As you begin to explore the wonderful world of Montessori homeschooling, you might be overwhelmed by all the new terms. To be honest, it can feel like a foreign language at first! But, I assure you, it's a mountain you can climb.
Montessori utilizes a lot of very specific terminology that helps set our concepts apart and that is both easily understood and recognizable, once you've learned it. Let’s go through the most common Montessori terms and phrases you'll hear, so you can familiarize yourself with them. In this way, you can better orient yourself in the exciting, educational world of Montessori homeschooling!
Guide vs teacher
You may have seen us talk about how M3 by Multisori is the world's only complete Montessori primary curriculum backed by certified guides. But what are Montessori Guides?
In a Montessori classroom, the teachers are referred to as “guides”. This is a very specific and important difference because unlike traditional classrooms where teachers lecture, in the Montessori classroom, the teacher's role is to facilitate and guide. In a Montessori learning environments, the child takes the proactive role by exploring their environment and the materials you curate, and the "teacher" helps guide them through this process of self-direction.
What Does a Montessori Guide Do?
Montessori guides model good behavior, social interaction, and help children question their environment in a way that fosters growth and independence. For instance, when a child shows an interest in sorting and order, a guide might choose to present the Pink Tower, peaking the child’s interest at just the right time developmentally. The guide models inquisitive, curious behavior and proper use of classroom manipulatives.
Because of this approach, “guide” is a far more appropriate term for a Montessori adult's role in education!
There are many manipulatives that are important to the Montessori classroom, but few are as iconic and educationally magical as the Golden Beads. These mathematical manipulatives are truly attractive and effective because of their size, shape, weight and appearance. Not to mention how FUN they are to work with. Little kids love building big things, and the construction of large numbers with the golden beads is no exception.
The golden beads include the small, unassuming, spherical golden bead units. Each golden sphere represents one unit. Groups of 10 units are wired together in groups called ten bars. These ten bars are, further grouped into squares of 100. Finally, 10 hundred squares are bound together into cubed groups of 1000 beads.
What do Golden Beads Teach?
Golden Beads teach math and counting, of course, but also the decimal system specifically.
Maria Montessori initially introduced only older children to this block of beads, but soon discovered that even children as young as 4 were counting in the 100s and 1000s because of them. The Golden Beads help children conceptualize large numbers like 10s, 100s, and 1000s far easier than if they were a non-tangible concept. Being able to physically hold and manipulate the beads is a big deal for young learners.
They are one of the very few manipulatives that I recommend investing in (as opposed to using a less expensive non traditional alternative like printables). This is because their weight and necessary 3D nature cannot be replicated on paper.
Perhaps your most important role as Guide for your child in a Montessori environment is to thoughtfully prepare their learning space. The concept of “prepared environment” refers to everything from child-sized, light furniture to the materials and manipulatives you curate for them.
When you prepare their environment, it should be designed in such a way that they can easily access and use whatever materials interest them. Additionally, having child-sized furniture and tools will help foster their independence - some Montessori homes even have floor beds, so a child can get up on their own and explore when they want.
When you curate the materials and tools your child uses during the day, you can subtly direct their learning, without interfering or intruding into it.
For the uninitiated, the Montessori concept of “child-led learning” sounds like pure chaos. This is far from the reality of a Montessori classroom, which is peaceful, focused, and joyous. The child leads the learning by exploring the various materials that you, the guide, curate for them. In this way, a child can dive into focused learning with materials and concepts that hold their attention. This, in turn, develops their ability to focus for long periods of time, a quality we call grit.
When a child leads the learning, it helps them develop the focus necessary for staying attentive to other tasks that might not be so engrossing.
Montessori is great for a mixed-age classroom as well, which most multi-child homeschools will be. Because of this child-led structure, classrooms are collaborative, with younger children looking to older children for help, and older children getting the opportunity to lead.
Maria Montessori believed that children are constantly learning, something that scientific studies which came after her time have backed up. Many adults have a tendency to use baby talk or to water down concepts with children, but Dr. Montessori believed that this wasn’t necessary or helpful. Even if your child cannot fully grasp complex ideas at their age, they absorb bits of it that lay the groundwork for a deep understanding later on.
For instance, using baby talk causes children to learn words and phrases incorrectly. It might be cute when they’re younger, but it doesn’t help them learn phonics, reading, and writing down the line.
The absorbent mind of a child is always listening, watching, and learning, so the Montessori approach is mindful of this, stressing how we need to be deliberate about what we say, and how we model behavior around them.
Didactic materials refer to anything that helps a child learn through manipulation. In Montessori, didactic materials are designed to meet some or all of the following criteria:
These items evoke a sensory component, be it smell, taste, touch, hearing, or sight. Most Montessori materials utilize sensory components to better engage the learner, and this might include textural aspects like sandpaper letters or bright, captivating colors like the Pink Tower.
We want children to learn practical life skills and improve their fine and gross motor function, starting as early as possible. A child who begins improving motor function and that learns to, for instance, dress themselves will be a more confident learner. Likewise, a child who develops strong hand muscles through fine motor work will more easily learn to draw and write.
Whether it’s math, language arts, or science, didactic materials will help your child down a specific learning path. Items like the Golden Beads help a child learn math through discovery and exploration, and Montessori Color Tablets make understanding colors, gradients, and order a snap.
Maria Montessori believed that movement is critical to helping a child learn - that seated instruction was counterproductive to educating young people. Montessori doesn’t use seated lectures, instead opting to have children actively investigating their environment and moving around. This process even includes nature walks and gardening, which can be hugely beneficial for learning anything from science to math and language arts.
Grace and courtesy
While traditional education emphasizes concepts like “manners”, Montessori focuses on Grace and Courtesy. The difference might seem minor, but it’s really quite profound. Grace refers to a child’s will, self-respect, and comfort in themselves. Courtesy is them extending that kindness and respect to other people.
With teaching a child manners, you’re really just having them repeat phrases like “thank you”, “you’re welcome”, and “I’m sorry”. While these things are nice to hear and expected, it’s far better to teach them why they should be thankful and helpful, and why they should be truly sorry if they hurt someone else.
Part of your role as the Guide is to model grace and courtesy in your day to day interactions. If you make a mistake, instead of scolding yourself, demonstrate how you can do better next time. Show your children how to greet other people, to be confident, and how to check up on someone who is sad, frustrated, or hurt.
A child who learns Grace and Courtesy will go through life both confident and pleasant to be around, both traits that are highly desirable as an adult.
As adults, we might fall into the trap of doing basic tasks for our children because it’s faster and easier. But, we are doing our kids - and ourselves - a disservice by taking this easy route. Practical life skills are those concepts that help a child be more independent - daily tasks such as brushing teeth, picking up after themselves, washing hands, and more.
These practical life skills are hugely important in the Montessori classroom because a child who learns to be independent is a child who is confident and determined.
Practical life activities start young and can be as simple as dressing or washing hands. Montessori education strives to remove barriers for a child to be able to take care of themselves and their environment. This might include using smaller tables and chairs, or stepstools so they can get up to a counter. As they age, they can prepare food for themselves, and take on even more complex tasks.
These things we do every day with the humdrum that comes from years of repetition are wonderfully interesting to a young child. Being able to make their own snack, wash their hands, and pick out clothes/dress themselves makes children feel confident, self-reliant, and important. As they age, they can start to do chores, assist with cooking, and complete a variety of other skills that are critical to self-reliance and a healthy transition into adulthood.
You’ll see the term “sensorial” tacked onto Montessori concepts and manipulatives quite a bit. This is a way of saying the lesson or materials relate to one of the five senses - taste, touch, smell, sight, or hearing.
Many of the most famous Montessori manipulatives rely on touch and sight specifically - the Pink Tower and Golden Beads, for instance, have very distinguishable colors and shapes.
The purpose of sensorial attributes is that bright colors, sounds, smells, and textures all engage multiple levels of awareness. A child who sees an alphabet might remember the letters on a basic level, but when they engage with a brightly colored, gritty textured movable alphabet, the learning will be dramatically more profound.
Montessori work cycle
Montessori education understands that a child learns best when they can dive deeply into a concept and explore it uninterrupted for long periods. Because of this, Montessori learning days are divided into cycles, usually around 1-2 hours for younger children and 2-3+ hours for older kids.
Being able to focus for an hour or more helps a child learn better, but it also helps them learn attentiveness. Developing the skill of focus is tremendously helpful for study and education throughout life.
Typically a Montessori day is broken up by a cycle in the morning and one in the afternoon, broken up by lunch, a nature walk, or some other less focused period of exploration.
Montessori terms don’t have to be overwhelming
A Montessori homeschool is fun, child-led, and focused on the development of traits like focus, independence, and confidence. The environment is created by an approach that is wholly unlike traditional schools, and because of this, it requires some specific terminology with which you might not yet be familiar. We hope, however, that this guide helps make some of these terms more accessible and understandable.
Whether you’re entirely new to homeschooling or you’ve been homeschooling but want to try the Montessori approach, Multisori is here for you! With our proven curriculums and helpful community, Multisori can help guide you through the wonder of a Montessori homeschool, one step at a time.