How to keep up a Montessori routine while traveling

Ready to take a vacation but not to break your baby's Montessori routine? Read these tips from a Montessori expert.

Montessori at home while traveling
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After a year of travel restrictions, closed amusement parks, and limited vacation options, it's finally time to get back into the swing of packing up and getting out of the house. If you're like most of us, you can't wait to hop in the car, or on a plane, and get out!

Even with the excitement of travel, it can feel a bit overwhelming to know what parts of your child's routines and at-home practices to try and maintain while on vacation. During the pandemic many families chose to begin to Montessori-at home, either because their child's school was closed or simply because they finally had the time to dive into the method. Either way, you don't have to completely abandon the hard work you have put into practicing Montessori just because you're not in your home that has been so carefully curated for your family.

Below are some of our best tips on how to keep following Montessori principles while on vacation, along with some reminders on a few things you can just let go.

Don't overpack toys

Remember you're going on vacation in part to switch up your routine. There's no reason to empty your child's toy shelves into a duffle bag and pack it along with you. It's likely that the place you'lll be staying will be full of new treasures and manipulatives to explore. With younger children you can't ever underestimate the joys of a cabinet full of pots and pans, while an older child may have the opportunity to learn a new board game from the back of the closet at your vacation rental. Packing up a few favorite toys (bonus if your child helps you pick them!), and some that have been out of the rotation a while, should be enough even for a lengthy vacation. Plus, the excitement of returning home to their shelves of toys may give you extra time to clean out the car or tackle the vacation laundry.

No shelf needed

A beautifully staged child-sized shelf with materials is the quintessential Montessori look, and if you've been practicing Montessori at home you have likely also found it to be incredibly useful in helping your child to engage in independent play. You've probably also gotten so used to your child's toys and activities being placed on this shelf that it can be hard to imagine setting up a play space while traveling without shelves. Luckily it is possible! Although attractive, child-sized shelves are useful for inviting your child to play, they aren't the only way to set up a Montessori play space. Having a designated space in your hotel room or rental house where your child's toys and belongings can be displayed in a neat and orderly way will do the same thing. Lining the toys up on the floor along a wall or emptying out a low drawer or cupboard will provide your child with a place to find their toys, and allow them to put them away themselves. If possible, avoid keeping all their things in a bag or suitcase that they have to dig through.

Rotate the options

Again, if you're practicing Montessori at home, this is old news for you, but rotating toys will keep your child interested in their play. While traveling it is still important to rotate the options for what your child plays with while they are having independent play time. This does not mean that you need to bring enough stuff to do a full toy rotation (see the first tip), but adding a little variety will keep their attention and likely will allow you some down time. Depending on where your travels take you, you may be able to add treasures from your trip to their play area to mix it up.

Work with what you've got

While at home it's ideal to have toys and materials that are serving your child's developmental needs at that very moment, this may not be as easy to do while traveling. Maybe you're setting up this play space for multiple children with different needs, maybe you have limited space to pack materials or maybe you just want to let your child play with the toys that friends you are traveling with brought. Whatever the reason, a vacation is a great time to relax on finding purpose for every activity your child does, and to let them explore this new experience. They may even surprise you and take interest in an unexpected new activity!

Continue to encourage independent play

It can be easy while traveling to book up every moment with adult-led activities, especially if you are traveling to an activity-filled destination. But it's important to still allow time for your child to have some child-directed and independent play daily. This can happen in a variety of ways and doesn't have to just be with the toys you brought them to play with. Independent play can take place any time the child is able to steer the direction of play and is given the freedom to choose how to play. It can happen on the beach, at the pool, while on a hike, at the park, and even at places like a zoo or amusement park, if they have playscapes available. Giving your child this time in their day is a nice brain break for them, and hopefully allows the adults a moment of calm as well.

Routine will return

For the last year many of us have thrived on routine, and practicing Montessori at home typically works great for families drawn to that daily structure. Keeping parts of that routine in play while traveling may happen, but it's important to remember that whatever you let go will all come back when you return home. As adults it often feels great to use a vacation as an opportunity to break out of our routine, and it can be the same way for children. Enjoy your travels in whatever way feels right for you, you've earned it!

Kelly lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and young son. She has a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education, and is a certified Montessori teacher through the Association Montessori International. Kelly is currently an Education and Inclusion Specialist for local preschools.

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