How to Take Montessori Learning on Vacation
The Montessori Method is a wonderful fit for outdoor learning and fostering independence. Learn how simple it is to incorporate activities into your next family trip that will have your child making the most of their vacation
Teacher and Copywriter
School’s out, summer’s in, and it’s time for a well-deserved rest. For many families, enjoying time off means being intentional about quality time together. Whether it’s an annual camping trip or exploring a new place, vacations create memories that last a lifetime.
Children are also ready for a break after working hard to finish their school year. Yet sometimes, pausing a well-honed learning routine can worry parents. Summer learning loss is a real thing; it refers to a child’s regression in school skills, such as reading or math, that can occur over the summer break. While parents may continue with independent learning activities at home, it can feel tricky to continue them while travelling.
The good news is that summer learning can be adapted for the road, hotel room, or tent. The Montessori Method in particular is a wonderful fit for things like outdoor learning and fostering independence. In this post, we’ll show you how simple it is to incorporate activities into your next family trip that will have your child making the most of their vacation.
Why Montessori Learning and Summer Vacation Go Hand-in-Hand
The Montessori Method encourages the development of the whole child. In addition to strengthening their academic abilities, Montessori learning advocates for children's social, physical and emotional growth. Children are encouraged to be independent and to follow their natural curiosity. It's important that children can engage with their interests at their own pace, in a variety of settings. Since learning focuses on direct interaction with their world, children learn by doing.
If this sounds like the way a child may naturally approach being on vacation, you’re correct. Exploring new places creates a wealth of learning opportunities for children. Taking a family trip allows for practice in new ways, too. How often does your child get to pack a suitcase?
There’s also a palpable excitement in the air as a vacation draws closer that’s ideal for your child’s imagination. Vacationing in a traditional place your family is accustomed to visiting can trigger memories of routines only found on holidays, such as making s’mores around the campfire or swimming in the same lake. Meanwhile, a brand-new destination can encourage an adventurous spirit in children — anything from the local language to cuisine is a chance to explore and learn.
How To Incorporate Montessori Learning on Vacation
We’ve narrowed down a few activities that can help you bring Montessori learning on the road:
Encourage Free Exploration
Montessori classrooms are designed to allow for large blocks of uninterrupted time for exploration. Your vacation can do the same. Maria Montessori prized unstructured exploration as the ultimate learning experience and noted that “free choice is one of the highest of all mental processes.”
But according to the National Recreation and Park Association, unstructured outdoor play has decreased by half for children in the last 50 years. To put free time first, it's critical to avoid the desire to over-schedule your child.
More free time can make a family trip feel even more restorative. As a parent, you're asked to intervene as little as possible when it’s time for discovery and play. Once you see your child focused and engaged in an activity, think of providing support as a way of encouraging them to go deeper.
What does this mean? Well, instead of telling your child what specific activity they’ll be doing on holiday, present the destination as a whole. Letting your child know that you’ll be spending the day at the beach allows for much more freedom. This doesn't mean the swimsuits and shovels aren't ready to go. But avoiding establishing activities ahead of time allows your child’s imagination to determine how the day will unfold.
Look for Opportunities for Hands-on Learning
The Montessori approach celebrates learning through experience and direct interaction. When you’re away from home, there are plenty of ways to encourage this kind of learning. For babies and toddlers, allow time for sensory touch and play with different materials. Try to identify what makes your destination different from home. If the beach is what makes your trip unique, take time to touch sand, seashells and other treasures. Hands-on learning encourages problem solving and risk taking, too. How can toys, souvenirs, or items in the hotel room be stacked or grouped? This is a time for imaginative thinking.
What can you collect to bring home at the end of the day to explore? For toddlers and young children, a magnifying glass or pouch to collect treasures allows them to investigate with more detail. A pack of sidewalk chalk turns their toys or items into whatever they can imagine. Practice letters and sounds by writing out the alphabet and collecting items to organize by first or last sound. Write numbers to organize by groups or practice counting. Can you draw or bring a map that your child can interact with on your road trip? Find souvenirs from each stop that you can place on the map.
Bring Life Skills Along
Everyday tasks take on a new excitement when they’re reserved for special occasions like travelling. The adventure can begin before you leave, as packing for a trip promotes independent skill-building. Preparing for a journey provides rich mental challenges because it asks us to imagine ourselves not here, in the present, but rather there, in the future. It is an excellent real-life example of comparing the things we need versus what we want when we imagine ourselves on vacation.
Asking 'What do you think we should bring with us?' encourages oral language practice, problem-solving, hands-on learning and confidence building. Giving your child the freedom to choose the clothing, toys, or books that will join them on vacation empowers them with freedom of choice and independence. Allow for the exciting challenge of troubleshooting what your child thinks they’ll need from the bathroom for grooming and self-care. It’s no small feat for a young child to figure out she’ll need a brush for her hair or toothpaste to go with their toothbrush. It’s a celebration of their ability to connect their needs and wants to the world around them.
Once you’ve hit the road, take pleasure in the same tasks from home that spark new joy abroad. Have your child help prepare meals or set the table with supplies that look different than they do at home. Are you making a stop for supplies? Ask your child to help pick out the groceries with you at a new supermarket. Bedtime routines may look one way at home, but nights away mean your child can help to create a unique vacation bedtime routine.
Carve out Nature Appreciation Time
Maria Montessori enthusiastically praised the teaching power of nature for early childhood. In her book, From Childhood to Adolescence, she says, “there is no description, no image in any book that is capable of replacing the sight of real trees, and all the life to be found around them, in a real forest”. But a 2018 study by the National Trust in the UK showed that children are spending nearly half the amount playing outside than their parents did.
Appreciating the natural world is nearly effortless when you’re on holiday. New environments provide a fresh palette of shapes, sights and colors for your child. As for yourself — what makes your destination different from what your child sees at home? Take note of new and unique flora and fauna – palm trees that don’t grow where you’re from, or birds with patterned beaks you've never seen before. When the sun sets, take a night to stargaze and notice if the stars look different than when you look from home.
Art is a wonderful way to extend learning in nature. Play archeologist to dig, build and get hands dirty in the sand, dirt and mud. Examine sounds together, listening for new birds or other animals. Collect leaves to trace over and examine their patterns. If animal sanctuaries, aquariums or gardens are nearby your destinations, try to make a stop to explore.
What makes vacations special is the time spent together as a family. A new environment allows adults to interrupt their regular pattern of living to find joy and relax. A new setting for a child will enable them to explore the unfamiliar with the love and safety of their family. Bringing what they already know (how to be curious, or help mom and dad) to a new place allows them to create new meaning for their world. We hope the above prompts help you get started, but remember that the best learning experiences come from quality time spent letting your child’s curiosity shine.
Natalia is a classroom educator turned copywriter and content writer. With a passion for teaching and writing, she happily splits her time between the classroom and the keyboard in the spectacular Pacific Northwest in Vancouver, Canada.
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