Montessori

This page contains affiliate links - I have recommended some of my favourite Montessori books at the end.

Before my children were born, I knew very little about Montessori. I was aware that it was started by Maria Montessori, who was an Italian who had lived a long time ago. I knew one person who had attended a Montessori school before transferring to our primary school in Year 6, and had experienced some difficulties in transitioning between the two systems. I had heard people say that Montessori was schooling where ‘kids just do what they want’, implying that that meant they didn’t learn things they ‘should’ be learning. That was all.

 

When my first child was around 5 months old, and everyone in the online ’due date’ forum I had been a part of started talking about introducing solids and water (the advice in our state at the time was to introduce these from 6 months), I saw a mother comment in a discussion about bottles and ‘sippy cups’ that they just introduce a small glass for water, and mentioned it being to do with Montessori. I thought that was interesting, and made sense to me, as we weren’t already using bottles at all, but didn’t really pursue it further.

 

Not long after, while searching online for ‘cotton training pants small sizes Australia’ (we practiced elimination communication (EC) and were starting to move on from nappies during the day), I was directed to a Montessori blog discussing ‘toilet learning’ (a concept I hadn’t heard of but appeared to have more in common with EC than traditional ‘toilet training’). I found this interesting. I read a bit about toilet learning, and found some links for training pants, but, again, didn’t pursue it further.

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We did eventually find 100% cotton training pants in baby sizes.

A few months later, my now-crawling and standing baby started showing an interest in copying what I was doing around the home. Great! I went online again, to search for ‘wooden toddler broom Australia’, and ended up at the same Montessori blog as I had for the training pants. Now, I was amused and intrigued. Did Montessori just mean doing the things I had already been doing? Why was this a named ‘style’ rather than just what people did with their children? How did it then turn into a school system?

 

At this point, I did start explicitly including ‘Montessori’ in my searches, as it seemed to lead to finding what I wanted quicker, even if I didn’t really know what ‘Montessori’ meant. I also started looking at a couple of Montessori blogs, although many seemed focused on little games and activities that I wasn’t really interested in setting up, and still didn’t explain why ‘Montessori’ was a thing.

 

I would like to point out that I don’t think it’s necessary to buy anything to introduce aspects of Montessori philosophy in your home, these were things I had already thought of and wanted to buy for my children, and I knew they must exist somewhere and I had the means to purchase them (sometimes I didn’t end up purchasing them, once discovered, due to cost, but at least it confirmed that someone else had thought of it too).

Having a baby who liked to breastfeed regularly and then fall asleep on me meant I had a lot of time for online research, so I started to delve into Montessori philosophy. I admit that I also searched for ‘is Montessori a cult’, ‘Montessori Fascism’, and ‘Montessori vaccinations’ at this time, just to make sure that it was something I felt comfortable pursuing (people often disparage grandparents/friends on online forums for asking these questions, so I just want to acknowledge that, for people who have never known anything about Montessori, it’s not necessarily that they are against it when they ask these things, they might just want to know what they’re getting into). Satisfied that it seemed like a reasonable educational/developmental philosophy, scientifically-based and following the needs of the child, I decided to go straight to the source and ordered a copy of The Absorbent Mind. This is probably Maria Montessori’s most detailed discussion of her philosophy of early childhood development, and, while it’s not an ‘easy read’, I am grateful that I started here as it confirmed that this was, indeed, a philosophy that made sense to me and seemed to fit with most of what we were already doing and I could now understand how it all fit together. 

 

I do sometimes wonder if I would have ‘discovered’ Montessori if I had lived somewhere where I could just buy the things that I wanted for my babies in my local shops (or, even, had I been able to find substitutes to settle for). By being geographically isolated, I had to search online for what I wanted, so I made the point of searching for exactly what I wanted, rather than what was more commonly available (as there often weren’t any options available locally), and that led to Montessori.

For our family, engaging children in everyday life experiences is more rewarding than preparing isolated learning activities.

As a family, we respect our children as individual people, with their own needs and desires, and seek to enable them to meet those wants and needs. Where we can accommodate them to act independently, or even just to play an active role in activities, however small, we do so. This may take more time and patience than just doing things ourselves as adults, but, in the long run, we feel it’s more worthwhile. I am not going to elaborate here on all the practices we undertake that align with Montessori philosophy, as that would be a very long and boring essay, but, as far as educational and parenting philosophies go, it seems to align with our own values.

You’ll likely see ‘Montessori’ mentioned from time to time in blog posts here, so, if you would like to learn more, here are some of the resources I have found useful in understanding what it’s all about:

Websites

  • How We Montessori – The website Google thought I needed to know about. A blog spanning almost a decade, full of examples of Montessori in the home, from infancy through to older children. This was my starting point for learning about Montessori theory and practice. Use the search function or browse by category.

  • The Kavanaugh Report – Another long-running blog detailing a family’s approach to practicing Montessori in the home. Lots of detail, easy to sort by age groups. Nicole is also one of the hosts of the 'Shelf help' podcast.

  • A Beautiful Childhood – A family’s approach to parenting and home educating, not just with Montessori but a mix of child-centred approaches. I have also found some great picture book recommendations listed here. I have enjoyed Eloise’s detailed ethical/philosophical discussions and musings, and suggestions for developing a peaceful family rhythm.

  • Nduoma – Read about how a trained Montessori educator applies the philosophy in her home with young children. There don’t seem to be any recent posts (I believe she now has three children and has also started her own Montessori school), but the older ones show the real spaces  in her home, created for her children as infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers, and cover various aspects of Montessori child development theory.

  • The Montessori Notebook – Learn from a trained Montessori educator and mother of teens. Simone Davies’ book, The Montessori Toddler, often appears as recommended reading in Facebook groups (I’m yet to read it myself, although I have seen it’s now available on Spotify). Her website contains a number of articles and helpful resources for parents of young children as they start out on their Montessori journey. She also has an interesting podcast.

  • Three Minute Montessori – Peek inside the home of a Montessori educator and mother of two. Jasmine also shares insightful interviews with other members of the Montessori community, and showcases some beautiful Montessori classrooms and spaces.

  • Fred, Ted and Company – Another family’s journey, melding Montessori philosophy with everyday life (they like cooking and gardening, too, but in a climate very different to our own).

  • Child of the Redwoods – Whilst this was the last site I discovered, of those listed, it is probably the one that has had the most influence (aside from, perhaps, How We Montessori). Trained Montessori educator (and now homeschooler) Aubrey Hargis seeks to de-mystify Montessori and make it accessible to all parents.  As well as blog posts and online resources, she hosts online workshops and courses, a podcast, and a number of Facebook communities that allow those with no former knowledge of Montessori or access to formal training to gain a deeper understanding of the philosophy and, in doing so, apply it in a way that suits their own family (courses range from a one-off ‘DIY’ class through to a comprehensive Montessori homeschooling course).

Books

Please note that many of these books were written a very long time ago, and the advice on breastfeeding, introducing solids, sleep and so forth reflect the medical guidance and social context of the time. I don’t believe any of the advice in these books is given to place prescriptive demands of parents and caregivers, but, rather, these books provide insight into some different ways that fit with early childhood development at various ages and stages. Pick the ideas you think may work for your family, or concepts you find interesting and want to investigate further, and leave the rest. I have chosen books which I feel cover the philosophy of Montessori, rather than the practical application (there are plenty more books for that, I might list some another time).

  • The Absorbent Mind, Maria Montessori – This is the book that sets out Montessori’s philosophy of early childhood development, with snippets of her own research and discoveries interspersed with how she sees best to use that knowledge. This is not an easy read, it is very academic, but I am grateful that this is the book I picked up first when I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of what Montessori was all about.

 

  • The Secret of Childhood, Maria Montessori – I thought this was a slightly easier read than The Absorbent Mind, although it could have been that it was a better translation or that I was used to the writing style and familiar with many examples by the time I read it. This book covers many of the same themes, so would be another good starting point (I wouldn’t recommend reading the two back to back as there is a fair amount of overlap, although, over time, they are each worth reading).

 

  • The Joyful Child, Susan Mayclin Stephenson – An easy to read introduction to Montessori philosophy and child development theory, and how it can be implemented in everyday life, ideal for parents of babies and young toddlers. A good starting point for those who don’t yet have the time (or inclination) to read Montessori’s own works (it also includes practical ideas for parents and observations from around the world).

 

  • Child of the World, Susan Mayclin Stephenson – Another easy to digest introduction to Montessori philosophy, this time relating to child development at ages 3-12. This book introduces ideas that parents can implement at home, and also gives a good overview of some of the key features of a Montessori education, covering core concepts and guiding principles.

 

  • Understanding the Human Being, Silvana Montanaro – A scientific insight into child development from 0-3, including suggestions to parents and caregivers regarding how to aid children as they pass through each of these stages. Fascinating reading for expecting parents and those with babies and younger toddlers.

 

There are so many other resources available (courses, podcasts, Facebook communities, as well as many more books and websites), and my own reading list grows by the week, these are just a selection of those that I found useful when starting out on my Montessori learning journey.