This week, I interviewed Michelle, who I know from her Instagram account @discoveringourway. It's a valuable home tour for parents of children in the second plane (6-12), as well as those who are curious about home schooling. Michelle talks about adjusting the home prepared environment over time, as well as the importance of observation. I also love how the trust and respect she shows her child, shines through in each answer she gives. Following the child is not always easy, but so important...and Michelle talks about that task as well. I hope you enjoy reading the interview!
Tell me about yourself...
I'm a mother of an only child who I homeschool. My husband and I married later in life and were surprised and excited to discover we were having a child when it wasn't supposed to be possible for either of us. In addition to homeschooling, I also work from home as an accountant so there is always something that I need to be doing! We had planned to homeschool our child before he was even born. Being able to provide an education that is custom designed to the needs and desires of the child is so powerful. And now that we've met our active, creative and curious little ball of energy, we know he would have struggled to sit still in a traditional classroom.
How old is your child?
My son is 7.5 years old and that half year is very important to include right now!
When did you first learn about Montessori?
When my son was 18 months old, it seemed all the parents in his toddler play groups were beginning to plan for preschool. I knew I was going to keep him home, but I started looking for information on how to homeschool. I found a lot of preschool lessons online but none of them felt quite right, until I came across the blog of a Montessori mom (Whatdidwedoallday.blogspot.com) that introduced me to the world of Montessori for the first time. It clicked with me almost immediately. The child-led model was just what I was looking for. The respect for the child and the trust in their abilities were lessons I needed to learn. And the focus on preparing myself and preparing the environment filled my need to be "doing something" rather than preparing a bunch of "lessons" for my child to complete.
How have you created a Prepared Environment in your home?
Our home has changed over the years as my son has grown. In the early years, he had a floor bed and shelves carefully arranged with selected toys and trays, for example. As he has moved into the elementary plane, the prepared environment is a little more subtle. While he now has a regular twin bed in his bedroom, his clothes in the closet are still hung at his height and his toy shelf has been replaced by a bookshelf. In his playroom, his toys are carefully arranged in individual bins so everything has it's place and he now has an indoor swing to help get his wiggles out during our cold, dark winters. His bathroom has a light on the faucet that changes color as the temperature of the water changes.
The school room is also very different from his primary years. We now have a school room that we use to store all of his school materials on accessible shelves. But instead of every activity being on a separate tray, items are grouped in more traditional ways. A pencil holder for his pencils, a paper storage unit organized by color and type of paper, a reference bookshelf with a dictionary and children's encyclopedia's. Everything that he needs is within reach. When it's time to do his schoolwork, we don't do it in the school room, but rather in the living room next door. He most often works on the floor, using the ottoman as a table. It gives him all the room he needs to spread out and is conveniently right next to the kitchen.
Speaking of the kitchen... we've always had a low drawer with his dishes in it and a space in the pantry and refrigerator just for him. But in recent months, I had noticed as he's preparing more of his own snacks and meals, he began trying to bring all the materials to the sofa ... to pour his cereal or butter his toast. I started out being annoyed and chastising him for "knowing better" than to do that. But as he persisted, I sat back and asked myself why he was doing that. And that's when I realized, he doesn't want to use stools anymore because they feel "baby-ish" to him, but he can't reach to kitchen counter to perform his tasks. So, I measured the height of the sofa and headed off to Ikea to find a cabinet that would work as a child-size kitchen counter. I found a Besta shelf unit with drawers, cabinets and a faux marble top. My son was thrilled with his new space and immediately moved all his dishes and pantry items into the cabinets and prepared himself some toast. Preparing the environment begins with observation and questioning... why is he doing that?
What are your top 3 activities to do with your child or to watch your child do?
My son and I spend a lot of time together doing school work. In the last two years he has developed a passion for science and history. He keeps me on my toes trying to keep up with his insatiable need for the next lesson. It's becoming more common for me to start a new topic only for him to interrupt with way more information about it than I even knew. And if I ask him where he learned it, it's usually from a book he read.
He attends several homeschool classes around our town, so we also spend a good amount of time in the car. I'd say I've learned a lot about who he is during our car conversations. He asks the most intriguing questions and he also has a connection with music that I never had. We'll be listening to random music and he'll comment on the background singers, or the percussion instrument that's driving the mood or the lyrics.
The third activity is something that has developed in the past year that has me in complete awe of the 7 year old mind. It started out with him disappearing in his room for long periods of time. Then we'd hear him moving around the room, making strange noises. Finally, my husband first asked him what was going on. He simply replied, "I'm just day dreaming." Not the kind of day dreaming where you're staring blankly out a window, lost in your head. But physically acting out all the creative imagination he has bouncing around in his head. So now it's a regular occurrence, after we've studied a new time in history, read a fascinating book, watched a fun movie or just because it's time, for him to excuse himself from the room, declaring as he goes, "I'm gonna day dream now!"
How do you deal with toy/activity/material storage and rotation?
This was never a strength of mine. When we moved into our current home, my husband and I worked to organize all his toys into specific bins, each with their space on shelves in the playroom closet. But I don't take the time to rotate them or have him check them in and out. He and I just work together to keep the toys in order. School materials are a different category though. Everything has it's space in the school room and we're careful to return everything to it's place to keep it from getting lost or damaged. We don't have as much space as a full classroom, so we only have what we need on the shelves and work that has been completed gets stored away to allow new work to come out. There is a (less-organized) space in the garage of school materials that don't have a place in the school room.
What is your favourite part of your child’s play/work space?
I love doing his schoolwork in our living room. It's right next to the school room so everything we need is close by. It's near the kitchen and bathroom and it has lots of floor space and two comfortable sofas, plus the ottoman that is often used as a table. My son has a desk in the living room, but he rarely sits at it. Instead, it stores his journals, pencils, pencil sharpener, glue, reference materials, etc. And, of course, the living room also has our cat tree for our two Siamese kittens, that have become an integral part of our school days.
What benefits have you found in implementing the Montessori philosophy in your home?
Montessori has taught me to be thoughtful about my parenting. The idea that children know what they should be doing and are complete people from birth helps me to counter-act my own upbringing from a time when children were thought to be naughty. In working on my own psyche, my son has grown to be a confident, young man able to speak up for himself and explain his point of view.
How do you foster independence in your child?
I really try to keep the quote "Never help a child with a task he believes he can do" at the forefront of my mind. It takes a lot of work on my tendency to be impatient. But with years of work on myself, my son feels comfortable speaking up for himself, asking me to back off when he feels confident but also asking for me to step in when he's uncertain. It's a careful balance, being there to support him while he's stretching his own abilities.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you for letting me share! I owe so much to the Montessori Mom that first introduced me to Montessori through her blog that I've made a point to share our own journey for others to follow. I blog at DiscoveringOurWay.com but mostly just share via Instagram and Facebook these days.
To learn more about Michelle, and follow along on her homeschooling journey...check out her Facebook (DiscoveringOurWay) and Instagram (@discoveringourway) accounts, and her blog (DiscoveringOurWay.com)