Joyful learners abound in every classroom at The Children’s House. You can see students happily skipping across the room, some fiercely engaged in their work, while others banter over the nuisances of their collaboration. I believe a key force in this engagement is the foundational principle of the balance of freedom and limits.
In my Primary training I still recall my Trainer stating that true freedom is the ability to choose “this” over “that”. All of us have struggled over making a hard decision, and our children inevitably will too. One of the biggest gifts that we can give them is the opportunity to gain experience now, while the stakes are low, and the practice builds confidence and autonomy. Our trust in them directly shapes their ability to trust themselves.
When we give children choices, we need to simultaneously provide limits to offer support. The choice respects their voice, while the limits offer the necessary scaffolding for success. In our Lower Elementary classroom, we discuss what this balance between freedom and responsibility looks like in our day-to-day activity. The children know that they are free to choose their work, their work space and partner, and to talk with one another. Additionally, they realize that they are obligated to use their time wisely, follow up their lessons, and give their best effort. There are checks and balances for the students throughout the day to support them if needed. The result is children who are deeply engaged and flourishing.
In our homes, this same respect for our children’s choices can occur. Equally important is the opportunity for them to experience the consequences of their choices. We all learn from our mistakes and swooping in to the rescue takes away from those opportunities. As Dr. Montessori so beautifully stated, “The greatest gifts we can give our children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.”
Dr. Jal Mehta is a Harvard University professor, researcher, and education reform advocate. Like Dr. Maria Montessori, Dr. Mehta believes that schools exist to equitably serve all students, and to help each child be successful and productive citizens that realize their responsibility and agency to bring about a better world. In 2020, Dr. Mehta published the book In Search of Deeper Learning in which he explores the qualities that make for deep, meaningful learning environments. Though his book focused on high schools, many of Dr. Mehta's conclusions are consistent with the practices we see throughout The Children's House, including and especially the Jr. High. We are sharing this particular article with you, not only because of Dr. Mehta's alignment with Montessori principles, but also because it highlights, amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, what continues to make our school such a special community.