What is Montessori Style Parenting?

If your child is enrolled in a Montessori school, you are already familiar with their methods that encourage children to learn by doing. You can continue this at home with Montessori Style Parenting.  What is it exactly?

Montessori Style Parenting is a relaxed approach to raising your child based on the Montessori method of teaching. It revolves around the five principles of Montessori which are: respect for the child, cultivating the child’s absorbent mind, encouraging sensitive periods of learning, preparing their environment, and allowing the child to learn by themselves.

These principles are the guideposts of Montessori teaching, as prescribed by founder Maria Montessori. To align your parenting approach with the Montessori method, it is important to understand what the principles mean in the context of child development.

Young child preparing food. Montessori parenting in action.

Respecting The Child

You may say that you know how to respect the child, and that perhaps is true but in a moral and theoretical way. I mean it literally: children must be respected as social, human personalities of the first order. (Maria Montessori Speaks to Parents, p. 16)

This quote shows how Maria Montessori gives importance to the child as a social being. When the Montessori parent adapts the principle of respect for the child, they view the child as their own person and respect them accordingly. Some ways parents demonstrate this respect include:

  1. Getting to know your child – in this age of busy-ness, it is easy just to tick off boxes of what must be done for our children, but relationships are nurtured by actually knowing what is important to a person and caring about their thoughts. The simple act of listening when the child is talking and allowing them to finish what they are saying uninterrupted, and putting away your cellphone when spending time with them allows parents and children to learn more about each other and strengthen bonds.
  2. Encouraging independent thinking – simple questions such as “what do you think?” communicate to your child you respect their opinions and ideas. When they speak up, do not belittle their ideas and help them think it through by asking guiding questions. Allow them to choose among available activities to strengthen their confidence in their ability to make decisions.
  3. Modeling tolerant behavior – by having clear rules and guidelines about respecting themselves and others. Teaching them it is okay to make mistakes by not punishing them for it but letting them learn from mistakes.  Celebrating their uniqueness instead of comparing them to other children, shows that everyone has their own value and has something to contribute. This will help them freely make choices without thinking of punishments or judgment.

Cultivating Their Absorbent Mind

The only thing the absorbent mind needs is the life of the individual; give him life and an environment and he will absorb all that is in it. But, of course, if you keep a camera in a drawer you will never get any pictures. It is necessary for this absorbent mind to go out into the environment.

(The 1946 London Lectures, p. 65)

The Montessori parent understands the principle of the absorbent mind – that their child’s mind is capable of absorbing and learning much in their early years. They cultivate their child’s mind by exposing them to the following stimuli:

  1. Intellectual – exposing them to literature, culture and the arts by reading to them and encouraging them to read, conversing with them about topics that they are interested in, encouraging them to ask questions, exposing them to other cultures and teaching them a second language if they are inclined to.
  2. Emotional – modeling respectful behavior towards self, others, and the environment in your daily life, reading books and discussing moral lessons, role-playing to help them learn to see from the viewpoints of others, playing games that help them learn and deal with loss and frustration.
  3. Physical – encouraging them to take up physical activities that interest them, going on walks out in nature with them, playing with them or allowing them time for play, and teaching them age-appropriate chores.
  4. Social – modeling healthy friendships, scheduling playdates or out of school activities with friends or cousins, exposing them to different cultures through people, places, food, and events.

Encouraging sensitive periods of learning

These sensitive periods are of great importance and education must facilitate this opportunity which is inherent in the child. Education must prepare an environment that will aid the development of life.   (The 1946 London Lectures, p. 38)

The Montessori parent is aware of the sensitive periods and recognises when the child has developed a desire to learn more about a certain subject or skill and encourages this by:

  1. Observing – pay attention to what your child spends time on and talks about. Learn more about their interests by talking to them about it in an exploratory way. What is it about the activity that they enjoy? Is it being with friends? Is it learning the process? Is it a novelty?
  2. Facilitating – support their interests by:
    • creating opportunities to learn – ex. buying books on planets, and visiting the planetarium to support their interest in the solar system.
    • facilitate ways to develop their skill – ex. enrolling in art lessons when they show enjoyment of drawing or painting.
    • encouraging the practice of the new skill – such as assigning the child the chore that they like doing ex. – sweeping the floor, setting the table.
    • encouraging accomplishment – ex. Explain how each step they take is helpful in them learning the new skill.
montessori parenting mom and child gardening

Preparing their environment

The first aim of the prepared environment is, as far as it is possible, to render the growing child independent of the adult. (The Secret of Childhood, p. 267)

The Montessori parent creates a prepared environment at home where the child is allowed to work and learn independently by:

  1. Giving them the tools – providing child-sized tools that work, and providing equipment to help them do things by themselves – ex. step stools, which children can use to help accomplish tasks such as washing hands, brushing teeth.
  2. Giving them the time and space – having a space dedicated to child’s work and play, and providing opportunities for the child to concentrate on their work, ex. A quiet reading nook or play area, or a time for play or reading.
  3. Teaching them order – keeping toys and other items they normally use within reach, and teaching them where things are and should be kept after use.

Encouraging the child to learn by themselves

If teaching is to be effective with young children, it must assist them to advance on the way to independence. (The Discovery of the Child, p. 58)

The Montessori parent recognises their child’s capacity for independent learning and promotes this through:

  1. Encouraging curiosity – by not hovering over them all the time and allowing them to explore within the limits of safety, allowing them to work without interruption, and supporting their interests by giving them opportunities to do more of what they are interested in.
  2. Encouraging thinking and decision making – by not giving them answers straight away but asking them what they think, guiding them with questions rather than solving problems for them, allowing them to make decisions and let them manage the consequence of their decisions, and showing them how to do things and how they are capable of doing this for themselves.
  3. Encouraging freedom – by allowing them to choose work or play that they like to engage in, learn and practice new chores, work at their own pace and develop their work pattern; and not doing for the child what the child believes they can do for themselves – ex.  dressing up, choosing clothes, making their snack – even if it takes longer or creates a mess.

Benefits of Montessori Parenting

According to Maria Montessori, “The greatest help you can give your children is the freedom to go about their work in their own way, for in this matter your child knows better than you.”

Montessori style parenting is beneficial to both the parent and the child as it develops empowered children by 

  • Respecting their capabilities and uniqueness results in a competent and confident child
  • Encouraging learning through doing by allowing them to explore at their own pace and in their space results in an inquisitive child who develops a love for learning
  • Developing independence in the child through allowing autonomy within the prepared environment results in a child who is secure and self-assured.
  • Supporting and respecting the child’s needs results in a child who is secure and less inclined to behavioral problems

In adapting the Montessori style of parenting, parents give the child freedom and support to learn through exploring and experience. As a result, the child develops confidence and enthusiasm, learns to think critically, work independently, and collaborate respectfully with others.

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