Changing to Montessori Homeschooling
When you made the decision to homeschool, you probably did a lot of research on what homeschool style would work best. Some parents simply go with the Traditional model, as it has the most mainstream presence. If you’ve been trying the Traditional or other models for a while and you’re curious about Montessori, you’re not alone. The Montessori Method is thriving as an educational philosophy both at home and in public and private schools across the world.
No matter how you’re currently homeschooling your children, switching to Montessori is easier than you think. Overcoming the myths about the Montessori Method is probably the biggest hurdle - after that, there is a bit of a learning curve with new terminology, but ultimately, exploring Montessori learning with your child is a delight.
What is the Montessori Method?
At its core, the Montessori Method is child-focused. Maria Montessori went to college and graduated as a doctor in a time when highly educated women weren’t common. She took her powerfully independent way of looking at the world and focused it on how children learn, and how education can better serve them.
One of the most profound aspects of Dr. Montessori’s observations is that children have a natural inclination toward learning and exploring. When they are allowed to focus on topics that interest them in a hands-on way, they will gravitate towards natural self-education.
There is virtually zero lecturing and teacher-focused learning in a Montessori classroom, whether that’s at home or otherwise. Instead, the children are gently guided on certain topics through carefully curated objects, books, and educational items placed in the class space. Additionally, Montessori homeschooling is focused on helping your child gain independence through self-reliance. Children are expected to do age-appropriate tasks themselves, like brushing their teeth, dressing, and cleaning up/caring for their space.
Maria Montessori also believed that children have a greater capacity to focus on something than we give them credit for. She organized her subjects and learning times into rather long blocks of time (known as work cycles). Dr. Montessori found that given a thoughtfully prepared environment, her students could focus and learn in a way not seen in traditional learning. She also emphasized nature and hands-on learning.
The Montessori Method is hands-on and child-driven. It focuses on helping children grow independently, nurturing their innate curiosity, critical thinking, responsibility, and desire to learn.
How does the Montessori Method differ from other homeschooling styles?
Montessori firstly focuses on the “prepared environment”. Maria Montessori was herself a minimalist and she saw that children behave and work better in a clean, organized environment which is accessible to them. Part of this is making sure the space in which your children are learning is designed to their needs.
Furniture should be child-sized if possible, even to the point of having floor beds they can easily get in and out of. Interaction with their environment should foster self-reliance, and so tailoring that space to them is essential.
As your children get better at interacting with their space, they will gain confidence which will translate to their education. A self-assured child will explore learning at their own pace and with enthusiasm. They will be delighted to show you what they’re learning, and explore how different ideas interact.
Nature walks and exploration are a big part of this process. First, the child experiences their environment in a rudimentary, sensory way - how things smell, feel, sound, and behave. As they advance, they incorporate language to describe the things they experience. Science and math help them quantify and categorize the world around them.
Part of this child-led process is that your child will advance at their own pace. This aspect of Montessori is why it’s so wonderful for both children who have special needs and children who are highly gifted. Instead of being forced into a cookie-cutter approach to learning, Montessori education tailors the speed of learning and curriculum to the child.
Traditional styles of education focus on choosing a specific, inflexible and methodical schooling curriculum for each and every child. Lesson plans are about teaching students a specific topic at a specific age, and if children cannot conform to that, it’s seen as a negative or a problem. What's ironic about this is that humans are quite naturally asynchronous learners. So, in this case, the Traditional approach really misses the mark. As you explore the Montessori method, you'll see how the philosophy really supports the natural growth of your child. Montessori education recognizes that all children learn at different paces and that’s where the “child-driven” concept emerges.
What you need to switch to Montessori homeschooling
There are plenty of Montessori-focused pieces of furniture and educational items that you can purchase, but you don’t have to only use these products. Montessori on a budget is definitely do-able! The most important thing to do is rearrange your mindset toward teaching and learning.
One of the best choices you can make is to read Maria Montessori’s works to get an understanding of her mindset. The Absorbent Mind and The Secret of Childhood are both books penned by Montessori herself, and they underline what she observed in educating children. These books can help you better understand how this method of education will benefit you and your children.
Prepare the environment
Declutter and tailor the space for your child to better interact with your home and the learning materials. This will help them be more self-reliant and better able to learn. The more orderly and structured the environment, the more your child will feel calm and empowered to explore. An orderly environment will also teach them the importance of picking up after themselves and being responsible.
Another aspect of the prepared environment is deliberately choosing the materials your educational tools and furniture are made from. Curating items that are made of fabric and wood makes the item more precious, and in turn, teaches children that things should be cared for, not damaged and thrown away. Look for Montessori-aligned toys to ensure quality pieces that instill a sense of responsibility.
Shelves with carefully selected educational items like blocks, books, and wooden alphabets should also be accessible for kids to use and return when they’re done.
Active versus passive toys
One persistent myth about Montessori education is that it doesn’t allow children to play with toys or to use their imagination. This is because - at least during the early years - the toys children have should be rooted in reality. By this, we mean giving them toys that correspond to real-world equivalents, like kitchen tools, which encourage them to pretend to do things like cooking or building.
Because of this, toys that make a lot of sound, lights, and entertain the child are called “passive” - because they engender passivity - and are discouraged. Active toys, like the aforementioned cooking tools (cups, bowls, whisks) or blocks, movable alphabets, and so on are ones that encourage a child to direct their use.
Think of it like this - little light-up noise boards get your child’s attention momentarily and essentially entertain them. Active toys like blocks encourage your child to entertain themselves, and have essentially endless interactive possibilities, whereas passive toys only do a few things of fleeting interest.
When curating your child’s environment, choose active toys instead of passive and you’ll see a difference in how they play and learn.
Give them - and yourself - space to explore
Especially if you’re transitioning from Traditional homeschooling, you may have difficulty not rigidly structuring your child’s learning. It might feel odd that you don’t have a wired-down curriculum of goals, lectures, and printed activity sheets specific to math, science, and other topics. Unlearning these rigid structures and expectations is the first step toward embracing Montessori homeschooling.
The hallmark of the Montessori classroom is freedom for your child to explore and be responsible for their own learning and space. This freedom encourages curiosity, experimentation, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills that are invaluable throughout their lives. Instead of sitting and being taught at, children direct themselves in the moment and in the future.
Your job is to stay back and help only if necessary, and to curate their learning environment and materials. You will see your child blossom and in turn, you will learn to trust them to dive into the topics that interest them.
Don’t stay rooted
Maria Montessori believed that when a child is stationary, they are suppressing the childlike urge to move around and explore. This is why Montessori classrooms avoid the desks and long lectures of Traditional schools. Instead, the children explore the classroom, moving around as their interest directs them.
Additionally, being out in nature is a large part of the Montessori experience. Blocks of time devoted to outdoor play and exploration are critically important. Maria believed that cognition and movement were linked and this is especially true with younger children. Research even indicates that people (regardless of age) learn better when they’re active.
Have your child involved with chores, preparing meals, and other aspects of your established daily routines. This makes them feel more grown-up and also that they’re helping, two things children adore. For instance, is it easier for you to learn how to cook through hands-on, active effort or through someone telling you a recipe and having you recite it back? People - especially children - learn effectively through active, engaged, hands-on experience.
Get an evolving curriculum
As a parent and educational guide in your Montessori homeschooling journey, you will most often be sitting back and letting your child direct their learning. With that in mind, however, you will need a way to curate their environment and sculpt the broader curriculum in which they will explore education. Getting a mapped-out, extensive curriculum will take the guesswork out of your part of homeschooling, and help you feel better about how your child is learning.
M3 by Multisori's complete Montessori homeschooling curriculum actually provides a comprehensive, uncomplicated four-year-long curriculum. With M3, you can bring a full Montessori environment to your home for your 2-6 year old child: prek-3, prek-4, kindergarten and first grade.
Be prepared to restructure how you react to your child
As a parent, we simply want to celebrate all the little accomplishments of our children. “Good job!” is a pretty normal phrase when they do anything from climb a ladder at the playground to first learning to tie their shoes. While this type of praise isn’t inherently bad, it teaches your child to seek motivation through the praise of other people.
Instead, praise their effort and emphasize how their accomplishments make them feel:
“I could tell you worked hard on that painting - you must feel good about it”.
This goes for rewards and punishments, as well. In fact, when it comes to discipline within the Montessori Method, there is no punishment. Instead, you are to provide a positive example, and then discuss choices with a child when they do something “wrong”.
For instance, if a child gets angry and tantrums, you acknowledge their feelings “I understand you’re mad”, and then talk to them about why their reaction is possibly hurtful to others “but we use kind words/hands, even when we’re frustrated”.
The purpose here is twofold - one, your demonstration of proper behavior makes them more likely to emulate it. Secondly, if you stay calm and acknowledge their pain/frustration, you can help them understand it. A few times of understanding why they’re angry will help them better understand how to redirect their frustration and look for a solution.
Do remember that they are still children and have a more limited capacity for emotional restraint and give them the grace to learn. Your role is to not make things worse by reacting negatively yourself; you are the teacher and parent and they will look to you for how to react.
Montessori homeschooling is the best kind of different
Changing from your current homeschooling system to Montessori can be daunting, but don’t let it be. It’s mostly a mindset change, and once you see how Montessori’s child-driven education benefits you and your family, you’ll find it easy to embrace this homeschool style.
Giving your child space to grow in self-reliance, responsibility, curiosity and confidence is the primary goal of Montessori.
While Traditional schooling imposes an age-related set of expectations on the child, Montessori is about allowing your child to lead the learning, and finding their voice and stride in the world. Remember to give yourself and your child grace as you navigate this new world, and experience the joy and benefits of the Montessori Method together.