With all the variations found around the Internet, how do you know what is best for you and your unique family? As with any venture, it's important to first know where you are heading. This information can then be your guide for deciding how many resources are worth devoting to the pursuit. And by resources, I'm referring to far more than financial investments. We often forget that our time is incredibly valuable with a finite limit on availability.
I have come up with three questions to help you evaluate where you want to go in the Montessori home-school journey.
How long do you plan to school at home?
The answer to this question will go a long way to choosing where your resources should be directed. It seems quite common today to approach Montessori at home as a substitute for preschool, with the long-term goal of sending a child to school, traditional or otherwise, once they are eligible for Kindergarten. Another popular break is at the end of one of the Montessori cycles. The primary cycle runs from ages 3-6, which generally leads up to 1st grade. The next cycle, lower elementary, encompasses ages 6-9, which is generally 1st-3rd grade. And of course, there are those who intend to home school through the duration.
For those only interested in preschool, the primary focus will end up being with sensorial and practical life activities. I have no doubt that this is why activities from these areas dominate Pinterest and other popular Montessori sites. While there will be some focus on language and math, it is relatively light initially, and most of the materials in this category can be easily made at home. In most cases, only a small space is needed and could be incorporated nearly anywhere in the home. A basic understanding of the philosophy would be more than sufficient, especially once the idea of the three-period lesson is grasped.
Those interested in the full primary spectrum will find themselves investing a bit more, especially in the area of math. The math materials can add up quickly. While they are a worthwhile investment for families who will use them for upper levels, it may be more cost-effective to use similar alternatives.
Those families who intend to go through lower elementary at a minimum are best suited to invest more heavily in traditional materials and more in-depth learning opportunities for the facilitating parent. Many of the materials used in the early levels will be used again in elementary, which helps stretch the investment. The elementary program builds on the primary. For that reason, you may want to stick with a more traditional approach in moving through the sequence and scope of activities to ensure everyone is ready for advanced work.
How much of the traditional Montessori approach do you intend to utilize?
The full Montessori Method is quite structured, exceptionally detailed, and was written decades ago. It's rare to find many organizations who follow it to the letter. It's up to you to determine what works for you.
On one end of the spectrum, you have activities in-the-spirit-of or inspired by the work of Maria Montessori. These tend to focus on practical life/sensorial activities and Montessori-inspired toys. The other end of the spectrum involves focusing on the traditional materials and employing classic albums that encompass the full scope and sequence. Most individuals find themselves somewhere between the two extremes. For example, you may choose to follow Montessori staunchly for a specific subject while pursuing other complimentary curriculums in others.
If you wish to follow the method closely then you will most likely find yourself purchasing traditional materials and albums. If you are simply seeking to be Montessori-inspired, you can probably thrive on the lessons available for free online. While Montessori is a complete package, it isn't uncommon for some families to pair Montessori philosophies with other complimentary curriculums as they feel necessary.
What are your academic goals?
The final question is one you may not have considered. If you are used to the compulsory education available in western culture then you generally adopt whatever standards have been adopted by that system. In a home-school model, those standards are up to you, the parent. Education as a whole generally has gaps in learning. You can choose a model that is student-driven in which your child chooses gaps based on his/her individual interest. You can also choose to select the gaps by defining the standards that should be met. In addition, it is up to you to determine how in-depth each particular area is explored. Some families prefer to address the base standards, allowing for the maximum experience of "real life". Others will prefer a more academically driven model where core subjects are drilled to great depth. There is no right or wrong. The most important aspect in this category is deciding where you want to fall and ensuring you stick to your goals alone. Decision in this area will drive the type of albums you choose to pursue and how closely you follow them.
If your answer to all three is "I don't know" I encourage you to take the time to reflect on the question and at the very least, come up with answers that you can live with for a prescribed period of time. Attempt to come up with answers that you can stick to for six months. Then, during that time period, ensure that the decisions you make in regards to your resources are inline with the initial commitment.
It is true that your goals will most likely evolve over time. Ours certainly did. However, setting short-term goals as you go will help avoid excessive spending and wasted efforts.
There is one final point which I will address further next week. Ensure that your spouse and/or co-parent is on board with your goals. Schooling at home is a massive undertaking, and it is critical that family units are in agreement.
So where are you on the spectrum? Stay tuned as I share the goals for our Montessori journey. And as promised, I will address the challenges of bringing your spouse/co-parent along the journey with you.
And if you're looking for more "getting starting" help, be sure and check out If I Could Start All Over.