Today I have another installment in the Montessori Mythbusters series.
I’m joined by the lovely Isil from Smiling like Sunshine who is here to debunk some misconceptions surrounding freedom in Montessori.
One of the things that people ask about is the freedom in the Montessori education. Some people think that freedom means no discipline and do not like it. On the other hand some people think that Montessori education is too structured and there is no room for freedom.
According to Montessori, the child should be able to freely choose his/her own actions and should only be prevented from doing so if s/he may hurt himself/herself or the others. The freedom in the Montessori environment does not mean doing whatever the child pleases, it means to be considerate. Montessori stated that:
Freedom is understood in a very elementary fashion, as an immediate release from oppressive binds; as a cessation of corrections and of submission of authority. This conception is plainly negative, that is to say, it means only the elimination of coercion. From this comes, often enough, a very simple ‘reaction’: a disorderly pouring out of impulses no longer controlled because they were previously controlled by the adult’s will. ‘To let the child do as he likes’, when he has not yet developed any powers of control, is to betray the idea of freedom.
Montessori argued that if children were left to behave as they like or misuse the materials that were available, it would lead to the development of abnormalities. Therefore it is the teacher’s task to observe the children and guide them within this limited freedom. A very young child or a deviated child needs guidance from the teacher until s/he is able to do his own choices. On the other hand, normalized or older children will be given more freedom.
In the Montessori environment the child has freedom of choice (doing an activity or not doing an activity), freedom of speech, freedom to rest, freedom of movement, freedom to make mistakes, freedom of repeating an activity as long as s/he wishes to do so, freedom to socialise and freedom to choose who to work with.
Montessori viewed freedom as a development of natural guides which she defined as “horme”. This development happens by education. The teacher should follow the children and present them with activities that “engage the child’s whole personality” . When the child is engaged and concentrated, this leads to the coordination of movements and a mental order which in time helps the child become more effective to make decisions about his/her own work and own behaviours.
Therefore, real freedom is a consequence of development and the construction of personality and that it is a long road which every child must travel to attain maturity. Montessori stated that
“It is clear therefore that the discipline which reveals itself in the Montessori class is something which comes more from within than without. But this self-discipline has not come into existence in a day, or a week, or even a month. It is the result of a long inner growth, an achievement won through months of training.”
Montessori saw freedom as the single most important factor in allowing children to develop as spontaneous, creative individuals. This freedom however is linked to responsibilities and the responsibilities are linked to the ground rules of the environment. The child has the freedom to choose an activity from the shelf and work with it as much as s/he desires, however, s/he is then responsible to return it back to the shelf where s/he found it so that another child can use it. The ground rules guide the child to be respectful to her/his self, to others and to the environment. Freedom is also facilitated by the organisation of the classroom, accessible shelving, work cycle and cycles of activity.
The children in a Montessori environment are given the freedoms that allow them to grow a self discipline which is necessary to lead a creative and successful life.
Isil is a Turkish mum living in the United Kingdom and writes at Smiling like Sunshine..She is a former economist and is training to be a Montessori teacher. She has a six year old daughter and a three year old son. On her blog, she writes about children’s books, kids activities, Montessori education and parenting.
You can find Isil on Smiling like Sunshine.