Ever looked at a child and wondered what was going on in that mind; or more interestingly, observed a child deeply engrossed in an activity, that he/she is unaware of the surroundings? If yes, then at a point, we must have shared thoughts that the child was simply a mindless individual without a worry in the world and that was it!

I had that thought for quite a long time until I came across a quote by chance saying:

Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from learning, but for children, play is serious learning, Play is really the work of childhood” 

Fred Rogers

This somehow stuck to my mind, that each time I saw a child deeply engrossed in a playful activity, I looked on with interest. The saying kept bugging my mind and with time, it began changing my perspective.

My mind got curious and I tasked myself to find out why children got engaged in such activities and what they hoped to achieve in doing so. Although I did not have many tools to discover why it kept dawning on me that there could be an end goal in sight as I continued to observe them. Perhaps there was another reason why a child spends hours making sandcastles other than the fact that he/she simply just has much free time. 

So, was there a way to unfold mysteries behind a child’s mind in ways we can understand them as unique intelligent beings rather than mindless individuals? And what is the need to find an answer to this rising question?

While pondering over the latter, I came across another quote saying:

“Children are not things to be molded but are people to be unfolded”

Jess Lair

It dawned on me how as mothers, we owed it to kids to learn how to understand, encourage, and guide them to explore their inner potentials. This is essential considering how the home is the first school of a child. We must, first of all, understand that every child is unique; can learn and develop in different ways and at different rates in enabling environments, and also every child can learn to be strong and independent through positive relationships.

Although it bugs me that some mothers do not pay attention to these similarities and differences, one clear thing is we cannot continue to pretend as if children—no matter how young— lack thoughts and feelings of their own, and that a wrong move could form long-lasting damage to their mental health and more. This made my visit and explore the concept of Montessori education, to aid me to view the world through the lens of a child.

What is Montessori Education?

Founded by Italian doctor, Dr. Maria Montessori, and named after her, Montessori education is a child-centered philosophy that developed through scientific observation of children in mental health facilities in 1897. Maria’s careful observation and experimentation of children, their environment, and methods of learning, led her to develop her educational philosophy which she described as a ‘Model of human development’. Two principles were guiding this theory.

The first was that children and developing adults engaged in self-constructed psychological development through interaction with the environment. The second emphasized children especially under the age of six as having an ‘innate path’ of psychological development. Based on this theory, Maria Montessori saw that for a child, the freedom to choose and act freely within a prepared environment would make the child act spontaneously for optimal development.

In other words, the Montessori Method attempts to develop children physically socially, emotionally and cognitively, by regarding the child as the initiator of learning and describing him as one who is eager to learn in a prepared learning environment.

Montessori Education in Northern Nigeria

Montessori system of education in schools has generally found a wide range of applications in Nigeria; from daycare programs, kindergarten, and elementary schools. From the early 2000s, Nigeria has successfully implemented Montessori teacher-training programs as well as applied the concept of a safe environment and curriculum.

However, the existence of issues ranging from lack of sufficient training in self-acclaimed teachers to overcrowding of classrooms has proven to pose a stunt in its growth. This shows that a well-learned individual on a one on one relationship, such as the one between a mother and child daily, could revolutionize its existence. As such, many countries have adopted Montessori methods in their homes.

Montessori in Nigerian Homes

Most schools guided by Montessori educational curriculum are schools that are located in the southern region of Nigeria. These include states like Lagos, Port Harcourt, and Ondo. Only a few are located in Northern Nigeria and are mostly located in the Federal Capital Territory in the North-Central. Montessori knowledge and application seem to be limited, as northerners are generally more conservative.

However, we need not wait for its widespread in schools located in Northern Nigeria before we can apply it in our homes. Women in many regions within and outside Nigeria have already adopted this education system at home. Similarly, the lifestyle of Northern Nigerian women in Nigeria proves to be especially suitable for the application of Montessori methods in the home for the following reasons:

  • Montessori years begin at pre-school or homeschooling age, which is from 0-3 years as in Northern Nigeria.
  • Most Northern Nigerian women especially housewives would have ample time to spend with their children.
  • The one-on-one relationship gives a mother the mentorship advantage.
  • Northern Nigerian mothers can conveniently create a personalized learning environment for the children for learning and development using local materials and methods.

Implementing Montessori at Home (5 Step Guide)

How does a woman begin implementing Montessori at home, does she jump to the first video tutorial she sees on YouTube? A woman needs to understand that there are a variety of ways of implementing Montessori at home that needs to tally with the individual needs of the child. When it comes to Montessori, the one-size-fits-all is not advisable. These five steps will guide a woman on ways to start implementing Montessori in her home;

Step 1: Assess Personal Discipline Style

The Montessori method gives a wide room for the child to do what he wants. A mother might consider coming up with a positive rather than a negative approach to maintaining discipline.

Step 2: Assess Your Space

Look around your home and include your child’s needs in the space. For example, provide a low bed he can climb up and down on his own, or provide his very own low utensil cabinet in the kitchen. By doing things on his own, it will enable him to achieve confidence, independence, and self-sufficiency.

Step 3: Follow Your Child

This step is the most important when implementing Montessori at home. Observe your child’s most minimal behavior; like how he twists his fingers, eats, and communicates. This will enable you to find out where your child is at developmentally as an individual. It is more recommended than comparing him to his age mates or siblings since every child is unique. You also need to know

  • What motivates your child?
  • Consider his sensitive periods
  • Find out which schema he belongs to

These will be explained more in detail as we progress.

Step 4: Prepare The Environment

Make the environment safe for your child. Constantly buy or recycle his toys when he begins to show disinterest in the ones he is using. Also, allow him to choose which toy he wishes to use. In this step, make sure you remove yourself and try not to influence his choices with your thoughts or actions.

Step 5: Practical life

Involving your child in your every day will make him feel like a valued member of the family. Talk to your child constantly, ask them questions even if it means providing the answer yourself. Engage him in formal practical life activities like helping to wipe the table or doing the dishes. This will give him an added sense of belonging and responsibility. Be careful not to overburden him though, such that he won’t feel like it is a chore and lose interest. In that case, don’t force your child as that will only make him lose interest more.

What to Know Before Implementing Montessori at Home

Incidentally, there are mental tools the Northern Nigerian mother needs to equip herself with before embarking on the journey of becoming a Montessori mentor to her child. Concepts that need to be explored include;

  1. Child development ages and stages,
  2. Principles of Montessori education.
  3. Sensitive periods of development of a child.
  4. The concept of a schema

These will better inform her of the choices she will make in the future.

1. Child Development Ages and Stages

Growth and development of a child may occur at different paces for children, but generally, they usually exhibit similar characteristics within a stipulated time. These have been categorized into six stages with each exhibiting mean characteristics. The period between 0-3 years are outlined as follows:

  • Birth to three months: Behavioral characteristics of babies in this time include kicking, stretching, responding to loud noises, and grasping at things like your finger.
  • Four to six month: Babies are more social and interested in their surroundings. At this time, They grab or hold toys, grab hair, laugh and squeal more, blow bubbles, and generally sleep longer.
  • Seven to twelve months: Babies engage in mobile activities like rolling over, crawling, standing, and strength testing.
  • One to two years: A child becomes more conscious of the behaviors of himself and others. He is eager to learn and starts communicating through words and facial expressions.
  • Two to three and a half years: Toddler begins developing a distinct personality and changes in his social, intellectual, and emotional activities. He is constantly exploring so safety is paramount and needs a lot of attention

2. Principles of Montessori Education

Many principles are guiding Montessori education but whether at home or in school. These five principles are key in practicing the Montessori method:

  • Children should be shown respect and taught kindness through demonstration by the mentor
  • Children have absorbent minds and as such, are always eager to learn from their environment
  • Sensitive periods for children are critical for heightened learning. Mentors should seize this to provide resources and opportunities for optimal learning
  • Children learn best in a prepared environment: Provide a variety of materials and organize resources for individual selection of the child in a safe and free environment
  • Children can teach themselves through auto-education by active exploration: Encourage them by introducing new materials in a prepared environment.

3. Sensitive Periods of Development of a Child

This is a period of a child’s natural burning interest in something. Maria Montessori recognized eleven basic sensitive periods of development of children regarding them as windows of opportunity. They include movement, math patterns, emotional control, order, interest in small objects vocabulary, sensations, letters shapes and sounds, music, and writing.

  • Movement: Born with limited movement control, children develop cognitive abilities as they learn to use their bodies.
  • Math patterns: Montessori informs us that babies are born with mathematical minds
  • Need for order: Children, (six months to three years) desire order and throw tantrums if an order is disrupted.
  • Interest in small objects: Leads to development of fine motor control and the pincer grasp essential for writing and other important skills
  • Vocabulary: Children (under the age of six) are hardwired for language acquisition
  • Sensation: Children (Between two and a half to five years) are drawn to tracing textured letters with their fingers while matching the sound of a letter to its shape
  • Letters, shapes, and sounds: Children becoming sensitive and interested in these
  • Music: Children (three years) experience a sensitive period for learning rhythm, pitch, and more. It develops their brain and leads to academic, social, and emotional growth.
  • Writing and Reading: Children are open to the right information at the right time. When ready for them, learning is a natural continuous process.

4. The concept of a schema

An important aspect of Montessori education is the concept of schema. A schema is a mental set of instructions that are created through repetitive trial and error. This proves to find the best and efficient ways of completing tasks. There are eight schemas outlined by Montessori which children may use varyingly at different periods including connecting, orientation, Transporting, trajectory, positioning, enveloping, enclosing, and rotation.

  • Connecting: a child may connect and disconnect a tower of blocks to understand how things come together and fall apart. By doing this, he understands, strength, stickiness, purchase, and slippiness,
  • Orientation: A child may swing upside down to discover seeing things from a different point of view. This builds their confidence in physical activities when anticipating how a player might move.
  • Transporting: A child may move items from point A to B to see something happen as a result of their hard work and gain pleasure from it.
  • Trajectory: A child may drop food from his chair or watch a pendulum in action. These develop into throwing, catching, kicking, and driving skills.
  • Positioning: A child may arrange toys or create scenes and displays. This will help later in maintaining neat works in school books or placing shoes under pegs.
  • Enveloping: A child may enjoy filling empty boxes to discover what happens if they hide or wrap an object.
  • Enclosing: A child may want to create an enclosure for his toys to learn how to create boundaries. Eventually, enclosing skills leads to learning letter formation.
  • Rotating: A child may twirl round or watch the washing machine that eventually leads to an understanding of rotational symmetry in mathematics.

Re-visiting the Article

In this article we have journeyed through and learned the following:

  • That children begin their developmental and cognitive journey from a young age (0-3 years) which compels us to understand and guide them.
  • That Montessori is a befitting guide to raising and educating our children because of its child-centered nature which assists us in understanding our child.
  • That the Northern Nigerian mother is the best person to begin a Montessori child’s journey before school due to her domestic lifestyle and position which gives her a mentorship advantage.
  • That the Northern Nigerian mother needs to understand every child is different and equip herself with basic child development knowledge and Montessori concepts before jumping into implementing Montessori at home.

Advice for the Montessori Mother

This article, therefore, bits of advice the future or already practicing Montessori mother to

  • Treat every child as a separate individual and realize his needs are dynamic.
  • Prepare the child’s environment and space based on the child’s existing schema and seize a child’s sensitive period to educate him.
  • Keep constantly researching about Montessori education methods.

To the readers out there, please keep the following quotes in mind

“Yara manyan gobe”

Hausa Proverb

A popular Hausa saying in Northern Nigeria meaning “Children are the leaders of tomorrow”

Related: 150 Great Hausa Proverbs

“Children must be taught how to think not what to think

Margaret Mead

“Children are likely to live up to what you believe in them” 

Lady Bird Johnson

“Each day of our lives, we make deposits in the memory banks of our children”

Charles R Wendell

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them” by

James Baldwin

Remember also, you must not raise the perfect kid, you need not only destroy their potentials.

Disclaimer: The use of the pronoun “HE” to describe a child as seen in this article is not intended towards any gender discrimination or preference. It was implemented under harmless intentions to make reading and understanding easier. 

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