Dear new guide and new home-school parent,
My first year teaching was challenging. I had just moved to a new state where I knew one person, and all I had was the handful of materials I made in my training, a few boxes of classroom things I'd collected, and a lot of optimism. As I quickly realized I had a steep learning curve ahead of me, I started looking for any resource to help me out. Here's some advice I would give to you as you begin this wonderful adventure:
Learn to sew (or find someone who can)
With a straight stitch and a few scraps of fabric you can make SO many things for the classroom. Fabric pouches are more durable for cards and also more beautiful! You can also make table mats, aprons, cleaning cloths, basket liners, etc.
Get a mentor
Anytime you are learning a new skill, particularly if it is one you want to be really good at, you should get a mentor. There's a lot to remember and keep track of in Montessori education, and having someone there to choose priorities, offer the next step, and hold you accountable is worth their weight in gold. You can grow so much faster with the guidance of someone who has been there before. Ask if someone at your school or group is willing to mentor you, or can come observe your classroom from time to time.
If you are just starting Montessori home-school without previous training, I strongly suggest you find a certified Montessori guide to check in on you, preferably one who has also home-schooled. I have done this for a few families, contact me to learn more.
Find a home school parent group in your area, or a group of other Montessori guides. Having people who understand what you are working on day after day makes a huge difference in how much you can accomplish and your energy levels. And don't forget to look into online communities!
Don't forget the invisible environment
It's easy to prepare your physical space, it's right there in front of you! But the invisible environment, that classroom or home culture, is what really makes something Montessori or not. Set your limits and expectations, be consistent, and encourage a culture of work, joy, and learning. Ask your mentor if you don't know where to start or run into problems.
Make time to plan and keep records
I learned this a bit late, and things would have been easier had I kept better track of what I was doing from the start. Start with whatever method you learned in training (or in your home-school manuals), and then find what works best for you. At the minimum, you need to know what lessons each child has, what she's been interested in recently, and what you plan to do for the next week or so.
Make it yourself
For home school families with 1-2 children, making some materials yourself is cost effective and smart. Make sure you know which qualities of a material are critical to the purpose, and which materials can't be easily made (ask your mentor).
In my classroom, I eventually made most of my reading materials and other paper type things on the computer. I don't recommend making all your paper materials, there are plenty of pre-made options out there! I'm just picky and had zero classroom money :)
Find it for free or cheap
Check these two websites for free Montessori materials: Montessori for Everyone and Montessori Print Shop, and these two roundup posts on Live and Learn Farm and Living Montessori Now have many, many, many more.
There are many wonderful handmade Montessori materials available on Etsy, and check Teachers Pay Teachers for printables.
If you want real character and beautiful objects on the cheap, hit the thrift stores or yard sales. About 95% of my classroom came from thrift stores, and I found some amazing things! Look for glassware, trays, baskets, boxes, napkins, lamps, artwork, sound game objects, polishing items, and for surprises! Keep an eye on Craigslist or Freecycle for bookshelves, lamps, rugs, and other furniture.
Cut yourself a break.
You must take care of yourself in order to be effective and helpful to your children. It's really easy to over-work yourself to the point of exhaustion when there is SO much to do, but taking the time to rest is vital.
Sending you the very best of luck as you begin this school year!
Leanne Gray, M.Ed is the owner of The Prepared Environment, which supports families in creating an ideal environment for their children at home. She has over fifteen years experience working with children in both public, private, and Montessori schools, and is AMI primary trained.