Montessori 101: Freedom Within Limits – Part 1

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”.

girl learning about colors at Montessori preschool

Why does Montessori believe in giving children freedom of choice?  

boy learning about animals at preschool

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. 


Pin It