Are you researching homeschool methods, trying to find the best method for your family? One that will inspire your children to enjoy learning and become lifelong learners?
It’s a great idea to learn about all of the different homeschooling methods and approaches in order to find the right fit for your family, or to blend them all into something completely unique. What is the Montessori approach to homeschooling?
History of the Montessori Approach
This educational method was developed by Maria Montessori, Italy’s first female doctor. In 1907 she opened the Casa dei Bambini (Children’s House) to provide education to low-income children in Rome, and began testing her own child-centered educational theories in the classroom.
In 1909, Dr. Montessori wrote The Montessori Education, describing her educational process in detail. Her book captured the attention of educators all over the world and over the next two decades, Montessori schools sprang up all over the world. Dr. Montessori became such a popular speaker that she founded the Association Montessori Internationale to provide teacher training in her method to more teachers than she, personally, could reach.
At the same time, a few educators began to criticize the Montessori approach as outdated. Many U.S. educators subscribed to the progressive ideas of educational reformer John Dewey, head of Columbia’s teacher’s college. The detractors caused the Montessori method to decline in popularity and almost completely disappear from the U.S. by 1920.
Luckily, the method has enjoyed a resurgence among educators and Maria Montessori is known as one of the foremost pioneers of education in the 20th century.
What is the Montessori Approach to education?
Dr. Montessori encouraged children to take ownership of their educations. She worked with each child individuallyto create a personalized plan based on that child’s strengths and interests. Children choose their own learning activities and learn through the use of their five senses. Creativity and curiosity are encouraged. Knowledge is internalized in a self-paced and natural way.
Key Elements of the Montessori Approach:
Some of the characteristics of a Montessori homeschool include:
- Child-directed work. Children are encouraged to choose meaningful and challenging work that captures their interests. This leads to increased engagement, intrinsic motivation, and a sense of responsibility. This child-directed work is supported by the design and flow of the Montessori classroom, which is created to ignite each child’s curiosity and to provide the opportunity to work in calm, uncluttered spaces either individually or with peers.
- Use of didactic materials which progress from simple to complex. Beautifully crafted learning materials, specific to the Montessori approach, each teach a single skill or concept. The materials follow a logical progression that allows the child to develop an abstract understanding of a concept.
- Mixed-age learning. Multi-age groupings allow younger children to learn from older children, modeling through observation. Older children reinforce their own learning by teaching concepts they have already mastered, while serving as role models and developing leadership skills.
- Uninterrupted work periods. During the work period, students have time to choose and work through various tasks at their own pace, without interruption. A child’s work cycle involves selecting an activity, performing the activity for as long as they are interested in it, cleaning up the activity and returning it to the shelf, then selecting another activity. The uninterrupted work period facilitates the development concentration skills and independence.
- Use of the senses to discover knowledge. According to Maria Montessori, children develop intelligence through the use of touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound. “The senses, being explorers of the world, open the way to knowledge.”
- Hands-on learning. Instead of memorizing math facts, children count and add concrete materials. They use little objects and a set of wooden letters known as the movable alphabet to learn to read and write.
- Respect for each child’s individual learning style and pace. Because each student’s work is individual, children progress at their own pace.
- Self-regulation. The ability to control impulses and delay gratification are some of the most critical skills for children to learn in order to be successful in learning and in life.
- Freedom of movement. Children are free to move around and explore, and montessori environments are designed with that ideal in mind.
- Intrinsic motivation. This approach is focused on protecting the natural, intrinsic motivation of humans to explore and learn. Research has shown that extrinsic rewards decrease intrinsic motivation and can even negatively impact cognitive function and creativity.
What does the Montessori method look like in a homeschool setting?
While the Montessori approach was originally developed for institutional use, many families have recognized that teaching Montessori in the home has a wide range of benefits. The educational methods of Dr. Montessori, and the key elements of her approach apply to homeschools as well as institutions.
I love the idea of displaying educational tools (toys) on low shelves to encourage their use. I also love the idea of accomplishing learning objectives with manipulatives and then moving on so that learning happens sequentially. I love the minimalistic approach to toys and the strong sense of order encouraged by this method. I love the way children are invited to participate in family life — cooking with real tools rather than playing pretend with plastic tools.
Our neighbors in a previous neighborhood attended a private Montessori school. Their two oldest children were the same ages as my two oldest children, and our kiddos played together a lot, while we moms discussed education. As a homeschooler, I was very interested in the way things happened at their Montessori school.
One of the things that struck me was how individualized things were. My neighbor talked about how the kids each had their own educational plans and her oldest son worked quickly and methodically through each thing on his list, while her daughter, only a year younger, tended to “play with” her learning objectives.
At one point the daughter was working to pass off her numbers to 100, and she’d approach the chart and work on it, then do something else for awhile and come back to it. She eventually passed them off, but it took her a couple of weeks.
My friend was concerned, but the teachers assured her this was something her daughter needed to accomplish on her own, and that her process needed to be respected. The sense of control, confidence and independence her daughter experienced was obvious, even to me.
I tended to be pushy in my style of educating, so that was a revelation.
I also love the Montessori didactive manipulatives, though I probably don’t use them exactly as Dr. Montessori intended. I use them in addition to our math curriculum rather than as stand alone learning materials.
The boards pictured below are used to learn multiplication and division. The materials are great at teaching abstract math concepts in visual, kinesthetic, concrete ways. Montessori tools are a great, low-pressure way to assess understanding.
While I haven’t taken any Montessori training, and have only read a couple of Montessori books, I feel the principles are very valuable and can be of great value to any homeschool. You don’t have to incorporate them all, and you can tweak them to fit your own family — that’s the beauty of homeschooling!
Montessori Homeschool Curriculum
Because Montessori is more of a philosophy than a defined program or set curriculum, any parent can create their own Montessori homeschool curriculum using the recommended materials. Montessori learning tools and resources can be expensive, but they don’t have to be. Check out the resources below and search the recommended Montessori sites in the next section for more ideas.
Montessori Resources for Your Homeschool:
Montessori Homeschool resources from Making Montessori Ours
Ideas, resources and essential information about the Montessori approach to homeschooling.
Free downloads and so much more for Montessori homeschools.
Math Strategies in Montessori
Teachables course for helping parents learn math strategies in the Montessori method.
Affordable, high quality Montessori resources created by a Montessori consultant.
Montessori for Everyone
A carefully prepared environment filled with high-quality, beautiful materials produces children who are curious, independent learners.
A learning kit with activities, sensory components and guidebooks, inspired by Maria Montessori.
My Montessori House
A collection of resources for bringing the joy of Montessori style learning to children everywhere.
Want to Learn More About the Montessori Approach?
The Absorbent Mind: A Classic in Education and Child Development by Maria Montessori
Written by the women whose name is synonymous worldwide with child development theory, The Absorbent Mind takes its title from the phrase that the inspired Italian doctor coined to characterize the child’s most crucial developmental stage: the first six years.
Montessori: The Science Behind The Genius by Angeline Stroll Lillard
This book does an incredibly deep analysis of the current science which has come to light supporting the principles that Dr. Maria Montessori intuitively built into her educational approach and materials.
The Montessori Method by Maria Montessori
This book contains direct transcripts from Dr. Montessori, her observations and theories of early childhood education. It explains the development and background of the Montessori Method, as well as her philosophy, its key elements, and practice of her teaching method. The language is highly technical and it’s plumb full of information, but not the kind of book you can’t put down. If you want to learn from the good Doctor herself, though, this is where you should start.
Teaching Montessori in the Home: The School Years by Elizabeth Hainstock
This helpful, “how to” book adapts the successful Montessori approach methods and activities to a homeschool setting. It’s full of specific examples of how to demonstrate the traditional Montessori materials to your child.
Practical Guide to the Montessori Method at Home by Julia Palmorola
This book is full of practical ideas that are simple to implement at home. It explains a small amount of the Montessori approach, but it mainly describes ways to incorporate the method. I appreciated the list of Montessori materials that were worth purchasing vs. those that were not.
Helpful Blogs for Learning More About the Montessori Approach:
Similarities and Differences Between Homeschooling Methods Comparison Chart
That’s a lot of information in uber tiny print. If it’s too difficult for you to read, feel free to download the Homeschooling Methods Chart pdf.
Which homeschooling method is right for my family?
The best possible advice you can receive from anyone who has been homeschooling for awhile is that you need to create your own unique approach to homeschooling. As you can see from the chart above, the various homeschooling methods have more similarities than they do differences.
Pick and choose the elements you like from each (the eclectic approach), or do something completely different. This is your homeschool. What’s your vision?
Would you like to know more about the other homeschooling methods?
Click the links to learn more about each of the following Homeschool Methods:
Reggio Emilia Approach(also known as project-based homeschooling)
Unit Studies Approach
Do you use the Montessori method, or just elements of the approach? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below!