As we begin the school year, a popular question from our parents is: How do we enforce discipline in the Montessori classroom?
Montessori education is different from traditional education, and our understanding of discipline is also different from traditional public school.
In a Montessori school, we seek to develop the child’s self-discipline by establishing limits; exercising freedom in a responsible way; and understanding the consequences of our choices of behavior. In our school, we lay the groundwork for developing self-discipline by establishing ground rules in the classroom. These rules include: “We can get hurt if we run in the classroom.” or “Children are welcome to work together as a team, as long as it is constructive and respectful.” We discuss the ground rules often in class, especially during the morning meeting to start our school day.
We enforce these ground rules in many ways. For example, each classroom has mixed ages, with many students having been in our classroom environment for years. These older students help support newer and younger students, by guiding them when a student may not know (or not follow) a rule. It’s always amazing to see a 6 year-old approach a 3 year-old and offer corrective guidance. A child is generally very receptive to a peer.
Another way we enforce the ground rules is through redirection. When a child does not follow a rule, a Guide will observe and explore the context of a specific behavior. To better understand, a Guide might ask herself: Why did the child not follow this particular rule? Did they know the rule? Were they helping someone? Are they having a challenging morning? Is a loved one away from home? Once we understand the cause and context of a behavior, we can suggest a resolution, like offering a hug, redirecting the child to new activities, or explaining how to wait their turn.
Sometimes children need to understand the consequences of their chosen behavior. For example, if a child chooses to scream in the classroom, they must know it can hurt others’ ears. By showing the child the impact of their behavior, we begin to establish that behavior is within a child’s control. For example, if a child chooses to hit a friend, then we must explain that it causes pain, and the hurt child may not wish to play outside with them. As Montessorians, we accept the assumption that children are intelligent and empathetic, and they can understand the impact of their behavior on others. Children are naturally seeking ways to live and work harmoniously within their classroom community. We also have a responsibility to all of our students by correcting a child’s behavior, explaining what went wrong, and showing how we can do better next time.
We use several proactive strategies to cultivate positive behavior in the classroom. Our Guides curate a prepared environment (our classroom) with soft colors, lots of sunlight, child-size furniture, and low art work. This is intentional in order to create an environment that is calming and supports concentration and engagement. Think about your own home: Are there rooms in your house that make you feel relaxed or more deeply focused? During the pandemic, did you gravitate towards a particular space or window for work? Also, we grant the child freedom (with limits) in the classroom. As they work, our children have freedom to choose activities in the room (within guidelines established by their natural ability and stage of development). Think about how you like to work in your office: Do you feel more empowered when your schedule and to-do list are in your control? Do you really prefer a micro-managed approach, where your work day is highly scripted?
Through the use of limits, a prepared environment, mixed-age groups, and natural consequences – while respecting the child’s intelligence and natural desire to be self-disciplined – the Montessori Guide can maintain a calm and disciplined environment that supports each child’s growth, safety, and unlimited potential.