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Notes to a Montessori parent - give the child a choice!

Otis reading at How we Montessori #2

As I was writing about the weaning table yesterday, I was reminded how important choice is even for the youngest child. My youngest is eight months old and my eldest is ten years old and choice is so important for both of them. 

We want our children to be active learners not, passive observers. How do we achieve this? We involve them in all facets of everyday living, we give them freedom within limits, we offer them as much choice as possible.

For an infant, this could include freedom of movement, a choice to crawl, sit or lie down. We listen and follow their lead, they choose how much and when to eat, sleep and play. They can choose what toys they want to play with and when. A Montessori home supports this with features such a low bed, low open shelves and parents who observe and provide choice when the opportunity arises. 

Toddlerhood presents many challenges but again providing freedom within limits and choice can empower the child and help satisfy their need for independence. For toddlers dressing, food and play/work choices are obvious options but we also need to observe them and allow the child this freedom as much as possible. As parents the more we offer the child a choice the more naturally it comes, eventually, it becomes automatic and woven into daily life. 

Why is choice so important? Choice and freedom within limits:

  • Builds the child's confidence, gives them confidence in future decision making.
  • Allows the child to feel satisfaction and pride. The child is going to feel a greater sense of satisfaction in knowing that they made the choice or the decision independently.
  • Allows the child to experience a sense of ownership over the decision/activity/consequence. 
  • Allows for greater opportunities to learn through natural consequences. If the child makes a poor decision often they will learn or gain experience from the process. This can be much more valuable than being told what to do by an adult and never feeling the consequences of their decision. 
  • Boosts self-image. The child begins to see themselves as a capable decision maker.
  • Demonstrates trust in the child and later the child becomes to trust themselves, they begin to understand they can make a decision rather than relying on an adult or others to make the decision for them. 
  • Provides practical skills in decision making. The child learns in a practical way to weigh up options and consider risk.
  • Promotes independence and independent thought. A child who is familiar with making a decision in the presence of an adult is more likely to make a decision in the absence of an adult. The child becomes less reliant on the adult for instruction or prompts.
  • Demonstrates respect for the child's natural and developmental needs. 
  • Empowers the child.
  • Gives the child control over their body. Children often have little control over their lives, providing choice when possible is important. 
  • Can allow the child to become more in-tune with their body, they can feel how much energy they have, when they are hungry, tired or cold and act on it. 
  • Can increase engagement and participation. If the child freely chooses an activity that is relevant and of interest to them, it's likely that the engagement will be greater than an activity chosen by a teacher, parent or other adult. 
  • Can assist the child in furthering an interest or skill that the adult isn't aware of or hasn't considered/allowed for. 
  • Respects the child's ability to make a choice. Children are very capable, if they are capable of making a choice why not offer it to them. We would we make a choice for the child when they can do it themselves?
  • Encourages strong and respectful relationships. Parents and teachers are not servants or dictators. If the child is involved and surrounded by respectful relationships they are more likely to establish respectful relationships themselves into the future. Respectful relationships can be adult/child but also child/child. If the child feels respected and that they are listened to, they are more likely to respect and listen to others.
  • Promotes creativity. If a child is continuously following instruction they cease to think for themselves. If the child is continuously offered choice they are seeking out ideas, different ways of doing things, they are learning to think for themselves and this allows for creative thought and greater possibilities.  
  • Can lead to the child feeling fulfilled and at peace. When the child's developmental needs are met the child often feels fulfilled and content.
  • May reduce conflict. When a child feels they have been heard and listened to they are less likely to engage in conflict or act in aggression. 
  • Demonstrates that we value the child and value their thoughts and opinions. 

Choice is essential in the Montessori classroom. In a practical sense, the child can choose their own work, their own work environment (inside, outside, work on the floor or on a chair) all within limits. We present appropriate choices to the child always within a safe and nurturing environment

My eldest is now ten years old and the same principles apply, we give him as much choice as possible. We include him in decisions that involve him. For example, when choosing a new school we present him with the schools that we, as parents find suitable, just like the toddler choosing between two sets of weather appropriate clothing. As the child gets older it can get more difficult to navigate when and how to provide choice, especially when the consequences are greater, but we work it out as the opportunities arise. As always, we are the child's guide!

Related articles include:

Notes to a Montessori Parent - Teaching Natural Consequences

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