Intrinsic Motivation Lasts a Lifetime

Sunstone is not a place where children have to go to have information delivered to them; it is a place they look forward to going to because they are allowed to discover the world for themselves.

     

Combining three of the Constructive Triangle boxes, Abby discovered that two HUGE equilateral triangles form a parallelogram and the next day she transposed her discovery onto paper (above).

Well, she wasn’t ready to stop there. Over the course of the next week, Abby continued her exploration of Geometry producing a painted study of equilateral triangles. She then went on to identify and outline all of the different shapes she could find that can be made from combining or dissecting equilateral triangles. She learned the long and complex names of all the shapes, such as obtuse-angled isosceles triangle, parallelogram, and trapezoid, and she wrote and affixed identification labels (above) on her discovered shapes. She then went on to produce the largest parallelogram that she could by assembling hand-traced, hand-cut, equilateral triangles (below).

No one told Abby to do this. The desire to dive deep came from within. Imagine the level of understanding that Abby has gained from engaging the materials, exploring ideas, manipulating concepts, and discovering all of this on her own vs. being told the information by an adult. Intrinsic motivation! There is no substitute for life-long learning!


We are often amazed at the capabilities of Montessori children. They bounce to school each morning excited about what the day holds. They want to learn, want to discover, want to pursue more without being told they must. What is the secret? The key lies in the type of motivation utilized in Montessori education.

In most traditional education settings, teachers use systems of rewards and punishments to drive desired behaviors. These are extrinsic motivators, meaning they come from outside of the child and are imposed upon them, typically by an adult, to motivate or control a certain behavior.

Extrinsic motivation can be verbal or non-verbal. Any time an adult makes a statement to a child, or even uses a facial expression that conveys pleasure or displeasure with a behavior or action, they are utilizing external motivation. This includes commonly heard praise such as “Good Job!” and “Nice work!”

Non-verbal rewards include positive external motivations such as gold stars or good grades. Conversely, non-verbal punishments include negative external motivators such as the removal of privileges or bad grades.

While external rewards and punishments may work occasionally in the short term, research shows that they do little for long-term motivation or success and that intrinsic motivation is much more effective.

Intrinsic motivation doesn’t come from an outside source at all, but from within the individual. It is not something that adults can impose upon children, but it can be cultivated and nurtured.

   

The photographic print of the Lupine Room (above) is the result of one child’s intrinsic motivation. Wesley, in the Lupine Room, was allowed to follow his curiosity sparked in researching cameras. Supported by the Lupine Room Guide and Assistant, Wesley led himself down the creative path of producing photographs using working pinhole cameras. In the process, Wesley learned about silver emulsions and the different chemicals it takes to develop photographic paper. He experimented with lighting and exposure times and was very surprised to learn that the pinhole camera would not capture moving people, it only captured what was stationary during a 3 hour exposure time. The photo above was taken during class time and yet you can’t see any people. They were there, they just weren’t sitting still for 3 hours.


Children are born with a natural curiosity. They are internally motivated to learn, discover, adapt, and grow. Our job as Montessori educators is to honor these natural tendencies in every child and nurture their internal motivation.

We do this by providing beautiful environments full of enriching materials that speak directly to the developmental needs of the children and serve as an independent motivation.

We use materials that are typically autodidactic, meaning the learner is able to self-correct their work while they are in the process of completing it. These built-in corrections allow the child to work and learn directly from the materials without teacher input, essentially furthering the child’s independence and internal motivation.

Montessori guides are adept at utilizing children’s interests to help them succeed in areas that challenge them. A child who is reluctant to read but loves dinosaurs may just need a basket of books about dinosaurs. A child who resists math but adores their friends may need to work cooperatively to find success. Knowing what sparks a child’s enthusiasm is the key to opening a whole world of academic content.

There are structures built into the Montessori day that support intrinsic motivation as well. The three-hour uninterrupted work cycle is one, as is allowing for ample student choice. These strategies allow children to select work that is meaningful to them, and to spend time really getting deep into that work.

Meaningful work is key! When something is of interest to you, you don’t need to be told to learn it, you want to learn it. This is internal motivation and it typically takes children farther than a teacher ever could.

In the Montessori classroom, we allow students to fully explore their interests, which is where real creativity and lasting learning take place. Children feel empowered by their independence and accomplishments. This fuels their sense of confidence which in itself drives them to explore deeper learning all on their own. It’s a beautiful and powerful cycle. And one they will carry with them throughout the rest of their lives!

Sunstone is not a place where children have to go and have information delivered to them; it is a place they look forward to going to because they are allowed to discover the world for themselves.

Age Appropriate Chores for Children

Age Appropriate Chores for Children

Some call them chores, we call them contributions to the life of the family and they are not a punishment, they are an important ingredient in a successful life. Research shows that kids who do chores grow into happier, healthier, far more successful adults, and the sooner parents start them on them, the better off they are. Even I.Q. scores had a weaker correlation with success than giving children early responsibilities.

Did you see the article we posted a while ago, about how children actually benefit a great deal from chores? It was insightful in that it went beyond the obvious benefits of learning practical life skills like cleaning, laundry, and cooking, and identified long term benefits such as:

  • more likely to succeed in adulthood
  • better understanding of abstract mathematical concepts when they are introduced later
  • ability to delay gratification (instilling a work first, play later mentality lead to “teens and young adults who were more socially competent, better able to deal with frustration, more dependable, reached higher educational attainments, and were effectively able to make and reach long-term goals”)
  • gain a sense of purpose through contribution which leads to self-motivation and success throughout life

GIVE YOUR CHILDREN THE GIFT OF CHORES!

Anytime is the perfect time to re-evaluate your children’s contributions around the house and perhaps up their game with some good old fashioned purposeful work, like cleaning. As a gauge, you can use the list of age-appropriate chores below. Some people might read this list and not believe it is possible. But believe it! Your children are capable. They show us just how capable they are every day in the classroom. You may need to let go of perfection, but what your children will gain in the long run is well worth it.

If you would like your young child to not only do these chores, but also enjoy contributing to the household, consider following these tips:

    1. Never force the child – you can work alongside each other and step in when they need help
    2. Look for child sized  items (brooms, mops and utensils) to give the greatest success (Montessori Services is a great place to stock up).
    3. Slow down! Take time to show your child how to do these tasks. Keep your movements slow, and limit talking at the same time – this makes it easier for them to copy you.
    4. Let go of perfection! – you may find that the spill is not completely wiped up, or the toys not perfectly aligned on the shelf, but accept that the child is doing the best that they can and offer small points of interest to encourage their awareness and growth such as, “Your rag is very damp. You wiped up a lot of water. I can see even more water on the floor. Can you find it?”
    5. Scaffold skills – start with one step at a time and build on it
    6. Enjoy yourselves – if it starts to feel like hard work, come back to it in a couple of weeks

Raising Emotionally Resilient Children

The crux of good mental/emotional health is a quality known as “emotional resilience” – the ability to withstand and keep moving forward, chin up, in the face of disappointment, deprivation, prolonged frustration, crisis, setback, loss, and failure.

We want our children to become adults who can handle everything life has to offer—the good, the bad, and the ugly. We want to raise human beings who are capable of overcoming life’s challenges (even the really hard ones) with grace, dignity, fortitude, and resolve. We want our children to become strong, healthy, emotionally resilient adults.

The best way for children to become emotionally resilient adults is for them to become emotionally resilient children and the only way for them to do this is with practice—practice feeling uncomfortable emotions, practice accepting uncomfortable emotions, and practice moving through them to a place of resolve. As parents, it is our job to allow them to practice.
It can be painful to watch our children experience any kind of discomfort, emotional or otherwise, and so we often try to shelter them from such adverse feelings. We coddle, pamper, indulge and cocoon our children to prevent them from feeling anything “bad” or “sad.”

The irony is, when we prevent our children from feeling bad, we are denying them practice with uncomfortable feelings, which in turn deprives them of a chance at developing strong emotional resiliency.

The truth is that children are much more capable than they are typically given credit for.

Children are able to handle hard emotions, and with our support, the more they practice the easier it gets. When children are given the chance to practice, to experience for themselves the things that are hard or uncomfortable they develop the ability to feel uncomfortable emotions without falling to pieces:

  • they develop the strength necessary to accept uncomfortable emotions and
  • they develop the courage to move through them

Try This:

The next time your child is feeling bad, try not to fix it and make them feel better. Instead, just be there in empathy, maintain your connection, and model how to accept hard feelings.

It can help to give language to the feeling and situation by describing what you see, “When I told you it was time to leave the park and go home, I noticed you got really upset and angry. It looks like you would rather stay here and play then go home right now. It can be really hard to stop doing something that you love to do, especially when you are not ready to stop. It’s OK to feel upset and angry. It’s not OK to yell at me, or anyone else because of it. If we had more time I would love to stay and play. I know it can be really hard to leave, but right now it is time to go home and make a delicious dinner. We will come to the park again soon.”

Preparation of the Mathematical Mind Starts Young

Children in the primary classrooms (ages 3-6) don’t know they are learning the foundations of multiplication, squaring, and cubing when they count the math chains. They do know that the math chains are aesthetically inviting, displayed in graduated rows with order and beautiful colors. They do know that working with the chains and counting them is fun work!

What the children don’t consciously know, however, is that these chains, like many materials in the Children’s House, are scientifically designed specifically for their age group, to lay a strong foundation and prepare their minds for more complex mathematical concepts later on.

The beauty and success of these Montessori materials lie in the way the materials are designed to be used. When counting the math chains, for example, the children don’t just start with numeral one and continue counting until they are done. There is a simultaneous process of counting AND labeling in a very specific way that reveals patterns and lays the foundation for multiplication, squaring, and cubing.

Math in Montessori

For example, the child above is counting the long six chain in a primary classroom (ages 3-6). The long six chain represents six cubed in linear form (6x6x6=216). This chain literally has 216 unit beads on it in groups of six.

When counting the chain, every bead is counted and every sixth bead is labeled (6, 12, 18…). This creates a visual pattern and subconsciously lays the foundation for the multiplication table of six. Repeated use of the chains helps to solidify the pattern in the brain.

Similarly, while counting, every thirty-sixth bead (6×6) is labeled with a wider label (36, 72, 108…). Additionally, the square of six in bead form (literally 36 beads laid out in a 6×6 square) is placed above the chain at these points. This square of six visually represents the 36 beads on the chain between this wide label and square and the previous wide label and square. This numeric pattern and concrete visual lays the foundation for squaring.

At the very end of the long six chain the 216th bead is labeled with the widest label of all. Then all six squares of six along the top of the chain are stacked on top of each other to create six cubed (literally, a cube of 216 beads made from stacking six squares of six, each with 36 beads). The linear chain is transposed into a cube and the foundation for cubing is laid.

7 Ways to Encourage Independence

You probably know that encouraging independence is a hallmark of Montessori education and parenting. The best way to teach our children to do things for themselves is to create supportive structures so that they can gradually depend on us less and less. You may be wondering exactly how to do this, and we are here to help! Try these seven handy tips to get started:

1. Allow your child to dress themselves.
As soon as they are ready, young children should physically dress themselves, even if it means allowing extra time for them to do so. Even toddlers can begin making choices in regards to their clothing. Start simple with your littlest ones. For example, you might ask if they would rather wear their yellow shirt or their pink shirt. Another option might be setting out five outfits for the school week and letting them pick which one they will wear on any particular morning. As children get older, it’s okay to give them general guidelines before stepping back and admiring their unique self-expression. You may let them know that pants are a must on a cold day, but be sure to respect their desire to pair zebra-print leggings with a plaid dress. Enjoy those adorable moments while allowing them to feel empowered by their own decision-making.

 

2. Teach your child skills they show interest in.
Does your child like to watch as you fix the fence and build shelves? Figure out a simple woodworking project you could do together, and let them learn how to measure, saw, and hammer nails. The same idea goes for crafts like knitting and sewing, outdoor activities like hiking and geocaching, electronics repair and computer programming, sports, and just about any other activity you can imagine. Their first interests will likely be based on what they observe at home, but eventually they will branch out and want to try learning more skills. As adults all we need to do is shed our preconceived notions of what young children are capable of; we are often surprised when they achieve much more than we expected!

3. Let them care for a living thing.
The simplest way to do this is to purchase a small, low-maintenance plant. Keep it on a sunny windowsill and teach your child how to water it. Some Montessori teachers use a clothespin method; whenever the plant needs watering, the adult places a clothespin on the rim of the pot as a signal to the child that they should water it. As kids get older, we can teach them to feel the soil itself for dryness.

Already have a pet at home? Find age-appropriate ways for your child to help out. They might assist with brushing, feeding, watering, or walking, depending on their age and the particular pet.

4. Include them in household chores.
All children, even toddlers, should help out around the house. This may actually make our jobs a little more challenging in the beginning, but the payoff will be well worth it. Start with something simple, like teaching your two-year-old to fold washcloths. Before you know it, your eight-year-old will be loading the dishwasher and your twelve-year-old will be mowing the lawn. Participating in family chores gives children a sense of purpose in their (home) community. If they start young, the concept of chores is not boring or tedious, it’s a meaningful way to contribute “like a grownup”.

5. Give them opportunities in the kitchen.
Making dinner? Baking for a holiday? Packing lunches for tomorrow? Get your kids involved. If they have already been attending a Montessori school, they may surprise you with their spreading, cutting, and mixing skills, as these are taught and practiced regularly in primary classrooms.

The act of preparing food for our families is an act of love. Teaching children how to do this not only gives them skills they will need to be self-sufficient one day but allows them to help give to their family members. The benefits are endless:
● Kids who cook learn a variety of math skills.
● A child is more likely to try new foods if they have helped prepare them.
● Cooking something challenging will impart a sense of pride and self-confidence.
● Cooking together is quality time spent together.
● Regular time in the kitchen may create happy memories.

6. Encourage bodily autonomy.
One critical and powerful mantra to repeat to your child early and often: “You are in charge of your body.” This means we don’t force them to hug their grandparents or accept kisses from a pushy aunt. This even means if they don’t feel like cuddling with us, their parents, they don’t have to.

Having the power of decision over one’s own body is an important lesson to teach, and extends to others as well. We teach our children that while they get to make their own bodily choices, everyone else does as well. A good time to bring this up is when they are perhaps playing too rough and you need a break. You can say, “I don’t want you to wrestle me right now, and it’s my body so I get to choose.”

7. Offer desirable choices.
This is where the all-important concept of freedom within limits comes in. Montessori, and giving children choice, doesn’t mean that children get to make all the decisions. It just means that we provide our children with a range of desirable options they get to pick from. Some examples:

● You need to get dressed and brush your teeth. Which would you like to do first?
● Would you like strawberry or grape jelly on your sandwich?
● Your room needs to be cleaned today. Would you like to start before or after lunch?
● Do you want to walk or skip to the car?

By giving choices within parameters, you can increase the chances of success for both you and your child. This gives kids safe boundaries within which they can practice doing things for themselves.

We hope this post has been helpful! If you have any questions or would like to observe how independence is encouraged in our classrooms, please schedule a tour today.

Montessori Basics: The Planes of Development


Maria Montessori based her entire educational philosophy on the idea that children developed through a series of four planes.  Each of these planes is easy to recognize and has clear, defining characteristics.  If we study and understand these stages, we can approach our interactions with children with a new perspective.

Learning about the planes of development isn’t just for Montessori educators.  Understanding your child’s development can help at home, too.

The First Plane: birth-6 years

During this stage children absorb everything like sponges.  They are, indeed, excellent examples if what Montessori called ‘The Absorbent Mind.’  This is a time in which we are able to utilize what Montessori called sensitive periods of learning.  While each child is different, there are typical patterns that emerge in regards to brain development and general readiness to learn particular skills.

During the first three years of this plane, all learning is done outside of the child’s conscious mind.  They learn by exploring their senses and interacting with their environment.  During the second half of the plane, from about 3-6 years, children enter the conscious stage of learning.  They learn by using their hands, and specialized materials in the Montessori classroom were developed with this consideration.

During this time, children have a wonderful sense of order.  They are methodical and can appreciate the many steps involved in practical life lessons in their classrooms.  The organization of the works on their classroom shelves is intentional, which appeals again to this sense of order.

The first plane is a time in which children proclaim, “I can do it myself”; it is a time of physical independence.

The Second Plane: 6-12 years

During the elementary years children begin to look outside themselves.  They suddenly develop a strong desire to form peer groups.  Previously, during the first plane, a child would be content to focus on their own work while sitting near others.  In the second plane, a child is compelled to actually work with their friends.  It is during this time that children are ready to learn about collaboration.

During the second plane there is a sudden and marked period of physical growth.  This may be a contributing factor to the observation that many children of this age seem to lack an awareness of their body, often bumping into things and knocking things over.  Children begin to lose their teeth around this time as well.  Their sense of order and neatness tend to fade a bit during this plane.

Throughout the second plane, children’s imaginations are ignited.  Since Montessori education is based in reality, we find ways to deliver real information to children through storytelling and other similar methods.  For example, when teaching children about the beginnings of our universe, Montessori schools use what is called a Great Lesson.  The first Great Lesson is a dramatic story, told to children with the use of props, experiments, and dramatics (think: a black balloon filled with glitter is popped to illustrate the Big Bang, with bits of paper in a dish of water used while talking about particles gathering together).  This lesson is fascinating for children in the way it is presented, but gives them basic information about the solar system, states of matter, and other important concepts.

Children in the second plane have a voracious appetite for information, and are often drawn strongly to what we in Montessori call the cultural subjects: science, history, and geography.  While we support their rapid language and mathematical growth during this time, we are also responsible for providing them with a variety of rich cultural lessons and experiences.

It is important to note that children develop a sense of moral justice at this time.  They are very concerned with what is fair, and creating the rules to a new game is often as important (if not more so) than playing the actual game itself.

This is the period of time in which children are striving for intellectual independence.

The Third Plane: 12-18

The third plane of development encompasses the adolescent years.  During the second plane, children become aware of social connections, but in the third plane they are critical.  During this time children rely heavily on their relationships with their peers.  They feel a strong desire to remain independent from adults, although they are not quite ready to do this entirely.  It is our job to find ways that allow them to experiment with independence while also providing a safe structure in which they may do so.

Children in the third plane tend to require more sleep, and they sleep later than when they were younger.  They long for authentic learning experiences, and Dr. Montessori imagined just that.  Her ideas of Erdkinder (children of the earth) led her to contemplate a school setting that would support children’s development during this time.  She imagined a farm school, in which children would work to keep the farm operational, but also contribute to planning and decision making while doing so.

During the third plane children are refining their moral compass while developing a stronger sense of responsibility.

The Fourth Plane: 18-24

The final plane is a time in which young adults are striving for financial independence.  They are often living away from home for the first time, and use this time to figure out where they fit into their society.  Many make choices to further their education and/or explore career paths.

It is during the fourth plane that people begin to develop a truer sense of who they are as individuals.

Each plane of development should be mindfully nurtured.  If a child is able to experience one developmental phase in a rich and carefully prepared environment, they are ready to fully take on the next phase when it is time.


 

 

What Are Executive Functions? And Why Are They So Important For Your Child?

As a parent, how important would you rate the following skills for your child?

Self-control

Self-discipline

Focus

Perseverance

Reasoning

Critical thinking

Creative thinking

Mental flexibility

Good organization, planning, prioritizing

and

Good judgement

Pretty important right? 

All of these important skills belong to a complex set of skills called executive functions and they are a direct indicator of your child’s future success in academics, employment, and life! These skills define an intelligent, balanced, motivated person who is self-disciplined, innovative, and doesn’t give up. The good news is these skills can be nurtured during the early childhood years. Interestingly, Montessori is one of the only curriculum models that researchers have proven can improve these skills in children.

Research has shown that early development of executive functions is a better predictor of later academic performance than is early acquisition of academic skills. These capabilities are essential for ensuring rewarding life outcomes. – Dr. Steven Hughes, PhD, ABPdN 

The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University defines executive function as the mental processes that support students in their ability to plan, focus their attention, remember instructions and juggle multiple tasks successfully (2016). Crucial for learning and development, these important skills also enable positive behavior and allow us to make healthy choices for ourselves and our loved ones.

Executive function skills are revered by colleges and CEOs as imperative for success, and targeted by leading edge companies when looking for leadership and innovative qualities. The bad news is that children are not born with executive function skills.

The good news is that children are born with the potential to develop executive function skills and will develop them if provided the proper support. If, however, children do not get what they need from their relationships with adults and their environments at an early age, then their executive skill development can be seriously delayed or impaired.

The great news is that Montessori education is superior in fostering executive function!

One of the only curriculum models that has been empirically shown to improve executive function in children is the Montessori curriculum (Lillard & Else-Quest, 2006). In fact, the very essence of a successful Montessori classroom is characterized by the term “normalization,” which showcases the development of executive function in young children.

 


References

Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University. (2016).

Lillard, A., & Else-Quest, N. (2006) The early years: Evaluating Montessori education. Science, 313, 1893-1894.


 

 

Independence and the Montessori Child

“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” -Maria Montessori

Benefits of Cultivating Independence

You may already know that Montessori educators value and encourage independence in even their youngest students. We believe that nurturing this valuable character trait is both empowering and necessary.  In short, giving a child the gift of independence lets them know we value them and know they’re capable.  Children can grow up feeling empowered and safe in their abilities to make sound choices.  When we trust them, they learn to trust themselves, ultimately becoming happy and productive members of their communities.

Of course, this looks different at different ages.  Children birth to age six want to do things by themselves, while elementary aged children want to think for themselves.  Adolescents seek both physical and social independence while they tread the waters between childhood and adulthood.  It’s important to remind ourselves of these developmental stages, both as teachers and parents.

What Independence Means at School

In the earliest years at school, children focus on what we refer to as practical life skills. This may include learning to prepare simple snacks, putting on their own shoes or coats, or caring for classroom plants and animals.

Children are given endless opportunities to practice these skills both on their own and helping their friends.

Another facet of independence at a Montessori school involves choice within limits.  Children are able to decide what work they are interested in.

Teachers carefully prepare the classroom environment so that all choices are safe and desirable, but within those boundaries the child is free to explore.

As children get older (the elementary years and beyond), they must meet certain academic expectations.  Teachers use a variety of tools to help students work independently while still meeting their goals, including work plans and time management strategies.

Research becomes of great interest at this time, and children are given ample opportunity to deeply explore topics they choose.


How Parents Can Support This Work at Home

How can families continue the cultivation of independence in the home?  It all starts with a shift in the way we view our children’s capabilities.  They are often able to do much more than we realize, and with a little bit of modeling they tend to eagerly accept a challenge.  After all, our children want to do what we do, and if we give them the proper tools and support, they can begin practicing.

The chart below highlights some of the possibilities.  Think of this as an inspiring guide that highlights what children of various ages are typically capable of.  Giving our children tasks such as these builds their confidence while helping them learn how to be contributing members of a community – in this case, their family.


Looking Forward

One of the easiest ways to encourage independence in our children is to be more aware in the moment.  Though it can be a challenge to slow down and let them move at their pace (like when they insist on zipping up their own coat while we’re rushing out the door to get to work), it’s going to benefit them in the long run.  Building a little extra time into our schedules can help!  Some little changes we can make to embed this value into our days:

  • Send your child to put their shoes on 10 minutes before you’d like to leave.
  • Leave child-friendly cleaning supplies within reach.
  • Put pre-portioned or easy-to-prepare snacks on low shelves.
  • Turn spills and messes into opportunities.
  • Let your child pick out their own clothes. For younger children especially, some weather appropriate guidance is just fine. Enjoy the creative fashion statements that ensue.

See It in Action

The very best way to learn about Sunstone Montessori is to see it in action. We encourage you to visit our beautiful and spacious campus, take a tour, observe briefly in classrooms, learn about Montessori education, our programs, who we are, and what we do. Time is set aside at the end for questions and answers.

We look forward to sharing Sunstone with you!

Schedule a Tour


 

 

 

Foster Creative Thinking at Home With This Easy Art Project

Creative thinking contributes to the invention of new ideas, perspectives, concepts,
principles, and products in our society. If creativity is to be exemplified later in life by adults, it
must be fostered in children first. There are many different forms of creativity, such as creative
thinking, creative writing, and creative arts (Richard, 1993).
Nurturing creativity at home can be easy.
Here is a simple art project you can try anytime with your child.
All you will need is:
  • drawing paper
  • a few magazines with images of real people, animals, or plants (ie., National Geographic, Scientific American, Seed Catalogs)
  • scissors
  • glue
  • an assortment of pencils (color if you wish)

Choose an image from the magazines that appeals to you. Cut it out of the magazine and then cut the image it in half from top to bottom. Glue one half of the image on a piece of drawing paper then use the pencils to draw the other half. You will be amazed at the results! Here are a few that our students did:


Resources

Richard, P.W.(1993). The logic of creative and critical thinking. American Behavioral Scientist, 37(1), 21-39.

Gift Ideas That Align With Your Child’s Natural Development

The holiday season is in full swing and if you haven’t already started your shopping you’re probably thinking about it!  Let’s take a look at some gift ideas for children that align with their natural stages of development.

Keeping Development in Mind

Montessori’s concept of the developmental planes can be helpful to keep in mind while selecting gifts. Reminding ourselves of the characteristics of each phase of childhood can give surprising insight!  Here’s a brief summary with ideas:

Developmental Plane Some Characteristics Gift Ideas
Ages 0-6
  • Sense of order
  • Language development
  • Movement/ development of motor skills
  • Refinement of the Senses
  • Child-sized cleaning supplies
  • Books
  • Scooters or bicycles (tricycles or training wheels)
  • Playdough or cooking tools
Ages 6-12
  • Use of Imagination
  • Creative Thinking
  • Social – Prefers Groups
  • Cultural Awareness
  • Science-based activities or games
  • Art supplies
  • Board games
  • Books about topics of interest
Ages 13-18
  • Creative Expression
  • Physical Development
  • Looking for Place in Society
  • Personal Reflection
  • Music (albums, player, headphones, lessons)
  • Sports or outdoor gear
  • Tickets to an event
  • Journals or items related to their current interests

It’s Okay to Reinvent Expectations

Many of us have fond memories of large piles of presents and we want our children to have great holiday memories, too.  The thing is, it’s okay if their holidays don’t include so much stuff.  Young children, especially, don’t have expectations like we do.  A few carefully chosen, nice quality gifts will make them just as happy as you were as a kid.  You know that nagging feeling you sometimes have that their toys are taking over the house?  It’s okay to give them less.

Another idea to consider is to give the gift of experiences.  This works really well for adults and older children, but can be used with younger children as well.  Tickets to an event, movie passes, or a gift certificate (trampoline park, art open studio time, mini golf) will always be appreciated.  As a bonus, the recipient can often enjoy these experiences with someone they love.

Build in (or Continue!) Traditions

You likely already have traditions, either from your own childhood or that your family has developed over the years.  Creating rituals creates memories, and a deep sense of love and celebration that won’t soon be forgotten.  Looking for some ideas? We’ve got some!

  • Have a collection of holiday books. Keep them packed away in a closet most of the year, but this time of year they can be placed in a nice basket in your living room, with a new one added each year.
  • Find a way for your family to give back to the community. Older children can volunteer at a soup kitchen, but even younger children can help bake cookies to take to local firefighters.  If you live in an area where there is a homeless population, you might work as a family to create care packages: small bags filled with food and other items that might be useful.  They can be kept in your car to give to people as you meet them, or they can be dropped off at a local shelter or similar organization.
  • Bake cookies. Or cook or bake something else that’s special to your family.  Time spent together in the kitchen is so special, plus you’ll be sharing important skills with your kids.
  • Make decorations. With a little guidance, even a six-year-old can string together popcorn and cranberries.
  • Enjoy storytelling. Every culture, religion, and family have tales to tell.  Gather around a fireplace, candlelight, or just cozy up on the couch and tell stories.  Folktales, myths, and family history are all great!

Resources for Montessori Families

Are you looking for specific places to buy gifts?  Try supporting small local businesses – they often have items that are hard to find anywhere else.  As a bonus you will be supporting your local economy and helping your neighbors!

For Montessori-specific gifts, we recommend the following company. They provide high-quality products with Montessori families specifically in mind:

If you’re looking for nature and outdoor learning gifts, look no further!  This website caters to teachers, but many of the learning materials would be just as appreciated at home.

With a focus on real wood and natural fibers, this Vermont-based toy company is a Montessori parent’s dream.

Happy shopping!