Montessori is a teaching method that goes way beyond academics. It is a way of approaching children differently and is something you can totally practice at home, regardless of the type of school your child attends.
Here are eight real-life strategies that Montessori teachers use with their own children that you can try today.
1. Include your child in daily activities
Including your child in daily life is something you can do right from the beginning. It might mean placing your baby on a soft blanket right outside the kitchen so that she can watch you do dishes, rather than leaving them in a playpen.
For an older child, it can mean inviting them to fold laundry with you, asking if they'd like to help weed the garden or cook a simple dinner together.
Including children in the real work of daily life gives them a sense of purpose, teaches valuable life skills, and prevents the "misbehavior" that often arises when children want our attention. No matter what the task, there is usually a small way a child can help if you show them how.
2. Use “time in” not “time out”
Poor behavior is often a way for a child to show us they need our attention. Rather than sending them to their room, try to take a deep breath and see what they truly need–likely some one-on-one time with you.
If it's possible, take a break from what you're doing and spend some quality time together. Even just five or 10 minutes can help refuel their emotional tank so they can be their charming, well-behaved self again.
If they're running around the house or jumping on the couch, try going outside together and having a race across the backyard. If they're dumping water on the floor, try playing in the sprinkler or having an early bath time for some extra water play.
While a time-out further separates you and leads to feelings of shame and guilt, time in brings you closer together and builds your relationship, which is always a worthy goal.
3. Encourage freedom of movement
Montessori children are free to walk about the classroom, choose where they wish to sit, use the restroom without asking for permission and do things like yoga or "walking the line" when they need to move their bodies.
Many Montessori teachers apply this principle at home, starting from birth. For an infant, this might mean placing them on a large blanket, rather than a swing or playpen, so they have space to look around the room and attempt to roll over.
For an older baby or toddler, you can completely childproof their room so they can explore freely without being told "no."
With older children, provide them with plenty of time and space to freely move their bodies, ideally outside, giving them the chance to develop motor skills and to simply explore the world.
4. Tell them what’s going to happen
If you visit a Montessori infant classroom, one of the first things you will notice is how the teachers are speaking to the infants. They always tell the baby what they're going to do before they do it. For example, a teacher might say, "I'm going to pick you up and bring you to the changing area for a fresh diaper."
This is a way of showing respect for the personhood already present in even the tiniest children, and also for sharing language skills. This continues with older children as we communicate changes in routine or tell them if we need to touch them—"I'm going to hold your hand until you can be safe on the playground."
This takes practice, but it becomes a habit and is then easy to use at home with your own children.
5. Do with—not for—your child
Montessori is all about independence and this is something Montessori teachers practice constantly with their own children.This is often a subtle distinction, with the parent acting as a partner with the child, rather than doing things for or to them.
Montessori parents invite their young toddlers to help with diaper changes by pulling their own pants down and pulling the diaper tabs to remove their diapers. You may see a Montessori parent of an older child sitting side by side to clean up a big spill, rather than the parent quickly wiping it up to get rid of the mess.
Doing with, not for, your child often takes more time, but it also empowers your child to be more responsible and autonomous.
6. Model grace and courtesy
Montessori teachers model grace and courtesy, or manners, both in the classroom and at home.
Explaining how to act in social situations, such as how to let someone pass by in a tight walkway or how to get a grown up's attention when they're on the phone, is often much more effective and far more pleasant than simply admonishing children for bad behavior.
Children generally want to behave appropriately, they just don't always know how. Things that seem obvious to us may not be to a young child. Think about it as if you were visiting a foreign country with a very different culture and needed to study up on what's considered rude and what's polite. Children need these details, too.
7. Encourage discovery
In a Montessori classroom, the teacher's role is to facilitate the child making discoveries for themself, rather than directly teaching them facts.
No matter what type of school your child is in, you can encourage discovery by following your child's unique interests and giving them opportunities to explore them. This could be setting up a telescope set in the backyard or giving them a book on origami. Encouraging kids to dive deeply into their interests shows them that learning is fun and that the world is an endlessly interesting place.
8. Provide real tools
People are often surprised to see young children in Montessori schools or homes using real knives, a real hammer, or a real sewing machine. Montessori parents watch their children for readiness, show them how to use a real tool, and then observe from a distance to make sure they're safe.
Children are often far more careful when they are using real tools than plastic toys. They can tell the difference in quality and purpose and they treat the materials with respect.
Your child does not have to go to Montessori school to benefit from the philosophy at home, mama. Try one of these Montessori-inspired parenting strategies to get a glimpse of how the approach works for your child and your home.
You might also like:
- How to design a Montessori-inspired kitchen for you kids
- 7 tips for planning a Montessori-inspired summer vacation
- Montessori at home: Giving your child 'purposeful work' could be a game-changer