Montessori Books: Reviews & Recommendations
First things first: I love books!
Some of the many books that adorn my own home.
I am in a long-term love affair with the printed word. I love filling my bookshelves but my paper filled friends never seem to stay there for long and books pepper every surface of my house. They’re on my coffee table, my desk, my bedside table, on the couch.
When parents come to me to ask where they should start learning about Montessori I tend to point them towards books rather than websites (yes I realise it’s ironic that I run a website about Montessori and that I’m writing in a blog right now!) There are some incredible Montessori blogs and websites out there and they provide an enormous wealth of information and inspiration. I simply believe, however, that books are the perfect place to begin and that they are necessary for developing an authentic, informed view of Montessori. I believe that if you only ever read books you could be absolutely confident that you had a genuine understanding of Montessori, whereas I don’t think you could feel the same if you only ever visited websites. You can, of course, combine both but I suggest starting with books because if you happen to visit a misleading website first then it can be hard to ‘unlearn’ what you find there.
There are a few reasons why printed books can be more informative than online sources...
1. Books tend to be a more reliable source (with a more consistent message across titles).
Anyone can put their opinions on the internet. There is no real quality control online because it is an essentially self-published medium. I could write “The Montessori method requires all children to wear a uniform featuring a purple piglet standing under an umbrella” and publish it online if I wanted to (I just did!) It isn’t true, of course, but if someone Googled “Montessori uniform” it might pop up as a result. Very few people go through the necessary steps to identify whether or not an online source is reputable and the reason for that is that it is time-consuming. Looking up an author’s credentials takes time and energy that many people (especially busy parents) just don’t have to spare. That’s the beauty of published books: the publisher did that work for you! Somebody else has already taken the time to read the manuscript, research the author and objectively edit the work. When you read a book you can, therefore, have an increased sense of confidence that it is coming from a reputable source.
This is why, for instance, you will find a lot of contradictory information in Montessori websites but you will find that almost all Montessori books have a consistent message. The web entries may have been written by a person with no Montessori qualifications whatsoever whereas there is greater scrutiny on the manuscript of a Montessori book and on the person who wrote it.
2. The human eyes, and mind, are likely to absorb and recall printed words more easily than digital ones.
Perhaps this will change over time but, at present, it seems that people are more likely to thoroughly read, remember and comprehend words that are printed compared to those that appear digitally. Ferris Jabr, in Scientific American, explained that “evidence from laboratory experiments, polls and consumer reports indicates that modern screens and e-readers fail to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that many people miss and, more importantly, prevent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way” (2013). Furthermore, eye-tracking technology has discovered that most people “read” screens in an F-shaped pattern that means a great deal of information may be overlooked entirely (without us consciously realising it).
3. Books offer a concrete experience that we can absorb with our senses and keep over time.
There is something powerful about the tangible nature of books. We can physically hold them in our hands and enjoy the emotional and physical sensation of engaging with the words. When I read a book I underline phrases that strike me, I put post its on pages that inspire me, I crack the spine so that my favourite section appears naturally when I randomly open the cover. I get to know the book in a way that I can’t do with a website. I don’t feel connected to my screen in the same way that I do with a book (even though I spend long periods every day on my iPad and/or laptop!) I feel good about books and I enjoy returning to them. When you’re looking at Montessori sources you are trying to build a relationship with this new way of thinking about children. Anything that helps you to feel physically and emotionally connected to it on a long term basis is a good thing. This is why I suggest that parents or educators invest in books that they can call their own rather than just being visitors to an external, digital source.
So with those book-benefits in mind, I recommend the following texts for learning about Montessori.
I have broken these up into different subsections so you can focus on your own unique needs:
-Where to start (books for beginners)
-Straight to the source (Maria's own words)
-Activity ideas (if you want to set up environments and activities)
-To convince a sceptic (if you're trying to help a friend, relative or colleague to understand your passion for Montessori)
-Supplementary books in line with Montessori (if you want to learn about education and parenting from a perspective that isn't "officially" Montessori but is still harmonious with the principles).
Where to start:
If you're brand new to Montessori, and you're looking for books that are comprehensive without being overwhelming, these are the titles for you.
The Montessori Way manages to walk the line of being deep and comprehensive while still clear and accessible. Even the formatting of the book seems to have been selected for this purpose; rather than a thick ‘novel’ style book it is a large ‘coffee table’ style size filled with text and colour illustrations that make you feel a bit like you’re reading a magazine (albeit a very enlightening one!)
The Montessori Way covers all of the fundamental Montessori concepts and provides insights into the real world of Montessori classrooms. Whether you read it in one sitting, or come back to chapters over time, you will be left with a much greater sense of understanding about this holistic method of education.
I have heard more positive feedback from parents about this book than any other. Like “The Montessori Way: An Education for Life” it has a format that is designed to appeal to parents. How to Raise an Amazing Child (apparently the author isn’t too keen on that title but the publishers liked it!) is an inviting, modern format filled with colourful photographs and easy-to-read text. It mixes key philosophical points with really practical activity ideas. This is probably the best book for parents who are brand new to Montessori because reading it will give you a sense of “I get it” AND “I can do this!”
This book, unlike the Tim Seldin titles, is more of a straightforward ‘novel’ style text. It breaks down the details of the Montessori philosophy and practices, dividing it into sections so that complex concepts seem comprehensible. It is a fairly comprehensive guide and reading it will leave you feeling much more informed. It demystifies many of the keywords and phrases you might have heard from Montessori educators so it is empowering in the sense that it starts to translate this special language of Montessori.
Straight to the source: Books by Dr Maria Montessori
Many of Maria’s works are published, from full length books to collections of lectures, and it can be hard to know where to start. Reading Maria’s own words can be enlightening but can also be overwhelming. On the one hand it is, undeniably, valuable to go directly to the source. Who better to explain Maria’s intentions and observations than Maria herself?! On the other hand, many of her words are a century old. They were written (or spoken and transcribed) in Italian in the early 1900s and have been translated into English and preserved across the decades. It is inescapable that some of her words will, therefore, feel outdated and sometimes this can blur the message. Furthermore, Maria’s personal style of writing is so passionate that it can border on a sense of spiritual transcendence. Some people find this uplifting, others find it a little off-putting. It is therefore vital that Maria’s words are read in context of the time, language and personality of their author!
The Secret of Childhood
My own much-loved copy!
I used to joke that this was my “bible” of Montessori (the Gospel according to Maria!). This is partly because of the incredibly reverent tone of her words but also because my copy even had those tissue-thin pages that the Bible often has. This is the book that really captures the emotion of Montessori. Maria’s sense of awe is palpable; she not only respects the child but is amazed by the child! This passion is contagious and as you read the words you find yourself transported to this state of wonder.
The Montessori Method
My oft-revisited and extensively annotated copy!
This is the book that I have probably revisited the most in my career and it is the source of the majority of the most famous Montessori quotes. Almost every page provides a phrase or sentence that just so perfectly encapsulates the principles, practices and values of Montessori. It is a very focused book, with a clear message to deliver, and I personally find that it is a perfect valance of philosophy and application.
Dr Montessori’s Own Handbook
This one is an interesting read because it offers insight into Montessori’s own classrooms at a very direct level. It contains pictures and explanations of the environment and materials with an extremely practical focus on the methodology of presenting lessons. I also enjoy it because it identifies the evolution of what we now call “The Montessori Method”. Although the vast majority of principles, materials and practices have remained relatively unchanged there are a few details in the Handbook that Maria slightly adjusted later in her career.
Many Montessori books do a wonderful job of exploring the philosophy but provide little ‘practical’ advice, particularly for parents. If your aim is mainly to find ideas for activities, with a bit of philosophy there as an explanation, then there are some books made just for you!
This book is essentially a straight “activity guide”. Only the first few pages are dedicated to the history and principles of Montessori, the rest is filled with clear directions for setting up Montessori activities. It is divided into sections so that you can focus on learning new practical life lessons, sensorial experiences, language or number games and scientific concepts. The book is aimed primarily at the ‘early childhood’ years of 3 to 6 year olds. It is ideal for parents (or educators) who either know the philosophy already and just want some activity inspiration or for those who might not feel ready to explore the complexities of the philosophy but do want to provide supportive, developmentally engaging experiences for their child(ren).
Child’s Play follows a similar format to Teach Me to do it Myself but this time focuses on activities for 0 to 3 year old children. It provides a clear, easy to understand layout with a few pages dedicated to each activity. It explains the materials you need, the presentation, the purpose and gives tips and tricks for ‘following the child’ by adapting or expanding on the experience. Both Child’s Play and Teach Me to do it Myself suggest activities that can be done with very little specialised ‘equipment’. They do not require you to purchase Montessori classroom materials (like Pink Towers or Number Rods) but instead focus on activities you can either create from found objects at home, or in nature, or with commonly available resources that you can purchase at affordable prices.
I’ll start by saying - you have to overlook the dated clothing in the photos! This book was published in the early 90s and it shows in some of the images (think little girls in Peter Pan collars and big scrunchies and boys in flannelette shirts under denim overalls!) Interestingly enough some of these fashions are now cool again in that ironic retro ‘hipster’ way but it can be slightly distracting (even off-putting) when your first glance at the book. But this is an instance where you literally shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. The photos are dated but the information is timeless! It is an incredibly valuable resource with a balance of theory and practice intertwined in an extremely accessible way!
Aid to Life is actually a website, and all the information is available online, but they also have printed copies of booklets and posters (and DVDs) containing their ideas. I tend to suggest that parents actually invest in these printed versions - partly because I believe it is easier to absorb the information in that physical form but also because purchasing the copies helps to invest in the project! The proceeds can aid the development of further resources which can, in turn, aid the development of your child!
To convince a sceptic:
I personally believe it is usually ideal to offer people an invitation towards Montessori and then allow them to walk the path themselves. Being too ardent with convincing can actually make people defensive or lead them to believe that Montessori is some sort of cult trying to convert them! Sometimes, however, it feels necessary to be a little more intentional and persistent with your attempts to express the method to someone who is a little doubtful. For instance, if one parent is dedicated to using Montessori practices, but the other parent knows little about it or has concerns based on incorrect preconceptions, then it is useful to try to create a greater sense of partnership. Similarly, if you are a Montessori educator or Montessori inspired parent then you will have some people in your life whose opinions are of great value to you. If your close friends or family members don’t “get” Montessori, or don’t seem to respect the choices you’re making, then you might feel that you want to lead them towards an understanding of what you’re doing and why it is valuable. These books can help with that goal!
A persuasive and charismatic book written by a Montessori dad who fell in love with the method! It’s subtitle is “A Parent to Parent Argument for Montessori Education” and that’s exactly what it offers. Trevor argues that Montessori is the answer to improving the public and private schooling system (he is based in the United States but the themes are universal) and he explains exactly why the method is so powerful. I have found that this book is particularly well-received by fathers because they can relate to the author’s voice.
To get a glimpse at the power and passion of Montessori Madness watch this 321 FastDraw video based on Trevor’s work:
Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius
This book is literally and metaphorically weighty. It is heavy and dense both in terms of its physical characteristics and its content. Both of these factors make it perfect for someone who is really serious about presenting the case for Montessori. It relies not on rhetoric but on evidence to demonstrate Montessori’s value. Furthermore it takes a century-old method and places it in a very modern context and finds that it is still ahead of its time! It is the perfect riposte to sceptics who say “Montessori is all theory, there’s no real evidence that it works” or “Montessori is no longer relevant”.
(There is also a DVD of the same title available, as illustrated above).
In harmony with Montessori (but not officially Montessori)
There are many books that fit in perfectly with the principles of Montessori without actually using the “M word” or aligning themselves with the pedagogy. These can be extremely valuable resources, especially for parents.
Anything by Alfie Kohn
This is not even my full collection of Alfie Kohn books - several are on loan to friends or to parents from my preschool!
Alfie is one of my favourite authors and has written many books that confirm the Montessori perspective on promoting intrinsic motivation over extrinsic manipulation. Alfie himself does not suggest any relationship between his work and Montessori principles but that is what makes them so powerful to me. He has arrived at these conclusions independently, not out of a loyalty to Montessori but based on the evidence and research that he has assessed. It is very reassuring and affirming to have Montessori’s work validated by reputable independent sources. All of his books are eye-opening if you have the time to read them all but if you’re short on time I personally recommend starting with the following (in order):
All his books are available from www.alfiekohn.org, along with many free and shorter articles that cover similar topics.
I should declare an interest here because, unlike the rest of the books on this list, I sell these books and I also know the author personally. The Parenting 5 series is one of the newest kids on the block in terms of Montessori inspired work and it is also one of the most accessible. They have been written with busy parents and educators in mind so they get straight to the point and provide extremely practical, down-to-earth advice. They are like compact ‘how-to’ guides with each book in the series focusing on a different aspect of child development. They are designed to empower parents not only with information but with the tools to implement their newfound inspiration.
The Positive Discipline series
Jane Nelsen (and co-authors)
Montessori inspired parents often find that “discipline” is one of the hardest elements to understand and implement. Dr Montessori wrote extensively about subjects like freedom, self-discipline and self-correction but these lofty goals can feel a bit out-of-touch for parents who are just looking for practical advice. Parents often lament “I know I’m not meant to use rewards or punishments but what do I actually do when…” The Positive Discipline series offers answers on a very practical and detailed level. Their principles are extremely harmonious with Montessori but they are extrapolated to support you in almost any scenario you can possibly imagine.
My favourite aspect of the Positive Discipline series is that there are a range of books that focus on very specific situations and contexts. The series began with simply “Positive Discipline” but now you can access titles such as:
- Positive Discipline the First Three Years
- Positive Discipline for Preschoolers
- Positive Discipline for Children with Special Needs
- Positive Discipline for Teenagers
- Positive Discipline for Childcare Providers
There’s even “Pup Parenting” for those of us raising fur-children!
The books are authored by Jane Nelsen but she partners with co-authors for each book in order to ensure that the most expert voices are heard. All books in the series are available from www.positivediscipline.com
WHERE TO BUY:
Firstly - you don’t have to buy all these books. You could start from the top, look only to the sections that interest you (such as ‘Activity Ideas’), you could buy one from each section for a more comprehensive collection or you could decide to start building your own Montessori inspired library! You have to make the decision for yourself because this is your learning journey. You make your own road by walking so you need to choose how to proceed from here. If you decide you want to purchase one, some or all then keep reading!
My instinct is to say “Montessori Books” (www.montessoribooks.com.au) because this is an Australian source operated by the Montessori Australia Foundation (MAF). MAF supports Montessori schools and parents as well as advocating for the recognition and advancement of the Montessori movement in Australia. Purchasing through Montessori Books helps to provide much needed revenue for MAF - they do so much and everything we can do to financially invest in their work helps to return support to the Montessori community. Sadly, however, Montessori Books has been offline for at least the last 9 months and I have no idea when it will become available again! I have my fingers firmly crossed that the “website redesign” (currently announced on the screen when you visit their URL) will be complete soon. I do recommend that you try checking Montessori Books first when you are making a purchase - just because they were offline as I was writing this does not mean they will be offline when you are reading it!
If Montessori Books is not available then the North American Teacher’s Association (NAMTA) has a web store on their website (http://www.montessori-namta.org/) Buying through NAMTA again allows you to know that your dollars are investing in supporting the Montessori movement.
You can, of course, buy most of the books from large multi-national retailers like Amazon. In fact they are often cheapest there. However I stop short of personally “recommending” Amazon (and the like) because big isn’t always better and when something is “cheap” it often means there are hidden costs. Cut price books have an economic impact on the author, the publishers and the smaller retailers who don’t have the buying power to compete with behemoths like Amazon. I started this post by mentioning that I love books and I therefore want their existence to continue. If I want the privilege of being able to hold a physical copy of a published book then I have to support the work that went into it by paying a price that reflects that effort. I also love Montessori and so I choose to try to support the movement by utilising retailers that feed some of the proceeds back into the Montessori community. It is up to each consumer to decide where to invest their money but I empower you to make informed choices and to think of it as exactly that; an “investment”, not just “spending”. Every dollar you ‘spend’ is actually an investment in something - whether it’s an investment in encouraging an author to take the time to write their next amazing book or an investment in the profit margins of giant companies that utilise tax loopholes to offer low prices while maintaining huge revenue streams and pushing ‘little guys’ out of business.