Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Montessori Home-schooling and You

Thank you to Ivy, who writes this in the comment area.  I think it should be put to you readers broadly, as it is a topic of much discussion these days.  I hope you'll post opinions.

... what do you think about homeschooling Montessori-style? Does it work, or is it a contradiction of terms? With respect to practical life curriculum, I don't see why not. Also, art, math, literature, etc. curricula could be covered by an intelligent adult, no? I stumbled upon your discipline blog, and the statement that the Montessori method relies on peer pressure for normalizing stuck in my mind. Does this mean that a group of kids is necessary for what seems to be a very important ingredient of the learning that goes on in a Montessori environment? And further, I wonder, if peer pressure is considered to be a key influencer, what does this imply for individuality? The thing I regret most from my childhood was in fact the concept of wanting, no, needing to be like others in my group. This worked great in terms of discipline, but not so great in terms of self-esteem. In my teenage years I struggled with the idea of being "average" and did my best to live that down. Luckily, most of the time these efforts were productive, rather than destructive, but it could have gone the other way.

I have a certain bias toward a school model for several reasons.  I believe in school for kids older than two, and I think Maria Montessori did, too.  I come from a school-based model and a school-based training.  I suppose it is possible to find a training program that prepares Montessori teachers for home-schooling, but I don't know of any.  (Do you?  Did anyone train in one?)

The particular problem I would expect, though, is mostly one of creating an appropriate context.  The Montessori classroom is necessarily a space apart, especially "for the children".  It does seem a contradiction in terms to have a "children's house" within the confines of the "family house" and operating within the family relationship dynamic.  I would think it would be very hard to create such an environment--with the necessary level of remove on the part of the adult--within the family unit.   I guess the point is that it is necessary for the child to be very independent of the adult, and especially of the adult's desires and opinions, for a true "Montessori" class to emerge, and it's hard for me to imagine a small child-- whose life, well being, and sense of worth are all utterly intertwined with those of her parents-- being able to isolate her goals effectively from the goals of the parent (to say nothing of the parent's ability to do the same) to a degree that the kind of motivational independence we aim for in a Montessori environment is achieved at home.

I DO think that a Montessori environment can be achieved at home for children two years old and under, because that early time is one of bonding and forming attachments to significant adults, who should optimally (according to Montessori herself) be the parents.  The Montessori infant/toddler classroom, however you come down on the particulars,  really attempts to re-create such attachments in a group setting while preparing the child for greater independence--which the parent would naturally be doing also.  There is not so much separation expected in these very early years.  The primary curriculum, however, is built on a school model.

This is not to say that Montessori philosophy can't be used at home.  In fact, it has to be for the school program to be optimized.  However, what Montessori schools ask of parents is not more Montessori school at home, but reinforcement of principles in a family context, which is not at all the same experience, even if the ultimate goals are one.  I do see the difficulty with the idea of "normalizing" a child at home--the one place in the world where every child should be made to feel special, and be allowed to need to be treated specially.  Children at home should be showered with affection (I think), and should be exuberantly loved above all others, but this is not really the optimal Montessori teacher-child relationship in school.

I know that many readers are doing Montessori-style home school, and are having success, so please tell me how you do it?   What does it look like?  What is the same?  What is different?  What is easy?  What is hard?


magda said...

Thank you for this well-written explanation!

Coedith said...

I enjoyed this and have to agree-even though I do use Montessori philosophies to homeschool. Here is a link to a post I did about what it looks like for us:

Marcy said...

I don't think it's so much "peer pressure" (and certainly not the connotations that term implies) that is so essential to the Montessori environment, but the incredible and varied social interactions that happen in the classroom that are impossible to replicate in a smaller setting with inly one or even a handful of children. There's the modeling by the older children, the opportunities to learn from and teach each other, the pride that comes from an older child helping a younger child, etc etc etc.

I also love the point that the child should be showered with love and attention at home, which is pretty different from how the Montessori guide interacts with the children (not that they're "cold" or negligent, just that the adult is almost more of an afterthought from the point of view of the child... if that makes sense).

Testdriver said...

Great point, Marcy. The way I used to describe it is that the teacher should consider herself more a part of the environment than a part of the community. She is a beautiful, useful implement for learning, but not really a "participant" community member, not a part of the social fabric of the children's house.

h said...

I am an AMI-trained home schooling mama...

I agree with what everyone else seems to be saying. I think if you attempt to buy all the materials and set up a Montessori "classroom"/environment in your home, you will a) waste a lot of money on materials that will hardly be used, and b) waste your time since this at-home environment will never function the way a Children's House does. As Testdriver and Marcy so well explained, the children and their interactions and relationships are the defining factor of a well-functioning Children's House. Even if you have several children of your own, you will never achieve that same dynamic at home. Not to mention, having 50 different, beautiful activities available on the shelf for your own child(ren) is going to have very different (and perhaps negative) implications from having that same number of activities available to a group of 35 children.

However, I think there is so much to be gleaned from Dr. Montessori's philosophies to be used at home, both in terms of how the adult approaches the child (following the child, never forcing him to participate in a presentation, offering as little guidance possible, monitoring and closely understanding the child's cycles of activity, etc) and in terms of the lessons and activities we choose for our home schooled children (attractive materials which are auto-didactic and self correcting, etc).

Looking forward to reading more of everyone's insights!

Renee said...

I recently finished my AMI training, and have two little guys under 2 at home. Because of the cost of Montessori schools in my area, this has been a huge topic of thought and conversation lately.

I agree that the Montessori guide is supposed to be more like furniture in the environment... just blending in and showing up only in times of need.

The microcosmic society that forms in the Montessori classroom is also phenomenal, as Marcy mentioned. Peer pressure is not the aim at all (especially the connotations that pop into my mind), and actually quite the opposite is the goal: to develop freely thinking independent children who are motivated from within to interact with others and the environment and for them to develop a spirit of community and collaboration rather than competition or pressure. Not only are the interactions beautiful (seeing them help each other, assisting with younger children, modeling behavior after the older children, etc), but the opportunity for the children to experience the joy of independent discovery without the urge to show mama (or anyone) is powerful to witness!

I will never forget a former student who told me addition charts were "boring", but had only had a lesson on the first chart probably a whole year ago. I knew he aready knew some of the addition facts because he would rattle them off occasionally in conversation with friends. I showed him the simple setup of the blind chart and turned him loose. Had he been the center of my undivided attention day after day, I may not have skipped to the blind chart in that moment of spontaneity, as I would have probably urged him through the systematic progression of the charts rather than meeting him where he would be met with a challenge to get him engaged on a chaotic afternoon of shenanigans. He worked on that chart for the majority of two or three consecutive days before he mastered it. He would stop when he completed all the ones he knew and seemed to hunt out the answers to the ones he didn't know or quiz his friends on the ones he was having trouble with. Once he completed the chart, he independently moved on to the subtraction charts without the formal "lesson" on each step, because he knew how to do it and found the new memorization work challenging and engaging.

melissa said...

I am so glad that you wrote this! I more or less agree with what has already been said. I have often thought about this, but could not think of a way to tackle the subject without seeming as though I were marginalizing the work that Montessori homeschoolers do. In reality, I am amazed and inspired by many. Still, I struggle with the idea of Montessori homeschooling for reasons that have already been beautifully articulated. The method itself is inseparably entwined with the school model.

Stephanie said...

I am a homeschooling mommy that is trying my best to implemet montessori in my home with my two girls. I looked into the schools that we have in the area and they were either extreamly expensive, or not certified in any way. I really wish that I was able to give my girls the school room expiriance, but that is not to be. I have a classroom in my basement that has shelves and some breakup of areas and we "do school" down there. In our home everything that the girls can do on their own is either at their height, or a step stool will allow them to do it. I do think that they will loose some of the community benifits that a school would provide, but I also think that the benifits of doing Montessori at home will far outwiegh the other option of sending them to a pubic school. So those are my reasons for doing Montessori in a way that may not be everything it is meant to be, but I know that it will give them what they need to be independent and strong people in the world! :)

Testdriver said...


you bring up a great point about accessibility and program quality. In so many preschools, you will find some montessori "stuff" but are not really doing things in a philosophically coherent way. I think we should have a thread about how to spot an "impostor" montessori school. Hmm.

Unknown said...
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Ivy said...

Thank you all for the great insights! My boy is only 15 months and I haven't seriously started looking for schools. However, there is only one Montessori school in my area, and I have subconsciously postponed visiting it for fear of finding out that it's not up to par. Which makes a blog on "what is fake Montessori" a very interesting and timely topic (at least for me).

I agree that the philosophy taken out of context may not translate as well. However, half-way Montessori may be better than some unknown mishmash of pop education...

So perhaps another discussion might be interesting on how to best adopt Montessori to a home-schooling environment (accepting this is a second best option). What are the ingredients that would have to be present? How can the interaction of children with each other be replicated or replaced? How about the teacher/parent - how can the two roles be blended smoothly with no conflict? Would an AMI certification for the parent be superfluous or necessary?

Miri said...

Such a difficult question...

If I had a true Montessori school nearby, I believe our son would find his way there (even if we had to take a mortgage for that:). I wish he did. But.. not having this option urged us to try to create the most likely Montessori environment we are able to create at home. Yes, it is far from being perfect - but this is better than not tasting Montessori at all. No doubt in that for me at least. This is the most difficult thing I have ever made. I've learned a lot through the process though. For me, today it is simply the matter of priorities. I've spent a lot of time thinking about the most vital Montessori principles, and than trying to adapt homeschooling for that. For me, to copy Montessori classroom at home will most definitely be a failure. To adapt Montessori for home and try to implement the philosophy, the sentences instead of the words on their own - well, that might definitely work. All of you are right of course - social interactions between Montessori children are probably the cord of Montessori. It is almost impossible to create it at home, but it is possible not to be an adult we are, think in the specific situation what would the children do and react towards you child in the like matter, for instance. I hope I've managed to explain myself explain myself clear enough. A parent in Montessori homeschooling is neither the teacher nor a peer. He is both of them and none of them at the same time. Finding the right balance for adult presence in every meaning that his presence might influence a child would be the key for Montessori success at home. although I wouldn't ever use Montessori and success in the same sentence. It is a daily struggle to turn into the part of the environment, but yet be there when needed - as a parent it is SO difficult, but not impossible. What is Montessori about? There are so many answer for this question. For me Montessori is about encouraging self learning and independent discovery, enabling the children finding their true selves, and today, I will add, it is also about not losing the magic that learning might have. One should believe that all of this can be achieved even in the homeschool environment. Maria Montessori lived in a diffe homerent time. I don't agree that she was against Montessori homeschooling, I think it was simply not an option in her times (please correct me and direct me in her writing saying the opposite). I would even dare to add that in Montessori learning never ends - even in the purest school it would fail if there is no adequate support at home. While homeschooling, you must be creative - always and everywhere. There is so such a thing - three hours circle and then leaving home. At home this simply never ends. Once again, child lead homeschooling will look very different then Montessori classroom. Being creative and not trying to force oneself on your child means sometimes to find the spirit and flow with that - it might include different set up, different presentations, different guidance - this will not matter. The child can become normalized at home too. He can be a truly free being, believing in himself, walking independently in his path, learning from anything he can learn, showing that he can manage in any social interactions he meets when not at home, because of what he experienced at home . And of course, I didn't mention it because it is So obvious - being a constant example to your child is the best Montessori guidance one can give. Maria Montessori never stopped to experiment, study from observation, learning from the children and adapt everything to their needs. This is what we homeschoolers do. In some way homeschoolers are even more productive in this meaning, as there can't be any training that might prepare them for this. Every parent and every home are so different, not to mention the parent-child interaction.

Sorry for not so ordered answer. Too tired to re-read it. Thought someone would be interested in these thoughts...

howwemontessori said...

Great article, well written. We have a great Montessori school nearby so the choice was easy for us. However I love how you mention that the school program is optimised by using the Montessori philosophy at home/reinforcement of principles in a family context. This is exactly what we try to do, it's not just about sending your child off to a Montessori school, for us it is about following the philosophy consistently throughout our lives, as best we can.

Nola mom said...

I love the Montessori philosophy and wanted to send my child to a Montessori school, but he has an Autism Spectrum Disorder, and though he is intelligent and "high functioning," he is wired in such a way that social cues don't work for him the same way they do for most kids. He has a desire to be social, but this desire shows itself in atypical ways.
On one hand, Montessori seemed great for targeting many of his needs: many of the materials help develop fine motor skills and are meant to be used in a very specific, procedural way; the environment of the classroom is consistently maintained, and the goals to promote social collaboration along with independence are just what the doctor ordered.
However, the idea that the teacher should be part of the background and not interfere, that the experience should be "child-led" were problematic for us. I had heard stories of children with ASD perseverating on one activity obsessively with no one guiding them to explore anything else.
To make matters more complicated for me, we had started using Applied Behavioral Analysis-based therapy for my son, which at first glance seems the polar opposite of the Montessori model: adult-led and reward based. It worked beautifully for my child (in spite of all my prejudices against it). So how to reconcile my philosophical beliefs--and the way I'd always thought I'd parent, with the reality of how I actually was required to parent thanks to the ultimate curve ball of autism.
The post about discipline in this blog was what started the pieces falling into place. Unless I misinterpreted, Montessori "works" by a) controlling the environment and by b)relying on the social community of peers (i.e., "peer pressure" but more on that in a bit). Ah ha! It seemed to me that what we might think of as intrinsic motivation comes from our social wiring as human beings. As very young children, we want to please the grown ups and model our behavior after theirs to feel "big." As we get a little older, we start to pay attention to what our peers are doing. I believe Montessori cleverly uses this social component to gently pull children towards the activities that comprise the Montessori education while maintaining order and good behavior. Ever-so-subtly there IS external motivation and reinforcement woven into the design, but the child takes over just as soon as those behaviors are internalized.
Ideally, behaviorism works in a similar way. Children won’t become dependent on adults to feel good about themselves if the adults reinforce behaviors properly and then fade the reinforcers. Independence does eventually take over. The key is in the execution, and the roots are in motivation. While your average kiddo is successful in a Montessori setting in part because of being motivated by that innate drive to be social, a not-so-average kiddo needs that motivation to start from a different place. This COULD be accomplished in a Montessori school but it takes additional training and a resistance to dogma.
So for me, like many others who commented here, Montessori was desired but not possible, and that meant finding a way to incorporate some of the practices and blending them with ABA. I'm not a homeschooler, but I still think it's important to find ways to apply Montessori in real life, whatever that looks like. And that is why I love this blog.
One last thing, I was struck by some of the reactions to "peer pressure." Ah semantics! The negative connotations of peer pressure ("Are you going to jump off a bridge because everybody else is doing it?") show how conflicted many of us feel about the complex relationship between our roles as individuals and members of groups. Humans evolved as social animals; it's crucial to our survival. What I have learned from my close proximity to autism is that failing to connect to the larger group of society can limit one's independence as an individual! One is not more desirable than the other; the two are interwoven.

Jessie, The Education Of Ours said...

I'm still figuring it out. A Montessori teacher/mama here :) My entire home is for them, but we have a separate room for the materials, that's one thing that worked for us.

My oldest is in public preschool, and I offer work time anytime at home. We are unstructured in time, but the materials are used well. My tots are happy to be with practical life. An ongoing adventure for our home :)

Ewa said...

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Here is a link to the giveaway:

Blessings for you and your family

NOLAmom said...

Testdriver, did you get a flat tire? Are you broken down on the side of the road?

C'mon! Put the pedal to the metal and get back out here. It's been way too long.

Jessica said...

Just finding this blog, and found this topic interesting.

Like another commenter above, I am an AMI trained homeschooling mom - I have both primary and elementary training.

And I FIRMLY see the benefits of Montessori homeschooling, even with a great school right next door (I don't have one next door - but I would love to open one in my area!).

To get right to the point with the differences between school and homeschool - the topics raised in both the blog post and in the comments, come down to ONE MAIN POINT:

Almost all of the issues that have been raised are purely "school vs homeschool" issues - they are NOT specific to Montessori. (separation of "mom" from "teacher"; independence of the child; socialization with other peers - while Montessori gets closer to the real world with the 3 year age groupings, many homeschoolers focus on society at large and what "real life" looks like which is working with a WIDE variety of ages and that's not JUST Montessori homeschoolers, that is ALL homeschoolers - we don't focus on the 1-2 children at home, we focus on society at large).

And homeschool parents find a way to do it.

By its very nature, homeschooling looks very different from schooling.

The only Montessori-related issue raised is in the materials: that we don't have "all" the materials out at once, as if we had 35 children - because we don't have that many; so there does need to be guidance provided for how much is appropriate.

The one topic not raised is that the adult CAN serve in the role of "other children" by working on material making or material "checking" when a child is working on something else - it provides some of that observation that would happen in the classroom.

Regarding another comment about the homeschool parent not skipping ahead to something a child is ready for (and needs a challenge - in the example given in regards to the memorization boards) - YES, we do have some parents who want to do every single step even if it's not necessary - but this happens in regular homeschool too! And the beauty of homeschooling, is that when the adult learns their comfort zone and where things can be "let go", the presentations flow freer. Just the other day, I informally gave my son a presentation that he is "two years too young for" according to my albums. He did great! We'll just proceed at his own pace - NOT mine, NOT an arbitrary curriculum.
BUT THIS is a generic homeschool issue - not particular to Montessori.

Unknown said...


rani kumari said...

very nice,,post,,,thanks


Dipa kumari said...

wow good.......