How Does Montessori Foster Independence

Fostering Independence in the Montessori Environment

Any parent of a young child understands the dynamic nature of developing independence. We want to help our children to become purposeful decision makers as they grow, but we also need them to put on their shoes in a timely manner and happily load into their carseat in the morning.

By following their developmental desire for autonomy, Montessori education guides children through the daily, practical applications of independence and good decision-making.

The teaching staff within Wonderland Montessori are trained to be observers first, allowing the time and patience for a child to “do it myself”. A young child has the time in a Montessori environment to purposefully put on his socks and shoes, walk around, determine his shoes don’t feel quite right, take them off and start again until he connects with the feeling that his clothing is on to his liking. What an untrained adult might see as playing around, is in fact a child learning how to interpret his senses and use his own power to make changes to make himself more comfortable. He is learning that his choices matter, and his actions have meaning.

Many of the activities (known as "materials") in the Montessori environment are self-correcting, such as the cylinder blocks found in the primary or children’s house classroom.

As a child works through a lesson, they are able to take the time to explore the material, and then realize where they may have made an incorrect choice, and adjust their actions to make the right choice.  

The mixed age groupings allow children to work together as peers and mentors, reducing the need for adult intervention even further. A casual observer in a Montessori classroom will often witness an older child being given a lesson by the trained adult as a younger child watches carefully. The younger child has the opportunity to think about the steps of the lesson, and what she has witnessed, without adult intervention. When it is her turn to work with the same lesson, she has already begun to process the information based on her earlier observations.

This independent, critical thinking and problem solving that is happening throughout this process contributes to the development of the child’s executive function (a core goal in Montessori education).

Executive function encompasses the group of skills that include flexible thinking, memory, and self regulation. Humans with a strong set of Executive Function skills are more efficient at problem solving, juggling multiple tasks, and time management.

A 2011 study (A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety) followed 1000 people from birth to the age of 32, and showed that a child’s ability to self regulate at the age of 4 correlated with their health, wealth and criminality as an adult. Young children with strong self control were physically healthier, managed their money better and were less likely to engage in criminal offenses as adults.

Early childhood experiences are a critical part of human development. Setting the stage for independence is part of the foundation that empowers children to develop a strong sense of self control, a desire for purposeful work, and the skills for a balanced life.

Jared Brasher