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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.

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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.

When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.

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The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.



As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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My husband and I always talked about starting a family a few years after we were married so we could truly enjoy the “newlywed” phase. But that was over before it started. I was pregnant on our wedding day. Surprise!

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