Having attended Montessori school as a child, Christie Stanford was eager to start training as a Montessori teacher when she was fresh out of high school. She is now internationally trained for ages 0-12 and has a ton of experience with children of all ages. (Fun fact, she did her infant/toddler training with Monti Kids founder Zahra!) She is founder of Aid to Life Education, the first Montessori program in Western Canada for children under three. She helps families follow Montessori at home, supporting their children to become independent, confident, and happy individuals.
Beyond her extensive teaching experience, she is a mother to four year old twins. We chatted about the meaning of being a Montessori parent and how she stays calm and present through it all.
What does being a Montessori parent mean to you?
Being a Montessori parent means that I am putting a lot of attention and focus into my children’s early years. It means that I am taking extra care in setting up their environment in order for them to be successful. Helping them to become independent, self-motivated, self-assured, confident, and to be able to concentrate. Making sure they have the right activities, the right tools, and taking the extra time to follow through. This has a huge impact. For example, taking the extra five minutes to help my children learn how to put on their socks and shoes. Making sure they have a low bench to sit on while attempting this, socks that aren’t too tight, and shoes that are manageable for them to get on and off themselves. Other examples include teaching them to eat at a low table, to dress themselves, and to sleep in low beds versus a crib right from the beginning. By the time they were two years old, they were setting their own table, dressing themselves, cleaning up after they’ve eaten, and putting their toys away! When parents put in all this work from birth, it’s a lot earlier that they will see the results of their child’s independence and see that they are able to do so much by themselves.
“When parents encourage independence from birth, they are often pleasantly surprised by how much their child is able to do by themselves from an earlier age.”
What is the biggest challenge for parents today?
Media. Both parents and children are being affected by the use of technology. We need to be aware of how the media is affecting our children and our relationships with each other.
- Children aren’t getting the direct presence and attention that they need.
Some parents are constantly unavailable or scattered, either on their tablets or smart phones, and not giving their children attention or relating to them as a whole present being. It’s best when parents get down to their child’s level to have meaningful and direct conversations.
- Media is introduced too early
Some children are on tablets at an early age and watching programming that is fast paced and too stimulating. Some children get put in front of the TV for long periods when a parent uses it as a substitute for babysitting.
Tips for using media with children?
For the child under two, there should not be any media (Skype/Facetime is fine because it is interactive and real). When you are to introduce media after this time, be very aware of what type of programming they are watching and how fast paced it is. For example, Paw Patrol images change every 2-3 seconds whereas Daniel Tiger’s images change every 8-10 seconds. Ideally, the slower paced cartoons are better for your child’s brain development. Media should also be limited it to 30 minutes a day.
How can parents be more present with their child?
Quality over quantity. Put your phone away and spend even a good 45 minutes to an hour a day one-on-one. This can be time playing, drawing, or cooking with your child. Connect with your child over mealtime. It is so important to eat together as a family as often as possible. Turn TV off, put phones away and converse with one another about the day.
Greatest lesson I’ve learned so far
Your children are born who they are! With my twins, they’ve both had the same experiences, same exposure to the same activities, same home setup, etc. and they are just so different.
Related: Christie’s tips on readying babies for independent play
How do you stay centered in the middle of chaos?
Making time for myself. I give a lot of energy to others during the day – part of my job is to listen to people’s concerns, give support, and work with children. Then when I go home, I’m a mom and a wife as well. I do feel mentally drained sometimes. Luckily, we live up in the mountains and have endless hiking trails just blocks from my house. I go into the woods for an hour and it helps me tremendously. I do this at least three times a week and can definitely feel the difference when I don’t make the time. To be honest, this has been the hardest thing for me to make a priority because it means another hour away from my children when I already feel so guilty about not being with them, but I know how much I need it.
“Do the best you can with the knowledge that you have.”
What are your top 3 tips for a parent new to Montessori?
- Prepare the environment
We can’t expect a child to learn to clean up or independently set the table if we’re not going to prepare the environment for them. We need to take the time and think at their level. The environment has to be accessible, clean, and orderly. In this way, your child will have much more success in the home.
I work with parents to do Montessori at home: set up shelving, set up activities in an orderly way (not too stimulating; not too much), how to organize their child’s bedroom, independence in the kitchen, and what specific activities are appropriate at each age.
We know that a person’s intelligence directly relates to the quality and quantity of language spoken to her early on. You want to talk to your child as much as possible in a meaningful way and explain using statements. When talking, get down to their level and have a lot of eye contact so they can understand emotions from your facial expressions.
- Independent play
Teach your child how to have independent play. This means giving your child the space to play independently and not interrupting if you see concentration is happening. You don’t always need to entertain your child and be a part of playtime.
Christie Stanford is the Lead Facilitator for the Infant-Toddler Program at North Star Elementary School. She implemented a Montessori Parent Participation program for children under 3 years old, being the first program of its kind in Canada. She helps parents to learn Montessori techniques and to create a Montessori home environment.