Montessori: Right Now

One mistake I make over and over again as a mom is bringing up future plans to our kids. Especially plans that they'll be excited about. For example, we received an invitation to my niece's birthday party two weeks ahead and I told the kids we were invited and would go. Their response? "Right now?" What follows is trying to explain time to someone who has no concept of time. ;)

We've done a bit of experimenting and discovered that telling the number of "sleeps" is actually quite helpful. I never understood why parents talked in terms of "sleeps" until having my own walking, talking and confused children. Going to sleep over and over again is something young children can grasp and understand quite well. It seems to be okay to mention plans a day or two in advance as well. Even thought it isn't happening right then, it's soon and they can wrap their heads around tomorrow (Theo) or even the day after tomorrow (Coco). But next week is too far away to tell them about something.

Montessori recognized different Planes of Development. The First Plane is from birth until 6 years of age, the second from 6 until 12 years of age. She has a wonderful quote that captures perfectly why children under the age of six have such a hard time with time: "The first plane child wants to wrap their hand around the world, the second plane child wants to wrap their head around the world." Children up until six years of age are really only concerned with what they are experiencing in that moment. In other words, right now. They're interested in what they can see, hear, touch and feel at any given moment. They are totally and completely present at all times. For them, all that exists is right now.

So I really try to stop telling our kids about plans in the non-existent-to-them future. And I also avoid imposing future consequences. Children rarely understand the offense or the consequence outside of the present moment. So saying there will be no tv tomorrow really doesn't do anything but confuse them.

What do you think? Are your children able to understand the idea of the future? At what age did it get easier for them? How do you discuss upcoming plans?

(Photo of Coco in the Columbia Gorge)


  1. You know, I don't think this is the way with my (newly turned) five year old whatsoever... Is it okay to say that? I'm very much in line with a Montessori style of teaching/parenting, and yet this is the first thing where I've really thought it doesn't apply to us. What kind of clues do you have that they just really don't understand time? I mean, Ruben talks about the seasons a lot, and that seems to be a concrete understanding of the movement of time, and likes to talk about what happens in Autumn for instance, and what will happen to our apple tree, what family things we do then,etc. He was counting sleeps (! Yep!) down to both his birthday and his birthday party from 60 days. I remember that last year he was crying at almost every breakfast because it wasn't his birthday yet, but this year he would excitedly cross off the day and tell me how much longer now. I'm not sure what other kind of things signify an understanding of time... Kindergarten also helps with this, I think, as he knows that he has two more Monday Gyms, for instance. Harvey, 2.5, yep, understands yesterday and tomorrow. :)

    1. This is definitely more applicable to Theo than Coco. Coco loves counting to 100 and beyond and is good with quantity. But that doesn't always translate to time as in a quantity of days for her. She is also aware the seasons and things you mention. Ruben sounds quite advanced! Theo is coming along, but he's like Harvey with today and tomorrow and really wants things to happen right now, it seems! ;)

  2. I try to walk a line on this one. Some regular things, like "days grandma comes over" (aka days I work), my son knows that they come up frequently but doesn't fully grasp why they come back irregularly (ie sometimes two days in a row, sometimes three days in between, etc). Some huge things obviously bear talking about well in advance, like the pending arrival of a new baby, even though that means months of asking if the new baby is coming soon etc. Some littler things - going to the museum, going to Tinkergarten, etc - I find it works well to do a sort of "debrief" at bedtime the night before. We do a "story of the day" each evening where I narrate all the things we did that day, and then I do a quick rundown of what is coming tomorrow. Then in the morning I reiterate the day's general plan.

    One thing I try never ever to announce ahead of time is beloved or (worse) "treat" food. I am not into coercive measures like "you can have some ice cream if you eat all the lunch on this place" etc. I just serve my kid lunch and he eats what he eats, and if there is room in the day for a treat and it's in the cards, then I serve it after without any anticipation or warning. If I announce a meal plan ahead of time then he just fixates on what's coming next and can't really enjoy what's being eaten now, even if it's something he enjoys. ie if he knows we are having a PB&J at dinner, he won't eat much of his spinach lasagna at lunch - or vice versa.

    I don't find that future consequences have any meaning at all. Even when they are out of my control, and are just natural consequences, they are virtually meaningless to my son. I can say a hundred times each on a hundred different days that if he refuses to help get dressed then we will have less time to play at the playground before it closes, but when it eventually closes 45 minutes after we finally get there and he is upset about not having more time to play, it has absolutely no relation for him to all the earlier time he spent insisting he was not ready to get dressed/running away/etc no matter how much we talk about it. Any consequences that are not immediate are simply not consequences in his mind yet, haha.

    One thing about time/future/etc that really has taken me by surprise, just because I never thought of it, is the concept of "a week," or days coming back around etc. The idea that some days are "Tuesdays" and some are "Fridays" is so baffling to my son and I can't really wrap my head around explaining it to him!


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