Montessori in the Home for Young Children


Your children are busy exploring and learning from an incredible collection of materials and activities in their Montessori classrooms. Parents often ask how much of the special learning materials they should purchase for their child to use at home. We answer: None! Children need other activities to complement what they are doing at school.

Montessori is a way of life. It is a philosophy about how human beings might live their lives and treat one another. It is an attitude of respect and encouragement for each human being, no matter how young or how old. Rather than power and authority, it is a sense of partnership.

Newborn infants come into our lives lacking the ability to be self-sufficient and independent. We not only provide nurturing and protection, we help them learn how to do things for themselves. Independence is the single greatest drive of the young child. The desire to feel competent, capable, and to know that we are seen as being worthy of respect is one of the most powerful human emotions. Because of their intense desire to become competent, toddlers often become extremely frustrated, resulting in the tantrums that are common in the toddler years.

Children who are treated with respect and who are gently encouraged to try new skills more readily learn to do things for themselves. Parents who, instead, take delight in doing things that their children are capable of doing for themselves, delay their children’s independence and hold back the development of their self-esteem. Dr. Montessori taught that a child who feels respected and competent will develop a far greater level of emotional well being than a child who is simply loved and doted upon. She wrote, “The adult should be an aide to life. We must help the child learn how to do it for himself.”



(Above) A lamb’s wool mat on the floor, low shelves filled with interesting objects, and a nearby mirror provide many opportunities for babies to explore the world around them.


(Above) An art cabinet provides easy access to arts-and-crafts supplies. Paper, markers, stickers, and coloring books all have their own spot.

(Right) A tiny table, child-sized eating utensils, a small pitcher of milk with which to practice pouring, a vase of fresh-cut flowers, and seating for the child and her adult companion provide an atmosphere of warmth and calm for sharing meals.

The Inner Life of the Child

Dr. Montessori taught us to look at each child as a unique being who has never lived before. Just as our biological/genetic embryo will guide our physical growth and appearance, Montessori thought each child’s spiritual, moral, and psychological development was guided by a spiritual embryo. The spiritual embryo will direct a child toward fulfilling her or his unique potential towards becoming the complete person she or he is meant to be. Montessori wrote:

“Human beings are formed slowly. Each of us is ‘worked by hand,’ and each individual is different from every other, having his own distinctive spirit, as if he were a natural work of art. The process takes many years.

The inner life of the child is an enigma. The only thing we know about him is that he could be anything, but nobody knows what he will be or what he will do.

Human development is exactly like the process necessary to produce a work of art that the artist, sequestered in the intimacy of his studio, modifies and transforms before he brings it before the public. The process by which the human personality is formed is in the hidden work of incarnation.”


Like the human embryo before birth, this spiritual embryo who is the young child must be protected from a hostile environment by the warmth of our love and acceptance.

Children Learn from Their Mistakes

As parents and teachers, we often assume that children develop their character through our care and upbringing. We believe that we can shape a child’s personality and destiny through our sound advice and efforts to direct their development.

Instead, children carry within themselves the key to their own development. Their early attempts to express their individuality are hesitant and tentative. Our children think that we are all-wise and all-powerful. They are easily overwhelmed by our best intentions. Our efforts to protect our children from mistakes that seem so obvious from our perspective tend to frustrate their process of learning for themselves about life.

Parents, in other words, must also learn. We have to learn to respect the child’s efforts to develop an independent personality, because it is through this creative process that the child literally forms the adult. As parents, it is our duty to attempt to understand the psychological needs of our children and to prepare an environment within our homes for him.

Montessori was concerned that parents would unconsciously hinder and frustrate their child’s process of spiritual growth, although we may operate from the best of intentions. The primary role of the parent is to help the child to become mature, independent, and responsible. Unfortunately, we often misunderstand what we can do and what we must not do, if we truly want to facilitate this process. We tend to overprotect, not realizing that our children can only learn about life through experience, just as we did.

Our role as parents is to help our children learn to live in peace and harmony with themselves, with all people, and with the environment. We work to create a home in which our children can learn to function as independent, thinking people. To succeed in our role as parents, we need to treat our children with tremendous respect as full and complete human beings who happen to be in our care. Our children need to feel that it is okay to be themselves.

Children must feel our respect; it is not simply enough to say the words. If they believe that they are not living up to our expectations, that we are disappointed in the people that they are becoming, they may be emotionally scarred for a lifetime. A child who feels unaccepted by his parents can only wander through life looking in from the outside like a stranger.


Parents Teach Children Values

As parents, one of our fundamental aims is the inspiration of our child’s heart. We not only share our religious beliefs with our children; we teach our values, ethics, and sense of what is truly wonderful and important: love, kindness, joy, and confidence in the fundamental goodness of life.

In simple ways, we encourage our children to begin the journey toward being fully alive and fully human. Everything that we do is intended to nurture within our children a sense of joy and appreciation of life, a sense of the poetic, and mankind’s interrelationship with the universe.

Consciously or not, we teach our values to our children. We hope to teach our children to understand and respect the very real differences among different cultures. Truly, though, people are the same, even though we are very different from one another in the ways we live our lives and perceive the world.

To build a peaceful world, we must learn to see people as they really are and not be afraid of that which is strange and vastly different from our own ways. Just as children can learn to hate from their parents, they can also learn to love. Children can easily learn that diversity is a call for celebration and not a cause for alarm.

In order to live happily as an adult, a child needs two things: a strong sense of her separate identity apart from her parents and a sense of her full membership in not only her family but the larger community in which she lives.

Our moral obligation is to facilitate the transition from childhood to maturity and to teach the skills that it takes to function successfully in school, college, the work place, and our cultural environment. This is our mission as mothers and fathers.

We should present an honest picture of the world to our children, according to their growing ability to understand. Naturally, though, they learn more from what we do than from what we preach.

Our actions should be consistent with our values. In order for children to grow emotionally and morally complete, they must be able to trust and understand the important adults in their lives. In the end, they must learn how to think and judge for themselves. But they begin with us as their example.

Positive Discipline: Establishing a Climate of Love

Children are extremely sensitive to the emotional climate within the family. They love us and basically want us to be pleased with them. This doesn’t mean that they will always behave. Every child will test the rules to some degree. In fact, most acts of testing parents are a normal part of the child’s process of growing up.

When children test adults, it is often their way of expressing feelings that they don’t understand, and from our responses, they gradually learn how to handle their emotions appropriately. By testing the limits, they learn that we really care about certain ground rules of grace and courtesy in our relationship. In acting out, they are taking their first tentative steps toward independence, attempting to demonstrate that we don’t control them completely.

(Right) Young children appreciate the beauty of their surroundings. Arranging fresh flowers is one way they can take part in decorating their home environment.

Agree on your family ground rules and get them written down where both parents can refer to them. Teach your children how to do the right thing rather than focusing on their infractions.

Be consistent! If you can’t bring yourself to reinforce a rule again and again, it shouldn’t be a ground rule at your house. A few good rules are much better than dozens of nit-picking rules that no one can remember. In the Montessori home there are only a few ground rules: Be kind and gentle and treat all life with respect. Don’t whine! Tell the truth and don’t be afraid to admit when you make a mistake. Just do your best to learn from it. If you break something, clean it up.

Threats and punishments are not good tools to get children to behave. From our experience, those children who respond to threats and are shaken by punishments are anxious to please us and win back our love. On the other hand, when children are angry, or are asserting their independence, they often act out and don’t care if they are punished.



Punishment is simply not as effective as we tend to assume. At both home and school, teach children to do things correctly and emphasize the positive rather than using insults and anger. It’s not always easy. Above all else, try never to ask your children unanswerable questions, such as, “How many times do I have to tell you ... ?” to which the appropriate response is, “I don’t know, Dad! How many times do you have to tell me?” Ask a silly question, and you get a silly answer.

Children are actually so sensitive and impressionable that we should monitor everything we say and do, for everything is engraved in their memories. Our children love us with a profound affection. When they go to bed they want to us to stay with them as they go to sleep. When we work in the kitchen, they often want to help. When we sit down to dinner, they want to join us. We may worry that we’ll spoil them if we listen to their pleas, but we shouldn’t. They only want us to pay attention to them. They want to be part of the group. Montessori wrote:

“Who else weeps out of the intense desire to be with us while we eat? And how sadly we will say someday, ‘Nobody cries now to have me near him while he falls asleep.’ Only a child says every night, ‘Don’t leave me; stay with me!’ and the adult answers, ‘I can’t; I have so much to do, and anyway, what kind of nonsense is this?’ and thinks the child must be corrected or he will make everyone a slave of his love.”

Sometimes a child wakes in the morning and goes to wake his parents, who would rather sleep; everyone complains about this kind of thing. He slips from his bed, approaches his parents and touches them lightly. Most often they say, “Don’t wake me up in the morning,” and the child responds, “I didn’t wake you up; I only kissed you!”

— Maria Montessori



Organizing the Home

The Bedroom

“We must give the child an environment that he can utilize by himself: a little washstand of his own, a bureau with drawers he can open, objects of common use that he can operate, a small bed in which he can sleep at night under an attractive blanket he can fold and spread by himself. We must give him an environment in which he can live and play; then we will see him work all day with his hands and wait impatiently to undress himself and lay himself down on his own bed.”


Children’s bedrooms should clearly reflect their personalities and current interests. Even though, on their own, they may tend to create chaos, young children have a tremendous need and love for an orderly environment. Everything should have its own place, and the environment should be organized to make it easy for the child to maintain a neat, well-organized atmosphere.

Ideally, the young child’s bed should be low to the floor, making it easy for toddlers to get in and out on their own. Rather than a crib, Montessori urged parents to modify the bedroom to facilitate both the child’s safety and his early independence. Consider a futon or a mattress without the bed frame.

By age five, you may wish to allow your child to use a sleeping bag on his bed instead of sheets and blankets. This makes it easy for him to make his own bed in the morning.

Mount a nice little coat and hat rack low on one wall where your child can reach them easily.

Decorate the walls with high-quality art prints of children or animals hung at the child’s eye level.

Mount a wall clock at the child’s level. Select one with a large easily read face.

Modify your light switches with extenders to allow the young child to turn his lights on and off independently.

Hang a bulletin board at your child’s eye level on which he can hang artwork and school papers.

(Right) Montessori encouraged parents to place their child’s bed low to the floor. By making it easy for the young child to get in and out of her own bed, parents provide a safe sleeping environment, while also promoting their child’s sense of independence.





  Notice how Montessori teachers avoid clutter. Place toys with many pieces in appropriate containers, such as plastic “boxes” with lids, baskets, or in sturdy plastic bags.

  Use a sturdy wooden crate to hold your child’s building blocks.

  You may want to create a model town or farm on a piece of heavy plywood. Paint it green and sprinkle model railroad “grass” on it to simulate a meadow. Placed on a low table, your child can create wonderful displays with model buildings made of wood or plastic. Add little trees and people from a model railroad set. You could set up a doll house this way as well.

 Store blocks in a large, colorful, sturdy canvas bag with handles. Sew on strips of Velcro™ to fasten the bag closed. The bag will serve as a sack to contain his Legos.™ when you travel, It is easy to pick the bag up to come along.    

(Above) Do not use a toy box. Use low shelves to display books and toys. Try to duplicate the look of your child’s classroom. Provide some shelf space for a small nature museum in your child’s bedroom. Here he can display rocks that he finds, interesting seeds, and (in small cages) interesting “critters.”

Make sure that your child’s clothes chest has drawers that are the right height for him or her to open and look inside. Label the drawers: underwear, socks, etc.      

Music should be an important part of every child’s life. Set some space aside for a simple stereo system and collection of recordings.

Collect flower vases and encourage your child to collect flowers from the fields or garden for his     room.    

The Bathroom

The bathroom must be prepared for your child. He should be able to reach the sink, turn on the water, and reach his toothbrush and toothpaste without help. There should be a special place where he can reach for his towel and washcloth. Most parents provide bathroom stools, but small wobbly stools often do not provide enough secure, comfortable space for bathroom tasks. You might want to consider building a wooden platform six to eight inches high that fits around the young child’s toilet and sink.

An Arts-and-Crafts Area

Set up an art area with an easel and a spacious art table for drawing, craft work and clay. Cover the table with a washable tablecloth.

Children’s art supplies can be neatly stored in separate plastic containers. Depending on your child’s age, the art supplies that you prepare might include washable magic markers, crayons, paste, paper, fabric scraps, and recycled household articles for making collages. You can keep tempera paint fresh by mixing it in plastic containers that are divided into three or more inner compartments.

The Kitchen

Make room in your kitchen for a child-sized work table for young cooks. Set aside the bottom shelf in your refrigerator for your children. Here you can store small drink pitchers, fruit, and the ingredients for making sandwiches and snacks.

Use non-breakable plastic containers to hold peanut butter, jams, lunch meats, and spreads. A two-year-old can open the refrigerator and get her own prepared snack or cold drink stored in a little cup. A slightly older child can pour her own juice and make her own lunch. Use a bottom drawer to hold forks, knives and spoons. Mount a low shelf on a wall for plates, cups, and napkins.

Children Can Help Around the House

If presented correctly, children as young as age two delight in caring for their environment: dusting, mopping, scrubbing, cleaning, and polishing. They should be able to do so as easily at home as at school. It is perfectly reasonable to ask older children to straighten up their rooms and help with simple household chores.

  Give your child his own little broom or small vacuum.

  Hang a feather duster on a hook.

  Provide a hamper for your child’s dirty clothes. Ask him to carry them to the laundry room on a regular basis.

  The bathroom should have a small bucket with a bathtub scrub brush and a sponge.

  Folding towels and napkins is a good activity to teach the young child.

Preparing for Holidays and Special Celebrations Should Be a Family Affair

Children are an integral part of the family, and should play a meaningful role in planning and preparing for holidays and family celebrations. According to their age, children can be very helpful: cleaning their rooms, chopping vegetables, helping with the cooking and baking, setting the table, carrying food to the table, setting out holiday decorations, receiving guests at the door, sitting nicely at the table, acting as hosts and hostesses to young friends and relatives visiting their home. We are all pleased when friends and relatives compliment us on our children’s intelligence, charm, and courtesy.


Children’s values and knowledge about the world have traditionally been shaped by four cultural influences: the home, school, church, and peer groups. Today, television represents a fifth and incredibly powerful culture over which most of us have scant knowledge and exercise little control. This is unfortunate, especially when you consider that it has become the baby-sitter of choice in all too many families.

There are several problems with uncontrolled television and kids. The violence portrayed on television is tremendously concerning. In one year a child can see thousands of murders, fights, car crashes, and mid-air explosions. Certainly, the values and problem-solving approach considered appropriate to many producers differs from our own; however, an even greater concern is the hypnotic character of television viewing.

Many parents observe that their young children can sit for hours and hours enthralled by Saturday morning TV. Of course they sit and watch for long periods; they are in a trance. TV viewing is at best a passive experience. It requires no thought, no imagination, and no effort. Quality children’s programming can be terrific, but most of what’s available is anything but. What other medium can so wonderfully transport us to another time or place? TV is best doled out in carefully planned and measured doses.

Children really do not need TV to entertain themselves. Establish some family ground rules that make sense to you. Determine the shows that your children can watch, and limit the number of hours a day your child can spend in front of the set. Give your children as much choice as possible: “You can choose from among the following shows; however, you can only watch three of them in any one day. What do you want today’s choices to be?”


Some families allow children to watch only public television on their own. The parents consider whether commercial television shows are appropriate on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes a show may have real value, but it may have confusing or disturbing content. In these cases, the whole family should watch the show and then discuss it together.

Working Together as a Couple

Many parents have lamented that their efforts to create some order for their child’s toys are undermined by the other parent’s looser concept of order. Creating this clear sense of external order is extremely important for all children, especially when they are younger than four. Parents must work together!

In Conclusion

So often, parents are frustrated in their efforts to keep the peace in their homes. They concentrate on trying to get their children to do what they want them to do, instead of nurturing the family ties. Children need to be respected as independent human beings. Discipline should be taught as a series of positive lessons conducted by loving, confident parents who know that their children are basically good and completely capable of doing the right thing. Children tend to live up to our expectations.

Love is not enough; the respect that we give children and insist on in return is the key. Do not ask your children to earn your respect and trust.

Assume that they deserve to be treated with respect from the beginning. Sometimes parents try to be “best friends” with their children, which tends to become a serious mistake. Children will have many friends throughout the course of their lives, but they will only have one set of parents. If we get caught up in having our children “like” us, we will find it difficult to confront them when they act out of line (as they will sooner or later).

Getting angry with parents is part of growing up. It’s how we create a bit of distance between us and our childhood. A parent should be loved, respected, and someone in whom to confide but not a buddy or playmate.

Speak to the very best within your child. Try to call forth from within her the young adult who will someday walk in her shoes. Children tend to live up to our expectations or down to our disrespect. This respect should extend to your child’s interests and all the “reasonable” activities in which she becomes engaged. Pay attention to the things that fascinate her and try to understand them.

As much as possible, support your child’s desires for activity. Don’t try to wait on or entertain her. Encourage her to be independent. Be very careful about what you do or say in front of children. As the poem goes, “Children learn what they live.” They are much more sensitive to our influence than we realize. We communicate volumes about how we feel about our children by the kind of home we make for them. By including children in our family life and showing concern for their feelings and respect for their interests, we tell them how much they really mean to us.

(Below) Children are an integral part of the family and should play a meaningful role in planning and preparing for celebrations. According to their age, children can be very helpful: cleaning their rooms, helping with cooking, setting the table, and greeting guests. The young child pictured below is using her Practical Life skills to help prepare for a family celebration.

Last Updated (Thursday, 16 July 2009 00:45)





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