At the age of 26, fresh out of graduate school and starting my first, full-time teaching role as a Montessori teacher, I would have told you that any children I’d have would most certainly attend a Montessori school.
During those first few years in early childhood education, I fell in love with the Montessori philosophy and assumed we’d be together forever.
But life, as it so often does, intervened.
My older daughter went to a Montessori preschool, but by the time my youngest was ready, we had been transferred overseas for a year. And while we happened to be relocated to Italy, the birthplace of Maria Montessori herself, it wasn’t the best option for our girls. Although the irony wasn’t lost on me.
When we moved back, we landed in a city with excellent public schools and we transferred both of our daughters into the local education system. It was a painfully difficult transition for me. Training to be a Montessori teacher is as much a spiritual journey as it is a formal education and it felt like cutting out a part of myself.
What I learned rather quickly, however, is that the qualities that made Montessori so special to me were the same things that I could apply as a mom. Sure, they wouldn’t be in a Montessori classroom, but that didn’t mean that I couldn’t apply some of those same ideas to how I parented them at home.
While I didn’t incorporate every aspect of Montessori parenting, I welcomed the idea of being a Montessori parent. It was gratifying to know that I could incorporate what I loved most into our everyday life. If you’re curious about Montessori education and parenting, learn more here along with several, hands-on Montessori parenting tips.
What is Montessori Education?
When you walk into a Montessori classroom, you can tell immediately that something is different. Low shelves are filled neatly with carefully placed Montessori materials, children work independently or in small groups on rugs or small tables, and there is the quiet hum of focused students.
In a community of multi-age classrooms, specifically designed to create unique teaching and learning opportunities, citizenship, and accountability, children work independently and at their own pace in a multisensory environment. Working with Montessori materials and with other types of hands-on learning, students follow an individualized work plan and their own interests.
Child-led and teacher-guided, students are encouraged to follow their own, natural curiosities, think critically, work collaboratively, and be accountable to themselves and the community. There is a keen focus on building practical life skills, moving from the concrete to the abstract, and the importance of mutual respect.
The Core Principles of Montessori
The Montessori Method was developed by educator and Italian physician Maria Montessori, after intense research and observation of children in the early twentieth century.
There are five core principles of Montessori:
- Respect for the child. Montessori believed above anything else that children should be respected. This means not interrupting a child who is working, giving them the freedom to choose their work, and allowing them to do things for themselves. Teachers model this by incorporating peaceful resolutions to conflicts, observing students without judgment, and showing respect to all students and critters in the classroom.
- The absorbent mind. This refers to the belief that children are constantly taking in information from the world around them, making sense of it, and learning from it. My favorite book written by Maria Montessori is actually titled, The Absorbent Mind and is an excellent resource for aspiring Montessori parents.
- Sensitive periods. Montessori describes sensitive periods as specific times in a child’s development when they are more naturally ready to learn certain skills. Montessori teachers utilize sensitive periods to teach children during these critical learning opportunities.
- The prepared environment. The Montessori philosophy relies on the classroom being an environment ready for children to explore independently. Teachers prepare the classroom in a way that allows materials and experiences readily and beautifully available to the children.
- Auto Education. Also known as self-education is fundamental to the Montessori approach and is the belief that children are capable of educating themselves. Teachers provide the environment, inspiration, tools, and guidance for children to move freely about the classroom and educate themselves.
There are 5 key areas of study within a Montessori classroom. They are Practical Life, Sensorial, Math, Language, and Cultural. The Montessori curriculum is vast and includes educational materials, lessons, and concepts that cover all aspects of the study. Incorporating the core principles above with its rich curriculum, Montessori offers a beautifully thorough education.
What is Montessori Parenting?
Since Montessori is less of a classroom doctrine and more of a holistic approach to child development, it’s easy to incorporate Montessori methods into how you parent. We’ve come up with several guiding principles to help foster and inspire your own Montessori parenting and lifestyle.
Let’s take a look at those here:
Space for freedom and exploration
Autonomy and independence is a universal human needs and foundational to the Montessori way. Toddlers and young children have clear ideas about what they want and a Montessori parent will create an environment that is safe for them to choose and explore. This instills a strong sense of self and creativity at a young age.
Show mutual respect
A hallmark of the Montessori philosophy is mutual respect, collaboration, and cooperation. Spiritual and moral development is of special significance in Montessori preschools and elementary schools. A Montessori parent is respectful of everything and everyone in the home, including the child.
Treating young children like people, and respecting their choices, feelings, and voice is a hallmark of being a Montessori parent. This doesn’t mean that your child always gets what they want, but valuing the child’s emotions and offering choices are some ways for parents to be role models for the true meaning of respect.
Parent-child time and the absorbent mind
Our children are watching everything we do and, as discussed, Montessori sees the child as constantly absorbing everything around them. She also believed that children most want to spend time with their parents.
Montessori parents spend plenty of time with their children, not just playing with toys, but performing daily activities, eating together, and exploring together. Children are learning practical skills and making important bonds as they spend this time with mom or dad, preparing meals, taking walks, and even during playtime.
Discipline that encourages problem-solving and critical thinking
Montessori parents discipline children by helping them learn how to think critically and problem-solve. Dr. Montessori believed strongly in teaching children how to solve problems on their own instead of being punished.
8 Tips to Adopt a Montessori Style of Parenting
Understanding the ideas and approach of Montessori philosophy and parenting is one thing. Incorporating them into your real life is quite another. Here are eight tips to help.
1. Dedicated space
Set up a child-friendly space or playroom where they can move freely and safely. This doesn’t need to be elaborate, fancy, or large. But it needs to be a confined space with age-appropriate activities so that kids can have the freedom to make choices and explore safely and independently.
2. Everything in its place
Order is a guiding principle in any Montessori space. When setting up your child’s play area, choose items with a purpose. If possible, select child-sized furniture, hooks at their level, small items in a basket or on trays on low shelves, and age-appropriate books. Less is often more and you can easily rotate items in and out for continued interest.
3. Set expectations and limits
While Maria Montessori didn’t advocate discipline, that can sometimes be difficult in real life. Setting clear expectations and limits on behavior can help support this without resorting to punishment.
For example, if your child is at the park, the expectation is that they don’t throw sand. If they throw sand, you enforce the limit through natural consequences.
- Reinforce the positive expectation, “We keep the sand low and in the sandbox.”
- Explain the limit, “If you keep throwing sand, someone could get hurt and we will have to leave the park.”
- If it continues, reinforce the limit with a natural consequence, “You haven’t kept the sand down, and throwing sand is dangerous. Playtime is over now. We can try again tomorrow. Do you want to get into the stroller or would you like some help?”
4. Invest in stools
Letting your child participate in your daily routines will often require a stool, especially in the kitchen. Whether they’re helping you bake cookies or making their own snack, reaching the counter by themselves is essential. A stool is also great in the bathroom for washing hands and brushing teeth.
5. Offer controlled choices
Giving your child options of “this” or “that” shows them that you value their input and that you respect them. For example, “Do you want grilled cheese or peanut butter and jelly for lunch today?”
These moments can feel small and insignificant, but for young children who feel like they have so little control, they can be monumental in building their self-confidence. The Montessori toddler is given many opportunities to make small, controlled choices throughout the day.
6. Show don’t tell
In a Montessori classroom, the teacher gives lessons to an individual or group before they can use a material. The instructor typically sits on the floor and, often saying very little, shows the children how the work is done.
At home, when showing your child something new, you can incorporate this same idea. Get down on their level, pull out the activity, and show them how to use it. Keep in mind that things should always be presented facing them, top to bottom, and left to right. This is the foundation of reading and writing. And be sure to also show them how to put it away!
This might sound strange, but simply watching your child play, interact with others, and go about their day will give you helpful insights into who they are. Montessori teachers are always observing their classroom and students to get a better understanding of each individual and the community as a whole.
8. Establish routines
Set up a predictable routine throughout the day and do it the same way each day. Creating routines that children can count on will teach them what’s expected of them, help regulate their emotions, and make them feel safe.