“Never help a child at a task which he feels can succeed.” -Dr. Maria Montessori
If you are lucky, your family members – especially those proud grandparents! – are excited and eager to learn more about your child’s Montessori journey. While we can’t expect our extended family to completely rearrange their homes or lifestyles, there are some simple ways that they can support your child in building independence.
Simple ways for family members to help your child’s growing independence
Allow the child to make decisions with limited choices
You can allow a child opportunities to make decisions without giving up all control. Consider offering two choices – both of which you are happy with. “Would you like a grilled cheese sandwich or chicken noodle soup for lunch?”
Allow the child to do things for herself
It is the natural instinct of a loving family member to make life “easier” for a child. But when we take away opportunities to overcome worthy challenges, we inhibit them from learning new skills and building self-esteem. For example, it may take much longer for a young child to zip up her own coat, but when time allows, give her the opportunity to try. If she begins to get frustrated, provide the minimal amount of help needed (such as holding the bottom of the coat to create tension, while the child pulls up the zipper).
Prepare the environment for independence
Allowing a child to do things for herself may require some support. Consider providing a stool at the bathroom sink so the child can reach the faucet to wash her hands. Consider putting out a small pitcher of water and a small glass so she can help herself when she is thirsty. If dishes, napkins, and silverware are placed in a lower cabinet, the child can help set the table for a meal.
Involve the child in activities of daily life
Not every visit with Grandma and Grandpa needs to involve a trip to the zoo. Children want to do what you do! Invite them to join you peeling vegetables, feeding pets, watering the flowers, etc. You may need to provide child-size tools for some of these activities, such as a small watering can or acrylic knife, so that your child can participate fully.
Create order in the environment
Instead of piling toys in a basket, consider setting up a small open bookshelf where only a few toys are accessible. This helps the child make independent choices and give more focused attention to the chosen activity. (Toys can be rotated in and out to keep the child’s interest.) A minimal, organized toy area will also help the child clean up independently because there is a clear place for everything.
Be careful of praise
Dr. Montessori found that praise can inhibit children from gaining independence because they begin to rely on the judgement of others. As an alternative, encouragement can be empowering. So instead of “Good job!” “Good girl,” or “You are so smart,” you can try, “You did it!” “Thank you for your help,” or “I can tell you worked really hard on this.”
How to help family members get on board
Model rather than preach!
Most family members won’t appreciate being given a list of rules about how to behave around your child. But you can provide a powerful example by modeling these approaches in front of your family.
Feel free to give family members gentle reminders, such as “Please don’t help him; he can do it himself” You can also make it clear what the child is capable of, such as “Lila likes to choose her own clothing. She can get dressed herself but she might need help if her arms get stuck. Please don’t worry if she puts things on the wrong way.”
If a family member seems receptive, you might share an article with a brief introduction to Montessori at Home, such as this one. For those who wish to know more, a nice introductory book is How to Raise an Amazing Kid the Montessori Way by Tim Seldin. Though not all of it will apply to extended family, it’s a quick read with lots of beautiful photos that provides a nice overview of Montessori for families. If you would like to help family members find child-size tools or suggest gifts that would be appreciated, you can give them a copy of the For Small Hands catalog or share a link to their website. You may also consider creating an Amazon wish list.
“The greatest gifts we can give our children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.” -Dr. Maria Montessori
With a little help from family, we can create even more consistency between school and home and provide more opportunities for the child to build independence.
Margaret Jarrell has a long history with Greenspring Montessori School and she currently provides Administrative Support. Margaret taught for more than a decade, most recently for five years in our own Lower Elementary Program, prior to taking on the role of Director of Admissions. In 2015, she, her husband, and her newborn daughter moved to Florida after her husband received a wonderful employment opportunity. We were so sad to see her go, so eventually, we worked out a way for Margaret to work part-time remotely. She now turns her considerable expertise to support administrative staff, guides, parents, and prospective families. Learn more about Margaret.