There’s a common misconception that children at a Montessori school spend their whole time playing, and that they can do what they want. Neither of these are actually correct.
Children are by nature curious and eager to acquire knowledge and skills. They naturally interact with their environment, so the “prepared environment” is created for them: certain materials are made available for them to practise sensorial and practical skills. In the Montessori classroom “play” is referred to as “work” and the children select the materials that interest them and become absorbed in the process of mastering the particular skill required.
The Montessori guide will first present the new material to the child and then allow the child to practise.
Maria Montessori believed that children who are free to choose and act independently within an environment prepared according to her model, would act spontaneously for optimal development. In this sense perhaps the children are allowed to do what they want, but they are always gently guided to make the most of their time and efforts.
The question of discipline in a Montessori school is straightforward.
Discipline does not involve bribes, rewards or punishment – these are all extrinsic motivations which don’t help the child develop any internal self-discipline. The Montessori approach to discipline builds intrinsic motivation instead ie – doing something because you want to, or enjoy it or simply believe it´s the right thing to do.
How do we do this?
We listen to our children with respect, so that they see that we value them. They come to understand that we are there to keep them safe and will support them if they need it. They learn to take responsibility when something goes wrong and over time learn how to solve problems for themselves. When we say “no” we need to give good reasons and we don’t shout at them to solve the problem: children model the behaviour they see so we are careful to model the sort of self discipline we would like to see in our children.
We find ways to solve problems together so that the child understands why something is happening: over time children begin to understand logic but it can take a lot of repetition to instil this.
We often use the phrase “Freedom within limits”: we want our children to have freedom to do the things they want without fear of getting into trouble, but we also recognise that they require boundaries and need to know that there are limits to what they can do and need to understand what the impact of their actions may have on others. Knowing their limits also lets children know that we care about them. When we are clear on house rules, children are too.
A Montessori approach to discipline requires patience and a lot of repetition on our part.
A classroom where children understand their freedoms and limits, and appreciate the effect of their actions on others is a happy place and contributes enormously to the progress children make on their individual paths.