See this beautiful Montessori homeschool room? This was the cozy basement room that I convinced my husband to help me paint, buy Ikea shelves, cut down said Ikea shelves to the right height, buy drapes and a curtain rod and help me to hang them up. (Poor hubby. I love you honey!) All summer long, I had been planning, concocting, dreaming, and researching online how to decorate this room that I was going to see my son flourish into the perfect, normalized Montessori child. (Click here if you want to see my post on this room.)
This room was great for us … for all of 2.33 weeks. Then Z declared on the Tuesday of our 3rd week — “I don’t want to go to school”.
Wait … what? What’s wrong? The room was lovely! I mean, I had the calendar up, framed pictures of the Canadian flag complete with national anthem, and Our Lord’s Prayer. A huge beautiful oil on canvas painting hung up. All those beautiful Montessori materials. What’s not to love?
I told myself that he was probably just in some “phase”. After all, Montessori is all about following the child, so I let it go for a week. But he was still uninterested the next week, despite my persuasion, so I let it slide once again. A week quickly turned into two weeks, then four weeks.
The room has now been abandoned for exactly 7 weeks. During this time, I learned a few things, and I had to make decisions about the kind of homeschooling we are going to have if we’re going to be successful at it.
Key Learning #1: The prepared environment doesn’t mean anything if the prepared teacher hates hanging out in it.
I think most people would be envious about the amount of space I have in my basement. Don’t get me wrong, our house is pretty small, but we are minimalists, so I actually have a ton of space that would make any homeschooler green with envy. I chose the little room in the basement because I wanted to keep other children, including my own, away from the Montessori materials lest they were misused during off-school hours.
The problem with basements, though, are the lack of sunlight.
*I know, I know. Maria Montessori said to choose a space with lots of natural light. Did I not listen to her?* Well, sometimes when you’re spoilt for choice like I was, it’s easy to make the wrong decision. Clearly, I thought that having a “proper school room” that looked like a real Montessori school would be better.
I was so wrong.
I thought I could hang out in the basement for 3 hours a day, but I really wanted to hang out where the sun is shining. And even though I was either clueless or in denial, I think Z sensed it. He could sense my feeling of obligation.
(*Edited: I could not find a direct Maria Montessori quote that says what I thought she said, so I struck those sentences out because I don’t want to misquote her or mislead anyone. My apologies here!)
Key Learning #2: Even the prepared teacher needs to have his/her own prepared environment.
Not only was I feeling obligated to spend 3 hours in that room, I realized that I was pretty bored too.
The basement room had everything Z needed, but nothing for me. It didn’t have my computer, my iPad, my iPhone, my little notebook for jotting down ideas, my books for reading, my CD player for listening to songs.
I know I sound very selfish, but hear me out.
Montessori calls for a lot less chatter than a traditional school, so it can get pretty darn quiet and boring in there. We were becoming too structured, and I got bored just waiting for stuff to happen. Again, I was probably either clueless or in denial, but I think Z sensed my boredom.
Summary of Key Learnings: I wouldn’t want to hang out around a bored person who was with me out of obligation, much less be inspired by her. Thus I couldn’t have the same for my son.
So what did I do?
It was time I forget about following the child for once, I need to follow the MOM instead. I need to make ME happy so that we could help my child love to learn. So I moved our school room to our living room. Just look at how beautiful the sensorial materials are when the sun is shining upon it! Even my dear husband said it makes the area look cozier. (The irony that the TV is the main backdrop in our sensorial section is not lost on me, but moving the TV to our bedroom was the one thing that my husband would not budge on. We all have to compromise.)
I have 2 “shelves” for practical life, language, and math. Right now, there is no order to anything because we’re still figuring things out. Also, I used to think I wouldn’t have shelves to fit all his trays, but now it seems I have too much shelf space. I now know what some veteran Montessori homeschoolers mean when they explain how they swap/rotate the activities — it’s an art that comes with being comfortable with your environment and confident with the curriculum.
Well … slightly more confident anyway. I’m still learning everyday.
(Please pardon the mess. I wanted to keep the photos real so you can see how it’s like for us on most days.)
How do I structure our homeschooling days now?
I don’t. Not anymore. We’re doing stuff “on the fly” now. Official school hours are 9am-12pm, 3 days a week. During this time, I’d invite him to come work on an activity with me. It could be something off the shelves, or it could be an invitation to help me cut scallions in the kitchen. We could have a spontaneous art moment if I see him reaching for his crayons, and I’d reach for our color tablets too and make it a fun color matching activity. Then I’d write his name on his masterpiece, with him looking at me do it while I slowly pronounce his name, and ask him to go clip it on the fridge. Then I’ll ask him to go fetch his spray bottle and sponge so he can clean up where he’d accidentally scribbled on the table.
We’ll do about 30-40 minutes of this type of unstructured work, and then I’ll give both of us a break. He gets to watch a 10-minute episode of The Wiggles or play with some toys, and I get 10 minutes to check my computer, emails, Facebook, blog, whatever. A little bit of downtime to help to keep us both happy and sane.
Then we repeat this cycle about 2 or 3 more times. Turns out, we do more work this way. After my 10 minute sanity break, I’m able to redirect my full focus on Z. So we actually utilize all 3 hours doing Montessori or inspired work. Together.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that it doesn’t work to homeschool in a dedicated room. But for me, it was a choice between a dark basement dedicated room or a brighter/more spacious living room. I often wonder how things would be different for us if I had a bright sun-filled dedicated room to homeschool!
I wish I could say this will be the layout for us for the next 3 years, but I know there’ll always be kinks to iron out, changes to be made as he grows. But this has been a big breakthrough for me. Montessori homeschooling in practice is just so unique for each family and each season of life, not one size fits all. I’m glad we found our size — for now.
There was a lot of support all around, but these folks hit the nail on the head. Thanks to:
- Aubrey who got me re-evaluating our needs
- Jessica who got me out of denial when she said in her post “But YOU should start with the core and modify for YOUR situation, Some people choose to step away from the homeschooling Montessori and Montessori school blogs while they are getting on their own feet, so they can focus on their own family.”
- Montessori Trails for the inspiration on how to make it all work in a small space.
Here’s a round-up of Montessori homeschoolers who have made it happen in spaces other than a dedicated school room, although I recommend listening to Jessica’s advice above and focusing on YOUR needs, wherever that may be in your house.
- Michelle at Discovering Our Way homeschools in her living room.
- Marie of Child Led Life did a 5-part guest post on Small Space Montessori Setup. She talks about whole-house Montessori homeschooling, but most of the materials are in the living room.
- Tanya at The Natural Homeschool has a queen-sized bed in her homeschool room, but she still manages to make it work!