Sunday, November 1, 2009


The past couple of weeks in my life, both private and at school, have been revolving around the theme of "limits". The importance of knowing where to draw the line is critical, I realize, in cultivating relationships of respect.

As a teacher, I've felt throughout the years that my understanding of the freedoms and limits of a classroom has been deficient. I think that by nature I am a very tolerant person, but this works to my disadvantage if I am unclear about where the limits are. For the children, knowing where the lines have been drawn helps them enjoy the freedoms granted in the environment. This is especially true when it comes to aggressive behavior, and abuse of materials.

"Montessori felt that physically abusive behavior in children was destructive. Far from making the child feel better about himself, she observed that it left him more dissatisfied than ever. She did not permit such behavior in the classroom, feeling it was not part of real freedom. She emphasized in its place the child's ability to discover himself, and his capacities for a positive response to his environment through the joy of discovery and creative work. She believed a lowering of standards of conduct of intellectual development would only lead to an inferior education and society.

If education is to be an aid to civilization, it cannot be carried out by emptying the schools of knowledge, of character, of discipline, of social harmony, and, above all, of freedom."

"The first idea that the child must acquire, in order to be actively disciplined, is that of the difference between good and evil." To achieve this distinction, the adult must set firm limits against destructive asocial actions."

"In striving to develop this freedom, it should be clearly established that ony the destructive acts of the child are to be limited. "All the rest- every manifestation having a useful scope- whatever it be, and under whatever form it expresses itself, must not only be permitted but must be observed by the teacher."

Quotes from Paula Polk Lillard, Montessori a Modern Approach

As an administrator, if I can be clear with parents from the onset about what the boundaries are regarding their children, both entities can work together to help the child on a better path. Or it can eventually save both the school and the families from painful realizations later on.

As a partner in a relationship, realizing when I've reached a limit and being able to communicate it bravely and clearly can save my relationship or it can help create the direction of where I am moving towards.

I have been reading everything I can get my hands on about "limits" in all forms and environments- and a reminder that struck me deeply was from a simple article on

"Steps for setting limits: Honor your feelings. Remember they are neither right nor wrong. They just are."


Montessor Karla said...

Limits are one of the most difficult and yet most important part of a Montessori classroom. I think as Montessori teachers we tend to have too few limits, but in my experience at a public school, the children are in need of very clear and strict limits, given and enforced with respect and love.


Annicles said...

I have been struggling with this too. I had a week before the half term break when I concentrated on being completely clear about what my expectations of the children and the adults were and about how I would react to infringements.

I told myself to be only calm, however I was feeling, I reitterated the rules every morning, particularly the kind hands and gentle bodies parts and was completely consistent in applying the sanctions.

One thing I was completely sure in my head was, we are not going down the route of the whole class suffers for 1 childs poor behaviour, so no keeping every one in because 1 child messed up lining up. This is something that happens a lot in state schools here. There are marbles in the jar and 1 goes in for good behaviour but 2 come out for bad and when the jar is full the whole class gets a treat. I am also not going to put sad faces next to children's names, which happens in lots of schools.

I hope you post about what you are going to do differently. I would love to read what conclusions you come to.

Anonymous said...

Limits: the eternal struggle. I constantly have to remind myself that children need and want limits, and you can see how grateful they are when you draw the line and help them understand what's ok and what isn't.

It's been amazing in my classroom to see how, as soon as I crack down on the limits, the entire environment normalizes in a matter of days. However, it IS tough to be consistent... It takes time and effort and a lot of across-the-room eyebrow-raising stares, the type that communicate "Really? You think it's ok to do that?". :)

Please do post some of your experiences and results!