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Discipline: A Balance Between Freedom and Responsibility

handsDiscipline in a Montessori classroom is so much different from the discipline imposed on children in a conventional school setting (which most of us experienced when we were growing up).  First, let me tell you what it is not: it is not the adult controlling the child’s behavior – that’s the conventional method.  That method is usually only partially successful and doesn’t nurture self-discipline.  Let me share some thoughts about how discipline works in Montessori.

 

First of all, in a Montessori environment, we allow the child liberties that nurture their independence.  These include the liberty to choose a material with which to work, to explore a new material or concept, to concentrate without interruption, to go at one’s own pace, to move, to observe others work (as long as it’s worth observing and is done quietly), to use all of one’s independent skills, to communicate, and to express oneself freely.

 

In the classroom however, the child quickly learns there are limits to these liberties: the material chosen must have been presented, the exploration must be respectful (treat the material respectfully), the movement must not endanger others or oneself (so no running inside), the observation must be of something worthwhile and not be frivolous or disrespectful, the independent skills cannot be used to help someone else who does not wish to be helped, the communication must be tempered in volume and content, and the expression must be respectful of others’ views and feelings.  These limits are provided to the child through modeling of appropriate behavior by the adults, by clear and consistent messages by the adults, by the respectful feedback of the child’s peers (who help the child determine what is appropriate or not within the community of the classroom), by the physical boundaries of the environment, by the child’s own experience, and by consequences.

 

There are two kinds of consequences when a child goes beyond limits.  The first kind of consequence is a logical consequence.  Logical consequences are effective if directly related to and in the context of what the child did.  For example, if a child refuses to make a choice of work to do and stands around idly (usually this is a precursor to interfering in someone else’s work!), the adult in the Montessori classroom provides the logical consequence to the child by redirecting him or her.  The adult might offer the child two choices with which the child can choose to work.  By stating this in a polite but firm manner, the adult implicitly lets the child know that not making a choice is not an option!  Usually, the child is distracted by the fact that he or she does have a choice, and it does not become a power struggle with the adult about working or not working.  The adult has already framed the conversation away from that option to one that is solely about doing work, but the child still retains a sense of control through the choice of work that he or she must make.

 

The second kind of consequence is a natural consequence.  These just happen naturally.  If a child runs in the classroom, the physical nature of the space means that the child is going to bump into something or someone.  If a child treats a material carelessly, it will break and be unusable, requiring its removal from the classroom.  The adult’s role is to help the child understand the consequences of his or her action.  By using these forms of consequences, the child begins to develop accountability for his actions because the child has to accept or live with the result of his or her actions.  This is how the child develops responsibility.

 

Through the interaction of liberties and limits, the child begins to develop a sense of freedom (the ability to make a choice) and responsibility (accepting the outcomes of one’s choices and living with them).  This in turn leads to the development of moral responsibility and the development of inner discipline, which is living within limits imposed by oneself.  The child becomes a self-confident, independent, and content member of the classroom, focused on his or her own quest for knowledge while respectful of the greater classroom community

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