Photo by Parker Fitzgerald
When my son was three months old, I observed a Montessori classroom of toddlers. The miniature furniture, the homey feel, and the buzz of the children, all engrossed in a variety of independently-chosen “work,” fascinated me. While I expected a great experience for my children, I had not anticipated how Montessori schooling would influence my husband’s and my perspective about children and parenting. Here is what we learned.
What is the Montessori Method of Education?
Dr. Maria Montessori’s research and work with children in the early 1900s led her to develop a holistic education method based on “following the child.” In a carefully prepared classroom environment, with a professionally trained “guide” and specialized learning materials, children are given freedom to learn within boundaries. Children choose from a variety of activities that aid their mental, physical, emotional, spiritual and academic development. Importance is placed on the children having individual, uninterrupted work periods, where they are allowed to master various activities in their own time.
Parenting Lesson #1: Children are More Capable than Adults Believe Them to Be
At snack time in a Montessori classroom of its youngest children, you may see an 18-month old set out a placemat, cloth napkin, and real glass and ceramic plate. He pours his own juice into the glass and selects his snack. Across the room, a 2.5-year old irons some cloth napkins, while in the kid-sized kitchen, a 3-year old slices bananas or cooks eggs on the stove for breakfast tacos. These activities happen alongside a child who puts together a puzzle, another which flips through picture books, and a third who creates a flower arrangement out of buds from the cutting garden.
From classroom observations, my husband and I realized what kids are capable of doing. With meticulous demonstration, careful supervision, and trust, our kids began practicing how to care for themselves and their environment at a young age.
Parenting Lesson #2: The Prepared Home Environment Makes Life with Little Ones More Peaceful
Imagine a world where you lived among giants. What if you had to climb into your chairs or were unable to reach the plates in the kitchen cabinet? What if you had to depend on the giants in your world to turn on the bathroom light or reach for a piece of clothing for you from the closet?
Early on, my husband and I made simple changes within our home to make it more child-friendly. We added child-sized tables and chairs; placed shelves to display carefully chosen activities; filled a kitchen cabinet with glasses, dishes, and snacks; provided baskets of books; put step stools in the bathrooms; installed closet rod extensions that give access to clothing; and fitted light switch extenders throughout the house. By adapting our home to accommodate their small size, our kids felt happier and more independent, and that in turn made our lives as parents easier and more peaceful.
Parenting Lesson #3: An Understanding of Child Development Leads to Greater Understanding of Your Child
Montessori’s theories about child development were the foundation of her educational method. Up until age 6, children are in a vital stage called the “Absorbent Mind,” when their brains experience incredible growth. During sensitive periods throughout these early years, children soak in the language and culture around them, learning through osmosis.
As my husband and I learned more about child development, we discovered what was beneficial and detrimental to our kids’ mental and emotional growth. We learned effective ways to communicate with our children, so we had fewer power struggles. Understanding that certain behavior was linked to development rather than defiance made difficult periods much easier, especially because we knew the behavior would be short-lived.
Today our children are teenagers. Their Montessori schooling ended a few years ago, but the positive effects of their early schooling is still evident in their love for learning, their work ethic, their ability to work well with others, and their peaceful, confident selves. I suspect I must give my husband and myself credit as well, but my perspective about parenting was very much shaped by the work of Maria Montessori and the children whose lives she directly affected so long ago.
Want to learn more on other types of education? Check out our article on STEM education!