Simone Davies is an experienced AMI Montessori teacher who holds parent-toddler classes in Amsterdam. Families who come to her classes learn how to bring calm back into their homes by applying Montessori principles to their daily life. Simone shares her expertise with families around the world through her popular blog and online courses available on The Montessori Notebook.
Simone is also the author of The Montessori Toddler, a comprehensive guide to raising your toddler in a Montessori way. It includes Montessori activities, how to set up your home, and how to encourage cooperation from your children. Published in February 2018, it is practical, beautifully designed, and easy to read for busy parents.
1. How do you describe Montessori to families that are unfamiliar?
In a traditional classroom, the teacher decides what everyone needs to learn that day and stands at the front of the class teaching all the children the same lesson. In a Montessori classroom, everyone works at their own pace. There are mixed ages so the older children can help the younger ones and the younger children learn from observing the older ones. The curriculum is rich with activities to develop the whole child1 and each activity builds on the one before in skill and challenge. The activities are set out on shelves for the children to choose what they’d like to work on and make discoveries for themselves. Children love learning in such a rich environment and learn to be responsible for themselves at the same time. We can apply the same principles at home to raise curious and responsible human beings.
2. What inspired you to write The Montessori Toddler, and what are some highlights from the book that you would like to share? How long did the writing process take from start to finish?
I love the Montessori approach but Dr. Montessori’s books aren’t always the most accessible for busy parents. It can be difficult to see how the principles might apply at home.
So after raising my own children in a Montessori way (Oliver is now 17 and Emma is 16) and working as a Montessori teacher with toddlers for the last 15 years, I wrote this book to answer all the questions I’ve been asked in my classes. I wanted to create an easy to read and beautifully illustrated book covering Montessori activities you can do with your toddlers at home, how to set up your home Montessori-style, and parenting in a Montessori way.
While I’ve included everything I’ve learned over the last 17 years and have been thinking about writing the book for a couple of years, the actual book came into shape very quickly. We funded the project initially via Kickstarter and promised to deliver it in 6 months so parents of toddlers would be able to use it straight away. So we worked with passion to put it together in a short period of time. It was such a fun project. Although it then took a few months to recover!
I’ve quite a lot of favourite parts but three come to mind:
- At the end of the book I made a table called “Instead of this, say that” that people can stick on their fridge to remind them of respectful ways to respond to their toddler.
- The flat lays of different activities to do at home, photographed by the talented Hiyoko Imai.
- And the home tours and interviews throughout the book showing how other families apply the Montessori approach at home.
3. If parents of toddlers take one thing away from reading your book what should it be?
I hope that they begin to see through the eyes of their toddler. Taking their perspective allows us to see what our children need and how we can support them, instead of thinking they are giving us a hard time and battling with them.
4. Why did you focus on toddlers and not newborns or infants in your book? Will those be the prequels later?
Toddlers are my favourite age to work with. Many people find them difficult so I wanted to write a book for my toddler friends to help them be better understood and seen for the curious, open, and capable beings they are. Maybe a book for babies will come one day!
5. For ages 0-3 specifically, why is it so important from a developmental perspective to take advantage of Montessori methods? In your opinion, what important skills are being built in this critical window?
I like to help parents apply the Montessori principles from birth in the home as the child picks things up so easily at this age and, up to 3 years, completely unconsciously. Dr Montessori referred to “the unconscious absorbent mind” – the child absorbing the world around them like a sponge without effort, from the language we use, to the way we treat others, to the beauty of their surroundings.
From birth we can apply Montessori principles like treating the child with respect, offering activities that they can work to master, and helping them to take responsibility where appropriate.
At this age, we can observe the child learning to master language, fine and gross motor movement, self expression (arts, crafts and music), exploring the world with all their senses, and learning to care for themselves and the environment. When we apply Montessori principles from the youngest age, children love learning and will acquire these skills at their own pace in a very natural way.
6. Besides your own book, what is your favorite Montessori book to read?
I like Montessori Madness by Trevor Eissler. This book is written by a Montessori parent and explains the Montessori approach along with giving a great introduction to Montessori for preschool-aged children. It’s accessible and a compelling argument for Montessori education.
7. As a mother of two, how have you seen the Montessori education that your children received manifest itself positively as they have gotten older?
I believe that the foundation we laid in raising our children in a Montessori way has been fundamental to building a respectful relationship with my now teenagers.
They are my favourite people to spend time with. I love hearing their perspectives on the world, they question what they read/hear acting as critical consumers of information, and are helpful members of the household.
But what I see as the most valuable outcome of raising them in a Montessori way is that we can generally find a way together to work things out. If they want to go see a concert or go away with friends, we work together until we find a way that I know they will be (mostly) safe and they get to do something they like. As we reach an agreement with them, they respect the agreements made–for example, being home by a certain time or checking in once they’ve arrived.
You really see that the time you invest when they are toddlers pays off in the long term.
8. What are your favorite Montessori toys (materials) for toddlers? What were essentials in your home when your little ones were toddlers?
I have a few favourites! For working their hands, I love a basket with purses for opening and closing various clasps, zippers and press studs (and I hide different objects inside for them to find). And a coin box for practising putting coins in and opening with a key.
Toddlers need lots of possibilities for movement and climbing, so small indoor slides or climbing frames can be great. Making music and dancing together, and heading to the playground or for a long walk to explore were our family favourites.
I’m also a big fan of baking with toddlers, so some child-sized mixing spoons and some easy recipes – including playdough – are essential for me.
9. How do you make time for Montessori, and incorporate it seamlessly into your everyday family life?
Montessori is a way of life in our family these days so it doesn’t take any extra time to apply these principles.
Since they were small, we set things up for them to be able to access their things for themselves and to encourage them to take responsibility for their things. This got even easier as they got older, taller(!) and even more capable. As they are now teenagers, they respect that common areas of the house are kept tidy for everyone to enjoy and they can be a bit more relaxed in their own room in a way that they like. Things still have a special place in the home, so they can find things and help themselves in an independent way.
We still eat almost all our meals as a family at our large kitchen table – with extra friends always welcome. We love going on family holidays together, often in nature to reset from living in a small city. And I still apply the same principle of helping them as little as possible and as much as necessary.
It’s a much more relaxing place to parent from. To be their guide, not their boss or servant.
10. What is your mom superpower?
I try to see the positive side of most things so I guess that’s a kind of a superpower. I rarely see things as mistakes, just learning.
The Montessori Toddler is available now for purchase.
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