Jo at A Bit of This and A Bit of That asked me to share my top 5 tips for getting started with Montessori. She'll be posting her own tips and those of other contributors on October 1st.
1. Read books. First, become familiar with Montessori and her philosophy by reading books by and about Maria Montessori. I don't have any specific books to recommend. I just read what our library had to offer. The Montessori method is not just a set of materials to use; it's a whole philosophy of education. Books, especially by Montessori herself, will help you understand the reasoning behind the approach.
2. Read blogs. The blogworld really opened up Montessori to me, because I was able to see how Montessori's philosophy was applied in real homes and classrooms. Plus, blogs are loaded with wonderful ideas that I could never come up with on my own. On the right sidebar, you'll find several helpful websites under the "Montessori Blogs and Links" category.
3. Adjust your home environment (along with your thinking.) A major tenet of the Montessori philosophy is that children should be allowed to do as much as possible on their own. In order to accommodate this, the environment should be prepared to suit the child. In our house, for example, we have a child-sized table for Zahana and Rohan to use for snacks or coloring. Miah and Larkin also have a low table where they can sit and do their work. Jeremiah has attached a low handle to the screen door so it is easy for the little ones to open when they want to come in the house. Shelves are arranged with activities and board books for the little two on low shelves and the bigger kids' things on the higher shelves. Snack time provides a perfect opportunity to allow children to do things on their own. Instead of peeling an orange and dividing the segments up myself, I'll peel back a little of the skin to get it started and then give the whole thing to the child to peel and eat himself. My little ones are able to do this sort of thing because they have had ample opportunity, but I have been surprised by much older kids who didn't know what to do with an unpeeled orange. My kids also love to help me cook. This requires a lot of patience on the parent's part, but little kids are perfectly capable of cutting, peeling, measuring, and stirring if given the opportunity and are allowed to make mistakes (and messes.)
4. Make your own materials. A lot of people are daunted by all the expensive equipment. Unless you're really handy, you can't make all of it, but even if you're really un-handy you can still make a lot. One of my favorite Montessori websites is Montessori Materials. It has lots of free printable material. I've made some of the beaded material with beads and pipe cleaners, which works just as well and costs a whole lot less. A lot of practical life skills only require what real life provides. For example, you don't need a lacing board, a snap board, a zipper board, etc. All those things are available in everyday life. Simply allow your child to try zipping his own coat, tying his own shoes, etc. instead of doing it all for him. Consider purchasing some things at birthday or Christmas, because the kids really do enjoy these things. Zahana received a little broom and mop for her last birthday and was delighted. Order catalogs from places that sell Montessori materials, such as Montessori-N-Such, and flip through it for ideas on what you could make or find at thrift stores. A tonging activity will be just as educational with 50 cent tongs from a yard sale and pebbles from the back yard as one purchased out of a catalog.
5. Don't be a slave to the method (and I would say this for any educational method.) This may not be the most popular tip among die-hard Montessorians, but I'm not a die-hard Montessorian. I have gleaned what I find useful from the method and philosophy and incorporated it into our life and homeschool. If you disagree with a certain aspect or even if you think something is really good but just can't get it to work for your child or fit it into your life, don't stress about it. Parents have been raising children to be happy, healthy, well-adjusted adults who use their gifts, talents, and brains since the beginning of time, using many different methods of child-rearing and education. In a home with children of various ages and abilities, it is impossible to have everything just as Montessori would have it. Children need parents who have time for them and love them unconditionally. They need responsible parents who are willing to learn and do what is best for each individual child. Children need, above all, to know God and His love. You don't need a method to give them that.