The gift of a great education is not just the command of all things intellectual, but also the guided maturity of a social self that is welcomed as a contributor to the community with a singular uniqueness of personality.
More in this age, than ever before, is the need for the right conditions in the home and at school to develop the moral character and sociability of the child. The challenges of modern day distractions, the busy lives of families, and the human isolation that social media and technology create; rob our children of experiences, both social and in nature, that previous generations of children benefitted from.
I have often counseled in the simplest of terms that the road to a disciplined young child grows out of a tranquility and predictability of routines. From the predictability of life grows security, followed by a blossoming confidence, and finally the achievement of comfortable selfhood, or self esteem.
How do we help the child become self-disciplined ? It’s a concoction, a judicious mix of liberty and limits.
Let’s start with liberty. It is important to distinguish liberty from freedom. We often think of freedom in the context of the individual. Montessori defines liberty in the context of the group, a kind of social independence. Liberty is a condition in which an individual has the ability to act following his or her own will and ultimately, achieve his/her potential. Yet it is governed in balance with the needs of others.
Through his liberty of choice, through the conquest of freedom, the child is guided along the path that leads to real obedience. Creating the conditions for freedom of choice in a thoughtfully designed environment suited to the developmental needs of the child achieves the restrictions necessary for the child to stay within clearly defined boundaries.
Their are times when the child does not respond to limits. Parents and teachers too often diagnose as a spirit of non-compliance or willful disobedience as a lack of power in the child to respond to a command.
The most valuable effects of the training received in the Montessori system of education comes from the regular, progressive development of the will through spontaneous choice. Here the child finds the path from desire to knowledge. The training of the will occurs when the whole mind is active; the mind is stimulated emotionally to desire, to know, and to do. If we can guide a child to engagement with this special concentration they pass from chaos to order, and we see the marvelous order of the classroom and spontaneous engagement of small children that outsiders often marvel at.
More often then not, it is because the child does not understand it or because he is unable to perform the command. Often the child’s undeveloped sense of time and space is inadequate for a proper response to a command to obey instantly. Often commands are given before the child knows exactly what is expected of him or that he has the will-power to perform them.
Obedience grows from intelligent understanding. I believe that a great misunderstanding of the young child comes from a lack of comprehension of this intelligent understanding, it is very different then instinctive or imitative obedience. The early insistence on social conformity in a group before the child is developmentally ready is an an example of that misunderstanding.
The nature of Montessori’s method at this age is individualized teaching. The approach to collective order is through each individual, purposefully engaged in a community. From the outside looking in there is the appearance of a collective order, children totally disciplined. Yet the discipline is exhibited through the engagement of each child individually. That is the real nature of obedience.
Another valuable element in the mastery of self, of which obedience is an important factor, is the absence of rewards and punishments. Doctor Montessori believed that a child brought up in such an atmosphere of freedom through disciplined activity will find sufficient motiving force from within himself and in the expansion of his own power, that anything extraneous, like a reward or punishment, is an insult to the expanding confidence growing within.
The road to a self disciplined child is paved with opportunities to conform with others in an environment that makes sense to the child, a consistent approach to allowing freedom within limits, and a responsive perspective keeping the child’s age and maturity in mind and avoiding award and punishments.