18 - 48 Months+

The Montessori Parent: Mindset & Lifestyle Tips

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“Children need to struggle to learn. They need to work it out for themselves.”

Kylie D’Alton, HowWeMontessori.com

Montessori parents can give the impression that they do it all: organized home, tidy bedrooms, carefully ordered trays and activities. Sometimes it seems like Montessori sets the bar really high — so high that it feels unattainable for a busy parent. 

My New Life host Jessica Rolph speaks with Kylie D’Alton, an Australian mom that has gone a long way toward making Montessori principles more accessible. Kylie is the author of the popular blog How We Montessori, and in today’s episode, she shares valuable tips on how to bring Montessori into our homes in ways that don’t involve accumulating more stuff.

Key Takeaways:

[1:06] Thinking like a Montessori parent.

[2:50] The benefits of observing and allowing children to experience something for themselves over correcting or teaching.

[4:51] Kylie explains how she introduces the real before the abstract and the benefits to your toddler’s development.

[6:35] What sort of things does Kylie involve her toddler in?

[10:25] How did Kylie take the Montessori approach to potty training? 

[13:26] Kylie shares some of her favorite memories of Montessori learning at home.

[14:43] Jessica reviews the highlights of her conversation with Kylie.

Mentioned in this episode:

How We Montessori


Thinking Like a Montessori Parent

Jessica: So Kylie, tell me about the mindset of the Montessori parent, what does that look like? 

Kylie: Mindset is absolutely everything, you can have toys, materials, but if you don’t have the right mindset, it’s really not going… It’s going to be hard work for you is not going to fall into place. So I think the first thing that we need to remember as parents is just to observe our children, see what they’re doing and what they like to do, and observe and try to meet their needs. And that can be hard to do because we’re so busy organizing, we organize things and get materials and toys activities that we think that they might want to use or that we think they should be using. Whereas if we can observe them and see what they’d like to be doing or what their needs are, or what skills they’d like to be practicing right now then we can provide for them and try to meet those needs.

But I think from a parenting perspective, and this is what I learnt very early on, we also need to let go of the process and have confidence in that child. I like to have my house clean and organized and be controlled, and I like things done properly, but we also need to have this mindset where we can let go and trust the child. If the child’s chopping up carrots and they’re not perfect, I need to let go. I can always re-chop then later if I’m really going to be crazy about it. Or if they’re pasting and a little bit of paste on the table, that is enough to go on and set a lot of people off, but we need to let go and empower the child. And the beds not made perfectly, they might clean up after themselves and leave some crumbs, so we also need to have that mindset of letting go on our perfection tolerance, I think a lot of parents might struggle with.

Avoid Correcting and Just Observe

 Jessica: I found too that just taking the extra time, having some times when you could take the extra time to just let them struggle, which leads me to my next question. How do you handle observing and letting them experience it themselves versus correcting or teaching? 

Let Go of Controlling the Situation

Kylie: It can be hard because like I said a lot of us, I speak for not all of us but some of us, are feel controlling and we want to be to get things perfect and we don’t see the need for the child to struggle when we can just put their shoes and be done with it and go out. But it is worth just taking a pause and then take another pause before we step in and help them. Because quite often in those moments where we’re between the struggle and we were just waiting, that’s when they can learn for themselves. They work it out for themselves, how to tie their shoes, or how to get the arm through the arm hole. All those sorts of things, it just takes a little bit of extra moment and they, children need to struggle to learn, they need to work it out for themselves. So we can show them how to tie their shoelaces or put their feet in the sock, but they need to struggle and work that out for themselves, it’s the only way that they are going to learn.

And the processes is worth it. We’re also teaching our children problem solving skills, and we’re also teaching them persistence, which I think some children struggle with. And mine have struggled with it too. They’ll give up because it’s not easy, “I can’t do it, put my shoes on, I’m over it”. Or they’re like… My toddler, when he was younger he would just throw his clothes ‘cause they couldn’t put them on. But it’s worth persisting and just giving them that time and allowing for the struggle, the children need to teach themselves and they need to experience that struggle to get through it. I don’t know if you’ve seen… We observe children doing puzzles, quite often there’s a bit of frustration ‘cause it’s something not going and when it eventually clicks, you can just see that smile on their face or that sense of achievement. It’s visible, we can see it and it’s powerful, we can’t take that away from our children.

Teach the Real Before the Abstract

Jessica: Yeah, and it’s another thing that I love about Montessori is the teaching the real before the abstract. Can you explain what that looks like in your real life with your toddler? 

Kylie: It’s so important. I think a lot of kids these days, including I mean the temptations are there for my children as well, is there’s so much online, so much visual stimulation, so much TV that what Montessori wants children to do is experience things with their hand, first. So we want to make their learning real, we want to make it visible, we want to use all of our senses where we can and we want to allow children to touch and to feel and experience. So we want a child to see real things before they experience the abstract, so what that might mean is introducing fruit and vegetables for children to cut up and eat and smell before we read books about them. We might want to go out to a farm and see real cows and animals or the zoo before we start learning about them at home.

But it also is things like counting, we want children to count real things that they could hold in their hands. Whether that’s their socks or the apples at the supermarket before we just start teaching them to count. One, two, three, four, five, we want them to have that real experience, and sometimes that’s hard especially if we’re busy working parents because we can’t always take our kids out. I’m doing a lot of gardening with my toddler at the moment, and learning about things like worms and seeds because he can see and plant sunflower seeds and they’re now up and would just planted corn and to see as much visibly hands-on, smell, eat as they can is just really, really important and children learn that in a real sense before the abstract.

Getting Your Toddler Involved Around the House

Jessica: And how does this translate into actual tasks, what are some examples that might be surprising to listeners of things that your toddler gets involved in? 

Kylie: Yeah, obviously we try to get him involved with almost everything that we’re doing, so if I’m the kitchen, I’m cooking up a soup or a stew or something, I’ll put something aside, for example, that he can chop. We use a real knife but we teach him and give him the skills to use that, so there’s sorts of kid friendly choppers, and he’s actually even started to peel. It might take him like 20-30 minutes, but my toddler can peel a sweet potato and it’s messy, but he loves it and it’s fun and it gives me the chance to do other things. And he likes to chop with his knife. But also everything from pouring his own water, he’s got a little glass jug that he uses in the fridge and he gets out his real glass and we’re using those real materials that are breakable, but he’s able to learn to get them out and treat them with respect and pour his own drink.

But there’s a whole heap of other things even hanging out the washing, we’ve got a little clothes hanger. But quite often with those clothes indoor clothes hangers there’s still rails that kids can reach as well. So he can hang up his own washing, I’m hanging up all the big washing, he can hang up his little shirts even things like folding up his own clothes and putting those away. Things like combing his own hair, putting out his own table cloth, his own little napkins and his own little place mat. We can put everything in the right spot because we’ve got place mats with those little markings on them, so he knows exactly where his little knife and fork needs to go. But even things like flower arranging, I love the garden, we love to go on nature walks and we pick up any flowers, it’s lovely to put them in a little vase. You’re bringing a bit of nature inside and making the place really beautiful. Every aspect we can think of we try to accommodate the toddler.

Feeling Capable Empowers the Child

It’s a great way of not only keeping them happy but meeting their needs, giving them skills, and it contributes to this environment where everyone’s pitching in so whether it’s dinner, washing, it’s not up to Mum to do it, everyone’s helping and even setting the table. Toddlers love to set the table, we’re putting plates out and even using tongs. My toddler loves to serve, so if we’re having a salad, if he might serve himself some salad from the bowl using the tongs. That’s great for their hands, he loves… It feels very empowering, he loves it, serving salad for his brothers, and it’s all about empowering the child as well.

So Much to Explore in the Kitchen!

Jessica: I love that, I just love thinking about your little guy, just doing all these independent big kid things. My four-year-old made me eggs this morning. Maybe, my husband likes it. She cracked eggs, she scrambled them, she whisked them, she cooked them, it was so sweet.

Kylie: They’re so capable of doing these things.

Jessica: They are so capable. It’s really surprising as a parent, I think oftentimes we forget because we’re kind of stuck in time, it’s so hard to evolve with our children, they’re growing so quickly, and their capabilities are growing every minute.

Kylie: There’s so much to explore in the kitchen from even… Eggs is a great thing to cook. I’ve got a little hand crank juicer, which for two or three kids can use, even making their own juice. Wow, I never would have thought of doing that if I hadn’t read about about Montessori. Slicing strawberries or making butter with those little butter shaker things. There is so much we can do and if I hadn’t read about Montessori, if I hadn’t listened to other Montessori parents, I wouldn’t have even thought of having a toddler cooking eggs, it kind of opens our eyes to experiences that we kind of haven’t imagined before.

Some things like even toilet learning has so enriched our lives because I would never have thought to try to do toilet learning with a young toddler. And all three of my kids have learnt how to use the potty.

Toilet Training from a Montessori Perspective

Jessica: So tell me a little bit about toilet learning. I’m so interested. How did you take the Montessori approach to potty training? 

Kylie: From the age when my children have started to be able out to walk independently, I’ve got the potty out and put them in training pants, so the training pants will hold a little bit of pee, not all of it, but it allows the child to experience it, and also we have gone pant-less when we can at home, and then we gently… When we see the child is needing to pee, then we can take them to the potty, don’t rush, don’t scare them, don’t say, “Let’s go, you need to go.”

Jessica: Oh my gosh, that’s so me… That’s so me, I am just having flashbacks of what you just saying I’m rushing with my child to the bathroom. Go on, please.

Kylie: It definitely helps if you’ve got tiled areas or not precious carpets and things like that, and all we can use even thicker training pants to start off, or we can put like a little cover over the training part, so the toddler can feel that they have wet their pants. And we use clothe diapers from from the start too, so the child gets to experience that wetness. So over a period of time we guide them towards using the potty, so they just kind of make that connection. And other time, there have been messes, there has been a little clean-up, but over time, the children begin to understand the process and when they’re ready, they start to use the potty. That’s not strictly Montessori, lots of Montessori families will go straight to the toilet.

Use Elimination Communication

Lot’s of Montessori will use elimination communication, but we do start quite young, so the children make those connections quite early, and when they start to use the potty, we empower them to wash their hands, clean up any mess with us, put their dirty clothes away and kind of be involved in that full process. And then after time I kind of just works they kind of just gradually make that connection, and then when you feel more confident, you can go from training pants to underwear, and then try to do the training pants or underwear at night time. So there are prompts, so before going out, we can suggest they need to go to the toilet, we can try to pick up on those rhythms. Lots of children are predictable about when they need to go.

Try Stand-Up Diaper Changes

Also kids will kind of stand there and you could tell that they are thinking about needing to go and you can guide them to the potty, so it is definitely a process, but certainly from a Montessori perspective, it’s very respectful, and so even from when they’re young, even doing stand-up diaper changes, so the child is participating in that process as much as possible and to make it a process. It’s not like, “Now we start toilet learning.” It’s a process from birth, when as much as they’re able to take up more responsibility, they participate more in their care, and that involves toileting. It sounds easy, doesn’t it? 


Jessica: It does, but it’s…

Kylie: It’s a process.

More Ways to Communicate Respect

Jessica: I love the stand-up diaper changing, that’s just the beginning of that kind of respect. You’ve given us so many great ways to incorporate children into our life and into our routine and make it feel seamless, what are some of your favorite memories or things that you love to do with one of your younger toddlers? 

Kylie: I mean, obviously cooking, ‘cause I feel like we do so much of it, but I think the thing that I love is just when they’re doing a puzzle where you can just see that they’re… Or blocks or Play-Doh, and you can just see that they are so connected and you just feel you provided that moment. So when we’re providing activities, we need to provide the things that connect with the child so when they’re engaged and they’re just like totally absorbed in their work, whether it’s drawing or gardening or snipping flowers. It’s like that moment when you just think, “Aha, I’ve got it.” They’re doing what they need to be doing. You can just get that sense that they are 100% happy and content, and they need to be met. When you just have those little moments during the day, it’s just like amazing, right? Because we know that’s the goal. That’s the goal for me.

Jessica: When you see that your child engage in activity, that’s not too hard, not too easy, it’s just the right level of challenges, just so heartening to see. Kylie, thank you so much for being here with us. It’s been wonderful talking to you.

Kylie: Thank you so much, Jessica.

3 Episode Takeaways for Parents

Let’s review how we can introduce more Montessori principles into our homes:

1. Invite Participation in the Home

Invite toddlers to participate in household responsibilities. Remain open-minded about the outcomes and try to be OK with how long it takes. We want the child to develop problem solving skills, critical thinking, coordination — all of these things are more important than spilling a little juice, or unevenly chopped carrots. 

2. Introduce the Real Before the Abstract

Toddlers are curious about the world around them. Foster that curiosity by introducing them to living animals and real-world things. What can your child smell, touch, taste, hear? Multi-sensory experiences help them to make connections that will build on that curiosity and lay the foundation for more learning. Children need to experience something directly with their bodies before they can understand it in their minds. 

3. Pause Before Stepping In

You might be surprised by how capable your toddler is if you give them an opportunity to rise to the occasion. Take a pause before stepping in to help — whether that be in pouring a drink or putting their shoes on. Because quite often those moments when your child is struggling, is when they are most likely to learn for themselves.

Lots of great ideas for how to Montessori your home by Kylie on lovevery.com and Kylie’s blog How We Montessori.


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Posted in: 18 - 48 Months+, Parenting Philosophy, Real World Play, Montessori, Independence, Child Development, Playtime & Activities, Parenting

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