A Montessori Approach to Motherhood

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Since before Ransom was born, I have planned to send him to Montessori school. I have had a deep appreciation for the philosophy since I first learned about it, and it just felt right to me to let my child learn and develop in an environment that fosters exploration, play, and self-paced growth. In fact, Ransom was scheduled to start Montessori school this fall, but several life changes came up (including being due with baby #2 in a few months) and we decided that it would be best to keep Ransom home for another year - he would have been starting a year early and 5 days a week of school seems to be more than he is ready for at this point. While this was a little disappointing, I've been comforting myself by planning mini Montessori units that I can do at home with him.

But I am gradually learning that the units are not the most important component of a Montessori education (although they are wonderful and I plan to share some of ours as we work through them). Instead, it really comes down to the philosophy behind a Montessori education.

Maria Montessori said "We discovered that education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being".

In other words, the whole process is child-led. Learning to trust that each child is fully capable of learning, and that the teacher (or parent) is there to gently guide the child's natural learning process rather than dictate how, when, and what the child learns. I'm a little ashamed to say that I'm just learning this with my own child, since I am a mental health therapist with training in child development, but sometimes it takes personal experiences for us to really apply textbook lessons to our everyday lives.

So, we are adopting a Montessori approach to parenthood. Yes, I have fun little units planned to learn about farm animals, numbers, and the alphabet, but more importantly I have been working on being more mindful of following Ransom's lead in his learning process. One area that I have had the opportunity to do this in recently has been with Ransom's love of horses. I know, not something that immediately jump to mind when you think of Montessori. But this has been something that has been relevant and of great importance to Ransom right now, so it has been my focus.


Ransom has developed a real passion for horses over the summer. There is a horse farm down the road from us that we frequently walk down to so Ransom can see the animals. We've been checking out books about horses from the library, playing with horse toys, and pretending to be horses almost non-stop. He's gotten quite good at identifying different breeds of horses and it's really cute (and impressive!) to hear my 2 year-old talk about thoroughbreds, Appaloosas, and Andalusian horses.

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But the thing he wants more than anything is to ride a horse.

So, of course I want to make my little man happy, so I go all out: I take a day off of work and I schedule a horseback riding lesson for him (well, a pony, but still). 

We were both super excited for the day. Ransom could barely sleep the night before and we talked about horsies and how he was going to ride the horse, pet the horse, and feed the horse, the entire 35-minute drive to the stable. We got there and he was happy as a lark, skipping to the barn. 

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And then he saw the pony all saddled up to ride. 

And he wanted nothing to do with it. Didn't even want to pet it. Nothing. 

Of course, my head started spinning. It wasn't so much that I wanted him to ride the pony for me, it was that I knew (or thought I knew) that the minute we left the stable he would realize that he had missed this opportunity and be upset about it, and that just wanted what I wanted for our special day together. Okay, and I really wanted cute pictures of his face lighting up while he was riding the pony. 

So there were a few different options. We could have just left the stable right then, of course. He was scared and didn't want to ride, so why stay? I also could have forced him to ride the pony, knowing that he probably would have enjoyed it once he took the plunge. But neither of these options felt right. Ransom was scared of riding the pony, yes, but he didn't show any signs that he was scared of being in the stable around the horses and ponies, so I felt that leaving would be interpreted as punitive even if that wasn't my intention. And while I knew that he would probably be fine after he got on the pony and started riding, there was also the chance that he would still be scared and feel that the situation was out of his control. I didn't want to do anything that would reinforce his fears. 

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So I asked him what he wanted to do. I chose to trust that he could make that choice on his own and I respected his answer. 

Ransom said that he wanted to walk around the stable and see the horses, so that's exactly what we did. We took our time and went at the pace that he set. We read all of the horses' names and we even pet a few (when Ransom initiated). We discussed riding the pony, but Ransom told me very clearly that he did not want to do that yet, so we just enjoyed the animals from more of a distance. 

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Eventually, Ransom warmed up enough that he asked the instructor if he could take the pony for a walk. She was really wonderful with him, and they walked the pony out to the grass together with Ransom holding her lead. And let me tell you, he thought that he was king of that stable walking that pony around. He was so stinkin' proud of himself. And I realized that he was conquering his fears and achieving personal victories at his own pace, which I trust is much better and more natural than any pace I could impose upon him. 

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We ended up having a wonderful day at the stable together. He was so proud of himself for walking that pony that he talked about it the rest of the day and you'd better believe that we celebrated that accomplishment. He did, in fact, bring up that he hadn't gotten to ride the pony, but he really wasn't upset about it once we talked about it in a respectful manner. He just acknowledged that he wasn't ready to ride yet but that he had done another very important job. We went to the local library and checked out some picture books about horses and continued to focus on all the positives of the day. 

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A few weeks later, we went to a Celtic festival that offered free pony rides. Again, we offered to let him ride a pony and he declined, asking to just look at them. After a few minutes, we walked away. He then asked if he could ride the pony with his papa (grandpa), So we went back over with Papa and he got on that pony without any fear and rode around with a huge smile on his face! By letting him set his own pace and work through his fears in his own way, he was able to successfully fulfill his wish to ride a horse, and that made me a super proud mama. :) 

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There are lots of fun, little (and big) ways that you can begin to incorporate a Montessori philosophy into your household. Here is a list of different ways to get started. Try one, a couple, or all of them! 

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40 Montessori Parenting Tips

1.   Read Montessori: a Modern approach

2.   Embrace the idea that Montessori is a lifestyle and not simply a curriculum preference.

3. Respect your child in each and every aspect of their life.

4. Give them room for freedom of movement and to explore their physical environment.

5. Always give them choices – these choices may be small and seem irrelevant to you, but giving them this freedom builds independence (and reduces power struggles).

6. Invest in stools so that children can reach cabinets, shelfs, and sinks.

7. Practice living simply. This includes trying to stick to simple, natural toys that encourage children to use their hands and their brains.

8. Teach independence and trust in your child’s innate abilities. They are not mini-adults who can do everything for themselves, but they are also not entirely helpless. Observe them and notice where they excel and where they struggle and let that guide how you help them help themselves through difficult situations.

9. Make it a habit to observe your child for 5-10 minutes a day. Do not intervene or give directions (except to keep the child safe, of course), simply observe what your child does and see what you can learn about them from this time.

10. Communicate with your child. Take the time to explain things, answer their questions, and have real conversations. Do not talk down to them or only talk when correcting them, but instead have real, respectful conversations with them that increase their communication skills and build their vocabularies.

11. Read up on positive discipline and respectful parenting.

12. When possible, teach by modeling an appropriate response rather than correcting an inappropriate one.

13. Hang coat racks at your child’s level.

14. Give your child space to hang up his/her own coat and put on and take off his/her own shoes.

15. Establish a daily routine with your child, while giving them freedom of choice within that routine.

16. Practice practical life activities and invest in child-sized objects so your child can work independently. Remember that these activities are about exploring the environment, completion of a work cycle, and developing independence.

17. Consider investing in a faucet extender.

18. Use real, concrete objects whenever possible to provide your child with a hands-on learning experience. When this is not feasible, try to use pictures of real objects (i.e. avoid cartoons).

19. Encourage a love of reading. Read to your child often and ask them to read to you. At two-years old, my son can’t really read on his own but he enjoys looking through his picture books and making up stories to tell me. Establish a family reading time and use any opportunities to point out sounds and words around you.

20. Go outside. Often. Take sensorial activities outside. Teach math outside. Allow your child the independence to explore the outdoors and feel comfortable in nature.

21. Cook with your child. Ransom has been cooking with me since he was able to sit up on the counter. He measures and pours everything into the bowls and loves mixing. We talk through each ingredient and the measurements and I trust that he absorbing this information at a pace appropriate for him.

22. Travel with your child. Give them opportunities to explore new environments and make new discoveries.

23. Focus on the sounds of letters rather than on memorization.

24. Get down to your child’s level when you talk to them.

25. Practice mindfulness. Give your child a chance to experience silence and enjoy it with them.

26. Remember that no two children are alike and accept that. Do not push your child to do something before their peers and do not hold them back from things that seem too advanced for their age, but instead accept exactly where they exist on the educational spectrum.

27. Incorporate yoga into your daily routine with your child. Try a fun yoga video geared towards children.

28. Garden with your child. If possible, give them their own plot of land that is their responsibility, in which they can experience how plants grow.

29. Sing together! Even if your singing voice isn’t the best, singing helps children develop a sense of rhythm, is a fun way to learn new things, and creates positive family routines and memories.

30. From as early an age as possible, assign age-appropriate chores for your child and use these as learning opportunities. Make sure that they have the appropriate tools for these tasks (child-sized broom, mop, dust pan, etc.). Count things while completing these tasks. Practice sorting. Engage in conversation and build their vocabulary.

31. Laugh with your child, but refrain from laughing at them.

32. Help your child to develop a sense of the time by keeping a calendar marking days of the week and month, along with special holidays. Discuss this regularly with them. Have conversations about upcoming events so they know what to expect and develop a sense of time passing (e.g. “In 5 minutes we are going to leave the playground”).

33. Allow your child to get dirty when exploring. Sometimes this is when the best discoveries happen!

34. Refrain from doing something for your child that they can do for themselves.

35. Allow your child to speak for themselves rather than answering for them. Remember that it is also okay if your child chooses not to speak for themselves.

36. Learn to be patient. This is a part of allowing your child to develop at their own pace – do not push a task when your child is showing signs that they are not ready to learn it quite yet.

37. Learn to apologize to your child when you make a mistake. This demonstrates to them that adults make mistakes too and that it is okay to admit to them and take steps to make things better. It also models the behavior that you want from your child.

38. Take the time to tell your child what you like about them and what you value in them. Help them to identify and voice what they like and value in others.

39. Teach your child about their emotions by giving names to them, discussing them, and modeling how to appropriately cope with them.

40. Enjoy life together, be playful, take every opportunity to teach them using things in your surroundings, and give them your unconditional love!