Montessori Education for Toddlers

5 things to know about a Montessori approach to education with your little one

Learning to clean up and take responsibility is an aspect of Montessori education. Dave King/Getty Images

The Montessori approach to education is named after the founder of this movement, Dr. Maria Montessori. Dr. Montessori was the first woman physician in Italy, but her interests and expertise went far beyond the physical health of people. She spent much of her life studying how children learned and began a worldwide movement with schools that followed her theories of education.

Pillars of Montessori Education

There is no regulation controlling the use of the term "Montessori," so different parents, teachers, and schools may interpret the method in different ways.

There are, however, common themes that characterize a Montessori education. 

The backbone of any Montessori education is a philosophy and teaching practices aimed at helping children to develop independence. Even among children under three years of age, this means fostering skills that enable children to care for their own needs, follow their own will in a responsible way and explore their own creative ideas. 

Other hallmarks of a Montessori approach to education may include:

  • allowing a child to direct their education while the parent or teacher offers support
  • building confidence in small children with encouragement and positive reinforcement
  • refraining from using negative words towards children or giving reprimands
  • teaching children to respect others 
  • creating an environment that fosters creativity and exploration

Applying Montessori Principles to Raising Toddlers

If you're already familiar with this philosophy, you might assume formal Montessori education only begins with a preschool curriculum.

You can begin applying the theories of Dr. Montessori at any age, however, and there many ways to integrate Montessori principles with toddlers. In fact, there are child care facilities for toddlers that promote themselves, specifically, as Montessori institutions. 

Whether you are considering a Montessori child care center or want to adapt your own parenting techniques to reflect Montessori methods, there are several key ideas related to the approach that you should be aware of as you consider whether it is the right choice for you and your family.

1. It's a family-oriented model. If you're considering sending your child to a Montessori childcare institution, this means that you need to be prepared to be an active part of your child's learning both when she's at home and when she's at the facility. Your input will be sought out and your participation, when appropriate and possible, will be expected. 

2. Multi-age interactions are a central element. In a facility setting, this means that your toddler would regularly interact with older children (possibly up to teens). This is meant to allow older children mentor younger children while helping those older ones gain skills by being teachers.If you're doing Montessori at home and don't have other children, you might want to join or create a group that will allow you to mimic that cross-age interaction in some way.

3. A beautiful, well-planned environment is essential. Montessori requires good planning. Even if you send your child to a Montessori institution, to really follow the philosophy at home, you should fill your child's play area with engaging, Montessori materials, avoid television or any passive screen time, and provide outdoor time and indoor activities that allow your child to use his senses, express his creativity and make new discoveries.

That can be a lot of work for some parents, but there are rewards.

4. Some of the leading entrepreneurs and inventors of recent times were products of Montessori. Dr. Montessori counted Thomas Edison among her friends and she inspired many other innovators in the century since she opened her first school. In fact, the media has coined the term "Montessori Mafia" to refer to the business leaders who credit their Montessori education for helping them found, Google and create other successes.

5. Montessori philosophies permeate all aspects of everyday life. Practical life skills and self-care are a large part of the Montessori curriculum.

For toddlers, this means that you can adopt Montessori approaches to teaching your child to brush her teeth, set the table, pour herself milk and help in the kitchen. Montessori approaches to toilet learning and self-dressing are also good ways to begin to incorporate the philosophy into your home life.

Montessori can be demanding, requiring great amounts of patience and planning on the part of parents. If you are looking for a way to encourage your child's independence and creativity, however, it may be the most rewarding path you can choose for your family.

Continue Reading