Montessori at home: Giving your child 'purposeful work' could be a game-changer

When you see a child breaking the rules, try to look for the impulse behind it.

Montessori at home: Giving your child 'purposeful work' could be a game-changer

When prospective parents come to observe our Montessori classroom, they often comment on how quiet and calm it is. They sometimes wonder whether their own child could be successful in such an environment. How are all of these children working independently, moving around the room carefully, and speaking softly?

The answer is purposeful work.

Montessori classrooms are designed to provide children with meaningful activities that align with their developmental needs. Just like grownups, children often reach a calm, highly focused state when they find a purpose toward which to direct their abundant energy.

In addition to giving them a sense of pride and confidence, helping children find purposeful work is a powerful way to redirect "misbehavior."


Years ago when I first became an assistant in a Montessori classroom, we had a sweet little 3-year-old boy who had more energy than any child I'd ever seen. We were on the playground one day, and he kept getting cups of water (meant for drinking) and dumping them out—on people, in the sandbox and pretty much everywhere he could think of.

I tried, without success, to redirect his behavior by reminding him of the rules, trying to entice him to do something else, and standing between him and the water station to block his way. Nothing was working.

I was trying to fight against his impulse, and it was a losing battle. An experienced Montessori teacher came over and simply said, "I see you want to work with water. Let's go find the watering can."

She helped him get started on watering the plants, and he peacefully did so for the rest of playtime. I couldn't believe how focused he was! I couldn't believe how much energy I had spent futilely trying to thwart his efforts when she had so easily redirected them with purpose. Instead of telling him "no," she gave him an outlet, a way to be successful.

His impulse wasn't wrong. He needed to work with water. He just needed help finding a purposeful and appropriate way to fulfill that desire.

Dr. Montessori observed that children are happiest when they have purposeful work that they had a part in choosing.

Children, of course, need lots of time for open-ended play as well—play is their work. But when you see a child breaking the rules, try to look for the impulse behind it and help him find a way to be successful.

Is your toddler carrying around a step stool and knocking things over? Perhaps they're looking for some heavy lifting. Try taking them out to the backyard and letting them move some stones to create a new flower bed border or carry buckets of water to fill up the kiddie pool.

Are they throwing sand out of the sandbox? Show them a purposeful way to use the sand. Demonstrate how to build a sand castle or show them how to sift the sand to get rid of any rocks that have found a way in.

Are they trying to cut a page in a book? Give them work with scissors, perhaps trimming the grass outside. Or simply give them a basket of paper scraps they can cut to their heart's content. They could save them for future collage work.

Are they throwing the laundry on the floor while you try to fold it? Maybe they want to help, to be part of the action. Show them how to organize the laundry into piles of pants, shirts, etc. Show them how to fold the washcloths and stack them neatly. Show them how to match socks. Give them a stack of laundry to carry into their room. Find a way for them to help that matches their ability.

Children have strong impulses and often can't yet fight them—this is really a good thing. These are the same impulses that drive a baby to work hard to learn to crawl and walk and speak. This is how they build the skills they need.

Does this mean they get a free pass to behave however they please? No! They very much want and need our guidance. But it does mean we should approach their misbehavior with a different perspective. They're not doing these things to us, they're just struggling to find an appropriate way to explore the world.

Trust that your child knows better than anyone what they need to practice at that very moment. Take a minute and think about how you can suggest an alternative way instead of saying "no" or "stop."

This takes practice, but becomes natural with time, and is so worth the effort. Children are never so calm and focused as when you find the right match of work to meet their needs.

It would be so much easier if children could just tell us in words exactly what they need, but they can't. Instead, they tell us with their actions and with their behavior. We just have to watch, to interpret, and to learn their language. We won't always get it right, but it will be so much more successful than just saying "no."

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After 4 kids, this is still the best baby gear item I’ve ever purchased

I wouldn't be swooning over the BABYBJÖRN bouncer after eight years and four kids if it didn't work.

I have four kids 8 and under, so you might expect that my house is teeming with baby gear and kid toys.

But it turns out that for me, the more kids I have, the more I simplify our stuff. At this point, I'm down to the absolute essentials, the gear that I can't live without and the toys my kids actually play with. And so when a mama-to-be asks me what things are worth registering for, there are only a few must-haves on my list.

The BABYBJÖRN bouncer seat is on the top of my list—totally worth it and an absolute must-have for any new mama.

In fact, since I first splurged on my first BABYBJÖRN bouncer eight years ago (it definitely felt like a splurge at the time, but the five star reviews were really compelling), the bouncer seat has become the most-used product in our house for baby's first year.

We've actually invested in a second one so that we didn't have to keep moving ours from the bedroom to the living room when we change locations.

BABYBJÖRN bouncer bliss

baby bjorn bouncer

The utility of the seat might seem counterintuitive—it has no mechanical parts, so your baby is instead gently bounced by her own movements. In a world where many baby products are touted for their ability to mechanically rock baby to sleep, I get that many moms might not find the "no-motion" bouncer that compelling. But it turns out that the seat is quite reactive to baby's little kicks, and it has helped my kids to learn how to self-soothe.


Lightweight + compact:

The BABYBJÖRN bouncer is super lightweight, and it also folds flat in a second. Because of those features, we've frequently stored it under the couch, in a suitcase or in the back of the car. It folds completely flat, which I love.

Entertainment zone:

Is the toy bar worth it? The toy bar is totally worth it. Not only is the toy bar adorable, but it's one of the first toys that my babies actually play with once they discover the world beyond my boobs. The toys spin and are close to eye level so they have frequently kept my baby entertained while I cook or take a quick shower.

Great style:

This is not a small detail to me–the BABYBJÖRN bouncer is seriously stylish. I am done with baby gear and toys that make my house look like a theme park. The elegant European design honestly just looks good in my living room and I appreciate that parents can enjoy it as much as baby.

It's adjustable:

With three height settings that let you prop baby up to be entertained, or lay back to rest, we get years of use. And the bouncer can actually be adjusted for bigger kids and used from newborn to toddler age. It's that good.

It just works:

I wouldn't be swooning over the BABYBJÖRN bouncer after eight years and four kids if it didn't work. But I have used the seat as a safe space to put baby while I've worked (I once rocked my baby in it with my foot while I reported on a breaking news story for the Washington Post), and as a cozy spot for my second child to lay while his big brother played nearby. It's held up for almost a decade with almost-constant use.

So for me, looking back on what I thought was a splurge eight years ago, was actually one of the best investments in baby gear I ever made.

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


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