Designing a Montessori Home


 by Tim Seldin



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.”
Maria Montessori

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 Japanese 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 will make 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 on the wall at your child’s eye level on which he can hang art work school papers.
• Don’t use a toy box.  Imagine the chaos in your kitchen or workshop if you threw your tools and utensils together in a chest.  Instead use low shelves to display books and toys  Try to duplicate the look of your child’s classroom.
• Notice how Montessori teachers avoid clutter.  Place toys with many pieces in appropriate containers, such as tupperware “boxes” with lids, basket, or in a sturdy plastic bag.  
• Use a sturdy wooden crate to hold your child’s building blocks.  
• You may want to create a model town or farm on 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 Lego blocks in a large, colorful and sturdy canvas bag with handles. Sew on strips of velcro to fasten the bag closed. In your child’s bedroom the bag will serve as a sack to contain his Legos. When you travel it is very easy to pick the bag up to come along.  
• 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.  
• Flower vases: Encourage your child to collect flowers from the fields or garden for his room.
• Provide some shelf space for a small nature museum in your child’s room.  Here he can display rocks that he finds, interesting seeds, and (in small cages) interesting ‘critters.’
• Music should be an important part of every child’s life. Set some space aside for a simple stereo system and collection of recordings.

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.  
• Build wooden platforms 6-8 inches high that actually fit around toilets and sinks.

An Art 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 tupperware 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 Tupperware 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 Tupperware containers to hold peanut butter, jams, lunch meats, and spreads.  A child of two 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 from age two to six take delight in caring for their environment, dusting, mopping, scrubbing, cleaning and polishing, and 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 chore.
• Give your child his own little broom or dust buster.
• 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.



Montessori Terminology


Dr. Maria Montessori introduced many new terms and concepts to describe how children grow and learn. Here are definitions of some widely used Montessori words and phrases.

Absorbent mind – From birth through approximately age 6, the young child experiences a period of intense mental activity that allows her to “absorb” learning from her environment without conscious effort, naturally and spontaneously.

Casa dei Bambini – In Italian, “Children’s House,” and the name of Dr. Montessori’s first school.

Children’s House – In many Montessori schools, this is the classroom for children ages 2.5 (or 3) to 6 years; other schools call the classroom for this age group Casa, preschool, or primary school. Some schools use this term to refer to the entire school.

Concrete to abstract – A logical, developmentally appropriate progression that allows the child to come to an abstract understanding of a concept by first encountering it in a concrete form, such as learning the mathematical concept of the decimal system by working with Golden Beads grouped into units, 10s, 100s, and 1,000s.

Control of error – Montessori materials are designed so that the child receives instant feedback as he works, allowing him to recognize, correct, and learn from his mistakes without adult assistance. Putting control of the activity in the child’s hands strengthens his self-esteem and self-motivation as well as his learning.

Cosmic education – Maria Montessori urged us to give elementary-level children a “vision of the universe” to help them discover how all parts of the cosmos are interconnected and interdependent. In Montessori schools, these children, ages 6 – 12, begin by learning about the universe, its galaxies, our galaxy, our solar system, and planet Earth—everything that came before their birth to make their life possible. As they develop respect for past events, they become aware of their own roles and responsibilities in the global society of today and tomorrow.

Didactic materials – Didactic meaning “designed or intended to teach,” these are the specially designed instructional materials—many invented by Maria Montessori—used in Montessori classrooms.

Directress or guide – Historically, the designation for the lead teacher in a Montessori classroom; some schools still refer to the lead teacher as “guide.” In Montessori education, the role of the instructor is to direct or guide individual children to purposeful activity based upon the instructor’s observation of each child’s readiness. The child develops his own knowledge through hands-on learning with didactic materials he chooses.

Erdkinder – German for “child of the earth,” this term describes a Montessori learning environment for adolescents ages 12 – 15 that connects them with nature and encourages them to form a society of their own; often designed as a working farm school.

Grace and courtesy – Children are formally instructed in social skills they will use throughout their lives, for example, saying “please” and “thank you,” interrupting conversations politely, requesting rather than demanding assistance, and greeting guests warmly.

Montessori – The term may refer to Dr. Maria Montessori, founder of the Montessori Method of education, or the method itself.

Nido – “Nest” in Italian, this is a Montessori environment for infants ages 2 – 14 months.

Normalization – A natural or “normal” developmental process marked by a love of work or activity, concentration, self-discipline, and joy in accomplishment. Dr. Montessori observed that the normalization process is characteristic of human beings at any age.

Normalizing event – Within the prepared environment of the Montessori classroom, children experience a normalizing event every time they complete a basic work cycle, which includes 1) choosing an activity; 2) completing the activity and returning the materials to the proper place; and 3) experiencing a sense of satisfaction.

Planes of development – Four distinct periods of growth, development, and learning that build on each other as children and youth progress through them: ages 0 – 6 (the period of the “absorbent mind”); 6 – 12 (the period of reasoning and abstraction); 12 – 18 (when youth construct the “social self,” developing moral values and becoming emotionally independent); and 18 – 24 years (when young adults construct an understanding of the self and seek to know their place in the world).

Practical life – The Montessori term that encompasses domestic work to maintain the home and classroom environment; self-care and personal hygiene; and grace and courtesy. Practical life skills are of great interest to young children and form the basis of later abstract learning.

Practical life activities – Young children in Montessori classrooms learn to take care of themselves and their environment through activities such as hand washing, dusting, and mopping. These activities help toddlers and preschool-age children learn to work independently, develop concentration, and prepare for later work with reading and math; older children participate in more advanced activities.

Prepared environment – The teacher prepares the environment of the Montessori classroom with carefully selected, aesthetically arranged materials that are presented sequentially to meet the developmental needs of the children using the space. Well-prepared Montessori environments contain appropriately sized furniture, a full complement of Montessori materials, and enough space to allow children to work in peace, alone or in small or large groups.

Primary classroom – In some Montessori schools, this is a classroom for children ages 3 – 6 years; however, the American Montessori Society uses the term Early Childhood and defines the age range as 2.5 – 6 years.

Sensitive period – A critical time during human development when the child is biologically ready and receptive to acquiring a specific skill or ability—such as the use of language or a sense of order—and is therefore particularly sensitive to stimuli that promote the development of that skill. A Montessori teacher prepares the environment to meet the developmental needs of each sensitive period.

Sensorial exercises – These activities develop and refine the 5 senses—seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling—and build a foundation for speech, writing, and math through the use of sensorial materials. The exercises also bring order to the barrage of sensorial impressions the child experiences from birth onward.

The 3-period lesson – A 3-step technique for presenting information to the child. In the first—the introduction or naming period—the teacher demonstrates what “this is.” (The teacher might say “This is a mountain” while pointing to it on a 3-dimensional map.) In the second—the association or recognition period—the teacher asks the child to “show” what was just identified (“Show me the mountain”). Finally, in the recall period, the teacher asks the child to name the object or area. Moving from new information to passive recall to active identification reinforces the child’s learning and demonstrates her mastery.

Work – Purposeful activity. Maria Montessori observed that children learn through purposeful activities of their own choosing; Montessori schools call all of the children’s activities “work.”


FAQ – International Baccalaureate and Montessori

How does the Montessori Philosophy and the IB work together?

As children turn 5 or 6 at IMSA, they're ready to continue the Primary Years Programme (PYP) at IMSA's sister School, World Academy of Tirana (WAT) which is an International Baccalaureate, certified World School (IB school code 006795).  It’s core values and goals are in harmony with the Montessori philosophy, so that Montessori educated children may continue with a programme which is compatible with the one they're used to explore the world around them.

Which are the similarities between IB and Montessori?

•Both are based upon Method rather than Content.

•Both promote individual enquiry.

•Both promote social and community behaviour.

•Both promote children’s education for peace.

•Both are child-centred (rather than teacher-centred).

•Both set high expectations – “all children are gifted”.

•Both believe in self-discipline and integral sense of purpose.

•Both have diversity leading to global perspectives.

•Both promote balance and harmony in the person.

•Both promote connections between presented separativities.

•Both promote the value of solid, hard and uninterrupted work.

“The children’s innate passion for learning is encouraged by giving them opportunities to engage in spontaneous, purposeful activities with the guidance of a trained adult.”

“If education is always to be conceived along the same antiquated lines of a mere transmission of knowledge, there is little to be hoped from it in the bettering of man’s future.”

Maria Montessori

The IBO aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.

These programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.”

IB Mission Statement

Is Montessori opposed to competition?

Dr Montessori, herself an extraordinary student and a very high achiever, was never opposed to competition on principle. Her objection was to using competition to create an artificial motivation to get students to achieve. She observed that competition was an ineffective tool to motivate children to learn and work hard in school. Montessori argued that for an education to profoundly touch a child’s heart and mind, the child must be learning because they are curious and interested, not to earn the highest grade in the class.

Traditionally schools challenge students to compete with each other for grades, class rankings, and special awards. Students are constantly measured against their classmates, rather than considered for their individual progress. At IMSA and WAT, students learn to collaborate with each other rather than mindlessly compete. Students discover their own innate abilities and develop a strong sense of independence, self-confidence, and self-discipline. In an atmosphere in which children learn at their own pace and compete only against themselves, they learn not to be afraid of making mistakes. They quickly find that few things in life come easily, and they can try again without fear of embarrassment.

How much freedom in the classroom do WAT IB students  really have?

While the students at WAT are permitted considerable latitude to pursue topics that interest them, this freedom is conditional and comes with clear responsibilities. Children must be considerate and not disturb the learning of others. Both children and teachers are aware of the work that must be done by each student, covering all areas required in the curriculum. Children who have been at IMSA from an early age and whose home environment is compatible with Montessori education, tend to be self-directed in their learning. These children want to learn, and therefore lack of motivation is not a problem.

What is the teacher’s role in a an IMSA and WAT classroom?

The class teachers at IMSA and WAT are  primarily concerned with children as individuals. Their skill is to be an unobtrusive observer while directing each child in the learning process. You may need to look around the room to find the teacher because they are usually working quietly with a child on his/her individual level.