As homeschooling has become increasingly popular, there are more and more curriculum options and resources available. This is wonderful, but it can also be overwhelming. How do you know which method is right for your family? Is it better to choose one curriculum and commit, or mix and match?
Educational choices are very personal. There is no one right way for all families, or for all children.
Here are some things to consider if you're thinking of using the Montessori method to homeschool your children:
1. The Montessori method is a mindset
Montessori materials are beautiful in design. They are designed specifically to draw children in, to make them want to touch and handle and master the materials. They often draw adults in in the same way, but it's important to understand that Montessori is much more of a mindset than a set of materials.
Montessori is about letting the child drive their own education, observing them carefully and preparing the environment to meet their own needs and interests. It is about giving the child the freedom to work and learn at their own pace, rather than according to a set of standards.
This sounds beautiful, but it's also hard. It's difficult to watch a child show no interest in reading and trust their interest will increase when they're ready. It's hard to let a child make a discovery on their own, slowly and over time, rather than jumping in excitedly to show them how it works or the "right" way to do it.
It's important to reflect and decide if this is in line with your personality because, even if Montessori is great for all children, it won't necessarily work for you as the teacher, or "guide" as the adult is often referred to in Montessori.
2. Uninterrupted time is valued
In Montessori schools, children don't move from class to class, switching from math to reading after 45 minutes. Instead, they have large—often three hour—blocks of unstructured time during which they can choose what to work on. These large blocks of time are essential to Montessori because they allow the children to dive deep into whatever they're working on.
Large time blocks are also important if you're using Montessori because if you let children decide what to work on themselves, some children will ease in slowly.
Just as some adults need to drink a cup of coffee and check their email before getting into real work, some children need to do a puzzle or draw a picture before they're ready to choose something academically challenging.
I had one wonderful little boy in my class who began every single morning with making a necklace. He actually made the same necklace every day, with one bead from every color of the rainbow. He then moved on to do a variety of work for the rest of the morning, but if he had only had a 45 minute chunk of time to work, he would have mostly made necklaces.
You have to ask yourself, are you okay with being home for large chunks of time, or are you happier going from activity to activity? Do you get stir crazy if you're home too much? If you would rather do 45 minutes of homeschooling work before taking your child to a different class or activity each day, Montessori might not be the best choice.
3. Follow their curiosities, not yours
As a teacher, you may go into each day with an idea of what lessons you want to give each child, but there is no overall plan for what the children will work on. The available materials are on the shelf and the children choose what to practice. They may practice reading all morning today and sewing all morning tomorrow. They may become so engrossed in learning about maps that they don't do any math for a solid week.
It can be beautiful to watch a child become inspired and follow their own curiosities and passions to learn more about the world.
Montessori is all about freedom within limits, so make sure you ask yourself if this kind of flexibility works for you. Taking a step back takes a profound trust in children and their innate ability and desire to learn. Letting go of control takes practice.
4. Consider the space in your home
Montessori uses hands on materials to help children learn and make discoveries on their own. Children use the movable alphabet, a set of wooden letters, to learn to build words. They use a material called golden beads to learn the decimal system and mathematical operations.
You of course won't need every Montessori material if you're homeschooling. You will however need space in your house with shelves for materials. You can rotate the materials you have out so it doesn't need to be a tremendous amount of space, but something you'll have to plan and think through.
5. A montessori teacher is different from a traditional teacher
The role of the teacher in a Montessori setting is significantly different than that of a teacher in a traditional school. A Montessori teacher's main roles are to observe the child, prepare the classroom environment to meet the child's needs, and present occasional lessons to show the child how to use a new material. The teacher guides the child's learning process, but the goal is for the child to discover things on their own.
For example, you might observe your young child trying to count their blocks. In response, you might prepare a counting work and place it on their Montessori shelf.
You would then present a short lesson to your child on how to do the work before taking a step back and letting them work with the material on their own for as long as they wanted. You would not correct their work if they made a mistake, but instead would make a note to yourself to show them the lesson again if they're still struggling.
If you're considering Montessori homeschooling, you'll need to decide if this is in line with your own educational philosophy.
Montessori homeschooling is for me and my family, now what?
If you think Montessori homeschooling might be right for you, request to observe a local Montessori school. Most schools welcome observers and this will give you a better idea of whether the model is a good fit for your family.
There are also many books written by Maria Montessori herself, as well as other educators that describe the method and materials in great detail.If you're still not sure if you want to dive into Montessori for your homeschooled child, make or buy a few Montessori materials to try. After all, flexibility and the freedom to try different things are some of the greatest benefits of homeschooling.