I am delighted to be sharing with you a series of interview about Montessori Families…
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I am delighted to be sharing with you a series of interview about Montessori Families and Homeschooling families from all around the world.
This week, I introduce you to Jenni, a mother of 4 home educating her 4 children from baby to 10 years old.
1) Could you introduce yourself and your family?
Hi, I’m Jeni, and I’m 33-years-old. I like Disney, good food and great books. I’ve been married to my best friend and sweetheart for 12 years, and I’m mom to our four kids: Will is 11 months; Mike is 6; Mary is 8, and Josie is 10, (plus one in Heaven). We started homeschooling in 2014, so we just wrapped up our 4th year. It has flown by!
2) What makes you decide to homeschool your children?
I homeschool because my oldest has DiGeorge Syndrome. She has a lot of unique learning challenges and an impaired immune system, so she gets sick very easily and doesn’t recover as quickly as most kids. She also is a heart kid, meaning she has had three open heart surgeries over the years (and will likely need more), so we try to keep her as healthy as we can. She tried Kindergarten at a small private school years ago, but she spent the entire year battling one illness after another and was hospitalized with pneumonia. She missed a lot of school that year. Now that we educate at home, she stays healthier, and we don’t have to worry about extended absences. Plus we all enjoy being with one another. Because my husband is self-employed, we like taking beach trips or heading to Disney on a whim. That’s a big perk.
3) How did you find out about Montessori?
I have blogging to thank — namely Mari-Ann at Counting Coconuts. Bach in 2010, I’d skimmed her blog and kept seeing curious things like “continent bags” and “dressing activities” and the word Montessori used a lot. She doesn’t blog there anymore, but she inspired me to start. Years later, when I shared a practical life activity on Facebook, a friend (who I had no idea was the daughter of a Montessori Directress) saw and told me her mom had a ton of old Montessori materials from the 70s — did I want them? So a friend and I made a visit and retrieved most of a classroom’s worth of authentic Nienhuis materials. What’s ironic is that I had next to no clue how to use them. So then my crash course truly began. My kids were 2, 4 and 6 at the time, and we have made good use of everything!
4) How do you incorporate Montessori into your family life and homeschooling?
We have a pretty extensive collection of materials at home and an enclosed back porch that we utilize as a schoolroom. Some people over the years have made comments about how having Montessori materials at home is detrimental in some way, be it a waste of space or money or not “authentic enough” to the real Montessori classroom. But because my oldest has mild Intellectual Disability, this is what works best for us.
In addition, the method fits our style very well. I was the only person I knew who had a floor bed in the living room for my kids when they were toddlers — before I knew that was a thing. We didn’t use cribs; the kids shared their own common dining area with a small table and chairs. I’ve always helped my kids to be independent, free thinkers who love to learn. I do my best to provide an environment that fosters independence and curiosity. I want to cultivate that passion in them and see where it takes them. I never want my kids to feel like they can’t take on whatever they want to accomplish. I want them to be brave and jump in with both feet without fear of failure. I like to think Maria Montessori and I are kindred spirits — but who wouldn’t want to think that?
4) You have 4 children of different ages, therefore in different planes of development. How do you make it work for each child?
When we started, my youngest was 2.5 and our oldest was not developmentally too much farther ahead, so mostly all three big kids have functioned on the same plane. I present materials to them in a group. But then I repeat one on one with each child whatever work they need repeating until they can work independently. In fact, “Find something you know how to do,” are words that I say a lot.
Now that the big kids are on the second plane, I still present the same way. During our morning work from 9-12, the baby is generally napping, nursing in my arms, or at the table in a hook-on seat. He has his own work whether it’s transferring objects and mouthing them or watching everyone interact. I love to see my kids helping one another. I love to see them learning to wait their turn to ask me something or seeing a sibling offer help.
It’s beautiful to watch your own kids work together. Plus troubleshooting your sibling’s questions really solidifies your understanding too.
Mixed-age learning rocks.
5) What are for you the main benefits of homeschooling?
Freedom is the best part of homeschooling. Freedom to take a break, to go as fast or slow as we need, freedom to travel. I like that I always know where each of my kids is in their education. I love seeing my kids make connections or recall something we’ve studied earlier. That’s an amazing feeling.
6) What would be the cons of homeschooling? What do you find difficult?
I always thought organization would be my downfall. Then I figured it would be lack of patience. But both of those skills have actually blossomed because of homeschooling.
Yet Montessori is not the easiest pedagogy to learn on your own. Some nights I lose sleep researching and reading to keep pace. I am not at all a type A person, but I am a perfectionist. It’s not that I have checkboxes I need to be checked, but I do feel a constant nagging to succeed.
Montessori is rewarding, yes, and tons of fun to implement — but I personally had to retrain my mindset to allow for my kids’ sensitive periods. When educating, there’s a natural proclivity to act as the authority, and as parents we are, but as a Montessori parent, we have to trust the child. We must allow a certain amount of freedom for the child to explore what he or she is drawn to, whether or not we understand why. Waiting on the child is a challenge but beautiful.
And I find some authentic Montessori concepts challenging for me personally: not explicitly praising (allowing the work to be the reward); I’m often telling instead of quietly showing when I present new lessons, and I’m terrible at mitigating fights between my kids. Lastly, seeing my oldest child struggle because of her disabilities is extremely difficult. Those challenging moments are definitely the homeschooling cons. But challenges are what helps us grow, so bring it.
7) Do you imagine your children attending school one day?
Every year we discuss changing it up. I’m not opposed to it. Our local Catholic school is just down the street from us and that remains a possibility. I always imagined they’d attend in high school, but then I think of all the unique opportunities they’ll miss. But I suppose that can go both ways. We’ll have to see. We’re having too much fun right now.
8) What is a typical day in your family? What is your routine?
I try to start the day with a morning offering of prayer and especially gratitude. I usually do a live indoor cycle ride with the Peloton app; then I feed my sourdough starter, check on our new chickens, and I get ready for the day. I go over my husband’s work schedule with him, and we try to go to daily mass, but we hardly ever make it. Goals. I bake more days than not, so I generally start dough to rise. I love everything about baking. The feel of the dough, watching it take shape, the science of it, getting to eat your creation. 🙂 The big kids get their own breakfasts. They’re in charge of cleaning it up and getting themselves dressed. On Wednesday and Thursday mornings my oldest daughter goes to therapy and is done by 9 am.
Between 9-12 am each morning we do classroom work. Monday we do a review, and Tuesday through Friday I present new work (either in a group or individually depending on the subject area). Tuesday we do math work; Wednesday is language and the kids participate in homeschool orchestra; Thursday is science; Friday is history and/or geography. Generally. After a new presentation, each child chooses his or her own work.
At noon, I do dishes and prep lunches while the kids watch the baby. They take lunch outside to eat. Then they play in the yard together. The baby usually naps around then because the house is quiet. I try to catch up on chores. I’m frequently on Instagram. Tuesday afternoon Josie has speech therapy again. Her therapy schedule is always changing.
At 3:00pm I drop my big kids off at an after-school program down the road. They play with their friends, and I catch up on chores, errands, TV shows, reading, or another miscellany. Well, I never get caught up, but I try. In the evening, as soon as they get back home, the big kids read a bit and practice violin (they have lessons on Thursdays). We eat dinner at around 7 pm at the table. The kids are in bed by 8 pm (generally) and listen to audiobooks for a bit. Fridays we usually watch a family movie, or on the weekend they stay up to watch and vote on American Idol and/or kids’ cooking competitions. They, of course, love that.
9) Would you recommend any books or resources to help parents on their homeschooling journey?
I love everything I’ve read from Michael & D’Neil Duffy. I named our homeschool Cosmic Montessori after reading Children of the Universe: Cosmic Education in the Montessori Elementary Classroom. I also recommend Math Works. It’s an excellent explanation of Montessori math.
Everything I’ve read by Paula Polk Lillard is excellent.
Angeline S. Lillard’s Montessori: the Science Behind the Genius is wonderful.
Julia Volkman at Maitri Learning has a learning centre that’s full of incredible advice, lots of amazing resources.
There is a series of presentations by Margaret Homfrey free on Youtube which are phenomenal.
I also recommend reading Maria Montessori’s writing firsthand though I find it challenging. Mainly because the scope of her wisdom is mind-boggling.
10) Do you have a favourite Montessori quote?
“Let the children be free; encourage them; let them run outside when it is raining; let them remove their shoes when they find a puddle of water; and, when the grass of the meadows is damp with dew, let them run on it and trample it with their bare feet; let them rest peacefully when a tree invites them to sleep beneath its shade; let them shout and laugh when the sun wakes them in the morning as it wakes every living creature that divides its day between waking and sleeping.”
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Carine Robin has a Master’s Degree in Psychology, specialising in child psychology. She worked for various social services in her home country of Belgium, before moving to Ireland in 2006. It was there that she started working in a nursery and discovered Montessori education. After having her first child, her passion for the philosophy grew and she qualified as a Montessori teacher and managed a preschool. Carine has been running a Montessori based parents and toddler group and coaching families for 9 years. She now also runs an online group for over 14000 parents, sharing her knowledge and passion with people from around the world. In 2018, Carine realised families needed more support and launched her popular online parenting courses and monthly subscription boxes, full of personally designed Montessori materials.
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