In my quest for better understanding of freedom and limits I came across lots of passages in the Montessori literature about the path to discipline, or the stages of obedience in children. It's fascinating to me that I can read a part of a Montessori book I've read before but feel it in a different light ever time. It is like the Czech saying that you can never bathe in the same river twice...
Montessori is clear in her writings that talking with children of this age about limits or rules is completely ineffective. This is also what I read in contemporary parenting books; children of this age need to learn by doing.
“Such discipline could never be obtained by commands, exhortations, or by any of the ordinary means used for keeping order. Actually it is useless to depend upon scoldings and entreaties for the maintenance of discipline. These may at first give the illusion of being somewhat effective; but very soon, when real discipline makes its appearance, all this collapses as a wretched illusion in the face of reality: “the night gives way to day.”
from The Discovery of the Child
Montessori insists, as did the trainers who pounded this into my brain, that normalization only comes about through WORK. But I think about the child that's out of control, that shows no interest in materials, that hits and would rather roll on the floor, or fling cylinders across the room. Hm... and then comes the part about limits:
-You are free to move about / as long as you don't disturb others who are working.
This is a good start.
Perhaps that child needs an assigned table. Or a quiet place to be when they can't control themselves.
Montessori talked about stabilizing the experience of the group, or of a child, through gradual exercises of the will. She linked normalization to control of movement. I love this excerpt:
“Children who are disorderly in their movements are not simply children who have not learned how to move about. They are rather children whose minds have not been properly nourished and are suffering from mental starvation.”
“We must teach him how to coordinate his movements so that he can carry them out in a harmonious fashion, analyzing them as far as we can and perfecting each of them individually.” both from the Discovery of the Child
Then I think about all the small problems we encounter in the classroom during the day, and how through practice masked as games (grace and courtesy lessons basically) we can tackle the issues:
- Walking across the room (we can set all the chairs on one side of the room and just practice walking back and forth)
- Walking around rugs
- Walking around rugs or through the room carrying materials without making a sound
- Walking around the line holding the square chains (or perhaps I could borrow one and put it on the "Line Exercises" tray so that they can then practice on their own. I can imagine the end of the swinging chain phenomenon we've been seeing lately)
- So much silence game.
This is all basic stuff, and I do it at the beginning of the year a lot, but often forget why it is so important. Why it is the MOST important. If the children can move about respectfully that is the platform for respect towards materials, and eventually concentrated work.
Here I interrupt to tell a little story about what happened in my car on the way back to school from our field trip this week. The children who get to ride in my car on the field trips are not coincidentally the children who are probably the least willing to cooperate during the silence game in the classroom.
As I drove, one of these children said "Let's see who can be quiet from here until we reach the school!" I jumped at this impromptu invitation for a silence game in the car! And would you believe it, that out of the three children, just one squirmed, for a slight second, during the last 7 minutes of the drive to school. It was beautiful! Here were the children that reject the silence game and sabotage it regularly in the classroom, capable of carrying it out for much longer than we do it in the classroom, and their proud faces when I parked the car outside of our gate.
There is so much hope.