Friday, June 26, 2009

Parenting for Independence the Montessori Way: Fostering Self Discipline and Confidence

"Little children, from the moment they are weaned, are making their way toward independence." Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind
NAMC montessori practical life activities parenting independence confidence tying shoes
Maria Montessori understood that in order to be free, one needs to be independent. She also said that learning to be independent came before freedom. Teachers and parents that are new to Montessori sometimes misunderstand this concept, and expect a child to become independent by granting her/him freedom of choice without limits. Instead, fostering independence first will lead the child toward a sense of freedom and self-esteem.

We often talk about the Montessori prepared environment. This not only encompasses the physical setting, but includes the all-important preparation of the parent, caregiver, or teacher. In the Montessori environment, independence is an ongoing, organic process, and the Practical Life curriculum is integral to this. Material and activities that encourage the child to “do for him/herself” and foster developmental progress, confidence and self-esteem are the cornerstones of the Practical Life curriculum. As a child learns to pour water, lace shoes, put on a coat, clean his/her work space, prepare a snack, and consider others in his/her Montessori classroom or home community, independence takes root and grows.

Parenting for Independence the Montessori Way: Fostering Self Discipline and Confidence

With independence comes the need for self-discipline. In the prepared environment, the Montessori child moving toward independence will experience making decisions from limited choices, and will meet with success in those decisions. Parents, too, learn to create the environment for such successes, by planning ways to involve their children in daily life activities and in offering limited choices. In doing so, the child is then able to learn how to make wise, well-thought-out decisions.

So, how does a Montessori parent go about encouraging independence in their children? Here are some helpful ideas for parents to incorporate Practical Life activities at home, and foster the confidence and positive development as part of the Montessori philosophy of an “education for life”.
NAMC montessori practical life activities parenting independence confidence washing hands
  • Encourage your children to make wise choices. It is best, in the beginning, to give limited choices. For example: Would you like an apple or a banana in your lunch? Notice, the question is not “Would you like fruit in your lunch?” Another example would be: Would you like to clean up the playroom before or after dinner? Again, the choice is not whether or not they want to, but when they would like to do so.
  • Personal care and hygiene. Allow your young children do things for themselves, such as dressing, bathing, brushing hair and teeth, toileting/cleanup, etc., with your guidance and supervision while they learn. Assist only when needed. What if they can’t reach the sink? Provide a step stool. What if they can’t see that they are missing part of their head when washing their hair? Hold a hand-held mirror for them to see. Montessori told us to let the child do for himself that which his is capable and to provide the tools necessary for success.
  • Experience logical (natural) consequences. Once your children make a choice, allow them to experience the consequences (good or bad) of that choice. Of course, since you are limiting the choices, the children are in no danger of being hurt. If you ask your children to take their gym shoes to school for field day and they choose not to, the natural consequence may be that they are not able to participate fully. I’ll bet they will make a different choice the next time!
  • Be careful of praise. In an early blog I wrote about Praise vs. Encouragement. “Excessive, long-term praise can inhibit children from gaining independence because they rely heavily on the praise of those in authority positions.” Instead, encourage your Montessori children to make judgments of their own behavior, work, and ultimately, worth.
  • Include your child in family decisions. Ask your child for her/his ideas and input. Any experience will be more meaningful to the child who feels they have some control over the situation, than a child who has no engaged participation in planning.
There can be no freedom without self-discipline. Self-discipline must be taught, modeled, and practiced before a child reaches the third stage of normalization. Without self-discipline, the child cannot be independent and that is the true goal of the Montessori philosophy.

Other related NAMC blog topics:
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 Friday, June 26, 2009.


  1. A really informative blog. I found it really helpful and am practicing the ideas on my children as I am aiming at fostering independence and i do believe that this is the way to have strong, healthy, good decision makers growing up.

    Thank you for your time and efforts for posting such magnificent information.
    Tasleem Shamji

  2. Tasleem, thank you for reading our blogs. I'm happy that you found this information helpful.

  3. I consistently enjoy and benefit from the posts on this blog. You have a wonderful way of boiling down concepts into something approachable for most parents interested in bringing more Montessori into their homelife. Thanks for all the good work!


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