Last week, a parent challenged me on how we handle their child in our Casa classroom. They asked why we “restrict” their child and “force” them to put back their work. When I tried to explain that putting the material back in its place after children are done working with it is an integral part of the Montessori philosophy, they told me that I should trust the child rather than the philosophy. After all, our school’s name is TrustTheChild and not TrustTheMontessoriPhilosophy. 🤷♂️ Only then did I understand that the parent was talking from a gross misunderstanding of the idea of freedom.
What is Freedom?
Freedom is not letting a child jump down a flight of stairs. Freedom is not letting a child poke other children. Freedom is not letting a child run around the room shouting while others try to focus on their work. Freedom is not letting a child throw random objects across the room. Freedom is not letting a child leave a work material on the floor when they are finished when other children are waiting to work on it.
Freedom is the right of a child to do whatever, whenever, wherever and however they want, as long as their actions respect the three limits.
- Respect for oneself
- Respect for others
- Respect for the environment
The 3 limits for healthy development
Respect for oneself
If a child’s actions are going to hurt themself, for e.g. when they try to jump off a flight of stairs, it cannot be allowed. Not establishing that limit would be irresponsible of the adults in the environment. Respect for oneself also refers to empowering children to work safely and productively in the classroom and know how to use the materials respectfully to avoid self-harm.
Respect for others
If a child’s actions are going to hurt or be disruptive to others, for e.g. when they run around the room shouting while others try to focus on their work, it cannot be allowed. Not establishing that limit would be unfair to other children. This limit helps children build their social skills enabling them to be a part of and work in groups where they are accepted.
Respect for the environment
If a child’s actions are going to damage or be disruptive to the environment, for e.g. when they leave a work material on the floor when they are finished, it cannot be allowed. Not establishing that limit would be unfair to other children who have to reset that child’s work before working on it themselves.
Why are these limits important?
A child for whom these limits have not been established will feel abandoned, not free. To cope with this abandonment, the child may develop certain skills that may be misconstrued as independence by adults around them. In reality, the child may be experiencing anxiety and fear constantly. They will find it hard to judge danger, stay calm, concentrate on tasks, make friends, work in a group and focus on their growth and development.
Freedom within limits is an empowering concept. It provides the child with a framework within which they can function independently knowing well that they are safe. It embraces the idea of the child as an explorer who is capable of learning and doing for themselves. The child who explores tests how far they can go and, when given clear and consistent limits, will develop a sense of security and self-control. Unless they feel safe, they will never choose to explore and focus on growth. Sadly, all their efforts will be in the pursuit of a sense of safety which can continue throughout their adult lives.
“To let the child do as he likes when he has not yet developed any powers of control is to betray the idea of freedom.”– Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind.