Montessori Minute ~ Bare Essentials

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This is a guest post written by John Bowman, author of Montessori at Home!


Montessori Bare EssentialsIf you have a Bachelor’s degree, a year off, and $ to spare, you can take a Montessori teacher training course and learn everything you want to about Montessori. The sheer quantity of books, papers, and other work Montessori created during a lifetime dedicated to children is incredible. It takes awhile to wade through, much less grasp thoroughly.

Photo: Toddler Approved!

There is a ‘secret’ about Montessori, though, that programs charging big bucks to train teachers don’t talk about much. Since I’m a huge advocate for parents, however, I’m happy to tell you:

Doing Montessori with preschoolers is simple

Montessori did all the heavy lifting of creating a completely new way of looking at young children that changed everything all over the world. Then, she created the first Prepared Environment. Like many jewel-like things of beauty, this practical application of her work is wonderfully simple. Don’t think so? Let me explain every Montessori preschool in 9 sentences:

A clean, bright, attractive area is furnished with sets of low shelves and child sized tables and chairs. There are flowers and works of art, and everything is aesthetically pleasing and organized. On the shelves are a huge variety of interesting, self-contained materials for the children to use. They move freely, making their own choices about what they want to work with and whether to work alone or with other children. The children set out rugs and mats to create work areas, and then bring materials to their work areas to use. When finished, they put the material back in the same spot on the shelf where they found it. The children follow a few simple rules that encourage them to respect each other and share the space and materials constructively. A teacher wanders among them, demonstrating materials, guiding children as needed, and working with children individually or in small groups. The atmosphere is busy, rich in opportunities for all kinds of fun work, and the children largely manage themselves.

It’s like free play on steroids. Free play in traditional preschools, like many things we do with preschoolers (except digital learning), had its origins in the Montessori Prepared environment. The big ‘secret’ about Montessori is that her work fills volumes, but the practical application of all her work – the Prepared Environment – is easy to understand. All those materials on the shelves are easy to understand as well. They are for preschoolers, after all!  There are a lot of them in all the different areas because Montessori followed a simple rule:

The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences.”

She summed up her approach this way:

“An interesting piece of work, freely chosen, which has the virtue of inducing concentration rather than fatigue, adds to the child’s energies and mental capacities, and leads him to mastery.”

Montessori Bare Essentials 2Rather than have adults decide what the children should do every day (lesson plans), Montessori put out it all out there at once in the form of self-contained materials the children could choose from and use on their own whenever they liked, following a few simple rules that taught them to exercise their freedom with responsibility to others.

Photo: Flower arranging at Discovery Moments

Montessori trusted life to unfold in an intelligent, optimal way if given the chance. She followed children as they grew according to nature, rather than trying to control the process as most forms of education do. Montessori let children follow their universal inner passions to absorb, learn, grow, and know. The result? Children who by the age of six read and do math at what public school calls a second to fourth grade level, without pressure or stress, in an environment filled with joy and discovery. These children also develop excellent brain architecture, a positive and confident self-image, and a true love of learning. Not bad! Parents can do many of the same activities found in Montessori schools right at home. You can make most of your materials yourself and buy others. Here are a few core points to remember to help guide your home Montessori adventures:

Encouraging spontaneous concentration and focused attention is the heart of Montessori. The materials are vehicles for this. Concentration creates self-disciplined children who are calmer, happier, and more satisfied with life; and who can learn anything more easily.

Start with Practical Life and Sensorial materials. Work in Science, Math and Reading as your child shows interest.

Try a wide variety of materials. Observe to see what materials your child spontaneously focuses her attention and concentration on, and wants to repeat over a period of time.

Keep these materials out on low shelves for your child to use when he likes. When a material no longer attracts his interest, take a picture of it and put those in a little box on the shelf. Switch the material out for one he is into concentrating on now. The pictures help your child remember each activity in case she wants to repeat them.

Not so complicated. It really is quite fun when you get into it. Parents are very capable of creating excellent Montessori style experiences at home. Montessori just makes sense. Montessori materials free the adult from having to be the center of attention and the source of all knowledge. Children ‘auto-educate’ with Montessori materials simply by using them.


Montessori bare Essentials 3Like a Montessori teacher, your job becomes helping maintain your child’s materials in a nice condition, suggesting and making new materials, and demonstrating or working with your child as needed. Your child’s work will increasingly be independent. You can focus more on reading together, playing outside, doing art projects, and just having fun. Photo: Touch Basket, Montessori At Home!

Montessori bare Essentials 4Start small, with one or two materials a week. The Quick Start Guide in Montessori At Home! shows you how to get started the same day you download the eBook. As you and your child become comfortable, add more materials that your child shows interest in. Let him look through the eBook with you to find them, and help shop for supplies to put materials together.

Photo: Color sorting at Family Go Simple

With a small investment of about half what you would otherwise spend on disposable plastic toys over 2-3 years, your time, and your love, your child can have many of the same benefits of a Montessori school.

© 2013 John Bowman

The new Third Edition of Montessori At Home! was released in March 2013. It has 512 pages of guidance, how-to information, descriptions of over 300 early learning materials and activities, recommendations for over 225 digital tablet apps for preschoolers, 76 pages of free printables, and a copy of the eBook, Mom Bloggers Talk Montessori. $10.95 at Montessori At Home!,

My thanks to John for writing this extensive article for us here at 1+1+1=1! I invite you to ask him any questions you may have in the comments below and he can hopefully answer them for you. If you have an article you hope he will write for us in the future, please let us know in the comments also! Be sure to let him know if this article was helpful-we all love encouragement, right?

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