Welcome to the seventh post in the Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling Styles series! Click here to view the rest of the series.
The Montessori method of education was created by Maria Montessori (1870-1952). Originally a physician, Montessori started working with young children with special needs. After experimenting with methods to help them learn she then applied the methods she developed to other children. They helped all children learn, and so the Montessori method of education was born.
Montessori believed that children learn no matter what. Therefore, it is better to put effort into improving their environment and modelling desired behaviour rather than teaching directly. Children prefer to follow their interests, and need to know a reason for learning (don’t we all?). Working with them and their abilities enables their natural love of learning and work ethic to shine and grow.
The Montessori method is structured, but child-led. The parent is expected to have deep knowledge of the child and their abilities from observation and interaction. Using this knowledge they can support and amplify natural development of the child using prescribed materials and activities. Montessori developed the theory of sensitive periods – times when the child is especially receptive to and curious about particular knowledge or skill. This is a critical time to learn this skill. Language, numbers, and order are some of the sensitive periods.
Montessori homeschooling seeks to provide opportunities for the child to do it themselves. Participation in everyday activities such as chores is specifically encouraged by the provision of child-sized tools, and teaching the tasks by demonstration. I took on many ideas from Montessori when my children were toddlers. Providing them with an easy-to-access, child-suitable environment and equipment made a visible difference in how they went about their day. They started washing their own dishes, cleaning up after themselves, and did more activities independently once the materials were made easily accessible.
The environment is extremely important. It must be prepared so children can make discoveries and learn new skills easily, as suits their ‘absorbent mind’. This includes having furniture to suit size, having specific places for equipment, pictures on walls at their eye level, and independent activities suitable for their ability. It is important to reduce clutter, both visual and auditory.
There are specific materials in a Montessori classroom. You may have seen sandpaper letters, or sandboxes for writing. Each of these is intended to be introduced at a specific developmental stage, with a prescribed script and usage. After this, the child is expected to use it independently in the prescribed way, with the parent monitoring their use to ensure it’s correct. This is where many homeschoolers trip up when implementing Montessori – we’re not a particularly rigid bunch. We’re more likely to give it to the child, show them how to use it, then let them do what they want with it. Montessori purists frown upon this.
Collaborative learning is also important. Montessori schools have multi-age classrooms. Parents of multiple children tend to find that collaborative learning develops spontaneously while homeschooling. Parents of only children or small families may need to start a playgroup or similar to foster collaborative learning. Montessori discourages competition and builds intrinsic rewards into the activities.
And take a look at my Montessori Homeschooling Pinterest board to discover fantastic resources that will help you set up your Montessori homeschool – many of them free!