A Beginner’s Guide to Montessori at Home with Kerith O’Sail

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Instagram has its downsides, but it is also a place where I have had the opportunity to make connections and form friendships with people I would otherwise probably never meet. Kerith O’Sail and I found each other through my shop, Elsie James Clothing. I’m not really sure if I found her or she found me, but regardless-I am so grateful for the connection! Kerith’s account focuses on how to implement Montessori principles at home from pregnancy through childhood. She is passionate about respectful parenting, sustainable living, and childhood development. She is an incredibly innovative and creative person who has a lot of ideas for how to get started with Montessori with natural resources or items you may already have it home. If you are interested in learning more about Montessori but are intimidated or unsure where to start, this post is for you!

Q: Can you please tell us a little about yourself and your family? 

   I am a stay at home mom to two little ones, Stoney (2.5) & Bobbi Ray (3 months old!) My husband, Daniel, is a Firefighter here in central Texas. We love spending time with family & friends, good food and Texas country music! For us, nothing beats being outdoors. A sunset and laughter is the best way to end the day, along with a good fire to gather around. My husband is extremely handy and is often building things for the kids or working on our house (which we bought last year!) I love sewing, painting, piano, thrifting and antiques. If there is a way to pinch pennies, I’ll probably figure it out! Our children are our total joy and nothing brings us more happiness then just being with them each day. 

Q: What are some things that you are passionate about and why?

Where do I even begin, ha! I went to school for Fashion Design & Studio Art. Both have always been a passion of mine since childhood. My mother is a bridal designer, she’s a very creative, loving person, I think that really shaped me as a child. She was always doing hands on things with my sister and I. She stayed home with us as well and I never fully realized her sacrifice until I was in her shoes. I can truly say she made our childhood magical, which is something I strive to do for my children every day. I was never the type of person that gave much thought to having kids. I knew I would eventually, but that was the extent of it. Once my son was born, my whole world completely changed, as it does, and I fell i love with being a mother. No job has given me more pure happiness, or fulfilled me more than the role of Motherhood. Waking with them every day, putting them to bed at night. Holding them, crying with them, laughing with them. There is nothing like it. Even on the hardest days, I feel so totally lucky. 

Q: Can you describe the Montessori philosophy to someone who is not familiar with it?  

I think many people see the word “Montessori” and have a very skewed image in their head of what that actually is. They may picture expensive wooden toys. Children sitting, being unnaturally quiet working on the same task over and over and over. A sterile environment. No adult interaction. These things are not completely true. 

Montessori is a respectful way of raising your child. Following each child’s unique and natural path of development. Montessori & gentle/respectful parenting go hand-in-hand. That does not mean a child does whatever they want, whenever they want. Connecting with and observing your child is vital. Setting limits, having healthy boundaries, treating your child as a valued member of your family, all these things are part of Montessori. You’ll often hear the phrases “freedom within limits” in the Montessori community. This is something I practice a lot with my son every day! Creating a yes space for them to explore completely freely is a beautiful way to harbor independence. Montessori is not independence at all costs. It is giving your child meaningful materials and opportunities to allow them to grow and build confidence in themselves on their own individual time line. 

Q: How did you get started with Montessori/why was it appealing to you?

I dabbled in learning about it before my son was born, but purely from an aesthetic perspective. Probably the worst reason to become interested! But I really thought it was lovely for a child to have a beautiful environment to play and work in. It wasn’t until he became closer to a year old I really dove in and started doing a lot more research. The more I learned, the more it resonated. The more principals I implemented in our home, the more I saw my son thrive. After that there was no turning back! Once you learn what your child can truly be capable of, you will never look at children the same way again. 

Q: How do you think Montessori has impacted your children?

I’ve seen such a difference in my son from when we began our journey to now. I didn’t start with him from birth, although I wanted to, I felt very overwhelmed by the prospect and didn’t begin till he was older. It’s been a slow shift and over the last year and a half he has become much more independent, self confident and resilient. He is exceptional at expressing his emotions and needs. In areas where he would get frustrated before, he is more willing to work through things and find a solution on his own. I also feel that our bond has grown much stronger because I am actually listening to him and giving him exactly what he needs instead of what mainstream media encourages people to buy/do for their children. With Bobbi I began from pregnancy! It sounds silly but there are in-fact ways to begin the journey while you’re pregnant. She is thriving and such a happy little girl! I am so excited to see how she grows and changes over the years having this experience and respect from birth. 

Q: How do you choose what items and activities to have on display? How often do you rotate them? Is anything out all the time? 

As for activities and materials I always follow the needs of my children. I provide materials based on interests and skills they are working on.  I have never done a weekly toy rotation or even a monthly one. I will just observe what is being engaged with and what isn’t and swap things out slowly and mindfully over time. Usually one at a time. There are materials that have been out for a year and some only last a week. It can be hit or miss, sometimes we think they will love something and they don’t! I always leave a material out for a bit even if it appears that it has been mastered. Children will surprise you and find new ways to use something and usually always come back to things. As long as the environment is prepared they will explore! 

Q: Favorite Montessori items for babies, toddlers, kids? 

This is so hard! We do have some tried and true things but again, not every child will like the same materials. My son, for example, never took to puzzles. I bought so many and I’m saving them all for Bobbi in hopes she will! I’d say practical life items are always a hit regardless of the child. A learning tower or large step stool for the kitchen is a must. Even a chair they can stand on. Just something to get them up to the counter height and involved! Our child-safe knives have gotten daily use, as well as all our child sized cookware, plates, dishes etc. I also think a water source is extremely important. This can be intimidating at first for the parent but it makes a huge difference! Our water dispenser has been invaluable since my daughter was born. My son can get a drink, pour water for watercolors or other art projects, set up his own pouring work, wash his hands. The list goes on. Small mops, brooms, dust pans, all these items are wonderful! Children, especially toddlers, love to watch us and do what we spend our days doing. Purposeful practical work is so fulfilling for them. As for babies, I loved our mobiles for Bobbi! The process of watching her discover each one was really mesmerizing for me. An open firm space for movement (we used an old pac-n-play pad in front of a mirror) is great too! Bobbi has also loved her play silks from Sarah’s Silks, and her bell rattle from Essential Montessori. In reality, babies need practically nothing. Just observing the world around them is such a massive sensory experience. I think people often forget that everything is new and exciting to them. 

Q: Is it possible to implement Montessori without spending a lot of money? If so, how?

Absolutely! Facebook marketplace is an awesome resource for materials if you don’t want to buy things brand new. Thrift stores. Goodwill. Buy nothing groups. DIYs. Montessori doesn’t have to be expensive and elaborate. The simpler the better in my opinion. I found most of my inspiration from blogs and Pinterest when I first started. I’ve found the less we have out and the more straightforward the set up, that is what allows for the most success in our home. 

In addition, something we can all do that’s completely free – simply shift the mindset of how you view your children each day. Slow down, watch, learn from them. Allow them time and space. Don’t immediately step in. They are so much more capable than we give them credit for. 

Q: How has the Montessori approach changed the way you view your children’s development and parenting as a whole?

It has changed everything. I always knew I wanted a more respectful approach but I didn’t feel confident in myself or feel I had the tools to do it. With all I’ve learned (and there is still so much more!) I am so happy I made this choice for my children. It has allowed me to slow down, find the beauty in each day and enjoy every moment. It’s also taught me when I need to set boundaries for myself and the importance of taking care of myself so I can be the best parent for my child. The prepared adult is just as vital as anything. It’s taught me not to compare my children to others. Conversations with friends now rarely include milestones or newly mastered skills. I trust my children, I know they will develop how they’re meant to on their own timeline.  

Q: What advice would you give for someone who wants to implement Montessori but doesn’t know where to start? 

Simply observe your child. There is no need to spend a ton of money or have a perfect shelf or playroom. Adult lead activities often lead to disappointment on our end, rather see what your child is most interested in and hone in on it. Offer an activity or material that would fine tune whatever it is they are working on. That is when your child will truly engage. Simple DIYs are a great way to start. Not every child is going to sit and do puzzles for hours on end. Most children do not sit and do activities at all. From birth though toddlerhood there is a sensitive period for movement and often times concentration and learning look a lot like running, jumping, walking, crawling etc. Do not underestimate even the smallest movements like grabbing something for the first time, a baby rolling onto their side or tracking something with their eyes. So much is happening in such a short period of time for our children! It’s all about allowing them the space to let these things unfold naturally and without our interference.

Other Resources

I personally learned so much from my interview and conversations with Kerith. Although I have been implementing a lot of Montessori principles with Lincoln since birth, I think there is still much to learn and I am thankful for people like Kerith who are willing to share their experiences.

Kerith told me that she got a lot of ideas and learned how to practically apply the Montessori philosophy from the book The Montessori Toddler–one of my favorite educational parenting books. This book provides ideas for children ranging from ages newborn to early childhood, and offers a lot of real life examples with pictures.

You can find Kerith on Instagram @montessori.with.us. Her page is full of ideas and inspiration for how to get started with Montessori today!

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