Montessori vs. Traditional Parenting
For those new to Montessori and Montessori principles for parents, it can seem a little overwhelming. I remember first being introduced to the Montessori principles as an educator. Before I was invited to interview, I quickly searched what Montessori was and how it differed from the more traditional education methods I grew up on.
I was surprised to learn that Montessori got rid of all the parts of a more traditional education style I didn’t love (like forced learning and little student autonomy) to embrace kids where they are.
It truly felt like a breath of fresh air.
However, once I started working alongside the parents of the toddlers in our class, I realized that most of the adults I met (like myself) were taught in a more traditional style — meaning that sometimes “going Montessori” can feel like a rejection of how we grew up.
With that in mind, let’s discuss Montessori principles for parents and compare them to traditional parenting methods while debunking some common misconceptions. We’ll also give our best tips for talking to other family members about adopting Montessori principles at home.
Montessori vs. Traditional Parenting: How They Differ and Why
Before we get started, just a quick note. At Montessori By Mom, we don’t want to judge anyone for their choice of parenting style. As Montessorians and advocates for the methodology, we simply aim to equip parents with the tools they need to make their own choices.
So, with that out of the way, here are some key differences between the Montessori vs. traditional parenting styles:
Montessori Principles for Parents
Here’s an overview of some of the most important Montessori principles for parents to know.
Observation is a key Montessori principle for parents and educators. By stepping back and observing, they can better understand the child’s needs and determine when to intervene. It might sound counterproductive (and sometimes like you’re not doing anything at all), but Dr. Montessori believed that we must “wait while observing … and be always ready to share in both the joys and difficulties.”
Independence and Self-Directed Learning
Montessori emphasizes independence and self-directed learning. Adults must release their egos and trust that children will figure things out independently. The adult supports the child when they need and ask for it, but not when the adult thinks or assumes they do (except in emergencies.)
Preparing the Environment
The environment in a Montessori setting is prepared to cater to the child’s stage of development. It’s safe and has size-appropriate materials and furniture to meet their interests and developmental needs. Unlike traditional methods, children aren’t expected to immediately adapt to an adult’s world.
Freedom within Limits
What does freedom within limits mean in Montessori? Children have the freedom to explore, but there are boundaries, especially regarding self and others’ safety and well-being. Children also learn about how their actions affect others and their environment. For example, if a child wants to run, they are free to do so outside. Inside, they may hurt themselves and others; this freedom is within limits.
Limitations of the Montessori Approach
While we love the Montessori principles, any discussion of Montessori vs. traditional parenting should include a discussion of the challenges and limitations of Montessori that parents may encounter.
Adults in Montessori must continually adapt to the child’s changing nature, be open to letting them make mistakes, and let go of the pursuit of perfection, which isn’t always easy. Being constantly open to communicating and explaining can also be a challenge of the Montessori approach (especially when things are just the way they are!)
Another common problem of Montessori is accessibility, as many believe it’s an expensive education style. While that can be true, the word “Montessori” isn’t trademarked, so many of the expensive items labeled as “Montessori” online aren’t necessarily in line with the methodology. A home with DIY Montessori materials and thrifted or repurposed furniture may just follow Montessori principles more than the picture-perfect image you see on Pinterest!
Traditional Parenting Styles
Now that we’ve discussed what sets Montessori apart, here’s a brief overview of traditional parenting styles for comparison. This isn’t a list to condemn these approaches — we know parents weigh many factors to make the best decisions for their families — but simply how Montessori vs. traditional parenting differ.
Rewards and Punishments
External behavior management is a key aspect of traditional parenting. Parents may use rewards and punishments to encourage desired behaviors and discourage undesirable ones like sticker charts, the “naughty step,” or time-outs.
Freedoms and Limits
Compared to Montessori principles, where freedom within limits exists, freedoms and limits are usually separate in more traditional parenting styles. Children may have strict limits told to them without explanation or compromise, especially in authoritarian parenting styles.
More traditional parenting methods encourage children to integrate into the adult world. The focus is often on conforming to societal expectations, norms, and adult-centric environments in an attempt to prepare children for the rules and regulations of adult life.
Benefits of Traditional Parenting Approaches
Overall, traditional parenting tends to focus on maintaining order and discipline, shaping external behaviors through consistent rules, and maintaining adult authority. The advantages of traditional parenting approaches could be clear boundaries, discipline, respect for authority figures, and established structures.
Incorporating Montessori Principles For Parents
Regardless of how you choose to parent your child, there is always a balance to be made between learning new ways and embracing the old. There are huge benefits to incorporating Montessori principles into your parenting style, and you can do so without feeling overwhelmed or like you’re going “too Montessori.” The key is to keep it simple. Incorporate principles that make sense to your family and will benefit your child. Here are some ideas to start:
Ideas for Parents to Adopt Montessori Principles
- Foster independence by letting your child choose their clothing each day. In their closet or dressing area, provide them with a few options to choose from that are appropriate for the weather and occasion. Encourage them to put their dirty clothes in their own hamper, and do the laundry alongside them so they can learn how to care for their clothing.
- Establish some freedoms within limits. Instead of simply correcting a child’s behavior and telling them to stop doing something, give them the choices for what they can do. For example, you may set and follow a ground rule that your children must sit down while eating. If your child has a hard time following this rule, you can tell them they have two choices: to sit down and continue their snack or tidy up and be all done so they can play.
- Start to observe and try to understand your child’s point of view. Take a step back and listen to your child; what are they trying to tell you with both their words and behavior?
- Prepare a space where your child can truly be. A child-friendly and accessible space can give them the perfect opportunity to explore freely. This could be a cozy corner, a bookshelf with their favorite toys, or activities in a little basket and a little table. Show them that this space is for them but that they are responsible for keeping it tidy and in order (lead by example.)
Talking to Other Family Members About Montessori vs. Traditional Parenting
Parenting styles are a hot topic; everyone has their opinions, especially those closest to us. While it would be lovely to assume that every family member will be on the same page, sometimes that isn’t the reality. So, preparing for a conversation with Grandma about why you’re no longer giving your child external rewards every time they do something well might be difficult.
Still, talking openly and working together with family members about different parenting styles is essential. Before you start, consider your family dynamics and values and how cultural and generational differences might influence opinions. Here are some positive ways to redirect family members or friends without compromising your choices!
- “I wonder if we could talk about our parental approach with Suzy so that we are on the same page.”
- “While I understand that is how you (insert reason here), we are trying a different approach with James. I would love to discuss it with you so that we’re consistent.”
- “I understand your point of view, but I have decided that we are going to try this way first.”
- “I would love to talk about Montessori principles with you and discover more together.”
- “I would love to show you how I manage that situation.”
- “Would you like me to share some resources on that topic? It helped me a lot.”
- “We are no longer offering him stickers for listening to us, but you can tell him ‘thank you’ instead.”
Remember that even small changes can have a profound positive impact on your child’s development and your overall parenting experience. Take parenting at your own pace and enjoy witnessing your child thrive in an environment that fosters independence and a love for learning without force.
Sarah Perowne is a former educator and Montessori assistant turned freelance writer. She earned her Theater, Education, and Applied Arts degree from RCSSD in London and holds the 3-6 AMI assistants certificate. Sarah is passionate about providing parents with the tools and confidence to embrace Montessori methods at home that suit them.