Freedom Within Limits: What Does It Look Like?

One of the most common misunderstandings about Montessori education surrounds the freedom we give the children in our care. Generally speaking, once folks actually step inside a classroom and observe what really goes on, there is no doubt and all misconceptions are quickly cleared up.

Montessori isn’t a trademarked concept though. Anyone (school or individual) can claim to be “Montessori” but that doesn’t necessarily make it so. This is why specific, high-quality teacher training programs, along with affiliation or accreditation with a major Montessori organization (such as AMI or AMS) is critical to ensuring a high fidelity program.

All that aside, yes, it’s true: Montessori philosophy relies heavily on freedom of choice. We also rely heavily on appropriate limits. There is a critical balance, and achieving this balance is what gives children the sense of dignity, empowerment, and success they deserve. Children are no less human than adults, and they deserve respect, albeit in developmentally appropriate ways that support their growth.

What does this look like in our learning environments, and how might parents utilize these strategies in the home? Read on to learn more.

The physical boundaries of the environment

Montessori schools and guides are very intentional in the ways they structure the physical classroom environment. We want our students to be able to move freely around the space, but we don’t want that movement to inspire behaviors that are distracting to others or unsafe. The good news is there are plenty of things we can do to ensure choice, safety, and learning, all at the same time.

In classrooms for younger children, we avoid having wide open spaces that invite running indoors. The wooden shelves that house learning materials are strategically placed to block paths that children may otherwise utilize in such a way. Instead, we provide indoor-appropriate movement opportunities, we teach children how to use them, and we make sure they are located in spaces that don’t disrupt the work of others. We also make sure there is time and space built into the day that allows for running outside.

Dr. Montessori valued the opportunities available to children outdoors and in nature, so our schools work hard to provide appropriate and safe space for children to explore. This looks vastly different depending on the child. A four-year-old might enjoy a fenced-in area with raised garden beds, trees, and grassy fields. An 11-year-old might walk to an adjacent wooded area under the supervision of an adult where they independently gather materials with peers to make forts and other structures.