Montessori is growing in popularity.
Every day, the parenting websites, mommy YouTube channels, and Instagram influencers are re-discovering this 100-year-old educational approach.
And it’s great they are. The Montessori method, although old, has a lot to say to modern parents.
What is Montessori?
The Montessori method is an educational approach developed by Italian physician Maria Montessori. It has been popular all over the world for over 100 years.
The approach focuses on independence, hands-on learning and a thoughtfully prepared environment that allows the child to grow in all the main developmental areas.
Maria Montessori was born in 1870 in Italy. She was one of the first women to graduate from the University of Rome Medical School.
After her studies, she worked with mentally impaired children, observed them, and noticed that they can learn many things that seemed impossible if provided the right environment, practice, and materials.
Thanks to the results her educational approach was bringing, she was soon given the opportunity to test her methodology on healthy kids. The first Casa dei Bambini – The House of Children – was established in 1907 in Rome.
Her method became popular all around the world and she spent the rest of her life establishing new schools and teacher training centers, lecturing, improving her method, and writing.
She traveled widely and spent six years in India during World War II, where she established many schools. Montessori education is very popular in India to this day.
Maria Montessori died in 1952.
Her legacy is being carried on by the Amsterdam-based Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) as well as many other educational institutions, childhood development experts, authors, teachers, ethusiasts, and parents.
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The principles of Montessori education
Let’s take a look at the 7 most important principles of Montessori education. These principles can be used both at Montessori schools and at home, by Montessori parents.
1. Play is work
We should take the play very seriously as it is the way the child expresses himself.
Maria Montessori believed that playing is the ultimate way of learning and that children have a natural desire for knowledge that should be supported through the right tools.
“Play is the work of the child.”
– Maria Montessori
2. Prepared environment
The prepared environment is an essential part of the Montessori method. It should be an environment of beauty, where children can move freely and act independently.
The Montessori environment should also be structured and have the order. It may seem counter-intuitive to the “freedom of movement” but the truth is – toddlers love order and routine. It helps them to navigate the world they live in.
If you want to know more, read how to create a Montessori playroom at home.
Montessori education leads to independence. It encourages exploration and teaches toddlers to take responsibility for themselves, their belongings, and the environment. The Montessori schedule often includes practical activities like sweeping or personal care.
The golden rule of the Montessori approach is:
“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.”
– Maria Montessori
4. Hands-on learning
Children learn through experience. From birth to the age of 6, the child is able to learn new things effortlessly and unconsciously, just by being in the right environment and having the opportunities to explore.
Maria Montessori called this concept the absorbent mind. It means the child is able to “absorb” new information like a sponge.
“The most important period of life is not the age of university studies, but the first one, the period from birth to age six. For that is the time when man’s intelligence itself is being formed.”
– Maria Montessori
Raising children in the Montessori philosophy means observing them carefully and noticing what they are interested in.
There are certain periods – called sensitive periods – when the child is very interested in one kind of activity. It can be climbing, transporting things, focus on small details or language.
By observing the children, we can provide appropriate activities and create an environment that will support the development of the skill they are currently focused on.
6. Freedom within limits
Freedom doesn’t mean children can do whatever they want. It means we give them the opportunity to choose freely from the options we approved and that are good for them – whether it’s the activity they want to engage in or the dress they want to wear.
Montessori teachers and parents are guides (or, as Maria Montessori used to say, gardeners). We can provide the right conditions and point in the right direction, but we show respect to the way our children decide to go.
Which brings us to the last principle…
The Montessori method is about mutual respect between the child and the parent.
It also means that we understand that each child is a unique individual with his or her own needs, capabilities, and way of learning.
Frequently asked questions
What age is best to start with Montessori?
The Montessori concept of absorbent mind that refers to a period of “sponge-like” learning in young children applies to kids from 0 to 6 years old. So the Montessori principles can be incorporated by parents from birth. The Montessori pre-school programs usually start at the age of 3.
Are Montessori schools better than standard schools?
We shouldn’t jump to hasty conclusions about Montessori schools being better than other schools, as there may be various levels of quality among both types of schools.
However, many studies suggest that children educated in Montessori schools have an advantage in terms of academic, social, and emotional development.
Can Montessori be taught at home?
The Montessori method is not just a set of specific activities taught at school, it can be perceived as a way of life. As such, it can be promoted by parents at homes from the early ages of the child’s life.
What are the best Montessori toys?
There are some typical “official” Montessori toys (e.g. pink tower, cylinder blocks, broad stair, etc.) used in Montessori schools. These are usually referred to as “Montessori materials”. Other than that, there’s a wide variety of toys that are in accordance with the Montessori principles.
You can check our list of best Montessori toys for inspiration.
Is Montessori religious?
Maria Montessori was a devout Catholic and her teachings reflect some Christian concepts, such as the intrinsic value of human life. However, her method is universal. There are Christian, Jewish, or even Islamic Montessori schools and there are Montessori schools that are not bound to any religious belief.