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What is Montessori?

Written by Almudena Santalices

Montessori teacher and mamma

I am guessing you might have heard about it, I am not sure if what you have heard is true or if it is scientific or not. I tend to find that most people have learnt half-truths about this method, and most of them are myths. This article will try to give you as many explanations as possible about what this Method is about and why as a practitioner and as a parent, I believe so much in it.

Montessori is a very broad world of explanations, and there is probably no specific way of explaining it. I myself had a wrong opinion of it when I first encountered it about a decade ago. I thought that Montessori meant children could do whatever they wanted in such freedom that they would become wild. In reality, children choose an activity they want to work with, if they don’t know how to use it, a teacher will be there to present it to them, to show them how to use it and if needed repeat it as many times as the child wants. This takes place in a controlled environment and they work in a responsible way. A Montessori environment has rules and a specific routine that the children understand and are happy to follow because they understand the reasons behind it.

Maria Montessori believed whole-heartedly in the importance of freedom to move, to explore and to be independent. From their first weeks of life babies shake and kick their arms and legs to make sense of their body, to know where it starts and where it ends. One of the things children love to do is move. They love it because it gives them freedom to explore, to do things by themselves, they are not dependent of someone to bring them something that they want.

Between the ages of one and a half and two and a half, children have a need to develop independence. This independence goes hand in hand with freedom. It is quite normal to hear a child say “I do it, I do it”, and it is our job to let them. This need for independence translates to their need to learn simple tasks, that we call Activities of Everyday living. Tasks such as pouring water, using a spoon, sweeping the floor, brushing their teeth, putting their coats on, or their trousers. All these activities require the use of hands, by repeating these activities they are forming their minds, they are working on exactness, they are being meticulous and building their concentration.

Something that I get asked many times by parents is how do we deal with melt-downs. I would like to say that I have an easy answer and that it is easy to do. But I can’t. We are not perfect, Montessori new that, we all know that, and tantrums and melt downs happen all the time. Why do they happen? Usually because the child does not know how to show, say or express what they want and they get frustrated. I will dare to say that they are frustrated with themselves as much as they are frustrated with the person they are having the melt down with. How to solve them? Again, there is no easy answer. Each tantrum has a reason. The best way to deal with it is with positive behaviour.

What is positive behaviour?

This behaviour starts from a base of mutual respect and trust between each parent and his child, as well as between the child and the caregivers, by respecting children as individuals and responding to their needs accordingly. Some approaches of positive language:

  • Try to give your child a positive alternative: it is time to go out and your child is refusing to put his shoes on. First explain to the child: “we need to put our shoes on, we are going out” (if there is a specific place you are going to tell him). If he still doesn’t want to put shoes on, try to make the situation simpler, give him two options: “which shoe do you want to put on first? this one (point to one) or this one (point to the other one)”, or “the left one, or the right one”.

  • Give time to your child to process what you have asked: as an adult sometimes we forget that we need time to do tasks. For us putting our shoes on is easy, we do not need to think about it, it comes almost naturally to us. Sometimes you will have to repeat yourself several times, repeat it slowly so he can have time to process what you are asking.

  • Try not to ask a question you don’t want an ‘NO’ answer to: “Let’s go put our shoes on”, “it is time to put our shoes on”.

I hope this little tips and thoughts have helped you and give you confidence in your own parenting journey. I am of the believe that we are all doing our best for our child/ren and families.

If you would like more information and maybe join one of our courses for early years teachers (Professional development) and parents, starting in November.

Head over to our Facebook and Instagram accounts @StartMontessori.

We are based in Edinburgh and offer courses both in person and online.


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