Creating Routines with Chldren
By Sarah Walla – Sarah is a Mom & a Principal at BumpVitamins.com
Like many people, I grew up with dogs (hear me out). I loved raising them and working with them to the point where I even got a job at a vet clinic in high school. One of the things I learned over that time, is that more than anything, they loved having a job or purpose… and of course pleasing their human. Bored dogs eat couches, get into the trash, and poop and pee everywhere. Meanwhile, dogs that are stimulated are more likely to be well-behaved, calm, and content.
A long time ago, someone told me that children are the same… not as in we should train them to sit and stay… but that they thrive when having jobs to do and having a purpose. This notion has always stuck with me.
[Sidenote: this is not an ad for Montessori, but a lot of what we learned about creating routines with children stemmed from our early experiences there… so please bear with me.]
Fast forward a few years and I am at a dinner party with friends; I am also 6 months pregnant. One mama friend of mine mentioned that her kids go to a Montessori Academy. I had heard of Montessori schools before, but always thought it was a little too new-agey. However, this mama was a fierce leader and a professional… not a hippy granola person, so I asked her why she chose Montessori and what the difference was in schooling? She explained that basically, Maria Montessori, believed that children are capable of far more than we give them credit for… and that we can nurture them into being responsible adults with her way of schooling and classroom structure. She also mentioned that they encourage potty training be done by 2 years old. That was the closer… where do I sign up??
When we got closer to our daughter’s due date, we started checking out daycares, nannies, and school options. I toured all of the nearby Montessori schools, as well as a number of “traditional” schools. Not knowing what to expect, we discovered a huge difference between the two. At the “regular” daycares/schools, the hallways were disorderly and loud. There were temper tantrums, things seemed messy and unclean, and I just got the general feeling that this is where parents drop off their kids so they can go to work. When we toured the Montessori schools the hallways were quiet, all the kids were smiling and calm, things seemed clean and in place and there was a general air of confidence and duty. It was unbelievable!
When our sweet girl was 10 months old she was accepted into the “Nido” program at the Montessori school of our choice. I was beyond ecstatic! Nido means Nest in Italian (as Maria Montessori hails from Italy). So this little nest room, or Nido, is where all the littles hang out ranging in age from 6 weeks to about 1.5 years. Walking into this room I felt like a giant as everything was miniaturized. The bookshelves, the table and chairs for lunch, the shin high hand washing station… everything was tiny to be easily reached by rollers, crawlers and early walkers. I especially loved the nap room where each babe had their own mat on the floor where they could go to when tired, then wake up on their own and rejoin everyone else when they were ready. This Nido room was our first introduction into the Montessori world and we were instantly hooked!
Kids and “Work”
Instead of dropping our kid off and having them run amuck all day, we learned the ritual of changing into inside shoes, putting lunch in the fridge, washing hands and beginning “work”. Sure there is plenty of time for play, but the real learning and structure comes from “work”. This is where a child chooses what they want to work with… maybe completing a puzzle, flipping the pages of a book, or inserting toothpicks into a seasoning shaker. They will get a lesson from the teacher on what to do and then they will work to master it. Imagine a room full of very little people working quietly on a task, fully concentrated and content, and not messing with others’ work. These kiddos enjoy working on their dexterity and mastering a task before the daily schedule of group circle time, lunch, nap, outdoor time and more work cycle time.
This independence and respect became so ingrained in our daughter that if she started screeching that she wanted my laptop (or whatever I was occupied with) I would say “this is my work, can you find your own work?” and suddenly something in her would click. She would respect my “work” and teeter off to find something of her own to do. Magic right?? We also learned to give kids warning to finish our work so that they could wrap up mentally and physically. Do you like it when someone just takes away your laptop or sandwich? I don’t. Our kids don’t like it either.
We also learned that our daughter was indeed capable, and even joyful to do little chores around the house. By the time she was a 1-year-old (2 months into Montessori) she loved nothing more than wiping down a surface after I sprayed it or helping dry dishes. We got her a little rack with her own real plates/cups/silverware and she loved the responsibility of drying an item and putting it away in its correct spot. When we went out to eat with other families, our daughter used her fork and spoon like a pro, drank out of small glasses instead of plastic sippy cups, and never threw food or made a big mess. She even knew some sign language from Montessori and could ask for water or milk or tell us when she was done eating. It was like a party trick!
After kids graduate from Nido, they move into the Toddler Community for 1.5-3 year olds. This is an even more magical room where an older child becomes a “big helper” to a younger child, they start having more structured group lessons (animals, days of the week, songs etc), the work items are more challenging and rewarding… and potty training! The furniture and items were larger than in the Nido room to fit the growing bodies, and there were real child sized toilets for them to learn with! We learned that Montessori is “body safe” and uses anatomical names. So, our daughter knows that she has a vagina and boys have a penis and who is allowed access (parents, teachers, doctors) if there is a problem. They are taught that they are the boss of their own bodies… very empowering!
After Toddler comes the Primary classrooms of 3 to 6-year-olds. Again, with larger furniture and fixings, more intricate work, more “big helpers”, private bathrooms and reading and writing focus. Our daughter has been in this room the longest and has become the “big helper” to many new toddlers that transition over. It gives her a sense of responsibility and ownership and pride… I love hearing her stories of how she’s helped a new student achieve something. And she is so proud of the writing and coloring work she completes and brings home. Her sense of empathy and compassion for others astounds me everyday! She is capable of so much giving and accepting.
Routines can make “Change” easier
2020 was difficult in so many ways. I was a divorced mother in a small apartment, laid off from my job, sick with Covid-19 in September and dealing with school closures while trying to keep my daughter’s life as normal (and safe) as possible. I really tried hard to practice gratitude everyday and appreciate the things we have.
One thing I was immensely grateful for was the skills and routines my daughter and I had built together the past few years. She transitioned so well from going to school everyday to our new normal at home, with class videos and zoom meetings to keep her engaged. She found work to focus on in her room, while I got what I needed to get done. She helped me cook and clean the apartment and take care of other people’s pets.
When I was sick with Covid-19, I would wake up from my naps seeing that she’d put water and snacks by my bed to help me feel better. We had lots of discussions about feelings and how our actions and actions of others affect people in positive or negative ways. Sometimes she doesn’t want to put on her shoes, but in general she knows what is expected from the day and what her responsibility is. Currently she loves brushing her teeth by herself, taking her temperature before school by herself, cleaning her retainer by herself and generally creating her own personal routine, while I prepare for my own day. She is 5.5 and I am 38 and we are a little team.
I am thankful that Montessori showed us a way to raise a responsible little person who feels empowered and responsible for herself and others. Her joy, giggles and achievements are well worth the structure. And just like our fur babies love to know their place in the pack… so do our real babies. And boy is it magical to watch!