Preschool Podcast

Montessori and Minimalism

Check all episodes of The Preschool Podcast

Minimalism is gaining popularity with the rise of Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up series and the move towards a more simple way of living fits well with the Montessori philosophy. In this episode, we chat with Simone Davies, author of The Montessori Toddler about how to apply a montessori approach when working with young children. She shares her tips and tricks for balancing variety with focus when working with younger age groups and applying the philosophy in daily life.

Resources:

Episode Transcript

Simone DAVIES:

Montessori strikes a nice balance because it’s not wishy-washy, it’s not laissez-faire where the children can do whatever they want. There’s a lot of freedom but also we have limits and we set them very kindly and clearly and with love. And so for a lot of parents it’s this missing link they’ve been looking for.

Ron SPREEUWENBERG:

Simone, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!

DAVIES:

Lovely to be here, thanks for inviting me.

SPREEUWENBERG:

So today we’re very lucky to have on the show Simone Davies. She’s a Montessori teacher and the author of a book called The Montessori Toddler [A Parent’s Guide to Raising a Curious and Responsible Human Being]. We’re here today to talk to Simone about minimalism, a new subject for the Preschool Podcast, so I’m really keen to speak to Simone about her thoughts on minimalism as it relates to early-childhood education.

Simone, it’s so great to have you back on the show. You’re one of our special return guests. Last time we talked a lot about Montessori and what that means. Today we’re talking about minimalism. But for those who may have missed your original episode, perhaps you can give us a quick couple of minutes on your background and how you got into both the Montessori approach, as well as this new topic of minimalism?

DAVIES:

Absolutely. First and foremost I’m a mother, and that’s actually how I came to Montessori. So I now have two teenagers, an 18-year-old and a 15-year-old. And I didn’t know anything about Montessori until they were born and discovered it when I started going to a parent-child classes with a Montessori play group. And now I’ve been working with Montessori myself for 15 years. It really wasn’t long after before I did my Montessori training, and for the last 10 years I’ve been running my own parent-child classes here in Amsterdam. And I also run online courses, and I wrote a book last year called The Montessori Toddler, which is now being published by a publisher and getting out around the world at the end of March [2019], so I’m very excited about that as well.

SPREEUWENBERG:

Cool. So tell us about minimalism – how did you come about becoming more passionate about this specific subject matter as it relates to early-childhood education?

DAVIES:

So I think that in Montessori, we’ve always had this philosophy of “less is more”, you know? So that we’re really engaging in… we like environments or classrooms because very traditional preschools often have a lot of artwork on the walls and there’s a lot of clutter and they’re not even super-cozy spaces. And so when I first walked into a Montessori classroom I’m, like, “Oh, this feels really different. Everything is quite organized and calm and there’s plants down low, but not too much that it feels overwhelming.”

So I now live in the Netherlands. And when I first moved here they have these tiny little supermarkets just around the corner of your house because you travel on your bike, and so you just buy enough for a day or two shopping. You don’t go to the supermarket with your car and fill up with a week’s shopping. So the supermarkets are very small. When I first got here I was, like, “Oh, one type of Mueslix [cereal], I guess I’ll just choose that one.” And over time you really appreciate how simple it is to choose your groceries. You don’t have to spend hours looking at the packets going, “Which of these Mueslix am I going to choose?”

I feel like that’s also the same when children feel overwhelmed and they have too much stuff to choose from. So in Montessori classrooms things have beautiful order. And yeah, I just really appreciated this more minimalist approach, that less is more.

SPREEUWENBERG:

Yeah, it’s kind of interesting because there’s some research and literature about this out there for adults. So in your personal life, how decluttering your house for example can relieve a lot of stress and anxiety and make you a happier person, basically. So it’s interesting and makes sense, certainly, to be able to bring that down into the pre-school early-childhood education environment and have sort of similar results for children in that type of environment.

DAVIES:

Yeah, and I think with Marie Kondo becoming very famous these days… I mean, her book came out a few years ago, which I read and was, like, “Oh, that totally makes sense.” And I started clearing out my own personal things, just like I’d done with my classroom. And you’re right, it frees up a lot of space because all of a sudden you’re only surrounded by things that you enjoy, that you like.

Like, imagine opening your wardrobe and not just thinking, “What am I going to wear today? I only really like these clothes. I’m just keeping it simple and the things that I like to wear.” And it doesn’t mean that you can’t buy anything. It means that you’ll save up and buy one thing that you really, really like, so you might spend more money on less things and then, really, things that are beautiful and that you enjoy so that you walk into your home and you also have that feeling of calm.

So I really also like working with parents. They come to our classroom and think, “Oh, this is so calm. I want this in my home, too!” So I also work with parents on how they can bring that calm, minimalist kind of vibe into their home as well. And here in the Netherlands we have very small spaces, so you have to be very creative with how you’re going to set up own space so that it’s minimalist but you still have enough to keep the children entertained.

SPREEUWENBERG:

Yeah, that’s a good point – you’re a little bit forced to do more. And I, certainly – relating it back to my own son who is about a year and a half – I’ve even experienced that in terms of in a situation where he has a whole whack-load of toys around him. He kind of like plays with one for a few seconds and then he’s on to the next one, whereas if there’s one thing that he can really focus on without being distracted by other things around him, he’ll get much deeper into his learning with that specific thing that he’s doing. So even I’ve experienced it on that level.

DAVIES:

Yeah, and you see it if you go on holiday, don’t you? You pack five toys that fit in your suitcase to entertain the children. And then you get home and there’s so many toys, and you’re thinking, “Well, actually they were quite happy just with their five little things.” And actually if you walk into a Montessori classroom rather than like a toy box where they have to pull everything out to see what’s even available, in Montessori to make this minimalist approach very easy and attractive you have a low shelf with baskets and trays and materials. All their activities or toys are placed into the baskets so that everything that is needed for that one activity is at the ready.

And when we set things up like that children can be really capable of managing much more themselves, rather than coming to you and saying, “Oh, I need scissors to do this,” or, “I need a cloth to do this, I spilled the water.” And in Montessori we really prepare these few activities, but in a way that the children can be very independent. And then they are really satisfied that they can manage it by themselves without having to always depend on a parent or the teacher.

SPREEUWENBERG:

Yeah, so that kind of leads into the next question: So if we buy into the philosophy of minimalism and the benefits, which certainly resonate with me, how do we go about implementing that? Because we do have loads of toys and we’ve got lots of things going on and there’s lots of kids with different interests. How do we set up our environment to manage that? It sounds like organization is a key element of that.

DAVIES:

I think so. I mean, in my main classroom, for example, I have one area’s shelf that’s for art and craft and I have six things that are available for the children there. And then I have a shelf which I call “manipulators”, which is all sorts of eye-hand coordination and things like puzzles and threading and those kind of things And then I have an area for language where you have baskets for the language activities.

And then we have a gross motor movement area, so there’s things like a particular giant climbing frame and a climbing wall, actually, in our classroom, and a cozy cube. And then we have music and movement and, again, a little shelf. So we still have different areas of the classroom but every area has just a select amount of things, so it’s well organized.

And then I make rotations when I notice that things are not really being so interesting anymore, or I want to keep challenging them. So at the beginning of the year you can set up similar activities and then build up more steps or move to a more difficult trading activity or have a few so that children who are earlier on can start with maybe… we have, like, a wooden stick so they can thread beads onto. And then the older children have a very small shoelace, threading very fine beads. So you have different activities for different age groups but they’re watching older children and learning from them as well. So the younger ones are picking it up really naturally and really easily.

SPREEUWENBERG:

Yeah, and one idea I should give credit to my wife for is, she also rotates our son’s toys. So in that way we can basically cut in half the amount of toys he has, and then every couple weeks we’ll take the current ones away and put the ones that are called “backup” and then just switch. And that in itself keeps things new, as well.

It does, and so you get much more longevity out of your toys at home. And that’s exactly what I’m saying, is I’m observing what’s happening in the classroom and, “Okay, now I’m going to switch that up.” And I might even just be changing the colour of the pencils, and all of a sudden that’s really nice, or changing the type of paper I had up and then the drawing activity gets a new lease of life. Or switching up the colour of the water colour paintings, or putting out some punching stamps instead of a glowing box, and just making some little changes.

I mean, you spot it straight away, and they’re really engaged in the environment this way. I mean, even the amount of furniture we have, sometimes there’s just too much furniture in the classroom. So we actually have space in Montessori classrooms even to roll out a mat where they want to mark their workspace so the kids don’t have to always sit in the same seat. So there’s a lot of movement and less bulky furniture so you have more space.

And even visually, even if you walk to the classroom it’s very calm because we don’t have every 30 children’s artwork up. We just choose some really beautiful artwork down low to display, and then you don’t have all that visual clutter, as well, which can actually be really overstimulating for some children with sensitivity issues. And we have, I think, an increasing understanding that there’s children in our environments who are highly sensitive. And that kind of stuff can cause biting, unconsciously, you know? But they’re being triggered because too much information for their bodies to cope with.

SPREEUWENBERG:

The other thing I’ll add on to that is administrative clutter.

DAVIES:

Oh, yeah!

SPREEUWENBERG:

Certainly when I look at childcare programs, the walls are splattered with schedules and menus and this and that, and it certainly can be a little bit overwhelming, even as an adult.

DAVIES:

Yeah, and if you have any services you end up putting something out of reach because it’s broken or something like this, and then it builds up. And even though the children can’t see it because it might be above their height, it really still adds clutter to the whole space. So I always encourage teachers and parents to sit on the ground in their spaces to really see what it would feel like if you were a little child that’s half the size that we are, and how does that actually, really feel?

I once saw a room, for example, and they had some wall units and they were all filled things and they were perilous because they were on top of other things. And when I sat down on the floor it just felt really intimidating, so I suggested that they could put it into storage. And they said, “We don’t even need it, we were going to sell it.” So when I came back the next time everything just felt so much calmer and everything was down at the child’s height, which was just much more grounding, as well.

SPREEUWENBERG:

Yeah, makes sense, something you don’t really think of but it’s obvious when you say it, that these might look quite different if you’re at a different height.

DAVIES:

Yeah, and also when we were talking about small spaces you have to be super creative. So I’m not saying, “Oh, you can’t own anything.” But be clever with your storage. So I have white cupboards in my space that almost blend into the walls to store some of the things that aren’t in use. And if you ask a parent, they wouldn’t even know that it was there because [when] they’re not using the cupboard it’s usually closed. So if you can match the colour of your wall, or you can also use discreet storage up high, like in that ceiling space [that] is very underused, and you don’t notice that.  So if you really need to be creative and need space for storage you can do things like that by kind of making it hidden, a very minimalist type of feel.

SPREEUWENBERG:

Yeah, and you mentioned the Montessori Toddler book is being released later this month, in March. Is minimalism a topic covered in the book? And what else does The Montessori Toddler cover, in terms of subject matter?

DAVIES:

Yeah, there’s one section in the book that’s all about setting up your home Montessori style. So The Montessori Toddler is a parent’s guide, including Montessori at home. And so we talk about how less is more and how you might achieve that. And then we go room by room through the house and give ideas of how we could incorporate Montessori ideas but in a very simple, engaging, attractive way.

So things like we spoke about like having artwork down low, or plants that the child can take care of, or having six activities out on a low shelf, or then you can also, say, at the entrance have a nice chair and a basket where they can take off their shoes and a little hook where they hang up their bag.

And all of these kinds of principles are in trying to keep a more minimalist path so that you only have things that you enjoy, and we teach them also this store-and-rotate routine to store anything you’re not using, observe your child all the time to see what they’re interested in so that the six things you choose are really engaging for them. Because a lot of times I go into homes and there are still baby toys kicking around, and the child’s already 18 months old. And, of course, they’re just going to pick up a rattle for two seconds and throw it. So we sort of just pop it away for now or give it to a friend and save for a second child, but it doesn’t have to be out.

In addition to all of that setting up the home, The Montessori Toddler also talks about what kind of activities you could do. It’s a very holistic approach. I think we mentioned last time how there’s so many different parts of a Montessori curriculum that’s it’s very holistic, not just on academics but really on involving children in daily life and those kind of things.

And then even… I love the Montessori approach because it’s also how you parent your child, and it often encompasses a lot of those “How to talk so kids will listen and how to listen so kids will talk” approaches, how we can get co-operation without threatening and bribing our kids, and what do you do if your kid throws toys, hit, fights, [etc.] So it’s super practical, really easy to read and beautifully designed by a Japanese illustrator [Hiyoko Imai]. And so she did a beautiful book design, which is also a really airy and easier to read for busy parents.

SPREEUWENBERG:

Cool, sounds like something I might invest in myself. What age groups would you say that it would apply to?

DAVIES:

So it’s written for toddlers, which I say is from about one year sold to about three-and-a-half years old, although I have got people who use to come my classrooms and they’re using the same ideas with their 10-year-olds, and I like to say I use the same principles – particularly in the parenting side of things – for my teenagers as well. So it’s definitely worth reading, and you’ll keep referring back to these ideas as your children grow. So it’s a handy reference, I think. People keep saying, “I keep picking it up even though I’ve been coming to your classes almost to, like, refresh myself.” And so I think it’s really easy reference, broken into small sections, very practically written. And there’s a table of contents so people can find out what they’re looking for.

SPREEUWENBERG:

Awesome. And obvious next question: If I’m interested in this book, where can I go to find it?

DAVIES:

Well, this is the exciting thing, is it’s going to be on Amazon, and you can even go into your local bookseller and get them to order it in. So that’s what… yeah, we had a Kickstarter last year and it was so successful that now we’re publishing it to put it out into all the bookstores. That’s what our big release is at the end of March, and it’s already going to be translated into nine languages around the world, as well. So there’s a lot of interest internationally, as well, in the Montessori approach, which is really exciting. I think this child-centered learning approach is… I really feel like it’s moving in the right direction from this top-down learning approach that we’ve been so used to for such a long time.

SPREEUWENBERG:

Yeah, and it’s great, just the concept of taking all these amazing learnings that we’ve had over many, many years with something like Montessori and applying that at home as parents, it makes so much sense it’s frankly surprising it’s taken us this long to get here. But that’s the kind of resources that will help us be able to do that. Like I said, even me personally I’m actually very intrigued by The Montessori Toddler because, frankly, there is not that many resources out there for parents that come from early-childhood educators and people that have spent time in the field.

DAVIES:

Yeah, that’s true. I mean, I spend time with over 100 different families a week, and so hopefully I can just bring, like, “You’re not alone.” It happens in my classroom, it happens in other families, and people feel like they’re supported by that. I was just chatting with one of the moms that comes to my classes today, and I was asking her how it was going with using positive language in their home. So we were talking about instead of saying, “Don’t climb on the table,” it would be, “Oh come, let’s sit on your chair,” because we want them to hear what we want them to do rather than they only hear, “Don’t stand, don’t stand,” they just hear, “Stand, stand.”

And so we were talking about that, and she said, “It’s actually becoming much more automatic by practicing it, and I’m feeling like a calmer parent because I don’t get so triggered. I’m feeling more like their guide and we’ve become more connected.”

Montessori strikes a nice balance because it’s not wishy-washy, it’s not laissez-faire where the children can do whatever they want. There’s a lot of freedom but also we have limits and we set them very kindly and clearly and with love. And so for a lot of parents it’s this missing link they’ve been looking for. They didn’t want to threaten or bribe their kids to get cooperation, but they also didn’t want to give them complete free reign either because they didn’t want a very entitled child.

And so yeah, the subtitle of the book is, “How to Raise a Curious and Responsible Human Being.” So how do you encourage that curiosity, but also how do you get the kids to take responsibility if they need to, you know?

SPREEUWENBERG:

Yeah, absolutely, have to find that right balance, as you say. if I’m interested to get in touch with you, Simone, and learn more about you, chat with you about your work, what’s the best way to get in touch with you?

DAVIES:

So my website is www.TheMontessoriNotebook.com, and you can find out more details about the book. And there’s also lots of free resources on there that people can download, and it also has links to all the places on social media that I hang out, particularly on Instagram. I’m most active over there. So I’d love to connect with anyone over there, yeah!

SPREEUWENBERG:

Free resources are always amazing. What kind of free resources can I access on www.TheMontessoriNotebook.com?

DAVIES:

So I have a 144-page document which is a list of Montessori activities from really young toddlers right through to preschoolers, which is downloaded all the time. There’s a list of things that I call “chores”, which shows you how to involve children at different ages as well around the home. There’s lots of videos about how to set up your home Montessori style, such as “Here’s five steps and get started there.” And one that’s really popular, as well, is how to set limits Montessori style. So like how we were talking about, how can you be a kind, sweeter, calm parent but also get your child to listen? So there’s lots of those kinds of resources on the free resources page.

SPREEUWENBERG:

Very cool. Simone, thank you so much for sharing all your great work through this book. That sounds like it’s a fabulous resource for both parents and educators out there. Definitely recommend people check out TheMontessoriNotebook.com, in particular this one resource sounds like a phenomenal free resource, so please take advantage of those. And thank you so much, Simone, for coming on the show today.

DAVIES:

Thank you so much, and I love all the work that you guys are doing over at HiMama, as well.

One comment

  • Genora Cobb says:

    When I win, I will invest in another person in the classroom to help with high needs children. Three teachers in that particular class. Also, have funds for the summer programs to extend in more field trips. I will have an emergency account for a family who cannot afford a week. #nochildleftbehind

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *