Unfolding Education

“To stimulate life, leaving it free, however, to unfold itself–that is the first duty of the educator.” ― Maria Montessori



10 Very Montessori Gifts You Can Give Your Children This Christmas

Here are some ways that you can incorporate Montessori principles into your family’s celebration of the Christmas season. These are gifts that will have a lasting impact.

  1. The Gift of Work

Help grow your children’s fine motor skills, concentration and sense of being a contributing member of your family by engaging them in making holiday decorations for your home. String popcorn for the tree, make salt dough decorations, cut and glue paper chains, pour Christmas candles. While, in Montessori, we put more emphasis on the process than the product, there are so many great internet articles out there on eco-friendly Christmas crafts, that you will easily be able to transcend tackiness and hit hipster levels of cool with your homemade décor.

  1. The Gift of Environmental Awareness

Keep Mother Nature in mind when drawing up the Santa List. Avoid the urge to splurge on countless trinkets and tchotchkes that are quickly discarded by your children and end up sitting in a landfill for decades. Model environmental responsibility in your purchases by choosing toys made of natural materials when possible. Take the time to explain to your children why this is important.

  1. The Gift of Creativity

Buy toys that encourage open ended explorative play. Some examples are wooden blocks, Lego sets, Magna tiles, puppets, kinetic sand, science sets, and art and craft sets. If choosing video games, ensure they are creatively geared rather than destructive or violent.

  1. The Gift of Cultural Awareness

Encourage your children’s sense of connection to people all over the world. Spend time with your children learning how Christmas is celebrated in other countries, as well as learning about the holidays people of other religions celebrate around this time of year. Head to the local library to borrow some books or DVDs on the topic.

  1. The Gift of Responsibility

Children should always participate in doing what needs to be done for the family and home. Give your children age appropriate responsibilities that contribute to the common good – preparing food, doing housework, serving guests, tidying up after gift exchanges. Christmas should be enjoyed by all the family, and your children can still have a magical experience while also being allowed to feel like their efforts helped make the season better for everyone involved.

  1. The Gift of Personal Boundaries

Christmas is a time when rarely seen relatives and friends descend demanding hugs and kisses from children with the vaguest memories of them. Allow your children to set physical boundaries and give your family members and friends a heads up in advance that this is a practice in your home. Family members may certainly ask if your children would like a hug, but they should also be prepared to hear, “Not right now, thank you”, if your child feels uncomfortable. Think about how often we parents expect our children to grin and bear unwanted physical interactions, and think about the message that sends them. In the same vein, if you have a child who is absolutely is horrified at the thought of sitting on Santa’s lap for a photo, have a good think about that too.

  1. The Gift of Good Manners

Grace and courtesy are important. While you are empowering your children to set personal boundaries, be sure and set an expectation of good manners with them too. If they deny a hug, teach them how to extend an arm for a handshake instead (and make it a nice firm one). Teach your children the importance of eye contact when speaking to anyone (this may be an inappropriate expectation of children on the Autism spectrum, though). When an adult asks your children how they are, teach them to answer and then ask the question back. Teach graciousness around receiving gifts. Have a conversation about the importance of the intent of a gift (kindness, generosity, love) well in advance of gifts being received. That way, even if the content of the gift is a dud, your child will be able to interact with well-intentioned, but gifting challenged, Aunt Sheila, in a way that doesn’t leave her distraught or disgruntled.

  1. The Gift of Self Reflection

Santa Claus is coming to town, and if you don’t get your act together it will be a lump of coal for you! Many parents look forward to the month of December as a chance to use Jolly Saint Nick, and his dreaded sidekick, the Elf of the Shelf, to manipulate their children’s behavior.  In Montessori, we aim to avoid extrinsic motivators (both the carrots and the sticks), preferring instead to encourage children to see the direct relationship between their good choices and the resultant good outcomes. Rather than spending the weeks in the run up to Christmas dangling the Santa threat over your children’s heads, how about making the Christmas season a time for reflection on good choices? Make it a nightly practice in the month of December to have a conversation with your children about the things they have done that day that they feel proud about. Remember, what you focus on grows.

  1. The Gift of Kindness

Make it a family tradition to spend at least a few hours every Christmas season, volunteering to benefit the less fortunate in your community. This is a gift that extends with great length and breadth into your children’s lives. Not only does it make them realize how much they have to be grateful for, it also teaches them the joy of doing good deeds. Have conversations about those feelings at the end of your time volunteering. Don’t say, “Good boy. Well done”, say, “You really helped. How does that make you feel?”. Connect your child with the great feeling of giving.

  1. The Gift of You

More than any material gift you can give your children this Christmas, the gift of spending time with you, when you are fully present, is the best gift possible. It is the gift that will endure, long after that Must Have toy is a distant memory. Put down your phone, get your children to put down theirs (if they’re at that age) and engage. Many of the activities mentioned above will help you to accomplish this – making crafts, prepping food, volunteering, having conversations about good choices together. This gift is a gift for you too, of course. In this very hectic time of year, it makes you stop, and it makes you appreciate. There’s a long term gain too, because the traditions you establish with your children, are likely to become, in time, the traditions they share with theirs.

I wish you and your family a very happy holiday season.

Cathy Tobin, 2017.

How to Help Your Child to be Successful in Montessori and Life (with Mandarin Translation)

file-1My great thanks to Varya, who reached out to ask if she could facilitate a translation of this article, kindly done by Apple Wei from Zhuhai, to share with her fellow Montessorians in China. Here’s the translation:

The Montessori model of education requires a good deal of independence and self-regulation of its students. Not every child shows up with these qualities in full bloom. Here are some ways that you can support your child’s success, at home:



  • Respect your child. While honoring the child she is, also honor the adult she will become. You will spend much longer in the company of the adult version of her, than the child manifestation you see now. Listen to your child. Let her know she’s important (but, not the center of the universe!). Be deliberate in your interactions, because you are helping her to sculpt her future self.



  • Allow your child to do for herself what she can do for herself. Too many parents equate doing things for their children with good parenting, when the exact opposite is true. If your goal is to raise an independent adult human, then you sabotage your child every time you rush to help her with things that she can manage alone. Not only do you rob her of the opportunity to practice new skills, but you also send the message that she is incapable. Stand back, let your child figure it out. You’ll know when she really needs your help, and that’s when you can offer it.



  • When you do offer help, seize the opportunity to teach. Don’t just rush through the doing. Break down the task into precise steps. Use a minimum of language as you demonstrate. Repeat the process, when applicable, and then offer your child a chance to try it herself. The time you lose in teaching, you gain back exponentially as your child becomes independent in the skill.



  • Expect responsibility from your child. In line with item 1 up there, when it comes to picking up, if your child can do it, she should be doing it. There is absolutely no reason why you should be picking up after your child once she is physically capable of doing it herself. You can’t rush around, cleaning up after your child, her whole childhood and then suddenly expect her to turn into a paragon of cleanliness once the teenage years hit. That’s not going to happen!



  • Help create organization by having simple systems and procedures in place at home. Establish routines: When you come in from school here’s where you hang your jacket (hang a low coat hook or two for your child), here’s what you do with our lunch box (have her empty it and wash the reusable containers), here’s where you put your work folder (have her check for notes from school), here’s where you put your shoes, and so on.



  • It’s not enough for your child to just be responsible for cleaning up after herself, she should also contribute to the good of the family. As soon as she is physically able, engage your child in meaningful chores. Sure, for a while it’ll likely create even more work for you, but your child will be living in your house for a long time, so it is time well spent. You won’t end up spending your days cleaning, and your child will feel like a valuable and contributing member of your family.



  • Allow your child to feel empowered by giving her choices. In the morning, you can offer your child to pick one of two outfits to wear for school. You don’t swing open the closet door and ask your child to come up with an ensemble; that’s overwhelming. Limited choices are empowering AND manageable.



  • While offering choices, remember that your child is not the boss. Don’t ever give that sort of power to your child. It does not help her to feel safe, and it creates a very unhealthy family dynamic. Your child must always know that, while she is supported in independence, and given choices, you are the ultimate authority. When you say no, quietly and firmly, she will know, because you have never given her any reason to doubt it, that you really, really mean it.



  • Don’t use bribes and punishments to motivate your child. You want to raise an adult who doesn’t need to be incentivized or threatened to make good choices. Use natural consequences when possible. If the rule is no running inside, and your child runs, crashes into something and gets hurt, that’s a natural consequence. Be sure to draw the line between the two things, in a matter of fact, rather than condescending way. When natural consequences aren’t available, try to find a logical consequence. If your child refuses to use something in the house respectfully, then she doesn’t get to use it for a time. If your child doesn’t clean up after herself then she doesn’t get to take that same toy or game out again for a time. These consequences are delivered in a calm and clear way –“I see you didn’t put your toys away nicely when you were finished using them. That tells me you aren’t ready to be responsible for those toys yet. That means you won’t be able to take them out again for a while.” Stay firm. You must mean what you say, or don’t say it at all.


  • Be careful of praise. In keeping with the previous point, you don’t want your child to do things solely to please you. Praise is just another extrinsic reward. You don’t want to praise your child for things she comes by effortlessly, like beauty or intelligence. You do want to notice her effort when faced with a challenge, her ability to persist, her patience, her kindness. And when you do notice those things, you want to do so in a way doesn’t reduce the value of what she has achieved down to how it makes YOU feel. No more, “Good girl. I’m so proud of you!”. You want your child to feel proud of herself, to feel empowered, to notice the effort it took to be successful. Change a few words here and there and your encouragements will become far more effective and positive. Instead of saying, “I’m so proud of you”, say, “You must feel so proud of yourself”. Instead of saying, “You’re so smart”, say “I can see how hard you worked on that”. You don’t want to raise a people-pleaser. You want to raise an adult who can see the value in her hard work in terms of how it makes her feel, and how it positively impacts her community. Editing your praise can really help with this.



These are just a few pointers to set your child on the road to success in her Montessori classroom.




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