Are you new to Montessori?! Do you feel sometimes overwhelmed with the amount of new information you need to process? Would you like to hear advice from Montessori parents, bloggers, and teachers on common mistakes Montessori newbies make and how to avoid them!?
I invited people who successfully implemented the Montessori method into their parenting and teaching to share their opinion and expertise. We are here to help those who are at the start of their Montessori journey. Here is a piece of knowledge that you won’t find in manuals because we share our personal experience something we have learned from making our own mistakes. We hope we can help you to avoid them, have a smooth transition into the world of the Montessori method.
I think one of the biggest missed opportunities for someone entering into the real world of a Montessori classroom is to not locate an experienced Montessori Guide to mentor with.
For me, my training was helpful, but the real inner work, the transformational work, happened during my mentoring which I received for 8 years, and continue to. It is important to not isolate yourself, to observe when and wherever you can, to ask for guidance, and to look to the child when you are uncertain of what to do. One thing one of my mentors advised, and practiced while teaching was…if you are uncertain of what to do in a moment, sit down anyplace and anywhere with the children and sing. It opens your heart.
From working with many parents just starting on their Montessori journey, I’d say the biggest mistake it to try and replicate a school in their home. Unless you are full time homeschooling with a number of kids, you don’t actually need all that equipment. Buying a few key pieces to start with, such as The Pink Tower, The Brown Stair, The Red Rods and The Knobless Cylinders are a great place to start. Many other activities can be put together using things that you have around the home.
The other problem which is interconnected with the above is when parents try to present activities without really understanding why and when. Expecting a 3-year-old to be interested because the manual says that they should be. Instead of learning to follow the child. It’s easy to get sucked into reading blogs and pinning like crazy on Pinterest then putting together amazing work for the child to do but if the child is not drawn to the work, or not in a sensitive period for that particular type of work. Then the activity will flop and the parents often feel frustrated or annoyed.
It’s important when you are starting out to sit back and observe, really watch your child and learn to see what lights them up, they all develop differently so accept your child is where he or she needs to be right now and take the cues for equipment, work, and activities from there.
There are many but I would say, being too controlling. Freedom in the Montessori classroom is not easy to keep well balanced. We cannot let everything become a free for all but we have to also be careful to not micromanage everything in the false hope of making normalization happen.
I often see this mistake in photos of Montessori bedrooms for the young child. The bed and the mirror should always be separated. The floor bed is for relaxation and sleep, the mirror is for active play and movement. It is important to create two different areas as to not confuse the child. The mirror and bar can often be placed in a communal area of the home, this will keep the child close to the rest of the family where we can observe them and they can observe us. The floor bed should be set-up in a quiet area of the home, either in their own bedroom or in the parent or older sibling’s room.
A. M. Sterling
One of the biggest mistakes that parents or caregivers can make is having an environment that is not fully prepared for learning. This is so fundamental in harvesting a place for your children to grow and learn! A properly set up environment is one that is free of clutter, distractions, and hazards and is accessible to your child regardless of age. This is something “Montessori Newbies” as well as skilled Montessorians must focus on constantly.
Get rid of distractions such as the television and iPads. Minimize electrical cords, cover electrical outlets, and keep the space clean. Use the child’s point of view to help you adapt the environment to the child. Help put things within reach of the child by lowering them or by putting stools in place so they can reach things like sinks to wash hands or the countertop so that they may help out with meal preparation. Incorporate child-sized items like cups, utensils, table and chairs into their surroundings so that they can mimic you with ease.
Children are naturally curious, which creates the very foundation of their learning. Honor their curiosity by preparing the environment properly and gently guide your child as he or she blossoms into their full potential. Follow the child, as well, to not only help you prepare their environment but to acknowledge that they are impressively able to lead their own educational experience.
Congratulations “Newbies”, on discovering the world of Montessori!
-Ashley and Mitch Sterling (A. M. Sterling)
Many Montessori newbies tend to skip over the sensorial materials and instead focus on language and math skills with young children. Some also focus on practical life skills. People tend to forget that in order for children to succeed in the classroom, they need to understand the senses and awaken them for learning. This occurs when introducing sensorial materials before introducing language and math materials. Thankfully fixing the problem is easy. Don’t forget sensorial materials and activities!
I think one of the biggest mistakes new Montessori parents make is that they can find it difficult to stop interrupting their child. Over and over again parents tell me that they found it hard to stand back and observe their child at first without interrupting and directing and ‘suggesting’ and ‘helping’. But once they do stop interrupting and instead learn to observe their child, they quickly see that there is a natural rhythm to the way their child works. Parents are often amazed and how deeply – and for how long – their child can concentrate when allowed to do so. Montessori requires a shift in thinking for parents and one of the big shifts is to ‘follow the child’.
Parents often tell me that they didn’t realise how much they interrupted their child needlessly to get the child to do something to the adult’s schedule – even when that wasn’t really necessary. A second mistake that parents often make is that they underestimate the change that is required in THEM.
Often a Montessori parent experienced a different parenting style in their own childhood and it soon becomes apparent how hardwired those parenting habits are, particularly during times of time pressure or stress. The characteristics of a Montessori adult (patience, humility, and grace) can take some time to assume, but parents tell me the results are always worth it, thousand times over.
Montessori is about structure. The misconception lies in a misunderstanding of the definition and role of the prepared environment and not understanding or realizing that the children shape their learning in the prepared environment.
I believe one common mistake Montessori newbies make is confusing routine with a schedule. When you are first starting out you learn that children like to have predictability in their day so it is tempting to sit down and write a minute by minute schedule, however how realistic is this?
We are talking about children here. Events come up and sometimes your child is in the middle of a self-directed teachable moment but the clock says it is time to start lunch. Do you interrupt that precious self-exploration moment for the sake of sticking with a schedule?
I think it is best to have routines, no strict schedules. Rest time is followed by individual time or after breakfast, we go outside. Do not kill yourself on the minutes and set times. Montessori creates a beautiful environment that is fluid and adaptable based on the child’s current exploration and development.
Some days you have to read a book 5 times because your child is soaking it up like a sponge while tomorrow they may only choose to sit through one story. Today your child might spend two hours outside because they discover a locust and want to look at it and listen to it. Other days they might not even notice that turtle outside or be less than thrilled they are outside in 100F degree weather.
Do not put so much pressure on yourself to follow a strict schedule. Montessori is a way of life directed by independence and exploration, not something foreign and unnatural. Strive for routine in will feel more genuine and keep your sanity.
I think the common mistake we make in the beginning is trying to apply a philosophy we don’t even understand! We have to take time to read about it, review its differences with the way our parents raised us, and focus on every type of activity that is possible with DIY material, to grasp the whole process of each activity before investing in any expansive material. Thank you
New teachers should understand the context the children come from and not expect a child to be independent right away Many children come from homes where chaos is the norm. They bring that with them, work on making connections and trusting relationships.
Once a child is settled in let them explore and observe them. Don’t try to control the process. Don’t try to be the perfect Montessori teacher. It is all a process and we will grow with it if we pay attention to what is going on within ourselves. Have fun with the kids.
For Parents. Don’t expect the child to be an academic wonder. The Montessori is not about producing an academic astute child. Even though many times that is a result. Work on making your philosophy at home align with the Montessori philosophy. (No we don’t think you are in need of parent classes) But it makes the transition from home to school easier for your child. That is what we are aiming for, isn’t it? Making life easier?
I really believe it is important to explain our philosophy matter of fact~ NOT advertise or predict that someone’s child will be doing this and doing that to make it sound as if we are cranking geniuses, to appease a certain type of advanced academic-expecting parents.
We need to communicate that as we work with “the whole child,” that is what we do and that the works are all here waiting for the moment a child is truly ready for it. There should be no rushing into writing when a child has not developed fine motor control, no reading if they haven’t mastered phonics, etc.
The biggest rookie mistake is to assume if you are prepared to do lessons that the children and the classroom will run efficiently. You do need to be prepared but you also need a Plan B to fall back on. That means being flexible and not being unwilling to forget what you had planned and doing something unexpected because that’s what the needed, especially when the day is not going according to plan. Take advantage of your Teacher Assistants’ hidden talents and skills. The Assistant can be a great ally. Her classroom management, music, and other talents can create a bridge between you and some of the more difficult parent-teacher relationships. In some of my Parent-Teacher Conferences, the biggest thing some of my parents rave about is my Assistant’s French or Fish Tail braiding of their little girl’s hair and how happy this makes their child feel. This is so unexpected but so treasured by the parents.
I find a lot of new Montessori teachers have a hard time taking the time out of their day to OBSERVE their classroom– what’s going on daily with the children and overall ambiance of the classroom etc. Even if you take 10 min a day just observing it makes all the difference
I also notice that a lot of new teachers expect everything that they learned from their training to go exactly as they learned it– children in real life are different than reading it in a book.
The last thing I notice with newbies is they don’t have very good parent communication skills.
My own experience here in the states with “newbies” is the idea that Montessori is for those with money to afford private or charter schools. I know that some charters are publicly funded but often the association made to Montessori is to ‘that which is out-of-the-question for most families, monetarily and/or culturally.
I think my biggest mistake was not realizing how much time it really takes to prepare the lessons and the corresponding materials. Lessons need to be fun, educational and must have a common denominator with the interests of the child. Organization, and freeing time for research and prep were my tools for success.
One of the biggest mistakes is not following your child – buying materials and laminating cards can become an obsession and observing and following your child are more important.
Before entering in Montessori world, newbies should understand it fully. Newbies should only use those educational materials which correlate to the curriculum. Before applying any Montessori method, it is very essential to understand the culture, environment, and surroundings in which kids are growing. You can not apply all the methods and tools at all the places at the same level.
Applying required modifications, and understanding individual differences is the basic necessity. I think this is one common mistake which parents, homeschoolers, or teachers make. I can say this by my personal experiences as a mother of two kids. I am neither very active on social media nor have my own website. Technology can only guide you but it can never be the only way to learn about Montessori.
1) Often I observe that new Montessorians may not have the practice of not shouting across the room. Though a bell or rain stick may be used to get whole class attention, walking up to a child and waiting for them to be interrupted- then whisper in their ear is always a good habit rather than interrupting many just to speak to one. Ideally, waiting to speak to a child when they take a natural break is also encouraged.
However, a dead silent room all the time is not the goal- observing the children and providing an environment that fits their needs is- and if some need to whisper to work- that is ok as long as they are respectful to others. I have observed new teachers threatening students to lose recess if they are too loud.
2) Thinking that our album is a curriculum map (elementary). When you are unfamiliar with the scope and flow of the lessons, then it seems arbitrary to follow the lessons you observed in training (and you may forget)- so utilize what is out there from sites like AMS or Montessori Made Manageable. Do not fear the Common Core State Standards. The majority of them fit nicely with what we cover anyway- educated yourself before reacting to them.
3) Peace education MUST be regularly practiced in the room. This is also demonstrated by how you interact with children – they are always observing you too.
4) Montessori education is based on a PHILOSOPHY- just because you have the materials does NOT mean you are following Dr. Montessori. Read Read and Read and then talk to experienced Montessorians. Observe in other classes. Remember that it will take at least 3 years for you to get a comfortable feel of the cycle.
In Italy, Montessori newbies think that “the Montessori method” means “freedom” and that children can do all that they want because they need to explore all the possibilities to choose independently. I’m a Montessori teacher and I have already understood that unfortunately many parents here don’t read Montessori’s books and take only some information on the web 🙁 .. I think that it’s very important to explain to them that, yes, the child is “free to choose”, but only in a Montessori environment, with the right material to work and with an expert teacher who can support him in his development!
When I was a newbie, I was still influenced by my culture and how I was raised, I applied the punishment method once (time-out) which I felt wrong at the time. I asked my mentor what to do in such a situation especially I deal with juniors (2.5Y, time-out for those? come on… what was I thinking!!). This usually happened in circle time when some refused to sit still cress cross apple sauce…. later I learned what to do. I shortened the circle time, engaged in more songs that require motion (I jumped and danced with them, it seemed to do miracles with those tiny humans), and whoever found it so hard to join our circle I left him to do whatever he wants. eventually, he/she joins the fun.
When I started school nine years back I was really worried about freedom and discipline or responsibility. Now I am convinced children follow what they see around them and we need to be the role models and also repetitive reinforcement is necessary until they learn to do a task.
Personally, I would like to highlight a couple of points – don’t try to do it all on your own. Team up with other like-minded people. If you decide to homeschool, I suggest inviting your friends to join you. Work as a team.
Number two – children are naturally drawn to authentic people. I believe that before teaching children within the Montessori environment is necessary to understand what it is for YOU. Personally cherish your moments of concentration, treat others with respect, set for yourself appropriate challenges and learn to follow your own passion in life, learn to embrace your mistakes, get rooted in your own culture.
Once you understand the value of the Montessori principles in your life, your inner being will guide you to become the best Montessori teacher and parent you can be.
What else would you add to this list?
Thank you for choosing this path! We wish you all the best!
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