Montessori Method: Discover everything about this alternative teaching method
The Montessori Method is an educational method designed to build a child’s independence. This alternative method is used more and more in schools and homes around the world. Without a doubt, it’s effective for parents that use it at home. Learn how to educate using the Montessori techniques and exercises in order to help your kids or students have a complete basis of the method- as much in the physical level as in the intellectual and emotional levels. The Montessori activities are based on a playful teaching method that is centered on learning through playing and experimentation.
Discover this complete guide with questions and responses. Everything you would need to know about the Montessori Method and how to apply it. What is it and what does it consist of? What are its characteristics and the keys to educating without rewards or punishment? What are the differences between this teaching method and a traditional one? Who invented it and what are the María Montessori commandments? What are the pros and cons of using it? How is value shown to the kids and what materials and supplies are needed to apply it at home and at school? Strategies, techniques, and activities with examples: The Montessori Method to toilet train, eat, sleep, and learn languages. Practical exercises to apply this method to each individual kid, common errors that happen when it comes to applying the method in both the home and at school. Is it possible to use this method for kids with ADHD and hyperactive? What about kids with special needs? Adults or the elderly? This and so much more! If you want to share your experience with the Montessori Method or have any question, leave us a comment below!
What is the Montessori Method and what does it consist of?
The Montessori Method can be defined as an educational method based on self-directed activities, active learning, and collaborative games. In Montessori method classes, kids make creative choices in their learning while the class and the teacher offer age-appropriate activities to help guide the learning process. Kids work in both groups and on an individual basis in order to discover and explore the world, its knowledge, and develop at their highest potential while also developing at their own rate.
Characteristics of the Montessori Method
The necessary components for any program to consider using the Montessori method include groups of mixed ages that have the potential to peer-learn, uninterrupted blocks of work time, and teacher-guided choices for activities. Furthermore, there need to be learning materials readily available within a calm, non-distracting environment.
The teacher, the child, and the environment together create a triangle of learning in the Montessori Method. The class is prepared by the teacher to encourage independence- the liberty that comes from books and a sensation that everything is in order. The child, through their own individual choices, makes use of the space given to develop themselves and interact with their peers.
To have groups of mixed ages is one of the most defining characteristics of the Montessori method. The youngest kids learn from the oldest kids and the oldest kids reinforce their learning by teaching the concepts that they’ve already learned. This reflects the real world where people work and socialize with different people of all ages and classes.
Within the learning and training period of any kid, there are sensitive periods/windows that happen when kids are more able to learn things easily. The Montessori method teaches the appropriate lessons during this window.
Within early childhood, students learn through motor-sensory activities which involve working with physical materials in order to develop their cognitive capacities using direct experience. This goes hand-in-hand with the five senses and movement.
While a child grows, their educational resume adapts, going from something concrete to abstract, taking knowledge and applying it in the real world while creating real-life experiences.
Montessori Method: Keys to educate without rewards or punishment
According to the Montessori Method or Philosophy, rewards and punishments are a no-no. Essentially, ill-advised. Parental reinforcement and compensation promote external motivation. That is to say, to do something well enough to make everyone happy, rather than having internal motivation– doing something to the mere pleasure of doing it well.
In contrast, Montessori Method defends the consequences in the sense that in place of a reward or punishment, the method simply lets the natural consequences of a child’s actions take place. For example, instead of saying, “Great job on making the bed today!” it’s better to say, “You made the bed quickly today; now you’ll have more time to play.” Or instead of saying, “If you don’t clean up the table, you won’t get dessert.” it’s better to say, “If you don’t clean up the table, you won’t have space to put your toys.
Differences between the Montessori method and traditional education
What is it that makes the Montessori method different? How is it different compared to traditional education?
1. A prepared environment
Montessori classes are prepared beforehand and are based on the observations from the teacher with each individual need of the students. This includes activities and lessons centered on each student. Traditional classes are teacher-centered, not student-centered.
2. Active learning
Montessori learning is active and hands-on. Students discover the necessary information on their own. Traditional learning is based on passive learning, memorizing, and exams.
3. Flexible class time
In Montessori classes, lesson times and class/activity duration depend on what the students need. Class time interruptions are avoided when possible. Traditional classes have a pre-set time and duration.
4. The professor’s role
Montessori teachers act as individual guides and assessors to each student. They help each child with their own pathway of learning. Traditionally, the rhythm of every lesson is predetermined and the teacher provides the same guidance, rhythm, and order for each student. That is to say, it’s not individualized.
5. Age groups and classes
In Montessori schools, the classes are flexible and set depending on the ages of the kids (from ages 0-3, ages 3-6, ages 6-9, ages 9-12, ages 12-15, and ages 15-18). Traditionally, classes aren’t flexible in terms of age and are strictly chronological with few exceptions (being held back or being allowed to skip a grade).
6. Adaptable core curriculum
Montessori curriculums are made in response to the student’s individual needs. Traditional curriculums are predetermined without each need in mind. For example, Montessori would take into account that one student is better at English and worse at math. Subsequently, they would put more emphasis and time on math than on English. Whereas traditionally, English and math are given the same emphasis.
7. Students learn at their own pace
The pace at which each student learns at is respected and incentivized in Montessori classes. Traditional classes don’t make room for different learning paces.
8. Self-esteem depends on oneself
According to Montessori philosophy, a child’s self-esteem is provided by the internal feeling of being proud of one’s own accomplishments. In traditional classes, self-esteem usually comes from validation and external judgment rather than internally.
9. A want to learn
Montessori curriculum tries to heighten the innate interest in gaining more knowledge. The incentive is the want and likes to learn. Traditionally, the curriculum is centered around grades. Kinds learn because they are obligated and forced to- not because they want to.
10. Change of perspective
The Montessori method is based on the study and observation of how kids learn well. The traditional method is based simply on the tradition of teaching, not learning.
Who invented this teaching method? María Montessori’s great discovery
María Montessori (1870-1952) was, without a doubt, extraordinary. In the beginning, she resisted working in the classic female role of the XIX century- teaching. Instead, she became one of the first female doctors in Italy. As a doctor, she specialized in pediatrics and psychiatry. While working with a group of kids with learning disabilities, she arrived at the conclusion that in order for these kids to learn, there needs an appropriate teaching method, not medical treatment.
In 1890, she was given the opportunity to start her own educational method with a school for kids who have learning disabilities in Rome. When her students discovered that they had the same grades as the students without a disability, they felt incredibly happy and encouraged. María didn’t stop there, though- she went on to ask where the Italian education system was failing students. What impedes them from being able to completely develop to their full potential?
In 1907, María created her first “Bambini house” for kids between the ages of 3 and 7. She continued to develop her distinctive pedagogy based on scientific approximation with experimentation and observation.
In her job, María affirmed the idea that kids go through a series of sensitive periods in their learning and development– an idea that years later became the Piaget theory. She also believed that there is an auto-development that kids have that is formed by participating in self-directed activities while also in a well-prepared environment.
María Montessori’s Commandments
- Never touch a child unless they gesture one way or another to do so.
- Never speak badly of a child, regardless of if they are present or not.
- Concentrate on building and developing the potential strength of a child. Don’t leave much space to let the bad get in.
- Prepare an active environment. Take special care of helping the child establish a constructive relationship with you.
- Be prepared to answer any call that the child may require. Listen and respond to their requests.
- Respect that kids, like all humans, make mistakes. As soon as possible, let them become aware of their mistake and allow them to fix it on their own. Avoid any bad environment and any action that could put a child, and their development, in danger.
- Respect a child if they decide they need to rest or look at the other children. No force them into doing every activity.
- Help those who are looking for an activity to find something to do.
- Don’t tire yourself by repeating lessons to a child who won’t learn them. Instead, help them learn and acquire abilities that they haven’t yet perfected. Make sure that the child feels your presence while helping them, but once they have found an activity, quietly slip away so as not to disturb their learning. Essentially, show your readiness to help when required, but that the child is in charge of their learning.
- Always treat a child with good manners and make sure they act with manners even better than yours.
Positive educational aspects of the Montessori method
Montessori education offers children opportunities that help them develop their potential so that once they arrive in the real world, they are competent, dedicated, responsible, and respectful citizens who have an appreciation for lifelong learning.
- Every child is valued as a unique individual. The Montessori education system recognizes that each kid learns differently and is accommodated for as such by being given their own books to learn from at their own pace. Each advance that a child makes happens because they are ready, with teacher guidance or their individualized learning plan. Child development is different in every case.
- Starting at an early age, students develop a sense of order, coordination, concentration, and independence. The design of the classroom, the materials, and the daily routines are what help develop the autoregulation of an individual- the ability they have to educate themselves, thinking about their own education.
- The students are part of a close-knitted and compassionate community. Classes are given to kids of different age groups (with 3 years difference between the youngest and oldest kid) that recreate a family-like structure. The older kids enjoy the part of mentoring and modeling for the youngers while the younger kids gain confidence about the situations they are presented with. Teachers are respected models who have the belief that conflict resolution should be dealt with in a pacifistic manner.
- Students enjoy liberty without limits. They work within established parameters by the professors and actively participate in deciding what they will concentrate their learning on. Those who advocate for this method understand that the internal satisfaction is what drives curiosity and interest in a child which results in a pleasurable learning experience that is sustainable for the rest of the child’s life.
- Students are supported in order to become lifelong learners in search for knowledge. Teachers make environments where students feel free and give them the tools to help them answer their own questions.
- Self-correction and self-evaluation are both integrated parts to the Montessori method. Halfway through maturity, students learn to look at their work with a critical eye and they become experts in recognizing, correcting, and learning from their mistakes.
- Research suggests that there are academic benefits to using this method for education. In 2017, a study done on preschoolers found that two of the Montessori Schools had scored high when it came to rating them on quality. Another study done in 2006 found that students who were part of a Montessori school actually had better test results than those who were part of a traditional education. Although this could be chalked up to the professor more than the education system.
By giving them freedom and support to ask questions, research, investigate, and make connections, Montessori students develop a good internal index of information. All the while they are able to think critically, work collaboratively, and work on the edge.
The following video is Ken Robinson who explains how exactly traditional schooling kills creativity.
Disadvantages of using the Montessori method
1. It’s expensive
Montessori schools are private schools a lot of families can’t afford them because of that. However, there are always techniques, activities, and exercises that can be used at home, too.
2. They don’t have a defined curriculum
The Montessori method curriculum is based on the idea of following the needs of a kid and adapting to them. However, that’s not to say that the child doesn’t learn what he doesn’t want to or that he can do what he pleases. Nevertheless, it’s less structured than traditional schools.
3. Independence doesn’t always help
While the Montessori method advocates for independence and self-guided work, real-life work isn’t always like that and sometimes this can make it difficult for Montessori students to work in teams, collaborate (which isn’t something that happens much in Montessori) and under a rigid authority.
4. The free structure of the class can be intimidating
For kids who usually like structure and routine, that is. Including the physical barrier of rows of desks that some students might find comforting. Montessori method classes are made to allow movement and change with teachers guiding more than teaching directly. Traditional classes that have less freedom can help students feel more secure due to the structure.
5. Is it really the best teaching method?
A 2017 study found that Montessori education makes no difference when compared to traditional education in adolescents. This could be because María Montessori died before she finished her work and method. Everything she used on adolescents was tried previously on and then modified slightly from younger ages.
How do kids learn the value in the Montessori method?
1. Movement and cognition
Movement and cognition are intertwined. Studies show that physical activity helps heighten learning and retention. That’s why kids should be active- a key element to the Montessori method.
Cognitive learning and health help strengthen the control we have in our lives.
- You can make a to-do list (of chores) for a kid to do, and let them decide when to complete them before the day is done. The chores will end up done, but at their own pace.
- Have a basket with healthy snacks from which a child can choose (healthy) from.
- Create a basket for quality, pre-selected books from which the child can choose from.
We learn better when we are interested in what we are doing.
Provide your child with different materials that can help them discover what it is that they like best. That could include going to a science or natural history museum and books with different subjects to help boost learning.
4. Avoid external reinforcement
Montessori advocated for the idea of intrinsic motivation in every activity. Essentially, the idea that one enjoys the activity to such a degree that they continue to do it because they are compensated for it. That’s why it’s best to avoid external reinforcement like money and little prizes for motivation.
5. Learn from and with their equals
Collaborative spaces can augment learning. For example, create a study group for books, movies, science, anything you like.
6. Learn from context
Situated learning in specific contexts that promote a rich and profound learning more so than in abstract contexts.
To learn about wildlife, organize an excursion to a park or nature reserve. Play using scientific experiments. Make homemade products, for example.
How to apply the Montessori method at home
What materials are necessary to apply the Montessori method at home?
The Montessori method advocates for a child’s liberty and independence. That’s why it’s important to create an environment that feels safe with access to materials and objects used daily.
- Low/short bookshelves where a child has easy and organized access to their materials.
- Small chairs, stools, and a table. This allows for movement throughout the house. It can help with snack time, cleaning plates, preparing food…
- Various small/mid-sized baskets with materials for each activity separated into each basket. Once something is taken from the basket, it’s important to return it to its place.
- Small tools, such as spoons, pens, and jars. This helps them to develop a habit of mobility.
You can save money and reuse a lot of the materials later on. Be creative!
Strategies and techniques to apply the Montessori Method
To continue, here are some activities that help use the Montessori method at home.
1. Inspire love with nature
Maria Montessori put a lot of emphasis on the connection between the child and nature through plants and animals.
2. Create a table from nature
Fill up various baskets with a variety of natural materials so your child can touch and play with them. You can change the basket content every once in awhile to mix it up a bit, too! The majority can be organic material but you can also put artificial plants and things of the like. Keep size in mind because children under the ages of 3 can swallow small objects easily.
Other (seasonal) objects to change it up can be:
- Fall: Pumpkin, leaves, pineapples, images of fall, and sticks
- Winter: Pine tree sticks, images of winter and animals that hibernate, crafts to make snowflakes, and small wool dolls.
- Spring: Seeds, flowers, small plants, mini birds, plastic (fake) eggs, green leaves.
- Summer: Shells, images of aquatic animals and boats, fruit trees that bare summer fruit.
3. Allow the child to correct themselves
Let the child create internal motivation to do things well, not due to external consequences. Don’t give them rewards for the good or punishment for the bad.
Allow the child to find their error. Ask them, “How can you make this better?” but allow them to find it. Supply the materials needed to help guide them along and correct it.
You can have a registry of all the activities the child does and give them signs on their progress until they dominate the ability. Put the sign in a visible place a home.
4. Stress good education
It’s important to transmit respect, education, and good behavior.
You can create a poster with various rules and norms that they should follow at home with short phrases that are easy to memorize. Such as:
- “One activity at a time”– You can choose a variety of the materials that you want, but only use them for one activity at a time. When you are done, pick up, and you can start another activity.
- “Go slowly”- No running and it’s okay to take your time, this helps maintain concentration and order.
- “Keep a clean room”– Put everything back in their place when you’re done, clean the dust off the bookshelves, straighten the plants, and make sure everything is in order.
- “No yelling” – It’s important to monitor a child’s volume and make sure they come to realize when they are speaking loudly.
- “Be nice”– Be nice to the materials you use, to the other kids, to animals, and to plants.
- “Use your words” – It’s important to insist that kids use their own words to express emotions and to express them in a calm and clear way. An activity could include practicing how to say things in a clear and concise way.
Can any activity become a Montessori activity?
Any activity can be adapted to work with the Montessori method philosophy. In order to do that, there are three basic rules to follow:
- Error control: make sure that the child understands if they make a mistake and let them correct it on their own without our help- only our guidance.
- Concentration and independence: Support them by giving them all the materials necessary. This way they don’t need our help from the beginning to the end of the activity- it’s all on them.
- Hands-on activities: that help them use all their senses.
Montessori method for potty training
1. Diaper training is a gradual process
Learning to use the toilet is a natural but gradual process that begins when the child is ready, not the adult.
A training potty seat can be useful. Situate it in front of the child so they can imitate the rest of the family. Do this even before the child needs to begin being potty trained so they become familiar with it.
When the child shows interest in dressing and undressing themselves without help, they can easily undress themselves to go to the bathroom comfortably.
2. Give them independence
Once a child is interested in using a toilet of any kind, the bathroom must be organized in such a way as to make the child as independent as possible while using it.
If the child uses the potty training toilet, it’s best to leave it somewhere, such as the bathroom, so they always know where it is. That way they don’t need to come find you to ask where it is-they’ll just go. The bathroom could also contain the dirty clothes basket so they can begin to put their clothes there on their own or in case of accidents.
3. The role of the adult
The environment should be prepared so that the child can explore and imitate freely in each step of potty training.
To help the child through the learning process:
- Find ways to help them feel secure, like having a small step stool for their feet while using the toilet.
- Incorporate going to the bathroom as a routine for them. Offer and ask if they need to go to the bathroom if it’s around the time that they usually go, such as when they get up, before leaving the house, and after eating.
- Say, “It’s time to go to the bathroom” instead of “want to go to the bathroom?” (the response will be “no”) or”I think you need to go to the bathroom” (the adult is implying, not guiding). You can also put alarms to help remind yourself.
- Never make them go to the bathroom.
- Don’t scold or congratulate them for going to the bathroom because it’s something normal that everyone does.
- Don’t interrupt them to go the bathroom, wait until they are done with their activity before telling them it’s time to use the restroom.
4. When they don’t have time
If the child wets themselves, keep calm and make sure they are, too. Make sure they don’t feel ashamed. You could say, “I see that you wet yourself, let’s go get some dry clothes.” The child can decide to get dry clothes from the bathroom and clean themselves up. Let them change themselves at their pace and help them only if they ask.
Some situations actually heighten the risk of accidents such as the birth of a sibling, a divorce, or other stressful day-to-day situations. The problems should be resolved in time and it’s important not to be dramatic about it.
That said, if they are 5 years old and they haven’t learned how to be potty trained and/or it’s interfering with their school and social life, it’s best to take them to a special psychologist to help avoid such complications.
Montessori method for eating
Prepare the environment:
- Put a rug or something on the floor under the table. Also, find a chair where the child will regularly sit.
- Use a table and chair where the kid feels comfortable and if it’s possible, that has a place to support their legs.
- Give them a fork and spoon that are smaller, but not plastic.
- Make sure that the child sees adults using cutlery well.
How to do it:
- Start early, when the child begins to show interest in eating solid foods and having a refined motor ability (they can grab food and control their movement). After, during mealtimes, offer them a small spoon. The child should try to put it in their mouth one way or another.
- Wait, even if you have already given them utensils, even if they want to eat with their hands. Allow them to eat with their hands as a sign of independence.
- When the child is used to the spoon, let them use it alone and they can work on their rhythm and pace. If you can serve food that doesn’t fall off the spoon easily (like purée) or something that works easily with a fork.
- Let them practice eating alone with food like cookies and other easily eatable snacks while you are by their side also snacking. This allows them to have a guide and mirror you.
- It’s not necessary to have glasses with straws or other little things. One small glass is enough. Spills are part of the learning process.
- Offer them small healthy snacks often so they feel independent eating on their own.
Cleaning is part of the learning process
Dirtying the table and getting food everywhere is normal When it happens, show the child how to clean it. In Montessori classrooms, they wait for kids to learn the want to clean the mess themselves.
When they spill food, instead of getting mad, it’s better to guide the cleaning process. That way they learn that it’s normal to make mistakes, learning from experimentation.
Include kids in the food preparation process
Cook with the kids, giving them easy tasks to help with the preparation and explaining the steps they need to follow. For a two-year-old, they can wash bowls, veggies, or being you some ingredients. For a six-year-old, they can learn how to beat eggs or make sandwiches.
Montessori method for sleeping
How to use the Montessori method for sleeping: One of the most difficult aspects of this method is the bed. That is to say, a low/short bed or just a mattress of the floor. The idea is to make access to the bed something independent- a parent isn’t necessary for the child to reach, get into, or out of the bed.
Some kids like it while others feel like it’s too much liberty. It depends on the personality of each child. Furthermore, some parents are co-sleepers so a mattress of the floor isn’t possible.
Playing before going to bed
This concept allows kids to have free access to books and toys before going to bed and giving them liberty to determine when they are ready to sleep.
Each family is different with special rules. Adults should choose which books or toys are used before bed, but the child should choose which one of those options with which they wish to play. For example, the adult allows only silent toys before bed while the child chooses which of the silent toys to play with.
The beginning can seem difficult because the child may not want to go to bed at a reasonable time, but with time and without taking toys away or telling them to go to bed, the child will learn how to go to bed at the appropriate time. Don’t give up too soon. Another strategy is to start the going-to-bed-routine sooner.
Give them a massage before going to sleep or scratch their back while reading to them to help them feel more relaxed and therefore more sleepy.
Bedtime should be a choice according to the Montessori method. Each family should decide how much liberty to give, but the choices are good of when to go to bed (alone or with the parents), what to read, what to wear, etc.
It’s important that kid’s bedrooms shouldn’t be super-stimulating. Although the child may be allowed to play there for hours on end, bedrooms should also be a place of rest and relaxation. Some objects should be kept out of there, some furniture to avoid accidents and loud speaking voices.
Montessori method to learn languages
The Montessori method creates an environment that favors learning the basics of a language. Teachers speak with students more than give instructions. They spend a good amount of time giving names to things, introducing words in context, and with experiences multi-sensories.
Once they know the sound of the language, the Montessori method encourages writing. If they don’t have the want, they can begin to write with a magnetized alphabet that sticks to the fridge or other surfaces, for example.
Examples and practical exercises to apply the Montessori method to different age groups
According to Montessori philosophy, a child’s independence and self-government should be put into every situation in every task given to them (including around the house). This independence and self-government should take place from the very beginning, always adapting to the child’s age and maturity.
Frequent errors that happen while using the Montessori method at home
Some frequent errors are:
- Not knowing the method well. One must know the method well before applying to their kids.
- Having high expectations with both the method and the child. Don’t think that you’re going to get the world’s perfect kid using the model or that they will learn quickly. Observe and realize that they are trying to develop themselves- some are just quicker than others.
- Giving materials too much importance. But that’s just the half of it- there is also the fact that many people redo their homes and buy many unnecessary items. Remember there is a lot already around the house that is usable.
- Not choosing the materials well. Although you can use the Montessori method in almost every activity and with almost every object, not everything works. The materials need to be educational.
- Not adapting all living and learning spaces. Every corner (or almost every corner) in the house needs to have certain adaptations and changes for the child’s use.
Can you apply the Montessori method to hyperactive kids?
Kids with ADHD have difficulty concentrating on one activity at a time. Although it is possible to use the Montessori method to help them learn independence, it’s true that this method really isn’t much help.
These kids have to move without a set path getting in their way… such as a list of activities to do. It’s possible that they start a task and without finishing it they move on to the next one. Furthermore, the fact that other students are moving around at their own pace with their own activities doesn’t help. These distractions could result in the need for excessive guidance and correction which might make the child look “different”.
Maybe it would work with a few modifications such as working in a more tranquil classroom or having more teacher guidance. In reality, though, the traditional method puts the child with ADHD in a more centered, calmer, more structured environment which is what they need.
Can you use the Montessori method for kids with special needs?
Yes, it’s possible- beneficial, even! María Montessori actually started developing her pedagogy due to her experience working with kids with special needs. The key is to make sure that the materials and toys used are level appropriate, not age appropriate, to avoid excessive frustration. It’s also good to keep in mind that every kid has their own specific necessities.
For kids with difficulty in movement, the Montessori method isn’t the bed strategy.
Can you use the Montessori method for adults and the elderly?
The Montessori method used with people who suffer from dementia is quite successful. The research done shows that there is a decrease in reactive behavior and an increase in participation while doing activities.
It’s important to apply the method to promote independence, self-esteem, and a better quality of life in the future. It’s centered around adapting to the environment to help better their memory and independence. Although dementia isn’t reversible using this strategy, the Montessori method does help overall in the sense of contributing to better the community around them, helping them get up and move, and having the opportunity to maintain their brain functions as long as possible.
How is the Montessori method applied in the school?
In the following video, you will see the inside of a Montessori class. How they learn to read and classroom materials.
This article is originally in Spanish written by Andrea García Cerdán, translated by Anna Bohren.
Psicóloga General Sanitaria y sexóloga. Deseosa de mejorar la calidad de vida de las personas mediante la práctica clínica y la comunicación a través de la red.