Freedom and Responsibility

Adapted from MNW training course, 2015

We are already in possession of the secret...The child must learn by his own individual activity, being given a mental freedom to take what he needs, and not be questioned in his choice.  Our teaching must only answer the mental needs of the child, never dictate them.

                Maria Montessori, To Educate the Human Potential

Freedom is one of the defining characteristics of a Montessori environment.

Children need freedom from...

  • interference and interruptions to their work
  • timetables, schedules, and deadlines
  • curriculum (used to inform, not dictate)
  • rewards and punishments


Children need freedom from interference and interruptions to their work.  This includes compliments, unsolicited help, and distractions from peers (or siblings).  While distractions and even unwanted help may seem obvious, avoiding compliments may seem counterintuitive.  Dr. Montessori observed that praise can cause children to feel self-conscious, leading them to withdraw inwardly.  Imagine a child who is shy and prefers to sit silently watching others.  One day, the child takes a material off the shelf or interacts with another child.  Noticing this, the adult offers encouragement.  Or a child who is not yet peaceful responds with kindness to another child.  Our instinct is to notice and encourage, but the best thing we can do is let the child experience the intrinsic rewards of courage, kindness, overcoming obstacles, perseverance…you get the idea.


Children need freedom to...

  • experiment
  • choose their activities and materials
  • work at their own pace and for as long as they choose
  • move and be active
  • rest
  • exercise their will and judgment


And I want to add that children need the freedom to make mistakes.

The prepared environment balances and directs this freedom by ensuring there are no poor choices.  If it’s in the classroom, it should be a work choice.

So what about responsibility?  Responsibility is choosing to do what you know is right.  Doing what you are told to do (or made to do) is not responsibility.  Responsibility is self-directed.  So how do children learn to be responsible?  In a Montessori classroom, there are three tools of responsibility:

  • Learning journals
  • School standards
  • Regular meetings with the adult (teacher): one-on-one conversations about the child’s work, dreams, struggles, and growth

I have outlined the key concepts here, but I will continue to post articles on freedom and responsibility, including rewards and punishments and the learning journal.