Being a Montessori parent isn’t just about pretty wooden toys and materials. More than the Montessori stuff is a Montessori mindset. I want to share 5 easy tips for you that will help you understand and implement Montessori into your parenting. There is no prescribed way to be a Montessori parent. However, there are some foundational principles from the Montessori philosophy that can help to guide and influence your parenting style if you so desire.
How did Montessori start?
Let me first give you my elevator speech about what Montessori is, if you aren’t yet familiar with some of the history. Montessori started with an Italian physician, Maria Montessori. She began her work during the late 1800s and continued into the early 1900s. Dr. Maria Montessori was a scientist and through her observations, she created an educational method based on a child’s development. Dr. Montessori realized that young children had a propensity for work. She found that with an environment prepared with materials that meet the needs of a child, they can teach themselves through exploration. The Montessori approach to education can begin at a very young age, we started at birth in our home! Montessori provides a hands-on learning experience that focuses on the development of the whole child.
What is Montessori Parenting
Montessori parenting is an approach to rearing children based on the ideas and findings of Dr. Maria Montessori. Some principles of Montessori parenting are the prepared environment, the prepared adult, freedom and responsibility, order, developmentally appropriate and natural materials, and probably most importantly guiding children in the tasks of everyday life and developing practical life skills. There are many facets to Montessori parenting, however, they all work together in a great way to enhance daily activities and foster mutual respect between the adult and the child.
1. Prepare Your Environment
Young children have a strong sense of order. They thrive on routine and consistency with their daily tasks. We can respect the child’s need for order by preparing our homes to meet their needs. For an infant, this may involve creating a movement area in your home. For a young toddler, it may be preparing a Montessori wardrobe for them to have the opportunity to make their own choices of clothing. As Montessori educators, we recognize that it is through the order and beauty of the prepared environment that we are able to offer children more independence and appropriate freedom. Below I will list 2 things to keep in mind when you are preparing your home environment.
Is it a safe environment for your child to move about and explore?
It is likely no surprise that a child’s natural curiosity gets them exploring anything and everything! This exploration is how they learn. One way to support and make our work easier as Montessori parents is by taking the time to make sure our home environment is prepared in a safe way for our child(ren) to explore. Quite honestly, when I taught in the classroom preparing the environment was the first thing I focused on. If the Montessori environment is not prepared based on the needs and abilities of a child then they won’t be able to function in that environment in the best way possible.
Are the activities/toys open-ended and beautifully prepared?
Part of the Montessori educational philosophy talks about having a carefully prepared environment that is beautiful and with materials that self-correct. As well as toys that are open-ended to allow for the child’s exploration and curiosity to determine how they use that material. This can be something you keep in mind when deciding what toys to bring into your home. Does it have more than one use? Does it require more engagement from the child (passive toy) or does it seek to entertain the child (active toys)?
2. The Montessori Prepared Adult
Dr. Montessori wrote a lot about the prepared adult, (cough, cough) the prepared adult is you! She said, the prepared adult needs to“strip himself of pride and anger and become humble…” Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood, (p.113). As Montessori parents, we are guiding our children towards the things that will help develop a strong foundation. Things such as problem-solving skills, social skills, communication, and independence in both thought and action.
We need to be prepared as an adult to guide a child to lay this strong foundation. We need to strip away any preconceived notions of the child, what they are capable of or not. Then look at the child in front of us and see them as an individual capable of so much! Just like Dr. Montessori did, we can use observation to observe and to see the unique needs of our children. Observation will help us to guide our child’s life and hopefully will give a more relaxed parenting approach knowing that if we prepare the environment, prepare ourselves, and uphold that fine balance of freedom with limits our child’s development will unfold beautifully.
This post contains affiliate links, which means I make a small commission at no extra cost to you. See my full disclosure here.
Being a Montessori parent by no means says that you won’t have challenges or difficulties. It just gives us a lens through which to view those challenges. When we face challenges we can look at those challenges through the lens of the needs of the child. We can also look inward and see how our actions as the prepared adult are either supporting or possibly even hindering our child (this is where that humility part comes in).
We can make adjustments as we see needed to support the child’s needs. As the prepared adult we are role models for our children. Young children, 0-6, have an absorbent mind. The absorbent mind is taking in everything around them like they are a sponge soaking up water. Unfortunately, those little minds can soak up both clean and dirty water. So this preparation of ourselves and our environment is important because all of it is being absorbed by our children.
3. Freedom and Responsibility
A common misconception about Montessori and Montessori schools is that children get to “do whatever they want”. This couldn’t be further from the truth! (Disclaimer: the word Montessori is not copyrighted so it can be used or thrown around differently than Dr. Montessori intended. It is important to check and see if things that claim to be Montessori are actually following true Montessori pedagogy). A Montessori classroom environment functions based on this idea of freedom and responsibility.
In Montessori environments, we want to offer our children some basic freedoms: the freedom to move, to choose, and to communicate. However, with each of those freedoms comes a level of responsibility. For example, if a child has the freedom to choose what toy he wants to use, that is wonderful, but he is expected (age appropriately) to choose appropriately. If a child begins using a toy/material inappropriately we can respectfully say something like, “That is not how we use that toy, I’m going to put it away and you can try again later.” Again, this is why preparing the environment that allows for the child to choose freely is so important.
Part of our job as parents is educating our children in the way that the world works. As the prepared adult we need to be the ones to balance those freedoms and responsibilities. As well as follow through with natural consequences when the child doesn’t manage the freedom responsibly. I heard it said in a refresher course while being a teacher that we need to teach our children how the world works so that they can work well in the world.
4. Supporting Independence
When we are preparing our home environment, it is a good idea to think about how the areas of our home support the independence of our children. All children are learning to be independent. The cry of every child is, “Help me to help myself.” There are so many practical skills that a child is eager to learn. As Montessori parents, we can offer a home environment that supports the development of these new skills.
For example, learning to get dressed as a toddler. While your child may not initially be able to put their socks on by themselves they can do many of the steps of the process. They may be able to grab their socks from a small basket that they can reach, sit down in a child-sized chair, and then you can help put their socks on. But in this scenario, we have given them the opportunity to do as much for themselves as possible. My favorite quote from the book “The Montessori Baby” by Simone Davis is, “We can support them by giving them as little help as possible and as much as necessary.”
In our homes, we will be showing our children lots of new things, and we can consider how we are helping them reach independence in these activities. An environment prepared for the child is a prerequisite for independence. The preparation of the environment is the work of the adult.
5. Offering Choices
As Montessori parents, we want to build autonomy with our children. One way we can do this is by offering choices. Don’t underestimate the power of choices. Children love to make their own decisions!
How to Offer a Choice
Something to be aware of is not offering a choice like, “What do you want to eat?”. Unless you are ready to grant any request that the child responds with. Instead, look in your fridge to see what is available and also assess what you can manage at that moment (a very important part of being a prepared adult is recognizing your own limits). Then come up with 2 or 3 things you can offer a choice between. Then you may say something like, “It is time to have lunch, we have a few leftovers to eat up. Would you like lasagna or chicken salad?” In this way, your child has an appropriate amount of freedom to choose, and you as the adult have offered freedom within the limits of what is manageable and available at the time.
As children get older, they will be able to have more and more choices if they have shown consistency in making appropriate and responsible choices. If we think about all of the moments in a day, we can offer choices for just about everything, even things in our schedule. If it is time to start the bedtime routine, we may say, “It is time to start getting ready for bed. Would you like to put your pajamas on first or brush your teeth?” If a child is resisting either one, you may say, “Do you want to brush your teeth? or do you want me to do it?”. Sometimes in the classroom, when I offered a choice and the child was unwilling to choose I would say, “If you can’t make a choice, then I will make the choice for you.” Usually they would make the choice after that!
I hope these 5 tips for starting to implement Montessori principles in your home has been helpful.