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 by following their own natural interests and instincts to develop.
Montessori at home – it’s easier than you think!
Here are some simple things you can do at home to support your child. We think you just might be doing Montessori at home already!
1. Talk to your child.
When you use real, natural language (or multiple languages if they are spoken in your home!) to describe what’s happening in your day and to let them know what to expect, you are building their vocabulary. Keep it up! Even if your toddler isn’t using these same words yet, they are absorbing their meaning and context so that they can use them correctly when the time coomes.
2. Modeling gratitude for other people’s kindnesses.
The Montessori approach is big on showing children how our culture and society work by simply modeling it for them. When you thank your partner for handing you a package of wipes, your little one is absorbing the kindness of that “thank you” and models for them how to show gratitude and appreciation. When your toddler completes a task in the home as simple as closing an open cupboard or picking up a piece of fuzz you can thank them too! The gratitude you have for their contribution goes a long way to support their confidence and for it to happen again and again.
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. So, if you put things back on a shelf or in a drawer after using them, that’s totally Montessori, and your toddler’s brain will thank you. Furthermore, your little one can be independent with their own choices – knowing where to find things they want to use and where to put
them when they’re finished!
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 a crucial step to 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. Giving them clear and realistic expectations for a toy or activity will allow them to repeat and practice these skills over and over – which might give you a little more time with your morning coffee!
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 (in this case your house!) is one of the core aspects unique to a Montessori school. Toddlers LOVE to mimic their loved ones in seemingly mundane tasks. They feel included, proud and joyful as a valued member of their family.
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. Offering tasks for your toddler to complete like plucking grapes and peeling bananas that you’ll slice or mashing avocado for toast allows them to participate at a level that is appropriate for their ability! Build on these steps as they gain confidence and refine their skills.
Do you have books with real pictures and beautiful illustrations 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!) and having these kinds of books is the first step to offering this. The ritual of reading creates bonding and vocabulary growth from the very first weeks of life.
As your toddler is able to express their preferences, you can offer them books based on their interests. If you’ve ever bought your little one a book about something because they love that topic, you are already following their lead, a concept at the very heart of Montessori.
8. Offering your child an age-appropriate choice.
Toddlers crave independence and control. One way they can assert this 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 that still “get the job done” without the power struggle. Broadly known as positive parenting, respecting your child’s autonomy rather than overpowering them with your size or authority is also at the core of the Montessori approach.
9. Selecting toys that meet your child’s needs.
Children learn best when they get into their ideal zone for learning. This occurs when they use toys that are just challenging enough to engage them but not so difficult that they lose interest or too easy that it’s boring. 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. If you’re ready to give it a try, take 10 minutes to watch your toddler. Ask yourself, “What activities, no matter how simple, catch their attention?” Are they taking clothes in and out of their drawers on repeat? A toy like a shape sorter will fulfill this same need to transfer while also building cognitive skills.
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!