Don’t do those 3 Montessori mistakes!

3 Common mistakes parents make when implementing Montessori

If you are new to Montessori, you might be doing those “mistakes”.

Montessori has become very popular and has become synonymous with many trends on Social Media: shelfie, sensory bins, must-buy Montessori items!

In many FB groups, it’s recommended as the method to help your child becoming independent and seen as the key to the Holy Grail that is independent play!

So let’s see in details 3 common mistakes and what you should expect and do instead.

Too much emphasis on the shelf and shelf activities.

As Montessori is very visual, on Social Media, it seems that it’s all about the shelf!

I talked about why I’m against the Montessori shelfie here. And why it’s not what your toddler needs here.

Although babies and toddlers benefit from having their toys on view, it doesn’t mean they will use the works on the shelf in the same way that a preschooler would.
Young children explore and tend to mix up their toys. They don’t generally take a toy to play with it at the table. They work where they find the toys or activities.

A Montessori shelf looks great on a picture and it’s important for children to see their toys. But don’t expect your child to use the shelf activities like he would in a classroom.

The shelf activities are part of the Montessori philosophy, but the philosophy is not limited to activities on tray. At home, your child will develop skills by working alongside you, cooking, baking, sorting the laundry and so on… He will have typical Montessori activities on tray and maybe some materials but also classic toys, open-ended toys and he will play with random bits and bots. Your Montessori inspired home is not a Montessori classroom.

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Buying and making activities without observing first

Montessori is trendy and Montessori families are not immune to consumerism.

While they are great products that are Montessori friendly, I urge you to first observe your child.

What do your children play with the most? What skills are they working on? What do they struggle with? What are their interests?

Then, based on your observations, choose toys and activities that you think they will like. It’s always a trial and error and no matter how great the new “activity” is, your child is the one who will decide if they like it or not.

More about how to observe your child here.

Expecting independent play too quickly

When I started offering Montessori activities to my daughter, I had that idea that she would play for hours, and I would be able to read my book next to her.

I was wrong! Focus and concentration take time to develop. By allowing your child to play as long as she wants with a specific activity of her own choosing, you will allow your child to develop a longer concentration span. It’s also a skill that develops with age. You cannot expect the same level of concentration from 2 years that you would expect from 7 years old.

Maria Montessori explained that only when the hand is free, the child can start to concentrate. Before that, your child is focusing on gross motor skills. In other words, babies and toddlers will be on the move and constantly moving while playing because they have not mastered yet how to walk, how to carry things while walking, how to jump, squad and so on. While they are more in control of their body, then they’re going to start focusing and being more able to complete an activity allowing you to sit down for 10 minutes.

Learning skills to become more independent also takes time. You might set up your house to allow your child to dress up independently, but they will take a few months or even a few years to master all the steps allowing them to dress up independently.

Children also want to connect and stay connected with us. Sometimes, if they don’t want to carry on a skill that they have previously mastered, it’s because they want to be taken care of. I remember carrying my 4 years old down the stairs every morning during his last year of preschool. He was well able to walk. But in the morning, after waking up, in the rush of getting ready for nursery, being carried was his way of cuddling me and asking for attention. Resisting that need led to tantrum and more fights along the way. Allowing him to have that “baby behaviour” was making our morning go smoothly.

So, keep preparing your house for independence but don’t expect too much too quickly.

A few tips to encourage independent play:

  • make sure you connect before playtime. Both my children enjoyed playing independently after we had a good time together. So first, I would play with them a board game or read them a story then I would say “we have read a story so now I need to do this, go and play with your doll’s house”.
  • Don’t make your child play away from you. Many parents try to make their children play in a playroom or away from them when they cook dinner. A quick fix is to have an activity ready for them at the kitchen table while you cook. Young children need to be physically close to their parents. They don’t necessarily want you to play with them, but they do like to be in the same room as you.
  • Give them playmates: if you have only one child, you will be their playmates. It can still be difficult right now (as I’m writing this post and, in many countries, various lockdown rules still apply) but if you can, organise playdates and meet friends in park or in playgroups. Your child will be more likely to play by himself after a good chunk of play with friends.
  • Make sure the play area encourages independent play: if your child requires your help to access toys, or to understand how to play with some toys, it’s likely that he will ask for your help. Make sure the activities are easy to play with when you have to busy elsewhere.
  • Some children like the company because they like the chatting. See if listening to a story or to music help your child. I like to have the Yoto playing in the background for the podcast, relaxing music, kids’ radio and story time.
  • Some activities encourage more focus than other. Find the one that captivates your child and keep it for when you need some time for yourself (either to drink your tea or when you need to write an email, cook dinner, …). For us, it was playdough and stickers. I used to set up a table with one of these activities at around 4pm in order to allow me to prepare the dinner.
  • Rotate the activities just before “independent” play. If there is something new (or new for them), they are more likely to play longer.

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I hope this blog post was reassuring, and now you can avoid those 3 common mistakes!

Let me know in the comments what you think!

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.

  • Sarah says:

    Loved this post. Can I add that if the child attends a Montessori School, to not have Montessori works on the shelf? Without the correct presentation at home, works are often misused in the classroom. Also, if the child has the materials at home, the classroom isn’t as exciting.

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