I’m An Accidental Montessori Mom & I’m Never Going Back

by Steph Montgomery

I'll be super honest and admit that I never intended to become a Montessori parent. In fact, I absolutely did not want to find myself among the Montessori ranks. But, such is life. One day I looked up, caught myself by surprise, and realized what had happened. So it's time for me to come clean: I'm an accidental Montessori parent, and here's how it happened so you can keep it from happening to you, too. Or, you know, so you can just accept the inevitable with open arms. All I'm saying is that it took me a long time to get here, but now you might say I'm hooked. I might even try to convert you, too.

Between you and me, I always thought Montessori was for "other" kids with "different" parents. You know, parents who had more money and who had way more time and energy to do things like knit wool hats, make organic, homemade treats, and search Pinterest for sensory activities and playground plans. Also, it seemed like most Montessori parents I knew were way more crunchy than I ever was. In the end it didn't really matter, though, because all of the Montessori programs near me either had a waiting list roughly 18 years long or didn’t have a schedule that met my needs as a working parent.

So, my kids went to a conventional daycare and preschool and did great, despite not really being conventional (they get that from me, thank you very much). Then my partner and I moved to a new town, and a Montessori school opened near our home. I went to check it out and learned more about their adventure playground, observation-based teaching philosophy, their focus on child-led learning and fostering independence, and (most important for me) their focus on having respect for children as human beings.

My partner and I decided to enroll our son and see how he’d do in this new environment. Honestly, I was pretty impressed. It took some getting used to (for all of us), but eventually he totally thrived and I started to change, too. Despite my best efforts I became a Montessori parent, and here's how it happened:

Stage 1: Denial

If I had a quarter for every time I said, "I will never be that parent," only to eat my words sometime later, I would be rich. All of the Montessori parents I knew were annoyingly "know-it-all," perfect, "crunchy" parents. Ugh. Who wants to be the Hermione Granger of parenting?

Turns out, me. I want to be the Hermione Granger of parenting, you guys. I have no idea how I became a Montessori parent, but once I did I realized I totally had the wrong idea.

Stage 2: Warming Up To The Idea

As luck would have it, when we moved to a new town, a Montessori program was opening nearby. I was starting a new job and needed childcare. This program was surprisingly affordable for a Montessori school and we decided to check it out. The staff made us feel welcome and it was clear that they connected with kids and parents in a unique way. After a tour, I started to warm up to the idea of my son being a Montessori kid.

Stage 3: Surprising Yourself

So, my partner and I signed him up. We started with a part-time program to see how he’d do, but soon moved to full-time because he seriously loved it and hated to leave midday. He went from the kid who was literally attached to my leg all day, to a kid who loved school and didn't want to leave.

I remember being so surprised that it wasn't a "free-for-all" like I had assumed it would be. Rather, the teachers really got to know the kids, their interests, how they liked to learn and explore, how to generate enthusiasm, and let kids lead the way. One day, I picked up my son to discover that they designed a week-long experiment to learn how much water weeds need to grow. It was magical.

Stage 4: Getting Used To The Mess

Honestly, there were messes — like spills, stained clothes, and muddy feet — in Montessori school than there had been at traditional preschool. It took me a while to get used to it all, honestly. When I thought about it, though, it was all just a byproduct of kids being allowed to enjoy their natural state, rather than kids being endlessly expected to conform. Letting my kids be kids is basically how I want to parent. Life is, after all, messy.

Stage 5: Realizing Your Kid Is Thriving

Courtesy of Steph Montgomery

It’s pretty impossible to dismiss a program when you see your child change for the better. Our son thrived in his Montessori program, and he never wanted to leave when I came to pick him up.

This is also when I started to think like Montessori parent. I was observing what things lit a fire behind my son's eyes and what activities gave him joy, trying to incorporate those into our day. I also started to let him make more choices at home and give him more one-on-one time. His transformation was remarkable, and so was mine.

Stage 6: Trying To Convert Others

Although I know that Montessori is not right for every kid, it's been an amazing fit for our son. I may have started the annoying habit of telling everyone I knew about the program. You know you are a Montessori parent when you tell others about it, and I couldn't help it. It's just too cool to keep to myself.

Stage 7: Realizing You've Become A Montessori Parent

Courtesy of Steph Montgomery

Our son loved going to Montessori school from day one, and I think it seriously helped him come out of his shell. Every day he would talk about his adventures at school and the staff there seemed to love their jobs and our kids. As he changed and grew, I grew as a parent, really trying to see things from my son's perspective, show him respect, empathize with him through challenges, and cheer him on through exploration. I may have downloaded some playground plans and projects from Pinterest. Shhh, don't tell anyone.