7 Ways to Encourage Independence

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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 in which 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 ten 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 they 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 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 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. What time will you start?

  • 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 give us a call today.

A Book List for Budding Botanists

Where would we be without plants?  Botany is a major area of study in the Montessori curriculum, and children everywhere are fascinated by the magic of seeds, flowers, and growing plant life.  Interested in finding some books to support this learning?  Check out these ten titles and let us know what you think! (Click on the book images to go to that book’s Amazon page)

 

The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle

Against all odds, a tiny seed travels and grows to become a gorgeous flower.  This delightful children’s classic covers factual topics within a storytelling format.  Though many seeds may set out on their journey, few grow to complete their life cycle.  

 

My Garden by Kevin Henkes

A little girl daydreams as she helps her mother in the garden.  She imagines that in her garden, she wouldn’t have to worry about rabbits eating the lettuce because the rabbits would chocolate and she could eat them.  The tomatoes would be as big as beach balls and the carrots would be invisible (because she doesn’t like carrots).

 

From Seed to Plant by Gail Gibbons

This fantastic nonfiction text helps children understand the basics of seeds and flowers.  It’s bright illustrations, clear diagrams, and informative text covers topics like the parts of a flower, pollination, how seeds travel, and the stages of growth.

 

How a Seed Grows by Helene J. Jordan, illustrated by Loretta Kropinski

This sweet book shows two children as they plant a dozen bean seeds and observe throughout their growth.  While the book gives clear directions on how to repeat the experiment, children can learn a lot just from reading.  If you would like to follow along with the steps, gather some bean seeds, a bit of soil, and a dozen egg shells.

 

The Magic School Bus Plants Seeds by Joanna Cole, illustrated by Bruce Degen and John Speirs

Fans of the Frizz won’t be disappointed with this title!  The class has grown their own garden and goes on an adventure, with the bus first turning into a ladybug to get an up-close look at a flower.  They then shrink down to the size of a grain of pollen, hitching a ride on the leg of a bee and traveling down a pollen tube to learn how seeds are made.

 

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

A book that may inspire both you and your child, Miss Rumphius is a classic that everyone should read.  Little Alice grows up, travels the world, comes home to live by the sea, and sets out to do the most difficult thing of all: do something to make the world more beautiful.  Almost by accident she discovers that planting lupine seeds around her town is just the act of beauty she had been searching for.    

 

Gregor Mendel: The Friar Who Grew Peas by Cheryl Bardoe, illustrated by Jos. A. Smith

For children in upper elementary, middle school, and perhaps even beyond, this picture book tells the story of how humble friar Gregor Mendel founded our scientific understanding of genetics.  Using pea plants, Mendel discovered how traits play an important part in biology.  While the importance of his work was not recognized until after his death, it played a major part in our understanding of the world.

 

A Weed is a Flower by Aliki

This book begins by describing the unfortunate beginnings of Carver’s life, including being born into slavery and taken by night raiders.  Following abolition, Carver lived with his former owners for a number of years, and it was during this time that he cultivated a love for plants.  His curiosity and desire to further his education led him to work hard throughout his life, eventually becoming a professor at the Tuskegee Institute.  It was here that Dr. Carver learned much about plants and attempted to impart his findings on the farmers of Alabama.  He advocated for crop rotation as a means of long-term soil care, and studied crops such as sweet potatoes and peanuts to find ways to make them more useful and appealing to farmers and consumers.

 

Who Was Beatrix Potter? by Sarah Fabiny

Did you know that Potter not only wrote charming children’s books, but she was also a conservationist?  During a time when women’s studies in science were not taken seriously, Potter worked to find ways to make her findings heard.  She adored animals and plants, and strove to find ways to preserve nature for generations to come.

 

Treecology by Monica Russo, photographs by Kevin Byron

Detailed, informative, and engaging, this book delivers a combination of facts and activities that children can try to learn about trees.  It received an honorable mention for the National Outdoor Book Awards and was named a 2017 Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students K-12.  While all children will enjoy this book to some extent, those who are in grades 3 and above would likely get the most out of it.

 

As always, we would love to hear your feedback after reading some of these books.  We would also love to hear about any others you think should be on the list!  Happy reading!

How to Support the Work of Your Child’s Montessori School

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A fresh new school year comes with lots of excitement, and often lots of questions from new and returning families alike.  One of the most frequent questions we receive is, “How can we support Montessori education at home?”

First of all, we love this question!  We know that even busy families want to do what they can to support the hard work of their children and their children’s teachers.  We are here to tell you that your support means everything, and it honestly doesn’t take much to make a huge difference.

What you definitely do NOT need to do:

  • Purchase Montessori materials for use at home - in fact, we recommend strongly against doing so. Montessori materials were developed to be used in a very specific manner and using them with children requires intensive training. While there is certainly an allure to the beautiful wooden learning materials, we believe it’s best to allow trained and credentialed Montessori educators guide children in using them in the way they were intended to be used.

  • Buy any fancy organization systems (or really, buy anything at all) - Montessori at home need not cost a cent. Supporting the philosophy at home is more about a shift in approaches and perspective and less about buying more stuff to enrich the environment.

  • Push for academic achievement - we believe that with the right support and guidance, children make great strides in academic areas all on their own and in their own time. Learning is not linear and each individual requires the time and space to arrive at milestones when they are ready. Your child’s teacher will certainly let you know if there are academic skills that can be supported, but generally speaking, children work so hard at school it’s okay to let them take a break at home.

What is really helpful:

1. Learn about Montessori philosophy. There are lots of ways to do this! We hold regular parent education sessions at the school. These events can be great ways to connect with other families, spend time getting to know our staff, and also one of the best ways to learn more about what Montessori means and how it’s an excellent approach for teaching children.

In addition to attending parent education sessions there are other great resources out there.  One of the best books we recommend is Montessori: the Science Behind the Genius by Angeline Stoll Lillard.  This book is available in our lending library.

Great resource articles for parents from the Association Montessori Internationale/USA can be found here: https://amiusa.org/parent-resources/

2. Volunteer at the school. There are opportunities for all talents and schedules! Some ideas:

  • Chaperone on field trips/”going outs”

  • Help with school fundraising efforts

  • Serve as a parent coordinator committee member that supports the classrooms

  • Ask your child’s teacher what support would be helpful to them

  • Help out with special events

  • Give a presentation to children about your job

  • Pitch in with school gardening projects

3. “Follow the child.” What the Montessori approach really boils down to is honoring the child as a whole human being that is deserving of the same respect as any adult. Learning to shed our preconceived notions of what parenting and teaching means and considering new ways of doing things can be challenging at first, but the long-term benefits are substantial for everyone involved.

We want to inspire you to encourage your child to be more independent.  The more they can do for themselves (including making their own choices), the better.  Nurturing a sense of independence is empowering for the child and, believe it or not, less work for you!  Allowing children independence and freedom does not, however, mean they get to make all the decisions; there has to be a balance!  We will illustrate this concept further in an upcoming post. 

4. If you are happy with the education your child is receiving, spread the word! We believe that Montessori has the power to bring great change to the world, one child at a time. Our approach to education isn’t about memorizing facts and scoring well on tests; we aim to nurture kind, creative, and empowered members of society. The best way to expand our work is to reach more children.

If you’ve been happy with your child’s education at our school, reach out and let us know.  There are plenty of ways to leave reviews for potential families to read.  Spreading the word can also be as simple as talking openly with friends at your neighborhood birthday parties or weekend soccer games.  There are plenty of families out there looking for the solutions that Montessori provides.


We hope this post has been helpful, but if you have any questions or ideas, please let us know.  As parents, you are your child’s first and most important teachers.  Together, we can work to create a more beautiful world.

Engaged or Bored? How to Tell What Your Child is Feeling at School

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A familiar scenario: your child comes home from school, and you, the interested parent, eagerly ask them how their day was and what they did.  While some children will happily relay the day’s events, most shrug and say, “Good” without offering any details.  Don’t worry - this is totally normal and related to their fatigue that time of day.  Give it a few hours and ask at dinner time.  

Did you know that you can learn a lot about your child’s day without them saying a word?

Is your child’s experience at school one that nurtures engagement, or one that leads to their boredom?

There are plenty of ways to tell how your child is feeling (and we will share them below).  School should be a place that sparks wonder and curiosity; it should not feel like a necessity that must be endured.  Read on for clues as to how your child’s learning experience feels to them.

What an engaged child looks like

  • They will make connections to their learning in everyday life. As you prepare lunch one Saturday they may tell you all about the food preparation activities they have learned over the past month or so. Or they may surprise you with extensive background knowledge as you watch a nature show together. Making connections is a clear sign of real understanding.

  • They may blurt out seemingly random (but interesting) bits of their learning. “Did you know that if our intestines weren’t all squiggled up they would be the size of a baby blue whale?!” These moments let us know that children are thinking about what they’ve learned long after they first hear the information, and that it’s fascinating to them.

  • They complain when they have to stay home sick from school. Of course, no one likes to be sick, but for children who really love going to school it’s doubly awful. Not only do they feel bad physically, but they have to miss out on all the fun for a day.

  • They surprise you at drop-off. Maybe they hastily jump out of the car, ready to run for the school’s door. Or maybe they even forget to say goodbye once in a while. Don’t take it too personally - this just means they feel really excited about where they get to spend their days.

  • They have meaningful friendships. This means different things at different ages, but if they have mostly positive interactions with their peers, it’s likely they are happy in the environment. Good schools encourage supportive relationships and acknowledge that our connections with others is part of who we are as whole people.

  • They display signs of independence and confidence. A positive school environment lets children feel empowered not just in their learning, but in who they are as people. If your child wants to do things for themselves and take positive risks, they have probably been encouraged to do so at school.

What a bored child looks like

  • They are reluctant to go to school. We all have days like this, but if you notice your child seems like they’d rather stay home every day, it’s worth noting.

  • They are displaying problematic behaviors. There can be many reasons for a child acting out, but one of them is a feeling of disconnect with school. Boredom is one reason children make poor choices.

  • They complain that the work at school is too hard or too easy. These statements may be true (or not), but they are indicative of a need for more challenge or support.

  • The difficult-to-describe spark has faded. Children are naturally excited about life, so when you see the moments of curiosity and wonder becoming less and less present in your child’s days, it might be time to figure out what’s going on.

  • They tell you they feel bored at school. It can be easy to shrug these types of comments off, especially if we accept our own negative school experiences as normal. If your child is able to articulate that they are not feeling positively about their school experience, it’s important that we listen to them.

What can you do?

Keep in mind that the signs we described can be viewed as guidelines; every child is different and there are many reasons a child may feel negatively about their school experience.  If you notice a pattern of avoidant, problematic, or apathetic behavior, it’s worth paying attention and taking a closer look.  Some suggestions: 

  • Schedule a meeting with your child’s teacher. Don’t present your concerns as accusatory, rather state any factual observations and ask for their take on the situation. If they seem concerned and eager to work together to solve the problem, that’s a great sign (especially if they follow through).

  • Learn about the educational philosophy of your child’s school. Is learning individualized or standards-based? Are lessons exploratory or directive? Are there indications that the school places value on more than just academics? Is it obvious that independence (including independent thinking) is valued? How are peer social conflicts handled?

  • Find out if your child’s school provides adequate opportunities for movement. Many teachers in conventional schools feel extreme pressure in regards to scheduling and content they must cover on a daily basis, making recess (and even breaks and in-class movement) less of a priority. Kids need unstructured playtime to be able to focus when it is time for learning.

  • Involve your child in the conversation, to the extent that is appropriate for their age. Ask them how they feel and let them know they can be honest with you. Ask them what they wish was different about their experience.

We hope this post has been informative.  We believe that Montessori is the answer for so many children.  Curious to see what joyful, engaged learning looks like?  Schedule a tour today.  We would love to show you our classrooms in action.

Back to School

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And just like that, summer is drawing to a close.  School is right around the corner, and we’re here to give you some tips and tricks to get the kids (and yourselves) ready!

Supplies 

Now is a great time to start gathering school supplies if you haven’t already started.  Take into consideration your child’s age and what they will really need for school.  Most Montessori classrooms utilize community supplies that are shared, but many teachers have a wish list or requested supply list for parents. Be sure to check the letter you received from your child’s teacher over the summer.

As children get older, they may need more traditional school supplies.  Again, we recommend checking with your child’s teacher, but it’s helpful to have pencils, crayons, scissors, and paper on hand at home for projects.  Older children may need notebooks and more specialized supplies.

Bedtimes

Long summer days and less pressure to wake up early often leads to later bedtimes for children.  While this is great for family fun, it’s helpful to reassess your child’s sleep needs before school starts.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following:

  • Infants 4 months to 12 months should sleep 12 to 16 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health.

  • Children 1 to 2 years of age should sleep 11 to 14 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health.

  • Children 3 to 5 years of age should sleep 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health.

  • Children 6 to 12 years of age should sleep 9 to 12 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health.

  • Teenagers 13 to 18 years of age should sleep 8 to 10 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health.

https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/American-Academy-of-Pediatrics-Supports-Childhood-Sleep-Guidelines.aspx

To make sure your child is sleep-ready for school, consider what time they will need to go to bed on an ideal school night, then start slowly inching bedtime back each day from now until the start of school. 

Routines

Children thrive with routine.  While it’s not always possible during summertime, it’s super important to reestablish routines when getting ready to head back to school.

Bedtime isn’t just about sleep, but also the hour or so leading up to it.  Create predictable steps and order so that your child can focus on rest and not anticipation of what’s next.  You may want to begin bedtime with a warm bath, followed by putting on pajamas, brushing teeth, and reading a story in bed.  

Morning routines are helpful, too.  What do you expect your child to do independently, and what will they need help with?  Again, try to keep the same order and timing each day so everything runs smoothly.  Children who need reminders (read: most kids) often find it helpful to have a visual reminder.  Post a note in your child’s bedroom or the bathroom listing the order of what needs to be done.  For children who aren’t reading yet, a picture list can be made.

Lunches

Will you need to make lunches for your child when they head off to school?  If so, it doesn’t hurt to think ahead.  Once you gather these supplies they should last for years. Again, check in with your child’s teacher for recommendations.

Lunch supply basics:

  • A reusable lunch bag

  • Reusable lunch containers (bento boxes, sandwich wraps, snack containers, etc.)

  • A reusable water bottle

  • Small cloth placemats and napkins

  • Reusable cutlery

When school does start, it can be helpful to make lunches the night before, and your children can help!  Older children can begin making their own lunches each day.  

Conversations

Begin talking with your child about the upcoming school year.  Chances are they’re excited, but if it’s a new school or a new class, they may have some reservations.  Let them know what to expect and encourage them to ask questions.  Some possible talking points:

  • If it is a new school, feel free to take a drive by to show them or remind them what the building looks like.

  • What will drop-off and pick-up be like for your child?

  • Are there any changes in their class this year? You might discuss new teachers, new students, or anything else that will be different.

  • To the best of your ability, describe what their days will be like.

  • Ask your child what their hopes are for the year. This is especially helpful and important for children in elementary and above. They can include hopes and dreams not just about academics, but friendships, special classes, and whatever else they can think of.

Lastly, if there is any information you need from us before the start of the school year, please don’t hesitate to reach out and ask.  We are looking forward to seeing your children and starting off another great year!

Montessori at Home: The Secrets to Successful Toy Rotation

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Have you ever walked into your child’s bedroom or playroom, taken a look at the state of affairs, and quietly backed out to temporarily avoid dealing with the chaos within?  We know the feeling.

In this post we will share tips and tricks to help you take a Montessori approach when it comes to your children’s toys.  The secret lies within rotating toys, much like Montessori guides rotate at least some of the materials on their classroom shelves.  

Why bother rotating toys (or Montessori materials, for that matter)?  The benefits are numerous and wide-ranging: your children will engage more fully with toys that are available to them, cleaning will be easier for children to complete independently, and children will likely appreciate what they have in a new way.  As a bonus benefit, you will become more mindful about what toys are really useful in your home and what your children do not necessarily need or want.

Follow our handy six-step guide to creating a gorgeous, inspiring, peaceful, and fun space for your children to play at home.

Step One: Observe

While you may be eager to jump right in and purge, take your time in making informed decisions.  The first step is to find a notebook and pen and sit quietly aside as your children are playing.  Try not to engage with them too much and encourage them to play independently.  After a bit of time this will allow you to observe their play in a more authentic way.  Resist the urge to intervene or question their choices, unless, of course, they encounter a safety hazard! 

As you observe, consider the following:

  • Is there a particular toy your child tends to gravitate toward?

  • Are there obvious developmental skills your child is working on?

  • Are there toys your child seems disinterested in?

  • How is your child interacting with the environment as a whole?

  • Notice the space itself and how it suits your family’s needs or doesn’t.

Continue this observation for a few days.  Keep your notebook handy during the day so that you can make a quick note of any thoughts or observations your make elsewhere in your house.  Really think carefully about what your child’s interests and needs are.

Step Two: Assess

This is perhaps the least pleasant step for many of us.  Best done when the children are not around (while they are at school or asleep), grab a cup of coffee, put on some music that you love, and commit to muddling through!

Clear a large floor space and lay out all your child’s toys.  As you sort through, set aside any that could be passed along or donated, recycled or thrown away, or boxed up and stored elsewhere.  Going through all the toys at once will give you a clear picture of what your child has and better prepare you to create the ideal play environment.

Step Three: Prepare 

In this step we focus on the environment itself.  As your child grows and changes, their needs from the environment will change as well.  Consider what they need for now and envision the space you think will serve them best.  Some ideas: 

  • A clean space, preferably with natural colors and soft lighting.

  • Hidden storage for toys not currently in use: perhaps bins in a closet or baskets on high shelves.

  • Low, open shelves. Avoid toy boxes as they become dumping receptacles.

  • Comfortable, delineated areas for different uses or ages. For example a comfy reading nook, a low table for creating art, or a desk for an older child.

  • Baskets or trays to contain small objects or toys with multiple pieces.

Step Four: Select

Now for the fun part!  Look back over your observation notes. Consider the toys your child has and think about which ones they would appreciate most at this time.

The most important piece of advice we have here is to keep the options minimal.  Rather than neatly putting all of your child’s toys on the shelves, select only a few.  This will vary depending on their age and how much time they spend at home, and you will get a better feel for the selection process as time goes on.  Just remember: less really is more.

Step Five: Guide

Once the room is prepared, invite your children in to see the changes.  Discuss your expectations for cleaning up; all children should be able to pick up after themselves with the exception of infants.  They will, of course, require modeling and reminders from time to time, but a more minimalist play area will make cleaning up easier for your child when playtime is over.

For at least the first few days, guide your child through the cleaning up process.  Be sure they understand that toys should go back to the space they were originally retrieved from.  If there is any potential for spills in the room, keep child-sized cleaning supplies handy so that they may pick up after themselves independently.

Step Six: Repeat

One of the biggest questions parents ask is: “How often should we rotate the toys?”  There are so many variables, but a good basic guide would be about once a month.  In the days leading up to your next toy rotation, sit with your notebook and observe a bit.  You may notice there are toys your child is very interested in.  Those are the toys you may wish to leave out.  Any toys that have been forgotten in recent weeks are, for whatever reason, not appealing to your child at this time.  These can be replaced with toys from storage that may meet the current needs and interests of your child.

Looking for inspiration?  Check out these links to see some beautiful Montessori-style play spaces.  Keep in mind your home does not need to look like these to function in the same way.  True minimalism relies on using what we already have in our home, so don’t feel pressured to go out and buy anything fancy!

An infant and toddler family:

https://www.thepreparedenvironmentproject.com/single-post/2019/04/15/A-Montessori-Home-Tour-Pamela-of-Totally-Montessori

A bilingual family with a range of ages:

https://www.thepreparedenvironmentproject.com/single-post/2019/05/02/A-Montessori-Home-Tour-Melanie-of-thisfrenchmom

An elementary homeschool family:

https://www.thepreparedenvironmentproject.com/single-post/2019/05/19/A-Montessori-Home-Tour-Michelle-of-Discovering-Our-Way