Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Montessori in a Minute - Freedom.

Welcome to the first 'Montessori in a minute' - my aim is to keep it short and sweet, please post any comments or questions below and i will answer in the comments also so that everyone can view them and add to their understanding (hopefully!!). I tried to organise a logical order to introduce Montessori ideas but I realised that starting at the beginning might not interest all of you, so i'm going to dip in and out and explain things as I go along!

The idea of freedom within Montessori is often misunderstood as people think that it means the child is left to do exactly what they want to..... well that isn't really the case!  Freedom comes with responsibilities, i.e. it has limits.  For example, a child is free to use equipment as he wishes, as long as he is using it safely and not abusing the equipment or damaging anything/anyone.  This could be applied to a pair of scissors; the child is trying cutting every different type of material available (card, tissue paper, white paper, corrugated paper, newspaper, drinking straws, wool, fabric, craft sticks, foam etc).  He is learning about the properties of the paper and about what he can do with the scissors amongst other things.  He is absorbed in his self-chosen task and concentrating so this is great, just what you want to see, so leave him to it!!! If however he starts to cut towards his face, cut up a picture another child has drawn, wants to try the scissors on the books or his won clothing, then you intervene as he has stepped beyond the limits.  I promised you similarities to what you do now and here is one..... most childminders have groundrules they expect the children to follow such as looking after eachother, looking after the toys etc so this isn't anything new or different. 

What might be a bit different is that the child is gaining something from snipping a tiny piece of many things.  It is tempting to chastise a child for 'wasting' the paper or 'spoiling' things for others, but if this is what he is interested in, you can look at facilitating his choice by making a special box full of new things to cut just for him.  Include things you would put in the recycle box or bin (clean obviously!!).  This makes your life easier in two ways; firstly you have something that a small child will sit and focus on for some time without you constantly offering him activities, and secondly you will have a happier child as you are helping him to meet a need that he has.  It fits with EYFS as you are 'following the child'!

Another way we offer freedom is for the child to make choices.  You can do this by making the toys and resources easily accessible in clearly labelled boxes, baskets, cupboards and draws, using words and pictures.  If you set out a selection of toys at the beginning of the day and that is what the children choose from, then they do not have true freedom as they are choosing from your choices!!  If this is what they are used to in your setting then it may take a while for them to adjust if you put nothing out and encourage them to choose for themselves.  You will gain valuable insights into their preferences and interests by watching them and joining in with he things they choose.  This doesn't mean that you have to have everything available all of the time, a selection out of storage covering all areas of play such as puzzles, small world, role play, construction, art, books, etc allows choice without overwhelming them or your lounge!!!

An important point about choice is that free choice may need limiting for some children and at some times.  A very young child, or one new to your setting may need a small number of choices such as "would you like to do a puzzle or some colouring now?"  As the child gets used to making choices then you can extend the number of choices as they are comfortable with them.  If a child is being disruptive and disturbing others who are playing happily, you can offer small choices then similar to the ones above (this links to the Montessori way of behaviour management but that's another post!!).

Freedom of movement is now common in most early years settings; at home it can be thought of as once the child has chosen what he wants to play with, then he can choose where to do it.  Some children prefer to lie down, sit at a table or even to stand to do things.  Now there are difficulties with this for example, I would not allow a child to paint lying on my floor just because they wanted to!!  Go back to thinking about groundrules and freedom within limits - you can have a set of rules for individual activities that children will easily learn and adhere to for the safety of others and the protection of your house, such as wearing an apron and painting at the table/easel.  You can provide freedom of choice for activities though by having one or two table tops to use (we have a pine chest that the children either kneel or stand at, as well as a little table with chairs, and small rugs that they can put out to lie on).

Finally, freedom to spend as long as he likes doing something is valuable to the child.  Saying to him "You've been playing with the lego for hours now, come and do some painting" is counter-productive as if it is the lego that meets his needs and interests then he will gain little from painting.  It is perfectly normal for children to spend hours, days or even weeks mainly focussing on one or two activities.  This doesn't mean that you ignore it - you can facilitate his interest by providing complementary materials that may extend his learning - you could even suggest that he prints with the lego or uses it with water, sand or play dough!  Making a planning web or observation web that details the learning you see for all areas of learning and devlopment may make you feel more confident about this and can show that you are meeting his needs.

Routines can interrupt freedom; although they provide much needed security and structure to the day they can interrupt the child when he is concentrating and may not suit all children.  An example of this is 'snack time' - instead of stopping all children to eat and drink at the same time, you could try making available the snacks, whether you put it in a bowl or on a plate for the child to choose from, he can take it when he is ready and when he is hungry!  If you are concerned that he will leave it until really late and then not eat a proper lunch, then explain to him that you will put snacks out for 45 minutes and that when the time is up they will be cleared away and if he chooses not to eat then he will wait until lunch time.  Obviously this is for children that are old enough to regulate their hunger (I suggest 2 1/2 upwards but this does depend on the individual).  At first he may need reminding that the snacks will be out for a limited amount of time, but he will soon adjust to the new 'routine' with snacks and the 'groundrules' of when he can access them!

To round up, freedom has limits and is curbed if these limits are breached.  Generally the limits are linked to personal safety, safety of others and respect for others and the environment. Important freedoms are:
  • freedom of choice
  • freedom to repeat activities for as long as they like
  • freedom to explore/experiment
  • freedom of movement
Well that lasted for longer than a minute!!!! I hope that it made sense, please leave me comments!


  1. hi jen ,
    lovely to see the things i do are backed up by true styles such as montessori! It gets all too easy to doubt yourself at times. Looking forward to reading about the behaviour management techniques they use. Kx

  2. Thought provoking! thanks

  3. meleanieabigail200424 March 2010 at 13:07

    Interesting and really useful! Thank you!

  4. wow, thats great thanks xx

  5. Hi Jen, I am interested to hear how the... snack being left out for children to freely choose when they want to eat... works in practice.

    I know the theory but when I have tried it in the past I have had...

    The child who rushes to the table as soon as I get it out and eats everything in sight because I am away supervising others;

    The child who ignores it, saying he is not hungry and then cries for food too early for lunch time;

    Plus I have the concern that while I am supporting children to wash their hands at different times I am leaving the little one unattended.

    There is also the supervision of food / risk assessment angle which worries me, especially when there are babies pottering about who might choke on food if it was left out.

    At the moment we all sit and have a chatty, companionable snack at a time which suits everyone. The older ones are involved in setting the table and choosing / preparing the food.

    We listen to some background music of the children's choosing and often read books or look at big posters I have collected.

    Towards the end of the time, we talk about what we are going to do next, the children think through the resources they want to get out, we do our risk assessments and off they go!

    Yes I know by your theories above it's breaking into their play to ask them to stop and do something else... but I wonder if the learning opportunities provided my way are at least equal to Montessori's of doing things.

    I am interested in your comments.

    Sarah x