June 9, 2010

Freedom and Choice - a Fundamental Concept

I have been discussing the importance of Freedom and Choice with a friend of mine who is teaching in a Montessori School (6 to 9 room). We were digging up some quotes about the topic which supported our ideas about why freedom and the ability to choose were so integral to the Montessori environment. I thought to include them below as food for thought...

About the child and his choices:

If the object meets the inner needs of the child and is something that will satisfy them, it rouses the child to prolonged activity. He masters it and uses it over and over again - The Discovery of the Child - Maria Montessori

We know very well not only that knowledge gained through personal exploration and spontaneous effort is remembered much better but that the method acquired in the course of such learning can be useful for the rest of one's life - Raising Curious Creative Confident Kids - Rebeca Wild (Montessori is NOT about what we learn, but about HOW we learn it. Knowledge is not static, it is continually changing and evolving and it was recognised by MM that if we can help children to learn how to learn, then the highest level of independence will have been achieved, as they will never be dependent on adults or teachers for progress.)

The objects are a help to the child himself. He chooses what he wants for his own use, and works with it according to his own needs, tendencies and special interests. In this way the objects become a means of growth - The Discovery of the Child - Maria Montessori

I would suggest that all this not be taught to every child, but only to those who have shown a special interest in it either by their frequent choice of the material or their questions - The Discovery of the Child - Maria Montessori (this forms the argument for allowing the choice of the child to PRECEDE the lesson from the adult)

Montessori education is designed to awaken interest and to allow children to pursue learning about issues that personally interest them. This is necessary to a system that is beased on intrinsic motivation - Montessori the Science Behind the Genius - Angeline Stoll Lillard

Only the material which really interests a child and which he will freely choose and regularly employ is suitable for a child's education - The Discovery of the Child - Maria Montessori

Each and every child, based on its own individual needs, will make its own choice out of all the stimuli offered for learning. We know how deep the priority of these inner needs is and that a true equilibrium wth the environment is possible only when we allow the child to establish this balance - Raising Curious Creative Confident Kids - Rebeca Wild

A child who shows a desire to work and to learn should be left free to do so even of the work is outside the regular program - The Discovery of the Child - Maria Montessori

If their spirit is not touched, they may compy with our demands for work, but the psychological value of their work will be restricted to a more or less mechanical learning of technique - Education for Human Development - Mario Montessori Jr

The child tends to gravitate towards the types of stimulation they need at different stages of development. If we encourage children to make choices from a selected variety of available challenges, we are no doubt following the wisest course - Endangered Minds - Jane Healy

Children who have choices will spontaneously engage with that which they needs to further their development - Montessori the Science Behind the Genius - Angeline Stoll Lillard

The child has the power to teach himself - The Absorbent Mind - Maria Montessori

He must become independent of will, by using in freedom his own power of choice - The Absorbent Mind - Maria Montessori
For the adult:

Inner forces affect his choices, and if someone usurps the function of this guide, the child is prevented from developing either his will or his concentration - The Absorbent Mind - Maria Montessori 

Only through the art of being able to perceive the spontaneous activity of a child is the teacher in a position to assess the interests and the stage of development of children - Raising Curious Creative Confident Kids - Rebeca Wild

For the most part, the short and simple lesson should consist of an explanation of the object and of the use which the child can make of it. The teacher will note whether or not the child is interested in the object, how he shows his interest, how long he is interested in it and she will take care not to force a child's interest in what she is offering - The Discovery of the Child - Maria Montessori

We always keep in mind that the children's own activity and their experiences come before any information that can be given by the teacher - Raising Curious Creative Confident Kids - Rebeca Wild

The principal agent is the object itself and not the instruction given by the teacher. It is the child who uses the objects; it is the child who is active and not the teacher - The Discovery of the Child - Maria Montessori

One might not anticipate what particular aspect of a lesson will capture the imagination of any particular child and might lead to further explorations that will link to new parts of the curriculum - Montessori the Science Behind the Genius - Angeline Stoll Lillard (this is a strong argument against having a pre-prepared schedule of lessons and a lock-step progression through the curriculum as it takes away the spontaneity and individuality of each child's journey through the curriculum according to his interests and personal links, in short it disregards the essence of the structure of the child's mind and the framework of reference that is unique to him and essential for deep understanding and internalisation)

There is only one basis for observation: the children must be free to express themselves and thus reveal those needs and attitudes which would otherwise remain hidden or repressed in an environment that did not permit them to act spontaneously - The Discovery of the Child - Maria Montessori

The closest we can come to finding out what children really know is to watch what they do when they are free to do what interests them most - How Children Fail - John Holt

If we and not the children choose the task, then they think about us instead of the task - How Children Fail - John Holt

Montessori environments are prepared to facilitate child choice and control, through order - Montessori the Science Behind the Genius - Angeline Stoll Lillard (this is role of the adult: to prepare an ordered environment in which the child is free to teach himself. It is not the place of the adult to control the child. We can influence the child's self-control and choices, by controlling the environment. That is the limit of our influence.)


  1. Thank you for gathering such a great list of quotes, this is a must read. :)

  2. Just the other day I was thinking if you would come back posting here. I am so glad you did. Sometimes I wonder if some of Montessori educators are familiar with the original thoughts. Thank so much for this list!
    Do you mind if I translate it to Hebrew and put it on my blog - of course, the proper link will be added?
    Also, there are a few more quotes that I really like from "The Discovery of the Child":
    "A child's liberty should have as its limit the interests of the group to which he belongs. Its form should consist in what we call good breeding and behavior. We should therefore prevent a child from doing anything which may offend or hurt others, or which is impolite or unbecoming. But everything else, every act that can be useful in any way whatever, may be expressed. It should not only be permitted but it should also be observed by the teacher. This is essential. From his scientific training, a teacher should acquire not only an ability but also an interest in observing natural phenomena. In our system he should be much more passive that active, and his passivity should be compounded of an anxious scientific curiosity and a respect for the phenomena which he wishes to observe. It is imperative that a teacher understands and appreciate his position as an observer".
    "... teaching a child how he should act, but leaving him free in the practical application of his freedom.." (page 93)
    "A teacher, after she has shown the sensorial stimuli to the children and taught them their use, should seek to withdraw herself from the environment to which they are exposed. A child is urged on to act by his own interior drives and no longer by the teacher" (pages 97-98)
    "The lesson is a call to attention. If the object meets the inner needs of the child and is something that will satisfy them, it rouses the child to prolonged activity. He masters it and uses it over and over again" (page 106)
    "If the lesson prepared with the necessary brevity, simplicity, and truth is not understood by the child as an explanation of the object, the teacher should be careful about two things. First, she should not insist on repeating the lesson. Second, she should refrain from letting the child know that he has made a mistake or has not understood, since this might arrest for a long time the impulse to act, which constitutes the whole basis for progress" (page 107)
    "... the first duty of an educator: to stir up life but leave it free to develop" (page 111)
    "For such a delicate mission there is need, however, of a great art which will suggest the proper time and limits of one's interventions. This will prevent the teacher from disturbing or misdirecting, instead of assisting, a soul which is coming to life and which will live by virtue of its own efforts" (page 111)
    Peace, Miri

  3. Thank you for the lovely reminder!

  4. I love it :-)

    PS Thanks for posting again ;-)

  5. I love the page numbers - they help me find them in the book (the particular published date would help too - hint, hint). I am currently in my first summer of AMI training and have so much to read anyway, knowing page numbers helps me get in the general area to expand on the idea you have posted. I have been reading your blog since the end of last year, and right now it is a nice break from my work. Especially when I find lovely quotes, too. Thank you.