Perhaps you have seen the phrase ‘sad beige baby’ floating around in recent months. Perhaps you have no idea what I am talking about and are beginning to feel very concerned for the aforementioned sad baby. If you belong to the latter group, videos of new parents’ neutral-toned nurseries and bland wooden toys have recently gained attention on social media. Some have deemed the absence of color a hindrance to a baby’s development and critique these families for valuing the aesthetic of their home over their child's happiness. The internet has hence dubbed children living in these conditions, ‘sad beige babies.’ Many studies show that babies enjoy exposure to bright colors as their eyes develop, but currently, no study indicates beige rooms will have a notable impact on the baby’s development. This controversy is interesting, but this article addresses a subject that has come up in conjunction with the sad beige baby: the Montessori Theory.

It seems as though some Montessori parents, whose videos about their unique parenting style have spread quickly on social media, coincidentally have a sad-beige-baby-core aesthetic. This has led to some TikTok scrollers believing that Montessori moms and sad beige baby moms are synonymous. This correlation is not necessarily accurate. Neutral nursery designs have only recently grown in popularity, and the trend has inevitably reached parents of all parenting styles. Montessori parenting traces its roots to 1907, over a century ago, when Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian medical doctor interested in children’s behavioral development, opened the first ‘Montessori school.’ Nowhere in Dr. Montessori’s theory did she insist upon colorless wooden toys or beige nurseries.  

So if Montessori learning has little to do with these modern aesthetic parents, what is it really? The core principle of Montessori is that learning should be independent and centered around the individual child. To Montessori parents, fostering independence in a child includes toddler-accessible shelves, eye-level art, and low-to-the-ground beds that allow kids to get out of bed and play by themselves whenever they wake up. Many Montessori programs begin at age three when the classroom focuses on fine motor and organizational skills (such as pouring, color sorting, and mastering everyday tools and utensils) before students tackle reading, writing, or math. With these skills, young children have the opportunity to become more confident and self-sufficient, traits which they often carry with them to adulthood. 

The most important defining feature of a Montessori education is that learning is interactive and, to an extent, voluntary. Montessori covets self-paced learning. From the moment they enter a Montessori program at three years old, students are empowered to choose the material they engage with and how long they engage with it. Instead of holding classes in rooms with desks, interactive educational games and activities centered on a variety of subjects will be kept on shelves around the classroom. Over the course of the day, students are free to study what they are actually interested in (so long as they stay on track with their individualized learning plan). When a student is ready to advance, the teacher will hold a lesson exclusive to the students prepared for new material while the other kids continue working. This system encourages students to enjoy school, teaches time management, and allows them to be in different places in their education rather than forcing a class of twenty kids through the same material at the same time. 

Additionally, these practices enable students of different ages to be in the same classroom. Often in Montessori schools, first, second, and third graders will all work and learn together, and since there are no structured lesson times, students are free to socialize with their peers as much as they like throughout the school day. This encourages students to form more numerous friendships and enables older classmates to aid the younger kids voluntarily. In these ways, Montessori education facilitates both academic learning and the development of crucial life skills. 

Montessori is not a perfect system and is by no means right for every child. Some students will find they require more guidance from their teachers and are overwhelmed by the freedom a Montessori program provides. However, the representation of Montessori learning that exists online today is not at all representative of the progressive educational theory it actually is. It is incredibly reductive to view the Maria Montessori theory as a new wave, unproven parenting style rather than an innovative approach to schooling crafted by a certified doctor.