The Montessori system revolves around the following core principles:
- Development of the Will
- Freedom and Discipline
Independence is not a static condition, it is one of continuous conquest to reach not only freedom but also strength, and the perfecting of one’s powers. Children actively choose their own work to develop independence and strength. We are living in a time when parents feel they must do everything for their child and schedule them “to death”. The Hurried Child syndrome is defeating the purpose of childhood and we are creating people with poor work ethics and attitudes.
A child who is allowed to follow his or her inner urge is naturally developing his or her own self.
Development of the Will
A child’s will power is something that arises from within the child. It must be produced, starting from nothing. Knowledge and will must be created. If the child never uses his will, it will never develop. He or she must have the power over their individual choices. The child must be allowed to self-construct. Learning to make choices enables children to live from their own forces.
Freedom and Discipline
Freedom in an ordered society carries with it responsibility. It is this balance of liberty and responsibility which leads the individual to self-discipline, the ability to make correct choices. The freedom in the Montessori classroom allows children to make choices which are dictated by the child’s natural laws of development, particularly those of the Sensitive Periods. Choosing an activity which is of vital interest during a Sensitive Period results in productive work, intense concentration, and joyful, easy learning of skills.
Freedoms in the Montessori classroom must have logical limitations, which become guidelines for appropriate behavior. When we give freedom to children without any limitations, we are guilty of abandonment and neglect. Children must be given norms for their own moral development. Children are not born with knowledge of good and bad or right and wrong. We have to give children clear guidelines for responsible behavior. However, the difficult job of the adult is to make sure that the guidelines are neither too strict nor too free. We must prepare the child for life. Dr. Montessori believed that education should be an aid to life.
There are specific freedoms in the Montessori classroom, each one with certain limitations:
- Children are free to choose work: A child can follow his own interest, as dictated by the Sensitive Periods. True choice must be based on knowledge; one must be given knowledge of the material before one can choose work. The limitation is that the child must have been presented a material before he may choose it. In the beginning, when the child knows few materials, freedom is limited. Freedom expands as the child’s knowledge of the materials expand.
- The children must use the materials with respect to its purpose: The materials must not be misused or abused.
- Children are free to work as long as they wish: A child may work according to his own particular timing and rhythm. We do not schedule the children’s work. Through repetition, he becomes more deeply involved in his work, which leads to concentration. We must hold sacred the child’s right not to be interrupted while concentrating, even to the point of not giving a small word of praise. There are few limits to this freedom, except that they may work on something as long as they wish, as long as they are working productively.
- Children are free to move about: Movement and learning are intricately connected; children may move about the room as they wish. Children can choose the place where they work – on a “working rug” or at a table. The limitations are clear: the freedom to move is never a license for disorder and making noise. Children may not move in a way that would disturb other children’s work. All the lessons of Practical Life help children gain control over their bodies.
- Children are free to talk and converse: Children can freely interact and communicate, which brings about natural socializing. The limitations are again clear: voices must be kept low enough not to disturb others (but not a whisper). The children must learn not to interrupt others in their work. However, idle chit-chat that distracts from work is discouraged.
- Children are free to repeat: A child may work with materials as often as he wishes. When a child uses a material for the first time, it is out of superficial curiosity. It is during repetition that the child is deeply drawn into the activity, gaining from it the skill or knowledge for which it was designed. It is sometimes difficult to establish repetition because we live in such a hurried society. However, all creative people – inventors, discoverers, artists – had to repeat and repeat to find what they were looking for or to create what they had planned.
In the beginning, freedom is limited; gradually it is expanded, as the children develop self-discipline.
Through a carefully prepared environment and a balance of freedom and discipline, the child can reach a state of normalization, which Montessori described as an optimum functioning of an individual. Always, we must hold before us a vision of a child who has attained the higher human faculties of self-control and self-discipline. Such a child will become the new man or woman of tomorrow, who will be able to help shape the future of humankind.