Monday, June 6, 2011

Parents = Toy Experts. Meet Deb from Living Montessori Now

Next two interviews with parents / bloggers / educators will give us, parents, a little insight into different kind of teaching approach - Montessori preschooling principles. This week, our guest is Deb from Living Montessori Now who shares some light about this learning approach.

Introduce Deb in a few words. Who are you online and offline?

I think that I’m pretty much the same online and offline. I’m a former Montessori teacher, former Montessori preschool owner and director, and former homeschooler. I homeschooled my children through high school, so I ended up with experience teaching early childhood through high school! Now I’m a Montessori writer and mom of two adult children (ages 21 and 26). You can find out more about me on my blog’s “About Me” page.  

Why you decided to specialize in early education (toddlers and preschoolers)?

In college, I started as a special education major because I had worked with children and adults with developmental disabilities for two summers and absolutely loved it.

My next job (after my freshman year of college) was at a daycare center. I think it was when I started using Montessori principles in my daycare classroom in 1975 that I really fell in love with early childhood education.

After that, I trained to be a Montessori teacher, specialized in Montessori Early Childhood and Elementary Education for my B.A. degree, and (more recently) completed my M.A. degree in Early Childhood Studies. Even though I’ve enjoyed teaching at all levels, early childhood is still my favorite. 

What are 5 Montessori principles that we (parents) can use to ease our worries about our toddlers (3-4 year olds)?

There are a few Montessori principles I find especially helpful for addressing common worries:

1) Follow your child. That’s an essential Montessori principle and helps ease worries about whether you’re doing enough educationally. If you’re following your child’s interests and responding to his or her needs, you’ll be helping your child at any age.

2) Give your child real, child-sized tools whenever possible. Parents often worry that their children will get hurt if they let them use tools that aren’t child-safe toys. Maria Montessori felt it was important for young children to work with real, child-sized tools. Obviously, you wouldn’t give a real hammer to a 1-year-old, but with a demonstration and supervision, 3-4 year olds can learn to use a real, child-sized hammer. 3-4 year olds can also do a lot with food preparation, including peeling and slicing foods.

For Small Hands/Montessori Services is a great source for child-sized tools. If your child doesn’t handle a tool carefully, though, I’d recommend saying that you’ll need to put the tool away until he or she is ready to use it carefully. Once you feel your child is ready to handle the tool properly, demonstrate how to use the tool again before allowing your child to use it.

3) Allow your child to complete a work cycle and repeat an activity. Many parents have worried that there’s a problem if their child keeps repeating an activity. But it’s actually a very good thing.
If you don’t interrupt your child but allow him or her to repeat an activity as many times as he or she wants, your child will develop a longer attention span and will meet the needs of a particular sensitive period. Repetition is a very good sign that your child is working to meet an inner need – and is nothing to worry about! It’s wonderful, in fact!

4) Give your child freedom to explore indoors and outdoors. Maria Montessori emphasized the young child’s need to explore both indoors and outdoors. Even infants and young toddlers can be given opportunities for exploration. I have a number of posts about infants and young toddlers that give lots of ideas for Montessori-inspired exploration while still keeping your child safe.

5) Emphasize practical life and sensorial activities during the early years. Parents often worry about what sorts of activities to provide young children. Should you emphasize early academics or free play? While your toddler needs lots of time to just play and explore, the most important structured activities to provide are simply practical life and sensorial activities.

Let your child help you in the house or yard whenever possible, give plenty of opportunities for your child to develop eye-hand coordination, and try to give hands-on experience with concepts such as colors, shapes, textures, sizes, sounds, smells, and tastes. Every Monday I have an Activity of the Week with activities that are helpful for preschoolers, often including toddlers. Many of those posts are practical life or sensorial activities.

For someone totally new to Montessori principles, can you share a startup point? Where to go, what to read or watch, to get the "feel" what this kind of learning is all about?

I wrote a post titled “How to Set Up a Montessori Space at Home” to give ideas any parent or grandparent can use. In the post are links to my two favorite introductory books about Montessori. I also wrote a post called “Top 10 Montessori Principles for Natural Learning” which gives ideas for using Montessori principles at home whether or not you have Montessori materials.

Share with us 5 objects every parent can repurpose (found in their own homes) that fit with Montessori teaching principles.

1) Lower shelves in kitchen cabinets can be reserved for your child’s practical life activities (such as food preparation, spooning grains, or any activities for care of self, care of the environment, control of movement, and grace and courtesy).
2) Put educational materials and activities to help with eye-hand coordination on trays and/or baskets on shelves so your child can choose work independently.
3) Tweezers can be placed on a tray with small objects to be transferred from one container to another.
4) Kitchen tongs can be used to transfer cotton balls or ping pong balls from one container to another.
5) Grains or beans can be poured from one small pitcher to another small pitcher or from cup to cup.

Thank you Deb for sharing your expertise and experiences with us! :)


  1. Great interview. I love your wonderful perspective Deb!

  2. Thanks so much for your kind comment, Lori! :)

  3. I love all of your Montessori wisdom and appreciate you always sharing such practical insight. Thanks!

  4. Great intro to montessori, adapted to parents expectations and questions!

  5. I really appreciate your kind words! Thanks so much, Hilary, Natasa, and Maria! :)


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