Posts Tagged ‘discipline’


Hooked, aka my first week as a Montessori teacher

August 9, 2008

Mischievous and impish, little 3 year-old Johnny ran across the classroom, delighted with his new-found ability to piss me off.  I walked after him.

“Johnny, please show me how we walk in the classroom.”  He looked at me quizzically, took three steps, and then took off running again.  I sighed and went after him.

“Johnny, we don’t run in the classroom.  Let’s walk together.”  I took his hand but he darted off across the room before I could show him how to walk.  Another sigh.  Thus goes a morning in a new Montessori classroom, but then…

Johnny and several other children lined up to go to the bathroom.  We walked out of the classroom and down the hall, with Johnny scampering after the group.  “Johnny, please come back and walk,” I called out.  Of course, Johnny ignored me and dashed into the bathroom, where he proceeded to horseplay with a couple of boys.

I took his hand and sternly marched him out of the bathroom.  His eyed widened like saucers as I squatted to his eye level.

“Johnny, this is not a game.  The bathroom is not for playing, do you understand?”  He nodded silently.  “Please go back inside and wash your hands.”  He turned and walked into the bathroom to do what I had asked him.  Then he came back out.  I smiled as an idea flitted through my worn-out brain.

“Oh,” I exclaimed in my most dramatic voice. “It would make me SO HAPPY if Johnny could walk all the way to the classroom by himself like a big boy.  Do you think you could do that?”

Johnny’s eyes lit up.  A challenge!!  He turned towards the classroom and walked slowly, calmly, and with utmost control for 60 feet.  I watched him fade into the shadows of the hallway, my heart in my throat.  He turned right and disappeared into the classroom.  I held my breath.

Johnny’s head popped back out and he looked at me.  I grinned and gave him a silent thumbs-up.  He raised his little hand and returned the thumbs-up with a broad smile, before disappearing once again into the classroom.

In my list of moments that make life worth living, that’s in the top 5.  I’m hooked.


Explaining “Why” Is an Investment

June 12, 2008

I recently gave 10 parents a tour of the school I work for.  I explained the concepts that set Montessori apart from other pre-schools, pointed out the materials used in the classroom, and reviewed a typical day in the life of a Montessori child.  During a question and answer session at the end of the tour, a parent asked me how we disciplined the children.  I told them the truth: we don’t.  Children discipline themselves.

The Montessori philosophy requires limits (rules) in the classroom, among them: how to carry a chair, how to interact with classmates, and how to use the materials.  While a few limits are established by the guide (such as when they can eat lunch, the fact that they can’t have cartoon characters on their clothes, etc.), most limits are set by the environment.  

What does this mean?  Take, for example, the limit on how to carry a tray with materials on it.  Children who are new to the Montessori environment are formally introduced to the classroom materials before they are permitted to manipulate them, because a child who lacks self-discipline is likely to carry the tray haphazardly and run through the classroom.  When the child enters the classroom for the first time, the guide will silently demonstrate how to carry a tray correctly and how to walk in the classroom.  She will explain why the tray should be carried gently and with two hands, and she will explain with very few words that we walk in order to avoid accidents.  The child will also be shown how to clean up a spill if he does have an accident.  

At this point, the responsibility to care for the material has passed from the adult to the child.  From then on, the child will become conscious of his duty to carry the materials correctly, and will control his movements in order to prevent any accidents.  He is developing mastery over his body and actions, which is the core foundation of self-discipline.  

If he ignores this limit, the natural consequences will be that the material will fall off the tray, break, and not be replaced for a few days (or even a few weeks!).  The material, by its fragility, is setting the limits to how the child can move.  He will also have to clean up the spill (another natural consequence and a crucial aspect of building self-discipline) and he’ll have to live with the knowledge that his carelessness has prevented others in the classroom from having access to the material (a great lesson in social responsibility and collective consciousness). 

What he won’t ever experience in a Montessori environment are adults who show lack of trust by repeatedly reminding him to be careful.  Nobody will yell at him, nor will an adult clean up after him (unless broken glass is involved).  Thus, he won’t carry the tray correctly to earn points with the teacher or avoid being admonished.  He’ll do it because he knows it’s the right thing to do and he is aware of the natural consequences of his actions.  

Yes, it takes a bit more energy and dedication on the part of the adult to explain why (sometimes more than once) and to allow natural consequences to occur, but if the result is a child who is self-disciplined and can therefore be set free to safely discover the world around him, then explaining why is time well spent.