First, I was a Montessori teacher. Then I homeschooled my two children through high school. What I found is that Montessori and homeschooling work very well together.
Montessori principles can be a great help in creating a happy and successful homeschool experience. Here are some Montessori principles that can be applied to any homeschool.
1. Prepare the environment. In Montessori early-years education, children have child-sized tables and chairs as well as materials arranged neatly on shelves they can reach. From the time your children are infants, you can put their toys and activities neatly on reachable shelves. I’ve found inexpensive but attractive shelves in a number of stores.
You can create trays of activities for toddlers and preschoolers to use that will improve their concentration, coordination, independence, and sense of order. For example, have a tray with your kitchen tongs, two bowls, and ping pong balls that your child moves from one bowl to the other by using the tongs. Have a tray with two small pitchers (or measuring pitchers) of water that your child can pour from one to the other. Anytime you want to show your child how to do an activity, break the activity down into steps.
It’s important that you arrange your child’s toys and materials as attractively as possible on the shelves. Everything should have its own place. You can teach your child to put away an activity after finishing with it and before going on to another activity. That will teach your child good habits and help your child’s sense of order.
Your homeschool environment will obviously change, but you can continue to have a place for everything and everything in its place as your child grows into the elementary and high-school years.
2. Use teaching methods and materials that isolate the quality, have a control of error, and start with concrete, hands-on learning. I was lucky that I owned a Montessori preschool previously and waited until my children were older to sell many of the Montessori materials from my school. I made a number of materials myself, but as my child reached elementary-school age, there weren’t as many Montessori materials available for me to use.
Now, though, the Internet has made Montessori materials much more accessible to homeschoolers. There are many sites with free or inexpensive Montessori materials. When possible, look for materials that have a control of error (way of giving your child instant feedback). For example, in a Montessori cylinder block, there is a built-in control of error. If the child tries to place a cylinder in the wrong hole it won’t fit or it will be too small for the hole, leaving a cylinder at the end that doesn’t fit.
Also, look for materials that isolate the quality being introduced. Many traditional preschool materials will have both varying shapes and colors. Montessori materials, on the other hand, will isolate the quality. For example, the Montessori geometric shapes are all blue. That way, the child doesn’t confuse the shape with the color when learning the names of the shapes.
Use concrete, hands-on materials to teach abstract concepts whenever possible. I always found the Montessori golden bead material fascinating. How many adults really understand the decimal system? Children in a Montessori school work with the golden bead material through a number of activities before working with numbers in the abstract.
3. Prepare yourself. In Montessori education, the teacher has a unique role, a spiritual way of viewing the child. Maria Montessori said:
The training of the teacher who is to help life is something far more than the learning of ideas. It includes the training of character; it is a preparation of the spirit.
The Montessori teacher, whether in a Montessori school or homeschool, is given the task of observing the child. To truly use Montessori principles in your homeschool, you need to come from a quiet place of observation to see what your child’s needs are and then individualize your child’s education according to those needs. After that, give your child freedom to grow. In Montessori education, we talk a lot about freedom within limits.
According to Maria Montessori:
Let us leave the life free to develop within the limits of the good, and let us observe this inner life developing. This is the whole of our mission.
Are there Montessori principles you’ve used in your homeschool? Are there Montessori principles you want to start using?