Montessori 101: By A Montessori Mom

Young boy squatting on the sidewalk with a blue bucket
Photo by Marie Mack 

"Our care of the child should be governed, not by the desire to make him learn things, but by the endeavor always to keep burning within him that light which is called intelligence." ~Maria Montessori

When I tell people that I use Montessori with my children, I get some pretty weird looks. I imagine they are worried about what my kids are eating, their well-being, or our religious background. I get questions like, "Is that a country in Europe?" Or they use a change-the-subject question, "Isn't this weather wonderful?" For anyone that might have an idea about the Montessori Method reply with, "Isn't that where kids get to do whatever they want in school?", or I get that sideways, "Oh, Okay" look.

Truly the Montessori Method is over a century old. The beginning concepts of Maria Montessori still hold very true today. Montessori schools and home-schools the world over are set up according to her initial research which began in the late 1800s.

As a Montessori Mom, I hope to answer some of the basic questions you might have about the Montessori Method and help you get started on the wonderful adventure that is Montessori living.

After my husband and I decided to use Montessori with our son, I dove into the books. I didn't want to mess anything up. But there are so many wonderful ideas, projects, and activities being posted, pinned, and blogged! Where to start? What are some basics? What can I do right now to help my child?

I have to admit that I'm just a Mom. I don't have any special training in the Montessori Method. I care about my children, just like you do, and I want what's best for them. All that I know now, I only know through research. I used the research I did to set up our home. In the beginning, I followed the Montessori program that Lisa Nolan has created to help get my foot in the door and answer my question, "OK, I want to do Montessori. What now?".

Deciding to implement the Montessori Method in your home is a life-altering step and some important research should be performed before jumping into the deep end. The best place I found to start is with Maria Montessori herself. What an amazing woman! The first woman to earn a medical degree in Italy, Montessori was the head of the State Orthophrenic School in Rome, Italy. This school was comprised of children labeled as "uneducable": orphans, children from asylums, hospitals, and schools. This was her canvas and she made all the wonderful things you have heard about the Montessori Method happen with these children first.

Maria Montessori wrote many books. One of her most popular books is The Absorbent Mind. In this book, Montessori describes what she states is the most critical developmental stage of life: the first six years. For those parents out there with young kids, parents to be, or teachers this is a great first read.

There's also some great information about Maria Montessori in the book Montessori Today by Paula Lillard. Lillard gives an overview of the Montessori primary years (from birth to age 6), outlines some key lessons that Montessori thought were appropriate to give to children, and describes the role the Montessori Method in the elementary and adult years among a myriad of other useful information. I read this whole book on my Kindle and to this day refer to the notes I made.

Another important document to read is Lisa Nolan's eBook titled Should You Montessori Homeschool? She responds to many questions asked by wondering parents like ourselves. She gives detailed responses and guides readers on other places to find useful information. Recently, I reread this book. Now that my son is a little older and moving into a different part of the first plane of learning, I wanted to be sure our home-school track is still the best choice for him and our family.

How to Give a Montessori Three Period Lesson for ages Three and Up
Photo by Lisa Nolan

Through my research, I have found some basics of Montessori learning that I think will be helpful for you to review. The first is the Three-Part Lesson. Instructors of the Montessori Method use this type of lesson presentation while presenting new activities, lessons, and topics to their students. Most of what I have read says that this type of introduction to new activities should be used for children three and up, but I have found it very useful when I am helping Samuel (2.5 years old) with new concepts. I might have to repeat the statement of "what" something is many times before getting to the second statement. And often it takes a little longer to get to the last statement with a suitable response. As a homeschooling Mom, the best thing about using this type of presentation is getting myself trained in using it. Now, when Samuel begins activities that are designated for three to six-year-olds, I am ready with how the three-part lesson should work.

Materials seem to be another basic aspect of setting up a Montessori home. Toys should be limited and basic. Wooden if you can. This is something you can do right now! Look around your playroom. Do you have toys overflowing from a toy box? A stack of books as tall as you are? Move some of those awesome extra materials to a closet or the garage. Let your children focus and work with a few materials at a time and swap out activities when they need a change. You can swap toys with a friend or have a yard sale to sell old toys and use the money to buy new things!

Another way to move your home to a Montessori home right now is to remove the childproofing. (Do this as you are comfortable. It doesn't have to be an overnight change if you are not comfortable with it.) We childproof only what is a threat to safety in our home like we have covers on the outlets and have tied up the strings on the blinds. We have not moved precious items out of the reach of our children or locked any kitchen cabinets. My daughter is 9 months old and we have been working with her on how to safely negotiate the stairs. We don't gate off the stairs during the day, but are conscious parents and are aware of her movements around the house. (For safety we do have a gate at the top of the stairs at night. This is just as much for groggy, sleepy kids as it is for our pesky dogs; who like to rummage through the trash when no one is looking!) There are no playpens or play yards in our home. Everything that is at our children's level is available for them to explore. Sometimes we want to be with them to introduce to them the proper way to handle delicate objects, like the set of Pyrex glass bowls that are on the bottom shelf of one of our cabinets.

Young son sitting on a blue rug with pegs and a peg card for counting up to five
Photo by Marie Mack 

While children are playing they are working. I try to treat Samuel as I would an adult working on an activity. I give him a warning if there is a change we need to make. I might say, "We have five minutes before we need to clean up your project." And I try to leave him to his work and only interrupt if I have to. He deserves my respect just like I deserve his. As our daughter grows, I use the same ideas with her. If she is working with an activity I let her work through it. As the two of them grow together, they begin to share experiences and play. My husband and I noticed just recently they are playing and communicating with each other in a healthy and happy way. We purposefully stay out of sight to allow them to work on their own relationship, just as we expect them to do with any adults.

This respect of space and time is an element that is implemented in a Montessori classroom. This mutual respect is what keeps discipline issues to a minimum. When we do have an issue with discipline, as long as it is not a physical harming of another person, our first step is to listen and understand our son's point of view. If he can relate to us in words what the misunderstanding is, we take the time to listen. His ability to communicate with his words is a skill that will be critical for the rest of his life. For our daughter, we have taught her basic sign language. She can ask for "more" or let us know when she is "all done". She says "thank you", asks for "milk", and is working on many other signs. Respecting her play and listening when she is communicating with us has helped her be one of the happiest babies I know!

The Internet is full of useful materials, programs, and resources to help you with your Montessori journey. Some sites I have found most useful are:

Lisa Nolan's Programs- programs from birth to 9 years old with lesson plans, age-appropriate activities, and personalized correspondence for you to help you with your child. Additionally, she is very knowledgeable about children with special needs.

Other great local resources are the local dollar stores, consignment stores, and yard sales. I have mental lists (which I should probably write down!) of all the things I would like to have in my perfectly well stocked Montessori home. When I am out and about I'm always looking for a deal on those items I need. If the price isn't great, I pass and keep on the search.

Rather search online? Here are some websites I recommend visiting: 

Young tot sitting on a blue rug and grabbing a bottle to "open and close"
Photo by Marie Mack

Another great way to keep Montessori cheap is to recycle items in your home. Look up projects on Pinterest or search the Internet. I make it a personal goal to see if I can make something rather than buy it. (My post on number pegboards is a result of that goal.)

After all my research the best advice I have read was written in an article by the Mammolian Children's Home which states, "Relax! Let your child explore and play...and play with your child." Your children learn how they will act as willing participants of society from you. Hopefully, you have a support network of people that uphold your values and can give your children a different view of the world around them.

Play! Laugh! And enjoy them! ~Marie Mack

My greatest reward in blogging is knowing I might help someone find the answers to their questions. This post was originally published in February 2013 and it has been helpful for many new Montessori families I have had the privilege to talk with. ~Marie 

Linking up with Montessori Monday

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And now for my top posts!

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Montessori and Composting with Kids

Montessori Sewing Works by Aimee Fagan, author of Sewing in the Montessori Classroom: a practical life curriculum

The Arctic: Montessori Activities

Montessori and Potty Training Boys

Montessori Homeschool Routine by Marie Mack of Child Led Life

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