Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Montessori Classroom Management: Sometimes Students Will Be Hard to Handle

montessori teacher and students NAMC montessori classroom management
We've been in school for five weeks and today, the class seemed to fall apart. The noise level was off the charts and it didn't seem to matter how many times we rang the bell and asked for quiet voices, the volume level didn't fall. My assistant and I walked around our Montessori classroom, using our whisper voices, role modeling, and asking students to work quietly. It seemed like we were trying to put out a forest fire because we’d get one group of Montessori students working quietly, and another group would erupt in “outside” voices.

It wasn’t only in our Montessori classroom. One little boy punched another, older boy, in the stomach during recess. Although there were witnesses, the younger boy categorically denied it, while the older boy was standing there crying. After Spanish, SeƱora took me aside to tell me that one of my little girls couldn’t concentrate because she had a tangle in her hair; another played under the table during the Montessori lesson; another boy made repeated trips to the bathroom during the half hour lesson. The same boy from recess? He stuck his tongue out at another and the two of them ended up at the peace table during the Montessori lesson.

What in the world was going on?

Montessori Classroom Management: Children Are Inherently Good

It’s not a full moon. I know; I checked! We queried that perhaps, a storm was coming to our drought ridden area and the children could “sense” it. My Montessori school director walked by and asked me how it was going. I told her it was like the Friday before a long vacation. Interestingly enough, other Montessori teachers throughout the building were observing the same thing in their classrooms.

When I went back to my room after dismissal, my assistant was sitting at a desk, exhausted. “They were just plain naughty today”, she told me. I started to agree, but then, thought of what Dr. Montessori would say. I remembered that she used the term naughty to describe behavior that was immature rather than immoral or wrong. In a lecture in 1946, she had this to say about misbehavior in children:
  • Children are not naughty by nature.
  • It is wrong treatment that makes them [children] naughty.
  • Mental starvation causes naughtiness.
  • Lack of activity causes naughtiness.

"They [misbehaviors] are merely his reactions to an environment that has become inadequate...But we do not notice that. And since it is understood that the child must do what adults tell him, even though his environment no longer suits his needs, if he does not comply we say that he is "naughty" and correct him. Most of the time we are unaware of the cause of his "naughtiness". Yet the child, by his conduct, proves what we have just said. The closed environment is felt as a constraint. . .” (Maria Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence)

After reflecting on this, I gently reminded my Montessori classroom assistant that the children were not being naughty, but rather, acting in accordance to the environment in which they found themselves. Dr. Montessori said that “Only exercise and experience can correct a disability, and it takes long practice to acquire the various kinds of skills that are needed. The undisciplined child enters into discipline by working in the company of others: not by being told he is naughty.”

So, tomorrow is another day. We will joyfully greet each student, assuring him/her that we are glad they are in our classroom. We will begin the day by modeling calm, quiet voices and a demonstration of personal space by a mini-lesson on walking around, not on, a rug. We will reflect on the good that’s happening in our Montessori classroom and not dwell on the negative.

“Discipline must come through liberty. . . . We do not consider an individual disciplined only when he has been rendered as artificially silent as a mute and as immovable as a paralytic. He is an individual annihilated, not disciplined.” (Maria Montessori, The Montessori Method)

NAMC has created a most comprehensive Montessori 6-12 Classroom Guide  that provides much-needed and asked-for direction in the following areas:
  • Classroom management (normalization)
  • Starting elementary classes off right
  • Goals of the elementary program
  • Elementary environmental design
  • Teaching the Montessori way
  • Keep it exciting and inspiring
  • Program implementation
  • Observation, record keeping
  • Sample forms
  • Resources
  • Dr. Montessori and the Montessori method
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 Wednesday, September 12, 2007.


  1. Thank you for this, I really needed the reminder today. - An upper elementary guide

  2. "Yet the child, by his conduct, proves what we have just said." It does? How does she know children are not naturally naughty and it is just environment that causes them to be?

    You can place some children in a perfect environment and they will still be naughty. Active discipline is still necessary. Does the Montessori method include traditional disciplinary measures?

  3. Alan, it is a common misconception that Montessori schools are devoid of discipline. Nothing can be farther from the truth: “The children in our schools are free, but that does not mean there is no organization. Organization, in fact, is necessary and if the children are to be free to work, it must be even more than thorough than in the ordinary schools.” (The Absorbent Mind, pg. 223) Children are not naughty, though their behavior at times may be undesired. They must learn appropriate behavior. Montessori seeks to teach through respect and modifications to the environment, rather through punitive measures. “Conscious will is a power which develops with use and activity. We must aim at cultivating the will, not at breaking it.” (The Absorbent Mind, pg 231) “Will and obedience then go hand in hand, inasmuch as the will is a prior foundation in the order of development, and obedience is a later stage resting on this foundation.” (The Absorbent Mind, pg. 234)

    "Let us always remember that inner discipline is something to come and not something already present. Our task is to show the way to discipline. Discipline is born when the child concentrates his attention on some object that attracts him and which provides him not only with a useful exercise but with a control of error. Thanks to these exercises, a wonderful integration takes place in the infant soul, as a result of which the child becomes calm, radiantly happy, busy, forgetful of himself and, in consequence, indifferent to prizes or material rewards." (The Absorbent Mind, pg. 236)

    I kindly encourage you to read Dr. Montessori’s book, The Absorbent Mind, especially chapters 18-26. In addition, you’ll find that Dr. Jane Nelsen’s work on Positive Discipline closely aligns with the Dr. Montessori’s ideas and views.

    I stand beside Dr. Montessori and the other clinicians who have said that children are not inherently naughty. “All the crosses made by the teacher on the child’s written work, all her scoldings, only have a lowering effect on his energies and interests. To tell a child he is naughty or stupid just humiliates him; it offends and insults, but does not improve him…The undisciplined child enters into discipline by working in the company of others; not be being told he is naughty.” (The Absorbent Mind, pg. 224)

    1. Thank you for the thorough response. Is The Absorbent Mind a good place to start to understand Montessori's entire educational philosophy? thanks

  4. Alan, I would start with The Absorbent Mind. I'd also recommend The Discovery of the Child, The Montessori Method and The Advanced Montessori Method. There are a few others, but these will give a thorough overview of her philosophy from birth through age 12.

    1. Thank you. From here, it looks like Absorbent Mind is her 2nd most popular book, her first being Dr. Montessori's own handbook by Maria Montessori.

    2. Also, do you happen to know what the original Italian title of The Absorbent Mind is? (I'm assuming The Absorbent Mind is a translation.) thanks

  5. Nevermind. It's Mente del bambino. Makes sense. ☺

  6. Hi! My daughter is a new Montessori 3-6 teacher with her Masters. She is a head teacher this year and is struggling with keeping her children occupied and quiet at dismissal time. She has an assistant who leaves before dismissal. Any thoughts? or reading recommendations> Thank you, Kathryn Taylor

  7. Hello,

    I have my child for a couple of months within the Montessori program (Junior Elementary, equivalent to grade 1-3). I am surprised by the amount of noise and chaos that dominates daily routines. E.g. each class has many stations that variates into activities. Childrens are grouped and required to work on a particular station. They are allowed to move freely from one station to another or just roam in the class. The amount of noise variates from a station to another. It actually reminded my of the farmers market where everybody talks in the same time and conducts various business. Some children are asked to do math or other activities that require concentration within this environment. How beneficial is this to a child education? My child has issues doing any kind of this work, that requires concentration, within this noisy environment. Often my kid would be more interested to just see what others are doing, particularly the groups that are the loudest in the class. Is this normal for all Montessori schools?

    Back in my days, I remember that we always had a quiet class where everybody was working on his/hers assignment at the desk and the teacher was just walking between desks and keeping kids focused. I do not remember any activities throughout my life where I had to do any reading and/or math where there was noise (e.g. library, workplace).

    Thank you,


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