A few of you asked about more details on Montessori, and I feel like it's the sort of thing that I'm probably going to describe very poorly and inexpertly, but I'll give it a shot.
The first and best thing I can do is tell you to check out this book. It's well-written -- not pedantic in the least -- and filled with great, colorful photos, and it's chock-full of ways to implement Montessori methods at home. And even if you're not into doing a whole "method" (it sounds so strict and rule-y to call it that, even though it's not), you'll find tons of great ideas of things to do with your kid at different ages and stages and ways to stimulate (ugh, I hate that word; it makes me think of electroshock) their growing minds and all that jazz.
And for an intro to Montessori theory and methods, my mom recommended this website, which encapsulates the basics nicely, although some of them come out sounding a little sterile.
Some of the highlights, to sum up in my own rambling way, are that Montessori encourages self-sufficiency and independence, allows a child to learn at his/her own pace, promotes confidence by having children teach one another tasks that they've mastered, and combines practical life skills (from dressing oneself to sewing a button on to washing dishes, as Ris mentioned) with building blocks for language, reading, writing, math, science, etc (but in an abstract way -- like the mathy stuff doesn't involve sitting and doing time tables; it's more game- or puzzle-like and conceptual, where the child is learning complex ideas by doing something concrete and...child-appropriate, I guess).
A Montessori classroom usually is divided into sections for Practical Life, Sensorial and sometimes a third area such as Language. (In my kindergarten, the sensorial part was carpeted and the practical life had a linoleum floor, so that's always how I think of it although of course not all rooms are like that.) Everything is child-sized and child-friendly (low hooks for coats, etc) and the room is organized with open shelving, so that kids can choose whatever activity they want to do without adult help. There are low tables and chairs as well as mats for the floor, so a child can put a mat on the floor and that will be his workspace, or he can sit at a table and work (and afterward, the child always puts his activity away, back on the shelf in its proper place, and rolls up the mat and puts it in the mat bin).
There's also usually a reading corner or nook with low bookshelves and pillows on the floor. Plus there's a circle or oval of tape on the floor of the classroom for "line time", which begins with a "line time" song and involves gathering the kids around the circle/oval to sing and have story time and sometimes to introduce a new "unit", like a theme week about Lunar New Year or Mexico or Thanksgiving (there's often an international bent to Montessori; kids spend a lot of time with maps and learn about other countries and cultures and stuff).
A lot of the activities are very methodical -- like there will be a tray with a bowl holding different-colored marbles and a couple of smaller bowls plus a spoon, and the child will use the spoon to sort the marbles into the smaller bowls by color (or a younger child would use her fingers if she's not spoon-ready yet). Which sounds intensely boring, but it teaches, I don't know, a bunch of stuff at once, and you'd be amazed how absorbed a 3-year old can get in that. There are lots of wooden blocks and natural-type materials, as opposed to things that light up and make noise.
There are child-sized easels and sinks in the Practical Life area, and one of the activities is actually hand-washing, where the child takes a ceramic jug, fills it with water, brings it to a special little stand with a big bowl on it, pours the water in, washes her hands with soap, rinses them, dries them, then takes the bowl with the sudsy water and dumps it out in the sink, rinses it, dries it and returns it to the stand. Again, this sounds ridiculous when I'm describing it (my kid's going to get something out of...hand-washing??) but it teaches motor skills and junk like that, I guess. And the use of breakable materials is part of the theory that if you trust a child with those things (when they're ready, which is key of course -- you don't just hand a 2-year old a big glass pitcher and hope for the best), they'll be able to handle it and will treat it with the proper care. And if the kid dumps the water all over the floor, the teacher might look over and say, "Whoops! Looks like a bit of a spill. The mop is over there!" and the kid will get the little child-sized mop and bucket and clean up the mess.
(Does this sounds insufferable and boring? I don't think I'm doing it justice, really. And I hope you've gathered by now that I'm not one of those people who is going to try to get their kid to be the next Picasso or Earhart by age 2 -- I feel like when we delve into things like educational methods, it's easy for an outside observer to assume that the parent involved (i.e., me) is hell-bent on creating a superhuman child and is going to bring flash cards of Swahili to the delivery room to ensure an early multilingual start. It just happens that Montessori is one area that I can get excitable about because I grew up with it and I think it -- and many other pedagogies -- have lots of great ideas to draw from both for parenting and schooling. If...that makes any sense. Nevertheless, I press on!)
ANYWAY, at home you can do all sorts of things to put these same theories into practice. For infants, the "Amazing Child" book linked above recommends things that engage all of the baby's senses, like touching her cheek with different types of fabric or giving her different things to smell or putting her in front of a low mirror to look at herself (not exactly rocket science, I realize). The book talks about giving the baby wooden toys and things made out of natural or natural-ish materials (or even just handing them household items -- the old wooden spoon and a pan type thing). It's also big on taking the baby outside as much as possible, narrating what you see and introducing her to nature early on. Actually, the narrating thing is big throughout -- starting from the very beginning, you talk to the baby about what you're doing and seeing and this helps with bonding, language development, yadda yadda. Again, these are things people probably do anyway, so it sounds kind of obvious.
For older babies and toddlers, they recommend placing toys on low, open shelves (like in the classroom) so that she can retrieve what she wants (and put it back when she's done!). Another idea is to put a bunch of random items of different shapes, sizes and textures from around the house and out in nature (a pasta grabber, a cotton ball, a smooth stone) in a canvas bag and have the child reach in and try to describe them or guess what they are or, if the child is pre-verbal, just to feel them and pull them out to see how the feel of something relates to what it looks like.
As a kid gets older, you can involve him in things like food preparation (a child can cut up veggies for snack (not with, like, a Ginsu knife but with a child-friendly one on a child-sized cutting board while sitting at a table) or pour juice or spread peanut butter on celery) and housework (dusting, loading the dishwasher, setting the table, polishing silver) with the idea being that children want to do the "work" of adults and for them it is a type of play as well as being beneficial developmentally.
Is this...making any sense at all? I feel like I just described School and Parenting for the Anal-Retentive, and while Montessori does instill a certain level of care and concentration in a child, while also valuing neatness and order, it's all done very positively and in an upbeat way -- and there's plenty of creative stuff in there, too, and outdoor running-around time and all that good stuff; it's not like the kid doesn't get to be a kid, not at all. It sounds sort of rigid or overly adult-like the way I'm writing this, but it's really not. It's sort of like how a routine is freeing to a child, you know, like how children thrive with some sense of boundaries and predictability? The structure of a Montessori classroom or environment is also freeing and encouraging like that.
Personally, it's tough to say how much of who I am resulted from being brought up by a Montessori teacher and going to a Montessori kindergarten and how much was just who I was to start out with. There's no question that I dig a routine, I tackle tasks methodically, I clean up after myself, I have a lot of curiosity about other cultures and travel, and so on. All of these things could have been how I was born, but in any event I think they were really ingrained in me by Montessori.
Regardless, It's kind of amazing to me how vividly I remember my years in Montessori kindergarten (which were, I think, just when I was four and five, although it's possible I started the school at three) -- I can picture EXACTLY what my classroom looked like, what I used to do there, where certain activities were located, how my favorite teacher wore her hair, what the carpet in the Sensorial area felt like, how it felt to roll up a mat when I was done with an activity, what the grass smelled like on the big lawn outside. Not to mention that our school had a pony -- a PONY -- and a really great playground.
Obviously, it had a huge impact on me at the time and still does, which is why I just wrote about 20 pages about it and can't wait to pass on what I learned to my own daughter.