Freedom and Discipline

By Kerry Pratchett – Rewarewa Head Teacher

The concepts of freedom and discipline, while on the surface quite different, are in fact very intertwined according to Montessori philosophy. Dr Montessori states that freedom and discipline are like two sides of the same coin, as we cannot have one without the other.   As an explanatory note: when Dr Montessori refers to ‘discipline’, she is actually referring to ‘self-discipline’.

If we work backwards from the goal of having self-discipline, we can ask: What does a child needs to develop this quality?

Montessori believes a child needs to be able to work actively and independently within his environment as a foundation for developing self-discipline.

Montessori refers to ‘active’ discipline, an idea which is very closely linked with independence.  Dr Montessori firmly believed that children learn through movement and doing an activity themselves, so that if the child is unable to do something for himself, then his learning and development may not be as embedded as it would have been if he was able to learn through movement and experience.

Often I find that I have to remind myself to ‘never do for the child that which they can do’, as a child’s development can be hindered if an adult helps unnecessarily.  This is because the child needs to make mistakes in order to learn.  Dr Montessori discusses schools where the desks are fixed into place and if a child bumps into them, they do not move. “…([S]ilence and immobility of this type actually keep a child from learning how to move about with ease and grace.”  (Montessori, The Discovery of the Child, p.48).  If the environment is conducive, then optimal development can occur.  This is why we have breakable objects in a Montessori class and the children move around freely; the environment self corrects the child.  The child becomes independent and in turn satisfies their inner directives.

How then do we enable a child to move about actively and to be independent? It is by allowing the child to have freedom.

There are two types of freedom.  The first is complete freedom where the child is able to do as he/she likes.  The second type is the freedom that Dr Montessori referred to as ‘the development of the child’s inner directives’ – the freedom that each child requires in each stage of development.  The child needs to make choices to assist with being independent and the educator’s role is to assist the child in making the right choices.

This freedom does not stretch to enabling a child to do as he/she likes.  Through careful observation, the teacher will offer the child as much freedom as he/she can manage and help the child to make the right decisions.  “A child’s liberty should have as its limit in the interest of the group to which he belongs” (Montessori, Discovery of the Child, p.49/50).

How do you support your child on their journey towards self-discipline?