What Does Montessori Parenting Look Like?
If you’re ready to go beyond the wooden toys, Blanca Velazquez-Martin of Whole Child Home breaks down how to think like a Montessori parent to inspire their confidence, develop independence, and nurture your child’s innate desire for learning.
- Daiga Elleby
- Written By
- Blanca M. Velazquez-Martin, MA LPC
There is not an official definition of what it means to be a Montessori parent.
However, if you look closely at how Dr. Maria Montessori developed the method, you learn that the physical aspects we associate with Montessori today (the classroom, traditional materials, tiny furniture) are based on principles we can apply at home without the need for specific toys or a Pinterest-worthy playroom. You can bring Montessori principles into your home without specifically choosing Montessori schooling for your child.
Dr. Montessori developed her education method over decades of scientific observation of the young child, trusting them as the expert in their journey and honoring their wish to be active members in purposeful activities of daily life. Eventually, she created a method, materials, and environment based on decades of careful observations to support their development. The Montessori method nurtures children by sparking their interest in learning, cultivates their concentration, and offers them opportunities to play an independent role in daily activities aimed at caring for themselves and their environment.
How you bring Montessori into your parenting can be about these same principles:
• Getting to know your child
• Nurturing concentration
• Valuing them as a capable learner and active participant in your home
As such, Montessori is not the toys you buy or bring into your home: it is a mindset of respect and trust as you guide the young human in your home and valuing your home as the most exciting learning environment you already have.
Yet, if specific toys and a Montessori school are not necessarily involved in making this happen, where does one get started? Here is what you may see happening in a Montessori-aligned home*:
Montessori parents provide opportunities for independence and purposeful engagement in the home.
These opportunities for independence and purposeful engagement in the home are what you may be familiar with thanks to your social media feed – how a few shifts within your home environment can offer your child an opportunity for independence. The key to making independence part of the home environment is to keep the options for your child simple and within reach. The key is to focus on independent activities that enhance your child’s self-confidence and are filled with purpose, such as those that help them care for themselves and others. Maria Montessori noticed that more than toys, children wanted most to be active members of their environment and be trusted to participate in the life the adult was always modeling for them. These activities are now commonly known as Practical Life, focused on the child’s active participation in caring for themselves and the environment and mastering skills in the process.
It is also important to remember that independence at home is meant to be motivated by your child, as this is how they master motor and executive functioning skills, experience pride in their accomplishments, and slowly but surely create habits that last a lifetime. Some days it may be easier than others to foster participation. However, it won’t ever be perfect, and it’s a process that ebbs and flows, with your trust and continued support remaining consistent.
Montessori-inspired ideas for them:
• A sink accessible for hand washing with the help of a stool, with a sink prepared with soap and a towel (and not too much more!)
• Clothing choices are at their reach in a bottom drawer or baskets (just 2-3 choices!)
• Tools for setting their place at the table accessible to them in a low cabinet or kitchen drawer
• A play space with limited offerings (6-8) that relate to their interests but are not overwhelming, organized in a way that fosters easy clean-up (This is a popular one.)
Montessori-inspired ideas for their impact on your home:
• Access to a watering can for “plant watering day” or their own scoop to feed their dog.
• Tools at their reach like a rag or small mop to clean spills, and we can invite them to help instead of doing it for them.
• Invitations for them to put their laundry in the washer, fold kitchen towels, join in washing the car, and clean up their work and play area at the end of the day.
In the Montessori home, the adult is constantly wondering, “what am I doing for my child that they can learn how to do themselves?” And so the environment and options are thought-out, starting as simple as possible and gradually evolving from there.
Montessori parents pause… a lot.
Opportunities for independence do not happen only through changes in the environment but with the help of an adult that respects and trusts the child. The Montessori-driven adult is constantly pausing to do these things:
You learn about your child’s unique interests and skills by actually taking a moment to simply observe as they play, eat, and explore their surroundings. You take clues from what they are interested in during walks or activities they insist on joining you in at home. Then, when you pause, even when your child is struggling, you can also learn about what your child finds challenging, either to make modifications in their environment or to make space for them to problem solve. The goal is to learn about who the child is becoming and build the environment, activities, and learning opportunities around those interests–not the other way around. And to pause, observe, and learn about the solutions and paths they are building on their own.
You may often want to jump in to help, encourage and cheer them along the way, or even get moving with the next part of the day because it’s time. Yet, in many of these instances, we interrupt the child at work–even with our excitement. Maria Montessori reminded adults of their role as “guardians of concentration.” She also referred to adults as the biggest barrier to a child’s concentration evolving. So, just when you want to jump in, pause. Let your child struggle a bit and get used to persisting and feeling the joy of their accomplishment.
Guide by teaching, not correcting.
As children make independent efforts and choices in their play and throughout the day, you may feel inclined to correct or show them the right way instead. As long as the child is safe, the Montessori adult follows the child’s pace and takes imperfect results as mental notes for shifts needed in the environment or as cues that the task, step, or way to use a tool has to be modeled again. It can be respectfully modeled again in the moment, or we can simply let a child enjoy the pride of the result, which may already be a source of pride, and come back to model for them again later. How do we know how to move forward? Pause, and observe your child.
Montessori parents provide freedom of choice.
Your daily interaction with your child can offer an age-appropriate level of autonomy–these choices are not meant to be endless, however. Nurturing cooperation, independence, and concentration happens gradually. Limited, age-appropriate choices can be key for building a respectful relationship with your child as they grow, one that honors their self-awareness, needs, and increasing need for autonomy. Moments we often find tricky, such as getting out the door, sitting down for a snack, and even getting dressed, can often be eased by connecting with the young child not with compliance in mind but with cooperation. Consider the following:
• “Yogurt is not available today: would you like an apple or banana for a snack?”
• “It’s time to go. Do you want to put on your red shoes or the blue ones?”
• “I hear ya; you are ready for books. First, we brush our teeth: do you want a turn first, or do you want me to have a turn first?”
The bottom line, choices are meant to spark interest, involvement, and concentration. As such, they are not intended to be overwhelming and ever-flowing, which takes us to the topic of freedom within limits.
Montessori parents have the mindset to follow the child, following as their leader.
A common misconception is that Montessori environments, including homes, are gentle, free, relaxed, and boundary-free, where the child leads their journey and everything goes–this could not be further from the truth. Maria Montessori specifically reminded us that “to let the child do as he likes when he has not yet developed any powers of control is to betray the idea of freedom.” Each opportunity for freedom and participation is offered considering the following:
A prepared, safe environment
A stool is offered when the child’s motor development is at a point where they are ready for it, kitchen tools are presented under supervision, and when the child demonstrates fine motor control for them. Opportunities for free movement are always offered in an environment where potential dangers have been removed. However, pausing to respect your child’s process and trusting them as they embark on independent efforts can only happen if the environment is safe and prepared to support them.
An environment that communicates the boundaries
How your environment is prepared for participation can also set the stage for where the limits are. When you create an environment with safety (and your child) in mind, removing unnecessary distractions or off-limits objects, you make it easier to step back, trust your child, and support independence without depending on constant adult intervention for reminders of limits and safety. Some examples:
• Clear the sink of extra cosmetics and bottles your child may want to explore and be distracted by and offer simply the items they need to wash hands and brush teeth to send a clear message for what the sink is for.
• Limit the number of clothing options or plates/cups available to set the table: choices within the environment should be simple to promote concentration and send a clear message for purposeful engagement. Too many options are overwhelming for your child and can lead to chaos instead of learning.
Pausing to respect your child’s process and trusting them as they embark on independent efforts can only happen if the environment is safe and prepared to support them.
Respectful communication of clear limits
The Montessori method is grounded on the understanding of “hands as the instruments for man’s intelligence,” and a belief in the child as an expert in their learning journey. When you approach your relationship with your child with an expectation of their exploration as part of learning, you can transition from feeling inconvenienced by their behavior to being inspired to find out how to meet them where they are and support them. Some examples of how limits are placed in the Montessori home, with learning in mind:
• Create yes alternatives to areas where you set a limit, such as a shelf in your bookshelf dedicated to their toys or books or a section in the pantry with “yes” items for them to explore freely. You share the home environment with your child. Not all areas of the home are appropriate for them to explore, but by creating “yes” alternatives within those tricky areas, you are sending a clear message: “the knives drawer next to us is not an option, but this pantry is,” “climbing to reach my books is not an option, because you have a special section lower down just for you.”
• Help interpret their behavior respectfully, with learning as the goal: “you are banging your cup! That tells me you are all done drinking. Let me help you off your chair so we can go bang your drum instead!”
• Aim for collaboration when things don’t go as expected, promote problem-solving, and respect and responsibility toward the environment: cleaning up spills or recollecting thrown about toys are not just practical life activities but ways to purposefully engage your child in natural consequences. When something spills, we help them learn and participate in cleaning up; when something gets thrown across the room, we work together to find its place and put it back where it belongs.
*As a philosophy that aims to follow the child in their unique pace, path, and interests, what each parent nurtures within their child may look different across various homes and at different timing. Furthermore, Montessori principles in the home to enrich your parenting are not the same as following a formal Montessori educational curriculum. Montessori as a parenting philosophy looks different in every home, as each family adapts its principles in a way that fits their child, their culture, their resources, and the different seasons in parenting. So follow your child, and follow your family in the process.
Inspired by her journey as a certified Early Intervention specialist, research professional, clinician and parent, Blanca launched Whole Child Home as a space to share some of this research and leave you with evidence-based information that you can use to help support your child’s development at home.
Whole Child Home integrates inspiration from the Montessori philosophy. The Montessori method is based on scientific observation, and now has research to support its principles as ways to enrich many areas of child development—of the whole child.