What is Montessori Parenting
Montessori parenting has its origins in the teachings of Dr. Maria Montessori in the 1900s. Montessori believed that a child’s environment should encourage exploration. She believed education should be experiential and a child’s environment should be conducive to the development of the whole child1.
The Montessori parenting style is unique in that it emphasizes the child being a person and we should provide an environment with the needs of our children in mind.
In today’s society, this may sound obvious, but back in the 1900s, it was a revolutionary idea. At that time, children were literally treated as a subordinate member, whose interests must often be set aside for those of an adult member or for the household itself2.
For example, children must come to dinner at dinner time. It doesn’t matter whether they are in the middle of a project or building a huge sandcastle. They must also eat and finish what they are served. Whether they like the food or not doesn’t matter. Children need to obey the elder’s commands under all circumstances.
Montessori parenting emphasizes learning through discovery. In other words, the child is allowed to make mistakes, but they are not punished for their mistakes. Montessori believed that a child should be given an opportunity to explore their world without being controlled by adults. Montessori was ahead of her time in that she understood that each child has a unique gift that must be nurtured and developed.
What Montessori parenting is not
Montessori parenting was not created by Dr. Montessori. Montessori parenting was inspired by the Montessori method of education.
Since the educational model is popular, some feel that having a consistent home environment that applies similar theories would provide benefits for children. As such, they feel that parents with children in Montessori schools can use similar principles at home. However, no credible research can be found to prove or disprove the benefits in this exact approach to parenting.
How to be a Montessori parent
Maria Montessori had several beliefs about children and they form the core beliefs and foundational principles of the Montessori method and influence the Montessori parenting style.
Provide a prepared environment that is child-friendly to promote independence
Children want to be independent. They are autonomous people. To promote independence, the Montessori classroom environment is set up so that children are free to walk around, access learning materials on shelves and return them after using them without the assistance of adults3.
Based on the same belief, Montessori parents use a relaxed parenting approach. They give their child ample time and a child-friendly environment so that they are not confined in cribs or playpens. Give the child freedom to explore. When they are older, school-aged children are fully responsible for maintaining their own space. This will teach the child responsibilities.
If child safety cannot be guaranteed in the entire home, parents can choose the child’s own bedroom or a dedicated playroom to give their child space.
Be a role model
Montessori believed that all children have absorbent minds. They learn quickly and differently from adults by unconsciously absorbing information from the environment4.
Every early life experience is extremely important. The impressions made on the child’s mind shape and form who they are.
Therefore, your behavior as a parent will affect your children either for the better or the worse, depending on what you do. If you’re intentional about your role as a parent, you can make a big difference in your kids’ lives.
Give mutual respect and freedom of choice
Showing mutual respect and courtesy are also the characteristics of Montessori education. The Montessori method is concerned with the development of academic and social skills, but they also focus on the development of moral and spiritual values. It emphasizes the importance of cooperation, collaboration, mutual respect, trust and love5.
Parents often demand respect from children but don’t show respect for children in the first place. By showing respect to everyone, including their children, a Montessori parent models the true meaning of respect.
Respect can come in many different forms. For example, you can respect a child’s preferences for certain things. We don’t all like the same thing. If it’s not a matter that can hurt anyone, give the child choices. Your child also shouldn’t have to agree with you all the time. So, if they believe their parents have made a mistake, they should be able to raise the issue respectfully without being accused of not obeying.
Discipline combined with logical reasoning and problem solving
Among Montessori’s beliefs was that education could eliminate war through the development of critical thinking, creative problem-solving, and the moral values of responsibility and respect.
People can learn to distinguish right from wrong by analysing and reasoning, so they don’t blindly follow others’ wishes. Problem solving teaches them to find solutions for problems instead of using force and intimidation.
Get the most out of sensitive periods
Discovered by Montessori and confirmed later by neuroscience, a sensitive period is a time when children are sensitive to stimuli. They are more susceptible to acquiring certain senses or skills.
Parents can get the most out of such discovery by exposing children to the proper environment and stimuli to learn new skills.
For example, childhood is the best time for a child to learn a new language7 and master emotional regulation skills8. Immersing children in a speech-rich environment exposes them to the sound, rhythms and grammars of a new language. Creating a positive family climate can help children develop emotional regulation.
Let children learn through play
Montessori believed that children learn through doing and playing, not being given instructions.
Some people think that kids just like to play. They feel that children who play all day don’t learn anything.
But for the child, play is an enjoyable, voluntary, purposeful and spontaneously chosen activity. It can involve learning problem solving, new social skills, new language and new motor skills9.
Play can also take many forms including things like meal preparation, clothing choices, etc. Instead of teaching with lectures or flashcards, parents can use these daily activities to teach everyday life skills.
Nurture self-motivation because children want to learn.
Children are innately curious explorers. They want to explore, discover and learn about the world. It is not necessary to use incentives such as rewards or punishment to make them learn. The process of discovering and learning is a reward in and of itself10.
The best way parents can get children to learn is to provide them with opportunities to explore so they can be exposed to new things and ideas. Make learning a fun activity rather than a chore. Nurture their love for learning intrinsically so that they are self-motivated to achieve in school.
How to adopt this parenting style
Child psychologists Diana Baumrind, Maccoby and Martin discovered that there are four styles of parenting:
- Authoritative parenting
- Authoritarian parenting
- Permissive parenting
- Uninvolved parenting
Among these four parenting methods, authoritative parenting style is the best.
Montessori parents are generally flexible and have a strong sense of respect for their children’s autonomy. They belong to the authoritative parenting style.
According to research, authoritative style consistently produces good outcomes in children across the globe11. Therefore, adopting Montessori parenting style will likely benefit the development of children.
When adopting this style of parenting, parents need to keep the following in mind.
Use common sense
While Montessori believed that children should be given complete freedom to choose and move, she didn’t let them do that in an unsupervised or unsafe environment.
So it doesn’t mean that parents should let children roam around the kitchen and play freely with knives or fire.
Parents must use their judgment and common sense when applying the parenting practices and selecting a safe environment for kids.
No expensive toys needed
Montessori believed that children should have educational toys that helped them learn about the world. Ultimately, she wanted to teach children practical life skills that allowed them to become independent.
That means, anything you can use to help your children handle safely is a good tool to teach. You do not have to give them expensive, elaborate, handmade, wooden toys to let your child benefit from this parenting approach.
- 1.Montessori M. The Advanced Montessori Method. Vol 1. Frederick A. Stokes Company; 1917.
- 2.Montessori M. The Montessori Method: Scientific Pedagogy as Applied Child Education in “The Children’s Houses”, with Additions and Revisions by the Author. Frederick A Stokes Company; 1912. doi:10.1037/13054-000
- 3.Cossentino J. Ritualizing Expertise: A Non‐Montessorian View of the Montessori Method. American Journal of Education. Published online February 2005:211-244. doi:10.1086/426838
- 4.Kundakovic M, Champagne FA. Early-Life Experience, Epigenetics, and the Developing Brain. Neuropsychopharmacol. Published online June 11, 2014:141-153. doi:10.1038/npp.2014.140
- 5.Edwards CP. Three approaches from Europe: Waldorf, Montessori, and Reggio Emilia. 4. 2002;1(1). https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED464766
- 6.Krevans J, Gibbs JC. Parents’ Use of Inductive Discipline: Relations to Children’s Empathy and Prosocial Behavior. Child Development. Published online December 1996:3263. doi:10.2307/1131778
- 7.Oyama S. A sensitive period for the acquisition of a nonnative phonological system. J Psycholinguist Res. Published online July 1976:261-283. doi:10.1007/bf01067377
- 8.Luby JL, Belden A, Harms MP, Tillman R, Barch DM. Preschool is a sensitive period for the influence of maternal support on the trajectory of hippocampal development. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. Published online April 25, 2016:5742-5747. doi:10.1073/pnas.1601443113
- 9.Broadhead P. Developing an understanding of young children’s learning through play: the place of observation, interaction and reflection. British Educational Research Journal. Published online April 2006:191-207. doi:10.1080/01411920600568976
- 10.Deci EL, Koestner R, Ryan RM. Extrinsic Rewards and Intrinsic Motivation in Education: Reconsidered Once Again. Review of Educational Research. Published online March 2001:1-27. doi:10.3102/00346543071001001
- 11.Nyarko K. The influence of authoritative parenting style on adolescents’ academic achievement. AJSMS. Published online September 2011:278-282. doi:10.5251/ajsms.2011.2.3.278.282