This week I interviewed Michelle, mom and homeschooler of three boys. The thing I took from this interview is how possible it is to give your children independence in the home. Michelle has some very practical advice that can be used by all families, home schooling or not. I really found this home tour interesting and will be using some of her tips myself. What I also noticed was how comfortable and warm her space looks...natural light, engaging materials and a sense of calm. Hope you enjoy!
Tell me about yourself...
I was a graphic designer and entrepreneur until I had children and then was delighted to have the opportunity to stay home with them. I have since completed training as an AMS Montessori Primary guide (3-6), have hosted an informal Montessori co-op in our home and now homeschool full time.
How old are your children?
I have 3 boys: 1, 3, and 5 years old.
When did you first learn about Montessori?
My husband went to a Montessori primary school and it made an indelible impression upon him. Before we even had kids we talked a lot about the value of a Montessori education, especially in the primary years.
How have you created a Prepared Environment in your home?
We try to pay attention to the details that impact their ability to be independent. For example, most of our light switches have extenders to make it easy for the shortest in our family to reach. We pay careful attention to accessibility, whether it’s putting their dishes, cutlery and placemats in low kitchen drawers, setting up their clothing cabinets so they can easily dress themselves and put their own laundry away, having zippers on their bedding so they’re easy to make up, keeping cleaning supplies handy and at their level for tidying spills … even a mudroom setup that makes it easy for them to manage their own socks, shoes, jackets, and backpacks. When my oldest, at four years old, expressed a desire to help with laundry and start our washing machine, we placed numbered and color coded stickers on the buttons as a road map to turning the washing machine on so that he could do it himself. Today, at five years old, he gathers and starts the laundry cycle for the entire family each morning completely on his own.
What are your top 3 activities to do with your children or to watch your children do?
First, anything creative is my favorite activity to share and witness. Some people believe that you’re just born with creativity—you either have it or you don’t. I don’t believe that’s true. It’s a learned mind- and skill-set. I want to foster it in any way I can. Second, I love to watch them explore and discover when we’re out in nature whether hiking, digging for bugs or trying to quietly stalk a bird. Outdoor time is a must, rain or shine. Third, I am always so touched when I see them helping or teaching one another. Homeschooling makes the Montessori standard of a mixed-aged classroom just every day life and it’s so giving to everyone involved.
How do you deal with toy/activity/material storage and rotation?
I am constantly curating/purging our inventory, looking to keep only what we need. I recently developed a shelf map for our work identifying what stays out all the time versus what rotates, which roughly works out to be 80% permanent, 20% rotation. I keep all school-related items in our schoolroom stored primarily in a combination of snap bins and hanging file folders organized by subject: Language, Math, Sensorial, … and sometimes sub-categories such as animals, leaves/trees, life cycles, anatomy, etc. Within these bins items are stored in clear ziplock bags, an organizers best friend! Any and all practical life has simply merged with our household since our daily lives are filled with practical life activities.
As for everyday toys in other areas of our home the ratio of permanent to rotation is the same. For example LEGOs, dress up and blocks have a permanent home, whereas there is just a small basket or two of trucks/cars/trains that rotates pretty frequently. I have a closet where I keep everything used in rotation organized in a few small bins. They are allowed to “shop” the closet, but the rule is “3-in-1-out”, which helps keep it under control. In addition, several times a year the boys and I go through their toys and select items that they would like to donate.
What is your favourite part of your children’s play/work space?
The red kid-sized picnic table in our atelier that my husband made for our eldest son’s first birthday. So many children have sat at that table to do work, create art, have snacks, read, and teach one another. It’s large size easily accommodates 6 to 8 kids and allows a project to spread out if needed. It’s loved and used by all.
What benefits have you found in implementing the Montessori philosophy in your home?
All of our children, even the toddler, have a strong kernel of independence and confidence about them that we attribute to a Montessori lifestyle from birth.
How do you help foster independence in your children?
Observation and listening to them is key. What skills are they ready to grow? What challenges are they having? How can I help them succeed on their own? What do they WANT to learn?
Equally important, and so difficult for me, is sitting on my hands and keeping my mouth shut in order to allow them the space to BE independent. This is easy to do when guiding someone else’s children, but with my own, I find my mama bear instincts rear easily and I have to be very conscious about stepping back, being quiet and allowing them the freedom to explore and even fail.
Tell me about your home schooling journey.
Homeschooling was not something that we set out to do, it just evolved. Our journey started when my eldest son was two and we hosted an informal Montessori co-op for 0-6 year olds in our home. Over the next two years, we slowly assembled a pretty nice Montessori classroom with a dozen kids and very active parents. When he was four and I was pregnant with our third child we transitioned away from hosting co-op so that I could have the freedom to accommodate a newborn into the changing needs of our family. Homeschooling was an easy decision at that point because we already had a wonderful classroom setup right in our home. I used that first year on our own to gently establish a new rhythm and to tweak the mechanics of teaching a few versus many. Plus, the dynamics change when it is parent and child. The intimacy of that relationship can be a double-edged sword. It was an adjustment for all of us, not just in HOW we schooled, but also in our classroom setup. What worked for a group of kids no longer worked well for just my kiddos. For co-op we had the primary kids separated from the younger set, and now that it was just us, we all had to share the same space at all times and that required thoughtful adjustments, mostly to accommodate a baby or toddler who can wreak havoc in a typical primary classroom.
When my eldest turned five we joined a charter school for homeschoolers that is community-oriented and offers weekly enrichment classes, fun clubs and field trips. It has given us back some of the community that we enjoyed so much in co-op.
What advice would you have for parents interested in homeschooling?
Be flexible and open-minded. Expect to evolve and change as you move through various seasons of life. Observe your children and be true to your family’s values, rhythms and practices, not a singular pedagogue or even a “traditional" school paradigm. While we are primarily a Montessori family, I have pulled from Reggio Emilia (the atelier) and Charlotte Mason philosophies (literature-based) to round out areas of learning that I feel need it and it has brought such joy to our lives. After all, this is the beauty of homeschooling, that you have the freedom to customize your family’s education, to enrich it with creativity and exploration not offered in standardized schools.
Anything else you’d like to add?
The most common sentiment I hear from friends considering homeschooling is the insecurity that they’re not really teachers, they’re not knowledgeable enough, disciplined enough, have the right temperament, space … you name it. This is a false narrative. Everyone can do it. And how everyone does it is unique and perfectly fitting to their own family’s needs. No two homeschooling families school alike, and that’s the beauty of it. There’s no “right” way to do it. To all the parents out there considering it and wondering if they can do it … yes, you can!
If you would like to learn more about Michelle and follow along on her homeschooling journey, check out her Instagram account (@micbranton).