Freedom In A Montessori Environment
As an adult, I highly value my freedom. The ability to choose what to eat, what to wear, where to live, and how to parent my kids is necessary for me to live a happy life. At the same time, giving my kids freedom can feel scary. Does freedom for kids mean knotted hair, dirty hands, and popsicles for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? The Montessori Method proposes a balanced approach to kids’ freedom called “freedom within limits.” Kids have the freedom of choice within limits that promote their well-being. This article explores what freedom in a Montessori environment looks like in real life from the viewpoint of an everyday parent.
What is Freedom Within Limits?
Maria Montessori said, “Let us leave the life free to develop within the limits of the good, and let us observe this inner life developing. This is the whole of our mission.” Freedom within limits is about giving kids choices and autonomy with some restraints. This may look like giving a child the choice between two or three foods for a snack. Instead of choosing from anything they like, kids may pick from sliced bell peppers or carrot sticks, for instance. Parents can even invite the child to help prepare the food. I have noticed that this approach brings a balance to these types of interactions and honors the role of both the caregiver and the child. Collaboration between the parent and child can also improve the relationship, which is a key benefit to Montessori at home.
Freedom within limits can serve as a guide for maintaining house rules and boundaries. Freedom in a Montessori environment can give children a lot of agency to explore and try new things. However, there are also firm limits to balance out these freedoms.
No jumping on furniture is one of our house rules. Another house rule is no hitting other people. As a parent, I balance out these firm rules with a short explanation of the times that my kids can jump or hit. Jumping on the ground or a child-sized trampoline is fine. Hitting a pillow is fine, too. I have found that such explanations help children realize their freedoms and also learn their limitations.
Why is Freedom in a Montessori Environment Important?
Giving kids freedom in a Montessori environment has many benefits. If the parent ultimately has control over the options and ground rules, you may wonder, “Why should I bother giving kids choices?” One reason is that it lets kids practice making choices. As my kids grow into adolescents and adults, they will likely spend more time away from my husband and me. We hope they go out into the world as good decision-makers. Letting them make decisions as kids is a low-stakes way to refine these skills.
Giving kids choices is also a way to show kids respect. The Montessori approach emphasizes that kids can sense their innate desires and needs and can benefit from having the freedom to make their choices accordingly. The hope is that kids build trust in their ability to make the best choices for them.
The limits paired with the freedom in a Montessori environment are also important. Providing kids with structure, routine, and boundaries can help give kids security and stability. Additionally, I have learned that a limited number of choices can help keep kids from being overwhelmed and unable to choose. House rules also serve to keep kids from harming themselves and others. In the Montessori approach, freedom and limits go hand-in-hand. They are two sides of the same coin.
How to Create Freedom in a Montessori Environment at Home
Give Kids Clothing Choices
What does freedom within limits look like in real life? One example is giving kids choices while getting dressed. At times, getting my son dressed has resulted in a power struggle. As a busy parent of twins, I used to simply choose an outfit for each child and help them get dressed. This approach was not giving my kids any freedom or agency to help decide what they wore. One helpful remedy to this is letting the child pick from two available outfits.
Currently, we keep a minimal wardrobe with lots of mix and match options in the kids’ closets. All of the items in the closet are generally appropriate for the season. The kids are free to choose what they want to wear. Their outfit choices are not always picture-perfect. For about a year, my daughter chose to wear a tutu every time it was clean and hanging in the closet. From my perspective, seeing the pride they have in getting ready for the day is worth giving up control over their clothing choices. With this approach, kids have the freedom to choose their clothing within a limited selection of pieces.
Let Kids Choose What Toys to Play With
Another way we bring freedom within limits into our home is by letting kids choose which toys to play with. Like in the prepared environment of a Montessori classroom, we try to provide a minimal toy selection that is accessible to the children. Ideally, the toys are neatly organized but this isn’t always realistic in our home. The kids are free to pick what they like to play with and are generally free to play with the item as long as they like. My son loves to play with our wooden train set. He knows he is free to get out the pieces and arrange them however he likes.
For the most part, all members of our family understand that the adults are the gatekeepers that choose which items come and stay in our home. We try to intentionally pick Montessori at home toys that are quality and provide value. Beyond those limitations, our kids have a lot of freedom to play with the toys however they like.
Give Kids the Freedom of Time
In my opinion, one of the most overlooked but impactful ways to give kids freedom is to provide them with the freedom of time. Generally, limitations on time are naturally in place. We can’t often spend all afternoon on a walk around the block. However, we can sometimes give a few extra minutes to let kids pause and investigate things we encounter.
One example of giving kids the freedom of time is letting them stop to pick up sticks, leaves, and pebbles on a walk. They love stopping to chat with our neighbors. None of these things contribute to the efficiency of our walk. However, allowing time to follow the child provides freedom for kids. Letting our kids stop and see what interests them is a way to show respect for their inner desires.
Look for Ways to Give Kids Choices
To start bringing the freedom within limits approach into your home, I recommend finding a few ways to provide kids with choices in their everyday lives. Freedom in a Montessori environment has many benefits. Giving kids freedom of choice may also help in areas prone to power struggles. If there is a power struggle over snacks or getting dressed, giving kids a few reasonable choices may help thwart those battles. With an understanding of the value of giving kids freedoms, try looking for ways to help them act with agency.
Kelly Marie is a former scientist and mother of three young kids. She enjoys writing about her experiences in parenting and regularly creates free printable resources for parents and teachers for her blog Hey Kelly Marie. She currently lives in Kentucky with her family.