How Do Montessori Schools Teach Independence?

If you’re new to Montessori, one of the first things you’ll notice is that there’s a lot of emphasis placed on the importance of teaching a child to be independent. You might have begun to understand why they do it, but how?? With a classroom full of three, four, and five year olds, how do Montessori schools teach independence?

The short answer is “from day one.” The longer answer involves pie graphs, statistics, case studies, and a intensive two-day workshop. Just kidding. We’ll actually map it out for you in three easy steps.

Children working together. How do Montessori schools teach independence?
Independence doesn’t mean working alone!

Here at Children’s House Montessori School of Reston, we are wrapping up our first month of the school year. We’ve welcomed new families and friends and are well on our way to independence! Let’s break down how we do it:

# 1 — How do Montessori schools teach independence? We observe the children!

“Do it myself” is a familiar phrase to most parents, but when visions of broken glass dance through their heads, the average person will simply say, “here, let me help” or (brace yourself) “here, let me do it.” Cue tantrum.

A Montessori teacher hears “do it myself” as an invitation, not a challenge. A child who is willing to learn, is ready to learn. Everything from tying shoes to reading a book is learned when a child wants to learn for himself.

Montessori teachers are trained to observe first! They learn to pay attention, look for patterns, listen to language, and to watch for signs that a child is ready for the next step, next lesson, or next material in a sequence.

If you visit a Montessori classroom, you might see the teacher quietly standing out of the way, watching the classroom. She’s observing, taking notes, and paying attention to the signs that her students are ready for more.

# 2 — How do Montessori schools teach independence? We are intentional

Everything that you see in a Montessori classroom has been put there on purpose. Every shelf, every tray, every bead, every everything, has been chosen because it serves a purpose: to lead a child to independent learning and allow space and opportunity for independent action.

The shelves are low, so that a child can take a work off the shelf without assistance. It’s easier to make your own choices when you have choices available to you.

Trays are weighted properly: not too heavy and not too light so as to be easily carried to a table or work rug.

Materials are placed on the shelves in sequential order: a child has a lesson on one material and then knows, based on it’s location, which materials are next in the sequence, or similar in difficulty. Materials are arranged from left to right and top to bottom.

There is nothing haphazard about a Montessori classroom! Most visitors notice how calm the children are, how organized the space appears, and how everyone is busy working. Independence in action!

A shelf in a Montessori classroom. How do Montessori schools teach independence?
A place for everything and everything in its place on this Practical Life shelf.

# 3 — How do Montessori schools teach independence? We break it down

There are few things in this world that can’t be taught by breaking a large concept down into smaller chunks and independence is no different. Anything can be learned, if we take the time to break it down into smaller pieces.

The Montessori classroom is all about sequential learning! We do this and then we do that. We learn this and then we move on to that. A child who is captivated by a muti-step, complicated math activity that she sees an older peer doing, will be invited to work on a material that will help her master the skills needed to move on to that more complex lesson.

A child who is dying to learn how to read, will be shown the materials that will help her learn the phonetic sounds she needs to know. She will take those sounds and use them to build words (writing) and then move on to decoding the words that others have written (reading).

Visit a Montessori classroom and look around at the variety of activities you see. You will see independence at at every level!

Enjoying a snack with friends.
Children help themselves to morning snack when they are ready.

What’s the secret ingredient?

Patience. Children want to learn it all and they want to learn it now! It takes patience to balance the varying needs of the children in our care, but — at the heart of it all — we have the Montessori method to rely on. We observe, take intentional action, and teach one step at a time. Rinse and repeat.

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