Have you heard about the Montessori Method and wondered what a Montessori homeschool curriculum is like? Listen in as expert guide Natalie Cottrell talks about this educational method, how you can easily implement it at home with your young kids, and how to encourage a natural love of learning in your home.
Welcome to the show notes for Episode #75 of the Homeschool with Moxie podcast!
As a former classroom teacher, now homeschooling mom of five, I love to equip and encourage other homeschooling families.
On the Homeschool with Moxie Podcast our goal is to inspire and encourage you with actionable strategies to take you from overwhelmed to confident in your homeschool adventure. Listen to interviews with amazing influencers in the homeschool world and beyond.
Thinking about homeschooling? Homeschooling 101 is a journey in self-discovery for parents who are interested in the homeschooling option, but just need some insider informationto help bring clarity to the decision making process. It’s like a birds-eye view of homeschooling.
EPISODE #75: What’s the Montessori Method All About? Conversation with Natalie Cottrell
Natalie runs Grasshopper Montessori in Seattle. She knows a thing or two about this educational method and shares her best tips with us! Listen in if you would like to know what a Montessori homeschool curriculum would look like.
Check out Natalie’s resources here:
- Grasshopper Academics Website – purchase downloadable e-Books and physical Montessori Homeschool curriculum
- Grasshopper Academics on Instagram
- Grasshopper Academics Facebook Group – The Village
- Grasshopper Montessori – preschool in Seattle
Montessori Homeschool Curriculum
Intro to Our Guest
Abby: Welcome to episode 75, we’re going to be talking about the Montessori method and how to use everyday items in your home school as educational tools. So, it’s an interesting episode, especially if you have preschool and kindergarten first grade age students. This is going to be applicable to you.
I was able to chat with Natalie Cottrell who runs Grasshopper Montessori a Seattle preschool that uses the Montessori method. So, it was interesting to get some insider information. I’m not super familiar with the Montessori method. It’s one of those things where when you homeschool all these terms are thrown around right and you hear of all the different ways and methods you could use to home school.
Well, Montessori is just another one of those that if you have young kids, this might really resonate with you. You might want to check out Natalie’s site and learn a little bit more about it. But even if you’re not using the Montessori method in your home school, I think what Natalie has to share with us about the way kids learn and using some everyday items to help you in your home schooling with your children.
I think it’s going to be inspirational. It’s going to give you some practical ideas that you can use even this week.
So, sit back and enjoy, here’s my conversation with Natalie about the Montessori method and Montessori homeschool curriculum ideas.
Natalie, thanks for joining us on today’s podcast.
Natalie: Abby, thank you so much for having me. I’m so honored to be here today.
Abby: for sure. So, as we start out, can you introduce yourself to my audience and tell us a little bit about your business.
Natalie: Absolutely And thank you for giving me an opportunity to do so. My name is Natalie Cottrell. I am an expert in teaching you how to teach your kids. Nobody else do what I do baby. I am broadcasting live from Seattle, Washington, where I am the founder owner and director of Grasshopper Montessori.
We are an academic preschool with a focus on kindergarten preparedness. I also have an in-home program where I work one on one with kids in their homes, customizing curriculum based upon each child’s interests, skills and needs the in home program is also an opportunity for me to connect with the parents and teach the parents how to translate their children’s behaviors and how to set up their unique environments to make them conducive to their child’s independence and education.
Most of my students go into kindergarten with exiting kindergarten skills. They can Read and write full sentences spelled by recall a plethora of sight words add numbers to 10, but most importantly, they maintain their natural joy of learning. I started grasshopper academics as a means to bring my program to you. Grasshopper academics is an online source for downloadable e books, personally created by yours truly ship herbal curriculum and most importantly, inspiration.
You can find all of my materials at Grasshopper academics dot com. You can follow me on social media under Grasshopper academics and be sure to join my Facebook group, the village because it takes a village to raise these kids up in here and Abby, thank you again for having me.
What is the Montessori Method?
Abby: Yeah, thanks for joining us. So yeah, the Montessori method. I mean a lot of us homeschooling where we hear these little words like all the different methods and the ways you can educate your kids, Montessori, you know, we might have a little bit of an idea of what it means.
But could you give us kind of what that philosophy entails and how, you know, homeschoolers who for the first time this fall are thinking of having their kids at home, you know, how might this look for them and how could they implement it?
Natalie: Yeah, so Montessori has a very specific set of materials that teach Children. The Children just feel like they’re playing based upon their materials. So, there’s a wide variety of materials that are very specific to Montessori.
And the materials are so simple that I mean, seeing four- and five-year-olds do fraction and multiplication, it’s mind blowing because the materials speak to the way kids think and manipulate objects naturally. But more importantly than that. It’s a mindset, it’s a perspective, a methodology, the way you understand Children.
So, when I learned about Montessori, my daughter was five and my specialty is ages 2.5 to 5 or six. So, by the time I learned about it. I was thinking, oh my goodness, why didn’t I know that I would have been a much better parent this whole time. But I realized that what our natural instincts of working with Children is the opposite of what they need. So, we communicate with Children based upon our adult perspectives, which is natural for us because that’s because we are adults.
But if you can train your brain and make observations and understand your child from their perspective, you’re able to allow them to be the lead. So instead of telling a child what to do when to do it, how to do it, show them and using lots of words with lots of explanations and definitions. it’s really understanding a child from their natural tendencies. So, we’re making observations about what they’re doing. So, if your child is naturally ready for reading, you’ll know because they are sounding out words or asking about letters or trying to print letters.
So, it’s truly just a mindset about letting your child guide you instead of you feeling like you have to guide your child all the time. And this, this blew my mind because it was so obvious and so simple. But I really had to shift my own thinking as a parent because we’re just in these habits of being in control of everything and having to be the responsible one and telling, organizing, and scheduling. And so, it’s really just a shift in your mindset of this is just a journey. Life is a journey, and you can be on this journey with your child, you don’t have to be the teacher and monastery.
We don’t even use the term teacher; we use the term guide because Children are naturally their own teachers. This is a big proponent of the monastery methodology. Kids naturally learn, they have a natural ability to learn. We don’t have to instill enjoy of learning, it’s already there.
We can kill it, which is what happens with a lot of educational systems as you probably know as an educator yourself Abby. But everything they need is already inside of them. So, our job is to just put fuel on that fire and not to squash it and allow them to come to their own understandings and be on this journey with them and that would be a tip that I have for homeschoolers two is don’t feel like you need to know everything and work with your Children as a team and build this journey of education together and make mistakes together.
Do you know how empowering that is for little kids or any kids to see their parents failing and the parents too, be able to ask the child, hey, we’re supposed to learn fractions today, what do you think? How do you think we can go about doing that? What are your ideas and these, your kids are so much more capable and inspired than we give them credit for? But we often take so much time to tell them what they the information that they need instead of letting them tell us what they already know.
And a big example of that is a lot of times parents will ask me, what is it that? Well, they’ll ask me. So, a child will say ask a question, right? And a parent will naturally answer, but I always tell parents to just reverse that question onto the child and ask that child, what do you think? And you will understand, you will realize that this child already has a wealth of information.
They can articulate it in a much more concise and important way than we can. and so that’s a big part of the Montessori methodology is just understanding your kids in a different way and giving them an opportunity to show you what they know instead of telling them what you think they should know.
Montessori Educational Philosophy
Abby: So, it is, it sounds like a very hands-on way of learning. Is that true to the, to the way you teach? It’s a lot of manipulative or natural like learning through play. Is that kind of a bit of it too.
Natalie: It’s yeah, it’s so the idea is if you think about kids, they can use their hands before they can use their words, right? So, in Montessori, there’s a lot, there’s lots of materials that kids can use when they’re as soon as they can manipulate their fingertips or their palms or their fist grips.
So, there’s a lot of it is just based upon manipulating objects because you know, kids love to move things and taste things and smell things and drop things and throw things. So there’s materials that allow for Children to explore all those, all of that curiosity that they naturally have. So yes, there’s a lot of manipulatives, a lot of movement.
We don’t sit at one table all day long because kids naturally need to be moving. So, there’s specific activities that require a child to go from one location to the next location. So, they’re naturally getting an opportunity to walk and move around, and we visit lots of different planes that we use mats on the floor.
There might be a standing work to do, there might be excuse me, work to do sitting at a table. So just allowing kids to visit the planes that they naturally experience all day long. So yeah, a lot of movement, a lot of manipulatives I think learning through play is a little, I understand the value of it, but I think it’s a little bit, I don’t want to say cliche because it’s not their serious kids, our kids are actually really serious humans, like they don’t, they don’t crack jokes, right? If you, we bring this silly into them. We make faces, we talk to them with silly words or silly voices, but they learn that from us?
Kids don’t naturally they’re naturally very can be very focused and serious about what they’re doing. So it’s like a in a monastery and a traditional monastery environment, it’s like a buzzing beehive, it’s active and busy but it’s not chaotic and it’s not silly, it’s very focused and intentional and because of that kids are they’re feeding off of the feeling of success and achievement and their own goals and their own skills instead of feeding off of somebody else’s being silly or you know using a dump truck, but they start to understand what their own skills are and they hone those skills, so that’s a big part of that.
Abby: that’s helpful. We do talk down to kids and we don’t give them credit for how much they really can understand. I love that that idea of giving them credit for that, that that they want to learn to and then I think that’s so true, we can school that love of learning out of them easily, but they’re born with that curiosity.
So, I love that the Montessori method just encourages what’s naturally there, like if people are thinking of homeschooling and they’re thinking of their kids ages, is there an ideal age where these methods work up to, you know, is there, is there a cut off to where you could see this being effective?
When Can You Start Using the Montessori Method? Do You Need Curriculum?
Natalie: Right. That’s a good question. So, Montessori starts from infancy? So as early as six months like I said as soon as they can move around there’s ways to set up your nursery. So, if you have a brand-new baby and a monastery environment they wouldn’t be in a crib, they would be just on a on a mattress on the floor so they can get down freely and be independent instead of feeling confined and being reliant on adult to lift them up and telling them when they can get up and when they can get out.
It’s very basic and a Montessori nursery has a mirror and a pull up bar so the kids can practice pulling themselves up and there’s nothing in the room that can fall over a tip over so that when the baby does climb out of the off the mattress that you know he will he or she will be safe.
So it ranges all the way from infancy to there are some schools that even are in high school now but really the key the main age group is infancy to maybe kind of pre k. And then there’s a lot of you know it’s becoming a lot more popular in elementary and middle school too.
How Complicated Is It To Use the Montessori Method? What About Curriculum?
Abby: So, if families are thinking about this method for themselves, what does it take? A lot of resources? Parents are thinking like what will this take? Is it complicated or is it a simple approach that might blow their minds? I don’t know. I’m just guessing from what you’re saying. Maybe it’s simple.
Natalie: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I think it’s like, I think it’s like anything, you can take it and go as deep into it and have as many materials as you want or if you’re strapped for funds or space, if you just understand the philosophy behind it and the mentality and the mindset, then you can implement it just by the way you work with your Children. So, it’s something as simple as if your child is running through the house.
A lot of times we might say stop running or slow down, but to a child that’s so abstract, right? So, in a monastery environment we might simply say walking or if they’re sitting in a chair and they stand up and you know, we’re afraid that they’re going to tip over and we say you need to sit down, be careful because you could tip over and hurt yourself. We use so many words to explain something like that in a monastery environment, we might just say sitting.
And just that one word, it gives a very tangible step for the child. So, the child knows exactly what the request is and we’re not confusing his brain with all these explanations that they don’t care about? They just want to know what it is that you want from them. So it can, there’s a ton of information out there and as long as you know the methodology behind it you can start you can start to hone your own skills and see how change the way you talk to your child, change the expectations that you have of your child and see them blossom and they will, it will blow your mind and if you want to go full blown you can get there math materials. I think if I don’t, no matter what curriculum I teach or recommend even just as a Montessori teacher, and I might be biased.
But their math, the Montessori Math materials are the best that I would ever recommend. It’s anywhere from just understanding the mentality behind it and changing your approach all the way to full blown language arts and Math materials and Science and exploration and geography.
You can make it your own and that’s really what Montessori is about to is finding what is inspiring and feels good to you and you’re naturally going to learn from it. So, you can take a few steps and see what you love and then make it your own and implement it into your own family dynamics.
Customize the Method To Fit Your Child
Abby: Cool. Do you have a book that you’ve really loved like that is like that you’ve learned about this method with that you would recommend for people to read? I don’t I didn’t ask you that ahead of time
Natalie: but no that’s fine. So, my thing I really try not to recommend books to parents because I feel that what happens is a parent will read a book and then they try to fit all of that information into what they’re seeing play out in front of them and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but then they read another book and then they change their approach and they change their mindset.
So, I feel like when I recommend books I I don’t because I want them to see the child for who they are in front of them and not try to fit their situation into what they read in a book. I feel like a lot of times it can prevent consistency because well this book says this, well now let me try that book and this one worked for six months. So, I feel like it prevents us from seeing the child that’s in front of us and understanding what that child is doing and saying in every moment. So, I hope that’s an okay answer that.
Abby: Yeah it is. So you’re saying look at the child in front of you and adjust and deal, which really fits well with homeschooling because we can adjust what we’re doing to the child in front of us. So, I think this could be a good fit for some families. I know you were going to tell us then and this is great because this applies to any homeschool families, even if they’re not doing a pure Montessori method in their home.
Using Everyday Items As Educational Tools in the Curriculum
Abby: But how can we take what’s around us in our homes and use these normal everyday items as educational tools? Can you kind of walk us through some of your ideas?
Natalie: Absolutely. And this is kind of on the heels of what you’re asking to like how can we do this at home and how much do we need to implement it? So, the things that I have for you today are things that you have with you all day long or your kids probably have but it’s just using them from a Montessori approach.
Something as simple as your environment. So, Maria Montessori said environment is the third teacher. Your environment needs to be set up so that it allows your child free movement, independence inspiration. So does your child have a just right table and chairs, for example, that’s always my number one recommendation is if your child doesn’t have a table and chair that he can access easily and claim for his own then that’s one thing I would recommend setting up first. But also just giving your child access to their own plates and cups and snack, maybe there’s a snack drawer.
Instead of coming to you all the time for a snack, there’s a drawer that or maybe a drawer in the refrigerator or a shell for something that they can access whenever they’re hungry. So setting up your environment so that there’s not a lot of physical obstacles or young Children are clumsy, right? And they’re still working on their large motor skills, so give them access in and out of spaces.
Have a space specifically set up for where you want their shoes or their coats, get them in the routine of putting their items in these spaces on a regular basis. And that really empowers them because if they know where their shoes go and they can put their shoes there, that’s an element of success. If they have to put their shoes there, but they have to open up a trunk and unlock something or walk over something or stumble over thing over something, they’re going to not feel as successful. So just allowing your kids to be as successful and getting to the feeling of achievements.
Something as simple as getting their own cup feels like an element of success or putting their dishes in the sink is an element of success and the more that they can feel those little achievements every day, the more they’re going to be inspired and empowered. So, my first tip is setting up your environment to make it conducive to your child’s independence. My second tip, two out of three is snack time.
So oftentimes We as parents and I have a 16-year-old, so I know I did this with my child a lot and I still do and I’m still trying to stop doing it, but we make their food for them, and we just set it out for them, and they just sit there and wait for us to do everything for them. But one thing that we can do is allow them to be hands on at snack time. So, it might be something as simple as,
And I this is the way that we can turn it into an educational skill. So, I call it a snow activity. Maybe you can tell your child they can count out five grapes and four crackers and maybe 18 raisins for example. So, you can provide and incorporating quantities and one on 1 – one ratio and fine motor skills. And then that is empowering to your child too because they’re not just sitting there waiting for you to do something.
They’re actively engaged in their own snack and something as simple as counting out objects and a set is a huge math skill that’s going to provide long term success when they are ready for some counting in addition. And then my last one Abby is puzzles. So do your kids work with puzzles?
Abby: They did when they were younger, they were big into puzzles. Yeah.
Natalie: Yeah. Yeah. So, everybody has puzzles at home and what do kids do? They take the puzzle, and they dump it out. They love watching things dump out which is wonderful when working with a puzzle.
However, you can sit down with your child and teach them how to take out one piece at a time one puzzle piece at a time. And for young kids there’s usually a little knob to grab. So, we’re working on pencil grip because they’ll naturally use their fingertips to take the puzzle piece off and then you can teach them to line up their puzzle piece in their puzzle pieces in a straight line.
So, this is preprinting and prewriting skills because they’re going to take one puzzle piece and set it on their left and they’re going to take another one and set it next to that on the right. Just like they will when they line up letters when they start printing. So, they can start lining things up from left to right.
But this is also 1 to 1 ratio. Learning to take one object at a time when most young kids like to take fistfuls of things and carry as many things as possible in their hand. So just being able to take one object at a time, line things up left to right is a prewriting and a pre reading skill, right? So, if you can get in the habit if they can get in the habit at the age of three and four, starting on the left and moving to the right, that’s already a challenge.
That will be eliminated when they go to printing because they don’t know where to start. But it will be a habit to start on the left side of the page and move to the right when they’re printing and reading. So those are my three tips for you guys today.
Use What You Have for Montessori Homeschool Curriculum
Abby: awesome. So, it really isn’t complicated, is it? But it’s going to take the parent to be present. Not like zoning out during snack time or checking the phone or whatever, right? It’s just really being present and thinking through. I love it though, it’s so simple and it’s stuff we shouldn’t actually be doing.
Natalie: Yeah. Yeah, it really is simple. Once you understand kind of like I said the mindset behind it, you can see how you can use the materials that are already in your house. If you don’t want to buy the Montessori materials, you can see how you can use little figurines for example.
I’m sure I mean who’s got Legos and dump trucks and little trinkets that your kids that are kids collect and hoard just teaching them to line those things up left to right. I mean that’s all so many educational skills that they’re learning. So yeah, it’s it can be very simple and very basic
Abby: awesome. I think this has been helpful Natalie and thank you for your expertise and kind of explaining the Montessori method and how what kind of changes we can do in our homes. So, as we wrap up, do you have any last-minute encouragement or advice for my homeschool moms?
Natalie: Yes, I have so many. Which one do I want to give you today?
If you’re just starting, don’t feel like you have to know everything I would say empower yourself with information. So, find out what the state laws are in your state and what I like to do is find out what the kind of state standards are for education. So, if you know that your child is going to have to know all of the letter sounds by the end of this school year then you don’t necessarily have to purchase an entire curriculum or know how you’re going to go about it.
Just know that that’s going to be your end goal and work on it throughout the year. So just empower yourself with the goals because you don’t know if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re not going to know how to get there. So just understand kind of what the long-term goals are for each year and then you can start understanding what steps to take to get there because it can be so overwhelming. There are so many curricula, so many methodologies and it’s mind blowing.
So don’t feel like you have to know everything at once and allow your child to be a part of the curriculum process. What do you think about this? What do you think we should do? How do you think we can practice colors today? I don’t know what we did yesterday was a disaster. Right? How did I even mess that up? Like you, you feel free to engage your child in the journey, don’t put it all on your shoulders. Your child will guide you if you give them an opportunity to
Abby: awesome. Thank you so much, Natalie, it’s been fun talking.
Natalie: Thank you Abby, I’ll talk to you soon.
Abby: I hope you really enjoyed this episode. But most importantly I hope you found some idea or some mindset that will help you as you educate your young kids even this week.