Thursday, August 1, 2013

All about Montessori: Part 3 and Recommended Resources

Part 1: Four Planes of Development
Part 2: The Prepared Environment

For those who missed Parts 1 and 2, this is a set of notes I took at a Montessori workshop in March.

My disclaimer: nothing expressed here is my own opinion. I didn't write this material, just copied it down, and I don't necessarily agree with all of it. Discussion is welcome, either over email or in the comments.

Also, there's a list of recommended resources at the bottom. Feel free to skip right on down there.

p.s. Sorry the spacing is so weird... copying from Microsoft Word is hard, and I finally gave up!

Audio version of this talk: Talk 3: Development of the Will

Talk 3: Development of the Will

-Instead of pacifier, Montessori recommends using a “teething ball”

·      Keys of Environment: Beauty, Order, and Simplicity

-Most important part of prepared environment is beauty

            *Montessori said, “The child is instinctively drawn to real beauty.”

-Artwork and objects in child’s home should be beautiful, should be from the masters. “Rich food, but not too much of it.” Good quality items, a few, well chosen.

·      Needs of Child in Prepared Environment

1.     A place of their own—their own bed, very close to parents.

a.     Marriage bed is sacred, but child can be near.

b.     Don’t build habit of child in your bed.

2.     Floor bed with mirror nearby, progression of mobiles, and a shelf with toys and books.

a.     See Michael Olaf website for ideas

b.     Montessori recommended “No more than 3 toys at a time on their shelf.” Rotate them out.

3.     Nursing chair for mother

a.     Moves out when baby is weaned

4.     Closet: a low bar for clothes and a place to put shoes.

5.     Changing table in the bathroom

a.     This teaches them that this is something done in the bathroom

b.     First try them on toilet at 6–7 months

c.      At 9–10 months, they will want to see what you’re doing: welcome them in.

6.     Small table and chair (also called weaning table and chair) in kitchen.

a.     Sturdy: will last through 9 or 10 kids.

b.     They can work there.

7.     Learning tower in kitchen so they can work at the counter

8.     Nesting things and dishes in cabinets that they can use

a.     At 15–18 months, they are really into nesting

9.     Outside time. Not enough can be said about this. It’s crucial.

10. Drink from a small glass (shot glass is great) starting at 5–6 months, with water

·      Attitudes

-“Cultivate a friendly feeling for error.”

*Stop bad behavior immediately. This is anything disruptive to the community: hitting, biting, unkind language.

*“We ought not to raise children with rewards, punishments, and praise for their work. Instead, build relationships.”

*But, don’t correct a child’s attempt at work. You could mess up their initiative and desire to help. (Story of a little toddler boy who saw his mother take the broom and sweep again where he had just swept—he was very hurt and wouldn’t touch the broom again for months.)

-To empower children, give them two good choices: “Do you want salt or butter on your broccoli?” or “Would you like me to take you off the table or would you like to get yourself down?” etc.

            *They need clear limits.

-The child is “a raging river trying to get back to God.” He needs two banks, two clear limits—the parents.

-Rewards are more damaging than punishments. They appeal to lowest part of child’s nature. It’s controlling and manipulative.

*Don’t say “good girl,” “good boy”: that’s not Catholic language. Our existence is good, not our actions. Say, “Thank you. I appreciate that.” But don’t praise them for doing what they should be doing. They can get addicted to praise, to the point that they can’t do a thing without adult approval.

-Words of affirmation are good when not tied to actions. Say things like, “You are a gift. We wanted you for so long. We had no idea the gift God had in store for us.” But this affirmation is because of who they are.

*You can rejoice in their big accomplishments, but not over every little thing. That would get exhausting!

-Let them work in peace: don’t break their focus with verbal praise.

-Grandparents and family are open to learning about Montessori if you present it kindly. Open with, “Guess what we learned…”

-Instead of thanking child for being nice to someone, point out the effect on that person: “That really made her happy,” “Did you see how he smiled when you said that?” etc.

-Don’t force child to say “sorry” or “thank you.”

*Contrition and gratitude are internal movements of the soul. You can teach these things and model them for your child, but don’t force it.

*They will learn from your spirit of gratitude and your expression of sorrow on making mistakes, and with time, they will own it.

-Make sure child has plenty of alone active time, time for exploration and movement.

            *Allow for sensorial experience first, then add words.

*Model an action (putting on socks, sweeping with dustpan, etc.) and then let them do it.

-Don’t come behind and correct his work. It destroys his love of work itself.

-Limitation of materials: too many “things” disrupts his concentration and makes it hard to keep order.

-At some point in the day, offer child the chance to put each room back in order. Do it with them, and break it down into one step at a time.

·      Catechesis of the Good Shepherd

-We don’t need to teach the child under 6 the Old Testament. They need Jesus, that He has called them by name, and that he wants them to live with Him.

-Focus on the Good Shepherd who has called them by name.

-We don’t use a children’s Bible; we don’t dumb down the Word of God. Use the best-quality translation you can find.

-When little one wants to receive Communion, tell them to ask Jesus to come into their heart.

-Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is more for the adult than the child. Just give them God’s word, and then tools for meditation and contemplation.

*Several Missionaries of Charity came to visit the Montessori school in Virginia, and after spending several hours in the Atrium with the toddlers, one of the sisters said, “I’ve just seen Heaven.”

-By age 3, a child can tell whether Mass is something we just fit into our schedule or the high point of our day.

-Mass is a celebration and is sacred. Teach about the Mass both before and after it takes place, but not during Mass. Children will participate in their own way.

Further reading: works of John Taylor Gatto

Further reading: Montessori from the Start and The Science behind the Genius

-A well-run Montessori school is more Catholic than traditional Catholic school.

Recommended Resources

Referenced Works:

The Child in the Church

Catechesi Tradendae

Evolution’s End

The Secret Life of the Unborn Child

Works of Dr. Michel Odent

What's Going on in There? and Pink Brain Blue Brain

Last Child in the Woods

Unconditional Parenting

Failure to Connect

Dumbing Us Down

Montessori from the Start

The Science behind the Genius

This article about the importance of crawling.

My friend Dean, who attended the conference with me, sent over this amazing list of recommended reading from the loveliest blog.

I've also enjoyed this little blog post series on homeschooling with the Montessori method. 

Whew! This has been quite the review. I hope you enjoyed it (or at least didn't mind it too much) and maybe even learned a thing or two. Thanks for following along!

Do you have any favorite Montessori blogs, books, or other resources to share?


  1. I have re-visited these posts since I now have my own child and I am looking for Montessori-related books, ideas and inspirations. Do you recommend any books you may have found useful? And I am curious...are you actually applying Montessori principles with Frankie?

    1. Hi Lilian, thanks for your comment! To be honest, my first thought when I read your question was, "LOL no." We don't follow all that many of these points, mostly for practical reasons - for example, I can't have his changing table in the bathroom, because we have a tiny bathroom with no space for that. We also co-slept with him until he was 2, use sippy cups rather than a weaning cup, don't have a child-size table and chair in our home, never used a floor bed, don't have a learning tower, etc. I think these are all great things to do, but we lacked the space or had other practical reasons that prevented us from doing them. On further reflection, however, I think that we have done a pretty good job of following the "spirit" of Montessori - that is, respecting the dignity of children and valuing their work and contributions - even if we have not followed the "letter" of it very thoroughly. We have an orderly, beautiful environment in our son's room, and he is encouraged to pick up after himself, assist me with cleaning, and help with cooking in the kitchen (standing on a chair at the counter, next to me). We also work hard to cultivate his love for God, in various ways like teaching him about the parts of the Mass, praying together daily, and telling him stories about Jesus. As I have become a mom, I am much less concerned about following every particular of a Montessori environment, and much more interested in following the best piece of advice from the speaker who gave this Montessori workshop - she said, "You can make every mistake in the world, as long as your child knows he or she is loved." I try to really know and love my child, and not care overly much about not being able to provide him with every aspect of a Montessori environment. Hope this helps!

    2. Dear Tess, Thank you so much for your sincere reply and what a beautiful quote indeed! Thanks for sharing it with me.