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?

Christmas Guest Posts

I don’t normally guest post, it is a once or twice a year thing for me.  It just so happens that 2 of the times I said yes this year are both articles that are up right now on 2 of my favorite sites! 

The first post I wrote was for the What’s in the Bible Blog, and is about homeschooling during the holiday seasonIMG_7710


Jenae from I Can Teach My Child invited me to guest post for her series on Favorite Family Traditions.  You can see my post about our tradition of giving here!

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 ~ Positive Self Image

Montessori Minute

How Does a Child Develop a Positive Self Image?

imageWe want our child to be confident and ‘feel good about herself’. We want him to welcome challenges, not shrink from them. Every parent wants their child to believe in herself and project that belief. A positive sense of self is highly valued. The meek may inherit the earth. Self-confidence gives us a better chance of success in life.

How can we help our children develop a positive self-image? What can we do to instill in our children the belief that they can accomplish anything they set their minds to? Most of us also want our children to learn to get along with others. Arrogance, smug superiority, and a lack of courtesy are usually not the traits we are shooting for. How can we help children develop self-confidence while learning to respect the rights and abilities of others?

Kids in Montessori schools typically exhibit self-confidence and get along with each other. The Montessori Prepared Environment, with its many learning materials and simple rules the children follow, is incredibly effective in helping children develop confidence in their own abilities and a realization that they share the world and need to respect everyone’s rights. We’ll get back to that.


Start early…

We need to strike while the iron is hot. Proactively giving children certain experiences in their formative years helps them develop positive personality traits. If we want to help our children optimize everything from their brain architecture to their self-image, the early years are when the action goes down. That’s when the brain has the highest degree of ‘plasticity’, the ability to adapt and change. That is the time for action!


Try to be the person you want your child to be…

angry coupleThe first base to cover is us. Those absorbent eyes and minds watch us really closely all the time. Kids are one of life’s great opportunities for self-improvement. If we indulge in being timid, moody, negative, depressed, angry, insensitive, arrogant, hypercritical, and prone to verbal complaining and nastiness, guess what our children will learn? If we expect the world to accommodate our negative side and don’t at least try to change, that is what our kids will do. No one is perfect in this world. Still, we can do our best to model the behaviors we want our children to develop, without denying or disguising our faults. They will see that we’re making the effort and being honest. Kids pick up on that. They understand more than we realize, they just can’t explain it yet. Photo: Shutterstock

Montessori and other preschool Teachers learn behaviors that make them, hopefully, good role models for the children in their care. Should we just ship our kids off and depend on them? I’m a big parent advocate. I believe parents can take up the cause of being better role models, just as Teachers do. What can it hurt us to try to be better people?


Indulgence vs. accomplishment

Years of preschool teaching taught me this very clearly:

Children do not develop a positive self-image because we pamper them, constantly tell them they are smart and great, make no demands on them, or always ask them how they feel.

What gives children self-confidence is mastering actual skills and learning useful information. This makes them feel genuinely competent and confident.

imageWhen it comes to developing self-confidence, mastering pouring rice without spilling and learning all the geometric shapes works better than telling a child a thousand times how smart they are. Young children are internally programmed to learn to function in this world. When we help them do that, we help them develop a positive self-image. They have to do it on their own.
Photo: Julie Josey

Self-image is formed from a child’s experiences. If a young child is criticized, belittled, not allowed to try things, and treated as if all they require is being entertained by a TV until they are ready for school, that child will not have a positive self-image when the time comes. It requires specific kinds of positive experiences.image

imageOne really beautiful thing that Montessori and other good learning experiences do is give a child a series of small successes. Each time a child tries a new activity that is initially challenging and with effort masters it, she experiences tangible success. Multiply that experience a few hundred times as the child uses many different learning materials and you have a child who expects to be successful in whatever he sets out to do. This is a powerful state of mind; and one of the primary benefits of early learning activities. Photos: Julie Josey

Learning materials help young children experience the ‘success sequence’. They are shown a new material. It looks hard and they wonder if they will be able to do it. Their curiosity and internal drive to develop draws them to it like a bee to honey and they go at it. They make mistakes, but they keep trying. Eventually, they master the material or activity. Success!

imageA child who progresses through this sequence many times in the most formative years of life develops a positive self-image that becomes an integral part of their personality. When they are older, these children become adults who are not intimidated by challenges, they welcome them. They don’t remember why, it’s just who they are. This is the incredible power of early learning.
Photo: Shutterstock

Provide experiences that build a positive self-image

If you can afford a Montessori school or other quality preschool program, go for it. If you need daycare, try to find a program that has a strong preschool component. Find out about their activities, the staff’s training, and talk to other parents. If it doesn’t feel right or they don’t want you to talk to other parents, walk away.

Do early learning activities at home. For at least those few, rapidly moving years between birth and six, consistently devote time to helping your child develop a positive self-image. The Montessori At Home! eBook costs just $8.95, and shows you how to do this for about the cost of a Starbuck’s Latte a week over a 2-3 year period. I wrote it to show parents how to be effective in helping their children reach more of their true potential.


Turn off the TV. Read with your child every day. Provide early learning materials and activities. Do lots of different things as a family. Play with your kids. Do iPad apps. Get your child together with other children and help them learn to interact in positive ways. Just taking the time is the first step. If you get into it, a whole new world of understanding of who your child really is will open up. Those early years are gone before you know it, make the most of them.

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

© 2011 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?