Discipline in the Montessori Classroom
Oct 4, 2009 Classroom Management 4571 Views
Freedom in the Montessori classroom is often misunderstood not only by the parents, but also by some teachers. What we need to remember is that from a Montessori point of view freedom is not the right to do what one wishes without thought or consideration for others. It also does not mean that the only way the child can be creative is to be allowed to do whatever he/she chooses without any consistent parameters and guidance from the adult in the room. For freedom to work creatively and constructively it has to function within the firm guidelines of discipline. Discipline does not mean being regimented and having to submit to the will of another. Freedom and discipline are two sides of the same coin.
Freedom is the ability to stop, think and make a choice to the exclusion of any other possible given choices. Discipline is making correct choices while respecting the environment, and the rights of others to function and also make choices. Yes, to facilitate growth and correct choice making the child needs to act and be given opportunities to make choices. However, this does not mean the teacher abdicates responsibility. On the contrary it puts greater responsibility on the teacher.
The teacher has the responsibility of setting out firm parameters and guidelines within which the freedom may be used. This is not an easy task, especially if the teacher does not fully and correctly interpret the Montessori freedom and discipline philosophy in her own mind. Children love order, they are creatures of habit, and all the teacher needs to do is set out very clear guidelines and expectations within which the freedom may be enjoyed. Children are also expert manipulators, and till such time as the expectations have become a part of the daily routine, they will try to see how far they can push and change the rules to suit themselves. It is for this reason the expectations and rules need to be made clear early in the school year.
All this involves the teacher to be ever vigilant and consistent. They do not have to be labeled "mean or hard". They have to remember to be consistent at all times while remaining kind and loving at the same time. Some teachers find this hard. While trying to set out order some teachers forget to show loving care and concern. Others show more than necessary care and concern giving the impression to the child that there is "wiggle room" to break the rules. Once you get this reputation, you will be struggling with freedom and discipline all year long.
So how do we give freedom and maintain discipline at the same time? How do we walk the fine line to balance and maintain the correct freedom and discipline? Here are some pointers that have worked well for me over the years.
* Foster freedom in the room in the following ways:
* Allow freedom to move, to communicate, to choose activity, to work with others.
* Provide Limitations that give meaning and direction to the freedom in the following ways:
* Choices the child makes may not interfere with the rights of others, this provides harmony.
* The child may only choose work he/she has been presented, and is able to do.
* The child may only use material for the purpose for which it is intended, correctly with respect.
* Limit the number of materials. Only present tried and tested materials that are beneficial to the child's development. This means no toys and unnecessary busy work.
I have deliberately kept these guidelines brief, allowing for elaboration and discussion by the teachers themselves. None of this is news to any experienced Montessori teacher. But there is a need for constant reminder, and encouragement for all the teachers, especially those who constantly struggle with the concept of freedom and discipline, for those who give up and give too much freedom without consistency and for those who maintain discipline by being regimented and sacrifice freedom.
Remember consistency tempered with love and caring is the key. The child needs to know YES, you do love and care very much. But he/she also needs to know and accept NO, there will be no negotiation on the parameters laid down for the use of the freedom.
In the beginning all of this will be challenging, but if you continue to repeat and maintain your rules, and do so with a smile on your face, love in your heart, and great deal of patience, you will be surprised with the positive results. Always remember, in the beginning, if you have to take away the child's freedom in order to maintain discipline the child will label you "mean" and complain to the parent.
Do not be put off by the thought of upsetting the parent. Ultimately the parent wants what you are trying to achieve. To avoid unnecessary complaint, always try to send the child home happy, after you have had the need to discipline him/her. Don't carry a grudge and do not allow the child to nurse a grudge. Children are naturally forgiving, and if you show love while disciplining they will accept it sooner.
If you have had a particularly challenging day with a child, get to the parent before the child can complain. Explain your position in a caring, loving way, always coming across that you are one hundred percent on the parent's side, and show great love and care for the child. Do not get defensive, keep calm and always have an understanding smile on your face!
Finally I would like to remind you that the prepared environment in our classrooms fosters discipline, and the child creates it with your help. He/she does it within the context of his/her freedom to choose.
There is a cycle and any disruption of it goes against the nature of the child. The freedom allowed in the Montessori Classroom nurtures discipline and makes it happen naturally. Dr. Montessori gave us the formula to create discipline naturally, but in order for it to work all the steps of the formula need to be followed. This is true in all areas of life; a formula is no good if any steps are omitted.