Parents interested in homeschooling their children are often faced with a wide number of educational approaches to consider.
A popular method of teaching that has become quite popular in homeschools around the world is the Montessori approach, a child-centered and explorational way of learning based on principles first developed in the early 1900s.
In the following article, we’ll explore the Montessori approach in a homeschool environment, including its principles, methods, benefits and drawbacks, and offer some interesting Montessori homeschool resources for parents to check out.
History Of Montessori Learning
Montessori learning has its roots in the pioneering research and philosophy of Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and educator, in the early 20th century.
Dr. Montessori’s work began in 1907 when she founded the Casa dei Bambini (“Children’s House”) in San Lorenzo, then an impoverished district of Rome.
Her approach was based on the premise that her students would learn best if given the opportunity to explore and learn through their senses and be allowed to learn at their own pace and with the freedom to choose their own activities.
Her method soon began to bear fruit and her students quickly began to demonstrate an impressive capability and willingness to learn when allowed to teach themselves with minimal interruption.
Montessori’s rather radical approach quickly became popular and soon she was helping other educators learn to implement her methods and style.
By the 1920s and 30s, Montessori schools began to spread across Europe and North America and Dr. Montessori was recognized for her development of an innovative and highly effective, albeit unusual for the time, method of teaching.
Today, Montessori learning has become quite popular, with some or all of its principles being used in classes, schools and homeschools around the world.
What’s The Overall Idea Behind Montessori?
Broadly speaking, the Montessori approach is based on the underlying premise that all children have an innate desire and capacity for learning.
Children, according to the approach, learn best through sensory exploration and when given enough freedom and support to do so in a carefully prepared, child-centric learning environment that emphasizes multisensory, experiential learning.
In this way, parents and teachers act more as guides, offering individual encouragement and support as needed to facilitate learning, rather than directing and imparting knowledge through lectures and textbooks.
The approach also emphasizes the development of the whole child, addressing their cognitive, social, emotional and physical needs as one, in order to help them develop into independent, self-motivated and well-balanced learners and individuals.
What Is A Montessori Homeschool Approach?
A Montessori homeschool is one that essentially combines the principles of formal Montessori schooling with the flexibility and personalized learning of homeschooling.
Compared to more traditional homeschooling approaches, such as the Classical model, school at home or even the more dialogue-based and collaborative Charlotte Mason approach, a Montessori homeschool places a stronger emphasis on self-directed exploration, individual freedom, hands-on learning and the prioritization of a child’s particular abilities and interests.
Key to this is the creation of an appropriate and structured learning environment, with a selection of educational materials and activities available for free use by a child, comfortable furniture, and an overall atmosphere that fosters self-correcting learning, i.e. one in which encourages students to learn from their mistakes and develop independent problem solving skills.
By and large, students in this kind of homeschool environment are encouraged to follow their own interests and pace of learning (usually within the boundaries of what’s available in their environment), with parents taking a step back from a “teacher” role and acting more as a facilitator, at times gently guiding students towards activities that are appropriate to their needs and developmental stage but largely giving them a good deal of freedom and space.
On the whole, then, Montessori learning can be said to be a lot less focused on individual curriculum characteristics and methodologies than it is on the student and their preferences, something that tends to set it apart from quite a few other teaching approaches.
Interestingly, families teaching multiple children of different ages are encouraged to allow them to study together and at the same time, with older students acting as mentors or role models for younger students and generally helping them out from time to time, creating a more collaborative learning environment.
Balancing Freedom With Educational Requirements And Needs
A popular misconception with Montessori homeschooling is that it is some kind of free-for-all, where students are given leave to do and study whatever they like, allowing any educational requirements to potentially fall by the wayside.
In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
While a Montessori learning environment is designed to encourage exploration and independence, it is actually structured.
While students have the freedom to choose their subject, depth of learning and pace based on the materials around them, those materials are carefully selected to ensure that all of a student’s necessary subjects are at an appropriate level.
Further, it is up to parents not to overload students with options and create a situation where students dart from activity to activity.
Parents are in fact discouraged from filling the learning environment with tons of toys, games and materials, as it can both encourage shallow exploration and lead to a child’s devaluing of the things around them.
Additionally, students aren’t just let loose into this environment.
Parents are still expected to provide clear instruction to the student where relevant, lay out general expectations and, of course, make sure that it is kept a respectful and safe environment by helping students learn to control their impulses and behave respectfully.
In the Montessori world, this is often known as Freedom With Limits.
Finally, parental observation plays a key role in a Montessori homeschool.
While students are given the freedom to explore, parents are expected to monitor and observe them closely, both in order to better understand (and therefore guide) them, and in order to assess their progress, to guide them back on track if needed and to determine if they might benefit from extra support.
What Ages and Grades Is Montessori Homeschooling Appropriate For?
Traditionally, Montessori learning has been aimed at children in early childhood, or around 0-6 years old.
It is generally thought that it is at this stage of development that children are most receptive to free learning, are fairly fearless when it comes to learning and are at their most curious.
As a result, most (although certainly not all) Montessori homeschool programs and curriculum are usually aimed at Pre-K to Grade 1.
However, while popularly associated with early childhood education, there are Montessori programs out there for middle and even high school aged students, which can be helpful for families that have fallen in love with the methodology.
There are some factors parents do need to take into account when considering Montessori homeschool learning for these upper years, however.
As students get older, for example, it becomes increasingly harder for Montessori materials and activities to maintain their interest and keep them engaged and challenged, something that can cause them to lose interest and disengage.
Another issue lies in the fact that it can be challenging to mesh the Montessori approach with the more standardized and often far more rigorous requirements of traditional high school curricula, especially due to the relative lack of emphasis on standardized testing and grading.
With all that said, it is important to note that, with a little care and work, the Montessori method can be adapted quite successfully to meet the needs of middle and high school students, approaching the core subjects of science, math and social studies with greater collaboration and inquiry-based learning and by gradually exposing the students to more formal and standardized testing.
How Does Montessori Homeschooling Usually Integrate Assessment and Evaluation?
Many homeschooling parents are hesitant about Montessori learning due to the fact that the approach tends to place less of an emphasis on testing and quizzes than others, which can make it a bit more challenging to measure progress and skill development.
While at first integrating assessment and evaluation into the child-centric and freedom-oriented Montessori approach might seem paradoxical if not self-defeating, there are actually a few ways concerned homeschooling parents can approach the matter while still adhering to Montessori principles and values.
Contrary to popular belief, children can be surprisingly insightful and open about their own interests, goals and interests if given a chance.
Engaging students in regular conversations about their learning can help parents get a good idea of how a student feels they are doing, areas where they need a little more focus, where they might like to spend more time and even areas where they feel they are having a hard or frustrating time.
As we’ve mentioned, parent observation plays an important role in Montessori homeschooling.
Parents are expected to be present (both physically and mentally) during learning periods, to take notes for later reflection, and to generally watch students carefully as they work and looking for them to demonstrate particular skills and for particular patterns and trends to emerge.
A big part of the Montessori approach centers around self-directed learning, and parents can help students evaluate their own progress by integrating self-assessment tools, such as checklists and evaluation rubrics, into the learning materials and activities so that students can better evaluate their progress and identify any areas in which they could use more help.
Parents can, of course, also make use of rubrics and checklists in order to go over student work themselves.
The use of portfolios as a means of assessing student performance over time is one that most homeschoolers should at least be familiar with.
Portfolios are collections of student work (such as written work, photos and videos, projects, crafts and more) over a given time frame that are intended to demonstrate a student’s development.
More experienced homeschooling parents can go over these themselves, while those new to homeschooling can take advantage of the myriad of homeschool portfolio review services that can assess a student’s overall work and compare it to grade level expectations.
Further, these portfolios can be a good (or even required) way of demonstrating a student’s progress to important third-parties, such as local government agencies, colleges and more.
Although they don’t strictly adhere to the principles of Montessori learning, many homeschooling families and schools also choose (or are required, in some cases) to occasionally incorporate certain standardized tests (such as the CAT, for example) in order to get a clearer picture of how a student is progressing relative to other students their age.
Does Montessori Learning Conflict With Faith-based Homeschooling?
Although it is a fairly popular approach to teaching, some faith-based homeschooling families (such as Christian homeschools) may have their doubts about Montessori learning, feeling that it can be a little too secular and that the support materials out there are not exactly in-line with their beliefs and values.
Further, many have concerns that allowing a student to explore their environment based on their interests may conflict with, or at least fail to prioritize, faith-based learning.
It is, however, important for parents to note that Montessori learning can, and has, been adapted to fit faith-centric homeschooling, with families of different faiths and beliefs successfully integrating specific religious materials and texts into their classroom.
This is largely achieved thanks to the Montessoru principle of Freedom With Limits.
In a faith-based Montessori homeschool, the materials included in a student’s learning environment would be specifically selected to align with specific values and principles.
Students would have the same independence and self-directed learning opportunities as in any other Montessori learning environment, but within their family’s boundaries.
For example, language arts materials can be supplemented with faith-based learning, such as scripture and readers on Biblical figures or stories, science activities can be selected to avoid sensitive topics or specifically introduce a more creationist stance and so on.
Further, prayer, bible study and worship can always be integrated into a daily routine, giving students the opportunity to attend to their spiritual needs, as well as their academic studies.
What Are Some Advantages Of Montessori Homeschooling?
Adopting Montessori methods in a homeschool can have a number of benefits for both student and parent.
Greater opportunity for multisensory learning
Montessori is known for its strong emphasis on hands-on, tactile and kinesthetic exploration.
As a result, students are able to touch, explore and experience new concepts through more concrete objects and materials, which in turn can help them better grasp abstract or confusing ideas.
Further, by making learning more multisensory, the Montessori approach can stimulate more cognitive pathways, which can help students make stronger connections between concepts and help them retain information more effectively.
More Personal, Individualized Learning
While all homeschool is individualized to some extent, the child-centric nature and independent exploration baked into the Montessori approach really takes it to the next level.
With students having far more say in what they are learning, how deep and when, they are far more likely to be able to work at their own pace and level of skill, preventing frustration and keeping them more engaged and motivated.
Time-saving for larger families
The Montessori approach encourages multi-age classrooms, i.e. students of different grades and ages learning in the same environment and collaborating/interacting with one another.
This can make learning a lot more efficient for larger homeschooling families, with siblings being able to learn simultaneously and without parents having to divide their attention and schedule up quite as much.
It can also help form strong bonds between siblings, as older students can take on a mentor role and help their younger siblings learn.
What Are Some Disadvantages of Montessori Homeschooling?
There are, of course, downsides to Montessori homeschooling that parents will have to consider.
These can include:
Montessori learning isn’t always the speediest approach.
During their lessons, students are encouraged to take charge and explore their environment and its materials, working with hands-on materials and activities, learning at their own pace and generally taking as much time as they need.
Depending on the student, this can greatly extend the length of daily lessons.
Beyond this, parents also need to take time to plan and prepare their child’s learning environment, observe their behavior and figure out ways to effectively guide their learning.
Reduced Structure Not For Every Student Or Homeschool
Although there is more than meets the eye, the Montessori approach tends to be a lot less top down and rigid compared to other methods of teaching.
While some students may thrive in such situations, others may not and it may be challenging for parents to keep things on track.
It Is Very Different For Parents
Montessori learning isn’t just a single curriculum, it is really something of lifestyle that impacts across a number of different areas and can require a number of changes to a homeschool set up.
More than that, it can take time for parents raised in more traditional settings to get their heads around it, which means it tends to have something of learning curve.
It Can Be Challenging To Switch Out
Many parents and students love the Montessori approach, with its emphasis on individual learning, child-centric learning and exploration providing them with an experience that really can’t be found elsewhere.
On the other hand, as we’ve mentioned, without careful adaptation and adjustment it can be hard for students to adapt to traditional educational methods (such as high school or college) and even the real world, where they will often be expected to adhere to top-down authority.
What Kinds of Homeschooling Families Is the Montessori Approach Ideal For?
With a little bit of work and planning, the Montessori approach can be beneficial to a wide range of homeschooling families.
By and large, however, we feel it can be particularly beneficial for:
Students Who Do Well With Hands-On Learning
Students often have different learning preferences.
Some do well with lectures, while others do well with back-and-forth discussion.
With its strong emphasis on hands-on, often kinesthetic, learning Montessori homeschooling can be particularly attractive to more tactile learners.
Students with strong self-motivation and curiosity
Students with strong self-motivation and a natural inclination towards learning new things tend to do well in a Montessori environment, taking advantage of its relative freedom and warm, encouraging environment to explore new languages, work on math problems, discover scientific principles and so on.
Larger families with multi-age children
By grouping students of different ages into the same lessons, larger families won’t have to divide their attention up quite as much, can foster a more collaborative learning environment and create stronger bonds between siblings in the long run.
Those Who Believe in A More Holistic Approach
Montessori learning tends to stress the importance of developing the whole child, from their moral, social and emotional growth to their intellectual skills and knowledge.
This makes it particularly attractive for those looking for a method that touches on all aspects of a child’s learning and development.
Who Is It Not Ideal For?
Although it can be a fantastic option for some families, Montessori learning isn’t necessarily the ideal approach for everyone.
Students Who Thrive With Greater Structure And Direction
While the child-lead, independent-learning approach may be fantastic for many students, there are those who simply do better and feel more comfortable in a more teacher-led environment with greater predictability and structure.
Parents Looking For A Well-Defined, Open-And-Go Approach To Teaching
There are many homeschooling parents out there who prefer a teaching approach that is strongly defined and laid out, outlining and explaining its methodology, offering particular exercises and activities and giving them step-by-step instructions for implementation.
Such parents may not find the very child-centric and far more open Montessori approach to be an ideal fit.
Busy Or Time-Poor Parents
As we’ve mentioned, the Montessori approach does require a fair commitment in terms of time and effort on the part of parents, particularly with regards to planning, organizing, guiding and observing learning.
Those unable to commit to the required time may find the approach to be less than effective and even quite frustrating.
Homeschools with limited space
An important part of the Montessori approach deals with creating a “prepared environment,” i.e. a learning space that’s conducive to student-directed exploration and discovery and is big enough to comfortably fit the various materials and activities that students might work on.
While some families may have the ability to set aside enough room for this, others may not and may struggle to create a comfortable learning environment.
Montessori homeschooling can offer parents an interesting, unique and effective way of helping students learn while simultaneously nurturing their natural curiosity and stoking their creativity and independence.
Although perhaps not the simplest or most intuitive approach to implement, with its hands-on experiential learning and strongly individualized instruction, the Montessori approach can help children develop a love of learning and a greater sense of responsibility and self-confidence.
More Helpful Resources To Check Out
Those interested in implementing Montessori learning at home should check out the following resources that we feel can be of great help.
American Montessori Society – The American Montessori Society website offers tons of information about the Montessori approach, with articles, videos, FAQs and many other resources parents can use to help create an effective learning environment at home.
The Montessori Foundation – The Montessori Foundation is a non-profit that offers training, resources, webinars and many other resources for homeschooling parents.
Montessori for Everyone – The Montessori for Everyone contains a number of helpful articles and resources for those interested in setting up a Montessori homeschool, as well as a number of interesting printables parents can use.
The Montessori Toddler – The Montessori Toddler is a great book that offers offers parents a lot of actionable tips and advice for implementing the Montessori approach with children under three.
About the Author
Anne Miller is the editor of The Smarter Learning Guide and is a passionate advocate for education and educational technology. A mom of two, she majored in English Language and Literature and worked as a substitute teacher and tutor for several years. When not writing she continues to root for the Yankees and the Giants.