By MIC Mum, Chris O’Leary
The year was 2013. I was in a group of other prospective Montessori parents on a tour of MIC and I was about to be introduced to one of the most fundamental aspects of Montessori…but I didn’t know it.
I knew very little about Montessori at the time but I did know that all of the other schools I had visited with a view to enrolling my children had just not felt quite right.
I attended a public school and by all accounts, it was a success story. But I also felt that something fundamental had been missing from my educational life. I’d learnt how to read and write, I’d learnt about science and geography and how the world works.
But I hadn’t learnt about myself.
I was looking for something more for my children, but I was giving up hope that it even existed. Time was getting away and settling for the best of the bunch so far was seeming more inevitable every day.
“I was looking for something more for my children, but I was giving up hope that it even existed.”
So it was with this mindset that I was intrigued to discover there was an alternative – a Montessori school. I made the initial call and was invited to the parent information day, so here I was.
Kicking off the session, the Principal told us about something that had just happened to her moments before as she had been making her way to the meeting room.
That particular day was quite cold (by Sunshine Coast standards) and most of us were rugged up in warm jackets to stave off the chill.
As she’d approached a group of children, one of them had greeted the Principal with a big smile.
“Good morning, Suzy,” responded the Principal. “Aren’t you cold – you’re not even wearing a jacket?”
“No, I’m not cold at all. You’re cold, not me. I’ll get a jacket if I get cold,” said the child.
There was a chuckle around the room. I couldn’t help but smile at the child’s cheekiness, and was a little surprised she hadn’t been admonished.
How little did I know!
That interaction, while innocuous at the time, was my big introduction to one of the cornerstones of Montessori.
The liberty of the child.
When Dr Montessori conceived of the Montessori philosophy she knew that liberty – the freedom to make our own choices in our lives – is fundamental to human growth and potential and in particular, to discipline.
Because liberty is a form of discipline.
It is only when a child has the right to be active, to have freedom of bodily movement, freedom (within limits) of choice in his activities and freedom to self-direct his own learning, that he can develop his own inner resources and self-discipline.
It is our role as parents – and the Montessori Guide’s role as teacher – to guide activity, not to repress it. We should watch our children, encourage them as they explore their environment and determine what activity appeals to them, and when they have had enough. We can’t decide that for them.
A friend of mine has her child at a Montessori school as well and recently told me the story of taking her child to visit a very sick relative in hospital. It was a confronting sight for the child, and on entering the intensive care unit, she turned to her mum and asked if she could have a few moments.
She walked to a corner of the room, quietly meditated for several minutes, then came back to the family, refocused and calm.
That child is 8 years old.
That is what it means when we encourage liberty. When we encourage our children to know themselves, to know what is right for them in any given moment.
It’s powerful stuff.
But it’s not always easy! Our Montessori Guides are explicitly trained in this fundamental aspect of Montessori teaching. Their skills in holding back, letting children make their own mistakes and learn from them and to let them find their own way, in their own time, are finely honed.
But it’s something we parents need to fully understand as well.
Just this morning my son went to school barefoot, holding his shoes in his hand instead. Why? Who knows? Every day I’m learning valuable lessons about my need to direct and control others, my children included. But I understand the importance of freedom within limits, and my children are learning this too.
What is the alternative? Stand over our children constantly to make sure they’ve finished their project on time, they’ve remembered their lunchbox, that they’ve got their hat for playtime?
What happens when they leave school and start work or university and there isn’t anyone holding their hand all the time?
I remember starting university as a keen 17-year-old and being utterly amazed that no-one cared in the least if I turned up to lectures or not. But those 300-strong lecture theatres soon petered out to less than a quarter of that number by year’s end. Many students lost their way when confronted with the need to be self-motivated. It’s such a shame.
So give your children freedom within limits. Defend their right to be active and investigate their own environment, their strengths, their passions. It can be challenging and it may be different to our own childhood, but it’s so worth our while.
For more on the Montessori philosophy, check out our blogs on Maria Montessori’s Message of Peace, Learn by Doing, Learning Math the Montessori Way, Excursions Montessori-style, Service to Others, Community Service and Restorative Practice.