Many parents, homeschoolers or not, want to introduce themes but are not sure how to do so. Do you need to change the topic every week? Every month? What if your child is not interested? What if he wants to keep learning when you were planning to switch?
In this blog post, I share with you some helpful tips for preparing Montessori inspired Unit.
When my children were 100% at home and when I was working in the classroom, I loved to prepare topic-based works.
My daughter was a big fan of Montessori Units and was asking me “what are we going to learn today?”. She is the inspiration behind my Montessori box.
In the classroom, we do not vary shelves in the same way. We may update the Cultural works to reflect the season and the festivals the children are exposed to. We may change a few works to reflect the children’s interests. In the classroom, teachers have access to the full range of Montessori materials, and home-made 3 parts cards are passed from one teacher to the next with no need to reinvent the wheel every year. As we have space, we can display all the materials. We don't rotate as often as more children are constantly using the materials.
Montessori at home is different than in the classroom
In my role as a mother, I did differently than in the classroom. And I believe you should feel free to adapt the Montessori principles to what works best for you and your children.
Let’s face it, being at home with our children can be a bit “boring”. Playing for hours with wooden blocks, going to the same playground every day, and stopping to examine each bug can make us feel insane at time.
Updating my children’s activities and presenting new activities to them was a way to make “learning at home” fun for me and them!
When parents feel good, their children feel good! When we, parents, are interested, our children are interested too.
Obviously, following Montessori principles also mean that you will observe your child and that nurturing their interests is important. I find that the more I was able to enjoy most of the activities we were doing together, the more I was “tolerant” to the games and toys I did not enjoy much. For example, my daughter wanted to play “a lot” with little peoples, making up complicated scenarios in which I had to take part. We were playing those games daily. Yes, I know remember those playtimes fondly but at the time, I recall being so bored. What helped me was to prepare our Montessori shelves, to teach her to read, to expand our collection of Schleich animals, and to create many activities around those animals. Those activities were equally enjoyable for my daughter and I was able to tolerate “pretend play with her”.
What do we mean by Montessori inspired?
A disclaimer to start with: I use the word Montessori inspired because it’s not about presenting the Montessori curriculum as a teacher would in the classroom.
It’s not about the authentic Montessori materials.
Montessori inspired, for me, means having hands-on activities, presented in a way that the child will learn simple to more complex ideas, with the goal to learn “independently” and to be able to correct their own mistakes.
As a parent at home, you can “spark” an interest and introduce a topic that is new to your child. I warmly encourage you to observe and to nurture your child’s interests.
I also want to remind you that ultimately, you should have no expectations when you present something to your child. Your child will be the one deciding if the activity is suitable and you should not be disappointed if he doesn’t like it or is not ready for it. But take his feedback into account and use that to introduce more suitable activities.
How to choose a theme?
You can list your child’s current interests. Based on that list, you can create some specific units. It can be as random as cars, penguins, volcanoes, or “where does chocolate come from”.
You can decide to introduce some topics according to the seasons or to what you know your child will be exposed to. Celebrations and festivals are a good starting point.
For example, because it is cold outside, your child might be interested to observe what happens when the temperatures drop below zero. You might be able to see a frozen puddle on your daily walk. Or, as it is dark quite early, your child will spot the Moon and the stars, and it is a good time to learn about the Moon cycle and to go stargazing.
If your child can connect real experiences to the theme, then there are great chances that he will enjoy the activities. And coming back from a walk with questions, your child will appreciate having books and resources to explore an interest further.
How often to change your theme?
I find this question super hard to answer!
I would always advise you to observe your child. As long as he uses the activities on the shelves, keep them! If you see a general lack of interest in the theme, maybe it is time to swap.
I used to have a little notepad on the top shelf, and I would jot down some quick notes about what my children were playing with, how they liked the activities I was presenting to them, what they were asking for again and again. Once a week, I would go through what was on the shelf and update if needed.
Be flexible. If after you have rotated, your child asks again for his train set or that rhyming game you had last week, bring them back on the shelf.
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How to create a unit?
Now that you have chosen a theme, what do you do?
I would start by gathering the resources you have already about the chosen topic. Gather books, puzzles, and toys. Display them on the shelf and see if it sparks an interest. Organize an outing in line with the topic.
Depending on how your child learns, you can create some specific materials. It can be some 3 parts cards as your child is into spelling or likes to match cards and objects. It could be a themed craft as your child likes to paint and draw. Or you could see how to make a topic more physical like pretending to be Jungle animals...
You will find thousand of themed units online. It can be very overwhelming to sort through all that is offered to you. Our Montessori boxes have a monthly theme and can be used again and again. I have also listed my favourite online printable sellers (who have freebies) in this blog post.
I have a few units available on the blog to inspire you:
One of the best blog posts for Montessori Units is Living Montessori Now.
What if your child is not interested?
I would stress out that a child doesn't need to have “activities on tray”, “units” and shelves to learn.
Having said that, as a stay-at-home mother and a Montessori teacher, I found it “motivating” to create a unit and to set up a shelf.
But you should not put yourself under the pressure to create units for the sake of it. Some children will love them. Some children will have little interest in most “Montessori inspired activities on tray”. I have written about letting go of the pressure of the Montessori shelf here and there.
My first one was a child who would have been a perfect “Montessori Instagram” child. She was doing activities after activities. She loved puzzles and crafts. She was “consuming” my 3 parts cards with delight. She went through the “Montessori reading and writing” curriculum in order from the age of 2 and a half to 5. As a newly trained teacher, I can tell you that I had fun!
My son was different. He had his ideas. Whatever activity I was setting up was transformed into something else. He had intense interests: such as animals, geography, and climbing everywhere. He started to use scissors early but did not want to do any themed “craft”. He needed me to prepare the space to have access to a selection of scissors, and all kinds of paper, and at some point, my only role was to empty the paper bin.
I hope this blog post will help you to create some Montessori themed Units. Enjoy the process and let me know in a comment what else you might need from me!
Share your Montessori activities with me in our FB community or on Instagram.
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