Spotlight This Merry Montessori
The tagline says it all: Joyful Parenting, Joyful Child. Lindsay Tucker writes about her adventures as a parent, learning the world anew with her child. It might not always be easy, but there is always something joyful. This Merry Montessori can be found here. Enjoy!
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your background, your interests, your dreams?
After receiving my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English literature and writing, I taught English at the high school and college level for nine years. During my time in public education, I started to look around at both apathetic students and students who just wanted the “A” by any means necessary as well as teachers who struggled to find time to perfect their craft because of the time needed to follow district protocols and prepare for state tests, and I remember having this moment where I thought, “There has to be a better way to do this.”
I started to research “other ways” and stumbled upon Montessori. It brought back my own pre-school experience, having attended a Montessori-inspired private school before grade school. The more I read about Montessori the more Montessori seemed to have a solution for the problems I witnessed in public education.
I implemented as much as I could in ways of offering my high school students more choices (option of reading materials, various assignments to choose from, etc.), but with 35+ students in a 50 minute class period and district/state curriculum to follow, it was impossible to create the kind of learning environment I so desperately wanted for us all.
Around this time, I met and married my husband, Brian, who is also in public education. When we talked about starting a family, Montessori was always part of the discussion, so when we discovered we were pregnant with Eli (now 23 months old), we immediately started preparing our minds and home for our first “Montessori baby”.
Once again, I read everything I could get my hands on regarding the Montessori method and quickly passed the books and articles to Brian, and we soon realized Montessori is truly a lifestyle, one that has helped shape our little family. I’m thankful to have been able to stay home with Eli full time since his birth. We are now expecting our second child this June, and I’m incredibly excited to start this new chapter of our family’s life.
When I have a little time to myself, you can find me writing poetry, dabbling in watercolors, sitting outside and counting how many different sounds I hear, or soaking in a warm bath.
My dream is to live in one house, our current home, until Brian retires and convinces me to travel the world with him via boat or R.V., raise loving, accepting, independent children who call me once a week to tell me their latest adventures and continue to stop and dance whenever they hear music, and to have a garden that grows more than weeds.
Q: Now that the hardest question is out of the way: What’s your favorite color?
Yellow. The happiest yellow you can imagine.
Q: Do you have a favorite book? How about a film?
Oh, gosh. Did I mention I’m a literature person? I could write quite a list, but I’ll try to limit myself: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, and The Awakening by Kate Chopin. Each of those novels tattooed a truth on my soul, truths I probably could never explain, but I feel and consider often. As for a film, hands down, Singing in the Rain.
Q: When you close your eyes late at night, and imagine waking up and starting a new adventure: what is that adventure?
When my babies start leaving the nest (insert dramatic sob here), my next adventure is to receive my AMI Montessori training and continue my Montessori journey in a classroom. And man, oh, man, will that be a fun and transformative adventure!
Q: What first appealed to you about Montessori?
The joy. The joy of learning, the joy of discovering, the joy of exploring. The intrinsic joy of finishing a task when no one is thought to be watching. Like I mentioned before, coming from high school public education, it wasn’t always common and definitely wasn’t the goal to have this kind of joy present, but the more I learned about Montessori the more this kind of joy was the norm. And this kind of joy is full to the rim with peace. The kind of joy that produces sighs, not screams. The kind of joy that makes you feel at home. What a gift to any soul–no matter the age!
Q: What advice do you have for new Montessori adults?
Read and observe. Understanding the “why” is so important. Thinking “I need to buy child-size furniture and place all my child’s toys on a shelf” is different than understanding “I want my child to feel comfortable and welcome in our home, and I want to support his sensitivity for order and demonstrate care of his belongings.”
For me, it took a lot of reading, even more experience, and, simply, time to really internalize the why, but the more I internalize the why of Montessori the more natural the what, when, and how become. I am often asked if I use/follow a curriculum with Eli, if I’m pulling materials from a list.
The most beautiful and challenging aspect of Montessori for me is that the curriculum is the child. There are incredible resources out there (books, websites, blogs, and, even, Instagram feeds) that can give you a general progression of materials or activities for babies and toddlers, but at the end of the day, observing Eli is all I need. I keep note of his favorite works currently in rotation. I watch as he helps us prepare a meal or assists with laundry. I follow his line of sight when on a walk or an outing to see what sparked his attention. And then, I try my hardest to provide materials or opportunities to further aid his exploration of an interest or skill.
And sometimes I get it wrong. I think, “Oh, he’s going to love this,” and he works with it for half a minute, and that’s it. But, that’s also the best part: trusting Eli. Maybe he’ll return to the earlier dismissed material with fervor a few weeks later or never again, but either way, it’s about Eli. He works with the materials he needs to work with at the moment he needs to work with them when he’s given the choice, space, and time to do so, and it isn’t about me or my interests or my preconceived notions. It’s about following the child.
Q: Did you have a “Montessori Moment?”
I am constantly having Montessori moments. As Eli grows and develops, I’m often caught off guard by his focus and independence. I know I shouldn’t be. You’d think I’d be used to it by now. For example, from birth, we have protected his focus. We wait for a break in eye contact, for his body language to change before speaking to him or transitioning him to a different place or activity.
When he was just independently sitting up, around seven months old, we were at a park, and I heard a bird chirping in a nearby bush. Eli also heard it. He turned his body and watched this bush until the bird appeared. Eli remained absolutely still as the bird hopped around, gathered twigs, disappeared into the bush, and then reappeared again. Over and over this happened for nearing an hour, and the entire time Eli observed. I remember Eli finally sighing and turning back to me as if saying, “Okay, Mommy. I’m finished.” He seemed much older and wiser than most people would have you believe a seven month old can be.
“It’s in these small, everyday moments that I am the most thankful for the gift Montessori has been for our family.”
And just this morning, now just a few weeks shy of two years old, I heard Eli say, “Cold,” and he went galloping down the hallway. He currently gallops whenever he has the chance. Ha! When he returned, I realized he had gone to his closet in his room, collected his jacket, and put on his jacket independently. He walked over and asked me to help get the zipper started, and then he zipped it up and galloped to his next destination.
And I think these moments most likely would not have happened without Montessori. I most likely would have pulled his distraction from the bird in the bush because I wouldn’t have thought he was looking at anything special. It was, after all, a baby staring at a bush to anyone passing by. And without Montessori, Eli wouldn’t have a child-size closet with complete access to independently gather items for his self care such as a jacket. And I’m pretty sure I would not have given Eli the time and space to dress and undress himself. It’s in these small, everyday moments that I am the most thankful for the gift Montessori has been for our family.
Q: What’s your favorite Montessori quote?
Oh, gosh. Just one? Well, this past year seeing Eli embrace the world with open arms and a huge smile, this is the quote that has bounced around my head often: “Let the children be free; encourage them; let them run outside when it is raining; let them remove their shoes when they find a puddle of water; and when the grass of the meadows is wet with dew, let them run on it and trample it with their bare feet; let them rest peacefully when a tree invites them to sleep beneath its shade; let them shout and laugh when the sun wakes them in the morning.” I have to say I love more than anything that Eli fully believes every puddle is an invitation to jump.
Q: What inspired you to share your Montessori story on your blog?
After talking non-stop to Brian about all-things-Montessori on a daily basis, he finally said, “Love, why don’t you blog.” Ha! I’m a writer, and at the end of the day, I need to write for clarity, organization, internalization, and for sanity. When I’m having a rough day, blogging refocuses my intentions. I also wanted to connect with other Montessorians, which has been, by far, my most cherished result of blogging. Although I believe Montessori at home is growing in popularity, it can still be quite challenging to find a Montessori community nearby. I am so thankful the blog opened doors to friendships and a Montessori support system from all over the world. I hope the blog, in return, provides support to other Montessori and Montessori-inspired families.
Q: What advice do you have for new parents trying to incorporate Montessori at home?
When I was new to Montessori, I remember trying so hard to turn our home into a Montessori school, but after some time, I realized Montessori schools are also trying hard to create more of a home environment. I decided to embrace our home for exactly what it is and what it provides: a home and a place to learn everyday practical life skills.
In a home, that doesn’t necessarily mean trays of practical life work. It means inviting Eli to be our partner in our family’s work. If we are in the kitchen, he is in the kitchen: pouring, stirring, cutting, spreading, transferring, etc. If I am vacuuming or dusting, he has his vacuum or duster in use. If I’m folding clothes, he is helping me shake clothes out, folding washcloths, matching socks, putting his shirts on hangers, carrying clean clothes to closets and dressers, etc. If Brian is using a watering can to water the plants, Eli has his watering can and is watering the plants, too.
If you’re new to Montessori and you want an inexpensive first step, that’s where I would start: slow down and invite your child to join you in the family’s work.
Q: What do you think is the best introduction to Montessori?
See Montessori in action. Observe various Montessori schools. Read blogs of families incorporating Montessori in the home. Watch videos produced by Montessori schools or the documentary Edison’s Day. Visit a Montessori family’s home. It’s not always easy to explain to people what Montessori is or why we feel so passionate about it.
I remember discussing our plans with our families. We even bought our mothers Montessori books to read because they often looked at us with blank faces. But then, they watched Eli set his own table for dinner or calmly stand at the stove to assist in pouring pasta into boiling water or watched him return his materials/toys to their place on his shelf that I feel they started looking at us and him with an “oh, I see” face.
“It’s not always easy to explain to people what Montessori is or why we feel so passionate about it.”
Q: What continues to inspire you about Montessori?
I really believe Montessori can save the world. Respect and acceptance are the building blocks to peace in this world, and Montessori models and teaches respect and acceptance starting from birth to include all people, cultures, plants, animals, places, etc. Montessori acknowledges the whole individual and nourishes the mind, body, and soul, and then it turns around and says to the youngest of children, “You are capable. You are worthy.”
We recently added to Eli’s prepared kitchen environment after observing needs that were failing to be met. I now look at this space and see Eli’s focus, satisfaction, and joy, and I believe this space says, “You are capable of caring for yourself, and you are worthy of the time and space to try, worthy of beautiful materials, worthy of being an active member of our family.” Watching a not-yet two year old independently prepare and slice strawberries for a snack and then clean up after himself will have you step back and think, “This is at two years old. What will the mantra ‘I am capable; I am worthy’ allow Eli to blossom into when he is 10 years old, 20, 30, 50?” And what if every human felt capable and worthy? Changed world.
Q: In what ways do you envision the future of education?
I hope we lose the factory model, the mass production goal of education and begin to educate each individual child, knowing and trusting every child will develop at a their own appropriate pace. A child crawls, walks, and talks with very little, if any, adult interference. Provide a prepared environment and trust children to follow their inner teacher.
Train teachers to be guides and facilitators. Let’s forget about external motivation. Instead of grades, let’s give children and their parents a real breakdown of their progression: a detailed list of what they have mastered, what they are developing, and what they have been newly introduced to. There’s no shame in taking the time to master a skill, and a child should be given the space and time to master every skill, not rushed to the next benchmark because a calendar says it’s time to move on.
School should not be a place for competition. School is the place to learn community, acceptance, and respect. School is the place to learn teamwork, patience, and forgiveness. Let’s remember a child’s education is only partly an education of the mind. Let’s educate the whole child.
Q: Where do you see Montessori in the next 100 years?
I hope Montessori doesn’t change too much. In this technological, blinking-lights, immediate-gratification culture we live in, I hope Montessori continues to be the calm, peaceful simplicity cherished by children and adults alike. Not too many places these days value a moment of silence or a walk in a garden the way I have witnessed at Montessori schools or teaches young children the mystery and magic of the natural world before “entertaining” them with fantasy. So, dear Montessori, please don’t change. I think the world is going to need you even more in 100 years.
“Let’s remember a child’s education is only partly an education of the mind. Let’s educate the whole child.”
Written by:Charlotte Wood