“The child must learn by his own individual activity, being given a mental freedom to take what he needs, and not to be questioned in his choice. Our teaching must only answer the mental needs of the child, never dictate them.”
- Maria Montessori
James is a very articulate and friendly 6th year student at Good Shepherd Montessori School. He is a young man of many talents and interests, not the least of which are his costume skills: this Halloween he trick-or-treated as “Good Shepherd Recess”, complete with a large stick for fort building, tire swing, and a GSMS beanie. He loves his school, and we love him, too!
James, what are some things that make Good Shepherd a unique place to learn?
Each day we have a three-hour work period, which is uninterrupted. It’s a school where you will find students working on their own or with other students, which I believe doesn’t always happen elsewhere. We have lots of options: how we practice religion, what we chose to wear (within reason), whether you like art or music or chess. There’s something for everyone. And you get a chance to choose what you want to do - all of the work is required, of course, however it is not dictated by a teacher. I mean, all of those things just make the day more fun!
So, I’d like to talk with you about the idea of autonomy -
Ah, yes! Like self-regulation, right?
Well, yes, as a matter of fact! Give me your thoughts…
Because of autonomy, I don’t have to worry about things being overdue in my classroom. I know the guides trust us to work at our own pace, but do expect us to be actually doing the work. And that’s a fortunate thing for me, because I’m not a very fast writer.
Where else does autonomy come into play in your classroom?
For one, the way that the works are set up with increasing levels of difficulty allows for autonomy. You go through a gradual path of learning and it doesn’t just !SPLAT! you right in the middle of an idea. Instead, it initiates what I’d call a work trend, where you work hard on one presentation of the materials, and when you are confident that you’ve mastered the idea, you can go to your guide for the next presentation. It feels kind of self-directed, if you know what I mean.
Another example is when you are practicing math tables. You find your mistakes instead of your teacher, so you realize where changes need to be made and you can kind of I.D. your own challenges to remember for next time. Now that I think about it that way, I guess that’s a pretty special thing about a Montessori education: You don’t get shown - you get to discover!
Maria Montessori identified three types of autonomy, intellectual, physical and emotional, and believed that the development of all three is the key to a person’s capability to take charge of his or her own life.
A Montessori environment encourages intellectual autonomy in students by offering opportunities to think for oneself while incorporating reason. The students are challenged to work through problems using previously acquired personal knowledge and to not accept the opinions of others without first giving them serious consideration. At GSMS students are able to reflect on their strengths and intentionally grow from their weaknesses.
As a child grows in physical, or behavioral, autonomy, he grows in willingness and ability to independently care for himself. He gains ownership of his own environment and workspace, his health and personal care, and his behaviors. The physically autonomous child understands behavioral expectations of his environment and is comfortable acting freely within them.
Finally, Montessori encourages emotional autonomy in the child. As she grows in emotional autonomy, she becomes more and more independent of her parents and other adults and becomes less concerned with the opinions of her peers. She grows in awareness of others and their social needs and displays empathy. Emotional autonomy also allows the child an awareness of her own well-being, and the Montessori classroom offers opportunities to practice managing stress and anxiety in productive ways.
And the crazy thing? The GSMS child may not even realize the autonomy he is carefully developing - it’s all in a day’s work.