Bringing up baby, the Montessori way

Beds, not cots, fewer toys, and definitely no naughty step – a new guide to parenting by 'following the child' is the antithesis of modern parenting manuals, discovers Sarah Cassidy

When it's teatime at Kathi Hughes's house, all the children are encouraged to help. Three-year-old Abigail will often push her chair next to where her mother is chopping vegetables for supper. "I'll give her the mushrooms and a butter knife and she'll chop happily next to me," Kathi says. "Do I give her a sharp knife? No, of course not. But she has seen me cut. It shows that older children and adults do these things and this is how it is done."

Kathi is raising her children the Montessori way. After attending Montessori schools herself, she later trained as a Montessori teacher. Since her own children were born, Kathi has adapted her home to bring them up using Montessori methods and ideas.

Her children have eaten off china plates and drunk out of glass tumblers since they were very young. Sometimes things get broken, sometimes things get spilt, but that is a small price to pay for learning independence and self-confidence, Kathi argues. And if her offspring are feeling creative they can help themselves to paint, glue or scissors. Nothing is kept out of reach.

"Sure, sometimes things go wrong," Kathi laughs. "But that can happen even if you were to try to control access to paint, scissors and crockery."

Kathi has written a new parenting guide, Learning Together: What Montessori Can Offer Your Family, which looks set to fuel the debate on how best to bring up children. The book is poles apart from more regimented approaches promoted by experts such as Gina Ford and Jo Frost, television's Supernanny.

The Montessori movement, which has more than 600 nurseries in the UK and which has published Kathi's parenting guide, believes that British parents can choose to learn a lot from Montessori methods. You do not need to send your child to a Montessori school or buy any special educational materials – instead parents can just benefit from the ideas.

It advocates a relaxed approach to parenting, with babies worn in slings, youngsters sleeping on floor beds rather than in cots, and no punishments for naughty toddlers. But the book says the most important thing is for parents to "slow down, stand back and tune in to the rhythm of the child".

"Follow the child" is the mantra of the Montessori movement. The adults' role is to create a stimulating environment and then leave the child undisturbed. One of the biggest mistakes parents make is to believe that children need to be entertained or engaged by an adult all or most of the time, it argues. The "most important thing a parent can do is nothing!" the guide advises. "Simply observe, without interrupting with conversation, questions, or offers of help," it says.

Although Supernanny has recommended parents reward children with star charts and treats, and punish them by confiscating toys, the guide believes parents should "create consistent boundaries" rather than "impose discipline".

"When it is all going a bit wrong, I remind myself that toddlers do not need 'taming' as if they are wild animals; we do not want to break their spirit," Kathi writes in her book. "Instead I like to see children who are assertive, at times even feisty, and who are aware of their own needs, but who can also co-operate with others."

Children should also have plenty of time to play outdoors and be given the opportunity to take risks. Many parents who have used Montessori methods with their own children have contributed their stories to the book. Helena Kay, 40, is a former banker who retrained as a Montessori teacher before having her own children, Skye, three, and one-year-old Cameron. "We've laid things out in the house to allow the children to come and go as they like around the house and to have the freedom to go out into the garden when they want," she says. "I think it has really boosted my daughter's confidence. If parents were to take one simple idea from the book I think they should think about observing their children to see when they are ready to do things for themselves."

Amalia Gonzalez is a qualified Montessori teacher who has used Montessori methods when bringing up her own children, Luca, seven, and Gabriel, aged four. "I am just bringing up my children the way I know, the way it feels natural to me," she says.

"Children have very simple needs, really: they want to be included, they want to be helpful, and they really like spending time with their parents. Sometimes we get so caught up in trying to keep up with the things that others do – extracurricular activities, sports and outings – but what they really enjoy is playing rough and tumble on the carpet, building train tracks or going for a walk in the forest."

Amalia believes that many parents have already adopted many Montessori ideas without realising it. It's about spending time with your children. "Take them out and let them experience and be exposed to all this cultural richness that we have around us. Follow their clues, they learn more when they are interested in something." The Montessori movement hopes to spread its message to more parents in parenting classes held as part of a government pilot scheme.

Jeremy Clarke, a Montessori-trained teacher, qualified primary-school teacher and father of Jack, nine, and Mia, two, will help to deliver the parenting classes and was one of the contributors to the parenting guide. He said: "Reading with my daughter at bedtime is something that I absolutely treasure. It doesn't always go smoothly, though. Mia will sometimes insist on choosing seven or eight books, on occasion she will close every story halfway through and every now and then will turn pages back and forth just so they are repeated again and again. But if Montessori has taught me anything, it is the value of 'following the child'. I remember that what we are doing is not just about reading a story from start to finish."

Philip Bujak, the chief executive of Montessori St Nicholas, the UK's Montessori charity which published the guide, hopes that it will attract many new followers to Montessori ideas. He said: "This isn't a manual on the right way to raise children. We simply hope this book will provide new insight and perspective… Sometimes it's the smallest activities that can make the biggest impact on a child's development."

Who was Montessori?

Maria Montessori was born in Italy in 1870 and became the first woman to graduate from the University of Rome with a degree in medicine.

She became interested in education through her work as a doctor treating children with special needs.

In 1907, Montessori began work with a pioneering project to teach poor children from a Rome housing estate.

She opened her first Casa dei Bambini, or Children's House, for about 50 children.

Montessori observed the behaviour in these young children and found that they showed deep concentration, liked to repeat activities and were sticklers for order in their classroom.

Given a free choice of activity, the children showed more interest in practical activities and Montessori's materials than in toys. They were not motivated by sweets and other rewards and over time, she saw a spontaneous self-discipline emerge. Her education methods were based on these observations.

As early as 1909, Montessori's work attracted the attention of international observers. Her ideas spread to the UK from about 1912. Today, there are more than 600 Montessori schools in the UK and more than 25,000 worldwide.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Services Manager - (communications, testing, DM)

    £32000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Services Manage...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Apprenticeships

    £10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an outstanding opportunity for 1...

    Ashdown Group: IT Analyst / Helpdesk - 2 Month Contract - £15ph - High Wycombe

    £15 per hour: Ashdown Group: IT Analyst / Helpdesk - 2 Month Contract - £15ph ...

    Recruitment Genius: Automation Test Analyst

    £35000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This group is the world's secon...

    Day In a Page

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum