Supporting Numeracy at Home: Early Childhood

Ways to utilise and reinforce Mathematics skills and experiences with your child at home.


-Make mathematics fun and relevant!
The more you make your child aware of the uses and benefits of numerals, counting and maths the more they will enjoy and respond to lessons on the topic. Show your child how numbers are useful in day to day life. This does not have to be through an overly planned activity, it can just be incidental observation. You probably already do some of these types of activities but try or add one of these simple ideas;

  1. In the supermarket reinforce your child’s awareness of amounts as well as their self-esteem by asking them to be helpful with the shopping. Ask them to retrieve for you “4 apples” or “6 bananas”. This not only encourages real life applications of counting but also builds retention rates and concentration spans as they have to memorise the number and type of food being asked for. It can also help to relieve the level of boredom that your child might feel just following a trolley through the aisles. 
  2. When going for a walk down the street ask your child to help you read the numerals on letterboxes. You can either point to a numeral then ask your child to name it or do the reverse and name a random numeral and ask your child to keep it in their mind until they see one to show you. If your child is younger and just beginning their journey into numerals then separate the street numbers into individual numerals by pointing to one at a time. If they have begun use with higher numbers (ask a teacher if you are unsure whether they have been introduced to tens, hundreds and thousands) then you can encourage your child to read the higher street numbers as a complete numeral. 
  3. Encourage counting around the home in any situation. Ask your child to help you set the table (this is also a Practical Life skill which is available for practice at Pre-School, including placement of forks, knives, spoons and plates and rolling serviettes into a serviette holder) at dinner time. Tell them that they need to put out as many plates as there are people in the house. This will encourage them to count the family members, then retain that number to apply it logically to retrieving and placing the corresponding amount of plates.
  4. Teach your child your phone number. Show them the number written on a piece of paper and give them a phone (preferably a mobile phone so that they can see the numbers appearing on the screen to track and self-check their progress) so that they can learn how to type in the number. This will help them not only to see another practical use of numbers but will also help them to memorise your details in case of an emergency. Always remember that children learn by doing. If you want your child to know your number then do not just say it to them and expect them to remember it, give them an opportunity to concretely practice with it.


Think about the way that you use numbers in your day to day life and use your imagination to turn applications of this into a game or activity with your child.


-Consider the order in which children gain knowledge of mathematics.
All children have different learning paths and will sometimes wander from the average learning course but there are also clear patterns which emerge in early development. Generally children will comprehend basic number concepts in this order;

  1. Memory and verbal repetition of counting
  2. Counting fixed amounts (ie.applying that verbal concept to a concrete purpose). 
  3. Learning and recalling written numerals.
  4. Associating the numerals with amounts. 
  5. Ordering and associating numerals with amounts.  

Understanding this common pattern can help you to understand why your child may be perfectly happy counting out loud and might race ahead verbally counting into high numbers but might then struggle to physically count out even three or four items. Being able to remember the order of numbers is an extremely different skill from being amount to create or count amounts. Similarly your child might be perfectly able to count out ten items but would then struggle to show you the number 10. This is again perfectly normal as they are totally different concepts. The concrete amount of something is different from its visual symbol. A child must not only experience but actually understand both of these separately before they can begin to combine them. Make sure that you follow your child’s pace rather than relying on your own expectations.


-Use sensorial experiences and muscular memory to help your child retain mathematic concepts.
Again keep in mind that children learn best through concrete experiences. Do not just expose your child to looking at a numeral, let them feel the shape of that numeral. Draw it in the sand or dirt, create the shape of it with playdough so that your child can physically experience and later recall the shape of that numeral. In counting amounts let your child physically pick up the objects rather than just looking or pointing at them. If your child has the amount in their hands they will concretely experience the concepts of increases and decreases in amounts which will make the later introduction of addition and subtraction more accessible.


-Sing and play with rhymes, songs and games involving counting.
By using simple tunes such as ‘5 in the bed’ you can reinforce your child’s knowledge of both increases and decreases in numbers. Always consider the long term benefits of seemingly simplistic activities. ‘5 in the bed’ introduces the idea that when one is subtracted (or ‘one falls out’ in this case!) the total number will reduce. This fun song is actually explaining to children a mathematical concept. Similarly by doing something as simple as clapping to the syllables of a word you are helping your child to develop the ability to detect quantity by ear. Clapping to syllables also increases awareness of rhythm, therefore encouraging musical expression, and an awareness of syllables as a structural basis of words will be beneficial to your child when they are later creating and reading words.



Supporting Literacy at home: Early childhood

Montessori approaches to supporting Literacy skills and experiences with your child at home
Early childhood


-As tempting as the ‘ABC’ song is...Montessori deliberately introduces phonetics first so it is helpful for your child if you do the same at home.
The use of phonetics helps a child to more easily understand that the purpose of letters and words is to symbolise verbal sounds and speech. Non-phonetic words are not constructed or decoded until the child has already shown a firm grasp of building and reading phonetics.

Please note that encouraging phonetics does not mean ignoring the existence of the names of the letters (that is, the 'names' that are sung in the ABC song). If your child discusses the names of the letters rather than the sounds (such as "b" pronounced "bee" rather than the phonetic "b" as in "ball") then you can simply reinforce that the knowledge is accurate but that there is a different way of looking at it. Explain to your child “that is the name of the letter but the sound that the letter makes is….”. This redirects your child’s focus to the phonetic language without making them feel as though they were wrong.


-Help your child to create both visual and muscular memories of letters and words.
Muscular memory is very valuable as it creates a stronger recognition and recollection of the figure through the duality of body and brain! It also provokes a physical fluency in later creating that shape to form the letters when writing. At Pre-School we use the Sandpaper Letters to give this physical recollection of letters but similar sensations can be easily recreated at home. Encourage your child to draw letters in a tray or shallow plate of sand (or polenta). Show your child how to run a finger through the loose dirt in the garden to draw letter shapes! Alternatively consider creating your own version of Sandpaper Letters. By drawing letters on cardboard with glue and then dipping the wet glue into sand you can create a similar type of sensorial symbol.  


-Use written language as much as possible around your child.
This will help to stimulate and encourage their natural curiosity about literacy. When you are reading to the child make sure they can see the words as well as hear them to reinforce the benefits of being able to read written language. In day to day life point out examples of where writing and reading are helpful. Let them watch you in simple tasks such as writing a letter or reading a recipe so that they can see how many possibilities literacy holds in life.

-Role model handwriting and reading books around your child (and ask older siblings to do the same to inspire their little brothers or sisters). Children are natural imitators - they are innately driven to absorb their culture and emulate their peers. So if you only ever type on a keyboard or read from a tablet then your child is going to absorb and imitate that! Make an effort to ensure that handwriting and printed books are seen as culturally relevant to your whole family so that they will be appealing to your child!


-Ensure that paper and pencils are always readily available for your child.
If possible it is preferable for these tools to be kept in a place where your child may access them independently. This means that even if you are busy or unavailable at the exact moment that they feel a desire to write their enthusiasm will not wane by needing to wait for you to be free.  Instead you can be pleasantly surprised when your child presents you with their work.

-Remember that when your child presents you with their finished work or artistic creations it is useful to put an emphasis on your child’s sense of pride rather than your praise.
Rather than applying an adult value system by saying “good job” you can empower your child by asking “do you feel really proud of your work?”. This way they can build their own sense of personal, internal pride and achievement rather than only feeling that they have done a good job if you tell them that they have. Also focus on the process rather than the product. If your child has spent an hour on a drawing and then presents you with the final product then perhaps try saying “I noticed that you spent a long time working on that. It looked like it was really important to you and you put in lots of effort” rather than merely praising the outcome. This encourages your child to feel proud of each moment of their attempts rather than just their ending.

Focusing on the product or providing too much praise can instil a sense of pressure in your child. He or she can become so accustomed to that external judgement that it affects internal motivation. This can manifest in a few different ways but the most relevant to the development of Literacy is that a child who is accustomed to praise might avoid 'tricky' tasks because he/she wants to stick to things that are "easy" or that the child knows he/she is "good" at (*read more about why that happens below). Most aspects of Literacy are, undeniably, 'tricky'. They are acquired skills that require repetition, practice and gradual improvement. Writing does not just magically "happen" overnight, nor does reading (except for a very fortunate few). A child who is so addicted to praise that he/she avoids taking risks will find it extremely difficult to develop strong literacy skills in an enjoyable manner. 

-Have fun - and be a parent not a teacher!
Of course you want to support your child's development but your #1 job as a parent is to love!
Love your child, love being with your child, love engaging with your child, love talking with your child.
You can absolutely introduce activities, play language games, read stories...but the minute it stops being fun (for you or your child) is the minute that it should stop! Take a break, take a step back and reassess. If your child is unhappy then you might accidentally be teaching the lesson that "language is boring and hard". If you're feeling stressed by trying to present activities then you might accidentally be conveying the message that you feel like time together it a "chore" not a joy. So simply release yourself from the pressure to teach and give yourself permission to just be with your child!



*Children who have become reliant on praise (through overexposure to it) can start to believe that a task is not worthy unless it results in rewards. More troubling is that the child can come to believe that he or she is not worthy unless being praised. This feeling drives the child to seek experiences that offer praise while avoiding those that don't guarantee it. The child therefore tends to stick to known tasks rather than attempting new ones (or remaining at one level instead of reaching for a higher goal). By remaining within the comfort zone of familiar tasks the child believes he/she will be guaranteed further praise. On the other hand, taking risks and trying new things becomes scary and unappealing because the child believes he/she will not receive  automatic praise.

One common additional trap here is that as the child returns repeatedly to the familiar task, the parent becomes increasingly less impressed (simply because they have seen it a hundred times before) and so the praise becomes less enthusiastic. The child then becomes even more insecure because now the praise has suddenly stopped for something the child thought he/she was good at. This shakes the child's self-confidence and again makes them less likely to step outside of that comfort zone or to embrace challenges.

(Please note - some children respond differently to 'praise' and might appear to be very motivated to try new things because they like getting more and more awards or accolades. It is common, however, for these high-achieving children to suffer feelings of inadequacy, perfectionism and anxiety even when they are "succeeding". For a much more detailed analysis of how and why external rewards can  be damaging I highly recommend the book 'Punished by Rewards' by the amazing Alfie Kohn.)

Big and Little


Imagine two people in a relationship.

These two people absolutely, undeniably love each other.

Imagine that one of those people is a little bigger, a little stronger than the other and takes on the role of provider. The other person is a little smaller, a little weaker and somewhat dependent on their partner. The first has a bit more experience in life, has had more time to learn the lessons that the world teaches. The second is a bit more naïve, more vulnerable.

For the sake of our story let’s say that the stronger person in the relationship is called ‘Big’ and the more vulnerable one can be “Little”.


Big and Little have been living together for a little under 5 years.


Despite the love between them, Big sometimes hits Little. Big hits Little when they are having a really heated argument, or to teach Little a lesson or if Little has disobeyed Big.


Imagine that “Big” is a husband and “Little” is his wife.


Do you think this is a healthy relationship, or an abusive one?

Do you think Big is treating Little well or abusing her?

Do you think Big’s actions are justified and ‘for Little’s own good’? 

Or do you think it is emotional, psychological and physical abuse?


Would you tell Little to stay?

Would you expect Little to grow and mature within this relationship?

Or would you tell Little to get out, that Little has a better chance in life if that life is far away from the behaviour of Big.


Would you tell Big to keep doing it?

Would you look the other way, even as Little cried?

Or would you tell Big to stop - or even step in yourself to physically protect Little or perhaps even contact the police if the violence continued.


But Big isn’t a husband. And Little isn’t a wife.

Big is a parent and Little is their child.

Yet, for reasons that are inexplicable, society sanctions the emotional, psychological and physical abuse of children in a way that they would simply never dream of allowing between two adult partners.

Our society, our legal system, has stood up to say that a person in a relationship has no right to overpower, abuse and manipulate their loved one…unless that loved one is a child.

Surely our children deserve more protection, not less, than adults who are strong enough to stand up for themselves or capable enough to leave if they have to.


Let’s stand up for the small. Let’s say no to physical and psychological intimidation of children. 

Sometimes less (of the adult) is more (for the child).

Conscientious educators and parents tend to spend a lot of thought, time and effort 'preparing the environment' for the child. We think of clever, creative ideas to entice and engage these little explorers. We observe the child for his/her specific needs and interests, search online for beautiful ideas and concoct our own unique provokations, activities, presentations and lessons. All of this can be absolutely wonderful. It certainly comes from a positive place and it can provide the child with a range of experiences that inspire, engage and delight the mind, body and soul.

But sometimes...less is more! Less input from the adult can actually provide more for the child. 

Sometimes the child does not need our provokations, our presentations, our lessons...or even our attention, direction or intervention! Some of the most meaningful, engaging and powerful explorations can be entirely devised and directed by the child.

This concept of 'less is more' was certainly included in my training, but it is the child who has truly shown me its value. Time and time again I find myself in real situations where a child (or group of children) will devise experiences so engaging and enlightening that I wish I had thought of it myself. But I didn't, and many times it is precisely the fact that it wasn't directed by an adult that makes it so special. So these moments serve as powerful reminders to me that I must not allow my own adult ego or intentions to prevent the child from undertaking truly free and spontaneous explorations.

The rest of this post provides an illustration of one such experience. In the spirit of this message I will try not to intrude with much language of my own; I will, for the most part, let the pictures do the talking. I will only offer a few words here and there to clarify what is occurring in the image or to express when/how there was some adult involvement. 

As you observe these images I ask you to remember;

Don't let what you're trying to teach get in the way of what the child is trying to learn!**

This little learner had spent the weekend at the beach with his grandmother. He arrived at Montessori at 9.00am with a bag full of shells. Here's what he did... 

First he set about simply exploring the shells. He arranged them in various baskets and bowls then collected the magnifying lenses so he could examine them in greater detail.

Adult intervention: None. I didn't have to guide this in any way - my only influence was indirect, in the sense that I had previously prepared the environment in a way that placed the baskets, bowls and magnifying lenses in positions that any child can independently access for any purpose. 



Would I have necessarily arranged the experience like this? No. My layout would probably have been much more orderly (and much less sandy!). But I didn't need to impose my own order on this situation - this little person was developing his own structure through exploration, and my intervention would have been a hinderance not a help (even if I was well-intentioned!).



Next he collected a paper, clipboard and paper and began tracing the shapes of the shells, cuttlefish, 'sea grapes' and stones. He would place the object on the paper, draw around its edges and then decorate the interior.

Adult intervention: None. Again, the pencils, paper and clipboard were already accessible in the environment. So this little lad independently thought of the idea to trace/draw and then accessed the materials.


While observing each individual treasure this little learner began placing them in various patterns and arrangements. Soon enough the form above took shape - and he then recorded this creation by illustrating it with his paper and clipboard. (The drawing in this photo was completed later than some of the other illustrations, but appears in the larger photo above because I didn't take the photo until after all the drawings were complete). 

Adult intervention: None. Just silent amazement! I was engaged elsewhere in the classroom while this element was happening - I just returned to observe the pattern being completed and then saw the beginning of the illustration. I was blown away by the lateral, artistic use of the natural materials - but I didn't express this externally because that would have detracted from the innate motivation and intense concentration that this young man was experiencing. 


During his explorations this little man realised that there were lots of different sizes in his collection - from the tiny 'sea grapes' to the large pieces of cuttlefish and everything in between! He decided to investigate further by collecting a basket of 'centi-cubes' that were on the shelf as part of a measuring activity. He used the centi-cubes to measure some of his objects, counting their lengths in centimetres.

Adult intervention: Minimal. I was approached when two of the centi-cubes were really firmly stuck together and I did assist by demonstrating how to 'wriggle' them a little to loosen them up.


Next he noticed that some of the shells had small holes in them. He began sorting through the shells and placing the shells with holes into a separate basket. Once he had a sizeable collection he collected some thread and began making a shell 'necklace'. 

Adult intervention: Minimal (and sneaky!). I observed that he was looking for thread but I anticipated that the thread on the shelf would be a little too thick for the small holes in his shells. So I quickly fetched a thinner, more rigid string from the art cupboard and placed it on the shelf so he could find it independently.


The careful fine motor motions of threading the shells continued for a long time. When he had used up his original supply he went back to the main pile of shells to check again for more with holes. Eventually there were many shells on the end of the thread and it had become quite heavy. He tied the two ends together to create a 'necklace' shape. He did not, however, wear it or even 'keep' it. He put it aside while he moved on to the next step in his work but he never actually returned to it. He was truly focused on the process not the product.

Adult intervention: None. All I did was notice at the end of the day that the shell necklace was still in the classroom, and I placed it inside the special 'Family Pocket' that belongs to this young man so that he can collect it another day if he would like to. (Okay, and I sneakily tightened the knot so it wouldn't fall apart in the meantime!)


When the necklaces were complete this little man decided it was time to replace his shells back to the carry bag they had arrived in. So he collected them all and then contemplated the pile of sand that was left on the mat. A friend arrived to help!

Adult intervention: Minimal. The two boys were discussing how to clean the mat and arrived at the idea of taking it outside. I observed them beginning to lift the mat and then just gently gave some guidance about how they could hold the opposing corners to ensure that the sand would be caught in the middle while they were moving the mat. The boys did the rest (including coming up with the idea of taking the beach sand down to our sandpit). 

When the mat was folded and back in the basket there was still a little pile of sand on the ground. Our spontaneous explorer immediately noticed this and picked up the portable vacuum to clean the carpet.

Adult intervention: None. 


And by the time the shells were packed away and the sand cleaned was 11.10am. More than 2 hours after the exploration began. 2 hours of non-stop and entirely self-motivated focus, concentration, exploration and joy! 2 hours of scientific observation, art, fine motor work, measuring, counting, creating and cleaning!


So what did I, the adult, have to do in this situation? I just had to sit back, observe, enjoy and stay out of his way! If I had interfered, intervened or even interacted too much then it may have broken the 'flow' of attention and exploration that this little human was experiencing. My primary involvement was incidental - I had, prior to this moment, prepared the environment in such a way that a broad range of tools were available to the child. I had also provided lessons with some of the tools and materials that were used in this shell exploration - but none of these lessons occurred during this specific experience.



**I can't recall whether this is a direct quote or if it's just an amalgamation of several different phrasings of the same concept! I have tried to locate a source but can't find it in any of my books or online. If someone recognises it as a direct quote and knows the source then please let me know in a comment so that I can attribute it correctly! 

Practical Life at Home

Ways to utilise and reinforce Practical Life skills and experiences with your child at home.


-Ask your child to help you with preparing meals or snacks.
We provide practice with utensils such as graters and vegetable peelers. A child who attends a Montessori Pre-school will have engaged with a range of materials used in spooning activities and recipes. This means that the child will most likely have a good control over spooning both fine materials and liquids. Ask them to utilise this by measuring out spoonfuls or cupfuls of ingredients. This has an added benefit of being a beautiful sensorial experience as it provides a chance for your child to taste, smell and touch a variety of ingredients.

By preparing healthy meals you can also take the opportunity to discuss the importance of nutrition. This is a great way to excite your child about healthy eating. They will not only be tempted by the aromas they find while cooking but will also connect healthy food with a happy, fun experience.


- Provide a set of cleaning tools on a low, safe shelf where your child can access them independently.
At Pre-School we encourage the children to use a dustpan and brush and brooms to tidy their own spills as well as sponges and towels for cleaning and drying any liquid messes. By replicating this in your own home your child will be free from having to rely on you to clean up for them or provide them with the tools each time they need to use them. Not only will you not have to clean up for them, but you may never have to realise there was a mess to begin with!


-Organise your child’s room with low, open shelving.
Children have an innate sense of order but they need to be given the opportunity to develop and utilise this. If their belongings are hidden out of their sight and reach then it is difficult for them to mentally organise the space. Often a child will create a mess simply because they are not aware of the proper space for that object to belong once it is finished with. Open, low shelves help your child visualise and later recall the order of the items which belong there. Ask your child to help you choose the placement to begin with so the system makes sense to them.

If you recognise that at Pre-School your child responds to the routine of putting trays away when they have finished using it then you may like to use trays as a guide at home. You might also consider using ‘floor mats’ or something similar. Giving a visual cue of where their personal space begins and ends helps a child to visually narrow down their field of vision to keep track of all their materials. It will also make them feel that you respect their work and workspace. This will then help your child develop a sense of respect for the times when a parent might need personal work space. Explain to them that a study or desk is to a parent what a green mat is to the child.


-Check your cutlery drawers and tool boxes.
There is a good chance that throughout your house is a huge range of exciting tools and materials just waiting to be used. Many of our Practical Life activities are simply use common, everyday tools and a little bit of imagination. Rather than relying on store bought toys or games for your child at home you can spend time creating practical exercises for your child to work with. Consider these simple factors in preparing an activity:

  1. Make sure the task is achievable for your child. The object of a Practical Life tray is to provide a new skill for your child to master or to refine an existing skill. The task can be challenging, but it is important that it is not impossible as you do not want to set your child up for failure. Try the materials first so you know that the pieces fit and the tools work.
  2. Ensure that there is an opportunity for repetition within the activity. When a child enjoys an activity they will repeat this many times without tiring until they feel an internal sense of satisfaction. Try to make sure that the tray or activity can be independently reset and repeated by your child so that they can become absorbed in their continued work. This will help your child to increase their concentration span.
  3. Carefully consider the purpose of the activity. Keep in mind that the name of this area of work is Practical Life. There are added benefits such as increased levels of concentration and refinement of fine motor skills but the foundation of this work is to prepare the child for succeeding when faced with practical tasks in their real life. Observe your child to see where they might require some help in mastering a day to day objective. If they are having trouble turning on a tap then prepare an activity that focuses on screwing and turning, such as tightening a nut onto a bolt. If your child is unable to replace lids on textas or containers then create an activity that helps refine this skill. Jars or bottles can be washed then the lids and bottles can be separated and put out so that your child can sort and replace the lids.
  4. Always ensure the activity is safe! I am sure this does not need to be said to parents, the greatest protectors a child can have, but it is worth underlining this issue. It is a vital consideration to us as Montessori teachers preparing activities at Pre-School. Nothing goes on the shelf without being played with, pulled and pushed to check that it is as safe as possible.

The Montessori Adult + The Prepared Environment = The Montessori Child

The Montessori Child

Over 100 years ago Dr Maria Montessori discovered a great lesson that she subsequently shared with the world. The teacher of this great lesson was a group of young children who shared with Dr Montessori the ‘Secret of Childhood’.  After careful observation Dr Montessori recorded the conditions and materials that best inspired and aided the developmental learning of children. The expression and implementation of these conditions is now known as ‘The Montessori Method’.

With the spread of Montessori education throughout the world, the method has evolved with differing interpretations and applications. There are many training bodies, each presenting their own interpretation of the Montessori Method. Each one would argue the merits of their course versus another. Ultimately only Maria Montessori could define the true intentions of her work. I suspect that as a progressive visionary, she might agree that after a century of cultural, technological and social change there may be a need for some independent thought about how to apply the fundamental principles of her methods.

Perhaps there is little merit in Montessori communities arguing with one another about who most purely applies the original texts. Perhaps it is more important to remember the core intentions of Maria Montessori. She was a tireless campaigner for the rights of the child. She recognised their aptitude, revered their abilities and respected their rights unequivocally. I believe that when passionate people hold this same unwavering belief, and therefore work tirelessly to nurture the natural development of children in their care, then they are being true to the values of Dr Maria Montessori...regardless of where they were trained.

In our Montessori community, Jescott Montessori Pre-School, I can see a simple equation in the way that we support Dr Montessori’s ambitions. The Montessori Adult plus the Prepared Environment equals The Montessori Child.


The Montessori Adult

The Montessori adult may not even know that they are one. It is my belief that being a Montessori adult, whether it is a parent or teacher, is not just about the books you have read or the courses you have completed. The most vital quality of a Montessori Adult is a fundamental, unwavering belief in the beauty and importance of childhood.


The Montessori adult has strong respect for;

  • Childhood– The Montessori adult sees the amazing, unrepeatable magic of childhood. In their entire lifetime a person will never do a job as important as they do in childhood. The child’s job is to build the adult.In the first 6 years of life an individual’s language, culture and personality are constructed.
  • The individual – The Montessori adult understands that it is not important or beneficial for a person to mould their personality simply to ‘fit the box’.  The Montessori adult aims to help children to find their individuality and feel safe to express their ideas and creativity instead of asking them to aim for an arbitrary ‘right’ answer.
  • The rights of the child–The Montessori adult knows that a child is a human being who deserves equality. A child deserves the same rights, protection and liberties as an adult and, whether in the home or in public, the Montessori adult campaigns for society to recognise this. 
  • The responsibilities of the child–Montessori adults know that it is a compliment to bestow a child with responsibility because it demonstrates that the child is a competent, capable, equal member of society. 
  • The importance of time – A child deserves time. A Montessori adult recognises that children require time to explore, experiment, attempt and revise new experiences or skills. They simply have not experienced the majority of the world and so things which are ‘mundane’ to an adult can be mesmerising to a child. Life is new and wondrous to them and they deserve time to explore it so that it can remain amazing for as long as possible!


The Montessori Prepared Environment

The Prepared Environment describes the way the Montessori environment is meticulously planned, adjusted and evaluated to ensure that the potential is there for children to learn independently. The environment teaches the children as much as the teachers do, but the unseen skill that Montessori teachers possess is to create and maintain this environment in a way that is enticing and engaging for the children.


The Montessori Prepared Environment includes;

  • Open, accessible shelving – The shelves are open so that the children can independently choose and pick up their own work. This promotes choice and responsibility and makes it easy for children to recall the ‘home’ of each piece of work so that they can independently replace the material when they have finished. Activities are presented in an orderly way upon the shelves, each being prepared in such a way that a child can easily carry the whole activity to a working space in order to complete it. Each activity presents only one task for the child to achieve and there is only one of each activity presented on the shelf.



  • Clearly delineated and protected individual workspaces – In a Montessori environment children do not have to share. Two adults would not be expected to share the same computer keyboard at the same time because neither of them would be able to adequately concentrate or complete their work. We view the child’s work as being as important as an adult’s work and so we do not enforce sharing. Children have the right to choose whether they wish to work alone or with company. If they choose to work alone they may use their chosen material for as long as they like without interruption. To identify a child’s work you will see a boundary of where that person’s space begins and ends.  Children can choose to place their work at their table space or if they prefer to work on the floor, they can define their work space by placing a Green Mat onto the carpet. Children know that if work is on a Green Mat or a table then that work belongs to someone at that moment and it cannot be taken or interrupted. This respectful attitude allows the children a feeling of security to temporarily leave their work if necessary knowing that it will be intact when they return. Other children waiting to use the same material will know that they can have their turn once the activity has been replaced on the shelf.



  • Child sized, accessible cleaning tools – In a Montessori classroom the children are responsible for the care of their environment. We could not expect them to be in charge of this task if they did not have independent access to working, appropriately sized tools.



  • A variety of specially designed, interesting, academically diverse materials – The classroom is filled with many different activities covering the various areas of the Montessori curriculum including Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Mathematics and Culture. The majority of these materials are constantly available so that children can repeat or revise activities at their will. The materials can be used in their simplest form or increased in difficulty for further challenge.  Montessori teachers facilitate each child’s learning by carefully observing the appropriate time to introduce the next achievable challenge. Each child will have a uniquely unfolding pattern of readiness and we must follow this and be available to assist only when the child shows eagerness to learn. In a Montessori classroom the child is responsible for the lesson plans.




The Montessori Child

‘The Montessori Child’ is not one person. Nor is it one type of person. The idea of ‘The Montessori Child’ refers to thousands upon thousands of children around the world who have, in the last century, been allowed to follow their own unique path of development with the aid of Montessori. Perhaps it is best to imagine Montessori children as artists who all possess the same tools but are using them to create completely different works of art. Where the artist has paint, brushes and a canvas the Montessori child has experience, self-control and self-respect.

Each Montessori Child possesses;

  • Self-respect – Montessori children have a feeling that they have rights and deserve to be respected. This also leads to awareness that others deserve the same rights. It is extremely challenging for a person to respect others if they do not respect themself and so our self-respecting Montessori children have a wonderful sense of community responsibility. 
  • Self-esteem – This self-esteem does not rely on an adult’s praise but is instead a healthy, solid feeling of pride based on real achievements and abilities.
  • Self-reliance –Something as seemingly simple as unbuttoning their own jacket can be the most important task to a child as they feel an incredible sense of pride from being self-reliant. Montessori children are given the chance to feel the joy of self-reliance and given the time to practise the skills required to achieve this.
  • Self-evaluation – The Montessori child reflects on his or her own work or behaviour and can independently assess their successes as well as the areas they need to revise. Gold stars and naughty corners do not exist in a Montessori classroom. 
  • Self-control – Our academic and social curriculum helps the Montessori child to exercise their mind and conscience to the point where they desire to be self-controlled. Our physical activities strengthen the grace and control of the body so that these good intentions can be the reality. 
  • Self-motivation – A child in a Montessori classroom will not choose the easiest option because they enjoy the process of attempting a challenge as much as they enjoy the feeling of completing it. Montessori children are inquisitive, enthusiastic learners who are always on the lookout for new ideas or experiences.


If you can provide the right blend of a caring, passionate Montessori Adult with a prepared Montessori Environment you will see the emergence of the Montessori Child. It is not a magic potion, it takes time, patience and commitment, but for more than a century in more than 22,000 schools in 110 countries of the world, the Montessori method has helped countless children to live a childhood rich in experiences, learning and love.


The Montessori Work Cycle

 The following post is used with courtesy from Jescott Montessori Pre-school. It originally appeared in a Parent Information Pack at Jescott and is reproduced here with permission of its author Jessica Langford. 

What happens during the ‘3 Hour Work Cycle’ in our Montessori classroom?
Each day the children engage in a prolonged, uninterrupted ‘Work Cycle’ in our Montessori classroom. Throughout this period the children engage in a range of different activities, some of which are chosen independently and others that are presented by a teacher. As the Work Cycle progresses the dynamics of the group changes. There is a reliable pattern that emerges when observing the dynamics of each Work Cycle. This pattern is so consistent that Dr Maria Montessori was able to observe it occurring in her Montessori environment over a century ago. This emerges today in the Work Cycles of countless Montessori classrooms around the world…including ours!

Let’s first have a look at the diagram that Dr Montessori used to represent this pattern the Work Cycle:

"Whole class at work" diagram by Maria Montessori from Spontaneous Activity in Education, Pg 99


In this diagram the horizontal dotted line represents ‘repose’ which essentially means a ‘resting state’. When the solid line moves up, away from the ‘line of repose’, this represents that the children are engaging in thoughtful activity rather than ‘intellectually resting’. The highest points of the solid line represent the most intellectually stimulating work of the children. The lower points represent moments when the children engage in tasks that are more familiar or when children seek out calming activities for period of rest and respite.

We have utilised Dr Montessori’s method of observation and discovered that our own 'work cycle' almost identically fits the patterns that she observed. Our diagram includes the specific timeframes of the peaks and troughs of activity in our classroom. We have numbered the points on our line so that we can more closely explain how and why each aspect of this pattern occurs in our Jescott classroom.


  1. Observe the room in the first few minutes of the morning and you will see lots of friends approaching each other, hear lots of enthusiastic chatter and notice lots of children still interacting with parents. At this stage the children are spread throughout the centre – some still hanging up their bags outside, others just crossing the threshold to the Dining Room, a few considering the tasks in the Practical Life room and others standing in various locations throughout the main classroom. Only a few children will be seated and engaged in work, and it is likely that these children will be accompanied by a parent. If you can see a child quietly sitting and concentrating on some work without a parent then it usually means that family came early enough for the child to ‘settle in’ and gain focus before everyone else arrived! At this stage the teachers are usually conversing with children and parents. The teachers will be moving around the room to politely greet each individual child. Occasionally a teacher will be engaged with assisting a child who is feeling anxious about saying goodbye to mum or dad.

The first few minutes of the Work Cycle (or ‘session’) are always the most busy and noisy. This is a period of time when friends are excitedly greeting one another, sharing stories and ‘catching up’. This is similar to what we experience in adult life – if you meet a friend you have not seen for a while then there is usually a flurry of excitement at first and then you will both start to settle back into the calmer, more comfortable dynamic of being together. In the initial minutes there are also lots of adult bodies in the classroom – something which has a palpable effect on the dynamics. Lots of grown-up bodies in the room means extra conversation and more children seeking attention and affection from parents rather than focusing solely on the Montessori environment.

The noise and excitement that occurs at the start of the session is not a bad thing, nor is it unusual, but it would not be ideal if this dynamic continued throughout the session. Luckily we consistently find that the chaos of the first few minutes quickly evolves into calm, focused activity and purposeful, polite communication.

  1. Observe the room once all the children have ‘settled in’ and separated from mum or dad and you will notice children working on a series of short, familiar tasks. At this stage in the Work Cycle almost all children are actively engaged in work but there is a lot of movement in the room as the children tend to go through their chosen tasks quickly, return it to the shelf and then choose the next activity. Some children will be working at the tables in the main classroom, others will be sitting around Green Mats on the carpet, a few children will be taking an early snack to gain some energy for the work ahead and others will be sitting in the Practical Life room preparing food or working with trays. At this stage the teachers are primarily making observations and providing short lessons to assist a child who needs a ‘refresher’ to complete a familiar task. The teachers will also be making suggestions to children about what they might like to choose from the shelves.
This is a period when children tend to choose a familiar activity that they have experienced many times before. This ritual helps children to mentally ‘switch on’ and to build a sense of self-confidence through independent achievement. By working with a relatively ‘easy’ task a child is able to feel competent, empowered and ready for the more challenging tasks that are ahead. This is akin to an adult arriving at work and routinely, almost unthinkingly, checking through an email inbox before taking a breath and moving on to the ‘real’ work of the day.
For a period of around half an hour the children will choose a series of these short, familiar exercises. During this half hour period the most popular tasks in our Pre-school classes are self-contained activity ‘trays’, puzzles, Sensorial materials and Practical Life tasks (such as peeling carrots). Literacy and Numeracy are not commonly chosen during this early stage. When these topics are chosen it tends to be that children use the most fundamental and familiar counting or letter exercises. A child who chooses a challenging or unfamiliar task during this early stage (such as word-building, Golden Bead work or starting an elaborate recipe for cooking) is showing an unusual enthusiasm and an enhanced sense of self-confidence. A teacher will immediately understand that this child must be in a particularly Sensitive Period for their chosen topic and we will use this opportunity to provide lessons that extend the child’s explorations.
  1. Observe the room about an hour into the Work Cycle and you will see that some children are still working on their familiar tasks, others are packing up, some are chatting to friends while a few just seem to be just resting or wandering. At this stage in the Work Cycle the level of noise and movement in the room increases temporarily. Some children continue to sit and work but there are a lot of children who are on their feet, moving around the room or gathering in small groups. At this stage the teachers will be assisting these children to find constructive and courteous ways of moving, talking and resting while the other children finish their initial work.
After the initial series of familiar tasks the class generally experiences this briefly unsettled period which Dr Montessori called ‘false fatigue’. During ‘false fatigue’ an observer could be mistaken for thinking that the Work Cycle is over. The children become less focused, often wandering around the room or chatting with friends rather than choosing further tasks. The noise level increases and the room hums with an energy that feels less productive. The children seem restless, the work seems finished…and the worst mistake that a Montessori teacher can make is to consider this the end of the Work Cycle! It is called ‘false’ fatigue for a reason – it is a temporary setback that actually occurs before the most engaging work of the day. A true Montessori teacher looks at a class experiencing ‘false fatigue’ and is immediately excited by the fact that this means confidence has been built and the ‘great work’ is about to begin.
  1. Observe the room a few minutes after ‘false fatigue’ and you will discover that the movement and noise has decreased again and most children are now intently focused on an important project.  At this stage the children are again spread out through the various rooms but a change may have occurred – the children who chose ‘familiar’ tasks in the Practical Life room first might now be ready to find a challenge in the other curriculum areas found in the main classroom, whereas children who felt more comfortable counting when they first arrived might now be ready to follow a complex recipe in the Practical Life room. All the children will be engaged in work that is quite new and challenging. The movement in the room will be from children who are in the midst of their work – walking to collect the next tool they need or to choose paper to record results.  At this stage the teachers are all engaged in giving direct presentations or assistance. The teacher in the Practical Life room is usually assisting the children with some cooking or presenting a new Practical Life activity. The teachers in the main classroom are generally presenting lessons in Numeracy, Literacy or Cultural Studies. These lessons are sometimes a ‘one-on-one’ presentation to an individual child who is ready for the next step in his or her learning journey. Teachers also provide presentations to small groups of children who share an interest, or readiness, for a particular lesson. The teachers are able to know what to present, and who to present to, because of their previous observations and records of each child’s abilities, experience, interests and level of confidence.
The relative chaos of ‘false fatigue’ is suddenly followed by a moment when suddenly the children settle back into purposeful work. Some children work on elaborate cooperative activity with a few friends, others focus diligently on an individual task, while some accept invitations from teachers to participate in new, challenging lessons. The work that happens during this period, which Dr Montessori occasionally called ‘the great work’, tends to be tasks that involve long, drawn-out processes and a great deal of cognitive stimulation. This is time when teachers present lessons that require a child to be feeling confident to face a challenge, and to be ready to focus to attend to a prolonged period of concentration. There are still a variety of activities occurring around the classroom at this time – for some children their ‘great work’ will involve mastering the buttons on a Dressing Frame, for others the ‘great work’ will be setting up the Bead Bank to collect ‘thousands’ of Golden Beads while yet another child will complete the ‘great work’ of making a booklet examining the anatomy of a turtle. The common thread at this time is that the children are concentrating, and actively moving towards new acquisitions (as opposed to the refinement and revision of the earlier period of familiar activities).
  1. Look around the room around 2 1/2 hours into the session and you will find that some children are still intently focused on their work while others are packing away, cleaning up or gathering for a group relaxation experience. The ‘great work’ of the day is almost complete and so children are looking for a way to unwind after these taxing intellectual and physical challenges. At this stage there is quite a lot of movement but it is productive and purposeful. The children who are still working barely seem to notice this movement as they are so focused on the task at hand.  At this stage you will find that one or more of the teachers will still be supporting the children who are working while another teacher might be assisting with the cleaning or leading the group in a relaxation activity at the ‘circle’.
When the ‘great work’ has been completed the children begin to pack away their materials and look for a chance to ‘wind down’ from this intellectual and physical stimulation. Some children choose to do this by engaging in routine practical tasks, such as cleaning the table tops with a spray bottle and sponge or collecting stray pieces of paper from the floor to place in the ‘Recycling’ basket. Other children choose to find meditative activities, such as flipping through the pages of a familiar book or staring at the movement within a decorative ‘lava lamp’ or sand-timer. At this time one or two children usually spontaneously begin a movement exercise such as ‘Walking the Line’ around our blue circle mat. A child will decide to balance a beanbag, or carry a small bell or jug of water, while carefully walking heel-to-toe along the curved edge of the circle. Soon a friend will join, then another and before long we have a whole class of children patiently waiting for their turn to ‘Walk the Line’. Other group relaxation activities occur at this time, such as a teacher reading a story or the children collaborating to play the ‘Silence Game’ of creating ten whole seconds of absolute silence.
Then we find that the room is once again clean and orderly. The children have rested enough to be at a balanced point of having enough energy to play but not too much energy to control. This is the time when we invite the children to walk out of the classroom and explore our outdoor environment**. Some children stay inside – they may not have yet finished their ‘great work’ or they may wish to assist the teacher with the finer details of the daily clean such as mopping the floors (which cannot easily be performed while the room is still full).
The ‘Work Cycle’ of that session is over…but the next day it will begin again!
**Please note: One of the principles of the Montessori method is the concept of 'indoor-outdoor flow'. Due to the regulatory requirements of ensuring adequate staff ratios and effective supervision (and within the insurance/legal realities of a privately owned/operated centre) we are not always comfortable to allow our children unrestricted indoor-outdoor flow. Our capacity to move freely between the indoors and outdoors depends on the availability of staff to be positioned appropriately in all of the respective areas of the classroom and garden. Whenever possible we do make this opportunity available and we do arrange for teachers to take small groups of children outside during the morning work cycle for specific activities, for gross motor activities, to tend to our garden or for sensory exploration. The information about our Work Cycle is not limited to indoor activities - our explorations of the outdoors can occur at any stage, including as part of the 'great work'. 

After careful consideration...

The Montessori method is incredibly complex and rich. The benefits of this richness of method are too numerous to mention, but there are some downsides too. Or, more accurately, some of the benefits might be at risk of becoming downsides!

You see, the richness of the method means that it consists of an enormous amount of intense, intricate and interconnected information. Such complexities are, inevitably, the source of consideration and deliberation over their precise definitions, purposes, meanings and applications.

The Montessori method essentially experiences almost endless amounts of interpretation and reinterpretation. This interpretation has been, and continues to be, done in thousands of schools, by countless individuals, across the world and over a very long period of time (it has been more than a century since the method was first designed!). As such, this ‘single’ methodology actually contains many variables and many different ‘schools of thought’ in terms of both philosophy and practical application.

In my experience, these ‘schools of thought’ often tend to be drawn along the lines of the various training institutes. Many individual Montessori educators seem to stick to the interpretation that they were taught by their institute and/or by individual trainers**.

In fact, there are some Montessori educators who would be offended by my use of the word “interpretation” in the previous sentence. These educators view their own training not as one interpretation, or one ‘version’, but as the definitive truth of what Montessori is and should be.

I am personally very open and proud about referring to my own training as being one ‘interpretation’ of the method. I am not concerned that there might be other perspectives; I am delighted by it! I am not fearful that I might be ‘wrong’, or that there might be information that I do not yet know; I am eager to discover it! One of my personal heroes is Socrates, a philosopher who believed that there was nothing more ignorant than believing you know everything. Maria Montessori herself must have shared some of my admiration for Socrates; she quoted him within her own writing. So I feel as though I have her seal of approval for not only admitting but embracing my own inability to know everything!

When it comes to these many different ‘schools of thought’ within Montessori, I also believe that this diversity of interpretation and application can be beneficial. It promotes critical thinking, honest reflection and (hopefully!) continuous improvement!

The downside of divergent thinking tends to appear when it causes educators to draw immovable ‘battle lines’ against one another. Sometimes (more often than I am proud to admit) I see this happening. Two or more individuals, each with their own interpretation of what Montessori ‘is and should be’, stand opposed and both staunchly sticking to their own ‘side’. From these positions the discussion serves only to reinforce each individual’s own viewpoint.

I think that the difference between positive, collaborative reflection (leading to continuous improvement) and negative, circular argument (leading to nowhere!) is the way that the discussion is framed. When one or more educators engage in an open and intellectual description of their own personal perspectives, or of their experiences and ideas, then we can take these issues constructively. When one educator presents her (or his) perspective as fact – or as the definitive definition of Montessori – then circular, close-minded and sometimes downright disempowering argument ensues.


In the interest of presenting a personal perspective - in a way that is open, honest but in no way definitive – I would like to discuss an example that was recently brought to my attention.

After a recent Cultural Workshop an attendee volunteered the feedback that ‘the images on the Three Part Cards should be relative to one another’. That is, if an elephant and a lion both appear in a set of Three Part Cards introducing ‘African Animals’, then the elephant should stretch to the outer limits of the card while the relatively smaller lion should take up less space on the same sized card. The attendee was basing this assertion on the guidance she received during her own training, and it was a directive that she now passes on to the students that she trains. I do not question the validity or wisdom of this perspective, but I don’t make my cards in this manner. I also don’t necessarily accept the assertion that I “should” do so.

This is just one example of a tiny detail within the very large Montessori method. Yet the fact that this small element can still provoke differing perspectives, and be pulled apart in terms of both philosophy and practicality, is indicative of the much broader trend.

My perspective, detailed below, is not intended to be the answer to the question of how the cards should be presented. It is just an example of how an individual educator can use their knowledge of Montessori in conjunction with experience, critical reflection and external influence in order to reach a perspective that can be defended with logic and yet is open to further consideration.


The following words aren’t meant to be an argument. I do not want to convince you, the reader, that my way is ‘right’. I just want to explain how I got here. Through that journey I hope it will show how multiple perspectives might actually be equally valid. I also hope that sharing my ‘Montessori inner-monologue’ might act as an example of the thought process you can go through to arrive at your own informed, conscientious and unique perspectives.


So here is what I think about when deciding whether the pictures on my Three Part Cards should be scaled in relation to one another;


I start by asking myself: “What is the purpose of using the cards at all?”


I believe the answer (in most cases) is; to offer an experience in observation and examination that is otherwise unavailable.

That is, there is not an immediate or accessible opportunity to engage in this exploration through real experience.

The card therefore acts as a scaffolding step. I don’t have a real platypus in my classroom, but the children are interested in Australian animals, so one of the resources I use is my set of models and Three Part Cards. The purpose of the cards, in this context, is to provide the children a chance that is otherwise unavailable to become familiar with the visual characteristics of (in this case) a platypus.


So then I have to ask: “Is this purpose supported by the use of ‘relative’ sizing?”


In some cases it may be. If the set of cards is specifically designed to show relationships or demonstrate some element of growth then the relative sizes of the images may be quite pertinent. For instance, in my classroom I have a set of cards that show the adult and the infant of various animal species. These are not strictly ‘Three Part Cards’ as I designed them to be used for matching pairs. The cards show couplings such as a ‘puppy’ on one card and a ‘dog’ on another, an ‘owlet’ on one and an ‘owl’ on another, a ‘gosling’ and ‘goose’, a ‘tadpole’ and ‘frog’ and so forth. The primary purpose of the cards is to introduce the vocabulary specific to the young and the adult. I therefore feel that it is therefore vital in this situation that the two are easily distinguishable by size. If the owlet isn’t immediately recognisable as the ‘young’ version then it defeats the purpose because the child may learn to attach the term ‘owlet’ to a fully-grown owl. The use of relative sizes of the images absolutely supports the overall purpose of the activity itself.

However, I also feel there are some instances where the use of relative sizing is either irrelevant or may actually detract from the overall purpose. Specifically, I feel that the use of relative sizing may be detrimental when I am presenting activities that are meant to increase the child’s recognition of the physical appearance of an animal or object.

This is the case with the majority of my applications of the Three Part Card format. I am usually presenting these cards as a means of increasing the child’s familiarity with the visual characteristics of the animal/object in question. These are often grouped by some sort of theme – such as ‘Australian Animals’ – but the images on the cards are there to let a child engage in visual examination of the physical characteristics of each individual animal.

The cards are always going to have a practical limitation in terms of size – it is not functional to present a card that is 20cm by 20cm as too few could fit within the child’s field of vision at any one time. So there must be a ‘top end’ to the size spectrum – a starting point into which the ‘largest’ of the object/animal in the set must fit. To then ‘scale down’ accurately from that point would, in many cases, result in the smallest of the set being so small as to be difficult to examine in any particular detail. This would, in some cases, defeat the purpose. The card would no longer provide the child with a clear, detailed image of the animal/object in question. The small size of the image would make it harder to identify as much visual information.


So if I have accepted that there may be both benefits and costs to presenting relative sizing, depending on the context and purpose of the cards, then next I ask myself: “How can I minimise the risk of confusion when I present cards that do not include relative sizing?”

If the images of the animals/objects on my cards are going to be approximately equal in size, as opposed to scaled to represent their real relative sizes, then I need to consider whether I need to take steps to ensure that children don’t take this too literally. I genuinely do not want the children in my classroom to believe that a lion and an elephant are of equal size, so I need to consider whether they will come to believe this if I show cards featuring an image of an elephant that is the same size as the image of a lion. The primary way that I can avoid this risk is to ensure that this is not the child’s sole experience with the particular concept.

I personally believe that, ideally, the cards should never be presented in isolation. If that is absolutely the only example of a concept available to the child then it is probably insufficient no matter how beautiful the cards are!

For instance, the Life Cycle cards that I choose to make tend to show each of the stages in relatively the same ‘size’. This is not a strictly true representation – a ladybug’s egg is obviously miniscule compared to the size of a fully grown ladybug. Similarly, frog spawn is smaller than a tadpole, and the tadpole is smaller than the adult frog. Despite these different sizes, the Life Cycle cards that I currently use depict enlarged versions of the earlier stages because this increases the level of detail that is visible. Most of the images on my cards reach towards the outer limit of the card itself, even if that image is smaller than another stage in the life cycle sequence. There are some slight differences in size, but these are not equal to the actual variations in size in the real creatures. So how can I be so confident that a child will understand that a turtle egg is smaller than an adult turtle? Because the cards are not presented in isolation! Before I even present the cards I will present the models. In a perfect world I would present a real turtle first – allowing a child to watch its life cycle unfold just as I have been able to do with tadpoles to frogs and silkworms to silkmoths. When those real experiences aren’t accessible I present the models first, and the cards will follow. The models do demonstrate the variations in size in a way that is realistically comparable to the actual variations in size of the real creatures. The egg is much smaller than the hatchling, which is smaller than the juvenile, which is smaller than the adult. These models provide a three-dimensional and more ‘concrete’ representation of the life cycle stages. At this stage the relative sizes are physically apparent. When we progress to using the cards the child is able to take their existing knowledge of relative sizes and build upon it with a more detailed observation of the other physical characteristics (thus fulfilling the original purpose of the cards!).

Even when models are not readily available, or when they also have not been designed to show realistic comparisons of size, there are other ways to expose the child to variables of size.

Earlier on I used the example of the children using the Three Part Cards to learn about a platypus and other Australian animals. This example came readily to my mind because it is such a commonly shared interest among the children in my classroom. On a day-to-day basis we do not have any kangaroos or bilbies in our classroom or our local area. Occasionally a koala or two will visit our gum trees, but even these are quite hard to observe as they tend to stay hidden in the higher branches. So when a child asks about Australian animals, the materials that are immediately available to us in the classroom are our models, Three Part Cards and books! In addition to these, however, we also do make efforts to expand the child’s field of experience. Excursions can form a part of this – if you can’t bring the kangaroo to the child, take the child to the kangaroo – but we also make use of a great local resource known as the Nature Education Centre. The ‘Nature Ed Centre’ loans live animals as well as animals who, upon reaching the conclusion of their natural lifetime, have donated their bodies to science. So we do, on occasion, have an opportunity to bring a real (albeit stuffed) platypus into our classroom. This is an example of how we use external sources to surround and support the lessons provided by our Three Part Cards. In an absolutely ideal world I would always present the real platypus first. But I don’t live in an ideal world, I live in the real one (with all its beautiful flaws!) and so, when a child says “What does a platypus look like?” I don’t answer “Hold that thought for a few weeks until the Australian animals box is available at the Nature Ed Centre”, I say “Let’s get the Three Part Cards so we can have a look”.

The classroom can also be filled with other materials that provide opportunities to explore relative sizes. There are countless, high-quality non-fiction books that examine as many animals and objects as you could possibly name. These books can be carefully selected to, among other things, provide illustrations that allow the child to compare characteristics such as size. The cards we use in my classroom to learn about different species of dinosaurs show all of the dinosaurs at a relatively similar size. Yet most of our dinosaur books have at least one page dedicated to showing the relative sizes of these animals (and most also feature illustrations to show the way that they scale to humans and other modern animals/structures).

In our modern world I also think I would be rather arrogant if I believed that my Three Part Cards were going to stand as the singular, or even the primary, source of a child’s experience with that particular animal/object. The majority of the children in my own Pre-school are fairly well-schooled in the use of iPad apps and most of them can handle the television remote better than their parents can. I am not making any positive or negative judgements about this relationship with technology, I am simply making the factual observation that it is a part of their lives. The children I teach also tend to be blessed with extremely proactive, conscientious parents who go to great efforts to take their children on trips, outings or excursions and who seek to engage in positive learning opportunities. It is this type of conscientious carer who often seems drawn to methods like Montessori, so it is neither a surprise nor a coincidence that my Montessori Pre-school is filled with proactive parents! I must, therefore, embrace the fact that the children in my care are encountering information from many different sources. I cannot control or account for each individual piece of knowledge they encounter. I also can’t assume that the child has automatically had prior experience with every topic I might introduce. I can, however, be fairly confident that the sum of this information may prepare the child to have a scope that is broad enough to accept that a picture of an elephant is not, in fact, an elephant.


Even if I have accepted that the risk of confusion might be minimal, and I have taken steps to provide other experience to contextualise the cards, it is still worth pushing myself to consider “How significant is the remaining risk that my cards might cause confusion to the child?”


I tend to have an enormous amount of faith in the ability of young children to understand even more than we expect them to! No matter how many children I teach, and how high I believe my expectations are, I am still continuously surprised by the staggering heights of cognitive comprehension that these little ones are capable of. I must still be respectful of my duty to help provide the scaffolds that allow them to build that towering intelligence but I must be even more respectful of the child’s own capacity for learning.

Therefore, even taking into account the young child’s tendency for being literal before reaching abstraction, I have faith that a child is not likely to definitively believe that a chicken and a cow are the same size simply because two pictures of them are the same size. In a decade of teaching (a tiny length of time compared to that of many of my colleagues!) I have never observed a child developing such a belief. If I did see this happen then it would be a stark reminder to me that I had not been fulfilling my duty to contextualise the experiences that I was presenting through the use of abstract materials.

Becoming too fixated on accurate scaling also tends to lead me towards another paradox – if realistic portrayals of size and scale are vital then how can we use the cards at all? If the child is at serious risking of taking the cards so literally that each image must be accurately scaled against its peers, then surely the cards themselves become too risky to use. After all, it is true that a kangaroo and an echidna are not the same size as one another, but it is also true that neither of these animals is 10cm tall! If I genuinely believe that a child will form the impression that a kangaroo and an echidna are the same size as one another because the two pictures are the same size as one another, then I must also believe that the child will form the impression that a kangaroo is 10cm tall. Either the image on the card is an abstract representation, and I can trust the child to accept this, or the image on the card is a literal copy in which case my options are very limited indeed.


So I find myself currently at the position of believing that I can use cards that show ‘close ups’ of animals/objects in order to provide the highest level of visually discernible detail without significant risk of confusing the child and with the benefit of fulfilling my primary purpose for the cards.
After arriving at this position after all of this consideration I’m still not done with the inner-monologue. As a teacher who specifically identifies as a MONTESSORI teacher I also have to ask myself “Do I have any evidence/indication that my interpretation harmonises with the methods and intentions of Dr Montessori?”

In this instance, I am confident that I am not alone or off-course in my interpretation. There are many precedents within the materials of the Montessori curriculum. To my mind the most notable comparisons would be the Anatomy Puzzles and Puzzle Maps.


The Anatomy Puzzles consist of a series of knobbed puzzles showing the anatomy of various flora and fauna. One set features examples of the main classes of animals; a mammal, an amphibian, a mollusc and so forth. Some of the classes feature more than one example – many Montessori classrooms will have a human anatomy puzzle, a cow anatomy puzzle and a horse anatomy puzzle even though these three puzzles show the same class (mammal). These puzzles are not made to reflect relative size – the frog fits into a puzzle of the same size as the horse. The fish puzzle, the human puzzle and the cow puzzle all rest upon the same base dimensions, despite the fact that obviously a real fish, a real human and a real cow vary significantly in size.

If we chose instead to ensure that the sizes of the anatomy puzzles showed an accurate scale model of the relative sizes of the real creatures then we would firstly struggle on a practical level. The horse puzzle would surely be a little too large for a child’s reach and each individual piece would be cumbersome to handle.

Furthermore, the purpose of the puzzles might be eroded by the use of realistic scale sizing. The puzzles are intended to break down the animal’s anatomy into various identifiable elements. This can then be supported by the introduction of related vocabulary, and the child encounters an additional physical benefit when removing and replacing the puzzle pieces. If a horse was to fit on the standard size puzzle then by the time we scaled down to the relative size of a snail it would be incredibly difficult to identify any of the parts of this mollusc, let alone handle and replace its tiny pieces! The developmental value of the puzzles would actually be diminished by the use of relative sizing.


Similarly, the Puzzle Maps also forsake relative sizing in favour of portraying detail. Any Montessori teacher will know that the Puzzle Maps tend to be quite large as it is. They seem to have been pushed to the absolute limits of what a Pre-school child could possibly carry! Yet the Puzzle Map showing all seven continents – the World Map – is roughly the same size as each of the Puzzle Maps showing the individual continents. Montessori educators don’t question this puzzle because it is an “official” Montessori material….yet surely if a child will be confused by handmade Three Part Cards that don’t incorporate relative sizing then they must also be confused by the Puzzle Maps? And yet, in my experience, they are not. Primarily because the Puzzle Maps, like the Three Part Cards, are not intended to be presented in isolation. The Puzzle Maps tend to come after the use of the Globes – which show the continents set out upon a 3-dimensional ‘concrete’ representation of our Earth – and the children are able to make the cognitive leap that they are looking at representations, not at the actual land masses. (Incidentally, when children first encounter the Globes they don’t seem to walk away with the assumption that the Earth is actually that size. If we are able to credit the child with the capacity to accept that the real Earth is larger than the model then I would assert that we can also trust the child to accept that illustrations do not always represent exact sizes in other contexts too). The purpose and value of these Puzzle Maps is not only retained without the application of ‘relative’ sizing but is actually enhanced by avoiding it. Allowing each continent to fit into the standard sized puzzle board maximises the opportunity for the child to visually recognise, identify and absorb these complex formations.


Thus, the position I arrived at through logical consideration and my own experiences does, in this instance, seem to correspond with other established precedents within the Montessori pedagogy. I can therefore, in my opinion, confidently assert that my own position is “a Montessori position”, even though it differs from the equally valid opinions of equally logical and experienced Montessori professionals!

So there, in an extremely large (long?!) nutshell, is the thought-process I went through to arrive at my (current) position on how to design my Three Part Cards.

It is not the definitive position, it is not even my definitive position. It is simply where I currently stand in light of the evidence, my experience and a lot of careful consideration.

This long process of contemplation and deliberation is not unique to the Three Part Cards; it is a process that occurs time and time again in the career of a conscientious educator (Montessori or otherwise!). The process might seem exhausting (if you’ve even made it to the end of reading it then I’m impressed!) and sometimes it is, but it is also always invigorating!



**In relation to my early assertion that ‘many’ Montessori educators remain steadfastly loyal to the ‘school of thought’ introduced by their training, it must also be said that many Montessori educators do think critically about their training. They take the foundation of knowledge acquired during their Montessori training and then build upon this in a range of ways. These additional levels come from personal experience, independent research, consideration of other methods and the inclusion of other information or evidence pertaining to child development. All of these factors combine to create the educator’s personal style that is, by its very nature, fluid. When one of the contributing factors changes, for instance if new research is presented, the teaching style responds. It is, in my opinion, absolutely possible to be one of these critical-thinking, fluid educators but still remain extremely true to the core of the Montessori method. And that seems a perfectly uplifting place to officially end this post!



Dignity and Dementia are not mutually exclusive

Visit for information about Montessori Aged Support Services.


Here is the best present I received on Christmas morning; my Nanna's presence.

I don't just mean that I was grateful that Nanna was physically there in the room with us (although I was). I mean that she was truly present that morning.

Anyone who has loved someone with dementia will know what it is like to have that person sitting right in front of them without actually being present.

Nanna has been shadowed by Alzheimer's for many years now - it was subtle at first, then impossible to ignore and now it is an almost overwhelming power that threatens to completely drown the wonderful woman within. Most days Nanna is not truly herself anymore. She is physically there but her power of speech is so severely diminished that it mostly incomprehensible half-words that spill from her lips. More heartbreakingly, we rarely see the light in her eyes anymore. Her eyes look around blankly, barely focusing and rarely making eye-contact. It is as though her very soul is being disconnected from her body and we spend most of our time just with the exterior, waiting desperately for the occasional glimpses of the woman we know and love. 

So on Christmas morning it felt like our own little miracle to have Nanna be present with us. She was smiling and sparkly - her eyes were alight with love and recognition. It is the most cognisant that I have seen her in years.

In the photo above she is looking straight at the camera! I can't stress how amazing this was for us - it has been several years since we have been able to capture an image of Nanna looking at the camera because she simply (and sadly) no longer recognises what a camera is and can't respond to our encouragement.  

For comparison, take a look at the photos below and pay close attention to Nanna's eyes and her expression (or, sadly, the lack thereof):


These photos were taken just a few weeks before Christmas at a family celebration for my Grandad's 90th Birthday. Now let's contrast these against Nanna's expression on Christmas morning...

The two occasions - Grandad's birthday and Christmas morning - were very similar in many ways. Both events were held in rooms at Nanna's care facility. In both instances Nanna was surrounded by familiar family members in a celebratory atmosphere. Despite these similarities, however, Nanna's demeanour was extremely different on the two days. 

During Grandad's birthday Nanna was often anxious and ill at ease - rocking and fidgeting in her chair, pulling at her clothes and moving her hands incessantly. She was not able to look anyone directly in the eye and she didn't utter any recognisable or meaningful words or phrases. Nanna was sitting in that room with us but she wasn't truly there.

Christmas morning was a completely different story!


From the moment we walked through the door it was obvious that Nanna was really, truly there with us! She was smiling, laughing, making eye contact. She even articulated some meaningful and intentional words! The particular highlights...

Nanna referred to my mum by name! 
I almost hope you won't understand how powerful this is, because the only way you could truly feel its impact is if you have also lost (or are losing) someone to dementia. But it meant the absolute world to my mum that her mum could look at her, see who she was and SAY who she was! Just hearing "Barbara" come out of Nanna's lips was the best thing that my mum could have asked for that morning.

Nanna responded to my kiss by giving one back to me!
When I greeted Nanna with a kiss she immediately puckered up and planted one on the tip of my nose. Just for her to reciprocate like that was a huge moment for me. Often she barely responds to a kiss, let alone offers one back, so I savoured this token of her affection.

Nanna spoke an entire phrase! On purpose and in context!
This one was absolutely massive for us. Nanna is usually extremely limited in her capacity to communicate. She is usually unable to articulate an entire word and watching her try to speak - only to find nothing but incoherent babble coming out - can range from confusing to distressing all the way through to heartbreaking. So for Nanna to look Andrew right in the eye and say "come here love" (or, to be more precise, "coom 'ere loove' in her thick Yorkshire accent!) was INCREDIBLE! She said what she meant and she meant what she said! So Andrew went to her and they held hands and shared a smile. 

Nanna's presence on Christmas morning was incredible but also inexplicable. There was no identifiable reason for her happiness of mood and clarity of mind. The environment around her, the atmosphere and the company she was in were all virtually identical to Grandad's birthday. So we know it wasn't these external attributes that were calling her forth from the depths of Alzheimer's. There was just something internal, which we couldn't recognise or label, that allowed Nanna to be with us on Christmas morning.

And such is the nature of Alzheimer's, and many other forms of dementia and cognitive degeneration. The lucidity of the individual can fluctuate wildly - one day they seem almost completely gone and then suddenly (albeit briefly) they are back.

Christmas morning got me thinking about the seemingly random nature of these fluctuations and I couldn't help but wish that there was more we could do from the outside to encourage the lucidity and lessen the confusion.

Perhaps more importantly, Nanna's presence on Christmas also made me realise that I had been underestimating her...or more accurately I had been overestimating the power of Alzheimer's. I thought that Alzheimer's had eaten away at parts of Nanna that resurfaced on Christmas morning. I didn't think she had the capacity for a phrase like "coom 'ere loov"...but she did. Alzheimer's hadn't destroyed that ability - it had just hidden it.

So I started to wonder, and to worry, about whether I was underestimating Nanna overall. In the past year or so I have reached a sort of peace with her still breaks my heart to be saying such a slow goodbye to a woman I love so much but I believed that she was past the point of recognising her own descent. I found a sense of comfort in the idea that at least Nanna was no longer conscious of her suffering and couldn't recognise her own diminished capacity. We could all handle watching it from the outside, as hard as it is, as long as she wasn't stuck on the inside feeling trapped and confused. Seeing her so present on Christmas morning told me that there is far more of her left inside than I had realised. So as happy as it made me to see my Nanna again, it now breaks my heart to think of her every other day. Maybe she is that lively and present on the inside every day but just can't find a way to get it out to us. It feels so cruel.

Thankfully Nanna is surrounded by respectful support each day. If she is suffering inside then at least she has my Grandad by her side to keep her calm and reassure her. She is also fortunate enough to be in a care facility that puts a great deal of effort into its environment, care and activities.

But every single human with dementia is somebody's Nanna...or Each of these individuals deserves care, respect and dignity. 

Each person with dementia deserves to be believed in, not underestimated. I was guilty of underestimating Nanna and I'm grateful she was able to show me the error of my ways. 

Each person with dementia deserves the opportunity to regain what is lost, to hold onto what is still there, and to retain dignity no matter how cloudy the fog around them becomes. 

So along comes Montessori. A method of education that was devised to care for some of the most vulnerable members of society, albeit at the other end of the age spectrum. An approach that, at its very core, promotes dignity, respect and independence. A pedagogy that is applied in thousands of schools around the world...and now in an increasing number of aged care facilities. This methodology is now caring for our very youngest and our very oldest.

Montessori education certainly knows how to believe in abilities, not focus on deficiencies, and how to promote dignity and cultivate capacity. 

This post is about my Nanna - about how much I love her and how grateful I was to be with her on Christmas and for her to be with us in return - so I'm not going to launch into the technical aspects of applying the Montessori method in aged care. But I will happily point you in the right direction so that you can find out more...

You can read articles here and here...purchase a compelling book here...or even access training here!

You can also watch a beautiful (and tear-jerking) video here.

Perhaps most impressively, there is this report compiled on behalf of the US Administration of Aging (pardon the Americanised spelling there on Ageing!). The report studied the affects of a Montessori-based Activities Program (MBAP) in aged care and found that...

"...results showed that during MBAP activities, levels of constructive engagement were higher than during non-MBAP activities"  

"...during MBAP activities levels of non-engagement went down, indicating that participants were more actively engaged in the MBAP activity than during the non-MBAP activity. These findings suggest that MBAP activities has a positive impact on the participants’ impairment despite levels of ADL or cognitive impairment."

"The most notable finding in terms of engagement was in the level of helping behavior. These types of social interactions between participants were rarely found during non-MBAP activities; in fact, most of the time, the participants rarely talked with one another during the activities. More commonly, it was usually the staff who interacted with participants. However, during MBAP activities, the level of helping behavior increased significantly over the six month period. Participants began to interact with one another, reaching out to assist or comment on another participant’s success."

"...the impact was on the expression of positive behavior – expressions of pleasure, laughter, smiles – which went up during the six month period as compared to non-MBAP activities, where levels tended to go down over time. The impact of MBAP was also felt on participant’s expressions of boredom (closing their eyes, sleeping, staring). During MBAP activities, most participants were focused on the activity in either a constructive or passive way and rarely expressed any level of boredom."

Montessori for Aged Care, and dementia patients, is still a relatively new approach here in Australia, so we don't yet have our own research to replicate these results. We do, however, have lots of anecdotal examples of the Montessori approach having a positive impact for residents and care workers. (Visit for more information). 

If you love someone who is living with dementia, or living in an aged care facility, then I highly recommend that you share some of these resources with the individuals who are involved with their care.
If you are a Montessori educator then perhaps you might like to consider whether you have any resources that you could share. It could be that you have spare Montessori materials that you can donate to an aged care facility or you may like to offer some of your time to set up some activities or work with the staff there. 

Several years ago Grandad and I were discussing Nanna and I was telling him how lucky Nanna was to have him. As we spoke I told him "I hope that when I'm Nanna's age I have someone to take care of me like you take care of her". And Grandad burst into tears and replied "When you're Nanna's age I hope they've found a cure for this".

I don't know if Montessori is anywhere near a "cure" but it may be the best thing that we have for now. At the very least it might act as a cure for the prejudice and low-expectations that allow society to ignore or give up on our oldest, most vulnerable individuals. Let's stop underestimating, let's stop overlooking, and let's start advocating for the dignity of all the Nannas and Grandads of our world!

An Untitled Love

My wonderful "niece" Emily features heavily in my blog posts and around Montessori Child. Recently a couple of observant individuals have noticed that I've mentioned the fact that we are not biologically related. I thought now might be an appropriate time to share the following words, which I actually wrote several years ago and have just updated for this forum.


An Untitled Love

The most convenient explanation is “she is my niece”, but that’s not exactly true. The most factually correct explanation is “she is the daughter of my brother’s ex-girlfriend”, but that falls far too short. The most honest answer is “she is my soul mate”, but that doesn’t make sense to most people.

In this current climate of mixed families, unusual living arrangements and children in need of support from sources outside of their home I am sure that I cannot be alone in my struggle to define a relationship that exists outside of the ‘norm’.

As I tell people, “it’s a long story” to explain how my brother’s ex-girlfriend’s daughter became the most important person in my life. It started when I was 15 and she was an infant. I met her first, before my brother did, purely by accident. At the local shops I spotted a friend of my brother holding a baby – a surprise to me – so I approached her in amazement. She quickly explained she was holding this gorgeous little bub for a friend of hers who was in another shop. I was in a rush so I didn’t stop to meet the ‘friend’, I simply smiled at the little cutie who was all wrapped up and then off I went. It was weeks after this that my brother brought home his new girlfriend…and her daughter. Thankfully we were raised by parents who were welcoming, open-minded and – perhaps most importantly – loved children. As a result, this ‘plus one’ situation was no cause for alarm for any of us. 

As soon as I ‘officially’ met her I felt something inside me start to change. She was so tiny, so perfect. I was struck but also a little nervous - I cuddled and cooed but lacked confidence. It didn’t take long, however, until she was responding enough for me to know that I could take care of her and make her happy. As this happened my brother’s girlfriend moved into our home –a crowded house of my mum and dad, my brother and his girlfriend, me and the little one. So I carried her through the garden to touch the leaves and smell the flowers, I read stories to her, I sang her to sleep. As she grew I received her very first ‘I love you’, I helped her learn to write her name, I taught her to sing the songs with me and we took turns reading the stories to each other. As she got older we took trips together, cooked dinners together and, as recently as last weekend, walked the dog high up into the hills at night so we could look over the twinkling lights of the city...while dancing like maniacs to One Direction songs (but I still tickled her back as she fell asleep when we got home!). Side by side, year by year, we have grown together – her body, my heart. 



It may sound strange but I fell in love with her when she was that cute little baby and she's been the love of my life ever since. We share no biology, but I am closer to her than to any other person in my life. I have never been a particularly religious person (and my belief in magic sadly faded years ago when my age reached double digits) but the connection I found with Emily certainly feels like 'fate'. When our connection developed I lived in a household with her mother, her father figure and two pseudo grandparents and yet it was blatantly clear to all that she and I shared something extra special.

My mum called us ‘kindred spirits’. Her mum found a quote to describe what happened when the two of us were together: ‘we are all angels with only one wing, we can only fly when we embrace each other’. 

My brother and her mother were together for several years before they broke up. The separation occurred in an ugly, unfortunate way that is far too personal to share here. It was decided that my brother was never to see either of them again. Fear stabbed me. In real terms I had no ground to stand on – no biological link, no legal rights, no tangible connection. Yet in my heart it was simply unthinkable that I should lose touch with my soul mate. So, in the midst of hurt feelings and angry words, her mother and I spoke. I uttered the most honest words I have ever spoken to anyone;
“This is not about you, me, or my family…this is about her. She loves me, she needs me and she deserves for this connection to remain so I am going to keep seeing her no matter how hard it is for the rest of us”.
When I reflect back I sometimes wonder where I got the courage to say it…and then I remember that she gave me the courage to do and to be all sorts of things that I never could have without her. I will be eternally grateful to her mum for listening to what I had to say and, most importantly, for agreeing.


Em, her mum and me - growing together! 

It has been 7 years since my brother and her mother broke up. 7 years since she has seen my brother or he has seen her (except for once, accidentally, as they passed each other in a supermarket). When we discuss him she still sometimes calls him daddy, despite the fact that she understands that this is not biologically true. The relationship that she and I shared was important to both of us before the ‘adults’ broke up.  It has been more important than ever since then.

She spends every second weekend with me. She spends half of each school holidays with me. I help her with schoolwork, help her consider solutions when she is having problems with her friends, I guide her when she forgets about using her manners and I tickle her back and sing softly as she falls asleep. I spend time on the phone with her mum when parenting decisions need to be made.
I am not her full-time parent, I would not wish to take away from what her mum does, but often I feel like her part-time parent. Like her ‘divorced dad’ with my ‘scheduled visitation’ and my civil chats with her mum where we try to reach a compromise between our two different ideas of how to raise her.

I’m not her divorced dad though. I’m not technically her aunty either. I’m not her parent, not her foster carer, not her relative, not her babysitter, not her friend. I'm all of these things, but none of these things! I’m indefinable. Our relationship lacks an easy explanation. As a result, it lacks understanding. I find it hard to explain, so I can sympathise with the listeners who find it even harder to comprehend. Some people find it a bit weird. Maybe I would see it that way too if I was not involved; it is certainly unconventional to be so close, affectionate and loving towards a child with whom you share no blood relation. Some people assume I’m overstating it somewhat, that it’s sweet that I think she’s so cute but that I am just like any ‘babysitter’. 

So sometimes I feel alone. I feel that I lack recognition and respect for the role that I play in her life and the love, stability and guidance that I offer her. Then I remember the words I spoke all those years ago; “it is about her”. It makes me realise once again that it doesn’t matter if nobody in the world understand us. All that matters is that we absolutely, unconditionally and irrepressibly love each other and we are both better off in this world because of the bond we share.

My situation might be quite uncommon, but it cannot be entirely unique. So to all those people out there who offer love and care to children without an official ‘title’ or ‘definition’ – thank you!

For what it’s worth, she does not have the same trouble I do in trying to explain our relationship. Years ago, when she was learning to talk, a mispronunciation lead to a nickname – I was “Jekky” instead of “Jessica”. So when I asked her what she considers me to be in relation to her and how she describes me to her friends. She answered (with the affectingly honest deep simplicity that only a child can offer):

“You’re my Jek”.