Independence and the Montessori Child
“The greatest gifts we can give our children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.”
— Dr. Maria Montessori
You may already know that Montessori educators value and encourage independence even at the youngest of ages. Why do we believe that independence is so important? It’s simple really – the development of independence leads to greater self-esteem and self-confidence.
Benefits of Fostering Independence
Dr. Maria Montessori believed that children were not served well if they were not allowed to do for themselves. Children are naturally eager to learn new things. We have all heard them say, “I can do it myself!” Unfortunately, our day-to-day lives often do not provide opportunities for our children to achieve the independence they want so much. We rarely have the time to wait for our child to put on his own shoes or zip up her own coat!
However, enabling our children to become more independent may be the greatest gift we can give them. The benefits are huge and include a decrease in power struggles and temper tantrums at the very least. Giving a child the gift of independence lets him or her know that we value them and sends the message that we know they are capable. We believe, as did Dr. Montessori, that children can grow up feeling empowered and confident in their abilities to make good choices. When we trust them, they learn to trust themselves and ultimately become productive, happy and active members of their community. A child who feels capable of making decisions without needing Mom or Dad’s or their teacher’s help for everything, is a child who is self-confident.
How Does Montessori Develop Independence?
As a tenet of the Montessori Method, independence is inherently built into the curriculum and includes the following key principles. Villa Montessori Polaris holds true to these principles as we guide our students towards independence.
A Prepared Environment
Our classrooms are ideally prepared to support our students’ independence. All furniture is child-sized as are our materials from pitchers to brooms. The materials on our beautifully prepared shelves are carefully curated for our students to handle successfully and on their own. Our Practical Life shelves offer great opportunities for our students to practice independence as they learn to pour, starting with beans and progressing to water. The Dressing Frame is another key Montessori work which helps children to develop independence and care of self as they learn to fasten different clothing implements. These frames hold material and different types of fasteners, which children may encounter while dressing. Children also learn how to scrub the table and windows and learn to sweep and tidy the classroom.
There are things that you can do at home to easily help your child develop their independence. Give your child access to plates, cups, and silverware in a low cupboard or set up a child-sized table and chairs so they can work or eat snacks. Provide a step stool in the kitchen so they can reach the counter to help you with easy food prep (slicing bananas, pouring, etc.) or help with dishwashing. Set up the family room or playroom so that books and toys are accessible and arranged orderly (children work best when their environment is tidy and clutter-free.) Have a clothes hamper in their bedroom or bathroom so they can easily place dirty clothes in it. Arranging a few sets of clothes in a low drawer or on a low shelf gives them an opportunity to make dressing choices in a controlled manner.
Step-by-Step Instructions on How to Complete a Task
Children are not born knowing how to do everything! They learn from observation and repetition. In a Montessori classroom, skills are built slowly and methodically. We are careful to provide our students with plenty of time to complete tasks. This allows the child to succeed along the way and gives them incentive to learn more. You will notice a teacher shows the child the sequence of the work or task and observes the child’s attempts. You can replicate this style at home as well. You can start with easy tasks such as setting their own place setting at the table. Print and laminate a placemat so they can learn proper table setting. Matching socks from the laundry is also an easy and fun task for preschoolers. You can also foster independence at home by giving your child sufficient time to put on shoes or jackets prior to leaving the house (i.e. – 10 minutes.)
Learning Requires Errors
When your child is first learning something new, it can get messy (spills, breakage, etc.). In Montessori, we know this is all part of the learning process and we don’t consider them mistakes. Clean-up is part of our daily activity at school and should be part of activities at home. For example, when learning to pour, a cloth is always provided to the child to wipe up spills. Dr. Montessori called this being friendly with error. It’s a valuable tool to have as you help your child achieve independence. Provide your child with things such as cups that you don’t mind getting broken (…yes in Montessori we use glass!)
We would love for you to come and visit our school to see just how we put these principles to work and how we foster independence at all age levels! Call and request a tour, virtually or in-person at 614-721-4410. We look forward to meeting you and your child!