In the words of Dr. Maria Montessori, “The greatest gifts we can give our children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.” As children are learning independence at school, it is equally as important to promote its continuation at home.
But how? This is a frequent question that our Young Children’s Community and Primary teachers receive. Paying attention to how we give help, having a prepared environment, and maintaining routines and expectations are a few of the ways you can do this.
How We Give Help
It is in our nature to love our children, want to help them when they encounter difficulties, and help them reach their full potential. The best way we can do this is to observe your child as they work/play without interfering. As hard as it is in the moment, try to avoid interjecting to correct! Children learn to become independent through their own activities and mistakes. Maria Montessori says, “Every useless help is an obstacle to development.” The best way to give help is by giving the child the freedom to make their own choices and choose to ask for help when they need it. If your child comes to you for help, do your best to give the smallest amount necessary and encourage them to continue trying on their own. After they are successful, you can say, “You did it! Do you feel proud of yourself?!”
The Prepared Environment
Creating a prepared environment at home rooted in Montessori principles will nurture your child’s independence. Organizing spaces to suit their needs and height ensures easy access to materials for play and learning. You can incorporate order by having specific locations where items are always returned to upon completion. “Order consists in recognizing the place for each object in relation to its environment and in remembering where each thing should be.”1 The more real and breakable materials, meaning not imitations or toys, you allow them to use and explore, the better grasp they will have on reality. Ultimately, the environment acts as a silent teacher—freedom within limits, clear boundaries, and a blend of choices encourage your child to explore, learn, and thrive on their own terms.
Routines and Expectations
Incorporating routines and setting clear expectations at home is very important. Create consistent routines at mealtime, getting ready in the morning, and at bedtime to provide your child with a sense of order and security. It is also helpful to set expectations like putting up items after use, clearing/cleaning dishes after eating, or household tasks such as setting the table. Just remember, the supplies need to be easily accessible to your child! This will nurture a child’s sense of responsibility and ownership as they comprehend their roles within the family and household community. Incorporating rituals and expectations at home allows children to internalize discipline, time management, and self-regulation skills that enable them to thrive independently in all aspects of life.
Practical Takeaways and Useful Information
- Have a step stool that is easily accessible so they can reach the counter in order to prepare small snacks and help prepare meals.
- Provide them with child-friendly (real) utensils to use.
- Place some or all dishware and other items in low cabinets so that your child can access them independently.
Consider only putting “school-appropriate” clothing that they can choose from on the weekdays and “home clothing” (costumes, beautiful gowns, fancy dress wear, and clothing with characters) in a different drawer.
- Provide a space for your child to store their clothing that they can reach independently.
- Consider the placement of their bed to ensure that they are able to make the bed in the mornings on their own.
Have a step stool available so that they can reach the sink.
- Store daily toiletries in a place your child can access independently.
- Make sure that your child has a mirror to check their face for cleanliness and products to help them clean their face when dirty (wet wipes, tissues, cotton balls, whatever you choose to set out for them).
- These user-friendly visual guides can feature images illustrating your children's essential morning tasks and duties. They are engaging charts that can motivate your kids to assume responsibility as they prepare themselves efficiently for the day.
- Timed timers are very helpful and useful for a variety of different things such as getting dressed time, brushing teeth time, and meal time. At school, students will use timed timers during snack time, library time, and more. Some may be used to a traditional timed timer or they may be used to a sand timer. Both are great and can help accomplish the same goal.
- Make sure they can carry their own belongings independently to and from school each day (consider size and weight).
- Make sure they can open all lunch containers.
- They should also be able to open zippers to their backpacks and lunch boxes (some are easier than others!)
These core principles that support independence extend beyond the classroom and can find their place within the heart of every home. As parents and caregivers, you have the ability to empower children to flourish independently, both within the nurturing walls of their homes and beyond. Just as the Montessori method encourages the development of the whole child, the integration of these principles into the home environment lays the foundation for a future of confident, capable, resilient, and independent individuals.
Montessori, M. (1996). The Secret of Childhood (Costelloe M. J., Trans.).