I’ve encountered many of the same questions about Montessori and how to be Montessori at home over the years and especially recently, so I decided to put together a list of FAQs with their answers. I paraphrased most questions since they have come from multiple people, but a few of the questions are in quotes because they were asking for some more specific information.
What exactly is the Montessori Method?
Maria Montessori was an Italian physician who created an educational philosophy in the early 1900s based on her observation of children. She studied their behavior and the way they interacted with each other and the environment to design a new form of education based on what she hypothesized to be universal principles of human behavior. The goal of her study was to design an educational philosophy that would be more developmentally appropriate for the child. She kept many journals of her observations and conclusions that are still available for us to read today. Montessori devised many “works” for children based on her observation, which are known as Montessori materials. She also set out guidelines for how teachers (and adults in general) were to interact with children to help them develop to their highest potentials. In a nutshell, the most important Montessori principles in the Montessori Method include: FOLLOWING THE CHILD (observing and providing for the needs that are expressed), CREATING A PREPARED ENVIRONMENT (of activities that are child-sized and inviting), OBSERVING RATHER THAN INTERFERING (not interrupting a child at work), ALLOWING FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF INDEPENDENCE (and providing materials and opportunities to aid that goal), and PROVIDING FREEDOM WITHIN LIMITS (more on that below).
“How can we be sure that we’re using [the Montessori Method] within our home, rearing our daughter? More specifically, what are some of the methods for disciplining and reinforcing positive behavior?”
See the above answer about the Montessori Method. In regards to discipline and reinforcing positive behavior, I wrote a post a few months ago on Positive Redirection and Natural Consequences to Prevent Tantrums. Basically, there are two main ways Montessorians enforce the rules. The first is by positive redirection. Rather than saying “No this” and “no that,” you change your language patterns to say “yes.” If your child is climbing on the table, you don’t say, “Don’t climb on the table.” Instead, try, “Put your feet on the floor.” Tell your child what you want her to do, rather than what you don’t want her to do. If she is still not listening, you can provide two choices. For this example of climbing the table, the choices could be: “You can put your feet on the floor, or I can help you put your feet on the floor.”
Another way to deal with a disobeying child is to provide natural consequences. If your child throws her cup on the floor and you punish her by grounding her from TV, there’s a good chance she will throw her cup on the floor again tomorrow. But if your child throws her cup on the floor and the result is that it will stay there until she’s finished eating (and so she will not get another drink) at which point she will have to pick it up herself, there’s a connection being made and it probably won’t happen again the next time. The consequence must fit the crime. It has to make sense.
As far as reinforcing positive behavior, Montessori did not believe that children need external rewards as motivation to do the right thing — no sticker charts, no pieces of candy, no words of praise. When your child does something well, you can point out what you notice about it, or ask what her favorite part was. This allows her pride to come from within instead of being something she is trying to receive from others.
If you use a floor bed, won’t the kid just play in her room instead of sleeping? What if she rolls off?
I have used a floor bed for both of my children, and they have never spent time they should be sleeping doing anything but that. Part of that may be because we don’t keep any toys in their bedrooms. Bedrooms are for getting ready in the morning, getting ready for bed, and sleeping, so we only have clothes and books in bedrooms. I think that giving your child the independence to get into bed by herself when it’s time makes her look forward to naptime and bedtime — it’s something she can do by herself!
To try to keep my girls from rolling out of bed, we put pool noodles under the fitted sheet on the side of the mattress that is not against the wall. Still, sometimes L would roll off. Sometimes she woke up, in which case we would go help her get back on her mattress when she was too young to do it herself. Most times she didn’t wake up. So she slept on the floor that night. It didn’t kill her. The mattress is only about 6 inches high, so it’s not a big drop. If you are worried about what your child will hit when she rolls off, pad the floor next to the bed a bit.
What’s the deal with this “no sharing” thing?
Montessori kids do not have to share. This does not mean that nobody else can use their things EVER. It means that if a child is using a work and another child also wants to use it, the first child does not have to let the second child play with her right away or even give her any of the pieces. The second child must wait until the first child has put the work back on the shelf. Think about it — being forced to share something you are in the middle of would be extremely frustrating! As an adult, you never just hand over half of what you’re using whenever somebody demands it, so why should a child? A child may choose to share with another child, but for the most part that doesn’t happen until around elementary school age. It’s simply not developmentally appropriate for a young child to have to share her work with another.
I’ve heard that Montessori is too permissive, and my friend thinks it is too strict. Which one is correct?
Neither. Montessori is all about FREEDOM WITHIN LIMITS. As with all things Montessori, the freedom you give your child must make sense. The child is not permitted to do freely that which will cause harm to herself or others, or which has no useful purpose. Her freedom is that which promotes her own development. When she is given the proper choices, she will naturally choose those things which aid in her mental and physical development. For example, in the classroom, Montessori teachers do not tell the child what work to use each day. The child has the freedom of choice to work with whatever she is naturally drawn to. However, her freedom is somewhat limited to the materials that are available in the classroom that are not being used by other children.
“When do I let my 9-month-old start doing things independently? Like dressing himself, putting things away, using a glass cup, etc.”
Your 9-month-old does not have the motor skills to begin dressing himself yet. What you can do at this point is talk about it when you’re dressing him — parts of the body, where they go in clothes, etc. L didn’t start dressing herself until she could walk, and even then she still needed a lot of help.
Putting things away is something you can start now, but don’t expect too much. Most of his interest right now is probably in emptying containers, not in putting things back in them. You can help lead him toward cleaning up by himself by making it a consistent activity whenever he is finished with a toy. You can make it fun by counting objects or talking about their colors while you put them back in the container with him. You can also help him develop a sense of order by having a consistent place that he can play with things. N doesn’t use a work rug yet, but she uses all of her things on a playmat on the floor that is always out. Once your son is able to work at a table, you can bring his work there for him. Once he can walk while carrying things, you can show him how to put his work back on the shelf when he’s finished. In the beginning you have to remind the child and show him a lot, but if you start early enough and are consistent it will become something he starts doing without a second thought. We never have to tell L to clean up anymore, and if she sees something that is in the wrong place, she fixes it.
Your 9-month-old can start using a cup now. All I do for N is put the cup on the table in front of her with just a tiny bit of water in it — only about a quarter of an inch to start. She immediately grabs onto it and brings it to her mouth, then I help her tip it up to actually drink some. It is very messy.
You’ll find that when you start letting kids do things by themselves, they really start loving it and that will kind of lead you into other ways you can allow them to be independent. That’s why one of the principle philosophies of the Montessori Method is FOLLOW THE CHILD. You’re the observer, and you can adjust your son’s environment/materials/routines based on what he is expressing a need for at that time.
“How do you get a 10-month-old interested in activities? It seems like all he wants to do is practice standing! I have tried SO many things, I am really feeling discouraged.”
Your 10-month-old is interested in activities! He’s interested in the activity of standing. This is where the FOLLOW THE CHILD part of the Montessori Method comes into play. At 10 months old, your child is discovering his body and what he can do with it. He is naturally inclined to practice his gross motor skills. You have already observed that. So now you can PREPARE YOUR ENVIRONMENT to encourage him in this self-motivated goal. Provide plenty of low pieces of furniture for him to pull up on and begin cruising. You can also develop activities that incorporate the movement of standing up — for example, put a basket of objects on the floor and an empty basket on a table above the first. Show him how to pick up one object, stand up, and put it in the basket on the table. Repeat. Once he is walking, put the basket from the table all the way across the room and show him how to carry the objects from one basket to another. These are beginning transfer works, and it sounds like they would be perfect for your active little boy!
“How would you suggest [being Montessori] in a smaller house? I watched your house tour and notice your house is on the larger side… In my house, I’ve only just got room for my own furniture!”
We are lucky enough to have a lot of space available to put child-sized furniture and shelving for our daughters’ works. However, even we are running out of space now that we have two kids! One solution we have come to is using some of our furniture for double duty. Our coffee table has a shelf under the top , so that is where we put many of N’s works. A coffee table is also low enough that you could put a small child-sized chair there so your child has a place to work. You can also split things up — all of the work does not have to be in the same room. Let’s say you have room for a few works in the living room, a couple in the dining room, and a few more in the kitchen — that actually may work better for you since your child can be occupied yet supervised no matter where you are in the house!