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Teaching Kids To Make Their Own Choices

Posted: December 20, 2012

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The Montessori Method of education believes in teaching kids to make their own choices, thus instilling a sense of responsibility in them.

By Dharini Srinivasan

This article was originally published at The Alternative – an online publication on social change and sustainable living.

Today’s kids are spoilt for choice. A decade ago, people had few options, and thought deeply only about the biggies – e.g. what course should I study, or when should I marry? But today, children are faced with choices on what to eat, wear, study; work and relaxation options have also exploded. How do we cope and help our children to do so as well?

Maria Montessori, the founder of the Montessori Method of education, wanted little people to look at the world as it is, and subsequently help them to function as efficiently in this environment as we can. In her schools, children live and learn in a natural, mixed-age group, very much like the society they will live in as adults.

The ideals of the Montessori Method of education

One of the pillars of this method is the stress it lays on the freedom of choice to be given to the child. The child is given the freedom to choose the activity that he/she wants to engage in. Naturally, the age of the child and the need of the child guide this freedom. Taking into consideration the physical as well as the academic readiness of the child is an inherent part of a Montessori classroom and the associated educational aids.

The Montessori Method believes in a ‘sensitive period’, which is an overpowering interest, or unconscious force, that leads children to conscious or creative activities. This is nature, playing her role in the development of the child. The teacher only acts as a facilitator in this process and should not interfere in its unfolding.

The idea behind letting children “do their own thing” is an inherent trust in the nature of the child. The system believes that the child will make a choice depending on what its needs are at that point in time. Along with this freedom comes a responsibility.

Every child is willing and able to take on responsibility.

And here lies the crux of the matter, something that Maria Montessori understood very well. Every child is willing and able to take on responsibility. The method understands this and actively encourages this to happen, within the room and under the supervision of the adult-in-charge, and under the watchful eyes of the other children in the room. It is equally important for the teacher to recognize this quality and give the child responsibilities. Only then will the child make the most of the special freedom being given in the classroom. Here, no one will say, “No, you can’t do that, let me do it for you“- a sure way of stifling the child’s desire to learn on her own.

Freedom of movement is also a critical component in the development of every child. Information about the immediate environment comes through exploration. Once the child understands the surroundings, he/she then learns that in order to advance, a basic control of this environment is necessary. If we do not allow the child to move, walk, run, climb or fall, their growth will be so stunted as to make the learning of even language and arithmetic very difficult.

Teaching kids independence and responsibility

“Milestones” in a Montessori classroom could range from caring for a crying child and cleaning up one’s own mess to repeating an activity 15 times before putting it back, listening to the sounds that make up the word ‘hippopotamus’ or truly understanding the definition of a rhombus. Older children are given the freedom to direct simple situations within the group as there is the need in some children to be a role-model.

Making the child independent is the aim of the Montessori system of education.

Teaching kids to be independent is the aim of the Montessori system of education. This freedom is coupled tightly with inculcating a sense of responsibility in them; for their immediate surroundings, other children, their movement and their own progress. When such trust is reposed in children, they show wisdom beyond their years.

As parents and care givers shaping the lives of these children, these are the questions we have to answer. Are we going beyond the proverbial ‘A for Apple’? Are we helping our children to choose? Do we seek to help our children become interesting individuals?

*Photo credit: Forest Folks (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)

About The Author: Dharini Srinivasan, has worked with pre-primary age children, following the MM, for over fifteen years, in Bangalore. She has now launched her own Montessori, called Dishaa, M, House of Children. She can be contacted through Dishaa Montessori.

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