Is it for you?

peace day pinwheelThe question is purposefully stated: “Is it for you?” not “Is it for your child?” The philosophy and methods Montessori developed are based on universal laws of child growth and can certainly be helpful to your child. Whether Montessori will be helpful to you, however, is another question, for the answer depends upon your conception of your function as a parent. Montessori viewed parents as guardians, not as creators, for it is the children who must create themselves. They are given special powers for this task which the parents must seek to understand and collaborate with. How are they to do this? First, they must develop their innate capacity to observe, enjoy, and empathize with their young. On a practical level this means a frequent willingness to suspend the adult’s achievement-oriented view of life and to adopt the much slower pace of the child, a difficult thing to do!


Secondly, it means preparing a home environment in which the needs of the children are met. This means that as tiny babies the children must be accepted into the social life of the family and not isolated in a nursery, where their need to absorb the world about them is thwarted. As they grow, their need to crawl and eventually to walk must be accepted and encouraged. Montessori did not believe the extensive use of playpens, cribs, and strollers is necessary. Rooms can be made safe for toddlers; low beds are much safer than cribs, which the adventurous children sooner or later climb out of; walks can be set at a children’s pace and distance.As the children grow, they want to touch and handle the same objects in the environment they see others using. The parent must encourage this, for it is the children’s innate understanding that they must eventually take their place in the world as adults that compel them to this behavior. Inevitably, the children will want to explore things in the environment which belong to others. Where possible, a substitution should be made. For example, it is not mother’s pen but one like it of their own the children wish. Because “don’t touch” is synonymous with “don’t learn” for the young children, it should be saved for only those situations where there is no other recourse. There is no question here of abuse, however, of either material things or the rights of others. The children have no way of developing respect for their environment and the people within it if appropriate limits are not set.


Parents must so arrange the home that they help the children master their environments and become increasingly independent of the parent’s help. The children’s room should be simple and orderly. Everything in it should be appropriate for their size and ability: low shelves with a few well-chosen toys, a low table with brush and comb, mirror, a pitcher and bowl for washing and brushing teeth, low hooks to put their clothes on — the latter to be chosen for the ease with which they can get in and out of them, an accessible place to put their soiled clothes, hang up their towels, etc. It is the children’s instinct and desire for work and serious accomplishment that enable them to develop a healthy self concept and realistic self-esteem. Therefore, they should be allowed to observe and participate in their parents’ activities at the kitchen sink or garage workbench. An appropriate stool helps them into the adults’ world, and the parents have only to slow their pace and expectations for the children to join them in making their own sandwiches and jello or birdhouses. An overabundance of toys and many hours of television rob the children of their opportunity for these accomplishments and create an unnatural passivity and apathy toward life.

If you accept the Montessori viewpoint of parenthood, you may want to send your children to a Montessori school to complement your approach to them at home. You should know, however, what to expect from their experience. For example, children in Montessori are free to choose their own activities with only indirect guidance from the prepared environment, older children, and teacher. Children of parents who tend to over-control and manipulate them, albeit unconsciously, often use the Montessori classroom for a much needed rest from the pressuring they receive at home. The Montessori environment is good for them, but they may not be reading by 5 or 6. This is nothing to be concerned about, of course, but anxious parents may create a problem where none should exist.

All this freedom of activity in the classroom is balanced with discipline and structure. The Montessori environment is orderly, and the limits of social behavior are strictly adhered to. Dr. Montessori believed permissiveness, far from leading to freedom for the children, made them prisoners of their own destructive feelings and acts. Is Montessori for you? It is if you can raise your children knowing that they belong not to you but to themselves, and that your job as a parent is one of temporary privilege and responsibility: the aiding and observing of another life as it unfolds. Article by Paula Polk Lillard, © Copyright by Education in Focus 1990