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.




Biology for all ages

The new Michael Olaf newsletter has fascinating information on exposing children of all ages to the wonders of Mother Nature.  In Montessori, subjects generally taught in high school, such as biology, are made accessible to even the youngest children.  We identify the child’s “sensitive periods” (windows of opportunity in which the child is driven to develop certain psychological/cognitive characteristics) and “teach to the sensitive periods” by providing aspects of each subject that will interest the child and therefore satisfy his development.

Thus, the very young child, who is driven by his senses, is introduced to biology through a sensorial exploration of smells, tastes, sights, sounds, and textures.  The pre-school child, with his hunger for words, will learn the names of leaves, animals, and body parts with lightning speed.   In elementary, the child is driven to classify the plant and animal kingdom, and to experiment in order to satisfy his burning desire to know “why, why, why”.

Instead of segregating and restricting subjects to certain age groups, we should challenge ourselves to find out how to bring all subjects to all age groups in a meaningful and appropriate way.