In the dictionary, freedom is defined as “the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action.” (Merriam Webster) On the other hand, discipline is defined as “control gained by enforcing obedience or order.” (Merriam Webster) The dictionary definitions often assume absolute individual freedom and absolute external discipline – two diametric concepts. However, freedom and discipline can coexist in harmony when taken in the appropriate context.
In this case, freedom entails the liberty to express oneself without infringing on the rights of others – without causing harm to anything or anyone else. Here, the term “discipline” refers to a mastery of oneself. This discipline comes from within and requires active practice instead of passively following rules. A child’s spontaneous movements and discoveries inform him or her of the ways of the world. Coordination and control over the child’s mind and body gradually develop. Physical control and an understanding of norms provide tools to externally demonstrate discipline. Henceforth, choices and actions are selected with active discipline at its foundation. In this light, discipline grounds freedom while freedom develops discipline. Both are important in the development of the child as a well-rounded individual and member of society.
Freedom and discipline working side by side is crucial in Montessori classrooms. The physical and social environment is carefully crafted with this in mind. A young child demonstrates an innate intense enthusiasm to discover the world and develop his or herself. As long as children do not harm themselves, others, and the environment, spontaneous actions are permitted. Children are free to select their work, discover, and explore the materials within this frame. Children naturally select and work on exercises that provide them with stimuli and aid in their development. Children also select from work already presented by the Montessori director or directress – specifically planned so as to ensure the child is provided with appropriately challenging material at all times.
The Montessori educators know when to provide an abundance of choice and when to limit choice without infringing on freedom. The development of discipline within each child is also built into the Montessori environment. Exercises and lessons for the youngest children consist of few steps and often focus on physical development. As the child progresses, the exercises become more complex, ultimately resulting in a child’s control over him or herself physically and mentally – utilizing fine motor skills and concentration. Grace & courtesy exercises are also included within the curriculum area of practical life to further orient a child to social norms and niceties within society. Natural consequences are present throughout the environment. If a child spills water when pouring for him or herself, for example, he or she is shown how to clean up. If a child is unable to sociably communicate or work with a peer, role modelling occurs through grace and courtesy exercises. Real materials and real experiences allow the child to discover natural consequences for him or herself.
Freedom and discipline working hand in hand within a Montessori classroom allows for a richer, more fulfilling educational experience – nurturing a curiosity for life-long learning and fostering individual habits to be carried on outside the classroom.