Friday, September 23, 2011

Montessori Elementary Teacher Perspectives: Tips for Following and Inspiring the Child

NAMC Montessori elementary teacher tips inspiring following the child math checkerboard

Recently I received an email from a NAMC student asking about working with a family that is quite outspoken as to the precise curriculum schedule they want to be presented to their child. She was concerned about following and meeting the needs of their child within the confines of their demands for him to follow a rigorous and precise academic schedule.

Her question is a tough one. On the one hand, I completely understand the parents’ point of view – they want to make sure that their child does not ‘fall through the cracks’ and miss important information and lessons. On the other hand, I am a firm believer in Montessori’s wisdom of following the child and allowing him to discover his own path, and am secure in the knowledge that the child will eventually choose to work in all areas. I have experienced this firsthand with my own son. (You can read more about my son and his Montessori elementary years in my blog: Making Connections between Montessori and Traditional School)

The purpose of the Montessori environment is to develop the whole personality of the child, not merely his intellect. Montessori said “The aim of the children who persevere in their work with an object is certainly not to “learn”; they are drawn to it by the needs of their inner life, which must be recognized and developed by its means.” (Discovery of the Child)

Sometimes, however, it is not simply enough to follow the child.

Montessori Elementary Teacher Perspectives: Tips for Following and Inspiring the Child

Sometimes we really need to know and understand the child and allow her interests and personality guide us to helping her learn. If the child shows no interest in math, ask yourself what does interest her that could incorporate math? Does she like space? Can we learn to calculate planetary years using the Checkerboard? Does she like chemistry? Can we figure out scientific notation based on chemical formulas? What about cooking? There’s addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, decimals, measurement conversions.

For very reluctant math students I have incorporated a great series of “real” math works from Rempub publishers. Using the idea of playing restaurant, students quickly learned to add, subtract, multiply, divide, and percents by figuring out sales tax and tips. My students like to play restaurant so much I have to take it off the math shelves for a while so they could explore other areas. It’s always such a great feeling when they come and say “Miss Michelle, can we do restaurant math today?”

What about geometry? The best way to interest students in geometry is to build something. The Montessori environment is full of opportunities for students to assemble a bookshelf, an aquarium or even a sandbox. Construction leads to discovering metric and standard measurement, perimeter, area, surface area, and volume. The best way to interest upper elementary students in anything is to let them touch it, feel it, eat it. In other words, make it real and let them “do it”.

NAMC Montessori elementary teacher tips inspiring following the child boy writing
Another topic is spelling. I required all my students to do spelling every week. However, my spelling lessons don’t look like traditional spelling lessons. Each child developed their own weekly list where half the words came from me and half the words came from them. I then gave 20 or more choices of what they could do to practice. These might include writing a story, making a puzzle, making a mobile, or writing and illustrating a comic strip. The work had meaning for the student and they were much more inclined to learn and remember the words.

Most importantly, it is up to you to advocate for both your Montessori students and your belief in the Montessori method. If parents insist a more traditional approach (“My child must study all areas of the curriculum each day. They must strictly adhere to the timeline and standard course of study as dictated by the state.”), then, unfortunately, the Montessori environment may not be the best choice to satisfy this demand.

You may also be interested in the following NAMC blogs:
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 Friday, September 23, 2011.


  1. (“My child must study all areas of the curriculum each day. They must strictly adhere to the timeline and standard course of study as dictated by the state.”), then, unfortunately, the Montessori environment may not be the best choice to satisfy this demand. -- This was my thought exactly when I began reading your post. It would appear to me that this parent does not fully understand the Montessori method. I also understand the great pressure a parent feels for their child to get the best education possible. In this particular case how does a Montessori school/teacher deal with this situation? If the parent doesn't come to understand the Montessori method would it be best if the family found another school more to their philosophies?

  2. Shelly, as wonderful as the Montessori method of education may be, it may not be best for all families. In the instance where you feel it is a mismatch, it is important that the teacher discuss it first with the school administrator to make a game plan. It would then be up to the teacher and the administration to review the Montessori philosophy of the school and discuss that when they enrolled, they [most-likely] signed a contract which said they agreed with and support the basic tenants of Montessori education. As difficult as it may be to face losing a student, it is sometimes necessary to kindly suggest that the parent look for another school for their child, one that best suits the family’s philosophy of education.


Have questions or comments? Let us know what you thought about this article!

We appreciate feedback and love to discuss with our readers further.

NAMC Blog Inquiries Contact Form


Email *

Message *

Search the NAMC Montessori Teacher Training Blog

Are you interested in reading back through NAMC's blog articles from years gone by, or for more information on a specific topic?

Browse a select list of our most popular categories below; by clicking on one, you will see every article posted under that topic since 2007. You may also use the lower archive menu to select a year and month, displaying all blog posts in the chosen time frame.

If you are seeking a range of information on a certain topic or idea, try this search box for site-wide keyword results.

Choose From a List of Popular Article Topics

NAMC Montessori Series

Montessori Philosophy and Methodology

Montessori Classroom Management

The School Year

Montessori Materials

Montessori Curriculum

Montessori Infant/Toddler (0–3) Program

Montessori Early Childhood (3–6) Program

Montessori Elementary (6–12) Programs

What is Montessori?

Search Archives for Montessori Blog Posts by Date

Thank you to the NAMC Montessori community!

This year marks NAMC’s 20th anniversary of providing quality Montessori distance training and curriculum development to Montessorians around the globe. Since we began in 1996, we have grown to build a fantastic community of students, graduates, and schools in over 120 countries. We are grateful for your continued support and dedication to furthering the reach and success of the Montessori method. Thank you for sharing this amazing milestone with us!