A young Italian doctor began working with children considered as “uneducable” and found that those children could thrive if they were given the right environment. This doctor, Maria Montessori, would spend years observing such children: When did they show the most focus? When were they highly concentrated? What activities fostered their autonomy? How did routines and order affect their learning?
It is these observations that gave rise to the Montessori method and to the publication of her book, “The Discovery of the Child.” Her teachings continue to shape learning to this day. Several studies have found that children who receive a Montessori education demonstrate high creativity, more advanced social skills and a heightened sense of justice.
The good news is that some of the principles of the Montessori philosophy are easy to apply at home. Here are five Montessori mantras every parent can employ.
“Help me to help myself.”
While observing the children in her care, Montessori found that children thrived when they were given the tools to succeed by themselves. She found that when they were allowed to work independently, they became more self-reliant and more self-motivated. That is why she advocated for child-size tools and equipment that kids can easily manipulate by themselves.
How to employ Montessori methods at home:
- Make sure your kids can reach shelves in your home. That way, they are able to pick whatever they need by themselves (books, toys, etc.) and put them back alone.
- Make sure your child is able to dress by themselves (no zippers or shoelaces for younger kids, and appropriate zippers and laces for older ones). There are also easy tricks you can use to help your child put on their coat independently.
- Show your child how to do age-appropriate chores, then let them do those chores alone. Also, you can teach your child how to shower by themselves, with some help at the beginning, then alone as they grow older.
- Limit the number of things you do for your child if they are perfectly capable of doing those things by themselves.
“To give a child liberty is not to abandon him to himself.”
Many people falsely believe that a Montessori education is about giving kids too much freedom, letting them do whatever they want. Nothing could be further from the truth. “Freedom within a structure” is one of the key principles that underpin the Montessori method. What this means for parenting is that your child needs a structure within which to act.
What your child needs to know:
- What is expected of them and the consequences of failing to meet those expectations.
- The limits they must respect.
- Your behavior expectations, including what is negotiable and what is not.
- That freedom comes with responsibility.
“As soon as children find something that interests them, they lose their instability and learn to concentrate.”
After years observing many children in different settings, Montessori found that the more kids were interested in what they were doing, the more likely they were to show focus.
We now know that a child’s interest is a decisive factor that determines their behavior. It determines their concentration, their self-motivation, and even what they remember or fail to remember.
How to help foster you child’s interests:
- Focus on your child’s strengths. Deepak Chopra once said: “If a child is poor in math but good at tennis, most people would hire a math tutor. I would rather hire a tennis coach.” This is a powerful message, because as parents, we often tend to focus more on our child’s weaknesses rather than on their strengths. Remember that it is more important for your child to feel successful in something, even one thing, than to feel like a total failure in everything.
- Your child is more likely to stick to something if they feel that they had a say in choosing that something. Encourage your child to participate in decision-making and remember that even young kids benefit from being allowed to voice their thoughts.
“The child builds his inmost self out of the deeply held impressions he receives.”
If you show your child that you believe they can succeed, they will believe you. If you show them that you believe they can’t, they will believe that, too. As editor and writer Peggy O’Mara noted, “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.”
Montessori believed that how we perceive our children influences their sense of self. She said that a child needs to feel like they matter, and that it is our role to ensure that they do.
Here are a few things you can do to show your child that they mean the world to you:
- Making it a habit to ask for your child’s opinion shows them that their opinion matters, even if it differs from your own.
- Take an interest in your child’s interests. Demonstrate to them that you like hanging out with them.
- Be careful of the labels you use to describe your child: There’s a world of difference between describing your child as a “scaredy cat” or as someone who is simply “cautious.”
“Imitation is the first instinct of the awakening mind.”
Like many other education philosophers, Montessori believed that children learned best when they were active observers and when they had opportunities to put into practice what they learned.
Here are easy tips you can pick from the Montessori philosophy:
- Model the behavior you would like your child to adopt. Actions speak louder than words.
- Encourage make-believe play as a fun and easy activity to help your child learn.
- Let your child help. Giving them age-appropriate chores is a great way for them to learn and it also helps build their sense of success.
One of Montessori’s greatest discoveries was that children thrive when they are allowed to participate in everyday activities. In other words, giving your child age-appropriate tools, age-appropriate chores and the freedom within a structure will make a world of difference in their development.