I love the Montessori approach. I love how it’s child’s led, how it’s engaging and hands on and promotes independence and focus. I love how a child actually learns, not memorizes facts. I discovered Montessori around the time my daughter turned 2. I went all out – materials, books, shelves, more materials, printing, laminating, more materials. My daughter is a fast and engaged learner and she was picking up things fast, so I introduced more. Then I got pregnant and in pregnancy I suffer from Hyperemesis Gravidarum, basically very very very severe morning sickness where you puke until your body aches, you slowly starve and can’t stand for long from dehydration. Needless to say, we didn’t do any homeschooling. We sadly lost the baby and when I got back to doing Montessori activities, my daughter had forgotten a lot in those few months.
Because I love learning I started reading more about the Waldorf approach. It has a lot of the same observations about how children learn and develop but the Waldorf approach encourages imaginative play, sheltering the child and delaying formal education. How can one mesh the two?
When I realized my daughter had forgotten many of the things we had done it made me think that perhaps she wasn’t ready. She wasn’t really learning, just imitating. It wasn’t making the right connections in her brain because she was too young and I was pushing too early. I was misreading signs of readiness. For instance, wanting to know the names of all the letters didn’t mean she was ready to learn to read, it meant she was trying to increase her vocabulary. Counting doesn’t mean she’s ready for the bead materials yet, she needs to explore what counting means and how to use it still. Too often I’ve seen others, like me, excited about Montessori and pushing their toddler to do materials that are really for a 3 or 4 year old and I’ve come to believe that not only is it not beneficial, it can be detrimental. It can discourage them from being interested in the material when they’re truly at the sensitive period for it or it can cause them to make incorrect connections in the brain that are really hard to fix.
So what am I doing differently? I’m holding back. I still have materials out but I don’t force her to choose one. If she’d rather run around and play with the other daycare kids, I’m happy with that. She’s using her imagination, she’s learning to get along with others and develop social skills which are so so important in life. She’s only 3 and she’ll only have this innocent time of freedom for such a short period. I’d rather wait a little longer before introducing a material, actually follow the recommended age instead of thinking “oh she could do that” and be more sure that she’s mastered the other activities first before introducing something new. I’d rather read stories and cuddle and go for walks than tell her “it’s school time you have to pick something off the shelves”. I’m trying to have more of a rhythm to the day and incorporate more songs, poems and traditions. I’m also planing on how I can change the room to encourage more imaginative play. I was going to start RightStart math with her but now I’m going to wait until she’s at least 4. She won’t learn better by starting young, she’ll learn better by starting when she’d truly ready. I’m also purging our toys so we don’t have so much stuff and that the toys we do have are natural, open ended toys.
Homeschooling is a journey, an exciting, stressful, fun, frustrating journey and it’ll probably be always changing and evolving. I wonder where we’ll be next year.