We often think of the process of children growing older as their incremental development of independence. A baby’s first words are the beginning of using language to communicate their needs; a toddler’s first steps mean they can soon navigate their environment without assistance; and a child’s first day at school is the start of them developing relationships with peers and adults who are not their primary caregivers. Each milestone is not only an indicator of healthy childhood development, but another exercise in independence. In the philosophy of the Montessori Method of teaching, the aim of education is independence.
Prepare the environment
The Montessori classroom is mindfully set to fit the developmental stage of the child. All the tools the children need to navigate and care for their environment are made accessible to them. The tables and chairs are child-size; the sink and cleaning items are within reach and can be manipulated by their smaller hands; and the learning tools surround the room on shelves the children can help themselves to. The learning tools and activities are also carefully curated to match the current and burgeoning motor skills and cognitive and social abilities of the child, while having just enough of the tools and activities to provide diversity and still keep an orderly environment. When the space is prepared in this way, with the child in mind, they gain an efficacy and confidence in moving through it and completing tasks of their choosing that contribute to the functioning of the space and their own skill sets.
Present new skills
As you encourage your child to learn and master new skills, it is important to show and not tell. Children learn better through a holistic sensorial experience of the skill: for example, when learning to use a paint brush, demonstrate for your child how to grip the brush and apply the bristles to the paper. In the Montessori method, this is called a presentation, because it acts like something of a gift. It is also helpful to break down each activity or lesson into its smaller parts, such as first only presenting how to grip the brush. Then you can allow your child to choose to take it up and practice, or allow them to choose to come back to it later.
At the heart of a student’s love of learning in the Primary, Lower, or Upper Elementary Montessori Program is their ability to decide what to learn. This self-directed approach positions the teacher or caregiver as a guide who keenly observes the child’s interests and objects of curiosity and facilitates their interaction with it until they've reached mastery. When a child gets to choose the activity or lesson and experiences their increasing ability, they gain confidence and a sense of autonomy that compels further exploration and self-discipline in learning.
Montessori classrooms are designed to encourage independence in children, with child-sized furniture and materials placed at appropriate heights for easy access. Hill Point Montessori in West Hills, California, is a preparatory school for children ages 2-12. We invite prospective families to schedule a tour, see a classroom first hand, and learn how the Montessori method encourages independence in children that will grow the rest of their lives.