Ideas for Using Montessori at Home

Homeschooling full time, or just living and learning together happily

First Montessori Books


There is a lot or less-than-helpful information being spread via the internet these days. Here are some of the most helpful books—for both parents and teachers—to help implement the most valuable Montessori principles, for all ages, during the time of COVID. They are written by a Montessori parent, teacher, and consultant, with many years of experience with children from birth to age 12, and young adults from age 12-18. FIRST MONTESSORI BOOKS


Q. Who or What is "Montessori"
A. Maria Montessori, MD was the first woman to receive an MD degree in Italy. She has inspired people around the world, for over 100 years, basing education on observation of children to discover their needs, rather than on a curriculum. She discovered that long periods of concentration on purposeful work involving both the mind and the body (real work, not TV or computers) heals the child mentally and physically. For more information on Dr. Montessori see: Montessori

Q. What is "Montessori Method" of education?
A. The Montessori method of education is best described as an "Aid to Life" rather than a specific method of passing on academic objectives. It prepares students to succeed in a world where technology is changing the way we live at a very rapid pace, and general life skills are far more valuable than mastery of an outdated academic curriculum. For some answers to Frequently Asked Questions on this subject, that may help in establishing a Montessori-type learning environment in the home, see: FAQ

Q. Where to begin learning about Montessori, generally?
A. The book Aid to Life, Montessori Beyond the Classroom provides valuable insight into the depth and breadth of Montessori principles in helping improve lives in many situations, and at any age. And the book Montessori and Mindfulness is especially helpful these days as it helps parents, teachers, children, focus on the present moment and create happiness. The Universal Child, Guided by Nature, gives a very brief and clear explanation of one of the main differences between traditional and Montessori education, which is based on meeting human needs, rather than forcing a traditional curriculum.


Q. Should I buy Montessori Materials?
Montessori is NOT based on having Montessori materials. Nor is it usually helpful to set up a "mini" Montessori environment in the home. It is possible to have authentic Montessori only when the adult—parent or teacher—understands the principles behind the practices. Here is an explanation of the main areas of materials in a Montessori class, from age 1 through high school. And advice on what is appropriate for homeschooling.

SENSORIAL MATERIALS: The "didactic" or Montessori materials first used over 100 years ago in the original casa dei bambini are today called the sensorial materials. They help a child isolate a concept received through the senses, such as color, temperature, taste, size, weight, sound, and so forth. These materials are made to last many years and to be handled daily by many children so they are very expensive. In a home it is better to help children become aware of their senses and the corresponding concepts casually in daily life experiences and then give correct vocabulary such as "hot," "cold," "warm," "tepid," and all of the detailed sensorial labels.

PRACTICAL LIFE MATERIALS: These are child-size, real tools, that reflect the work that is done in the child's own unique home and community—bathing, sweeping, setting a table, arranging flowers, woodwork, everything done in a home. They allow the child to imitate the activities of those around them. they are considered by many to be the most important materials because their use fosters a good self-image, long periods of concentration, logical thinking, good physical balance and coordination, eye-hand control, problem solving, love of work, the ability to contribute to the family, independence in caring for oneself and others and the environment, and developing good manners. In fact, all of the skills needed for academic success later, and happiness as an adult.

Children want to do what they see the others in the home doing. And young adults want to stretch themselves to do what adults in their culture are doing—real work! So it is far more successful to learn to include the child in the family work, at which every stage is appropriate, than to set up activities that are not related to daily family life, and expect the child to be interested in them.

ACADEMIC SUBJECT MATERIALS: When a child has a good foundation in awareness of senses, and some mastery of practical life work, he will be able to more easily focus on mastering areas of academic studies such as reading, writing, math, geometry, physical and life sciences, history and geography, and the arts. In Montessori classes the child is inspired by seeing others working in all areas in the classroom at one time, and he or she is offered individual lessons in all areas by the teacher, and then the child's choice is respected about what to study. In the home it is important for the child to see adults modeling a love of learning and work, reading non-fiction and good fiction, being curious, handwriting, loving their own learning. The home should have materials and books in all subjects according to the age of the child or children and they should be offered in an attitude of fun, and to satisfy curiosity and further natural interests of the student.Then the secret it to observe and discover the child's interests and give tools for further research and accomplishment.

Q. What about socialization?
The word socialization, contrary to the opinion of some, does not mean spending the weekdays competing with 15-35 human beings one's own age.  In a natural community children spend their daily lives with old people, babies, and everyone in between.  They do not compete, but learn to search out the needs of others and to help them live and learn.  This mixed age group and habit of teaching and helping others, and being helped and taught by people younger or older than oneself, is a part of Montessori classes at all ages and is easy to fit into the Montessori homeschooling plan. Don't worry about finding a group of children the same age as your child. This limitation came about when traditional schools were begun as a factory model of education, the most efficient way, or so it was thought. Natural socialization occurs when children spend their lives interacting daily with people of all ages. In Montessori schools the wider the age range the more successful the socialization and the learning, the more independent research and excitement, the more student-to-student learning, the less teacher-dictated schedules and assignments, and boring group learning. My best classes when I was a Montessori teachers were composed of children from 2-6+ years, and from 6-12 or 13 years.

AGE 0-3:

Q. At what age does homeschooling start?
A. At first we were very surprised to get letters from parents of children of one or two years of age who were asking for advice on homeschooling. Then we realized that this was the very best time to start using Montessori ideas in the home. Our most valuable suggestion is to follow the guidance in the book The Joyful Child: Montessori, Global Wisdom for Birth to Three.

AGE 3-6:

Q. Can I use Montessori ideas at home with my child?
A. Yes, you can use Montessori principles of child development and education at home. Look at your home through your child's eyes. Children need a sense of belonging and of being needed. They get it by participating fully in the routines of everyday life. "Help me do it by myself" is the life theme of the preschooler. Can you find ways for your child to participate in meal preparation, cleaning, gardening, caring for clothes, shoes, and toys? Providing opportunities for independence is the surest way to build your child's self-esteem. In Montessori 3-6 classes around the world it is this practical life element that builds habits of thinking logically, making intelligent decisions, following complex steps of complex processes, care in actions, and so forth, that prepare for a life of independent thinking and responsible action, and care for self, others, and the world. It is often the major area of work in the whole first year of the child's experience in a Montessori class. The Montessori 3-6 environment is filled with cultural, artistic, scientific activities and materials and books.  There is no junk food, no television, no computer.  Books, toys, and other educational materials are carefully chosen and of the best quality. The child is never forced to attend a lesson or do a piece of work.  The teacher is trained to model kindness and consideration, to observe the child and follow her interests in suggesting work, to give careful, individual lessons,to keep exacting records of what the child is learning and where his interests are leading him, and to refrain from interrupting when the child is concentrating on an activity. Much of this can be created in the home. Very helpful books first books for this age are Child of the World and The Red Corolla.

AGE 6-18:

Q. What Montessori ideas can I use for school age children?
. There are many varieties of homeschooling. Some people try to imitate the traditional school model buy following a strict schedule of school hours, using desks, etc. We fear that this turns a child off as much as going to school. It also separates "learning" from "living". This model is NOT Montessori homeschooling. In a Montessori class, aside from a small percentage of time dedicated to covering the required school subjects (2 hours a a week average) the child is introduced, one-to-one, to activities with which he or she will discover the excitement of learning in all areas, and how all areas are related to each other. The teacher teaches the child, just as in the 3-6 class, how to learn from the environment, but in this case the wider world. The students' personal interests are the starting point and then they are taught how to do research, contact specialists, invite expert guests to the class, go out into the immediate neighborhood and the larger community to interview and research. During the class hours his time is his own, uninterrupted by adult-imposed schedules and required attendance at group lessons or listening daily to someone talk. Homework is never required in the Montessori class, but children often carry their interests and research into the evenings and week-ends, and thus learning is combined with living.All of these wonderful elements of Montessori education are available to the homeschooled student. Very helpful books for this age are Child of the World and Montessori Homeschooling (one family's story, homeschooling through elementary, middle, and high school.

Here are a few of many other ideas:

(1) The child is learning all of the time, from the environment and from the adults in the environment.  It is better to put energy into enriching the environment and becoming good models than in teaching  the child.

(2) Children learn what they love. Anything forced will probably be detested, or forgotten. When the environment and the daily schedule is supportive we can trust to the amazing organizing function of the human brain, and the fact that humans naturally love work and learning.

(3) A child must know why he has to learn a required subject.

(4) State educational requirements can be reduced to one page per year and the child needs help in learning to schedule time, develop enjoyable methods, and become responsible for meeting deadlines.  This work usually takes no more than two or three hours a day.

(5) Follow the child.  Aside from requirements, if the child's choice are respected and facilitated she will learn at a level that can amaze parents.

(6) The best gift you can give is TIME, uninterrupted concentration and respect for the child's choice and direction of interest. It is very tempting for parents and teachers who have been educated in the traditional way to start to control the child's time. Even the very best projects, field trips, family or school traditions, interests of the adult, can interrupt the success of this kind of education. The adult must learn to inspire, to give tools, and then to sink into the background and observe and enjoy the unexpected.


I attended a Montessori school from age 2.5-5, and again for one semester at age 7. For the rest of the time, at my choice, I was homeschooled. My education consisted of, for the most part, weekly visits to the library, visits with many people in the community, research of my interests of the moment, daily music practice, and exploration in nature. We had a TV but kept it in a closet, just taking it our for special occasions. Our computer was used for work and I used it for a typing tutor course. I was allowed unlimited time whenever possible—days, nights, weekends—to explore and choose my own path. Experiences and study directions were offered by my parents, and periodically by other mentors and teachers, but my choices and passions about what to study were always encouraged.

My parents both worked full time (mother in her home office). Since my mother had taught children from age two through high school she helped me make weekly work/study plans and learn to manage my own time. Choices included grade level math and English suggestions, but were otherwise followed my own interests in areas such as music, literature, mythology, history, Latin, astronomy, archaeology, and the arts. I loved learning.

Over the years I studied Suzuki piano, violin, and viola, and attended the local music academy at Humboldt State University for several hours every Saturday. Some years I attended a "homeschooling school" for one or two days a week. This provided sports, group activities, and a very interesting social life often found in homeschooling communities. My best friends were not people my own age, but my young students, my two older sisters Narda and Ursula and their friends, my parents and grandparents and their friends, younger and older musicians, people of all ages.

At age fifteen I passed the CHSPE (California High School Proficiency Exam), received a high school diploma and began to take classes at Humboldt State University, looking always for the best teachers, rather than specific subjects, I studied drama, math, physics, and music. During the summer of my fifteenth year I attended the Calgary Conservatory (Mt. Royal College) in Alberta, Canada and became a certified Suzuki piano teacher, and began teaching both adults and children.

For years I earned my own money teaching music and playing in professional music groups, and learned to budget it for tithe, savings, and food, clothing and other necessities. I have toured/traveled in the USA, Cuba, South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, circling the globe in the University of Virginia's Semester at Sea program (SAS). I attended Brown university which was a good match as there are no restrictions as to what one studies, and since grades are optional students can pick classes they really want to take instead of those that will insure a high grade-point average. I graduated in three years and returned to India to volunteer for an environmental NGO in India (CSI). I studied law at the University of Oregon where I worked as a tutor for first year students, an editor of the law review, and in the courtroom as part of the criminal defense in a pro bono law clinic.

My homeschooling experience was based on the ideas that education should be enjoyable, and cooperative instead of competitive; it should satisfy and encourage curiosity; it should be guided by the enjoyment of mastering subject matter, overcoming obstacles and finding one's own answers to questions rather than by praise, grades, or threats; it should teach practical and social skills such as helping others, balancing work and play, learning to manage time and fulfill responsibilities, and being healthy.

Tests: I was not educated for standardized tests, nor did I take any tests during my school years except a California assessment test at the end of 6th grade, and exams in classes at Humboldt State University. When it came time to apply for college I took practice ACT and SAT tests, scoring very low, and then worked steadily for 2-3 months from books and computer reviews to learn what was needed to raise my scores to a consistently high level. As a result I was admitted to Brown University.

Computers: My parents read an article published by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) that recommended that children, in preparation for a future in sciences, physics,or engineering, interact in the real world and avoid computers. It went on to say that at MIT a student could learn all he or she needed to know on computers during the summer before, or the first semester, of college. It said that students who have worked on the farm, with heavy loads, building, etc., know much more about physics than those who have learned on computers. This definitely resonated with what our family believed. We have lost track of that article so if anyone finds it would you please contact me.

I use a computer daily now, for music composition, law, and other projects, all learned at university, law school, or by myself.

Giving:The spirit of "giving back" is big in our family from generations back, as it is in Montessori schools. I attempted to give 10% or my earned money and 10% of my time, to helping others. My parents helped me to find good ways to tithe: feeding the homeless, playing music at the local alzheimer's center, cooking Friday dinner for a housebound friend, and so on. My allowance was not a reward, or pay for work or chores, but was considered a share of the family income. Daily chores were considered a natural contribution to the family and community.

Michael Olaf Stephenson


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Updated on April 4, 2021