Do self, do self.”
As the mother of a 2-year-old, that’s a phrase I hear almost daily, and for many parents, that phrase is representative of the developmental stage we’ve either experienced or heard about, and have come to dread— the terrible twos.
Translation: “I want to do it myself.”
I know for me, once Micah hit the one-year mark, I began obsessing about it, knowing that would be his next big milestone. Then, I began to wonder, does that period of life really have to be so terrible? In my search for parenting resources around that time, I came across this awesome book entitled “Montessori from the Start: The Child at Home, from Birth to Age Three.” It painted a completely different picture of this stage than what I had heard about, so I decided to give what I learned a try.
First things first though, what is the Montessori Method anyway? My simplified definition is as follows: Created by Dr. Maria Montessori in the early 1900s, the Montessori Method is an educational technique, informed by an understanding of the child’s development, that emphasizes independence for the sake of fostering the child’s sense of self.
Here’s a simple, personal example. Months back, Micah began asking to put his shoes on himself. However, some of his shoes had laces, which I knew would be difficult for him to figure out, given his stage of development. However, he was seeking independence. So, instead of telling him, “No, you can’t, let Mommy do it,” when it came time to buy him new shoes, I specifically looked for shoes that he could put on himself (See photo). The shoes had no laces, a big thick loop in the back, and a hole at the front, allowing him to slide them on himself, with some practice. Now, before we leave the house, he puts on his own shoes, and my pregnant self can worry about trying to put on my own shoes 😜.
Making this simple modification, taking the time to show him how to do it, and giving him the space to practice, provided a number of benefits. First and foremost, it supported and nurtured his natural desire to seek independence and increased his confidence in his own abilities. Oftentimes as parents, we unknowingly hold our kids back because we think they are incapable of doing certain things. In fact, just the opposite is true. They desire to learn on their own, and as long as they have the right tools and environment, what they’re capable of doing is almost limitless! Secondly, allowing him to do this simple task (and many others, as I’ll discuss below), feeds into what his God-designed biology is already telling him to do—that is, to learn about the world around him and seek independence! This allows for way fewer melt downs and objections because combined with a structured routine (routine is HUGE, by the way, in helping a child know what to expect next, which also decreases his/her need to protest), he’s able to do what he already wanted! And lastly, because he is able to perform certain tasks independently, it gives DJ and I as parents the freedom and ability to focus on other things. I should mention here that this is not the goal of Montessori Method, but it certainly is a welcome benefit!
So how do we adhere to these principles on a day-to-day basis? Well, a part of the method includes structuring the child’s room with specific pieces of furniture to aid him or her in his quest for independence. However, because I learned about the method when Micah was around one year of age, his room was already furnished and we weren’t up to doing a huge overhaul in this department. Nevertheless, we sought ways in which we could make adjustments with what we have, and I continually keep an eye out for opportunities to nurture his desire for independent learning.
Here are a few examples:
- Around the time of my discovery of this book/method, I began to allow him to feed himself. Yes, it was messy, but by the end of the first week he was significantly better, and within two weeks, he was nearly a pro.
- He went from drinking from a bottle, directly to a cup. No sippy cups in-between.
- Early on, he learned to spread his own toast, peel a banana, and crack, season, and mix his own egg. (I finish them off on the stove, while he watches from a safe distance).
- He pushes in his chair after eating, can wipe his table, and is learning to sweep up his own mess.
- He can get his own water from the water filter.
- In terms of care of self, he is potty trained (I’ll discuss how we potty-trained him in three days in a later post), undresses himself, gets on the toilet himself, and washes his own hands.
- He brushes his teeth, with a follow-up brushing from mom or dad, of course.
- He can undress himself with minimal assistance and puts his clothes in his hamper. He dresses himself with some help as well.
- Before we leave the house, he grabs his own jacket from his closet, and although he needs help putting it on now, just this week, we bought him a jacket that he can learn to put on himself.
The biggest keys to making these things possible was changing my own mindset, i.e. instead of telling him “No, you can’t,” asking myself “Why can’t he?” and secondly, changing the environment to allow him to be able to do these things. For example, in the bathroom, he has a step stool for the toilet and for the sink. In the kitchen, his broom, dustpan, cups, and bowls are easily accessible at his level. In his room, the clothes are hung at his level. The shoes I bought him in the example above were purchased with his independence in mind. You get the idea.
To quote the book, the overall take home from this method is that “It is the principles behind the practical detail . . . [that] you can apply to a variety of situations.” In other words, just make it your own. You don’t have to follow everything step-by-step. In fact, I think that’s impossible, given that every family is different. However, I’ve found that in every day, there are endless opportunities to feed Micah’s desire to affirm and build his sense of self, while giving him the independence he craves. It’s been lots of fun and amazing to see what this kiddo is capable of!
For more fun at home, check out my Parenting Lifestyle category. Also, feel free to check out this oldie, but goodie about Introducing Solid Foods.
Just a note, this will be my last post before the holidays, and likely before our baby girl gets here, so Happy Holidays to everyone! I can’t wait to update you all on our little one’s arrival!