I made a last-minute decision to have our first day with the Montessori materials this morning. My husband had to stay at work late (he works weekend nights), so we had the house to ourself for the morning and nothing planned. I had nearly all of the materials ready, and I thought that just jumping in might keep me from another evening of over-thinking/over-planning.
Spoiler: it didn't go great. But as the day has gone on, it's become clear that Nugget is having a rough toddler day. She's been grumpy and short-tempered, and not even a surprise stop for hot chocolate improved anything -- so you know it's pretty bad. So maybe the bad first morning wasn't entirely my doing.
Here's our set-up (and my apologies for the poor pictures -- it's rainy and overcast here, and the lighting in that room isn't great on the brightest of days):
As you can see, we have mostly plastic shelves built just 2 high. This is a great height for my short kid. We have a small Ikea table and chairs. I put out a minimum of activities; I didn't want her to be too overwhelmed.
For Sensorial, I had the Pink Tower and Cylinder Block #1.
For Practical Life, I had:
a selection of small containers for her to open and close,
spooning pink rice,
using tongs on porcupine balls,
and buttoning felt squares.
While we were eating breakfast (chocolate chip muffins!) on the couch, I spoke to Nugget a bit about doing Montessori work. She's familiar with some of the materials from seeing them in catalogs and at a Montessori open house. She's done Practical Life activities before, so knows about trays and returning materials and the rug. I told her about having me show her a new activity first -- I get a turn, then she gets a turn, then she can do it any time she wants (taking turns is a newly developed skill for her, thanks to the toddler version of Candyland).
When we went into the room, she ping-ponged around a lot, as I expected. She made a half-hearted go at all of the activities, but was distracted, impatient, and rough with the materials.
Some things I need to think about:
- How useful is the rug? She's not coordinated enough to roll/unroll it herself and it takes up a lot of the floor space. I like the idea of containing the work in one area, but with just one person working there, it seems like just an extra complication.
- How complete should I be when demonstrating? Some Montessori authors emphasize that I should complete an entire work cycle with the material before allowing Nugget her turn. But the Homfray videos mention allowing the child to take over when they've grasped the purpose of the activity. When I was demonstrating spooning (Nugget's first choice of activity), I moved 2-3 spoonfuls while she stood next to me, asking for a turn. When I let her step in, she pouring the destination bowl's rice back into the source bowl, spooned 2-3 spoonfuls herself, then poured them back. Did she feel that since I only moved some of the rice, she was only to move part of it? Or was she just done with the activity?
- Where is the line between exploring a material that should be allowed, improper use that should be corrected through another presentation at another time, and improper use that needs to be stopped? For instance, she used the tongs to move the balls out of the bucket, but her fingers to move them back. I counted that as exploring that should be allowed. She didn't build the Pink Tower correctly, instead constructing the first half and then building 'ears' and a 'nose' with the smallest cubes. I counted that as something to correct with another presentation later. When she started pushing at the Pink Tower with her feet, I attempted to stop that immediately. Looking back, those seem like pretty appropriate responses. But there were other occasions that I wasn't so sure about.
- Should I really do these presentations with a minimum of words? I'm used to talking Nugget through things. She's a very verbal kid, herself. Theoretically, I understand the advantages of doing a silent presentation. But she seems to pay LESS attention when I'm silent than when I speak.
And then there's the hardest question. How do I balance being a mom (encouraging, goofy) with being a Montessori guide (stepping back, demonstrating a seriousness and respect for the materials)? I think I did it entirely wrong and ended up acting too distant and quiet and disengaged. Maybe what I need to do is just be me-as-a-mom in there for now, and slowly step back as she grows in ability and understanding of the environment and goals.
I've got two more Practical Life activities to put out for tomorrow morning. I'm debating putting out the Brown Stair -- I don't think she's ready for it (having not completed the Pink Tower yet), but it's an activity she's kind of latched onto. It might just be something fun. There's the Botany and Zoology puzzles I could put out that she's been looking forward to. And I do think I'll try to be a lot more relaxed -- a lot more "mom" than "guide". I can put all the effort in the world into trying to be an ideal Montessori guide, but if Nugget's not enjoying her time in there, it's not worth anything.