Child(ish) Reads: The Montessori Toddler

I purchased The Montessori Toddler about a year ago. I have never planned on sending my kids to a Montessori school or daycare, and neither my husband or I have ever attended a Montessori school. I was interested in this topic because it’s a huge parenting buzzword; a whole philosophy on a better way to raise kids.

With all of our Childish Reads books, I expected to have a few key points or gems to takeaway. But TBH, I was a bit disappointed.

The Montessori Toddler
A Parent’s Guide to Raising a Curious and Responsible Human Being Paperback

by Simone Davies

First off, the author is a Montessori-trained teacher so the book automatically will skew biased. Of course, it’s going to be pro-Montessori and not discuss any other early development philosophies.

If you are a follower of this blog, you know that we, first and foremost, are about sensory experiences, helping our kids’ build a strong foundation from a young age to develop their cognitive, motor, emotional skills as they grow. This book does touch on that and even lists a lot of OT-based activities to build those skills: fine and gross motor, crossing the midline, motor planning and coordination, etc.

The difference (and one of the keys of the Montessori philosophy) is that these activities are to achieve mastery of skills. In the Montessori classroom, the teacher lays out a variety of activities that a kid can choose from for that period. The activities have a clear start, process, and end goal that includes clean up. The child will play with this activity until they have mastered the skill.

It’s still hands-on, child-centered and child-led, but an OT-approach is more about integrating those skills into your everyday routine. This book does NOT want you to do the same activities outside of the classroom for fear that it might confuse the child. The strict delineation was a bit puzzling.

Another trademark of the Montessori philosophy is that all of these learning activities are solo. There is no mention of collaboration or teamwork because it’s about the individual child learning an individual skill. I think this really misses the opportunity for kids to manage social situations, learn empathy, and connect with each other.

While an individualized, loosely structured classroom might be a good learning environment for some kids of a certain temperament, it could also be challenging for others. The book does say that this approach works for ALL kids. But as a parent, I get very wary of anything that says it works for everyone. It glosses over the fact that kids learn in different ways and have different home lives.

One of the things that motivated me to write this review is that I wanted to show parents that Montessori doesn’t automatically mean your kid will be high-performing. It’s not a one-way ticket to Ivy League and no matter how many Montessori-branded toys you buy, it will not turn your kid into a prodigy. No early development start can guarantee that outcome.

My cousin has her Masters in Education and has taught public elementary and magnet middle school. I asked her about what she has seen as far as trends in Montessori graduates and it’s not all high test scores. While stats say that Montessori-educated kids do have higher standardized test scores coming out of Elementary school, kids can have trouble adjusting to different pedagogies and learning assignments in middle grades. Not all classrooms are about learning and memorizing facts. Team projects, research projects, essays, quizzes, critical or hypothetical thinking, having explicit rules or instructions; all of these aren’t expressly included in a Montessori curriculum.

Back to the book… The layout and format of the Montessori classroom are all discussed in the first chapter of the book. The remaining chapters are about applying the Montessori Approach at home. However, instead of having specific points for parents to follow, it all just seemed like a mash up of everything I’d already read.

It pulls from gentle parenting, to the Whole Brain Approach, to getting your kids to help out around the house. None of these are Montessori-exclusive, and the book only skims over what to do in general situations. It’s like Cliff’s Notes.

Even setting up a “Montessori home” is really just minimalism, having things accessible and closer to the ground, and rotating toys. If you have absolutely no idea about how to parent a toddler or if you’ve done zero research on parenting altogether, then this book might be ok. But otherwise, I found it repetitive and had nothing new to offer.

I also found it a bit unrealistic. It doesn’t ever mention how hard or frustrating parenting can be. It doesn’t give much room for tantrums, or the frequency of tantrums, and it paints a really idealized picture of family life that I seriously did not relate to. With the amount of close observing that this book calls parents to do, I doubted you could do this effectively if you had more than one kid.

While I think child-centered learning is great, I don’t think a toddler should be the center of the household. Even the author’s suggestions about work-life balance and self-care were trite and more of an afterthought.

Finally, I did find a lot of the content to be confusing. In one chapter she addresses misconceptions about Montessori, specifically that people think that Montessori teachers don’t encourage creativity because all of their curriculum is “grounded in reality”. She then says that creativity and imagination are two different things but doesn’t discuss in depth why their approach is better. I was left with “Montessori kids will learn to be imaginative later when they’re older and less likely to be overwhelmed. Imagination is scary.”

I also thought the claim that Montessori was independent play was a bit of a stretch, because the child would most likely be under close observation and because each activity has a closed-ended goal.

In addition, the book recommends limiting open-ended play at home in favor of more household helping.

Other things listed as key to the Montessori philosophy are appreciation of beauty, love of nature, the Absorbent Mind, hands-on learning, and building trust and respect. All of these can also be found in most other early-learning environments, and can certainly be duplicated at home.

Throughout my time reading this, I did go back and check some of the customer reviews. I was seriously wondering if I was missing something. While the majority of the reviews are positive, I really want to frame this as a Millennial parent. A few reviews even call this book a bit privileged. I think our age group is very aware of generational changes. I think there is a huge wave of social influencers talking about mindfulness and respectful parenting and seeing things from a child’s perspective. I don’t think you need to dedicate your household to a full learning philosophy in order to have a capable, curious, and respectful kid.

Do I think doing one or two years of Montessori makes a better-prepared Kindergartener? Eh, maybe. But one or two years would be less of a commitment than going through a full Montessori Elementary program and then having to do a massive learning shift at 7th grade. But then again, this book is only about toddlers.

I think the Montessori philosophy can speak to a parent who is competitive, but I advise looking into the other types of schools/daycares (Waldorf/Reggio Emilia/Primrose/Co-ops/Religious schools) before committing to something because it’s popular. In the end, your choice should be based on your values and what works best for your family.

This book really was a letdown for me personally, but I don’t want to reduce the entire Montessori Approach to this book. I’m totally open to hear about the challenges and wins others have had as Montessori parents.

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