I found Montessori when Addy was 4 months old. I always say, “see something twice it’s a coincidence, see something three times it’s a sign.”
For some reason, I was seeing Montessori EVERYWHERE! So I had to research everything I could about it. The more I learned, the more I loved!
But when I was first researching, no one had a quick explanation of what it was. It took me reading a few books, watching some videos, and joining a Montessori group on Facebook to truly understand Montessori.
So I wanted to break it down for you guys. Just give you an overview of what Montessori is, toys for the first 2 years that are Montessori aligned, and provide you with resources and tools if you are considering Montessori for you and your child.
WHAT IS MONTESSORI?
Montessori is a parenting and teaching technique that was developed by Maria Montessori in the late 1800s/early 1900s. She was an Italian woman educator and physician which was a big deal back then. When she visited an orphanage to evaluate withdrawn or “mentally disabled” children, she spent time just observing them. She saw that they were playing with bread crumbs, rocks, and other things found in the orphanage. After time she started engaging and evaluating them and found these children were not “disabled”, they were incredibly smart but weren’t given the tools to succeed. Her teaching style started in this orphanage. She then took these techniques to a school of learning disabled children and by the end of the year, her school had the highest ranking test scores out of the entire country. She found ways to work with the children individually and not group everyone in a ‘one size fits all’.
Montessori is more than a teaching style- it’s a way of life. From how you talk to your child daily, to the activities you do. Then once they start spending their day learning, it’s about how you allow them to learn.
Three Principles Of Montessori
- FOLLOW THE CHILD: If a child is showing an interest in butterflies, give them tools to fully indulge that interest until they are satisfied. Even if they are 18 months, give them books about different butterflies (not fiction story books), present them with lifelike butterfly toys, or even start your own butterfly garden. Although Montessori is no screen-time, that is just not practical in our day and age. So if you do have screen time and they’re obsessed with butterflies- put on a butterfly documentary. They will probably not understand half of it but seeing the lifelike butterflies and learning the names will do wonders for their development. Plus they might surprise you with what they retain. This is what I love most about Montessori, is you follow your child‘s passions and allow them to fully indulge. It removes what we “think” they should be doing or the limitations we can put on our kids to be who we want them to be. Instead, Montessori allows the child total freedom to explore their passions and learn to develop them from an early age.
- LESS IS MORE: If you search IG or Pinterest for Montessori, you will see these beautiful clean, organized playrooms. I know at first you may think “that would never happen here.” But if we change the way we buy for our children, it can! With Montessori, less is more. It is often suggested to present 5-7 toys or activities (depending on age) in a very clean, non-overstimulating way. (Usually on a shelf) Everything the child will need for each toy/activity is presented on the shelf in a basket and they are allowed the freedom to choose what they want to play with. This is different than most Western Playrooms that are filled with hundreds of toys and kids usually run through taking everything out and leaving a huge mess. With Montessori they have less to choose from but what they have to choose from are more stimulating & satisfying to their developing mind. Then usually around 2 years old, you start to clean up with your child. You teach them when they are done with an activity to clean up and put it back before they start something new. This doesn’t have to be stressful or a power trip, but just a routine you start together early. Children mimic what they see, not what they’re told. So if they see mom cleaning up after every activity and the child is kindly invited to join, they will start to learn overtime this is just something you do when you’re done. And once you notice your child is getting bored of the activities/toys you rotate them out. You present 5-7 new items until they have mastered those. You can either re-rotate the previous toys or donate them. I like to buy toys for my 9 month old up to 18 months (safe ones of course) so we can rotate for a good year before she is expected to master it or get bored.
- ENCOURAGE THE TO TO SEEK EMPTY PRAISE: I’ll be honest, this section was probably the hardest one for me to grasp at first. In Montessori they really care about how you communicate with your child. They don’t want you to give them empty praises. The reason is over time your child will just seek your approval, rather than fulfill their personal desires. When they share with a friend happily, and you say “Yay!! You’re so sweet!! Good job!!” They don’t really understand what they’re being praised for but will work on receiving the “good job” rather than work on being a generous person. They might even share in the future when they are not ready & can develop a trait overtime that allows others to take advantage of them. But if you instead said, “Thank you so much for sharing your toy with your friend. That was very nice of you and your friend was grateful for you to share your toy. How did it make you feel to share your toy?*” Phrasing it this way let’s them know exactly what action of theirs made you happy. They are aware of what they did was a positive. And then they were asked how they felt about it. Giving them choice and helping them understand their own emotions. It’s never too early to explain why you are happy with a behavior or to ask them how they are feeling. This allows open & safe communication later in life.
*HERE is a really great blog on why I won’t force my child to share their toys unwillingly.
Montessori is not about having the smartest, most independent child. It’s about allowing your child to develop based on THEIR needs and follow THEIR passions. It is the complete opposite from standardized testing and that all kids should be able to do this or that when in reality, every person is different. How many people did you know that were horrible at math but the most gifted artist you have ever met?!
This is just skimming the surface of Montessori but I will include resources at the end of this blog for you to further your research!
MONTESSORI TOYS AND ACTIVITIES
Montessori values natural materials and toys that aren’t plastic or overstimulating. Lots of wood toys for infancy. This allows them a SAFE material to mouth and learn. Not a plastic toy full of BPA and harmful paint. (If your wooden toy is painted, make sure you know the source of the paint.)
It is recommended toys are as lifelike as possible with a purpose and no fiction books until 6 years old when they can understand the difference between fiction and reality.
DISCLAIMER: I will note we personally have some plastic toys. Ones that were gifted and seem beneficial to her. I always follow the child and if she is not interested or is overstimulated by the toy, then we rotate it out. We also have lots of fiction books and I will allow her fiction books before 6 years old even though it is not Montessori aligned.
Toys and activities presented to the child should all have a function. Something they can master or learn from. And it’s never to early to start!! I have included a quick guide for toys & activities 0-2 years. Montessori doesn’t have to be expensive and for convenience, I have added all things that can be found on Amazon. I will note that Lovevery is a Montessori aligned company and we do have their play gym. However their toy kits are $200 for every few months and only includes 3-4 toys. But to be more practical & make Montessori available for everyone, I have spent time finding safe, Montessori aligned toys that don’t cost an arm and a leg!
Last thing I want to touch on for playtime is that Montessori believes in allowing the child to figure something out before we interfere. Even if you’re a helicopter mama like me, allow play time to be THEIR time. Present them with safe toys for their ages and sit back. If the child is interested in you the whole time or crawls to you, then you are invited to play with them. When they are a little older (18-24 months) explain to them how to do an activity and then allow them to play and explore on their own. Intervene only if necessary and do so not by telling them how to do it, but by showing them how to do it and then allow them to recreate what you did.
There is so much to learn about Montessori!! This blog is just a quick intro so you can see if it is for you and continue learning. Here are some of my favorite resources that really helped me dive in and gather a true understanding. Hope it helps!
And remember- there is no right or wrong way to parent. The only thing that matters is that you love your child!