Choice + freedom + limits + concentration + interest = reaching the fullest potential

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“These children have free choice all day long. Life is based on choice, so they learn to make their own decisions. They must decide and choose for themselves all the time…they cannot learn through obedience to the commands of another.” Maria Montessori, taken from Angeline Lillard’s, Montessori, The Science Behind the Genius.

Choice is what comprises a Montessori classroom. The children walk into the community and go about their daily work. This daily work is devised by the choices they make themselves. One child could enter the community and choose to start their day with the Pink Tower where another could walk in and choose to start with the Addition Strip Board. A third child could choose painting at the easel with a friend. The young one in the community could need guidance so the teacher could offer them a choice of two different pieces of work, still empowering the child to make the choice. It is through this choice that several positive consequences result. “[Psychological] research clearly shows that restriction of choice and control are not optimal for human learning and well-being.” People learn and remember better, solve tasks better, and opt to engage in tasks more and longer when they think they have more control.” Angeline Lillard, Montessori, The Science Behind the Genius. Wow! Not only does choice allow for all of this it also has positive consequences for both emotional and cognitive functioning. So if giving children control over their environments that includes choice allows them to ultimately grow to their fullest potential why are all educational models not based on these theories?

Yes, this does go against what most of us perceive as the educational model. How cans this work? How is it that a child can be in an environment, a community, all day long and make their own choices and actually learn? We as a society need to give children more credit. We need to step back and observe their actions. They are purposeful. They are driven by their minds. We need to trust that they are on a path that is going to take them where they need to go.

The key is the prepared learning environment. In the Montessori community countless hours are devoted to this prepared environment. In order for the children to make productive choices the environment has to stimulate constructive activity. These are three keys to creating this environment.

The first is order. Every aspect of the classroom has an order. The materials have specific places on the shelves. Each material has an order in which the work is carried out. The community runs in with a daily routine.

The second is that everything is within the child’s reach. The shelves where the materials are housed are at the children’s level. The materials are displayed so that the children can easily reach them. The materials are also displayed when the children are working on tables or mats, easily visible for others to see, watch and learn from.

Thirdly, the furniture in the classroom must be a comfortable size for the children. It must also be easy for the children to move. “And this freedom is not only an external sign of liberty, but a means of education. [Through such furnishings, the] child has learned to command his movements.” Maria Montessori, take from Angeline Lillard, Montessori, The Science Behind the Genius.

Now upon imaging the typical Montessori community and the abundance of choices given to the children it can be imagined that this can be over-whelming and may directly curtail constructive activity. It is to be remembered that each one child is not given all of these choices all at once. There are limitations, and freedom within these limits is where the optimal balance lies. Imagine being in a restaurant. You know, one of those restaurants that has anything and everything you can imagine on the menu. Daunting? Yes. Overwhelming? Yes. Does it take you a longer time to choose? Yes. And do you often second guess your choice or wish that you chose something else? I do. In the classroom choices are limited by the amount of materials. There is only one of each piece of work. The children have to share. They have to take turns. This is giving the children the skills they need to work together as a society. Learning to share limited resources is part of that. They also may choose to sit and watch their friend while waiting for their turn. Here is the opportunity to learn from each other, or to even be inspired by each other. The children are also limited with what they have been shown to use by the teacher. They teacher strategically presents pieces of work to the children. If the teacher or another friend has not given the child a formal lesson with a piece of work then they are not able to choose that piece of work. This is also important as it ensures that a child is not frustrated by a concept that they are not ready for. The child is finally expected to be constructive and responsible. These are the limits that are imposed by living in society. Yes, Dr. Montessori felt that children need to have freedom, but this freedom only comes with responsibility. If the choices made are not constructive then the freedom becomes restricted.

Angeline Lillard goes on to discuss deadlines and how they can inhibit productivity, concentration and normalization and finally interest in human learning.

“The secret of success [in education] is found to lie in the right to use imagination in awakening interest, and the stimulation of seeds of interest already sown.” Maria Montessori, 1948/1967.

If you are intrigued and want to learn more please join us on Thursday, October 14th where author of the book Montessori, The Science Behind the Genius, Angeline Lillard will discuss her research. Tickets can be purchased in the school office or through CCMA.

October 12, 2010. Classroom life. No Comments.