Friday, October 20, 2006

Montessori Freedom for 6-12-Year-Olds

Someone asked me recently if Maria Montessori intended elementary school age children to have the freedom to choose their own work that Montessori preschool children have. The answer is definitely yes! Writing about children over age six, Maria Montessori says:

“As in the first period: We seek the child's consent to receive a lesson given. The lesson is now abstract when earlier it was sensorial.” From Childhood to Adolescence.

“... the child must learn by his own individual activity, being given a mental freedom to take what he needs, and not to be questioned in his choice. Our teaching must only answer the mental needs of the child, never dictate them.” To Educate the Human Potential.

“He must have absolute freedom of choice, and then he requires nothing but repeated experiences which will become increasingly marked by interest and serious attention, during his acquisition of some desired knowledge.” To Educate the Human Potential.

The two Montessori elementary schools I've observed in allow children only limited freedom to choose their work. One required children to complete certain activities each morning before being free to choose their own work. The other school set the subjects that would be worked on each morning; the children chose an activity from the first set subject then moved on to the next.

I have heard such restrictions blamed on pressure from parents. I suspect that this is only partly true and that a significant number of Montessori teachers do not agree with Maria Montessori that children learn best when they choose their own work. Such teachers can cope with allowing preschool children freedom because society doesn't have high expectations of preschool children's learning. Once children reach age six and we expect them to be learning to read and do maths, teachers feel a need to ensure the learning happens by taking control of it.

Allowing children to choose their own work in a Montessori homeschool can be more of a challenge than in a classroom because there are more distractions at home. If you allow a homeschool child freedom to choose their own activities, they might choose to go back to bed with a book or go for a bike ride or make a snack or play with their toys or – if you have them – watch tv or play playstation.

Some Montessori homeschooling families have a room they turn into a “classroom” which they go into each day for the work session, solving the problem. Other families create a virtual classroom by designating a certain period of the day “shelf work time” when the children's choices are limited to what is available on certain shelves. Other families find that even with all the distractions of a home, allowing their children to choose their own work at all times works well.

We have never had a classroom in our home but have happily used both the other methods at different times in our journey.

There are also homeschoolers who choose just some Montessori practices and materials to use in their homeschooling.

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