Montessori at home: 10 questions to help kids cooperate  

Montessori is child-directed. Rather than hearing adults tell children what to do, you will hear lots and lots of questions. Asking children questions helps them make decisions for themselves and take ownership over their own experiences. You will also learn so much about how your little one thinks and feels by asking lots of questions!

Here are 10 questions to ask your child regularly:

1. What happens next?

Asking this simple question, rather than telling your child what to do next, helps him take ownership of his daily routine. We use this question all the time in the classroom.

If a child first comes in in the morning and looks a little lost, we ask, “What happens next?” and he responds that he needs to put his belongings away. If he is done eating lunch and starts to get silly, we ask, “What should you do next?” and he remembers that it’s time to pack up his lunch and wash his plate.

Hearing this leading question is often all a child needs to get back on track with what he should be doing, whether it’s cleaning up his toys, putting his shoes away, or putting on his coat in the morning.

2. What do you want to choose first?

In a Montessori classroom, each child chooses what he is going to work on each day, within limits. For some children, this independent choice comes quite naturally, but for others, it can be a challenge. Some children need practice making decisions for themselves.

If your child is clinging to you or looking unsure of what to do, whether at home or at a park or play date, ask her what she wants to play with first. If she still can’t decide, try giving her two or three suggestions, for example, “Would you like to start with the swings or the slide?”

3. What materials do we need?

Whether you’re baking cookies, starting an art project, or packing for a trip, helping your child think through the things he will need is a great way to practice logical thinking and problem solving skills. If he’s old enough, help him write out a list and check things off as you gather them.

4. How do you feel about that?

Young children can often be overwhelmed by their emotions, and may need help putting a label on how they’re feeling. Regularly asking your child how she feels can help her begin to recognize and become more comfortable with her emotions.

She may need help naming her emotions at first. You might say, “I would feel sad if someone kicked sand at me” or “Do you feel scared? That was a loud noise.” With practice, your child will become increasingly able to name her own emotions.

It is also helpful to talk about how other people might be feeling. You might say, “His mom left and he’s crying, how do you think he feels?” These simple questions are a great way to start building empathy.

5. How can I help?

When a child is upset or overwhelmed, it is so tempting to swoop in and fix everything for him. Try to pause though and ask how you can help instead. This prevents us from taking over a child’s process.

For example, if he’s building a tall tower and it falls over and he starts to cry, it may be tempting to quickly rebuild it for him. If you ask how you can help though, he may really just need you to sit with him while he rebuilds it himself.

6. Would you like to tell me your story?

When children have conflicts with each other, it can seem impossible to come up with a “fair” solution that makes everyone happy. Many times though, a child doesn’t need us to do anything but listen. Learning social skills is hard, and often a child just wants to tell someone her side of the story.

7. What would you like to read about?

In a Montessori school, children have a large degree of autonomy with their learning. One child may want to research dinosaurs while another wants to write an elaborate story about mermaids. Regardless of what type of school your child attends though, letting him choose some books for himself allows him to think about what he’s interested in, and learn more about it.

8. Would you like me to sit with you or do you need space?

We have had many parents at school tell us how funny it was when their little 2 or 3-year-old yelled “I need space!” after a disagreement. The truth is, it is funny to hear such a little person say this, but it is also a sign of emotional awareness.

Just like adults, sometimes children need a big hug and lots of cuddles when they’re upset, and sometimes they just need to be alone for a few minutes to reflect and collect themselves. Giving them the choice helps them begin to recognize and meet their emotional needs.

9. What could you do differently next time?

Montessori schools do not generally use punishment. Instead, we talk through issues that arise, discuss why certain actions are not okay, and talk about what a child could do differently in the future.

One very sweet little girl who was in my class once overheard her grandmother say something was “stupid.” She said to her grandmother, “We don’t say ‘stupid.’ What could you do differently next time?” I loved this so much because it showed that the little girl had really internalized the process of analyzing our actions and thinking through how to behave.

10. What could we do to help?

A big part of Montessori is building a peaceful community, within the classroom, but also in a broader sense with the outside world. One way to instill an attitude of helpfulness in your child is to ask them what they could do to help when you see someone in need.

This could be as simple as witnessing another child fall down at the park, or seeing a lost dog walking down the street. Asking your child, “What could we do to help?” shows them that everyone, big and small, can play a part in building a peaceful community.

Telling children what to do is often a necessary part of parenting. Make sure to ask your child lots of questions too, though, to allow him the opportunity think through situations on his own.

Christina is a Montessori teacher for 3-6 year olds, certified by the American Montessori Society. She currently stays home to take care of her son, James. She lives in Austin, Texas, and writes a blog,, chronicling her journey through motherhood the Montessori way.

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