What is Montessori and How We Apply It In Our Home

Origins of Montessori

Montessori is a style of education created by, and named after, Maria Montessori. Maria Montessori was Italian by birth and lived from 1870-1952. Dr. Montessori began her career as a medical doctor. During her time working in medicine, she worked with disadvantaged children in Rome. Unhappy at how they were written off as unable to be contributing members of society, she used her medical training, scientific training in observation, respect, and ingenuity to work those children.

The children she worked with did better in testing than their advantaged peers. This was only the start of a lifetime of creating an educational style that respected a child’s inborn intelligence and humanity.

Montessori Principles

Simone Davies, gives the following as key principles of Montessori in her book, The Montessori Toddler: A Parent’s Guide to Raising a Curious and Responsible Human Being:

  • Prepared environment
  • Natural desire to learn
  • Hands-on, concrete learning
  • Sensitive periods
  • Unconscious absorbent mind
  • Freedom and limits
  • Independence and responsibility
  • Individual development
  • Respect
  • Observation

While most of these are straightforward, I recommend Simone Davies book, Montessori From the Start, or this podcast episode for an in-depth look at Montessori education.

How we use Montessori in Our Home

Will and I did a lot of reading on education and parenting, and ending up feeling like Montessori’s emphasis on freedom of movement; respect for the child, their environment, and others; emphasis on practical life skills; concentration as learnable skill; and following the child’s interest most closely mirrored how we wanted to raise a child. While this isn’t everything we do/have done, this is a good summary of what we have chosen to focus on:

Freedom of Movement

Lillard and Jessen have this to say about containing infants unnecessarily:

“Our present commercialization of childhood contributes to these obstacles in the infant’s path as she works to develop her body for full use and independent movement (2003, 68).”

Lillard and Jessen, Montessori from the Start, 68

Kids need to move. And while there are valid safety concerns, a prepared environment can alleviate many safety issue. We chose to use a floor bed for Bash, to minimize time spent in bouncers, rockers, highchairs, and other devices that didn’t give him freedom of movement, and set up a dedicated movement area in living room.

Almost three months old in his movement area

Respect

We like that Montessori respects the child by treating them as a competent human who is just learning, rather than an idiot. Maria Montessori’s theory of the absorbent mind tells us that children are like sponges, soaking up all they hear, smell, see, touch, and experience. They may not be speaking or moving yet, but they are internalizing. Montessori methods, like letting a child use real, open glass cups or ceramic dishes shows that children can be just as careful (if not more) than adults. While Bash has the occasional impulsive moment with glasses, he’s been able to drink water from an open cup since he was about six or seven months old.

Montessori also emphasizes respect for the environment and other people. These are values we’ve chosen to live by trying to buy things used, choose reusable materials and containers, and learning about positive discipline.

Prepared Environment

Prepared environments make Montessori work. A prepared home can look a lot of different ways. For us, this means making accessible spaces for Bash (a low cupboard in the kitchen with his dishes and utensils, his toiletries in a low drawer in his bathroom), keeping toys that are out minimal (I try for no more than one item per shelf in our living room), trying to keep our actual home tidy (that absorbent mind is watching), and presenting activities in an organized way. This means doing prep work.

“The purpose of this preparation is to make things as attractive to them as possible and to allow the children freedom to explore and learn”

Simone Davies, The Montessori Toddler, 15

Focus

“In creating an environment that encourages concentration, it is important to remember that if the child becomes conscious of anything other than the task at hand, his concentration is broken. By applauding, saying ‘wonderful,’ giving a kiss, or whatever, the well-meaning adult draws the child’s attention to the adult and away form the task at hand. Too much interference, and the child becomes self-conscious. When we are self-conscious, it is very hard to concentrate on the task at hand, whatever our age.”

Lillard and Jessen, Montessori from the Start, 30

Focus is a learnable skill. The right environment (not too cluttered, not too loud), time to explore, and an adult who is willing to observe the child and let them explore without constant narration set the stage for developing this skill.

In so many ways, this very important skill is the hardest. So much parenting is modeled with constant narration to expose the child to details they don’t always need in that moment (and that may not respect the child as a learner). We live in a society with constant input and we want to give that to our child. But, while Bash does need to hear language to continue learning it, he doesn’t need a constant narration. If anything, I can learn from Bash about sitting with a task, not to complete it, but to experience the process.

Constant Change

Childhood and parenting is constant change. What works yesterday may not work today. Montessori emphasize following the child’s lead. What this means for us, is we’re continuing to observe Bash and making decisions for what is right for him, right now. We’ve had a great experience with our floor bed, but not everyone does. Ultimately, you owe it to yourself and your child to put their core needs (safety, sleep, attachment, and eating) before your love for a parenting style. So be flexible and open, and let your child lead.

Any questions or thoughts on these Montessori practices? I’d love to answer them!

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