Stop Doing Montessori, Start Living Montessori

When you’re new to Montessori, it’s easy – and quite common – to get sidetracked by the concept of the Montessori materials.  They are certainly fascinating objects, and parents often spend lots of time and money either buying authentic Montessori materials for the home or creating “Montessori-inspired” activities in hopes that their child will be transformed into a focused, self-controlled, and creative little person.

The time has come to put away your wallet, laminating machine, and hot glue gun. You can buy or make materials until you’re blue in the face, but it is highly unlikely that building a Pink Tower or transferring pom-poms will help your child reap the true benefits of Montessori if you ignore the principles of the philosophy.

I invite you to stop DOING Montessori and start LIVING Montessori.

Begin with three simple steps…

1. Understand the sensitive periods: During the first six years of life, all children experience finite periods of heightened interest in the following four areas of development: order (placement of objects in the environment, sequence of daily routines, etc.); language (interest in making sounds, then forming words, then learning the sounds of the letters); senses (first developing all five senses and then refining them); and movement (first developing the ability to move and then refining coordination).

By educating yourself on the sensitive periods, you can start to notice when your child is entering a particular phase.  You can then analyze your home life to see if you’re providing enough support for your child during these important times.  For example, if your child is entering the sensitive period for order, you should make sure that toys are always put away in the same spots and that routines are followed in the same order every day.

I recommend reading the descriptions on the sensitive periods in the book “Montessori From the Start“.  Even if you don’t have time to read the entire book, do yourself a favor and read the excellent outlines of these important phases in your child’s life.

2. Understand the human tendencies: Adults and children alike need to satisfy certain drives in order to thrive and feel fulfilled.  Dr. Montessori identified these qualities and created an approach to human development that supports these human needs.

In an excellent article about the human tendencies, Julia Volkman explains: “We are all driven to communicate, socialize, imitate, explore (we are curious), move, be exact/precise, concentrate, repeat, maintain/discover order, achieve independence, realize perfection/control errors/improve ourselves, control ourselves (physically, intellectually, emotionally) and work.”

Read the article in its entirety to gain a deeper understanding of the human tendencies.  Then, spend some time observing your child as he plays and interacts with others.  Note how he manifests these tendencies and think about how you can support them through experiences in nature, family life, cultural experiences, etc.

3. Learn to observe: Dr. Montessori wrote that teachers (and anyone who wanted to understand children) should have the soul of a scientist.  Scientists spend hours and hours observing their subjects and taking objective notes about their behaviors; Montessori teachers do the same.  They don’t jump to conclusions or get emotional about what they are seeing.  They simply sit down, observe what the child is doing, and take notes without interfering (unless someone’s safety is at stake or a material is being mistreated).

After a period of observation, they look over their notes and make educated conclusions about the child’s needs based on their knowledge of the sensitive periods and human tendencies.  You can observe your child all day long, but if you don’t know what to look for (see #1 and #2), you won’t know how to support his development!  Here’s a worthwhile article from the amazing blog “How We Montessori” on observing in the home environment.

Observation notes can seem boring to the untrained eye.  But from those dull details springs forth a colorful picture of a child you might not be familiar with, because you’ve always been too busy trying to direct his activity to see him for who he really is (I speak from experience…).

I’ll address other concepts in a future post, but I guarantee that by simply focusing on these three steps you will begin to see your child in a completely new light – the light of his untapped potential.



21 thoughts on “Stop Doing Montessori, Start Living Montessori”

  1. Yes! Anyone who is new to Montessori should start with the theory as it’s often not instinctual. I too got caught up in more of the physical aspects of Montessori initially. Now when people ask me about Montessori, I tend to place emphasis on respect for the child, following the child, creating freedom within limits, the importance of sensitive periods and all the parenting philosophies that accompany the method.

    Love this post!

  2. Hi! I am new to homeschooling and I am trying to figure this all out as I never in a million years thought I would homeschool, but here I am :).

    My eldest is about to turn 8 and she pretty much excels in anything you set in front of her, but that doesn’t mean she enjoys it and often grows bored with the curriculum. My 6 year old son is the complete opposite. I can’t hold his attention for more than a few seconds and just trying to learn the alphabet this past year has left me in tears. He does not have a learning disability and he is quiet smart, he just chooses not to pay attention. It’s like he shuts his brain down when I start working with him. I was raised up in the public school system so I am trying my best to start over in how I “think” learning should be done. I started off with desk in a classroom with a board and I am quickly realizing this was my downfall.

    I just came across the Montessori teaching method and I think this maybe my answer for all 3 of my kids, I also have a almost 3 year old. My daughter became very bored with her curriculum this past year and I don’t want her to hate learning like I did. So, my question is, where do I begin? I am a little overwhelmed with all the material and being that I have older children I am not sure what books would best suite our situation. Should I take the teacher courses offered? Thank you for your time, I greatly appreciate it!!

    1. Hi Kara, I think the best place to start is with a book called “Homeschooling and the Voyage of Self-Discovery” by David Albert. It has nothing to do with Montessori, but it has EVERYTHING to do with Montessori (you’ll see what I mean when you read it). It is NOT about curriculum, but about understanding the process of learning and discovery from the only perspective that really matters. Start there, and I think you might find that your children will be able to guide you in supporting their needs…

  3. I think I am not a very good observer. And I bet my teaching (math to adults) and parenting (11-year-old son) would benefit if I could improve my observation skills. Can you give me a few hints about how to improve? (Or is that a whole blog post?)

  4. Hi, This is a point I am always trying to make when I write about Montessori … the interconnectedness of all things certainly applies to Montessori and the lives we lead. That’s why so many people say “that makes so much sense” about so many things we do.
    The article on observation that you linked to is part 2 of How We Montessori’s post on observation. She posted an old article of mine in part 1. As I read through some of the comments it occurs to me to add a reminder not necessarily to stop “doing” observations, but certainly, no matter what you are doing, with children, with adults, or simply alone, to “be” observant.
    Love this post and was happy to share it … Thanks!

  5. Pingback: Live Montessori
  6. Really great post! I’ve been anxious of late that I wasn’t doing enough activities with my kid and felt like he was missing out. Thanks for reminding me that it’s the attentive and responsive attitude that matters!

  7. Thank you for this. I definitely feel a push-pull as I peruse all the Montessori blog posts and Pinterest boards out there and try to decide what to incorporate in our home and how to do it. I love all the creativity and beauty…but so much of it seems to come *from* the parent rather than *from* the child. You give wonderful advice, I think, of how to see through all of that and to focus on what the role of the parent/educator should be. I think we’d all benefit if we spent less time worrying about color-coordinating everything and more time just observing and following our children.

  8. I love your article, I like SueVanhattum could benefit from improving my observational skills, I may have completely missed the full response (see my observational skills lacking! lol) could you please direct me to where the reply has been posted? Many thanks.

  9. Good morning everyone… This is a late post on the above but I need your help. I am a first-time mom to a VERY ENERGETIC little boy who is now 13 months old. He is just learning to walk but refuses to let go of our hands and has us walking him EVERYWHERE around the house, garden, parking, you name it. Crawling is a thing of the past and he just wants mom & dad or granny to hold his hands to get to the next spot of interest… which usually involves a ball. He is soooooo crazy about balls that I’m starting to think I should hide all of them so his mind can focus on other things in his environment. Everything round is a ball! And when he sees one in sight that’s it for him. Nothing else matters in his world! Just the ball and getting over there to kick it! When I put him down to sit and play with his other toys he has a tantrum and refuses to bend his legs to be seated. I’m not sure what I should do. Do I leave him on the floor and walk away so he can get on with his tantrum? Do I keep holding his hands to continue entertaining this desire to walk everywhere and kick balls around with him endlessly until my back aches and it’s time to quickly get dinner ready? I’m at my wits end. I am trying to be as patient as I can cause I know he’ll be walking on his own soon enough and he’ll be free of my hands but I just need some encouragement or guidance on how to get through this phase because it is really exhausting! Any comments much appreciated! P.S. I LOVE YOUR BLOG and I’ve passed it on to my family in South Africa to follow.

  10. Thanks for the post! After moving from country to country I was finally able to enroll my daughter (4 1/2) in a Montessori Preschool. It’s hard not to give in the desire to recreate the classroom and have all the props and materials at home but I’m now realizing that it’s indeed more important to incorporate the philosophy in your family routine than to simply have the tools around.

  11. Thanks a lot for this article! And can you tell more about the way Montessori invited to take care of the child emotionnaly? That’s something I still wonder….

    1. She made it very clear that without love, there is nothing. A guide first has to LOVE the children, and the emotional bond will form from there. Read “The Secret of Childhood” and “The Discovery of the Child” for more information on emotional issues and Montessori.

  12. This is a lovely post. I’m just exploring the Montessori philosophy and I have to say this was most useful! Thank you!

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