4 lessons to learn from the Montessori method

The Montessori method

Nowadays, the Montessori method is a familiar name to parents, educators, and the public alike. The Montessori method has gained widespread application all over the world, including India. I have been reading the book, The Secret of Childhood by Maria Montessori, over the last few weeks. The book was originally written and published in the year 1936. At the time, an inevitable doom was looming large, even though the war was yet to begin.

In the book, she describes the biological and psychological development of a child. Starting from birth to the early years of childhood, she explains the lens the child uses to observe the world. Reading this book has been insightful in various ways. It has helped me get a glimpse into the philosophical roots of the Montessori method of education.

The Secret of Childhood is an important book because it enables us to grasp Montessori’s theory and thereby desist from applying her advice mechanically.

The Secret of Childhood, Maria Montessori, Foreword by Krishna Kumar, Orient Blackswan Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 2009 Edn.

I can understand how the Montessori method was revolutionary at the time and remains so even to this day. It compels us to completely rethink everything with respect to how we bring up and educate our children. A 360 degrees overhaul in child-rearing might be impractical for even the most inspired parents. The same goes for inspired educators too. I share here some lessons that we could apply with deliberation to learn from our children.

One cannot see the method: one sees the child

The Secret of Childhood, Maria Montessori, p118, Orient Blackswan Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 2009 Edn.

Lessons to learn and apply

1. Observe the child

We all can do this in our own lives – as parents, as teachers, as observers. When we observe children intently, we have an opportunity to learn from them. Their worldview is unique and vastly different from ours, this can give us insights into their minds.

Observe like an astronomer – she can wonder, analyse, and speculate all she wants, she cannot however control the cosmos.

The remedy is not that the adult should learn something intellectually, or complete a deficient culture. He must find a different starting point.

The Secret of Childhood, Maria Montessori, p9, Orient Blackswan Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 2009 Edn.

2. Allow for free expression

From the moment the child is born, we think it imperative to orchestrate the child’s life. We plan things to the minutest detail. We have the best intentions, to ensure the safety of the child. Even so, we might be doing some harm in the process as well. This is because our plans are centred around our adult lives, our schedules, and our priorities.

Montessori propounds that we need to step back and let go as early as possible to allow children to express themselves freely. Apply this in small doses, there is a lot to learn.

They must express the characteristics not of a mere species, but of an individual soul.

The Secret of Childhood, Maria Montessori, p24, Orient Blackswan Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 2009 Edn.

3. Respect the child’s rhythm of development

Montessori explains elaborately about children’s ‘sensitive periods’ of cognitive development. Every child has her own spacing of ‘sensitive periods’ and she will develop accordingly. When we impose an external standardised template of development, we disrupt the child’s natural rhythm.

This lesson might be difficult to achieve when we are unaware of the child’s rhythm. Observing children over long periods without intrusion will afford us this education.

Also, it requires a high degree of self-control to stop ourselves from correcting a child. The act of combing her hair or tying a shoelace on her own, in her own little world of time is crucial to her development. We need to allow her that time and not interrupt her by doing it ourselves, quickly and correctly.

We need to learn to be excited and delighted with the child’s development, not disappointed and merely satisfied. Also, it helps when we are conscious of the expectations we knowingly and unknowingly bring into our child’s lives.

In the course of its psychological development, the baby achieves things so marvellous as to be miraculous, and it is the only habit that makes us indifferent spectators.

The Secret of Childhood, Maria Montessori, p28, Orient Blackswan Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 2009 Edn.

4. Follow the child’s lead

This is crucial for the child’s development. They need the freedom to conduct any activity as they wish to do it. Unfortunately, adults are constantly instructing the child not only about what to do but also about how to do things. Even in play and amusement.

When an adult goes out for a walk, he has a goal in mind – to walk from point A to point B, or to walk for a set time and speed. A child has none of these things on her mind. Walking is an enjoyable activity of exploration. Therefore, she will stop wherever she feels like, she will admire a flower, observe a bug, change directions, again and again, look around her in wonder.

We adults are not generally attuned to this wonderment, so we need to follow the child here.

Every attempt made by the child is interrupted. The adult is irritated not only by the fact that the child is trying to perform an action when there is no need but also by his different rhythm, his different manner of moving.

The Secret of Childhood, Maria Montessori, p72, Orient Blackswan Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 2009 Edn.

Thought-provoking quotes

There is a lot more to learn and assimilate from this book and the Montessori method, I have only shared a small part of it here. I leave you to ponder on some quotes that really stimulated my thoughts.

The very technique of sounding the unconscious that allows discoveries to be made in the case of the adults becomes an obstacle in the case of the child. p6

The adult has become egocentric in relation to the child, not egotistic, but egocentric. p10

If the baby has not been able to work in accordance with the guidance of its sensitive period, it has lost its chance of a natural conquest and has lost it forever. p32

Adults can thus impede this inner labour, when they fall suddenly upon small children without understanding what these are about, and dance them up and down or try to amuse and distract them. p49

The important thing is thus not a great deal of movement but self-mastery. p76

Here is the aim of the truly new education; first of all to discover the child and effect his liberation. p88

To complete the picture the adult denies that he is a tyrant. Where is the tyrant whoever confessed to sacrificing his subjects? p94

That was how I had to interpret it; for afterwards, through long experience, I discovered that children have a profound feeling of personal dignity and their souls may remain wounded, ulcerated, oppressed, in a way the adult can never have imagined. p109


Until next time, continue to stay curious!

Now, I would like to hear your thoughts on this article and child education in general. Please write a comment and let me know.

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Dr. Soumya Sreehari

Co-Founder and Specialist at NumberNagar®
Dr. Soumya is an Educator and Researcher with a passion for reading, writing and teaching. She holds a PhD in Chemistry (Michigan Technological University, Houghton, USA). Her experience as a student and a teacher in two countries led her to pursue a career in Education. Her core work at NumberNagar® involves quality delivery of product and services at every stage of the customer life cycle. She leads the team that makes this happen. Previously she has taught Chemistry to first year undergraduate students at Michigan Technological University. She is a voracious reader and challenges herself to read 50 books every year.

6 Replies to “4 lessons to learn from the Montessori method”

  1. Montessori is a new approach to me. But the benefits of this method that you give in this article are good, so I will learn and try to apply this method to my children. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Excellent review of The Secret of Childhood by Maria Montessori, Dr.Soumya!

    Very useful excerpts of Maria Montessori’s wisdom that urges to read the book too. The practical significance of her wisdom is even more relevant & urgent in a world where parents are pressed for time….our reliance on stereotypes of a child’s development pace and scope….and the increasing need to cultivate the child’s soul and individuality in the fast emerging Creative Age!

  3. I can resonate to all the 4 points mentioned in the blog. They are really thought provoking. Next time I will think before I correct my child.

    But one point. Why do you think parents try to correct the child? It may be just out of concern that let the child learn it right than wrong. It may also be to teach discipline to the child. For example: think that a child steals money from the parents purse. Parents will definitely scold them and punish stating that it is wrong. Parents will not obviously support the child for this. If they don’t correct this habit the child will think its right and do it again . How would explain this point?

    1. Thank you, Vasundara. I am happy that the points resonated with you and they were thought provoking.
      With respect to your question on correcting children on certain behaviours, it is certainly required. Stealing money, playing with dangerous items in the house – these are not to be encouraged. As parents, we need to use our discernment and discretion to guide children on acceptable social behaviours.
      What I talk about in the article is about activities that involve the child’s physical and mental development, and are not harmful to either the child or her environment. Walking, eating, grooming activities – these are all part of the child’s cognitive development. Here, we should not force them to do it quickly and neatly because we are in a hurry or they will make a mess. At least some times, we should allow them to take their own time and make a mess. Children want to learn to do things by themselves, and do it in their own way. If we do not give them that opportunity, their learning will be affected over a long term.

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