around is possible too! Z goes to a regular kindergarten that draws inspiration from many education philosophies, and we are very happy with it. And our Montessori child has found ways to make it more Montessori for herself! She dresses on her own, she routinely helps her teacher to bring out supplies or water for her colleagues, she helps with cleaning up toys and has influenced her colleagues to do the same, because that is what we do at home, and I firmly believe there is nothing that will make a greater impact on a child's upbringing than what is being modeled in the home.
Okay, I am in LOVE with Z's room! What a dreamy space.
Thank you, Cristiana, for opening your home to us. You have shared so many gems and I know families in both small and large spaces can take tips from you!
Follow along on Cristiana and Z's journey and stay connected on Instagram @from.c_to.z
Thanks for reading,