Montessori at Home: A Way of Life Outside the Classroom

Meet Guidepost mom Cecille, who hopes to reach other families who are considering keeping their children at home for the time being and let them know that they are not alone in this journey

Ashley Yates

Digital Marketing Manager

Cecille Lee Matsuo is parent to two kids who are both enrolled in Guidepost Montessori virtual offerings.

We are now 4 months into the Covid-19 crisis and parents across the country are faced with difficult decisions for their children’s care and education. It can feel confusing and frustrating to balance your family’s health and safety, the need to work, and your children’s educational and socialization needs. All across the country, parents are asking, “what are you going to do about school this year?” They are hoping to hear from someone in a similar situation that has found a successful option. Someone that they can relate to, learn from, and ultimately implement for their own family. Guidepost strives to bring together a community of passionate educators and families just for this purpose.

Today, I introduce you to Cecille, a Guidepost mom from Southern California who hopes to reach other families who are considering keeping their children at home for the time being and let them know that they are not alone in this journey.

Cecille and her husband have two sons, ages 5 and 2, who have been attending one of our Guidepost schools since 2017. Since March, they have both been working from home and have opted to incorporate Montessori into their home with the help of our Family Framework, an abundant parenting resource, that is helping them ensure their children are getting the care, stimulation, and learning experiences they need while at home.

Prior to this year, her knowledge of Montessori was on a fairly high level. But through her devotion and connection with her children’s guides at Guidepost, she has turned this experience into a positive one for her family. She says, “I would love for parents to have a greater understanding of how Montessori can work for their homes and families, especially during this season of disruption in their everyday lives. I hope families can use my experience to feel empowered to effectively apply Montessori principles into their homes and on their terms. It is very much a possibility.”

I’ve asked her some of the most common questions we hear from parents seeking real-world examples of how to make this work and more importantly, we are taking an honest look at the challenges that have arisen along the way.

What was your biggest challenge when you began implementing Montessori at Home?

Full disclosure: the biggest challenge was whether I was even going to do Montessori at home! There was the obvious concern of how I would manage working full time and tending to my kids’ developmental needs simultaneously, but apart from this, I certainly didn’t feel assured that I knew enough about Montessori to even apply it at home. It didn’t seem easy to work it in (and it’s not). If I’m being completely real --It seemed like much less hassle to print out worksheets and find educational programming on their devices so I could happily plug away at my desk while they zoned out in front of a screen! Not being an educator myself, there was an overwhelming feeling of being lost and unsure what the next step would be for my family. However, Guidepost provided a breadth of reading materials from how to set up a workable space for learninghow to prepare your child for the transition (from classroom to home learning), and practical activities to help families get started. This information is all still accessible now along with being able to speak with a parent concierge through their family framework application.

What has been your biggest success?

There was a huge sense of accomplishment when I began to see more good days with their focus than bad. Once the jumping on furniture and running around the house in circles was less and there was more of (and at the risk of sounding trite) in Maria Montessori’s words “the children…working as if I did not exist”. It was that light bulb moment that told me this could work in my less-than-ideal situation. Also, seeing this happen was telling me that the commitment I made to preparing my kids environment was finally reaping rewards!

Children Working Independently

How do you structure your day? How do you get your work done alongside your children?

Typically, I will wake up before the kids and get work done before they wake up. After breakfast is when the boy’s workday will begin. My 5-year-old understands it is a ‘work’ day and will select an activity of his choice in the morning prior to his Guidepost virtual learning class time. The 2-year-old does need a reminder that it is now work time, and I encourage him to choose work that is made available to him – it’s not always just the shelf work for both, however. If there is laundry that needs to be sorted or silverware that needs to be put away, they will do that as well. I try to maintain a fair amount of options for them outside of the shelf work. It has been a huge help, however, that my kids have naturally adapted to shelf work at home. Once my eldest chooses his work, he needs very little assistance from his parents. He can usually stay focused for that hour before his virtual class begins. The 2-year-old is more challenging simply because of the season of life he is in, I’m afraid. My goal here is to let him build the focus and concentration over time. He can at least follow a cycle where he performs an activity for at least 15 minutes, independently clean up his work items once he’s done, and choose the next activity for himself. It doesn’t always work this seamlessly, but it is the process that allows me to focus on my work—I will get up intermittently to assist the younger one during his work period. Usually, it is to help redirect his focus or guide him to a different activity when he is unsure. This doesn’t take much time, however, and I am able to resume my regular workflow soon after.

Montessori at Home: Workspace at Home with a 5 year-old

Toddler Montessori Workspace at Home

How do you incorporate hands-on work with items in your home? Did you need to purchase special materials?

While admittedly we have invested in some Montessori materials for home use, I found so many creative uses for just items we had around the house! What this time has taught me, if anything, about preparing the environment for my children is how to really think outside of the box. I often see posts online of parents who have these beautiful shelf spaces with the perfect Montessori aligned toys and materials, and I think it conveys this message that to implement Montessori at home you need to have these things. What I have learned is that Montessori is about the approach not about the expensive materials. It is more about how to make sure the work they are choosing engages the child and is purposeful. Once I took that mindset, I was able to turn everyday items into hands-on work. Luggage locks, for example, became work that refined motor skills and visual discrimination. Another example would be laying out a basket of towels for the kids to fold and stack neatly by size. Implementing Montessori at home is a way of life outside of a classroom.

When it comes to hands-on work at home, you will be surprised to find there is a Montessori answer to almost anything: from how a child puts stickers on paper to helping you with mealtimes. I like to think that, at its core, Montessori should be practical, not expensive and inaccessible.

Setting up Shelf Work

How does an online Montessori program work? Aren’t they too young for screen time?

We’re part of the Family Framework Plus program at Guidepost. There is a morning and afternoon circle time and an interactive learning session in between. This is daily and incorporated as part of my children’s work cycle. Initially, there was a concern that this model might not work on young children. As a parent, I asked myself if this would be a productive use of screen time and whether a young child could remain engaged in this kind of setting. We, as a community, are in an unprecedented situation with the pandemic. My personal approach was that we continued this program if the children remained attentive and engaged. I am happy to report that the instruction provided by our online guide is comprehensive, and my kids have been able to continue their learning journeys. With that said, I do try to reinforce the virtual lessons at home more concretely when they are not with their guides on the screen. The thing I did like about the Family Framework is that it did offer options for any parent no matter where they were in their Montessori journey. They could invest in as little or as much as what their children need right now. I was happy to find there was still a wealth of resources available to parents that were not part of the paid service, including free circle times. We need to use technology to our advantage. While it may not be Montessori in the purest sense, I do believe Montessori is progressive. We should be open and take into consideration innovation with the changing world around us.

What do you know now that you wish you would’ve known before starting your Montessori at Home journey?

In the beginning, I relied heavily on my children's guides for help and guidance. They encouraged and inspired me, which in turn, sparked my interest in wanting to know more about the method. Even then, I had little confidence in myself this would be feasible to do with a two-working parent household! If there was one message that I could impart to the March 2020 version of myself now, it would be to ‘prepare yourself.’ Some of the successes I have found with Montessori at home, I can attribute to taking the time to look introspectively at myself and how I viewed teaching as a parent and now as a guide. How can I be more patient? How can I understand my own triggers and find a way to come to calm so I can best guide them? Taking myself out of the traditional parenting that was previously happening is still an ongoing challenge—but it has been humbling to find how much I would learn and change about myself throughout this process.

What do you think other families should know if they are considering implementing Montessori at Home?

It IS very possible to find a balance between your own work and homeschooling your kids with the Montessori approach, but it is not the easy path. There is a substantial level of commitment required to not only preparing a learning environment for your children but also a time commitment into understanding how to put its tenets to practice at home. If you are able, however, you should be able to see results in the independence of your child. I should add that it is not always perfect, and there are still days I struggle when my kids don’t feel motivated. Overall, though, I have seen change in my children’s ability to self-manage and achieve a degree of autonomy apart from their parents. I often hear parents say right now they are struggling to keep their kids engaged while keeping up with their full-time jobs. If parents can make a promise to commit to the process (coupled with a positive attitude), that equilibrium between work and teaching is achievable.

Is there something you haven’t quite figured out yet that you’d like to hear from other parents or Montessorians about?

I love connecting with other parents and Montessorians about their experiences and what has worked for them, and I try to absorb whatever advice or guidance I can get access to. I have used the Parent Concierge service available to me to obtain advice from knowledgeable educators, which has been a tremendous help. Also, my next feat is potty training my 2-year-old. I’ll be happy to take any advice on that (Joking, not joking)!

What is something that has surprised you (or perhaps surprises others)?

What often surprises others is when they see that I’m able to provide learning for my kids during this time while having to maintain my job. It has come with challenges, but I stay the course with Montessori because I have seen the results firsthand in my own home. In terms of what has surprised me, I was taken aback to find how little I knew about the education my children were receiving in their classrooms and what they were truly capable of! I was also caught off guard to find how much learning I would do about myself and my capabilities in the process.

How has your view or respect for your children/their capabilities changed because of your increased visibility in their daily education? Has your relationship with them changed at all because of the changing dynamics of mom/guide/teacher?

Now that I am more in touch with my kids’ daily education, I realize how little credit I gave them! They are so confident they can succeed at so many tasks, and I love allowing them to try. As much as I would like to paint this perfect picture, however, there are times where I do revert to the ‘boss/child’ method when frustrated. This extended time with teaching/parenting has shown to me how respect means so many things for my children: giving them time to explore, allowing for important conversations to occur, validating their feelings, permitting movement and expression, gaining their trust/cooperation, and providing ways for them to follow their interests. I’m finding the more time I follow Montessori at home, it becomes a way of life in parenting as well. There is becoming less of an on/off switch to the teacher me or the parent me. Instead, I’m finding that line is blurred, and this has certainly deepened my relationship with my children. It is no longer just about the ‘because mom said so’ approach, but now it is allowing them the opportunity to decipher my feelings and intentions when I set an expectation for them.

Join the conversation:

Thank you, Cecille for offering such an extensive view of your experience implementing Montessori in your home with the help of Guidepost’s Family Framework. The more information parents have on each option, the better they will feel about choosing an option that works for their family. We fully support parents in whichever path is right for them; whether that be enrolling in one of our brick and mortar schools forin person learning, our fully virtual school led by trained guides, a home-pod with a guide coming to your home, or homeschooling with the Family Framework or Elementary album, as Cecille is doing.

Have you tried one of our offerings and want to be a resource for other parents? Let us know! We would love to feature your family’s experience here on our blog.

Meet the Author

Ashley Yates

Ashley is an elementary educator who has taught children aged 5 – 12. She is also a parent of two elementary-aged boys and incorporates Montessori parenting principles into their home. As a former public-school teacher and life-long learner, Ashley is inspired by Maria Montessori’s scientific and evidence-based approach to education.

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