Rumor has it that the elementary years are supposed to be the easiest from a parenting perspective. The typical child’s immune system has built up, they are more independent, they are able to use words to identify emotions and they can lead interesting conversations. Their lives are ruled by ideas of fairness and justice and friendships are key for them. Sure they are out of their period of order, which means they will no longer spontaneously line up all their shoes, or take the time to make sure their coat makes it on the hook. That’s just not where their brains are any more. They are less interested in where things belong and more interested in where they, themselves belong.
To set up a Montessori inspired home during the elementary years you will need to concentrate on both the environment and your family schedule. At some point during these years students will start bringing home projects and homework. This means that they will need an environment that allows them maximum concentration while still fitting their learning style. Some children learn best in quiet, others need to process things out loud or bounce ideas off someone, and still others need to work with background noise or in a space where they can move around a lot. In my home, my daughter worked best (and still does) in her room without any distraction. My son set up camp (and still does) at the dining room table where he can chat intermittently, and most often on topic, and then can also zone into his work.
Ask your child’s teacher where they work best and try to recreate this in your home. Maybe your child needs a desk in their room or maybe they just need a corner of the dining room table.
Introducing a calendar or a planner can also help your child. This reflects what they do in their classroom by planning things out over the course of a day, a week, or even longer. The calendar or planner can revolve around family dates, after school activities, and school projects. Having your child actively participate in the planning helps them feel a part of it all.
Another way to bring Montessori into your home is to create a job chart or list of chores. Make sure the whole family is expected to participate. The way chores are assigned is up to your family. Pop into classrooms to get ideas from the class job chart. Students at this age are capable of so much. But remember, they are no longer in the sensitive period for order, so keep your expectations consistent and know sometimes things will require a little push!
It is recommended that chores are not tied directly to allowance at this age: they are expectations for being part of your family. Allowance should be introduced separately as a way for students to learn money management. A simple way to do this is to have three jars-a savings, a spending, and a giving jar. Choose an allowance for your child, let’s say $6 per week, and have them put an equal amount in each jar or allow them to decide which jars to fill. Work together to decide the parameters, make sure your child has their say in this, too. Is it okay to borrow from spending? What is the giving jar for (charity, friend gifts)? When does the money get transferred to an outside bank account?
This is also a time when many parents are able to start their own hobbies or tackle their fitness goals. You aren’t as exhausted as you once were, at the same time, your child is busy with a full day of school, time at friend’s houses or is more willing to be with a babysitter. They are also capable of keeping up with you to some extent. Take them on a run, do yoga with them, include them in your game nights. They can keep up!
Finally the elementary years often involve a lot of outside activity. How often do you sit down as a family? Do you have meals together? Do you ever have family meetings? Discuss world issues? It does not work for everyone to be sitting around a large dinner table at 6:00 pm, but it is important that you schedule time to touch base as a family. This age is so focused on social. Take time to model positive social interactions as a family. If you want your child to stay out of the gossip train at school, make sure you aren’t complaining about your pesky co-worker at the dinner table. If you want your child to make compassionate decisions, make sure you are talking about compassionate things you have seen on the soccer field, in the workplace, on the news. Don’t underestimate the influence that your family time has on the social development of your child.
Are these really the easiest years to parent? I think that’s too lofty a promise to make. However, having elementary age children is fun and arguably not as exhausting as three year olds, or thirteen year olds for that matter. Aligning your home with some pieces of the Montessori philosophy at this age will make things even better. Feel free to comment below and share what you have done to create a Montessori inspired elementary environment in your home!
Next week we will look at a Montessori Middle School inspired home. (here’s a hint, you’ll be getting your hands dirty in this one).