Thursday, February 21, 2013

Montessori Homeschooling: Multiple Children of Various Ages

Overhearing my six year old son being a great big brother to his little sisters is one of my favorite things to hear as a mom, and it's even better as a homeschooling mom if he is teaching them something. I was listening in the other day as he was “Giving a camera lessson” to his four year old sister. This is the beauty of the Montessori method, that children are taught in mixed age groups. The younger children watch and learn from the older children and the older children gain confidence and cement their skills while teaching the younger children. This becomes second nature to the Montessori child and is part of what Dr. Montessori described as “The joy of learning.”
Learning how to prune a plant just above the nodes.

Home schoolers use many different ways to teach their children of varying ages but teaching them together is not only easier than teaching each child separately, it is also a lot of fun. Raising tadpoles and illustrating life cycle journals is surely more fun than sitting apart doing workbooks. This practice can seem daunting though, especially when teaching young children. It can seem like a lot of work, mamas, a whole lot of work. It's the reason, actually, that most people think that they could never home school their children! "How does that even work??" they wonder. With Montessori education being so hands on, how can children of different ages and just one teacher between them work? The key to being successful at home schooling your different aged children in the Montessori way is the same secret Montessori teachers use in their classrooms: classroom culture. Even if you are teaching just two children, establishing a classroom culture is not only necessary, it is vitally important to making your job easier. Yes, easier!
So let's talk about 9 ways to establish classroom culture:

1. Introduce the classroom at the beginning of the school year with Grace and Courtesy Lessons and modeling. Don't assume that the children will know that they are not to walk on each others work rugs. Don't assume anything. Take some time and decide what kind of behaviors are important to your smoothly running classroom. Present lessons to everyone. Be patient, review lessons as needed and give it time. And most of all- be the role model and be aware of your words. Model enthusiasm and it will spread. You may count on the older children to model the kind of behavior you want the younger children to follow but don't point it out by saying, "see how HE is walking? That is how you should walk." Instead, say to the walking child, "You are walking so quietly." The others will hear it and take note.

2. Have a daily circle time. We love Circle Time. Start with a good morning song that incorporates the name of each child and be sure to touch and make eye contact with the child whose name is being sung. Here is an example. The aim here is to start circle time with each child feeling welcomed and loved, gain a feeling of connection with each other and with you, and finish with determination and readiness to exert herself. Sing songs to learn things, like your address, the months of the year and days of the week, the alphabet song for the toddler. We sing fun songs like Skinnamarinky Dinky Dink. We follow silliness with a loving/kindness exercise: May I be healthy, may I be safe, may I be happy, may I live in peace. Finally to set the mood for learning we stack our hands in huddle fashion and chant: I like hard work! It may be brainwashing but we aren't above brainwashing and research now shows the importance of valuing effort. If they say it enough times they will believe it and this also makes my job easier. Muahahahahaha.

Circle Time

3. Put routines into your homeschooling day.  I won't harp on this point because as mothers we are pretty much the masters of routines, right? But be stringent about your classroom routines. For us, we take a few minutes to water plants and feed or observe classroom critters, have our circle time, then get to work. Before we leave the classroom, we clean up and make sure everything is in order. It's not complicated, but it is consistent. Routines give children an idea of what is expected of them without fighting while giving them the feeling that what they do is very important. I have actually heard my child say, "The nice thing about our classroom is that we put everything away when we are done with it." He likes it, there is no fight. Boy I wish he could follow this routine in his bedroom!
Keeping routines keeps chaos in check.

4. Try to give equal time and attention to each child. Older children often get most of our attention because we are most anxious about keeping them at or above grade level, right? Successive children benefit from our confidence but also suffer when we don't value their milestones. Every child at every age has important work to do. Present all activities with as much attention and focus and excitement as you give the older child. Sit next to her, speak in a peaceful relaxed tone and make eye contact. Smile. Channel your first grade teacher. You remember her, don't you? Feeling your love and attention will help your children to feel and act peaceful and they will be more willing to allow you to work with their siblings when you need to. “You are doing great work. I need to help your brother and I will be back to check in on you.”
Toddlers will learn that they too have work they need to do.

5. Make sure that each child has new, engaging work regularly and keep several of these activities available to each child. Children love new activities. (This will make your job easier! Bored children are trouble makers) This of course is going to require most of your time and effort, constantly observing and putting together new activities, but this is where you shine, mamas! Set aside some time each week to review what lessons have been introduced, which they are independently working on and what needs to be presented next for each child. Having a plan and being organized will help in those moments when a bored child starts acting up. If you have a new lesson, a warm smile and a few minutes of attention to give her, she will be right back on track. Presenting just the right activity at the right time and then seeing your child engage with it for 30 minutes every day is gratifying. Following a curriculum like NAMC or New Child Montessori  will help give you an idea of what activities should be presented when.

Sorting for a toddler.

6. Keep activities clean and simple. I love all the themed, Montessori-inspired sensorial and practical life activities all over the Internet, but the reality is that all activities should be as clear and non-distracting as possible. Never doubt that learning in itself is fun, it does not need to be wild or themed. Before putting together an activity consider the objective. Children don't appreciate busy work. Check some reputable Montessori material retailers to get ideas, like Montessori Services. Lots of activities can still be made, but well designed, simple activities will get more use, last longer and...... be easier for you.
The materials themselves draw the attention of the child.

7. If really little ones are part of the picture, let them participate. Set up a visual mat for baby with mobiles and a mirror and carefully selected toys. Babies have work to do too. Sing appealing songs for them at circle time, sing their full names to them, sing clapping rhythm songs, and have fun with them. Mary Had a Little Lamb, I'm a Little Teapot, Old MacDonald are all toddler favorites. The older children will love this and it helps them to bond with their younger sibling. When nap time approaches, encourage the older children to choose work you know will keep them busy for awhile, long enough for you to put baby down then rejoin them. Nap routines change sometimes of course, so 'Follow the Child'. If you can sneak away to get baby down though, getting some time in the classroom with baby then without baby while she sleeps can work out really well.

A mirror, a mobile and some carefully selected toys.

8. Teach them together. Of course math and language activities will have to be designed specifically for each child, but history and science activities should be presented to everyone. Group work is one thing that can be lacking in a home school classroom, but if the children each pitch in and do what they are capable of, learning together as a team is valuable. Younger children will admire the abilities of the older ones and the older ones will feel a real sense of accomplishment for how much he has learned since he was his sister's age. Extensions of the activities can be assigned individually at each child's level. For example- while using the notorious nomenclature cards, have the younger one match the pictures and the older child match the labels. Give the three period lesson to both children, being mindful of their abilities, then assign extensions. Children also enjoy being read to, so make a daily routine of reading to everyone, read something on the subject everyone is studying at the moment. Sure some things might not be fully understood by everyone, but hearing big words in context is great for language development, so just have them listen. Having the older child read a simple book to the younger children is wonderful too.
One child uses just the name to find the triangle, the other may use the pictures.

9. Lastly, more routine! Have a set time to home school, set time for wake up, set bedtime, mealtimes and outside playtimes. Keeping a regimented day in general is really good for kids and for you. It helps you get the most accomplished, and it is easier to get children to comply when they know what to expect. I know you've heard this like 1,000 times, but it really makes things easier (which of course will leave you more time for fun practical life activities, gardening or playing music)
Homeschooling in the way of Montessori can be made easy if the classroom culture is one that has the tone of being engaging, welcoming, interesting and fun. Enjoy it and your joy will spread to the whole class. So what do you think? Sounds easy enough, right? Pile up the good stuff and Let It Rot, your classroom will grow and take on a life of its own.


  1. Wonderful and inspiring, glad I found your blog.

  2. I stumbled on to this at just the right moment. Thank you!

  3. Love the nine ways to create classroom culture. Pretty simple but amazing strategies. I love your enthusiasm, you were made for this. I agree that routine and consistency are very important. I love reading about the things you are teaching the children and how you are running your classroom. Thank you for sharing. PS, I love the pictures.

  4. This makes me want to teach my kids this way.. and I don't even have kids yet! You are so inspiring!

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  6. I think one of the disadvantage of homeschooling is that in a regular Montessori school everyone will have a chance to be a leader (the older kids in the class) while in homeschooling even using Montessori principles your youngest child will not have a chance to lead as there are no younger kids unlike when he is at a regular Montessori school. I’m going to homeschooling my 2 boys and realizing this made me sad for my younger son.


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