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What Really Is Montessori?

Child playing with montessori wooden toys.

Has Montessori become just another buzzword?

Montessori is a word we hear very often when It comes to education and toys. However, it’s become a buzzword that is being used a bit too often even when something isn’t Montessori at all. We have now got to a point where every wooden toy has become a Montessori toy, every gentle parenting method is Montessori, and every location such as nurseries or forest schools are touting themselves as Montessori. In reality, this is often far from the truth! So let’s look at who Maria Montessori was, how the Montessori learning method came about, and what it really is.

Who was Maria Montesorri?

Maria Montessori was an Italian physician, educator, and innovator. She was able to attend medical school, something that back in the day was not very common for a woman, and went on to become one of the first female physicians in Italy. Her main focus was on psychiatry but she also developed a keen interest in pedagogy. This led her to question the educational methods that were being applied to children at that time and she subsequently began studying hard to learn the best methods that would help ensure children have the best upbringing. 

Maria Montessori opened her first daycare in 1907 called ‘La case dei Bambini‘. She immediately learnt the high level of interest children had in playing with puzzles and cooking their own meals. Using different materials she had designed and by observing the children she noticed how children can learn things on their own through play and interacting with their surroundings.

Montessori’s children programmes thrived within the journalist community and educators leading to the ‘Montessori Discipline‘.

What exactly is the Montessori Discipline?

Her technique focuses on the child being able to regulate their own discipline, meaning they understand the link between behaviour and reactions. For example, you have to leave the house but your living room is full of toys everywhere. You ask your child to clean up their toys, and they say no and have a tantrum. You can get down to their level and explain that if they don’t help clean we will be late to the park and they will have less time to play. Another example may be your child isn’t being kind and you can explain if you are kind to other children they will also be kind in return. This teaches them about behaviour and consequences.

Listen and don’t dismiss their feelings

Children don’t know how to regulate their emotions like adults do. They don’t have the mental ability at a young age which is why we have loads of crying and sometimes huge tantrums for the smallest things. What we consider to be small things can be a big deal to them, which is why its important to not dismiss them. If they were listened to as a child, his will also help them in later life as teenagers and adults to express their feelings and talk about their problems. A child who has always been dismissed and ignored will never come to us to speak about things that are happening, or how they feel.

Let’s look at an example, your child wants to go to the park, but you really need to go to the supermarket for dinner. The tantrum starts, so once again you get to their level and explain to them that you understand that they are upset for not being able to go to the park, but right now we have to go buy food for dinner. Allowing yourself to get frustrated will not help you or your child, and if anything it will probably only make things worse. Once your child has calmed down you can go into more details about why you don’t have time to go to the park. However, this method is not magic and sometimes it might not work at all, but it will help them understand the world a little bit better.

So what are Montessori activities and toys?

Guess what? There are no Montessori toys, but there are plenty of toys that align with her learning method. First of all, you don’t need a thousand toys, in fact less is better as it gives them the chance to focus on that one toy and use it in different ways. Another important thing that should be done is toy rotation, which gives your child the chance to see different toys every week as covered in one of our recent blogs.

Montessori-style toys are ones with no batteries, no lights, and no buttons to push to make the toy do something. Montessori-inspired toys are typically traditional type toys that are very simple and allow your child to use their imagination to create something or learn something. If a toy is battery powered it usually means the toy is doing all the work and not allowing your child to use their own creativity. Let’s look at our wooden first cars from jabadabado, if your child pushes them do they move? Do they move at the same pace? If I push them off the couch will they fall? Will other objects move like the cars? if I push them off this ramp will they go at the same speed? Just by looking at these few questions we can see that there is so much learning even from the most simple of toys.

Montessori inspired wooden toy cars for early learning.

Another good example is one of our wooden rainbows. What can a child see or do with it? Build a tower? Make a bridge for a train track? Perhaps use it as a road for their cars? Make a maze for wooden balls?

Stacking rainbow toy for Montessori play.

Children also love and need toys that replicate their everyday lives, like books about visiting the supermarket or going to the doctor. It is a lot easier for them to replicate their everyday life and reality, and also helps them make sense of the experiences they had.

It’s not always about toys

Sometimes we don’t even need toys, and instead we can use household items to encourage independence. Giving them a spatula to help you cook, or a child-friendly knife to cut the fruit makes them feel useful in the household as well.

You can also do activities with your child using many household items without even having to spend money. Check out our Busy Brains kids activity cards for inspiration.

Before believing every post you see saying Montessori toy, look at the toys and ask yourself is this a toy that my child can learn from? A toy that can help them use their imagination and creativity? 

Here are just some of the Montessori-inspired toys from Mamiina:

Janod Twist Dolls House

Happy Little Doers Sensory Cards

3 Little Pig’s House

Forest Blocks 

Kaloo Dolls

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