Sunday, January 22, 2012


In my recent post "Montessori was right" I have mentioned how important it is to allow children to take part in our life for real, not just with plastic toys in their room. And while I'm convinced of the amazing and wonderful work of Maria Montessori and agree with what Nicole from Montessori School of Mount Pleasant and Little Learners Lodge wrote in her recent post I do think that at the age 0-3 the Pikler or RIE principles are much more valuable.

When I first heard about Montessori and Pikler I thought "Now what's actually the difference between their approaches?" and found out that Montessori mainly focused on the age group 3-6 (The Children's House) and Pikler on the age group 0-3. Then I discovered some writings and information on Montessori's thoughts on the very young infant e.g. the book "Montessori from the start" and with Leander attending a Montessori creche I figured that - in the end - both women had very similar approaches. I still believe that to be true, but I have found a few Montessori ideas to lead in the "wrong" direction.

The material
Montessori is especially known for her own special materials she has thought through and developed with a lot of experiences in mind. With most of these materials she is aiming for some skills to be achieved, sometimes in various steps, sometimes straight away. A few materials are self explaining, a few need demonstrations to the child from a teacher or caregiver. I do believe that especially at the age 0-2 this is just not necessary and partly even obstructive.
According to RIE principles what we want to "teach" a child is to be free to choose whatever he wants to play (with). Until a child can speak it is - in my opinion - much better if all the toys or materials are open (as Pikler called it), so no didactic background, no skills needed or to be achieved. Simply playing and having fun. Montessori actually said "Children can not not learn." So why go and place materails in their reach that need demonstration?
Of course it took me a while to come to that thought and I have been there myself letting Leander pour water from one jug into another or shovel beans from one bowl into the next. Of course I had to show him, if I'd only placed two jugs on a tray on the shelf he would not have known what to do with it. And of course he enjoyed it. A lot. But it was not HIS decision to play with that. It was me who asked him to, who showed him how to do it and who watched him the whole time. At this very young age (he was 18 months old) this is just not necessary. Even now (he is almost 22 months old) he is happy playing with toys that don't need explanation. He loves cars, books and small toy animals he shows to us waiting for us to say what it is. He is developing his speech more than anything at the moment, what does he need to shovel beans for?
He does learn how to use a spoon simply by using one for his meals every single day.

Another problem is that at this age children still take a lot of things into their mouth, they throw things (oh dear, when will it stop?) and they drop things on purpose (discovering physics). If you are happy collecting beans, whiping the floor, changing clothes and fishing little things out of your child's little mouth you are welcome to offer those materials. I for myself have found it too stressful for all of us.

As mentioned before - at this age children want to take part in the household and they are very proud if they are allowed. Dusting, hoovering, helping with the laundry etc. It is all great and I can only recommend it. But the cooking - which is a great part in Montessori houses - I would postpone. It again has some aim - a proper meal. With the laundry or the dishes I don't mind if he replaces them, if he carries them around or places a cup on his head. When he hoovers he enjoys switching the hoover on and off more than actually hoovering. All fine. But when it comes to food I'm quite strict. I don't want it to be thrown, I don't want it to be wasted but I also don't want to cook a proper meal and a fake meal. So there will be so many "rules" that again I find it too much and too difficult for a child that age.Keep it simple and don't make a great effort of a simple daily task that in the end will actually have nothing to do with the task itself anymore.

Potty training
I know from the creche Leander attends that the Montessori approach is very much aiming for the independence of a child. But it goes that far that potty training is something they are quite keen on because obviously it helps with the self dependence. But this is not a skill you can practice day in day out. It is a physical development that takes time. For some children more than for others and I believe that no pressure here will lead to way more success than anything else.

Montessori suggests giving your child a floor bed rather than a cot as he can choose when to go to sleep and can easily climb in and out himself. Again the self dependence is the great goal behind this idea. And while I have to admit that a big bed can be very helpful and relaxing for the whole family I do believe that a child
a) needs a cozy and secure boundary around himself and
b) will not go to bed and stay there all by himself until he is sound asleep. Life is just too exciting at this age to simply lay down and sleep.
We have exchanged Leander's cot with a bunk bed where he has the mattress basically under the bed with curtains around and the actual bed is used as a big changing table. It is very very cozy, he loves it and it has proven very helpful at nights when Leander is ill or just can't get back to sleep. Because that way we simply lay down next to him and sometimes even sleep in his bed with him for a while. The down part is that he is NEVER falling asleep on his own in the evening. We have to stay with him until he is in dreamland otherwise he will just follow us back to the living room all the time. So although he might say "Brush" when he gets tired and wants to brush his teeth in order to go to bed he still wouldn't just doze off all by himself. And I have to say: That's okay! He is not even 2 years old, he needs us and we're there. So the floorbed is great if you enjoy cuddle times with your child in the evening but not with the expectation of a tired child just laying down for the night all by himself.

In general, what I do believe to be the "problem" with the Montessori pedagogy for the agegroup 0-3 is that the independence is this great expectation in the back. Every toy, every material seems to have an achievement in its description.
Especially at this age children and most parents have all the time in the world. Nobody should be rushing them, no milestone should be more important than the joy and happiness of an exploring child.

Why is my son in a Montessori creche then? By no means I am meaning to criticise the creche Leander is attending. Of all places I could leave him while I simply have to work this is the best I can think of. As I said - Montessori has a similar approach in mind - and after all the children in this creche have a lot of time for "free play" and are treated with a lot of respect. Compared to many other creches where the children are entertained all day I am very happy with the place I leave my boy in in the mornings.

I just believe that if you've got a choice or if you are at home with your child for the first few years focusing on the RIE principles rather than expensive Montessori material can be much more valuable.


  1. Good points. In my experience (as a teacher more aligned to Pikler) it comes down to adult control to implement adult agendas. Monti teaches - as in the transmission of the 'right' knowledge. I'd place Steiner in a similar position - both create beautiful environments, but the path to their idea of beauty is compulsory.

    I've been exploring the use of Pikler with older children on my blog so come have a read :)

  2. Nadine, I totally agree with you about the didactic play materials and the floor beds. I guess you could say that each approach has a slightly different idea about where "structure" and "independence" should lie. Pikler and RIE believed that structure is needed for "caring" times like sleep, but that children should be trusted 100% to follow intrinsic motivation regarding play and development (including toilet learning). It sounds like Montessori might be the other way around in these areas.

    Magda Gerber (and Emmi Pikler) appreciated the power of discovery and believed that each child's ideas about play could not possibly be improved on by anyone else. I have found that idea exciting. The purity of it resonates with me... and I've seen thousands of examples of children flourishing through this approach.

    Can Leander really be 22 months old??? Oh, my goodness! BTW, I'm thrilled that you have email subscriptions I won't miss your new posts. I just signed on!

  3. I'm AMI Montessori trained for 3-6 and partway through the prenatal to 3 training. I'd like to share some information from my training because I think you may have the wrong idea - although it's possible that the Montessori care providers you learned this from may have a different training with a different understanding of the Montessori method. This is my understanding based on my AMI training and readings of Montessori's work.
    First, the materials for infants are open ended (like balls and rattles) and they really don't require demonstration. As the children get older, we offer demonstration on more challenging materials because the child still has the option to do it or leave it alone. If they are attracted by the "presentation" then they will do it by choice, not coercion. Also, preliminary activities such as pouring water/beans etc are included in primary classrooms for children who never had the opportunity to develop those motor skills in other way (i.e., feeding themselves). They are not part of the "curriculum" for younger children... though since I've taken them out of my classroom I've noticed that once they hit 2 they find ways to pour things from cup to cup or pitcher to pitcher regardless of whether or not it's modeled.
    I didn't quite understand your statement about there being so many rules with food - I offer food prep opportunities like cutting with a wavy cutter where the child can eat it or put it in a larger bowl to contribute to a family meal if he didn't want to eat it himself, so it wouldn't be wasted. That way if he wants to help he can but it isn't too challenging.
    Potty training - early wearing of training underwear is to avoid the movement difficulties that a diaper creates, not to potty train early. Once a child starts walking it is a sign that he now has physical control of his sphincters (because the myelinization of his nerve endings has reached that part of his body). At that time Montessorians offer a toilet but don't press it, because we see in every move the child makes that he is striving to become independent and we want to make his decisions possible rather than potentially holding him back.
    Sleeping - the floor bed is indeed recommended, but there's nothing that says a parent can't help their child fall asleep. However, we CAN trust a child to fall asleep when he is tired, which is why they often do when we don't necessarily want them to. I think the difficulty that might present is for parents who feel a directed sleep schedule is important. As a child who required a lot of sleep myself I can certainly understand that concern :)
    Anyway, the point, according to Montessori principles, is always to allow the child to meet his own desires for independence, not to force ours on him when he isn't ready. I think that's a common misunderstanding.
    Thanks for letting me share my knowledge :)

    1. I am so glad that you provided this clarification. I was feeling like I have to write this as I was reading the article.

    2. "Anyway, the point, according to Montessori principles, is always to allow the child to meet his own desires for independence, not to force ours on him when he isn't ready. "
      And Pikler said the same.

    3. Dear Megan,
      I have just seen this, browsing on the web (I realise this is a very old post, but still relevant). I am MCI trained, from London and I am very glad that you have clarified the points raised in the original post. I was reading it with dread and fear, thinking that this is really the perception of the Montessori 0-3? I have been working with the Under Threes for a long time and NEVER have 'forced' independence on them, neither with potty training, food or sleep, or activities. Respect towards the child and the family, Freedom of movement, exploration, repetition and following the child in his/her activity and development is what we do as Montessorians (much more than that of course, but need to get back to work :-) ). The Pikler approach is wonderful (I am Hungarian, from Budapest, where the whole idea stemming from) and it has many overlapping principles with the Montessori philosophy - in fact, not long ago I have been at a Pikler conference in London where they showed a 'Pikler' Kindergarten...well, it really could have been a Montessori one, as all the principles, the prepared environment, the freedoms AND the Montessori materials for the different curriculum areas were there, ON shelves etc. For the very little ones, we can ALL offer treasure basket and heuristic play sessions (NOT Montessori, NOR Pikler) and in between there is PLAY, singing, stories, movement, and loving each other and exploring the world together (as a mother, or a childminder or a teacher). And the 'following the child' and respectful care - giving is something that again, as practitioners, parents or educators should always implement, no matter what philosophy we believe in. The child comes first.

  4. Nadine, I am very excited to find this kind of article comparing two very well known approaches. When we consider the great contributors to the educational field, we must also take into account the world in which they lived as well as their environment. Clearly the time and place where Rousseau, Froebel, Pestalozzi, Montessori etc. were living impacted their research. For example at the turn of the century, during Montessori's life, cooking was a much bigger part of life. A child might model different behavior off of this activity that was much more common in a household at that time. If we look at the thought behind the activities suggested by Montessori, and not just the particular activity or material, we can recognize the underlying common understanding between Emmi Pikler's approach and Montessori's. This can be a result of the immense influence of Montessori on modern education. The key is to remain focused on how these methods help provide children with what they need and not get lost in trying to find the same color, brand and shape bean as Montessori used in her school.

    1. Thanks a for taking the time to explain this. My thoughts exactly. I believe there are many missconceptions about montessori when people focuses more on the materials, Or the "currículum", Or the academic bennefits of Montessori and not so much on the philosophy itself.

  5. Hi Megan and Magdalena, thank you for your insightful comments! It's great to get additional thoughts on a topic I'm pretty new to.
    Well I'm doing the Montessori teacher training myself right now and have had a few discussions with the teacher there. She is very persistent on what we should let a 1,5 or 2 year old do. You are right about it all being an offer to the child but I have found that most Montessori teachers get lost in "how to use this specific material" rather than lfocusing at the Montessori pedagogy in general. And that's maybe why I wrote what I wrote. And don't get me wrong, I still believe this approach so valuable, especially comparing to what children experience in "regular" kindergardens and schools these days.
    I love your thoughts about the time and and place those two women did their research, Magdalena. This is a very good point.
    I didn't want to sound too strict, obviously my own experiences with my son and the way Montessori pedagogy is taught over here have influenced my writing. Thank you again for taking the time to comment!

  6. After reading this article a number of times, I find it to be extremely clear and concise. I find that your explanation appears to be more of a well thought out comparison rather than a "versus". Childcare methods vary from philosophy to philosophy. The Pikler method has always,in my opinion, focused very succinctly on infant toddler development. The other methods, including Steiner and Montessori began with older toddlers and over the years saw the need to "alter" the philosophy to fit the birth thru three year old age group.

  7. Montessori 0-3, might be helpful here:

  8. LittleRiverSchoolOnline, Montessori's philosophy hasn't changed to fit the younger group or the older group. The philosophy remains the same, but the application is different to meet the different developmental needs and abilities of each group.

  9. Thanks for your thoughts on this. I am a Preprimary Montessori Teacher/Director, and I also have ECE training in Infant/Toddler. During my infant toddler training I was introduced to RIE and thought how similar it was to the Montessori Philosophy.
    Since RIE is about the Infant and Toddler Education I do think it would be important to read The Joyful Child, by Susan Mayclin Stephenson to compare RIE to Montessori. Though Montessori from the Start is great, I believe The Joyful Child covers the beginning of life better.

    1. Most of what is mentioned is about the Preprimary class starting around 3 years of age. From what I know about RIE and Pikler it is about infants and young toddlers not the early childhood age.

  10. Thanks for your thoughts on this. I am a Preprimary Montessori Teacher/Director, and I also have ECE training in Infant/Toddler. During my infant toddler training I was introduced to RIE and thought how similar it was to the Montessori Philosophy.
    Since RIE is about the Infant and Toddler Education I do think it would be important to read The Joyful Child, by Susan Mayclin Stephenson to compare RIE to Montessori. Though Montessori from the Start is great, I believe The Joyful Child covers the beginning of life better.

  11. I would not use Montessori from the Start as a reference for Montessori for the 0-3 age. Lillard makes quite a few of her own additions. The Joyful Child is a much more accurate “layperson’s” guide. The Montessori work for this age level is found largely in her 1946 Lectures and Dr Montanaro collaborated with her and later wrote “Understending the Human Being”. These are the two works that all Assistants to Infancy training courses will always have in common.

    You are incorrect in much of this article. Montessori did not only concentrate on 3-6. She designed a 3-6 program, an elementary program (6-12), a 0-3 program and the blueprint for the adolescent program (12-18) in that order. She died while working on the adolescent program, which David Kahn then flushed out and brought to fruition.

    My own 0-3 Montessori training included RIE and Pikler’s work and there are few differences (mirrors and mobiles being two of the most obvious) between Montessori and RIE/Pikler.

  12. Many have already chimed in explaining that you have some misunderstandings of Montessori birth to 3. The materials that were designed for 3 and up are not used in birth to 3 classrooms. The materials are open ended, and they learn through exploration. Toilet learning is not forced. It is a process, and is done similarly to how it was done at Loczy. The care of self, aids to independence were also practiced by Pikler at Loczy. Allowing children to participate in their own care is also a Pikler practice. There is no forcing, it is something that they are interested in doing. And as mentioned above, Montessori From the Start is not a great reference. Maria Montessori did not practice or advocate for many of things that are considered "Montessori infant toddler practice" today. We also use RIE and Pikler in the training center where I was trained, and where I now train Montessori birth to 3 teachers.

  13. good article on