Key Montessori Principles | Simplified for Parents

Montessori is becoming more well known lately, every day their are Instagram influencers, You-tube channels, and mom & baby group are re-discovering this century year-old educational approach.

Which is great to see!

The Montessori method has withstood the test of time has a lot to offer modern day parents.

Though, do many parents taking it on board for home understand the key Montessori principles?

If not, here is a simplified version to help you as a parent to begin your journey to understanding more.

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The Montessori Method

The Montessori philosophy was developed by Italian physician Maria Montessori.

Her philosophy focuses on independence, hands-on learning and a prepared environment that allows the child to learn during developmentally key time-frames.

Maria Montessori was one of the first women to graduate from the University of Rome Medical School, graduating in the 1890’s.

In 1907, she worked with mentally impaired children and came to the conclusion that they could learn many things that seemed impossible if provided the right environment, practice, and materials.

After many years of observation of different children of varying needs she began to develop her own scientific pedagogy.

The first Casa dei Bambini – The House of Children – was established in 1907 in Rome, where she began to practice her pedagogy on a class of children of working parents from low-income families.

And the Montessori method began.

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Maria Montessori with children in London, 1946. [Photo: © Kurt Hutton]

Her method became popular all around the world and she spent the rest of her life establishing new schools and teacher training centers, lecturing, improving her method, and writing.

Her pedagogy continues to be carried on by the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) as well as many other educational institutions, teachers, enthusiasts, and parents.

The principles of Montessori education

Let’s take a look at the key principles of Montessori education.

These principles can be used both at Montessori education facilities and at home by Montessori parents.

Montessori Principles
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1. Prepared Environment

The prepared environment is an essential part of the Montessori philosophy.

It should be an environment where children can move freely and act independently.

This means that as a parent you have prepped spaces in your child’s environment ahead of time so that your child can enter the space and make use of it independently.

The Montessori environment should also be structured and have the order, young children thrive on order and routine. It helps them to navigate their world.

2. Respect the Child

The Montessori method is about mutual respect between the child and the parent.

It involves that we understand that each child is a unique individual with their own needs, pace of learning, and capabilities.

The golden rule of the Montessori approach is:

“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.”

– Maria Montessori

Respect your child, and allow them to fail and learn from their mistakes just as much as you observe them succeed.

As parents we all too often default to just “doing it for them” and taking their autonomy away from daily life moments.

young toddler girl sweeping with purple dust pan and brush
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3. Sensitive Periods

Maria Montessori emphasized how important birth to the age of 6 is in the development of a child.

The child is able to learn new things effortlessly and unconsciously, just by being in a prepared environment and having the opportunity to explore and learn.

She called this period the time of “the absorbent mind” , which refers to a child’s amazing ability to take in information through their environment and experiences during this time period.

Sensitive Periods Montessori
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When the child is in the stage of “the absorbent mind” they have sensitive periods in which their brain is very attuned to learning certain skills.

The 6 sensitive periods defined by Maria Montessori were language, order, refinement of the five senses, social grace & courtesy, small objects, and movement.

“The most important period of life is not the age of university studies, but the first one, the period from birth to age six. For that is the time when man’s intelligence itself is being formed.”

– Maria Montessori

4. Freedom within limits

Let’s quickly clarify, freedom does not mean a child can do whatever they please.

It means providing them the freedom to choose from the options prepared in their prepared environments.

Quick examples being:

  • Allowing the freedom of choice on what to wear, but you’ve prepped their cupboard with winter clothes already.
  • Picking their own snack from a basket you’ve put acceptable options in.
  • Shoes by the door that they can select from.

The child should have freedom of movement and choice within an prepared environment.

small toddler boy climbing montessori pikler slide
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Gross motor skills are another huge part of a young child’s life, so having a prepared option for your child to choose when they need to have big movement will help prevent a child trying to, for example climb other household furniture.

A pikler triangle or a type of nugget couch can be a great indoor option for allowing freedom of movement. An outdoor option could be climbing play equipment to allow for even more gross motor skill play.

Living a Montessori inspired home life and giving them freedom leads to independence.

Providing prepared limits and allowing your child the opportunity for independence to learn within those limits is where the magic happens.

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Ex. Allowing toddler to hand you the plastics from clean dishwasher

5. Observation | Follow the Child

Who hasn’t already heard the famous Montessori mantra “Follow the child.”?
What does it actually mean though?

Raising children using the Montessori philosophy means observing them carefully and taking note of what they are interested in.

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Are they playing with certain types of toys often?
Are they avoiding certain activities?
How long are they playing with items?

Being quiet, present, and observing without distracting your child is important to do often.

This is how you stay in tune with their learning interests.

What you do with these observations is how you “Follow the child”.

flowers sorted by color on a wooden tray
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If they like sorting their toy cars, then preparing a sorting activity for their toy shelf would be a way to “follow the child” as an example.

By observing your child you can provide appropriate activities and create an environment that will support the development of the skill they are currently focused on.

toddler boy working montessori puzzle with mom on white rug on floor
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What age is best to start with Montessori?

The Montessori concept of absorbent mind that refers to a period of “sponge-like” learning in young children applies to kids from 0 to 6 years old. So beginning Montessori from birth is fantastic, but if you only just discovered it and are starting later don’t stress! There is no better time than the present.

What age do Montessori begin?

Montessori pre-school programs usually start at the age of 3. The classroom usually go in groupings of three age groups, so 3-6yr olds.

Are Montessori schools better?

As with any schooling, there are various levels of quality. Researching a Montessori school beforehand and seeing where their qualifications come from is important in assessing quality of the Montessori education it might provide.

Many studies do suggest that Montessori students have an advantage in terms of academic, social, and emotional development.

Can you do Montessori at home?

Absolutely, you can follow a Montessori inspired life at home as strictly or loosely as suits your family. Many family’s do Montessori at home.

What are the best Montessori toys?

There are some “classic” Montessori toys (i.e. pink tower) used in Montessori classrooms. These are usually referred to as “Montessori materials”.

There are a wide variety of toys and items at home that align with the Montessori principles (i.e. brooms, jugs, kids tables, etc.).

Is Montessori religious?

There is no specific religious belief tied to using Maria Montessori’s pedagogy.

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Montessori Principles 2023 – Parent Edition

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