Note from Katie: I received so many requests for more learning/homeschool articles after my post about how we set up our homeschool classroom, that I’m excited to welcome my real-life friend Angie (the most organized and creative homeschool mom I know) to share how she is incorporating Montessori at home and using Montessori-inspired principles in her classroom. Even if you don’t homeschool, these ideas are wonderful for pre-school age children or for a more engaging play area for children of any age. Enger Angie…
So many homeschooling parents (and parents of young children) are jumping on the “Montessori bandwagon”, and it’s easy to see why. You can easily incorporate Montessori at home for children of any age, whether you planned on primarily using your dining room table for preschoolers, or have a decked-out, designated homeschool room.
You don’t have to be inherently creative or spend a lot of money for your young child to benefit from what a Montessori-inspired education offers.
What is Montessori?
The Montessori Method was created by Maria Montessori, Italy’s first female physician. Through her direction, meticulous observations, and work with children in low-income apartment complexes in the early 1900s, she refined the use of experimental materials and created a revolutionary way to teach children that is still used worldwide in many private and public schools.
Simply put, a Montessori environment allows children to learn about the world around them through the use of their senses. The aim is not to teach facts, but to cultivate a life-long love of learning.
Montessori materials often concentrate on a single function or mechanism. These individual concepts build upon one another rather effortlessly, and so concrete objects aid the child to easily understand abstract ideas. Children work independently and focus on one task at a time.
When I give my kids these liberties to mold their environment, I really see how internally-motivated they get. You see the desire in their eyes to dig deeper into a topic that interests them.
Can you Mix and Match?
While I can certainly admire and respect the Montessori “purist” view on having everything exactly as Maria Montessori expressed, you can absolutely benefit from even the smallest implementations of her ideas by using Montessori at home.
Adapt the Principles to Work for Your Family
Since many homeschooling families have several children with ages that wouldn’t normally be grouped together in a typical Montessori setting, you must adjust.
When my youngest child was one year old, I had a large gated-off section within the schoolroom for her to safely work on age-appropriate materials. It allowed my older kids to work with small manipulatives and trays with ceramic bowls and glass cups, so I didn’t have to worry about her getting into them and choking.
A year later, though, the section was opened up and reconfigured into a “toddler zone” and reading nook so that all the children can freely move around all sections of the class, observing their sibling’s work and helping one another.
Worksheets aren’t inherently evil, but they do have a limited place in our classroom. The kids see them as novelties and not as a boring daily torture, so I think we found our sweet spot with them.
Our homeschool is always evolving and while I do not claim by any means to be a “Montessori purist”, there are a few Montessori fundamentals I would suggest you try.
The Use of Scaled Furniture and Materials
Montessori is child-led learning. Maria Montessori stressed the need for freedom and independence, that children have “absorbent minds” and with the careful preparation of the environment, the child is able, through “free, natural manifestations”, to have these “spontaneous discoveries” creating a deep love of learning.
Creating spaces and using objects that are easily accessible to your child is key. Some pieces to think about acquiring are:
- Low shelves – Openly displaying the work materials, instead of in big bins or out of reach, show your child that these materials are special and are to be carefully handled and cared for. What you choose to put on these shelves will vary depending on the developmental level of your child and how much space you have.
- Small tables and chairs – Chairs and tables shouldn’t be a hindrance to learning. If the chairs and tables are lightweight, your child can freely move them into different rooms fostering independence. It’s neat to see this in action. My kids use them to prepare, serve and eat their snacks, help do the dishes and fold laundry, get art materials to make artwork early in the morning and get really creative with playing pretend. Don’t have the budget? Repurpose an old side table or coffee table.
- Various-sized trays or baskets – One work or activity goes on its own individual tray. Once a work is introduced by the parent, then the child has permission to take the tray to his/her work table, and carefully with much concentration, does the work until he or she decides they are finished. Then the child returns the tray to its allotted spot on the shelf. The key is that your child has to be able carry the tray or basket from the shelf to his/her work space and back with ease, so be mindful not to buy them too large. The natural wood ones look lovely but I’d personally spend my money on more things to go on the trays than the trays themselves. Dollar stores, thrift stores, and online stores carry a ton of inexpensive options to suit your needs.
- Small pitchers, bowls, scoops, small measuring spoons, small tongs – These tools are all used on a daily basis in the practical life skills area of Montessori as well as the pre-writing area. For example, transferring dried lentils with a small measuring spoon from one small bowl into another, starts the process of developing a proper writing grasp. You want these tools to aid your child in their work, not frustrate them to death, so try them first before putting them on the shelves.
You can save a ton of money and make many of your materials at home and then make them durable by laminating them. (An amazing resource online with Montessori printables that are free or very budget-friendly is Montessori Print Shop).
Inspire a Love of Nature
Maria Montessori put a huge emphasis on fostering the connection between child and nature through the care of plants and animals, as well as placing a great value on creating aesthetically-pleasing surroundings.
Create a Nature Table
Fill different-sized baskets and bins with a variety of natural materials that your child can freely touch and arrange. You can change it monthly or seasonally, and while the majority can be actual organic matter, throw in some meaningful miniature objects or artificial plants as well.
In our house, some of the best group discussions and peaceful interactions happen around the Nature table.
Some Seasonal items that can be used are:
- Fall: Gourds, pumpkins, apples (real or fake), leaves, sunflowers (artificial or real) for flower arranging, mums, acorns, sticks, leaves, art cards of fall landscapes, cards on the life cycle of a pumpkin, dried corn, lentils, Raffia, books on fall, fall leave rubbings, etc.
- Winter: Evergreen, Images of winter landscapes and hibernating animals, bare branches, white table cloth to look like snow, snow globes, plastic icicles, paper snowflakes, wool snowman, animal figurines who do not hibernate, piece or pictures of winter fur on animals.
- Spring: Seeds, small indoor plants, small water pitcher, Assorted flowers (real and artificial), miniature birds, nest, eggs (fake), twigs, spring landscape art cards, frogs, life cycle of frogs or butterfly cards, bugs, magnifying glass, books on spring, rocks, petals, moss, green leaves, leaf rubbings, miniature dinosaurs, etc.
- Summer: Shells, starfish, ocean animal figurines, small figurines of boats or lighthouses, cards on whale species, plants, images of summer landscapes, flowers, bowls of fruit, herb garden, painted wooden fish, cards on the lunar phases, pictures of constellations, planets, etc.
If you don’t have space for a Nature table, make a Nature tray. And if you are really pressed for space, use the nature tray as your dining room table centerpiece, or put small plants throughout your schoolroom with small pitchers beside them for the children to use.
Let the Child Self-Correct
So your kid didn’t grasp the concept right after you gave a lesson? They might not be ready. Relax, and let it go for the day. I’ve introduced lessons 3-4 times before my child positively responded.
Most Montessori materials are either self-correcting or include a control of error. So when the child is doing the activity, they can always test themselves to see if they did the work correctly. The motivation to get things correct then comes from an internal drive to learn, not from external consequences like getting a treat if you got the problem right or being punished if you made a mistake.
It can be so easy to try to correct something before the child has had the time allowed for them to recognize the mistake. Be more of an unnoticed observer. You can write down your child’s progress for your records. Be encouraging and allow the progress to naturally unfold.
I keep daily records of all the work my kids do and where they are in the mastery of a skill. I write (i) for when I started introducing a skill, (p) for when the child is actively practicing a skill, and (m) for when the skill has been mastered. This way you can know when to move to a new skill in your sequence of lessons.
So you now have at least a vague idea of how to start setting the stage for a unique learning environment, but what good are beautiful shelves filled with utterly-inspiring work material if your child has not been taught how to respect his/her work, or how to use the materials appropriately and show courtesy to others while doing so?
Before the school year begins, my primary focus is on creating that very unique classroom culture by teaching the children how to conduct themselves through lessons in politeness and proper behavior.
It is a privilege to be at liberty to independently work as you wish, but with the freedom of this type of environment also comes responsibilities.
We have a duty to society to instill good citizenship and courtesy in our children.
With the use of role-playing scenarios and simple concentration activities (such as practicing pushing in a chair as quietly as possible), the child learns how to respond with good manners and reinforces polite behavior in various situations.
The six rules I use in my homeschool are put in small phrases so the kids can memorize them. In our classroom we are constantly practicing these rules through role-playing. The older kids get a refresher and the younger kids get to practice.
- “One work at a time” – You can choose from the variety of materials, but you can only choose ONE at a time. You can carefully take the tray with its materials anywhere in the room or house to work (except on the shelves themselves, which would deny other children easy access to the other materials). Once the child is finished, he/she carefully brings it back to its original spot.
- “Go slowly” – while walking into the room, while taking a tray to your spot, and doing the work without rushing – all help maintain a mode of concentration and purpose in our actions.
- “Keep the room tidy” – Each child has an apron and wash rag, and at the beginning and end of each school day, they do things like dust the shelves, push in their chairs, throw away scrap papers, empty out the wash basin used for washing hands, bring the snack dishes into the kitchen, and water the plants.
- “Quiet Voices”– This rule is a constant struggle in our house but a necessity to creating a courteous and productive work environment. I’m constantly trying to come up with new games or activities to help my children become sensitive to volume.
- “Be Gentle” – with how they handle the materials, with how they speak to their siblings and with how they care for the plants and animals they interact with.
- “Use your words” – We still deal with tantrums and issues with personal space in our house, but growing in grace and courtesy has really helped. We insist that the kids use their words to express their feelings in a clear and calm manner, and this is where the role-playing activities have come in handy.
Examples of Scenarios to go over with Your Kids
- What do you say when you first meet someone?
- What do you do when a guest leaves your house?
- What do you say or do when you need to apologize?
- How do you ask someone to play?
- How do you tell someone no?
If my kids do not follow the classroom rules, they get a reminder of which rule they are breaking, and if the behavior doesn’t stop, they can sit in a chair until they are ready to resume their work with courtesy. If the bad behavior still persists and becomes a distraction to their siblings working, they must leave the learning area altogether.
I want the kids to know that the environment is a special privilege.
Grace and courtesy, I believe, are such a huge reason why Montessori classrooms have that “magical air” about them. I would recommend going to a Montessori open house to see in practice just what I’m talking about.
Whether you are a hard-core Montessori purist wanting to eventually go all the way with your pink towers, metal insets and Kandinsky paintings on the wall, or if you just wanted some fresh ideas to create a new, creative and productive learning atmosphere, I hope these simple ideas will be an inspiration to get you to started!
Resources that Gave me the Confidence to Move Forward
(If you really want to get into the real nitty gritty of what to teach, when, how to give a lesson or display the materials on the trays, and what to buy vs. what to make, here are a few of my favorite resources to help you dig deeper!)
- The Montessori Method by Maria Montessori-need I say more?
- Teaching Montessori in the home: The preschool years by Elizabeth G. Hainstock- excellent, easy hands-on activities including early practical skills, math and literacy.
- Teach me to do it myself: Montessori activities for you and your child by Maja Pitamic – great pictures with easy instructions
- Teach your Preschooler to Read and Write and Teach Your 3-7 Year Old Math by John Bowman – Does a fantastic job of outlining the sequence of work in these areas of literacy. John Bowman is to the point and gives great ideas for using things around your home as substitutes for the commercial Montessori materials…oh yeah, and free online printables with the book is a welcome addition!
My Favorite Blogs/Websites on Montessori
- Livingmontessorinow.com – the writer is a Montessori educator who homeschooled her children through high school. This is an excellent place to browse for links to printables, or to go to when you want to make a unit study and need ideas.
- Montessoriprintshop.com – a go-to in my classroom for making materials at little to no cost, as well a deeper look at Montessori theory.
- Justmontessori.com – offers a no-cost Montessori curriculum with links to downloads and pictures. It’s awesome!
Do you incorporate any Montessori at home with your children? Will you try any of these?
Discussion (15 Comments)
Thank you so much. As a first time mom who is away from home 50+ hours of week for work (and without Montessori schools nearby) I am really struggling to incorporate some of these ideas into our daily life. Fortunately once my daughter is 2.5 I will be able to work 4 days in stead of 5 (it will be “my turn” then as we have rotation at work). I value sites such as yours which help me to incorporate these ideas into our busy lives.
My one “negative” comment is with regards to Dr. Montessori’s status as Italy’s first female physician. I am not sure if that is quite true, especially since today on hearing a podcast of ” a book which I would never lend” featured the Trotula. To say that Dr. Montessori was a pioneering female physician from Italy would perhaps be more correct.
I love everything about your site! I have been following you for years and never knew you homeschooled. That,s so amazing! I have been teaching in a public school system for seventeen years and have one kid in college who attended a private catholic school and now I have decided it most beneficial to homeschool my second child. I see many more benefits, a relaxed learning environment for my child to explore and test his many talents. I love having hands on learning throughout our learning experience and the Montessori style has been around for years and still wins!
Have you ever heard of Minds in Motion? I attended a homeschool convention last month and heard a speaker present it. It focuses on specific physical motions to do daily to increase the maximum academic performance. Brain function strengthens with these specific tasks. It reminds me of your eye exercises you used to do to strengthen you vision. If you haven,t ever checked this out you might like it. I can tell you are like me in the sense of always researching for best practices for our homeschooling community whether it be at home or in a co-op. Thanks for reminding me of some things listed on your site. It,s always nice to read your ideas. You are an inspiration. We have a tree house too. Lol
Okay…just found your blog through because of a Facebook group. You also follow a Montessori approach?! How awesome, I love you 10x more now lol! Thanks for all of the wonderful ideas and recipes! Can’t wait to learn more.
Thank you so much for this.
Hi! This great post was just in time to help me, my 13 month kid goes to kinder garden here in Portugal but now that he started to walk, he started to destroy the house! I’ve read this article and the blogs you sugested. In the next morning at 5 AM I changed the house set up Montessori style and by magic he was happily playing 🙂 I have a ton of new exciting ideas for him. Thank you for your help once again!
I didn’t know much about Montessori until I started reading Joyful Abode. Here’s one of her posts that really impressed me: https://www.joyfulabode.com/montessori-toddler-kitchen-and-mini-fridge-makeover/
What a wonderful article! The Montessori Method was used on me in my early childhood education and it has led to lasting results. My mother also teaches this method and I grew up around similar classes like the one pictured here. It is so empowering to know that there are so many positive options for giving your child the foundation they need to succeed in life. Thanks for posting.
These are fantastic ideas that I will definitely be integrating into our learning area/routine. This article comes at a time when I’m, right now, struggling with whether to homeschool or not. My husband is supportive of either decision- he doesn’t want to push homeschooling for fear it’ll sway my decision BECAUSE he pushed for it. Outside of him – there is NO support from friends or family. Though this isn’t surprising to me, it certainly adds to my insecurities on doing it. How do you decide whether to do it or not? How do you accommodate for the social aspect? How would I even know where to start with the curriculum? Just a few of my questions in this decision making process…. My oldest wouldn’t start school until next September (if he goes) so I have a little time to figure all this out. The only thing I am certain of is the sick and twirly feeling I have in my gut when I think about putting him on that bus and watching it drive away … To a place where I longer have ANY control over what he may be exposed to all day long, day after day! Ugh!! The one & only positive point I can come up with is I have the option to send him to a French school- which here in Canada would be advantageous as we’re a bilingual country as well as the smaller class sizes etc. I am not bilingual and this is one thing I could not teach him.
Any feedback would be welcomed.
“How do you decide whether to do it or not?” Explore your possibilities. Ask to sit in on the classrooms in the schools your child could attend. Start reading material on homeschooling and begin planning your home school program. By getting involved you will accumulate much more information on which to base your decision. And remember, whatever you choose, it’s not necessarily permanent–if it doesn’t work out you will have learned from the situation and you can always switch to another form of education for your child.
As a home school mom, I would say the biggest factor should be what YOU as a parent feel is best for your child. You cannot make the decision based on what others think, either way! This will set the stage for all the choices you’ll need to make for your child. No one else is his/her mother, you are!
You really can trust your gut, and you can always change course if you have a change of heart!
The way I get my hubby to give me a real answer is to ask, “If I wasn’t here, (like I died etc) what would your desire be?”
Hope that helps ?
If he doesn’t start school for almost an other year, this gives you time to test out if homeschool could work for you. I love the Montessori method and while I’m just learning it myself, I see the time before my son has to start some type of school as a phase to get into a school like routine including preparation of materials, occupying the younger brother while giving lessons etc. I want to homeschool but wanna feel like I can handle it before I commit to it. This gives me plenty of time to organize home, school and social life and to try out different ways to do it. Talking about socializing: we made some friends at a Gymboree class and while all of them are now attending preschools we meet them once a week for a field trip. I just tell everyone what we do and who can will come. We usually have at least a few kids and our group is growing.
Hope this helps! I can totally understand your concerns.
Great stuff. butas the movement grows, I would expect we might also begin considering some of the ideas of Paulo Freire on community education. Many will probably equate him with Marxism, but at some point we have to compare the present system to what a community based system could look like
Love this article! My only daughter is only 19 months old and we haven’t enter the homeschooling subject yet, but I am getting so much inclined to it. Now thanks to your article, I am thinking again about Montessori as a good way to start homeschooling not only for when is time for letters and numbers, but for her current development. Thank you!!!