The Ultimate Guide to Montessori at Home
Learn about how you can introduce Montessori into your home from the day your baby is born
Content Marketer and Writer
Those first few moments after becoming a parent bring a whirlwind of emotions. Joy when seeing their tiny fingers and toes. Excitement about the things you'll do together as they grow. Love – just pure, unadulterated love for this new member of your family.
Even with months to prepare your home for this new arrival, you start to wonder if you've done everything you can to be ready. From baby-proofing electrical outlets to getting the perfect books to read, you've checked every box you can think of – yet your doubts persist.
“To stimulate life, leaving it free, however, to unfold itself – that is the first duty of the educator.”
While there's no manual for raising a child, there is one for creating an environment where any child can use their inherent ability to learn through the world around them. For over 100 years, parents have used the Montessori philosophy of education developed by Dr. Maria Montessori to help their children physically, cognitively, emotionally, and socially explore their expanding world.
In this Ultimate Guide to Montessori at Home, we're going to walk you through what you need to know about Montessori education, how to create a Prepared Environment at home, and give you practical ideas to adapt your home Montessori as your child grows.
The Prepared Environment at Home
The foundation of the Montessori experience is the Prepared Environment. Montessori classrooms are designed to be places where children can explore and learn under their own direction. You won't find rows of desks facing a teacher for a structured lesson plan. Instead, children in Montessori classrooms can move freely as their interests evolve.
Dr. Montessori believed that every child is capable of greatness when given the opportunity to learn, make mistakes, and grow. Having the right environment to do that is essential. If you're concerned about the costs, don't fret – creating the Montessori experience at home is affordable and adaptable to the space in your home.
It's essential to remember that the Montessori experience isn't limited to a room for learning. Your child doesn't stop learning and exploring when they put a book back on the shelf or clean up their art supplies. The Montessori experience is a whole-home experience – from the kitchen to the bathroom, from the bedroom to the living room.
Form and function
For many of us, making the switch to working from home took more than just setting up a computer monitor and keyboard in the basement. Businesses invest in office furniture to create a space for you to do your best work. The same type of investment is needed in creating your home Montessori Prepared Environment. We'll go into the specifics of what you need later in the guide – but there are three key things to keep in mind.
- Fewer Distractions – Simple, functional furniture is preferred for Montessori learning. There is no prescription for natural materials versus man-made materials — the furniture should be clean and (ideally) free of distractions such as cartoon illustrations.
- Real-World Tools – Montessori spaces create opportunities for children to manage themselves. Having child-sized cups and containers allows them to do simple things like get their own water. These opportunities build confidence and resilience that children will take on to each step of their growth.
- Child-sized - Montessori education works to create a normalized child – one that can function independently on everyday tasks around your home and in the classroom. It's best to choose furniture that is sized to the stage of life of your child. This includes beds close to the floor so your child can explore on their own when they wake up in the morning, or tables and chairs for their size rather than high chairs and booster seats.
Everyday objects and toys
Materials in the Montessori classroom range from everyday household items to scientifically designed learning materials that inspire children to conceptualize and create an understanding of the world around them.
The same philosophy of using simple and functional furniture applies to the materials in your home Montessori environment. Plastic play kitchens are replaced with appropriately sized actual kitchenware and utensils. With Montessori education, the goal is for children to learn through authentic experiences.
Using everyday household objects also teaches an important lesson: responsibility. Children learn to treat their things and possessions of their friends and family with care when those items are breakable or fragile.
Order and cleanliness
Children learn in many ways, including by imitating the people around them. They yearn to contribute to the running of the household because they’re inspired by the love they have for their parents. Providing opportunities to help when they can is always encouraged.
Organizing your home for Montessori means having an order to where everything goes and being set up so that your children can tidy up after themselves.
- Instead of bins or buckets of mismatched items, your home Montessori environment should be organized and straightforward. Toys and books should be grouped by subject. As you notice your child's interests changing, you can introduce new groupings of toys and books.
- Cleaning cloths should be accessible so your child can clean up after they're finished with a meal or snack. This gives children the space to develop a sense of care and stewardship over their environment.
- We like the slightly amended acronym K.I.S. – keep it simple. Messy desks might be the sign of a genius, but an organized, simple space helps children become calm, happy, and independent.
Parenting the Montessori Way
Creating a Prepared Environment takes you only part of the way towards bringing the Montessori Method into your home. The next step is to prepare yourself to parent the Montessori way.
“Discipline must come through freedom.”
Montessori philosophy is built upon the concept of a child developing within a Prepared Environment – a classroom that has been designed for the needs of each child, so that they can move around it with dignity, requiring as little help as possible to carry out daily tasks. As the parent, you're there to guide your child as they investigate their surroundings and explore their interests. Parenting the Montessori way is simply being mindful of your child's interests and present in your interactions with them.
Dr. Montessori also argued that children develop as strong individuals when you help them build up their inner motivation rather than using rewards to motivate.
Three steps to being a great Montessori parent
1. Observe your child as they explore. The foundation of the Prepared Environment allows parents to take a step back and truly observe their child. Children as young as six months can begin to notice the differences between pictures that show different numbers of objects. As you observe your child, look for signs that they're interested in an object or a subject and create a tray or basket of similarly-themed toys and books for them. For example, if you're out on a walk with your child and they demonstrate an interest in birds, put together a few books about birds and bird toys for them to explore in your home.
This is the primary difference between regular parenting and the Montessori way. As parents, we're naturally inclined to want to teach our children about the things we think they should learn. Parenting the Montessori way gives the direction of education back to the child, empowering them to fill their absorbent minds with what they genuinely crave to know about. (What's an "absorbent mind," you ask? Visit the Guidepost Glossary of Montessori for a breakdown of all the Montessori terms you need to know).
Later on in this guide, we'll discuss the importance of curating these materials and how to rotate them out as your child's interests change.
2. Mistakes Happen. Parenting the Montessori way means using the mistake as a lesson in self-discipline and responsibility. Mistakes and accidents are a natural part of the learning process. It's through mistakes and errors that we test and push through our limits of understanding and comprehension. Children, especially through age six, have absorbent minds that take in everything around them. It's these varieties of experiences – both successes and failures – that children use as a launchpad for a life of thought and action.
Our first response to an accident, such as a child dropping a plate is to move the child away and grab a broom and dustpan. Instead of removing the child from the room, invite them to participate in the clean-up. They could carefully pick up some of the larger pieces and put them in the trash, before moving onto more complex tasks like using the dustpan and brush. It's an opportunity for the child to participate in their environment and build an understanding of natural consequences to actions.
3. Avoid being a helicopter parent. As parents, we all want to protect our children. It's our natural instinct. But like every road paved with good intentions, we can become too protective – turning into helicopter parents and micromanaging our children's daily schedules down to the last minute. Following the Montessori Method can help parents avoid becoming helicopter parents as it removes the need to constantly entertain the child.
Putting young minds into rigorous schedules of activities can seem like the right thing to do. Dr. Montessori's research showed that children develop best when given the freedom to explore their interests under their own direction.
The goal of all Montessori parents is to help guide their children to become happy, healthy, independent individuals. This path to independence is built in the Prepared Environment at home through opportunities to develop their inner discipline by contributing at home.
Studies have shown that 'helicopter parenting' can cause children to lose their sense of independence and confidence, potentially leading to feelings of sadness or inadequacy. Being a Montessori parent means creating a Prepared Environment where your child can make mistakes and learn safely. Providing a healthy snack station where your child can serve themselves provides them the experience of managing their own serving size and cleaning up any messes. Giving your child the space to govern their actions builds that sense of inner discipline that Dr. Montessori's research identified as the keystone of a happy, engaged, and curious child.
Organizing your Home Learning Environment
When parents discuss using the Montessori Method at home, the discussion often turns to the associated costs. There's a myth that bringing Montessori into your home is expensive. Thankfully, it doesn't have to be that way.
We're going to share what you need to know to make Montessori at home affordable and straightforward. It's important to note that Montessori at home is a whole home project. Each room should be organized so that every member of the household can be as independent as possible. The inner discipline of the child that Dr. Montessori described is developed through Practical Life activities, including personal hygiene, cleaning up after meals, and taking care of their belongings and the belongings of the family.
Before exploring what Montessori at home looks like from room to room, here are three concepts that make Montessori at home successful for your child and you.
- Keeping things at eye level. Keep things organized so that your child can easily access the materials they need for their self-guided learning. Look for ways to add a child-safe shelf to your kitchen, bathroom, and other rooms so your child can get the materials they need when they need them.
- Less is more. We're always tempted to add more toys and books to our children's spaces to teach and entertain them. But with Montessori at home, less truly is more. Instead of deep baskets of toys, use smaller baskets and trays to organize books and toys by themes. Using your Montessori parenting skills, observe your child and introduce new materials as their interests evolve.
- Everyone picks up a broom. Keeping materials at eye level is for more than their learning materials. Put child-safe cleaning supplies such as clothes and hand brooms at eye level for your child. Doing this allows your child to take ownership of tasks, from getting their own healthy snacks to cleaning up a spill (it happens to all of us).
The Montessori Learning Space
Whether it's an office, a cubicle, a hot desk, or a coffee shop, we all crave a dedicated space to do our work. Many children share that same need for a dedicated space for their learning and exploration.
“The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences.”
With Montessori at home, creating a learning space can be done easily with many things you already have in your home.
- If your home allows, create a dedicated space to separate learning from home that is just for them.
- Use simple, functional furniture for the Prepared Environment at home. The materials can be wood, plastic, or other composites, but it is important that they are free of distractions including illustrations, cartoon characters, or other branding.
- Use baskets and trays to organize materials on an easy-to-reach shelf to help keep their things organized. Children can focus more on the topics they're exploring when their dedicated learning space is uncluttered.
While Montessori spaces are uncluttered, that does not mean bare walls are preferred. Displaying artwork that ties in with your child's current interests can help inspire their learning. The artwork does not have to be expensive either, you can use pages from magazines or purchase prints from local artists to create a warm, motivating space for your child's dedicated space.
The Montessori Bedroom
As with your bedroom, your child's bedroom is a sanctuary from the day-to-day activities with which they engage. Many of the same Prepared Environment concepts can be applied when designing the Montessori at-home bedroom.
Even though many of us dreamed of a race car or four-post princess bed as children, a simple floor bed works best for a Montessori child's bedroom. (Read more about our recommendations here). Whether your child is rolling around, crawling around, or getting comfortable on two feet, a floor bed empowers them to start their days independently.
Being able to get out of bed easily, your child can then pick out their clothes and dress themselves. This builds their inner discipline and helps them develop their sense of independence. We all know children can have some interesting fashion choices and don't always dress for the weather. Give them options in their dresser or closets that are right for the day ahead to help avoid tantrums.
In addition to dressing themselves, your child can also pick toys and books from their shelves to explore. For toddlers, use a play mat to help create a space where they can play safely after they wake.
Becoming independent means taking ownership of their space and belongings. Involve your child in folding and putting away clothes, show them how to make their bed, and as with all the spaces in your home, show your children that everything has a place – and cleaning up is part of learning and play.
The Montessori Kitchen
The kitchen is where family happens. It's the hub where everything is shared – from meals to the events of the day. Setting up your kitchen for your Montessori child involves making it a space where they can observe, engage, and contribute.
“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.”
Instead of play or toy-themed items, have your child use real plates and tableware. Using the same items as everyone in the family teaches them the value of the items and encourages them to take care while using, cleaning, and putting away plates, tableware, cups, and glasses.
The kitchen is a room where having furniture and seating for the child's height sometimes isn't possible. Use age-appropriate stools to bring them to counter and sink height. Being at the right height allows toddlers to observe dishes being cleaned and water being poured so they can do those activities themselves when they're able.
Booster seats and high chairs don't allow children to move freely. A child-sized chair and table lets them enjoy their meal in the same way older children and adults do at their table. The freedom to move then gives them the chance to clear their plate and tableware.
Use the kitchen as a place for your child to explore Practical Life activities. Have a hand broom and cleaning clothes accessible for them to clean up after themselves. For snacking, provide easy access to healthy snacks and child-sized pitchers and cups so that your child can serve themselves when needed.
The Montessori Bathroom
Every room in your home is an opportunity for your child to learn to take care of the space and themselves. Nowhere is this more true than in the bathroom. Learning to take care of their hygiene is critical to developing a strong, independent child.
Like your kitchen, the bathroom is a space in your home that can be adapted for your Montessori child as they grow. The bathroom is also the space where you can lead by example by brushing your teeth and washing your hands to demonstrate proper hygiene.
Use an age-appropriate step stool so your child can easily reach the vanity on their own. There are also adapters for taps and faucets that allow your child to turn on and reach the water without potentially tipping themselves over.
The bathroom is a place for many things, but minimize the number of toys in the bathroom to reduce clutter and help your child focus on the task at hand.
Have face clothes and cleaning clothes available so your child can tidy themselves and the bathroom.
Montessori at Home for Babies
You can bring Montessori into your home with children as young as a few months old. The first step is to create a safe environment in your home for your child. Each home is different, but these tips will help you get started.
Put chemicals, cleaners, and other potentially toxic items on high shelves or in locked cabinets.
Check your light fixtures, electronics, and appliances for loose cords that a baby could pull down and harm themselves. Use baby-proof electric receptacle covers.
“Education must begin at birth.”
Moving from cribs to floor beds
Many Montessori guides encourage parents to move children as young as two months from a Moses basket or bassinette to a floor bed. One of the first lessons of independence for your child is being able to wake and explore their space independently.
Teething and solid foods
Montessori education – from the child's house to your home – is based on a child-led approach. That same child-led approach is used for teething and when introducing solid foods to your baby.
For teething, give your baby two or three teething toy options in a basket that they're able to reach. Giving them choices and access allows them to soothe themselves when needed.
When it comes to introducing solid foods, the same child-led approach can be employed. While having a meal, offer solids to your baby as your family eats together. Allow your baby to choose how much solid food they want to try and finish their meal with milk or formula as you normally would.
Remember to use real plates, tableware, and cups with your baby, so they see that they experience meal times the same way as everyone else.
Montessori at Home for Toddlers
As your baby becomes a toddler, your Montessori at-home Prepared Environment grows with them. For example, picture books get put away and replaced with early readers.
Here are a few Montessori at Home for Toddlers ideas to try:
- Use trays of seasonal-themed toys and books to encourage your child to explore their environment as it changes.
- It's vital to observe your child and rotate out the trays and baskets of toys as they discover new interests.
- Involve your toddler in meal planning to help them explore their tastes. This is another way that the child-led approach can be used to avoid picky or fussy eaters.
Instead of toilet training in the traditional sense, Montessori parents use potty learning to build confidence in their children. Your Montessori bathroom already has the core items – a stool to reach the vanity and possibly a faucet extender. For potty learning, introduce a small potty or child toilet seat that your toddler can use independently.
You can start potty learning while your child is a baby by talking about bodily functions in real terms, such as, "Do you have to go to the bathroom?" and "Your diaper is wet." Giving them the words to express themselves before they are verbal sets a solid foundation for potty learning later on.
Montessori Children Have Tantrums Too
We all brace ourselves when we see the telltale signs of an impending tantrum. Arms crossed, a growing frown, feet getting ready to stomp the ground.
Here are a few ways you can help your child manage their tantrums:
- Instead of ignoring or appeasing the child when a tantrum is thrown, parents are encouraged to use the Montessori way of parenting by observing the child and actively listening to your child as they express their feelings. Active listening can help you find opportunities to help your child resolve their feelings.
- Our first intuitions can range from giving the child a treat or threatening some form of punishment. Dr. Montessori taught that instead of trying to control their actions, control their choices. If your child is having a tantrum because they want an unhealthy snack, give them choices of two or three healthy options. Doing so gives them the responsibility and independence a child craves – all while keeping sugary snacks at bay.
- With young children, expressing their feelings through words can be difficult. Use a tantrum as an opportunity for them to show their feelings in creative ways. Ask them to draw or paint what they're feeling or what they need (once they've calmed down). Expression through art can help you connect with your child in ways you never expected.
Montessori at Home for Children's House and Elementary Children
When your child reaches school age, you may choose to enroll them in a Montessori school, send them to a traditional school, or expand your Montessori at home experience with Guidepost Homeschool or Guidepost Virtual School. Whatever you choose, here are some tips for continuing Montessori at-home practices with school-aged children.
If your child will be enrolled in a Montessori school, it's important to discuss your Montessori at-home practices with your child's guide. Many Montessori guides prefer to have the Practical Life be the focus of Montessori at home and to keep the Montessori classroom curriculum separate from the activities that happen at home.
Increasing Independence for Learning
For older children, more emphasis is placed on inner discipline and internal motivation. You may update your child's dedicated learning space with a computer or tablet to aid in their learning. The goal is to encourage your child to explore and learn more independently.
This is also the age that you begin to replace toys with building sets, puzzles, and other age-appropriate activities.
Around the Home
Chores and responsibilities around your home can be expanded to include cleaning more rooms throughout your home, mowing a yard, and taking the trash, recycling, and compost bins out to the curb.
Montessori programs are found in cities and towns across the globe. If your community doesn't currently have a Montessori school, virtual Montessori programs are available to bring Montessori education into your home.
Using tips from this guide, you can create a Montessori Prepared Environment at home that is easily adapted to a virtual Montessori program. Your child will receive guidance from a qualified Montessori teacher in their digital classroom. As a parent, you are there to help bridge the in-home and virtual experiences and to help guide as needed.
Tips for Being a Virtual Montessori Parent
- Ensure your child's dedicated learning space is clear of clutter and in a quiet space free of distractions. When your child enters their learning space, they'll know it is time for learning.
- With both in-person and virtual environments, movement is an essential part of the Montessori philosophy. Dr. Montessori said movement "is not seen as an escape from learning; it is seen as the opposite — an essential gateway to deeper learning."
- With virtual Montessori, a set routine for the day will help your child move from "home" mode into "learning" mode. Continuing with the Montessori idea of a child-led approach; the best routine is one that your child can do independently.
Creating your Prepared Environment at home doesn't involve expensive purchases. Many of the materials you'll need can be found at consignment stores or repurposed from materials you have at home today. For furniture, Ikea and other retailers have inexpensive options for child-sized desks, chairs, and tables that are made of natural materials.
“The goal of childhood education should be to activate the child's own natural desire to learn.”
We know that at first glance, bringing the Montessori philosophy into your home can seem daunting and expensive. We hope you now see that Montessori at home is quite the opposite. Montessori uses less structure, fewer materials, and a reduced amount of adult direction in order to help the child build more willpower, greater responsibility, and resilience.
Alex Kinsella is a freelance content marketer and writer based in Waterloo, Ontario. Alex has contributed to publications including BetaKit, Grand Magazine and more.
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