One of my favourite parts about Tim Seldin and Lorna McGrath's book, Montessori for Every Family, is their approach to family meetings.
Holding a weekly family meeting, even with very young children, is a great way to ensure everyone in the family feels included, heard, and prepared for the week ahead.
They also help to lay a foundation for:
meaningful family time
patience (as we wait for our turn to speak)
leadership (as we each take a turn as facilitator)
As an aside, Tim Seldin and Lorna McGrath are both well respected, experienced, and highly involved in the Montessori community. You can scroll to the bottom of the email if you're interested in reading more about them.
How To Hold A Family Meeting
While each family will choose to run their meeting a little differently, depending on their schedules and the age of the children, here's the guidelines that Montessori for Every Family recommends:
Meetings are ~20–30 minutes, including a closing fun activity (walk, game, etc). Since my youngest is only 2, our actual meetings tend to be 10 minutes, at most.
Ideally they follow a set format for consistency (see below)
Meetings are facilitated by family members on a rotating basis, with each person having an opportunity to lead. This is recommended for children as young as four years old but it's best to start by having one of the adults lead. This gives children a chance to observe and prepare for this role.
Family Meeting Format
Step 1. Starting the Family Meeting
Begin the meetings with appreciations or acknowledgments.
The facilitator starts, choosing a family member and thanking them for one thing they did or helped with during the week, then the other family members follow.
This is a chance to look at everyone's growth, contributions, and achievements over the last week.
For my young children, I might say something like, "I really appreciate that you helped me rake the leaves and clean up the backyard this week." or "I want to celebrate a successful first month back at school."
This past week, my oldest told me that he really appreciated when I let him have a piece of the Halloween gingerbread house they made 😂 The youngest chimed in that he liked that too.
Step 2. Discussing Issues
Throughout the week, family members can add items for discussion to a blank agenda. This is typically problems to be solved by the family.
At the meeting, the facilitator goes through each of the items on the list. When an item is raised, everyone brainstorms a solution, so children can practice problem solving, without blame or shame.
The meeting leader gains valuable skills in helping others to be creative, thoughtful, and to stay on task.
AND by giving our children a chance to be apart of the solution to a problem (i.e. how can we make sure that we clean up all the toys after dinner, before we get ready for bed?), they havemore incentive to participate in the solution.
Step 3. The Week Ahead
Each person shares their activities or obligations for the coming week.
This step gives everyone a sense of what to expect. It also gives everyone a chance to acknowledge any help or support they made need in the upcoming days.
Step 4. Wrapping Up
After spending time in discussion, the last part of the meeting can be spent enjoying a family activity, chosen by the facilitator.
Ideally, activities involve all family members and are interactive, such as a game or a short walk, rather than passive or screen-based. Ending in this way gives everyone a boost and ensures that each family member leaves on a positive note.
WHY Family Meetings Are So Great...
I think a big part of what makes the meetings great for young children is the focused family time. We're all together, there's no distractions (screens, cooking, cleaning) or pressure to do anything else (like eat).
It's just a short time each week to connect and listen to each other.
Please let me know if you try this or already do this with your family :) I'm curious to hear how other families with young children do something similar.
About Tim Seldin and Lorna McGrath
Tim Seldin is the President of The Montessori Foundation and Chair of The International Montessori Council. He has more than forty years of experience in Montessori education.
Lorna McGrath has been in the field of education since 1974, in both public schools and Montessori schools. She has a M.Ed and is now the Montessori Family Alliance Program Director and the International Montessori Council Director of School Accreditation at the Montessori Foundation.
The Montessori Room carries their book Montessori for Every Family because I think it's a really great resource for parents. The Simone Davies books are wonderful but their book one is a little less focused on Montessori activities and early childhood education.
It's more about the big picture and long-term family planning: Raising confident and independent children into adulthood Building a harmonious family unit, Teaching life skills that will carry children into work and community life