Discipline and Obedience from the Montessori Perspective

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“The power to obey is the last phase in the development of the will, which in its turn has made obedience possible.” (Montessori, 1988, p.239)

Montessori believed that the disorderly and disobedient acts of a young child where from those actions that he/she had yet to develop and so where unable to control successfully. Discipline and obedience could not therefore be inflicted on a young child as had been traditionally thought, nor could it be sustained through rewards and punishments. “Obedience is seen as something which develops in the child in much the same way as other aspects of his character.” (Montessori, 1988, p.234)

As Montessori observed, obedience is a developmental process and can not occur unless the child has developed the previous foundation that is his will. She describes the will as an intelligent direction of movement. (Montessori, 2004, p.132)

I will now go on to explain the relationship between discipline and obedience from the Montessori perspective and how it relates to the development of the will.

Discipline from a Montessorian perspective is a maturational process, it starts from birth and will be reached by the age of 6 or 7 years. “Let us always remember that inner discipline is something to come and not something already present.” (Montessori, 1988, p. 240)

Discipline develops naturally in a child, through the opportunity to act freely and spontaneously within a favourable environment. It is this favourable environment that nurtures the child's natural drive to independence and to adopt a behaviour that is beneficial to him/her. It helps the child and offers him/herself experiences to develop from within himself/herself the capacity for order, self control.

If we look back to when a child is born all his actions are driven solely by a hormic impulse, an inner guide that directs the child towards independence, an urge to satisfy his own human tendencies. The actions are not reliant on the conscious will of the child to do something, but reliant upon a natural development, an unconscious urge which stimulates “the child to face the outer world and absorb it.”(Montessori, 1988, p.77) This is evident in a young child who does not have the ability to share, or to control his/her natural impulse to snatch from another child that which he/she wants. It can be seen when a child is only able to obey a command when it is in compliance with, or when it meets his/her own needs or wants and is working in parallel with their hormic impulses.

We must always allow the child the independence they desire to carry out their task and avoid stepping in when we see they are about to make a mistake. This will only help to delay their development and divert them from their natural path to self discipline.

In the favourable environment the child is allowed to act independently and is given a freedom within limits. These limits take the form of ground rules. Ground rules are the parameters of acceptable behaviour, they are not there to limit the behaviour of the child, but to give him/her a freedom within those limits. They need to be established for the sake of the child's emotional well being and physical safety within an environment. They need to be consistent in order for the child to know what is expected of him/her and to nurture a sense of social cohesion and fairness. “A child's liberty should have as its limits the interests of the group to which he belongs.....we should therefore prevent a child from doing anything which may offend or hurt others.” (Montessori, 1972, p.49-50)

Everything in the favourable environment is child size and accessible. Materials and apparatus are all freely available for the child to choose from, enabling him/her to fulfil a desire, or to satisfy his/her inner motivation to carry out a particular task. Initially the child's actions will be driven by an unconscious urge, an impulse directing them towards an activity that they find interesting or one...
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