As parents, most of us encounter the term Montessori at some point and ask ourselves, "But what is it?"
Is it a style of preschool or is it an unplugged lifestyle for crunchy parents?
Is it for people who want to raise geniuses or for parents with unlimited time to set up sensory bins for their children? 😉
Whether you have seen Instagram photos that show off sparsely decorated playrooms or have heard that it means "no screens," you might not have the full picture.
First, know that Montessori is a type of school that follows the philosophies of Dr. Maria Montessori. (More about that here.) But it's also an approach to children that supports their development at any stage, wherever they are!
Montessori at home is not about rules, but instead about making intentional choices that help children grow into self-sufficient, problem-solving adults.
Montessori at home - it's easier than you think!
Here are some simple things you might already be doing at home to support your child. Yup, we think you're doing Montessori at home!
1. Talking to your child.
When you use real, natural language (or multiple languages if they are spoken in your home!) to tell your child what items are called, to describe what's happening in your day, and to let them know what to expect, you are building their vocabulary. Keep it up! Your baby is learning from your tone of voice and the sounds you make. They will soon imitate your speech.
2. Modeling gratitude for other people's kindnesses.
The Montessori approach is big on showing children how our culture works by modeling it. When you thank your partner for handing you a package of wipes, your little one is absorbing that we say "thank you," when someone hands us something. When you go beyond thanking someone and say, "I'm so glad you're here," or "The book you gave us has become a favorite!" you are doing all you need to model gratitude.
3. Keeping your home in order.
The struggle is real for many of us, but know that the ritual of putting items away is a fundamental part of the Montessori method. Our children's brains crave order and a physical space in which there is a place for everything and everything in its place enables them (and us!) to focus better. If you have too much stuff (who doesn't?) to keep things orderly, consider a toy rotation system. If you put things back on a shelf or in a drawer after using them, that's totally Montessori, and your baby's brain will thank you.
4. Demonstrating how something works and then inviting your child to try it.
Do you ever roll a ball and then offer your little one a turn? That's the Montessori method. Don't hesitate to offer your child a turn with practical life skills, too. Need to wipe a table? Cut an extra sponge in half and give your toddler a damp mini-sponge to use alongside you. They feel empowered when they can do what you're doing.
5. Sharing practical life skills.
Similar to wiping the table, if you're letting your child feed the dog, water a plant, or carry a plate to the sink, you're really nailing Montessori at home. Learning to take care of their space (meaning your house!) is one of the activities that is unique to a Montessori school. The children prepare their own snacks, pour themselves water, and clean it all up when they're done!
6. Preparing meals together.
Cooking falls under the category of practical life skills and enables a child to really stretch their motor skills by stirring, spreading, and pouring. Plus their cognitive skills expand as they witness how ingredients transform when they are mixed or cooked over heat. If you are including your child in any of your food preparation activities, you're supporting their development in all of these ways!
Do you have books with real pictures in your home? The Montessori method relies on books to expand children's language and introduce them to concepts in the world they cannot access first-hand. (Polar bears, for example!) The ritual of reading creates bonding and language growth from the very first weeks of life.
As children are able to express preferences, we can offer them books based on their interests. If you've ever bought your child a book about something because they love that topic, you are following their lead, a concept at the very heart of Montessori.
8. Offering your child an age-appropriate choice.
Children need their independence at every age and one of the ways they assert it is by making choices. Have you ever, in a moment of desperation, asked your child if they would prefer to walk to the car or be carried? Asked if they want the blue cup or the red cup? These are clever ways of building a collaborative rather than conflict-based interaction with your child. Broadly known as positive parenting, treating your child with respect rather than overpowering them with your physical size or authority is the Montessori approach in a nutshell.
9. Selecting toys that meet your child's needs.
The Montessori philosophy is that children get into their ideal zone for learning when they use toys that are challenging enough to engage them but not so difficult that they lose interest. If you have ever selected a specific toy because you imagined it would encourage your little one to crawl, walk, focus, or balance, that's the Montessori mindset.
Montessori at Home: The Bottom Line
In Montessori classrooms around the world, you can find young children making choices about activities, modeling respect for their environment and the people in it, and putting tools away in their designated places to preserve a sense of order in the classroom.
Montessori at home is forgiving. Most parents are not trained educators, and that's okay! If you're doing most of the things on this list, you are supporting your child's development, building their self-esteem, and maintaining a rich learning environment. You've created a home where they can safely practice, refine, and master skills as you watch them grow. And that's Montessori!