Decide if Montessori Homeschool is Right for Your Family, Part 1: What is Montessori Education?

When I was starting out in my homeschooling research, I was looking for a curriculum - something I could follow that would give me success reaching the hearts, minds, and souls of my children. Instead, I found frustration. I found failure. I found stumbling blocks that added stress to our relationships and a to-do list a mile long. 

That is - until I found Montessori. 

Montessori education is not a curriculum at its core. It is a way of life.

Montessori education will test all that you've known about how to teach a child, and it might just turn your world upside down. 

I'm almost three years into my world being turned upside down by the Montessori philosophy, and I am still blown away by how much I am still learning about children. 

If you are looking for a method to teach your child that will help you respect your child as the person God created him or her to be, that will help you parent with patience, that will help you step back and trust your child to learn at his or her own pace, that will force you to chuck your annual checklist of tasks that must be accomplished, and that will leave you in awe and wonder at the human being God entrusted to your care, then you are in the right place. 

In this series of posts, we will discuss: 

  1. What is Montessori education? (Today!) 
  2. What does a Montessori homeschool look like? 
  3. Do I have to buy a lot of stuff? 
  4. What age do my kids have to be to start Montessori homeschooling? 
  5. How can I make my Montessori homeschool faith-based?
  6. What subjects should I be teaching to my child?

What is Montessori Education?

The Montessori method of education is named after its founder, Dr. Maria Montessori. While the explanation of “Montessori” can be quite lengthy, I would rather give you the short and sweet version.

Montessori education is founded in respect for the child as an individual.

Montessori education respects the child as her own person, allows her freedom of choice and movement within her prepared environment, and employs a kind and understanding guide who leads her to self education. Children have an incredible ability to learn, but they do not learn by teachers/parents “inputting information” directly into their little brains. Children need to learn for themselves by doing in order to really, truly learn. 

Montessori education is based on scientific research and observation of real children.

All of the methods and materials employed in Montessori education are the result of true scientific research and backed by over 100 years of implementation all across the globe. Dr. Montessori’s claim to fame was her incredible ability, as a scientist, to observe children and see them for who they truly are. 

The prepared learning environment plays a huge role in Montessori education. 

The Montessori environment lends to this method of learning. Children are exposed to a beautiful array of materials, each with its own noble purpose, to perfect their learning. Dr. Montessori describes “sensitive periods” for learning specific concepts, such as language, learning to walk, order in the environment, fascination with miniature objects, and social interest. During these sensitive periods, children learn as easily as they will their entire lives. This is why it is so difficult for an adult to learn a second language, where young children of 2 and 3 years old can easily and fluently speak two or three languages. 

Children can learn to calculate and understand high level mathematics at ages 4 and 5 that I never dreamed of introducing to a child at such a young age, because they are innately drawn to God’s order in Creation. 

Goodness is a priority in a Montessori learning environment.

In a Montessori classroom, there is a high emphasis on peace, love, respect, and kindness.

In order to help children achieve a level of peace and respect for other children, boundaries are established within the classroom. With so much “freedom” of choice and movement, boundaries and limits are very necessary.

One of these boundaries is the child’s use of a work rug. This is a small (about 2 ft by 3 ft) rug that the child has access to in order to roll out and place her chosen work upon. Her work is contained on the rug, and no other child (or guide!) is permitted to touch her work unless given permission by the child. A work rug can be used on the floor or the table. It is up to you whether you will have different sizes of rugs for the floor and table. In some cases of big work, more than one work rug may need to be used. 

In addition to peace and respect, the Montessori environment should be beautiful and should reflect the good and beautiful things the adults in your home/school enjoy. Fresh cut flowers, beautiful works of art hung at the child's level, real cups and plates, and a "home" for everything in the environment. 

Boundaries are vital and practical to implement.

Another boundary used in Montessori practice is that no work is able to be transferred directly to another child; instead, it must be placed back on its shelf in its proper spot. This avoids the age-old battles of “Who had it first?,” “Give it back to Johnny,” “You have to SHARE,” “Take turns!,” and “Keep your hands to yourself!,” to name a few. Wouldn’t we all love to abolish those phrases from our vocabularies, or at least limit them? 

You may have seen beautiful Montessori “tray” activities, possibly made for different themes or units. I want to address the “trays” here. In keeping with the boundaries and the orderly environment, work set out and displayed on shelves is often on a tray that can be carried by the child successfully to her work space. The tray keeps all of the parts of the activity together, neatly organized, and able to be transferred easily. 

Multi-age “classrooms” are ideal for the child’s learning environment. 

Children can learn so much from each other, and, in my experience (which is also backed by research), we all learn best when we have the opportunity to teach someone else. Dr. Montessori discovered that children are eager helpers and teachers. 

This is a huge bonus for us homeschoolers! Too many programs, curriculums, and educational structures don't work well (at all) for families with multiple children. In a Montessori environment, children of multiple ages are working side-by-side, and the majority of work completed in a Montessori work cycle is independent. Older children teaching the younger children is welcomed and encouraged, as well! 

One child could be diagramming sentences and another, younger, child could be building the Pink Tower of varying sized blocks, side-by-side, each in her own work space, while yet another child is receiving a math lesson from the guide. 

Montessori emphasizes the importance of the prepared adult.

Adults have a tendency to impose their wills upon children.

The Montessori Method takes a radically opposite approach.

Children are to be respected as they are, complete beings with their own goals, desires, and needs.

As adults, we must prepare an environment suitable to our children’s learning and development, as well as remove any “stumbling blocks” that may impede necessary work the child desires to accomplish.

We “follow the child” yet stay a step ahead by preparing our space to reflect their current needs and interests. 

Montessori has specific methods for teaching practical life, sensorial, and academic subjects. 

The philosophy of Montessori can be practiced in just about any pedagogy with a few tweaks. Dr. Maria Montessori, though, created her own Methods for teaching concepts to children - methods that can be carried out mostly independently by children, after they have been shown the proper way to handle the materials by a caring and gentle guide.

Practical life exercises are followed by sensorial exercises honing the senses (visual, tactile, auditory, gustatory, olfactory, thermic, baric, chromatic, and stereognostic). After these, the academic lessons are given in reading, writing, mathematics, geography, and science. 

Movement and choice are welcome, encouraged, and normal.

Say good-bye to learning at a desk, in a row of children, and embrace the freedom of children being able to work where they want, how they want.

Children get to move about their learning environment with freedom. (Yes, there are boundaries as to where they are allowed to roam.) Children can work sprawled out on the floor or at a child-sized desk. When available, they can roam outside to complete a lesson. If they need exercise, they can march and dance and run and jump! Montessori lessons are hands-on and require the children to move their minds and bodies in a coordinated manner. 

Children also get to choose which "work" they want to complete during their school time. There isn't a set time for math, reading, spelling, and geography, for example. The research shows that children are "called" to certain activities during specific sensitive periods in response to their need to construct themselves. One child may do math every day for weeks straight until all of a sudden, he feels rested and finished. Then, he moves on. Other children may tinker about with this and that, not settling on something until they feel that "inner calm" that comes with being matched to the work that exactly suits their need in that moment of their lives. I could continue on, but I will say that children are encouraged to complete a work that they start so that they will learn dedication and perseverance. 

Now that you have an overview of Montessori education, I'll give you a peek into what a Montessori homeschool can look like in Post #2. 

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