Independence and choice

Anna McLean – Preschool Deputy Principal

“The child has to acquire physical independence by being self-sufficient; he must become of independent will by using in freedom his own power of choice; he must become capable of independent thought by working alone without interruption.  The child’s development follows a path of successive stages of independence, and our knowledge of this must guide us in our behaviour towards him.”

The Absorbent Mind, pg. 257, Clio Press, 1992

When we talk about physical independence we are usually referring to the practical life skills that a child needs to master in order to gain independence:  being able to put on their shoes, carry their school bag, hang up their coat, do up a zip or buttons on clothing etc.  The keywords are “being self-sufficient”.  Montessori refers to the child’s development being a path of successive stages of independence.  In the busyness of life, it is easy to carry on doing the tasks that were necessary when a child was very young and incapable of being independent.  As time passes, a toddler will want to take control and do things for themselves, commonly around the age of two, which is often referred to as “the terrible twos”. Their developing will see them wanting to do the activities that they see others doing.  This is a clue for us as adults to adapt our behaviour to allow for a greater level of independence to occur.  Think about the signs you see in your child of them wanting to be self-sufficient and see what changes you can make to support that need. 

As preschool teachers we talk about independence being one of the goals of Montessori education.  Within the prepared environment of a preschool classroom, once a child has been given a lesson on an activity they are free to choose it again and again. Repetition of an activity is an important aspect of becoming self-sufficient and gaining mastery and consequently being able to act in an independent way.  It is through this freedom to choose and being able to work with an activity by themselves, without interruption and for as long as they wish that concentration and the development of the will can develop.   Being able to exercise choice is also about having limits.  For example, if a child is not able to make a choice of work, a kaiako will consider what lessons they have had and offer them a limited number of choices, say two or three.  It is through this limitation that a child can consider which option they prefer and make a choice.   The same limitation of choice can be used at home. Parents can make choices they are comfortable with and then give limited choices: what to eat, what to wear, what stories to read, etc.  Give it a go and see how it works!  By choosing a Montessori education you have already opened the door to your child becoming more independent and being able to make choices.