Although the Montessori method is usually associated with schools and educational programs, its principles can be applied at home too.
The 100-years-old method has a lot to say to the parents living in the 21st century. The growing number of Montessori parenting blogs, YouTube channels and courses is a clear indicator of this.
What is Montessori parenting?
Montessori parenting is an intentional parenting approach based on the principles laid out by Dr. Maria Montessori.
The pillars of this approach consist of respecting children’s individuality, practicing hands-on learning and encouraging independence and responsibility.
In this post, we’ll take a look at the basic concepts of the Montessori method that you can apply to your everyday parenting choices, supported by quotes by Dr. Maria Montessori.
#1 Follow the child
“Follow the child” is one of the mantras of the Montessori philosophy. Of course, it doesn’t mean the child should be the boss in the family.
What it actually means is that we should respect every child as an individual being and pay careful attention to their interests rather than imposing our idea of what they should learn at what age.
As Maria Montessori wrote:
“Follow the child, they will show you what they need to do, what they need to develop in themselves and what area they need to be challenged in.”
What are your child’s interests? What kind of activities make him most engaged?
It can be different things at different ages (the period in which a child is focused on one particular type of activity is also called schema) – transporting toys from one place to another, climbing the stairs, reading books or building stuff with wooden blocks.
If a child keeps repeating certain activity, it means he’s trying hard to understand the concept and master the activity.
Many times, children are better at estimating whether they are ready to do something. If, for example, your little one insists that he or she wants to dress by themselves, it is a cue for you to step back, give them time and let them try.
It works the other way too – it is completely normal if children reject certain activities. They will most probably return to the activity later when they’re ready.
Practical tips: Following the child
- Learn how to step back a little a observe your child – pay attention to what activities he keeps repeating.
- If you notice that your child is interested into a specific type of activity, try to provide the right environment or materials (e.g. if all your toddler wants to do right now is running and climbing, go outside with him as much as possible).
- Don’t try to force your child into an activity just because it is age-appropriate or other children enjoy doing it.
“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.”
– Maria Montessori
#2 Foster independence
There are two common misconceptions about the Montessori method:
The first is that it lets children do whatever they want and whenever they want it. The second is that it is too strict and far too structured.
Neither of those is true. The beauty of the Montessori method is that it finds the balance between these two extremes.
As Maria Montessori said:
“The greatest gifts we can give our children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.”
Montessori education encourages independence from an early age. This can be done by creating opportunities to enjoy two kinds of freedom:
- Freedom of movement – creating a “yes space” – an environment where children are allowed to play and move independently and freely.
- Freedom of choice – letting children have some kind of autonomy by choosing freely from various pre-arranged options.
Practical tips: Independence
- Use child-sized furniture such as floor bed, kids’ wardrobe, weaning table, etc. (Find some other great tips in our guide to Montessori furniture).
- Childproof the household to make sure they can move as freely as possible.
- Let your toddler make little age-appropriate choices – make them pick the clothes, what kind of fruit they want to eat, what book to read at bedtime…
#3 Set limits
Children need boundaries. Not only they keep them safe in a very existential way (like teaching them not to touch electricity outlets), but clear rules also help them navigate the world and feel loved and cared for.
It is quite normal that children try to test the boundaries and it is the role of the parent to be a loving guide that won’t let them go further in certain situations.
Maria Montessori firmly believed in the importance of limits:
“To let the child do as he likes when he has not yet developed any powers of control is to betray the idea of freedom.”
If you’re not sure where to set the limits for certain behavior without being too restrictive (or too benevolent) you can simply make sure the child follows these three rules:
- Respect for oneself
- Respect for others; and
- Respect for the environment.
Practical tips: Setting limits
- Teach the child what a no means (kids are able to understand it at as early as nine months) but don’t overuse it for banalities.
- Make the rules logical, clear and be consistent (probably the hardest part for parents).
- Teach the child that all emotions are allowed, but not all behaviors are allowed. (They can feel angry but they can’t hurt others or destroy the toys out of anger.)
- Create routines so that your child knows what to expect at specific times of the day.
#4 Let them explore the world hands-on
One of the most famous ideas introduced by Maria Montessori is the concept of the absorbent mind. It’s a term she used to describe a child’s ability to absorb new information like a sponge – effortlessly and unconsciously.
“Like a sponge these children absorb. It is marvelous, this mental power of the child. Only we cannot teach directly. It is necessary that the child teach himself, and then the success is great.”
Dr. Montessori believed that we can’t teach small children something new by simply telling them about it. Instead, we should provide them with the opportunities to learn by themselves.
“The hand is the instrument of intelligence. The child needs to manipulate objects and to gain experience by touching and handling.”
That’s why we should encourage hands-on learning as much as possible. The children should be able to manipulate the objects around them, touch them and feel them.
Practical tips: Hands-on learning
- Provide many tactile stimulation opportunities (e.g. let them play in the mud, touch natural materials, explore different textures).
- Instead of just looking at the pictures of something in the book (e.g. geometrical objects), let them see and touch the real objects.
- Learn about new things together in various ways. For example, if your child is interested in insects, you can read about them, draw them, play with the figures, create them with play doh, observe them in the nature, go to the museum…
#5 Let them participate in everyday activities
Another essential aspect of the Montessori method is letting children be part of everyday practical life activities from an early age. From taking care of their hygiene to helping with cleaning, cooking, gardening or taking care of animals.
You will be surprised how happy a toddler is to help with dusting the shelves, sweeping the floor, watering plants, or peeling hard-boiled eggs.
Will it be perfect?
Definitely not, especially at the beginning. You should always take into consideration the age and the abilities of the child.
And, let’s face it, you’ll need a lot of patience. It will surely take more time to do laundry with a “helping” toddler than to do it by yourself when he is asleep. That is why you need to realize why it’s important and look at the long-term benefits it provides.
If children are allowed to observe the adults in their natural roles and participate in household chores according to their capabilities, they will naturally develop:
- An ability to concentrate on advanced tasks
- Fine motor skills that are needed for practical life activities
- A sense of independence
- A sense of order and responsibility (for both themselves and their environment)
Practical tips: Involving the child
- Teach responsibility by involving your child in age-appropriate chores (here’s a great list by the Montessori Notebook).
- Provide them with the right tools based on their abilities and age (e.g. a kid-friendly knife, a child-sized cleaning set, etc.)
- Consider using a learning tower (it is one of the most popular items in Montessori households as it allows the child to reach the countertop and help in the kitchen).
- If possible, take your child to work with you – they’ll understand what you do for a living and develop natural respect.
#6 Let them spend time in nature
The importance of spending time in nature is not the first thing that comes to mind when talking about Montessori principles.
But it is, in fact, an integral part of what Maria Montessori preached:
“There is no description, no image in any book that is capable of replacing the sight of real trees, and all the life to be found around them, in a real forest. Something emanates from those trees which speaks to the soul, something no book, no museum is capable of giving.”
She believed that children should understand they are part of a greater universe and be allowed to spend time outdoors, feeling and living in harmony with the Earth.
Spending time in nature has multiple benefits for children – besides the obvious positive impact on physical health, it also provides various kinds of sensory stimulation and promotes creativity and imagination.
Practical tips: Nature
- Let your child explore freely and set the pace of the walk.
- Learn new things – watch birds, observe insects, learn the names of the trees or plants, etc.
- Search the wood for a perfect stick and help your little one create a personalized walking stick for long summer walks.
- Create a nature treasure basket where your child can keep the most beautiful things found outdoors.
#7 Create a distraction-free environment
Our environment has a huge impact on our mental and physical health. Maria Montessori knew this. She was a great proponent of creating a distraction-free environment that helps children to concentrate on their activities.
“The child who concentrates is immensely happy.”
We can see this in Montessori classrooms. They are very neat and perfectly organized. Everything is beautiful and has its own place.
How to achieve this at home? Here are 3 areas Montessori parents should make conscious decisions about:
- Follow the “Less is more” approach – Reduce any environmental stress and clutter – whether it’s too much furniture, too many decorations, or too many toys. Having fewer toys, for example, is associated with more play, more creativity, and better focus.
- Create an environment of beauty – Maria Montessori put a lot of emphasis on the beauty of the environment: “There is a mathematical relationship between the beauty of his surroundings and the activity of the child.” We should create an environment that is calming and inspires a sense of beauty and aesthetics.
- Be careful about screen time – If we want to help our children focus better, we should be very strict about how much time they spend in front of the screens. There are numerous studies that warn against excessive screen time in children and its connection to various attention disorders and sleep problems.
Practical tips: Distraction-free environment
- Declutter the playroom – don’t be afraid to toss out toys (or use toy rotation to display fewer of them).
- Give everything its place.
- Make the environment beautiful: use natural materials, include artworks (here are our favorite prints and illustrations for playrooms), or place some plants.
- Set clear limits about the amount of screen time your children can have throughout the day (here are recommendations by WHO).
- Have “no screen zones” where no screens are allowed (for example, bedroom and dinner table) and lead by example.
- Learn about and use parental controls.