The Montessori Method Explained. Is It Just an Affluent Trend?

“Montessori” is a phrase circulating the parenting sphere more and more, but what does it really mean? The Montessori Method stems from Maria Montessori and her ideology stems from a few very basic principles that applies to toys, play, and behaviors all throughout everyday life. Without getting too deep, we wanted to share some simple examples of what Montessori looks like, as well as some things I’ve learned since implementing the practices in our home. 

Some basics include: 

  • Respecting the child’s autonomy in play and daily tasks
  • Preparing the child’s environment 
  • Following the child’s interests and skills
  • Cultivating independence in play and in learning, 

All with an emphasis on hands-on tactile experiences in play and everyday life. 

Toys & the Play Environment

The simplest explanation to describe Montessori toys is, “Have toys. Not too many. Mostly wood.” Typically 4-8 toys are displayed on a shelf in an inviting way so that the child feels welcome to explore and play with them. The play area should be a “yes” space – somewhere that the child can be on their own and be free from anything dangerous. Here’s a few more Montessori principles on toys:

  • Aim for quality – Montessori values durability, which usually means wood, but not always. Some claim that wooden toys teach a valuable lesson on density i.e. bigger toy = heavier toy and vice versa. However, other Montessorians claim that when Maria Montessori was teaching, plastic didn’t exist and that Maria Montessori would have loved Legos- so do with that what you will. 
  • Less is More – Montessori playrooms or classrooms might be a stark contrast to many of the bright, busy and colorful ones we’re used to seeing. The goal for both content and color is not to overwhelm or overstimulate the child with songs, lights or color. 
  • Teach One Skill – Many wooden toys out there teach multiple skills i.e. a lock box. This would not be considered Montessori. Montessori toys are meant to let the child focus on one task or concept at a time.
  • Picked with Purpose – If you notice your child is loving pulling the toilet paper roll, maybe you place a rainbow spinner on their shelf. If they are loving balls, maybe add a ball drop to the shelf, etc
  • Rotate Toys – Toys can be changed based on the child’s interest. When one toy isn’t being played with, put out another option. When one toy is mastered, move on to a slightly more challenging version of the same toy. This is also beneficial because old toys can be brought back into the rotation. Once a toy has been put away for a couple weeks, the child will get to explore it again as if it were brand new.

The de facto Montessori toy flavor of the moment are Lovevery’s play kits which are basically pre-designed toy boxes based on age. While trendy, in our experience they actually are extremely helpful and do help develop skills including object permanence and spatial awareness at early ages.

Home & Kitchen

The goal is to adapt your adult-sized home to help give them as much independence as possible. Allow your child to help and learn everyday tasks such as unloading the dishwasher, putting away toys, or assisting in meal preparation. As far as environmental adaptations- Maria tried to make sure furniture, silverware, etc. was child-sized, she even put artwork at the child’s level. Here’s some other examples you can do for your child:

  • Add a learning tower to your kitchen counter to allow the child to be on your level and see what’s happening. This can make them feel included in family time and kitchen tasks.
  • ChildSized and Accessible – Ideally you want the child to be able to do most tasks you can do without help. Montessori-raised toddlers can often dress themselves and prepare simple meals and snacks on their own. 
    • Small table and chairs are encouraged for eating meals instead of high chairs
    • Clothing in low drawers or wardrobes so the child can put away and pick out their own clothing
    • Child height mirrors, coat hooks, benches to sit on for shoes- anything that gives them more independence in hygiene tasks.
    • Child-sized brooms, dust pans, and vacuums so they can clean up on their own.
    • Functional Kitchens – some Montessori-inspired parents go as far as to convert play kitchens (Like the IKEA Dutkig kitchen) into fully functional kitchens – complete with running water, child-safe knives, snacks, and cutting boards, as well as supplies to clean up after themselves in the case of a mess. 
  • Floor Beds – Maria Montessori had babies sleep on floor beds (basically just a mattress on the floor) which allowed the baby to leave their bed and explore their safe bedroom whenever they wanted. Some parents still do this, but it’s not recommended by the AAP. 

Why We Love It

I want to emphasize that this is all truly just a snapshot. There is so much more behind the Montessori methodology at home, in classrooms, and learning environments that I haven’t even touched on. If it’s something that interests you, I would highly recommend reading up on it. The goal of this article is to just give you some real tactical examples to get the vibe of what the Montessori method’s purpose looks like in everyday life. 

I would also like to put out a massive disclaimer that I am far from an expert on the topic – I take all that I have learned from the topic of Montessori and adapt the parts that I like and leave the parts that I don’t. For example, our playroom is full of wooden toys that I rotate every so often. But the playroom is pretty brightly colored too. Why? Because I like it. The space feels happy. I don’t stress about it being monochrome. I’ve also been having my 17 month-old wipe up the mess when he throws his sippy cup. Does he actually get it clean? No. But he knows that when there’s water on the floor, he needs to wipe it up. I love that the Montessori method taught me that my 17 month old is capable of understanding that. I would’ve never thought to do that from this age alone. 

Overall, that’s what this methodology has taught me that my child is so much more capable than I ever realized. Every time he masters a toy or a task, he beams with pride and confidence. And every time I watch him tenaciously try to figure out a toy- with much more patience than I would ever have- I’m the one beaming with pride and confidence. He loves learning and discovering this world- both the process of learning and that actual discovery. As an adult, I feel I’ve lost a lot of love for the process. I’m a results driven, box-checking, stick-to-what-I-know kind of person. I’ve mastered most of what I want to master. Applying the Montessori method in our home has helped prevent me from passing some of that on to my kiddo, and it’s so fun to watch his mind blossom everyday because of it.

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