Montessori at Home: 8 Principles to Know

Written by contributor Heather Bruggeman of Beauty That Moves

Montessori education is a philosophy and model created by Maria Montessori, the first woman physician in Italy, in the late 1800s. At its core, Montessori education is designed to promote peace and considers the whole child as well as the environment in its approach.

It has been a primary influence in our family’s lifestyle and educational philosophy.

We’ve heard from some readers that you are interested in Montessori philosophy as it might fit into your homeschool. And some of you were looking for a little inspiration or direction to light the way.

If you are like me, you appreciate things broken down into easy to follow steps.

In 2005,  Angeline S. Lillard wrote a book called Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius, in which she discusses whether or not a century old methodology can stand up to modern day scientific research in developmental psychology. Her research led to the understanding that Dr. Montessori’s ideas were, and still are, a very effective holistic approach to educating a child.

It’s an academic way of saying that Maria Montessori knew what she was doing.

In Lillard’s book she covers Eight Principles of Montessori Education.  Today we will look at those and think about how they may fit into your homeschool.


The 8 Principles of Montessori Education

1. Movement & Cognition

Movement and cognition are closely entwined, and movement can enhance thinking and learning.

For most of these principles I’ll list a few points to consider as a homeschool family, but this particular one calls for a brief story.

Sir Ken Robinson did a TED Talk on Schools Killing Creativity. He told the story of Gillian Lynne, a school girl whose parents were told she may have a learning disorder because she was fidgety and couldn’t concentrate. They sent her to a specialist. She restlessly sat on her hands while the doctor and her mother spoke of the problems Gillian had at school.

Eventually, the doctor said he needed to speak to the mother privately, he and Gillian’s mother left the room. As he was leaving, he turned on the radio that sat on his desk, when they left the room he said to her mother, “Just stand here and watch her.”

The minute the doctor and mother left the room, Gillian recalls coming to her feet and moving to the music. The adults watched her for a few minutes from outside the room.

The doctor turned to her mother and said, “Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn’t sick, she’s a dancer.”

Gillian Lynne went on to study dance and eventually become a world famous choreographer, her work included the productions of Cats and Phantom of the Opera. (Thank goodness for that doctor.)

Humans need movement, each in their own way.

2. Choice

Learning and well-being are improved when people have a sense of control over their lives.

  • Make a list of work assignments for the day and have them create their own schedule.
  • Keep a basket in the refrigerator of healthy snacks for them to choose from.
  • Create a basket of pre-selected (high quality) SSR books for them to choose from.

letter writing

3. Interest

People learn better when they are interested in what they are learning.

  • Fill a basket with oversized, ‘coffee table’ books from the library. These tend to be filled with beautiful, inspiring photography that will spark conversation and interest.
  • Create a lapbook or unit study around a favorite hobby, period in history, musician, author or animal of your child’s choosing.
  • Love letter writing? Create a letter writing station or box for kids to help themselves. Be sure to include everything needed: stationary, pens, stamps, address book, (laminated) copy of a properly written letter.

4. Extrinsic rewards are avoided

Tying extrinsic rewards to an activity, like money for reading or high grades for tests, negatively impacts motivation to engage in that activity when the reward is withdrawn.

  • This challenges normal practice for many of us. I don’t feel inclined to hand out money or treats for every job well done – but there is a pass/fail, win/lose mentality in our culture, and the older a child gets, the more they become aware of that. To be honest, I’m working on this one.

5. Learning from & with peers

Collaborative arrangements can be very conducive to learning.

  • Host a knitting group in your home
  • Meet at a funky cafe for a weekly study group
  • Form a young writers or poetry group
  • Seek out a homeschool debate team
  • Into film making? Gather with friends to make a short film.

6. Learning in context

Learning situated in meaningful contexts is often deeper and richer than learning in abstract contexts.

  • Make homemade yogurt rather than talk about how their favorite yogurt is made.
  • Learn about flora and fauna with field guides in hand and an afternoon trek through the woods.
  • Take a morning trip to the grocery store with a budget and menu plan.
  • Play with science by making homemade lip balm, soap, or natural remedies.
  • Keep chickens or bees!

7. Teacher ways & child ways

Particular forms of adult interaction are associated with more optimal child outcomes.

  • Have Week In Review meetings with your kids, individually if possible .
  • Children can partner with you on designing a garden, rearranging furniture (design), or reviewing curriculum choices for the coming year.
  • Collaborate on literature list for next year.
  • Have them recommend a few titles of books they love for you to read. (Does not matter the age of the child or if you wind up reading Jack & the Beanstalk – they will appreciate you honoring their judgment.)

picnikfile_jXk5vm

8. Order in environment & mind

Order in the environment is beneficial to children.

  • Maintain an art shelf with easy to access projects that rotate from week to week.
  • Keep your learning environment clear of clutter.
  • Adopt “10 Minute Tidy” period at the end of the day.
  • Some families find workboxes to be helpful.

These principles can provide a helpful map to those in need, or simply a source of inspiration as we each look ahead to our next school year.

Is your current approach to homeschooling similar to these principles? Please share with us how these ideas are relevant in your home.

About Heather

Heather follows the mantra “a life that is led simply and deliberately is a life fulfilled.” She is a dedicated yoga teacher, artist, holistic health coach, mother and wife. Heather’s blog Beauty That Moves is enjoyed by readers for its kind honesty, shared beauty, and simple guidance.

Comments

  1. Kristen says:

    Love Montessori!!! My children go to an amazing Montessori School (2.5-6years). We are planning on homeschooling after they graduate, but we could not deny them the opportunity of attending there. I am a Montessori educated teacher and I certainly try to adopt these principles at home. I’m not perfect though and it doesn’t look like school. I struggle with order in the environment and in general my house in usually messy, but we try. I do keep a routine schedule. Mealtimes, naptimes, and bed are consistent. If there is a deviation in the schedule, we talk about it ahead of time and put it on their calendar. When we do lessons at home, it is interest-driven and movement based. I own sandpaper numbers and letters and a moveable alphabet and cannot imagine teaching without them. Lessons are short, mostly on the floor, and complimented by lots of self-exploration.

  2. This is really practical! I’m glad to read a post that boils it all down- have been trying to learn and implement Montessori methods but it can feel a little confusing- this really helped!
    Jess’s latest post: The Big Question: Education

  3. Thanks for the article. I really like the Montessori method, and plan on implementing them in our home.

    One quick question: What does SSR stand for? It is in the sentence “Create a basket of pre-selected (high quality) SSR books for them to choose from.”

  4. I’m so glad to see Simple Homeschool finally have an article on Montessori education! I’ve been teaching and studying the Montessori philosophy for 5 1/2 years now and absolutely love it. Montessori homeschooling is becoming more and more popular, so I’m glad you’ve begun to tackle it here. :)

    I am homeschooling both of my boys based on Montessori’s philosophy, so we incorporate most of these in our home some way or another. I think the two most important aspects for us is having a prepared environment and following the child (ie, choice).

    For those looking for a more thorough look at Montessori, Elizabeth Hainstock’s The Essential Montessori and Paula Polk Lillard’s Montessori: The Modern Approach (written by the mother of Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius) are good books to start with.
    Jessica Mueller’s latest post: Grace & Courtesy, Photography, & Continent Boxes

  5. Excellent article!!!
    Martha Artyomenko’s latest post: A vision of Lucy by Margaret Brownley

  6. Love, love, love this! One of my favorite posts here in a long time (and that is stiff competition!). Looking forward to bookmarking this and pouring over it and taking notes.

    Having a son with dyslexia, a lot of your ideas are great inspiration for me! We’ve just begun penpals (as a clever mama trick to encourage more writing practice) and a letter station is perfect. Putting it on my to-do list right now! I’ll be sure to link to you when I finish that project. :) Maybe it will be a good Unplugged Day activitiy for us on a rainy day.
    Shawn @ Daffodil Lane’s latest post: 3 Things:

  7. I’ve never been much interested in Montessori–but I’m going to have to rethink that after reading this post. Heather, this is a great list!

    What really gets me about it is that I’ve stumbled into many of these suggestions (especially the points under movement and choice) with my 8-year-old son. He’s not the easiest kid to teach, but these strategies have worked great with him.

    I can’t wait to watch that TED talk!
    Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy’s latest post: How to Have Grace Under Fire

  8. This was a fantastic little summary. We don’t follow any one educational philosophy completely, because I love so many things about many of them, but we DO integrate a LOT of Montessori activities into our day. Our children are always allowed to have smaller-version tools, etc. and they love to help in the kitchen. (My kids are 4 and 2, so that makes a difference as well.)
    I’ll have to check out the workboxes link, because I’ve heard the term before. I also loved that TED talk!
    Sarah M
    Sarah M’s latest post: Around our Town: PrairieLand Dairy Day!

  9. What a great post… everything in a nutshell!!! So much of this is living in a learning environment with your kids… with out the pressure and the stress… just pockets of inspiration from room to room and space to space – love it!!!
    se7en’s latest post: Sunday Snippet: Contentment Crept Up On Me Unawares…

  10. A small note on number four: Don’t forget that natural consequences are the fence which provides boundaries and not all consequences are negative. We’ve had our children in a Montessori home since they were born. Both of our sons are in their teens now and the consequences that the outside world imposes are larger. We are grateful that they have had our “unseen hand” guiding the boundaries when they were young so that they know when to push boundaries and when not to and be ready to handle the consequences.
    EV’s latest post: It is all about the Church’s vision.

    • Bernadette says:

      I would very much like to hear more on creating boundaries (the Montessori way) as I have difficult understanding what I should be doing! Any feedback would be appreciated.

      • Montessori spaces have very few rules. However, these rules are the walls that help the child’s mind find order in the patterns of her life.
        1. The classroom and materials teach us and must be respected and kept beautiful so others can enjoy them as much as we do. To do this we:
        1. No material may be taken off the shelf without there being a lesson first.
        2. We do not step over work or on rugs. We step around work and rugs.
        3. We are very careful when handling materials. We try not to make a sound when working with most materials.
        2. We treat our friends (this includes the guide) with respect. To do this we:
        1. Arrive in a timely manner
        2. Ask before we help
        3. Use words and actions that are helpful and not harmful (physically, spiritually and emotionally)
        4. Make our work ready for the next person (more than clean-up – make beautiful, welcoming)
        If the child does not follow the rules of the room (which are verbally taught and passed on through the culture of the room), then the natural consequence has to happen.
        ie: we step on rugs and they get dirty, so the child would wash rugs.
        ie: we aren’t careful rolling rugs, so “you need practice – please roll all the rugs in the basket.”
        ie: we try to help another child with their work and they don’t want help, you don’t interfere at first – you let the child voice his opinion; after that does not work, you help the child who is saying no by reminding the grieving child that there is other work and maybe Henry will want help later but right now he wants to do the work himself. (Later in the day when other children are angry and the over helper and he is feeling stung by their rebukes, you find a quiet moment to process that so he can see that his actions are making his friends not want him around. How could he change this?
        ie: we play with a work and not work with a work then we are not ready for this work. It must go back onto the shelf and new work must be found. Maybe tomorrow.

        The consequence is an outgrowth of the action therefore the term “natural.” Natural consequences for choices. Always framing the corrective discussion in terms of choices. I’ve had children say, “I know that this is wrong but I made the choice to do it this time.” That is ok – we do that all the time when we choose to speed. However, the consequence is still there.
        EV’s latest post: God With No Hands Projects – Revisited

  11. I’m always pleasantly surprised how many of these ideas (along with waldorf) we already do. These principles just seem natural to me and make sense.

    Sir Ken Robbinson’s Creativity talk was one TED talk that totally rocked my world and really helped shape the kind of education and upbringing I wanted to give our children.

  12. I have always loved Montessori, and while we didn’t choose it when we sent our daughter to preschool, we will be incorporating pieces of it into our homeschool “program”. I love that Ed Emberley book in the first picture – we are big fans! Looking forward to watching the Ted Talk and reading the book you recommend.
    Jennifer @ kidoing!’s latest post: A Different Kind of Cupcake

  13. Who would have thought these principles were thought up over a century ago? WOW! Tell us how they are working for you, I am curious. :)
    trudy’s latest post: Find and Download Internet TV Software

  14. My sister’s children both go to a Montessori School and she has told me what a great environment it is for them to learn. My son is 2 years old and I am trying to find out as much as I can before deciding whether to do the same, so your article has been very helpful.
    Irene Degregorio’s latest post: Graco Convertible Cribs

  15. I’m not doing strict Montessori, but agree with the principles above. My glitch is w/ keeping things decluttered…while I am a tidy person, DS seems not to be, and many days I’m too tired a the end of the day to try to get him to clean up.
    Emily’s latest post: How To Be Frugal In A Materialistic, High-Tech World

  16. the “choice” and “interest” points are the ones that related the closest to our past homeschooling year. i’d tell my daughter everything we had lined up for the day and she really enjoyed “controlling” the day by picking what to do next. and there were more than a couple days when the curriculum was put on hold as we did internet searches for things my daughter was really curious about or re-reading some favorite books. i’m looking forward to thinking through the other points, too.
    andie’s latest post: for a rainy day…

  17. I love your overview of the Montessori process. It’s such a respectful way to view children and the learning environment.
    Jana
    Jana Miller’s latest post: What Is Home School Curriculum and Where Can I Find It?

  18. Great post! I learned a few things I didn’t know about the Montessori method. I just finished up an interview with a Montessori representative. She said that the Montessori method could be used for homeschooling but that the only lack would be the social interaction with a large group of students. I think when children have to get along and interact with their siblings, that they get plenty of socialization :)
    Heidi’s latest post: Montessori Home School

  19. This is a great concise list of Montessori principles that apply at EVERY age from infancy, through primary and elementary, and into adolescence and even adulthood!

    Thank you for posting these!
    Jessica’s latest post: Pollinator Week – Biology

  20. Fantastic article!! We started off in Montessori school and attempted traditional school. My children did not transition well but we keep many of the philosophies in our homeschool along with many Waldorf ideas. I highly recommend The Science Behind the Genius for any homeschooling parent-not just those following Montessori. It does a terrific job of explaining the developmental stages for learning! Montessori changed my life (along with yoga…smile). Thank you for sharing this terrific post
    Sharon’s latest post: 6th Grade Plans

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