Ten Lessons that Montessori will NOT teach (Part 1)

Jessica Langford
7 minute read

Montessori does offer many amazing benefits to children, but sometimes I think that the most valuable part of Montessori is what it doesn't do. The art of Montessori often lies in the subtle or the unseen, in the hundreds of little conscious decisions we make every day that are barely noticeable to observers but make a huge difference to the child. Often these decisions are about excluding a certain element from our environment - such as rewards and punishments. These omissions are not oversights; they are a deliberate attempt to avoid the hidden pitfalls or unintended consequences of these practices. 

As you read about what Montessori will do for the child you might find yourself thinking that it sounds exactly like your own experiences, even though you work in a different system of education or don't send your children to Montessori. If you work in a non-Montessori environment with similar values and practices to those that I describe here as 'Montessori', or if your child attends a setting like that, please feel free to mentally replace the word 'Montessori' with a phrase that fits your circumstances, such as 'Our centre will not...' or 'Good quality early childhood environments will not...' or 'Respectful parents/educators will not...' or 'Child-led learning will not...".

With that in mind, this is my list of lessons that Montessori education will NOT teach a child.


  1. Montessori will not teach your child that;

“Learning is a chore you do because you have to when someone makes you.”


What Montessori does instead...

The Montessori method allows children to retain their natural sense of joy about discovery and exploration. It does not squash this by imposing pressure, judgement or expectations as these external forces can erode or oppose their natural, spontaneous, joyful interest.


This is why we do not make children follow an arbitrary, predetermined timetable. This is why we do not intervene to enforce, or change, the subject simply because a parent, or ‘society’ (schools, the Government, adult peers), wants the child to be interested in something more ‘tangible’, more ‘academic’ or more ‘impressive’.



  1. Montessori will not teach your child that;

“You are only good or valuable if an adult tells you that you are with words or rewards.”


What Montessori does instead...

Montessori education helps children to build self-confidence, instead of an addiction to praise, by encouraging them to independently attempt, practice and eventually succeed at tasks. We do not try to manipulate actions or measure their worth by intermittently supplying praise or rewards. Instead we let each child reflect on their own achievements, focus on the sense of pleasure and pride that is within them and find personal satisfaction without adult approval. 


This is why we do not say “good job”, but instead say “how do you feel about your work?” or “do you feel proud?”. It is also why we do not give out stickers or other rewards – the joy of learning and achievement is enough reward for a child who has not yet been taught to be reliant on material prizes.



  1. Montessori will not teach your child that;

“You are a naughty person if you make a mistake.”


What Montessori does instead...

Montessori educators (and parents) will never judge a child at this age for taking a wrong turn along the road to self-discipline. The children in our classroom have only been on the Earth for a few short years so it is unreasonable for us to expect them to have already built an unwavering grasp of the many complex, and sometimes subtle or varying, social expectations of our world. Therefore we will never label a child as naughty (either explicitly with that word or implicitly through public shaming such as “Thinking Chairs” or “Naughty Mats”) but will instead see a moment of impulsive or unsafe behaviour as a prime opportunity to teach a Practical Life lesson in Grace and Courtesy.


This is why we do not tell a child that they, or their behaviour, is “naughty” and why we correct other children if they describe it that way. This is also why we choose to teach and redirect children, rather than scold and punish them, when they make mistakes.



4. Montessori will not teach your child that;

"It is only worth being nice if an adult is watching to reward you for it.”

What Montessori does instead...

Montessori environments avoid external rewards and punishments, instead focusing on helping each child to develop a sense of social responsibility and self-control through positive interactions and purposeful activity. We allow children the liberty to be thoughtful and polite because they want to be, for its natural pleasure, not because they are seeking praise or a reward.


This is why we spend a great deal of time and energy helping each individual child to build a sense of community and responsibility and to learn the skills of physical control to put these intentions into practice.


5. Montessori will not teach your child that;

"You are not competent or capable of performing even the most basic tasks.”


What Montessori does instead...

The emphasis on supporting the development of independence allows Montessori education to avoid the trap that catches many parents, and teachers, who (despite their loving intentions) implicitly tell children every single day “there is no way that you will be capable of doing this on your own and I don’t have the time or interest in waiting for you to try so I will have to do it for you”. These exact words are unlikely to ever leave the adult’s mouth but something along these lines most certainly reaches the child’s mind. When a child begins at Montessori it takes us quite some time to ‘wean’ a child off of their solid belief that they need an adult to do almost everything. A common example is lunchboxes – almost every child on their first day will ask a teacher to open their lunchbox. Our response is to say “I’m happy to help if you need, could you show me what to do?”. More often than not the child goes to demonstrate – still expecting that we will have to jump in after they show us where the latch is – and find to their surprise and delight that their hands have just opened the lid!


Some parents do not have the time to demonstrate, or wait for your child to attempt tasks independently, every single time it needs to be done. However at Montessori we do have this time and so we hope that you respect us for giving your child uninterrupted time for these tasks instead of creating more ‘rush’ in our day by adding unnecessary ‘set times’ or ‘finishing times’ or ‘mandatory group gatherings’ to the routine. Your child might spend 10 minutes of their day just slipping their foot in and out of their shoe trying to perfect the technique but that child learns the important lesson - “I am capable, I am dexterous, I am independent and that means I will be able to succeed at other challenges that I try and practice!”.


This is why a Montessori teacher will always answer the child’s unspoken plea of “help me to do it myself”.


Read Part 2 here...

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