Attachment to Reality: The Importance of Real Materials in the Classroom

“Yet, when all are agreed that the child loves to imagine, why do we give him only fairy tales and toys on which to practice this gift? If a child can imagine a fairy and fairyland, it will not be difficult for him to imagine America. Instead of hearing it referred to vaguely in conversation, he can help to clarify his own ideas of it by looking at the globe on which it is shown.” – Dr. Maria Montessori

One of the most obvious differences between Montessori and your typical, conventional daycare, is the use of real materials in the classroom, as opposed to plastic toys made from synthetic materials. The pedagogy is only successful if the child has real tools to work with. One of the characteristics of a normalized child is their “attachment to reality”. We strive to provide real material as safely and practical as possible. We want children to develop real skills and habits for living in a real world.


I use a glass mortar and pestle to grind fresh cinnamon. The sound of the crushed spice against the glass, and the fragrance stimulate my senses.


There is absolutely nothing wrong with imaginative/fantasy play, however there is a time and a place. Play is the work of the child. Playful learning is done so through many aspects of the Montessori philosophy. Play is beneficial for children in a variety of developmental areas, and different types of play is associated with different stages. The pedagogy is dedicated to meeting all of the developmental needs of the “whole child”. Montessori guides must consider play as a developmental area, and observe and guide the children’s movement in the classroom to support their growth. These areas should contain the same preparation, analysis and sequencing as all other areas of the classroom.

“Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning.” -Fred Rogers

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The Montessori Method: An Education For Creating Innovators

The Montessori Method: An Education For Creating Innovators

A Montessori education helps students develop a love for learning and it teaches them to be self-directed learners who can harness their creative potential.

Imagine an education system that trained students to be creative innovators and leaders without the use of grades, tests or homework. It actually exists and it’s called the Montessori Method.

The Montessori Method focuses on fostering a hands-on, self-paced, collaborative and enjoyable learning experience. It teaches students to start small with their ideas, to build them through experimentation and to solve the problems that come up along the way with a sense of stimulating curiosity.

One of the most striking aspects of Montessori education is its similarities with the “fail fast, fail forward” do-it-yourself hacker mentality that has built many of the most innovative companies in Silicon Valley. Even the popular innovation frameworks in the global start-up scene, like agile development and lean startup methodology, share similarities with the experimental process of Montessori learning.

I believe that if we want to become better creators and innovators, we would be wise to study the principles of the Montessori Method. Even though the Montessori Method is usually associated with the primary education of children, the seven pillars of self-directed learning that it is based on also apply to adults who want to become more creative, adaptable and self-motivated:

1. Independence
2. Responsibility
3. Self-Discipline
4. Leadership
5. Initiative
6. Academics
7. Lifelong Learning
"Imagination does not become great until human beings, given the courage and the strength, use it to create." - Maria Montessori Continue reading

Where is the Risk: Why Children should use Knives (and other dangerous things)

One of our absolute favorite blogs that we religiously follow, How we Montessori, posted a wonderful article explaining the benefits of allowing our children the opportunity to work with dangerous, or fragile things. In the classroom, our students are encouraged to work with challenging tools, such as scissors to develop fine and gross motor skills, they’re also allowed to grate/cut vegetables as part of food preparation/”practical life”, which teaches valuable life skills, and they’re invited to use glass tumblers to drink out of during mealtime. If they drop the glass, it’s not a problem. They’re well-equipped with problem solving skills to clean up any mess they make. We want them to learn how to handle delicate materials so that they will learn self-control, and self-discipline, amongst many things. We empower and enable our children to be self sufficient, working with tools that aid in their independence. Often times, learning from mistakes can be a powerful method.

Why children should use knives (and other dangerous things) at How we Montessori
Children need risk. Risk challenges them and keeps them alert, it makes them responsive and teaches consequences. However parents are often so afraid, it’s to the detriment of their children. Maria Montessori would call this oppression. 

Children are capable. But they need our help. We need to enable and empower them. 

Children need to learn new skills, real life skills. Once they are capable in one area they will have the confidence to work and excel in other areas. When they complete real work there is a powerful sense of  accomplishment which can build the child’s sense of self. Children need work and accomplishments they can be proud of.

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“Here, let me help you.”


“Here, let me help you.”

These words, while innocent enough, can interfere a great deal in a child’s development. It’s natural for us as adults to want to interfere and offer assistance when a child is struggling to carry a heavy, full water pitcher, or can’t put on their coat and shoes by themselves at the end of the day. It’s just what we do as parents and educators; to protect our precious little ones whenever they’re struggling, hurt, or going through a hardship. We need to, however, ask ourselves this question, am I really helping them?

I can share a personal example (among many), of my son and his struggle with independence.

While dressing himself this morning, and putting on his shoes, I reached over, “Here, just let me help you.” At the time, I did not realize the harm my interfering had caused. I did not see the disappointment in his eyes as I took his shoe and hurried to put it on his foot.

Our mornings are generally rushed, eating a quick breakfast, grooming, dressing, feeding/walking the dog, getting bottles/cloth diapers ready for sister, etcetera, etcetera…there’s very little time allotted for my son to put each article of clothing on his body by himself.

I replenish a “changing basket” in my son’s room every night, complete with a few pairs of pants, shirts, socks and underwear so that he can choose what to wear for himself in the morning. I’ll give him between 20-30 minutes to dress himself, which usually ends in me pulling his shirt over his head, or putting on his shoes because, I’m sorry my dear, but we just don’t have all day! I’ve recently discovered that because of this, he is now dependent upon me to finish getting dressed. He will follow me around the house with his shoes, waiting for me to put them on his little feet. If I can’t help him immediately, he will resort to crying or try to get my attention in a negative way. It’s as if I’ve set such high expectations for him to put his shoes on, and why not, I’ve made it clear that he needs an adult’s help to do so, through my impatient actions. So the way I see it, I haven’t really helped him during his morning routine. Instead, I’ve damaged his independence, and made him more reliable on me. Granted, he is 2.5 years, and may need help with some of his day to day tasks, but I can confidently say that dressing himself is a task that he can do all by himself.


Dr. Maria Montessori said, “The task of the child is the formation of man”.  In the earliest years, the child is forming the kind of person they’ll be for the rest of their life. They will refine fine and gross motor skills, learn how to cope with different emotions, experience social interactions, conflict resolution, and so forth, all with a strong emphasis on independence. They can achieve this independence by working in an environment, well-equipped with tools they can use, free from adult interaction. Montessori guides strive to be “invisible”, letting the materials teach and manipulate their student’s young mind. Through works in “practical life” (care of environment, care of self, care of others, etc.), the child learns to control his movements, they develope concentration, self-discipline, control of error, scope of sequence, and so many other qualities that can further strengthen their independence.

Self discipline is key to a child’s independence. Children who have developed internal self-discipline, have the freedom to enjoy independence. We need to allow the child to develop self-discipline on their own terms; they need that internal struggle in order to grow independently. Self discipline comes about through a child’s concentration, and their ability to successfully complete a challenging task.

“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.”

We all love our children and want to nurture them, overload them with love and affection, and help them at all times. By doing too much for our children, we take away their ability to learn independently. By following your child’s natural rhythm of learning, and allowing them to experience obstacles for themselves, they will become more intelligent, better-coordinated, disciplined, self-sufficient young children, well equipped with the knowledge to solve problems on their own. Do not feel guilty to let them make mistakes, and learn through “control of error”.

Montessori Parent Resource: Delayed Gratification, Helping Children to Build Self-Discipline and Autonomy, by Chip DeLorenzo, M.Ed.

Delayed Gratification: Helping Children to Build Self-Discipline and Autonomy – by Chip DeLorenzo, M.Ed.

“You waited until the night before to get your project done, and now you want me to drive to the store to get the materials you need?”

“You’re not going anywhere until your room is cleaned.  You were supposed to do it three days ago.”

“I asked you 20 minutes ago to get your things together for school!”

Wouldn’t it have been so much easier if they had just done it right away and gotten it over with?  There would have been much less hassle and emotional energy used.  You and I can see that as adults because we have learned (and some of us are still learning) the benefits of delayed gratification.  The good news is that procrastination is not an inherited trait.  It is a learned life skill that can be taught, and is one of the greatest indicators of success for children.In 1972, a Stanford research project was published, that has become known as the Marshmallow Experiment.  In this experiment, the researchers put a child in a room with a single marshmallow.  The children were told that if they would wait until the researcher returned to eat the first marshmallow that they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow.  Many of the children ate the first marshmallow soon after the researcher left the room, and a few were able to wait patiently until research came back with the second marshmallow.  I’m sure this was quite fun to witness.

What made the experiment so well known, however, was the results of tracking the participants in the study for over 40 years.  The results of the research are quite remarkable.  The children that were able to exhibit the willingness to wait for the second marshmallow were more successful in a broad array of measures, including higher SAT scores, lower levels of substance abuse, stronger social skills (as reported by their parents), better physical health and stress management, as well as a variety of other life measures.  In short, the ability to delay gratification proved to be a significant factor, across the board, in how successful these participants were in their lives.

While it may be that some children have a greater inclination towards self-discipline, most of people learn self-discipline through experience.  Those experiences come from the child’s environment and their experiences in that environment.  A home or school environment that provides a consistency and predictability allows children to trust the outcomes of their choices builds a sense of confidence in children that empowers them make decisions for themselves based on what they know will happen and when.  (University of Rochester study on the effect of reliable and unreliable experiences can be found here:  Take for example a child whose routine is to finish his homework before watching television at night, and bed time is at 8:30 a.m.  And, each night, when he is finished with his homework his parents allow him to turn on the TV until bed time.  However, when he doesn’t finish his homework, he is not allowed to turn on the TV.  If this routine is predictable, what decisions might this boy make in regards to delaying gratification and finishing his homework after school?  What might happen if his parents become more arbitrary in allowing him to watch TV, sometimes when his homework is done, and sometimes when it isn’t?

Developing Delayed Gratification

  • Develop routines that allow children to experience both the logical positive and negative consequences of their choices, without rescuing them or bailing them out or punishing them.  The example of the television after homework is a sound example.  Another one, is the child who procrastinates in getting dressed in the morning.  A routine could be set up where the child’s clothes are picked out the night before, and the parent simply lets the child know if they are not dressed before leaving for school that the parents will simply put the clothes in a bag and the child can change at school or in the car (if there is time).  As kids get older, the consequences of their decisions are often played out with their peers or outside the home.  Let’s say an older child is responsible for their laundry.  If they forget to do their laundry, consider putting your own feelings of potential embarrassment aside, and allow your child to wear dirty clothes.
  • One of the most powerful ways to create an environment of mutual respect and develop the ability to delay gratification is to involve children and adolescents in crating routines and solving problems.  Brainstorm ideas together, and then choose what might work best together, and commit to reviewing the decisions at a later date to see if they are working.  If the solutions aren’t working, then you can just make adjustments when you review the decisions.

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