Friday, November 1, 2013

Freedom with Limits...Essential in Montessori AND Parenting

One of the key parts of Montessori is that is freedom with limits (responsibilities, boundaries). This is a Montessori quote I came across:

"Do not apply the rule of non-interference when the children are still the prey of all their different naughtinesses. Don't let them climb on the windows, the furniture, etc. You must interfere at this stage. At this stage the teacher (parent) must be a policeman. The policeman has to defend the honest citizens against the disturbers." (The Absorbent Mind)

Children must never be permitted to misuse materials, be physical with each other, or be disrespectful. Broken objects due to misuse is unacceptable.

Boundaries are important, not only to teach responsibility and respect. While that is important, it is also crucial for showing them that someone cares enough to care about their safety and the safety of others around them. It is the #1 way children process love.

Children should be using materials properly or in a manner that will not break the materials or hurt anyone. Sometimes this takes a judgement call. For instance, while in our grassy field at my school the students began making mudpies with the materials set out for water painting the fence. While this was not the intended use of that material, it did not hurt the materials and they were diligently using them. I allowed that to continue, with the caveat that the dishes must be cleaned and put away properly at the end of their use. However, if they would like to dig with the rainbow streamers (used in dancing), this would most certainly break the plastic. This I would not permit.

Some things, that could be dangerous if misused I would never allow creative use. For example, gardening tools can only be used for their intended use AND used in a very precise manner (never raised above the head, for instance).

Breaking any item on purpose, even if it was already broken and on the way to the trash can can never permitted.

From Smithsonian magazine (September 2002 issue, article "Madam Montessori"):

"The Casa dei Bambini, or Children’s House, opened January 6, 1907. At first, Montessori just observed. She noticed that the children came to prefer her teaching materials to toys and would spend hours putting wooden cylinders into holes or arranging cubes to build a tower. As they worked, they became calmer and happier. As the months passed, Montessori modified materials and added new activities, including gardening, gymnastics, making and serving lunch, and caring for pets and plants. Children who misbehaved were given nothing to do."
Let me repeat: children who misbehaved were given nothing to do. Getting to work in the classroom/at home and outside with the materials you provide them is a privilege. If they cannot handle doing so with manners, and they know how to, then they do not get to use them. If they do not know how to use the materials, then they need to be given a demonstration on how to use the materials.

I know it is becoming very popular in our culture to never tell a child no, to never hear them cry or allow disappointment. What does this teach them about life? Rules are important in every walk of life, no matter what position you hold. It does children a disservice to not prepare them for how to cope with this, and research shows that if children do not learn how to cope with this as a child (ages birth through age 6) they have far more difficulty learning this later. The brain connections change by this point and much of their wiring is set. Executive functions (coping with disappointment is one of these) are established primarily before age 6.

As educators and parents we are searching for that perfect balance between freedom and limits, between authoritarian and permissive (this middle ground is called authoritative). Research shows that children of authoritative parents/education become the most successful adults and exhibit the most happiness in life. And isn't that what we all want for our children?

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