Montessori at Home

Discover how the Montessori approach to learning can come alive outside the classroom.

Montessori isn’t just for the classroom. You can easily bring its principles into your home—and doing so can be an invaluable bridge to reinforcing what your child learns at school.

Here are some ways to build that connection.

The Prepared Environment

Encouraging order, independence, and self-motivation is fundamental to the Montessori approach. At school, carefully designed classrooms allow students to develop competence in caring for themselves and their surroundings. You can prepare your home in similar ways.

Getting Organized

Having a place for everything, on a child-friendly scale, means that children know where to find what they need, and have a place to put things when they’re done. An ordered environment also has fewer distractions, allowing children to focus on the task at hand.

To assist a child, we must provide him with an environment which will enable him to develop freely.

Dr. Maria Montessori

Simplifying Your Home

Simplifying your home environment enables your child to understand what is expected of her. With your support, encouragement, and consistent, gentle reminders, even toddlers are capable of returning items to their rightful places.

For example, limiting toy choices and providing open shelves (instead of toy boxes where toys are heaped in a pile) at your child’s eye level allows her to see all of her choices and return objects to their correct places. Sorting smaller items, such as puzzles, art supplies, and blocks by category into trays or baskets makes them accessible and your child can easily put them away.

Keeping extra toys in storage to be swapped out when you observe your child growing tired or bored with the items currently available will keep her interested in playing with new and familiar favorites, and ensure a space that is not only neat and tidy, but also highly valued and cared for.

Last night, the 4 of us were on the couch watching the NBA playoffs, when my son nonchalantly unrolled the work rug. He started building sentences using letters from the Montessori Moveable Alphabet, while his older brother explained the tricky "y,” as in ‘itchy’ and ‘daddy.’ Watching my children practicing Montessori at home has deepened my understanding of how the approach supports children’s learning and their connections with one another.

Britt Hawthorne, Montessori mother of 2

While the Montessori approach to the home environment can be used in any space, it’s particularly useful for children’s bedrooms and the family’s shared space in the kitchen. It can even work in teenagers’ rooms!

The Bedroom

Bedrooms for children of all ages should be free of clutter with clearly designated places for rest, self-care, and dressing.

To nurture independence and self-esteem, furniture for young ones should be child-sized and accessible. For example, a closet with low-hanging clothes and limited choices will enable your child to make his own clothing choices for the day and put away clothes independently, setting the stage for maintaining tidiness and organization later on.

For older children, including “tweens” and teens, bedroom space should provide a place to sleep, play, and work, and should allow your child to feel ownership of her own space. The bedroom can be an expression of your child’s unique personality and interests, such as by allowing her to choose her own artwork and paint color, so that she feels pride in caring for her own domain. All areas of the bedroom should provide opportunities for clutter control to reinforce the value of organization and care of the environment, and your child should be fully responsible for maintaining tidiness in her own space. Particularly when your child is older and is responsible for completing independent reading or homework at home, her workspace should provide a clutter- and distraction-free workspace for focused concentration.

The Kitchen

Welcoming young children into the kitchen is one of the easiest ways to support your child’s growing independence at home. Groceries can be placed on low, easy-to-reach shelves, so your child can make choices and be responsible for replacing items to their correct places. A stool placed near the countertop will invite help with washing dishes or food preparation.

If there’s enough space in your kitchen, consider a table and chairs that are child-sized, so that your young one can take part in meal preparation, sit comfortably for snacks, and clean up easily.

Our weekly menu has a few consistent items: fried rice on Mondays, butter shrimp on Wednesdays, and scrambled eggs with fresh biscuits on the weekends. My 3-year-old twins prepare these dishes all by themselves. They also sweep the floor, load dishwashers, or wipe down tables afterward. When I say that, it may seem that I am talking about a magical, mythical fairyland that parents can only dream about. But this fairyland is real, and it is called Montessori.

Stephanie Woo, Montessori Life, Summer 2014

Consider using quality silverware, dishware, and other kitchen utensils that are appropriately sized for your child, as opposed to plastic “toy” kitchen items, that allow her to learn proper use of “real” objects for mealtime and food preparation. For example, using a child-sized pitcher and small drinking glass allows your child to pour water when she is thirsty, teaches her to exercise care using real dishes, and supports her growing autonomy in taking care of her needs. As children grow older, the home environment should grow with them, with care given to supporting their independence in accessing and caring for the space.

The key is including children in your family’s day-to-day activities at home—whether they are toddlers or teens--as an expectation from the very beginning.

The Prepared Adult

In the classroom, the teacher is the prepared adult. At home, it’s you. What is your role in supporting the family’s Montessori practice at home?

Observe

Take time to observe your child at home, without interfering in her activity. Is she able to maintain a reasonable level of order? Are materials put away in their designated places? If not, you, as parent—like the Montessori teacher—should consider the child’s environment: Are there too many choices? Are the choices available no longer interesting or challenging? Is it difficult for your child to put items away properly?

The ability to focus and concentrate is an important skill for learning. You can help develop your child’s concentration at any age by observing what sparks her interest and providing opportunities to pursue it. Set her up with the materials to explore what has piqued her interest, and let her work without interruption until she is ready to choose another activity.

Model, Invite & Practice

Modeling to successfully manage household tasks and providing assisted practice from the earliest ages will result in capable young ones, preteens, teenagers, and adults.

For young children, rather than labeling shelf spaces to signal where items go, demonstrate to your child an object’s proper place and practice putting it away with her. You may need to demonstrate a new skill a few times, but soon your child will have memorized the routine and mastered it herself—and she will take great pride in being able to do it on her own.

The same goes for older children—demonstrate how to perform a new activity, such as separating laundry and loading and running the washing machine, and invite your child to practice with your guidance. Soon he will be independently doing the task himself, and meaningfully contributing to the care of your family’s home!

Adapt

Based on your observations, make changes to the environment to ensure your child’s success, interest, and independence. For older children, work together and include them in the decision-making process. Give choices, but be sure that you are comfortable with all of the available options, so you support the child no matter what choice is made.

Practice Real-Life Skills

Montessori students learn to take care of themselves and their classroom and to be helpful to others. They wash tables, organize shelves, prepare meals, and assist younger children. In addition to the satisfaction of mastering real-life skills, they come to see themselves as valued members of the community.

Creating an environment that encourages your child help at home can bring similar rewards. Young children can peel vegetables, fold their clothes, match their socks, and care for pets. Tweens can sort the mail and take out the recycling. And adolescents can read to younger siblings, help with home repair, keep family computers up-to-date, and manage their own bank accounts.

Nurture Inner Motivation

Children are most willing to apply themselves when they feel there is intrinsic value to their work. Some parents use external rewards such as an allowance, gold stars, and merit-based privileges. But Montessori is based on the belief that pride and pleasure in one’s own work has lasting, and meaningful, effects that external incentives do not. In Montessori perspective, even praise is given sparingly—saved to acknowledge a child’s effort and encourage dedication and commitment to accomplishing a task, rather than the outcome of her work.

By expressing encouragement and appreciation for your children’s efforts at home, you—like their teachers—will help nurture an inner motivation that will serve them for life.