Montessori and Minimalism

Although Plumblossom is several years away from preschool, I’ve been doing some preliminary research on various educational methods. I’m particularly intrigued by the Montessori philosophy (thanks to reader Carrie-Anne!), as it seems quite complementary to a minimalist lifestyle.

I was thrilled to discover that several of its central tenets aren’t just applicable to children; in fact, we’d do quite well to practice them as adults:

Simplicity. A Montessori classroom contains all the essentials needed for the child’s development, but nothing superfluous. Each item is carefully chosen, and serves a specific purpose.

Adult version: You can edit your home in the same way—retaining only those items that you use on a regular basis, and that make a positive contribution to your household.

Order. The Montessori environment emphasizes “a place for everything, and everything in its place.” Materials are kept in small baskets on low, child-accessible shelves. The children learn that each item has a designated spot, and are encouraged to put away materials for one activity before beginning another.

Adult version: Organize your possessions in modules, so you always know where to find them. Be diligent about returning items to their place as soon as you’re finished using them, and you’ll avoid a clutter pile-up on your desk, dining table, and other surfaces.

Natural Materials. Montessori items are typically made of natural materials like wood, glass, and fabric, rather than plastic. This facilitates the child’s sensory development, and builds a deep connection with nature.

Adult version: Favor natural materials in your home for furniture, décor, and practical items: for example, glass jars, wood furniture, and wool rugs.

Beauty. Montessori materials are aesthetically-pleasing and kept in excellent condition, teaching children to respect and appreciate the objects in their environment.

Adult version: Limit your possessions to those that are beautiful and well-made, instead of filling your house with cheap, throwaway items.

Cleanliness. Children learn to care for their environment by sweeping, washing, dusting, and polishing. These activities are not presented as chores, but rather purposeful activity to build their coordination, concentration, and self-esteem.

Adult version: Regular cleaning is a wonderful antidote to clutter—dusting or vacuuming around items is such a hassle, you’re more likely to put them (or throw them) away! Focus on your flat surfaces (countertops, tables, floor), and clear off any clutter or debris on a daily basis.

A Montessori environment provides children with a beautiful, orderly space conducive to learning and discovery. It fosters their sense of calm and inner peace, by providing freedom to explore within a structured framework.

Likewise, if we incorporate similar principles into our adult lives—for example, limiting the contents of our homes to those that are useful and beautiful—we too may find the space, freedom, time, and peace to rediscover our world.

Does anyone have any experiences with, or opinions about, the Montessori philosophy?

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

78 comments to Montessori and Minimalism

  • Debbie Baskin

    I’ve got my girls in an Emilio Reggio school. I really love it. They give the kids a choice about what they discuss in circle time. My oldest puts her name card in the center she wants to do for the day (reading, dramatic play, etc.). It’s probably done to conserve funds but I love that they have signs up for only 1 squirt of soap and 3 pushes for the paper towels and on Fridays for snack they eat the leftovers of the week. I love the Emilio Reggio approach but I really think everything depends on the teachers, directors and the set-up of the particular preschool. I also found an article that talked about what kind of preschool is best for which kind of kids …. Waldorf for creative, Emilio for curious, something else for the social butterflies, etc. You may want to select a preschool based on her personality.

  • Claire

    My daughter attends a Montessori preschool. It suits her personality; she is a determined, independent little person, curious and with very good manual dexterity, picking up fiddly little eggs and beads. The same school would not have suited my boys! My eldest was happiest at a church hall based preschool. He had a lot of opportunity to run around, and thrived! Children learn best when they are happy and engaged; when the time comes, you will know what suits Plumblossom. Go with your instincts. Don’t be afraid to pull her out if a system, for whatever reason, isn’t working for her. Life is too short to be unhappy at preschool!

  • Allison

    My daughter went to a Montessori preschool for a couple of months before we moved out of state. I loved the clean, open space and the organization of it. However, I did not like that the “toys” we’re referred to as “works”. I also thought that the philosophy didn’t allow for enough spontaneity and creativity. The children were taught the “correct” way to paint, but my daughter has always been an experimenter. She never used her toys or art supplies according to directions. I don’t think the school allowed the children enough freedom for self-expression through play. After we moved she attended a traditional preschool and was very fortunate to have creative teachers. The classrooms were overflowing with things to touch and play with in anyway the children could imagine. To me it was a place where they were allowed to be children. In contrast, I saw the Montessori school as a place where the children were being groomed for something else; a good worker bee?.

  • Ross

    I knew a couple of children that had been in Montessori. They were lovely and intelligent and independent but they were like little adults. Serious, not playful kids. Still I was attracted to the Montessori philosophy and put my own two children in. Within the first week I knew this was not for us. The older kids were the rudest most disrespectful kids I has ever met. The class was out of control. I understand it may have just been the dynamic of that small school but a second school in our town only allowed parents as far as the door and were not allowed in. This did not sit well with me. I love the Waldorf but it was not available in our community. As it happen we ended up homeschooling. A challenge for mininmalit life and it is always a work in progress but we are happy.

  • Jenifer

    my child goes to a steiner school and will through high school (unless we choose to unschool him at any given point).

    steiner has many of the same philosophies, but IMO often makes for “messier” or “more cluttered” spaces because of the way artwork is utilized in the educational system (children create their own books, create their own artworks, and teachers use artworks (which they hand draw on the walls/boards daily) as part of the educational process). even though I understand the educational use, i find the rooms *really* uncomfortable and cluttered. LOL

    other than this difference, all of the other values mentioned above are the same. my son helps with cooking, cleaning, and maintaining toys/objects. they also have outdoor time where they garden (growing food, flowers, herbs, etc), as well as having time in play areas (free choice on how to use their outside time), and at the next school (which he’ll start next year in Feb) has “bush fridays” which is when the children are outside all day in the woods doing. . . whatever they do in the woods. :)

    the steiner school also encourages home visits, where the teachers come and visit the families in their home environment. our home is minimalist for a lot of reasons. The nice thing is that they loved the simplicity of it, and were curiosu as to why we kept it that way since most “steiner families” have homes that look like the schools. We just don’t. which I’m happy about. :)

  • BJ Warner

    As a former home educator, I was fascinated with Charlotte Mason. Now there are websites, curriculums, book lists, etc. Charlotte Mason believed in educating through experience and her favorite word was “twaddle.” Twaddle sums up all the pointless, irrelevant stuff that gets in the way of real learning. Twaddle to me stuff thatvgitbin the way of life – rather like the possessions, ideas, thought patterns and people that get in the way of living. You might enjoy her point of view, especially for education.

  • Layla

    I like how you relate it to adults too. I’ve finally learned that while cleaning is a chore, it’s a good break from things that require a lot of thinking (studying chemistry!) and it makes your study area nicer/more free of mouldy coffee cups.

    These classrooms look so nice. When I have kids, I’d definitely like to send them to a school that teaches the same values that I have (a love of nature, keeping things tidy and clean, using good quality things and keeping them in good condition rather than cheap things that need to be replaced.)

  • Oh, yes, simplicity has so many benefits for children! I’ve actually been working on a blog post about this, because it intrigues me that my daughter thinks so differently than other kids. She moves slower, and takes her time to study her surroundings. Yet she is so socially adept, which is unusual for a kid with a severe language delay!

    As far as Montossori is concerned, I agree in some areas and disagree in others. I love pretend play, which is not encouraged so much in that method. But Beanie does have a simple bedroom (she did just sleep on a matress, until we found a used twin bed for her). We co-slept exclusively in the beginning, which made thing even easier. We limit her toys and give her some fun household items to play with (blog post: ). She is SO happy with our minimalist lifestyle, that she cries and asks to go back into the car when we return to our house.

    Plumblossom and Beanie are pioneers, as there is not much information on kids raised minimalistically from birth. But my husband did make a good point. My mom was worried that Beanie would grow to hate life on board, and he said, “How many kids hate their lives in suburbia?”

  • Laura

    I loved this post even though I don’t have children. I really liked the way you have compared the school to adult learning. I have been thinking a lot about how I still have so much learning to do. It is not just children who are always learning-it is all of us. There are definately areas where I could use some work – mostly handling stress, accepting others and being more extroverted. Maybe I should make my home my learning environment? Homeschool myself; LOL.

    I think we as a society have a tendency to expect our learning as humans to end because our “schooling” has ended. People never stop learning. I think we need to pay attention to our what we are absorbing from the world around us and how environments we put ourselves into impact our personalities and characters – whether for our children or ourselves.

  • M. L.

    i enjoy your site and have gotten good ideas from you. i’m a mother of 2 and will share this (take it with a grain of salt). interview different types of childcare facilities. don’t get sold on a nontraditional or progressive “method.” focus more on the actual learning environment that is best for your little one and the quality of care that you’ll expect to be given to her. anybody can (as they do) open a montessori school (they are a dime a dozen in my area), but that doesn’t necessarily make it the best type of education for the masses of children. montessori schools actually vary from one institution to another, with some basic tenets in common. the differences will stem from the different administrators, their staff, and how they want to adapt changes to the orthodox method for their particular school. those variances may be the difference between your little one having a positive, negative, or lackluster experience. also, keep in mind that many/most childcare facilities institute some of the elements of montessori schools: encouraging socializing with different age levels, learning multiple subjects through exploring and hands-on play, providing distinct classroom stations so that children can gravitate toward the actitivities that best suit them, their interest levels, and natural talents, and exploring their surrounding communities, etc. thanks for sharing your minimalistic life!

  • teebee

    I would like to suggest a book, ‘Simplicity Parenting’ by Kim John Payne. This book started me on my minimalist journey. Reading this book convinced me that less toys gives children more space to enjoy them and be creative. This book also encouraged me to minimalise my kitchen and cooking, and create certain routines in my day/week, which has freed up time and energy. You may also find appealing his ideas on reducing the ‘verbal’ clutter around young children. He is inspired by the Waldorf Steiner philosohy. I believe that the ‘central tenets’ of Montessori philosophy you listed above also fit with the Waldorf Steiner philosophy, although perhaps there is not as much ‘order’ while children are playing with the toys, but returning them to their place is in keeping with the approach.

  • Mims

    Education is an ongoing debate between me and a family member. Most recently it has been language, arts and cursive (all which I find essential to learning and brain developement, and I have research to back me up on at least the first two claims) and non open ended learning materials (he currently works on an project that explores IT as a learning tool and uses his children as guinea pigs to test out apps for children, I find apps to limiting to creativity and fantasy even though even I accnowledge that they can be a great tool in certain circumstances).

    Another big area of debate is different learning methods. I strongly believe that people process the world in different ways, some need to understand the theory, others need a more practical or tactile approach. A method that works well for one person might not work at all for another, something that I have become even more aware of while training people in my line of work. My brother and I are perfect examples of that. My brother was analythical already as a child, he was more easily bored than I was, preferred more structured play and specific toys and preferred reading comics to making up his own stories. I always had a vivid imagination and while I was fine with a certain amount of structured play (as in playing hide and seek or tag) I could also entertain myself (and my brother) for hours with anything from sticks to “proper toys” and got frustrated with toys that were too limited. I preferred my dad’s made up stories whereas my brother preferred comics. I went to Waldorf/Steiner school from kindergarten to graduation, and while it suited me, who already had a natural inclination to learning by doing and using my own imagination and chreativity, it would not have suited my more analytically minded brother at all (luckily for him, he went to a more traditional school). In the end though, we are both well educated, intelligent, capable adults who do well in our trades, but we still work in different ways even when aiming at the same goal, we still think in different ways, and we still learn in different ways.

    My suggestion is therefore, do your research and chose according to Plumblossoms personality, you may love one educational method, but she might be better off with another.

  • Amy

    I also read and loved the book, “Simplicity Parenting.” It was helpful in applying minimalism to my parenting.
    I also love having a mattress on the floor. I had a twin mattress on the floor in the corner of my bedroom while growing up and it was a cozy refuge for many years.

  • Kim

    I am a Montessori directress of 6-9 year olds and the Montessori philosophy is very compatible with Minimalism. In fact, it was studying Montessori that propelled me towards Minimalism. I think with the Minimalist lifestyle, any other type of education would be a shock to your child’s system. Montessori pre-school can begin at 18 months and children learn much before they are 3. My 4-year old has a hard time going to cousin’s and friend’s homes and seeing all their toys and belongings. I would recommend to you some books by Tim Selden on raising a Montessori child.

    To those whose experience with Montessori is not good, it is not for everyone. I also am shocked at the people who experienced not being able to go past the front door. During the first 6 weeks, that is the case, after that, parents are welcome to observe and have nights or afternoons to have their parents watch them work. Also, I am not familiar with teaching someone to “paint” the correct way. Montessori encourages creativity and thinking outside the box. Make sure you have accredited Montessori schools. Many people take courses online and open a school. They may not be “authentic” in their practice.

  • azgirl

    I am homeschooling for preschool and found that while the theory behind Montessori is amazing, the materials are expensive and resemble clutter, especially since we have no classroom and have to store everything somewhere in our already small home. To me, it is an amazing way of teaching kids and I’m going to use my homemade sandpaper letters to teach writing, but overall, I think that doing the preschool at home is not possible for me. I only have some materials and already feel overwhelmed. For us, Charlotte Mason mixed with Montessori ideas is how we are going to go! Best of luck for you!

  • Melissainsc

    My husband is just finishing his graduate work to become a fully accredited Montessori teacher. He teaches in a public school with a Montessori curriculum choice but it is Montessori with an overlay of core curriculum standards and state required testing. The best things bout it is that my packrat husband is seeing the benefits of uncluttering and creating a simpler, cleaner environment. This has extended to our home–and the clouds parted and the angels sang Hallelujah! I am chipping away, little by little, at his hoarder tendencies and the clutter in our home. It is a good thing.

    In terms of Montessori education, it may not be for every child but it is a well thought out, well researched method of teaching that is very successful with many students, perhaps most notably with high need students who do not have a lot of good “home training”. For these students, the calm, clutter free atmosphere is very good. The “toys” are tools to teach concepts and develop skills. Life skills are a significant part of the curriculum and much needed by many students who come to school from disorganized and disadvantaged households. I know that in the US, Montessori schools are usually utilized by the well to do and privileged but the beuty of the program is really evident with students such as those my husbands sees, rural and poor with limited exposure to the rich environments and experienced that more privileged children get.

  • […] Items in the home or classroom each have a specific and positive purpose.  They are kept simple and in order.  Using shelves and cupboards that are at a child’s height and in small easy to carry baskets to make them accessible.  Therefore, children are key participants in the cleaning up process and it’s not all left up to the adults to tidy up.  Activities are packed away before starting the next (successfully putting a stop to the big pile of toys often found in the middle of toy rooms.)  With less clutter in the house, there is less to put away, dust and clean.  What a time saver!  (Want to read more visit miss minimalist) […]

  • Melanie

    This is such an interesting post with even more fascinating comments! I completely agree with the comment about how the two syblings had different personalities and were educated in different schools. And yes, please be sure the Montessori school you choose is accredited with properly trained teachers in the Montessori Method. What hit home for me was what one comment said about what might be right for you (in form of education) might not be right for your child! I spent many summers on a working farmstead in Ohio. The parents were both former Montessori teachers. Their children were all homeschooled in this way. I loved the farmhouse was so simple yet warm. That everything had its place. Most of the common areas for those of us children who spent time there, was set up like a Montessori classroom. This love of all Montessori had to offer stayed with me. When I was pregnant with my first child, my daughter, I read everything I could about Montessori. I wanted to do it right from birth. And I did do much of what I set out to do. When my daughter was about a year old. I started thinking of a class we could do together. Some mom’s were doing a music class & the likes. When she was 18 months, she would be old enough to start our Montessori school when she turned 2 a couple of days a week. Although I liked the idea of doing a class together, I knew Montessori was the education that I wanted for her. So we went for a tour and a visit. Although I COMPLETELY LOVED what I saw in the classrooms, my daughter clung to my leg, or wanted to be held the whole time. It was new and different. I didn’t think much of it at the time. About this time or a little earlier, one of my mommy friends asked me if Montessori education was like Waldorf education. What’s Waldorf? I asked, as so many of us do when we first here of it! She didn’t really know herself. So back to the computer I went. I was still confused as to exactly what it was all about, but there was a school in our area. School was almost done for the year, but I was able to get us in for a tour. The Waldorf school also offered a parent & child class that met once a week. This was something my daughter & I could do together. Even though I wanted her to get started with Montessori, I felt in my heart that 2 years old was too little to be without me, even 2 mornings a week. So after the tour we stopped into the parent & child classroom. They were having their meal/snack. My daughter immediately let go of my hand and walked over to the play kitchen to cook. Then she picked up a doll, which I was later to learn is called a heavy baby (which is therapeutically weighted and contains dried lavender). She sat right down in a cozy area of the room with sheepskins & colored silks and watched with fascination as the other children quietly ate their snack. After we left, I knew this is where SHE wanted to be. Where she felt comfortable-immediately. So I learned to let go of MY wants & let her teach me. My daughter is 9 now, and in the 3rd grade at that same Waldorf school and she is thriving. I now can’t imagine us being anywhere else but that loving community, but it really did take a big leap of faith for me to observe HER and make my decision based on that observation. Waldorf Education is not for every family. There is a large community component and as parents, we hold much responsibility in that community. For us, this was welcomed, as our own families do not live near at all. Anyway, my main point was to try different school environments, do your research, but most of all, observe your daughter. She will tell you without words, where she needs to be!

  • […] Montessori, ce as putea pretinde mai frumos si interesant de la viata? Citind articolul acesta: mi-a venit pofta de a simplifica si mai mult ceea ce ma inconjoara. Simplu inseamna […]

  • Tina

    In general, I find that kids who go to preschool do better in kindergarten because they already know how to sit in a circle, their numbers and colors, etc. My kids all read before they started kindergarten because they figured it out from easy books in the house.

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