Montessori Minute ~ Bare Essentials

{disclosure: this post contains affiliate links}Montessori Minute Bare Essentials


This is a guest post written by John Bowman

Montessori Bare EssentialsIf you have a Bachelor’s degree, a year off, and $ to spare, you can take a Montessori teacher training course and learn everything you want to about Montessori. The sheer quantity of books, papers, and other work Montessori created during a lifetime dedicated to children is incredible. It takes awhile to wade through, much less grasp thoroughly.

Photo: Toddler Approved!

There is a ‘secret’ about Montessori, though, that programs charging big bucks to train teachers don’t talk about much. Since I’m a huge advocate for parents, however, I’m happy to tell you:

Doing Montessori with preschoolers is simple

Montessori did all the heavy lifting of creating a completely new way of looking at young children that changed everything all over the world. Then, she created the first Prepared Environment. Like many jewel-like things of beauty, this practical application of her work is wonderfully simple. Don’t think so? Let me explain every Montessori preschool in 9 sentences:

A clean, bright, attractive area is furnished with sets of low shelves and child sized tables and chairs. There are flowers and works of art, and everything is aesthetically pleasing and organized. On the shelves are a huge variety of interesting, self-contained materials for the children to use. They move freely, making their own choices about what they want to work with and whether to work alone or with other children. The children set out rugs and mats to create work areas, and then bring materials to their work areas to use. When finished, they put the material back in the same spot on the shelf where they found it. The children follow a few simple rules that encourage them to respect each other and share the space and materials constructively. A teacher wanders among them, demonstrating materials, guiding children as needed, and working with children individually or in small groups. The atmosphere is busy, rich in opportunities for all kinds of fun work, and the children largely manage themselves.

It’s like free play on steroids. Free play in traditional preschools, like many things we do with preschoolers (except digital learning), had its origins in the Montessori Prepared environment. The big ‘secret’ about Montessori is that her work fills volumes, but the practical application of all her work – the Prepared Environment – is easy to understand. All those materials on the shelves are easy to understand as well. They are for preschoolers, after all!  There are a lot of them in all the different areas because Montessori followed a simple rule:

The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences.”

She summed up her approach this way:

“An interesting piece of work, freely chosen, which has the virtue of inducing concentration rather than fatigue, adds to the child’s energies and mental capacities, and leads him to mastery.”

Montessori Bare Essentials 2Rather than have adults decide what the children should do every day (lesson plans), Montessori put out it all out there at once in the form of self-contained materials the children could choose from and use on their own whenever they liked, following a few simple rules that taught them to exercise their freedom with responsibility to others.

Photo: Flower arranging at Discovery Moments

Montessori trusted life to unfold in an intelligent, optimal way if given the chance. She followed children as they grew according to nature, rather than trying to control the process as most forms of education do. Montessori let children follow their universal inner passions to absorb, learn, grow, and know. The result? Children who by the age of six read and do math at what public school calls a second to fourth grade level, without pressure or stress, in an environment filled with joy and discovery. These children also develop excellent brain architecture, a positive and confident self-image, and a true love of learning. Not bad! Parents can do many of the same activities found in Montessori schools right at home. You can make most of your materials yourself and buy others. Here are a few core points to remember to help guide your home Montessori adventures:

Encouraging spontaneous concentration and focused attention is the heart of Montessori. The materials are vehicles for this. Concentration creates self-disciplined children who are calmer, happier, and more satisfied with life; and who can learn anything more easily.

Start with Practical Life and Sensorial materials. Work in Science, Math and Reading as your child shows interest.

Try a wide variety of materials. Observe to see what materials your child spontaneously focuses her attention and concentration on, and wants to repeat over a period of time.

Keep these materials out on low shelves for your child to use when he likes. When a material no longer attracts his interest, take a picture of it and put those in a little box on the shelf. Switch the material out for one he is into concentrating on now. The pictures help your child remember each activity in case she wants to repeat them.

Not so complicated. It really is quite fun when you get into it. Parents are very capable of creating excellent Montessori style experiences at home. Montessori just makes sense. Montessori materials free the adult from having to be the center of attention and the source of all knowledge. Children ‘auto-educate’ with Montessori materials simply by using them.

Montessori bare Essentials 3Like a Montessori teacher, your job becomes helping maintain your child’s materials in a nice condition, suggesting and making new materials, and demonstrating or working with your child as needed. Your child’s work will increasingly be independent. You can focus more on reading together, playing outside, doing art projects, and just having fun. Photo: Touch Basket

Montessori bare Essentials 4Start small, with one or two materials a week. The Quick Start Guide in Montessori At Home! shows you how to get started the same day you download the eBook. As you and your child become comfortable, add more materials that your child shows interest in. Let him look through the eBook with you to find them, and help shop for supplies to put materials together.

Photo: Color sorting at Family Go Simple

With a small investment of about half what you would otherwise spend on disposable plastic toys over 2-3 years, your time, and your love, your child can have many of the same benefits of a Montessori school.

© 2013 John Bowman

My thanks to John for writing this extensive article for us here at 1+1+1=1!

Did you miss earlier Montessori Minute Posts?

Montessori Minute ~ Making Learning Materials with OIL

{disclosure: this post contains affiliate links}Montessori Minute OIL

This is a guest post written by John Bowman, author of Montessori at Home!


For this Montessori Minute, I’ve included an excerpt from the just-released Third edition of Montessori At Home! This is from one of the first how-to chapters, titled: A Parent’s Guide to Using Learning Materials at Home.

Make materials with OIL

I don’t mean that you should sprinkle cooking oil on your child’s learning materials! In this case, OIL stands for:


  • Left: A child’s first experiences with fractions often involve cutting Objects like fruit.
  • Middle: An apple fractions Image from A Child’s Place.
  • Right: Language and numerical symbols that identify and describe the objects and the graphic image.


Far left: Montessori Geometric Solids are the objects. The Geometric Solids Three Part Cards from Montessori Print Shop provide the graphic images and language in one material.


If your child is 2-3 years old, she may not show as much interest in the images and words, and that’s fine. Just exposing him to them will be enough. As your child gets older and uses learning materials more, you will see her start working with the images and words more and more. Soon, he will be in his sensitive period for reading, writing, and math. Including these elements in your learning materials will make them even more effective tools for helping your child build the best brain architecture possible.

Many quotes from Maria Montessori are included throughout the third Edition. Here are a couple relating to learning materials and how they are presented in Montessori:

" Besides the various objects which the children are taught to use for their ‘practical life’, there are many others which lend themselves to the gradual development and refinement of a child’s intellect. There are, for example, various materials for the education of the senses, for learning the alphabet, numbers, reading, writing, and arithmetic…..When we speak of ‘environment’ we include the sum total of objects which a child can freely choose and use as he pleases, that is to say, according to his needs and tendencies. A teacher simply assists him at the beginning to get his bearings among so many different things and teaches him the precise use of each of them, that is to say, she introduces him to the ordered and active life of the environment." 

Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child

When a parent acts as a child’s teacher, she does the same thing – create an environment rich in opportunities for meaningful, interesting activity and introduce the child to the materials it contains. She helps sparingly, only as needed, and introduces new materials when the child is ready and interested, always following the child and the Inner Teacher.

" The battle is finally won when the child finds something, some particular object, that spontaneously arouses his intense interest. Sometimes this enthusiasm comes suddenly and without warning. As soon as children find something that interests them they lose their instability and learn to concentrate….Children of a nervous temperament have become calm, the depressed have regained their spirits, and all have advanced together along the path of disciplined work, making progress through the outward manifestation of an inner energy which has found a means of expression. These fixed attainments have an explosive character that foretells a child’s later development. They may be compared to the sprouting of a child’s first tooth or his first steps."

Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood


The new Third Edition of Montessori At Home!, is a totally updated, 512 page pdf eBook guide to doing Montessori early learning activities at home.

© 2013 John Bowman

My thanks to John for writing this extensive article for us here at 1+1+1=1! I invite you to ask him any questions you may have in the comments below and he can hopefully answer them for you. If you have an article you hope he will write for us in the future, please let us know in the comments also! Be sure to let him know if this article was helpful-we all love encouragement, right?

Did you miss earlier Montessori Minute Posts?

Montessori Minute ~ Great Questions

Montessori Minute Great Questions
This is a guest post written by John Bowman, author of Montessori at Home!

I received some great questions from an enthusiastic parent, and since they are questions many parents have, it seemed like a good time for a post. Dee writes:

Hello John, Thank you for your eBook. I am enjoying reading it and getting set up to do Montessori at home with my toddler and 4 year old! I had a few questions I hope you could answer…

How many materials to set out and how rapidly to introduce? I know you suggest preparing a few materials and introducing them to get started, but I am wondering how quickly to do this (eg. 1 new presentation a day?) and how much material to set out in a small home?

I know in a Montessori school almost all the materials would be out, but in a home, that sounds like it might be chaos. I can see from some of the blogs that people have a variety of set ups from 1 to 3+ bookshelves. Is there a rule of thumb for how many materials?

How long to leave a material out and remove it if it’s not touched? How do you decide if your child has “finished” with a material?

What do you do when a child wants to mix up materials from more than one activity? Or just play with the materials in a way that is not part of the demonstration (eg. my daughter wanted to “cook” with the beans from the pouring tray).

Thanks so much. I am looking forward to adopting more Montessori but want to do it in the best way possible! Look forward to your advice.

Thanks for the great questions and your sincere interest in doing the best for your kids, Dee, let’s get right into it.

Many parents write about what to do with a toddler and an older child in the house. It’s a challenge, patience is key. The older child needs a place to display his materials where the toddler can’t reach them. A separate space, like separate rooms if possible, really helps so he can concentrate on what he’s doing. Toddler nap time is always an opportunity! Getting the toddler occupied is important, because otherwise he will dive right into what’s going on. Group projects, like cooking, where both children can have their own contributions to make, can help the kids learn to cooperate. If you are blessed, you will have a few precious moments occasionally when you and the toddler can be busy while your 4 year old works on an activity independently! Things probably won’t be ideal until the toddler is at least 2 1/2 or so and can have similar activities, so you do the best you can.

It is better at home to start slow and find materials your kids are really interested in, rather than put a lot of things out at once. This is how I started with new Montessori preschools, also. Look for activities that attract and hold their interest and attention. Leave these out on the shelves. Add new materials slowly. 1-2 new items every week or so seems about right. Follow your child’s interests. If your child is working with what he has, great. If he is looking for something to do, put something from the book together. Start with Practical Life and Sensorial activities, these have a universal appeal to young children. Introduce new materials at a pace that works for your child.

There are no firm rules about how many materials to have out. Make the best use of your space and do your own thing. Focus on materials that truly help your child focus attention. Try to keep your shelves from becoming cluttered, jam-packed storage areas. Displaying materials with a little space between them adds to their aura as special items. Follow your children’s interests – that is the key to Montessori. You will see when a material has outlived its time of interest.

As long as your kids don’t abuse the materials (involving them in making them really helps here), and as long as they put them back together properly and back on the shelf when they are done, I believe in letting them do their own thing with them. Children need a mix of skills-based, pretend / imaginative, and creative play. It’s all important to their development. To truly follow the child – the Montessori prime directive – we need to make room for all of it and go with the flow. If your child shows more interest in cooking, for example, as your child did when doing an activity, switch to a cooking activity. If she wants to pretend play, let her. If he would rather do some art, let him. Go with the flow, and use the book to support your child’s interests.

Your home will never be a Montessori school, that’s not what you’re aiming for. If you do activities regularly – usually imperfectly – things will click often enough for your kids to get major benefits from them. Montessori materials are largely designed to auto-educate, meaning a child can use them independently. It takes awhile to get things started, but keep at it and you will see your kids respond and get the hang of it. It will always be a little messy, and that’s fine.

Montessori schools take awhile to get running well with a new group of kids each year, so don’t ever feel bad if things don’t go as planned or your kids don’t respond as you thought they would. Keep at it, be consistent, and have fun.

Hope those ideas help. If any readers have ideas to add, please share, thanks!

John Bowman’s eBook, Montessori At Home!, a big eBook showing parents how to do Montessori early learning activities at home.

© 2013 John Bowman

My thanks to John for writing this extensive article for us here at 1+1+1=1! I invite you to ask him any questions you may have in the comments below and he can hopefully answer them for you. If you have an article you hope he will write for us in the future, please let us know in the comments also! Be sure to let him know if this article was helpful-we all love encouragement, right?

Did you miss earlier Montessori Minute Posts?

Montessori Minute ~ Toys vs. Learning Materials

Montessori Minute Toys

imageThe media – toymaker industrial complex, borrowing a sixties phrase, depends on quickly turning our children into rabid consumers. Really, our way of life in developed countries depends on it; but that’s a story for a different blog.

You take your child to the hot new movie and she just has to have the toys marketed along with it. Hey, Jackie has them next door! You don’t want to be Scrooge, and soon your house resembles a recycling depository for colorful plastics. Your child is already bugging you for the Next Big Thing.

Most disposable plastic toys are like sugary treats for your child’s brain. They provide a rush of excitement and interest, followed by a crash once the fever subsides. Then comes the next must-have toy and the cycle continues.

Dr. Maria Montessori said a few things about toys around 1940:
“The toy has become so important that people think it is a help to the intelligence. It is certainly better than nothing, but if we watch the child, we see he always wants new ones, he breaks them, he develops nervous and moral complaints. People who study the child superficially say that as he breaks the toy, he seems to find delight in taking everything apart and destroying everything. This is an artificially developed characteristic due to the circumstances which deprive the child of the right things.

He is not quiet with his toys…. for more than a few minutes. The real trouble is that children have no real interest in these things, because there is no reality in them. It is the misunderstanding on the part of the adult that has led to this life of lack of attention on the part of children; this useless life, a mockery of life instead of real life. The child cannot exercise the energies that nature has given him to perfect his individuality, they are wasted and worse than wasted.

The result is that the child cannot develop normally; and the longer he lives in this environment full of toys, the less capable he becomes of adapting himself to the real environment, and gradually his personality is completely deformed.

Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

So, everyone who plays with toys is deformed? That’s a bit much, but consider Montessori’s passion for helping young children. The point she makes is true: young children want to take their place in the real world. Movie and toy fantasies will not keep them satisfied for long.

imageIn environments lacking any toys, children in Montessori schools are completely absorbed with dressing frames, juice squeezing, banana cutting, using tools, color tablets, sandpaper letters and numbers, geometric shapes, and materials like the Pink Tower. They all want to get their hands on these materials. This has been happening for over one hundred years. What’s going on?

These materials provide real food for their brains instead of a sugary rush of excitement. They help children in their work of creating independent, functional people, with strong brains and a positive sense of self. The good news for parents who cannot afford a Montessori or other good preschool: you can provide these materials and experiences right at home.

You can easily make almost an entire preschool full of learning materials for your child for about $300. If you supplement those with some original Montessori materials and other good commercial learning materials, displayed on low shelves rather than thrown in the toy box, your child can have many of the same experiences he would get in a Montessori school.

There is so much information out there now that any parent can begin doing early learning at home. Start with these blogs:

Search these sites and their blog rolls for more excellent blogs and find your own favorites. Search Pinterest for Montessori, early learning, and preschool activities. My eBook, Montessori At Home! presents what you need to know in one place to save you hours of research; and gets you started quickly with a good understanding of where you’re going.

Montessori materials for home use
Before you say, “Too expensive“, total up what you will spend over three years on birthdays and holidays on disposable plastic toys. Be honest! I’ll wager that if you divert half or less of that to buying early learning materials, your budget won’t even notice it. The cost of Montessori materials has come down, and they last for years in schools, so you will be able to recover up to half their purchase price selling them later.

Montessori materials are not difficult to use. Most of them teach just by being handled. You can find videos and explanations by searching any material online. There are specifics to know about what materials will interest different ages of children and how to make and display materials in a Montessori way. All this information is available for the searching. You may find my and other books helpful here.

These materials are not toys and should be presented and treated differently than disposable toys that your child handles carelessly. How you present, display, and organize materials for your child’s use is important. It takes a different mindset than throwing toys in a toy box. Here are Montessori materials that I recommend in Montessori At Home! for home use:image

















Some good online Montessori suppliers:

An online search will find many more. There are many other Montessori materials that your child may find fascinating, take a look. A future post will offer a selection of other good commercial early learning materials – and there are many. We’ll also take a look at some of these Montessori materials in greater detail to try and find out what makes them so darn interesting.

Before you buy materials, check out the Montessori materials DIY and the free materials information at Living Montessori Now. Carisa offers loads of wonderful free materials right here on 1+1+1=1. Visit Montessori Print Shop for excellent free printables; and many more that are very inexpensive. This doesn’t have to be hard, it can be a whole lot of fun. The rewards of seeing your child engrossed in using a material you made are worth every minute.

Consider taking disposable plastic toys from center stage during your child’s formative early years. Substitute real world activities and good early learning materials that help your child learn real skills and build strong brain architecture. The benefits and rewards will be enormous.

John Bowman’s eBook, Montessori At Home!, has been downloaded by over 2000 parents, and many teachers, all over the world.

© 2012 John Bowman

My thanks to John for writing this extensive article for us here at 1+1+1=1! I invite you to ask him any questions you may have in the comments below and he can hopefully answer them for you. If you have an article you hope he will write for us in the future, please let us know in the comments also! Be sure to let him know if this article was helpful-we all love encouragement, right?

Did you miss earlier Montessori Minute Posts?


Montessori Minute ~ Concentration & Normalization


Maria Montessori spent decades promoting the cause of the young child and defining the field of child development for future generations. She said:

“Normalization is the single most important result of our work.”

“The first essential for the child’s development is concentration. The child who concentrates is immensely happy.”

Coming from a true genius, these are important statements. But what is Normalization; why is concentration so important, and how can exploring these concepts help parents working with their children at home?

In early childhood we develop a sense of self; and then self-control. Young children learn who they are by acquiring a set of experiences that are theirs. Then they learn how to act purposefully, control their bodies, and follow the accepted rules for behavior in the time and culture of their birth.

imageNeuroscience has shown that we are constantly bombarded with literally millions of sensory bits of information. Amazingly, the way we experience the world is actually what is left after we discard most of them. The early years of life are when we learn to focus on the sensory stimuli and behaviors that make us members of our society.

Concentration and focusing attention are essential in this process. Attention is a powerful force. It focuses the human will and concentrates mental energy like a laser. Until a child learns to focus her attention, her mind is a fluctuating field of sensory inputs, emotions, random thoughts, desires, impulses, and dreams. Attention is the force that, when brought under the control of will, allows all that activity to organize itself.

As with almost everything else, the first six years of life are the most powerful time for developing concentration and attention. Whatever is done during these years becomes fundamental to a child’s brain and personality. After that it’s icing on the cake.

imageMontessori put her observations of children into practice by giving them special materials she designed, like the Knobbed Cylinders, Pink Tower, Red Rods, Brown Stair, and other Sensorial materials. Almost immediately, she knew she had hit on something important. Very young children started working with these materials with a level of concentration and extended attention span that had not been seen in children before. Two year olds used the materials with total concentration for extended periods, even when Montessori purposely created distractions in the environment.
Photo: The Education of Ours

Montessori believed that children are born with a strong inner drive to learn; and an internal guidance system that leads them to the experiences they need to fully develop. Since the children took to her materials so readily, she assumed the materials were filling a developmental need. She kept creating more; and then designed the Prepared Environment to hold them all and give children a special place to use them. The rest is history.

You can follow Montessori’s lead at home and help your child develop concentration and attention. Since young children are designed to need concrete, hands-on experiences, this means providing materials and activities appropriate to your child’s age and interests. Here is a good guideline:

Provide different materials and experiences, always looking for those that attract and hold your child’s attention.

Let your child use these as often as he likes, with opportunities for uninterrupted repetition.

When your child masters an activity or skill, provide something a bit more challenging or complex.

When your child gradually learns to focus attention and concentrate, you should see positive changes in her behavior. Young children who learn to concentrate become happier and more satisfied with life. This is what Montessori called Normalization. She identified these characteristics of a normalized child:

Love of work




imageEarly learning materials and life experiences that attract and hold your child’s attention are the key to Normalization. Watch for what your child really gets into and make it available. When your child’s interests change, and they will, go with the flow. This is where low shelves that display a variety of materials can be valuable. They allow a child to choose based on his interests on any given day. It will become apparent when a material has outlived its usefulness and you can switch it out for something your child is currently into.

With enough opportunities to learn to concentrate with focused attention, your child’s ability to learn anything will soar. This is why children in Montessori schools typically learn to read, write, use numbers, and understand scientific concepts early on. A child who learns to concentrate is not only happier; he is much better prepared for life.  Photo: The Education of Ours

For more on these topics, check out these resources:

John Bowman is the author of Montessori At Home! and Help Your Preschooler Build a Better Brain.

© 2012 John Bowman, Montessori At Home!

My thanks to John for writing this extensive article for us here at 1+1+1=1! I invite you to ask him any questions you may have in the comments below and he can hopefully answer them for you. If you have an article you hope he will write for us in the future, please let us know in the comments also! Be sure to let him know if this article was helpful-we all love encouragement, right?


You can also visit his new amazing website to read even more!

Did you miss earlier Montessori Minute Posts?

Check out our feature on Totally Tots, where Jodi is blogging her experiences while using Montessori At Home! with her young tots!