I’m going to introduce you to 10 Montessori principles that are perfect for parents.
These Montessori principles will help you to raise children to become independent, creative and peaceful individuals.
Parenting can be hard and in this modern world. We’re exposed to so many parenting approaches that, sometimes, we can feel lost.
The Montessori education is more than a hundred years old. It has been applied ever since in schools and homes all around the world with equal success.
Montessori works because it follows the child’s needs. It works because by respecting your little ones natural development, you create a warm and happy home where everyone, children and adults, can live in peace together. Really, Montessori is common sense.
So, what are the 10 Montessori principles?
Principle number 1 – Observe your child
Maria Montessori observed children, studied their natural development, discovered the sensitive periods of learning, then created a system of education based on those observations.
At home, you can observe your child to discover what he is interested in: what skills he is working on? what toys he likes to play with?
One tip would be, go to your child’s level and observe what he sees around him. Can he see through the window or is the window ledge too high? It might be why he wants to climb everywhere as there might be not much too attract his attention at his level.
Principle number 2 – Inform yourself about the child’s natural development and prepare a home based on your child’s needs
Make yourself familiar with how a child develops. No matter where he is born, or when he is born, a child will develop in the same way, although at his own rhythm.
When you are familiar with the sensitive periods and how a child develops her language and gross and fine motor skills, you will know at what development stage your child is at.
You can then take some time to prepare a home for your child. Too often, our house is suited for our adult’s needs, and we only allow our children a tiny corner of the house or a playroom. Make your home safe of course but make sure you allow your child to explore.
Babies and young children need to explore. They need to have some freedom to choose their activities. They need to be respected, time to learn and the right amount of stimulation.
When I talk about needs, it is not to be confused with “wants”.
Quite often, our modern world with medias and marketing plots lead us to believe that we “need” something, where it’s more a “want”.
Be mindful of the many objects that are branded as “Montessori” and do your own research. Our children are not spared by marketing, on the contrary. You might have heard the sentence “Follow your child” or “Follow your child’s interests”.
You have to be mindful of what kind of interest you child has developed. Does he follow his natural path? Or is he interested by television characters because he is exposed to them?
Further in this course, we will discuss in depth the sensitive periods and the child’s development.
Principle number 3: Encourage your child to be independent
Maria Montessori used to say that “Little children, from the minute they are weaned, are making their way toward independence”
Our goal as parent is to raise children who will be the adults of tomorrow. I suppose you will agree with me that those adults should be independent and confidents in their abilities. We cannot guarantee that they will be happy but we can give them the tools to become emotionally resilient and, in general, self sufficient.
To encourage your child to be independent from the start, we need to give them proper tools and opportunities to develop those important practical life skills such as dressing up, taking care of their belongings, preparing a snack, pouring a drink and much more. They need to have easy access to what they need and they need you to “Help them to do it by themselves”.
Principles number 4: Provide an orderly environment
This principle goes hands in hands with the previous one of course.
You child needs to know where everything goes and where to find what she needs. She will thrive in an orderly environment.
Maria Montessori observed that the child in the first 6 years learn in a very specific way. She said that the child had an “Absorbent mind”.
From birth to around six, your child’s brain works in a very different way than an adult’s brain. At this age, her mind is like a sponge, soaking up huge amounts of information from her environment. She is absorbing everything around her, effortlessly, continuously, and indiscriminately. This is what Maria Montessori referred to as “the absorbent mind.”
Here is how Maria Montessori describe the child’s absorbent mind: the child has a different relation to his environment from ours… the child absorbs it. The things he sees are not just remembered; they form part of his soul. He incarnates in himself all in the world about him that his eyes see and his ears hear.
The development that is taking place during your child’s first six years is enormously important. Children develop 85% of their core brain structure by the time they are five years old. Your child will now build on this core foundation for the rest of her life
There are two subplans of development: from birth to 3, your child explores without a predetermined goal, he comes upon opportunities. It’s why it’s so important to carefully prepare your home as what he sees, touch, smell, taste and ear will be part of his soul and will be the basics of his personality.
Then from 3 to 6, the child develops his “will”, his “conscious mind”. He will order, categorise what he has absorbed in the first 3 years. Therefore, he needs an external orderly environment to make sense of the internal chaos of his developing mind.
Note that an orderly house doesn’t have to be a sparkly house. As long as everything has a place, as long as you have a routine and some rituals, you will help your child to make sense of his world.
Principle number 5: Offer a world based on reality
Childhood is quite often associated with fantasy: fairy tales, Santa Claus, super Heroes, television characters, magic…
From birth to 6 years old, the child is a human being in formation. He learns about the world around him. He wants to learn the reality of the world he lives in. The child has an absorbent mind and is not yet capable of abstract thought and the imagination that follows from it. Fantasy and many modern toys, for example a talking bear, are based on abstract thoughts. Therefore, Montessori advised against introducing children to fantasy too early. By fantasy, we mean animals that pretend to be human beings, in movies and books, fairy tales and other myths and legends.
The child needs to be grounded into the real world before being introduced to the fantasy world.
Fantasy of course is also the adult’s imagination that we impose upon our children. It’s our story, our legends and our fictions. By himself, the child without our input, will most likely imitate what he experiences first hand. He will pretend play cooking, going to the shop or cuddling a baby with more interest than pretend playing fairies.
In the twenty-first century, it is very difficult to avoid all fantasy. The world around us is full of fiction: advertising on passing buses, television programs, children’s books and the culture of mass media. When your child is in their infancy you may think ‘why does it matter?’ but from about 3 years old your child will begin to ask questions such as ‘why is the bear talking?’ and ‘where do witches live?’
I experienced it myself with my children and the classrooms I taught to. I found it very difficult to stay honest with children. Sometimes we get trapped into a fantasy world, pretending or lying to maintain a fantasy that our children don’t understand yet.
Avoiding fantasy does not mean a lack of imagination. Maria Montessori encouraged imagination to be based upon reality because until the child is fully formed (brain, body, emotions) everything he learns is part of his reality.
And it’s not only Maria Montessori who said so, a study from 2009 has shown that children by 15 months of age can apply something learned from a picture book to real life, and also transfer that information in the other direction (DeLoach & Ganea, 2009). Another study from 2015 has shown that children prefer realistic stories. A recent study from 2017 has shown that moralistic stories with human characters have more impact than animals characters.
Your child is brand new to this world. He will be first interested to discover the world around him and what he is “naturally” exposed to. So if you go to the farm with your child, explore the animals from the farm in books and toys. If your child has a dog, extend his knowledge by learning about other breeds. Follow his natural interests.
Principle 6: Less is more regarding toys, and rotation is key
Let’s talk about toys. As a Montessori parent, you might be keen to offer the right toys or even to invest into specific Montessori materials.
When it comes to toys, less is more. You probably don’t even need toys to be honest. Many parents who take this course will first notice some big changes when they de-clutter and pair down the number of toys their children have access too.
Here in the UK we spend more than £3 billion each year on toys. Surveys have shown that a typical child owns 238 toys in total, yet he only plays with 12 of them. That’s just 5% of his toys.
As explained before, children thrive with order. And less toys will help them to order their world.
When children have too many toys available, they are overwhelmed. They cannot make sense of that huge number of toys, and often they will be not able to play. They will also not respect the toys they have, and they will throw, hit and break them.
They will say that they are bored. They will ask you to play with them because you can make sense of that big mess for them by directing the play. They might even be so overwhelmed that they will cry and lose their cool.
Later in this course, we will learn how to choose a toy, how to present toys and how to rotate them.
Principle number 7: Favour natural material to refine the 5 senses
Children from the minute they are born learn through their 5 senses. A baby explores the world mainly through taste, touch and smell, the senses linked with feeding. Then vision and hearing still need to improve.
Children between birth and 6 years old are more attuned to their senses than we are.
As a new born, a baby will recognize her mother’s scent among others. A baby brings everything into his mouth. Therefore, it’s important to provide material that will simulate his senses.
That is why a plastic toy has less interest than a baby rattle made of wood or of fabric. Plastic has no taste, a plastic toy in term of touch feels the same than another one. They are also lighter that their wooden counterparts.
On the contrary, wood, metal and various kind of fabrics will bring different kind of feelings: smooth, rough, grainy, cold, warm, shiny…
If you choose toys made of material that is either food graded or of high quality, they will be totally safe for your children.
Children discover the world around them in very concrete way, through their 5 senses. It’s why it’s so important to give them the freedom to touch and explore.
Maria Montessori used to say that “The hand is the instrument of the brain”. And “the senses, being the explorers of the world, open the way to knowledge”.
The education of the senses is paramount in the Montessori classroom. The Montessori education is well known for the way it helps children to refine their 5 senses with the help of the cleverly designed Montessori material. At home, we can also provide many sensorial experiences. We will explore this further into this course.
Principle 8: Freedom within limit
I am sure you have heard that Montessori is about giving freedom to your child: freedom of movement and freedom of choice. It’s about “following the child”.
You may have the misconception that freedom means allowing the child to do whatever he wants whenever he wants.
You know that you must observe your child and provide a home that suits his needs. You know that your child has an inner drive to be independent and to explore his world. To do so, he needs to be as free as possible.
So yes, it’s not up to us parents to choose everything for our child. We need to consider if we are a hindrance with their urge to grow.
Do we provide time to our children to learn to put on their shoes? Do we provide them with opportunities to try to prepare their snacks? Do we trust them to take care of fragile objects? Or do we shelter them? Do we do things for them because we’re hurried for time?
However, with freedom comes responsibility and respect for other’s freedom.
Here is an interesting quote from Maria Montessori about freedom: “to let the child do as he likes when he has not yet developed any powers of control is to betray the idea of freedom.”
The young child has not yet developed impulse control and reasoning, therefore we, the parents. have to be the role models and have to provide the limits.
We can give them Freedom, but we also have to give them limits. By carefully preparing the environment, we can generally allow as much freedom as possible.
Limits for the young children are to insure their safety, the safety of others and respect for the environment. We keep the limits to be simple and consistent. When the children are growing up, we add some social rules that are important to us. We will discuss those limits during the course.
Principle 9: No rewards and no punishments
Montessori observed that neither rewards or punishments were effective to discipline children.
Only inner discipline had lasting effects. Inner discipline is nurtured by a sense of responsibility.
When the child is respected, when he is encouraged to contribute by “working” with his hands purposefully, when a child is connected to his parents, he wants to contribute to his family’s life do things for himself. In this situation, very few conflicts arise.
Natural consequences will teach children about what happens when they are not respectful. If they throw away a fragile object, it will break. If they are not good playmates, their brother will not want to play with them.
What about rewards and praises, then?
It sounds positive, and it feels natural to be proud of our little ones. But your child learns to walk because he has an inner urge to do so, not because you praise him. He wants to learn the letters because he wants to read books. If we praise our children constantly, they start to do things to please us, not because they want to achieve things for themselves. Without realizing, we start to raise praise junkie children who will become adults who cannot achieve anything without a reward.
Principle 10: Prepare yourself!
Maria Montessori was talking about the Spiritual preparation of the teacher.
Maria Montessori used to say that “The real preparation for education is a study of one’s self. The training of the teacher who is to help life is something far more than the learning of ideas. It includes the training of character, it is a preparation of the spirit.”
The teacher observes the child in the classroom. She is not focused on the current behaviour but rather see what the child can become. Her first role is to prepare the environment and to welcome the children with their struggles and emotions.
As your child’s first teacher, you also need to be ready for your child.
In this course, we will discuss how to nurture yourself, how to simplify your life to enjoy parenting and to be emotionally ready for your child.