How Waldorf is Changing My Montessori Approach

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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.

Montessori Printables

There are lots of Montessori printables for free or for a small price online.  If you’re on a budget these are great resources for educating your child.  My favourite site for Montessori printables is Montessori Print Shop.  They have tons of resources and lots of great free stuff.  Here are some examples of free materials for use with toddlers or preschoolers (click on the link or the picture).

Bird Match Up

I Spy Pages

Small, Medium, Large  - FREE Printable Montessori Materials for home and school.

Big, Medium, Small

Imagine Story Cards - Free Printable Montessori Language Materials for Montessori Learning at home and at school.

Imagine Story Cards

They also have tons of materials available for a couple of dollars.  Here are some of my favourites for toddlers and preschoolers (click on the photo for link).

Air Land and Water Sorting Cards - Printable Montessori Science Materials for Montessori Learning at home and school.

Air Land and Water Sorting Cards

 

Color Sorting - Printable Montessori Materials for home and school.

Colour Sorting

 

Seasonal Sorting Cards - Printable Montessori Materials

Seasonal Sorting

 

Objects and Shilouettes - Montessori Cards for Montessori Learning at home and school.

Objects and Silhouettes

 

Counting Cards (Spring) - Printable Montessori Materials for home and school.

Counting Cards (Spring)

 

Toddler Geometric Solid Cards - Printable Montessori Toddler Materials for Montessori Learning at home and school.

Toddler Geometric Solid Cards

 

Toddler Young and Adult Sorting Cards - Printable Montessori Toddler Materials for Montessori Learning at home and school.

Toddler Baby and Adult Sorting

 

Color Grading Cards - Printable Montessori Sensorial Materials for Montessori Learning at home and school.

Colour Grading Cards

So head on over to the Montessori print shop and download some new materials for your little one.

What should I be doing with my Toddler?

I see this time and again.  Young mothers with usually just one child, usually under 2 years of age, stressing out that they’re not doing enough and that their child isn’t concentrating long enough or isn’t interested in the Montessori materials.  First off, parents need to not confuse the preschool Montessori materials and curriculum with toddler activities.  Most Montessori materials are designed for ages 3 and up.  Can you use it with a 2 year old?  Sometimes, depending on the 2 year old.  But you can’t force it on them.  If they’re not ready or interested then all you can do is wait until they are.  Montessori is about the child leading.  You follow the child’s interests and stage, trusting that the child instinctively is drawn to what they need to learn and develop at the right time in their life.

So, what should you be doing with a toddler?  Well, you should be providing them with food, shelter, clothing and lots of love and affection.  Anything else is bonus.  Child will learn in spite of us, not because of us.  Your toddler doesn’t need tons of fancy toys or a room full of the best quality activities to learn.  They are learning every moment.  They are learning by watching you, they are learning by talking to you, they are learning by playing in the grass or snow, by climbing on the couch, by you reading them a story, your child is developing and learning every day.

Now you can help your child to discover more, you can foster interest in learning and independence, but you don’t have to wear yourself ragged by doing it.  If you’re feeling over-whelmed then you’re doing too much and you need to step back and just enjoy your child and these years.  There are some things you can do without draining yourself and the amount you do and how often is up to your family and your schedule.

First off is to read to your child.  Studies have shown that is the one activity that will give your child the greatest benefit.  Next, instill independence in your toddler.  Allow her to choose her own clothes.  Use stools so she can reach the sink to wash her hands.  Use a bed that she can get in and out of herself.  Make her toys accessible to her.  Have a low coat hook so she can hang up her own coat.  Let her put her own clothes in the hamper.  Things like that.  The next thing is to get him involved in what you do.  Both my child loved to sit in their high chair from when they were 5 months old in the kitchen and watch me cook and clean.  I’d give them some toys or some food to play with and would talk and interact with them.  Now I try to get my 2 year old to help in the kitchen as often as I can.  We have a vintage step-stool chair that she can climb up and sit at the counter.  When you’re cleaning, give him a small broom and pan or a spray bottle with water and teach him to clean too.  It may be a little more work now but before you know it they’ll be able to help you.  My toddler is able to put away the utensils from the dish washer.  Toddlers need lots of gross motor play.  They are still learning to balance and run and jump or even walk.  Montessori materials often require fine motor skills that your child is not yet ready for.  They find the materials hard and give up because they can’t do them and because they want to develop their gross motor skills right now.  Get outside as often as you can.  Have some gross motor activities inside too, such as riding toys, rocker board, or a tunnel.  I’m trying to find these in Canada as they’d be a great balancing and active toy.  If you have the space, bring an outdoor toy, such as a plastic slide, inside.  You can hang a climbing rope or swing from the ceiling.  This awesome playroom even has a rock climbing wall.  Your child also needs lots of free play to develop their imagination.  I like many Waldorf ideas.  Open ended, non-battery operated toys made of natural materials when possible are perfect for this.  Your child doesn’t need a ton of toys, just a few basic ones such as blocks and building toys, a doll, some kitchen toys, some car type toys and a few scarfs.  Let your child play and invent and be creative.  When you have time you can set up some life skills activities for your child such as pouring, spooning or scooping materials between containers.  You can introduce some sorting activities.  And the Knobbed cylinders are also good for 18 months+.  You don’t have to do them every day and have them themed for the season or change them out every week.  Do them when you have some time.  Also when you have some time do some sensory activities.  There are tons of ideas out there and they’re usually fun for mama too.  And crafts.  Crafts don’t have to be fancy at this age.  Children usually love to color.  At 2 you can try letting them learn to use scissor if they have the motor skills for it (using tongs helps them learn the open and closing motion).  Again, when you have time.   Dance with your child, sing songs, play games, tickle them, and don’t always jump in to help them, let them try to figure it out themselves and only help when they’re reaching the frustration point.

For infants, don’t confine them to playpen or exersaucers all the time.  Give them a safe area to roll around and explore.  And lots of time to interact with you.  When you have to confine them so you can get housework done, try to have them nearby where they can watch you.

I have found my daughter learns the most at random times.  Sitting on the toilet and playing “where’s your mouth/eye/head” she learned all her body parts in English and a bunch in French.  Seeing a sign in the store she learned letters.  And yes, she’s learned stuff from watching TV and playing with a Tablet.  Yes, I let my children watch some TV and play with electronics.  They’re part of our world and she sees me using them every day.

The great thing about Montessori is you provide the materials, show the child how to use them, and then let them work with them while you sit back and observe.  But if the child is not ready for them yet, or can’t focus for long, or isn’t interested, that’s ok.  It’ll come when he is ready.  And the great thing about home schooling is you don’t have to do it every day or for hours.  A toddler will most likely only stay focused for a short period.  Normalization isn’t to be expected until the preschool years, ages 3+.

I hope I’ve helped some mothers feel less guilty and to step back and enjoy their child rather than feeling they have to give them some perfect environment for them to develop.  It’s because we love our children so much that we want to give them everything.  But sometimes in doing that we loose sight of our children and become caught up in activities.  It’s overwhelming for us and for our children.  Yes, as your child gets older, if you plan to home school you’ll have to do more planning and activities with them.  But don’t rush it.  Don’t rush your child’s development.  Let them be who they are and learn at their own rate.  They’re only little for such a short time.