10 Montessori Principles for parents

How Montessori is relevant to parents?⁠⠀

Montessori was first a "method of education". Although Maria Montessori didn't want to call her observations a method per se. For her, she had only uncovered the natural laws of development and had been able to provide children with what they needed, hence why they were so eager to learn in her school's environment. ⁠⠀
From early on, Maria Montessori set up to talk to parents, to guide them in their primary role of caregiver to their own children. Whenever she went to train teachers, she also offered a lecture specifically to parents. ⁠⠀
Although they are some specific aspects of the classroom that are not necessary for a home setting, most of what Montessori said is what children, at home need and what parents can apply to raise their children.⁠⠀
I personally go by this list of 10 principles and this is how I feel that we are a Montessori Family!⁠⠀
Watch the video below

So, what are the 10 Montessori principles?

Principle number 1 – Observe your child

Maria Montessori observed children, studied their natural development, discovered the sensitive periods of learning, then created a system of education based on those observations.

At home, you can observe your child to discover what he is interested in: what skills he is working on? what toys does he likes to play with?

One tip would be, go to your child’s level and observe what he sees around him. Can he see through the window or is the window ledge too high? It might be why he wants to climb everywhere as there might be not much to attract his attention at his level. 


Principle number 2 – Inform yourself about the child’s natural development and prepare a home based on your child’s needs

Make yourself familiar with how a child develops. No matter where he is born, or when he is born, a child will develop in the same way, although at his rhythm.

When you are familiar with the sensitive periods and how a child develops her language and gross and fine motor skills, you will know at what development stage your child is at.

You can then take some time to prepare a home for your child. Too often, our house is suited for our adult’s needs, and we only allow our children a tiny corner of the house or a playroom. Make your home safe of course but make sure you allow your child to explore.

child exploring

Babies and young children need to explore. They need to have some freedom to choose their activities. They need to be respected, time to learn, and the right amount of stimulation.

When I talk about needs, it is not to be confused with “wants”.

Quite often, our modern world with media and marketing plots leads us to believe that we “need” something, where it’s more a “want”.

Be mindful of the many objects that are branded as “Montessori” and do your research. Our children are not spared by marketing, on the contrary. You might have heard the sentence “Follow your child” or “Follow your child’s interests”.

You have to be mindful of what kind of interest your child has developed. Does he follow his natural path? Or is he interested in television characters because he is exposed to them?

Principle number 3: Encourage your child to be independent

Maria Montessori used to say that “Little children, from the minute they are weaned, are making their way toward independence”

Our goal as a parent is to raise children who will be the adults of tomorrow. I suppose you will agree with me that those adults should be independent and confident in their abilities. We cannot guarantee that they will be happy but we can give them the tools to become emotionally resilient and, in general, self-sufficient.

To encourage your child to be independent from the start, we need to give them proper tools and opportunities to develop those important practical life skills such as dressing up, taking care of their belongings, preparing a snack, pouring a drink, and much more. They need to have easy access to what they need and they need you to “Help them to do it by themselves”.

dress himself

opportunity snack

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Principles number 4: Provide an orderly environment

This principle goes hand in hand with the previous one of course.

Your child needs to know where everything goes and where to find what she needs. She will thrive in an orderly environment. 

Maria Montessori observed that the child in the first 6 years learns in a very specific way. She said that the child had an “Absorbent mind”.

From birth to around six, your child’s brain works in a very different way than an adult’s brain. At this age, her mind is like a sponge, soaking up huge amounts of information from her environment. She is absorbing everything around her, effortlessly, continuously, and indiscriminately. This is what Maria Montessori referred to as “the absorbent mind.”

Here is how Maria Montessori describes the child’s absorbent mind: the child has a different relation to his environment from ours… the child absorbs it. The things he sees are not just remembered; they form part of his soul. He incarnates in himself all in the world about him that his eyes see and his ears hear.

The development that is taking place during your child’s first six years is enormously important. Children develop 85% of their core brain structure by the time they are five years old. Your child will now build on this core foundation for the rest of her life

There are two sub plans of development: from birth to 3, your child explores without a predetermined goal, he comes upon opportunities. It’s why it’s so important to carefully prepare your home as what he sees, touch, smell, taste, and ear will be part of his soul and will be the basics of his personality.

Then from 3 to 6, the child develops his “will”, his “conscious mind”. He will order, categorise what he has absorbed in the first 3 years. Therefore, he needs an external orderly environment to make sense of the internal chaos of his developing mind.

Note that an orderly house doesn’t have to be a sparkly house. As long as everything has a place, as long as you have a routine and some rituals, you will help your child to make sense of his world.

Principle number 5: Offer a world based on reality

Childhood is quite often associated with fantasy: fairy tales, Santa Claus, super Heroes, television characters, magic…

From birth to 6 years old, the child is a human being in formation. He learns about the world around him. He wants to learn the reality of the world he lives in. The child has an absorbent mind and is not yet capable of abstract thought and the imagination that follows from it. Fantasy and many modern toys, for example, a talking bear, are based on abstract thoughts. Therefore, Montessori advised against introducing children to fantasy too early. By fantasy, we mean animals that pretend to be human beings, in movies and books, fairy tales, and other myths and legends.

The child needs to be grounded in the real world before being introduced to the fantasy world.

Fantasy of course is also the adult’s imagination that we impose upon our children. It’s our story, our legends, and our fictions. By himself, the child without our input, will most likely imitate what he experiences first hand. He will pretend to play cooking, going to the shop, or cuddling a baby with more interest than pretend playing fairies.

In the twenty-first century, it is very difficult to avoid all fantasy. The world around us is full of fiction: advertising on passing buses, television programs, children’s books, and the culture of mass media. When your child is in their infancy you may think ‘why does it matter?’ but from about 3 years old your child will begin to ask questions such as ‘why is the bear talking?’ and ‘where do witches live?’

I experienced it myself with my children and the classrooms I taught to. I found it very difficult to stay honest with children. Sometimes we get trapped in a fantasy world, pretending or lying to maintain a fantasy that our children don’t understand yet.

Avoiding fantasy does not mean a lack of imagination. Maria Montessori encouraged imagination to be based upon reality because until the child is fully formed (brain, body, emotions) everything he learns is part of his reality.

And it’s not only Maria Montessori who said so, a study from 2009 has shown that children by 15 months of age can apply something learned from a picture book to real life, and also transfer that information in the other direction (DeLoach & Ganea, 2009). Another study from 2015 has shown that children prefer realistic stories. A recent study from 2017 has shown that moralistic stories with human characters have more impact than animals characters.

Your child is brand new to this world. He will be first interested to discover the world around him and what he is “naturally” exposed to. So if you go to the farm with your child, explore the animals from the farm in books and toys. If your child has a dog, extend his knowledge by learning about other breeds. Follow his natural interests.

Principle 6: Less is more regarding toys, and rotation is key

Let’s talk about toys. As a Montessori parent, you might be keen to offer the right toys or even to invest in specific Montessori materials.

When it comes to toys, less is more. You probably don’t even need toys, to be honest. Many parents who take this course will first notice some big changes when they de-clutter and pair down the number of toys their children have access too.

Here in the UK, we spend more than £3 billion each year on toys. Surveys have shown that a typical child owns 238 toys in total, yet he only plays with 12 of them. That’s just 5% of his toys.

As explained before, children thrive with order. And fewer toys will help them to order their world.

When children have too many toys available, they are overwhelmed. They cannot make sense of that huge number of toys, and often they will be not able to play. They will also not respect the toys they have, and they will throw, hit, and break them.

They will say that they are bored. They will ask you to play with them because you can make sense of that big mess for them by directing the play. They might even be so overwhelmed that they will cry and lose their cool.

Later in this course, we will learn how to choose a toy, how to present toys and how to rotate them.

Principle number 7: Favor natural material to refine the 5 senses

Children from the minute they are born learn through their 5 senses. A baby explores the world mainly through taste, touch, and smell, the senses linked with feeding. Then vision and hearing still need to improve.

Children between birth and 6 years old are more attuned to their senses than we are.

As a newborn, a baby will recognize her mother’s scent among others. A baby brings everything into his mouth. Therefore, it’s important to provide material that will stimulate his senses.

That is why a plastic toy has less interest than a baby rattle made of wood or fabric. Plastic has no taste, a plastic toy in terms of touch feels the same as another one. They are also lighter than their wooden counterparts.

On the contrary, wood, metal, and various kind of fabrics will bring different kinds of feelings: smooth, rough, grainy, cold, warm, shiny…

If you choose toys made of a material that is either food graded or of high quality, they will be safe for your children.

Children discover the world around them in a very concrete way, through their 5 senses. It’s why it’s so important to give them the freedom to touch and explore.

Maria Montessori used to say that “The hand is the instrument of the brain”. And “the senses, being the explorers of the world, open the way to knowledge”.

The education of the senses is paramount in the Montessori classroom. The Montessori education is well known for the way it helps children to refine their 5 senses with the help of the cleverly designed Montessori material. At home, we can also provide many sensorial experiences. 

Principle 8: Freedom within limit

I am sure you have heard that Montessori is about giving freedom to your child: freedom of movement and freedom of choice. It’s about “following the child”.

You may have the misconception that freedom means allowing the child to do whatever he wants whenever he wants.

You know that you must observe your child and provide a home that suits his needs. You know that your child has an inner drive to be independent and to explore his world. To do so, he needs to be as free as possible.

So yes, it’s not up to us parents to choose everything for our child. We need to consider if we are a hindrance to their urge to grow.

Do we provide time for our children to learn to put on their shoes? Do we provide them with opportunities to try to prepare their snacks? Do we trust them to take care of fragile objects? Or do we shelter them? Do we do things for them because we’re hurried for time? 

However, with freedom comes responsibility and respect for other’s freedom.

Here is an interesting quote from Maria Montessori about freedom: “to let the child do as he likes when he has not yet developed any powers of control is to betray the idea of freedom.”

The young child has not yet developed impulse control and reasoning, therefore we, the parents. have to be the role models and have to provide the limits.

We can give them Freedom, but we also have to give them limits. By carefully preparing the environment, we can generally allow as much freedom as possible.

Limits for the young children are to ensure their safety, the safety of others, and respect for the environment. We keep the limits to be simple and consistent. When the children are growing up, we add some social rules that are important to us. We will discuss those limits during the course.

Principle 9: No rewards and no punishments

Montessori observed that neither rewards nor punishments were effective to discipline children.

Only inner discipline had lasting effects. Inner discipline is nurtured by a sense of responsibility.

When the child is respected, when he is encouraged to contribute by “working” with his hands purposefully, when a child is connected to his parents, he wants to contribute to his family’s life do things for himself. In this situation, very few conflicts arise. 

Natural consequences will teach children about what happens when they are not respectful. If they throw away a fragile object, it will break. If they are not good playmates, their brother will not want to play with them.

What about rewards and praises, then?

It sounds positive, and it feels natural to be proud of our little ones. But your child learns to walk because he has an inner urge to do so, not because you praise him. He wants to learn the letters because he wants to read books. If we praise our children constantly, they start to do things to please us, not because they want to achieve things for themselves. Without realizing it, we start to raise praise junkie children who will become adults who cannot achieve anything without a reward.

Principle 10: Prepare yourself!

Maria Montessori was talking about the Spiritual preparation of the teacher.

Maria Montessori used to say that “The real preparation for education is a study of one’s self. The training of the teacher who is to help life is something far more than the learning of ideas. It includes the training of character, it is a preparation of the spirit.”

The teacher observes the child in the classroom. She is not focused on the current behavior but rather see what the child can become. Her first role is to prepare the environment and to welcome the children with their struggles and emotions.

As your child’s first teacher, you also need to be ready for your child.

This video is a extract of my Montessori Parenting course. It is a self-pace course that you can start anytime.

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About the Author Carine Robin

Carine Robin has a Master’s Degree in Psychology, specialising in child psychology. She worked for various social services in her home country of Belgium, before moving to Ireland in 2006. It was there that she started working in a nursery and discovered Montessori education. After having her first child, her passion for the philosophy grew and she qualified as a Montessori teacher and managed a preschool. Carine has been running a Montessori based parents and toddler group and coaching families for 9 years. She now also runs an online group for over 14000 parents, sharing her knowledge and passion with people from around the world. In 2018, Carine realised families needed more support and launched her popular online parenting courses and monthly subscription boxes, full of personally designed Montessori materials.