Practical Montessori for the Modern Home

The title of this post also happens to be the subtitle of the blog. While I hope the sentiment is an undercurrent to all of my posts I decided I could be a bit more direct with what “practical” means to me and my family. The intention of this post is to capture parents like myself who love Montessori ideals and perhaps have children in Montessori school but are overwhelmed by where to start. This post is dedicated to those of us that have no desire to homeschool or those who may feel inadequate when a google search returns magazine quality photos of toddlers concentrating deeply in well-appointed and calming environments.

So where to start? How do I create a Montessori home environment and implement a Montessori-inspired parenting style without spending thousands of dollars and needing Montessori certification? To help answer that question we have to boil down some big picture stuff into practical chunks.

Big Picture One: Montessori is a way of being with children. 

In a school environment Montessori is a curriculum, but more importantly it is a way to interact with children. Montessori is not pink towers and red rods. Montessori in the home, especially, is not “works”. It is the understanding and desire to treat your child with respect and work within his/her developmental limits. I love Merry Montessori’s document on the four planes of development. As a parent I focus in on the “Needs of the …Plane”. I have read and reread the description of each plane in order to gain a better understanding of my children. Armed with this information I can adjust my parenting to meet my child’s needs based in developmental science and not my guesswork. So how might I take this information and use it in a practical way? Practical example: My first plane son, 5 years old, has a developmental need for opportunities to communicate. As a parent I can make sure that when I have a conversation with him it is during a calm time of day with limited distractions so he can focus on both the listening and speaking components of communication. This means that I cannot be distracted with my phone or the needs of my other child. Time and space is all you need to fulfill this need. Other examples about how I have adjusted my parenting with my new 2nd plane kid can be found here and here.

Big Picture Two: A properly prepared environment is more important than what we tell a child when directing his/her behavior.

Montessori is all about structure and order. It may look chaotic but that is because we are used to seeing overt adult direction when it comes to children, particularly verbal direction (“Don’t touch that. Do this.”). The prepared environment is one set-up by adults with development and limits taken into consideration. Practical example: Your child is taking too much at snack time? Reduce the amount offered. They maintain the freedom to help themselves, but within the adult set environment.


Big Picture Three: Fostering developmentally appropriate independence is the primary responsibility of a parent. 

When it comes to Montessori in the home one of the best and easiest ways to foster independence is through every day tasks. This also goes hand in hand with the prepared environment as the environment will allow for the independence. Practical Example: Think about your child’s day from the time they wake up to the time they go to bed. Make a list, in your head or on paper, about everything your child needs to do throughout the day. Travel from room to room as you make your list. For every action that your child needs to accomplish, can they do it themselves with no adult intervention? The goal here is to answer “Yes!” to as many tasks as possible.

Example of a morning for my 5 year old:

1. Wake up and get out of bed- yes, bed is appropriate height for him to get in and out of without help. Also appropriate size (twin) for him to make his bed every day without adult help.

2. Turn on his lights in his room- yes, he can reach his lamp, but no he could not turn on his overhead or closet light, so we added a longer chain to his closet light and we added a light extender to his overhead light. Small inexpensive way to build independence.


A simple tool that has made a difference in my son's independence.

A simple tool that has made a difference in my son’s independence.

3. Get dressed-yes, all of his clothes are in low baskets that he can reach. A place for his dirty clothes is also accessible.

4. Eat breakfast-yes, plates, cups, and pitcher of milk are all in low cabinets, drawers, and fridge shelves. On days when my husband or I don’t cook breakfast, he can access a bowl of cereal all on his own.

5. Pack his lunch for school-yes, explained in detail in this post.

6. Brush his teeth-yes, a sturdy stool helps him gain access to a tall pedestal sink, toothbrush and paste are all within reach.

7. Grab his backpack and out the door-yes, we keep our backpacks on low hooks.

My son can go an entire morning routine taking care of himself and his needs without adult intervention. This leaves time for conversation at breakfast and me feeling less like a task master.

Montessori is not all or nothing. Practical Montessori is about incorporating big ideas in simple and effective ways that create a calmer, happier child and parent.




Montessori Ideas: Growing Literacy the Montessori Way

One of the amazing transformations children go through in the early years, beyond turning from a helpless lump to a functional human, is learning to read. It’s like magic. Watching a whole new world open up as what once was nonsensical shapes becomes words and meaning and order.

One of the many things I love about Montessori is the approach to literacy in all aspects reading, writing, and speaking. It feels familiar and revolutionary all at the same time. What I want to talk about today is ways to support the literacy process at home, not how to homeschool or take on the brunt, but how to play that supplemental piece to the school experience.

Montessori literacy differs from traditional in the variation of the order in which things are emphasized.

The Montessori order of learning literacy: 

1. speaking

2. identifying letters –> immediately followed by phonics 

3. writing

4. reading

Instantly you can see it is both familiar and slightly off from how you or I may have learned to read. The main difference and what has blown my mind as a parent is how soon the sounds of letters are introduced,  pretty much after you know that this is a “B” you will also know that it says “Buh”. The other wonderful difference is the focus on learning to write before you learn to read.  As a Montessori teacher explained to me, writing is a process in which you have to turn sounds (the phonetics you already learned) into letters piece by piece which is actually easier for children to understand than reading which is a process in which you have to take an already constructed word and decode it piece by piece. Construction versus ordered deconstruction. When explained to me that way and with the observation of my own children it makes total sense, particularly in a language that has so many sound blends, rules, and exceptions to those rules.

So, as a parent how can you support this development.

1. speaking

  • Language development and acquisition begins at birth. 
  • Use proper and descriptive wording when talking to your child. Instead of truck it can become the blue garbage truck.
  • When introducing a new word have your child repeat it.
  • Require children to speak in complete sentences as early as possible. “Milk?” becomes “May I have some milk please? ” This takes time and practice and modeling from parents, but once a child is capable of using complete sentences hold them to it!

2. learning letters and phonics

  • Identifying letters is one things that most parents already do, there are great puzzles and toys specifically geared toward this practice. 
  • My two kids mastered letter identification between 12-18 months with little more than putting together a puzzle with mommy or daddy a few times a week on top of practice at school.
  • Once the child can identify the letters totally independently you can begin working on the sounds. The same toys and puzzles can be used. Instead of asking the child, “Can you put the “D” on the puzzle?” you can ask, “Can you put the letter that says “Duh” on the puzzle?”
  • My husband plays a word game with the kids on the way to school: One person chooses a sound and then says a word with that sound. They go around in the car and each person has to say a word that begins with that sound, once it goes all the way around the next person gets to pick a sound. They do this all the way to school which is only a 10 minute drive. It is pretty awesome to watch a three year old think aloud and come up with a great answer “Wuh….wuh…WHALE!”

3. writing

  • Encourage proper pencil grip when coloring or writing. 
  • Starting at 2 you can have your child trace letters and focus on his/her name. Tracing paper is actually hard to come by but I’ve found some at craft stores.
  • Encourage them to write even if it is just gibberish swishes and swirls. I like to ask what it says, you usually get some great answers.
  • Bring writing into practical life, if they can write it on their own then do it! My three year old is just starting to master the writing of his name and now he is responsible for labeling his snack for school everyday. My five year old writes all of her own birthday wishes in cards and has begun to add words to her reflection journal.
This is how my son writes his name at a little over 3 years old. I have a theory that so many boys have horrible handwriting because they wait to long to be introduced to it.

This is how my son writes his name at a little over 3 years old. I have a theory that so many boys have horrible handwriting because they wait to long to be introduced to it.

4. reading

  • Once 1-3 are mastered you will be shocked how quickly reading will be picked up. My daughter started reading three letter words this past summer at 4 1/2 and now a mere 9 months latter can read whole books. I take very little credit for this awesomeness, she has and has had great teachers.
  • Have your little reader read at home every day no matter what. The easiest way to do this is to add a story to your bedtime routine that your child can read to you. With a reader who is reluctant or tired from a full day of reading I find using “you read a page, I read a page” works really well. 
  • Encourage practical reading. My daughter asked what my shirt said, it would be really easy for me to tell her but instead I said, “if you want to know then read it.” This to me is simple but also reflects the idea that reading opens up so much and unlocks mysteries all on your own.
  • Model reading. Grab a good book and get lost in it when your kids are awake and can see you. I’m a big fan, this time of year, of reading my book outside while the kids play.

As a parent you can support your child’s literacy and the classroom process without running out a buying a movable alphabet or other Montessori work. Support and encourage and your child will shock you with how capable they really are.

Adventures in Independence or How My 5 Year Old Can Do Her Own Laundry

Confession Time: I didn’t do my own laundry until I was in college and even then it was only if I couldn’t get home for over a month. I didn’t even know how to do my laundry, I faked it and hoped for the best. I ruined a lot of clothes that way. I also didn’t get my own oil changed until 23, despite having a car since 16. So needless to say, I was not the model of independence. I relied far too much on my parents, especially my dad.

For all of the above reasons, I have been slowly increasing the amount of independence I give my kids. First came the food independence surrounding meal times then came personal upkeep. I don’t want to call them “chores” because I haven’t really assigned them to my kids and they sure as heck are not getting paid to do them, but I can see how some people might call them “chores”. The kids now unload their dishes from the dishwasher daily which was a painless transition from “Come help Mommy unload the dishwasher” to “Please, put your dishes away.”

Laundry started mildly enough, we practiced loading the washing machine, how to add soap, and which buttons to push. With my now 5 year old daughter I was playing a supporting role until recently, now I just watch so nothing gets too out of control. She also puts the clothes in the dryer and takes them out. We are still working on folding and hanging up her clothes, though she is responsible for putting them away even if I fold them. I am looking into getting this the FlipFold Jr. to help both my kids better fold their clothes neatly. I use the big one for my husband and I’s T-Shirts and I love it!

My son, now 3, also loves to help both me and his big sister. For his laundry he is responsible for putting the clothes in the washer, counting the pumps of detergent, and pushing the buttons I tell him to.

Our next big project is to revamp the kids’ closets to better facilitate putting away their own clothes and getting dressed even more independently. Stay tuned for that!

My daughter, with the help of her little brother, loading the washer. Of course, having a front loader is pretty clutch for this type of independence.

My daughter, with the help of her little brother, loading the washer. Of course, having a front loader is pretty clutch for this type of independence.

Montessori Meal Time: A NEW Adventure!

My big thing right now is to push myself to increase accessibility in our home for our kids. Maria Montessori believed that kids are frustrated in a grown-up sized world which leads to more tantrums and the like. We decided to start in the kitchen and give the kids more control over meal and snack times. I also wanted them to begin to pack their own lunches for school. This was actually hard for me to give up because I can pack a lunch in about 2 minutes flat and I had become quite proud of my efficiency. My kids’ independence trumped my pride…this time.

It has only been about two weeks since we made minor changes to where we put things in our kitchen and one minor purchase, but the functionality of the kitchen for the kids has totally changed. They are now able to get all the utensils needed for a meal, pack their own lunches, and access a snack and a drink without any help. This includes my 2-year-old!

So here is a step by step of how we achieved this:

#1 Take all the kids’ stuff and put it in one cabinet in our island. It is low to the ground and both kids and open it and close it. Tim Seldon recommends that you use breakable plates and cups to teach kids more responsibility. If it breaks they will understand they must be careful and learn how to clean up the broken plate. I totally get the philosophy, but seriously? To quote Sweet Brown “ain’t nobody got time for that!”

All the plastic cups, plates, bowls, kid utensils…oh and the blender and some baking supplies. It’s not beautifully organized, but it gets the job done.

#2 Dedicate a space on the lowest shelf of the pantry for kids’ dry snacks and other essentials. In our pantry this shelf is still a little too high for my son to look into the snack basket so we also have a small stool nearby.

Snacks are in individual serving size containers or bags to expedite the lunch process. Cereal, peanut butter, honey, and bread are all on this shelf as well.

#3 Dedicate the lowest shelf of the fridge for kids’ snacks and lunchbox stuff.

All the cold snacks and lunchbox pieces live here. The bin has individual servings of grapes for snacks or lunches and next to that are individual sliced strawberry in reusable cups.

#4 Buy a small pitcher for the kids to pour their own milk and juice. We bought the one we have from Lakeshore Learning. They are for a science classroom, but they are fabulous even for the little one. He does still spill some almost daily, which drives me crazy, but I try to keep my type A frustration under wraps. There is no use getting a tension headache crying over spilled milk.

This is my son pouring his juice for snack today. Yes he is dangerously close to spilling it on the table, but today was a no-spill day!

Play time = Work Time

I was inspired and reaffirmed in my belief in Montessoring (new word) my home, when I read the book “How to Raise an Amazing Kid the Montessori Way” by Tim Seldon. It made me proud that we were already doing many things well and pushed me to go farther.

One of the things we have been doing well is Montessori-style playtime. This is a time when my kids each get a rug, ours were donated by a Montessori teacher friend but you can get a similar one here, and play independently for a period of time. Times when we do this include: when Mommy is making dinner, when Mommy or Daddy is in the shower, and weekend mornings when Mommy and Daddy are not ready to wake up! It looks like this:

This was afterschool one day when I was making dinner. My son is sitting on his mat which is a major sin in a Montessori classroom, but this is home not school and I don’t really care.

Like many with small children, the risk of your home becoming one big playroom is pretty high unless you consciously set boundaries to prevent it. Toys are housed in two places in our home, the family room and the child’s individual room. There is limited space and when that space is full we have to get rid of a toy if we want to get something new. In the family room all toys are tucked away in specific spots that are unassuming or can be closed off.

Puzzle cabinet (open) and under the coffee table bins:

We keep our rugs under the coffee table with the bins that house art supplies. Seldon recommends labeling your baskets, but frankly that sounds like too much work. If I tell my 2-year-old where to put his cars and he puts them away, it is pretty much cemented in his brain. No label needed.

In the kids’ rooms I just bought some cheap shelves from Target. Each bin contains one type of toy. For example, my son has one for cars and one for space themed toys.

When they play, they take the entire basket out so clean up is easier at the end. The kids are responsible for taking out the toys and putting them back and the rule is one toy at a time. We are hardcore about this process and we hold the kids accountable if it doesn’t happen.

This was the easiest aspect of Montessori to implement in our home. The kids knew the expectations from school and it was easily translated to home. If you are looking for a place to start playtime just might be it.

We Didn’t Choose Montessori, Montessori Chose Us.

Montessori education and principles changed the lives of my children and how I parent. Like most life changing things though, it happened unintentionally.

As first time parents, my husband and I knew very little of the urban daycare racket. We, naively, expected to tour a couple of daycares and enroll our precious bundle in the one we felt was the best fit. We had no idea that daycares in urban centers are like Ivy League universities: lots of applicants, small enrollment, long waiting list. Because we had not put our daughter on a waiting list when she was nigh a twinkle in her dad’s eye, we were left with very little options. I toured the clinical daycare with the baby prison cells, I mean, wall cribs. I toured the church basement that could only guarantee her a spot on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The search was exhausting.  I was about to give up when I found a small daycare near our home.

When I toured said daycare it felt very different. They called themselves a school and it was in a converted bungalow.  There were shelves of wooden toys and activities. Children worked quietly on woven mats. At the time I knew nothing about Montessori philosophy. I just knew that I wanted my kid to go somewhere that didn’t freak me out. They said they could take her the following fall. So my daughter began attending this magical place when she was 18 months old. From that day forward I became a full on believer of Montessori.

I loved it because I saw my daughter blossom. She became a tiny independent being that didn’t need sippy cups and could put on her own coat like a ninja. If you’ve never seen a Montessori kid put on a coat, then stop reading and go look it up. Now. It is super awesome and involves flipping the coat upside down.

So now we are super into Montessori for both kids and plan on having them in Montessori schools for the foreseeable future. I made a decision early on to incorporate aspects of Montessori into our parenting and home routines. So that is what this blog is about. It is about how to take Montessori practices and bring them into your home to make parents’ and kids’ lives better. Some of the things we have been doing for years and are tried and true. Others I am just now beginning to implement so you will also see how we put into place these new routines and procedures in our own home. This is not a blog about how to give Montessori lessons at home or how to homeschool your kids the Montessori way. I am not a Montessori teacher. If you are looking for that type of blog there are plenty out there for you, this just isn’t it.

We are a real family that is really not perfect, so I will share what works for us and what doesn’t. I will also show you some of the resources that have helped me along the way and more that have inspired me to go farther at home.

Thanks for stopping by!