Freedom Day and Workers Day…two public holidays so close together they afford South Africans the possibility of up to a week of extra holiday per year!
Despite the prospects of some time off and a break from all things Montessori, the words freedom and work bring me right back to the philosophy that has so become part of every Montessorian’s world.
Montessori said that work is the constructor of the human personality. In our schools, the work that the child does is done because the s/he has shown interest in it and because s/he has chosen it freely. This does not mean that the facilitator does not make suggestions or guide the child. Montessori herself called her teachers directors/directresses for this very reason. The freedom that the child should have to choose her/his work, and to work uninterrupted is something that we need to be so vigilant of and constantly keep at the forefront of our spiritual preparation.
It is so easy to:
- make an unnecessary comment in passing
- neglect to protect the concentrating child
- cut the work cycle short for extra murals
- place our own adult needs before that of the child.
In the 1946 London Lectures, Montessori writes about this in her chapter entitled The New Teacher. It is a must read for anyone who is guilty of any of the above interruptions to the child’s work.
Another aspect of freedom that every child is afforded in a Montessori classroom, is freedom from rewards and punishments. Punishments are too often meted out under the guise of consequences. Natural consequences are just that, natural. If a glass is dropped on a tiled floor, it will break. The glass is not angry, in fact no-one is angry! It was an accident and we sweep it up and get a new glass. However, when the child has forgotten the ground rule of not interrupting during a group discussion and is told to leave the circle and sit on a chair outside the group, that is a punishment. A teachable moment where an impromptu grace and courtesy lesson may have been more appropriate was lost.
When linked to the work of the child, the absence of rewards and punishments leaves the child free to explore, repeat and extend materials in her/his own time. This engagement of the hand and the mind, this coming together of the two streams of energy (physical and mental) is what will lead the child to concentrate, and normalisation will result.
It is no wonder that Montessori was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize. Even if this is all we take from her philosophy and really make a concentrated effort to provide the child with the most favourable environment, where the freedom and work of the child are so revered, imagine the difference in the leaders of the world tomorrow.
Perhaps this weekend as Montessorians, we can reflect on our duty to the child by offering true freedom, and opportunities for purposeful work. Only then will the child become independent – truly the highest of all the human tendencies. Freedom Day and Worker’s Day are everyday occurrences in our classrooms. They deserve our respect and vigilance.
– Heidi van Staden –