What the Heck is Montessori?

Only weirdos use Montessori for their kids, right? At least, that is what I thought initially. Several years ago, I was a nanny for two children who attended a Montessori school. I totally internally judged them, because the only things I had heard was that they didn’t have any rules so the kids ran wild and that the kids were unprepared for the “real world” of the conventional classroom.

Long story short, I was offered a position in the toddler room at the Montessori school they attended and four years later I have found my fit. I love what I do, I love the school, and I love Montessori. And I have determined that the world is sorely lacking in knowledge about Montessori. When I was an education major in school, I believe we read exactly one paragraph about the Montessori philosophy. But the world needs to know, so I am shouting it from the rooftops! (P.S. Make sure you also listen to my podcast all about Montessori. That episode is at the bottom of this post!)


What the heck is Montessori? Here is a simple explanation about the Montessori method and how I use it at home with my toddler. quirkyandthenerd.com


Now before I go on, let me just say that I am not a trained Montessori teacher. Everything I have learned is from experience working in a Montessori school and books and articles I have read. I am in no way an expert. I am also not going to delve into everything because we could have a conversation that lasted for hours about Montessori.

What is Montessori?

So when I think of Montessori, I think of a child-led learning environment where students are given the means to succeed while also given a safe place to make mistakes. Doesn’t that sound great? Especially when you think of the lecture based, standardized test environment that seems to consume the conventional education classroom today.

I’m not going to get into the history of Montessori education, but it was started by a doctor named Maria Montessori who studied underprivileged children and was inspired by her findings. If you are interested in the history of it, I would encourage you to look into it. But I am going to talk more about what the Montessori method is and how it works.

Focus on the Student

A Montessori environment is child-led. That means that if the child needs to move around, they can. They are not chained to a desk all day. They can sit on the floor or stand at a counter. Sometimes if a child shows an intense need to be physical, we can go for walks around the property or do physical work like snow shoveling, raking leaves, or plant watering.

Child-led learning also means that things can be somewhat tailored to them. Children can follow their interests and passions and learn naturally along the way. At my school, I have seen children make timelines about the history of football, build replicas of famous structures like Stonehenge, and go on field trips to the pet store to research what fish they could add to the class aquarium.

Montessori does have a set of educational materials called didactic materials. These are things like the pink tower and the binomial cube. These materials will be found in any Montessori classroom you walk into. A child could move across the country, but still be able to use the same work they did before.

Child-led learning also means that the student can choose what they are learning. The guide may give them a choice about what presentation they receive next. If a child continually chooses math but neglects reading, the guide will find a way to make reading more attractive to the child.

Prepared Environments

A prepared environment is what a Montessori classroom strives to be. That means that activities are completely ready to be used. In the toddler room, every morning we put everything back where it goes before the children arrive. We make sure every activity has all of the pieces, we make sure there are an appropriate amount of paper for things like coloring, scissor cutting work, or newspaper ripping, and we straighten the shelves so that everything looks inviting.

Children are given the tools for success, but are encouraged to continue trying when they fail. Everyone fails in one way or another, so it is important to show that failing doesn’t mean you should give up. One of the things I say the most in the toddler room is “Try again.” Perseverance is a great quality to nurture in children.

That’s nice, but what about babies and toddlers?

I worked in the toddler room for 4 years, so I have a lot of experience with toddlers and Montessori.

From birth until age 3, children have what is called an absorbent mind. That means that like a sponge, they soak up information. They learn naturally from the things around them. I’ve definitely had toddlers who out of nowhere would (mostly successfully) do an activity I know they had never tried before. They learned how to do it by watching. Amazing!

One important thing to note is that most adults are inclined to call what children are doing “play,” but we call it “work.” Toddlers are working on learning about the world. Calling it work gives it legitimacy instead of brushing it off as just “play.”

How do you use it at home then?

There are so many ways to use it at home. I have made my living room more Montessori friendly. We tried to be Montessori friendly even when Mac was a baby. I’ve done activities like a bean tub and stickers. I have written about what my Montessori toddler plays with and what a Montessori toddler should read. I’ve even written about my toddler helping feed the dog.

There are ways to have a Montessori home without going crazy. Make sure you click through my Montessori tag for more ideas!

What the Heck is Montessori Podcast

So tell me, what else confuses you about Montessori? Let me know in the comments so I can clear up any misunderstandings.


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  3. Morgan Wieboldt | 25th Jun 16

    I love the idea of calling “playing” “working. As a mom to a 2 year old, I can definitely see that!

  4. Amanda Adams | 5th Sep 16

    Absolutely love this article!!! I clicked onto your unconventional mothering page too and I love every thing about it!! I’m a primary school teacher and always get asked about my methods as I have flexible seating, lots of physical play, child led projects, activity choice and so many more “different” ideas. I dont believe in formal assessment like standardised tests either and you will not see weekly spelling tests in my room! I never knew it was more on the Montessori spectrum! Can’t wait to follow you and read more! I do Montessori type activities at home with my baby and toddler now too!!! Check out my page @MW_adventures

  5. Colleen | 6th Sep 16

    Hello! The title of your article caught my eye and I had to check it out! I am a Infant/Toddler Montessori certified teacher and worked in a Montessori toddler/twos room for 10 years. You have explained the Montessori philosophy quite well! It is a beautiful environment where everything serves a purpose, each child is exploring their interests and at their skill level. I loved your perspective!

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