“Let me show you how to do this the Montessori way.”
This was my daughter’s tagline the year she started preschool in a Montessori classroom. She applied it to nearly everything she did, proudly showing me how to wash hands, prepare snacks, zip zippers, and the like. Sure, sometimes her demonstrations were sweet and laughable — like the time she attempted to re-roll wrapping paper and instead, crumpled it in a ball and threw it over her shoulder in frustration. (Pro tip: That is not the Montessori way.)
Nonetheless, her line got me thinking: What is the Montessori way? And what’s the value in bringing it home?
First, Montessori is an educational method that has been used in classrooms for more than 100 years. When it comes to academic approaches, rest assured this one is tried and true. Developed by an Italian physician, Maria Montessori, this philosophy is rooted in respect for children and their innate ability to learn and discover through their natural curiosities. In short, Montessori classrooms are child-centered spaces that empower students to choose their learning activities. Everything is accessible, neatly organized, and designed to foster independence and responsibility.
Curiosity piqued? Read on for five ways to bring the Montessori method out of your child’s classroom and into your home.
The Montessori classroom is designed to empower children to do things for themselves. They choose their own activities, dress themselves for outdoor play, and prepare their own snacks throughout the day — cleaning up their messes and learning to care for their surroundings.
Bringing this method home doesn’t require a huge investment, only a willingness to view your space from your child’s point of view. Want your kid to have more autonomy in the kitchen? Give them a lower cabinet fully stocked with the day’s essentials: plates, bowls, cups, flatware, and napkins. Encourage your little one to snack prep for the week, helping them boil eggs, slice grapes, chop broccoli, and more, stowing items away on an easily accessible shelf within your fridge. If you don’t have space for a children’s table, outfit your kitchen with a stool or learning tower. Keep a children’s broom and dustpan at the ready, and hang a small dishtowel out for your little one to wipe away the messes of the day.
Learn to rotate
Montessori classrooms are remarkably calm and organized, which can be a tall order for parents inundated by toys, toys, and more toys. Conquer the clutter by packing items away for a short time. Pay attention to your little one’s current interests, be it ballerinas or bugs, and tailor their play space to match, changing it up as your child’s interests evolve. Give each toy, puzzle, and activity its own space on your child’s shelf, and teach them that each item must be returned before taking out something else. This approach makes for an orderly space and allows kids to find exactly what they need when they want it.
For toddlers and young children, creating a labeling system can be an easy way to ensure each item has a place in the playroom. Print a photo or illustration of each item, and tape it to the shelf. When your little one removes a toy, they will only need to match the item to its picture to know where to return it on the shelf. The result? A clean, tidy, and orderly space that does double-duty to keep you sane and your kid on-task and learning.
Responsibility is a key component of the Montessori approach. Students are inspired to pitch in to care for their surroundings, ensuring a tidy and comfortable space for all to enjoy. Bring this philosophy home by empowering your child to do their part. Even our smallest children can take on simple responsibilities like watering plants, feeding pets, or adding items to the recycling bin. Let your older kids set the table, wipe down counters after dinner, and help with meal prep. Even if your little one doesn’t perform the task to your standards, squash the urge to fix the issue in front of them. Let your child have the satisfaction of completing a job without your help or correction.
Build a child-friendly closet
Encourage your little one to make their own clothing choices by hanging clothes at their eye level. Show children how to use a hanger, instructing them to re-hang clean items at the end of the day. The Montessori philosophy emphasizes organization for a number of reasons, and one of which is to keep kids focused and concentrating. Simplify your child’s closet to make getting dressed for the day as straightforward as can be. Keep seasonally appropriate attire front and center, and pack that off-season stuff away until later. For daily outfits, stick to clothes your child can dress in themselves, and leave anything that’s complicated for a special occasion.
Step back and observe
Need to recalibrate your approach as you bring Montessori home for your little one? Step back and observe your child at play. If you find them struggling to stay on-task, getting bored easily, or growing frustrated, consider your environment. Is it cluttered with toys? Is everything out of easy reach? Does your child need your help to complete every task? If you find yourself answering yes to these, then it’s time to simplify your space and ensure it’s organized, clean, and child-accessible. With these small tweaks, your child should be on their way to practicing some of Montessori’s most valuable lessons.