Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Montessori Philosophy: Praise vs. Encouragement

NAMC montessori philosophy praise vs encouragement NAMC montessori teacher and girl
When I was growing up, I thought one of the best things anyone could say to me was "You're such a good girl." I tried hard to be good and to live up to the expectations set before me. I wanted to be good; I wanted my parents to be proud of me. Later in life, I would tell people "You'd be so proud of me!" Until one day, someone asked me, "But, are you proud of you?"

When I became a Montessori teacher, I kept hearing from other teachers about not praising the children's work. What? Could I actually be hearing them correctly? Montessori teachers don't praise work? How then did a child know if she'd done the work correctly? My colleagues suggested I use encouragement instead of praise. They suggested phrases like "Well, how do you think you did? What do you think of your work? What would you do differently if you had a chance to do the work again?" It sounded like a bad counseling session to me, so I sat and listened and observed my colleagues in action.

Montessori Philosophy: Learning to use Encouragement Over Praise in the Montessori Classroom


Let's face it, who doesn't enjoy praise? It feels good to know someone likes us or likes what we've done. Praise motivates good behavior – temporarily. Do I only act this way as long as I'm receiving praise? What happens when it's taken away? What are the conditions or parameters to ensure I continue to receive praise?
  • "You're such a good girl"
  • "You did it just like I told you to."
  • "All A's? You deserve a reward."
  • "I'm glad you listened to me."
  • "You really know what makes me proud."
  • "I'm proud of you."

Often, when praise is given, the receiver feels pressure to live up to the standards or expectations of someone else. Excessive, long-term praise can inhibit children from gaining independence because they rely heavily on the praise of those in authority positions.


Encouragement is empowering. There are no conditions and it isn't judgmental. The receiver is encouraged to make judgments of their own behavior, work, and ultimately, worth.
  • "I really appreciate your help."
  • "I knew you could do it."
  • "You did your best and you didn't give up."
  • "You must be proud of yourself."
  • "I have faith in you."
  • "I trust your decision."
  • "I love you no matter what."

In the beginning, it may take some conscious effort to use encouragement, rather than praise. It may not feel natural or sound right to your ears. It takes restraint not to give praise for a job well done. I, myself, have been really making an effort to use more encouragement with my own son, who is struggling with time management. He has many projects due at school this year and has never really been held accountable to strict deadlines before.

I've seen a vast improvement in his attitude toward himself and his ability because I've chosen to encourage him. Words like, "It was tough, but you really stuck to it" and "You must be proud of yourself for accomplishing so much" has really made him start to take pride in his work.

That's not to say that you should never use praise, either. But think of praise like a big, thick piece of chocolate cake. It tastes great and is good every once in a while. But we couldn't survive just eating cake. Encouragement is the nourishment our emotional body needs to sustain itself. In the long run, you will be building strong, healthy individuals who are able to look to themselves to make decisions and know the answers.

NAMC montessori preschool classroom guide manual encouragement vs praiseNAMC’s Montessori 3-6 Classroom Guide has a section on The Role of the Teacher, which discusses Acknowledging Positive Behavior and Over-praise.
As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Tuesday, March 11, 2008.


  1. What a great blog. I am a Montessori parent and I'm learning so much here that supports and augments what I learn from my child's school. I especially appreciate your open handed attitude - praise isn't verboten, it's just to be used sparingly. Love the chocolate cake analogy. I found this blog because I'm looking into training and certification, but I'm delighted to have discovered it simply as a parenting resource, too! Thanks and please keep up the great work. (While I'm posting, can I make a request? Can you post a blog entry about how to address when a child is having difficulty telling the truth? I know I need to be someone with whom she's not afraid or intimidated to be truthful... Other ideas and suggestions? A comprehensive post about helping a child to move from falsehoods to truth-telling would be so valuable. Many thanks! And feel free to delete the parenthetical part of this comment if and when you approve it for posting. Thanks!)

    ~Christine G.

  2. Christine,

    Thank you for your comments and your suggestion. I'll be working on a piece that addresses honesty and telling the truth.


  3. This is a wonderful blog. Very informative and helpful to parents who want to give their children a strong foundation and to grow into great decision makers in their lifes.

    I loved the blog as it is also teaching me as a parent on how to make good decisions for my children.

    Keep it up NAMC!

  4. Tasleem, parenting is a continuing journey. It sounds as if you are well on your way to helping your children grow to be happy, independent adults.


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