There’s a lot of buzz among parents about Montessori and the method’s child-led approach to education and parenting.
In fact, Maria Montessori’s ideas about early childhood development have been around for more than a century. In other words, her ideas are nothing new and — if anything — have proven time and again to be successful instilling important, practical life skills in the classroom and beyond.
Here’s more about the Montessori method and how you can incorporate its principles into your home environment as soon as today.
At its core, Montessori is about allowing children to explore the world around them on their own terms.
The style of education aims to inspire children to be self-motivated in all areas of their development. This includes their cognitive skills, of course, but it also filters into their social, physical, and emotional growth as well.
There are some key features of this method:
- Using Montessori materials. If you’ve ever walked into a Montessori-focused classroom or home, you might notice they have similar toys and teaching materials. Toys are usually focused on mastering a particular skill that is appropriate to a child’s particular stage of development.
- Keeping things child-directed. Children are given the freedom to choose what things they want to work on. Proponents of this method say this aspect brings about an inner motivation and more sustained attention to tasks.
- Allowing uninterrupted work. Children are left to focus as long as they wish on their tasks and play. There’s also an emphasis on “free choice” and working at their own pace, however fast or slow it may be.
At home, much of the focus of Montessori is on participating in things like chores, personal hygiene, eating and cooking, and all other routines that are necessary to live.
When thinking Montessori, you want to think child-centric. The items you’ll need to be successful include items that allow a child to participate fully in the many routines with little to no help from you as the parent.
Kylie D’Alton, who writes the popular blog How We Montessori, explains that having a small table and set of chairs gives children an accessible, multiuse spot to do work and eat independently.
Along with that, placing several step stools around the house can help kids do things like use the sink, turn on light switches, and access shelving that’s out of reach.
Others helpful items include:
- Aprons. Try getting several aprons for different purposes, like cooking, art, or gardening.
- Small drinking glasses, utensils, etc. Having small versions of everyday items, like dishes, allows kids to better grasp them and, therefore, find success with using them on their own. Real glass and metal utensils are preferred to their plastic counterparts.
- Small pitcher. Again, this goes with the category above, but you might not think about your child pouring water, milk, or juice independently — they can!
- Small trays. These can be used for storing toys and learning materials or for carrying items from one place to another.
- Broom and dust pan. D’Alton explains that children can learn to participate in chores, like sweeping, even at a young age. Having small tools accessible at their level makes it possible.
When displaying items, try to keep them on open shelves that are at eye level for your child. This will allow your child to see what’s available so they can easily use it and then put it away later on.
Many parents give their child a play kitchen for fun. With Montessori, parents are encouraged to bring their child into the real kitchen and learn real skills, like cutting.
For example, you might use child-safe knives to encourage kids to help in the kitchen. Your child can work on gross and fine motor skills by cutting fruit or vegetables in the kitchen and also help prepare a meal.
Beyond that, consider setting up a child-specific area of the kitchen — like a small table and chairs — where your kids can get their own water and snacks.
D’Alton takes things a step further and has set up a snack cupboard for her toddler. It includes things like plates, cups, and napkins, as well as fresh fruit and other healthy snacks inside small airtight containers. All items are housed in a low cabinet for easy, independent access.
You might even consider getting something called a learning tower. This is essentially a stool with a large platform that allows a child to come to counter height and engage in cooking or other kitchen activities, like washing dishes.
The bathroom is a place of many daily routines in which children can participate. A stool at the sink allows kids to easily wash their hands, brush their teeth, and gain access to the mirror to brush hair and otherwise get ready.
According to blogger Nicole Kavanaugh of The Kavanaugh Report, potty training is called potty learning in “Montessori-speak.” The key differentiation here is that potty learning means that tots are involved in the process and that it isn’t totally adult-directed.
Children are often put in cloth diapers or underpants so they can feel when they are wet or soiled. Once they are walking, they are encouraged to sit on the potty upon waking and after meals and naps.
Kavanaugh places a small basket of books at the level of the family’s potty chair. She also has hooks at a low level so towels are in reach at all times.
Another smart way she encourages independence is by placing trays with her children’s toiletries (toothpaste, toothbrush, comb, brush, etc.) in the vanity cabinet. Doing so lets them access these items without needing to ask their parents
You may be surprised to learn that many families who follow Montessori don’t use cribs, even when their infants are small. Instead, they use what’s called a floor bed.
A floor bed can be as simple as placing a firm mattress on a floor in a safe spot, or they can be more fun, like beds shaped like a house. The idea behind it is that it gives children and babies freedom to explore their environment without depending on a parent to get them up and out of bed.
Of course, this means the rest of the room should be appropriately babyproofed. You may want to skip the large furniture pieces, like dressers, or just make sure they are well anchored.
Speaking of clothing, dressing is yet another activity where children have room for self-expression and choice. To help with this, you may consider creating a designated changing area, like a small wardrobe with low hangers that your little one can reach. Better yet, you might try a basket on the floor with folded clothing in it.
Some families choose to include a low shelf or cubbies with a few simple toys children can play with and 4 to 6 books. You may also wish to mount an unbreakable mirror horizontally along the bottom of the wall so your child can look at their reflection and expressions.
Aim to keep the bedroom uncluttered so it isn’t overstimulating. Montessori families also tend to choose rather muted colors for bedrooms to keep the environment as calm as possible.
Montessori playrooms are quite streamlined, but this doesn’t mean you can’t have many different types of toys. Instead of keeping them all out at once, however, you might consider rotating them every 1 to 2 weeks.
The same goes with books. This way, your child isn’t overstimulated but has access to a range of items that may pique their interest.
Again, the goal is to keep things low and easily accessible to your child. Low shelving or cube-type storage is preferred so kids can get things (and put them away) on their own.
And instead of concealing items in large bins or cube baskets, you might try placing each specific toy on a tray so your kids can see things without too much searching.
Toys made from natural materials are also preferred by people who do Montessori. In particular, though, you’ll see a lot of wood.
Zahra Kassam, CEO of Montessori toy company Monti Kids, explains that this material is preferred because it is developmentally appropriate, it has a nice aesthetic, it’s environmentally sound, and it’s safe from a health perspective.
You’ll notice that Montessori toys are simple (open-ended, don’t require batteries) but invite experimentation that is appropriate to your child’s current developmental stage.
When looking for toys, consider ones that kids can manipulate to develop their motor skills, all while using their creativity.
In theory, these ideas sound pretty wonderful. A 2-year-old who takes initiative to brush their own teeth and hair? A 3-year-old who can serve themself a snack? Great! In practice, though, it can be intimidating when first trying to incorporate these Montessori principles into everyday life.
Consider these tips:
Try your best to observe and guide
It can be tempting to tell your child what to do, but modeling is a better, gentler method. While you’re at it, observe your child as they approach the world and note their progress. By observing, you can discover what your child wants to learn and find ways to support that learning.
Give your child freedom of choice
Montessori classrooms are rather open-ended. Teachers provide materials, but children direct their own learning process. At home, this means offering plenty of materials in an uncomplicated way and letting kids learn by doing.
Allow your child time without interruption
Try your best not to worry if your child is falling behind. Some kids get certain tasks right away while others may need more guidance. Be sure to allow for mistakes which, along the way, turn into lessons toward mastery.
Keep it fresh
You’ll want to keep your home and items simplified and organized, but that doesn’t mean stale and boring. Rotate your child’s toys with the seasons or their interests. You might consider keeping a few bins for rotation in your garage, attic, or an empty closet.
Another feature of Montessori is intrinsic motivation, not extrinsic reward (stickers, candy, prizes). Try using verbal praise (in moderation) and — instead — encourage your kid to revel in that internal feeling of joy that comes with a job well done.
Discipline in a positive way
Resist yelling and try asking how your child feels. This works particularly well with kids between the ages of 3 and 6. From there, acknowledge your child’s feelings, ask them how they might solve their problem, and then discuss ways to approach similar situations in the future.
When in doubt, let your child participate. It may feel scary at first, so take baby steps if you must.
Just remember: Montessori is all about having your child explore and experiment with the world around them. So, let them cook, clean, dress themself, and do anything they show an interest in doing. All activities are opportunities for learning.
Provided an environment is safe from hazards, there’s really nothing to lose and everything to gain.