Montessori Thoughts

Freedom Of Choice And The Child

Here’s a post about freedom of choice.

The antithesis of Montessori is to sit a child down at a desk and hand them a stack of assignments, tell them the order in which to do the work, and make them sit there until it’s all done.  (Though wouldn’t that be so easy!)

In Montessori theory, the child’s autonomy is respected so much that he is permitted to choose his own work, within the choices given to him in the prepared environment.  If he wants to spend an entire week doing only math work, that choice is respected.  The teachers will show him many other interesting activities from other fields of study, but after watching the demonstration, the child is always free to return to his math.  The chosen work is satisfying a deep need, and once filled, the child will return to other subjects, eventually learning everything he needs to know to be at peace with himself and his world.

It’s a radical concept.  “Unschoolers” embrace it wholeheartedly, and extend it to apply almost to the child’s entire life, not just the prepared environment of the classroom.  On the flip side, many religious adults reject the idea because aren’t we all imperfect?  And shouldn’t the adult in authority know what’s best for the child?

Montessori’s concept of freedom of choice for the child had limits.  It didn’t mean that one child could hit another, or steal from his lunchbox.  It didn’t mean that he could skip out on the presentations given to the entire group of children.  At home, it doesn’t mean that a child can only choose to eat chocolate. (Only moms can do that.)

Imagine taking a child to a grocery store and letting him fill the cart with anything he wanted – can you imagine?  But next, imagine showing him just the fresh vegetables and letting him pick which ones he wants.  That’s what Montessori is in the classroom – all of the choices are good ones.  We just don’t presume to know what another human being needs to learn in each moment, or each day, or each year for that matter.  And as a religious person, this suits me perfectly.  I don’t want to assume to know how any particular child is supposed to grow.  When I was pregnant, my husband used to joke, “how do you know how to grow our baby?”  I didn’t, and I still don’t.  God does the growing; He just chooses to let me help as guide and companion.

There are 2 practical problems with the “ideal” of complete freedom of choice in the home-school setting, however.  First of all, not all children will be schooled at home through high-school.  For many children, like mine, the Montessori environment is a blessed, but temporary one.  We intend to enroll our children in (possibly public) middle and high schools when the time comes, and I have to take this into consideration as I make my plans for them.  I have to prepare them to survive succeed in the less-than-ideal conditions they will meet before they reach adulthood and become responsible for their own continuing education.

Secondly, not all home-schooling mothers will have the time, budget, or space for preparing Montessori-style activities for each subject available.  (Though some come close!)  I handle these areas of inadequacy by providing my elementary-aged children with a basket of assignments – we’ve come to call them workbaskets.  In the baskets are assignments that I think are important, but probably wouldn’t get chosen very often if it was completely up to the child.  Perhaps 3 or 4 short lessons.  I add incentives for doing them, but no punishments at all if they don’t.  It’s just part of My Style, and I’ll share more about our workbaskets very soon.

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2 thoughts on “Freedom Of Choice And The Child

  1. Hi! I am just in love with your blog, and your style to teach your kids!
    I am very happy to read from you, that you have something really structured, about things that I always believed.
    When I am doing extra school activities with my son, Paulo, I always try to let him choose what he wants to do, can be math, reading, or violin…showing him the alternatives. I believe it allows him to have the responsibility for his choices, at the same time letting him to feel what his mind and body wants to do.
    I think that we both win!

    I am looking forward to learn with you.
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Hello, Aline, thanks for stopping by, I appreciate your comments! I know from watching Paolo that you have done a great job raising him, and I look forward to getting to know you. Feel free to share your ideas anytime in a comment here!

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