Much of Montessori activities seem to be designed to help a child become independent. Or how else are you supposed to say the famous sentence “Help me to do it myself!” to understand?
But why is independence so important to her that she even demands that a toddler put themselves to bed? This is the core of Montessori pedagogy, which shows how unusual and radical Montessori’s views were.
THE INDEPENDENT PERSON FROM THE START
Independence is a core value for Maria Montessori – if not the ultimate goal of her pedagogical endeavors.
She always used to think as a natural scientist and observes very precisely how humans (and other animals) behave in the course of their development. Their striving for a self-sufficient and independent life is universal.
In humans, however, this inner urge is particularly strong because they have to realize their freedom on so many levels (in relation to their movements, their will, their feelings, their thinking, their decisions, and their actions).
According to Montessori, people strive for independence from birth. This striving is particularly evident in early childhood.
In a baby, important milestones related to independence are these:
Eating solid foods
Increasing mobility: Those who can crawl, stand up, walk, run, and climb can move wherever they are drawn to.
The Rapid Development of Language Skills: A child who can speak well no longer needs a trusted person to guess their needs. He can say clearly what he needs, what he thinks, and what he wants to know and do.
When these three steps are roughly complete, the autonomy phase often reaches its peak: the child tries vehemently to assert himself as his own personality.
RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEIR OWN NEEDS
If you allow this (admittedly sometimes exhausting) quest almost unlimited space and accompany your child in it, he/she becomes not only an independent person but also one who can take responsibility.
But if that sounds too radical now, be aware of a massive limitation: All this happens in a prepared environment, under the attentive gaze of an adult caregiver.
The Montessori child grows up in an artificially created environment, and only in this, he can find this great independence. He is always lovingly accompanied and not thrown in at the deep end or left to his own devices.
In this prepared environment, a child can practice taking responsibility for themselves and others. This has two major advantages that speak immensely for Montessori pedagogy.
THE MIRACLE OF SUCCESS
First, the freedom within the given framework leads to much more discipline – paradoxically. It seems that children behave “childishly” because we don’t give them enough responsibility and thus under-challenge them. This effect has probably been observed millions of times.
Because children do so much on their own, their self-esteem increases, and they feel respect for themselves and others.
Secondly, a child who is allowed to take on responsibility is also one who learns quickly.
A one-year-old washing her hands by herself?
A two-year-old who undresses alone and puts the laundry neatly in the hamper?
A three-year-old who is excited to start writing?
Not uncommon with Montessori!
DON’T DENY A CHILD AUTONOMY
This often contradicts our intuition massively, because we assume that a small child first has to laboriously learn to take care of itself and that we have to “teach” (and take away from) everything with just as much effort.
In Montessori pedagogy, a child’s autonomy is not taken away and then given back when it grows older.
From infancy, children are encouraged to take care of and take responsibility for their own physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. A baby is allowed to put the spoon with the porridge in his own mouth. A toddler should pour himself water when thirsty and lie down in his bed when he wants to sleep.
Nevertheless, a reference person must always be nearby for the support over several years.
But the goal is always to strengthen the child’s sense of self so that he can deal with the world on his own. He doesn’t have to be taught how to live, learn and develop. A child does just that from day one.
A simple example of such an attitude: Instead of protecting a child from situations in which he can fall and hurt himself or constantly slow him down when playing and running, body awareness is strengthened in a safe framework. The child should even fall, stumble and fall so that he can get to know his own body.
If this happens in a prepared environment where the risk of injury is kept to a minimum, the child has a decisive advantage in a risky situation later: he can feel his own body well and knows what he can expect.
CAN’T MY CHILD NEED ME?
Against the background of developmental psychology, independence is probably somewhat overemphasized in Montessori. A child not only strives for independence from birth, but also for deep, trusting bonds. These relationships with familiar people are vital for a young child and they remain essential for our psychological well-being even in adulthood.
This is by no means to imply that independence is not a powerful engine in a person’s life, but they are in tension with their deep social makeup and lifelong dependency on others.
And that confirms Montessori in a certain way: according to her, the development into an independent, capable person does not take place in solitude. Instead, it needs someone who promotes and approves of this independence and thus conveys to the child: I’m happy if you can help yourself and find your way in life. I don’t want to belittle you, but respect that you are an independent personality.
To give your child an environment that encourages his independence, you can contact us to enroll your child in Mutendi Montessori.