Montessori

Montessori believed that inner discipline, or self-discipline, is an active skill which is developed over time within each child, and is not something that pre-exists. She held it to be a natural part of the normal progression and growth of the child, but nevertheless, something that must be nurtured in the right way in order for it to develop fully.

In her view, every child is born with the innate ability and desire to develop himself and his self-discipline, in a constructive manner, through work and under gentle guidance which nevertheless allows the child freedom to interact in his environment. Through her observations, Montessori noted that there are three stages in the development of the will, and self-discipline which is the outgrowth of this. In the first stage, the will is subconscious, and the child’s actions are driven by instinctive impulse.

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The child carries out actions without directing his will, and his interests in those activities are based on the unconscious impressions he has accumulated through his absorbent mind earlier. However, as he undertakes the activity, his interest in it and knowledge of it grows. As this happens, the child chooses to repeat the activity in order to complete the impression he has of it in his mind. As he repeats the activity, his mental awareness and focus on the task grows, and he channels his energies towards the specific task or activity in front of him, whereas before his impressions had been taken in more randomly and unspecifically.

Thus, through working, his will and self-discipline are being awakened, as his capacity for concentration grows. Montessori writes that “a will in agreement with what the individual is doing finds the path open for its conscious development. Our children choose their work spontaneously, and by repeating the work they have chosen, they develop an awareness of their actions. That which at first was but a vital impulse (horme) has become a deliberate act” (The Absorbent Mind, p. 231). We can see from this that self-discipline can only be achieved by the child when his other mental faculties have developed sufficiently for that to take place.

As the child continues to act deliberately in his environment, his will and self-discipline grow stronger, as he adapts and restricts himself to his chosen task, and “by repeating an action they have chosen, they develop an awareness of their actions”(Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, p. 231). At this stage, in line with the general lack of order and structure in his mind, the self-discipline is not consistent, and one often finds that a task that held a child’s attention to completion and perfection on one occasion, may not be able to be completed the next.

In the second stage of development of the will, the child’s powers of concentration have increased, and this has allowed him to gain further independence and power over himself. The child can now make conscious decisions about what to do, based on experience and not just impulse. Through this free activity, the child’s spirit is awakened, and his will is able to be cultivated through this conscious development and sensorial activity. The child actively chooses his tasks and uses his creative abilities in a practical and reality-based fashion leading to an independence of thought and action.

This teaches him to accept responsibility for his task, and to have an active self-discipline. As Montessori writes, “the discipline we are looking for is an active one. We do not believe that one is disciplined only when he is artificially made as silent as a mute, and as motionless as a paralytic. Such a one is not disciplined but annihilated. We claim that an individual is disciplined when he is master of himself, and when he can, as a consequence, control himself when he must follow a rule of life. (Montessori, The Discovery of the Child,p. 51). At this second level of development, the child has reached the ability to obey since he has a degree of self-discipline and can subdue himself to follow the instructions given to him. Montessori writes about this second level that it is “when the child can always obey, or rather, when there are no longer any obstacles deriving from his lack of control. His powers are now consolidated and can be directed not only by his own will, but by the will of another” (The Absorbent Mind, p. 33). This, for some people, is as much as can be expected of children, but Montessori observed an even higher level of development of the will. This third level of obedience is attained when the child’s will-power is highly developed and he is living in an environment which meets his needs and encourages him to extend himself. In this stage, the child actively seeks instruction from people whom he admires and respects in order to continue to develop himself. It is as if he has recognised the superiority of the teacher and chooses to ubmit to it in order to excel. He desires more and more difficult tasks in order to test his abilities, and the teacher can hardly utter an instruction before the child is ready to carry it out. The child actively enjoys doing what the adult requests, in order to progress himself. Although Montessori calls these three levels of “obedience”, in reality obedience and self-discipline are inter related concepts, which both rely upon freedom within a Montessori context, in order to be developed in the child and understood fully by the practitioner.

This is because in a free environment, a child learns to know his own mind by being drawn to activities that help him to develop, and by repeating them. The more the child repeats the activities, we can actually see him becoming calmer and taking internal pleasure, and this grows as the child sees that his activity is allowing him to reach a greater independence, which is every child’s ultimate aim. A child who knows that “others will act for him” is deprived of the opportunity to develop his own will and self-discipline, and instead learns to be dependent on external stimuli and direction.

Another important point to note is that the dawning of self-discipline is interconnected with the actual physical developmental capabilities of the child, and these are not apparent externally. Rather, they require an intimate knowledge and observation of the child as well as a highly developed ability to differentiate (in the teacher or observer) between those actions which are a result of impulse and those which are consciously controlled by the will.

Therefore, self-discipline will occur in different stages and forms, dependent on the development of the child as a whole, and as such, it is not rational to expect self-discipline from a child who has not learned to control his inner functions. This control develops, as we have seen, through a conscious exertion of the child’s efforts in activities which he has freely chosen, or his “work”, giving truth to the statement that “the first dawning of self-discipline comes through work”.

Bibliography

  1. Montessori, M. The Absorbent Mind, 1988
  2. ABC Clio Press Ltd. Montessori, M. The Discovery of the Child, 1988
  3. ABC Clio Press Ltd. Montessori, M. The Secret of Childhood, 1966
  4. Ballantine Books USA. Polk Lillard, P. , Montessori: A Modern Approach, 1972
  5. Schoeken Books, USA. Polk-Lillard, P. Montessori – A Modern Approach, 1972
  6. Schoeken Books, USA. Standing, E. M. , Maria Montessori, Her Life and Work, 1962

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