Montessori Modeling Inside and Outside the Classroom

The Power of Modeling

I read this wonderful quote one day, and it will stick with me for all my days of parenting:

Children are great imitators. So give them something great to imitate. (Anonymous)

Dr. Maria Montessori knew this. Children copy their adults. She urged parents and teachers to be intentional in words and actions because our little ones absorb it all.

In “The Child in the Family,” Dr. Montessori wrote, “The child is sensitive and impressionable to such a degree that the adult ought to monitor everything he says and does, for everything is literally engraved in the child’s mind.”

That’s a lot of pressure! Is it really that important to monitor everything you say and do in front of your child? In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of Montessori modeling, or modeling in a Montessori environment, and how you can give your children something great to imitate.

Children Are Great Imitators

Once, when I was at the playground with my little ones, I saw something that really made me think.

A mom and her two children were playing nearby. All in a single instant, one child wailed, the mom quickly scooped the other child up close to her face, smacked him hard on his bottom, and gruffly scolded, “We do NOT hit!”

What struck me was that the frustrated mom hit her child while saying the very words, “We do not hit.” That moment left an impression. Our children will do as we do.

Montessori Modeling Inside the Classroom

In Montessori classrooms, the teachers, often called guides, carefully choose their words and actions. Montessori educators model the words and behaviors they want students to use. They focus on respectful communication, empathy and peace, pride and joy in their work, careful movements, love of learning, caring for their environment, acts of kindness, and healthy living.

Montessori Modeling Outside the Classroom

As parents, we, too, can choose to be intentional with our words and actions in the presence of our children.

We’ve all enjoyed a good giggle at some point because our tiny toddlers did something they absolutely learned from us.

My little one was playing “Mommy” last week. She sat on the floor reading to her baby.

At last, she stood up, still in character. She dramatically stretched from side to side, groaned a bit, and rubbed her lower back. That aching-back reenactment was all me: I’ve had lifelong back issues and recently I’ve had more pain than usual.

Seeing my little one incorporate an aching back into her role as mommy made me giggle. It also made me think. Our children really do absorb our every action. I had no idea that I had made my back pain into such mimicable behavior… What else have I modeled unknowingly?

The Absorbent Mind

The child absorbs these impressions not with his mind but with his life itself.” (Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, p. 22)

Science has proven that young children’s brains are wired for imitating their adults. They’re programmed to absorb the words and behaviors from their environments.

What does that mean in real, day-to-day life?

What does that mean when we get angry? It means we’d better use respectful communication. What does it mean when we drive? We’d better have our eyes on the road, not on our phones. When we eat? We focus on eating whole foods and listen to our bodies to know what we need.

Be active. Get out in nature. Open doors for the elderly. Wait patiently in those long holiday lines. Put down the phone and pick up books. Persist when something is challenging. Be curious. Be compassionate. Live gently.

Children are constantly watching, absorbing, and repeating. Let’s give our great imitators something great to imitate.

Help Me Do It Myself

There’s another aspect of Montessori modeling that applies both inside and outside the classroom.

Montessori modeling

In Montessori classrooms, the adults support children’s budding independence by modeling skills, then allowing time and space for children to strive toward mastering the skills for themselves.

A child is an eager observer and is particularly attracted by the actions of the adult and wants to imitate them. In this regard an adult can have a kind of mission. He can be an inspiration for the child’s actions, a kind of open book wherein a child can learn how to direct his own movements. But an adult, if he is to afford proper guidance, must always be calm and act slowly so that the child who is watching him can clearly see his actions in all their particulars. Dr. Montessori in “The Secret of Childhood.”

We can use Montessori modeling at home to help our children gain the independence they’re born to strive toward.

When your child is ready to begin self-dressing, you can demonstrate (in other words, model) the steps in an exaggerated manner, slowly and carefully. Then, give him the time and space to try the skill again and again.

Sometimes, in a rush, we can get carried away with doing things for our children. In a hurry, we stuff toddler feet into tiny shoes against protests of “I do it, I do it!” We quickly zip them up and urge them out the door despite requests, “I do it!”

Dr. Montessori sagely advised, “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.”

When your child shows she’s eager to zip her own coat, you can model the skill, then let her try.

Whether she’s learning to open her lunchbox, complete a Montessori puzzle, feed the family pet, or write the letters in her name, you can slowly and carefully model the skill and provide ample time for practicing.

Something Great to Imitate

Montessori modeling

One day, when my youngest became overwhelmed and had a loud, sobbing meltdown, her big sister sprang into action to comfort her. Big sister led little sister by the hand to the couch. She got little sister’s favorite blanket and wrapped her snugly. She brought her favorite teddy and placed it under her arm. Through the deafening noise of toddler sobs, big sister calmly dimmed the lights and put on little sister’s favorite soothing song. Then she told little sister a story in a hushed voice. Little sister quieted to listen.

Is being intentional — monitoring our every word and act in front of the children — worth the trouble?

Dr. Montessori thought so, and I think so too.


Brandi Faith is a freelance writer who holds a Master of Education degree. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Northwestern University in Psychology and Spanish. Brandi passionately applies Montessori principles to her parenting and teaching at home. She loves the way Montessori philosophy encourages children to take charge of their learning and pursue their interests. Her favorite thing about Montessori is watching her kids’ eyes light up with joy and interest as they explore and experiment, and seeing their smiles light the room when they master a new skill.

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