A modern lifestyle brand redefining motherhood

7 key phrases Montessori teachers use and why we should use them, too

Montessori can be hard to sum up in just a few words—it is a philosophy on education and child development that runs deep. It's a way of seeing the world. I think one of the easiest ways to get an idea for what Montessori means is to listen to the language that Montessori teachers use.

Montessori teachers use language that respects the child and provides consistent expectations. Words are chosen carefully to encourage children to be independent, intrinsically motivated critical thinkers.

Here are seven common phrases you'd probably hear in any Montessori classroom, and how to incorporate them into your home life.

1. “I saw you working hard."

The focus on process over product is a key tenet of Montessori. We avoid telling the children "good work" or "your work is beautiful" and instead comment on how they concentrated for a long time, or how they wrote so carefully and their work could be easily read by anyone.

Praising your child's hard work, rather than his results, helps instill a growth mindset where he believes he can improve through his own efforts.

Instead of telling your child, "You're a good boy," tell him "I noticed you being kind to your little brother yesterday when you shared your truck." This shows him you see his good behavior, without placing judgments on him. Instead of telling him, "You're such a good artist," try, "I noticed you kept working on your picture until you got it just how you wanted it."

2. “What do you think about your work?"

In Montessori, the child is his own teacher. The teachers are there as guides to give him lessons and help him but he discovers things for himself through the carefully prepared environment and materials.

Self-analysis is a big part of that discovery.

When your child asks you, "Do you like my picture?" try asking her about it instead of just saying you love it. Ask her what she thinks about it, how she decided what colors to use, and what her favorite part is. Help her start to evaluate her work for herself, rather than looking for your approval.

3. “Where could you look for that?"

Independence is another key value in any Montessori classroom or home. Our goal as teachers is to help the children do things for themselves. So while it's sometimes easier to simply answer a child's question about where something is or how to do something, we often answer questions with another question such as, "Where could you look for that?" or "Which friend could you ask for help?"

If your son loses his shoe and you see it peeking out from under the bed, try asking leading questions, rather than just handing it to him.

"Where were you when you took your shoes off? Have you checked your room?" This may take a little more time, but it will be worth it when he starts taking more initiative and coming to you less.

4. “Which part would you like my help with?"

In a Montessori classroom, children are responsible for many things, including taking care of their environment. Children often take great pride in this responsibility, spending time arranging flowers to put on tables, watering the garden, and happily washing the windows and tables.

Sometimes though, a job is just too big and overwhelming. In these cases, we ask the child how we can help. We don't want to swoop in and "save the day," sending the message that the child is not capable, but we also don't want to leave the child overwhelmed.

For example: If your child is tired, but needs to put her Legos away before bed, all of those pieces can be overwhelming. It doesn't have to be all or nothing though. Try "which color would you like me to put away" or "I'll put away the yellow pieces and you put away the blue" to show that you're in it together.

5. “In our class, we …." (Or at home— “In our home, we…")

This little phrase is used to remind the children of any number of classroom rules and desired behaviors. Phrasing reminders as objective statements about how the community works, rather than barking commands, is much more likely to elicit cooperation from a child.

"In our class, we sit while we eat" is less likely to incite a power struggle than "Sit down."

Like all of us, children want to be a part of the community, and we simply remind them of how the community works.

If you have a rule about walking in the house, instead of "stop running," try saying "we walk inside our house" and see if you get fewer arguments.

6. “Don't disturb him, he's concentrating."

Protecting children's concentration is a fundamental part of the Montessori philosophy. Montessori classes give children big blocks of uninterrupted work time, usually three hours. This allows children to develop deep concentration, without being disturbed because the schedule says it's time to move on to learning something else.

It can be tempting to compliment a child who is working beautifully, but sometimes even making eye contact is enough to break their concentration.

Next time you walk by your child while he's focused on drawing a picture or building a tower, try just walking by instead of telling him how great it is. You can make a mental note and tell him later that you noticed him concentrating so hard on his creation.

7. “Follow the Child."

This last one is an important one. It's something Montessori teachers say to each other and to parents—not to the child. We often remind each other to "follow the child," to trust that each child is on his or her own internal developmental timeline, that he is doing something for a reason.

This reminds us to search for the reason behind the behavior. It reminds us that not all children will be walking by one or reading by four—they haven't read the books and couldn't care less about the milestones they are "supposed to" reach.

Following the child means remembering that each child is unique and has his own individual needs, passions, and gifts, and he should be taught and guided accordingly.

If you can't get your child interested in reading, try watching what he does love—if he loves being silly, it may be that a joke book is what piques his interest, not the children's classic you had in mind. Remembering to "follow your child" can help you see him in a different way and work with him instead of against him.

One of beautiful things about Montessori is that it is so much more than a type of education—it is a way of seeing and being with children. Even if your child does not go to Montessori school, you can easily bring the ideas into your home and watch your child's independence and concentration grow.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

Subscribe to get inspiration and super helpful ideas to rock your #momlife. Motherhood looks amazing on you.

Already a subscriber? Log in here.

Many parents begin looking into Montessori when their children reach preschool age, but there is so much you can do at home even with the youngest babies. Montessori is much more than a method of education or academic system. It is a philosophy and a certain way of approaching children, whether at school or in the home.

Here are five simple (and free!) ways you can begin using Montessori with your child from birth. And if your child is older, don't worry—all of these principles apply to older children as well.

1. Provide freedom of movement

From birth, we can give children the opportunity to move freely in their environment.

For a newborn, this simply means providing plenty of time when they are not being held or constrained in a carrier, stroller or other device.

You might spend time siting next to your child while they lay on a soft blanket, either inside or outdoors. They're clearly not able to move around the environment on their own at this point, but can practice moving their arms and legs and supporting their head, without their movements being limited.

For an older baby, freedom of movement might include letting them pull up on objects and edge their way around the room at their own pace, rather than putting them in a jumper or holding their hands while they walk.

Freedom of movement is excellent for gross motor development, but it is also a great confidence builder. It sends a clear message to your child that you believe they are capable of developing their muscles and abilities in their own timeframe.

Another aspect of freedom of movement is comfortable clothing that supports a baby's growing ability to move. Dressing your baby in a onesie or loose fitting pants and shirt maximizes their ability to move. Providing young babies plenty of time unswaddled and without mittens or shoes also helps them learn to use their muscles.

2. Use respectful communication

Respectful communication is a hallmark of Montessori for children at all ages, and this can certainly begin at birth. It may feel silly at first, but try telling your infant each time you're going to pick them up. Let them know when it's time to eat or time for a diaper. It will begin to feel more natural each time you do it.

You might try asking permission, such as, "May I pick you up for a diaper change now?"

While they, of course, won't be able to answer you in words yet, they will understand your tone and if you ask regularly, they might start to respond in other ways, such as reaching for you or smiling.

We can also show respect through our communication by always using real, precise language. For example, rather than telling a baby a picture is a "doggie," try telling them it's a "dog," or maybe even the type or name of the dog if you know.

This type of communication lays a wonderful foundation for a relationship of mutual respect, and also exposes your child to a rich vocabulary from the beginning.

3. See caregiving as bonding

Caregiving tasks, such as feeding and changing diapers, can seem endless and can be truly exhausting, especially in the first few months. In Montessori, we try to view these activities as a time for bonding and connecting, a time to give a child our undivided attention.

In a classroom with multiple babies, or a home with older siblings around, this can be an especially important time to take a few moments and be present with the baby you are caring for. It can be so tempting to scroll through social media while breastfeeding or rush through diaper changes to get to the more fun stuff, but these are truly opportunities to slow down, make eye contact with your child, and simply be with them.

Montessori also views these activities as collaborative. We always try to do things "with" children, rather than "to" them.

For the youngest infants, collaboration might just be talking them through what you're doing, or following their lead for when they need to eat and sleep.

For older babies, you can include them more through asking them to crawl to the diaper changing area or bring you a diaper, or offering them two shirts or two foods to choose from.

Reframing these caregiving activities not only makes them more enjoyable for us parents, it ensures that we have regular check-ins where we're fully present with our babies. It makes them feel cared for, and never like a burden.

4. Allow time for independence

How can a baby be independent? They rely on us for so much—warmth, nourishment, safety, love—but we can actually help infants develop independence from the very beginning.

We can look for times when our baby is calm and alert and let them "play," or lay on a blanket, without being held. We can give them time to look around the room and visually explore their new world without interacting with or distracting them.

We can respond to mild fussing first by talking to them, by gently touching them or holding their hand, rather than immediately swooping them up into our arms. Sometimes all they need is a little reassurance that we're there.

Every baby is different and every baby's tolerance for these moments is unique. Some babies might be content to lay on their own for quite a while, while others seem to want to be held constantly. Follow your own child's lead, but look for little opportunities to help them stretch their independence from the start.

5. Practice observation

Observation is one of the most important principles of Montessori for all ages.

Each child is on their own developmental path and the only way we can really know what they need, what challenges they're ready for, is through careful observation.

Naturally, you spend tons of time watching your new baby. Observation is just a slightly different mindset, watching with intention, to see what new skills your baby might be working on, what parts of the room they stare at with captivated interest.

This type of observation will help you know what toys to offer your baby better than any developmental timeline. It will also help you get to know them in a deeper way.

Montessori can seem a bit mysterious or even intimidating, but so much of it is really so simple. It is much more about how we view and interact with children than about academic achievement or beautiful materials.

No matter what type of school you plan to send your children to, incorporating these principles at home from the beginning can add so much to your parenting journey.

You might also like:

There are so many firsts we get to experience with our baby in those precious 24 hours after birth, but experts suggest that a first bath should not be one of them as waiting could help mama and baby with breastfeeding.

This week a study published in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing links delaying newborn baths with increased in-hospital exclusive breastfeeding rates.

The study's lead author, Heather Condo DiCioccio, is a nursing professional development specialist for the Mother/Baby Unit at Cleveland Clinic Hillcrest Hospital in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. She told TODAY her research was promoted by patients, who have increasingly been asking staff to hold off that first bath in recent years.

Part of this is likely due to the World Health Organization's stance on newborn bathing. The WHO recommends babies should not get a bath for 24 hours, but the recommendations don't really explain why the organization suggests this.

DiCioccio's study involved almost 1000 mama-baby pairs. Around half of the babies were bathed within 2 hours of birth, as per the hospital's previous policy. The rest saw the first bath delayed for at least 12 hours. The researchers found a link between delaying a bath and exclusive breastfeeding, but they could not precisely answer why. DiCioccio thinks it might have something to do with baby's sense of smell.

"They've been swimming in the amniotic fluid for 38, 39, 40 weeks of their life and the mother's breast puts out a similar smell as that amniotic fluid," she told TODAY. "So the thought is maybe the two smells help that baby actually latch. It makes it easier for the baby to find something comfortable and normal and that they like."

For DiCioccio, anything that can help mamas with breastfeeding is a welcome intervention, but the nursing link is not the only benefit to delayed bathing. She notes that keeping the vernix (that white stuff) on the baby for longer allows the baby to benefit from its antimicrobial properties and can help with lung development.

However, sometimes babies do need a bath soon after birth. When mothers are dealing with health issues that can see babies exposed to blood-borne pathogens (like HIV, active herpes lesions or hepatitis B or C), a bath sooner after birth is still best, DiCioccio explained to TODAY.

Even when blood-borne pathogens are not a concern, cultural preferences might be. Not every parent wants to delay baby's first bath, and that's okay—during DiCioccio's study the wishes of parents who wanted their baby bathed shortly after birth were respected—but it's good to have all the knowledge we can get when it comes to postnatal best practices.

You might also like:

Ayesha Curry has three kids, a husband with a super busy career and a super busy career herself. It would be so easy for her priority list to be: 1) kids, 2) career, then 3) Steph—but the TV host, chef, Honest Company ambassador and entrepreneurial #bossbabe says her partner still has the number one spot, even after all these years.

Speaking to HelloGiggles, Curry explains that she and her Golden State Warrior husband have seen how partners prioritizing each other can benefit a family as a whole. That's why she and Stef don't prioritize the kids above each other.

"Both of our parents are still married and have been married for 30-plus years, and the one thing that they both shared with us—some through learning it the hard way, some through just making sure that they do it—is just making sure that we put each other first, even before the kids, as tough as that sounds," she tells HelloGiggles.

For the Currys, that means making time in those very busy schedules for date nights where they don't have to be mom and dad, they can just connect as partners. Curry admits that it's not always easy to break her brain out of mama-mode and prioritize something other than time with her kids, but she recognizes that when she and Stef put each other first, the kids benefit.

"That's been very important, as hard as it is. Because when you become a parent, you want to put your kids first, and we do, but we do it second to our relationship. Because ultimately, when our relationship is good, the kids are happy and they're thriving and our family life is good. We have to put that into perspective and realize that it's not us being selfish, it's making sure we set a strong foundation."



Experts back Curry up

Family therapist Raffi Bilek, director of the Baltimore Therapy Center, tells Fatherly that while putting each other first may seem counterintuitive to parents, it's important. "I think that the question of when to prioritize your partner over your kid is best answered with 'always,'" Bilek says.

David Code is a therapist and the author of To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First. He wants parents to lean on each other more because when we don't our kids can end up shouldering some of our emotional needs, and that's not fair. It's also not fair for parents to put their relationship and themselves last every time. He believes the "greatest gift you can give your children is to have a fulfilling marriage yourself."

According to Code, "families centered on children create anxious, exhausted parents and demanding, entitled children. We parents today are too quick to sacrifice our lives and our marriages for our kids. Most of us have created child-centered families, where our children hold priority over our time, energy and attention."

Therapists like Code and Bilek are calling on parents to put their partners first, and stop buying into the myth that we don't have time for our spouses.

If the Currys can find time for each other in their crazy schedules, so too can the rest of us.

You might also like:

This morning I left my 4-year-old sobbing in the arms of her Pre-K teacher. As I turned to leave, the sight of her little face crumbling, trying to be brave but not quite managing, tore right to my core. I walked away feeling like I was wading through treacle, my chest aching and my arms heavy and useless where my child should have been. It felt so very unnatural to leave when she was crying out my name.

Keep reading... Show less
Motherly provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.Your use of the site indicates your agreement to be bound by our  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Information on our advertising guidelines can be found here.