I saw a post the other day that basically said “I’m trying but Montessori Is Not Working, what am I doing wrong?” The poster went on to say that she had tried various activities but her son was only interested in cars and trains, nothing else held his attention for more than a minute or two.
This is a more common problem than you think!
Even seasoned Montessori teachers have had times when a child doesn’t show any interest in the activities that they think they would. And it happens to parents all the time. You see a fab activity and are convinced your child will love it, you spend time setting it up. The child comes over and they are all “meh” and trundle off with their favourite toy of the moment.
Why is Montessori not working?
This can come down to a couple of reasons. But first, you need to think of this child-raising thing as one big fun experiment. There is no blueprint, no guidebook, no exact step-by-step instruction manual. Each child is wired differently and develops in their own time, you can’t speed it up and you can’t force them to learn deeply if they are not in the right phase of development.
Problem One – Montessori not working because it’s the wrong activity
This is probably the biggest error parents make. Trying to give the child something that is not a good fit RIGHT NOW!
It’s not that it’s a bad activity it’s more that it’s the right activity but at the wrong time. Like I talk about when using Montessori for home learning, kids go through different stages of development. Sometimes you will notice your child line up their toys, other times they will be repeatedly counting things and then other times they will try poking the smallest things into all small holes (like when my son posted all my credit and store cards into the fish grill!)
By paying attention to what your child is doing you can understand which phase of development they are going through.
Once you know that – BOOM you can give them activities that match that phase.
A child that is lining up toys is going through a phase where they are learning about their environment and sense of order. Any activities that help them work on this would be good. Sorting objects, learning to care for plants and pets. Matching socks and putting things away are also great activities for this stage. If you want to cut down on toddler tantrums, looking at the child’s environment is a must.
A language explosion. Often kids will suddenly have a burst of language acquisition, anything language-related will work here. Keep in mind their level and ability. It might be matching upper and lower case letters, spelling 3 letter words, or writing their name. Plus lots of books and reading. Even if a child is not yet reading, being surrounded by books will help with their language skills.
Quick note, I have a post on how to raise a bilingual child here as there is a lot of misinformation about this.
Counting and a fascination with numbers. Again just find activities that match their level and give them different varieties or the same thing. Especially at a younger age, kids need lots and lots of repetition to master a skill. If it’s a counting activity, change the counters. Essentially it’s the same thing but the child sees it as something new and something to master.
And don’t forget, you can help your child practice throughout the day, it doesn’t have to be all shelf work. When you go shopping count the bananas or get them to point out letters that they know on shop signs.
Out on a walk or sorting laundry, practice their colours or new vocabulary – this feels soft, this feels silky…
And finally, if you have put out an activity and it flopped. Don’t panic. Either leave it on the shelf for a couple of days and see what happens or put it away and get it out in a couple of weeks time. Sometimes, that is all that was needed.
Problem two – Montessori is not working because the subject is boring
Imagine that you have a new hobby of cake decorating. You have lots of cool equipment that you are learning to use, you’re not very skilled yet, you need more practice. You have books and video courses and when you are not thinking about laundry and dinner you are thinking about what kind of cake decoration you’ll do next. You are really excited about it and all you want is some focused time to practice your craft.
But then your partner comes in and drags you out to look at the car engine. He starts waffling about carburettors and spark plugs, asking you questions about parts of the engine and the best oil to use and you feel yourself zoning out.
This is exactly what happens when we try and get kids to study something that they have zero interest in. (Yes, I know we need to be introducing new ideas, I’ll get to that in a minute).
Now imagine… your partner comes in and says he’d love it if you could make him and his car-crazy friends some cupcakes and it would be really cool if they could be decorated with engine parts. And how great would that be to practice your new decorating techniques. Ohhh a new challenge, this could be fun!
He gets you some reference pictures and even some actual parts to look at and explains what they do so that it will help you create the cake topper. Some of those car parts are tricky so you need to practice several times before you get it right.
By the time you have finished, not only have you mastered several new cake decorating techniques but you also know the name and function of each car part.
And that is how your partners tricked you into learning about engines… but you don’t care because it was fun!
How to make the work more interesting
Montessori is not working if you’re not following the child. This trick is not talked about much in the Montessori circles but I used it for years both in the ESL space and Montessori and I can tell you, it works like a dream.
Like the example above, you need to combine the thing that you want them to learn plus something they are already in love with.
Above the topic was car parts/engines + the thing that was of interest was cake decorating
But you can do this with almost anything
Simple addition + bugs = simple bug math problems
Colours + cars = car colour sorting/matching activity (like this car parking game)
Spelling + dinosaurs = learning to spell dinosaur names
Fine motor skills + flowers = pin punching flower shapes
Once you get the hang of this your child will be learning and loving it because they are already interested in part of it. My son used to ask for dinosaur spelling tests!
Introducing a new topic
Pay attention to the activities and see which ones the child really enjoyed. Say it was pin punching, you could then suggest, how about trying it with these number cards?
Or colour sorting you could say “wow, you sorted all the cars, what else can you sort into colours?” and see what they suggest.
I have had clients who have felt bad that they couldn’t give their child the full Montessori experience, as in, send them to a Montessori school. But doing it at home has great advantages too – when you don’t have a whole class to look after you can tailor the activities to your child which means they will enjoy it more and learn at a deep activity.
To Wrap Up
You have heard me say it before and I will, no doubt be saying it again, if Montessori is not working:
“Follow the child”
Always check that the activity you are presenting is a match for the stage of development the child is in.
And make it fun by combining something the child is already interested in with something you want them to learn or practice.