Movement, Choice, Discipline

skipping through the classroom
     The pedagogical method of observation has for its base the liberty of the child; and liberty is activity.
     Discipline must come through liberty.  Here is a great principle which is difficult for followers of common-school methods to understand.  How shall one obtain discipline in a class of free children?  Certainly in our system, we have a concept of discipline very different from that commonly accepted.  If discipline is founded upon liberty, the discipline itself must necessarily be active.  We do not consider an individual disciplined only when he has been rendered as artificially silent as a mute and as immovable as a paralytic.  He is an individual annihilated, not disciplined.
     We call an individual disciplined when he is master of himself, and can, therefore, regulate his own conduct when it shall be necessary to follow some rule of life.  Such a concept of active discipline is not easy either to comprehend or to apply.  But certainly it contains a great educational principle, very different from the old-time absolute and undiscussed coercion to immobility.                          
- Maria Montessori

choosing an activity
     We shall notice that the child has a personality which he is seeking to expand; he has initiative, he chooses his own work, persists in it, changes it according to his inner needs; he does not shirk effort, he rather goes in search of it, and with great joy overcomes obstacles within his capacity.  He is sociable to the extent of wanting to share with every one his successes, his discoveries, and his little triumphs.  There is therefore no need of intervention.  "Wait while observing."  That is the motto for the educator.
-Maria Montessori

     We face a widespread prejudice; namely, the belief that the child left to himself gives absolute repose to his mind.  If this were so he would remain a stranger to the world, and, instead, we see him, little by little, spontaneously conquer various ideas and words.  He is a traveller through life, who observes the new things among which he journeys, and who tries to understand the unknown tongue spoken by those about him.  Indeed, he makes a great and voluntary effort to understand and to imitate.  The instruction given to little children should be so directed as to lessen this expenditure of poorly directed effort, converting it instead into the enjoyment of conquest made easy and infinitely broadened.  We are the guides of these travelers just entering the great world of human thought.  We should see to it that we are intelligent and cultured guides, not losing ourselves in vain discourse, but illustrating briefly and consisely the work of art in which the traveler shows himself interested, and we should then respectfully allow him to observe it as long as he wishes to.  It is our privilege to lead him to observe the most important and the most beautiful things of life in such a way that he does not lose energy and time in useless things, but shall find pleasure and satisfaction throughout his pilgrimage.
- Maria Montessori
Choice, movement, and discipline are integral in a Montessori classroom.  Through exercising the right to choose how to direct one's own time, interactions, and activity, a child develops a sense of agency, of control.  Given the chance to choose activities by which they are intrinsically motivated, as well as enjoying unstructured time in which to interact with these materials, they develop great concentration and joy in their work.  Emphasis of activities, self-chosen and self-conducted, is on process, not performance or product.  

These skills and attributes come together to bring about what Montessori called "normalization", associated with what currently are referred to as executive functions, the ability to attend, inhibit, and plan.
putting away the mat
  • Why might encouraging (or failing to restrict) movement be beneficial to learning from a neuroscientific perspective?
  • What are the classroom-management implications of this "freedom"?
  • A common question is, what about the child who simply wanders, or chooses to do the same thing all day?  Why might this prospect make teachers or parents uncomfortable?