In a traditional classroom, activities are teacher selected and directed, groups of children move together through different segments of learning, and there are allotted times for specific activities and learning. There are very few opportunities given for the child to be responsible for his own learning and make choices about what and when he learns.
The Montessori method, conversely, is lauded as being “child-directed”, meaning a child leads his own learning by choosing activities and materials that are of interest to them. Montessori also offers children “freedom of choice”, meaning that children can move freely around the classroom and choose the work (activities) that they want to do when they want to do it.
Because the traditional model is so different than the Montessori model, many parents wonder how “freedom” practically works in the early childhood classroom setting. In part three, we will answer commonly asked questions, but this week we’re going to dig into what we mean by “freedom of choice”.
Why does Montessori believe in giving children freedom of choice?
Dr. Maria Montessori said, “Without freedom it is impossible for personality to develop fully. Freedom is the key to the entire process.”
Children best learn when they have the freedom of choice. One of the reasons is that freedom of choice facilitates what is known to modern psychologists as the “state of flow”. Psychology Today author, Dr. Susan K Perry, unpacks what it means for a child to be in a state of flow: it is a “deliciously gratifying state of mind” in which they are so absorbed in a task that they forget themselves. She goes on to say that it happens most when there is challenge to keep them interested but not so much that they get frustrated. During flow, children lose track of time and are not easily distracted.
Very Well Mind lists some of the benefits of flow as increased engagement, improved performance, learning and skill development, greater intrinsic motivation, greater happiness, greater enjoyment and fulfillment, better emotional regulation and more creativity.
As educators, caregivers and parents, we want our children to receive all of these benefits, but the key is that flow most often happens when a person is highly interested in what they are doing.
Teacher facilitated and led activities can connect with a child’s interests, but when a child has the freedom to choose their activities, they are more likely to experience an optimal learning environment where flow is the natural result. Teacher facilitated activities often rely on extrinsic motivation, meaning they work on something not because it is of interest to them, but because they want to please someone else, gain a reward or avoid punishment. Child-directed activities rely on intrinsic motivation, meaning that children engage in an activity because it gives them enjoyment. Learning via intrinsic motivation results in students more active participation in academic tasks and gaining a deeper understanding of new constructs (Deci, E. et all).
In the Montessori classroom, we give children freedom to choose to move around the classroom. They can explore, they can rest, or they can get the physical activity their bodies need. They also have the freedom to choose to work with a material for as long as they like. Their concentration is respected by the teacher and their classmates. They also have the freedom to choose to repeat activities over and over again. They are not required to “move on” from an activity before they are ready. They are also given the freedom to make mistakes. Montessori materials are designed to be self-correcting, so that the child can make mistakes and correct them himself.
When children are offered freedom of choice, they take charge of their own learning, becoming independent, self-disciplined, responsible, intrinsically motivated and respectful, life-long learners.
Come back next week to find out what we mean by “Freedom with Limits” and the following week, answers to Frequently Asked Questions about freedom in the Montessori classroom!
RESOURCES FOR THIS SERIES:
Cherry, Kendra & Dr. Carly Snyder. “What is a Flow State?” Very Well Mind.
Csikszentimihalyi, Mihaly. “Flow, the secret to happiness.” TED Talk.
Deci, E.L., Koestner, R. & Ryan, R.M. “A meta-analytic review of experiments examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation”. Psychological Bulletin.
Eisenmann, Amy & Hadani, Dr. Helen. “State of Flow: The Benefits of Child-Directed Play.” The Genius of Play.
Montessori, Dr. Maria. The Absorbent Mind.
Montessori, Dr. Maria. Education and Peace.
Perry, Dr. Susan K. “Creative Kids Learn to Flow”. Psychology Today.