For so many homeschool education programs for toddlers, preschoolers, or elementary age children, offering themes is recommended. This is also common in many schools. However, in Montessori we rarely use a theme. Themes are often used to help the adults keep order to their lessons or to support the adults’ ideas of what and where to prepare. In Montessori education, we find the monthly or seasonal themes get in the way of allowing the natural flow of how a child learns. It is one thing to be prepared, but another to expect that we are going in a specific direction.
For example, this time of year you may be thinking, “We should have a fall theme!” And then you may plan out a theme on pumpkins. In this theme, the adult plans to discuss parts of a pumpkin, different kinds of pumpkins, plant pumpkins, and cook with pumpkins; all wonderful and well-meaning lessons. However, it may be that a child, in the first lesson: parts of a pumpkin, gets really interested in the seeds. If this is the case, it would be a natural exploration to look at different kinds of seeds, sort seeds, count seeds, talk about sunflowers and the Fibonacci sequence, plant seeds or roast seeds. Who knows? Until we start a conversation or introduce a concept, we can not know which direction our lessons will take us. (read this article for ideas about celebrating Halloween this year).
This may be why Montessori can feel overwhelming. But don’t worry, we are here to support you through it. We like to keep our activities related to the seasons, but not necessarily themed. So try choosing an activity related to this time of year. Let’s say, pumpkin washing. Next the key is observation. What you will learn through observation is that your child will find some aspects of your lessons interesting, and others not so much. This is one reason we can not put too much of our own pride or ego into what we prepare. Take note of your child’s engagement and as you give him time to repeat and explore, you can prepare for the next activity. Remember, we do not want to present a new activity everyday, sometimes we must really wait and be patient as we let a child exhaust the possibilities of one activity. That is often when the really creative work happens. Additionally, if we present too often, we send the message that there is always something new around the corner and this can keep a child from the much needed repetition which leads to concentration and mastery.
You will also learn through your observation when your child feels he has completed a skill and is ready to move on, or when he may be getting impatient with himself as he works to master a skill. Remember, your child is following his own inner guide on what to learn and it is your job to offer rich, engaging, and real experiences so he has something worthwhile to learn when the feeling strikes him.
As you prepare a lesson, it is good to note where you imagine the lesson might go. But keep in mind that once you present a lesson, give your child time to explore and learn on their own. Let them see where their own interests lie. We can not make a child learn. We can only create optimal conditions for learning to happen.
For children younger than 3, they will just learn from what is in front of them. This is how their Absorbent Mind works. For children between the ages of 3 and 6, they have a conscious Absorbent Mind. This means that they have to put effort into seeking out something to learn. They still take it in pretty effortlessly, but they are now aware of the options around them and may choose one direction or another. This is where teaching can become tricky for parents. How do you sort out what he needs to learn and what he wants to learn?
The key is to make all learning experiences worthwhile. They can spot busy work a mile away!