Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Focusing On Desired Behavior: Friendship as a Theme for the Montessori Classroom

A NAMC student recently wrote asking for help with children who feel entitled and who have very little patience with others. She has tried role playing, the Peace Corner, and separating the children, but she fears that the challenging children are influencing other students. Feeling frustrated with the situation, she contacted me for additional ideas.

NAMC montessori focusing on desired behavior friendship theme classroom grumpy boy

This teacher’s challenge is a familiar one. I had a similar situation in my upper elementary classroom with a little girl who suffered from low self-esteem. Unfortunately, the girl was often angry, she bullied her classmates, and her behavior and attitude began to affect the rest of the class. I tried everything, but nothing seemed to work. In a final attempt, I thought, “Why are we giving her so much attention at the expense of the rest of the class? We need to focus on the other children and see if by doing so, it helps her, too.”

Focusing on Desired Behavior: Sharing Montessori Friendship Lessons with Challenging Students

I devoted a whole weekend to creating a Friendship Theme for the whole class. Monday morning, I invited the students to a class meeting. I told the students what I had been observing and that I thought we needed to review what it meant to be a community of friends. I said that for the next two weeks, we were really going to focus on what it meant to be friends.

Here are some of the things we did together:

NAMC montessori focusing on desired behavior friendship theme classroom happy girl reading

We read tales of friendship from around the world.

  • “The Sun and the Wind,” Aesop’s Fable
  • “The Wolves Within,” Esther Acosta
  • “The Gift of Insults,” Zen Buddhism
  • More than a Match, Aaron Shepard
  • “Sunlight and Moonlight,” Folk tale Tibet/China
  • “The Six Friend,” Folk tale Tibet
  • “The Blacksmith’s Dilemma,” Folk tale Uganda
  • “The Merchant, the Tiger, and the Six Judges,” Folk tale India
  • “The Queen and the Mouse,” Folk tale France
  • “Two Grains of Sand: A Valentine’s Story,” Folk tale Iraq

NAMC montessori focusing on desired behavior friendship theme classroom zen shorts Jon J Muth

  • We read the book Zen Shorts.
  • We created a booklet of friendship quotes (found on the internet). Everyone was invited to add to it, and it became part of our Peace Corner.
  • We wrote poetry entitled “A Friend Is…”

We conducted interviews. Each person could be interviewed only once, which ensured that everyone participated.

  • Choose someone in class to interview and ask the following questions:
    • What does a good friend mean to you?
    • How did you meet your best friend?
    • How long have you been friends?
    • What do you do with your friends?

NAMC montessori focusing on desired behavior friendship theme classroom girl writing journal

We wrote self-reflection journals.

  • The nicest thing I ever did for a classmate was…
  • The nicest thing a classmate ever did for me was…

NAMC montessori focusing on desired behavior friendship theme classroom boy drawing poster

  • We wrote one nice thing about each of our classmates.
  • We created a giant poster of the qualities of a good friend.
  • We took an online survey on bullying.
  • We made friendship bracelets and exchanged them with our friends.

The project I liked most of all was a huge bulletin board that we called “Universe of Friendship.” I am not fond of bulletin boards in the Montessori environment, but I needed something BIG that would get my students’ attention. I covered part of the wall in blue construction paper and bought self-adhesive foam stars and moons. I invited my students to add a sticker to the wall anytime they caught someone being “good” — kind, thoughtful, considerate, helpful, generous, courteous, etc. I asked them to not include names or state why they were putting stickers up. This was intentional as I did not want to call attention to individuals. I wanted everyone to see how nice and friendly we could all be when we worked together. The students loved this! It truly was fun concentrating on the good that was happening rather than on the negative.

The best part of working on the Friendship Theme with my students was that the student who was so angry decided it was not any fun being mean after all.

The other students were having so much fun being friends, that she tried it too. It really was amazing to watch her classmates help her learn to be a friend. I learned so much from this exercise. I learned that if we focus on the negative, that is what we will see. But if we focus on the solution, it will come back to us in more ways than we can imagine.

Michelle Irinyi — NAMC Tutor & Graduate

As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Tuesday, June 11, 2013.


  1. Beautiful idea about the friendship theme in class! I completely agree that the positive reinforcement works better than focusing on the negative.
    Milena Tzaneva,
    Montessori teacher, Montreal

  2. Excellent! I will adapt this to my preschoolers.

  3. Great examples of how to strategies to implement and demonstrates how Dr Montessori's commandment (from her 10 commandments) of what you focus on in the child will be what they become and how that isn't just the teacher but everyone in the environment


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