Preschoolers learn extremely well through self-directed, loosely organized play. At their age, everything is novel, so they perceive most things as fun and interesting. We see this in the way toddlers and preschoolers act and speak.
They, quite literally, want to learn about everything: what it is, how it works and why it works that way. In fact, if left to their own devices, toddlers and preschoolers will independently explore every aspect of their environment without prodding.
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Homeschooling Preschoolers Using the Montessori Method
Children that are preschool aged have an innate love of learning. Because of the uniqueness of this developmental stage, your role and mission as a homeschool “teacher” to a preschooler is different than it would be with an older child.
Your job is to capitalize on the preschoolers' natural proclivity toward learning and exploration. Essentially, your job is to organize their exploration in a way that educates while providing enough structure for comfort and security.
Or as Dr. Maria Montessori herself said:
“...a teacher is the catalyst between a child … and the environment prepared for his education” - Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child
Benefits of the Montessori Method
Homeschooling preschoolers using the Montessori Method encourages independence, exploration, and self-directed learning. Preschool children gain confidence and a love of learning in a Montessori environment, because they can dive into whatever interests them. This method of teaching works incredibly well for toddlers and preschoolers, kindling their curiosity and allowing them to encounter learning at their own pace and based on their own interests.
In particular, Montessori is great for preschoolers with older siblings, as the mixed-age teaching dynamic gives them more examples to emulate. Let’s take a closer look at how the Montessori Method can benefit your preschooler.
It's important to fully understand which homeschooling style is the right fit for you. With Montessori, the first thing you want to understand and internalize before are the goals the Montessori Method sets for itself, specifically:
- Make Learning Joyful
- Increase Self Confidence
- Encourage Curiosity
- Highlight Diversity & the Interconnectedness of All Things
- Develop Persistence, Diligence & Grit
If the personal goals you have for your homeschooled preschooler align with the Montessori goals, then you should feel confident moving forward with the decision to homeschool using the Montessori Method.
The next step is to add the broad objectives you have for your children. Of course, this will be based on age, interest level, experience level, culture and so on. Each child, age group and culture has its own needs and considerations, and preschool is no different.
Broad goals for preschool may include, but are not limited to:
- Potty training
- Learning basic manners such as sharing saying “please”
- Developing hand-eye coordination
- Gross motor skill development
- Fine motor skill development
- Recognizing and recalling the numbers 1-10
- Recognizing the primary colors
- Recognizing and knowing letter sounds for the alphabet
- Recognizing basic shapes
- Knowing the days of the week
- Knowing the months of the year
- Learning to follow instructions
- Vocabulary growth
Montessori Goals for Preschool Aged Children
Depending on your child’s specific abilities and interests, these curricular goals will shift and change. Remember the focus is on the journey, not the destination!
Some children excel verbally while others are excellent at math, art, or dance. Montessori gives them the opportunity to discover what they love and to fully immerse themselves there.
Beyond the more common preschool-aged learning objectives, there is also skill development in the areas of socialization, physical coordination, and care of their environments, such as cleaning, plant care, or animal care.
One of the major benefits of the self-directed style of learning that Montessori provides is that your children naturally learn boundaries, consequences, and self-governance. By observing what naturally piques their curiosity, you are able to introduce new materials/activities that continue to stimulate deeper and more explorative learning.
Setting Up a Montessori Learning Environment
The Montessori Method for preschool aged children is all about giving them the space they need to explore and learn while gently guiding them toward learning outcomes. A toddler might have free reign to check out everything in their designated learning space, but you set the materials out. This is commonly referred to as “freedom within limits.” You’ll need to ensure you have plenty of tactile, engaging materials for all subjects your children want to explore. This should include books, manipulatives, eye-catching graphics and visuals, and so on.
Your children will learn important social skills like patience while waiting, taking turns, listening, and sharing by emulating you. As the teacher, you show and give them room to learn, rather than lecture. In this way, they learn self-reliance, but they also know they can ask if they have questions.
Your pre-K children will not have the attention span (nor desire) to sit and learn through lecture, so play-based learning is incredibly important. This can be difficult for many parents, as we tend to have preconceived notions of “educational success”. It can be hard to watch a child appear not interested in math or science at first, but you have to trust them to be interested when they’re ready. This trust relationship between the homeschooling parent and the student is critical to the success of the Montessori method.
Educational tools for Montessori Preschools at Home
Regardless of which educational philosophy is relied on, preschool in general is a more relaxed type of learning than education for older kids. It’s more about play and exploration than anything else, and that’s one of the reasons the Montessori Method works so well for this age group.
You will want objects that are fun to touch and beautiful to look at. You will want an organized, tidy environment that creates a sense of calm for your child(ren). What works best for young minds are things that grab their attention. They will want to poke, look at, and explore each bead, block, book, printable and instrument you have available - and, in a Montessori learning environment, we let them.Equally critical to your homeschool tools is your ability to properly present Montessori lessons. Presentation is truly critical to the Montessori method.
Beautiful manipulatives without proper presentation is like hardware without software: expensive and utterly useless.
Most often, the three period lesson is used for children in this age range.
Simply put, the 3 period lesson is a single educational experience broken into 3 parts:
- Introduction (This is…)
- Recognition (Show me…)
- Recall (What is…?)
Other, more nuanced aspects of presentation can be harder to catch on to, so if you need extra guidance, consider a Montessori homeschool curriculum that provides presentation instructions.
The essential elements of a Montessori educational space are:
- Geography & Culture
- Practical Life
One benefit of homeschooling your Montessori preschooler is that certain aspects of this education can occur within the natural flow of your day. For instance, the development of practical life skills can be as simple as allowing them to help you with your daily tasks.
Practical Life exercises allow them to develop skills in caring - for themselves, for others, and for the environment. Beyond that, these tasks allow children to develop muscular coordination, independence, internal motivation, focus, and attention to details. The Montessori scope and sequence follows a carefully designed order for introducing these tasks, and through this, develops foundational skills critical for a lifetime of success and happiness.
Practical Life for Preschoolers
Practical life is the place to begin for very young children or any child new to Montessori at home. This is because it is designed to quiet and focus the child’s mind in the home environment, thus setting the stage for a functional homeschool experience. If you want to get your feet wet with Montessori without diving in, Practical Life is the place to start!
Many of the elements you use can go together as well - manipulative, sorting and counting coins or blocks can be both sensorial and mathematical. A moveable alphabet can teach language by helping your child associate the movement with the letters’ placement. Use your own creativity to put together groupings of items that work for your child.
Don’t be afraid to move your Montessori preschool lessons to the outdoors as well. Nature is a powerful educational tool, because the experiences are completely novel to a young person. Novel experience makes for more profound learning and better engagement and retention. Any preschooler will tell you counting bugs on a tree is more enjoyable and interesting than counting felt circles. And, Dr. Montessori knew this, too.
“There must be provision for the child to have contact with nature, to understand and appreciate the order, the harmony and the beauty in nature… so that the child may better understand and participate in the marvelous things which civilization creates.” - Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood
Your Role as a Montessori Homeschool Guide
The efficacy of Montessori education is very dependent on you, the teacher, or as they are commonly called in Montessori lingo, the “guide.”
As you model behavior, learning, and curiosity, your homeschooled preschooler will emulate at their own pace. Your language and reaction to situations will be their touchstone as to how best to engage with frustration, self-doubt, and other setbacks. Likewise, they’ll look to you as they explore and learn, for guidance when necessary.
Careful observation and planning as you follow your child’s lead will allow you to guide your child in a wonderful, peaceful way. Preschool students respond exceptionally well to the Montessori Method, as it will give them a foundation for a love of learning that will last the rest of their lives.
Be patient and model the behavior you would like to see them emulate. Follow the lead of your child and facilitate deep learning of topics which interest them. Let them learn at their own pace, exploring their educational spaces and growing to love learning one day at a time.
Although Montessori homeschooling for preschoolers requires some extra effort, the rewards are plentiful and truly beautiful.