This is a common phrase used within Montessori schools and can be applied to many different situations. Often when asked to describe Montessori, many people will describe it based on the polarities of these words: 

1. Freedom: 
“Students get to choose what they want to do and when they want to do it.” 
Lots of exploration, not enough instruction or structure

2. Limits:
“There are many rules and procedures, and the students are only allowed to do the work as they’ve been shown.”
Lots of structure and instruction but little exploration

Looking at Montessori in these two extremes often creates images or ideas about Montessori that are not grounded in the theory or practice and belies the balance that the teachers always seek. We look at our environments and seek ways to define the limits in order to offer the most freedom to the
students.


For example, in the classroom, the use of workplans or schedules can help guide a student to look at how to organize his/her time in order to accomplish sufficient work or to complete a project. Depending on the child, the guidance given by the teacher is in relation to the child’s ability to work
independently. Some students will develop the ability to plan their day and work through all subject areas and stretch their own learning. Some students need more direction and this is accomplished verbally, with workplans and at times with communication between home and school. The goal is to provide the right balance of limits and freedom for each child in regard to staying on task and choosing challenging work.

Our curriculum provides another limit from which students can
explore, again maintaining a balance. There are definite lessons that we present, a scope and sequence that we follow as well as assignments or follow-up work that students must do. This lays the groundwork for teachers and students, ensuring that students are following a sequence of lessons (using materials) that has been tested over time and that students are staying on track to meet or exceed state
standards.

Another Montessori phrase, often misused, is “Follow the Child.”  “The Montessori curriculum”, as one Montessori Living Legacy, Michael Dorer, stated, “follows child development.” The lessons and sequence we follow is geared to the latest brain research and child development, meaning key concepts
are organized to follow developmentally appropriate interest levels and to provide organization of concepts in a sequenced fashion. If the teachers were to follow each child’s interest or whims throughout the year, there would be a maze of lessons through which no delineated line or curriculum stream would be able to go. However, to follow a curriculum lock-step also does not allow the children to be creators of their own learning, so our staff work very hard to follow the curriculum, using it as a compass or guide, and as student interest
explodes in certain areas, to follow that tangent, keeping it tied to the curriculum concept.

Further tangential learning occurs when special events occur. We have started off the year studying North American biomes, political geography and biology; however, through the opportunity to study Antarctica thanks to Dr. Ken Sims, we are also looking into the biomes, biology, geography and history of Antarctica. This can tie in nicely with the rest of the curriculum and still provide excitement. At other times, special events may not tie into the curriculum and we have to make the thoughtful choice of whether the time spent on the tangential topic is relevant to what we are doing in class and the overall learning that needs to take place in class; otherwise we can jump from topic to topic, losing the thread provided by our Montessori curriculum. 

Another way to look at this phrase, “Freedom within Limits”is
through the lens of classroom management. We want to provide student with the opportunity to learn to think and do things for themselves. Often this can lead to freedom within the classroom; however, the limiting factor is whether than
can do these things responsibly. If a child is not ready to solve a conflict independently and in a responsible way, the adults must step in to provide the scaffolding to help a child move from dependence on the adult toward independence. This takes time and is part of a process of gradually moving from
limited independence to more freedom. When a child shows he is not capable of some of the freedoms, those freedoms get limited, and the adults guide the child until he/she is able to do it on their own responsibly. 

Lastly, my favorite concrete example of this results from a teacher wanting to allow students to listen to music and dance for a period of time. When the music started, things were
fine; however, as the students started to push the boundaries of what was acceptable, some started to run and move about the entire room. My suggestion was to set a concrete limit using rope – as long as the students stayed within the boundaries of the rope and did not harm others, they could dance. When a child left the boundaries of the rope, they were asked to stop and watch the other students. When the child was able to resume dancing within the limits, he/she could do so.


Is there a balance of freedom and limits in your home? Do the
freedoms permitted to your child come with a sense of responsibility? 
 


 


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