Montessori & Homeschooling - Here to Stay?
I began selling Montessori materials in the spring of 2005. My earliest customers were Montessori teachers, and I assumed that demographic would continue to make up the bulk of my sales. After a year or so of selling, I started to notice a definite trend. More and more of my customers were homeschooling parents who wanted to bring Montessori into their homeschooling experience.
In the traditional Montessori community (which consists of teachers and directors who've had the Montessori training), there's a feeling that in order to practice Montessori correctly - or even derive any benefit from it - you must have some sort of accredited training. This feeling springs from the very beginnings of the Montessori method, when the only way to learn it was to travel to Italy and learn from Maria herself or someone who had been trained directly by her.
Could there be a change on the horizon? These days, more and more parents are choosing to homeschool with Montessori. Approaches vary, from the die-hards who take an online Montessori course and re-create a Montessori classroom in their homes, to people who buy a few Montessori materials and mix them with more traditional homeschooling curriculums.
Homeschooling with Montessori has been around for many years, but has begun to grow rapidly in more recent times. While it's not an exact reproduction of traditional Montessori, there are many benefits to be found in using Montessori at home.
It's possible that the blossoming Montessori homeschooling movement began many years ago, with the publication in 1968 of the now-classic book by Elizabeth Hainstock, Teaching Montessori in the Home: Pre-School Years. While now out of print, you can often find used copies from resellers on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and eBay. Written in an easy-to-understand style, this book not only made Montessori theory accessible to parents, but offered directions for making many handmade versions of Montessori materials.
More recently, Heidi Spietz has authored several books for homeschooling parents, including Montessori at Home: A Complete Guide to Teaching Your Preschooler at Home Using the Montessori Method. She also has several books that address homeschooling with Montessori in the elementary years, a topic that generally doesn't receive as much attention as the preschool years.
Other notable Montessori homeschoolers include Jim and Susan Stephenson of Michael Olaf. Here's what their son Michael has to say about being homeschooled with Montessori:
My experience was based on the ideas that education should be cooperative instead of competitive; it should feed curiosity and create joy and compassion toward others; intrinsic rewards of mastering subject matter, overcoming obstacles and finding one's own answers to questions should be considered important than extrinsic rewards such as praise, grades, or threats of failure.
It should teach practical and social skills such as helping others, and teach one how to balance work and play and be healthy. These are Montessori goals that lead children toward a productive and happy life.
A Natural Fit in the Home
The integration of Montessori into the home is a natural one. Traditionally, parents who enroll their children in Montessori schools are encouraged to "Montessori-ify" their homes. Many parents take this to heart and put out manipulatives on low shelves, purchase child-sized cleaning supplies, and encourage their children to help with cleaning and cooking.
In this vein, companies like Montessori Services have had quite a bit of success marketing directly to Montessori parents. Their catalog, "For Small Hands - A Resource for Families" aims to equip homes with the same pitchers, rugs, cooking utensils, and books that any Montessori classroom would have.
Because so many of the materials are a perfect fit for the home environment, it's easy to see how Montessori would appeal to homeschoolers. However, it's one thing to give your child a glass pitcher and apple corer; quite another to present the pink tower and red rods. For some parents, the Montessori "style" of learning is easier to bring into the home than the actual method.
Borrowing from Montessori
In many cases, homeschoolers who use the Montessori method and materials don't do so exclusively. They may mix Montessori with a more traditional curriculum of textbooks or classical literature. Other popular educational movements, like Waldorf and Charlotte Mason, find many supporters in the homeschooling community. A few brave souls may take a little bit of each approach and come up with a homeschooling style all their own.
Traditional homeschooling has very much in common with Montessori. Similarities include an emphasis on child-centered learning, independent work, and following the child's interests. For many people, Montessori philosophy cannot be separated from the materials themselves. Others think that the principles of Montessori can be followed without all of the traditional presentations.
The Role of the Internet
The impact of the Internet on Montessori and homeschooling cannot be overstated. Any homeschooling parent can visit a variety of blogs, websites, and even access online albums to gain information. There are Montessori homeschooling forums where parents can post questions and receive quick, helpful replies from other parents.
Gone are the days when outfitting a Montessori classroom cost upwards of $20,000. Reasonably priced wooden materials are available from a wide array of Montessori materials distributors. As far as printed materials, there are quite a few sites with free or inexpensive materials that can be downloaded and printed by parents and teachers alike.
There are several reputable training centers providing online Montessori training all around the world. While it's often teachers that take advantage of this sort of distance learning, more and more parents are also participating. Indeed, the North American Montessori Center, a well-respected provider of Montessori education programs, has plans to introduce an online Montessori homeschooling course in the near future.
The Question of Socialization
The multi-age classroom is a hallmark of Montessori, and it can't always be duplicated in the home. Even in a home with several children (usually of different ages) there are not always the right age combinations or temperaments to make learning and mentoring between the children possible.
Homeschooled children do not have the same interaction that Montessori kids have in a typical classroom. Most Montessorians feel that 25-30 children in one classroom leads to the sort of interaction that really benefits and stimulates the children. Even homes with several children cannot reproduce the social climate of a Montessori classroom.
Instead of aiming to re-create the very special dynamic of a Montessori classroom, homeschooling parents can focus on socialization in other ways. Children can spend time with older adults (grandparents, neighbors), friends, other homeschooling families, and of course with their own families. Mutually satisfying relationships will develop naturally as children encounter a wide variety of people in their homeschooling experiences.
Many times, siblings can work together on projects or an older sibling can teach a younger one. Parents will often find themselves becoming their child's work partner as they learn together. While these relationships won't mimic the Montessori classroom exactly, they will still be of great benefit to the child.
How Does Someone Begin Homeschooling with Montessori?
I have frequently been impressed with the level of commitment to Montessori that many homeschoolers exhibit. Rather than simply buying a few materials and improvising uses for them, they sign up for online Montessori training classes, purchase a full library of Montessori books (including the ones by Dr. Montessori herself), and diligently study in order to truly implement the Montessori method in their homes. Many set up a specific room in their home as a Montessori classroom complete with all the materials you would see in any Montessori school.
I have often recommended that parents start slowly, buying and making materials as they have a chance, so they don't overwhelm themselves or their children with too much Montessori all at once. Frequent mistakes include parents who buy too many materials and then can't figure out how to use them correctly, or parents who don't give themselves and their kids a chance to adjust to a new way of learning.
A Parents' Perspective
Maryan Vander Woude, a Montessori homeschooling mom, became interested in Montessori after hearing that boys often learn better with hands-on materials. "I neither had the time or money for official training, so I began reading the Clio Montessori series books to learn what I could," she says. "I was aware of the price of Montessori tuition and knew that we couldn't afford it. Instead, I bought Montessori catalogs (Michael Olaf, Montessori Services, etc.) to learn from their pictures how I could set things up in my own home. I've also benefitted from many at-home Montessori moms' blogs to help me get a better idea how to use a Montessori style of learning in my home."
Jennifer Mackintosh says that once she decided to homeschool with Montessori, "I started reading all I could, and what I began learning from Maria Montessori really spoke to my heart, my desires for my children, and began to open up for me a whole new way of thinking about learning in our home. It spoke to the "wholeness" of our family, which made it a very worthwhile investment of my time and effort. Our home has been unspeakably enriched just by implementing Maria Montessori's basic philosophy into our daily lives."
Many parents find that integrating Montessori into homeschooling profoundly changes their parenting style and view of their families. "I love that Montessori education is about discovery," says Andrea Gray, a homeschooling mom of four. "Homeschooling Montessori-style is like an extension of mothering, preparing the environment so that the child can make discoveries and gradually build new skills. I enjoy my role of facilitator and guide rather than a traditional teacher."
She continues, "Montessori's theories about sensitive periods and planes of development really mesh with my understanding of childhood ages and stages that I studied as a child psychology major in college. I am constantly amazed that I am able to observe my own children coming up with their own "Montessori" activities: my toddler pouring water from one cup to another, my 3-year-old using a tweezers to put beads in a dish, and my 6-year-old sorting his rubber dinosaurs into carnivores and herbivores."
The Future of Montessori Homeschooling
Clearly, homeschooling with Montessori is here to stay. Since it does differ from traditional Montessori, the Montessori community might be tempted to denigrate Montessori homeschooling or ignore it altogether. I think that would be a mistake. Rather, the Montessori community can embrace homeschoolers and begin to provide specific resources just for them.
The homeschooling community should have access to the best information possible as they make decisions about including Montessori in their homeschooling experience. Making the Montessori method accessible to homeschoolers means that even more children will be given the opportunity to flourish in a Montessori environment.
Interested in learning more? Check out our Homeschooling with Montessori blog posts.
This is an article I wrote for The Montessori Foundation. Used by permission. Quote from Michael Olaf, used by permission of the Michael Olaf Montessori Company, www.michaelolaf.net
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