Wondering what Montessori is?
Montessori is becoming increasingly popular as people recognise the limitations of traditional education. It’s also well-reported that creative successes like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales attended Montessori school. And Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin credit their success to having attended a Montessori school:
They don’t credit their success to drive or brains. They say it was nursery school…We both went to Montessori school and I think that it was part of that training of not following rules and orders and being self-motivated and questioning what’s going on in the world. Doing things a little bit different. (Larry Page)” – ABC television report
So are you wondering what Montessori is then? I’ve made you a 3-minute video to give you an introduction.
Where to start with Montessori at home
The Montessori approach is not only an educational approach to be used in schools. You can apply these principles at home, even if your child won’t go to a Montessori school.
Here are 10 things you can try at home to apply Montessori principles at home.
1. Slow down — plan less, explore life with your child at a slow pace, and allow time for movement, conversation and gaining cooperation
2. Respect the child — speak and listen to your child as you would an adult
3. Hands on learning — provide concrete experiences for them to make discoveries by themselves, look things up at the library, ask a neighbour or expert, do an experiment etc
4. Follow the child — ask ourselves, “what are they interested in right now and how can I provide opportunities to follow this interest?”
5. Include them in daily life — young children like to be involved in food preparation, setting the table, cleaning, doing laundry, doing the shopping and more
6. See things from the child’s perspective — to understand our child’s behaviour and acknowledge their feelings
7. Use alternatives to bribes, rewards and punishments — move from extrinsic motivators to ways to work with our child and solve problems together; instead of time out, we help them calm down, then make amends
8. Observe objectively rather than making assumptions or judgements — look how they move, the communication they make, the activities they are working to master, their social interactions, and how they eat/sleep
9. Be the guide — we are the adult guiding them (give as much help as needed and as little as possible) rather than being their boss (do as I say) or being their servant (I’ll do everything for you)
10. Prepare ourselves — to look after ourselves to have patience, to fill our own bucket, to understand our own triggers, and find ways to come back to calm when needed
Set up our home
To start using Montessori at home, we can set up our home to make the home more accessible and inviting to our child. Here are some ideas to get you started:
1. Child-sized furniture and tools — look for table and chairs where your child’s feet sit flat on the ground (often we need to cut down the legs of the table/chair); hunt for small tools like a watering can, mop, broom and dustpan
2. Set things up for the child to be independent — make things accessible for the child (eg, low hooks for their coat and bag), have cleaning things at the ready for them to use, and use trays and baskets to arrange activities so they can manage by themselves
3. See the world from the child’s eyes — sit on the floor to see how attractive the space is from their height and include plants and artwork at their height
4. Less is more — have fewer well-selected activities and remove clutter; put in a box anything they aren’t playing with anymore and store it
5. Store and rotate — store most of the activities. leave out just a few favourites, and we can change them when our child loses interest
Try some Montessori-style activities
It’s fun to try some Montessori-style activities at home. I love how they are hands-on, build concentration, scaffold skills as they master activities, and how they address the needs of the whole child basically encouraging children to be curious learners and explore the world around them.
Here are some ideas for young children:
1. Music and movement — dancing, singing, banging/shaking instruments, running, skipping, climbing, swinging, biking
2. Language — books, rich language in daily life, baskets of classified objects (with cards)
3. Art and craft — scribbling, painting, cutting, gluing, sewing, clay, stamping
4. Practical life (activities of daily life) — preparing snack, helping prepare meals, cleaning, baking, watering and care of plants, gardening, making the bed, helping with laundry
5. Eye-hand coordination — threading, sorting, posting (putting things through slots and holes)
My favourite places to find out more
I highly recommend visiting a Montessori school to observe how it works in practice. You can also visit an open day or parent workshop. And, if there is one nearby, attend a parent-child Montessori class.
My favourite parenting books
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Faber & Mazlich
This is the book I recommend most to parents. It made such a difference to how I communicate with my own children and in my work with babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers.
Siblings without Rivalry, by Faber & Mazlich
Another book from Faber & Mazlich. They bring wisdom to an age-old problem – siblings fighting. It gives great strategies on how to guide children to solve their own problems.
Positive Discipline: The First Three Years, by Dr Jane Nelsen
A book full of practical tips how to handle feeding, sleeping and tantrums without using time out. Specialised tips for children under 3 years. Great to read in combination with “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk”.
My favourite Montessori books
How to Raise an Amazing Child: The Montessori Way, by Tim Seldin
A great introduction for parents how to apply Montessori principles in the home. Easy to read and digest, with photographs to further explain the concepts. Very accessible and very practical.
The Montessori Toddler, by Simone Davies
An easy-to-read comprehensive guide to raising toddlers in a Montessori way. Full disclosure – I wrote this book to answer all the questions I get asked by parents coming to my classes.
Montessori Madness, by Trevor Eissler
Written by a Montessori parent, this book gives an accessible overview of the fundamentals of the Montessori approach. Highly recommended.
Understanding the Human Being, by Sylvana Montenaro
This book begins to give parents an insight into the world from their child’s point of view. It gives detailed advice to parents for babies from 0 to 3 years including setting up the home environment, breastfeeding and weaning, and the role of the father.
Montessori from the Start, by Paula Polk Lillard and Lynn Lillard Jessen
For those wanting detailed information on all aspects of the Montessori approach for the youngest children, this book is worth a read. The book discusses the theory and the practice, with many examples given.
Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work, by EM Standing
This book gives details into Dr Montessori’s life and how she came to be a renowned educator. Her pedagogical approach is explained clearly and with a lot of information, for the passionate learner.
The Absorbent Mind, by Dr Maria Montessori
If you would like to tackle one of Dr Montessori’s own books,The Absorbent Mind is a good place to start. I enjoy reading her books, but they are not light-reading!
Seeing is believing. If you can’t visit a Montessori school in person, here are some great places to watch the Montessori approach in action and see how curious and capable children can be.
- Montessori Guide
- Aid to Life
- Susan Stephenson’s Youtube
- 2.5 year old kneading dough to bake bread
- A morning at a Montessori school in 5 minutes
- Let the child be the guide – trailer for a French documentary about Montessori education
Get inspiration from Instagram, blogs and Pinterest. It’s fun to see how people incorporate the Montessori approach at home and Instagram in particular is a great place to ask advice from others. You can find lots of Montessori inspiration by searching on Pinterest too.
Here are the blogs I still read that are accessible, easy to follow and authentic to the Montessori approach:
- Eltern vom Mars
- How We Montessori
- The Kavanaugh Report
- Eve Herrmann
- Our Montessori Life
- Milkweed Montessori
- Voilà Montessori
- Frida Be Mighty
Keep in mind that the aim is not to make our homes Insta- or Pinterest-worthy. It’s to enjoy being with our children and to support them. Don’t let perfection get in the way — we will never be perfect parents. We do our best and apologise if needed.
Places to find Montessori materials and furniture
Monti Kids – set up by an AMI teacher, this Montessori in a box subscription service is a comprehensive way to introduce Montessori in your home
Manine Montessori – This is a new website based in Belgium with a lovely selection of furniture and materials. It’s really becoming your one-stop shop for Montessori materials in Europe. The materials are very thoughtfully selected.
Michael Olaf (soon closing) – This wonderful website is the work of Susan Stephenson, a highly-regarded Montessorian. The website gives useful information on the Montessori approach and there are beautiful Montessori materials available. The catalogues they produce are a great resource themself, “The Joyful Child” for children 0-3 years and “Child of the World” for children 3-12 years.
Nienhuis – Located here in the Netherlands, Nienhuis is an educational supplier of Montessori materials
Sprout kids – a new supplier of modern Montessori furniture for the home
Ikea – love it or hate it, here are my top Montessori picks from Ikea
Frequently asked questions about Montessori
* Montessori FAQs Part 1
Is Montessori suitable for every child?
How does Montessori work in practice?
What should I look for in a Montessori school?
* Montessori FAQs Part 2
How does a child transition to a traditional school after being at Montessori?
What if my child avoids an area?
I’ve heard children in Montessori schools are allowed to do whatever they want. Is that true?
* Montessori FAQs Part 3
I’ve heard Montessori schools are very strict and children are not allowed to play around. Is that true?
So why choose a Montessori school?
Why don’t Montessori schools have homework?
So I’ll leave you with two last suggestions for getting started with Montessori:
1. Just start — take a couple of these tips and put them into action. Don’t beat ourselves up that we should have started earlier. As they say, you know what you know.
2. Find like-minded families — it’s useful to find people in our area where we can ask questions and share ideas
I hope this has been helpful with where to start with Montessori at home. I can’t wait to see more and more people incorporate Montessori principles in home — I find it such a natural, simple and back-to-basics approach to raising children. I hope you do too.
And don’t forget you can sign up for my newsletter or, for even more information, buy a copy of my book The Montessori Toddler. The Montessori Baby will be available in March 2021 and The Montessori Child in March 2022.
* links to my Amazon store